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The killing kind, p.17
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       The Killing Kind, p.17

           John Connolly
 

  “There were bottles in the box, some small, some large. He held one up in front of me—it was thin, and the stopper had small holes—and I saw the spider inside. I hate spiders, always have, ever since I was a boy. It was a little brown spider, but to me, lying in that tub and smelling of my own sweat and fear, it looked like an eight-legged monster.

  “Mr. Pudd, he said nothing, just shook the jar, then unscrewed the top and dropped the spider on my chest. It caught in the hairs and I tried to shake it off, but it seemed to cling there, and I swear, I felt the thing bite me. I heard glass knocking on glass, and another little spider dropped beside the first, then a third. I could hear myself moaning, but it was like it was coming from somebody else, like I wasn’t making the sound. All I could think of was those spiders.

  “Then Mr. Pudd snapped his fingers and made me look up at him. He was choosing containers from the box and holding them up in front of me so I could see what was in them. One had a tarantula squatting on the bottom. There was a widow in a second one, crouched under a leaf. A third had a little red scorpion. Its tail twitched.

  “He leaned forward and whispered in my ear: ‘Which one, Mr. Sheinberg, which one?’ But he didn’t release them. He just put them back in the box and took an envelope from inside his jacket. In the envelope were photographs: my ex-wife, my son, my daughters, and my little granddaughter. They were black and whites, taken while they were on the street. He showed me each one in turn, then put them back in the envelope.

  “ ‘You’re going to be a warning, Mr. Sheinberg,’ he said, ‘a warning to anyone else who thinks he can make some easy money by hunting me down. Perhaps you’ll survive tonight, and perhaps you won’t. If you live, and go back to your flower store and forget about me, then I’ll leave your family alone. But if you ever try to find me again, this little baby girl—Sylvia, isn’t that what they named her?—well, little Sylvia will quickly be lying where you are now, and what’s about to happen to you will happen to her. And I guarantee you, Mr. Sheinberg, that she won’t survive.’

  “Then he got up, stood by my legs, and pulled out the plug from the bath. ‘Get ready to make some new friends, Mr. Sheinberg,’ he whispered.

  “I looked down and spiders started climbing from the drain. It was like there was hundreds of them, all fighting and twisting against each other. I think some of them were already dead and were just being carried along by the tide, but the rest of them . . .”

  I looked away from him, a memory from my youth flashing briefly in my head. Someone had once done something similar to me when I was a boy: a man named Daddy Helms, who tormented me with fire ants for breaking some windows. Daddy Helms was dead now, but for that fleeting instant his spirit peered malevolently from behind the hoods of Mr. Pudd’s eyes. I think, when I looked back at Mickey, that he must have seen something of that memory in my face, because the tone of his voice changed. It softened, and some of the anger he felt toward me for forcing him, through Al Z, to make this confession seemed to dissipate.

  “They were all over me. I screamed and screamed and no one could hear me. I couldn’t see my skin, there were so many of them. And Pudd, he just stood there and watched while they crawled all over me, biting. I think I must have fainted because, when I came to, the bath was filling with water and the spiders were drowning. It was the only time I saw anything but joy in the sick fuck’s face; he looked regretful, as if the loss of those fucking horrors really troubled him. And when they were all dead, he pulled me from the bath and took me back to the trunk of the car and drove me away from that place. He left me by the side of a street in Bangor. Somebody called an ambulance and they took me to a hospital, but the venom had already started to take effect.”

  Mickey Shine stood up and began to unbutton his shirt, finishing with his cuffs. He looked at me, then opened the shirt and let it fall from his body, his hands holding on to the ends of the sleeves.

  My mouth went dry. There were four chunks of flesh, each about the size of a quarter, missing from his right arm, as if some kind of animal had taken a bite from it. There was another cavity at his chest, where his left nipple had once been. When he turned, there were similar marks on his back and sides, the skin at the edges mottled and gray.

