A song of shadows, p.17
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       A Song of Shadows, p.17

           John Connolly
 

  30

  The two detectives from the Major Crimes Unit of the Maine State Police arrived in Boreas shortly after Charlie Parker left Cory Bloom’s office. The detectives were named Tyler and Welbecke, and were based out of Belfast. Both were female, and only slightly younger than Bloom herself. Tyler was the chattier of the two, Welbecke the more reserved, but Bloom didn’t pick up bad vibes from either of them. As was now obligatory whenever two or more cops were gathered together, talk turned to Oran Wilde. Tyler and Welbecke were about the only detectives in the MCU who hadn’t been dragged into the investigation and search. Initially, said Tyler, they’d been kind of pissed at being out on the periphery, but now the media was starting to ask how one teenager suspected of five killings could continue to evade the combined might of Maine’s finest, and consequently Tyler and Welbecke were among the few currently out of range of that particular shitstorm.

  Together the three women went over the paperwork accumulated so far, which wasn’t a whole lot, and then Cory Bloom accompanied them as they looked at the parking lot where Bruno Perlman’s vehicle had been found, and the beach at Mason Point. By now the light was fading. The sea was dark, darker than Cory Bloom could remember seeing it in many months, so that it seemed slowly to be contaminating the sky. Beside her, Tyler shivered.

  ‘Grim place to wash up,’ she said.

  Bloom took in the strand, trying to look at it through fresh eyes. She supposed that Mason Point wasn’t the prettiest stretch of beach in Maine, but in summer it was okay. It was just one of those places that needed people to bring it alive – living people, that is. A corpse was never going to do much for it.

  ‘It’s not so bad,’ she said. ‘Anyway, I don’t think it mattered to Bruno Perlman.’

  ‘No, I suppose not.’

  Welbecke spoke up. She had said very little since arriving in Boreas, preferring to let Tyler do most of the talking, and interjecting only to clarify points. She was more attractive than Tyler, but in a hard way, and she exuded negativity. Bloom guessed that she probably didn’t have many friends. She was equally threatening to both sexes.

  ‘When did Charlie Parker get involved in all this?’ she asked.

  Bloom tried to detect the nuance behind the question. Dislike? No, that wasn’t exactly it. There was a tone, though.

  ‘A day or two after the body was found.’

  ‘What did he say?’

  ‘He just raised some questions, that’s all.’

  ‘Such as?’

  Welbecke was persistent, Bloom would give her that. Bloom had nothing to hide, so she went through her dealings with Parker as thoroughly as she could.

  ‘You let him examine the vehicle?’ said Welbecke, and this time Bloom really didn’t like her tone. ‘You let him potentially contaminate a crime scene?’

  ‘If I hadn’t,’ said Bloom, ‘then Perlman’s body would still be in the undertakers’ refrigerator. Nobody from MCU was in a hurry to come calling until Parker took an interest.’

  ‘You need a private investigator to tell you how to do your job?’ said Welbecke.

  ‘No, but you clearly do.’

  Welbecke made a movement with her neck, loosening it up in preparation for a fight. Bloom had only ever seen men do that before, and then largely the kind of oversized assholes who were looking for trouble, but were too dumb to understand that telegraphing the fact gave their opponents time to react and take them out. It made Bloom respect Welbecke less, which gave her no pleasure. She didn’t like seeing women behave as badly as men, and especially not cops. Law enforcement remained a profoundly sexist environment, and women would always be held to a higher standard than men under all circumstances, while simultaneously being expected to fail to reach it. She was just glad that her predecessor was no longer around to witness this pissing match. It would simply have confirmed all that Erik Lange and his cronies believed about women.

  Tyler, who had been looking on in something like amusement, chose that moment to act as peacemaker.

  ‘Whoa, whoa!’ she said. ‘Nobody’s pointing fingers here, okay?’ She addressed herself to Bloom. ‘You’ll just appreciate that there are certain ways of doing things, and this is all maybe a little unorthodox, you know? But I don’t think any harm has been done, right, Stacey?’

  Welbecke gave the impression that she thought harm might have been done in spades, but contented herself with looking away and offering a ‘Like I could give a shit’ shrug to the world in general. Meow, thought Bloom: saucer of fucking milk for Detective Welbecke, please.

  Tyler turned her back on her partner and walked toward the outcrop of land that gave Mason Point its name. Bloom followed, not caring to remain alone in Welbecke’s company for longer than necessary. Tyler was watching the movement of the incoming tide. Even from where she stood, it was possible to detect the vicious crosscurrents.

  ‘Do people swim here?’ she asked.

  ‘There are signs in the parking lot warning about the tides,’ said Bloom. ‘We usually have a couple on the sand too, but they’re being repainted at the moment, before the season kicks in.’

  Tyler took a deep breath of sea air.

  ‘How long have you and Welbecke been partners?’ asked Bloom.

  ‘Couple of months. My turn: did you tell Parker about the marks on Perlman’s skull?’

  Bloom felt her face redden. She still didn’t believe that she’d done anything wrong by keeping him informed, but strictly speaking she shouldn’t have shared any of it with him. That was true of all that had occurred, which brought them right back to square one: a body frozen in a locker while the best part of thirty detectives in Maine, and more cops in adjacent states, chased a teenage ghost.

  ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I did.’

  ‘Welbecke is a by-the-numbers kind of person, you understand? And, technically, all that she said was right. Do you know Gordon Walsh over at MCU?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘I guess you’d call him my mentor. He’s good police. He’s also the one Parker spoke to about Perlman. If Welbecke has a problem with anything that’s occurred here, she’ll have to bring it to Walsh, and he has a lot of respect for Parker. But she won’t complain. She’s just blowing off steam. Like I told you, she’s by-the-numbers, but that’s not always a bad thing, especially now that we may be opening a murder book on this.’

  ‘I understand.’

  And she did. Tyler was letting Bloom know that she’d take care of Welbecke, and in return Bloom needed to close down the channel of communication between Parker and herself.

  ‘Does he live far from here?’ asked Tyler.

  ‘Just a couple of miles away, on the other side of town. He has one of two houses on Green Heron Bay.’

  ‘Who has the other?’

  ‘A woman named Ruth Winter and her daughter.’

  ‘Local?’

  ‘Almost: she’s from Pirna. She moved here not long ago. Why do you ask?’

  ‘Just curious.’

  ‘If you want to go out and talk to Parker, I can give you directions. It’s easy to miss the turn for the bay, especially when it’s getting dark.’

  ‘Tomorrow will be fine,’ said Tyler. ‘Right now, I’d like copies of all your paperwork, and then I’m going to check into my motel, take a shower, and go get dinner somewhere. Any suggestions would be welcome.’

  Bloom recommended a couple of places as they marched over to where Welbecke stood, then together the three women headed to their respective vehicles. Bloom led the way back to her office. She had made the required copies before the detectives arrived, in anticipation of the request, and all other relevant information was already in the system, so the handover didn’t take long. Welbecke thanked Bloom as she left, and seemed to mean it. Bloom watched them drive away through the slats in her blinds. Preston joined her.

  ‘How were they?’ she asked.

  ‘They were okay.’

  ‘Both of them?’ said Preston. ‘The tall one looked like a bit of a bitch.


  ‘No, she was okay too.’

  ‘Huh,’ said Preston, in a way that suggested the ways of the world never failed to surprise her.

  ‘By the way,’ said Bloom, ‘if Mr Parker calls again, either by phone or in person, you take a message, but you tell him I’m not available.’

  ‘Understood. Is he in some kind of trouble?’

  Bloom saw her own reflection in the window, and caught herself smiling.

  ‘Mary, I think with him, trouble’s a perpetual state of being.’

  31

  Ruth Winter looked surprised and flustered to see Parker at her door. She was wearing an apron, and had flour on her hands.

  ‘Sorry, I’m running a little late,’ she said. ‘The girls are watching TV, and I’ve just started making the pasta. You’re welcome to come in, but dinner will be a while …’

  She managed a smile, but it was clear that she didn’t particularly relish the prospect of having to entertain him and prepare dinner at the same time. He didn’t smile back.

