The Killing Kind, p.10John Connolly
“Elizabeth Jessop and Lyall Kellog were members of the Aroostook Baptists,” I replied.
“That’s right. In a way, Grace had links with both of them through Jack and me. That’s why she was so interested in their disappearance.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry. I should have been open with you from the start.”
I rose and put my hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently.
“No,” I replied. “I’m sorry that I had to ask.”
I released my hold on him and moved toward the door, but his hand reached out to stop me.
“You think that her death has something to do with the bodies in the north?” Seated before me, he seemed very small and frail. I felt a strange kind of empathy with him; we were two men who had been cursed to outlive our daughters.
“I don’t know, Mr. Peltier.”
“But you’ll keep looking? You’ll keep looking for the truth?”
“I’ll keep looking,” I assured him.
I could hear again the soft rattle of his breathing as I opened the door and stepped out into the night. When I looked back he was still seated, his head down, his shoulders shaking gently with the force of his tears.
CURTIS PELTIER’S CONFESSION not only explained a great deal about Jack Mercier’s actions; it also made things a whole lot more difficult for me. The blood link between Mercier and Grace was bad news.
There was more bad news waiting for me when I got back to the Scarborough house. I couldn’t tell why, exactly, but something seemed wrong with the place as soon as I pulled up in front of the door. At first I put it down to that feeling of dislocation you get when you return home after being away, however briefly, but it was more than that. It was as if someone had taken the house and shifted it slightly on its axis, so that the moonlight no longer shone on it in quite the way that it once had and the shadows fell differently along the ground. The smell of gas from the mailbox served as a reminder of what had taken place that morning. Spiders in the mailbox was bad enough, but I wasn’t sure that I could handle recluses in my home.
I approached the door, opened the screen, and tested the lock, but it remained secure. I inserted the key and opened the front door, expecting to see some scene of desolation before me, but there was nothing at first. The house was quiet and the doors stood slightly ajar to allow the flow of air through the rooms. In the hallway, an old coat stand that I used for keeping mail and as a place to lay my keys had been pulled slightly away from the wall. I could see the clear marks on the floor where the legs had once stood, now slightly tarnished with speckles of dust. In the living room, I had the same sensation, as if someone had gone through my house and moved everything marginally out of kilter. The couch and chairs had been lifted, then imperfectly replaced. In the kitchen, crockery had been shifted, foodstuffs in the fridge removed and then returned in a haphazard manner. Even the sheets on my bed were tossed, the top sheet pulled loose at the end. I went to my desk at the back of the living room, and thought I knew then what they had come for.
The copy of the file on the case had been taken from me.
∗ ∗ ∗
I spent the next hour doing something that was unexpected but, upon reflection, natural. I went through the house, cleaning it, vacuuming and brushing, dusting and polishing. I took the sheets from my bed and threw them in a laundry bag, along with the small selection of clothes in my closet. Then I washed all of the cups and plates, the knives and forks, in boiling water and left them on the draining board. By the time I had finished, sweat was running down my face, my hands and face were filthy, and my clothes were stuck to my back, but I felt that I had reclaimed my space a little from those who had intruded upon it. Had I not done so, everything in my house would have felt tarnished by their presence.
When I had showered and changed into the last of the clothes in my overnight bag, I tried calling Curtis Peltier’s house, but there was no reply. I wanted to warn him that whoever had searched my house might try to do the same to his, but his machine clicked on. I left a message, asking him to call me.
I drove down to Oak Hill and dropped off my laundry, then turned back and headed for the Kraft Mini-Storage on Gorham Road, close by my house. I used my key to open one of the storage bays I kept there, still filled with some old possessions of my grandfather’s, along with items I had kept from the Brooklyn home I had shared briefly with Susan and Jennifer. In the bright light, I sat on the edge of a packing crate and went through the police reports one by one, concentrating in particular on those prepared by Lutz as the detective responsible for the investigation into Grace Peltier’s death. His involvement in the case didn’t fill me with a great sense of reassurance, but I could still find nothing in his reports to justify my suspicions of him. He had done a perfectly adequate job, even to the extent of interviewing the elusive Carter Paragon.
When I returned to the house, I went to my bedroom and removed an eighteen-inch section of the baseboard from behind the chest of drawers. I took a bundle wrapped in oilcloth from out of the gap I had made. Two other similar items, one larger, one smaller, also lay inside, but I didn’t touch them. I took the bundle into the kitchen, lay a newspaper on the table, and unwrapped the gun.
It was a Third Generation Smith & Wesson Model 1076, a 10-millimeter model developed especially for the FBI. I had owned a similar model for a year, until I lost it in a lake in northern Maine while running for my life. In some ways I had been glad to see the last of that gun. I had done terrible things with it, and it had come to represent all that was worst in me.
Yet two weeks after I lost it, a new 1076 had arrived for me, sent by Louis and delivered by one of his emissaries, a huge black man in a Klan Killer T-shirt. Louis called me an hour or two after its delivery.
“I don’t want it, Louis,” I told him. “I’m sick of guns, and especially this gun.”
“You feel that way now, but this your gun,” he said. “You used it because you had to use it, and you was good with it. Maybe a day will come when you be glad you have it.”
Instead of throwing it away, I had wrapped it in oilcloth. I did the same thing with my father’s .38 Colt Detective Special and a 9-millimeter Heckler & Koch semiautomatic, for which I didn’t have a permit. Then I had cut away part of the baseboard and placed the guns safely in the space I had made for them. Out of sight, out of mind.
Now I released the magazine, using the catch at the left side of the butt. I pulled back the slide in case there was a round in the chamber, still sticking to the old safety routine. I inspected the chamber through the ejection port, then released the slide and pulled the trigger. For the next thirty minutes I cleaned and oiled the gun, then loaded it and sighted at the door. Even fully loaded, it weighed a little over two and a half pounds. I tested its lines with my thumb, ran my finger over the serial number on the left-hand side of the frame, and felt inexplicably afraid.
There is a dark resource within all of us, a reservoir of hurt and pain and anger upon which we can draw when the need arises. Most of us rarely, if ever, have to delve too deeply into it. That is as it should be, because dipping into it costs, and you lose a little of yourself each time, a small part of all that is good and honorable and decent about you. Each time you use it you have to go a little deeper, a little further down into the blackness. Strange creatures move through its depths, illuminated by a burning light from within and fueled only by the desire to survive and to kill. The danger in diving into that pool, in drinking from that dark water, is that one day you may submerge yourself so deeply that you can never find the surface again. Give in to it and you’re lost forever.
Looking at the gun, feeling the power of it, its base, unarguable lethality, I saw myself standing at the verge of those dark waters and felt the burning on my skin, heard the cool lapping of the waves calling me to fall into their depths. I did not look down, for fear of what I might see reflected on the surface.
In an effort to pull myself away, I rose and checked my messages.
“Hey, you,” she said. “I got those tickets for the Wang.”
“That doesn’t sound very enthusiastic.”
“I haven’t had such a good day. I got assaulted by a policeman for mocking his belief system, and someone threatened to take my head off with a nine iron.”
“And you’re usually so naturally charming,” she said, before her voice grew serious. “You want to tell me what’s going on?”
I told her a little of what I knew, or suspected, so far. I didn’t mention Marcy Becker, Ali Wynn, or the two policemen. I didn’t like talking about it over the phone, or in a house so recently violated by strangers.
“Are you going to continue with this?”
I paused before answering. Beside me, the Smith & Wesson gleamed dully in the moonlight.
“I think so,” I answered quietly.
She sighed. “Guess I should cancel those tickets, then.”
“No, don’t do that.” At that moment I wanted to be with Rachel more than anything else in the world, and anyway, I still had to talk to Ali Wynn. “We’ll meet up, as arranged.”
“Never been more sure of anything.”
“Okay, then. You know I love you, Parker, don’t you?” She had taken to calling me Parker sometimes, simply because nobody else close to me ever called me that.
“I love you too.”
“Good. Then take care of your damned self.”
And with that she hung up.
The second message on the machine was distinctly unusual.
“Mr. Parker,” said a male voice, “my name is Arthur Franklin. I am an attorney. I have a client who is anxious to speak with you.” Arthur Franklin sounded kind of nervous, as if there was somebody standing in the shadows behind him brandishing a length of rubber hose. “I’d appreciate it if you’d call me as soon as you can.”
He’d left a home telephone number, so I called him back. When I told him who I was, relief burst from him like air from a punctured tire. He must have said “thank you” three times in as many seconds.
“My client’s name is Harvey Ragle,” he explained, before I had a chance to say anything further. “He’s a filmmaker. His studio and distribution arm is in California but he has recently come to live and work in Maine. Unfortunately, the state of California has taken issue with the nature of his art and extradition proceedings are now in train. More to the point, certain individuals outside the law have also taken some offense at Mr. Ragle’s art, and my client now believes that his life is in danger. We have a preliminary hearing tomorrow afternoon at the federal courthouse, after which my client will be available to talk to you.”
He came up for air at last, giving me an opportunity to interrupt.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Franklin, but I’m not sure that your client is my concern, and I’m not taking on any new cases.”
“Oh no,” replied Franklin. “You don’t understand. This is not a new case, this is in the nature of assistance with your current case.”
“What do you know about my caseload?”
“Oh dear,” said Franklin. “I knew this wasn’t a good idea. I told him, but he wouldn’t listen.”
Franklin let out a deep breath that quivered on the verge of tears. Perry Mason he wasn’t. Somehow, I got the feeling that Harvey Ragle was going to be getting some California sunshine in the near future.
“I was told to call you,” continued Franklin, “by a certain individual from Boston. He’s in the comic book business. I think you know the gentleman to whom I am referring.”
