Authors: Jeff Strand
“Plus I made you a hundred bucks.” Damn guilt. That was a pretty darn generous babysitting fee, but I still felt bad that Roger never got the ten grand we were each supposed to make when I talked him into accepting the graverobbing gig last year.
Roger looked suspicious. “And what exactly are you doing tomorrow night?”
“Just a party.”
“Just a party?”
“Just a party.”
“You’re not getting yourself into trouble again, are you?”
“No,” I said. “I hope not.”
“ANDREW Mayhem, gigolo,” said Roger, adjusting the radio station in my car. “Nice ring to that.”
I slapped his hand away. “I’m not a gigolo. I’m a bodyguard.”
“I dunno, I’m picking up some serious gigolo vibes from this whole setup.” He waited for me to grip the steering wheel, and then began messing with the station again.
“She’s probably sixty years old!”
“And you’re a strapping lad of thirty-three! She’s probably looking for somebody to stretch more than her face.”
“Don’t be sick,” I said, slapping his hand away. “It’s just a party.”
“Gee, I wonder where my seven year-old gets his immature behavior? I need to find a new babysitter.”
“Are you going to tell Helen?”
“Of course I’m going to tell Helen!”
I WOULD have told Helen, but there weren’t any good opportunities aside from breakfast, dinner, and the hour or so we spent watching television before she left for work. After she was gone, I dug my suit out of the closet, decided against eating the chocolate bar that had survived in the pocket all these years, and drove Theresa and Kyle over to Roger’s apartment.
Patricia’s home was on the far west side of Chamber, Florida. The neighborhoods get richer and richer the further west you travel, and I became more and more self-conscious in my boxy grey sedan that was only a couple of notches up from something that required a wind-up mechanism.
At eight o’clock sharp, I pulled into the long, circular driveway of an immense two-story home with a well lit, perfectly maintained lawn and a huge fountain in the center that sprayed water in perfect rhythm to the classical music playing from speakers on the sides.
Then I checked the card Patricia had given me and realized that I was at the wrong place.
At eight forty-four sharp, I pulled into the long, circular driveway of an immense two-story home with a dimly lit, possibly well-maintained lawn and an ugly statue of a naked kid with a missing buttock. I parked behind five much finer automobiles than my own and hurried up to the front door.
After I rang the doorbell, Patricia answered. She glared at me. “I could be dead by now,” she whispered.
“Sorry,” I said. “I read the address wrong.”
I entered the house and she led me to the exquisitely furnished study, where four other people were standing around having drinks. They all looked to be about Patricia’s age, two men and two women. The men were dressed in suits that made my own feel like an old piece of burlap with dead moths pouring out of the sleeves.
“Our special guest is here,” Patricia announced. “Everyone, this is Andrew Mayhem.”
Andrew Mayhem,” said a gentleman with bushy white eyebrows and a handlebar mustache. “How interesting.”
Patricia took me by the hand and walked me over to him. “Andrew, this is Malcolm. He worked with my husband.” She said this in a way that implied I was supposed to pretend I had some vague notion who her husband was, so I said “Ahh.”
“Pleased to meet you,” said Malcolm, shaking my hand. He gestured to the sharp-featured woman standing next to him. “This is my wife Donna.”
Donna nodded politely at me, but it was obvious from her expression that she fully expected me to start picking my nose and igniting farts.
“Hi,” I said, hoping my breath didn’t offend her.
Patricia led me to the other couple. The man was extremely short and thin, but carried himself like a drill sergeant. “It’s an honor, Andrew,” he said, shaking/crushing my hand. “I’m Stephen.”
“Vivian,” said his wife, who stood a head taller than Stephen but appeared to be painfully shy.
“So Andrew, how much of what you wrote in your book was true?” Stephen asked.
“Oh, you’ve read it?”
He shook his head. “I wanted to hold off until I knew how much of it was true.”
“Well, let’s put it this way. If I’d made it up, I certainly wouldn’t have made myself so stupid.”
I grinned. They didn’t.
I stopped grinning and returned my attention to Patricia. “Thanks for inviting me. You have a beautiful home.”
While I’m not positive, I’m pretty sure I heard Donna whisper “Yeah, like he would know,” to her husband.
“Thank you,” said Patricia. “I hired the decorator myself. Would you care for a drink?”
