Every dead thing, p.23
Every Dead Thing, p.23John Connolly
“Do you have the tapes?”
“They’re gone, all burned.”
He stopped, as he remembered again where he was, as if the questions had briefly taken him away from the reality of what he had done and of the responsibility he bore for his son, for his crimes, for his death.
“Get out,” he said. “If I ever see you again, you’re a dead man.”
No one stood in my way as I left. My gun was on a small table by the front door and I still had the keys to Bobby Sciorra’s car. As I drove away from the house it looked silent and peaceful in the rearview, as if nothing had ever happened.
E ACH MORNING after the deaths of Jennifer and Susan, I would wake from my strange, disordered dreams, and for an instant, it seemed that they would still be near me, my wife sleeping softly by my side, my child surrounded by her toys in a room nearby. For a moment they still lived and I experienced their deaths as a fresh loss with each waking, so that I was unsure whether I was a man waking from a dream of death or a dreamer entering a world of loss, a man dreaming of unhappiness or a man waking to grief.
And amid all, there was the constant aching regret that I had never really known Susan until she was gone and that I loved a shadow in death as in life.
The woman and the child were dead, another woman and child in a cycle of violence and dissolution that seemed unbreakable. I was grieving for a young woman and a boy whom I had never encountered when they were alive, about whom I knew almost nothing, and through them I grieved for my own wife and child.
The gates of the Barton estate stood open; either someone had entered and planned to leave quickly or someone had already gone. There were no other cars in sight as I parked on the gravel drive and walked toward the house. Light was visible through the glass above the front door. I rang the bell twice but there was no answer, so I moved to a window and peered in.
The door into the hallway was open, and in the gap I could see a woman’s legs, one foot bare, the other with a black shoe still clinging to its toes. The legs were bare to the tops of the thighs, where the end of a black dress still covered her buttocks. The rest of her body was obscured. I shattered the glass with the butt of my gun, half expecting to hear an alarm, but there was only the sound of the glass tinkling on the floor inside.
I reached in carefully to open the latch and climbed through the window. The room was illuminated by the hallway lights. I could feel my blood pounding through my veins, could hear it in my ears as I opened the door wider, sensed it tingling at the tips of my fingers as I stepped into the hall and looked at the body of the woman.
Blue veins marbled the skin on her legs, and the flesh at the thighs was dimpled and slightly flabby. Her face had been pounded in, and strands of gray hair adhered to the torn flesh. Her eyes were still open and her mouth was dark with blood. Only the stumps of teeth remained within; she was almost unrecognizable. There was only the gold, emerald-studded necklace, the deep red nail varnish, and the simple yet expensive de la Renta dress to suggest the body was that of Isobel Barton. I touched the skin at her neck. There was no pulse—I hardly expected any—but she was still warm.
I stepped into the study where we had first met and compared the shard of china I had taken from Evan Baines’s hand with the single blue dog on the mantelpiece. The pattern matched. I imagined Evan had died quickly when the damage was discovered, the victim of a fit of rage at the loss of one of Adelaide Modine’s family heirlooms.
From the kitchen down the hall came a series of uneven clicking sounds and I could smell a faint odor of burning, like a pot left on a stove for too long. Above it, almost unnoticed until now, was the faint hint of gas. No light showed around the edge of the closed door as I approached, although the acrid smell grew more definite, more intense, and the odor of gas was stronger now. I opened the door carefully and stepped back and to one side. My finger rested gently on the trigger, but even as I noticed the pressure, I was aware that the gun was useless if there was gas leaking.
There was no movement from within but the smell was very strong now. The strange, irregular clicking was loud, with a low drone above it. I took a deep breath and flung myself into the room, my useless gun attempting to draw a bead on anything that moved.
The kitchen was empty. The only illumination came from the windows, the hall, and the three large, industrial microwave ovens side by side in front of me. Through their glass doors I could see blue light dance over a range of metal objects inside: pots, knives, forks, pans, all were alive with tiny flickers of silver-blue lightning. The stench of gas made my head swim as the tempo of the clicks increased. I ran. I had the front door open when there was a dull whump from the kitchen, followed by a second, louder bang, and then I was flying through the air as the force of the explosion hurled me to the gravel. There was the sound of glass breaking and the lawn was set aglow as the house burst into flames behind me. As I stumbled toward my car I could feel the heat and see the dancing fire reflected in the windows.
At the gate to the Barton estate, a pair of red brake lights glowed briefly and then a car turned into the road. Adelaide Modine was covering her tracks before disappearing into the shadows once again. The house was ablaze, the flames escaping to scale the outside walls like ardent lovers, as I pulled into the road and followed the rapidly receding lights.
She drove fast down the winding Todt Hill Road and in the silence of the night I could hear the shriek of her brakes as she negotiated the bends. I took her at Ocean Terrace, as she headed for the Staten Island Expressway. To the left, a steep slope dense with trees fell down to Sussex Avenue below. I gained on her, mounted the verge at Ocean and swung hard to the left, the weight of the Chevy forcing the BMW closer and closer to the verge, the tinted windows revealing nothing of the driver within. Ahead of me, I saw Todt Hill Road curve viciously to the right, and I pulled away to stay with the curve just as the BMW’s front wheels left the road and the car plunged down the hill.
The BMW rolled on garbage and scree, striking two trees before coming to a stop halfway down the leaf-strewn slope, its progress arrested by the dark mass of a young beech. The roots of the tree were partially yanked from the ground and it arched backward, its branches eventually coming to rest unsteadily against the trunk of another tree farther down the slope.
I pulled my car onto the verge, its headlights still on, and ran down the slope, my feet slipping on the grass so that I was forced to steady myself with my good arm.
As I approached the BMW the driver’s door opened and the woman who was Adelaide Modine staggered out. A huge gash had opened in her forehead and her face was streaked with blood so that amid the woods and the leaves, in the bleak reflected light of the heads, she seemed a strange, feral being, her clothes inappropriate trappings to be shed as she returned to her ferocious natural state. She was hunched over slightly, clutching her chest where she had slammed into the steering column, but she straightened painfully as I approached.
Despite her pain, Isobel Barton’s eyes were alive with viciousness. Blood flowed from her mouth when she opened it and I saw her test something within with her tongue and then release a small bloodied tooth onto the ground. I could see the cunning in her face, as if, even now, she was seeking a means of escape.
There was evil still in her, a foulness that went far beyond the limited viciousness of a cornered beast. I think concepts of justice, of right, of recompense were beyond her. She lived in a world of pain and violence where the killing of children, their torture and mutilation, were like air and water to her. Without them, without the muffled cries and the futile, despairing twistings, existence had no meaning and would come to an end.
And she looked at me and seemed almost to smile. “Cunt,” she said, spitting the word out.
I wondered how much Ms. Christie had known or suspected before she died in that hallway. Not enough, obviously.
I was tempted to kill Adelaide Modine then. To kill her would be to stamp out one part of that terrible
I cocked the pistol. She didn’t blink. Instead, she laughed once and then grimaced at the pain. She was now curled over again, almost fetal near the ground. I could smell gasoline on the air as it flowed from the ruptured tank.
I wondered what Catherine Demeter had felt when she saw this woman in De Vries’s department store. Had she glimpsed her in a mirror, in the glass of a display case? Had she turned in disbelief, her stomach tightening as if in the grip of a fist? And when their eyes met, when she knew that this was the woman who had killed her sister, did she feel hatred, or anger, or simply fear, fear that this woman could turn on her as she had once turned on her sister? For a brief moment, had Catherine Demeter become a frightened child again?
Adelaide Modine might not have recognized her immediately, but she must have seen the recognition in the eyes of the other woman. Maybe it was that slight overbite that gave it away, or perhaps she looked into the face of Catherine Demeter and was instantly back in that dark cellar in Haven, killing her sister.
And then, when Catherine could not be found, she had set about finding a resolution to the problem. She had hired me on a pretext and had killed her own stepson, not only so that he could not give the lie to her story but as the first step in a process that would lead to the eventual death of Ms. Christie and the destruction of her home as she covered the traces of her existence.
Maybe Stephen Barton bore some blame for what happened, for only he could have provided a link between Sonny Ferrera, Connell Hyams, and his stepmother, when Hyams was seeking somewhere to take the children, a property owned by someone who wouldn’t ask too many questions. I doubt if Barton ever really knew what was taking place, and that lack of understanding killed him in the end.
And I wondered when Adelaide Modine had learned of the death of Hyams and realized that she was now alone, that the time had come to move on, leaving Ms. Christie as a decoy just as she had left an unknown woman to burn in her place in Virginia.
But how would I prove all this? The videos were gone. Sonny Ferrera was dead, Pilar was certainly dead. Hyams, Sciorra, Granger, Catherine Demeter, all gone. Who would remember a child killer from three decades ago? Who would recognize her in the woman before me? Would the word of Walt Tyler be enough? She had killed Christie, true, but even that might never be proved. Would there be enough forensic evidence in the wine cellars to prove her guilt?
Adelaide Modine, curled in a ball, unraveled like a spider that senses a shift in its web and sprang toward me, the nails of her right hand digging into my face, scratching for my eyes, while the left sought the gun. I struck her in the face with the heel of my hand, pushing her back simultaneously with my knee. She came at me again and I shot her, the bullet catching her above the right breast.
She stumbled back against the car, supporting herself on the open door, her hand clutching at the wound in her chest.
And she smiled.
“I know you,” she said, forcing the words out through the pain. “I know who you are.”
Behind her, the tree shifted slightly as the weight of the car forced its roots up from the ground. The big BMW moved forward a little. Adelaide Modine swayed before me, blood pouring now from the wound in her chest. There was something bright in her eyes, something that made my stomach tighten.
“Who told you?”
“I know,” she said, and smiled again. “I know who killed your wife and child.”
I moved toward her as she tried to speak again but her words were swallowed by the sound of grinding metal from the car as the tree finally gave way. The BMW shifted on the slope and then plummeted down the hill. As it rolled, impacting on trees and stones, the rending metal sparked and the car burst into flame. And as I watched, I realized that it was always meant to end this way.
Adelaide Modine’s world exploded into yellow flame as the gasoline around her ignited; and then she was enveloped, her head back and her mouth wide for an instant before she fell, striking feebly at the flames as she toppled, burning, into the darkness. The car was blazing at the bottom of the slope, thick black smoke ascending in plumes into the air. I watched it from the road, the heat searing my face. Farther down the hill, in the wooded dark, a smaller pyre burned.
I SAT in the same police interview room with the same wooden table with the same wooden heart carved into its surface. My arm was freshly bandaged and I had showered and shaved for the first time in over two days. I had even caught a few hours’ sleep stretched across three chairs. Despite Agent Ross’s best effort, I was not in a jail cell. I had been interrogated comprehensively, first by Walter and another detective, then by Walter and the assistant chief, and finally, by Ross and one of his agents, with Walter in attendance to make sure they didn’t beat me to death out of frustration.
Once or twice I thought I caught glimpses of Philip Kooper striding around outside, like a corpse that had exhumed itself to sue the undertaker. I guessed that the trust’s public profile was about to take a terminal hammering.
I told the cops nearly everything. I told them about Sciorra, about Hyams, about Adelaide Modine, about Sonny Ferrera. I did not tell them that I had become involved in the case at Walter Cole’s instigation. The other gaps in my story I left them to fill in for themselves. I told them simply that I had taken some leaps of the imagination. Ross almost had to be forcibly restrained at that point.
Now there was only Walter and me and a pair of coffee cups.
“Have you been down there?” I asked eventually, breaking the silence.
Walter nodded. “Briefly. I didn’t stay.”
“Eight so far, but they’re still digging.”
And they would continue digging, not just there but in scattered locations across the state and maybe even farther afield. Adelaide Modine and Connell Hyams had been free to kill for thirty years. The Morelli warehouse had been rented for only a portion of that time, which meant that there were probably other warehouses, other deserted basements, old garages, and disused lots that contained the remains of lost children.
“How long had you suspected?” I asked.
He seemed to think I was asking about something else, maybe a dead man in the toilet of a bus station, because he started and turned to me. “Suspected what?”
“That someone in the Barton household was involved in the Baines disappearance?”
He almost relaxed. Almost. “Whoever took him had to know the grounds, the house.”
“Assuming he was taken at the house and hadn’t wandered.”
“Assuming that, yes.”
“And you sent me to find out.”
“I sent you.”
I felt culpable for Catherine Demeter’s death, not only because of my failure to find her alive but because, unwittingly, I might have brought Modine and Hyams to her.
“I may have led them to Catherine Demeter,” I said to Walter after a while. “I told Ms. Christie I was going to Virginia to follow a lead. It might have been enough to give her away.”
Walter shook his head. “She hired you as insurance. She must have alerted Hyams as soon as she was seen. He was probably on the lookout for her already. If she didn’t turn up in Haven, then they were relying on you to find her. As soon as you did, I think you’d both have been killed.”
I had a vision of Catherine Demeter’s body slumped in the basement of the Dane house, her head surrounded by a circle of blood. And I saw Evan Baines wrapped in plastic, and the decayed body of a child half covered in earth, and the other corpses still to
And I saw my own wife, my own child in all of them.
“You could have sent someone else,” I said.
“No, only you. If Evan Baines’s killer was there, I knew you’d find out. I knew you’d find out because you’re a killer yourself.”
The word hung in the air for a moment, then tore a rift between us, like a knife cutting through our past together. Walter turned away.
I stayed silent for a time and then, as if he had never spoken, I said: “She told me that she knew who killed Jennifer and Susan.”
He seemed almost grateful for the break in the silence. “She couldn’t have known. She was a sick, evil woman and that was her way of trying to torture you after she died.”
“No, she knew. She knew who I was before she died, but I don’t think she knew when she hired me. She would have suspected something. She wouldn’t have taken the chance.”
“You’re wrong,” he said. “Let it go.”
I didn’t say anything more but I knew that, somehow, the dark worlds of Adelaide Modine and the Traveling Man had come together.
“I’m considering retirement,” said Cole. “I don’t want to look at death anymore. I’ve been reading Sir Thomas Browne. You ever read Thomas Browne?”
“Christian Morals: ‘Behold not Death’s Heads til thou doest not see them, nor look upon mortifying objects til thou overlook’st them.’ ” His back was to me but I could see his face reflected in the window and his eyes seemed far away. “I’ve spent too long looking at death. I don’t want to force myself to look any longer.”
He sipped his coffee. “You should go away from here, do something to put your ghosts behind you. You’re no longer what you once were, but maybe you can still step back, before you lose yourself forever.”
A film was forming on my untouched coffee. When I didn’t respond, Walter sighed and spoke with a sadness in his voice that I had never heard before. “I’d prefer it if I didn’t have to see you again,” he said. “I’ll talk to some people, see if you can go.”
Every Dead Thing by John Connolly / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / Horror have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes