Every dead thing, p.22
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       Every Dead Thing, p.22

           John Connolly
 

  I took my pocketknife and sliced through the plastic by the child’s right hand. Even through the mask the stench grew stronger and there was a hiss of escaping gas.

  I took the blunt edge of the knife and pried at the boy’s fist. The skin broke and a nail came loose.

  “Hold the light steady, dammit,” I hissed. I could see something small and blue in the boy’s grip. I pried again, heedless now of the damage I was causing. I had to know. I had to find the answer to what had happened here. Eventually, the object came loose and fell to the floor. I bent to pick it up and examined it by the light of my own flashlight. It was a shard of blue china.

  Angel had begun scanning the far corners of the room with his flashlight as I examined the shard and then had left the room. As I clutched the piece of china, I heard the sound of his drill and then his voice calling us from above. We went back up the stairs and found him in a small room, little bigger than a closet, almost directly above the room where the boy lay. Three linked videocassette recorders were stacked one above the other on some shelving and a thin cable snaked through a hole at the base of the wall and disappeared into the floor of the warehouse. On one of the VCRs the seconds ticked off inexorably until Angel stilled them.

  “In the corner of that cellar there’s a tiny hole, not much bigger than my fingernail but big enough to take a fish-eye and a motion sensor,” he said. “An ordinary Joe couldn’t have found them unless he knew they were there and he knew where to look. I reckon the wire follows the ventilation system. Someone wanted to record what went on in that room anytime it was entered.”

  Someone, but not whoever went to work on the children in that room. A regular video camera set up in the room would give better-quality pictures. There was no reason for concealment unless the viewer didn’t want to be noticed.

  There was no monitor in the room, so whoever was responsible either wanted to watch the tapes in the comfort of his or her own home or wanted to be sure that whoever picked them up couldn’t sample what was on them before handing them over. I knew a lot of people who could put together a deal like that, and so did Angel, but I had one in particular in mind: Pili Pilar.

  We went back down to the basement. I took the folding spade from Angel’s bag and began to break the earth. It didn’t take long for me to hit something soft. I dug wider and then began to scrape away the earth, Angel beside me using a small garden trowel to help. A film of plastic was revealed, and through it, barely discernible, I could see brown, wrinkled skin. We scraped away the rest of the dirt until the child’s body was visible, curled in a fetal position with its head hidden by its left arm. Even in decay, we could see the fingers had been broken, although I couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl without moving it.

  Angel looked slowly around the floor of the cellar and I knew what he was thinking. It was probably worse than that. This child had been buried barely six inches beneath the ground, which meant there were probably others below. This room had been in use for a long time.

  Louis slipped into the room, his finger pressed to his lips. He glanced once at the child, then he pointed slowly above us with his right hand. We stayed still, hardly breathing, and I heard the sound of soft steps on the stairs. Angel retreated into the shadows beside the shelves, clicking off the flashlight as he went. Louis was already gone when I stood up. I moved to take up a position at the other side of the door and was reaching for my gun when a flashlight beam hit me in the face. The voice of Bobby Sciorra simply said, “Don’t,” and I withdrew my hand slowly.

  He had moved quickly, surprisingly so. He emerged from the shadows, the ugly Five-seveN in his right hand and his flashlight focused on me as he neared the open gate. He stopped about ten feet away from me and I could see his teeth shining as he smiled.

  “Dead man,” he said. “Dead as the kids in the room behind you. I was gonna kill you back in that house but the old man wanted you left alive, ’less there was no other option. I just ran out of options.”

  “Still doing Ferrera’s dirty work,” I replied. “Even you should have scruples about this.”

  “We all have our weaknesses.” He shrugged. “Sonny’s is short-eyes. He likes looking, you know. Can’t do nothing else with his limp dick. He’s a sick fuck but his daddy loves him and now his daddy wants the mess cleaned up.”

  And so it was Sonny Ferrera who had recorded the death agonies of these children, who had watched while Hyams and Adelaide Modine tortured them to death, their screams echoing around the walls as the silent unblinking eye of the camera took it all in to spew out again into his living room. He must have known who the killers were, must have watched them kill again and again, yet he did nothing because he liked what he was seeing and didn’t want it to end.

  “How did the old man find out?” I asked, but I already knew the answer. I knew now what had been in the car with Pili when he crashed, or thought I knew. It turned out that I was as wrong in that as I had been in so much else.

  There was a scuffle of movement in the corner of the alcove and Sciorra reacted with the swiftness of a cat. The flashlight beam widened and he stepped back, the gun moving minutely from me to the corner.

  The beam caught the bowed head of Angel. He glanced up into Bobby Sciorra’s eyes and smiled. Sciorra looked puzzled for a moment and then his mouth opened in slow-dawning realization. He was already turning to try to locate Louis when the darkness seemed to come alive around him and his eyes widened as he realized, too late, that death had come for him too.

  Louis’s skin gleamed in the light and his eyes were white as his left hand clamped tight over Sciorra’s jaw. Sciorra seemed to tighten and spasm, his eyes huge with pain and fear. He rose up on his toes and his arms stretched wide at either side. He shook hard once, twice, then the air seemed to leave him and his arms and body sagged, yet his head remained rigid, his eyes wide and staring. Louis pulled the long, thin blade from the back of Sciorra’s head and pushed him forward, and he fell to the ground at my feet, small shudders running through his body until they stopped entirely.

  Angel emerged from the darkness of the room behind me.

  “I always hated that fucking spook,” he said, looking at the small hole at the base of Sciorra’s skull.

  “Yeah,” said Louis. “I like him a whole lot better now.” He looked at me. “What do I do with him?”

  “Leave him. Give me his car keys.”

  Louis frisked Sciorra’s body and tossed me the keys.

  “He’s a made guy. Is that gonna be a problem?”

  “I don’t know. Let me handle it. Stay close to here. At some point, I’m going to call Cole. When you hear the sirens, disappear.”

  Angel bent down and gingerly lifted the FN from the ground using the end of a screwdriver.

  “We gonna leave this here?” he asked. “That’s some gun, what you say is true.”

  “It stays,” I said. If I was right, Bobby Sciorra’s gun was the link between Ollie Watts, Connell Hyams, and the Ferrera family, the link between a set of child killings that spanned thirty years and a mob dynasty that was more than twice as old again.

  I stepped over Sciorra’s body and ran from the warehouse. His black Chevy was pulled into the yard, its trunk facing the warehouse, and the gates had been closed behind it. It looked a lot like the car that had taken out Fat Ollie Watts’s killer. I reopened the gates and drove away from the Morelli warehouse and Queens itself. Queens, a mass of warehouses and cemeteries.

  And sometimes both together.

  28

  I WAS CLOSE now, close to an end, a termination of sorts. I was about to witness the cessation of something that had been happening for over three decades and that had claimed enough young lives to fill the catacombs of an abandoned warehouse. But no matter what the resolution might be, it was insufficient to explain what had taken place. There would be an ending. There would be a closure. There would be no solution.

  I wondered how many times each year Hyams had traveled up to the city in hi
s neat lawyer’s clothes, clutching an expensive yet understated overnight bag, in order to tear another child apart. As he boarded the train in front of the ticket collector, or smiled at the girl behind the airline check-in desk, or passed the woman at the toll booth in his Cadillac, the interior redolent with the scent of leather, had there been anything in his face that might have caused them to pause, to reconsider their assessment of this polite, reserved man with his trim gray hair and his conservative suit?

  And I wondered also at the identity of the woman who had burned to death in Haven all those years ago, for it was not Adelaide Modine.

  I remembered Hyams telling me that he had returned to Haven the day before the body was found. It was not difficult to put together a chain of events: the panicked call from Adelaide Modine; the selection of a suitable victim from the files of Doc Hyams; the alteration of the dental files to match the body; the planting of the jewelry and purse beside the corpse; and the flickering of the first flames, the smell like roasting pork, as the body began to burn.

  And then she disappeared back into the darkness to hibernate, to find time to reinvent herself so the killing could continue. Adelaide Modine was like a dark spider squatting in the corner of a web, rushing out when a victim wandered into her sphere of influence and cocooning it in plastic. She had moved unhindered through thirty long years, presenting one face to the world and revealing another to the children. She was a figure glimpsed only by the young, a bogeyman, the creature waiting in the darkness when all the world was asleep.

  I believed I could see her face now. I believed also that I understood why Sonny Ferrera had been hunted by his own father, why I had been tracked to Haven by Bobby Sciorra, why Fat Ollie Watts had fled in fear of his life and died in the roar of a gun in a street soaked in late summer sunlight.

  The streetlights flashed by like pistol flares. There was dirt beneath my fingernails as I clutched the wheel and I had an almost irresistible desire to pull into a gas station and wash them clean, to take a wire brush and to scrub my skin until it bled, scraping away all the layers of filth and death that seemed to have adhered to me in the past twenty-four hours. I could taste bile in my mouth and I swallowed back hard, focusing on the road ahead, on the lights of the car in front, and, just once or twice, on the careless dusting of stars in the black skies above.

  When I arrived at the Ferrera house, the gates were open, and there was no sign of the feds who had watched the house earlier in the week. I drove Bobby Sciorra’s car up the driveway and parked in the shadows beneath some trees. My shoulder ached badly now and bouts of nauseous sweating racked my body.

  The front door of the house was ajar and I could see men moving inside. Beneath one of the front windows a dark-suited figure sat slouched with his head in his hands, his automatic lying discarded beside him. I was almost on top of him when he saw me.

  “You ain’t Bobby,” he said.

  “Bobby’s dead.”

  He nodded to himself, as if this was no more than he expected. Then he stood up, frisked me, and took my gun. Inside the house, armed men stood in corners talking in hushed tones. The place had a funereal air, a sense of barely suppressed shock. I followed him to the old man’s study. He left me to open the door for myself, standing back to watch me as I did so.

  There was blood and gray matter on the floor and a dark, black-red stain on the thick Persian carpet. There was blood also on the tan pants of the old man as he cradled his son’s head in his lap. His left hand, its fingers red, toyed with Sonny’s lank, thinning hair. A gun hung limply from the right, its barrel pointing at the floor. Sonny’s eyes were open and in his dark pupils I could see the light of a lamp reflected.

  I guessed that he had shot Sonny as he held his head in his lap, as his son knelt beside him pleading for…what? For help, for a reprieve, for forgiveness? Sonny, with his mad-dog eyes, dressed in a cheap cream suit and an open-necked shirt, gaudy with gold even in death. The old man’s face was stern and unyielding, but when he turned to look at me, his eyes were huge with guilt and despair, the eyes of a man who has killed himself along with his son.

  “Get out,” said the old man, softly but distinctly, but he wasn’t looking at me now. A slight breeze blew in through the open French windows from the garden beyond, bringing with it some petals and leaves and the sure knowledge of the end of things. A figure had appeared, one of his own men, an older soldier whose face I recognized but whose name I did not know. The old man raised the gun and pointed it at him, his hand shaking now.

  “Get out!” he roared, and this time the soldier moved, pulling the windows closed instinctively as he departed. The breeze simply blew them open again and the night air began to make the room its own. Ferrera kept the gun trained there for a few seconds longer and then it wavered and fell. His left hand, stilled by the appearance of his man, returned to its methodical stroking of his dead son’s hair with the soothing, insane monotony of a caged animal stalking its pen.

  “He’s my son,” he said, staring into a past that was and a future that might have been. “He’s my son but there’s something wrong with him. He’s sick. He’s bad in the head, bad inside.”

  There was nothing for me to say. I stayed silent.

  “Why are you here?” he said. “It’s over now. My son is dead.”

  “A lot of people are dead. The children…” For an instant the old man winced. “Ollie Watts…”

  He shook his head slowly, his eyes unblinking. “Fucking Ollie Watts. He shouldn’t have run. When he ran, we knew. Sonny knew.”

  “What did you know?”

  I think that if I had entered the room only minutes later the old man would have had me killed instantly, or would have killed me himself. Instead, he seemed to seek some sort of release through me. He would confess to me, unburden himself to me, and that would be the last time he would bring himself to speak it aloud.

  “That he’d looked in the car. He shouldn’t have looked. He shoulda just walked away.”

  “What did he see? What did he find in the car? Videos? Pictures?”

  The old man’s eyes closed tightly, but he couldn’t hide from what he had seen. Tears squeezed themselves from wrinkled corners and ran down the sides of his cheeks. His mouth formed silent words. No. No. More. Worse. When he opened his eyes again, he was dead inside. “Tapes. And a child. There was a child in the trunk of the car. My boy, my Sonny, he killed a child.”

  He turned to look at me again but this time his face was moving, twitching almost, as if his head could not contain the enormity of what he had seen. This man, who had killed and tortured and who had ordered others to kill and torture in his name, had found in his own son a darkness that was beyond naming, a lightless place where slain children lay, the black heart of every dead thing.

  Watching had no longer been enough for Sonny. He had seen the power these people had, the pleasure they took in tearing the life slowly from the children, and wanted to experience it too.

  “I told Bobby to bring him to me but he ran, ran as soon as he heard about Pili.” His face hardened. “Then I told Bobby to kill them all, all the rest, every one of them.” And then he seemed to be talking to Bobby Sciorra again, his face red with fury. “Destroy the tapes. Find the kids, find where they are, and then put them somewhere they’ll never be found. Dump them at the bottom of the fucking ocean if you can. I want it like it never happened. It never happened.” Then he seemed to remember where he was and what he had done, at least for a time, and his hand returned to its stroking.

  “And then you came along, trailing the girl, asking questions. How could the girl know? I let you go after her, to get you away from here, to get you away from Sonny.”

  But Sonny had come after me through his hired killers and they had failed. Their failure forced his father to act. If the woman lived and was forced to testify, Sonny would be cornered again. And so Sciorra had been dispatched, and the woman had died.

  “But why did Sciorra kill Hyams?”

/>   “What?”

  “Sciorra killed a lawyer in Virginia, a man who was trying to kill me. Why?”

  For a moment, Ferrera’s eyes grew wary and the gun rose. “You wearing a wire?” I shook my head wearily and painfully ripped open the front of my shirt. The gun fell again.

  “He recognized him from the tapes. That’s how he found you, in the old house. Bobby’s driving through the town and suddenly he sees this guy driving in the opposite direction and it’s the guy in the video, the guy who…” He stopped again and rolled his tongue in his mouth, as if to generate enough saliva to keep talking. “All the traces had to be wiped out, all of them.”

  “But not me?”

  “Maybe he should’ve killed you too, when he had the chance, no matter what your cop friends would have done.”

  “He should have,” I said. “He’s dead now.”

  Ferrera blinked hard.

  “Did you kill him?”

  “Yes.”

  “Bobby was a made guy. You know what that means?”

  “You know what your son did?”

  He was silent then, as the enormity of his son’s crime swept over him once more, but when he spoke again there was a barely suppressed fury in his voice and I knew that my time with him was drawing to a close.

  “Who are you to judge my son?” he began. “You think because you lost a kid that you’re the patron saint of dead children. Fuck. You. I’ve buried two of my sons and now, now I’ve killed the last of them. You don’t judge me. You don’t judge my son.” The gun rose again and pointed at my head.

  “It’s all over,” he said.

  “No. Who else was on the tapes?”

  His eyes flickered. The mention of the tapes was like a hard slap to him.

  “A woman. I told Bobby to find her and kill her too.”

  “And did he?”

  “He’s dead.”

 

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