I knew the gentleman. His name was Al Z, and for all intents and purposes he ran the Boston mob from above a comic book store on Newbury Street.
Suddenly I was in real trouble.
THE SUN SHONE BRIGHTLY through my windows when I awoke, the thin material of the curtains speckled with thousands of tiny points of light. I could hear the buzzing of bees, attracted by the trilliums and hepaticas growing at the end of my yard and the pink buds of the single wild apple tree that marked the start of my driveway.
I showered and dressed, then took my training bag and headed into One City Center to work out for an hour. In the lobby I passed Norman Boone, one of the ATF agents based in Portland, and nodded a hello. He nodded back, which was something, Boone ordinarily being about as friendly as a cat in a bag. The feds, the U.S. marshals, and the ATF all occupied offices at One City Center, which was the kind of knowledge that made you feel pretty safe and secure while using the gym, as long as some freak with a grudge against the government didn’t get it into his head to make his mark on the world with a van load of Semtex.
I tried to concentrate on my workout but found myself distracted by the events of the past days. Thoughts of Lutz and Voisine and the Beckers flashed through my mind, and I was conscious of the Smith & Wesson, in its Milt Sparks Summer Special holster, which now lay in my locker. I was also acutely aware that Al Z was taking an interest in my affairs, which, on the “Good Things That Can Happen to a Person” scale, registered somewhere between contracting leprosy and having the IRS move into your house.
Al Z had arrived in Boston in the early nineties, following some fairly successful FBI moves against the New England mob involving video and tape surveillance and a small army of informants. While Action Jackson Salemme and Baby Shanks Manocchio (of whom it was once said that if there were any flies on him, they were paying rent) ostensibly jostled for control of the outfit, each dogged by surveillance and whispered rumors that one or both of them could be informing for the feds, Al Z tried to restore stability behind the scenes, dispensing advice and impartial discipline in roughly equal measures. His formal position in the hierarchy was kind of nebulous, but according to those with more than a passing interest in organized crime, Al Z was the head of the New England operation in everything but name. Our paths had crossed once before, with violent repercussions; since then I’d been very careful where I walked.
After I left the gym I headed up Congress to the library of the Maine Historical Society, where I spent an hour going through whatever they had on Faulkner and the Aroostook Baptists. The file was close at hand and still warm from the latest round of media photocopying, but it contained little more than sketchy details and yellowed newspaper clippings. The only article of any note came from an edition of Down East magazine, published in 1997. The author was credited only as “G.P.” A call to Down East’s office confirmed that the contributor had been Grace Peltier.
In what was probably a dry run for her thesis, Grace had gathered together details of the four families and a brief history of Faulkner’s life and beliefs, most of it accumulated from unpublished sermons he had given and the recollections of those who had heard him preach.
To begin with, Faulkner was not a real minister; instead, he appeared to have been “ordained” by his flock. He was not a premillenarian, one of those who believe that chaos on earth is an indication of the imminence of the Second Coming and that the faithful should therefore do nothing to stand in its way. Throughout his preaching, Faulkner had shown an acute awareness of earthly affairs and encouraged his followers to stand against divorce, homosexuality, liberalism, and just about anything else the sixties were likely to throw up. In this he showed the influence of the early Protestant thinker John Knox, but Faulkner was also a student of Calvin. He was a believer in predestination: God had chosen those who were saved before they were even born, and it was therefore impossible for people to save themselves, no matter what good deeds they did on earth. Faith alone led to salvation; in this case, faith in the Reverend Faulkner, which was seen to be a natural consequence of faith in God. If you followed Faulkner, you were one of the saved. If you rejected him, then you were one of the damned. It all seemed pretty straightforward.
And if it seems strange that twenty people could just arrive somewhere in 1963 and be gone less than a year later, never to be seen again, then it was worth remembering that this was a big state, with one million or so people scattered over its 33,000 square miles, most of it forest. Whole New England towns had been swallowed up by the woods, simply ceasing to exist. They were once places with streets and houses, mills and schools, where men and women worked, worshiped, and were buried, but they were now gone, and the only signs that they had ever existed were the remnants of old stone walls and unusual patterns of tree growth along the lines of what were formerly roads. Communities came and went in this part of the world; it was the way of things.
There was a strangeness to this state that was sometimes forgotten, a product of its history and the wars fought upon the land, of the woods and their elemental nature, of the sea and the strangers it had washed up on its shores. There were cemeteries with only one date on each headstone in communities founded by Gypsies, who had never officially been born yet had died as surely as the rest. There were small graves set apart from family plots, where illegitimate children lay, the manner of their passing never questioned too deeply. And there were empty graves, the stones above them monuments to the lost, to those who had drowned at sea or gone astray in the woods and whose bones now lay beneath sand and water, under earth and snow, in places that would never be marked by men.
The Killing Kind by John Connolly / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / Horror have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes