Authors: Jon Loomis
“Atta baby,” he said. “Come to Papa.” He flipped the two stainless steel latches and opened the lid. There was a brown plastic garbage bag inside. His hands shook and his chest felt tight as he tore it open. The money was still there, still intact. A little over two million, in neat bundles of hundred-dollar bills.
Coffin and Lola sat in the Dodge outside her apartment. He wanted a cigarette but knew she'd disapprove.
“I wonder why they'd be triumphant,” he said. “Triumphant about what?”
Lola shrugged. “Maybe they figured out something new to blame gay people for,” she said. “Anything to keep the donations rolling in.”
“Maybe he'd found a great little boutique, with plenty of stuff in his size,” Coffin said.
“I could call the missus and ask,” Lola said.
“Worth a shot,” Coffin nodded. “She might be more willing to talk to youâshe was pretty guarded with me. I want to know everywhere she and the reverend went while they were hereâeveryone they talked to, and what about. Details.”
“Will do,” Lola said. She poked a finger into the Dodge's disintegrating upholstery. “Frank?” she said. “No offense, but can we take my car from now on?”
Coffin patted the dashboard. “What's the matter?” he said. “You don't like my Dodge? This is vintage, you know. They don't make 'em like this anymore.”
“Huh,” Lola said. “Go figure.”
“Let's pass among the multitudes outside E Pluribus Pizza tonight,” Coffin said. “We'll need copies of the picture of Merkin in his dress, and plenty of business cards.”
The passenger door squealed when Lola shoved it open. “I'll pick you up at one o'clock,” she said, climbing out. “Unless that's past your bedtime.”
“Bedtime?” Coffin said. “Since when do insomniacs have bedtimes?”
When Coffin got home, he found a message on his answering machine from Jamie. She wanted a drink, which seemed like a good idea to Coffin. She was on a martini kick, so he got out the shaker and took the bottle of Absolut from the freezer. By the time she arrived, he'd chilled a pair of martini glasses and dropped a few ice cubes into the shaker.
Jamie wore a short sundress and sandals. Her legs were brown; she smelled like suntan lotion.
“Been to the beach?” Coffin said, swirling a little vermouth in the glasses, then dumping it out in the sink.
“Very good, Detective,” Jamie said. “What gave me away?”
“You've got sand between your toes.” Coffin gave the vodka a final shake and poured. Slight skins of ice formed across the surfaces of the two martinis.
“And elsewhere,” Jamie said, squirming a bit. “We went skinny-dipping out at lesbian land.”
“I'm jealous,” Coffin said. “Who's we?”
“Corinne and me. I. Did you know she has fake boobs? She caused a bit of a stir.”
“How many olives?” Coffin said, spoon poised over the bottle.
“Three. And make it a little dirty,
“I hadn't noticed Corinne's boobs, to tell you the truth,” Coffin
said. He dropped three olives into Jamie's glass, then added a spoonful of brine.
“Liar,” Jamie said. “They're huge. How could you not notice?” She sipped her drink carefully; it was very full.
“Never really been a boob man, I guess,” Coffin said.
“I don't understand it,” Jamie said, shuffling out into the living room, martini delicately poised.
“I'm told I was sufficiently breast-fed.” Coffin tasted his drink. The icy vodka had a pleasant, medicinal bite.
“No, I mean why women get boob jobs. It's so barbaric. No different from foot binding, or that African thing with the plates in the lips.” Jamie collapsed onto a brocaded sofa. “What is it about the beach? All that sunshine and naked flesh.”
“Tired?” Coffin said, sitting next to her.
“Horny,” Jamie said, looking at him over the brim of her glass. “It never fails.”
“That's good to know,” said Coffin.
Jamie set her glass down on a marble-topped end table. “Know what else is good to know?” she said, gently biting Coffin's cheek.
“I'm not wearing any underwear,” Jamie whispered, grabbing Coffin by the ears and slowly pulling him down on top of her.
Later, in the dark bedroom, Jamie lay on her belly, Coffin's head resting comfortably in the curve of her lower back.
“I think I want a boy,” she said. “Boys are so elemental. They don't get manipulative until they're thirty.”
“Ha,” Coffin said.
“Corinne says, if you want to conceive a boy, you're supposed to do it from behind.” She waggled her hips a little. “Maybe we should practice.”
“In the morning?”
“Poor man. Tired?”
Jamie lay quiet a while. Then she said, “Have you thought about it, Frank? Having a baby?”
“I don't know. I'm old and weird and solitary.”
being old and weird and solitary?”
“Kids avoid me. I don't know how to talk to them.”
kid won't avoid you.”
“What if something happened?” Coffin said. “Something bad.”
Jamie reached for a cigarette, lit it, and blew out a slow plume of smoke. “Like what?”
“I don't knowâsomething. To the child. What if it got terribly sick or hurt in an accident? I don't think I could handle that.”
Jamie rolled onto her side and ruffled Coffin's hair. “The boogeyman's not going to get us, Frank.”
” Coffin said.
“Look,” Jamie said. She sat up, pulling the sheet over her breasts. “I'm going to have a baby. I'm not going to be one of these women who waits around for permission till she's forty and then finds out it's too late.”
She had once told Coffin that in high school no one thought she was pretty. She was too tall, too lanky, too flat chested to attract much attention; she'd had a bad complexion, worn nothing but blackâ
queen of the geeks
, she called herself. Now, candlelight sparking her dark, wide-set eyes, Coffin found her wrenchingly beautiful.
He said nothing. The stuffed seagull on the wardrobe stared at him blankly. Jamie got up and went out into the living room to find her dress. “You've got a pretty good deal here, you knowâboinking
the yoga instructor,” she said. “And I'm not the only one who thinks so.”
She padded back into the bedroom, tugging the dress down over her hips. “You heard me, sport. Duffy Plotz has been asking me out. He's cute, in a moderately creepy way. He's got that socially awkward ostrich thing going on.”
“Duffy? Jesus. You know the only reason he takes yoga is to meet women, right? Where's he taking you? A romantic evening shooting rats in the dump?”
Jamie laughed, then pointed a long finger at Coffin's nose. “I'm at my sexual peak, boyoâand I'm
flexible. Don't screw it up.”
The man in the blue pickup truck waited a long time while Jamie did whatever she was doing with the cop; fucking him, no doubt. He did not smoke, though he wanted to; he knew the glow of his cigarette would be visible from across the street, if anyone happened to look out the window.
It was getting very late and he was about to give up, but just as he had made up his mind to leave she stepped out onto the screen porch. “Got to get a shot of this,” he muttered, picking up the big Minolta on the passenger seat. It had a long telephoto lens and was loaded with very slow black-and-white film. He braced the camera on the truck's window frame. “C'mon, baby,” he said. “Put on a show for Duffy.”
Jamie paused on the front steps and lit a cigarette. Plotz's stomach fluttered at the sight of herâtall and slim, long hair hanging loose the way he liked it. Backlit for a moment by the yellow porch light, her short white dress turned translucent, revealing the outline of her body. She appeared to be wearing small white panties
underneath, but Plotz couldn't be sureâthe pale triangle floating under the sundress might have been the tan line from a bikini bottom. Plotz's penis stiffened at the thought.
The Minolta's shutter clunked. The film advanced automatically, with a slight whir.
Clunk, whir. Clunk, whir.
She got into her old Volvo wagon, backed out of the cop's driveway, and putted away, heading home. When she got to the corner, he started his pickup truck and followed her, staying a safe distance behind.
offin tried to nap after Jamie left but couldn'tâevery time he started to doze the old, recurring dreams began. He got up, dressed, and went out to the screen porch to wait for Lola. It was late; the neighborhood was quiet except for the crickets, sharpening their little knives. Then, a block or two away, a dog started barking. It sounded like a small dog at first,
yip yip yip
. Other dogs joined in, yipping and yapping their various notes, five or six dogs, and then one of them, maybe a big one, let out a long, ghostly howl, and all the other dogs joined in.
Coyotes. In the graveyard.
