The Killing Kind, p.13John Connolly
Lester’s eyes suddenly returned to the page before him, but his attention remained focused on me.
“Never heard of him.”
“Ah, but he’s heard of you.”
Lester looked up at me and swallowed. “The fuck you saying?”
“You gave him Harvey Ragle. You think that’s going to be enough?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” In the warm, dank-smelling store, Lester Bargus began to sweat.
“My guess is that he’ll take care of Ragle, then come back for you.”
“Get out of my store,” hissed Lester. He tried to make it sound menacing, but the tremor in his voice gave him away.
“Are spiders the only things you sold him, Lester? Maybe you helped him with some of his other needs, too. Is he a gun-lovin’ man?”
His hands scrambled beneath the counter and I knew he was reaching for a weapon. I tossed my card on the counter and watched as he grabbed it with his left hand, crushed it in his palm, and threw it into the trash can. His right hand came up holding a shotgun sawed off at the stock. I didn’t move.
“I’ve seen him, Lester,” I said. “He’s a scary guy.”
Lester’s thumb cocked the shotgun. “Like I said, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I sighed and backed away.
“Your call, Lester, but I get the feeling that sooner or later, it’s going to come back to haunt you.”
I turned my back on him and headed for the door. I had already opened it when he called my name.
“I don’t want no trouble. Not from you, not from him, you understand?” he said.
I waited in silence. The struggle between his fear of saying nothing and the consequences of giving too much away was clear on his face.
“I never had no address for him,” he continued, hesitantly. “He’d contact me when he needed something, then pick it up his-self and pay in cash. Last time he came he was asking about Ragle, and I told him what I knew. You see him again, you tell him he’s got no call to come bothering me.”
Confessing seemed to have restored some of his confidence, because his habitual ugly sneer returned. “And, I was you, I’d find me another line of work. The kind of fella you’re asking about don’t like being asked about, you get my meaning. The kind of fella you’re asking about, he kills people get involved in his business.”
∗ ∗ ∗
That evening I felt no desire to be in the house or to cook for myself. I secured all of the windows, placed a chain on the back door, and put a broken matchstick above the front door. If anyone tried to gain entry, I would know.
I drove into Portland and parked at the junction of Cotton and Forest in the Old Port, then walked down to Sapporo on Commercial Street, the sound of the sea in my ears. I ate some good teriyaki, sipped green tea, and tried to get my thoughts straight. My reasons for going to Boston were rapidly multiplying: Rachel, Ali Wynn, and now Al Z. But I still hadn’t managed to corner Carter Paragon, I was still concerned about Marcy Becker, and I was sweating under my jacket since I couldn’t take it off without exposing my gun.
I paid the check and left the restaurant. Across Commercial, crowds of kids lined up to get into Three Dollar Dewey’s, the doorman checking IDs with the skepticism of a seasoned pro. The Old Port was buzzing, and noisy crowds congregated at the corner of Forest and Union, the edge of the main drag. I walked among them for a while, not wanting to be alone, not wanting to return to the house in Scarborough. I passed the Calabash Cigar Café and Gritty McDuff’s, glancing down the pedestrian strip of Moulton Street as I passed.
The woman in the shadows was wearing only a pale summer dress patterned with pink flowers. Her back was to me, and her blond hair hung in a ponytail against the whiteness of her back, held in place by an aquamarine bow. Around me, traffic stopped and footsteps hung suspended, passersby frozen briefly in their lives. The only sound I heard was my own breath; the only movement I saw came from Moulton.
Beside the woman stood a small boy, and the woman’s left hand was clasped gently over his right. He wore the same check shirt and short pants as he had on the day when I had first seen him on Exchange Street. As I watched, the woman leaned over and whispered something to him. He nodded and his head turned as he looked back at me, the single clear lens gleaming in the darkness. Then the woman straightened, released his hand, and began to walk away from us, turning right at the corner onto Wharf Street. When she left my sight it was as if the world around me released its breath, and movement resumed. I sprinted down Moulton, past the shape of the little boy. When I reached the corner the woman was just passing Dana Street, the street lamps creating pools of illumination through which she moved soundlessly.
I heard myself call her name, and for a moment it seemed to me that she paused as if to listen. Then she passed from light into shade and was gone.
The boy was now sitting at the corner of Moulton, staring at the cobblestones. As I approached him he looked up, and his left eye peered curiously at me from behind his black-rimmed glasses. Dark tape had been wrapped inexpertly around the lens, obscuring the right eye. He was probably no more than eight years old, with light brown hair parted at one side and flicked loosely across his forehead. His pants were almost stiff with mud in places and his shirt was filthy. Most of it was obscured by the block of wood—maybe eighteen inches by five inches, and an inch thick—that hung from the rope around his neck. Something had been hacked into the wood in jagged, childish letters, probably with a nail, but the grooves were filled with dirt in places, conspiring with the darkness to make it almost impossible to read.
I squatted down in front of him. “Hi,” I said.
He didn’t seem scared. He didn’t look hungry or ill. He was just . . . there.
“Hi,” he replied.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“James,” he said.
