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The Beast House
By Richard Laymon
Dorchester PublishingCopyright © 1986 Richard Laymon
All right reserved.
Chapter One"What you need," Nora said, "is a good fucking."
"Look around you, take your pick. You're the best-looking gal here."
Tyler didn't look. Instead, she took a sip of her Baileys.
"I'm serious," Nora said.
"Plastered but lucid, hon. You need a good fucking. You've been pissin' and moanin' ever since we got to San Francisco. Shit, if you didn't want to come to the convention, you should've stayed home."
"I didn't know it'd be this bad," Tyler said.
"What'd you expect, Ringling Brothers? These things are always a drag. What do you want from a bunch of librarians?"
"It's not that."
"What is it?"
"What's wrong with the city? It's gorgeous."
"You pissed 'cause the cable cars aren't running?"
"Sure," Tyler said. She tried to smile, but couldn't.
"Come on, what's wrong? Cough it up."
"I just feel rotten, that's all."
"Rotten lonely." Tyler lowered her gaze from Nora's shadowy face. She stared at the candle in front of her. Its flame streaked and blurred as tears came to her eyes. She backhanded the tears away, and took a drinkof her Irish cream. "It's this damn city," she said. "Being here again. I thought I'd be okay, but ... everywhere I go, everywhere I look, they're all places I've been with him."
Tyler nodded. "He even brought me up here once to see the revolving bar. We had margaritas. Then we walked down to North Beach and went to the City Lights and that second-hand bookstore across the alley I showed you yesterday."
"When was all this?"
"About five years ago. I was a senior at San Francisco State. Dan-that was his name-Dan Jenson. He lived in Mill Valley, over in Marin. I met him on the Dipsey Trail."
Nora made a face. "The Dipsey Trail?"
"It goes from Mill Valley, up into the hills around Mount Tam, and finally ends up at Stinson Beach. Anyway, that's where we met. I was hiking it with my roommate, and he was running it to get in shape for the annual race ..."
"And it was love at first sight?"
"He knocked me on my can," Tyler said. The memory of it forced a smile. "I gave him hell for running me down. Not exactly love at first sight. That came later-five, six minutes later."
"Was it one-sided?"
"I think he loved me, too."
"So what went ... oh no." Nora suddenly looked stricken with pity. "He died?"
"Hardly. I was accepted for graduate school at UCLA and he had a job in Mill Valley. I wouldn't give up grad school, he wouldn't give up his job. Simple as that."
"Jesus, I don't believe it. You just threw each other away like that?"
"We both wanted our careers. I told him he could be a cop anywhere, but ... he was very stubborn. So was I."
"That was the end of it?"
"I wrote him a letter. He never ... The way he looked at it, the whole mess was my fault. I was supposed to drop everything and marry him."
"Oh Christ, he actually proposed to you?"
"He actually did."
"And you know what else?"
"I'm twenty-six, I've got a job half the people at this convention would kill to get, and I'm thinking I made the biggest mistake of my life when I left Dan."
"This just occurred to you?"
"It occurred to me a long time ago. I just figured, you know, I'd meet someone else."
"And you haven't."
"Nobody I love."
"What're you gonna do about it?"
"What can I do? I made my choice five years ago. I just have to live with it."
"Yeah. There's always the Golden Gate. Conveniently located."
"Don't even joke about that," Nora said.
"I really feel ... oh shit," she muttered as she started weeping again. "I really feel ... sometimes ... like I threw my life away."
"Hey, hey." Nora reached across the table and took her hand. "It's not the end of the world. What I was gonna suggest-you feel so strongly about this, why not give him another shot? We're how far from Mill Valley? Not very far, are we?"
Tyler shrugged and sniffed. "I don't know, half an hour."
"So drive over tomorrow and look him up."
"I can't do that."
"Why the hell not?"
"It's been five years! He's probably already married ... He might not even live there anymore."
"If that job was so important he let you slip out of his fingers, he'll be there."
"I can't, Nora."
"Why not take a shot? What've you got to lose? For all you know ..."
"No." The thought of it made her sick with dread.
"If you need some moral support, I'll come with you."
Tyler said, "We have to drive back tomorrow."
"What for? We've got two more glorious weeks of summer vacation before the rat race starts. What's so important you have to get home? 'Fraid your house-plants'll croak? Let's drive over to Marin, first thing in the morning, and try to find this Dan of yours. If it doesn't work out, what've we lost? An hour or so? We can still make it to LA by dark."
"I don't know. I want to think about it."
"What's to think about? Go for it."
"I don't know." Tyler finished her Baileys. She rubbed her face. "I ... feel so confused. I'm going back to my room. Are you gonna stay here?"
Nora nodded. "Night's young. I'll leave the connecting door unlocked. Wake me up at first light, okay?"
"First light? Sure thing."
In her room on the sixth floor, Tyler flopped onto the bed. The ceiling seemed to be revolving slowly like the bar she'd just left.
She'd had too many drinks.
How many? Let's see. Three vodka tonics at the cocktail party before the banquet. God knows how much wine with dinner. Three or four glassfuls, maybe. Then two snifters of Baileys Irish Cream in the bar with Nora. No wonder the ceiling wouldn't stand still.
No wonder she'd blabbed.
If she'd been sober, she would've kept all that about Dan to herself. Nothing like a few drinks to loosen the tongue, make you say things you wish you hadn't.
Let Nora put down a few more, maybe she won't remember and they can drive on back tomorrow the way they'd planned.
I can always tell her no. Put my foot down.
Her legs were hanging off the side of the bed. Her feet, resting on the floor, felt cramped. With an effort, she lifted one across her knee and pulled the shoe off. She sat up to take off the other, then remained motionless while a wave of dizziness passed.
At least she didn't feel nauseated. Just a little tipsy.
Tipsy's the word for it, all right, she thought, and let herself tip over. She drew her legs up and lay on her side, a bent arm cushioning her head.
What'll I do?
Stir your bones and take some aspirin and a few glasses of water or you'll really feel like hell in the morning.
The morning. God, the morning. What'll I do?
Tell Nora no. No, no, Nora, I don't want to go.
Because, damn it, it would hurt too much to see him again-even to try. He'll have a wife, and she could've been me. You don't know he's married. He might be single and lonely. He might still want you.
Why did I open my mouth to Nora? Because I drank too much. And if I fall asleep like this, I'll be sorry.
Rolling onto her back, she drew up the skirt of her sheath dress. She raised a leg, and started to unfasten a stocking from her garter belt.
Dan hated pantyhose. To please him, she'd stopped wearing the things. She'd never gone back to them.
She'd never gone back to smoking pot, either.
And she still wore her hair short, the way he liked it. Makes you look like Peter Pan, he'd said. Peter Pan's a boy, she'd reminded him, and added that perhaps the hairstyle appealed to his latent homosexuality. Oh yeah? he'd said. Come here and we'll see if I'm a fag.
Big macho cop.
God, she missed him.
She pulled the garter belt out from under her. She slipped her panties down, and kicked them off. Then she stretched, enjoying the feel of the cool bedspread against her buttocks and legs. She could doze off right now, so easily. With a deep sigh, she sat up. She struggled with the zipper at the back of her dress, pulled the dress over her head, and removed her bra. She climbed off the bed and started to gather her clothes.
While she'd kept her hair the same, stayed away from pantyhose and pot, changed very little about herself since leaving Dan, there was one major difference. She'd been chubby, then. In her first term at UCLA, she'd dropped fifteen pounds. As if she'd left her appetite with Dan. Though the appetite had eventually returned, she'd had no trouble keeping the weight off.
She took her nightgown from the suitcase, but didn't put it on. She stepped in front of the mirror. Her eyes looked a little funny. That was the booze. She drew a forefinger over her cheekbone. For all Dan knew, she didn't have cheekbones. Or a waist. Or hipbones.
She grinned at the Tyler Moran he'd never seen.
He'll go ape, she thought.
Her heart started thudding, for she suddenly realized she would be making that trip tomorrow. No matter the pain no matter the outcome. If she didn't, she would always wonder about Dan, about the second chance thrown away and she would never stop regretting it.
Her racing heart made her head throb.
She put the nightgown on. In the bathroom, she took three aspirin and drank three full tumblers of cold water.
Then she went to bed.
She lay in the darkness, remembering the look and feel and voice of Dan Jenson, wondering how he might have changed, worrying about what she might find tomorrow in Mill Valley, hoping.
Tyler smiled the next morning when she saw the Mill Valley bus depot through her windshield. "That used to be the best place for paperbacks in the whole town," she said. "Wish I had a buck for every hour I spent in there."
"How're the nerves?" Nora asked, grinning at her from the passenger seat.
"Holding out. But just barely." She wiped her sweaty hands on the legs of her corduroys. The nerves, in fact, were not good. Her heart was beating fast, her mouth was dry, and the armpits of her blouse felt sodden.
"A quaint little burg," Nora said.
"It used to be quainter." She drove slowly along Throckmorton, past brightly painted shops. The road curved. To the left was a wooded area. "Here's where the old mill used to be. The Dipsey Trail starts over there."
"The famous Dipsey Trail."
She turned right onto a sideroad, and stopped at the curb.
"This is it," Tyler said. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "It's that apartment house across the street."
Ducking, Nora looked out of the window. "Rustic," she said.
"Quaint and rustic."
"Can you hack it?"
"We came this far," Tyler told her, and tried very hard to smile.
"Do you want me to wait here?"
"Are you kidding?"
They climbed from the car. While Tyler waited, Nora took her sweater off and tossed it on her seat. "Won't be needing that," she said. She stepped around the rear of the car. She was wearing short culottes and tennis shoes, and without the sweater it was plain that she wore no bra. The powder blue T-shirt clung to her breasts. Her nipples made the fabric jut as if fingers were pushing it out. Tyler wished Nora had kept the sweater on, and she had second thoughts about her friend coming along.
What if Dan ...? No, that's ridiculous.
He probably doesn't even live here anymore.
They crossed the street and climbed a slanted walkway toward the weathered wood-frame apartment house. Nora's breasts jiggled slightly with each step.
Dan won't notice. Of course he will.
Even dressed modestly, Nora drew men like iron filings to a magnet. Her size must be part of it. She was five eleven barefoot. She dwarfed most other women, Tyler included. She was slender, but not at all gawky. Though her face was a bit too long, her teeth too prominent, her chin not quite prominent enough for real beauty, her blue eyes had an intensity that made the imperfections less noticeable. And there was something erotic about her wide mouth, her full lips.
Nora radiated sexuality. Not only men noticed it. So did women, and many seemed to resent it.
Tyler was not very happy about it herself, as they stepped into the shadowed entryway.
Don't worry, she told herself. I'm the one Dan loved. Besides, Nora won't try anything. She's my best friend. She knows how I feel.
Tyler stepped close to the panel of mailboxes. "He was in number four," she said.
The name, embossed on a strip of red plastic above the mail slot, was B. Lawrence. They checked the other labels. "No Jenson," Nora said. "You sure you've got the right building?"
"Positive." She felt a tug of disappointment, but it was mixed with relief. Her voice sounded shaky as she said, "I knew it'd be a waste of time."
Nora squeezed her shoulder. She looked determined. "It's not over yet, hon. You're with Nora Branson, ace reference librarian. What I don't know, I find out. Just a matter of research. First we check on B. Lawrence, then the manager. If they don't pan out, there's the telephone directory. If that doesn't work, we'll pay a visit to the local constabulary. If Dan's not with them anymore, they'll probably know where he went. He'll have friends in the department, not to mention a personnel file that'll tell where they sent his references."
"Maybe we should just forget it."
"No way. This is your life we're talking about. You obviously love the guy. One way or another, we're gonna find him for you. Where's number four?"
Tyler sighed. "Upstairs."
She followed Nora up the wooden stairway to a balcony that stretched the length of the building front. They stopped at the first door to the right. Five years ago, it had been stained wood. Since then, someone had applied bright, lime green paint. The trim was orange. A windchime of clay pipes, suspended just above the door, clinked softly in the breeze.
Tyler knew that Dan didn't live here anymore, but her heart thudded wildly when Nora rang the doorbell. She took deep breaths, trying to calm herself.
The door opened. A short, chubby woman in a muumuu and curlers smiled out at them. "Greetings," she said. "What can I do for you?"
Before Tyler could answer, Nora said, "We're looking for Dan Jenson. Apparently he used to live here."
"Righto. Steely Dan the cop. My old bud. You friends of his?"
Nora darted a thumb at Tyler. "They're old buds."
"Ah ha!" Nodding, she studied Tyler with one eye half shut, and shook a forefinger at her. "I knew it, knew I'd seen your face. Knew it the minute I looked at you. You're the girl in the picture. That eight by five he kept over the fireplace. Sure. That was you, wasn't it?"
Tyler shrugged. She didn't know the picture, but Dan had always been snapping photos of her. He liked to catch her unaware-for the "natural look," as he called it. He'd even taken a shot, once, as she stepped out of the shower. She blushed at the memory. Obviously, that hadn't been the picture he'd blown up for the mantel.
"The girl he called Tippy, am I right?"
"Tippy?" Nora asked.
"Short for Tippecanoe," she explained. "Tippecanoe and Tyler, too."
"That's Dan. Always one for the nicknames. I was always Barbie Doll. I lived down in number one, back when he was here. He used to have me up for pizza. Oh, he made luscious pizza."
"My recipe," Tyler muttered. She felt an ache like homesickness. "I showed him how to make it."
"Oh, I'm drooling at the thought of it. How I miss his pizza."
"I could send you the recipe."
"Would you?" She snatched Tyler's hand and squeezed it. "You're such a dear. It's no wonder at all Dan was that stuck on you. He'll be tickled to death to see you again. You will be ...?"
"Then you know where he is?" Nora asked.
Tyler's heart lurched.
"He left here ... oh, better than two years ago. I moved right in. My old apartment was so cramped, it was like living in a closet. This is two bedrooms, you know. Gives me some space to spread out. A girl needs her elbow room."
"Is Dan still in Mill Valley?" Nora persisted.
"Oh no. He took a job on the force up at Malcasa Point. Said he wanted to get out of the Bay Area, though I can't imagine why. You know Malcasa? No? Let me tell you, it's the sticks. I can't feature anyone living there. But different strokes, am I right? Not even a decent restaurant, much less a movie theater. I doubt there's a shopping mall within fifty miles. When I say sticks, I mean sticks. But that's what he wanted and that's what he got."
Excerpted from The Beast House by Richard Laymon Copyright © 1986 by Richard Laymon. Excerpted by permission.
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