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These Quiet Maine Woods Hold Deadly Secrets

Art, ambition, and murder collide in Dark Things I Adore.

Mossy woods with eerie lighting.
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  • Photo Credit: Gustav Gullstrand / Unsplash

Thirty years ago, a group of outcasts and weirdos came together—dreaming of their art, certain that their potential will lead them to a successful future. But the Maine woods held more than campfires and secretive conversations. When one of their number is left dead, two witnesses are sworn to secrecy for life.

In 2018, Audra Colfax invites her mentor and esteemed professor Max Durant to her home in remote Maine. Ostensibly, he’s there to see her graduate thesis work, a rare and envied opportunity. What he doesn’t know is that Audra has planned every single second of the time they’ll spend together.

Her moment has arrived—and Audra will make the wrongdoers pay. This debut thriller from Katie Lattari will keep you guessing until the very last page, and we're thrilled to be including it in the August/September Creepy Crate!

Read on for an excerpt of Dark Things I Adore, then subscribe to Creepy Crate for your chance to receive a copy!




Dark Things I Adore

By Katie Lattari

Friday, March 16, 2018

A smudged, barking pattern—­male.

My vision is pulled back into focus by a voice, louder than the others, in the room behind the closed door. I blink the water stain on the ceiling into something with sharp, definite borders. It looks like a tree or a hand, tendrils grasping outward. I’m lying on the old couch outside one of the institute’s larger lecture halls, fingers laced beneath my head. The couch is ratty but comfortable, and because it’s art school, it has panache, covered and saved by years and years’ worth of weird little fabric patches and guerrilla embroidery jobs—­furniture Frankensteined. The lecture hall across the way is a sixty-­seater set aside for visiting speakers, conferences, and large workshops. Right now, faculty from across departments and disciplines are gathered in there, having their second and final all-­faculty meeting of the academic year. I’m out here because Max Durant is in there. My handsome professor. My dedicated mentor. Professor Durant told me before class this morning that I should wait for him after the meeting. He told me he wanted to see me. That we should talk. Maybe even grab dinner. I let him know he could look for me when he got out.

A muffled scrape and shuffle rise behind the door; bags are being gathered, friendly chatter is breaking out. I look at my phone—­it’s almost six in the evening. They were supposed to be done by half past five. I push myself to sitting and look up and down the vacant hallway. It’s the Friday before spring break, so everyone has split. I rub my face and mindlessly check my email while I wait. Junk, spam, coupons, one message from a fellow student with the subject line: thesis prospectus?? I put my phone away in my jacket pocket, and as I do, my fingers brush the corner of an envelope I’ve had stowed in there all day: a letter addressed to a man I know back home, from an old friend. I withdraw my hand quickly and rest it on the outside of my jacket, feeling the outline of the envelope like a mite burrowed under flesh.

“But if the Warhol is going out on loan, it means prime space is empty in one of the most prestigious rooms in our own gallery.” Hearing his voice stirs me from my torpor. That’s him. Max.

My hand presses over the shape of the envelope harder. I’ll post this tonight.

Max’s voice is loud and animated—­even through the door. I smile. He’s always wound up about some goddamned thing. I try to listen more closely, but the crush of movement crescendos when faculty members push through the double doors, first in drips, then in groups of threes and fours, holding laptops and notepads under their arms, some talking about their break plans, some shaking their heads dubiously at each other as they unpack whatever it is they’ve just talked about in there. Dr. Grant gives me a wave and smile, which I return. She’s only a few steps past me, a couple colleagues at her elbows, when I hear her speak in a hushed tone.

“We all had the chance to make our pitches back when we first found out the Warhol would be going out on loan—­I’m not sure what makes Durant think he’s some special case. I mean, the Polk Room for god’s sake.” She laughs. At him. “God knows we all did enough begging. Let it rest.”

