Read This! Peter Cameron’s Suspenseful What Happens at Night
Author: Edit Team
August 1, 2020
The following is excerpted from What Happens at Night (Catapult), the new novel by Peter Cameron. The novel follows an American couple on their journey to adopt a baby in a strange European city. Their attempt to claim their baby is both helped and hampered by the mysterious, uncanny denizens they encounter in their hotel.
The man took a sip of his drink and felt it enter his body, like a magic elixir. He realized he had eaten nothing but the garbage soup all day. I want some food, he said. Do you want some food?
I always want food, said the businessman. He patted the belly that extended rotundly above his belt. He took the man’s hand and held it against his belly, as if he were pregnant and wanted the man to feel his baby kicking.
The man quickly withdrew his hand, but not before he felt the comforting pillowed warmth beneath it. We’d like to order some food, he called to Lárus. Lots of food!
Lárus approached them and the man said, Bring us two of everything. And ham in the sandwiches! The man felt proud that he had not consulted the menu or the businessman regarding their order of food.
Lárus disappeared behind the upholstered door, which swung back and forth a few times after his exit, and when it was still the businessman said, So your wife’s mixed herself up with the holy man.
I don’t think he claims to be holy, said the man. He can just heal people. He says.
That sounds holy to me. Sounds fucking miraculous.
I don’t want to talk about it, said the man. It is what it is. Or perhaps it isn’t what it is. It’s something, and something is good. Something is better than nothing. I mean for her: something is better than nothing for her.
And for you? Is something better than nothing for you?
I don’t know, said the man. It depends what the something is.
So you also have nothing?
I didn’t mean that, said the man. But yes, maybe. Who knows? Do you know what you have?
Yes, said the businessman. I have shit. Shit. Nothing but shit.
Lárus returned and placed a plate of hard-boiled eggs on the bar between them.
We ordered two, said the man. Two orders of everything.
It is two, said Lárus. Count them. I don’t cheat. He disappeared, abruptly, behind the upholstered door.
The man realized that there were many egg halves on the plate: more than he would ever want to eat. He counted them: eleven. An odd number. Something, somewhere, had gone wrong. Had Lárus, perhaps, eaten one? There could be no other explanation.
Have you really got nothing but shit? the man asked.
Yes. I never lie. Why do you think I’m here, in this fucking freezing godforsaken place?
I thought you were here on some sort of business. You don’t live here, do you?
No, said the man, I don’t live here. I’d rather die than live here. I’d rather die a horrible painful death than live here.
Lárus emerged from behind the door with a large tray upon which were several plates. He placed these before the two men and disappeared back behind the door.
Look at this, said the businessman. A feast. A feast of crap. He took two of the fish croquettes and made a sort of fish croquette sandwich with them, a sandwich with no filling, and hungrily bit into it. It took him a moment to chew and swallow all that he had bitten off, and when he had, he wiped his mouth with a napkin. Lárus! he called.
After a moment Lárus emerged from the land behind the upholstered door. Yes?
Two more drinks! said the businessman. He held up his empty glass. Come on, boy—do your job!
The man had not finished his drink, so he picked it up and drank all that was left. He placed it carefully back on the bar because he had a sudden fear that he might break it, that even so much as placing it back upon the surface of the bar might shatter it. But it did not shatter, or break, and the man felt relieved, and proud of himself, and thus emboldened he heard himself cry: Schnapps! I want schnapps! Not this sissy pink drink!
The businessman seemed surprised by this outburst. Yes, schnapps, he said to Lárus. But we’ll have Negronis as well. Won’t we? He turned to the man.
Yes, said the man. We will have schnapps and Negronis. And don’t forget, two of everything on the menu!
Your food is there, said Lárus, nodding to the welter of plates and bowls he had placed on the bar before them.
Ah, said the man. Yes. Thank you, Lárus! Lots to eat and lots to drink!
We shall drink and be merry, said the businessman. We shall drink and eat and fuck.
Lárus placed a small glass of schnapps before each of them. The man picked his up and swallowed it in one gulp. He pounded his empty glass down upon the bar. Another! he cried.
Well, said the businessman. Look who’s off and running.
I am, said the man. I am off and running!
Yes, but no more schnapps until you’ve had your Negroni. And you’d better eat something.
I want to get drunk, said the man.
You’re well on your way. But the evening is young. Pace yourself.
For what? Pace myself for what? What is there to pace myself for? I have always paced myself and look where it has gotten me.
Here with me, said the businessman. Eating and drinking and fucking.
We aren’t fucking!
Not yet, said the businessman. But we will.
You may be fucking. But not me. There will be no fucking tonight.
It remains to be seen.
Don’t talk about fucking, said the man. Please. It makes me sad.
That’s odd. Why?
I don’t know, said the man.
But it was true: the talk of fucking had made him sad. The exuberance he had just felt was gone. He looked dejectedly at the unappetizing array of food before him.
You’ve ruined everything, he said to the businessman. He pushed the plate of hard-cooked eggs toward the edge of the bar.
The businessman reached out and stopped the plate from toppling to the floor. Easy now, he said to the man. What’s gone wrong? A moment ago you were gay as a lark.
Stop this gay talk. I’m not gay.
I know. But you were. Gay as a lark.
Quickly, before the businessman could stop him, the man pushed the plate of eggs off the bar and onto the floor. The plate crashed. Lárus, who was standing sentinel in his spot, flinched. He quickly looked down at the mess on the floor but then looked away.
It was quiet for a moment and then the man said, Look what I’ve done. I’m sorry. He stood up and leaned over the bar so that he could see the mess he had made and then sat back on the barstool. I’ve made a mess.
It’s not so bad, said the businessman. But perhaps we should put you to bed, before things get worse.
I’m not a child, said the man.
Lárus disappeared behind the door and reemerged a moment later with a dustpan and brush. He knelt down and swept up the shards of plate and slivers of egg and dumped them into the garbage. Would you like more egg? he asked the man.
No, the man answered. No more eggs. And I’m sorry, Lárus. I’m sorry I acted badly and made a mess. Thank you for cleaning it up.
It’s my job, said Lárus. I only do my job.
You do it very well, said the man. Thank you.
Anyone can do this job.
The businessman stood up. He withdrew his billfold from his jacket, extracted several bills, and placed them upon the bar. I think we should allow Lárus to have an early night, he said. Do you agree? he asked the man.
Yes, said the man.
The businessman steadied the man as he climbed off his barstool. The man started walking toward the door but the businessman said, Wait. We need provisions. He studied the plates of food arranged on the bar top and then put two of the meat sandwiches atop the bowl of ham and potato salad. Follow me, he said to the man. He held the man’s arm with the hand that wasn’t holding the food, and half pushed, half pulled him toward the door. They both paused before the beaded curtain. A little help? the businessman said. I’ve got my hands full.
The man reached out and parted the strands of beads, and the businessman pushed him through the jangling screen into the lobby. The businessman did not release his hold on the man as they crossed the lobby, as if he was afraid the man might suddenly bolt. They climbed the steps to the landing and entered the elevator and stood close together as it ascended. When it stopped the businessman motioned to the man to open the door, and when it was open he pushed the man gently out of the elevator onto the fourth-floor landing.
I’m on five, the man said.
Come with me, the businessman said, and led the man down the hallway. He stopped outside a door, knelt down, and carefully placed the bowl of sandwiches and potato salad on the floor. Then he stood up and unlocked the door. He flung it open and gently pushed the man before him into the room and closed the door behind them. It was completely dark in the room. The two men stood in the darkness. Even though it was completely dark the man closed his eyes. Although there was no sound he wished he could stop up his ears as well, and remove himself as completely as he could from the world. Once, while he was on business in Frankfurt, a colleague had taken him, after a somewhat drunken dinner, to a place where they floated in sensory-deprivation tanks. The tanks were like coffins filled with salt water, each in its own closet-like room; the man was told to strip and lie down in the tank and pull the cover closed above him; in an hour lights would come on inside the tank and he would know it was time to get out. It was the best feeling the man had ever had, floating alone in the darkness. He forgot his body and his mind, which had been racing but gradually quieted itself into a sort of conscious unconsciousness, a waking sleep, where the man somehow had access to the true and free self that emerged only in his dreams. Remembering this experience, the man wanted to lie down on the floor of the businessman’s hotel room, lie down in this perfect darkness and silence and let go. He began to sink to the floor but he felt the businessman reach around him, pull him up, and hold him against the wall. He could feel the businessman’s large belly pressed against his own and smell and feel the businessman’s warm breath touching his face. Although he could not see the businessman’s face, he knew that it was very close, perhaps almost touching his own. And then he felt the businessman’s mouth lightly touching his mouth, and he relaxed his lips slightly against the gentle pressure, and the businessman’s tongue slid into his mouth, fat and warm, and the man opened his mouth wider and felt his own tongue come alive and then felt the businessman take both of his arms and raise them above his head and pin them there against the wall. The businessman pressed his body hard against the man, grinding him into the wall, and the man could feel the businessman’s cock pushing against him, humping his leg, and then pressing hard against his own cock, and still the businessman held the man against the wall with his arms raised above his head, kissing him and bucking into him as if there might be some hole, there in the front of him, he could fill.
Excerpted with permission (Catapult)