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Authors: Jon Loomis

High Season

BOOK: High Season
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Vanitas Motel
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Jon Loomis


St. Martin's Minotaur   
   New York









. Copyright © 2007 by Jon Loomis. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data


Loomis, Jon.

High season / Jon Loomis.—1st ed.

        p.   cm.

ISBN-13: 978-0-312-36769-5

ISBN-10: 0-312-36769-4

1.  Sheriffs—Fiction.   2.  Murder—Investigation—Fiction.   3.  Cape Cod
(Mass.)—Fiction.   I.  Title.


PS3562.O593H54    2007



First Edition: September 2007


10   9   8   7   6   5   4   3   2   1







For Porkchop







Author's Note



This book is a work of the imagination set in a real but “fictionalized” place. Some of the locations are actual; many are inventions, adaptations, or amalgamations. All of the characters are fictitious: Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is entirely a matter of coincidence. The portrayals of governing and law enforcement bodies are not intended to be factual; I have intentionally played fast and loose with such things as the structure of the state and local governments and the size, organization, history, and operations of Provincetown's police department. I've taken liberties, too, with elements of Provincetown's history, politics, and economy—which aren't as simple as I've made them out to be—for the sake of getting on with the story.








As for the interior of the inhabitants
I am still in the dark about it.


Cape Cod
                   (Chapter X, “Provincetown”)













Chapter 1



rank Coffin's office was windowless and cramped, hidden away in the darkest corner of the Town Hall basement, next to the boiler room. A fat sewage pipe ran the width of the ceiling; now and then a drop or two of ominous fluid plunked onto whatever paperwork lay strewn across Coffin's desktop: condensation, he hoped.

In the old days, when his uncle Rudy was chief of police, Coffin's office had been on the third floor. Small but sunlit, the upstairs office had high ceilings and two tall windows that looked out on the harbor. Then Rudy was forced to resign amid allegations of bribery and extortion, and when the new chief, Preston Boyle, arrived in May, his first official act had been to move Coffin into the basement.
Nothing personal
, Boyle had said. Coffin had been a cop for a long time: fourteen years in the Baltimore City Police Department—including nine in the homicide division—and eight years as Provincetown's first and only police detective. He knew what was personal. Losing the upstairs office amounted to a demotion.

Coffin's intercom buzzed. It was Jeff Skillings, the day's desk officer. “Lady to see you, Frank. Says her husband's missing.”


Melinda Merkin was a small woman with an unusually large head. She wore a lime green pantsuit. A diamond of at least two carats sparked on her left hand. Her hair was brown with frosted highlights and wispy bangs—a style, Coffin thought, directly out of the early eighties. She wore black sunglasses, which she took off as soon as she sat down. Her eyes were dark and tired and bulged like a terrier's. Her eyebrows appeared to have been painted on. Skillings handed Coffin a manila folder as he showed her in.

“Good gravy, what a mess,” she said, when Skillings was gone. She dabbed at her eyes and nose with a shredded Kleenex. “If this gets in the papers, it'll just be the end of us.”

“What do you mean, the end of us?” Coffin said. He wrote the word
on the manila folder, then circled it. He looked inside. It contained a photograph of a man dressed in a blue suit, a small gold cross pinned to one lapel. A banner hung against a wall in the background. It read 1999
——. The rest of the word was out of the frame.

“My husband is
Merkin,” the woman said. “The
Ron Merkin. We're on TV in thirty-seven states. If this gets out, the show's over, Rover.”

Coffin leaned back in his chair. He'd seen Reverend Ron on TV once or twice while channel-surfing; he remembered a sweaty, angry man with white froth in the corners of his mouth. Merkin had built a large national following by showing up at gay bars, pride rallies, even the funerals of AIDS victims, followers in tow, chanting antigay slogans and brandishing crudely lettered signs that read like fourth-grade hate mail. Coffin suddenly felt angry and a little claustrophobic, trapped in his office with this odd woman
and her accompanying cloud of perfume: lily of the valley, maybe; something floral and heavy.

“Reverend Ron,” he said, tapping his pencil on the desk. “He's the God Hates Fags guy, right?”

“Lord, no—Ronnie's thing is God Hates
. God Hates
belongs to someone else—it's trademarked. We'd be drowning in deep doo-doo if we tried to use that.”

Coffin opened the folder, took out the photo, and placed it on his desk.

“So, if you don't mind my asking,” Coffin said, “what's your business in Provincetown? Performing a little missionary work among the heathen?”

“Look, Detective—” She stopped, hesitated for a moment. “I collect ceramic figurines.”

Coffin tried to interrupt, but she held up a shushing finger.

“Dog figurines, Detective. Mostly porcelain and china. Every shape and size, every breed, from every country and period you can think of. I've been collecting them for thirty years. Everywhere you look in my house, you're looking at dog figurines. I mean, I've got thousands, literally. I couldn't stop collecting now if I tried, and even if I
stop collecting them, I wouldn't want to, you know what I mean?” She held up the finger again. “My husband, bless his heart, does not understand my thing for dog figurines. I'm sure there are moments when he wishes every surface in his house did not have a half-dozen china pooches sitting on it. I'm sure, Detective, that there are times when that poor man is sick to death of the whole shooting match. But does he criticize? Does he complain? Not very blessed much, I'm here to tell you. We all have our stuff, Detective. I've got mine, he's got his; dollars to doughnuts you've got yours.”

She opened her bag, extracted a second photograph, and placed it on the desk in front of Coffin. It showed the same beefy man,
standing in what looked like a motel room. He wore beige pumps—big ones—and a calf-length navy blue dress with a white Peter Pan collar.

Coffin couldn't suppress a sharp bark of laughter. He looked up at Mrs. Merkin. “Sorry,” he said.

“That was taken last winter,” she said. “Key West.”

Coffin looked at the picture again. The big man seemed to be trying to straighten his wig, which was greenish-blond and looked as rumpled and forlorn as road kill.

Drag queens he could understand, sort of; there was something tongue-in-cheek about the whole thing, all that glitter and flash, a kind of burlesque-on/homage-to the whole idea of glamour in all its blowzy, tittering goofiness. The straight cross-dressers were harder to figure out—the just plain transvestites everyone in town called tall ships. The tall ships tended to be large men who strode up and down Commercial Street in plus-sized tweed skirts, support hose, and pumpkin-colored lipstick; craggy-faced and lonely-looking men with dispirited wigs and five o'clock shadows poking through pancake makeup. Sometimes they had their wives, even their kids in tow. They reminded Coffin of his Aunt Connie after she'd been through several rounds of chemotherapy.

“So, can you tell me what happened last night?” Coffin asked.

She nodded. “He got all fixed up and said he was going out to walk around, don't wait up. That was around ten o'clock. I woke up a few times in the night, expecting him to be there, but he wasn't.”

“He got dressed up and went out to walk around by himself?”

“As far as I know, yes.”

“Was that unusual?”

Melinda Merkin smiled a little with the left side of her mouth. “Well, not for Ronnie. He likes to be seen, without people knowing who he is. He likes that a lot.”

“Does your husband drink?” Coffin asked.

“He gave it up years ago. God told him to.”

“Any drug use that you know of?”

“No. He's never messed with any of that stuff.”

Coffin hesitated. “Does your husband have affairs? One-night stands?”

Melinda Merkin furrowed her painted brows; deciding how much of the truth to tell, Coffin guessed.

BOOK: High Season
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