At the end of Cranston Point, the Lighthouse Inn stood close to the cliff's edge.
"You must be Kurt?"
He'd been staring out the window at the crashing waves, and turned at the sound of her voice.
"I'm Beth," she added. Voluptuous, with auburn hair, she wore a dress of cherry silk. "Aka Hot Babe."
Kurt couldn't take his gaze off her; he hadn't dared to hope for anyone so attractive.
"So what do you think," she asked. "Will I do?"
He hadn't realized he'd been appraising her in such an obvious way. "I'm sorry..."
"No need to apologize. We're here to look over the merchandise, and believe me I like what I see. You look like a Viking."
Kurt flushed and was glad of the dim lighting.
"With blue eyes worth killing for. Even your name's right, and you'll see why later on. That is, providing you're interested in another meeting."
"Of course I am. The sooner the better."
He beckoned to the waiter. Beth ordered gin.
"The whore's drink." She laughed and clinked her glass against his. "Here's to us."
She told him she'd been married for almost twenty years. Her husband was a dentist, and they'd met in high school.
"But one person can't be expected to fill all our needs." She winked. "I need a playmate."
"What if your husband finds out?" Kurt had no wish to be named in a divorce action. Or, have the crap beaten out of him either.
Beth laughed. "We have what you might call an unspoken agreement. Stan doesn't mind as long as I'm discreet." She swirled the gin around in her glass. "Besides, he strays himself."
He told her about his own marriage. "Eileen and I were never right for each other, but she was pregnant--"
"So you're more or less sticking around for the sake of your kid?"
"Pretty well. It's rough at times, but I immerse myself in my work. I'm a Public Health Inspector."
Beth told him she owned a store at Hayden and 5th. "You may have seen it in passing; it's called Forties Fantasia."
"I'm nuts about the 1940s," she explained. "Clothes, music, movies, you name it."
She jotted down an address on the back of a business card. "This is my apartment in town; it's just a few blocks from the shop. I stay there when I don't feel like making the long drive home to Brycewood."
"Does Stan ever just show up at your apartment?" The very last thing Kurt wanted was to have her husband walk in on them.
"Never," she replied without hesitation. "Anymore than I would show up at his office after hours."
She drained her glass and stood up, her eyes hot with promise. "Will Wednesday at four be okay for you?"
"I'll see that it is." He returned the seductive eye contact.
Beth's car was a knockout, a beautifully restored 1940 Hudson Convertible. "Until Wednesday," she murmured. Then she ran her tongue slowly along his lower lip, while raking her fingernails down the front of his crotch.
Kurt gasped, taken aback by the overt sexuality of the gesture. By the time he recovered his composure she'd gone, leaving him standing there with desire searing through him like hot pokers.
The traffic waiting to get onto the Piedmont Street Bridge was backed up more than usual. Right to the gates of hell, Kurt thought wearily. He'd promised Eileen he'd be home by five. "Looks like there's been an accident," he told her. The irritating beep from his cell phone warned the batteries were low.
Frustration built up all around him as one horn after another sounded in protest. God, would they never move?
His thoughts strayed to Beth and their hot date on Wednesday. With her big curvy booty and breasts like melons, she promised to be quite a handful in the sack.
When he finally got home, he wasn't surprised to find Eileen's car gone. It wasn't the first time she'd left Megan alone.
The racket of a high-speed car chase screamed from the television set in the basement.
"Hi, Daddy, I thought you'd never get here."
She was a thin child with fine hair drawn back in a ponytail. Kurt picked her up, thinking how light she was for an eight-year-old, and how frail.
After she'd gone to bed, he relaxed on the sundeck until Eileen got home.
"You shouldn't have left Megan alone," he accused.
"In broad daylight, for only an hour or two? I don't see any harm in it." She took a long sip from a glass of wine. "Everything was locked up. I know she won't open the door."
"No, you don't know. You only think that you do," Kurt corrected. "That's where the danger lies. Any adult who knows the right buttons to push can get a child to open a door, or get in a car with them. It's been proven time and time again."
Although late, the night was still sultry and warm.
Eileen sighed. "I couldn't get a sitter at such short notice."
"Then you should have stayed here until I came in." There was an edge to Kurt's voice that brooked no argument. "Don't you read the papers? Just last week there was a child abducted from her own backyard. Her body was found later in a ravine."
Eileen nodded. "Melissa Denman. God, I can't imagine what her parents must be going through."
"If you leave Megan alone again, you may find out," he warned.
"Keep your voice down," Eileen hissed.
They moved inside where she plumped up cushions and tidied around. "This is all about me working in real estate." There was a bitter twist to her mouth. "You resent my success."
It was the same old argument.
"No, I don't, Eileen. I'm glad you've found a job you like. But Megan must come first."
He got into bed and through half-closed eyes watched her walk naked into the bathroom. He fell asleep with the sound of the shower drumming in his ears.
A road crew dug up the sidewalk in front of the Public Health Building. Kurt edged his way around them. It was high noon on another sweltering day. His office was stifling. When will the damned air-conditioning be fixed? Fans were as sought after as winning lottery tickets.
He'd spent the morning on Lucas Street, a small enclave of about a dozen old houses. Somehow left behind when the rest of the area had been demolished and re-zoned commercial, they now stood like a bedraggled little island surrounded by a sea of industry.
There'd been another complaint about "Mad Albert" Moncton. He'd been breeding his Doberman crosses, and running a puppy mill.
Outside the dilapidated shack Albert called home, Kurt counted at least a dozen dogs romping around in various stages of development. The property was littered with car parts, ancient washing machines and sinks.
Albert tinkered away on his old brown van, a rusty relic that looked as if it were held together with a few pieces of wire and a prayer.
"Mr. Moncton, if I've told you once, I've told you a dozen times, all this has to go."
"Yes I know. I'm working on it." Albert had an educated voice at odds with his rough appearance. Heavy-set and balding on top, he wore extremely thick-lensed spectacles. "In fact, I just moved out a couple of armchairs and a pile of wood today." The sun seared a blinding swathe through the tangled heap of twisted metal.
Kurt shielded his eyes against the glare. "That's not good enough. It all has to go, the dogs as well. It's illegal to run a kennel without a license."
Albert peered at him, his eyes grotesquely magnified by the spectacles. "Then I'll apply for a license."
"Believe me that would be a waste of time. Your premises wouldn't qualify in a hundred years."
Beatty Short waylaid him on his way back to his car. Albert's next-door neighbor, she was the originator of the complaint.
"Come in for a minute," she ordered. "I'd like a word."
She was a massive woman--Kurt estimated her weight to be well over two hundred pounds. She lived with her mentally retarded son, George. Nicknamed Daft Georgie by the locals.
"All that garbage lying around his yard is attracting rats." Beatty stabbed a dirt-rimed finger in Albert's direction. "Just in case you don't believe me, I kept one to show you." She thrust her hand into a shoebox, and produced a fair-sized rat. "He's a big bugger, ain't he?" She swung the dead rodent by the tail. "After I called you, I notified the Pound. Somebody has to do something about those bloody flea-bitten mutts. They're driving me crazy with their damned barking, and terrorizing my poor cats."
Unlike her neighbour, Beatty was an avid gardener. She kept an immaculate yard. Pansies lined the pathway; double hollyhocks towered along the fence. But the inside of her house was filthy. The pungent stench of cat urine, in the broiling sun, made Kurt want to gag.
"Sit down." She knocked a pile of old clothes and newspapers off a chair to make room for him. This disturbed a large ginger tom, who yowled his displeasure and stalked from the room. "Would you like a cuppa coffee?" she asked.
"No...no thanks, I'm afraid I'm pushed for time. What was it you wanted to tell me?"
"I've been keeping my eye on Mad Albert." Beatty lowered her voice conspiratorially. "What I've seen has given me reason to believe he's a paedophile." She paused for dramatic effect, before delivering the coup de grace. "He may even be the monster who killed that little girl last week."
"What makes you think that?" Kurt was startled by this unexpected denouement. "It's a very serious allegation."
"Oh he's always lurking around the kids," she replied. "Can't seem to leave them alone. Then he wanders round the school, and loiters in the park. In fact, he roams all over the city."
So does your son, and your neighbours have suspected him of the same thing. In fact, there'd been an ugly incident some years ago, involving a little girl. But as Georgie had the mental capacity of an eight-year-old, it had been impossible to prove intent.
"But don't take my word for it," Beatty added. "Come and see for yourself. He can't take his dirty eyes off the two little girls across the street. Buying them toys, feeding them candy...it's a tragedy waiting to happen."
"I suggest you call the police." Kurt suspected she was imagining things, or just being malicious.
The sound of her laboured breathing followed him to the gate. "They don't call him Mad Albert for nothing," she wheezed. "He should be bloody well locked up."
There was a problem again with the water heater at Moe's Diner. Popularly known as "Dirty Moe's."
"The rinse water must be at least one hundred and seventy degrees," Kurt stressed.
Moe, a fat, swarthy character, flipped burgers on the grill. "I haven't had time to get it repaired." He shrugged.
"You've had more than enough time." Kurt was growing exasperated. He'd also found a couple of camp beds in the storeroom. In the kitchen, baby bottles and formula.
"You can't have people living and sleeping in a restaurant." He issued him with an order to close.
"Fuck you," Moe muttered, and waved a clenched fist. "How am I supposed to live, eh? You fuckin' answer me that, you bastard."
"God, the sight of you in that uniform leaves me breathless," Beth whispered. "It never loses its impact."
Kurt felt slightly uneasy about the kinky nature of these Wednesday afternoon sessions--the Nazi uniform, in particular. On his cap, a death's-head badge appeared below the eagle, and on the right collar patch SS runes. An iron cross was pinned to his left breast pocket, and he wore a gun holster with a Luger service pistol.
"You're beautiful," Beth breathed. "Like a young Greek God of War. And your eyes...your eyes are so perfectly blue, I lose myself in them. God, I'm crazy about you Kurt." She wore a short dress with enormous shoulder pads, seamed stockings, and platform-soled shoes. Her thick auburn hair was pinned back in a roll.
Everything was nebulous and hushed in this dark contrived world of the 1940s.
Kurt stood still as a statue in an art museum while Beth appraised him like a connoisseur. The haunting strains of Lili Marlene played on the old phonograph. He could taste the sharp tang of the Rhine Valley wine on his tongue.
"It's time," he said.
She followed him into a room dominated by a massive ebony desk. Brass-framed mirrors reflected back everything that took place there.
Kurt picked up the thin cane and flexed it. He ordered her, by gesture, to bend over the desk. No words were spoken. He whacked her slowly. She moaned with pleasure and begged him to hit her harder.
Afterwards, he kissed her deeply while she pressed herself against him in a frenzy of desire. She dropped to her knees, kissing his hands and boots before taking his rigid cock in her mouth. Kurt put his hands on her head and closed his eyes, letting her expert tongue bring him to a thundering climax.
He picked her up and carried her to the bedroom where he bound her wrists to the headboard. He stripped off the uniform and heard her sharp intake of breath, as he stood for a moment slim, hard and naked before joining her in bed. He undressed her slowly, moving his lips and hands over her entire body before mounting her.
She was one of the most passionate women he'd ever known, and as she neared climax emitted a shriek like an animal in pain. It was a strange sound somewhere between a howl and a bark that began deep in her throat and grew louder and more intense, until at the moment of ecstasy she exploded like a werewolf at full moon.
As Beth slept, Kurt opened the French windows and stepped onto the balcony. He could smell honeysuckle mingled with the fragrance of freshly-mowed grass. Piano music drifted down from the suite above. It was a lovely evening, and a deep feeling of contentment washed over him.
This moment would remain with him afterwards as the high point in that summer of infidelity, strife and nightmare.
It was the lead story in the Morning Chronicle, complete with banner headline. A fifteen-year-old girl had gone missing.
"Alison Terkel was last seen at approximately three p.m. when she left school. She never arrived home."
"God, it must be a nightmare for her parents." Eileen stuffed some papers into her brief case. She wore a straight-cut peach suit that flattered her figure.
"Never leave Megan alone for even a minute," he warned.
"Will you get off my friggin' case!" she snapped. "You're sounding like a broken-down gramophone record."
Forties Fantasia stood on the corner of a busy intersection. It's typically Beth, thought Kurt, her own private shrine to the war years. One window displayed fashion reproductions from the era; the other was devoted to music, books and small items of furniture.
"Why this obsession with the 1940s?" he'd asked her. Something carried to such lengths, surely isn't healthy?
"My mother was an English war bride," she explained. "I was weaned on stories about wartime Britain." Her eyes sparked green fire in the lamplight. "Imagine, all those men in uniform from dozens of different countries looking for a good time. Adventure was as close as the local dance hall."
Inevitably, peacetime had seemed tame and dull by comparison, Kurt thought. He knew that human memory is selective. Events are seldom as good or bad as we remember them to be. Beth's mother probably glorified the good memories, and completely blocked out the bad ones. Like the bombing raids, long nights in draughty air-raid shelters, and the shortages of food, fuel and clothing.
"Heightened awareness is what made it an exciting time to be alive." There was a look of rapture on Beth's face. "When people know they have a good chance of being killed tomorrow, they live life to the fullest today."
Kurt shook the raindrops off his shoulders before entering the shop. Beth stood behind the counter beside an ancient looking cash register. She drew him into the back room and kissed him hungrily on the mouth.
He felt slightly uncomfortable with this sort of display in a place other than the apartment.
"Oh don't be such a prude," she chided. "And don't worry about Stan dropping in; he's at a dentists' convention in Salt Lake City." She showed him around the store. Stacks of memorabilia from a bygone age towered over narrow aisles. He felt a twinge of claustrophobia.
"And this is where your uniform came from." She winked seductively.
Kurt looked through the sizeable selection. "I didn't think there would be much of a demand for them."
"Oh you'd be surprised--theatre companies, movie studios. Then there are the people who buy them all year round for their own private use." She laughed lewdly. "We can imagine how much fun they have, can't we?"
Kurt had decided some time ago that Beth was the perfect mistress. Good-natured, insatiable sexually, and she never pried into his personal life. Nor did she expect financial support, or expensive presents. In other words, she respected boundaries. He couldn't have improved on her if he tried.