Chapter Four – Jeopardy Surface
After Babe left, there was still one mission to accomplish so important she couldn’t even wait for that longed-for cup of coffee. She dialed Bish’s number.
To her considerable relief, Cinda answered.
“Hi, Persey here. Hope I didn’t wake you up. Just checking to see if you’re still speaking to me.” Jarod’s parties usually took a full day of recovery. Possibly several.
“We’re fine. We’re sitting in the Jacuzzi. Bish woke up in somebody’s flowerbed.”
A flowerbed? But whose? How far into the surrounding neighborhood was Jarod’s infection – all right, “party” spread? The detective talked about a “jeopardy surface.“ Still too early in the day to try out this novel turn of phrase on Bish.
“Whose flowerbed? Are you all right?”
“Don’t be silly Persey, we had a wonderful time. Those people are so crazy! I only wish I could be more like them. I admire anyone who’s managed to unload all their inhibitions!”
“Aren’t inhibitions a mark of civilized progress?” said Persey, thinking of the serial killer. Somewhere out there was a man without inhibitions. A man with the power to make fantasy come to life. And then to death.
Returned Cinda, “Bet you really want to talk to Bish.”
Cinda was usually pretty good-natured about the fact that Bish was Persey’s closest friend in their triad. A fact that, obviously, needed to be concealed from Roy. A man jealous of a dog was more than capable of ruling out a friendship even with a happily married man of whatever libidinal wattage.
Bish’s voice sounded faint and reedy as if he struggled with a long illness. “Hello, gorgeous!”
Such a relief to hear him. She could picture his pale and scoliotic body in the
foam, the few scraps of silver-blond hair he had left clinging to his enlarged skull.
“You OK? Did you get pecked by crows? Catch a case of blight? Or mildew? Anything?”
“Princess,” he drawled, “you are uselessly, yet so flatteringly protective. I had the night of my life. Freedom’s a bitch and that’s a fact, yet as Homo sapiens we must step to the plate. Where have these parties been all my life? Adults in – and then out – of costume!”
Persey remembered all too well. If only Bish had not chosen to attend disguised as a medieval Scottish king.
“And it wasn’t a mere flowerbed,” he continued with dignity. “It was a field of roses. But I do feel I caught a touch of something. Possibly greenfly.
O Rose–” quoted thrillingly —
“Thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy
And his dark secret — love
Does thy life destroy.
Possibly I have a previously undiagnosed allergy to roses. Cinda says it
seems she is allergic to the full Brazilian. That’s why we’re sitting in the Jacuzzi. This itching is torture.”
“Tell her that goes away,” said Persey. “I don’t know about greenfly.”
“Away, alas, alas,” sighed Bish sentimentally. “Like everything else. Away, away. The things you say, Persey! As the poet Swinburne so nobly said –”
Persey hastened to derail him.
“So how did you get there? Do you even remember?”
Odd how strong the link was between her and Bish. She encountered the
worms he poeticized about. And there had been a lot of them. Yet she was fine;
no greenfly here; stronger if anything. Maybe one of the reasons she liked Bish so much was because he was the only person in the universe frailer than she. They could nerve each other up, so to speak.
“I remember perfectly and I’m not going to share it with you. Alas my Royal Stewart is ruined but it did not die in vain. Suffice to say that as a self-slain god on his own strange altar I achieved transcendence. Last night will remain a cherished memory in my boring, quotidian existence. One last gasp of youth before senility and arthritis overwhelm the pulse of manhood. Unless you invite me to another of the adorable Mr. Gunver’s parties.”
“We’ll see,” sighed Persey, still feeling exasperated. Why did everyone like Jarod so much? Because he was the original pusher-man? Anything people needed, he provided, and the cops did not come calling. Well, he couldn’t provide Persey with her “fix”, which was his own absence. She would never ask Jarod for another favor ever again as long as she lived, if she could help it.
He’d claimed a hideously unpleasant reward for this one; a sloppy and disgusting French kiss. And Roy just stood there, beaming at the pair of them.
Persey struggled to express her complicated idea. That was one of Bish’s wonders; you could say anything around him. He helped her understand and acknowledge her own most elusive ideas.
“I feel I need forgiveness if I’ve compromised your morals.”
“What morals? Princess, you make me feel so old. No, no, no, no, no. Here’s a motto for you; never explain, never apologize. La Princesse Lointaine will seek neither permission nor forgiveness. If you had any idea how humbly I aspire to decadence… what was that hostess’ name – Misty, Smokie –“
“Whatever. She came on to ME! Me! It was glorious. A never-to-be-forgotten moment in the annals of Bishop DeBarr. She even promised to do all the work, like a rider mower.”
Persey laughed in spite of herself.
“Don’t be too flattered. Stormee comes on to inanimate objects.”
“Thank you very much,” Bish said frigidly, “But I’m virtually certain she was
responding to my personal charms. I declaimed to her my epic poem-in-progress about footballers and she seemed really interested. Of course I changed it to bodybuilders to intrigue her interest.”
“Well, don’t take her up on her offer. You’ll catch something worse than mildew. But I’m relieved to hear you both had a good time.”
“Call it a marriage-therapy-cum-encounter-qua-bonding bondage weekend packed into just a few short hours. How the Maenads danced! I had no idea my wife was such a limbo champion. Win, place and show. There wasn’t a competitor who could touch her.”
She heard Cinda’s barking voice followed by a struggle for the phone.
“Sorry, Persephone. Dropped the cordless in the water but it doesn’t seem any the worse. My only regret is that you had to rush back to your tower and miss all the excitement, but I understand your fairy spell of solitude. Ah, the Lady of Shalott shall web her loom of life these weary hours. By the way, are you coming to book club next week? We’re doing James Tiptree, Jr. He was a she. You can borrow my collected works if you’d like.“
“I’d like,” said Persey, thinking, I am not under a fairy spell of solitude. Think how she could surprise everybody, if she chose! Bish was the one person she could safely tell about her “adventure”. If he promised not to tell Cinda he could even be relied on to keep that promise.
“Don’t worry about me, Princess. I’ve been running my own life with modest success since I turned thirty. See you at book club, or before if you choose to pick up a well-thumbed volume. Kisses.”
As she hung up the phone the clock swelled to exaggerated size, the numbers seeming both to mock and threaten. She didn’t want to have to tell Roy she’d passed a full day without working. She was lucky he allowed her to go to book club, with his attitude towards literature as a snob’s game. His prejudice against poetry was particularly ridiculous, since he’d memorized every rock lyric of the past twenty years. Neither he not Jarod could lead their lives without a soundtrack provided by very artistic young men.
But of course everyone was a mass of contradictions. If she didn’t point out Roy’s, he wouldn’t point out hers. Deal. Putting her wine in the refrigerator, she poured herself a ceremonial cup of coffee and went downstairs to tackle the bills.
Persey’s desk was in the basement laundry room. That was her choice. If she had wanted something as ostentatious as Roy’s wood paneled study with the glass gun cabinets and the Civil War memorabilia, the house was big enough to allow it. But the basement had the advantage of being cool, quiet and utilitarian; a place she only visited when she had a job to do; a place she could leave just as soon as “the job” was done. In some inchoate way Persey felt the house resembled her own self; glamorous, artful surfaces masking unplumbed depths. She was Roy’s bookkeeper, and bookkeeping was a lot like spying. Made her feel a little dirty. In need of a shower.
She certainly would never go near Roy’s computer; she had learned her lesson there. Just jiggling buttons while dusting unleashed a Girls-Gone-Crazy popup “pornado”. Persey understood; with men, sex is visual. “Leave the light on” crossed with male curiosity equals Internet marketing bonanza. A plague of medieval intensity had taken over Roy’s desktop, even his start menu. More summits for him and Jarod to egg each other on about.
In Persey’s considered opinion her husband’s “bro-mance” was a transparent attempt to replace his long-dead twin. He might say how much he’d hated his brother, but there had to have been a time when they were close, before competition for inaccessible, quarrelling parents slid the knife between them.
At any rate, it felt better not to think about it. An appetite for computer porn was way preferable to her first husband’s taste for real live women – in his case waitresses in need of a job. Terrified of and disgusted by disease, Roy was too fastidious for real live women. He openly despised them, comparing each aloud unfavorably to his goddess of a wife. In his eyes, Persey was perfect. He didn’t even nag her to get a boob job, as her first husband had. Cinda, who referred to Roy as “that glam Nazi,” claimed to envy their relationship.
Usually she listened to the washing machine while sorting through receipts. The bliss of white noise triggered her mind to wander. If she worked till four, then she could pick Digger up and get something for dinner.
Wanting every expense charged to the business, Roy was a meticulous saver of receipts. Showed how little Babe knew when she said Persey had no idea what Roy did all day. His trail of receipts tracked him as effectively as an all-seeing eye. From $1.99 for coffee at Dunkin Donuts to $14,408 for an ATV, she typed them in haphazardly and let the software program sort them out. Leaving her mind just where she liked it; free to roam and speculate.
What code could she give for example, to a motel receipt? $499 for the month of June. She knew what it was for; Jarod needed a hideaway from Stormee. But it surprised her that he had chosen such a grimy, industrial backwater. She had seen “The International Coach House” from the highway. Why should Jarod select a sleazy spot if someone else was paying? She took a thoughtful sip of coffee and leaned back in her chair.
How delicious if Jarod was the serial killer! If you thought about it, it even made sense. She should figure out a way to run the idea past that detective. He was local, he had the requisite repulsive He was local, he had the requisite repulsive personality, he was always bragging about killing people (legitimately of course, so he claimed.) Think of the pleasure of getting rid of him! In spite of what she’d said to Babe, the truth was he’d worn out his welcome. And now that he was a partner in Roy’s business he was ubiquitous.
It was disturbing that Roy needed Jarod’s approval so badly. Once Persey had been enough for him. She thought about it while shifting laundry into the dryer. Babe seemed determined to flatter him as well; could mother and son be competing now for Jarod as they had once for Roy Senior, and even for Bruce? If partners had fallen in their complex dance, was Jarod now the mirror that aligned them with each other?
It was interestingly bizarre, but not anything she dared mentioning to Roy. He had no patience for “psychobabble”, and if you tried theorizing around Babe she’d make you sorry. Still, this was the kind of tangle Bish loved to tease apart, even if it felt a tad disloyal. And it gave Persey something interesting to think about during boring household tasks.
Alas, much as she yearned for it, her imagination failed to picture Jarod as a serial killer. He was so damn lazy! He routinely roped in other people to do his dirty work. And hadn’t McKick described the victims as prostitutes? Jared was a vice cop, he had his fill of hookers. No big deal to him, a victimless crime as far as he was concerned. Persey didn’t think he was all that interested in women, to tell the truth. He was acquisitive, all right, but probably a disaster in bed – one of those men who feels they’ve won the moment you say yes, so the act itself is humdrum and needs to be rushed through; like paying for dinner. He was a lot more interested in pimps and big league drug dealers. Just another powerful male seeking out other powerful males. And there was something else.
Jarod was a fake. That was the thing Roy just could not see about him. He enjoyed hiding behind the power of the law. In spite of his big talk, he was much too careful of his tender hide to actually risk it on a leveled playing field.
Now the hall clock chimed five as Persey came in the front door overloaded with groceries, pursuing an Airedale as clean and fuzzy as a plush toy. She had to drop the groceries to disarm the security system. It was hurry hurry now. Even if he planned to go out later Roy usually appeared about six, tired, filthy, horny and hungry; wanting everything at once.
She had to change; Roy wouldn’t want to see her in a tracksuit. He demanded something special, just for him, with a plentiful display of such cleavage and she could muster.
No time for a shower; a cropped lace top and jean shorts was the best she could do at a moment’s notice. She wore a sprinkling of the diamonds he so loved giving her, and a larger selection of the opals she so loved receiving.
She placed the deposit slip from Babe’s money transfer on Roy’s side of the bed, then pattered barefoot down to the kitchen to feed the dog and pour her wine from lunch into a balloon glass. The ice had melted by now; the drink was cold and weak. Perfect. She’d had nothing to eat all day, her gut was clenched as usual and anything strong would likely knock her over. As she worked she turned on the television, wondering if there would be any public mention of her discovery .
“Cadaver hunter,” she said aloud, and laughed out loud. She placed a pasta pot of water on boil and pulled the tails off shrimp.
Roy came in angry. She heard the oval stained glass door shiver as he slammed it behind him. He would break that glass eventually, probably while cursing its cheap construction. Too bad. It was the one gift from Babe she really liked – not counting the house. Babe had bought the stained glass Lady and the Unicorn because she said — “Persey, it’s you!” True, the unicorn wore a sappy expression but the colors were glorious and certainly it was unique. The Lady with the long blonde hair was sufficiently lovely that comparison was flattering. Persey would have preferred one of the questing heroines of the Bird Lady’s tales, but no one seemed to want to commemorate them.
Still, looked like its time on earth threatened to be short. Persey fretted that it seemed as fragile as a butterfly wing. Extra glass or Lucite would guarantee it a future but diminish the pleasure of its present. So often that was the way with beauty. It was transient. All you could do was appreciate it for the second it touched you.
This didn’t seem to be one of Roy’s ordinary rages, such as those usually caused by the rudeness of drivers and the ignorance of salespeople. He was shrieking, “THOSE ASSHOLES!”
She turned down the flame under the Newburg sauce, grabbed a Red Dog from the refrigerator and ventured into the hall in time to see him tear a letter to bits and fling it to the floor.
Even though she was never the target Roy’s rages could be scary. Keeping her thoughts to herself was best, examining statements carefully before she made them, that was key. She knew better than to say anything that would set him off. There was something cosmic about this level of fury; he seethed as if he had a volcano inside him. He turned to look at her with his lips pulled back and his eyes flared, like a riderless horse.
“Hon, what is it?” She was afraid even to offer the beer. He looked as if he was searching for something to smash.
His eyes lit on the vase. “What the hell is that?”
Fortunately he didn’t lunge for it immediately. The mention of his mother’s name would hardly calm him down, so for the moment she had to take responsibility. There was a chance he wouldn’t smash it if he thought she had chosen it.
“It’s new,” she said as calmly as she possibly could. Roy expected women to shop and to buy ridiculous things. In his world, that was what they did with their time.
“We’ll get rid of it if you don’t like it.”
Much as she desired its demise she recognized that smashing it would only increase, not defuse, his anger.
“Well, it’s as ugly as sin,” he said. He was coming down now, panting like a runner.
“Then it’s out of here.” Now was the time for beer. She stepped over the paper pieces on the floor, inquiring almost idly, as if she couldn’t possibly care about it,
“What was that?”
“Junk mail.” His mouth worked with difficulty as if he’d suddenly forgotten how to speak. “Those assholes at the lab…those bastards can’t get anything right. Jarod was right… can’t trust the system. Don’t give them anything. ”
“Come sit down and talk to me,” Persey coaxed, deliberately slowing her voice to create a hypnotizing circle of calm. She had learned the trick of matching her breathing to his to slow his down.
“I’m cooking. I can’t leave the stove.”
He looked longingly at her, wanting to be soothed. He tossed back the beer
and crushed the can in his hand. It joined the trash on the floor. He ran a hand over his head and shook off some concrete dust.
“I’m filthy.” He seemed uncertain, as if the dirt had happened to someone else. “I should take a shower.”
She could tell by his tone that wasn’t what he wanted.
“It’s just us, eating in the kitchen.” She reached out and touched his chest. It felt hot, like a feverish child’s. She said seductively, “You know I like the
way you smell,” and was rewarded by his special smile.
According to him, “their” smells were special. Other people stank,
perspired, sweated up a storm, but he and Persey together created odors that entranced, misting the pair of them in a shimmering but unbreakable erotic bubble.
He shook the front of his shirt a little apologetically. “I’ve had a shit day.” “Would you like to eat in the hot tub?”
It would mean cleaning it after, always an annoying chore. But she could tell
by the gratification on his face that she’d nailed it.
“You go on in. I’ll bring in your plate.”
“Only if you get in too. Miss me?”
“You know I did.” When she touched him she could tell the last of his
fireworks had drained away, popping harmlessly in the air like party favors. The beer returned a faint wash of color to the sharp-edged planes of his bony
face. He looked past her hungering for another.
“Bring you one first thing,” She promised. Several if that’s what it took. “You
go get in the tub. Dinner’s ready, I’ll be right there.”
She had been thinking of making a salad and steaming some peas; no time for
that now. Instead she sprinkled cooked rigatoni directly onto Boston lettuce and topped it off with shrimp and Newburg sauce. A little Parmesan cheese, a shake of pepper, put the plates on the tray with napkins, forks, a half bottle of wine and two extra Red Dogs and she was good to go.
Carrying it in, she constructed for herself a conversation that would never happen; Roy asking, “How was your day,” and her reply, “Very successful day cadaver diving. Got a matching pair.”
But Roy thought he already knew how her days went. Bo–ring. Housework, bills, walk. Yawn. Dog, shop, cook. Snore. Already the scenes she had lived this day were sinking down to the deepest part of her mind, the place that stores and generates dreams. It began to feel like something she had overheard, something seen on television happening to someone else. Once upon a time, long, long ago…
She set the hall dial on the surround sound for relaxation; “easy listening”.
He was already in the tub, his filthy clothes cast away along the floor, not far from where hers had been, this afternoon. Another trash bag would soon be pressed into service.
Someday she would have to plan something to say in case Babe garbled out a version of Persey’s misadventure. Since Roy routinely said his mother’s eyes and brain mind were going, it might be easiest to go with that. In the evening’s semi darkness she stepped around the room quietly lighting candles. With just the right lightning, especially tired as he was, he might never notice the scratches or bruises, and if they made love without the light – and he owed her that –any imperfection noticed tomorrow could be attributed to him. Pity to mislead, but an unfortunate necessity when his temper was so volatile. And was it any wonder?
He was a survivor, after all, not just of a competitive, unloving, rage-filled, lonely childhood in a foreign land, not just of his brother and father’s deaths and his mother’s bizarre treatment, but of all the terrible Gulf War stories he and Jarod told. Some of them Persey couldn’t believe – they smiled too much as they one-upped each other. But sometimes the horror shone all too starkly in his eyes.
Those eyes were closed now, and with his pale hair slicked back, he was so handsome he was almost beautiful, with his sharp silver brows and his perfectly cut mouth. Together he and Bruce must have been astonishing, a dizzying display. Lying back against the marble, water bubbling around him, he seemed a spell-struck prince. Talk of a matched pair. Always, always, they had been so perfect together. People often said they seemed like brother and sister. She set the tray on tiles and pulled off her own clothes.
She felt a gush of pride at having snagged him. He was a “catch” – everyone had known it. But the timing was so bad. He was too intense for high school, wanting to marry before she was eighteen, before she had seen the world. She wanted college, he hated school. California was too far away, and when her own mother died, and her father remarried and moved to Florida, there seemed no reason ever to come back here.
Timing was in fact a bitch. When ready to marry she chose the college sweetheart on whom she’d invested everything. It was like using electro-shock on a dying relationship. A predictable disaster. But she hadn’t known how to get out til Roy appeared.
When she saw her husband’s physical fear of Roy she gloried in the primitive pleasure of how good that felt. Though he was thin, Roy was usually the tallest man in any room, and fearlessly confrontational. He loved to fight. Will had backed down immediately and she was free. It helped that she didn’t need anything of his, since Roy had plenty. Like a refugee she ran away in the clothes she stood up in.
As she poured herself a glass of wine she wondered, what set Roy off tonight? It might be the lab results she hadn’t seen in the pile of mail, or some business thing. Well, the good news was Roy never cleaned up after himself so those pieces would still be lying on the floor for her to reconstruct. She would find it out eventually, whatever it was.
He opened his eyes when he heard the pop-top snap. She ministered to him, helping him manage his plate.
“God, this is good,” he said. “What’s in here?”
Roy was easier to handle when he was a little drunk. He finished his third
Red Dog and started in on Persey’s wine. She topped off the glass for him.
As if diving for freedom, a shrimp slid into the water. Persey retrieved it and
flicked it away across the tiled floor. Roy ate and ate; all of his food and half of Persey’s, before he fell back with a sigh.
Taking advantage of his receptive mood, Persey asked a daring question. “You know, your mother said something odd today. She said you found
Bruce’s body. I always thought you told me she found it.”
Roy’s erotic mood was pricked; he lifted his hand from his wife’s breast.
“She’s such a liar!” he barked. “You can never believe a word she says.”
Persey pressed her chest against his shoulder. “Well, what did happen?”
Roy’s jaw worked angrily, as it did sometimes in sleep. He was supposed to wear a mouthguard, but he almost never did. He said tightly, “I don’t know, do I? I wasn’t there.”
As if to punish her for inquiring, he fought back. “That fudge-packer friend of yours made a spectacle of himself at Jarod’s party. God knows what you see in that guy.”
Persey felt his words like quick thrusts to the heart. This brand of assault was deeply unfair, but all too familiar from her own childhood: “Once again your mother made a spectacle of herself,” “Your father’s drunk as usual.”
She had learned never to show that a hit had gone home, otherwise in future they would know just where to strike. She raised her thin, almost white eyebrows and pulled her body. “I thought making a spectacle of yourself was the whole point of Jarod’s parties.”
“We don’t usually get the he-shes,” said Roy, rubbing the stubble on his chin. “You can catch things from those guys.”
Talk about a double standard, thought Persey. She had tried time and again to explain to Roy that Bish was a happily married man with children. So what if he had a fey manner? Why freeze interesting diversity into boring black and white? And look at him and Jarod; they were plenty touchy-feely, covering each other with “wrestling burns”. Why not get all homophobic about that?
Instead she said shortly, “I’m not going to have sex with him. He’s not even gay.” Bish had actually said he was bisexual, but he also said everyone was bisexual. Wouldn’t sweeten Roy’s mood to tell him that.
“He was wearing a skirt,” said Roy. “Everyone saw it.”
“That was a kilt. His great-grandfather was a Scottish lord. The Kings of England wear kilts.”
“There are no Kings of England,” said Roy loftily, his lazy hand languidly encircling her neck. “They only have queens over there.”
They kissed while the bad moment boiled away. Seal’s voice swelled around the corners, oozing from the walls, warning them to cry no more. Roy sang along. “In my bed…in my head…” He knew all the words to this one, too.
He was pretty high now, past the rage, totally relaxed. Soon all would be buried except his need for her. Under his eyelids, the orbs twitched back and forth as if he watched a mind-movie. She could imagine what it depicted. If he fell asleep it might be hard to get him out of the tub. Better not let him go too far.
She touched him between his legs. He woke up all right. She climbed into his lap.
He stood up, bearing her aloft, water running off his skin. Persey enjoyed the contrast of sudden cool air stinging her nipples.
“Want dessert?” she teased him. “Yes,” he said. “You.”
She ducked her head to conceal her sudden smile.
She had to admit she enjoyed extremes; mixing things up, hot water to cold
air, wetness to dryness, rage to lust. It spiced up the erotic momentum and activated the slow inevitability of the launch sequence. Aggression lent savor to the poetry of lovemaking. Already her spirit fled up the carpeted stairs to throw itself in excited anticipation upon luxurious Egyptian linen sheets. Contrasts give life its pleasure, she thought, even though the shock of soft to hard might leave a bruise or two behind.
Bruce was dead, those poor hunted girls were dead, but she and Roy were more than alive. The definition of life was not just feeling and provoking but imagining and remembering. If the fisherman fought to reel in his fish they both slept better after. And the deeper the sleep, the wilder were the dreams that bubbled up, as if from nowhere.