A song of shadows, p.21
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       A Song of Shadows, p.21

           John Connolly
 

  Perhaps, too, he was afraid: Steiger was only part of the equation, and there were others involved who were beyond Cambion’s control, and for whom the death of Ruth Winter was of hugely personal concern. Cambion had provided Steiger for them in the past, and he had no illusions about the source of the cash that paid for his services. Even as a creator of monsters, Cambion was wary of those who had hired Steiger.

  Cambion finished reading the reports in silence. He gestured for the bedpan, and Edmund assisted him by placing it in position. Cambion thought that the big man was more careful than usual, and appeared troubled by the obvious pain that the act of urination caused his employer. The bedpan was removed, the sheets rearranged, the pillows adjusted to make him comfortable.

  ‘We are almost done,’ he told Edmund, but he did not know if he was understood or not.

  Edmund departed, and in the darkness of his death room Cambion’s lips moved in something like prayer.

  41

  Angel and Louis followed Walsh to the Gin Mill on Water Street when they were done at the ME’s office. While he drove, Walsh called Ross in New York and told him what Louis had said about Cambion.

  ‘That guy just won’t die,’ said Ross. ‘He’s like some kind of virus.’

  ‘You know the name?’

  ‘Oh yeah: Cambion the Leper. He’s a middleman for murderers, now that he can’t torture and kill for himself because of his ailment.’

  ‘You telling me he’s a real leper?’

  ‘Full-blown. He gives the disease a bad name. He didn’t contract it – it contracted him. Are they still with you?’

  ‘I’m taking them to dinner.’

  There was a noticeable pause.

  ‘Are you that lonely?’ said Ross.

  ‘Hey, I figured I might learn something more.’

  ‘You’ll learn not to do it again.’

  ‘Can I bill you for it?’ asked Walsh.

  Ross was still laughing as he hung up the phone.

  Both Angel and Louis went to the men’s room to freshen up. For all of their experience in unpleasant matters – and Walsh was under no illusion about what these men were capable of – the smell of the autopsy room had gotten to them. It didn’t bother Walsh, though, which worried him only slightly.

  He was shown to a table, from which he ordered an Allagash Black. He leaned back against the cool brick wall and called his wife. Both she and his younger son were nursing colds, and she’d kept the boy home from school that morning. They seemed to be on the mend, though. His son was apparently curled up on the couch with hot chocolate, one of those god awful Transformers movies on the TV, which Walsh thought were like watching someone moving around the contents of a silverware drawer, and his wife certainly sounded better than she had earlier. When he’d first heard her in the morning dark, he felt like he’d woken up next to that kid from The Exorcist. He listened to her bitch about the neighbors for a while, then said goodnight. He wasn’t sure what time he’d be home, he told her. He just knew that he would be.

  Walsh loved his wife a lot. He loved his kids. He was happy with his life. He wasn’t particularly troubled or haunted by his work, not like those cops in movies or mystery novels. You couldn’t do the job if you took it home with you the way they did. You couldn’t have a family and a normal life. Walsh had learned that early on from Miro, his first sergeant. Get yourself a wife, Miro told him. Have kids. When you’re done with your day, go home to them. There will be times when you’ll want a drink after what you’ve gone through, but maybe those are the times, more than any other, when you should just head back to your family. If you need to, take a walk alone before dinner, or bring your dog along for company. It’ll help. Then again, Miro didn’t drink. He didn’t begrudge anyone else a drink, and when he did go out he’d buy his round without complaint, but he still had a point. Walsh figured that if he couldn’t talk about stuff with his wife, then with whom could he talk? He didn’t tell her everything, but he told her enough. The rest he kept inside, because some sights and sounds just had to stay there.

  Walsh did enjoy the occasional beer, though. It wasn’t a way of escaping or drowning his pain. He just liked beer.

  And with that, his beer came. He looked at the menu. Although, as has been established, he loved his wife, he also enjoyed dining without her sometimes, especially at places like the Gin Mill. If she’d been with him, she’d have given him the cool eye until he announced that he was skipping the appetizers and, hey, the house salad with grilled chicken looked real good! Now he was free to order smoked sausage, or Cajun fried shrimp, or – Lord have mercy – the nachos, followed by a burger or the BBQ sandwich platter. He wouldn’t lie if she asked him what he’d eaten, but he hoped she might give him a pass and acknowledge that, as in the case of the ME’s assistant earlier that night, ignorance was sometimes the best defense.

  Angel and Louis emerged from the bathroom. Walsh saw women glance at Louis and do that thing where they adjusted their hair fractionally, or sipped from a straw in a manner somewhere between flirtatious and downright lewd. For a gay man, he sure managed to stir the ladies. Women also gave Angel a look, but they usually followed it by checking that their purses were close by, and they hadn’t left any money on the bar.

  Man, thought Walsh, my life has taken some strange turns if this is where I’ve ended up: in a fine Augusta drinking establishment, accompanied by one man who used to kill for a living – and, who knew, maybe still did when the price was right – and another who had been a pretty good thief, by all accounts – and who knew, etc. – but also wasn’t above using a gun when circumstances required it. How the hell Parker had become involved with them, Walsh couldn’t say, but there was a part of him that envied the detective the loyalty and friendship of these men. They might have been criminals, but they were the right kind of criminals.

  They slipped into the booth across from him. He wondered if they were carrying guns. He assumed that they were. He wondered if the guns were licensed. He assumed that they weren’t. Once again, better not to ask.

  The waitress returned. She wasn’t immune to Louis’s charms either, stopping just short of rolling on her back and asking to have her tummy tickled. At least, thought Walsh, we’ll get good service. Louis asked Walsh for advice on beer, and ended up trying an Andrew’s English Ale out of Lincolnville, with a bottle of white wine to follow. Angel opted for a Bar Harbor Blueberry Ale.

  ‘I don’t approve of fruit in beer,’ said Walsh.

  ‘Really?’ said Angel. ‘You don’t approve of it. What are you, some weird branch of the Women’s Temperance League? I like it. Not pumpkin, though. Fuckin’ pumpkin,’ he added, with venom.

  The waitress brought their beers, and they ordered food. Angel and Louis stuck with fish, and Walsh went for the smoked sausage and, in a break from tradition, a full rack of St Louis pork ribs.

  ‘A full rack?’ asked Angel. ‘You expecting someone else?’

  ‘I hope not,’ said Walsh.

  ‘Jesus, your arteries must be like the Holland Tunnel at rush hour.’

  Walsh let it pass. He was pretty sure that his arteries weren’t like the Holland Tunnel, or not all of them anyway.

  ‘So,’ he asked Louis, ‘any other thoughts on Steiger spring to mind on the way over here?’

  ‘I got a question for you first,’ said Louis. ‘What are you to Ross?’

  Louis didn’t like the FBI man. He believed in keeping his distance from most federal agencies, especially ones that might have a file on him.

  Walsh didn’t even blink. He’d been expecting this, and he had nothing to hide. Ross had briefed him well. They needed these two men, because no two people in the world were closer to Parker, his daughter and her mother possibly – only possibly – excepted.

  And Ross wanted to know all that there was to know about the detective.

  ‘I work with him,’ said Walsh.

  ‘Officially? Unofficially?’

  ‘The distinction is moot in Ross
s case. If there was ever a line between the two, it’s disappeared over the years.’

  ‘And you watch Parker for him.’

  ‘Actually, “watching” may be too strong a word for what I do. Mostly I just clean up the mess afterward, and help make sure that he keeps his license and stays out of jail. You might have noticed that Parker’s actions occasionally exceed the bounds of legality by some considerable degree. Not that you’d condone such behavior.’

  ‘Heaven forbid,’ said Angel.

  ‘And is it just Parker in whom you’re interested,’ said Louis, ‘or are there others?’

  ‘Others like him?’

  ‘There are no others like him,’ said Louis. ‘You don’t need me to tell you that.’

  ‘No, there are no others – like him, or not.’

  ‘And you watch him to what end?’

  ‘You know, you can talk real nice when you choose. I’d heard you were, like, monosyllabic.’

  ‘I tell him that all the time,’ said Angel. ‘The problem is, I can’t figure out which way of speaking is really him.’

  ‘I guess he’s just all hidden depths,’ said Walsh.

  ‘I guess he is at that. By the way, you didn’t answer his question: why watch Parker?’

  Angel had a lazy smile on his face, and Walsh thought that it would be very easy to underestimate him.

  ‘I’m afraid that’s above my pay grade.’

  ‘Because you just work here, right?’

  ‘Right.’ Walsh finished his beer and waved at the waitress for another. ‘I hear that you had a conversation with Ross not too different from this one, back when Parker was shot. He told you then what he thought it was all about.’

  ‘People who believe in buried gods,’ said Louis. ‘Do you believe in buried gods, Detective Walsh?’

  ‘I’m Episcopalian. I believe in everything.’

  Walsh’s second beer arrived, along with the appetizers, which were huge. Walsh tried to blot out his wife’s disapproving face so that he could enjoy his food. He bit into a mouthful of sausage and continued talking through the meat.

  ‘I suppose I accept what Ross does: there are individuals whose own belief systems cause harm to others, and they have to be stopped. That’s as true of radical Muslim clerics who preach that it’s okay to behead apostates as it is of the boards of selectmen of small Maine towns who aren’t above killing to protect their privileged position.’

  If he was expecting a reaction from Angel and Louis, he was destined to go unrewarded.

  ‘I know you tried to burn the town of Prosperous to the ground,’ Walsh added, just for clarification.

  Louis dipped a piece of crab cake into habanero mayo. Angel tried some of Walsh’s smoked sausage. Walsh had the sense that they were slightly disappointed in him for being so obvious. Walsh didn’t give a damn. He objected to men – especially from New York, although Massachusetts would have been almost as bad – coming into his state and setting fire to towns. It was unmannerly, and caused unrest.

  ‘Anyway,’ he went on, ‘it seems like Parker exerts a kind of gravitational pull on some of these individuals, which brings us closer to them. And Ross believes that an endgame may be in sight, and Parker has a role – maybe a significant one – to play in that too.’

  ‘And do a lot of folk share your analysis of the situation?’ said Louis.

  ‘We tend not to broadcast it too widely,’ said Walsh. ‘Makes us sound flaky.’

  ‘So Ross suggests that you should let us take a look at the body in the morgue—’ Angel began, but Walsh interrupted.

  ‘Because we were clearly looking at the body of a professional killer,’ Walsh finished for him.

  ‘And how did you figure that?’

  ‘Our pretty friend turned up on a piece of security footage in Florida not so long ago. A place called the Hurricane Hatch down near Jacksonville got ripped off, and the bartender, a guy name of Lenny Tedesco, was killed, or that was what it looked like until Tedesco’s wife was found dying in her bed. She went hard. Whoever killed her – and we’re assuming it was Steiger – took the trouble to remove her teeth before leaving her for dead. Curiously, the Florida cops think that it was probably him who called the ambulance, although he must have known that she wouldn’t survive another hour.

  ‘The bar had surveillance cameras hooked up to a hard drive, but Tedesco’s killer was smart enough to take it with him when he left. Now, the owner of the Hurricane Hatch is a guy named Skettle. Tedesco had a piece of the bar – just ten per cent – but Skettle was of the opinion that he was upping that to fifteen, maybe twenty, by skimming. To prove it, he’d installed a second pinhole camera behind a mirror over the register. It didn’t take in much of the rest of the bar, just the register, but when the footage was examined it came up with a good shot of Earl Steiger in profile – and that’s a very distinctive profile – cleaning out the night’s takings.

  ‘So now we have Steiger killing a bartender and his wife near Jacksonville – maybe for kicks, or maybe because he really needed the whole four hundred and change in the register, or a combination of both – then coming all the way up here to cut Ruth Winter’s throat, except he doesn’t rape or mutilate her, and he leaves her daughter alive. Again, that could have been an accident – he might have thought that he’d applied enough pressure to kill the child, and been mistaken – but I don’t buy it. I think he knew exactly what he was doing every step of the way.’

  ‘Okay,’ said Louis. ‘So even before I took a look at his body, you made him for a pro. But are you assuming a connection between what happened in Florida and what took place up at Green Heron Bay? Could be two separate jobs.’

  ‘We considered that too, but you’re forgetting something: Boreas has supplied us with three bodies in total. We have Ruth Winter, and Steiger, but we also have Bruno Perlman, who washed up at Mason Point with a mark on his eye socket that may or may not have been caused by a blade. Bruno Perlman happened to be a native of Duval County, Florida, with an address in Arlington, which is about a thirty-minute ride from the Hurricane Hatch. We think that there’s a good chance Perlman might have known Lenny Tedesco, at least casually.’

