The whisperers, p.27
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       The Whisperers, p.27

           John Connolly
 

  25

  The first to arrive at the Proctor place were two state troopers out of Skowhegan. I’d never met them before, but one of them knew my name. After some cursory questioning, they let me sit in the Lexus while we waited for the detectives to arrive. The cops made small talk among themselves but left me alone until, after about an hour, the detectives showed up. By then, the sun was setting, and they broke out the flashlights for the examination.

  As it turned out, I’d met one of them before. His name was Gordon Walsh, and he looked like a real bruiser as he stepped from his car, his big sunglasses giving the impression that a large bug had evolved to the point that it could wear a suit. He was a former college football player, and he’d kept in shape. He had four or five inches on me, and a good forty pounds. A scar ran across his chin where someone had had the temerity to slash him with a bottle when he was still a trooper. I hated to think of what might have happened to the assailant. They were probably still trying to extract the bottle surgically from wherever Walsh had stuck it.

  Beside him was a smaller, younger detective whom I didn’t recognize. He had that rookie look to him, a veneer of severity that couldn’t quite disguise his uncertainty, like a young colt trying to keep up with the stallion that had sired it. Walsh glanced up at me but said nothing, then followed one of the troopers down to the room in which Proctor’s body lay. Before he entered, he smeared some Vicks VapoRub under his nose, but he still didn’t stay in there for long, and he took some deep breaths when he emerged. Then he and his partner went up to the cabin and spent some time poking around inside. After that, they examined the truck, all the while studiously ignoring me. Walsh had obviously found the keys, and reached in to turn on the ignition. The truck started first time. He killed the engine, then said something to his partner before both of them at last decided to pass the time of day with me.

  Walsh sucked on one arm of his shades and tut-tutted as he approached me.

  ‘Charlie Parker,’ he said. ‘As soon as I heard your name, I knew my day was about to get more entertaining.’

  ‘Detective Walsh,’ I replied. ‘I heard evildoers tremble, and knew that you were near. I see you’re still subsisting on raw meat.’

  ‘Mens sana, in corpore sano. And vice versa. That’s Latin. Benefits of a Catholic education. This is my partner, Detective Soames.’

  Soames nodded, but didn’t say anything. His mouth was rigid, and his jaw jutted in a Dudley Do-Right manner. I bet he ground his teeth at night.

  ‘Did you kill him?’ asked Walsh.

  ‘No, I didn’t kill him.’

  ‘Damn, I was hoping we could get this thing all tied up by midnight if you confessed. I’d probably be given a medal for putting you behind bars at last.’

  ‘And I thought you liked me, detective.’

  ‘I do like you. Imagine what the ones who don’t like you say about you. So, if you’re not prepared to break down and confess, you want to tell me something useful?’ said Walsh.

  ‘His name is Harold Proctor, or I assume that’s who he is, or was,’ I said. ‘I’ve never met him, so I can’t say for sure.’

  ‘What brings you to his neck of the woods?’

  ‘I’m looking into the suicide of a young man down in Portland, a former soldier.’

  ‘Who for?’

  ‘The boy’s father.’

  ‘What’s his name?’

  ‘The father’s name is Bennett Patchett. He owns the Downs Diner in Scarborough.’

  ‘Where did Proctor fit in?’

  ‘Damien Patchett, the son, might have met him at some point. Proctor attended Patchett’s funeral. I thought he might have some insights into Damien’s frame of mind before he took his own life.’

  ‘Insights, huh? You do talk nice, I’ll give you that. Any doubts about how this Patchett boy died?’

  ‘None that I can tell. He shot himself out in the woods near Cape Elizabeth.’

  ‘So how come his father is paying you good money to investigate his death?’

  ‘He wants to know what made his son kill himself. Is that so difficult to understand?’

  Behind us, the forensics unit appeared, picking its way up the trail. Walsh tapped his partner on the arm.

  ‘Elliot, go give them a heads-up, point them in the right direction.’

  Soames did as he was told, but not before a slight crease of unhappiness furrowed his otherwise unlined brow at being shooed away while the grown-ups talked. Maybe he wasn’t as wet as he appeared.

  ‘New boy?’ I said.

  ‘He’s good. Ambitious. Wants to solve crimes.’

  ‘You remember when you were young like that?’

  ‘I was never good, and if I was ambitious I’d be somewhere else by now. Still like to solve crimes, though. Gives me a sense of purpose. Otherwise, I don’t feel like I’m earning my wage, and a man should earn his wage. Kind of brings us back to this Patchett thing.’ He took a look over his shoulder to where Soames was talking to a man who was pulling on a white protective suit. ‘My partner likes things to be official,’ he said. ‘He types reports as he goes along. Neatly.’ He turned back to me. ‘I, on the other hand, type like one of Bob Newhart’s monkeys, and I prefer to write my report at the end, not the beginning. So it seems to me, unofficially, that you’re looking into the suicide of a veteran, and it brings you out here where you find another veteran who also appears to be the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, except before he killed himself he managed to loose off most of a mag at someone outside before popping one more into his own skull. Am I reading this right?’

  Outside. That word gave me pause. If the threat was outside, why had Proctor been firing at the walls of the room? He was ex-military, so poor shooting couldn’t have been the excuse. But the room was sealed up from the inside, so the threat couldn’t have been in there with him.

  Could it?

  I kept those thoughts to myself, and contented myself with: ‘So far.’

  ‘How old was the Patchett boy?’

  ‘Twenty-seven.’

  ‘And Proctor?’

  ‘Fifties, I’d say. Early fifties. He served in the first Iraq war.’

  ‘He a sociable man, would you have said?’

  ‘I never had the pleasure.’

  ‘But he lived up here, and Patchett lived in Portland?’

  ‘Scarborough.’

  ‘Lot of miles between here and there.’

  ‘I suppose. Is this an interrogation, detective?’

  ‘Interrogations involve bright lights, and sweaty men in shirtsleeves, and people trying to lawyer up. This is a conversation. My point is: how did Proctor and Patchett come to be acquainted?’

  ‘Does it matter so much?’

  ‘It matters because you’re here, and because they’re both dead. Come on, Parker, give a guy a break.’

  There wasn’t much point in holding back all that I knew, but I decided to keep some of it, for luck.

  ‘At first, I thought Proctor might have been one of the veterans assigned to meet soldiers when they return from active duty, and he and Patchett might have met up that way, but now I think Patchett and Proctor may have been involved in a business venture together.’

  ‘Patchett and Proctor. Sounds like a firm of lawyers. What kind of business venture?’

  ‘I don’t know for sure, but this place is near the border, and it’s been used for storage recently. There are wood shavings and foam pellets in the room next to the body, and marks on the floor that look like they could have been left by packing cases. Might be worth getting a sniffer dog in there.’

  ‘You figure drugs?’

  ‘It’s possible.’

  ‘You take a look inside his cabin?’

  ‘Just to see if he was there.’

  ‘You search it?’

  ‘That would be illegal.’

  ‘That’s not answering the question, but I’ll assume that you did. I would have, and you’re at least as unscrupulous as I am. And since
you’re good at what you do, you’d have found an envelope filled with cash under the mattress.’

  ‘Would I? How interesting.’

  Walsh leaned against my car and looked from the trailer to the truck, then to the motel and back again. His face grew serious.

  ‘So he’s got cash, food in the refrigerator, enough booze and candy to stock a convenience store, and his truck appears to be running fine. Yet somehow he ends up barricading himself inside a motel room, firing shots off at the door and window, before sticking the gun in his own mouth and pulling the trigger.’

  ‘His phone, TV, and radio were all broken up,’ I said.

  ‘I saw that. By him, or by someone else?’

  ‘The trailer wasn’t trashed. All of the books were on the shelves, his clothes were still in his closet, and the mattress was still on the bed. If someone was serious about taking the place apart, then they’d have found the money.’

  ‘Assuming they wanted it to begin with.’

  ‘I spoke to a man named Stunden down in Langdon. He’s the taxidermist, but he also runs the local bar.’

  ‘You gotta love small towns,’ said Walsh. ‘If he could add undertaker to his list of accomplishments, he’d be indispensable.’

  ‘Stunden told me that Proctor was troubled. He felt that he was being haunted.’

  ‘Haunted?’

  ‘That was the word he used to Stunden, but Stunden seemed to think that it might be a symptom of post-traumatic stress as a consequence of his time in Iraq. He wouldn’t be the first soldier to come back with mental as well as physical scars.’

  ‘Like your client’s son? Two suicides, each known to the other. That strike you as odd?’

  I didn’t reply. I wondered how long it would take Walsh to connect the deaths of Proctor and Damien with the earlier suicide of Bernie Kramer up in Quebec, and the murder-suicide involving Brett Harlan. Once he did so, he’d probably come up with Joel Tobias as well. I made a mental note to ask Bennett Patchett to keep Tobias’s name out of any conversations he might have with the state police, at least for now.

  Four soldiers, three from the same squad and one peripherally connected to the others, all dead from what appeared to be self-inflicted wounds, along with a wife who had been unfortunate enough to encounter her husband with a bayonet in his hand. I’d gone back to the newspaper reports on the killings, and it wasn’t hard to read between the lines and figure that both Brett and Margaret Harlan had met terrible ends.

  Increasingly, I was starting to believe that something very bad had occurred over in Iraq, an experience that the men of Stryker C had shared and brought back with them, even if Carrie Saunders had nixed that idea. I still couldn’t grasp how it might tie in with what Jimmy Jewel suspected of Joel Tobias: that he was running a smuggling operation via his trucking business. But there were the marks on the floor of room fourteen to consider, and the traces of packing materials alongside them, and the fact that, if Stunden was right, then Proctor had apparently been visited by some of the men from Stryker C before he died. Then there was the cash under the mattress, which suggested that Proctor had recently been paid for something: storage facilities, I guessed, which raised the question of what was being stored. Drugs still seemed the likeliest option, but Jimmy Jewel hadn’t been convinced, and it would have taken a lot of very heavy drugs to leave those marks on the carpet. Anyway, from what I knew of the international drug trade, Afghanistan was more likely to provide a source of wholesale drugs than Iraq, and Tobias’s squad hadn’t served in Afghanistan.

  Soames called to Walsh, and he left me to my thoughts. I wondered what was happening over in Bangor. If Bobby Jandreau didn’t see the wisdom of talking soon, it would be time at last to put significant pressure on Joel Tobias.

  Darkness closed in, but the air did not cool. Insects bit, and I heard movements in the undergrowth of the forest as the night creatures came out to feed, and to hunt. The medical examiner arrived, and Klieg lights illuminated the motel as Harold Proctor’s body was removed, ready to be taken to the Maine Medical Examiner’s office down in Augusta. His would be the sole body down there, but not for long. Soon, he would have plenty of company.

  26

  They came at nightfall. A soft breeze brought movement to the woods, hiding their approach, but Angel and Louis had been waiting for them, knowing that they would come. They had exchanged positions every hour to keep each other alert, and it was Angel who was watching the Mustang when the figures appeared, his sharp eyes picking up the slight change in the shadows cast by the swaying trees. He touched his partner’s sleeve, and Louis turned his attention from the house to the car. Silently, they watched the two men descend, their arms unnaturally extended by the guns in their hands, the suppressors like swollen tissue about to burst.

  They were good: that was Louis’s first thought. There must be a vehicle nearby, but he hadn’t heard it, and Angel hadn’t picked them up until they were almost on top of the car. Anyone in the Mustang would have been dead before he realized what was happening. The two men melted back into the shadows again as they realized the Mustang was unoccupied, and even Louis had to strain to follow their progress. They wore no masks, which meant that they weren’t concerned about witnesses, because they would only be seen by whomever was in the house, and then for only as long as it took their victims to die.

  Victims: that was the other matter. The situation at Bobby Jandreau’s house had been complicated by the arrival of Mel Nelson, his estranged girlfriend, two hours earlier. Incredible as it seemed, the spontaneous relationship advice offered that afternoon seemed to have made an impression. Louis had regarded the couple impassively as they talked in the living room for a time before Mel walked slowly over to Bobby, then knelt before him and embraced him. After that, they had retired to what Louis presumed was the bedroom, and they had not been seen since.

  More distorted shadows. The gunmen were at the rear of the house now, where there was no chance of being seen by a neighbor at a window, or by someone taking a dog for a bedtime walk. One at either side of the door. A nod. Breaking glass. A figure poised to provide cover, the gun raised, as the other reached in through the hole to open the lock. Movement inside the house in response to the intrusion. A scream. The slamming closed of a bedroom door.

  Louis took the first man with two shots to the back and a third, the killing shot, to the base of the skull. There was no warning, no invitation to turn with his hands held high, no chance to surrender. Such gestures were for the good guys in westerns, the ones who wore white hats and got the girl at the end. In real life, good guys who give chances to killers end up dead, and Louis, who had no idea if he was truly good or not, and could not have cared less, had no intention of dying for a romantic ideal. As the slain man fell, Louis’s gun was already swinging right. The second of the would-be killers was struggling to drag his hand back through the broken pane, his sleeve snagged on a jagged edge, his own body preventing him from responding to the approaching threat. But now there were two guns on him, and he froze for an instant as he acknowledged the impossibility of his own survival. There was sudden pain and then, fast upon it, sound, and he slumped against the wood, his left arm still hanging above his head, the glass erupting through the material of his jacket. He had just enough strength left to raise his gun, but it was pointing at nothing, and then nothing was all that there was.

  The bedroom door remained closed. Angel called out to Jandreau as Louis began to detach the impaled man from the door.

  ‘Bobby Jandreau, can you hear me?’ he said. ‘My name is Angel. My partner and I were here earlier with Charlie Parker.’

  ‘I hear you,’ said Jandreau. ‘I have a gun.’

  ‘Well, that’s great,’ said Angel. ‘Go you. In the meantime, we got two bodies out here, and you and your girlfriend are only alive because of us. So do whatever you have to do, because we’re moving you out.’

  There was the sound of whispered conversation from inside. Moments later, the door op
ened and Bobby Jandreau appeared in the gap, seated in his wheelchair and wearing only a pair of boxer shorts, his Beretta held uncertainly before him. He looked at Louis, who was dragging in the first of the bodies while Angel kept watch. It left a bloody trail along the pine floor.

  ‘We need trash bags and duct tape,’ said Louis. ‘A mop and water too, unless you think red goes well with the walls.’

  Mel peered around the door. She seemed to be naked, apart from a strategically placed towel.

  ‘Ma’am,’ said Angel, nodding his head in acknowledgment of her. ‘You might want to put some clothes on. Playtime’s over . . .’

  By the time Jandreau and his girlfriend were dressed, and had packed some clothes and toiletries into a bag, the two bodies were trussed in black garbage sacks and wrapped with tape. Jandreau stared at them from his chair. He had identified them instantly, even as death wrought its changes on them: Twizell and Greenham, both ex-Marines.

  ‘They were STA,’ he said. ‘Surveillance and Target Acquisition, eighty-four fifty-one military occupational specialty.’

  Angel stared at him blankly.

  ‘Scout snipers,’ explained Louis. ‘They were slumming it tonight.’

  ‘They were one of two Marine sniper teams that we inserted into Al-Adhamiya,’ continued Jandreau. ‘It was just before—’

  Well, that was it. That was the story. Bobby Jandreau wanted to talk now. He wanted to tell it all because his buddies had turned on him at last, but Angel told him to save it for later. Mel Nelson drove a big old truck with a cabin back, so they had her bring it around behind the house and they threw the bodies inside. Then they put Jandreau and Mel into the Mustang, first taking care to remove and disable the GPS, and Angel drove them to a motel just outside Bucksport while Louis, following Jandreau’s directions, took the truck to a disused granite quarry near Frankfort. There, using rope and chains from Jandreau’s garage, he weighted the bodies and dropped them into dark water. He was about to dump the GPS tracker in the Penobscot when he reconsidered. It really was a neat piece of gear, better than he could have constructed himself. He tossed it in the back of Mel’s truck and joined the others back at the motel.

 

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