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The killing kind, p.22
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       The Killing Kind, p.22

           John Connolly
 

  The paper was made not from wood but from linen and cotton rags beaten in water into a smooth pulp. Faulkner would dip a rectangular tray into the pulp and take up about one inch of the substance, draining it through a wire mesh in the base of the tray. Gently shaking the tray caused the matted fibers in the liquid to interlock. The sheet of partially solidified pulp was then squeezed in a press before being dipped in animal gelatin to size it, thereby enabling it to hold ink. The paper was bound in folios of six to minimize the buildup of thread on the book’s spine.

  The illustrations in Faulkner’s Apocalypses were drawn largely from earlier artists, and remain consistent throughout. (All twelve are in the private ownership of one individual, and I was permitted to examine them at length.) Thus, the earliest of the Apocalypses is inspired by Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528), the second by medieval manuscripts, the third by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553) and so on, with the final extant book featuring six illustrations based on the work of Frans Masereel (1889–1972), whose Apocalypse cycle drew on images from World War II. According to those who had dealings with him, it appears that Faulkner was attracted to apocalyptic imagery because of its connotations of judgment, not because he believed it foretold a Second Coming or a final reckoning. For Faulkner, the reckoning had already begun; judgment and damnation were an ongoing process.

  Faulkner’s Apocalypses were created strictly for wealthy collectors, and the sale of them is believed to have provided much of the seed funding for Faulkner’s community. No further versions made by Faulkner’s hand have appeared since the date of the foundation of the Eagle Lake community.

  16

  LOUIS DROPPED ME AT MY HOUSE before heading for the Black Point Inn. I checked in with Gordon Buntz to make sure Rachel was okay, and a quick call to Angel confirmed that nothing out of the ordinary had occurred at the Merciers’, with the exception of the arrival of the lawyer Warren Ober and his wife. He had also spotted four different types of tern and two plovers. I arranged to meet up with both Angel and Louis later that night.

  I had been checking my messages pretty regularly while in Boston and New York, but there were two new ones since that morning. The first was from Arthur Franklin, asking if the information his pornographer client, Harvey Ragle, had proffered was proving useful. In the background, I could hear Ragle’s whining voice: “I’m a dead man. You tell him that. I’m a dead man.” I didn’t bother to return the call.

  The second message came from ATF agent Norman Boone. Ellis Howard, the deputy chief over in the Portland PD, once told me that Boone ruled the ATF like a king, but with none of the associated charm. He had left his home and cell-phone numbers. I got him at home.

  “It’s Charlie Parker. How can I help you, Agent Boone?”

  “Why, thank you for returning my call, Mr. Parker. It’s only been . . .” At the other end of the line, I could imagine him ostentatiously checking his watch. “Four hours.”

  “I was out of town.”

  “You mind telling me where?”

  “Why, did we have a date?”

  Boone sighed dramatically. “Talk to me now, Mr. Parker, or talk to me tomorrow at One City Center. I should warn you that I’m a busy man, and my patience is likely to be more strained by tomorrow morning.”

  “I was in Boston, visiting an old friend.”

  “An old friend, as I understand it, who ended up with a hole in his head halfway through a performance of Cleopatra.”

  “I’m sure he knew how it ended. She dies, in case you hadn’t heard.”

  He ignored me. “Was your visit connected in any way to Lester Bargus?”

  I didn’t pause for a second, although the question had thrown me.

  “Not directly.”

  “But you visited Mr. Bargus shortly before you left town?”

  Damn.

  “Lester and I go way back.”

  “Then you’ll be heartbroken to hear that he is no longer with us.”

  “ ‘Heartbroken’ maybe isn’t the word. And the ATF’s interest in all this is . . . ?”

  “Mr. Bargus made a little money selling spiders and giant roaches and a lot of money selling automatic weapons and other assorted firearms to the kind of people who have swastikas on their crockery. It was natural that he would come to our attention. My question is, Why did he come to your attention?”

  “I was looking for somebody. I thought Lester might have known where he was. Is this an interrogation, Agent Boone?”

  “It’s a conversation, Mr. Parker. If we did it tomorrow, face-to-face, then it would be an interrogation.”

  Even with a telephone line separating us, I had to admit that Boone was good. He was closing in on me, leaving me with almost no room to turn. I was not going to tell him about Grace Peltier, because Grace would bring me on to Jack Mercier, and possibly the Fellowship, and the last thing I wanted was the ATF going Waco on the Fellowship. Instead, I decided to give him Harvey Ragle.

  “All I do know is that a lawyer named Arthur Franklin called me and asked me to speak to his client.”

  “Who’s his client?”

  “Harvey Ragle. He makes porn movies, with bugs in them. Al Z’s people used to distribute some of them.”

  It was Boone’s turn to be thrown. “Bugs? The hell are you talking about?”

  “Women in their underwear squashing bugs,” I explained, as if to a child. “He also does geriatric porn, obesity, and little people. He’s an artist.”

  “Nice types you meet in your line of work.”

  “You make a pleasant change from the norm, Agent Boone. It seems that an individual with an affinity for bugs wants to kill Harvey Ragle for making his sicko porn movies. Lester Bargus had supplied the bugs and also seemed to know something about him, so I agreed to approach him on behalf of Ragle.”

  The improbability of it was breathtaking. I could feel Boone wondering just how far he was being taken for a ride.

  “And who is this mysterious herpetologist?”

  Herpetologist. Agent Boone was obviously a Scrabble fan.

  “He calls himself Mr. Pudd, and I think that strictly speaking he may be an arachnologist, not a herpetologist. He likes spiders. I think he’s the man who killed Al Z.”

  “And you approached Lester Bargus in the hope of finding this man?”

  “Yes.”

  “But you got nowhere.”

  “Lester had a lot of anger in him.”

  “Well, he’s a lot calmer now.”

  “If you had him under surveillance, then you already know what passed between us,” I said. “Which means there’s something else that you want from me.”

  After some hesitation, Boone went on to explain how a man traveling under the name of Clay Daemon had walked into Lester’s store, demanded details of an individual in a photograph, and then shot Lester and his assistant dead.

  “I’d like you to take a look at the photograph,” he said.

  “He left it?”

  “We figure he’s got more than one copy. Hired killers tend to be pretty professional that way.”

  “You want me to come in? It could be tomorrow.”

  “How about now?”

  “Look, Agent Boone, I need a shower, a shave, and sleep. I’ve told you all I can. I want to help, but give me a break.”

  Boone relented slightly. “You got E-mail?”

  “Yes, and a second line.”

  “Then stay on this one. I’ll be back.”

  The line went quiet, so I turned on my desktop and waited for Boone’s E-mail to arrive. When it did, it consisted of two pictures. One was the photograph of the abortion clinic shooting. I spotted Mr. Pudd immediately. The other was a still taken from the video camera in Lester Bargus’s store, showing the killer Clay Daemon. Seconds later, Boone was back on the line.

  “You recognize anyone in the first picture?”

  “The guy on the far right is Pudd, first name Elias. He came out to my house, asking why I was nosing around in his business.
I don’t know the man in the video still.”

  I could hear Boone clicking his tongue rhythmically at the other end of the line, even as I gave him the contact number I had for Ragle’s lawyer. “I’ll be talking to you again, Mr. Parker,” he said at last. “I have a feeling you know more than you’re telling.”

  “Everybody knows more than they’re telling, Agent Boone,” I replied. “Even you. I have a question.”

  “Uh-huh?”

  “Who’s the injured man in the first photograph?”

  “His name was David Beck. He worked for an abortion clinic in Minnesota, and he’s a dead man in that photograph. The killing forms part of the VAAPCON files.”

  VAAPCON was the code name for the joint FBI–ATF investigation into abortion-related violence, the Violence Against Abortion Providers Conspiracy. The ATF and the FBI have a poor working relationship; for a long time the FBI had resisted involving itself in investigating attacks on doctors and abortion clinics, arguing that it didn’t fall within their guidelines, which meant that the investigation of allegations of a conspiracy of violence was left in the hands of the ATF. That situation changed with the formation of VAAPCON and the enactment of new legislation empowering the FBI and the Justice Department to act against abortion-related violence. Yet tensions between the FBI and the ATF contributed to the comparative failure of VAAPCON; no evidence of a conspiracy was found, and agents took to dubbing the investigation CRAPCON, despite signs of growing links between right-wing militias and antiabortion extremists.

  “Did they ever find his killer?” I asked.

  “Not yet.”

  “Like they haven’t found his wife’s killer.”

  “What do you know about it?”

  “I know she had spiders in her mouth when she was found.”

  “And our friend Pudd is a spider lover.”

  “The same Pudd whose head is circled in this photograph.”

  “Do you know who he’s working for?”

  “Himself, I’d guess.” It wasn’t quite a lie. Pudd didn’t answer to Carter Paragon, and the Fellowship as the public knew it seemed too inconsequential to require his services.

  Boone didn’t speak for a time. His last words to me before he hung up were, “We’ll be in touch.”

  I didn’t doubt it.

  I sat in front of the computer screen, flicking between both images. I picked out a younger Alison Beck holding her dead husband, her face contorted with grief and his blood on her shirt, skirt, and hands. Then I looked into the small, hooded eyes of Mr. Pudd as he slipped away through the crowd. I wondered if he had fired the shots or merely orchestrated the killing. Either way, he was involved, and another small piece of the puzzle slipped into place. Somehow, Mercier had found Epstein and Beck, individuals who, for their own reasons, were prepared to assist him in his moves against the Fellowship. But why was Mercier so concerned about the Fellowship? Was it simply another example of his liberalism, or were there other, deeper motives?

  As it turned out, a possible answer to the question pulled up outside my door in a black Mercedes convertible thirty minutes later. Deborah Mercier, wearing a long black coat, stepped alone and unaided from the driver’s seat. Despite the encroaching darkness she wore shades. Her hair didn’t move in the breeze. It could have been hair spray, or an act of will. It could also have been that even the wind wasn’t going to screw around with Jack Mercier’s wife. I wondered what excuse she had come up with for leaving her guests back at the house; maybe she told them they needed milk.

  I opened the door as she reached the first step to the porch. “Take a wrong turn, Mrs. Mercier?” I asked.

  “One of us has,” she replied, “and I think it might be you.”

  “I never catch a break. I see those two roads diverging in a forest, and damn if I don’t take the one that ends at a cliff edge.”

  We stood about ten paces apart, eyeing each other up like a pair of mismatched gunfighters. Deborah Mercier couldn’t have looked more like a WASP if her coat had been striped with yellow and her eyes had been on the sides of her head. She removed her glasses and those pale blue eyes held all the warmth of the Arctic Sea, the pupils tiny and receding like the bodies of drowned sailors sinking into their depths.

  “Would you like to come inside?” I asked. I turned away and heard her footsteps on the wood behind me. They stopped before they reached the door. I looked back at her and saw her nostrils twitch a little in mild disgust as her gaze passed over the interior of my home.

  “If you’re waiting for me to carry you over the threshold, I ought to tell you that I have a bad back and we might not make it.”

  Her nostrils twitched a little more and her eyes froze over entirely, trapping the pupils at the size of pinpoints. Then, carefully, the heels of her black pumps making a sound like the clicking of bones on the floorboards, she followed me into the house.

  I led her to the kitchen and offered her coffee. She declined, but I went ahead and started making a pot anyway. I watched as she opened her coat and sat down, revealing a tight black formal dress that ended above her knees. Her legs, like the rest of her, looked good for forty-something. In fact, she would have looked good for forty, and not bad for thirty-five. She removed a pack of cigarettes from her bag and lit up with a gold Dunhill lighter. She took a long drag on the cigarette, then blew a thin stream of smoke through her pursed lips.

  “Feel free to smoke,” I said.

  “If I was concerned, I’d have asked.”

