The killing kind, p.27
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       The Killing Kind, p.27

           John Connolly
 

  And then there was Waco, which demonstrated why law enforcement agencies have traditionally been reluctant to intervene in the affairs of religious groups. But in 1963, such incidents were almost beyond imagining; there would have been no reason to fear for the safety of the Aroostook Baptists, no need to doubt the intentions of the Reverend Faulkner, and no cause for his disciples to fear to walk with him in the valley of the shadow of death.

  ∗ ∗ ∗

  The ME’s Dodge arrived while we stood silently by the lakeshore, and preparations began for the transportation of more bodies to the airfield at Presque Isle. Brouchard was tied up with the details of the removal, so I walked to the edge of the trees and watched the figures move beneath the canvas. It was approaching three o’clock and it was cool by the river. The wind blowing off the water buffeted the ME’s men as they carried a body bag from the scene, strapped onto a stretcher to prevent any further damage to the bones. From the north, the hybrids sang.

  Not all of them had died here, of that I was certain. This land wasn’t even part of the parcel originally leased to them. The fields they had worked were over the rise, behind the kennels; and the houses, now long gone, were farther back still. The adults would have been killed at or near the settlement; it would have been difficult to get them to come to the place intended for their burial, harder still to control them once the slaughter started. It made sense to bury them away from the center of the community in case, at some future date, suspicion mutated into action and a search of the property took place. Safer, then, to dispose of them by the lake.

  According to Grace’s article, the community had apparently dispersed in December 1963. The evidence of the burial would have been masked by the winter snows. By the time the thaws came and the ground turned to mud, there would be little to distinguish this patch of land from any other. It was solid ground; it should not have collapsed, but it did.

  After all, they had been waiting for a long, long time.

  I closed my eyes and listened as the world faded around me, trying to imagine what it must have been like in those final minutes. The howling became muted, the noise of the cars on the road beyond transformed itself into the buzzing of flies, and amid the gentle brushing of the branches above my head . . .

  I hear gunshots.

  There are men running, caught as they work in the fields. Two have already fallen, bloody holes gaping ragged in their backs. One of those still alive turns, a pitchfork clutched in his hands. Its center disintegrates as the shot tears through it, wood and metal entering his body simultaneously. They pursue the last one through the grass, reloading as they go. Above them, a murder of crows circles, calling loudly. The cries of the last man to die mingle with them, and then all is quiet.

  I heard a sound in the trees behind me, but when I looked there were only branches moving slightly, as if disturbed by the passage of some animal. Beyond, the green faded to black and the shapes of the trees became indistinct.

  The women are the next to die. They have been told to kneel and pray in one of the houses, to think upon the sins of the community. They hear the gunshots but do not understand their significance. The door opens and Elizabeth Jessop turns. A man is silhouetted against the evening light. He tells her to look away, to turn to the cross and beg for forgiveness.

  Elizabeth closes her eyes and begins to pray.

  Behind me the noise came again, like gentle footfalls slowly growing closer. Something was emerging from the darkness, but I did not turn.

  The children are the last to die. They sense that something is wrong, that something has happened that should not have occurred, yet they have followed the Preacher down to the lake, where the grave is already dug and the waters are still before them. They are obedient, as little ones should always be.

  They too kneel down to pray, the mud wet beneath their knees, the wooden boards heavy around their necks, the ropes burning against their skin. They have been told to hold their hands against their breasts, the thumbs crossed as they have been taught, but James Jessop reaches out and takes his sister’s hand in his own. Beside him, she starts to cry and he grips her hand tighter.

  “Don’t cry,” he says.

  A shadow falls over him.

  “Don’t—”

  I felt a coldness in my right hand. James Jessop was standing beside me in the shade of a yellow birch tree, his small hand curled around mine. Sunlight reflected from the single clear lens of his glasses. From the covered area below, two figures emerged carrying another small bundle on a stretcher.

  “They’re going to take you away from here, James,” I said.

  He nodded and moved closer to me, the presence of him chilling my leg and ribs.

  “It didn’t hurt none,” he said. “Everything just went dark.”

  I was glad that he had felt no pain. I tried to press his hand, to give him some sign, but there was nothing there, only cold air.

  He looked up at me. “I have to leave now.”

  “I know.”

  His undamaged eye was brown, flashes of yellow at its center eclipsed by the dark moon of his pupil. I should have seen my face reflected in his eye and in the lens of his glasses, but I could detect no trace of myself. It was as if I were the unreal one, the phantasm, and James Jessop who was flesh and blood, skin and bone.

  “He said we were bad, but I was never bad. I always did what I was told, right up to the end.”

  The chill faded from my fingers as he released my hand and began to walk back into the forest, his knees raised high so that he would not brush through the briers and the long grass. I didn’t want him to leave.

  I wanted to comfort him.

  I wanted to understand.

  I called his name. He stopped and stared back at me.

  “Have you seen the Summer Lady, James?” I asked. A tear dropped onto my cheek and rolled down to the corner of my mouth. I savored it with my tongue.

  He nodded solemnly.

  “She’s waiting for me,” he said. “She’s going to take me to the others.”

  “Where is she, James?”

  James Jessop raised his hand and pointed into the darkness of the forest, then turned and walked into the tangles and trees, until the shadows of the branches embraced him and I could see him no more.

  19

  AS I DROVE DOWN TO WATERVILLE to meet Angel and Louis, my hand tingled from the touch of a lost child. St. Froid Lake had seemed indescribably desolate. I still heard the howls of the hybrids ringing in my ears, a perpetual chorus of mourning for the dead. Pictures of flapping canvas and piles of earth, of cold water and old brown bones flashed through my mind before coalescing into a single image of James Jessop receding into the hidden reaches of the forest, where an unseen woman in a summer dress waited to take him away.

  I felt a surge of gratitude that there was somebody waiting for him at the edge of the darkness, that he would not have to make that journey alone.

  I just hoped that there was somebody waiting for us all.

  ∗ ∗ ∗

  In Waterville, I parked outside the Ames mall and waited. It was almost an hour before the black Lexus appeared, turning onto the main street and parking at its far end. I watched Angel get out and walk casually to the corner of Main and Temple, then turn into the back lot of the Fellowship’s building at the junction with the Hunan Legends Chinese restaurant when he saw that the street was clear. I locked the Mustang, met Louis, and together we walked down to Temple to join Angel. He stood in the shadows and handed us each a pair of gloves. His own hands were already concealed and holding the handle of the newly opened door.

  “I think I’m gonna add Waterville to the list of places I’m never gonna retire to,” remarked Angel as we stepped into the building. “Along with Bogotá and Bangladesh.”

  “I’ll break the sad news to the Chamber of Commerce,” I told him. “I don’t know how they’ll cope.”

  “So where are you planning on retiring to?”

  “Maybe I
won’t live long enough for it to become an issue.”

  “Man, you sure going the right way about it,” said Louis. “Grim Reaper probably got your number on speed dial.”

  We followed Angel up the thinly carpeted stairs until we arrived at a wooden door with a small plastic sign nailed to it at eye level. It read simply: THE FELLOWSHIP. There was a bell on the door frame to the right, in case anyone somehow managed to sneak in the front door without Ms. Torrance turning on them like a hungry rottweiler. I slipped out my mini Maglite and shined it on the lock. I had taken the precaution of wrapping some duct tape around the top so that only a thin beam of light about half the size of a dime showed. Angel took a pick and a tension tool from his pocket and opened the door in five seconds flat. Inside, the lights from the street shone on a reception area with three plastic chairs, a wooden desk with a telephone and blotter on top, a filing cabinet in one corner, and some vaguely inspirational pictures on the walls featuring sunsets and doves and small children.

  Angel jiggled the lock on the filing cabinet and when it clicked, pulled open the top drawer. Using his own flashlight, he illuminated a pile of conservative and religious tracts published by the Fellowship itself and other groups of which the Fellowship presumably approved. They included The Christian Family; Other Races, Other Rules; Enemies of the People; Jewry: The Truth About the Chosen People; Killing the Future: The Reality of Abortion; and Daddy Doesn’t Love Me Anymore: Divorce and the American Family.

  “Look at this one,” said Angel. “Natural Laws, Unnatural Acts: How Homosexuality Is Poisoning America.”

  “Maybe they’ve smelled your aftershave,” I replied. “Anything in the other drawers?”

  Angel went through them quickly. “Looks like more of the same.”

  He opened the door into the main office. This was more elegantly furnished than the reception area; the desk was marginally more expensive, with a high-backed imitation leather chair behind it and a pair of couches in the same material against two of the walls, a low coffee table between them. The walls were covered with photographs of Carter Paragon at various events, usually surrounded by people who didn’t know any better than to be happy around him. The sunlight had shone directly onto these images for a long time. Some of the photographs had faded or turned yellow in the corners, and a coating of dust added a further element of dullness. In the corner, beneath an ornate crucifix, stood another filing cabinet, stronger and sturdier than the one in the reception area. It took Angel a couple of tries to get it open, but when he did his brow furrowed in surprise.

  “What is it?” I said.

  “Take a look,” he replied.

  I walked over and shined my light into the open drawer. It was empty, apart from a thick coating of dust. Angel opened the other drawers in turn, but only the bottom drawer contained anything: a bottle of whiskey and two tumblers. I closed the drawer and reopened the one above it: there was only dust, and dust that obviously had not been disturbed for a long time.

  “Either this is special holy dust,” said Angel, “which would explain why it has to be locked up safe at night, or there’s nothing here and there never was.”

  “It’s just a front,” I said. “The whole thing is just a front.” Just as Amy had told me, the Waterville organization was simply a mask to fool the unwary. The other Fellowship, the one with the real power, existed elsewhere.

  “There must be records of some kind,” I said.

  “Maybe he keeps them out at his house,” suggested Angel.

  I looked at him. “You got anything better to do?”

  “Than burgle a guy’s house? No, not really.” He took a closer look at the lock on the filing cabinet. “Tell you something else; I think someone tried to get this open before we did. There are marks around the lock. They’re small, but it was still a pretty amateur job.”

  We relocked the doors and headed downstairs. At the back door, Angel paused and checked the lock with the aid of his pocket light. “Back door’s been opened from outside,” he said. “There are fresh scratches around the keyhole, and I didn’t make them. Guess I didn’t see them because I wasn’t looking for them.”

  There was nothing else to say. We weren’t the only people interested in finding out what was in Carter Paragon’s files, and I knew that we weren’t the only ones hunting Mr. Pudd. Lester Bargus had learned that too, in his final moments.

  ∗ ∗ ∗

  Carter Paragon’s house was quiet as we drove past. We parked our cars off the road, in the shadows cast by a stand of pine trees, and followed the boundary wall of the property around to a barred security gate at the back of the house. There were no video cameras visible, although there was an intercom on the gatepost, just as there was at the main entrance to the house. We climbed over the wall, Angel and I going first, Louis joining us after what seemed like a very reluctant pause. When he hit the soft lawn, he looked in dismay at the marks left by the white wall on his black jeans but said nothing.

  We skirted the house, staying within the cover of the trees. A single light burned in a curtained room on the upper floor at the eastern side. The same battered blue car was parked in the drive, but its hood was cool. It hadn’t been driven that evening. The Explorer was nowhere to be seen. The curtains on the window were drawn tight, so it was impossible to see inside.

  “What do you want to do?” asked Angel.

  “Ring the doorbell,” I replied.

  “I thought we were going to burgle him,” hissed Angel, “not try to sell him the Watchtower.”

  I rang the bell anyway and Angel went quiet. Nobody answered, even when I rang it again for a good ten seconds. Angel left us and disappeared around the back of the house. A couple of minutes later he returned.

  “I think you need to take a look at this,” he said.

  We followed him to the rear of the house and entered through the open back door into a small, cheaply furnished kitchen. There was broken glass on the floor where someone had smashed a pane to get at the lock.

  “I take it that isn’t your handiwork?” I asked Angel.

  “I won’t even dignify that with an answer.”

  Louis had already drawn his gun, and I followed his lead. I looked into a couple of the rooms as we passed but they were all virtually empty; there was hardly any furniture, no pictures on the walls, no carpet on the floor. One room had a TV and VCR, faced by a pair of old armchairs and a rickety coffee table, but most of the house appeared to be unoccupied. The front room was the only one that held anything significant: hundreds and hundreds of books and pamphlets recently packed into boxes, ready to be taken away. There were American underground training manuals and improvised weapon guides; instructions for the creation of homemade munitions, timers, and detonators; catalogues of military suppliers; and any number of books on covert surveillance. In the box nearest the door lay a stack of photocopied, crudely bound volumes; stenciled on the cover of each were the words Army of God.

  The name Army of God had first cropped up in 1982, when the abortion doctor Hector Zevallos and his wife were kidnapped in Illinois and their kidnappers used the name in their dealings with the FBI. Since then, Army of God calling cards had been left at the scene of clinic bombings, and the anonymously published manual I was holding in my hand had become synonymous with a particular brand of religious extremism. It was a kind of anarchist cookbook for religious nuts, a guide to blowing up property and, if necessary, people for the greater glory of the Lord.

  Louis was holding a thick photocopied list in his hand, one of a number piled on the floor. “Abortion clinics, AIDS clinics, home addresses for doctors, license plate numbers for civil rights activists and feminists. Guy here on page three, Gordon Eastman, he’s a gay rights activist in Wisconsin.”

  “There’s a job you don’t want,” whispered Angel. “Like selling dildos in Alabama.”

  I tossed the Army of God manual back in the box. “These people are exporting low-level chaos to every cracker with a grudge and a mailb
ox.”

  “So where are they?” asked Angel.

  In unison, the three of us glanced at the ceiling and the second floor of the house. Angel groaned softly.

  “I had to ask.”

  We climbed the stairs quietly, Louis in the lead, Angel behind him, while I brought up the rear. The room with the light was at the very end of the hallway, at the front of the house. Louis paused at the first doorway we reached and checked quickly to make sure it was empty. It contained only a bare iron bedstead and a suitcase half-full of men’s clothing, while the adjoining rooms had been stripped bare of whatever furniture had been there to begin with.

  “Maybe he had a yard sale,” suggested Louis.

  “He did, then someone wasn’t happy with his merchandise,” responded Angel solemnly. He was standing close to the doorway of the single illuminated room, his gun by his side.

  Inside was a bed, an electric heater, and a set of Home Depot shelves filled with paperback books and topped by a potted plant. There was a small closet containing some of Carter Paragon’s suits, more of which lay on the bed. A wooden chair, one of a pair, stood beside a dressing table. A portable TV sat silent and dark on a cheap unit.

  Carter Paragon was in the second wooden chair, blood on the carpet around him. His arms had been pulled behind him and secured with cuffs. He had been badly beaten; one eye had been reduced to pulp by a punch and his face was swollen and bruised. His feet were bare and two of the toes on his right foot were broken.

  “Take a look here,” said Angel, pointing to the back of the chair.

  I looked, and winced. Four of his fingernails had been torn out. I tried for a pulse. There was nothing, but the body was still warm to the touch.

  Carter Paragon’s head was inclined backward, his face to the ceiling. His mouth hung open, and amid the blood lay something small and brown. I took a handkerchief from my pocket, then reached in and removed the object, holding it up to the light. A string of bloody saliva dripped from it and fell to the floor.

 

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