An excerpt from A Kiss Before The Apocalypse
It was an unusually warm, mid-September day in Boston. The kind of day that made one forget the oft-harsh New England winter was on its way, just waiting around the corner, licking its lips and ready to pounce.
Remy Chandler sat in his car at the far end of the Sunbeam Motor Lodge parking lot, sipping his fourth cup of coffee and wishing he had a fifth. He could never have enough coffee. He loved the taste, the smell, the hot feeling as it slid down his throat first thing in the morning; coffee was way up there on his top ten list of favorite things. A beautiful September day made the list as well. Days like today more than proved he had made the right choice in becoming human.
He reached down and turned up the volume on WBZ News Radio. Escalating violence in the Middle East was once again the headline, the latest attempts for peace shattered. Big surprise, Remy thought with a sigh, taking a sip from his coffee cup. When hasn't there been violence in that region of the world? he reflected. For as long as he could remember, the bloodthirsty specter of death and intolerance had hovered over those lands. He had tried to talk with them once, but they used his appearance as yet another excuse to pick up knives and swords, and hack each other to bits in the name of God. The private investigator shook his head. That was a long time ago, but it always made him sad to see how little things had changed.
To escape the news, he hit one of the pre-set buttons on the car's radio. It was an oldies station, though he found it faintly amusing that an "oldie" was a song recorded in the 1950's. Fats Domino was singing about finding his thrills on Blueberry Hill as Remy took the last swig of coffee and gazed over at the motel.
He'd been working this case for two months, a simple surveillance gigkeep an eye on Peter Mountgomery, copy editor for the Bronson Liturgical Book Company, and husband suspected of infidelity. It wasn't the most stimulating job, but it did help to pay the bills. Remy spent much of his day drinking coffee, keeping up with Dilbert and maintaining a log of the man's daily activities and contacts. Ah, the thrilling life of the private gumshoe, he thought, eyeing the maroon car parked in a space across the lot. So far, Mountgomery was guilty of nothing more than having lunch with his secretary, but the detective had a sinking feeling that that was about to change.
A little after one that afternoon, Remy had followed Peter along the Jamaica Way and into the lot of the Sunbeam Motel. The man had parked his Ford Taurus in front of one of the rooms, and simply sat with the motor running. Remy had pulled past him and idled on the other side of the lot, against a fence that separated the motor lodge from an overgrown, vacant lot, littered with the rusting remains of cars and household appliances. Someone had tossed a bag of garbage over the fence, where it had burst like an overripe piece of fruit, spilling its contents.
The cries of birds pulled Remy's attention away from Mountgomery to the trash-strewn lot. He watched as the hungry scavengers swooped down onto the discarded refuse, picking through the rotting scraps, and then climbing back into the air, navigating the sky with graceful ease.
For a sad instant, he remembered what it was like: the sound and the feel of mighty wings pounding the air. Flying was one of the only things he truly missed about his old life.
He turned his attention back to Mountgomery, just in time to see another car pull up alongside the editor's. Time to earn my two-fifty plus expenses, he thought, watching as Peter's secretary emerged from the vehicle. Then he picked up his camera from the passenger seat and began snapping pictures.
The woman stood stiffly beside the driver's side of her boss's car, looking nervously about the parking lot as she waited to be acknowledged, finally reaching out to rap upon the window with a knuckle. The man got out of the car, but the couple said nothing to one another. Mountgomery was dressed in his usual work attiredark suit, white shirt and striped tie. He was forty-six years of age, but looked older. In a light raincoat over a pretty floral print dress, the woman appeared to be at least ten years his junior.
The editor carried a blue gym bag that he switched from right hand to left, as he locked his car. The two stared at each other briefly, something seeming to pass silently between them, then together walked to room number 35. The secretary searched through her purse as they stood before the door, eventually producing a key attached to a dark green plastic triangle. Remy guessed that she had rented the room earlier and took four more pictures, an odd feeling settling in the pit of his stomach. The strange sensation grew stronger as the couple entered the room and shut the door behind them.
This was the part of the job Remy disliked most. He would have been perfectly satisfied, as would his client, he was sure, to learn that the husband was completely faithful. Everyone would have been happy; Remy could pay his rent, and Janice Mountgomery could sleep better knowing that her husband was still true to the sacred vows of marriage. Nine out of ten times, though, that wasn't the case.
Suspecting he'd be awhile, the detective turned his car off and shifted in his seat. He reached for a copy of the Boston Globe on the passenger seat beside him, and had just plucked a pen from his inside coat pocket to begin the crossword puzzle, when he heard the first gunshot.
Remy was out of the car and halfway across the lot before he even thought about what he was doing. His hearing was goodunnaturally so, and he knew exactly where the sound had come from. He reached the door to room 35, pounding on it with his fist, shouting for Mountgomery to open up. Remy prayed that he was mistaken, that maybe the sound was a car backfire from the busy Jamaica Way, or that some kids in the neighborhood were playing with fireworks left over from the Fourth of July. But deep down he knew otherwise.
A second shot rang out as he brought his heel up and kicked open the door, splintering the frame with the force of the blow. The door swung wide and he entered, keeping his head low, and for the umpteenth time since choosing his profession, questioned his decision not to carry a weapon.
The room was dark and cool, the shades drawn. An air conditioner rattled noisily in the far corner beneath the window; smoke and the smell of spent ammunition hung thick in the air. Mountgomery stood naked beside the double bed, illuminated by the daylight flooding in through the open door. Shielding his eyes from the sudden brightness, the man turned, shaken by the intrusion.
The body of the woman, also nude, lay on the bed atop a dark, checkered bedspread, what appeared to be a Bible clutched in one of her hands. She had been shot once in the forehead and again in the chest. Mountgomery wavered on his bare feet, the gun shaking in his hand at his side. He stared at Remy in the doorway and slowly raised the weapon.
"Don't do anything stupid," Remy cautioned, his hands held out in front of him. "I'm unarmed."
He felt a surge of adrenaline flood through his body as he watched the man squint down the barrel of the pistol. This is what it's like to be truly alive, he thought. In the old days, before his renouncement, Remy had never known the thrill of fear; there was no reason to. But now, moments such as this made what he had given up seem almost insignificant.
The man jabbed the gun at Remy and screamed. "Shut the door!" Slowly, Remy did as he was told, never taking his eyes from the gunman.
"It's not what you think," Mountgomery began. "Not what you think at all." He brought the weapon up and scratched at his temple offhandedly with the muzzle. "Who . . . who are you?" the editor stammered, his features twisting in confusion as he thrust the gun toward Remy again. "What are you doing here?" His voice was frantic, teetering on the edge of hysteria.
Hands still raised, Remy cautiously stepped further into the room. As a general rule, he didn't like to lie when he had a gun pointed at him. "I'm a private investigator, Mr. Mountgomery," he said in a soft, calm voice. "Your wife hired me. I'm not going to try anything, okay? Just put the gun down and we'll talk. Maybe we can figure a way out of this mess. What do you think?"
Mountgomery blinked as if trying to focus. He stumbled slightly to the left, the gun still aimed at Remy. "A way out of this mess," he repeated, with a giggle. "Nobody's getting out of this one."
He glanced at his companion on the bed and began to sob, his voice trembling with emotion. "Did you hear that, Carol? The bitch hired a detective to follow me."
Mountgomery reached out to the dead woman. But when she didn't respond, he let his arm flop dejectedly to his side. He looked back at Remy.
"Carol was the only one who understood. She listened. She believed me." Tears of genuine emotion ran down his face. "I wish we'd had more time together," he said wistfully.
"The bitch at home thought I was crazy. Well, we'll see how crazy I am when it all turns to shit." The sadness was turning to anger again. "This is so much harder than I imagined," he said, his face twisted in pain.
He lowered the gun slightly and Remy started to move. Instantly, Mountgomery reacted, the weapon suddenly inches from the detective's face. Obviously madness had done little to slow his reflexes.
"It started when they opened up my head," Mountgomery began. "The dreams. At first I thought they were just that, bad dreams, but then I realized they were much more."
The editor pressed the gun against Remy's cheek. "I was dreaming about the end of the world, you see. Every night it became clearerthe dreamsmore horrible. I don't want to die like that," he said, shaking his head, eyes glassy. "And I don't want the people I love to die like that either." The man leaned closer to Remy. He smelled of after-shave and a sickly sour sweat. "Are you a religious man?"
If he had not been so caught up in the seriousness of the situation, Remy Chandler would have laughed. "I have certainbeliefs. Yes. What do you believe in, Peter?"
Mountgomery swallowed hard. "I believe we're all going to die horribly. Carol, that was her name," he jerked his head toward the dead woman on the bed, "Carol Weir. She wanted to be brave, to face the end with me. But she was too good to die that way."
He smiled forlornly, and tightened his grip on the gun. "I would have divorced my wife and married her, but it seemed kind of pointless when we looked at the big picture. This was the nicest thing I could do for her. She thanked me before I . . . "
Mountgomery's face went wild with the realization of what he had done and he jammed the barrel of the gun into Remy's forehead. The muzzle felt strangely warm.
"Would you prefer to die now, or wait until it all goes to Hell?" the editor asked him.
"I'm not ready to make that decision."
Remy suddenly jerked his head to one side, grabbing the man's wrist, pushing the gun away from his face. Mountgomery pulled the trigger. A bullet roared from the weapon to bury itself in the worn shag carpet under them.
The two men struggled for the weapon, Mountgomery screaming like a wild animal. But he was stronger than Remy had imagined, and quickly regained control of the pistol, forcing the detective back.
Again, the editor raised his arm and aimed the weapon.
"Don't you point that thing at me," Remy snarled, glaring at the madman. "If you want to diethen die. If you want to take the coward's way out, do it. But don't you dare try to take me with you."
Mountgomery seemed taken aback by the detective's fierce words. He squinted his eyes, tilting his head from left to right, as if seeing the man before him for the first time. "Look at you," he said suddenly, with an odd smile and a small chuckle. "I didn't even notice until now." He dropped the weapon to his side.
It was Remy's turn to be confused. He glanced briefly behind him to be sure no one else had entered the room.
"Are you here for herfor Carol?" Mountgomery continued. "She deserves to be in Heaven. She iswas a good persona very good person."
"What are you talking about, Peter?" Remy asked. "Why would I be here for Carol? Your wife hired me to . . ."