  “The flesh rotted away,” he said softly. “Damnedest fucking thing. This is the kind of man you’re dealing with, Mr. Parker. If you decide to go after him, then you make sure you kill him because, if he gets away, you’ll have nobody left. He’ll kill them all, and then he’ll kill you.”

  He pulled his shirt back over his body and began to fix the buttons.

  “Do you have any idea where he might have taken you?” I asked when he had finished.

  Mickey shook his head. “I think we went north, and I could hear the sea. That’s all I remember.” He stopped suddenly, and wrinkled his brow. “And there was a light up high, off to my right. I saw it as he pulled me in. It could have been a lighthouse, I guess.

  “He said something else. He told me that if I came after him again, all of our names would be written. We would be written, and then we would be damned.”

  I felt my brow furrow.

  “What did he mean?”

  Mickey Shine seemed about to answer, but instead he looked down and concentrated on rebuttoning his cuffs. He was embarrassed, I thought, ashamed at what he saw as his weakness in the face of Mr. Pudd’s sadism, but he was also scared.

  “I don’t know what he meant,” he said, and his lips pursed at the taste of the lie in his mouth.

  “What did you mean earlier when you said it was time?” I asked.

  “Only Al Z ever heard that story before,” he answered. “You and him, you’re the only ones who know. I was supposed to be a mute witness to what Pudd could do, what he would do, to anyone who came after him. I wasn’t supposed to talk, I was just supposed to be. But I knew that a day would come when it might be possible to make a move against him, to finish him off. I’ve been waiting a long time for it, a long time to tell that story again. So here’s what I know; he’s north of Bangor, on the coast, and there’s a lighthouse close by. It’s not much, but it’s all I can give. Just make sure that it stays between us; between you, me, and Al Z.”

  I wanted to press him on what he was leaving out, on what the threat of a name being “written” might mean, but already I felt him closing up on me.

  “I’ll keep it that way,” I replied.

  He nodded. “Because if Pudd finds out that we talked, that we’re moving against him, we’re all dead. He’ll kill us all.”

  He shook my hand and turned away from me.

  “You going to wish me luck?” I asked.

  He stopped and looked back, shaking his head. “If you need luck,” he said softly, “you’re already dead.”

  Then he went back to his orchids and said no more.

  II

  Judge not the preacher, for he is thy

  Judge.

  —GEORGE HERBERT,

  “THE CHURCH-PORCH”

  THE SEARCH FOR SANCTUARY

  Extract from the postgraduate thesis

  of Grace Peltier . . .

  There are few surviving photographs of Faulkner (certainly none taken after 1963) and few records of his past, so our knowledge of him is largely limited to the evidence of those who heard him speak or encountered him in the course of one of his healing missions.

  He was a tall man with long dark hair and a high forehead, blue eyes beneath dark, straight eyebrows, and pale, almost translucent skin. He dressed in the garb of a working man——jeans, sometimes overalls, rough cotton shirts, boots——except when he was preaching. At those times he favored a simple black suit with a white collarless shirt buttoned to the neck. He wore no jewelry and his only concession to religious adornment was an ornate gold crucifix that hung around his neck as he spoke. Those who had the opportunity to examine it closely describe it as extremely finely made, with tiny faces and limbs carved into the body of the cross. The face of the Christ figure
was almost photographically detailed, with the sufferings of the crucified man so clear and minutely rendered as to be disturbing, his agony beyond doubt.

  I have been able to find no record of Faulkner in any of the established schools of divinity, and inquiries to churches, major and minor, have also failed to yield any clue as to the origins of his religious education, if any. His earlier life is barely documented, although we do know that he was born Aaron David Faulkner, the illegitimate son of Reese Faulkner and Embeth Thule of Montgomery, Alabama, in 1924. He was an undersized child, with seriously impaired sight in his left eye that would later render him unsuitable for military service, but he began to grow quickly in his midteens. According to those neighbors who remember him this physical growth was accompanied by a change in his personality, from shy and somewhat awkward to dominant and imposing. He lived alone with his mother until her death shortly before his sixteenth birthday. Following her funeral, Aaron Faulkner left Montgomery and never returned.

  The next four years, up to the time of his marriage, are a blank, with some possible exceptions. An Aarn [sic] Faulkner was charged with assault in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1941, following an incident in which a prostitute named Elsa Barker was apparently pelted with rocks, sustaining injuries to her head and back. Barker failed to appear in court to give evidence, and her statement to the police being deemed unreliable, the case was dismissed. No trace of Elsa Barker was ever found again.

  One other incident is worthy of note. In 1943, a family of three named Vogel from Liberty, Mississippi, went missing from their farm. They were found, two days after the search began, buried in a shallow grave one mile from their property. Quicklime had been used on the bodies. According to police reports, a young drifter had been staying with them in the days prior to their disappearance. The Vogels had taken him in because he seemed to be a religious man. None of the neighbors ever saw him or met him, but they recalled his name: Aaron. After their deaths, it was found that the Vogels were unmarried and their daughter was illegitimate. Among those questioned in the course of the investigation was Aaron Faulkner, following his apprehension at a motel in Vicksburg. He was released after three days due to lack of evidence.

  (While there is no direct link between the deaths of the Vogels and the attack on, and subsequent disappearance of, the prostitute Elsa Barker, it is my contention that both incidents display signs of a violent response to perceived sexual transgression, possibly linked to sublimated sexual desire: respectively, the Vogels’ unmarried relationship and the birth of their illegitimate daughter, with its echoes of Faulkner’s own parentage, and the activities of Barker. I believe that Faulkner’s later attempts to restrain and regulate sexual relationships at the Eagle Lake community represent a similar pattern of behavior.)

  Following his marriage in 1944, Faulkner worked with a printer named George Lemberger in Richmond, Virginia, and remained with him for the next twelve years while earning a reputation as an untrained preacher. A dispute over his preaching activities, combined with allegations that Faulkner had forged Lemberger’s signature on a check, eventually led to his departure from Lemberger’s printing firm in early 1957, and he subsequently went north, accompanied by his wife and two children. For some time between 1958 and 1963, he eked out a living as an itinerant preacher, eventually establishing small congregations of worshipers in the Maine towns from which the original group of sixteen was drawn. He supplemented his income by working, at various times, as a printer, a laborer, and a fisherman.

  Faulkner initially made his headquarters in a rooming house on Montgomery Street in Portland, Maine, owned by a cousin of the Jessops. He conducted services in the dining room, sometimes preaching to as many as thirty people. It was as a result of those first, lengthy, sermons that his reputation spread, leading to Faulkner enjoying a small but extremely devoted following.

  Faulkner was not a preacher in the hellfire-and-brimstone mode. Instead, he drew his listeners to him with a tone of quiet insinuation, gradually worming his way into their consciousness. (If this description appears unnecessarily pejorative, it should be noted that the retrospective recollections of those to whom I spoke are largely negative where Faulkner is concerned. While it is clear that he exerted a great influence while he spoke, and that there were enough people willing to follow him to enable him to establish a much bigger community than the original Eagle Lake settlement, had he chosen to do so, there were many who felt an uneasiness around him.)

  His wife, Louise, was by all accounts a strikingly beautiful woman, with dark hair only marginally longer than that of her husband. She did not associate with the Preacher’s congregation: if he was approached after the service, she would remain standing behind him, listening to what passed between the Preacher and the supplicant, without passing comment or participating in any way. It seems to have been her constant unspeaking presence at her husband’s side that made people wary of her, although two witnesses spoke of her intervening physically when her husband was accused of perpetrating acts of fraud during a healing service in Rumford, Maine, in 1963. She did so entirely in silence, but her strength and the nature of her intervention was sufficient to enable those who saw it to recall it in detail almost forty years later. Nevertheless, she always deferred to her husband and exhibited no signs of disobedience toward him, in line with fundamentalist religious doctrine.

  Louise’s own family, the Dautrieves, originally came from east Texas and were Southern Baptists. According to the recollection of family members, they appear to have been largely supportive of her decision to marry Faulkner, who was only nineteen when they met, regarding him as a man of good faith although he was not himself a Baptist. After their marriage there was little direct contact between Louise and her family, and surviving relatives say that there was no contact at all once she left for Eagle Lake.

  Privately, most believe that she is now dead.

  12

  RACHEL WAS ALREADY BACK in her apartment when I returned from my encounter with Mickey Shine. She greeted me with a peck on the lips.

  “You have a good day?” she asked.

  Under the circumstances, “good” was probably a relative concept.

  “I found out some stuff,” I replied neutrally.

  “Uh-huh. Good stuff, or bad stuff?”

  “Um, kind of bad, but nothing I hadn’t suspected already.”

  She didn’t ask if I wanted to talk more about it. Sometimes it struck me forcefully that Rachel knew me very well while I hardly seemed to know her at all. I watched her open her bag and produce one of her wire-rimmed notebooks, from which she removed a single printed page.

  “I don’t think that what I have to tell you qualifies as good news either,” she said. “Some folks at the chemistry department examined that business card. They E-mailed me the results. I guess they thought it might be a little technical to explain over the phone.”

  “And?”

  “The card was infused with a fluid called cantharidin, concentrated cantharidin,” she continued. “It’s sometimes used in medical procedures to produce blistering. One portion of the top right-hand corner had been lightly waxed, presumably so this Mr. Pudd could hold it without affecting his own skin. As soon you took it in your hand, your body heat and the moisture on your fingers activated the cantharidin and you started to blister.”

  I thought about it for a moment.

  “So he used some kind of medical product on the card, . . .” I began, but Rachel shook her head.

  “No, I said it was used for medical purposes, but the substance on the card was a very specific form of the toxin, produced, according to the research assistant who examined it, only by ‘certain vesicating arthropods.’ It’s blister beetle venom. The man who gave it to you must have harvested the venom, concentrated it, then applied it to the card.”

  I recalled Mr. Pudd’s smile as I held the card in my hand.

  You’re also irritating, but it doesn’t say that on your card either.

  Oh,
but it does, in its way.

  I also thought of Epstein, and the substance that had been injected into him.

  “If he harvested beetle venom, then I suppose he could harvest other types as well?” I asked Rachel.

  “Such as?”

  “Spider venom, maybe?”

  “I called the lab after I received the message to clarify one or two details about the procedure, so I don’t see why not. As I understand it, the beetle venom could have been extracted using some form of electric shock to provoke the insect into releasing the toxin. Apparently, the harvesting of spider venom is a little trickier. The spider has to be sedated, usually by cooling it with carbon dioxide, then put under a microscope. Each time it’s shocked, it produces a tiny amount of venom, which can then be collected. You can usually shock an individual spider three or four times before it has to be put out to pasture.”

  “So you’d need a whole lot of spiders to produce a reasonable amount of venom?”

  “Probably,” she replied.

  I wondered how many spiders had been milked in order to kill Yossi Epstein. I also wondered why anyone would bother. After all, it would have been far easier, and less conspicuous, simply to have killed Epstein in a more conventional way. Then I remembered Alison Beck, and how she must have felt as the widows struggled in her mouth and the recluses moved around her in the small, enclosed space of the car. I recalled the look in Mickey Shine’s eyes as he spoke of the spiders in the bathtub, and the wounds gouged in his skin by their bites. And I thought of my own feelings as the blisters appeared on my skin, and the sensation of Mr. Pudd’s thin, hairy fingers brushing against my own.

 
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