“Are you lost, James?”
He shook his head.
“Then what are you doing out here?”
“Waiting,” he said simply.
“Waiting for what?”
He didn’t reply. I got the feeling that I was supposed to know, and that he was a little surprised I didn’t.
“Who was the lady you were with, James?” I asked.
“The Summer Lady,” he answered.
“Does she have a name?”
He waited for a moment or two before replying. When he did, all the breath seemed to leave my body and I felt light-headed, and afraid.
“She said you’d know her name.” Again he seemed puzzled, almost disappointed.
My eyes closed for an instant and I rocked back on my heels. I felt his hand on my wrist, steadying me, and the hand was cold. When I opened my eyes, he was leaning close to me. There was dirt caught between his teeth.
“What happened to your eye, James?” I asked.
“I don’t remember,” he said.
I reached toward him and he released his grip on my wrist as I rubbed at the dirt and filth encrusted on the board. It fell to the ground in little clumps, revealing the words:
“Who made you wear this, James?”
A small tear trickled from his left eye, then a second. “I was bad,” he whispered. “We were all bad.”
But the tears fell only from one eye, and only the dirt on his left cheek was streaked with moisture. My hands were trembling as I reached for his glasses. I took the frames gently in each hand and slowly removed them. He didn’t try to stop me, his single visible eye regarding me with absolute trust.
And when I took the glasses away, a hole was revealed where his right eye had been, the flesh torn and burned and the wound dry as if it were an old, old injury that had long since stopped bleeding, or even hurting.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” said James Jessop. “We’ve all been waiting for you.”
I rose and backed away from him, the glasses dropp
And I saw them all.
They stood watching me, men and women, young boys and girls, all with wooden boards around their necks. There were a dozen at least, maybe more. They stood in the shadows of Wharf Street and at the entrance to Commercial, wearing simple clothes, clothes designed to be worn on the land: pants that wouldn’t tear at the first misstep in the dirt, and boots that would not let in the rain or be pierced by a stone.
The others were farther back, their names on the boards harder to read. Some of them had wounds to their heads. Vyrna Kellog’s skull had been split open, and the open wound extended almost to the bridge of her nose; Billy Perrson had been shot through the forehead; a flap of Katherine Cornish’s skin hung forward from the back of her head, obscuring her left ear. They stood and regarded me, and the air around them seemed to crackle with a hidden energy.
I swallowed, but my throat was dry and the effort made it ache.
“Who are you?” I asked, but even as they faded away, I knew.
I stumbled backward, the bricks behind me cold against my body, and I saw tall trees and men wading through mud and bone. Water lapped against a sandbag levee, and animals howled. And as I stood there trembling, I closed my eyes tight and heard my own voice start to pray.
Please Lord, it said.
Please don’t let this begin again.
THE NEXT DAY, I drove down to Boston in about two hours but got snarled up in the city’s horrific traffic for almost another hour. They were calling Boston’s never-ending roadworks “The Big Dig” and signs dotted around various large holes in the ground promised: It’ll be worth it. If you listened hard enough, you could hear millions of voters hissing that it had better be.
Before I left, I called Curtis Peltier at home. He had been out to dinner with some friends the night before, he told me, and when he got back the police were at his house.
“Someone tried to break in the back door,” he explained. “Some kids heard the noise and called the police. Probably damn junkies from Kennedy Park or Riverton.”
I didn’t think so. I told him about the missing notes.
“You think there was something important in them?”
“Maybe,” I replied, although I couldn’t think what it might be. I suspected that whoever took them—Mr. Pudd or some other person as yet unknown—simply wanted to make things as difficult as possible for me. I told Curtis to look after himself and he assured me that he would.
Shortly before noon I reached Exeter Street, just off Commonwealth Avenue, and parked outside Rachel’s building. She was renting in a four-story brownstone across the street from where Henry Lee Higginson, the founder of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, once lived. On Commonwealth, people jogged and walked their dogs or sat on the benches and took in the traffic fumes. Close by, pigeons and sparrows fed before paying their respects to the statue of the sailor-historian Samuel Eliot Morison, who sat on his plinth with the vaguely troubled look of a man who has forgotten where he parked his car.
Rachel had given me my own key to the apartment, so I dumped my overnight bag, bought some fruit and bottled water in Deluca’s Market at Fairfield, and headed up Commonwealth Avenue until I reached the Public Garden between Arlington and Charles. I drank my water, ate my fruit, and watched children playing in the sunlight and dogs chasing Frisbees. I wanted a dog, I thought. My family had always had them, my grandfather too, and I liked the idea of keeping a dog around the house. I guessed that I wanted the company, which made me wonder why I wasn’t asking Rachel to move in with me. I thought that Rachel might have been wondering about it herself. Lately there seemed to be an edge to her voice when the subject came up, a new urgency to her probings. She had been patient for over fourteen months now, and I guessed that she was feeling the strain of being trapped in relationship limbo. That was my fault: I wanted her near me, yet I was still afraid of the potential consequences. She had almost died once because of me. I did not want to see her hurt again.
