from Volume 5: Wild Mercury
by M. K. Knight
Foster Vaughn was startled awake several hours before the vodka was done with him. He tried to ignore the intrusion, but the pounding at the door didn’t sync with his headache, so he dragged himself from the couch to find two detectives on his porch. He recognized the senior partner, Anne Mathers, a battle-axe of a single mother with a reputation for breaking down hardened criminals with a stern look. Not the kind of woman he wanted to stand in front of in dirty boxers. Her partner, Nate Sherman, was a fresh-faced kid probably working his first case.
Foster left the door open and headed back inside. “Give me a moment, and I’ll be happy to help.” He pulled his bathrobe from the back of a chair and made his way through the clutter to the bathroom off the kitchen.
The pungent stench of urine greeted him. The rug at the base of the toilet was damp. He pushed it aside and leaned, with his left hand, against a grimy smudge on the wall while he relieved himself. The same dingy tee-shirt had been draped over the mirror for at least a week. He left it there, washed up, swirled a dab of toothpaste with some water to change the taste in his mouth, followed by a handful of Advil. His pants were on the floor, also wet. Fuck. He tied his bathrobe strings as tight as he could, and found his visitors in the dining room, examining the idea wall where his latest Shane Marten novel was mapped out.
“What can I do for you, Detectives?” Foster picked his way around the empty Stoli bottles and to-go boxes that littered the dining room floor.
“How do you know this man?” Detective Mathers pointed at one of his character sketches.
“You know I write fiction, right?” His headache sat like a helmet that was too small for his head. He rubbed his left temple.
Mathers nodded. “I’ve read a few. A little formulaic for my taste.” She tapped the drawing. “Now, about Kevin Bolduc. How do you know him?”
Foster watched Sherman sift through the trash with his foot. That sick pit of dread pooling in his stomach wasn’t just hangover. Something was off about this visit.
“Bolduc doesn’t exist. I made him up. He’s the victim in this—” he gestured at the wall. “Why are you asking me about one of my characters?”
Mathers handed him a gray card with Foster Vaughn, Writer * Bon Vivant embossed in black.
“I don’t get it,” Foster handed the card back. “I don’t use business cards. I’ve never seen that before.”
“Then how do you think it came to be in Mr. Bolduc’s pocket?” Sherman showed him a driver’s license photo of an older blond man with grayish skin and sunken eyes.
Foster shook his head. “No clue. I’ve never seen him before. And, no offense, Detective, but it’s a bit of a stretch to say he looks like the guy in my sketch. If you caught a body—”
“Not a body, Kevin Bolduc’s body.” Mathers turned back to the story wall and the map of Santa Teresa that hung in the middle of it. “I thought Seaport sounded familiar. Now, tell us how and where you killed your character.”
Foster stepped backward into a crunch of Styrofoam and the cold wetness of unfinished food, the sickening feeling spreading from his gut to his chest. “I’m a writer. I don’t kill real people, and I certainly wouldn’t write about it if I did. Plus, I haven’t worked on that damn book in months.”
“I can see you’ve been busy with other projects.” She nodded at one of the bottles on the floor. “But you have a star in the Lone Pine motel, which is where Bolduc’s body was found.”
“These receipts are all from the Jolly Dodger.” Sherman fished papers from the floor and held them up. “One is time-stamped within a minute of Bolduc’s.”
Foster laughed at the absurdity, the sense that he was being punked beginning to overtake his unease at being treated like a suspect. “Did the chief put you up to this? I know she’s a Shane Marten fan and wants me to finish this book, but breaking into my house,” He shuffled the papers on his neglected desk but couldn’t tell if any were missing. “And stealing a copy of my manuscript—”
“You think this is a joke?” Mathers showed him a photo on her phone of a man’s body, face smashed beyond recognition, torso saturated in blood.
The nausea rolled in on him like a wave and he managed to grab a to-go container from the floor before puking up the vodka-marinated remains of a steak sandwich. He wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his bathrobe and pushed the container to the corner of the pile.
In a weakened voice, he said, “Beaten into unconsciousness with a baseball bat then stabbed half a dozen times in the chest. That’s how my character died.”
Mathers and Sherman exchanged a look.
“Where were you last night, between eleven and four a.m.?” Mathers asked.
Wonder how it ends for Foster? Not well, we promise you. Purchase Volume 5 in our bookstore for the rest of the story.
M.K. Knight enjoys exploring the boundaries of possibility through fiction. Her short story, The Demon Lover, appeared in Volume 2 of the Santa Barbara Literary Journal. M.K. grew up in Vermont and lives in Southern California with her husband and two cats.