A song of shadows, p.26
A Song of Shadows, p.26John Connolly
Parker’s side began to hurt after a couple of hours in the car, so they stopped at a Dunkin’ Donuts to get some coffee and let him stretch his legs. He felt like a dog being exercised. They then drove on for a time before deciding to break up the ride at St Johnsbury, where they checked into a chain motel and ate at Bailiwicks on Mill.
Over coffee, Louis told them the story of The Man Who Died Twice.
‘You remember Bart Freed?’ he asked Angel.
‘Yeah, you do. He was a shylock out of Ocean City. Had a piece of some arcades far south as Cape May.’
‘Bodybuilder? Looked like someone had amputated his neck and stuck his head straight back on his shoulders?’
‘Yeah, I recall him now. He died a couple of years ago, right?’
‘Burst a blood vessel while bench-pressing four hundred pounds. Caved in his chest. So way back, there’s a guy called Minimum Mike – got the name because he only ever pays the vig on his loans without ever denting the principal. But then Minimum Mike becomes Below-Minimum Mike, and crosses so many people who shouldn’t be crossed that he’s like a map of chaos, and these people decide it’s time something was done about him. So they hire two guys out of Maryland to take care of him, and Bart Freed sets him up. Minimum Mike comes to Bart’s house to talk about his debts, the two Maryland shooters are waiting inside for him, they quiet him down, and then they take him away. They don’t drive him too far because, you know, nobody wants to be pulled over with some guy weeping in the back seat. They already have the hole dug for him in the woods so they shoot him, watch him fall in, then cover him up and drive off. They take the car to an all-night wash, get the full treatment for it inside and out, go have a burger and a beer, and figure they’ve done a good night’s work. They crash at a motel and sleep like babies.
‘Then, about four a.m., they get a call, and it’s one of the guys who’s picking up the tab for the night’s work. He tells them that there’s some problem at Freed’s place, and to get their asses over there and sort it out, because Freed’s hysterical, and it doesn’t pay to have people hysterical after the event.
‘So they drive back to Ocean City, and Freed answers the door. He’s calmed down some, but he still doesn’t seem happy. He doesn’t even let them into the house, not immediately. He keeps them on the doorstep, and he says,
‘“So, Minimum Mike.”
‘“You did what you were supposed to do, right?”
‘And the hitters say, yeah, of course they did, and they explain about the hole in the ground, and the gun, and covering up the body.
‘“So he’s dead?” says Freed.
‘“Yeah, he’s dead.”
‘“Well, if he’s dead, why the fuck is he sitting at my kitchen table?”
‘So the two hitters look at Freed like he’s dropped a couple of screws, and he steps aside to let them in. They go to the kitchen, and just like the man said, Minimum Mike is sitting there. He doesn’t look good. He’s, like, covered in earth and dirt and shit, and when they make a closer examination they see that he has a hole in the back of his head and another close to his right eye, but it’s definitely him. He’s also got a glass of milk in front of him, and a cookie, although he hasn’t touched them. They ask Freed why he has the milk and the cookie, and Freed tells them that he didn’t know what else to give him.
‘They figure what happened was that the bullet entered his skull, damaged his brain, came out under his eye, but didn’t kill him. Somehow he woke up in the grave, managed to claw his way out, and had some vague memory in what was left of his lobe of being at Freed’s, so that was the first place he went to.’
‘What did they do?’ asked Angel.
‘They put him in the trunk of the car, drove him back to the grave, shot him again, and buried him. The second time, he didn’t come back. The hitters, they didn’t come back either. They retired. I think one of them had a breakdown.’
Angel thought about it all.
‘Is that true?’
‘What I heard.’
‘Was a time,’ remarked Louis, ‘when you’d have said more than “Wow” after a story like that.’
‘I guess it takes a lot to surprise me now,’ said Angel.
‘Yeah,’ said Louis. ‘Takes a lot to surprise us all. We splitting the check?’