Professors Wilson and Zapata exit right behind them, chatting clandestinely to each other and peering over their shoulders at the apparent commotion inside the seminar room. Soon everyone has exited and streamed by me. Except Max. And whoever he’s haranguing. They’re just inside the door, at an angle I can’t see. But I can hear them.

“Well, I have no idea who said that to you. Who in their right mind would promise that?” The voice is the confident staccato of Dana Switzer. Jesus. He’s haranguing the head of the whole damn school. She was a professor in Max’s department, Painting, for many years and then was chair for a while. Five or six years ago she became the president of this place, the Boston Institute for the Visual Arts, but that was before I ever got here. I’ve never formally met her. A wave here, a hello there. She teaches very infrequently these days. “The Warhol will be out on loan, but that doesn’t mean its spot will remain empty,” she continues.

“That’s what I’m saying. My work should go there. Architecture of Radiance should go there.” I can hear the fight in him. The thinly veiled frustration. I’ve come to know his energies and emotions well over the many months we’ve been working together. “I’ve earned it. In all the years I’ve been here, I’ve never made it into the Polk Room at all, forget about the Warhol spot. I know there is precedent for faculty art being shown in the Polk Room. You can’t tell me there isn’t precedent.”

“There is precedent, yes, but faculty art hasn’t been hung in the Polk Room in more than ten years. It just isn’t done anymore. You know that, Max. I’ve been here a long time, but so have you. You know how it works.” She sounds tired. Like this is an argument they’ve had many times before. “Trust me,” she sighs, “nearly every one of your colleagues has asked for that coveted spot. None of them will get it. It’s not personal. We have the Warhol, those few Picasso sketches in there, and the new Amy Sherald—­”

“I am the institute’s most renowned faculty member and artist,” Max steamrolls her, his voice echoing down the corridor. I press my fingers to my lips, amused by his pluck. “It’s my faculty picture you push to the front of our website during admissions season every year. It’s my paintings and awards and write-­ups and reviews you feature in alumni newsletters. Not Okende or Grant or Fitzherbert.” I smirk. He has got some name recognition, and they use that to maximum benefit around here, it’s true. But he’s not the only one. And, to be honest, most of his notoriety is two decades behind him—­and everyone knows it. Even Max. Especially Max. He was short-­listed for the Guggenheim’s Hugo Boss Award in 1995 and hasn’t let anyone forget about it since. Most of what he’s done since then have been…lesser versions of those evocative works. As one of my crueler classmates put it, Max is an artist somehow derivative of himself.

“Max—­” Switzer hisses, their voices echoing into the vacant corridor. “Stop this. You’re overstepping. We have a full roster of dazzlingly talented and well-regarded faculty here at our school. This is not the Max Durant Institute for the Visual Arts. This is the Boston Institute—­”

“May as well be the former, and you know it.” I have to cover my mouth to keep from laughing my astonishment out loud. My eyes dart around the empty, gaping maw of the pinned-­back double doors. They must be just off to the side. I can imagine Max, hands on hips, defiant, glowering down at the petite, choppy-haired Switzer, who no doubt is giving him as weary a look as he is giving her a ferocious one. “I helped make this place what it is. I’ve been here fifteen years. Fifteen years.”

Cabin with large windows and couches. Snow lit with red light lays outside.
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  • Photo Credit: Justin Kauffman / Unsplash

“Yeah, I know how long you’ve been here, my friend. I got you the job, if you’d care to remember.” She sighs. I can imagine her rubbing the bridge of her nose, trying to ward off a growing headache. I hear her starting to move toward the exit. I spring up lightly and jog down the hall a little, leaning into a dark alcove so I can watch them unseen. What a fun bit of theater my Max is constructing. She breaks into the hall first, followed hotly by Max.

“What a fucked-­up thing to say,” Max says. “You didn’t get me anything.”

“You know what I mean. I’ve been here for twenty-­four years, Max. I was instrumental in getting you a position here—­” Max starts to growl in protest. “Which I was happy to do because you are a credit to this institution,” she says firmly but quickly, trying to head off his anger. “But this institution is also a credit to you. None of us should ever forget that.”

Max runs his hand through his black hair. It’s flecked with gray and long enough to have a handsome, foppish part. He tries another tack. “Think of the renaissance this place has undergone during my tenure.”

“Without a doubt. But you did not do it alone.” It’s like she’s talking to a petulant child.

“But I’m why you manage to get your grubby little hands on Picassos and Warhols and Sheralds in the first place. The Polk Room has the exclusivity it has because of people like me who have worked to make this place a destination. Even you must see that!”

“My grubby little hands,” Switzer growls, her voice dropping to something more secretive, angrier. “Max,” she says with barely contained rage, “we have known each other for many years. Many, many years. You are, somehow, one of my best friends. And that is the only reason I am not going to formally reprimand you. But remember yourself, man. I am the president of this school. I am your boss. So you’d better chill the fuck out.” Switzer has her laptop pressed to her side under one arm and is pointing directly in Max’s face with her other hand.

Max’s jaw grinds. “If I don’t get the Warhol spot in the Polk Room in our own Boston Institute Gallery over the summer, there will be hell to pay. And you will pay it. You.” He points right at her.

“Is that a threat, Max?” Switzer stands a little taller against his increasingly out-­of-­control tone.

A wolfish smile curls onto his lips. “No, Dana. No, of course not.” His voice softens, almost seductive. An about-­face. “I—­” He takes a breath, shakes his head out. It relaxes his countenance, makes him handsome and almost gentle again. “I’m sorry I lost my cool.” He breathes in through his nose, puts his fists on his hips. “You’re right—­we are good friends. Excellent friends. We go way back. Which is why I know you will do the right thing here—­”

“Max…” she groans, rubbing her eyes.

“I just feel that after all this time,” he pushes on, “and after all I have meant to the school, my body of work should speak for itself. That if there were ever a time for this institution to make a gesture on my behalf, after all I have done to bring acclaim to this place, that time would be now. That gesture would be this.” The two painters and professors look at each other. Switzer softens minutely at Max’s deep-­blue eyes. I know the power of those eyes, of what they can do. I barely remember to breathe. Max and I have discussed this very thing many times at this point—­his work going in the Polk Room. I know what it would mean to him. A silence has fallen between them, and Switzer seems to be relenting. “It would cost you nothing,” he goes on gently. “Nothing but a little humility. Which I know for you is asking a lot.” His tone shifts sharply, venomous.

Oh, Max. So close.

“You know what, Max, Professor Durant, why don’t you go take a flying leap.” Switzer turns away from him and storms around the corner. She’s completely disappeared within seconds. I look at Professor Durant, astonished at what I have just so publicly witnessed. To talk to the president of the institute that way—­even if they do consider themselves friends.

He looks pleased with himself. I study him in this secret moment, in this hidden frame in the film reel, and I see that he is relishing the small pain he has caused her. He made her fight him, soften, and then take a sucker punch. But then the bright glimmer of pleasure on his face drops away as quickly as it came. Something stormy moves in within seconds. The pleasure of the snipe is gone. He’s left only with his failure. With that empty wall in the Polk Room. He grabs the edge of a nearby table and violently lifts and slams its legs once, twice, three times into the floor. I jump at the noise as it echoes around the hall. He lets go, sucks in air sharply between his teeth, and pulls his hand up—­it must be bleeding. He sucks on the skin between his thumb and forefinger.

His eyes finally fall on me.

Max Durant sees me. He removes his hand from his mouth, and like a mask, slides the charming smile I have come to know so well back on his face. His brow loses its storm, his vague snarl clears. Seeing me brings him back to himself.

Oh, yes, Max sees me.

And I see him, too.

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Feature image: Gustav Gullstrand / Unsplash