Every dead thing, p.13
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       Every Dead Thing, p.13

           John Connolly
 

  I told Mrs. D’Amato to take Jake into the kitchen until Walter Cole arrived, then sat down to examine the gift from the Traveling Man. It was about ten inches high and eight inches in diameter and it felt like glass. I took out my pocket knife and gently pulled back an edge of the wrapping, examining it for wires or pressure pads. There was nothing. I cut the two strips of tape holding the paper in place and gently removed the grinning bears, the dancing candy canes.

  The surface of the jar was clean and I smelled the disinfectant he had used to erase any traces of himself. In the yellowing liquid it contained I saw my own face doubly reflected, first on the surface of the glass and then, inside, on the face of my once-beautiful daughter. It rested gently against the side of the jar, now bleached and puffy like the face of a drowning victim, scraps of flesh like tendrils rising from the edges and the eyelids closed as if in repose. And I moaned in a rising tide of agony and fear, hatred and remorse. In the kitchen, I could hear the boy named Jake sobbing, and mingled with his cries, I suddenly heard my own.

  I don’t know how much time elapsed before Cole arrived. He stared ashen faced at the thing in the jar and then called Forensics.

  “Did you touch it?”

  “No. There’s a phone as well. The number matches the caller ID but there won’t be any traces. I’m not even sure he was at that phone: that number shouldn’t have come up on the cell phone ID. His voice was synthesized in some way. I think he was running his words through some form of sophisticated software, something with voice recognition and tone manipulation, and maybe bouncing it off that number. I don’t know. I’m guessing, that’s all.” I was babbling, words tripping over one another. I was afraid of what might happen if I stopped talking.

  “What did he say?”

  “I think he’s getting ready to start again.”

  He sat down heavily and ran his hand over his face and through his hair. Then he picked up the paper by one edge with a gloved hand and almost gently used it to cover the front of the jar, like a veil.

  “You know what we have to do,” he said. “We’ll need to know everything he said, anything at all that might help us to get a lead on him. We’ll do the same with the kid.”

  I kept my eyes on Cole, on the floor, anywhere but on the table and the remains of all that I had lost.

  “He thinks he’s a demon, Walter.”

  Cole looked once again at the shape of the jar.

  “Maybe he is.”

  As we left for the station, cops milled around the front of the building, preparing to take statements from neighbors, passersby, anyone who might possibly have witnessed the actions of the Traveling Man. The boy, Jake, came with us, his parents arriving shortly after with that frightened, sick look that poor, decent people get in the city when they hear that one of their children is with the police.

  The Traveling Man must have been following me throughout the day, watching my movements so he could put into action what he had planned. I traced back my movements, trying to remember faces, strangers, anyone whose gaze might have lingered for just a moment too long. There was nothing.

  At the station, Walter and I went through the conversation again and again, pulling out anything that might be useful, that might stamp some distinguishing feature on this killer.

  “You say the voices changed?” he asked.

  “Repeatedly. At one point, I even thought I heard Jennifer.”

  “There may be something in that. Voice synthesis of that kind would have to be done using some sort of computer. Shit, he could simply have routed the call through that number, like you said. The kid says he was given the jar at four P.M. and told to deliver it at four-thirty-five P.M. exactly. He waited in an alley, counting the seconds on his Power Rangers digital watch. That could have given this guy enough time to get to his home base and bounce the call. I don’t know enough about these things. Maybe he needed access to an exchange to do what he did. I’ll have to get someone who knows to check it out.”

  The mechanics of the voice synthesis were one thing, but the reasons for the synthesis were another. It might have been that the Traveling Man wanted to leave as few traces of himself as possible: a voice pattern could be recognized, stored, compared, and even used against him at some point in the future.

  “What about the kid’s comment, that this guy with the scalpel had no face?” asked Walter.

  “A mask of some kind, maybe, to avoid any possibility of identification. He could be marked in some way, that’s another option. The third choice is that he is what he seems to be.”

  “A demon?”

