Starkey was dressed in several layers, black T-shirt under a blue button-down cotton shirt, under a Savile Row tailored jacket, jeans, and high-top Converse sneakers. Even so, it failed to bulk out his long, angular frame, and he looked chilled to the bone. One of his elbows was clutched in tight to his body, and the hand brandishing the cigarette was thrust up in the air in a peculiar fashion like the forelimb of a T. rex. To Anne’s surprise, his other hand appeared as if from nowhere and tipped her glasses so they cleared the bridge of her nose and bumped up against her eyebrows. This happened so quickly she didn’t have time to register annoyance, or even feel any. “Vous êtes ravissante,” he pronounced. He squinted at her critically and continued, “Why would a girl such as you insist on wearing those ridiculous things?”
“Hmph,” he said in disbelief and added, “that’s likely.”
Anne caught Mr. Loa’s eye in the rearview mirror. He shrugged minutely. “I just got back from the police station.”
“I know y’did!” Starkey interrupted, rocking forward from the waist, eyes wide. “Exactly why I wanted to see you. Those fuckin’ morons, those arses, say my boy was taking drugs. Ha!” He barked a laugh devoid of amusement and continued rocking.
Starkey lit his cigarette and pulled the smoke deep into his lungs, opened his window and exhaled into the twilight. “Believe it? Believe. I—fer fuck’s sake—know that’s the biggest bunch of bullshit since Nixon said he was not a crook!” Starkey was getting so agitated now that he seemed to be suffering some kind of minor seizure, unconsciously juddering his glowing cigarette up and down so much that Anne had to stop herself from flinching. “Clifford takin’ drugs! CLIFF? Do you know what my self-righteous son of blessed memory, my self-righteous son, he of the completely unaltered states, did to me because of my indulgences?”
“Don’t call me sir!” he fumed. Anne said nothing. She didn’t want to trigger another explosion. Starkey flicked the cigarette out the window then took Anne’s small, graceful hands in his large, bony paws. He was long-fingered, with octave-spanning hands like his son; his skin was dry and papery, his grip light and almost fragile. “He had me committed! Twice! Thrown into the psych ward. Under lock and key for seventy-two hours with the white coats hemming and hawing about my destructive tendencies.” He let go and leaned back into his seat with a tremor of spent energy.
Starkey waved her apology away as if he were batting at an insect. “No, dear. No apologies needed. What I’m meaning to tell you, what I’m trying to tell you is my boy didn’t favor the pills, or the needles, or the powders. He didn’t. It’s preposterous.”
“I, I’m sorry. Are you saying the police, that the blood tests are incorrect?”
“Blood tests? I don’t care about the bloody blood tests! What I’m saying, what I’m telling you is that I know my boy’s habits,” he paused briefly, “and taking meth and Viagra wasn’t among them.” The Town Car turned up a long drive and stopped in front of an overwrought half-timbered Tudor. He nodded toward the house. “Behold, my humble fucking abode. Come on.”
“I’ve said so, didn’t I?” He patted his hands against his jacket frantically, like he’d lost something. He removed a pack of cigarettes from his pocket with trembling hands, withdrew a cigarette, found a Dunhill lighter in his other pocket, and lit up. Starkey sucked in prodigiously as an ember fell from the cigarette’s tip onto his lapel, where it began to smolder; he didn’t notice. His expression, wreathed in a gray mist as he exhaled, indicated to Anne that he was somewhere else entirely.
Starkey cringed, a look of pure astonishment on his face. “God fucking Christ! That’s it! Set myself aflame. What next?” For all his histrionics, he was still smoldering. Anne slapped the ember out. “Bloody fucking marvelous… Fal, you may take the child locks off the doors now. At least one of us has retained their sensibilities.” Starkey stared at his still-burning cigarette and dropped it, then ground it into the floor of the Town Car. Mr. Loa hefted himself out of the car and opened Anne’s door for her while Mr. Starkey darted to the house as if avoiding being photographed. Anne, baffled and bemused, followed, and Fal Loa drove the car around to the garage.
Anne stepped under a carved stone lintel and into the home’s soaring, groin-vaulted, churchlike entryway, where she continued to pursue this strange gentleman down three wide stairs to a cavern of a room with two fireplaces, three enormous if tattered Persian rugs, and four not insignificantly large couches scattered with throws and pillows, books and newspapers, vinyl albums in worn covers and CDs—some in plastic jewel cases, others loose—envelopes festooned with indecipherable scribbles and similarly inscribed paper napkins, and pack upon pack of cigarettes. She gingerly elbowed a pillow aside, revealing clustered cigarette burns in the couch’s upholstery and a handful of vividly colored capsules and pills wedged in the seam between the back of the couch and the seat cushion. Starkey rummaged through the crumpled packs in hopeful search of an undamaged smoke. Having found one that wasn’t crushed or snapped in two, he first offered the cigarette to Anne, and when she declined, he placed it between his lips and didn’t apply a match. “Oral fixation, one of my lesser vices. At least the contentious bitch…” he noted Anne’s puzzled expression… “The Contentious Bitch, alias my-soon-to-be ex-wife, at least she got me to stop lighting up. Well, she had until recent events, but I do try. Not that it’s worth half my estate. Where were we?”
It’s in His Kiss by Vickie Lester © 2014, Beguiling Books. All rights reserved.