The next few days, Tosh was once again in and out of the house. Sometimes, he took me on errands that seemed bizarre, or mysterious, or just plain dull, but I went along. Knowing that we were heading to some kind of confrontation made me much more patient with his alternating fits of outside activity followed by massive bong hits and pouring over his journals, books, and experiments in the room.
Besides, I was busy. For one thing, it was time for midterms. In the 10-week quarter system under which UCSC ran, “midterms” are more a state of mind than any kind of actual date. Only Calculus had a single mid-term; both chem and physics had two each. Between assignments, lectures, studying for midterms, and running the occasional incomprehensible errand for Tosh, I was pretty busy.
I was also fairly distracted by my upcoming date with Sara. I had been a pretty scrawny sort in high school—a late bloomer, you might say—and although I had had some success with dating, it wasn't enough to relieve the dating nervous jitters. And Sara herself was something of a conundrum. Her straightforward manner—more like a guy than the girls in my experience—made her a lot easier to talk to in general. But her veering conversational style and logical jump-cuts, her strange sense of humor and often-bizarre observations, as well as her habit to issue abrupt and often undiplomatic observations—“You bought shoes that color on purpose?” she once asked the girlfriend of a friend of mine—definitely helped hold your attention. Somehow, I doubted a date with Sara would ever be dull no matter how many we went on.
Which of course did nothing to decrease the nervous anticipation.
Unlike Tosh, I was not confident that an evening out with Sara would end up with my trailing her home (or vice-versa—and thinking of having a woman over in that house was pretty daunting all on its own), so I didn't plan on it. I did make sure I was showered and shaved and as well dressed as I get (this side of “formal”) before I went to pick her up. Dark socks and nice shoes instead of white socks and tennis shoes with my nicest jeans, for example.
Tosh was still home when I left; I had reminded him earlier in the day of his agreement to loan me the Rabbit, so he had confined his day to experiments and reading and extended phone conversations instead of heading out and leaving me stranded. He tossed me the keys when I told him I was heading out.
He gave me his open-handed salute. “Good luck!” he said, not being sarcastic or ironic in any way. Tosh was a good soul at heart; he genuinely wanted his friends happy, or so it always seemed to me. And if a successful date with Sara would make me happy, hey, he was all for it.
“I'll call you at her place if I really need you,” he said. “I'll try to not bother you, though.” He smiled.
“Tosh, I'll probably be back here in a couple hours. Three, tops.”
“Whatever you say,” he said, still smiling.
I rolled my eyes at him and left.
The Center of the Universe was in a small pocket of land between Beach Hill and downtown. As Sara had told me, Lucas knew where it was, and had also—as he had a habit of doing, especially with regard to things that had a salacious background—regaled me with its history. Apparently it used to be a bordello. Before the university came to town, Santa Cruz was just another beach tourist town, with all the accouterments that implies—seedy bars, card rooms, restaurants high-end and –low, and other places designed to separate a tourist from his or her money. Including, one supposes, bordellos. (Where the town's current sex workers resided was something I didn't pursue.)
The Center of the Universe was a narrow, two-story building with a single front door in the middle of the first floor and—as I found out later—two back doors, one to the back end of each upstairs hallway. Inside, directly as you walked in, was a stairway to the upper floor. On either side of the stairway was a hall, and down each side I counted four doors. I walked upstairs and looking around, saw that the upstairs floor was an exact duplicate; two open hallways down each side of the stairwell, each with four doors. At the end of each hallway was what looked like a bathroom.
YOU ARE READING
A Study with SlugsMystery / Thriller
It is the early 1980s, and women are disappearing from the university campus in Santa Cruz, California, home of the Fighting Banana Slugs. The local police and state investigators are baffled, and so solving these crimes is left to a dope-smoking...