  I didn’t reply. I didn’t know what a demon was, if an individual’s inhumanity could cause him to cross over in some way, to become something less than human; or if there were some things that seemed to defy any conventional notion of what it meant to be human, of what it meant to exist in the world.

  When I returned to the apartment that night, Mrs. D’Amato brought me up a plate of cold cuts and some Italian bread and sat with me for a time, fearful for me after what had taken place that afternoon.

  When she left, I stood beneath the shower for a long time, the water as hot as I could take it, and I washed my hands again and again. I lay awake then for a long time, sick with anger and fear, watching the cell phone on my desk. My senses were so heightened that I could hear them hum.

  15

  “READ ME A STORY, DADDY.”

  “What story do you want to hear?”

  “A funny story. The three bears. The baby bear is funny.”

  “Okay, but then you have to go to sleep.”

  “Okay.”

  “One story.”

  “One story. Then I go to sleep.”

  In an autopsy, the body is first photographed, clothed and naked. Certain parts of the body may be X-rayed to determine the presence of bone fragments or foreign objects embedded in the flesh. Every external feature is noted: the hair color, the height, the weight, the condition of the body, the color of the eyes.

  “Baby Bear opened his eyes wide. ‘Somebody’s been eating my porridge, and it’s all gone!’ ”

  “All gone!”

  All gone.

  The internal examination is conducted from top to bottom, but the head is examined last. The chest is examined for any sign of rib fractures. A Y-shaped incision is made by cutting from shoulder to shoulder, crossing over the breasts, then moving down from the lower tip of the sternum to the pubic region. The heart and lungs are exposed. The pericardial sac is opened and a sample of blood is taken to determine the blood type of the victim. The heart, lungs, esophagus, and trachea are removed. Each organ is weighed, examined, and sliced into sections. Fluid in the thoracic pleural cavity is removed for analysis. Slides of organ tissue are prepared for analysis under a microscope.

  “And then Goldilocks ran away and the three bears never saw her again.”

  “Read it again.”

  “No, we agreed. One story. That’s all we have time for.”

  “We have more time.”

  “Not tonight. Another night.”

  “No, tonight.”

  “No, another night. There’ll be other nights, and other stories.”

  The abdomen is examined and any injuries are noted before the removal of the organs. Fluids in the abdomen are analyzed and each separate organ is weighed, examined, and sectioned. The contents of the stomach are measured. Samples are taken for toxicological analysis. The order of removal is usually as follows: the liver, the spleen, the adrenals and kidneys, the stomach, pancreas, and intestines.

  “What did you read?”

  “‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears.’”

  “Again.”

  “Again.”

  “Are you going to tell me a story?”

  “What story would you like to hear?”

  “Something dirty.”

  “Oh, I know lots of stories like that.”

  “I know you do.”

  The genitalia are examined for injuries
or foreign material. Vaginal and anal swabs are obtained and any foreign matter collected is sent to a DNA lab for analysis. The bladder is removed and a urine sample is sent to toxicology.

  “Kiss me.”

  “Kiss you where?”

  “Everywhere. On my lips, my eyes, my neck, my nose, my ears, my cheeks. Kiss me everywhere. I love your kisses on me.”

  “Suppose I start with your eyes and move down from there.”

  “Okay. I can live with that.”

  The skull is examined in an effort to find evidence of injury. The intermastoid incision is made from one ear to the other, across the top of the head. The scalp is peeled away and the skull exposed. A saw is used to cut through the skull. The brain is examined and removed.

  “Why can’t we be like this more often?”

  “I don’t know. I want us to be, but I can’t.”

  “I love you like this.”

  “Please, Susan…”

  “No…”

  “I could taste the booze on your breath.”

  “Susan, I can’t talk about this now. Not now.”

  “When? When are we going to talk about it?”

  “Some other time. I’m going out.”

  “Stay, please.”

  “No. I’ll be back later.”

  “Please…”

  Rehoboth Beach in Delaware has a long boardwalk bordered on one side by the beach and on the other by the sort of amusement arcades you remember from your childhood: twenty-five-cent games played with wooden balls that you roll into holes to score points; horse races with metal horses loping down a sloped track, with a glass-eyed teddy bear for the winner; a frog pond game played with magnets on the end of a child’s fishing line.

  They’ve been joined now by noisy computer games and space flight simulators, but Rehoboth still retains more charm than, say, Dewey Beach, farther up the coast, or even Bethany. A ferry runs from Cape May in New Jersey to Lewes on the Delaware coast, and from there, it’s maybe five or six miles south to Rehoboth. It’s not really the best way to approach Rehoboth, since you run the gamut of burger joints, outlet stores, and shopping malls on U.S.1. The approach north through Dewey is better, running along the shore with its miles of dunes.

  From that direction, Rehoboth benefits from the contrast with Dewey. You cross into the town proper over a kind of ornamental lake, go past the church, and then you’re on Rehoboth’s main street, with its bookstores, its T-shirt shops, its bars and restaurants set in big old wooden houses, where you can drink on the porch and watch people walk their dogs in the quiet evening air.

  Four of us had decided on Rehoboth as the place to go for a weekend break to celebrate Tommy Morrison’s promotion to lieutenant, despite its reputation as something of a gay hot spot. We ended up staying in the Lord Baltimore, with its comfortable, antiquated rooms harking back to another era, less than a block away from the Blue Moon bar, where crowds of well-tanned, expensively dressed men partied loudly into the night.

  I had just become Walter Cole’s partner. I suspected Walter had pulled strings to have me assigned as his partner, although nothing was ever said. With Lee’s agreement, he traveled with me to Delaware, along with Tommy Morrison and a friend of mine from the academy named Joseph Bonfiglioli, who was shot dead a year later while chasing a guy who had stolen eighty dollars from a liquor store. Each evening at 9 P.M., without fail, Walter would call Lee to check on her and the kids. He was a man acutely aware of the vulnerability of a parent.

  Walter and I had known each other for some time—four years by then, I think. I met him first in one of the bars in which cops used to hold court. I was young, just out of uniform, and still admiring my reflection in my new tin. Great things were expected of me. It was widely believed that I would get my name in the papers. I did that, although not in the way that anyone would have imagined.

  Walter was a stocky figure wearing slightly worn suits, a dark shadow of a beard on his cheeks and chin even when he had shaved only an hour before. He had a reputation as a dogged, concerned investigator, one who had occasional flashes of brilliance that could turn an investigation around when legwork had failed to produce a result and the necessary quota of luck upon which almost every investigation depends was not forthcoming.

  Walter Cole was also an avid reader, a man who devoured knowledge in the same way that certain tribes devour their enemies’ hearts in the hope that they will become braver as a result. We shared a love of Runyon and Wodehouse, of To-bias Wolff, Raymond Carver, Donald Barthelme, the poetry of e. e. cummings, and, strangely, of the earl of Rochester, the Restoration dandy tortured by his failings: his love of alcohol and women and his inability to be the husband that he believed his wife deserved.

  I recall Walter wandering along the boardwalk at Rehoboth with a Popsicle in his hand, a garish shirt hanging over a pair of khaki shorts, his sandals slapping lightly on the sand-scattered wood, and a straw hat protecting his already balding head. Even as he joked with us, examining menus and losing money on the slots, stealing fries from Tommy Morrison’s big Thrasher’s paper tub, paddling in the cool Atlantic surf, I knew that he was missing Lee.

  And I knew, too, that to live a life like Walter Cole’s—a life almost mundane in the pleasure it derived from small happinesses and the beauty of the familiar, but uncommon in the value it attached to them—was something to be envied.

  I met Susan Lewis, as she then was, for the first time in Lingo’s Market, an old-style general store that sold produce and cereals alongside expensive cheeses and boasted its own in-store bakery. It was still a family-run operation—a sister, a brother, and their mother, a tiny, white-haired woman with the energy of a terrier.

  On our first morning in the resort, I stumbled out to buy coffee and a newspaper in Lingo’s, my mouth dry, my legs still unsteady from the night before. She stood at the deli counter, ordering coffee beans and pecans, her hair tied loosely in a ponytail. She wore a yellow summer dress, her eyes were a deep, dark blue, and she was very, very beautiful.

