CHAIN OF FOOLS
A Donald Strachey Mystery
St. Martin's Press New York
chain of fools Copyright © 1996 by Richard Stevenson All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews For information, address St Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N Y 10010
Library of Congress Cataloging-in Publication Data
Chain of fools / by Richard Stevenson
p cm A Donald Strachey mystery " ISBN 0-312-16796-2 I Title PS3569 T4567C48 1996
813' 54—dc20 96-25586
First Stonewall Inn Edition November 1997
For Sydney and Zack
One's a good chain and one's a bad chain," Skeeter Mc-Caslin eerily intoned from his hospital bed. "One's a daisy chain and one's a chain of fools." His dark eyes were bright with fever, and he looked suspicious and terrified and cunning all at the same time.
Timothy Callahan and I glanced at each other over our gauze masks, then looked back at Skeeter.
"But when you called the other day," Timmy said, "you told me a friend's life was in danger—a woman at the newspaper in Edensburg. Why don't you tell Don and me about that, Skeeter? You were right to call. I'm really glad you did, because Don might be able to help."
Skeeter's jaw tightened under his stubble of black beard, the whiskers an indication not of fashion but of illness, and he scowled. "I just told you, didn't I? Now I am going to tell you one . . more . . time. One's a good chain, and one's a bad chain. One's a daisy chain, and one's a chain of fools."
After a little pause, Timmy said, "Chain of fools?"
Skeeter did not rise up from his pillow—he was obviously far too sick and exhausted for that—but he cocked a bushy eyebrow and said, in a voice dripping acid, "Do I have to repeat myself a third time? One's a—"
"I'll be right back," Timmy said. He got up and walked out into the corridor.
I said to Skeeter, "Your friend who's in danger—is her name Aretha?" His eyes burned with contempt. I was a moron. I asked, "Is it Buchanan? As in Daisy Buchanan?"
"You're an even bigger idiot than your boyfriend is," Skeeter said.
He gave me a look indicating that I was as useful to him, and as appealing, as the uneaten dun-colored roast beef and bile-green string beans on the dinner plate at his bedside.
"Skeeter, I have a feeling you're not yourself tonight," I said. "Timmy always spoke well of you, and I hope we can get to know each other when you're feeling better. Then we can sort this thing out—whatever the situation is that led you to believe that your friend might be in need of a private investigator. Okay?"
Skeeter grinned dementedly. He said, "Did Timmy tell you about my birthmark?"
"Nope. Never did."
"Timothy sure did love that birthmark."
Timmy came back into the room, trailing a nurse. She barged over to Skeeter, peered at the numbers on his IV-drip monitors, jiggled something, and said loudly, "Mr. McCaslin, how ya doin'?"
Skeeter replied, "One's a good chain, and one's a bad chain."
"Oh, is that so?"
"One's a daisy chain, and one's a chain of fools."
"Uh-huh. Hmm." Now she was examining the label on one of the -drip bags. She said to Skeeter, "How long have you been on this?"
"No, this prednisone."
"Forty-eight hours," Skeeter said.
"That was before the admission into the union of Alaska and Hawaii. But I still stand up and salute when I'm not sick as a dog."
"Well, they might have to change this one med. I'll have to talk to the doctor about it. Who's your attending? Baptiste?"
"I'm just a simple forest ranger from Edensburg. I call him Baptist. Or Evangelical Lutheran."
"One's a good chain, and one's a bad chain. One's a daisy chain, and one's chain of fools."
"Well, you have a nice visit with your friends." The nurse turned and sped away, and Timmy sped after her.
Skeeter looked over at me balefully and waited.
I said, "Where's the birthmark?"
"Wouldn't you like to know. Wouldn't you just like to know."
"Timmy considers himself lucky to have hooked up with you, Skeeter. For most gay kids, high school is hell. I'm sure it was hard in a lot of ways for you too—not feeling as though you could be open about your relationship and all that. But at least you two knew exactly who you were and what you wanted, and you had each other. That's unusual."
He stared at me as if I had spoken to him in Gheg. After a moment, he said, "One's a good chain, and one's a bad chain. One's a daisy chain, and one's a chain of fools."
"I got that, Skeeter. I just wish I had a clue as to what the hell you're talking about."
"You know what I'm talking about, Donald. You know damn well. Oh, ho ho."
Timmy returned. "Skeeter," he said, "you're on a steroid drug that's affecting your mind. Now that the Pneumocystis is under control, maybe they can change the medication. The nurse is going to check."
"It's your mind that's affected, not mine," Skeeter said. "You could cut my heart out, the way you did the last time, and plead temporarily asinine."
"I think maybe we should come back tomorrow," Timmy said, his face coloring. "And then you'll be in better shape to talk about whatever you called me for on Thursday. Would I be wasting my breath if I asked you one more time to explain to Don and me about the good and bad chains, and how they're connected to your friend whose life may be in danger?"
Skeeter said, "Boo hoo, what a waste."
"Gotcha. I guess we'll head out then."
"I'm glad I finally got to meet you, Skeeter," I said. "I know it means a lot to Timmy too to be reconnected with you after all these years."
"Still crazy," Skeeter said.
I asked, "When was the last time you two saw each other?"
Skeeter said, "September second, 1963, four-twenty a.m. I still have his taste in my mouth."
Timmy blushed some more and said, "You've got a mighty long memory, Skeeter, or poor habits of oral hygiene. Anyway, you and I can do some catching up when you're feeling better. Which will be soon, I hope. I want to hear all about your life in the wilderness. I think
that's great—all you ever wanted to be, when we were kids, was a forest ranger, and that's what you went ahead and did. I'm impressed. Maybe even a little envious."
"Now you're impressed. Then you were undressed."
Timmy said, "Skeeter, your tact mechanism is on the blink, so I think Don and I will be going now. There's no point in our hanging around any longer tonight. We'll come back this time tomorrow and with any luck you'll be better equipped to explain why you think your friend's situation is dangerous. I hope you can get a good night's rest. Hospitals certainly aren't restful places. In that sense, they're terrible places to have to go when you're ill."
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