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The killing kind, p.18
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       The Killing Kind, p.18

           John Connolly
 

  He did it because it was fun, because he was genuinely curious about the effects. He did it because to be preyed upon by a small, dark, consuming creature, multilegged and many-eyed, terrified his victims in ways that a bullet or a knife could not, and gave a new intensity to their sufferings. Even Epstein, who endured death by injection, had felt something of this pain as his muscles spasmed and cramped, his breathing began to fail, and his heart at last gave way under the pressure on his body.

  It was also a message. I was certain of that. And the only person for whom that message could be meant was Jack Mercier. Epstein and Beck were in the photograph on his wall, and Warren Ober’s law firm had been handling Epstein’s legal challenge to the IRS tax exemption granted to the Fellowship. I knew then that I had to return to Maine, that somehow Grace Peltier’s death was linked to moves that her father and others had been making against the Fellowship. But how could Pudd and those who aided him have known that Grace Peltier was Jack Mercier’s daughter? There was also the question of how a woman who was researching the history of a long-departed religious group ended up trying to corner the leader of the Fellowship. I could only find one answer: someone had pointed Grace Peltier in the direction of the Fellowship, and she had died because of it.

  I tried calling Mercier again as Rachel went to take a shower, but I got the same maid and a promise that Mr. Mercier would be told that I had called. I asked for Quentin Harrold and was similarly informed that he was not available. I was tempted to throw my cell phone to the ground and stamp on it, but I figured I might need it, so I contented myself with tossing it in disgust on Rachel’s couch. It wasn’t as if I had anything to tell Mercier anyway, or certainly nothing that he didn’t already know. I just didn’t like being kept in the dark, especially when Mr. Pudd was occupying space in that same darkness.

  But there was another reason that I had yet to learn for Mr. Pudd’s killing methods, a tenet that had its roots in the distant past, and in other, older traditions.

  It was the belief that spiders were the guardians of the underworld.

  ∗ ∗ ∗

  The Wang Center, on Tremont, was just about the most beautiful theater on the upper East Coast, and the Boston Ballet was, given my limited experience, a great company, so the combination was pretty hard to resist, especially on a first night. As we walked past Boston Common, a band played in the window of Emerson College’s WERS radio station, the crowds heading to the theater district pausing briefly to examine the contorted face of the singer. We collected our tickets at the box office and walked into the ornate marble and gold lobby, past the booths hawking Cleopatra memorabilia and souvenir books. We had seats in the front row, far left, of the orchestra box—close to the back of the theater and slightly raised above the rows of seats ahead, so that nobody could obscure our view. The red and gold of the theater was almost as opulent as the stage design, giving the whole affair an air of restrained decadence.

  “You know, when I told Angel we were coming here he asked me if I was sure I wasn’t gay,” I whispered to Rachel.

  “What did you say?”

  “I told him I wasn’t dancing the damn ballet, I was just going to watch it.”

  “So I’m just a means of reassuring you about your heterosexuality?” she teased.

  “Well, a very pleasurable means . . .”

  Above and to my right, a figure entered one of the front-row seats on the level above ours, at the farthest extremity of the U-shaped upper tier. He moved slowly, easing himself gently into his chair before adjusting his hearing aids. Behind him, Tommy Caci folded Al Z’s coat, then poured a glass of red wine for his boss before taking the seat directly behind him.

  The Wang is an egalitarian theater; there are no closed boxes, but some sections are more private than others. The area where Al Z sat was known as the Wang box; it was partially shielded by a pillar, although it was open to the aisle on the right. The adjacent seats were empty, which meant that Al had booked the entire section for the first-night show.

  Al Z, I thought, you old romantic.

  The lights went down as the audience grew quiet. Rimsky-Korsakov’s music, arranged for the ballet by the composer John Lanchbery, filled the huge space as the evening’s entertainment commenced. Handmaidens danced around Cleopatra’s bedchamber while the queen slept in the background and her brother Ptolemy and his confidant Pothinus plotted her downfall. It was all brilliantly done, yet I found myself drifting during the whole first half, my mind occupied by images of crawling things and the final, imagined moments of Grace Peltier’s life. I kept seeing:

  A gun close to her head, a hand buried in her hair to hold her steady as a finger tightened on the trigger. It is her finger, but pressed against it is another. She is dazed, stunned by a blow to the temple, and cannot fight as her arm is maneuvered into position. There is no blood from the blow, and anyway the entry wound will tear apart the skin and bone, disguising any earlier injury. It is only when the cold metal touches her skin that she realizes, finally, what is happening. She strikes out and opens her mouth to scream . . .

  There is a roar in the night, and a red flame bursts from her head and sheds itself over the window and the door. The light dies in her eyes and her body slumps to the right, the smell of burning in the air as her singed hair hisses softly.

  There is no pain.

  There will never be pain again.

  I felt a pressure on my arm and found Rachel looking at me quizzically, the ballet on stage reaching its preintermission climax. In her bedchamber, Cleopatra was dancing for Caesar, seducing him. I patted Rachel’s hand and saw her scowl at the patronizing nature of the gesture, but before I could explain, a movement to my far right attracted my attention. Tommy Caci had risen, distracted, and was reaching inside his jacket. Before him, Al Z continued watching the ballet, apparently unaware of what was going on behind. Tommy moved away from his seat and disappeared into the aisle.

  Onstage, the assassin, Pothinus, appeared in the wings, looking for his moment to strike at the queen, but Cleopatra and Caesar danced on, oblivious. The music swelled as a figure took the seat behind Al Z, but it was not Tommy Caci. Instead, it was thinner, more angular. Al Z remained engrossed in the action, his head moving in time to the music, his mind filled with images of escape as he sought briefly to forget the darker world he had chosen to inhabit. A hand moved, and something silver gleamed. Pothinus shot out from the wings, sword in hand, but Caesar was quicker and his sword impaled Pothinus through the stomach.

  And in the box above, Al Z’s body tensed and fluid shot from his mouth as the figure leaned over him, one hand on his shoulder, the other close to the base of his skull. From behind, it would appear as if they were talking, nothing more, but I had seen the blade flash, and I knew what had happened. Al Z’s mouth was wide open, and as I watched, Mr. Pudd’s gloved hand closed upon it and he held him as he shook and died.

  Then Mr. Pudd seemed to stare down to where I sat before draping Al Z’s coat across the old man’s shoulders and receding into the shadows.

  Onstage, the curtain was falling and the audience had burst into applause, but I was already moving. I climbed over the edge of the orchestra box and ran up the aisle, the doors flying open noisily before me. To my left, a flight of stairs, topped by an eagle clock, led up to the next level. I took them two at a time, brushing aside an usher as I drew my gun.

  “Call an ambulance,” I said as I passed. “And the police.”

  I heard the sound of his footsteps echoing on the marble as I reached the top of the stairs, my gun raised ahead of me. An exit door stood open and the counterweighted fire escape, which descended under body weight, was rising back up. Below me was a loading dock, from which a car was already speeding, a silver Mercury Sable. Its side faced me as it turned onto Washington Street, so I didn’t get the license number, but there were two figures inside.

  Behind me, the seats were emptying for the intermission, and one or two people glanced out the open door. Th
ese doors were all alarmed, so security would be up here soon to find out who had opened them, and why. I retreated inside and moved to the front row where Al Z still sat. His head hung down, his chin on his chest, the coat draped loosely across his shoulders to hide the bulge of the blade’s handle. The handle anchored him to his seat, preventing him from falling facedown. Blood flowed from his mouth and drenched the front of his white dress shirt. Some of it had fallen into his wineglass in a final, terrible act of consecration. I couldn’t see Tommy Caci.

  Behind me, two Wang Center security staff appeared, but they backed off at the sight of the gun in my hands.

  “You call the police?”

  They nodded.

  Across the aisle to my right, a door stood slightly ajar. I gestured to it. “What’s in there?”

  “VIP lounge,” one of the security guards answered.

  I looked down to the base of the door and saw what looked like the toe of a shoe in the gap. Gently, using my elbow, I pushed it open.

  Tomy Caci lay facedown on the floor, his head to one side and the edge of the wound at his throat clearly visible. There was a lot of blood on the floor and on the walls. He had probably been taken from behind when he left his seat and entered the lounge. Beyond him was a bar, with some couches and chairs, but the room looked empty.

  I stepped back into the aisle as two blue uniforms appeared behind me, advancing with their weapons drawn. I heard the order to drop my gun amid the audience’s cries of surprise and fear. I immediately did as I was told and the two cops descended on me.

  “I’m a private detective,” I said as one of them pushed me against the wall and frisked me while the other checked out Tommy Caci, then moved toward the body in the front row.

  “It’s Al Z,” I told him when he came back, and I felt a kind of sadness for the old thug. “He won’t be bothering you again.”

  ∗ ∗ ∗

  I was interviewed at the scene by a pair of detectives named Carras and McCann. I told them all that I had seen, although I didn’t tell them what I knew of Mr. Pudd. Instead, I described him in as much detail as I could and said that I had recognized Al Z from a previous case.

  “What case would that be?” asked McCann.

  “Some trouble last year in a place called Dark Hollow.”

  When I mentioned Dark Hollow, the scene of Tony Celli’s death at the hands of the man now dead beside us, their faces cleared, McCann even offering to buy me a drink at some unspecified date in the future. Nobody mourned Tony Celli’s passing.

  I stood beside them at the main door of the theater as the audience was fed through a rank of policemen, each member being asked if he or she had seen anything before being told to supply an ID and telephone number. At police headquarters I gave a statement sitting beside McCann’s messy desk, then left my cell-phone number and Rachel’s address in case they needed to speak to me again.

  After they let me go, I tried calling Mickey Shine at the florist’s but there was no reply and I was told that his home number was unlisted. Another call and five minutes later, I had a home telephone number and address for one Michael Sheinberg at Bowdoin Street, Cambridge. There was no reply from that number either. I left a message, then hailed a cab and took a ride out to Cambridge. I asked the cab to wait as I stepped out onto the tree-lined street. Mickey Shine lived in a brownstone apartment block, but there was no answer when I tried his bell. I was considering breaking and entering when a neighbor appeared at a window. He was an elderly man in a sweater and baggy blue jeans and his hands shook from some nervous condition as he spoke.

  “You lookin’ for Mickey?”

  “Yes, I am.”

  “You a friend of his?”

  “From out of town.”

  “Well, sorry, but he’s gone. Left about an hour ago.”

  “He say where he was going?”

  “No sir, I just saw him leave. Looks like he may be gone for a couple of days. He had a suitcase with him.”

  I thanked him and got back in the cab. The news of Al Z’s death would have traveled fast and there would be a lot of speculation as to who might have been behind it, but Mickey knew. I think he knew what would happen from the moment he received the call that I was coming and realized that it was, at last, time for the reckoning.

  The cab dropped me back at Jacob Wirth’s on Stuart, where Rachel was waiting along with Angel and Louis. There was a sing-along in progress around the piano as people who had been deaf since birth mugged “The Wanderer.” We left them to it and made our way a few doors up the street to Montien, where we sat in a booth and picked uneasily at our Thai food.

  “He’s good,” said Louis. “Probably been keeping tabs on you since you arrived.”

  I nodded. “Then he knows about Sheinberg, and you two. And Rachel. I’m sorry.”

  “It’s a game with him,” said Louis. “You know that, don’t you? The business card, the spiders in the mailbox. He’s playin’ with you, man, testin’ you. He knows who you are, and he likes the idea of goin’ up against you.”

  Angel nodded in agreement. “You got a reputation now. Only surprise is that every psycho from here to Florida hasn’t caught a bus and headed for Maine to see just how good you really are.”

  “That’s not very reassuring, Angel.”

  “You want reassurance, call a priest.”

  Nobody spoke for a time, until Louis said, “I guess you know we be joinin’ you in Maine.”

  Rachel looked at me. “I’ll be coming too.”

  “My guardian angels,” I said. I knew better than to argue with any of them. I was glad, too, that Rachel would be close. Alone, she was vulnerable. Yet once again I found this beautiful, empathic woman reading my thoughts.

  “Not for protection, Parker,” she added. Her face was serious, and her eyes were hard. “I’m coming because you’ll need help with Marcy Becker and her parents, and maybe the Merciers too. If the fact that I’m with you and the odd couple makes you feel better, then that’s a plus, nothing more. I’m not here just so you can save me.”

  Angel smiled at her with both admiration and amusement. “You’re so butch,” he hissed at Rachel. “Give you a gun and a vest and you could be a lesbian icon.”

  “Bite me, stubby,” she replied.

  It seemed to have been decided. I raised a glass of water, and they each lifted their beers in response.

  “Well,” I said, “welcome to the war.”

  13

  THE NEXT MORNING, the front page of the Herald was dominated by a pretty good picture of Al Z slumped in his seat at the Wang, beside the headline “Gangland Leader Slain.” There are few words that newspaper subeditors like better than “gangland” and “slain,” except maybe “sex” and “puppy,” and the Herald had opted to display them in a point size so large there was barely enough room for the story.

  Tommy Caci’s throat had been cut from left to right. The wound was so deep that it had severed both of the common carotid arteries and the external and internal jugulars, virtually decapitating him. Mr. Pudd had then stabbed Al Z through the back of the head with a long, thin blade, which punctured his cerebellum and sliced into his cerebral cortex. Finally, using a small, very sharp knife, he had made an angled incision about three quarters of the way up the middle finger of Al Z’s right hand and sliced off the top joint.

  I learned this not from the Herald, but from Detective Sergeant McCann who rang me on my cell phone as I sat at Rachel’s breakfast table reading the newspapers. Rachel was in the bathtub, humming Al Green songs out of key.

  “Guy had some balls, taking out two men in a public place,” commented McCann. “There are no cameras on the fire exits, so we got no visual apart from your description. Some guy in the loading bay took the license; came from an Impala stolen two days ago in Concord, so zilch there. The killer had to gain access to the VIP lounge using a key card, so we figure he came prepared with one he made himself. It’s not that hard to run one up, you know what you’re doing. Al Z w
ent to every first night—he may have been a mean, crooked son of a bitch, but he had class—and he always sat in or near those seats, so it wasn’t too difficult to guess where he’d be. As for the missing finger joint, we’re guessing it’s a calling card and we’re checking VICAP for equivalent MOs.”

  He asked me if I remembered anything else from the previous night—I knew it wasn’t simply a courtesy call—but I told him that I couldn’t help him. He asked me to stay in touch, and I assured him that I would.

  McCann was right; Pudd had taken a huge risk to get to Al Z. Maybe he had no choice. There was no way to get at Al Z in his office or his home, because he was always surrounded by his people and his windows were designed to repel anything smaller than a warhead. At the theater, with Tommy behind him and hundreds of people around him, he could have been forgiven for feeling secure, but he had underestimated the tenacity of his killer. When the opportunity presented itself, Pudd seized it.

  It struck me that Pudd might also be tying up loose ends, and there were only so many reasons why someone felt compelled to do that. Primary among them was as a preparation for disappearance, to ensure that there was nobody left to continue the hunt. My guess was that if Pudd chose to vanish, then nobody would ever find him. He had survived this long even with a price on his head, so he could evaporate like dew after sunrise if he chose.

  Something else bothered me; it looked like bugs weren’t the only things that Pudd liked to collect. He also wanted skin and bone, removing joints and sections of skin from each of his victims. His taste in souvenirs was distinctive, but Pudd didn’t strike me as the kind of man who would mutilate dead bodies just so he could put the pieces in jars and admire them. There had to be a better reason.

  I sat at the breakfast table, the newspapers now abandoned, and wondered if I should simply turn over all I knew to the police. Not that what I knew was a great deal, but the deaths of Epstein, Beck, Al Z, and Grace Peltier were all connected, linked either to the Fellowship itself or to actions that Grace’s biological father, Jack Mercier, was taking against it. It was about time for a serious face-to-face talk with Mr. Mercier, and I didn’t think that either of us was going to enjoy it very much. I was about to pack my bag in preparation for my return to Scarborough when I got my second call of the morning, and from a not entirely unexpected source. It was Mickey Shine. Caller ID could only tell me that the number he was calling from was private, and concealed.

 
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