There was no smell, that was what surprised Jeff the most. Well, to be accurate, there was no smell of dead body, just the typical smells of a bathroom, smells of soap and the faint odor of mildew. When he took a deeper breath, he realized the air was also tinged with the iron tang of blood, but it was not obvious. He had expected the room to smell like bad meat that had been left out too long, or, he realized, like a much stronger version of the very faint smell in his basement.
Stuart was standing in the bathroom, staring at something behind the door. As soon as Jeff saw Vic framed that way and saw what room the body was in, he knew what they would find.
The water was so dark with blood that Jeff couldn't actually see the wounds. The color of the water made it look as though Thorsen had been left to sit in a Jello mold that had yet to solidify.
“Shit,” Stuart said softly, his eyes riveted to the old man's body.
Thorsen's eyes were open, which made Jeff uncomfortable. He saw that one of the man's eyes was white, deformed in some way. He had always assumed that Thorsen's eye patch was either a preposterous affectation or covering up some kind of actual injury, not that it was simple vanity.
The razor sat on the side of the tub, inside a ragged, diluted puddle of blood and water. It was an old fashioned cutthroat razor and Jeff could see small pieces of tissue on the blade from where it had bitten in—
He turned to the sink and wretched into it. His stomach was empty, so nothing came up or out of him except a few strands of that incredibly stretchy saliva that seems to come from down in your throat. He coughed, swallowed, took a drink from the tap. He stayed there, his hands on either side of the sink, not wanting to look at himself (and at that moment he had a flash of the different face he'd seen in the mirror after his dream), not wanting to see anything. His breathing was ragged and he kept shaking his head, as if it would make it all go away.
A moment later, Stuart was there, his hand on the younger man's right shoulder.
“Alright, buddy,” he said. “We'll just go, okay?”
Jeff took another swallow of water and spat it into the sink, then he turned away from the tub and Stuart and left the door without looking again.
They went and got the girl out of the truck. Stuart wanted to wait on the porch, but neither Jeff nor Mandy, as it turned out her name was, wanted to be that close to the house. Reluctantly, Jeff helped Stuart bring a chair and a bench off the porch so they could sit in the yard and wait for the police.
Jeff bummed a cigarette off the girl while she shared her brief life story. She was from South Dakota, she'd finished high school and run off to the West to get away from her parents and small town life. She tried Los Angeles and hated it, and she was on her way back into the Southwest, where a high school friend had settled, when she passed through Las Vegas. She'd never left.
She told them that she met Thorsen on one of his frequent trips to Vegas, where he always stayed at the Riviera, where he had been staying since it was actually a hotel to brag about. She was working as a cashier at the hotel when he had cashed out after a big run at the blackjack table. He'd asked her out.
“And it's not like we're allowed to date the customers, you know? But I knew who he was, so I took the risk and we met across the street at Circus Circus, which is an even bigger dump than the Riv, and when he went home he asked me to come with him. And it's not like I was doing anything in Vegas, and he even gave me a check to cover next month's rent so I could leave me place! That was, I dunno, a couple of weeks ago. Then we had this conference and we came back here and...”
Her voice trailed off and she turned her head to look at the water, checking out of the conversation.
The police arrived soon after and excused the two men after taking their statements and personal information.
“Seems real clear-cut,” Officer Stanley told Jeff at the end of the interview, “But we might call you up for s'more details later.”
The two men left Mandy with the authorities with mixed feelings of relief and guilt and returned home.
“I'm almost proud of the son of a bitch,” Stuart said, as they found the path.
Jeff gave him a sharp look. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“The guy built his life on Hunter Thompson. As soon as you realized she was saying he killed himself, didn't you figure he shot himself, just like ol' Hunter S?”
Jeff blinked at that and realized that yes, that's exactly what he'd thought. It occurred to him that it would also explain why he'd been expecting such a strong smell. He'd been expecting cordite and scorched brains and burnt hair.
“I guess,” he said finally.
“Well, I sure fuckin' did. I'm honestly shocked. I mean, he clearly had all those guns around, right?”
“What?” Stuart looked at him so quickly he almost lost his footing. “What is it?”
“You don't think...Uh...”
“What!” Stuart almost yelled.
“Shit, this is a bad idea. I mean, if he didn't go out the way you'd figure a guy like that would...maybe she did it.”
Stuart's mouth dropped open. He coughed once, in surprise, and then slapped both hands over his mouth to muffle his laughter. Hysterical hooting noises came from behind the hands as Vic's eyes crinkled and twisted with hilarity.
“Shut up!” Jeff said, embarrassed.
Stuart removed one hand and waved it at Jeff, trying to reassure him. When he finally caught his breath, he reached out to him and pulled him closer.
“Ohmygod,” he panted. “That is brilliant. I don't give a shit if it's true or not, that, my friend, that right there is one of those things that makes you a writer. Who else would be mean enough to go there? But you're fuckin' right, dude. I mean, the guy seems like a sad bastard to us, so we're perfectly willing to accept her explanation, but that doesn't mean it couldn't be bullshit. That doesn't mean there's anything to believe about it at all! God damn. You know, I think if you hadn't have said it, it would have occurred to me at some point.”
“Should we—I dunno, should we tell the cops?”
“Oh, shit no, kid, if there's really something there, they'll catch it. I'm sure it's just overactive imagination, even if it is a hell of a good one. Don't sweat it. Although, come to think of it, would you get tired of that girl in just a couple of weeks?”
“You gotta get tired of everything sometime,” Jeff said.
“Such wisdom you have in you,” Stuart said, in an awful faux Asian accent.
When they reached the house, Jeff went in and fetched some beer and they sat on the deck. Jeff didn't even consider the fact that he was drinking beer before noon. They sat in silence, sipping, Jeff wishing he had another cigarette. He looked down and realized that his hand was shaking. He wondered if he was in shock. He figured he probably was, a little anyway.
“You ever think about it?” Stuart asked him, his words hanging in the air between them.
Jeff knew what he was asking, but played dumb.
“Think about what?”
The look Stuart gave him made it clear that he knew Jeff was being intentionally dense. Jeff caught it out of the corner of his eye and didn't react.
“Taking the easy way out,” Victor said eventually.
Jeff took another swallow of beer. “Not lately,” he said finally.
“Yeah.” Stuart finished his beer and burped. Jeff kept looking out at the trees, keeping his eye off the post and off of the writer. He'd had enough of suicide for one day.
“I think about it every summer,” Stuart said. Jeff heard the clink of his bottle as he put it down on the deck and then the writer stood to go inside.