‘No,’ said Parker. ‘I got it.’
‘Wow,’ said Angel. ‘That is—’
‘Don’t,’ warned Parker. ‘Just don’t.’
Baulman returned home from walking his dog. He was soaking wet, and the animal, an aging Weimaraner named Lotte, was shivering. Baulman had always had Weimaraners, and he credited them with keeping him relatively youthful until recent years. They needed a lot of exercise, and he had to be wary of walking them in the woods in case they caught the scent of deer, and their hunting instinct kicked in, but they were intelligent, highly trainable, and immensely loyal. Lotte rarely left Baulman’s side, but her muzzle was gray now, and he had fewer concerns about her running off after deer – stumbling off, maybe, but not running.
He removed her wet collar, and rummaged in the shoe basket for the towel used to dry her on such occasions, but Lotte was already gone, her tail wagging while she emitted uncertain little woofs of interest.
A light was burning in the kitchen, and Baulman was certain that he had only left on the lamp in the hall before leaving. He could see Lotte’s tail wagging, and her rear end wiggling with delight. Someone was seated at the kitchen table, just beyond his line of sight – someone whom Lotte recognized, but who had no qualms about making his own way into a man’s house while he was out walking his dog.
Baulman hung up his wet coat and scarf, removed his damp shoes, and padded to the kitchen. Sitting in one of the pine chairs, facing the door, was the Jigsaw Man. Baulman glared at him for a moment before making his way to the stove, where he filled a pot with milk and set it to boil for hot chocolate. The damp was in his bones. Maybe later he would permit himself a Scotch, but for now chocolate would suffice.
‘You might have made a less dramatic entrance,’ said Baulman.
‘You’re marked,’ said the Jigsaw Man. ‘I chose to be careful.’
‘Pah! Now you choose to be careful. You should have been careful when you killed Perlman. You should have been careful before you went off burning houses and murdering children.’
The Jigsaw Man pointed out the irony of someone like Baulman objecting to the killing of children.
‘It was not necessary,’ said Baulman.
‘I deemed it necessary.’
‘Why, becaue you couldn’t manage to make Perlman disappear? You, of all people, should have known about the tides.’
Baulman found the jar of hot chocolate at the back of one of the kitchen closets. He’d bought it at the Trader Joe’s down in Portland when he’d last visited the city. It was organic, and fair trade – not that these things particularly mattered to him, but it had performed well in taste tests, and Baulman was something of a connoisseur of hot chocolate. When Kathryn was alive, they preferred to make their own from scratch, but it didn’t seem worth the effort for just one person.
‘It wasn’t meant to happen that way,’ said the Jigsaw Man. ‘I thought he was unconscious, but I’d tied his shoelaces together, just in case. He was lying on the ground, and I was preparing to put him in the trunk of the car, and when I looked back he was standing. Standing! I’d taken out one of his eyes. Who knows what damage I did in there, yet he was on his feet. I approached him, and he simply stepped back and was gone, lost to the sea. I hoped that I might be lucky with the tides. I was not.’
Baulman took the milk from the stove before it came to the boil, poured it into the cup of mix, and added a little cold milk to take off some of the heat. He took a seat opposite the Jigsaw Man. Lotte, knowing where her loyalties lay, came to join her master. Baulman dipp
The Jigsaw Man was an amateur – a gifted one, but an amateur nonetheless. He had provided good service in the past, but now, like all of them, he was getting old. Yes, he was still decades younger than Baulman, but what did that matter? He was losing his edge, perhaps even his sanity. That business with the family over at the lake: what kind of sane individual would consider that an appropriate response to the problem of Perlman’s body washing ashore?
‘Aren’t you going to offer me something to drink?’ asked the Jigsaw Man.
‘If you want hot chocolate, make your own.’
‘I’d prefer something stronger.’
‘You know where it is.’
The Jigsaw Man rose. Lotte followed him with her eyes. When he returned, he’d poured himself a snifter of brandy. He swirled it before he drank. It didn’t make much difference. It was poor stuff.
‘Tell me about the Demers woman,’ he said.
Baulman went through the details of both encounters with Demers. He left nothing out, and resisted emphasizing what he perceived as his own cleverness.
‘She visited Isha Winter,’ said the Jigsaw Man.
‘I thought she might.’
‘So what does Demers do now?’
‘She has nothing,’ said Baulman. ‘The doubtful word of a man trying to save his own skin, that’s all. Without proof, she can’t act.’
‘And yet they still haven’t deported Engel.’
‘They will. He’s of no use to them now.’
‘Not unless he tries naming more names. And a shadow still remains upon you.’
‘I have always had a shadow upon me.’
‘Not like this one.’
‘I told you: she has nothing to tie me to Kraus.’
‘But you say that she mentioned a discrepancy in paperwork.’
‘She was bluffing, trying to frighten me.’
‘The paperwork was good.’
‘Those were difficult times. Mistakes could have been made. A detail might have been missed.’
‘No, you must listen to me,’ said Baulman. ‘There is no problem with the paperwork, or nothing that would cause this kind of fuss. And let me remind you that we all received our documents from the same source. If there is a problem with one, there may be a problem with the rest, so why are you only giving me this Scheisse? I wasn’t the reason Perlman ended up in the sea! It wasn’t because of me that you thought you had to kill that family!’
‘No, but you are the one to whom Demers has come. You’re the one they’re looking at.’
‘Ah!’ Baulman waved a hand in dismissal. ‘It’s done. By now she has gone back to Washington with her tail between her legs.’
The Jigsaw Man looked into the depths of his cheap liquor, like a fortune-teller on the skids.
‘Who else can Engel name?’
‘Who else can he name?’
Baulman sipped his hot chocolate. He wanted all of this to be at an end, but he was too careful to dismiss the Jigsaw Man’s question out of hand.
‘Hummel is the only one directly connected with Lubsko, but Hummel was close to Riese. Riese was not at Lubsko, but he and Hummel were friendly, and I cannot say what Hummel might have shared with him, and with Engel in turn. If Engel tries to sell anyone else out, it will be Hummel next, then Riese.’
‘Are you sure that these are the only ones Engel might give up?’
‘He wouldn’t dare name the last.’
‘You’re sure of this?’
Baulman was suddenly tired. He felt the force of the past straining to emerge, like water behind a fracturing dam.
‘No,’ he said, ‘I cannot be sure, but even Engel has his limits. Anyway, he will give them Hummel before he offers up anyone else, and who knows how long that will delay proceedings? But can’t you get in touch with him and pressure him to remain silent?’
‘We did, through his lawyer. Engel is angry that we wouldn’t support him as far as the Supreme Court.’
‘Did you tell him that we can’t shit gold?’
‘He seems to believe that we have funds hidden away.’
‘For decades we have all enjoyed a life of comfort, of security. How does he think it was paid for?’
‘I offered to put ten thousand Euros into an account in Germany for his use. The lawyer says it’s not enough. Even a hundred thousand wouldn’t be enough to satisfy Engel. He wants to stay in the United States.’
‘If only he’d been more like Fuhrmann, and had the courage to take his punishment without complaint, and without betraying his comrades.’
‘Fuhrmann was an officer.’
Baulman had suspected that this would be the Jigsaw Man’s view. He was a snob of the worst kind. He had a point about Fuhrmann, though, who’d been their contact outside the camp. He’d remained silent, unlike Engel.
‘But Engel,’ the Jigsaw Man added, ‘is a thug.’
‘We were all thugs,’ said Baulman.
‘Even me. I have no illusions. I was there.’
The Jigsaw Man didn’t contradict him, but Baulman could see him bristling. The Jigsaw Man didn’t like such talk.
‘Speak with Hummel and Riese,’ said the Jigsaw Man. ‘See what you can find out.’
‘But they might be watching me.’
‘You told me they had nothing on you.’
‘I know, but …’
He bit his tongue. He didn’t want to damn himself with his own mouth.
‘What would be more suspicious?’ asked the Jigsaw Man. ‘That you should continue to see your old friends or that you should suddenly stop seeing them for fear of drawing attention to them?’
‘I have not spoken with Hummel in years. He lives in a home. I hear he’s senile.’
‘Then I suggest that you renew his acquaintance before it’s too late. And Riese?’
‘We were never close, but I know him a little.’
‘So you find out if the Justice Department has been in touch with either of them, and apprise them of the importance of maintaining appearances.’
The Jigsaw Man knocked back the rest of the brandy in one mouthful, and put the snifter on the table.
‘If you hear anything more from Demers, be sure to inform me. And tell me how things go with Hummel and Riese. Remember, you’re not the only one who has to be protected.’ He patted Baulman on the shoulder. ‘You’re not even the most important.’
Gordon Walsh sat at the back of the conference room as Lieutenant Driver, the newly appointed commanding officer of Major Crimes Unit-North gave details to the assembled reporters of progress in the continuing search for Oran Wilde and the associated killings, which amounted to none at all. He tried to disguise it as best he could behind the usual platitudes about following a number of lines of inquiry, but the appeal for fresh information gave him away. Behind Driver, in a gesture of support, stood the commander of MCU-South plus assorted uniformed officers and members of the Violent Crimes Task Force, along with a pair of FBI agents who were there simply to fill up the room and put some kind of governmental gloss on the whole mess. All present bore the expressions of men and women who wanted to be anywhere else but where they were. Walsh was reminded of those show trials in China, when everyone involved in a failure was paraded in front of the cameras before being hauled off and shot. They’d asked him to take his place out front with the damned, but he’d told them, in the most diplomatic way possible, to go screw themselves.
When the reporters had exhausted themselves by asking the same questions that they’d been posing ever since Oran Wilde vanished off the map, someone from NBC raised the Winter murder, and Driver gave a variation on the same theme: lines of inquiry, ongoing investigation, reluctant to compromise sources, any information gratefully received, and we’ll even pay for the
This led on to Bruno Perlman, and the possibility that the case of the Tedescos down in Florida might be connected to his death. Driver gratefully ceded the microphone to Detective Louise Tyler, who was leading the Perlman investigation. Thank God they didn’t put her buddy Welbecke up there, Walsh thought. She’d probably have punched someone out. Tyler threw the media a couple of bones, but they had little meat on them, and when she tried to suggest that Perlman’s death might yet prove to be suicide, it provoked open expressions of disbelief from the crowd. The Perlman question did allow the MSP to shift some of the heat to the FBI liaisons, one of whom told the room that because the results of the autopsy on Perlman were ‘inconclusive’, a second, federal autopsy was in the process of being conducted. When asked about a connection to the murder of Ruth Winter, he said the investigation was still in progress. He gave the same answer when asked about the Tedescos.
While he was speaking, someone took the chair at the far end of the row from Walsh. He glanced over to see Marie Demers, who’d come nosing around following the Winter murder, and who was being copied on all relevant material. Walsh tried to recall if he’d ever been involved in a bigger clusterfuck, and decided that he hadn’t. Maybe they should get T-shirts made for everyone once it was all over: I SURVIVED THE CLUSTERFUCK KILLINGS AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS LOUSY T-SHIRT – AND THE REMNANTS OF A CAREER.
The problem, from Walsh’s point of view, was that the resources of the MSP were being fatally overstretched by the three investigations – Wilde, Winter, and Perlman – and, instead of alleviating the burden, the involvement of outside agencies was complicating the whole business still further. It was as though white noise was being pumped in over a piece of music, and now nobody could hear the tune.
A Song of Shadows by John Connolly / Thrillers & Crime / Mystery & Detective / Horror have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes