"Every predator has a xylophone."
* * *
Carver, Dare’s twenty-nine-year-old brother and only sibling, was stretched out on the couch with his iPad centered over his face.
In spite of the fact they barely tolerated each other, this living arrangement was preferable to sharing a cramped apartment with a near-stranger. Besides, it was a great location. Dare occasionally performed in Milwaukee and Chicago and other, smaller cities in the area, and Waterford was pretty much smack in the middle of the cluster.
He threw his keys on the hall table with obvious vexation and more carefully set his clarinet beneath it. “I thought you were going to an art fair or something with whatshisname, the guy who owns the gallery.” After pulling off his shoes, he went into the living room.
“Okay, art mart.”
Grudgingly, as if it were an imposition, Carver sat up. “No. His name is Mart.” He squinted at Dare. “What the hell are you wearing?”
“My band outfit.” Dare dropped into one of the recliners and pulled off his tie. Jonah Day’s business card, still buried in the shallows of his pants pocket, gave his hip a gentle poke. I will not be ignored, pal. The reminder further abraded his mood. “I had it on when I left this morning. You must’ve seen…. Oh, that’s right. You were still in bed.” Dare pushed back and stared at his white-socked feet, hands linked over his belly.
Carver continued to study him. His torso seemed to be balanced on the tips of Dare’s toes. “Didn’t it go well?”
“It went great.”
“So why do you seem so pissy?”
And why do you seem like such a supercilious dickhead? Carver still hadn’t explained why he hadn’t gone out.
Instead of answering, Dare closed his eyes. His friends and coworkers generally thought it was the coolest thing in the world to have a queer sibling—theoretically, a confidant, cheerleader, and comrade-in-arms all bundled into one supportive package. But Carver Hamilton Boothe, he of the MBA and macho manner and Spanish Modern aesthetic (or whatever the hell it was), had precious little in common with, or sympathy for, guys who gave away their gayness as soon as they opened their mouths or stepped into a shopping mall.
Carver was about as straight as a homo could be without engaging in hetero sex.
Thank God, Dare thought at least once a week, he’d never set foot in the Sugar Bowl.
“Well?” Carver said. “What’s the problem?”
Dare sighed. Carver, all too familiar with his brother’s moods, would keep picking until he got an answer. And maybe it would help to talk. “I met someone, a guy about my age who takes his grandmother out dancing every week. I guess he recognized me, but I don’t know from where. He wants to get together and talk about… something having to do with Dr. Battaglia.”
“Your shrink?” Carver looked as baffled as Dare felt.
“Former shrink. Maybe his, too, for all I know. He didn’t have a chance to explain.”
“So are you going to meet up with him?”
“I don’t know.” Dare covered his face. “Goddammit, why won’t that shit go away and stay away?”
Carver rose from the sectional and slid his iPad onto the coffee table. “Because it’s your lot. It’s been your lot ever since you invited the attention of a pervert. And you should keep that in mind while you’re doing whatever it is you do at that club—”
A spring of rage snapped Dare forward and up, making him nearly trip over the footrest. Without a shred of reasonable thought he pitched himself at his brother, pitched himself at Carver the way he should’ve pitched himself at Howard Pankin in that cluttered backroom echoing with xylophone notes and sick desire and the slithering rustle of soiled hands over smooth, clean skin.
“Hey, hey, settle down!” Carver grabbed his wrists.
For a moment their locked arms pumped in all directions, jointed braces in a mechanism run amok. The word invited kept striking like a flint, reigniting Dare’s fury. His jaw hurt from being clenched. “You cold, ignorant—”
With a surge of gym-acquired strength, Carver flung Dare onto the couch, sat on his legs, and pinned down his arms. “Chill. Okay?” He must’ve guessed a knee to the groin would’ve been Dare’s next move. Little brother didn’t have much of a repertoire when it came to fighting. “I misspoke. I’m sorry.”
“The fuck you are!” Dare bucked to throw him off.
It wasn’t necessary. Still gathering his breath, Carver slowly held up his arms to concede defeat. “You want to punch me, go ahead. If it’ll make you feel better and calm you down, go ahead.”
Just like that, it was over. Carver’s invitation yielded nothing more than a stare. Dare couldn’t imagine how he looked, didn’t want to think about how he felt. A familiar nonphysical weight seemed to be sinking him into the couch cushions.
“You know I can’t punch worth a shit,” he muttered.
After regarding him a few seconds longer—and, Christ, that mixture of disgust and pity made Dare want to throw up—Carver rose and left the room.
Sleep wouldn’t come.
Again Dare heard those xylophone notes, throaty and taunting, only pretending to be happy-go-lucky. At one time they’d hung from his bedroom ceiling, hung there for two years, slipping down invisible filaments when night fell, bloated balls with limbs but no features, spiders spinning and dropping.
He’d clamp his hands over his ears, fold his arms over his face.
“It started as a kind of courtship song, or game. In faraway Germany.”
The notes wanted to fill each small cavity of his body. They wanted to take up residence within him.
He wasn’t strong enough to turn them away.
Hi-ho the derry-o…
The pervert in the ground.
Heart hammering, Dare pushed and kicked away his comforter. He swung to the right as he lifted his body to reach up and click on the lamp. Jonah’s card lay on the nightstand beside, of all things, a pack of condoms and a bag of Skittles, candy he’d loved since the Time Before.
He snatched up the card, ripped it in half, and tossed the rent rectangle into the junk-littered darkness beyond his bed.
Coming December 12
from Dreamspinner Press.