You are on page 1of 13

1.

Day Four Montauk, Long Island

T

wo hundred feet below the rolling metal surface of the Atlantic, a handful of ghosts skittered along the ocean floor in a jerky seesaw roll, furling and unfurling in a diluvial ballet. They were dragged forward by the storm that raged overhead, still together after miles of progress across the rock-strewn bottom. Soon the gentle slope of the sea floor would change pitch, the earth would drop away into black, and the ghosts would tumble down into the deep. There they would be picked up by the Gulf Stream to be dragged up the Eastern Seaboard, past Massachusetts, finally washing out into the North Atlantic. Maybe they would be consumed by the creatures that swam in the dark world of the cold waters—maybe they would simply decay and be forgotten—but it was certain they would never be touched by daylight or warmth again. Debris littered the ocean floor around them and the sounds of the world coming apart at the seams echoed overhead. An army of lawn furniture, scabs of roofing tiles, plywood, tires, an old Barbie doll, golf bags, a dented refrigerator, oil paintings, a battered Dodge Charger—banged along in the current with them, heading straight out to sea. Of all the detritus, the Charger moved the slowest, 1

Robert Pobi tumbling over and over on its side, one door gone, the lights somehow still glimmering like the eyes of a dying robot. Barbie moved quickest, staying upright with the help of her buoyant plastic injection-molded breasts and the bubble of air trapped in her ancient, empty head. The ghosts were given no special treatment, no consideration by the storm; they collided with appliances, snagged on rocks, were inelegantly covered with weeds and plastic bags and rips and tears in their skin like the rest of the garbage. But unlike the other flotsam being herded out to sea, they were not the product of the hurricane; they had been created by something much more malevolent, and much less predictable, than weather.

2

2.

Day One Montauk, Long island

J

ake Cole stood at the door, looking down at the tattered mat he had last seen the night he had walked out more than a quarter of a century ago. Staring at the rug, he felt a minor sizzle in the circuitry as a burst of the old emotions came back but he very much realized that he was no longer afraid. Or angry. Or any of the other things that had finally given him the courage to leave. But the sensation was there, if only in the abstract. The rug had aged, faded, and started to fray on three sides. Anyone else would have thrown it out. But not his old man. He had never paid attention to things like rugs. Or manners. Or his son. No, the only thing Jacob Coleridge had ever given a shit about was color. The rug was purple, only his father would have called it Pantone 269. The flowers were a once white—blue-white, son. Purchased by his mother in a tourist shop in Montauk before she died and his father’s drinking got out of control and turned whatever kindness had been left to pyrotechnic meanness. Fuck it, Jake thought. “It’s purple and white,” and wiped his feet on it. He unlocked the big dead bolt and pushed the door open— his fingers splayed out on the dark teak—then stepped inside. 3

Robert Pobi Without his father here he felt like he was invading the old man’s kingdom; besides being an extremely private man, Jacob Coleridge Sr. was a control freak extraordinaire. But Jake wasn’t an interloper; he had been summoned—beckoned, if you wanted to be exact—to make decisions for a man who was no longer capable of making them for himself. According to the doctor Jake had spoken to at the hospital, his father had set himself ablaze during an Alzheimer’s-fueled fit of confusion, coming as close to killing himself as anyone would want to get. And the hard-core hermit and workaholic had finally run out of time. He would never paint again. At that his son thought they might as well take him out behind the hospital, perch him on the edge of the Dumpster, and blow his head off because without his painting, Jacob Coleridge wasn’t even there. With perfect muscle memory, Jake’s fingers reached into the dark and found the heavy Bakelite switches just inside the door. Flip, flip, flip. The three Verner Panton Plexiglas globes that lit up the main foyer cracked to life. Jake stood in the doorway for a minute, the big aluminum Halliburton forgotten in his hand, and gazed around the room. In twenty-eight years it hadn’t changed—and not in the nomenclature of a real-estate agent telling you that it needed updating, although that was part of it; no, the stasis of the space was more visceral than that. The room was a stage set out of Dickens. Jake walked past the Nakashima console in the entry—a big undressed slab of walnut—and dropped his keys on the dusty surface beside the wire-frame model of a sphere that had been there as long as he could remember. Dust and spiderwebs stuck to the polished metal surface in a fuzzy skin and when Jake dropped the keys, the flesh of the sculpture moved, almost flinched, an optical illusion in the late-afternoon light. He moved into the body of the home. The house had been one of the first all-glass dwellings built on the point. A marvel of modern design, with a heavily canted roof, California redwood beams, and a kitchen straight out of a Scandinavian design lab. His father’s reference library was there, swallowing up the wall around the slate fireplace. The surfboard 4

BLOODMAN

coffee table was littered with dusty coffee mugs, scotch bottles, and unopened elastic-bundled copies of the New York Times. A forest of stubbed cigarettes filled a big ceramic ashtray with a bite-sized chunk sloppily glued back in place that sat on the floor. The sofas were in the same positions, the leather polished to a fine sheen, the arm of one chair hastily—and probably drunkenly—repaired with duct tape. His mother’s Steinway, unused since the summer of 1978, sat in one corner, one of Warhol’s Shot Marilyns—a gift that Andy and that six-foot-three blonde he used to travel with had dropped off one weekend—hung lopsided over the dusty top. Jake walked slowly through his father’s life, examining the last quarter-century. Obviously, Jacob had been riding the dementia train for some time; this didn’t just happen overnight. It took some doing. Some serious doing. And the closing number had been one for the family album—a human torch dancing around the living room punctuated by a crash through a plate-glass window topped off with a dive into the pool. Sure. All systems go. Houston, we have no problems. The general mess that used to lie on top of the order had burrowed down, into the bones of the place, so that disorganization was now the rule. Like a wrecking yard, entropy seemed to be the governing law of mechanics. The bottles, always a must in any room inhabited by the great Jacob Coleridge, were strewn about like empty shell casings. Jake bent over and picked one up. His old man’s taste had gone from Laphroaig to Royal Lochnagar—at least he hadn’t gotten cheap in his later years. The weird part was the knives—yellow utility knives scattered throughout the space, always within reach. Jake picked one up, spun the wheel, and slid the blade out of the handle. It was rusty. They must have been on sale, Jake thought, and put it back down. One of the twelve floor-to-ceiling panes that opened onto the ocean had been replaced with a sheet of exterior-grade plywood, the edges painted a bright green. This was where his father had gone through the glass on his way to the pool—clothes burning, fingers 5

Robert Pobi melting like candles. The pool sat in the middle of the weathered grey deck, a now green rectangular pond, the inside painted by Pablo Picasso and his father one drunken weekend in 1967. Leaning against the back of the sofa was a Chuck Close portrait that someone had slashed the eyes out of—no doubt with one of the utility knives—the secret graffiti of one Jacob Gansevoort Coleridge Sr. Why would his old man do that? Jake paused to examine a note taped to one of the remaining big front windows. Across a chunk of sketch paper, in the bold draftsman’s block letters of his father’s hand, it said, YOUR NAME IS JACOB COLERIDGE. KEEP PAINTING. Jake froze, his eyes crawling over the rough surface of the sketch paper, trying to decide if he was ready for this. The answer wasn’t long in coming. Not really. But this wasn’t one of those choice things, this was one of those do things. There was a difference. He went into the kitchen. He checked the fridge. Three cans of light beer, steaks that had passed being fit for consumption—human or otherwise—some time ago, a dozen Styrofoam soup containers half-filled with sludge well on its way to being petroleum, a lone wrinkled lemon that looked like an ancient abandoned breast, one shoe, a ring of keys, a dried-out chunk of sod, a couple of paperbacks, and a pair of utility knives—one in the vegetable drawer, one in the butter compartment. Jake closed the fridge and scanned the rest of the kitchen. There were no dirty dishes to speak of, just a mottled layer of crumbs, dust bunnies, and paint-crusted fingerprints that looked like they had been there since before the Internet existed. He opened a random drawer and found some paintings stuffed inside, small canvases stacked like books, dreary irregularly shaped blobs of black and gray that grimaced up at him, daring him to keep looking. His father’s work had always been dark—in composition and theme—an early trademark among the proto flower children of his generation who painted in beautiful colors and optimistic brush strokes. But these little pictures were lifeless fields of gray 6

BLOODMAN

and black with a red striation running through them, like veins just under the surface. They weren’t classic. They weren’t modern. When he thought about it, he realized that they probably weren’t even sane. Then again, what else could you expect from a man who kept chunks of lawn in the fridge and torched himself on a Thursday evening? He looked around and wondered what had happened to the man he had left. The brilliant Jacob Coleridge had been reduced to leaving himself notes and painting mindless blobs of madness. Of all the things he had expected of his father, meaningless had never even been considered. Jake dropped the canvas back into the drawer and pushed it shut with his knee. It was amazing how things could just turn to shit. Thirty-three years of misery had lived here. The house stunk of it. Maybe the best thing he could do would be to light up one of the newspapers, lob it into the living room, and close the door, leaving it to the fire. Let the whole place disappear from memory. Maybe that’s what the old man had been trying to do himself. Maybe he had finally had enough of his own company. “Stop it,” he said aloud, and with the sound of his own voice came the realization that he was doing exactly what he had promised he wouldn’t—feel sorry for himself. He left the kitchen and crossed a hardwood floor littered with dozens of small Persian area rugs, overlapped at weird transepts like foreign postage stamps on a package. He went to the big sliding doors that opened up to the ocean, and stood there, his hands in his pockets, his mind trying to be somewhere else. Anywhere else but here, in this home, in this place he swore he would never come back to. He watched the water and took control of his breathing. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a pack of Marlboros, and fired one to life with the sterling Zippo that Kay had given him. He took in a lungful of smoke and focused on the ocean out beyond the beach. Staring at the water, he remembered the hurricane that was on the way. Another Cape Verde. The town was already 7

Robert Pobi preparing for it; he had seen the signs as he drove through on the way to the house—shutters going up, cars being loaded, bottles of water and flashlight batteries being hoarded by the crate. The grinning orange face of the CNN anchorwoman on the screen of the silent hospital room television had held a little extra twinkle of malice in it when she had pointed to the massive swirling eye of the beast on the satellite images. It was a big one, bearing down on New England with an ETA of a little over fifty hours. Plenty of time for him to cross the Ts and dot the Is on whatever forms the hospital needed and still get the fuck out of Dodge. He focused on the horizon, trying to see past the clear sunlit day to the approaching storm, but all he saw was the static blue sky of a Winslow Homer watercolor. But bad things were on the way. Something about coming home made it necessary. Good old-fashioned luck, it seemed. Jake finished his cigarette, dropped it to the floor, crushed it into the carpet with the heel of his boot, and turned away from the photorealistic painting of the Atlantic to the scratched negative of the house. He took his iPhone out of his pocket, dialed without really looking at the screen, and dropped into the thick leather sofa in a cloud of dust. Three . . . four . . . five rings. He checked his watch. Jeremy would be with the sitter and Kay would be at practice, her phone turned off and— “Kay River,” she answered, the distant caw of the orchestra resonating thinly in the background. “Hey, baby, it’s me. I just wanted to hear that you and Jeremy were doing alright.” “We’re good. Don’t worry about us. How’s your dad?” Jake thought back to the sedated man he had seen at the hospital an hour ago. The white points of mucus in the corners of his eyes. The labored breathing. His hands, melted off and swathed in bandages. “Older would be the appropriate response.” He focused on the waves beyond the pool, hitting the beach, the music accompanying Mother Nature nicely. “Campioni?” he asked, trying to place the arrangement. 8

BLOODMAN

Kay laughed. “Good guess. Luchesi.” “Sorry. I try.” “I didn’t marry you for your ear.” “I know.” An image of Kay flowered in his head, her freckles and smile swirling into a mental hologram. “Are you at the hospital?” “Finished an hour ago and just got to my dad’s place. It’s a mess. Don’t know if I can stay here.” His eyes crawled over the room, taking in the details. With the garbage and art it looked like a ransacked tomb in the Valley of the Kings, minus a sarcophagus. “Or want to.” “You can. And should. This is what you need, even if you don’t know it, Mr. Know-it-all.” Why was it she always knew how to make him feel better about the demons? All he said was, “Okay.” “Look, I have one more rehearsal tomorrow that wraps up early. Jeremy and I could catch the bus out there. I can spare a few days. I don’t want you going through this by yourself.” His eyes left the bright moving canvas of the beach beyond the window and found the broad porcelain ashtray with the hastily repaired chunk. That had happened what? Thirty-one years ago now. His hand unconsciously went to the base of his skull and he felt the lump of scar tissue, the one that still lit up if he stared at bright lights too long or got stuck in traffic. “—ake? Are you there? Jake? Are you—” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “I guess I’m more tired than I thought. I’m going to grab a nap, maybe get some food.” “That sounds like a good idea. Eat some protein. Sardines and cream cheese on multigrain, okay?” He smiled, and it was a welcome change from the grimace welded to his skull since the hospital had called. “Thanks, babe. I miss you already.” “I miss you, too. Call if you’re feeling lonely, even if it’s two in the morning. Deal?” “Deal. Bye, baby.” 9

Robert Pobi He dropped the phone to the littered surface of the coffee table. Motes of dust sprouted, and Jake realized that if Miss Havisham had been a booze hound, she would have hit it off with his old man. As long as she was good at hiding under beds and locking doors when the wolfing hour took hold of her man. He went up the center-strung staircase and as he climbed higher, he saw garbage strewn over the top of every piece of furniture in the main room, from empty soup cans and unread copies of Awake! magazine to the more esoteric stripped Barbie doll and an old oil filter. At the top of the stairs he paused, surveying a house that had looked so much larger when he was last here. The light coming in through the big rectangles of glass that opened onto the Atlantic washed away a lot of sins, blanching dust and debris with a broad stroke of blue-white that made him squint. The Persian carpets, overlaid and crosshatched waffles of color, were plastered over with scraps of life like the rest of the house. Jake saw the charred footsteps his father had left in his Alzheimer’s dance, the winning combination in a Twister game for pyromaniacs, over by the sheet of plywood that replaced the one big pane. Jake unconsciously read their pattern, starting just left of the fireplace, sambaing a good four in front of the piano, then turning quickly right for five steps in a foxtrot, finally lurching left again, spinning in place for the finale, and crashing through the glass and out onto the deck where he had run for the pool, flopping in the sludge like a sick fish. With all the booze in his blood, it was a wonder he hadn’t simply detonated, sending the house up in one white-hot mushroom cloud. Outside, through the plywood-interrupted view, he saw his father’s studio sitting at the edge of the property overlooking the beach. The windows were dark, the shingles half gone, the remaining ones blackened and crooked—another component in the heavily stylized mental picture Jake was quickly constructing. He thought about checking out the rest of the place, then realized that he wasn’t really interested. The dirt and utility knives had been enough. At least for now. He clomped back down the stairs, his 10

BLOODMAN

harness boots thudding with each heavy step, and realized that he was more tired than he had admitted to Kay. He picked a stack of small canvases off the sofa and leaned them against the coffee table. They looked dark and bloody like the batch in the kitchen drawer— grey, unsettling. Jake took out his firearm, a big stainless Smith & Wesson M500, and slid it under the cushion at the head of the sofa. Then he took off his boots, swung his legs up onto the sofa, and was asleep before his body had warmed the leather that covered the pistol behind his skull.

The shrill chirp of his cell phone jarred him from his sleep and he snapped upright. “Jake Cole,” he said reflexively. His leather jacket was still on and he felt like his head was filled with hot soot. It was dark out and he checked his watch. 11:13. “Special Agent Jake Cole?” He took a deep breath and uh-huhed. Scratched the chunk of scar tissue at the base of his scalp. “This is Sheriff Mike Hauser, Southampton SD. Got your number from the New York Bureau office. Sorry to call at this hour but I got a problem and for some reason you’re five miles from where I need you.” The tone and word choice told Jake a lot about the man at the other end. Trim. Fifty. Flattop. Sig Sauer P226 for a sidearm. American flag pin on his lapel. Ex-jock. There was a pause and Jake realized that he was supposed to tell Sheriff Hauser that it was fine that he had called. That sure, he would listen. That, yessir, he was there to help. He reached under the cushion and slid the heavy revolver out. He checked the cylinder—a habit he had learned a long time ago—and tucked it into the pressure holster on his belt. All he said was, “How’d they die?” The pause dragged out a little longer, and Jake recognized the pregnant silence of a man trying to build up courage. This silence 11

Robert Pobi told Jake a lot more about him. Hauser swallowed audibly, then said, “They were skinned.” And the little current of emotion that he had refused to acknowledge a few hours ago came to the front of everything, blocking out the ocean and the moon beyond. It froze in his head and his blood pressure surged in one electromagnetic pulse that rattled his grey matter. That old motherfucker fear was coming out to play.

12

Related Interests