  ‘Can I talk to you for a moment?’ he said. ‘In private.’

  He could hear the sound of the TV coming from the living room. A woman’s voice was singing, but he couldn’t identify the song. It sounded saccharine, and he thought it might be from a later Disney movie, one of those that had largely passed him by.

  Winter nodded and stepped outside, closing the door behind her. She was wearing a sweater and jeans beneath her apron, but she shivered as the wind from the sea struck her.

  ‘Is something wrong?’ she asked.

  His eyes went to the little hole on the doorframe.

  ‘Why did you take down your mezuzah?’ he said.

  ‘What?’

  ‘Your mezuzah. It was on the doorframe when I first met you, and then it was gone. I was wondering where it went?’

  He saw her bristle, but she tried to retain her composure.

  ‘There was a crack in the case, and I was worried about water getting in.’

  It was a different explanation from the last, a new lie, and he was a man who had been lied to so often that he could almost ascribe to untruths a color and a shape, the way certain synesthesic musicians gave form and hue to notes.

  ‘Did you know Bruno Perlman?’

  ‘Who?’

  ‘Bruno. Perlman.’ He repeated the name slowly and distinctly. ‘The man whose body washed up at Mason Point.’

  ‘Why would I know him?’

  The wrong answer, he thought, or the answer to a different question, but not the one that had actually been asked.

  ‘Do you know who I am Ms Winter? Do you know what I did for a living?’

  ‘Look, I’m sorry, but I don’t have time for this.’

  She made a move for the door, but he blocked her way with his arm.

  ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ she said.

  ‘Helping you, if you’ll let me.’

  ‘I don’t need your help. I don’t even know why you think that I might.’

  ‘I’ve been a private investigator for more than a decade,’ he said. ‘Before that, I was a police officer, and a detective.’

  ‘And?’

  She wouldn’t meet his eyes. She looked through the glass of the door to her kitchen. She just wanted to get back inside, and away from this man.

  ‘I can tell when people are in trouble, when they’re frightened, when they’re hiding something. And when they’re lying.’

  ‘Get your hand down,’ she said. Her voice trembled slightly. ‘You’re scaring me. I want you to leave now. If you need to take your daughter with you, then I understand, but I want you to go.’

  She reached under his arm to take the handle of the door. He didn’t try to stop her.

  ‘Bruno Perlman was murdered,’ he said. ‘Before he went into the sea, someone put a blade through his right eye. It didn’t kill him – it seems that he died in the water – but it must have hurt like hell itself. It was an act of torture, probably designed to elicit whatever he knew. It takes a very particular individual to inflict that kind of pain on another.’

  Her hand froze on the door handle. She still refused to look at him. He didn’t know where her gaze lay, only that it was elsewhere, directed within more than without.

  He spoke softly. He was not trying to bully her, and he regretted that he had been forced to block her way into her home, but he needed her to listen, and he wanted to watch her as she listened. He wanted to be sure.

  ‘This is what I think,’ he said. ‘Bruno Perlman was coming up here to see you. Maybe he’d been in contact by phone or e-mail. Perhaps he even sent you a letter – I hear people still do that sometimes. Someone intercepted him, brutalized him, and then left him to drown, but his body wasn’t expected to wash ashore so soon, if ever. When you heard about the discovery of a man’s body at Mason Point, you may have suspected that it was Perlman, or you may not have, but you weren’t about to take any chances. There was only the slightest possibility that a connection could be made to you through your shared faith, but it was enough to make you remove the mezuzah.’

  ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ she said, but her words had all the weight of gossamer, and the wind threw them to the sand and the sky.

  ‘If that’s the case,’ Parker continued, ignoring her, ‘– and, as I’ve told you, it’s what I think – then you probably already had reason to believe that Perlman was murdered before anyone else, and certainly before the mark of the blade was discovered during the autopsy. There is another possibility, of course.’

  She waited. Her eyes briefly fluttered closed.

  ‘Go on,’ she said. ‘The sooner you finish, the sooner I can get back to my child.’

  ‘The other possibility is that you killed Perlman yourself. You arranged to meet him at the parking lot, stabbed him in the eye, then dragged him to the edge of the bluff and threw him into the sea. He wasn’t a big man, and he might not have been expecting an attack from a woman, or you might have had an accomplice who did the hard work while you baited the trap. But that doesn’t ring so true to me, and it’s not what I sense from you. You’re frightened – I’m certain of that – but not of your involvement in a crime being revealed. I think you’re scared that whoever killed Perlman may come after you next, and your daughter too.’

  Now she turned to face him for the first time since he had begun speaking.

  ‘Are you done?’ she said. She tried for boredom and contempt, and almost conjured up a good imitation of both, but failed at the latter.

  ‘Just about,’ he said. ‘If it’s all right with you, I will take Sam home with me, because I believe that she’s at risk in your company. You can have tonight to consider what I’ve said, because tomorrow I’m going to talk with Chief Bloom and tell her what I think. It could be that I’m completely wrong about everything, but I’ll let her decide after I’ve spoken to her.’

  He lowered his arm.

  ‘If you’ll bring Sam to me, I’ll be on my way.’

  She opened the door, but paused before reentering her house.

  ‘Why can’t you just leave us in peace?’ she asked.

  ‘You’re not at peace,’ he replied. ‘And you won’t be until you tell the truth.’

  ‘Go fuck yourself,’ she said, ‘you and your sanctimonious bullshit.’

  ‘My daughter. Please.’

  She went inside, closing the door in his face. She reappeared after a minute or two, helping Sam into her coat, Amanda following behind them looking upset. Sam simply appeared puzzled. When she emerged, she took her father’s hand and said goodbye to Amanda and her mother. Only Amanda replied, and then the door closed again and the light in the hallway was extinguished, leaving the porch light shining upon them. Parker and Sam broke its cocoon and headed down the steps to the beach.

  ‘Why aren’t we staying for dinner?’ Sam asked. ‘Did you and Amanda’s mommy have a fight?’

  ‘We had a discussion.’

  ‘Like a fight?


  ‘A disagreement.’

  ‘It was a fight,’ said Sam, with conviction.

  ‘What was the movie?’

  ‘Mulan.’

  ‘Sorry you missed the end.’

  ‘It’s okay, I’ve seen it before.’

  They walked on.

  ‘Did Amanda’s mommy do something bad?’ asked Sam.

  ‘Why would you say that?’

  ‘Because you only fight with people who do bad things.’

  ‘No, she didn’t do anything bad. I think she may be in trouble, but she’s too scared to ask for help.’

  ‘Are you going to help her?’

  ‘I’m going to try.’

  ‘Good.’

  Sam stumbled slightly on the sand, and when he stopped to make sure that she was all right, he saw that she was looking at the small of his back, where the gun lay. He thought that his shirt was concealing it, but he figured that the wind might have revealed its shape beneath the material. His daughter did not remark upon it, but she remained silent for the rest of their walk home.

  32

  Once again Steiger stood on the dunes above the house, and watched Parker and the little girl depart. He had been feeling apprehensive all day, but could not pinpoint the source. He put it down to the fact that he was not yet in possession of all the information required to make a decision on how to act. Yes, he had been given permission to kill the Winter woman, but the problem of the detective still remained, and now he had a child with him. Steiger was not above killing children – Steiger was not above killing anything – but this whole business had already grown too fancy. Others had made it so. Steiger would have dealt with it differently from the start: kill Perlman, kill Tedesco, kill Winter, and vanish. He would not even have left bodies to be found.

  But then Perlman’s remains were washed ashore, and Oran Wilde became a pawn in the game. Steiger would not have chosen to go down that route, to take an already complicated situation and add further layers of complexity. It was, he thought, to do with degrees of intelligence. Steiger did not consider himself a stupid man, but neither did he believe himself to be brighter than he was. He had come to realize that there were those in the world who were so clever that they regarded simplicity as beneath them. If they had to connect two points, they invariably chose to do so by adding a third, making a triangle. The Jigsaw Man was just such an individual. As a consequence, Steiger had decided not to work with him again. Once this job was done, he would inform Cambion, who always acted as his intermediary in such business.

 

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