The Harried Husband

A Nick Williams Mystery #22

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Monday, August 8, 1960

It's been three weeks since the case against Nick and Carter was dismissed and life has moved on.

They're at home in the big pile of rocks on Nob Hill and doing swell.

It's been two weeks since Nick started seeing Dr. Sylvester, an analyst who offices in The Shell Building on Bush Street.

And on this particular Monday, at 1 p.m., the good doctor will ask Nick an important question that turns out to be something Nick has never truly considered. As he ponders the answer, he begins to wonder about the nature of his relationship with Carter.

Psychoanalysis can do that, you know.

Meanwhile, a new client wants to see Nick. He claims that only Nick will be able to catch his cheating wife in the act. And it might end up being a good deal for everyone involved. Well, almost everyone.

In order to work the case, Nick decides he needs to grow out his beard so no one will recognize him as he prowls the City. Of course, Carter is along for the ride because beard burn isn't good. So they're off to the woods for 10 days to rough it.

Or are they?

Don't turn that dial! The further adventures of Nick and Carter will continue after these messages from our sponsors.

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The Harried Husband

Chapter 1

Offices of Dr. Ernest R. Sylvester, Ph.D.
The Shell Building
100 Bush Street, Suite 1403
San Francisco, Cal.
Monday, August 8, 1960
1 in the afternoon

"How have you been, Nick?" That was Dr. Sylvester. He was an analyst I'd been seeing for a couple of weeks.

"Fine, Dr. Sylvester."

"Just fine?"

I looked up at the ceiling tiles. One of them appeared to have suffered some water damage at some point. I wondered why I hadn't noticed that the week before.

"Yeah."

"I've noticed that you tend to answer my questions monosyllabically. Why do you think that is?"

I sighed. "Dunno."

The ticking of the clock on the far side of the room seemed louder right then. I wanted to lift up and look over and see if maybe the doctor had brought in a bigger clock.

"May I ask you a question?"

"Sure."

"You told me last week that your lawyer, Mr. Wilcox, had stood in open court and called you an 'avowed and practicing homosexual'. How did that make you feel?"

I shrugged. "I didn't like it."

"What didn't you like about it?"

"He was on the record."

"What does that mean?"

"The stenographer was right there, taking notes, putting it in the file."

"Is there a word you associate with having someone know you're an avowed and practicing homosexual?"

I looked up at the ceiling tile again. I wondered if there had been a leak from the floor above that had caused the stain.

"Nick?"

I sighed. "What was the question again?"

"Is there a word you—"

"Embarrassed."

"Are you embarrassed right now?"

"No."

"What did you and Carter do last night?"

"We had dinner with Louise and Ed."

"Louise is Carter's mother and Ed is his stepfather, correct?"

"Yeah."

"Where did you have dinner?"

"At their house in Sea Cliff."

"What did you have for dinner?"

"Steak, mashed potatoes, goddam creamed spinach, buttered rolls, apple pie, and coffee."

"What did you do after dinner?"

"We sat in the living room and watched the sunset through their big picture window and talked."

"What did you talk about?"

I sighed. "We talked about Ed's two sons, Kenneth and Bobby. We talked about Louise's red plum trees in Albany. We talked about Nixon and Lodge. We talked about—"

"Please remind me who these people are."

"Ed is married to Louise who is Carter's mother. Kenneth and Bobby are Ed's sons. Nixon and Lodge are on the Republican ticket."

Dr. Sylvester snickered for a moment and then asked, "Why 'goddam creamed spinach'?"

"What?"

"For dinner, you said you had, 'steak, mashed potatoes, goddam creamed spinach'. Why use that word?"

"Don't you think creamed spinach is everywhere? When did it become the national food? It reminds me of this stuff I used to eat in Léopoldville called saka-saka. It was dried fish with cassava leaves and always looked like a green paste, kinda. You put some hot sauce on that stuff and I couldn't get enough."

"What are cassava leaves?"

I thought for a moment. "I don't really know, to be honest."

"Did you have sex?"

I snorted. "What?"

"Did you have sex?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Last night, you had dinner with Carter's mother and stepfather. You watched the sunset. You talked about things having to do with them and politics. Did you have sex?"

I sputtered. "Not in their living room, we didn't."

"Would you liked to have had sex in their living room?"

I sat up on my elbows. "Are you fucking nuts?"

"Not that I know of but this isn't about me."

I laid back down. "I don't understand your question."

"Did you have sex?"

"After we got home we did."

"What did you do?"

"We finished watching TV. We got in the car. Carter drove home. We both brushed our teeth." For whatever reason, I didn't want to continue.

"We, we, we."

"What?"

"'We finished, we got, we brushed.' Is there an I in there anywhere?"

"I'm not an egotist."

"What's an egotist?"

"You know... Someone who's always talking about themselves."

"Do you ever talk about yourself?"

"To Carter. And Mike. And, sometimes, Marnie."

"Mike is your first lover who now works for you, correct?"

"He's the president of our company."

"And Marnie is your stepsister."

"And the best secretary a guy could ever have."

"Do private detectives talk about themselves?"

"Not if they're smart." I suddenly remembered something. "Or unless it helps with the case."

"Have you ever talked about yourself to help with a case?"

"Maybe but I was really thinking about Carter."

"Did he talk about himself to help with a case?"

"Yeah, we had a case one time where we had to pretend to be in a certain kind of relationship." I was thinking of a case we worked on in the summer of '53. It was right before Carter's father was murdered. We'd started off in D.C. but had ended everything in our own house, as a matter of fact. "In order to get a confession from someone, Carter tried to convince the man that he didn't really love me and that he wanted the man to, you know..." My mouth was suddenly dry.

"No, I don't know. What did Carter try to convince the man to do?"

"To, um, submit to Carter."

"To submit?"

"Yeah, you know." I licked my lips and swallowed hard. "To let Carter be in control... you know." I licked my lips again. "That kinda thing."

"So, Carter was pretending to be a sadist and he wanted the other man to serve as his masochist. Is that right?"

"Sure."

"How did you feel about it?"

"I was impressed at the time. Carter was good at it."

"What about later?"

I shifted on the couch and then found the water stain on the ceiling again. Maybe there had been a flood of some sort on the fifteenth floor at one point. I didn't remember reading or hearing anything like that but how would I have known?

"May I ask you a question, Nick?"

"Sure."

"Are you a sadist?"

I snorted. "No."

"Is Carter a sadist?"

I looked at the ceiling tile again. Based on the color, I guessed it dated back to at least '50. I wondered why no one had ever replaced it.

"Is Carter a sadist?"

"I dunno."

"Does he try to control you?"

"Not really. He always says he just 'lets Nick be Nick'."

"How do you feel when he says that?"

I suddenly had an itch on my scalp and I began to scratch it. "I, uh, I don't always understand what he means."

"What if you said, 'Let Carter be Carter'? What would you mean?"

"I'd never say that. He is who he is."

"And who is that?"

"He's my husband. He's smart. He's kind and generous. He's funny."

"Did you have sex?"

I sat up on my elbows again. "Look, doctor, I dunno why you keep asking me that question. I already told you."

"No, Nick, you haven't yet. Did you have sex?"

"Yes! OK? Satisfied?"

"What did you do when you had sex?"

I wondered if maybe there was a bathroom right above the couch. That could explain the ceiling tile. In fact, it would explain a lot. Maybe the sink up there always got stopped up and overflowed. Or maybe it was the toilet. I didn't like the thought that an overflowing toilet might start dripping right on top of me so I jumped up.

"Nick?"

I began to look at the doctor's degrees. He went to Harvard. And to some school in Rhode Island called Brown. He had two degrees from Harvard, though. That had to mean something.

"Nick?"

"Yeah?" I looked over at the doctor. His salt and pepper mustache was perfectly trimmed. I liked it. I wondered what it would feel like if we were kissing.

"What did you do when you had sex?"

I ran my hand over my head. "We, you know, got undressed. Then Carter built a fire in the fireplace."

"Undressed?"

I looked to see if the doctor had curled his lip in amusement or something like that. He hadn't. His face was perfectly neutral.

I shook my head. "He was wearing his BVDs."

"Isn't that dangerous?"

I shrugged. "Not really. He's a fireman. He knows what he's doing."

"What did you do after Carter finished building the fire?"

I crossed my arms and leaned on my left leg. "I was sitting on the end of the bed. He sat down next to me and put his left arm around me."

"How many inches taller is he than you?"

"Six."

"Does that feel commanding to you?"

I frowned. It was different looking at the doctor in the face. I felt like I could let him know that I didn't like his goddam questions by using my facial expressions.

"Would you like to lie back down?"

I shook my head.

"Why not?"

Without thinking about it, I looked up at the ceiling tile.

The doctor followed my gaze.

"What don't you like about the ceiling?"

"One of the tiles has a water stain."

"No, Nick, it doesn't. In fact, I was opening a bottle of pop on Friday and it sprayed everywhere. That's just a bit of Coca-Cola on the tile. The building will be replacing it tomorrow."

I nodded, feeling embarrassed and ashamed, my skin burning. I walked over and stretched out on the couch.

"What did you do after Carter put his arm around you?"

"Do you want a blow-by-blow on how he fucked me?"

"Did he fuck you?"

"Yeah."

"Do you like it when does that?"

"The question you should ask is does he like it."

"Why should I ask that question?"

"Because that's what happens. He fucks me because it feels good to him."

"How does it feel when he's fucking you?"

I sighed. "It's like getting some exercise, which I never do anyway."

"You don't like exercise?"

I shrugged. "I don't see the point."

"What's the point of letting Carter fuck you?"

"The point is that I get to make him feel good. I like that."

"When do you feel good?"

"After."

"After what?"

"After he finishes fucking me."

"What does he do?"

I smiled to myself as I thought about it. "He asks me how I feel and then he takes care of me."

"How does he take care of you?"

"Do you want me to paint you a goddam picture?"

"I want you to answer the question. How does he take care of you?"

"Is this getting you off, Doctor?"

"Not particularly, Nick. How does he take care of you?"

"He uses his fist and every once and a while his mouth but I don't like that. I prefer his fist. He uses his fingers too. Sometimes just his forefinger and his thumb."

"What does he use his fist to do?"

I sighed. "He uses his fist to get me off."

"What do you do?"

"I let him do it."

"Do you ever use your mouth on him?"

"You mean like kissing him?"

"No, I mean oral copulation."

"No. It's one of the weird things we have in common. He only likes to fuck. And I only like a hand job. Neither of us likes to get blown."

"Why is that weird?"

"Every guy, from a Kinsey 0 to a Kinsey 6 likes to get blown, right? Particularly the straight ones, right?"

"Are there any straight men that you have had sex with?"

"Nope."

"Not even in the Navy?"

I laughed. "I probably did. I had a lot of sex in the Navy. On the hospital ship."

"If you didn't like getting blown, didn't that put you at a disadvantage on the ship?"

I laughed again. "Not at all. It made me the favorite little faggot for all the sailors. They knew I would take it up the ass and didn't care whether they did me any favors on the back end, if you'll pardon the expression."

"What gave you pleasure in those encounters?"

I thought for a moment. "Having them close to me."

"How did you feel when they were close to you?"

I sighed. "Loved, I guess. Or maybe liked. For a moment or two, at least. When they were able to get to fuck a sailor up the ass and not have to do anything in return, they were happy. That made me happy."

"Ah."

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The Unexpected Heiress
The Amorous Attorney
The Sartorial Senator
The Laconic Lumberjack
The Perplexed Pumpkin
The Savage Son
The Mangled Mobster
The Iniquitous Investigator
The Voluptuos Vixen
The Timid Traitor
The Sodden Sailor
The Excluded Exile
The Paradoxical Parent
The Pitiful Player
The Childish Churl
The Rotten Rancher
A Happy Holiday
The Adroit Alien
The Leaping Lord
The Constant Caprese
The Shameless Sodomite
The Harried Husband
An Echanted Beginning
The One He Waited For
Their Own Hidden Island
This Morning, Over Here