The killing kind, p.25
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       The Killing Kind, p.25

           John Connolly
 

  I think, looking back, that I was not yet ready for what the Colony had to offer. When I left, a confused, self-pitying man had been replaced by one with a purpose, a clear aim: I would find the man who killed Susan and Jennifer, and I would kill him in turn. And, in the end, that is what I did. I killed the Traveling Man. I killed him, and I tore apart anyone who tried to stand in my way.

  As I passed through the trees, the house came into view. It had whitewashed walls, and close by, there were barns and storage buildings, also white, and stables that had been coverted into dormitories. It was after 9 A.M., and the members of the community had already commenced their daily tasks. To my right, a black man walked among the chicken coops collecting eggs and I could see shapes moving in the small greenhouses beyond. From one of the barns came the sound of a buzz saw, as those with the necessary skills helped to make the furniture, the candlesticks, and the children’s toys that were sold to partly support the community’s activities. The rest of its funding came mainly from private donations, some from those who had, over the years, passed through the Colony’s gates and, in doing so, had taken the first steps toward rebuilding their lives. I had sent them what I could afford, and had written to Amy once or twice, but I had not returned to the community since the day I turned my back on it.

  As I drew up outside the house, a woman appeared on the porch. She was small, a little over five feet tall, with long gray hair tied up loosely on her head. Her broad shoulders were lost beneath a baggy sweatshirt, and the frayed cuffs of her jeans almost obscured her sneakers. She watched me step from the car. As I approached her, her face broke into a smile and she dropped down into the yard to embrace me.

  “Charlie Parker,” said Amy, half in wonder. Her strong arms enclosed me and the scent of apples rose from her hair. She moved back and examined me closely, her eyes locking on to mine. Her thoughts flickered across her face, and in the movement of her features I seemed to see the events of the last two and a half years reenacted. When at last she looked away, concern and relief collided in her eyes.

  She held my hand as we walked onto the porch and moved into the house. She guided me to a chair at the long communal breakfast table, then disappeared into the kitchen before returning with a mug of decaf coffee for me and some mint tea for herself.

  And then, for the next hour, we spoke of my life since I had left the community, and I told her almost everything. To the east, the flooded land sparkled in the morning sun. Men occasionally passed by the window and raised a hand in greeting. One, I noticed, seemed to be having trouble walking. His gut hung over his belt, and despite the cold, his body gleamed with sweat. His hands shook uncontrollably. I guessed that he had been at the Colony for no more than a day or two, and the withdrawal was tormenting his system.

  “A new arrival,” I said, when at last I had finished unburdening myself to her. I felt light-headed, a simultaneous sense of elation and loss.

  “You were like that once,” said Amy.

  “An alcoholic?”

  “You were never an alcoholic.”

  “How do you know?”

  “Because of the way you stopped,” she replied. “Because of why you stopped. Do you think about drinking?”

  “Sometimes.”

  “But not every day, not every hour of every day?”

  “No.”

  “Then you’ve answered your own question. It was just a way to fill a hole in your being, and it could have been anything: sex, drugs, marathon running. When you left here, you simply substituted something else for alcohol. You found another way to fill the hole. You found violence, and revenge.”

  Amy was not one to sugarcoat pills. She and her husband had built a community based on the importance of absolute honesty: with oneself and, from that, with others. “Do you believe that you have the right to take lives, to judge others and find them wanting?”

  I heard echoes of Al Z in her words. I didn’t like it.

  “I had no choice,” I replied.

  “There’s always a choice.”

  “It didn’t seem that way at the time. If they’d lived, then I’d have died. Other people would have died as well, innocent people. I wasn’t going to let that happen.”

  “The necessity defense?”

  The necessity defense was an old English common-law concept that held that an individual who breaks a minor law to achieve a greater good should be declared innocent of the lesser charge. It was still invoked occasionally, only to be knocked out of the ballpark by any judge worth his salt.

  “There are only two consequences to taking a life,” Amy continued. “Either the victim achieves salvation, in which case you have killed a good man; or you damn him to hell, in which case you have deprived him of any hope of redemption. Afterward, the responsibility lies with you, and you bear the weight.”

  “They weren’t interested in redemption,” I answered her evenly. “And they didn’t want salvation.”

  “And you do?”

  I didn’t answer.

  “You won’t achieve salvation with a gun in your hand,” she persisted.

  I leaned forward. “Amy,” I said softly, “I’ve thought about these things. I’ve considered them. I thought I could walk away, but I can’t. People have to be protected from the urges of violent men. I can do that. Sometimes I’m too late to protect them, but maybe I can help to achieve some measure of justice for them.”

  “Is that why you’re here, Charlie?”

  A noise came from behind me and Doug, Amy’s husband, came into the room. I wondered for a moment how long he had been there. He held a large bottle of water in his hand. Some of it had dripped from his chin and soaked the front of his clean white shirt. He was a tall man with pale skin and hair that was almost entirely white. His eyes were remarkably green. When I stood to greet him, he held my shoulder for a time and perused me in much the same way that his wife had examined me earlier. Then he took a seat beside Amy and they both waited in silence for me to answer Amy’s question.

  “In a sense,” I said at last. “I’m investigating the death of a woman. Her name was Grace Peltier. Once, a long time ago, she was a friend of mine.”

  I took a breath and looked out once again at the sunlight. In this place whose only purpose was to try to make the lives of those who passed its way a little better, the deaths of Grace and her father and the figure of a child out of time, his wound hidden behind cheap black tape, seemed somehow distant. It was as if this little community was invulnerable to the encroachments of violent men and the consequences of acts committed long ago and far away. But the apparent simplicity of the life here, and the clarity of the aims it espoused, masked a strength and a profound depth of knowledge. That was why I was here; it was, in its way, almost the antithesis of the group I was hunting.

  “This investigation has brought me into contact with the Fellowship, and with a man who appears to be acting on its behalf. He calls himself Mr. Pudd.”

  They didn’t respond for a time. Doug looked to the ground and moved his right foot back and forth over the boards. Amy turned away from me and stared out over the trees, as if the answers I sought might somehow be found deep in their reaches. Then, at last, they exchanged a look, and Amy spoke.

  “We know about them,” she said softly, as I knew she would. “You make interesting enemies, Charlie.”

  She sipped her tea before continuing. “There are two Fellowships. There is the one that appears in the public form of Carter Paragon, the one that sells prayer pamphlets for ten dollars and promises to cure the ailments of those who touch their television screens. That Fellowship is mendacious and shallow and preys on the gullible. It’s no different from any of a hundred other similar movements; no better than them, but certainly no worse.

  “The second Fellowship is something entirely different. It is a force, an entity, not an organization. It supports vicious men. It funds killers and fanatics. It is powered by rage and hate and fear. Its targets are anything and everything that is
not of, or like, itself. Some are obvious: gays, Jews, blacks, Catholics, those who assist in the provision of abortion or family planning services, those who would encourage peaceful coexistence between people of different races and different creeds. But in reality, it hates humanity. It hates the flawed nature of men, and is blind to the divine that exists in even the most humble among us.”

  Beside her, her husband nodded in agreement. “It moves against anything that it perceives to be a threat to itself or its mission. It starts with polite advances, then progresses to intimidation, property damage, physical injury, and then, if it deems such action necessary, murder.”

  Around us, the air seemed to change, for a wind had blown up from across the lake. It brought with it the scent of still water and decay.

  “Who’s behind it?” I asked.

  Doug shrugged, but it was Amy who answered. “We don’t know. We know what you know; its public face is Carter Paragon. Its private face remains hidden. It is not a large organization. It is said that the best conspiracy is a conspiracy of one; the fewer who know about something, the better. Our understanding is that there are no more than a handful of people involved.”

  “Policemen?”

  Her eyes narrowed. “Perhaps. Yes, almost certainly one or two policemen. It sometimes uses them to cover its tracks, or to stay in touch with any legal moves against it. But its primary instrument is a man, a thin man with red hair and a fondness for predation. Sometimes he has a woman with him, a mute.”

  “That’s him,” I said. “That’s Pudd.”

  For the first time since we had begun to talk of the Fellowship, Amy reached out to her husband. Her hand found his and gripped it tightly, as if even the mention of Pudd’s name might invoke his presence and force them to face him together.

  “He goes by different names,” she continued, after a pause. “I’ve heard him referred to as Ed Monker, as Walter Zaren, as Eric Dumah. I think he was Ted Bune once, and Alex Tchort for a time. I’m sure there were others.”

  “You seem to know a lot about him.”

  “We’re religious, but we’re not naive. These are dangerous people. It pays to know about them. Do those names mean anything to you at all?”

  “I don’t think so.”

  “Do you know anything about demonology?”

  “Sorry, I canceled my subscription to Amateur Demonologist. It was scaring the mailman.”

  Doug permitted himself the ghost of a smile. “Tchort is the Russian Satan, also known as the Black God,” he said. “Bune is a three-headed demon who moves bodies from one grave to another. Dumah is the angel of the silence of death, and Zaren is the demon of the sixth hour, the avenging genius. Monker is the name he uses most frequently. It seems to have a particular resonance for him.”

  “And Monker is a demon as well?”

  “A very particular demon, one of a pair. Monker and Nakir are Islamic demons.”

  A picture flashed in my mind: Pudd’s fingers gentling brushing the mute’s cheek and softly whispering.

  My Nakir.

  “He called the woman his Nakir,” I told them.

  “Monker and Nakir examine and judge the dead, then assign them to heaven or hell. Your Mr. Pudd, or whatever you wish to call him, seems to find the demonic associations funny. It’s a joke.”

  “It seems like kind of specialized humor,” I said. “I can’t see him making it onto Letterman.”

  “The name Pudd has a particular meaning for him as well,” said Doug. “We found it on an arachnology web site. Elias Pudd was a pioneer in the field of American arachnology, a follower of Emerton and McCook. He published his most famous work, A Natural History of the Arachnid, in 1933. His speciality was recluses.”

  “Spiders.” I shook my head. “They say people start to look like their pets, in time.”

  “Or they pick the pet they most resemble,” answered Doug.

  “You’ve seen him, then.”

  He nodded. “He came out here once, he and the woman. They parked over by the chicken coops and waited for us to come out. As soon as we did, Pudd threw a sack from the car, then backed up and drove away. We never saw them again.”

  “Do I want to know what was in the sack?”

  Amy answered. “Rabbits.” She was looking at the floor so I couldn’t see the expression on her face.

  “Yours?”

  “We used to keep them in a hutch out by the coops. One morning we came out and they were just gone. There was no blood, no fur, nothing to suggest that they’d been taken by a predator. Then, two days later, Pudd came and dumped the sack. When we opened it, it was filled with the remains of the rabbits. Something had bitten them. They were covered in gray brown lesions, and the flesh had begun to rot. We took one to the local vet, and he told us they were recluse bites. That’s how we discovered the significance of the name Pudd for him.

  “He was warning us to stay out of his business. We had been making inquiries about the Fellowship. We stopped after the visit.”

  She raised her face and there was no indication of how she felt, apart from a slight tension around her mouth.

  “Is there anything more that you can tell me?”

  “Rumors, that’s all,” said Doug, raising the water bottle to his lips.

  “Rumors about a book?”

  The bottle paused before it reached his mouth, and Amy’s grip tightened on his hand.

  “They’re recording names, aren’t they?” I continued. “Is that what Pudd is—some kind of infernal recording angel, writing down the names of the damned in a big black book?”

  They didn’t reply, and the silence was suddenly broken by the sound of the men filing into the house for their midmorning break. Doug and Amy both stood, then Doug shook my hand once again and left to make arrangements for the meal. Amy guided me away from the dining room and walked me to my car.

  “As Doug said, the book is just a rumor,” she told me, “and the truth about the Fellowship still remains largely hidden. Nobody has yet managed to link its public face with its other activities.”

  Amy took a deep breath, steeling herself for what she had to say next.

  “There is something else I should tell you,” she began. “You’re not the first to have come here asking about the Fellowship. Some years ago, another man came, from New York. We didn’t know as much about the Fellowship then, and we told him less than we knew, but it still provoked the warning. He moved on, and we never heard of him again . . . until two years ago.”

  The world around me faded into shadow, and the sun disappeared. When I looked up, I saw black shapes in the sky, descending in spirals, the beating of their wings filling the morning air and blocking out the light. Amy’s hand reached out to take mine but all of my attention was focused on the sky, where the dark angels now hovered. Then one of them drew closer and his features, which had previously only been a chiaroscuro of light and shade, grew clear.

  And I knew his face.

  “It was him,” whispered Amy, and the dark angel smiled at me from above, his teeth filed to points, his huge wings feathered with night; a killer of men, women, and children now transformed by his passage into the next world.

  “It was the Traveling Man.”

  ∗ ∗ ∗

  I sat on the hood of my car until the sickness had passed. I recalled a conversation in New Orleans some months after Susan and Jennifer had died, a voice telling me of its belief that somehow, the worst killers could find one another and sometimes connect, that they were sensitized to the presence of their own kind.

  He would have found them. His nature, and his background in law enforcement, would have ensured it. If he came hunting for the Fellowship, then he would have tracked them down.

  And he would have let them live, because they were his own kind. I remembered again his obscure biblical references, his interest in the Apocrypha, his belief that he was some kind of fallen angel sent to judge humanity, all of whom he found wanting.

  Yes, he had found th
em, and they had helped to fan his own flame into being.

  Amy reached out and took both of my hands in her own.

  “It was seven or eight years ago,” she said. “It didn’t seem important, until now.”

  I nodded.

  “You’re going to continue looking for these people?”

  “I have to, especially now.”

  “Can I say something to you, something you may not want to hear?”

  Her face was grave. I nodded.

  “In all that you have done, in all that you have told me, it seems that you have been intent on helping the dead as much as the living. But our first duty is to the living, Charlie, to ourselves and those around us. The dead don’t need your help.”

  I paused before replying. “I’m not sure I believe that, Amy.”

  For the first time, I saw doubt appear in her face. “You can’t live in both worlds,” she said, and her voice was hesitant. “You must choose. Do you still feel the deaths of Susan and Jennifer pulling you back?”

  “Sometimes, but not just them.”

  She saw something in my face, or caught something in my tone, and for a brief moment, she was in me, seeing what I saw, hearing what I heard, feeling what I felt. I closed my eyes and felt shapes move around me, voices whispering in my ears, small hands clutching at mine.

 

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