At 2 P.M. I took the Red Line out to Harvard and headed for Holyoke Street. Ali Wynn was due to finish her lunchtime shift at two-thirty and I’d left a message to say that I’d be coming by to talk to her about Grace. The red-brick building in which the restaurant was housed had ivy growing across its face and the upstairs windows were decked with small white lights. From the room below came the sound of tap dancers practicing their moves, their rhythms like the movements of fingers on the keys of an old Underwood typewriter.
A young woman of twenty-three or twenty-four stood on the steps of the building, adjusting a stud in her nose. Her hair was dyed a coal black, she wore heavy blue black makeup around her eyes, and her lipstick was so red it could have stopped traffic. She was very pale and very thin, so she couldn’t have been a regular eater at her own restaurant. She looked at me with a mixture of expectancy and unease as I approached.
“Ali Wynn?” I asked.
She nodded. “You’re the detective?”
“Charlie Parker.” She reached out and shook my hand, her back remaining firmly against the brickwork of the building behind her.
“Like the jazz guy?”
“He was pretty cool. You listen to him?”
“No. I prefer country music.”
She wrinkled her forehead. “Guess your mom and dad had to be jazz fans to give you a name like that?”
“They listened to Glenn Miller and Lawrence Welk. I don’t think they even knew who Charlie Parker was.”
“Do people call you Bird?”
“Sometimes. My girlfriend thinks it’s cute. My friends do it to irritate me.”
“Must be kind of a drag for you.”
“I’m used to it.”
The deconstruction of my family’s naming procedures seemed to make her a little less wary of me, because she detached herself from the wall and fell into step beside me. We walked down to the Au Bon Pain at Harvard Square, where she smoked four cigarettes and drank two espressos in fifteen minutes. Ali Wynn had so much nervous energy she made electrons seem calm.
“Did you know Grace well?” I asked when she was about halfway through cigarette number two.
She blew out a stream of smoke. “Sure, pretty well. We were friends.”
“Her father told me that she used to live with you and that she stayed with you sometimes even after she moved out.”
“She used to come down at weekends to use the library and I let her crash on my couch. Grace was fun. Well, she used to be fun.”
“When did she stop being fun?”
Ali finished number two and lit number three with a matchbook from the Grafton Pub. “About the time she started her thesis.”
“On the Aroostook Baptists?”
The cigarette made a lazy arc. “Whatever. She was obsessed with them. She had all of these letters and photographs belonging to them. She’d lie on the couch, put some mournful shit on the stereo, and stay like that for hours, just going through them over and over again. Can you get me another coffee?”
I did as I was asked. I figured that she wasn’t going to run away until she’d finished her cigarette.
“You ever worry about the effects of too much caffeine?” I asked when I returned.
She tugged at her nose stud and smiled. “Nah, I’m hoping to smoke myself to death first.”
There was something very likable about Ali Wynn, despite the veneer of Siouxsie and the Banshees-era cool. The sunlight made her eyes sparkle and the right side of her mouth was permanently raised in an amused, faux-cynical grin. She was all front; the cigarette smoke didn’t stay in her mouth long enough to give a gnat a nicotine buzz and her makeup was too carefully applied to be truly scary. I guessed that she probably inspired fear, lust, and irrita
“You were telling me about Grace,” I prompted, as much to get myself back on track as Ali.
“Yeah, sure. There’s not much more to tell. It was like the whole family history thing was draining her, sucking the life from her. It was all ‘Elizabeth’ this and ‘Lyall’ that. She became a real drag. She was obsessed by Elizabeth Jessop. I don’t know, maybe she thought Elizabeth’s spirit had entered into her or something.”
“Did she think Elizabeth was dead?”
“Did she say why?”
“She just had a feeling, that was all. Anyway, like I said, it was all getting too heavy. I told her she couldn’t stay anymore because my roomie was complaining, which was, like, a total lie. That was in February. She stopped coming and we didn’t really talk much between then and . . .” She let the end of the sentence hang, then stubbed the cigarette out angrily.
“I suppose you think I’m a bitch,” she said softly when the last trace of smoke had disappeared.
“No, I don’t think you’re a bitch at all.”
She didn’t look at me, as if afraid that my expression might give the lie to my words. “I was going to go up to the funeral but . . . I didn’t. I hate funerals. Then I was going to send a card to her dad—he was a nice old guy—but I didn’t do that either.”
At last, she raised her eyes and I was only half-surprised to see that they were wet. “I prayed for her, Mr. Parker, and I can’t remember the last time I ever prayed. I just prayed that she’d be okay and that whoever was on the other side—God, Buddha, Allah—would look after her. Grace was a good person.”
“I think she probably was,” I said, as she lit a final cigarette. “Did she take drugs?”
Ali shook her head vehemently. “No, never.”
“Apart from getting overinvolved with her thesis, did she seem depressed or anxious?”
“No more than any of us.”
“Was she seeing anyone?”
“She’d had a couple of flings, but nothing serious for at least a year. She would have told me.”
The Killing Kind by John Connolly / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / Horror have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes