The killing kind, p.2
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       The Killing Kind, p.2

           John Connolly
 

  The second group consists of workmen employed by one Jean Beaulieu to clear vegetation from the banks of St. Froid Lake in preparation for the construction of a house. It is simply coincidence that both groups have taken to the same stretch of road on this bright morning, but they mingle as they go, exchanging comments about the weather and lighting one another’s cigarettes.

  Just outside the little town of Eagle Lake, the workers turn west onto Red River Road, the Fish River flowing at their left, the red brick edifice of the Eagle Lake Water and Sewage District building to their right. A small wire fence ends where the river joins St. Froid Lake, and houses begin to appear along the bank. Through the branches of the trees, the glittering surface of the water can be glimpsed.

  Soon the noise of their passing is joined by another sound. On the ground above them, shapes appear from wooden kennels: gray animals with thick fur and keen, intelligent eyes. They are wolf hybrids, each chained to an iron ring outside its kennel, and they bark and howl as the men and women walk below them, their chains jangling as they strain to reach the intruders. The breeding of such hybrids is relatively common in this part of the state, a regional peculiarity surprising to strangers. Some of the workers stop and watch, one or two taunting the beasts from the safety of the road, but the wiser ones move on. They know that it is better to let these animals be.

  The work commences, accompanied by a chorus of engines and shouts, of picks and shovels breaking the ground, of chain saws tearing at branches and tree trunks; and the smells of diesel fumes and sweat and fresh earth mingle in the air. The sounds drown out the rhythms of the natural world: the wood frogs clearing their throats, the calls of hermit thrushes and winter wrens, the crying of a single loon out on the water.

  The day grows short, the sun moving west across the lake. On Jean Beaulieu’s land a man removes his yellow hard hat, wipes his brow on his sleeve, and lights a cigarette before making his way back to the bulldozer. He climbs into the cab and slowly starts to reverse, the harsh buzz of the engine adding its guttural notes to the sounds of men and nature. The howling from above begins again, and he shakes his head wearily at the man in the cherry picker nearby.

  This ground has lain undisturbed for many years. The grass is wild and long, and the bushes cling tenaciously to the hard earth. There is no reason for the man in the cab to doubt that the bank upon which he stands is solid, until an alien clamor intrudes on the rustling of the evergreens and the sawing of the clearers. The bulldozer makes a high, growling din, like an animal in panic, as huge quantities of earth shift. The howling of the hybrids increases in intensity, some turning in circles or wrenching again at their chains as they register the new sounds.

  The roots of a white spruce are exposed as a section of the riverbank collapses, and the tree topples slowly into the water, sending ripples across the still surface of the lake. Beside it, the bulldozer seems to hang suspended for a moment, one track still clinging to the ground, the other hanging over empty space, before it tumbles sideways, its operator leaping to safety, falling away from the vehicle as it turns and lands with a loud splash in the shallows. Men drop their tools and start running. They scramble to the new verge, where brown water has already rushed in to exploit the sudden expansion of the banks. Their colleague raises himself, shivering and soaked, from the lake, then grins embarrassedly and raises a hand to let them know that he is okay. The men crowd the bank, looking at the stranded bulldozer. One or two cheer desultorily. To their left, another huge slab of earth crumbles and falls into the water, but they hardly notice, their efforts are so focused on helping their comrade out of the cold water.

  But the man in the cherry picker is not looking at the bulldozer, or at the arms reaching out to pull the drenched figure from the water. He stands unmoving, the chain saw in his hands, and looks down on the newly exposed bank. His name is Lyall Dobbs. He has a wife and two children and, at this moment, he desperately wishes that he were with them. He desperately wishes he were anywhere but staring down at the banks of St. Froid, at the darkened bones revealed among the tree roots and broken earth, and the small skull slowly disappearing beneath the cold waters of the lake.

  “Billy?” he shouts.

  Billy Laughton, the foreman of the clearing crew, turns away from the crowd of men by the shore, shaking his head and swearing softly.

  “Yeah?”

  There is no further word for a moment. Lyall Dobbs’s throat is suddenly too dry to produce sound. He swallows, then resumes.

  “Billy, we got a cemetery around here?”

  Laughton’s brow furrows. From his pocket he takes a folded map and examines it briefly. He shakes his head at the other man.

  “No,” he replies simply.

  Dobbs looks at him, and his face is pale.

  “Well, we do now.”

  ∗ ∗ ∗

  This is a honeycomb world.

  You must be careful where you step.

  And you must be ready for what you might find.

  1

  IT WAS SPRING, and color had returned to the world.

  The distant mountains were transforming, the gray trees now cloaking themselves in new life, their leaves a faded echo of fall’s riot. The scarlets of the red maples were dominant, but they were being joined now by the greenish yellow leaves of the red oaks; the silver of the bigtooth aspens; and the greens of the quaking aspens, the birches, and the beeches. Poplars and willows, elms and hazelnuts were all bursting into full bloom, and the woods were ringing with the noise of returning birds.

  I could see the woods from the gym at One City Center, the tips of the evergreens still dominating the landscape amid the slowly transforming seasonals. Rain was falling on the streets of Portland and umbrellas swarmed on the streets below, glistening darkly like the carapaces of squat black beetles.

  For the first time in many months, I felt good. I was in semi-regular employment. I was eating well, working out three or four days each week, and Rachel Wolfe was coming up from Boston for the weekend, so I would have someone to admire my improving physique. I hadn’t suffered bad dreams for some time. My dead wife and my lost daughter had not appeared to me since the previous Christmas, when they touched me amid the falling snow and gave me some respite from the visions that had haunted me for so long.

  I completed a set of military presses and laid the bar down, sweat dripping from my nose and rising in little wisps of steam from my body. Seated on a bench, sipping some water, I watched the two men enter from the reception area, glance around, then fix on me. They wore conservative dark suits with somber ties. One was large, with brown wavy hair and a thick mustache, like a porn star gone to seed, the bulge of the gun in the cheap rig beneath his jacket visible to me in the mirror behind him. The other was smaller, a tidy, dapper man with receding, prematurely graying hair. The big man held a pair of shades in his hand while his companion wore a pair of gold-rimmed eyeglasses with square frames. He smiled as he approached me.

  “Mr. Parker?” he asked, his hands clasped behind his back.

  I nodded and the hands disengaged, the right extending toward me in a sharp motion like a shark making its way through familiar waters.

  “My name is Quentin Harrold, Mr. Parker,” he said. “I work for Mr. Jack Mercier.”

  I wiped my own right hand on a towel to remove some of the sweat, then accepted the handshake. Harrold’s mouth quivered a little as my still sweaty palm gripped his, but he resisted the temptation to wipe his hand clean on the side of his trousers. I guessed that he didn’t want to spoil the crease.

  Jack Mercier came from money so old that some of it had jangled on the Mayflower. He was a former U.S. senator, as his father and grandfather had been before him, and lived in a big house out on Prouts Neck overlooking the sea. He had interests in timber companies, newspaper publishing, cable television, software, and the Internet. In fact, he had interests in just about anything that might ensure the Merciers’ old money was regularly replenished with injections of
new money. As a senator he had been something of a liberal and he still supported various ecological and civil rights groups through generous donations. He was a family man; he didn’t screw around—as far as anyone knew—and he had emerged from his brief flirtation with politics with his reputation enhanced rather than tarnished, a product as much of his financial independence as of any moral probity. There were rumors that he was planning a return to politics, possibly as an independent candidate for governor, although Mercier himself had yet to confirm them.

  Quentin Harrold coughed into his palm, then used it as an excuse to take a handkerchief from his pocket and discreetly wipe his hand. “Mr. Mercier would like to see you,” he said, in the tone of voice he probably reserved for the pool cleaner and the chauffeur. “He has some work for you.”

  I looked at him. He smiled. I smiled back. We stayed like that, grinning at each other, until the only options were to speak or start dating. Harrold took the first option.

  “Perhaps you didn’t hear me, Mr. Parker,” he said. “Mr. Mercier has some work for you.”

  “And?”

  Harrold’s smile wavered. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

  “I’m not so desperate for work, Mr. Harrold, that I run and fetch every time somebody throws a stick.” This wasn’t entirely true. Portland, Maine, wasn’t such a wellspring of vice and corruption that I could afford to look down my nose at too many jobs. If Harrold had been better looking and a different sex, I’d have fetched the stick and then rolled onto my back to have my belly rubbed if I thought it might have earned me more than a couple of bucks.

  Harrold glanced at the big guy with the mustache. The big guy shrugged, then went back to staring at me impassively, maybe trying to figure out what my head would look like mounted over his fireplace.

  Harrold coughed again. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to offend you.” He seemed to have trouble forming the words, as if they were part of someone else’s vocabulary and he was just borrowing them for a time. I waited for his nose to start growing or his tongue to turn to ash and fall to the floor, but nothing happened. “We’d be grateful if you’d spare the time to talk to Mr. Mercier,” he conceded with a wince.

  I figured that I’d played hard to get for long enough, although I still wasn’t sure that they’d respect me in the morning. “When I’ve finished up here, I can probably drive out and see him,” I said.

  Harrold craned his neck slightly, indicating that he believed he might have misheard me. “Mr. Mercier was hoping that you could come with us now, Mr. Parker. Mr. Mercier is a very busy man, as I’m sure you’ll understand.”

  I stood up, stretched, and prepared to do another set of presses. “Oh, I understand, Mr. Harrold. I’ll be as quick as I can. Why don’t you gentlemen wait downstairs, and I’ll join you when I’m done? You’re making me nervous. I might drop a weight on you.”

  Harrold shifted on his feet for a moment, then nodded.

  “We’ll be in the lobby,” he said.

  “Enjoy,” I replied, then watched them in the mirror as they walked away.

  I took my time finishing my workout, then had a long shower and talked about the future of the Pirates with the guy who was cleaning out the changing room. When I figured that Harrold and the porn star had spent enough time looking at their watches, I took the elevator down to the lobby and waited for them to join me. The expression on Harrold’s face, I noticed, was oscillating between annoyance and relief.

  Harrold insisted that I accompany him and his companion in their Mercedes, but despite their protests I opted to follow them in my own Mustang. It struck me that I was becoming more willfully perverse as I settled into my midthirties. If Harrold had told me to take my own car, I’d probably have chained myself to the steering column of the Mercedes until they agreed to give me a ride.

  The Mustang was a 1969 Boss 302, and replaced the Mach 1 that had been shot to pieces the previous year. The 302 had been sourced for me by Willie Brew, who ran an auto shop down in Queens. The spoilers and wings were kind of over the top, but it made my eyes water when it accelerated and Willie had sold it to me for $8,000, which was about $3,000 less than a car in its condition was worth. The downside was that I might as well have had ARRESTED ADOLESCENCE painted on the side in big black letters.

  I followed the Mercedes south out of Portland and on to U.S. 1. At Oak Hill, we turned east and I stayed behind them at a steady thirty all the way to the tip of the Neck. At the Black Point Inn, guests sat at the picture windows, staring out with drinks in their hands at Grand Beach and Pine Point. A Scarborough PD cruiser inched along the road, making sure that everybody stayed under thirty and nobody unwanted hung around long enough to spoil the view.

  Jack Mercier had his home on Winslow Homer Road, within sight of the painter’s former house. As we approached, an electronically operated barrier opened and a second Mercedes swept toward us from the house, headed for Black Point Road. In the backseat sat a small man with a dark beard and a skullcap on his head. We exchanged a look as the two cars passed each other, and he nodded at me. His face was familiar, I thought, but I couldn’t place it. Then the road was clear and we continued on our way.

  Mercier’s home was a huge white place with landscaped gardens and so many rooms that a search party would have to be organized if anybody got lost on the way to the bathroom. The man with the mustache parked the Mercedes while I followed Harrold through the large double front doors, down the hallway, and into a room to the left of the main stairs. It was a library, furnished with antique couches and chairs. Books stretched to the ceiling on three walls; on the east-facing wall, a window looked out on the grounds and the sea beyond, a desk and chair beside it and a small bar to the right.

  Harrold closed the door behind me and left me to examine the spines on the books and the photographs on the wall. The books ranged from political biographies to historical works, mainly examinations of the Civil War, Korea, and Vietnam. There was no fiction. In one corner was a small locked cabinet with a glass front. The books it contained were different from those on the open shelves. They had titles like Myth and History in the Book of Revelation; Apocalypse and Millennium in English Romantic Poetry; The Book of Revelation: Apocalypse and Empire; and The Apocalyptic Sublime. It was cheerful stuff: bedtime reading for the end of the world. There were also critical biographies of the artists William Blake, Albrecht Dürer, Lucas Cranach the Elder, and Jean Duvet, in addition to facsimile editions of what appeared to be medieval texts. Finally, on the top shelf were twelve almost identical slim volumes, each bound in black leather with six gold bands inset on the spine in three equidistant sets of two. At the base of each spine was the last letter of the Greek alphabet: Ω, for omega. There was no key in the lock, and the doors stayed closed when I gave them an experimental tug.

  I turned my attention to the photographs on the walls. There were pictures of Jack Mercier with various Kennedys, Clintons, and even a superannuated Jimmy Carter. Others showed Mercier in an assortment of athletic poses from his youth: winning races, pretending to toss footballs, and being carried aloft on the shoulders of his adoring teammates. There were also testimonials from grateful universities, framed awards from charitable organizations headed by movie stars, and even some medals presented by poor but proud nations. It was like an underachiever’s worst nightmare.

  One more recent photograph caught my eye. It showed Mercier sitting at a table, flanked on one side by a woman in her sixties wearing a smartly tailored black jacket and a string of pearls around her neck. To Mercier’s right was the bearded man who had passed me in the Mercedes, and beside him was a figure I recognized from his appearances on prime-time news shows, usually looking triumphant at the top of some courthouse steps: Warren Ober, of Ober, Thayer & Moss, one of New England’s top law firms. Ober was Mercier’s attorney, and even the mention of his name was enough to send most opposition running for the hills. When Ober, Thayer & Moss took a case, they brought so many lawyers with them
to court that there was barely enough room for the jury. Even judges got nervous around them.

  Looking at the photograph, it struck me that nobody in it seemed particularly happy. There was an air of tension about the poses, a sense that some darker business was being conducted and the photographer was an unnecessary distraction. There were thick files on the table before them, and white coffee cups lay discarded like yesterday’s roses.

  Behind me the door opened and Jack Mercier entered, laying aside on the table a sheaf of papers speckled with bar charts and figures. He was tall, six-two or six-three, with shoulders that spoke of his athletic past and an expensive gold Rolex that indicated his present status as a very wealthy man. His hair was white and thick, swept back from a perma-tanned forehead over large blue eyes, a Roman nose, and a thin, smiling mouth, the teeth white and even. I guessed that he was sixty-five by now, maybe a little older. He wore a blue polo shirt, tan chinos, and brown Sebagos. There was white hair on his arms, and tufts of it peeked out over the collar of his shirt. For a moment the smile on his face faltered as he saw my attention focused on the photograph, but it quickly brightened again as I moved away from it. Meanwhile, Harrold stood at the door like a nervous matchmaker.

  “Mr. Parker,” said Mercier, shaking my hand with enough force to dislodge my fillings. “I appreciate you taking the time to see me.” He waved me to a chair. From the hallway, an olive-skinned man in a white tunic appeared with a silver tray and set it down. Two china cups, a silver coffeepot, and a matching silver creamer and sugar bowl jangled softly as the tray hit the table. The tray looked heavy, and the servant seemed kind of relieved to be rid of it.

 

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