A song of shadows, p.13
A Song of Shadows, p.13John Connolly
He parked in the lot by the Bangor Public Library, picked up some books for Sam at the Briar Patch on Central – he was becoming something of an expert on books for younger readers – and then, on the off chance that he might be free, called Gordon Walsh. He figured that, if things worked out, he might be able to do everyone a favor, Perlman included, and scratch the itch that had been bothering him ever since he had first spoken with Bloom about the body.
The MSP investigator picked up on the second ring.
‘Long time,’ were Walsh’s first words, after Parker had identified himself.
‘I got the flowers you sent,’ said Parker.
‘I didn’t send any flowers.’
‘I did come to visit you in hospital, but you were sleeping.’
‘So you just stood there and looked at me? You’ll forgive me if that makes me uneasy.’
‘I didn’t touch you under the sheet, if that’s what you’re asking. Where are you?’
‘And you just figured I’d be in Bangor too. Sorry if that makes me uneasy.’
‘Oran Wilde,’ said Parker.
Although the state police’s Major Crimes Unit North operated out of Augusta, Bangor was the de facto forward base for the Wilde case. While now based in Gray, which put him in the south of the state, Walsh was one of the MSP’s senior investigators. Leaving him out of the Wilde case would be like leaving Santa Claus out of Christmas.
‘Right. Me and just about every other cop in the state who can string two words together and walk in a straight line. I’ll see you at Java Joe’s. Order me a java mocha.’
Walsh arrived about two minutes after Parker, just as Parker was putting the coffees on the table. Walsh took a sip of his beverage through the plastic lid, and scowled.
‘This isn’t a mocha,’ he said. ‘This is just regular coffee.’
‘I was too embarrassed to ask for a java mocha,’ said Parker, ‘and I didn’t think they’d believe me if I told them it was for someone else. They’d suspect I was trying to hide something. Anyway, that’s probably better for you.’
‘At least you added milk.’
‘Jesus, I already got one mother. And a wife.’
Walsh removed the lid, went back to the counter, added half-and-half to his coffee, then sprinkled chocolate on the top. He tasted the result, looked a little happier, and came back to the table.
‘That’s the most disgusting thing I’ve seen in a while,’ said Parker.
‘Well, that’s because you were out of circulation. You look okay for someone who’s been dead, by the way. Not great, but okay. For anyone who doesn’t like you, it must be a source of great frustration that you seem to be immortal. You die, but you don’t stay that way.’
‘You want to know what’s on the other side?’
Walsh eyed the detective carefully, as if gauging the seriousness of the question.
‘Is it seventy-two virgins, like the Muslims believe?’
‘That’s the good news. The bad news is that they’re all guys. It’s like being at a boarding school.’
‘I knew there had to be a catch.’
Walsh tasted his coffee again, and discovered more cause for dissatisfaction. He returned to the dispensers and added enough regular sugar to kill a diabetic at ten paces. At last he was content.
‘Not even sweetener this time?’ Parker said, when he resumed his seat.
‘That stuff’ll kill you. It’s not natural.’
Walsh sat back and scratched his chest. The movement exposed the dried sweat stains under his arms. He was on at least his second day with that shirt, Parker guessed, and although he hadn’t shaved, he had razor burns on his neck, and the dark blotches beneath his eyes made him look as though he’d been in a fight, and lost.
‘I hear you’re up in Boreas,’ he said.
‘The hell are you doing there?’
‘Recuperating. Taking the sea air.’
‘It’s full of Germans.’
‘You don’t like Germans?’
‘My grandfather fought in World War II. Took a bullet in the head at Arnhem.’
‘Yeah? I didn’t know that.’
‘It didn’t kill him. Didn’t even slow him down, as far as I could tell. He lived to be eighty. My grandmother used to say it was because the bullet didn’t encounter any resistance on the way through. But he used to talk about some of those people up in Boreas, the ones who came over from Europe in the fifties, when we let in just about anyone who claimed to be in danger of persecution from the Communists. My grandfather believed there was a pretty good chance that somewhere in Boreas was a German who, if he didn’t fire the bullet that hit him, probably knew the guy that did.’
‘If it’s any consolation, I haven’t seen a single swastika since I arrived.’
‘That’s because they keep them in the basement, and only dust them off for Hitler’s birthday.’
‘I’ll bear it in mind.’
‘On that subject, how long are you planning to stay in Boreas?’
‘I haven’t decided.’
‘You keeping the place in Scarborough?’
‘I saw it. They did a fine job of shooting it up.’
‘They did a fine job of shooting me up as well.’
‘Like I said earlier, that depends on the degree of affection in which you’re held.’ He twisted his cup. ‘You planning on heading back south when you’re fit and well?’
‘Again, I haven’t decided. Probably. I don’t know about the house, though.’
‘Have you been back there since, you know …?’
‘Just to collect some things. I didn’t linger.’
‘These crime-scene cleaning companies, they can make it like it never happened.’
‘Really? Can they get rid of the holes in me as well?’ Parker couldn’t quite manage to keep the sarcasm from his voice.
‘You know what I mean.’
‘I guess I do.’
‘Maybe it’s not what you want to hear – I’m not even sure it’s what I want to hear, and I can guarantee you it’s not what some folk in law enforcement want to hear – but if you’re tiring of being a hired gun, we have room for a good investigator.’
‘You’re kidding, right?’
‘State police not good enough for you?’
‘That’s not it, as well you know. I’ve been out for too long, that’s all. And nobody in this state will give me a shield anyway, not even with you playing cheerleader.’
‘You’re wrong about that. You’ve been protected for a long time, and don’t even try to fucking pretend that you haven’t. You should have lost your license ten times over, and not just once like you did. Hell, you should be in jail. How do you think you’re still on the streets? You think a fairy godmother waved a wand and made the bodies go away? You have a lot of people here on your side.’
Walsh’s voice had risen in anger, and heads were turning in their direction. Parker raised a hand to placate him.
‘Even if you’re right,’ he said softly, ‘and you may be, I don’t think I could work within those constraints again, and that assumes I could even nail the medical. You see my hand?’ He raised his left hand. ‘Take it.’
‘What? Are we dating now?’
‘You know, you’re a homophobe. If you want me to sign something before you touch me, I will.’
‘If anyone I know sees me, I’ll tell them it was assault,’ said Walsh, but he reached over and took Parker’s hand loosely in his.
‘You feel that?’ asked Parker.
‘This gets weirder.’
‘Just answer the question.’
‘Yeah, I feel it, but barely. You’re squeezing.’
‘That’s all the strength I have in that hand, but compared to what it was, it’s like being able to bench two-fifty with it. Without pills, I get maybe two or three hours o
He released his grip on Walsh, who seemed relieved to get his hand back.
‘The offer still stands,’ said Walsh.
‘And it’s appreciated,’ said Parker. And it was, even if he felt, rightly or wrongly, that there was an undertow of charity, maybe pity, to it. He forced the feeling away. He had no intention of taking up Walsh’s offer, but deep inside him, at the edge of his awareness, the first of a series of connections had been made that would ultimately lead him to New York, and a conversation with the FBI.
An abandoned copy of the Bangor Daily News lay on the next table. The search for Oran Wilde still dominated the front page, just as it did the news cycles on TV.
‘What do you think?’ asked Walsh.
‘I only know what I’ve read in the papers.’
Walsh gave him chapter and verse, but it wasn’t much more than Parker had already gleaned from the news reports, apart from one recent development: Oran’s friend Clyde Marshal had received another message from Oran’s phone, letting him know that he was okay and everything was not the way it was being painted in the news. Oran also claimed in the message that Richie Benoit had tried to assault him, which was why he’d been forced to hurt him, but he hadn’t meant to kill him. Other than that, Oran had remained under the radar, avoiding a massive police search operation.
‘Oran Wilde appears to be smarter than any sixteen-year-old boy has a right to be,’ said Parker.
‘That’s what we’re starting to think, too.’
‘An accomplice? Someone who’s protecting him?’
‘Maybe, but I don’t see how it fits with Wilde stabbing Richie Benoit. Well, I can, but it involves this other party standing back and watching him do it. And if someone is helping him, then why has Wilde been reduced to rolling and killing homeless junkies? That kind of help is kin to no help at all.’
‘It’s odd that he stayed in the state,’ said Parker. ‘Accomplice or no accomplice, it would make sense to put some serious miles between him and Maine.’
‘Could be a question of resources. He is still a kid, smarter than average or not.’
Walsh scratched himself again, and gazed out the window, seemingly lost to the world. The detective watched him.
‘You don’t think Oran Wilde did it,’ said Parker.
Walsh barely reacted. He didn’t even turn his gaze back to Parker.
‘Why would you say that?’
‘I can see it in your face.’
‘You’re wrong, or just half-right,’ he said. ‘I’ll buy the accomplice: if Oran Wilde did it, then he didn’t act alone. And all of this bullshit about him being a disturbed child? It’s just smoke. He’s no more disturbed than I was at his age, and the thought of shooting my family never crossed my mind, even though my old man was a bastard. But I’m starting to wonder if Oran didn’t fall under someone’s influence, if he wasn’t groomed to do what he did, like that shooter down in D.C., curled up in the trunk of a car with an older man. The more I find out about Oran Wilde, the less I see him having it in him to kill anyone, and yet here we are, tearing up the Northeast looking for him.’
‘Anything on Facebook or social media?’
‘Nothing so far. If he met someone, it wasn’t online.’
They knocked it back and forth for a while longer, but Parker couldn’t help. He was outside looking in, and even allowing for what Walsh had shared with him, he was still removed from all of the fragments of the investigation. A conversation in a coffee shop wasn’t worth a murder book.
‘I have a favor to ask,’ he said, as Walsh looked set to leave.
