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The yahoos came by just after the dinner party broke up. A few young punks--three or four, picked out as streaks of white in the cab and bed of an unremarkable-looking pickup. Emil Dvorak was tucking a bottle of wine under his arm and reaching to shake his hosts' hands when he heard the horn haloowing down the Five Mile Road like a redneck hunting cry, and the truck flashed into view of the inn's floodlights.
"Faggots!" several voices screamed. "Burn in hell!" More obscene slurs were swallowed up in the night as the truck continued past. From their run in the back, the inn's dogs began barking in response, high-pitched and excited.
"Goddamn it," Ron Handler said.
"Did you see the license plate this time?" Stephen Obrowski asked.
His partner shook his head. "Too fast. Too dark."
"Has this happened before?" Emil shifted the bottle under his other arm. The inn's outdoor spotlight left him feeling suddenly exposed, his car brilliantly illuminated, his hosts' faces clearly visible, as his must have been. His hand, he noticed, was damp. "Have you reported it?"
"It started a couple of weeks ago," Steve said. "Probably kids let out of high school."
"Released from county jail, more likely," Ron said.
"We've told the police. The inn's on the random-patrol list now."
"Not that that helps," Ron said. "The cops have better things to do than catch gay-bashers out cruising for a good time. The only reason we got a few drive-bys in a patrol car is that the inn is bringing in the precious turista dollar."
"Tourism keeps Millers Kill afloat," Emil said, "but Chief Van Alstyne's a good man. He wouldn't tolerate that trash, no matter what business they were targeting."
"I better call the station and let them know we've been harassed again. Thank God our guests have already retired." Ron squeezed Emil's upper arm. "Thanks for coming. I'm sorry the evening had to end on such a sour note." He disappeared behind the inn's ornate double door.
Steve peered up the road. "Are you going to be okay getting back home? I don't like the idea of you all alone on the road with those thugs out there."
Emil spread his arms. "Look at me. I'm a middle-aged guy driving a Chrysler with M.D. plates. What could be more mainstream?" He dropped his hand on Steve's shoulder and shook him slightly. "I'll be fine. Anyone comes after me, I'll break his head open with this fine Chardonnay."
"Don't you dare. That bottle's worth more than you on the open market."
Emil laughed as they made their good-nights. Tucking the bottle under the passenger seat of his Le Baron convertible, he considered putting the top back up. He sighed. He knew he was getting old when a couple of drunken kids yelling out of the darkness could make him this nervous. To hell with them. It wasn't worth a twenty-minute struggle with the roof or missing fresh air blowing around him on a hot June night.
The high-Victorian architecture of the inn dwindled behind him as he drove east on Five Mile Road. He turned right onto Route 121, two country lanes bordered on one side by Millers Kill, the river that gave the town its name, and by dairy farms and cornfields on the other. In the dark of the new moon, the maples and sycamores lining the sides of the road were simply shades of gray on black, so the round outline of his headlights, picking out the violent green of the summer leaves, made him think of scuba diving in the Caribbean, black blinkers around his peripheral vision, gloom and color ahead.
Twin blurs of red and white darted into view, and for a second his mind saw coral fish. He blinked, and they resolved themselves into rear lights. Backing into the road, slewing sidewise. Christ! He slammed on his brakes and instinctively jerked the wheel to the right, knowing a heartbeat too late that was wrong, wrong, wrong as the car sawed around in a swooping tail-forward circle and crunched to a stop with a jolt that whipsawed Dvorak's head from the steering wheel to his seat.
The smell of the Chardonnay was everywhere, sickening in its excess. Steve would kill him for breaking that bottle. His ears rang. He drew a deep breath and caught it, stopped by the ache in his chest. Contusion from the shoulder restraint. He touched the back of his neck. Probably cervical strain, as well. Behind him, some awful hip-hop nonsong thumped over a gaggle of voices. He turned off the engine. Better go see if anyone needed any medical attention before he took down the driver's insurance and sued him into next week. The idiot.
A door thumped shut at the same time he heard the hard flat thwack of shoes or boots hitting the macadam. Glass crunched. "Look what we got!" A young man's voice, taut with excitement. "We caught us a faggot!" Another thump, more crunching, several whoops almost drowning out the stifling beat of the bass. Dvorak's hand froze on the door handle. The idiot. He was the idiot. He lunged for his cell phone, had the power on, and actually hit a nine and a one before the blow hit across his forearm, tumbling the phone from his grasp and making him gasp from the flaring pain. A long arm reached down to scoop the phone off the passenger seat.
There were hands on his jacket, tugging him sideways, and he watched as the cell phone arced through the edge of his headlights into the thick young corn. "Queerbait! You like to suck dick? You like little boys?" He twisted against the hands, groping for his car keys, his heart beating twice as fast as the sullen song, thinking he could still get out of this, still get away, until one of them hit him in the temple hard; supraorbital fracture, the part of him that could never stop being a doctor thought as his vision grayed and the key ring jingled out of reach.
In front of him, the headlights illuminated a swath of achingly green corn, cut off from the shoulder of the road by a sagging fence of barbed wire twisted around rough posts. His door was yanked open, and he wanted to think of Paul, to think of his children, but the only thing in his head was how the fence looked like the one on the cover of Time, like the one Matthew Shepard died on, and he was going to die now, too, and it was going to hurt more than anything.
"C'mere, faggot," one of them said as he was dragged from his seat. And the pain began.
A FOUNTAIN FILLED WITH BLOOD Copyright 2003 by Julia Spencer-Fleming.