The killing kind, p.24
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       The Killing Kind, p.24

           John Connolly
 

  Now, a misstep, a minor accident, had revealed the truth about their end. They had emerged into the world, breaking through the thin crust that separated present from past, life from death.

  And I had seen them.

  “I’m going north,” I said. “Somehow, this is all connected with the Aroostook Baptists. I want to see the place where they died.”

  Louis looked at me. Beside him, Angel was silent.

  It was happening again, and they knew it.

  THE SEARCH FOR SANCTUARY

  Extract from the postgraduate thesis

  of Grace Peltier . . .

  The precise nature and extent of Lyall and Elizabeth’s relationship must remain, perforce, largely unknown, but it is reasonable to assume that it included a significant element of sexual attraction. Elizabeth was a pretty woman, aged thirty-five at the time she joined the community. It is hard to find early pictures of her in which she is not smiling, although later photographs find her a more somber presence beside the unsmiling form of her husband, Frank. Elizabeth came from a small, poor family but appears to have been a bright young woman who, in a more enlightened (or liberal) community, and under less constrained financial circumstances, might have been given the space that she needed to grow. Instead, she made her match with Frank Jessop, fifteen years her senior but with some land and money to his name. It does not appear to have been a particularly happy union, and Frank was troubled with ill health in the years following the birth of their first child, James, which created a further rift between husband and wife.

  Lyall Kellog was two years Elizabeth’s junior and seventeen years younger than her own husband. Pictures that remain of Lyall show him to have been a stocky individual of medium height with slightly blunt features——in other words, by no means a conventionally handsome man. From all accounts he seems to have been quite happily married, and Elizabeth Jessop must have exerted an unusually strong influence for him not only to risk his marriage and the wrath of the Reverend Faulkner but to contravene his own strong religious beliefs.

  Those who knew Lyall recall him as a gentle, almost sensitive man who could argue what sometimes seemed to others to be obscure points of religious belief with those considerably more educated than himself. He owned a large number of biblical tracts and commentaries, and was prepared to travel for a day to listen to a particularly notable speaker. It was on one of these trips that he first encountered the Reverend Faulkner.

  Meanwhile, Faulkner’s grip on the community had tightened by November 1963. Like Sandford before him, he demanded absolute obedience and forbade any contact with those outside the community, except for one period in the first weeks of winter when he asked each family to write to relatives in order to solicit donations of food, clothes, and money. Since most of the families were estranged from their own relatives, these letters proved largely useless, although Lena Myers did send a small sum of money.

  The only relative to attempt to contact members of the community directly was a cousin of Katherine Cornish. He brought a sheriff’s deputy to the settlement, fearing that some harm had befallen his kinfolk. Katherine Cornish was permitted a brief meeting with him, under Faulkner’s supervision, to ease his fears. According to Elizabeth Jessop, the Cornish family was then punished by being forced to spend the night in an unheated barn, praying constantly. When they fell asleep, they were awakened by cold water thrown on them by “Adam,” Leonard Faulkner.

  Letter from Elizabeth Jessop to her sister,

  Lena Myers, dated November 1963 (used by kind

  permission of the estate of Lena Myers)

  Dearest Lena,

  Thank you for your generosity. I am sorry I have not written sooner like I promised but things are hard here. I feel like Frank is watching me all the time and waiting for me to make a mistake. I don’t think he knows for sure but I guess maybe I have been acting different.

  I still see L. when I can. Lena, I have been with him again. I have prayed to God to aid me, but so help me I see him in my dreams and I want him. I feel like this cannot end well but I am powerless to stop it. It has been a long time, Lena, since a man touched me like that. Now that I have tasted the fruit I want no other. I hope that you understand.

  There is bad feeling among the pilgrims. Some of them have been talking against Preacher Faulkner because of his ways. They say that he is too hard and there is even talk of asking him to return some of the money we gave him, just enough so that folks will have enough to fall back on if need be. There is trouble too with the boy and the girl. The girl has been ill, and her voice is now almost gone. She can no longer sing at suppertime, and the Preacher proposes to use some of our money to pay for a doctor for her. Laurie Perrson almost died for want of a doctor, but he will not let his own child suffer. Billy Perrson called him a hypocrite to his face.

  But the boy is the worst of them. He is evil, Lena. There is no other word for him. James had a kitten. He brought it with him from Portland. It used to feed on field mice and what we could spare from our own table. It was a pretty little brown thing and he called it Jake.

  Yesterday, Jake went missing. We searched the house but could find no trace of him. When the time came for James to take his daily lessons at the Preacher’s house he slipped away and went looking for his kitten instead. We didn’t know he had gone until Lyall heard him crying in the forest and went to see what was ailing him.

  He found James standing by a shed in the woods. It used to be an old outhouse for some property that had burnt down years before and the children were told that it was out of bounds to them for fear that they might get up to badness if they were allowed near it. Lyall told me that the boy was just standing at the door to the shed, shaking and crying.

  Someone had tied Jake by the neck to a nail set into the floor of the shed. The rope was only two or three inches long and the kitten was lying almost flat on the floor. There were spiders all over it, Lena, little brown spiders just the size of a quarter like no one had ever seen before. They were crawling over the kitten’s mouth and eyes and the kitten was scratching and mewing and damn near choking itself on the rope. Then Lyall said the kitten went into convulsions and died, just like that.

  Lyall swears that he saw the boy Adam hanging around that shed where he had no business being and he told the Preacher so. But the Preacher spoke the commandments to him and warned him of the punishments of bearing false witness against his neighbor. The menfolk supported Lyall and the Preacher warned them not to set their hearts against him. All the time the boy Adam just watched and didn’t speak a word but Lyall says the boy smiled at him and Lyall thought that maybe if the boy could have found a way to tie him to a nail and let the spiders feed on him as well then he would have.

  I don’t know what will happen here, Lena. Winter is coming on and I can only see things getting harder for us, but with the Lord’s help we will prevail. I will pray for you and yours. My love to you all.

  Your sister,

  Elizabeth

  P.S. I enclose a newspaper clipping. Make of it what you will.

  VICTIM OF DROWNING TRAGEDY

  TO BE BURIED TODAY

  Edie Rattray, who died at St. Froid Lake, Aroostook, Wednesday, will be buried today. The body of Edie, 13, was found floating in the lake by Red River Road, close to the town of Eagle Lake. The body of her puppy was found nearby.

  According to the only witness, Muriel Faulkner, 15, Edie got into difficulties attempting to rescue the dog when it fell from the bank, and drowned before Muriel could summon help.

  Edie was a prominent member of the choir of St. Mary’s Church, Eagle Lake, and the choir will sing at her funeral mass. Muriel is a member of the small religious community known locally as the Aroostook Baptists. Her father, Aaron, is the pastor of the community.

  State police say they are treating the death as accidental, although they remain puzzled as to how Edie drowned in comparatively shallow water.

  This week, candles will remain lit in every house in t
he town for the girl whose beautiful singing voice led her to be called the “Nightingale of Eagle Lake.”

  (from the Bangor Daily News,

  October 28, 1963)

  III

  To the legion of the lost ones, to the

  cohort of the damned . . .

  —RUDYARD KIPLING,

  “GENTLEMAN-RANKERS”

  17

  THE NEXT MORNING I AWOKE to a throbbing at the back of my hand, a souvenir of my encounter with Deborah Mercier. I was no longer working for her husband, but there were still calls to be made. I checked in once again with Buntz in Boston, who assured me that Rachel was safe and sound, before calling the Portland PD.

  I wanted to see the place in which the Aroostook Baptists had been interred. I could, I supposed, have been accused of morbid curiosity, but it was more than that; everything that had occurred—all of the deaths, all of the tainted family histories—was tied up with these lost souls. The burial ground at St. Froid was the epicenter for a series of shock waves that had affected generations of lives, touching even those who had no blood connection with the people buried beneath its cold, damp earth. It had united the Peltiers and the Merciers, and that unity had found its ultimate expression in Grace.

  I had a vision of her, scared and miserable, standing on Higgins Beach while a selfish young man cast stones on the water, concerned only for the opportunities that would be lost to him if he became a father at such an age. I blamed her, I knew: for wanting me, for allowing me to be with her, for taking me inside her. As the stones fell I sank with them, dropping slowly to the seabed, where the rush of the waves drowned out her voice, and the sound of her tears and the adult world, with all its torments and betrayals, was lost in a blur of green and blue.

  She must have known, even then, about her family’s past. Maybe she felt a kind of kinship with Elizabeth Jessop, who had departed for a new existence many years before and was never seen again. Grace was a romantic, and I think she would have wanted to believe that Elizabeth had found the earthly paradise for which she had been searching, that she had somehow remade her life, sealing herself off from the past in the hope that she could start afresh. Except that something inside her whispered that Elizabeth was dead: Ali Wynn had told me as much.

  Then Deborah Mercier fed Grace the knowledge that Faulkner might still be alive, and that through him the truth of Elizabeth Jessop’s disappearance might be revealed to her. It seemed certain that Grace had then approached Carter Paragon, who, through his own weakness and the sale of a recently created Faulkner Apocalypse, had allowed the possibility of the preacher’s continued existence to be exposed. Following that meeting, Grace had been killed and her notes seized along with one other item. That second item, I suspected, was another Apocalypse that had somehow come into Grace’s possession. How that had come to pass would require renewed pressure on the Beckers to find out if their daughter, Marcy, could fill in the blanks. That would be tomorrow’s work. For today, there was Paragon, and St. Froid Lake, and one other visit that I had chosen not to mention to Angel and Louis.

  PIs don’t usually get access to crime scenes, unless they’re the first to arrive at them. This was the second time in less than eighteen months that I had asked Ellis Howard, the deputy chief in charge of the Portland PD’s Bureau of Investigation, for his help in bending the rules a little. For a time, Ellis had tried to convince me to join the bureau, until the events in Dark Hollow conspired to make him reconsider his offer.

  “Why?” he asked me when I called him and he eventually agreed to talk to me. “Why should I do it?”

  “Don’t even say hello.”

  “Hello. Why? What’s your interest in this?”

  I didn’t lie to him. “Grace and Curtis Peltier.”

  There was silence on the other end of the line as Ellis ran through a list of possible permutations and came up cold. “I don’t see the connection.”

  “They were related to Elizabeth Jessop. She was one of the Aroostook Baptists.” I decided not to mention the other blood link, through Jack Mercier. “Grace was preparing a thesis on the history of the group before she died.”

  “Is that why Curtis Peltier died in his bath?”

  That was the trouble with trying to deal with Ellis; eventually, he always started to ask the difficult questions. I tried to come up with the most nebulous answer possible, in an effort to obscure the truth instead of lying outright. Eventually, I knew, the lies I was telling, both directly and by omission, would come back to haunt me. I had to hope that by the time they did I would have accumulated enough knowledge to save my hide.

  “I think that someone may have believed that he knew more than he did,” I told Ellis.

  “And who might that person be, do you think?”

  “I don’t know anything but his name,” I replied. “He calls himself Mr. Pudd. He tried to warn me off investigating the circumstances surrounding Grace Peltier’s death. He may also be connected with the killing of Lester Bargus and Al Z down in Boston. Norman Boone over in the ATF has more on it, if you want to talk to him.”

  I’d kept Curtis Peltier’s name out of my conversation with Boone, but now Curtis was dead and I wasn’t sure what debt of confidentiality I owed to Jack Mercier. Increasingly, I was coming under pressure to reveal the true connections to the Fellowship. I was lying to people, concealing possible evidence of a conspiracy, and I wasn’t even sure why. Part of it was probably a romantic desire to make up for some small adolescent pain I had caused Grace Peltier, a pain she had probably long forgotten. But I was also aware that Marcy Becker was in danger, and that Lutz, a policeman, was somehow connected with the death of her friend. I had no proof that he was involved, but if I told Ellis or anyone else what I knew, then I would have to reveal Marcy’s existence. If I did that, I believed that I would be signing her death warrant.

  “Were you working for Curtis Peltier?” said Ellis, interrupting my thoughts.

  “Yes.”

  “You were looking into his daughter’s death?”

  “That’s right.”

  “I thought you didn’t do that kind of work anymore.”

  “She used to be a friend of mine.”

  “Bullshit.”

  “Hey, I have friends.”

  “Not many, I’ll bet. What did you find out?”

  “Nothing much. I think she spoke to Carter Paragon, the sleazebag who runs the Fellowship, before she died, but Paragon’s assistant says she didn’t.”

  “That’s it?”

  “That’s it.”

  “And they pay you good money for this?”

  “Sometimes.”

  His voice softened a little. “The investigation into Grace Peltier’s death has been . . . reenergized since her father’s murder. We’re working alongside the state police to assess possible connections.”

  “Who’s the liaison for state CID?”

  I heard the rustling of paper. “Lutz,” said Ellis. “John Lutz, out of Machias. If you know anything about Grace Peltier’s death, I’m sure he’d like to talk to you.”

  “I’m sure.”

  “And now you want to look at a mass grave in northern Maine?”

  “I just want to see the site, that’s all. I don’t want to drive all the way up there and have some polite state trooper turn me back half a mile from the lake.”

  Ellis released a long breath. “I’ll make a call. I can’t promise you anything. But . . .”

  I knew there would be a “but.”

  “When you get back, I want you to talk to me. Anything you give me will be treated in confidence. I guarantee it.”

  I agreed. Ellis was an honorable, decent man, and I wanted to help him in any way that I could. I just wasn’t sure how much I could say without blowing everything apart.

  I had one stop to make before I went north, a step back into my own past and my own failings.

  I had to visit the Colony.

  ∗ ∗ ∗

  The approach to the c
ommunity known as the Colony was much as I remembered it. From South Portland I headed west, through Westbrook and White Rock and Little Falls, until I found myself looking out on Sebago Lake. I followed the lakeshore into the town of Sebago Lake itself, then took the Richville Road northwest until I came to the turning for Smith Hill Road. There was water on both sides of the road, and the spires of the evergreens were reflected in the flooded marshland. Dutchman’s breeches and trout lilies unfurled their leaves, and dogwood flowered in the damp earth. Farther ahead the road was carpeted in birch seeds that had fallen from the drying cones above. Eventually the road became little more than a dirt track, twin tire ruts with grass growing along the median, until it lost itself in a copse of trees about a hundred yards away. There was nothing to indicate what lay behind the trees, except for a small wooden sign by the side of the road engraved with a cross and a pair of cupped hands.

  At my lowest point, after the deaths of Susan and Jennifer, I had spent some time at the Colony. Its members had discovered me huddled in the doorway of a boarded-up electronics store on Congress Street, stinking of booze and despair. They had offered me a bed for the night, then placed me in the back of a pickup and taken me out to the community.

  I stayed with them for six weeks. There were others there like me. Some were alcoholics or addicts. Others were men who had simply lost their way and had found themselves cast adrift by family and friends. They had made their way to the community, or had been referred there by those who still cared about them. In some cases, like my own, the community had found them and had extended a hand to them. Every man was free to walk away at any time, without recrimination, but while they were a part of the community they had to abide by its rules. There was no alcohol, no drug use, no sexual activity. Everybody worked. Everybody contributed to the greater good of the community. Each day, we gathered for what could be termed prayer but was closer to meditation, a coming to terms with our own failings and the failings of others. Occasionally, outside counselors would join us to act as facilitators or to offer specialized advice and support to those who needed it. But for the most part we listened to one another and supported one another, aided by the founders of the community, Doug and Amy Greaves. The only pressure to remain came from the other members; it was made clear to each of us that we were not only helping ourselves but, by our presence there, helping our brothers.

 

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