  ‘Why?’

  ‘He had a Hurricane Hatch T-shirt in his closet. And then there’s the fact that Perlman, Tedesco, and Ruth Winter were all Jewish. Finally, and here’s the clincher, last month Bruno Perlman visited Ruth and Isha Winter at their home in Pirna.’

  ‘Wait,’ said Angel. ‘How come you’re only finding that out now? You’d think Ruth Winter might have mentioned that fact when Perlman’s body appeared a couple of beaches away from her house. Maybe her mother might have brought it up too.’

  ‘Isha Winter doesn’t read newspapers and doesn’t own a TV,’ said Walsh. ‘She’s also older than Mount Katahdin. As for Ruth Winter, she’s not around to ask anymore.’

  ‘Doesn’t fit, them both staying quiet,’ said Louis.

  ‘No,’ said Walsh, ‘it doesn’t. The mother I can buy, but not the daughter.’

  ‘And,’ said Angel, ‘Ruth never called her mother and said, “Hey, remember that guy who came to visit a while back? Well, you’ll never guess where he is now …”’

  ‘Isha Winter says she didn’t. We spoke to some of Ruth’s friends down in Pirna, too. She didn’t have many – she was pretty solitary – and they say she didn’t discuss Perlman with them at all, either before or after his body was found.’

  ‘So why would she keep quiet about it?’

  ‘Either she was afraid or she was involved,’ said Louis.

  ‘Or both,’ said Walsh.

  ‘Why was Perlman visiting the Winters’ in the first place?’ asked Angel.

  ‘Because Isha Górski, later Isha Winter, was the sole survivor of a small Nazi concentration camp called Lubsko, and Perlman lost relatives there. Apparently he wanted to talk with her about her memories of the place. Isha says that her daughter arrived while she was speaking with Perlman, but the visit didn’t last for long.
She doesn’t like recalling what happened to her during the war, and I can’t blame her for that. I’d never even heard of Lubsko until this week.’

  Walsh shared what little he knew of the camp with Angel and Louis, but it was enough.

  ‘Parker says he and Cory Bloom got the story of Lubsko from Epstein when he came to Boreas, but at that time nobody knew that Isha Winter was once Isha Górski.’

  ‘So now you have a link between Florida and Maine,’ said Louis. ‘You also have a cluster of Jewish victims, which could make it a hate crime.’

  ‘And brings in the FBI,’ said Angel.

  ‘Hence Ross.’

  ‘Well, Ross would have been involved just because of Parker, but, yeah, the feds have expressed an interest,’ said Walsh. ‘We also have the Justice Department pulling up a chair because of Engel, the war criminal. He was on the staff at Lubsko, and two Lubsko hits in the same state has set lights flashing at the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section.’

  ‘And you already had enough to be getting along with,’ said Angel. ‘Like not finding this Oran Wilde kid.’

  ‘Yeah, thanks for reminding me.’

  ‘It’s gone pretty quiet around him.’

  ‘Yeah.’

  ‘Clever for a teenager.’

  ‘Yeah.’

  ‘In fact, cleverest teenager I’ve ever heard of. Kid is practically a criminal mastermind.’

  ‘Yeah.’

  ‘Unless he isn’t.’

  ‘Yeah. You done?’

  ‘Yeah.’

  ‘Good.’

  ‘So you think Steiger killed Perlman as well?’ asked Louis.

  Walsh shifted in his seat.

  ‘We’re running Steiger’s IDs through Homeland Security to see if anything pings on air travel, because that’s the only way I can see him doing both. We know when Perlman arrived in Maine from the toll cameras on I-95 and a food receipt in his car from the Starbucks at the Kennebunk service plaza. Steiger could have put him in the water, then taken a flight back to Florida in time to kill the Tedescos before bouncing back up to murder Ruth Winter, but why not kill Winter along with Perlman and then head south to take care of the Tedescos? We also have Steiger’s car driving all the way from Florida to Maine, just like Perlman did earlier, which is major miles on the clock. Perlman was afraid to fly. Steiger probably just chose not to, given how he looked. A man like him would be memorable for all the wrong reasons, and that’s bad news in his line of work.’

 

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