I was tempted to decline on the basis that I’d just finished sampling some moonshine from my homemade still, but I didn’t think she’d be amused. “Sure. I’ll have whatever she’s having,” I said, gesturing to Donna.
Patricia went to the bar and poured me a glass of white wine. Temptation struck again, but I behaved myself and didn’t ask for a straw. Messing with the minds of these people wasn’t worth losing my five hundred bucks.
I ate weird crackers with salmon gook on them and made small talk with the guests for about fifteen minutes, during which I’m pretty sure I overheard the word “inbred” being used by Donna in two separate sentences. Malcolm was pleasant enough, I guess, but I was still far out of my social element. However, snobbish as they were, none of the guests seemed like a potential murderer.
Finally, Patricia clapped her hands for attention. “Shall we begin?”
“Certainly,” said Stephen, and the others acknowledged their agreement.
“Wonderful. Let’s head to the dining room, then.”
Patricia walked out of the study and the other guests followed. I took up the rear, right next to Malcolm. He smiled at me, a glint of mischief in his eye. “Tell me, son, how much is she paying you?” he whispered.
I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be a secret or not, so I decided to play it safe. “She’s not paying me anything.”
“Oh, come now. You’re not sleeping with her for free, are you?”
“I’m not sleeping with her at all!”
“Really? Then you’re the first.” He winked at me. “Don’t worry, it won’t leave this house.”
Somehow I just
that word was going to get back to Helen that I’d become a male prostitute who serviced middle-aged women. That’s the kind of luck I have.
We filed into the dining room. A small circular table was covered with a black tablecloth, and there were five thick white candles burning. A larger rectangular table had been shoved against the wall, and was bare. This was apparently not a dinner party like I’d been told.
“What exactly are we doing?” I whispered to Malcolm.
“Didn’t she tell you?” he asked. “We’re going to have a séance.”
Great. Just great. Not only was my life going to be ruined by a gigolo misunderstanding, but I was going to have people pissed at me from beyond the grave. I vowed never to return to the Blizzard Room.
As the guests took their seats around the table, I approached Patricia. “A séance, huh?”
“That seems like a tidbit of information you might have considered sharing with me last night, don’t you think?”
“What do you mean, whatever for? It’s a séance!”
There was no debating that logic. I lowered my voice. “So what do you want me to do?”
“Nothing. Just watch. Carefully.”
She sat down. I didn’t really want to sit at the table in case the ectoplasm started flying, but it didn’t matter because there weren’t any extra seats anyway. I leaned against the wall.
“Tonight, we contact my departed husband,” Patricia announced. “Everyone take a deep breath to clear your mind.”
They did so, and then joined hands.
At this point, I started to feel a bit queasy. Apparently the salmon gook hadn’t agreed with me. If I got food poisoning from this job, I was demanding an extra twenty bucks.
After a few minutes of mind clearing, everybody closed his or her eyes, and Patricia began to speak in a firm, steady voice. “Charles. Charles Nesboyle. Are you there? Can you hear me?”
I was feeling incredibly sick now. I wiped some perspiration from my forehead and tried to focus on something else, like how ridiculous they all looked sitting there holding hands trying to conjure up ghosts, but all I could think about was how I desperately needed a lavatory.
“Charles Nesboyle, if you can hear me, speak! Speak to the others through me!”
She kept this up for another few minutes. My need was becoming more and more unbearable. If I didn’t get to the bathroom very shortly I was going to have an accident right there on the dining room floor. They probably assumed I wasn’t potty-trained anyway, but I still wanted to avoid that particular
I was sure I could find it on my own, but I couldn’t just walk out and leave Patricia there with her eyes closed and a potential killer sitting next to her. It wasn’t likely that anybody could try something when all of them were holding hands, but I still had to give her some warning.
I managed to hold out another minute, and then walked over to Patricia and leaned down next to her ear. “Patricia?”
“Charles!” she gasped.
She opened her eyes and gave me a dirty look. “What?”
“I’m sorry to interrupt, but could you direct me to the restroom?”
“Go back the way we came, down the hallway, and it’s the first door on the left.” She was staring at me in disbelief, as were the other guests.
“Thanks.” I gave an apologetic smile to the others. “Sorry. Couldn’t be helped.”
I hurried out of the room and made it to the bathroom. I closed the door and prayed for sufficient soundproofing.
A few minutes later I felt much, much better. I flushed, turned on the fan, and washed my hands. My face was covered with sweat, so I turned on the faucet and splashed some water on it. I looked terrible. I wiped my face off on the towel, and discovered that it was the softest, most heavenly towel I’d ever felt in my life. I wiped my face again. I was in love.
I noticed that the first flush had only been about eighty percent successful, so I gave it a second one. My bliss from the towel suddenly transformed into raw, heart-stopping terror as the water began to move in
exactly the opposite direction
that I desired.
“No...no...” I said, clenching my fists as the water continued to rise. “Please, no. Stop...stop...”
It didn’t stop. Two more inches until overflow.
I frantically grabbed a bath towel from the rack and threw it around the base of the toilet. The water was still moving upward...upward... forever upward....
“Oh dear God and all that is holy please, please, I will never ask you for another favor ever again if you do this one thing for me, just let the water stop, that’s all I ask.”
The water reached the seating portion of the toilet.
I cringed and awaited the moment of truth. The pounding in my temples was unbearable.
The water ceased its horrific ascent. The level remained steady for several seconds, and then began to sink. I almost wept with relief.
And then I heard a scream.
I immediately rushed to the bathroom door and tried to pull it open, but it wouldn’t budge. I made sure it was unlocked on my side, and then tugged on it as hard as I possibly could. It wouldn’t open.
“Patricia!” I shouted. “Patricia, are you okay?”
No response. Suddenly the door popped open, and I stumbled backwards, almost falling but regaining my balance just in time. A narrow strip of wood that had obviously been wedged under the doorknob dropped to the floor with a
. I rushed out of the bathroom, down the hallway, and into the dining room.
Patricia and her four guests were still seated around the table, just where I’d left them.
The only difference was, all of them were missing their heads.
I SLAMMED a hand over my mouth and felt my knees go weak. Being sick from bad salmon gook was nothing compared to seeing five decapitated bodies all at once. I staggered away from the sight, doing my best not to pass out.
I bit the side of my cheek to force my senses back into sharp focus. The killer had to be close. Heads didn’t just fall off by themselves without a darn good reason.
The front door slammed shut.
I rushed out of the dining room, down the hallway into the foyer, and threw the front door open. I quickly looked around the front yard. No sign of anyone.
No way in hell was I going out there. Maybe Patricia and the others had their eyes closed and maybe they were distracted by their séance babbling, but still...five heads neatly severed without them even moving out of their chairs....
I shut the door, locked it, and began searching for the nearest phone.
I SAT ON the couch in the living room while cops swarmed the house. Tony and Bruce Frenkle were also there, Tony on the couch next to me, Bruce in the easy chair.
“You certainly do get yourself into some peculiar situations,” Tony remarked.
“Yeah, I’d say five missing heads qualifies as peculiar,” I muttered.
“They aren’t missing,” Bruce pointed out. “They’re on the floor.”
“No, two of them are on the table,” corrected Tony. “Well, they were before the one rolled off.”
I shook my head in annoyance. “You two are evil incarnate, I hope you realize that.”
“Just trying to help you cope,” said Bruce.
“Yeah, well, you can help me cope by letting me go home.”
“We still have more questions.”
“You’re not asking questions. You’re making jokes about the heads.”
“Those weren’t jokes,” said Tony. “Those were observations. Joking would be insensitive at a time like this. So, Andy, tell us again why you were here.”
“Don’t call me Andy.”
“Patricia Nesboyle was going to pay me six hundred dollars to come to this party. She thought that one of her friends was going to kill her, and that if I were around it wouldn’t happen.”
“Was Patricia the head on the table or one of the ones on the floor?”
“On the table.”
“So she’s the one that rolled off,” said Bruce. “It was a man’s head that was still there when I left.”
I told them the whole story again. Because I was in a lousy mood, I made sure I was as disturbingly graphic as possible about my adventure in the bathroom.
After about half an hour of questioning, they told me I could go home. “So am I a suspect?” I asked, getting up from the couch.
The Frenkle brothers exchanged a surprised look. “
” asked Tony. “Andrew, buddy, I hate to be blunt, but we’re looking for somebody
“Bite me,” I said.
“See, now, the individual responsible for these murders would have a much more clever retort than ‘bite me.’”
“I’m going home.”
As they walked me out the door, I heard a
from the dining room. I really didn’t want to know what it was.
BRUCE CALLED me the next morning. They hadn’t found any fingerprints or any other sign of the decapitator. However, they had found a bottle of arsenic in Malcolm’s jacket pocket, so apparently he’d been the one who wanted to kill Patricia, for what it was worth.
Because of my traumatic experience, it didn’t seem like a good day to go out and look for a job. I also didn’t think it was a wise idea to be scanning the classified ads in my weakened mental condition. It did, however, seem like a perfect day to sit on the couch and watch television, perhaps something educational.
Around the sixth extramarital affair, Helen came downstairs in her bathrobe and sat down on the end of the couch, propping her legs in my lap. “How’re you holding up?” she asked.
“Not too bad. I do keep checking my neck to make sure it’s still there, but I think that’s probably a normal reaction.”
“Probably. You haven’t had such a great week, have you?”
I shrugged. “I’m getting in some good TV viewing.”
“Well, I’m going to call off work and send Theresa and Kyle to stay overnight with my parents. It’s going to be just you and me. We’ll go out to dinner, then come back and relax.” She smiled.
“Relax in what kind of way?”
“The best way.”
“Oooh, I think I can work that into my schedule.” I picked up an imaginary daytime planner. “Let’s see, I think I’ve got some free time in between being mauled by a wild boar and getting carried away by a hurricane. Sound good to you?”
“Sounds wonderful. How about we make reservations at Hugo’s?”
Hugo’s was one of the fanciest restaurants in Chamber, a restaurant of such high caliber that the salad fork was a different size than the dinner fork. “Can we afford that?” I asked.
“Of course not.”
“Works for me.”
AS WE DROVE to Hugo’s, we set the ground rules for the evening. There would be no discussion of work, children, kidnappings, or quintuple decapitations. Over salad, we discussed politics for about twenty-three seconds, upcoming movies we wanted to see for about forty-one seconds, and sex for about eight minutes, fifteen seconds. We both agreed that it was an activity well worth participating in that evening.
Though we did keep our voices as low as possible, I was still surprised that Helen was willing to have this discussion in a crowded restaurant. She was usually very uncomfortable talking about such things. And she was blushing like never before, but that didn’t stop her from describing positions and actions. When she started describing spectators, I dropped my fork in surprise and splattered ranch dressing all over my shirt.
“I was kidding, sweetie!” she said through her laughter.
“I know,” I insisted, wiping myself off with a napkin. “I’m just not used to my innocent little wife being this way.”
She grinned, narrowed her eyes, and then began to eat her next bite of salad in a slow, sensual manner. Well, she tried, anyway. I mean, it was a forkful of salad—not a lot of eroticism to work with. Although by this point she probably could have dropped to the floor and started hacking up a chicken bone and it would have been a turn-on.
We skipped dessert and hurried out to the car. I had quite a bit of trouble getting the key in the lock, which I refused to view as an omen. As I started the engine, Helen leaned over and nibbled my ear.
“Let’s go somewhere fun,” she said. “Find a place where we can make out like teenagers.”
My first thought was to drive her to a beautiful hilltop, where we could enjoy a glorious view of the city lights as we groped each other. But you don’t get a lot of those in Florida. You do get a lot of beaches, unless you’re in Chamber, which was a good two hours from any sand. Swamps were plentiful but not particularly romantic.
But then I got an idea.
Fifteen minutes later, we were parked behind the Chamber Planetarium. It was a large metallic building with white stars painted on the sides that seemed to twinkle in the lights. Not as romantic as real stars, but not bad on a cloudy night like this.
I shut off the engine and immediately leaned over to kiss her. My ravenous passion was briefly interrupted by the sharp tug that came from failing to unfasten my seat belt first. I felt like an ass, but that was okay, because Helen wanted us to make out like teenagers and I’d felt like an ass many times during those years.
We freed ourselves of the safety restraints and immediately wrapped our arms around each other and began kissing. She shoved her tongue in my mouth. I shoved my tongue in her mouth. Our tongues slapped against each other a few times, then returned to their mouths of origin.
“We need music,” said Helen. I turned the key in the ignition, and then turned on the radio.
Gonna bitch slap yo’ momma, gonna bitch slap yo’ sister, gonna bitch slap yo’ ho
I began flipping through the stations, finding nothing but commercials, talk radio, and religious sermons.
“What tape is in there?” Helen asked.
I pushed the tape all the way into the player. “Weird Al” Yankovic began singing “Eat It.”
“I guess that’ll have to do,” Helen said, and then pulled the lever and reclined her seat all the way back.
“HOW’S YOUR neck?” Helen asked.
“Are you sure? Do you want me to make an appointment with a chiropractor?”
“No, no, it’s okay. It’s more of a numbness than pain anyway. Now where were we...?”
“IT’S OKAY, sweetheart,” said Helen.
“It’s not okay. I’m too young to be having back problems like this.”
“Well, it’s a small car.”
“Are you sure you don’t want me to make an—”
“I’m sure! We just need to rearrange things a bit.”
HELEN WINCED as I touched the top of her head. “You’re definitely going to have a lump,” I told her. “Sorry.”
“It’s my fault,” she said. “I got carried away.”
“Should we head back home?”
“No. You and I are going to have sexual intercourse in this vehicle if it breaks every bone in our body! Now lean back down and don’t move!”
“WHOA,” I said.
Helen kissed me gently. “Do you think we flattened the tires?”
“I’m surprised we didn’t break right through the transmission.”
We kissed for a moment longer, then decided that as enjoyable as our escapade had been, there was no sense ending it on a sour note by getting arrested for nudity outside a structure of learning. We put our clothes on except for my boxers, which were wedged so far under the seat that they appeared to be lost for good.
“We’ll have to do this again sometime,” I said.
“Oh, we’re not done,” Helen informed me. “We’ve still got the bathtub and the kitchen table.”
“The kitchen table won’t hold...” I trailed off as I thought I heard movement outside of Helen’s door.
I put a finger to my lips. A second later something smashed through the passenger window, spraying Helen with safety glass. She shrieked and dove toward me, face bleeding from several small cuts.
A figure stepped into view. It was tall and dressed in black denim, with a mask that looked like it was made of thick spider webs. Though I couldn’t see the face clearly, it was obvious when the figure broke into a leering grin. It held up a large scimitar with red jewels on the handle.
I threw open my door and scrambled out of the car, Helen following right behind me. The figure lunged forward, thrusting the blade through the shattered window and missing Helen by inches.
The figure withdrew his scimitar and ran around to the front of the car. Helen and I moved to the back. The figure gave us a friendly wave, and then spun his scimitar like a circus performer.
He feinted to the left, and then rushed back around the passenger side of the vehicle. Helen and I darted back to the driver’s side. The figure stopped at the broken window and waved again. We stared at each other for a long moment.
“What the hell are you supposed to be?” I asked.
“I’m your bestest friend in the whole wide world!” he said in a high-pitched, little-boy voice. Then he began to laugh, a maniacal cackle that probably would have shattered the window had it not already been broken.
I wanted to turn and run, but just based on the pursuit so far I could tell that this guy was fast. And if this was the same person responsible for the slaughter at Patricia’s house, I didn’t think highly of my chances to escape him.
I had to fight him.
He tossed the scimitar into the air. It flipped end-over-end a couple of times, and then he caught it by the handle. “Not too bad, eh? I’m gonna cut ya. Gonna cut ya all up!”
Helen was trembling and was breathing so rapidly I thought she might hyperventilate. I reached inside the car and removed the keys from the ignition.
“Whatcha gonna do with thoooooose?” asked the man, scratching his head with exaggerated confusion. “Can’t drive the car without the keys! Nope, gotta have the keys or ya can’t drive the car, that’s the way the world works!”
I put my hand on Helen’s shoulder. The man leaned his head through the window. “Guess what?”
“What?” I asked.
“That’s what!” More laughter. The man pulled his head out and waved again. “Guess what?”
“I’m gonna getcha!” He took off running around the car, as Helen and I sped in the opposite direction.
fast. And as he ran, he raised the scimitar above his head.
We darted around the front of the car. He was only a few steps behind us.
And then only a couple.
Then I could hear the
of the scimitar, and caught a glimpse of the silver blade, flying toward Helen’s neck.