For years, Provincetown had been home to a good-sized pack of coyotesâwolfish and brushy-tailed, low-slung in the hipsâthey lived in the dunes across the highway and came into town at night, hunting for possums or cats, congregating now and then in the unlit quiet of the cemetery to sing their feral harmony. It was strange hearing them in the summertime, though; usually it was cold weather that drove them into town, the scarcity of rabbits and whatever other wild game they could find in the scrub pines or the
beech forest. Sometimes, driving at night, Coffin would spot one or two of them crossing Bradford Street in the distance ahead of his car, eyes glowing yellow in the headlights. They were shy of humans, but leave your cat out at night and likely as not it would end up coyote chow.
The coyotes made Coffin feel better, the weird anachronism of them, the notion of something wild and skittish and a little dangerous roaming the night streets of Provincetown, with its gingerbread trim and pink shutters. Then he thought of the crab that had climbed out of Ron Merkin's open mouth, and he didn't feel better anymore.
On summer nights around one o'clock, a small migration flowed up Commercial Street from the just-closed bars to E Pluribus Pizza; it seemed ritual and prehistoric to Coffin, a kind of pilgrimage, like sea turtles returning to the same lost beach year after year to lay their eggs. They gathered outside, hundreds of men, on the sidewalks and in the streetâmost with no interest in pizzaâa nightly cotillion for those who hadn't yet gotten lucky and those who liked to watch them try. There were men of all descriptions: muscular men, slender men, and fat men; shirtless, smooth-chested men; big-bellied, hairy men; beautiful men and men who were not so beautiful. They wore runner's shorts and muscle shirts, or biker gear, or sailor suits, or cowboy hats, or nondescript jeans and polo shirts, or, in one case, a purple G-string and Rollerblades. Two outrageously muscled men with shaved heads and identical goatees wore nothing but engineer boots, leather chaps, and nipple rings the size of door knockers. A clutch of drag queens tottered on platform heels. There were a few women, too, and a great many dogs, frolicking with one another and barking.
“Last chance to hook up before admitting defeat and going home
alone,” Lola said. She was carrying a green backpack. They had parked her black Camaro several blocks away.
“Or heading off to the dick dock,” Coffin said.
“Ah, the romance,” Lola said.
“I don't know how anyone does it,” Coffin said. “I'd be too uncomfortable. Everybody looking at me. I'd feel like .Â .Â . merchandise.”
A car was inching through the crowd while a summer cop tried in vain to clear the street long enough to let it pass.
“Look,” Lola said. “It's Pinsky.”
“He's got lipstick on his cheek,” Coffin said.
“Hey, Pinsky,” Lola said to the summer cop. “You going native or what?” She pointed to her cheek.
Pinsky blushed and wiped at the lipstick with his palm. “Aw,” he said. “Naw. One of the girls there was just messin' around.”
A tall black drag queen turned and blew Pinsky a kiss. She wore a very short chartreuse vinyl miniskirt, a tube top, and a blond beehive wig. “You come home with me, honey,” she said. “I'll show you a
Pinsky blushed again.
“Maybe you should take her up on it,” Coffin said.
“If there wasn't a wiener in those panties, you bet your ass I would,” he said.
Lola grinned. “How many times have I said that?”
Coffin lit a cigarette. Two men dressed in hoopskirts and very large straw hats decorated with plastic fruit and Barbie dolls had arrived, to cheers and whistles. “I used to think there were just two genders. Then I thought there were five. Now I have no idea,” Coffin said.
“Five?” Pinsky said. “Shit. Who are you trying to kid?”
“Lesbian, gay male, straight male, straight female, bisexual,” Coffin said, ticking them off on his fingers.
“Bisexual isn't a gender, honey,” the tall drag queen said. Her voice was as slow and rich as molasses. “It's just not knowing your damn mind.”
A man with a shaved head and red-rimmed glasses said, “That's not even half. What about butches and femmes, bottoms and tops, and the, like, seventy-eight different shades of transgendered people?”
Lola nodded. “I went to college with a short, fat, hairy guy who had a sex change because he wanted to be a lesbian. Talk about complicated.”