‘And there I was thinking that it was just because you wanted to hold my hand over coffee.’
‘You hear about the body that washed up in Boreas?’
‘I saw the bulletin. What of it?’
‘The weight is toward suicide or accidental drowning.’
‘Let me guess: you don’t buy it. Your viewpoint has been tainted by experience.’
‘I think the chief up there, Cory Bloom, is starting to agree with me.’
‘That place is small, and she’s trapped in close quarters with you. You could probably convince her that day is night, given time.’
‘Come on, man …’
Walsh relented. ‘Give it to me. One minute.’
And Parker did. Spoken aloud, it didn’t sound like much: the absence of maps or GPS; no computer or phone; and the distance Perlman had traveled from Florida to Maine only to end up washed ashore on a remote beach. He also mentioned Epstein’s visit, and Lubsko.
‘Lubsko,’ said Walsh. ‘That fucking Engel, they should drown him in a tub. Odd that the name Lubsko should come up again so soon, but then we could be looking at cause and effect: Engel was in Maine, so Perlman the amateur Nazi hunter decides to poke a stick into the hole to see what else he might scare out.’
‘And if he did succeed in scaring someone?’
‘Seriously? Perlman’s shoelaces were tied together, but his hands were free, and even your friend the rabbi says he was shaky. And have you seen Engel? He’s, like, a hundred years old. If any of his buddies are living up here, then they’re ancient too. They’d have trouble getting themselves in and out of the tub, never mind dumping a middle-aged man in the ocean.’
‘His car was found parked at an overlook south of Boreas. At high tide, it’s a straight drop into the sea. Wouldn’t have taken more than a push to put him in.’
‘So what do you want?’ asked Walsh.
‘An autopsy. Bloom has been told to keep him on ice until the Wilde thing comes to an end, but that could be weeks at the current rate of progress, even assuming that Perlman is fast-tracked.’
‘The ME’s office has been told to hold off on all non-essential cases. You know how hard it is to conduct an autopsy on burn victims?’
‘Almost as hard as it is to do one on a body that’s spent days in the sea, and more days on ice.’
‘The Wilde thing has already sent the ME’s office over budget, and it’s only April.’
‘There’s more to Perlman than a simple drowning. The Lubsko angle alone raises a flag.’
‘Has Bloom asked?’
‘She got the party line.’
‘Shit, I’ll see what I can do. The best – and I mean the best – case scenario might be to grab an assistant ME, but I can’t guarantee that they’ll be able to give you much on a floater, not without a battery of lab tests, and you won’t get those.’
‘Anything would be a help.’
Walsh extended his hand, and Parker shook it.
‘Good seeing you, he lied,’ said Walsh.
‘For somebody’s who’s all shot up, and recuperating, and reconsidering his role in life, you do seem very curious about a body that washed up on a beach.’
‘Yeah. Well, don’t give up on them all, not yet.’
He said goodbye, and Parker watched him cross the street, chased by the shadows of clouds.
Marcus Baulman stood at his front door as the visitors walked back to their car, the woman dressed in the kind of fitted dark blue suit that gave the impression of curves where there were none. He had recognized her the instant he opened the door, from closely following the news reports about Engel and Fuhrmann. She was Marie Demers, the attorney with the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section of the Justice Department responsible for prosecuting the two old men. He tried to think of the appropriate description for her. He rarely spoke German any more, not even among other German Americans. He had made that decision many years before, and had worked hard to remove the rough Teutonic edges from his accent. Eine dünne Fraulein: was that it? No, not quite. It didn’t capture her sharpness, her angularity, the danger that she posed. The man with her didn’t wo
Baulman had denied it all, of course. That was the first rule, the one they had learned in the immediate aftermath of the war. Deny, deny, deny. No, I am not this man, this Kraus. I am Marcus Baulman. This is my family history. I can trace it back for generations. Yes, I have some records, some documents, although they are, regrettably, incomplete. So much was lost in the confusion after the war. You could not understand, for you are young. Our cities were bombed to rubble. Papers were burned, reduced to ash. Yes, I fought. I was proud to fight. I believed what I was told, at the start. Later, though, this changed. But I fought in the Wehrmacht. I never went anywhere near this camp you speak of, this Lubsko. Look, here is my Wehrpass. I kept it safe, along with my identity disc. No, I do not know why there is a discrepancy between my Wehrpass and the copies of the Soldbuch that you are showing to me. A mistake must have been made. As I told you, so much was lost, so much burned …
He could tell that they did not believe him. They would not have traveled from Washington on a whim. Perhaps they expected him to break down, to confess, but he did not. In a sense, he had been preparing for many decades for just such a moment. He would practice answering questions just like the ones they had posed, watching himself in a mirror, composing his features into the appropriate expressions: surprise, shock, righteous indignation, even a little fear, because an honest man would be afraid.
A Song of Shadows by John Connolly / Thrillers & Crime / Mystery & Detective / Horror have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes