Loose Id has just released the Bellingham Mysteries as a boxed set and it's now on sale for only 9.99! That's the first five stories featuring Nick and Peter--from meeting to marriage. And I think now would be a good time to post a little excerpt from the sixth and final installment, TBR later on this year.
Working title is The Secret of Success. Here it is!
Though it might seem paradoxical, for the normal inhabitant of the Pacific Northwest the only thing worse than months of gray cloud-cover and endless light drizzle is month after month of blue skies and relentless sunshine.
Peter Fontaine, small town reporter and big time busybody, was no exception to this rule.
A sunny day, he felt, should be a rare and beautiful event when one rushed, squinting, into the brightness to revel and luxuriate in warmth and vitamin D production. It should be, itself, cause for celebration.
But this year? This year the sun had shown up like an unwanted houseguest in mid-April and hung around for four months endlessly staring down on Bellingham as if to ask, “So, what are we up to today, bro?”
Because of the predisposition to act immediately on the first hint of sunlight the relentlessly pleasant weather had been exhausting for most of the population. Even die-hard outdoor enthusiasts found themselves praying for rain, if only to have a reason to stay in and watch TV all day without feeling guilty.
As Peter cycled the winding road to work that morning, he’d noticed there had been another brush fire on the verge—another side-effect of unending summer sun. The acrid tang of charred reedgrass still hung in the air. The record-breaking heat wave this summer had left his beloved Washington State tinder-dry, yellow and intermittently bursting into flames.
The haze of smoke from numerous forest fires now hung over Bellingham, the City of Subdued Excitement, coloring the sunsets electric tangerine and impairing the breathing of the town’s asthmatics.
The downtown alleys stank of stale piss and sweet garbage.
It had to rain soon.
It just had to.
Otherwise what would happen to the salmon and fictitious vampires? If it stopped raining, the lush rainforest might shrivel into mere forest. Then there would be nothing to distinguish them from California.
He wondered if the citizens to Bellingham would be interested in hearing him spout off about this in an opinion piece but decided that, on the whole they’d rather hear about Bellingham Brew Week, which was fortunate, since that’s what he’d agreed to write about.
Not that it had been hard to convince Peter to write an article that required visiting microbreweries during office hours. In fact the day was already so hot that the idea of drinking a cold one at lunchtime filled him with hedonistic delight.
He dismounted his bike in downtown Bellingham at the Hamster offices. He checked his phone and noticed that his editor, Doug has texted him during his ride, which was suspicious.
As an editor, Doug ranked among the most callous and insensitive, blithely killing his darlings, run-ons and clever asides without remorse. But as long as Peter met his deadlines, Doug didn’t sweat small stuff like tardiness or the occasional unexplained absence. He expected both from Peter.
So the text must be some sort of warning. Doug obviously wanted him to have some information before he entered the Hamster office. With great trepidation Peter tapped his phone screen and read the following:
Some guy named Samuel Powers is waiting for you. He dresses like a douche.
After removing his helmet and mounting the stairs to the second floor, Peter stepped through the door and caught sight of this mysterious fashion victim for himself.
To Peter, Samuel Powers was an excellent example of how weird New York style looks on people who are not actually in New York at the time. He wore a v-neck tee with a too-small blazer, cropped chinos and polished brown loafers with no socks. His bare, tanned ankles dared the world to question his well-examined casualness. This would have looked amazing if he’d been walking through Central Park, holding some kind of whey-enriched smoothie. But sitting in the main offices of The Hamster, surrounded by mismatched office furniture he just looked like he’d been the victim of a science-fiction transporter accident.
At the same time, he looked vaguely familiar. But that might have been because he looked like every other handsome stylish guy from New York.
“I’m sorry I kept you waiting.” Peter extended his hand and Sam shook it with exactly the right amount of manly pressure and eye contact familiar enough that Peter felt certain that this wasn’t their first meeting. He considered attempting to fake it—go in for a hug, or air kiss even, just to take it to the next level—but decided against it. It was far too hot to hug and he’d never been a kissy guy. “I’m sorry, but have we met before?”
Sam pulled a wide, perfectly-toothed smile and said, “I came to your wedding three years ago.”
Now it all fell into place. He’d been Nick’s agent’s date. The wedding itself had been such a blur—not just because he’d been excited and stressed by the first meeting of his and Nick’s respective families but because one of their guests had attempted to murder Nick. Lesser details of the occasion, like the names of their non-murdering guests, had largely slipped through the cracks of Peter’s memory.
“I’m so sorry.” Peter felt a line of red creeping up the back of his neck. “Please sit down.”
“It’s alright. I don’t think we spoke much beyond the congratulations.” Sam seated himself and then leaned in, elbows on Peter’s none-too-clean desk. “So the reason I’m here is that I’m working on a book and I was hoping I might convince you to help me. It’s about the Werk Collective.”
Peter ran down a list of every collective, commune and coop he could recall operating in greater Whatcom County, but nothing rang a bell and he said so.
“It’s the artist’s collective that Walter de Kamp was part if in New York.”
At the mention of the name Peter’s naturally ebullient heart cooled to a dull simmer.
Of course Sam wanted to talk about Walter de Kamp, Nick’s first husband—the ghost who just wouldn’t stay down. Every time Peter thought he and Nick had finally broken free of the specter, he rose up to complicate their lives bringing with him secrets and lies and old history.
“I’m afraid I can’t help you,” Peter said. “I never met the man. And before you even ask, Nick won’t be interviewed about him at all. Ever. Period.”
“Oh, I wasn’t hoping to interview Mr. Olson.” Sam held up his hands as if to show himself innocent of such notions. “I only hoped to have a closer look at a few of the paintings that you two have at your house. I’m specifically interested in the blue landscape in the atrium. It is such an amazing piece. Ever since I saw it three years ago it’s been on my mind.”
“Haunting you?” Peter asked. He couldn’t help it.
“In a way yes,” Sam said, apparently in complete seriousness. “I would be so grateful if you would just let me have another look at it.”
Peter weighed the request. Although it would annoy Nick to have someone in the house, maybe if Sam could publicize the painting there might be enough interest in it that Nick would finally auction the thing off.
After that Peter could hire an exorcist and at last the spirit of Walter could be laid to rest. He could just picture it: a tall, thin man in a priest’s collar standing before his house, The Castle at Wildcat Cove, eyes pressed closed, whispering in Latin…
For an instant, Peter nearly succumbed to his long-standing bad habit of writing the scene out in his head, but Sam had already gathered up his things and started for the door.
“Is it all right if we take my car?” he was saying.
That took a moment for Peter to process. Finally, feeling stupid, he said, “You want to go now?”
“If you’re free,” Sam returned. Peter glanced across the office at his editor, Doug who had been observing the entire exchange. Doug gave a silent shrug, which Peter interpreted as a go-ahead.
“Let me just take a leak before we head out,” Peter said. Sam magnanimously agreed to wait in the car while Peter took the opportunity of the single men’s room stall to fact-check Sam’s story.
Years ago, before he’d met Nick, and taken up amateur sleuthing he’d have just taken the man home on the strength of his handshake alone. But experience had made him wary of just getting into the car with random strangers, well-dressed or not.
Sam Power’s webpage was everything Peter would have wanted for his own. Clear, organized, full of stylish fonts and praise about his writing from the New York Times and the Guardian. It also contained a full bibliography of Sam’s titles, three of which involved crimes that were related to the art world.
That hurt most of all.
Though Peter had written thousands of articles and even won a national award for journalism, he didn’t have even a single book with his own name on the spine.
He’d started numerous times, attempting to cobble together a concept that would hold his interest long enough to pitch it to an editor, but after a couple of days research into this or that subject he’d loose interest, get depressed and eventually degenerate into writing fiction.
Peter’s narratives brimmed with of irrelevant commentary on modern life and lacked in any sort of dramatic tension. He’d even attempted to write pornography, then given up, realizing how hard it was to be shocking in a world where a book about the gay X-rated exploits of a were-dinosaurs who strove to control the Freemasons could actually get good reviews.
Now here comes Sam Powers, flaunting his ability to stave off boredom by writing incisive long-form prose. Peter had half a mind to crawl out the window, turning instead to Sam’s social media pages, where he found, to his delight, that Sam did have some detractors after all.
Some citizen reviewers called him pretentious and unprincipled. Others disliked his tendency toward wild speculation.
In fact, a brief perusal of Sam’s bio led Peter to believe that Sam was some kind of alternate version of himself—the self that made different choices. Sam’s natal city was the aptly named Boring, Oregon. Though they both originated in small towns in the Pacific Northwest, Sam had lit out for the Big Apple immediately, whereas Peter had attended the local state university. Where Peter had traveled on his own and taken a long time to settle into writing, Sam landed a magazine gig straight out of private college.
Last, Sam’s Facebook page showed him to be almost relentlessly single, opposite of serial monogamist, Peter. Yet the subjects that they wrote about and even their writing style seemed eerily similar, a literary doppelganger or…evil twin.
But beyond all that the upshot was that, Sam checked out as a legit writer, not a serial killer, hired assassin or art thief. And despite the mad jealousy he might feel at Sam’s various awesome book deals, the classy thing to do would be to help him out with his research.
So thinking Peter left the toilet, ready to face the better version of himself and to help that man become even more successful.