  “If I was concerned, I’d make you put it out.”

  Her head turned a little to one side, and she smiled emptily. “So you think you can make people do what you want?”

  “I believe we may have that in common, Mrs. Mercier.”

  “It’s probably the only thing we do have in common, Mr. Parker.”

  “Here’s hoping,” I replied. I brought the coffee pot to the table and poured myself a cup.

  “On second thought, I will have some of that coffee,” she said.

  “Smells good, doesn’t it?”

  “Or maybe everything else in here smells so bad. You live alone?”

  “Just me and my ego.”

  “I’m sure the two of you are very happy together.”

  “Ecstatic.” I found a second cup and filled it, then took a carton of skimmed milk from the refrigerator and placed it between us.

  “I’m sorry, I don’t have any sugar.”

  She reached into her bag again and produced some Sweet’n Low. She added it to the coffee and stirred it before tasting it carefully. Since she didn’t fall to the floor clutching her throat and gasping, I figured it was probably okay. She didn’t say anything for a time; she just sipped and smoked.

  “Your house needs a woman’s touch,” she said at last, as she took another drag on her cigarette. She held in the smoke until I thought it would come out her ears.

  “Why, you do cleaning as well?”

  She didn’t reply. Instead, she finally released the smoke and dropped the remains of the cigarette into the coffee. Classy. She didn’t learn that at the Madeira School for Girls.

  “I hear you were married once.”

  “That’s right, I was.”

  “And you had a child, a little girl.”

  “Jennifer,” I replied, keeping my tone as neutral as possible.

  “And now your wife and child are dead. Somebody killed them, and then you killed him.”

  I didn’t respond. My silence didn’t appear to concern Mrs. Mercier.

  “That must have been very hard for you,” she continued. There was no trace of sympathy in her voice but her eyes were briefly thawed by what might have been amusement.

  “Yes, it was.”

  “But you see, Mr. Parker, I still have a marriage, and I still have a child. I don’t like the fact that my husband has hired you, against my wishes, to investigate the death of a girl who has nothing to do with our lives. It is disturbing my relationship with my husband, and it is inter
fering with the preparations for my daughter’s wedding. I want it to stop.”

  I noticed the emphasis on “my” daughter but didn’t comment. For the final time, she took something from her handbag. It was a check.

  “I know how much my husband paid you,” she said, passing the folded check across the table toward me, her red nails like eagle’s talons dipped in a rabbit’s blood. “I’ll pay you the same amount to walk away.”

  She withdrew her hand. The check lay on the table between us, looking lonely and unloved.

  “I don’t believe you’re so wealthy that you can afford to turn down that kind of money, Mr. Parker. You were willing to take it from my husband, so you should have no difficulty in accepting it from me.”

  I made no move for the check. Instead, I poured myself some fresh coffee. I didn’t offer any to Mrs. Mercier. I guessed from the floating cigarette butt that she’d had enough.

  “There’s a difference. Your husband was buying my time, and whatever expertise I could offer. You, on the other hand, are trying to buy me.”

  “Really? Then, under the circumstances, my offer is particularly generous.”

  I smiled. She smiled back. From a distance—a really long distance—we might have looked like we were having a good time. It seemed like the right moment to put an end to that misapprehension.

  “When did you find out that Grace was your husband’s child?” I asked. I experienced a brief surge of satisfaction as her face paled, and her head rocked back a little as if she’d been slapped.

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she replied, but she didn’t sound convincing.

  “For a start, there’s the breakup of your husband’s partnership with Curtis Peltier seven months before her birth and his willingness to spend a significant amount of money employing me to investigate the circumstances of her death. Then, of course, there’s the resemblance. It must have been like a kick in the guts every time you saw her, Mrs. Mercier.”

  She stood up and grabbed the check from the table. “You’re a mean bastard,” she hissed.

  “That might hurt a little more if it came from somebody else, Mrs. Mercier, but not from you.” I reached forward suddenly and clamped her wrist tightly in my right hand. For the first time, she looked scared.

 
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