We’ve been driving for a couple of hours and I’m beginning to think the TomTom is trying to drive us insane. Nick thought it would be funny to download Vincent Price’s voice for it, so we keep hearing, “Turn left now, if you dare,” followed by maniacal laughter. This was funny at noon, but two hours later, I’m getting a little sick of it, especially since half the time there’s not a turnoff in sight. I’m in the passenger seat hunched over a paper map, pretending to be studying the roads. The pretense is mainly for Nick’s sake. I have a hunch the TomTom will get us there, but he’s becoming increasingly agitated about the time.
“You know we have to be there before five p.m., Oliver,” he keeps saying.
My other partner Andy has taken refuge in the back seat of the enormous Lincoln Navigator, slumped down low with his laptop, conspicuously below Nick’s line of sight. Periodically I can hear grating horror movie music or shrieks of terror coming from his earbuds.
Nick got annoyed when he missed one of Vincent’s pronouncements because I had the 2002 Revival Cast of Rocky Horror blasting through the car stereo. Jarrod Emick was singing “Once in a While,” a gorgeous song that never made it into the 1975 film version. Yes, I admit it: I am an unrepentant show tune queen. Nick and Andy make fun of me most of the time, but they actually like a lot of the stuff I listen to, and more often than not, they tolerate the stuff they hate because I love it.
I was singing along with Jarrod Emick—whose character Brad, of Brad-and-Janet fame, was belting out a heartfelt song about getting past the incidental infidelities that plague you when you’re spending the night with a sweet transvestite in an isolated mansion—you know, the kind of thing we all go through once in a while. Anyway, I was really holding forth in what I believed to be a passable tenor when Vincent mumbled something from the TomTom. Not an intersection in sight, just rolling Georgia hills thick with red clay and green grass. Nick and I looked down at the TomTom in surprise.
“What did he say?”
“I dunno,” I said. “But there’s nothing in sight.”
“But what did he say?” Nick is like that, always trying to recapture lost words and phrases; me, I’m more of a lost-words-can-stay-lost kinda guy.
“I’m sure it was just a warning about something coming ahead.”
“Look at the menu and see if you can repeat the last instructions or something,” he said. “And turn down that damn music. I can’t hear myself think.”
We dropped into silence. There is no way to make the TomTom repeat the last instructions, and now we’re sailing along the same straight road, still no turn-offs in sight, still on target according to the animated map on the TomTom, but I’ve been tasked with finding us on “a real map.” So I’m flipping the map around and crinkling my brow earnestly wondering how long I have to pretend to look to make him believe me when I say the TomTom’s right.
I feel my cell phone vibrate. I shift the map around and ease the phone out of my pocket. It’s Andy from the backseat. WTF?
Technology is bad. I text back.
Daddy is a Luddite. Andy texts.
Taunt him sum more…if U dare.
He calls Nick “Daddy” mainly because Nick hates it—hates being reminded of the age differences in our little trinity, hates being the eldest. Nick will be forty-seven in November while Andy and I will hit twenty-four and forty-one respectively in September. To my mind, age is a little irrelevant when you look like Nick. He’s like a better looking version of Rock Hudson, solid with precise classical Greek features and a tall, slim body. He’d pass for thirty-five in a pinch, though in truth he’s timeless. I don’t think he’s changed at all in the fifteen years we’ve been together.
Andy on the other hand is ginger-haired, shorter than Nick, and all muscle. He probably doesn’t have more than a few ounces of fat on him anywhere. His hair is a mess of thick unruly curls that make him look younger than he is. He’s got the look of a kooky, New Age-y surfer. When he bothers to wear clothes at all, he favors board shorts and flip-flops or sometimes just a tight T-shirt and a Speedo. His body’s tanned and liberally carpeted with golden red fur. His arms are thick, his torso a perfect V-shaped slab of muscle pointing irrevocably down to his heavy endowment.
I’m the normal guy in the middle, “bookended by beauty” my friend Jonathan says. Of course the implication is that I’m not beautiful, and I get that, but I think I do okay, considering the company I keep. I’ve got an unruly English body that fights me harder and harder as I get older, but with Andy and Nick around, I seem to get plenty of exercise. I’ve got a naturally broad chest, muscular arms, and thick, runner’s legs. Nick says I look like a young Burt Lancaster, the way he looked in that old movie with Ava Gardner—The Killers—all thick curly hair (though mine is silvery salt and pepper these days), broad features, sharp jaw line, and those heavy cock-sucking lips.
I glance over my shoulder at Andy, who’s in the backseat snickering in response to my text. Nick pushes the side of the map down. “I know what you two assholes are doing,” he says, face deadpan.
“It’s not funny,” he says, a little louder so that Andy can hear over his earbuds.
“It’s a little bit funny,” Andy says in his best Elton John.
“What’re you watching back there?” I ask him.
“F’real?” I ask.
“Don’t you think that’s bad juju or something?”
“Why would it be?”
“Well, we’re gonna be spending the next sixty-six hours in a place called the Devil’s House, without phone, cable, or internet access. The place is supposedly haunted by about a dozen serial killing ghosts, and our best hope for protection is Serena’s crazy Irish setter—”
“It’s only three,” Nick says.
Andy sits up in the back seat and pulls out his earbud. “Three what?”
“The ghosts of three serial killers,” he says. “As opposed to three serial killing ghosts, which is something else—”
“Are you fuckin’ kidding me?” Andy says.
I turn around and stare at him, half grinning. “Did you even read the orientation materials Nick so thoughtfully provided—”
“No!” Andy is shaking his head. “And you didn’t either Oliver, so don’t even try—”
“Actually I did read them,” I say. “Fascinating stuff.”
“Suck-up,” Andy says, and then, “Nobody said anything to me about serial killers.”
Nick and I are both laughing now. I say, “The Vanity Fair article’s called ‘66 Hours in The Devil’s House’. What did you think that meant?”
Andy looks from me to Nick and then back to me.
“Ollie, don’t fuck with me, man,” he says. His pretty green eyes are wide and wary and beautiful, but he looks genuinely scared.
“Dude, we talked about this,” I say.
“No we didn’t—” He shifts gears suddenly, interrupting himself. “But you think it’s real?”
“That’s kinda the point,” Nick says.
“Dude, you gotta read our e-mails once in a while,” I say, refolding the map and picking up the TomTom. “Sometimes they’re important.”
“I left you a Post-It,” Nick says. “It said ‘Read your e-mails, Ginger’.”
Andy has powered down his laptop, and he’s stowing it in his bag, cheeks glowing red with emotion. “This is not right,” he’s saying. “This is so fucked up.” He shakes his head, mumbling to himself.
In all fairness, Nick was pretty clear with us about the nature of this little “vacation”—if Andy’d bothered to read the e-mails. On Monday evening Nick got a call from his publicist Karen offering him the chance to author a first-person travel piece for Vanity Fair. With all the publicity the three of us have received over the past several months, the Fair was looking to sex up the October issue by matching our infamous celebrity threesome with a vicious haunting. They were looking for some insights into a working three-way relationship told discreetly within the context of a travel piece about three lovers, the best girlfriend, and a dog spending sixty-six hours in a haunted mansion. Nick’s best friend from college Serena Claire, the celebrity photographer, had done some portraits of the three of us for GQ and The Advocate last fall and had been signed to produce a photo spread and some cover photos to accompany this piece. So now it’s midday Thursday, and we’re on our way to Teufelhaus—The Devil’s House, or in this case, technically The Devil’s Country Inn.
As always with Nick, the truth is in the details. He’s pretty much got two modes, Post-It notes or novels, and there’s very little in between. I suspect Andy took one look at the attachments and the long list of hyperlinks and trashed the e-mail, so he missed the part about the slaughter of the Hansson party, the incestuous hammer-wielding Jonathan Taylor, and the 1976 Bradford key party slasher. That’s three mass murderers in the same family in less than a century; it’s gotta be a record. So one phone call from Nick’s publicist, a quick conference with my law partner Alyson, and we’re all three headed to the Georgia coast for a weekend of fun and sun and ghosts.
Andy’s in the back sulking when Vincent pipes up on the TomTom, “Turn right in three miles, and you will have reached your destination. You may disembark … if you dare.”
Moments later I hear Andy’s earbuds blasting Dolly Parton’s cover of “Walking on Sunshine.” It’s one of his happy songs.
I glance at Nick. He doesn’t turn his attention from the road, but his eyebrow arches and his lip curls, and I know he’s starting to write the article in his head. I reach out and slide my hand along his thigh. He covers my hand with his long fingers, smiling as we crest the final hill.