|Publisher:||Open Road Integrated Media LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.60(d)|
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By Ray Garton
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1997 Ray Garton
All rights reserved.
Bent was on the telephone when the man walked into his tiny, cluttered office.
"I assure you, Mrs. Liedecker," Bent was saying, "the story will not reflect that at all."
"It's just that I'm so upset about, y'know, about what you saw when you were here," the woman said. "I know my husband was drunk. He'd had a few too many beers and was —"
"Look, it's no problem, Mrs. Liedecker."
" — no, really, really, I just don't want you to think he's that way, because he's not most of the time, he's just —"
"I assure you, Mrs. Liedecker, the story I'm writing has nothing to do with your husband's drinking. I'm only concerned about the demons you say have infested your house."
"Whatta you mean, the demons I say have infested my house? You mean you don't believe me?"
Bent rolled his eyes and then looked up at the man in his office. He stared at him a moment, silent, not sure who he was or why he was there, but he motioned to the only other chair in the room anyway, silently telling him to take a seat.
"Mrs. Liedecker, if I didn't believe you —"
"I just can't understand how you couldn't believe us after all we — you think we weren't tortured! You think we weren't sodomized by those demons!"
"No, no, it's not that. You told me the stories, you showed me your journal — and what about the Polaroids of your husband bent over the sink like that, huh? So why would I have flown out from Los Angeles to see you and your family and spend time in your house? Why would I have gone to that trouble? In fact, why would I have this job? Did you ever think about that? Why would I be working for the Global Inquisitor, then, huh? If I couldn't believe a story like yours? No, no, I don't think so. Rest assured, all I meant by what I said was this."
Think fast, buddy, think fast, he thought to himself, eyes closed as he rubbed his temples with the thumb and forefinger of one hand, elbow pressed hard against the edge of the desktop as he tried hard to pay no attention to the fact that he had an audience.
"You see," he said, "the important thing is that you were astute enough to recognize that —"
"I was what enough? What's that supposed to mean?"
"Astute. That means you were, you were, um ... sensitive enough, that's what I meant, sensitive enough to think that your house was infested with demons, sensitive enough to realize it."
"I mean, think of all the people out there who have demons in their houses but don't even know it, because they don't think the way you do, they're not as open-minded as you are."
"Not as ass-tute as I am?"
"Exactly. You see what I mean, then, Mrs. Liedecker?"
There was a pause on the other end of the line in which Bent could hear her breathing; she sounded like she had a rather wet sinus problem.
"Yes," she said thoughtfully, "yes, I think I do. And you're right. Yes. Yes, I think you are definitely right."
"Good, good, I'm glad. You have no reason to worry. My story is not going to be about your husband's drinking prob — his, I mean, his drinking. I understand that sort of thing, really, and it has nothing to do with this story."
"And my son? I mean, his ... his drug problem?"
"What drug problem?"
She laughed with relief. "Thank you so much, Mr. Noble. You've made me feel a lot better."
"I'm glad. Now, I promise you we'll be in touch. Give my best to your nice family and you take care, okay?"
He replaced the receiver with a grumbling sigh and sat there for a moment with his elbows on the desk and his face in his hands.
Bentley Noble was a quarter inch short of six feet, thin and not very muscular, with black hair that was beginning to recede and a black beard and mustache, which he kept closely trimmed. His skin had an olive tone that led most people to believe he had a tan when he really didn't because, in fact, he despised the sun and despised even more the practice of wasting time lying beneath it. His mother was a full-blooded Greek with the raging temper to prove it, while his father was a mixture of British and Portuguese. Both were dark and had passed that on to Bentley. Sometimes when he looked at pictures of his father when he was at the age Bent was now, he was stunned by the resemblance, right down to the formation of his receding hairline. Threads of gray ran through his black hair, especially above his ears, and even in his beard, all of which brought out his light sea-green eyes, just like those pictures of his father.
Bent finally lifted his face from his hands and smiled brightly at his visitor as he said, "Hi, there. And what can I do for you?"
The man was in his late thirties, maybe even forty or so, rugged-looking with a jaw shadowed by stubble that held a hint of gray. He wore faded blue jeans, a blue chambray work shirt beneath a dusty denim jacket, and a cap over his thick dirty-blond hair that had an oval-shaped patch on the front that read:
POLLIMAR CONSTRUCTION CO. PUNCTUALITY & PERFECTION
He was lean and muscular and his face was knotted in a mask of worry and distracted concern.
"Hiya," he said with a weak smile. His voice was low, a little shy-sounding.
Seeing how very uncomfortable the man was, Bent stood from his chair, leaned forward, and held out his hand to shake, still smiling as he said, "Bentley Noble. You can call me Bent. Everybody does."
The man stood, too, and they shook.
"Yeah, I know who you are," he said pleasantly. "I'm David Kotter."
"Well, Mr. Kotter, what brings you to my office? In fact, how the hell did you find my office?" He laughed, leaning back in his chair and folding his hands beneath his chin, elbows on the chair's armrests. "Half the time, I can't find my office."
"Actually," Mr. Kotter said, fidgeting in his chair, "my wife was the one who found it. Y-you, um, got some letters from her. I dunno if you remember 'em or not, but you got 'em."
"Your, um, wife? And what would her name be?" Bent leaned forward and folded his hands on his desk.
"Nattie? Nattie Kotter?"
"Hmm, Nattie Kotter. And what might those letters have been regarding?"
"Uuhh, Lib ... um, Liberace."
"Liberace? Well, let me think. Uh, Liberace, Liberace, let's see ..." He leaned back in the chair again and touched a knuckle to his chin, cocking his head back as he thought, eyes closed. "Hmm. Was she the one —" He leaned forward again, snapping his fingers." — she was receiving messages from Liberace about, um ... sex, wasn't it? About how she should, uh ... well, have sex with her husband? Who would ... of course ... be you."
Kotter winced and looked away. "Yeah, those're the letters."
"Well, I'm sorry to say I haven't been able to answer them. In fact, I'm afraid I don't remember them all that well. Things have been pretty busy around here, as I'm sure you noticed when you came in," Bent said, gesturing toward the telephone. "I'm afraid you'll just have to fill me in on what your wife had to say." Actually, Bent did remember those letters well and knew right away he was in for an embarrassing conversation. It would be a little less embarrassing, however, if he let Kotter give all the gory details and just sat back and listened.
"Oh. Well." It was Kotter's turn to roll his eyes, then lower his face into his palm as he sat silently in the chair. "Okay," he said finally and firmly, slapping his hands onto his knees decisively and digging his fingers into them hard. "Okay, here's the deal. Y'see, she thinks Liberace's talkin' to her, y'see. She thinks he's given' her these, uh ... well, y'know, these messages."
Bent shuffled over his desk and found his notebook, poised a pen to take notes, then asked, "What exactly are these messages, Mr. Kotter?"
"Well, y'know, like you said ... um, they were about sex. About sex between us ... her and me ... about the, um, kinda sex we have."
Bent leaned his head back and scratched under his chin with two fingers as he asked slowly, "Do you and your wife engage in a particular sexual practice of which Liberace disapproves?"
"Well, um ..." He looked down at his lap where his fingers fumbled with one another as he shrugged with one shoulder. "Yeah. Yeah, um, it's ... oral sex," he muttered.
"I'm sorry? Did you say oral sex?"
Bent took some notes and continued jotting things down now and then through the rest of the conversation. "Did Liberace say why he was so opposed to you and your wife having oral sex?"
"Well ... look, Mr. Noble, you gotta remember ... this is comin' from my wife, okay? Not me."
"Okay. Well, Liberace, see, says that ... that his mother says it isn't right. She says that someone as devoted to him as Nattie is should be living a clean life, setting an example. Something like that. And she says that oral sex is dirty, so Liberace has been telling her she shouldn't do it because ... well, like my wife says ... he does whatever his mother tells him."
"I see." Bent began tapping the eraser end of his pencil lightly on the notebook. "Why have you come to me with this, exactly? Not that I mind, of course. I'm just curious."
"Well, see, Liberace says —" He closed his eyes and sighed. "I mean, Nattie says that Liberace says that he has other things to say, and that she should contact you so you can write those things down and publish them in your paper."
"Mm-hm. Any idea what those things are?"
Kotter shook his head. "She won't tell me — only you. I think they were in some of her latest letters to you. All I know is that she doesn't want you to write about the sex thing. She's got somethin' more important to tell you. Whatever that is. Guess you'll have to talk to her."
"Why didn't she come?"
"Well, see, she's a little, um ... upset with you for not answering her letters. And she says you have to come see her. It's important that you come out to the trailer," he said. "Important to her, I mean."
"Mm-hm. And is she still, uh, denying you the, uh ..." He waved the pencil through the air vaguely.
"Oh, yeah. Yeah, she sure is. That's why I came to you. See, Nattie says that Liberace says that if you'll listen to what he has to say and you agree to write it for your paper, he might be able to persuade his mother to relax about the, uh ... y'know, the other thing."
"So, you want me to come out to your place ... have a talk with your wife ... write a piece about what Liberace has to say ... and then publish it so your wife will —"
Kotter suddenly interrupted in a burst of breath, "Boy, Mr. Noble, I sure wish you would."
"Why didn't you call me first? Save yourself the trip?"
"We, um ... we don't have a phone, for one thing. And I guess I preferred to meet with you in person."
"I see. So, my coming to see your wife is important to you, too." Bent said with a slight smile. "Well, I don't know, Mr. Kotter. I can't promise you any of it would end up in the Inquisitor because, of course, that sort of thing is all up to my editor. But, um ..." Bent chewed on the pencil, frowning as he tried hard to think of a way out of this. If the messages were coming from Elvis, he could pass it on to Kelsey at the Elvis Desk, but he'd never touch a Liberace story. In fact, there hadn't been a Liberace story since the guy died.
Of course, Bent could take it himself. He could see the headline:
LIBERACE WARNS WOMAN OF IMMORALITY OF ORAL SEX
It did have a certain resonance to it, considering how the guy died. But, he had to ask himself if he really wanted to spend a few hours talking to a woman who'd gone cold to her husband because Liberace's mother was offended by blow jobs.
Then again, it was better than watching cops pull the sliced-up, rat-chewed bodies of murder victims out of a smelly tenement in New York, wasn't it? That was, after all, why he was working on the Global Inquisitor these days. Wasn't it?
"Look, Mr. Noble," Kotter said, leaning forward, suddenly concerned, "I don't want you to misunderstand me. I know what you must be thinkin' about all this. Prob'ly the same thing I been thinkin' ever since she told me about it. It's crazy, I know. B-but ... I really do love my wife, y'know. I mean, hell, we been married nearly twenty-two years. Got married right outta high school." A wistful smile crossed his face for just a moment. "Spent most of our lives together, y'know? Hell, even if Nattie never ... y'know, did that, that thing again, y'know, I'd still love her. That don't mean I wouldn't miss it, a'course. But, see," he went on, a little hesitant now, "Nattie's been, um ... well, she's not very well."
Thank god one of them realizes that, Bent thought as he said, "Oh? Well, I'm very sorry to hear that."
"No, I mean, not sick like dyin' sick. Sick like ... well, we could never afford the kinda doctors she needs, so ... well, I just keep hopin' it'll go away on its own, y'know? The messages from Liberace and her sittin' in that room lookin' at her pictures of Liberace, talkin' to herself..."
"She talks to herself?"
David looked embarrassed. "Well ... sometimes, yeah. But she's just ... well, she's not herself."
"I see," Bent said quietly with a nod.
"Really, Mr. Noble, you just gotta talk to her. If you want to, I mean. I wish you would. It'd mean a lot to Nattie. To me, too."
"I'm sure it would."
"I'd be glad to drive you out there and back if you'd like."
"Where do you live?"
"Well, we got a little trailer out past San Berdo? Y'know, San Bernardino? Out there in the desert? It's in the middle of nowhere, you wanna know the truth. It's kind of a long drive, but I'd be happy to take you."
Bent nodded slowly, thoughtfully. "Okay, Mr. Kotter, I'll tell you what. Let me have a little chat with my editor, and, uh —" He checked his watch; it was only nine-forty "— it's early and I've got a pretty light day, so why don't we just head out and see your wife this morning?"
Kotter's face split into a large grin and he leaned forward and clutched the edge of Bent's desktop. "Really?"
I'm afraid so, Bent thought as he said with a smile, "Really."
Bent left Kotter in his office with a cup of coffee and a poppy-seed muffin, then headed down the corridor to the office of his editor, Bernie Fleck.
In the outer office, Fleck's secretary, Karen, looked up from the fax machine and gave him a big smile. She wore a bright red ribbed cotton knit dress that was, of course, too short and too tight, all the better to show off the full and curvy shape beneath it.
"Hi, Bent," she said, reaching up to lightly touch her auburn hair. "How's it going?"
"Much better now that I've seen you, Karen, my dear. Is our esteemed editor-in-chief on the premises?"
"No, he's on the phone."
"Fine." He gave her a smile and went into the office unannounced, where Fleck was just hanging up the telephone.
Bernie Fleck was a short, squat man, fifty-two, with a face that often reminded people of Edward G. Robinson, except it was gentler, softer, the face of a man who loved children, was respectful toward women, and who had a glimmer of romance in his small blue eyes. But, other than the resemblance to Edward G. Robinson, the people who thought that were all wrong, completely and entirely wrong.
"You know what that shriveled twat wants now?" Fleck grumbled. He had a tendency to talk quietly out of the left side of his mouth when he was angry, almost as if that side of his mouth had a fat, invisible cigar clenched in it tightly.
"How many shriveled twats you know?"
"Oh. Ms. Bergenstern." Barbara Bergenstern was the owner and publisher of the Global Inquisitor and had few, if any, friends among her employees.
"Who else?" He rubbed his hands together. There was an open bag of red pistachios on his desk and his meaty fingers were stained a light pink.
"What's she want?" Bent took a seat in front of the desk.
"Human interest," Fleck growled.
"Human interest, you believe that?" He ran his thick, pink-tipped fingers through his thinning light brown hair with the stripes of gray that were so symmetrical they almost looked fake.
"Well, uh ... you know, we deal in a lot of things here, Fleck, but the way I see it, very, very few of them are human interest. In fact, very few of them are, by any stretch of the imagination, related even vaguely to humanity. So. What's the deal?"
Excerpted from Shackled by Ray Garton. Copyright © 1997 Ray Garton. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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