  I, on the other hand, was very much the worse for wear, but she smiled at me as I stood beside her at the counter, oozing alcohol from my pores. And then she was gone, trailing a hint of expensive scent behind her.

  I saw her a second time that day, at the YMCA as she stepped from the pool and entered the dressing rooms, while I tried to sweat out the alcohol on a rowing machine. It seemed to me that, for the next day or two, I caught glimpses of her everywhere: in a bookshop, examining the covers of glossy legal thrillers; passing the launderette, clutching a bag of donuts; peering in the window of the Irish Eyes bar with a girlfriend; and finally I came upon her one night as she stood on the boardwalk, the sound of the arcades behind her and the waves breaking before her.

  She was alone, caught up in the sight of the surf gleaming white in the darkness. Few people strolled on the beach to obscure her view, and at the periphery, away from the arcades and the fast food stalls, it was startlingly empty.

  She looked over at me as I stood beside her. She smiled.

  “Feeling better now?”

  “A little. You caught me at a bad time.”

  “I could smell your bad time,” she said, her nose wrinkling.

  “I’m sorry. If I’d known you were going to be there, I’d have dressed up.” And I wasn’t kidding.

  “It’s okay. I’ve had those times.”

  And from there it began. She lived in New Jersey, commuted to Manhattan each day to work in a publisher’s office, and every second weekend she visited her parents in Massachusetts. We were married a year later and we had Jennifer one year after that. We had maybe three very good years together before things started to deteriorate. It was my fault, I think. When my parents married they both knew the toll a policeman’s life could take on a marriage, he because he lived that life and saw its results reflected in the lives around him, she because her father had been a deputy in Maine and had resigned before the cost became too high. Susan had no such experience.


  She was the youngest of four children, both of her parents were still alive, and they all doted on her. When she died, they ceased to speak to me. Even at the graveside, no words passed between us. With Susan and Jennifer gone, it was as if I had been cut adrift from the tide of life and left to float in still, dark waters.

  16

  T HE DEATHS OF SUSAN and Jennifer attracted a great deal of attention, although it soon faded. The more intimate details of the killing—the skinning, the removal of the faces, the blindings—were kept from the public, but it didn’t stop the freaks from coming out of the woodwork. For a time, murder tourists would drive up to the house and videotape one another standing in the yard. A local patrolman even caught one couple trying to break in through the back door in order to pose in the chairs where Susan and Jennifer had died. In the days after they had been found, the phone rang regularly with calls from people who claimed to be married to the killer, or who felt certain that they had met him in a past life or, on one or two occasions, called only to say they were glad my wife and child were dead. Eventually I left the house, remaining in touch by phone and fax with the lawyer who had been entrusted with the business of selling it.

  I had found the community in southern Maine, when I was returning to Manhattan from Chicago after chasing up one more obscure non-lead, a suspected child killer named Myron Able, who was dead by the time I arrived, killed in the parking lot of a bar after he tangled with some local thugs. Maybe I was also looking for some peace in a place I knew, but I never got as far as the house in Scarborough, the house that my grandfather had left me in his will.

  I was sick by that time. When the girl found me retching and crying in the doorway of a boarded-up electronics store and offered me a bed for the night, I could only nod. When her comrades, huge men with muddied boots and shirts that smelled of sweat and pine needles, dragged me to their pickup and dumped me in the back, I half hoped that they were going to kill me. They nearly did. By the time I left their community, out by Sebago Lake, six weeks later, I had lost more than twelve pounds and my stomach muscles stood out like the plates on an alligator’s back. During the day, I worked on their small farm and attended group sessions where others like me tried to purge themselves of their demons. I still craved alcohol but fought back the desire as I had been taught. There were prayers in the evenings and every Sunday a pastor would give a sermon on abstinence, tolerance, the need for each man and woman to find a peace within himself or herself. The community funded itself through the produce it sold, some furniture it made, and donations from those who had availed themselves of its services, some of them now wealthy men and women.

 
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