The whisperers, p.28
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       The Whisperers, p.28

           John Connolly
 

  And there, for want of anything better to do, they let Bobby Jandreau begin to tell his tale.

  27

  Walsh kept me sitting around until Proctor’s body had been taken away. I think he was punishing me for not being more forthcoming, but at least he was talking to me and hadn’t come up with some obscure legal reason to put me in a cell for the night. Since it would take me almost three hours to get to Portland, and I was tired and wanted to shower, I decided to find a place nearby to stay. The decision wasn’t entirely mine to make. Forensics wanted to wait until morning to make a full sweep of the property, and the sniffer dogs would arrive soon after. Walsh had suggested that, in a spirit of goodwill and co operation, I might like to remain in the vicinity, just in case a question occurred to him the next day, or even during the night.

  ‘I keep a notepad beside my bed expressly for that purpose,’ he said, as he leaned his considerable bulk against the car.

  ‘Really?’ I said. ‘Just in case you can come up with awkward questions to ask me?’

  ‘That’s right. You’d be surprised at how many cops might say the same thing.’

  ‘You know, I wouldn’t be.’

  He shook his head in a despairing way, like a dog trainer faced with a recalcitrant animal that refuses to give up its ball. Some distance away, Soames was watching us unhappily. Once again, he clearly very much wanted to be part of the conversation, but Walsh was deliberately excluding him. It was interesting. I predicted tensions in their relationship. Had they been a couple, Walsh would have been sleeping in the spare room that night.

  ‘Some might say that we underpaid state cops have a legitimate beef against you, given what happened to Hansen,’ he continued, and I instantly recalled Hansen, a detective with the Maine State Police, standing in the deserted house in Brooklyn in which my wife and child had been killed. He had followed me there out of some misguided missionary zeal, and he had been punished for it: not by me, but by another, a killer to whom Hansen was inconsequential and for whom I was the true prize.

  ‘It doesn’t look like he’s ever going to work again,’ said Walsh, ‘and it’s never been clear just what he was doing in your house on the night that he was hurt.’

  ‘Are you asking me to tell you about that night?’

  ‘No, because I know that you won’t, and anyway, I read the official version. It had more holes in it than a hobo’s drawers. If you did tell me anything, it would be a lie, or a partial truth, like all that you’ve told me so far this evening.’

  ‘And yet here we are, taking in the night air and being civil to each other.’

  ‘Indeed. I bet you’re curious as to why that might be.’

  ‘Go on, I’ll bite.’

  Walsh hoisted himself from my car, found his cigarettes, and lit up.

  ‘Because even though you’re a jerk, and believe you know better than everyone else, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I think you’re fighting the good fight. We’ll talk tomorrow, just in case I’ve scribbled something brilliant and incisive in my notebook overnight, or in case forensics has a question about some part of the crime scene that you’ve contaminated, but after that you can go about your business. What I expect in return is that, at some point in the near future, I’ll receive a call from you, and you’ll feel compelled to unburden yourself of what you know, or what you’ve learned. After that, if it’s not too late to do anything other than view a body, given your previous form, I’ll have an answer to what happened here, and I may even get a promotion by wrapping it all up. How does that sound?’

  ‘That sounds reasonable.’

  ‘I’d like to think so. Now you can get in your fancy Lexus and drive out of here. Some of us have overtime to earn. Incidentally, I never took you for a Lexus guy. Last I heard, you were driving a Mustang, like you’re Steve McQueen.’

  ‘The Mustang’s in the shop,’ I lied. ‘This is a loaner.’

  ‘A loaner from New York? Don’t give me a reason to run those plates. Well, if you can’t find a room in Rangeley, you can just sleep in that car. It’s big enough. Drive safely now.’

  I headed back to Rangeley and sought out a room at the Rangeley Inn. The main building, its lobby decorated with deer heads and a stuffed bear, wasn’t yet open for the season, so I was given a motel room in the lodge at the rear. There were a couple of other cars parked nearby, one of them with a map of the area on its passenger seat, and a decal for a TV station out of Bangor on the dashboard, to which had been appended a handwritten sign pleading ‘Do Not Tow!’ I showered, and changed my shirt for a t-shirt I had picked up at a gas station. The smell of Proctor’s decay was still with me afterward, but it was mostly remembered, not actual. More troubling to me was the sense of unease that I had experienced in the room adjoining Proctor’s body. It felt as though I had wandered in at the tail end of an argument in time to hear only the echo of the final words, all venom and malice. I wondered if they were the same words that Harold Proctor heard before he died.

  I walked over to Sarge’s pub to get something to eat. It wasn’t a hard choice, since it was the only place nearby that seemed to be open. Sarge’s had a long, curving bar with five TVs showing four different sports and, in the case of the final screen behind the bar, a local news show. The volume on the sports screens had been turned down, and a group of men was watching the news in silence. Proctor’s death had made the lead, as much for the oddness of his passing as for the fact that it was a slow news night. Suicides didn’t usually merit that kind of coverage, and the local news stations generally tended to be pretty sensitive to the feelings of the relatives of the deceased, but some of the details of Proctor’s death had clearly caught their attention: a man sealed up from the inside in a room of a disused motel, his life ended by an apparently self-inflicted wound. The report didn’t mention the shots that he had fired at someone outside the room before he killed himself.

  I heard muttered words as I took a seat away from the bar, and a couple of heads turned in my direction. One of them belonged to Stunden, the taxidermist. I ordered a burger and a glass of wine from the waitress. The wine arrived quickly, closely followed by Stunden. I cursed myself quietly. I had forgotten all about my earlier promise to him. The least I had owed him, both for the information he had provided and because of his concern for Harold Proctor, was a personal visit, and some clarification of what had occurred.

  Those who had stayed in their seats were all looking in my direction. Stunden smiled apologetically, and shot a quick look at the men behind him, as if to say, well, you know how small towns are. To their credit, those at the bar were clearly trying to balance embarrassment with curiosity, but curiosity was ahead by a neck.

  ‘Sorry to bother you, Mr. Parker, but we hear that it was you who found Harold.’

  I gestured to the seat across from me, and he sat. ‘There’s no apology necessary, Mr. Stunden. I should have paid a courtesy call to you after the police let me go, but it had been a long day, and I forgot. I’m sorry for that.’

  Stunden’s eyes looked red. He’d been drinking some, but I thought that he might also have been crying.

  ‘I understand. It was a shock for all of us. I couldn’t open the bar, not after what happened. That’s why I’m here. I thought somebody might know more than I did, and then you came in, and, well . . .’

  ‘I can’t tell you much,’ I said, and he was smart enough to pick up on the dual meaning of the words.

  ‘If you’d just tell me what you can, that would be enough. Is what they’re saying about him true?’

  ‘Is what who’s saying true?’

  Stunden shrugged. ‘The TV people. Nobody here has heard anything official from the detectives. Closest thing we have is the border patrol. The story is that Harold committed suicide.’

  ‘It looks that way.’

  If there had been a cap in Stunden’s hand, he would have twisted it awkwardly.

  ‘One of the border cops told Ben here—’ He jerked a thumb at
an overweight man in a camo shirt, his belt so weighted with keys, knives, phones, and flashlights that his pants were almost around his thighs. ‘—that there was something hinky about Harold’s death, but he wouldn’t say what it was.’

  There was that word again: hinky. Joel Tobias was hinky. Harold Proctor’s death was hinky. It was all hinky.

  Ben, and two other men from the bar, drawn by the prospect of some enlightenment, had gravitated toward us. I weighed up my options before I spoke, and saw that there was no benefit to me in holding anything back from them. Everything would emerge eventually, if not later tonight when some off-duty border cop came in for a drink, then tomorrow at the latest when the town’s own information-gathering resources began to kick into gear. But I also knew that while there might be aspects of Harold Proctor’s death about which they did not know, then equally there would be parts of his life about which I had no knowledge, and they did. Stunden had been helpful. Some of these men might be helpful too.

  ‘He fired all the bullets in his gun before he died,’ I said. ‘He saved the last one for himself.’

  Everyone probably came up with the same question at the same time, but it was Stunden who asked it first.

  ‘What was he firing at?’

  ‘Something outside,’ I said, again pushing to the back of my mind the spread of the bullet holes in the room.

  ‘You think he was chased in there?’ asked Proctor.

  ‘Hard to see how a man being chased would have time to nail himself up in a room,’ I replied.

  ‘Hell, Harold was crazy,’ said Ben. ‘He never was the same after he came back from Iraq.’

  There were general nods of agreement. If they had their way, it would be carved on his headstone. ‘Harold Proctor. Somewhat Missed. Was Crazy.’

  ‘Well,’ I said, ‘you now know as much as I do.’

  They began to drift away. Only Stunden remained. He was the only one of the men who appeared genuinely distressed at the circumstances of Harold’s death.

  ‘You OK?’ I asked him.

  ‘No, not really. I guess I wasn’t as close to Harold in recent times as I once was, but I was still his friend. It troubles me to think of him being so . . .’

  He couldn’t find the word.

  ‘Frightened?’ I said.

  ‘Yeah, frightened, and alone. To die that way, I mean, it just doesn’t seem right.’

  The waitress came by with my burger, and I ordered myself another glass of wine, even though I’d barely touched the glass before me. I pointed at Stunden’s glass.

  ‘Bushmills,’ he said. ‘No water. Thanks.’

  I waited until the drinks appeared, and the waitress was gone. Stunden took a long sip of his drink as I ate my food.

  ‘And I suppose I feel guilty,’ he said. ‘Does that make sense? I feel like, had I done more to stay in touch with him, to bring him out of his shell, to ask him about his problems, then none of this would have happened.’

  I could have lied to him. I could have said that Proctor’s death had nothing to do with him, that Proctor had been set on a different path, a path that led ultimately to a lonely, terrified death in a sealed room, but I didn’t. It would have belittled the man before me, a man who was decent and honorable.

  ‘I can’t say if that’s true or not,’ I told him. ‘But Harold got himself involved in something odd, and that wasn’t your fault. In the end, that’s probably what got him killed.’

  ‘Odd?’ he said. ‘What do you mean by odd?’

  ‘Did you ever see trucks go in and out of Harold’s place?’ I asked. ‘Big rigs, possibly on the way down from Canada.’

  ‘Jeez, I wouldn’t know. If the truck came up from Portland or Augusta, maybe, but if they came through Coburn Gore then they’d get to Harold’s place before they reached Langdon.’

  ‘Is there someone who would know?’

  ‘I can ask around.’

  ‘I don’t have that kind of time, Mr. Stunden. Look, I’m not the police, and you have no obligation to provide me with information, but do you remember what I told you earlier today?’

  Stunden nodded. ‘About the boy who killed himself.’

  ‘That’s right. And now Harold Proctor is dead, and it looks like another suicide.’

  I could have mentioned Kramer in Quebec, and Brett Harlan and his wife, to clinch the deal, but if I did then it would become part of the bar conversation, and that, in turn, would get back to the cops eventually. There were any number of reasons why I didn’t want that to happen. I’d only just got my license back, and despite vague assurances that it was in no danger of immediate revocation again, I didn’t need to give the state police any excuse to go after me. At the very least, I’d incur the displeasure of Walsh, and I kind of liked him, although if we were ever jailed together I wouldn’t want to share a cell with him.

  But, more than all of that, I recognized the old hunger. I wanted to explore what was happening, to uncover the deeper connections between the deaths of Harold Proctor, Damien Patchett, and the others. I knew now that I was a private investigator in name only, that the mundane stuff of false insurance claims, cheating spouses, and thieving employees might be enough to pay my bills, but it was no more than that. I had come to realize that my desire to join the police and my short, less than illustrious career in the NYPD were not solely about making recompense for my father’s perceived failings. He had killed two young people before taking his own life, and his actions had tainted the memory of him and marked me. I was a bad cop – not corrupt, not violent, not inept, but still bad – for I lacked the discipline and patience, and maybe the absence of ego, that the job required. The acquisition of a private investigator’s license had seemed like a compromise that I could live with, a means of fulfilling some vague sense of purpose by acquiring the trappings of legality. I knew that I could never be a cop again, but I still had the instincts required, and the sense of purpose, of vocation, that marked out the ones who didn’t do it solely for the benefits, or the camaraderie, or the promise of cashing out in twenty and opening a bar in Boca Raton.

  So I could have handed over everything that I knew or suspected to Walsh and walked away. After all, his resources were greater than mine, and I had no reason to believe that his sense of purpose was inferior to my own. But I wanted this. Without it, what was I? So I would take my chances; I would trade when I had to trade, and hoard what I could. At some point, you have to trust your instincts, and yourself. I had learned something in the years since my wife and child were taken from me, and I hunted down the one responsible: I was good at what I did.

  Why?

  Because I had nothing else.

  Now I watched Stunden as he considered the two suicides. I didn’t speak for a while. I just let the possibility of a connection dangle itself before him like a brightly colored fly while I waited for him to bite.

  ‘There’s a guy name of Geagan, Edward Geagan,’ said Stunden. ‘He lives up behind Harold’s place. You wouldn’t know it, not unless you were looking for him, but he’s up there all right. Like a lot of people around here, like Harold did, he keeps himself to himself, but he’s not weird or nothing. He’s just quiet. If anyone would know, Edward would.’

  ‘I want to talk to him before the cops do. He have a phone?’

  ‘Edward? I said he was quiet, I didn’t say he was a primitive. He does something with the Internet. Marketing, I think. I don’t even know what “marketing” means, but he’s got more computers up there than NASA. And a phone,’ he added.

  ‘Call him.’

  ‘Can I promise that you’ll buy him a drink?’

  ‘You know those old Westerns, where the hero tells the bartender to leave the bottle?’

  Stunden blinked.

  ‘I’ll call Edward.’

  Edward Geagan turned out to be from geek central casting. He was in his mid-thirties, tall and pale and thin, with long, sandy hair and rimless glasses, dressed in brown polyester pants, cheap brown shoes, and a light ta
n shirt. He looked like someone had put a wig on a giraffe and run it through the local Target.

  ‘This is Mr. Parker, the man I told you about,’ said Stunden. ‘He has some questions he’d like to ask you.’ He spoke as though he were talking to a child. Geagan cocked an eyebrow at him.

  ‘Stunds, why do you insist on talking to me like I’m a moron?’ he said, but there was no hint of unfriendliness to his voice, only vague amusement tinged with a little impatience.

  ‘Because you look like you belong in MIT, not a wood in Franklin County,’ said Stunden. ‘I feel like I should look out for you.’

  Geagan grinned at him, and Stunden, for the first time that evening, grinned back.

  ‘Asshole.’

  ‘Rube.’

  As it turned out, the bartender declined to leave us with the bottle, but he was prepared to keep refilling the glasses as long as Stunden and Geagan could keep ordering without slurring their words. Unfortunately for me, their tolerance for alcohol was at least as great as their tolerance for each other. The bar began to empty at about the same pace as the bottle behind the bar, until pretty soon we were the only people left. We spent some time making small talk, and Geagan told me how he’d ended up in Franklin County, having tired of city life down in Boston.

  ‘The first winter was hard,’ he said. ‘I thought Boston sucked when it snowed, but up here, well, you might as well be at the bottom of an avalanche.’ He grimaced. ‘I miss women too. You know, female company. These small towns, man. The ones who aren’t married have left. It’s like being in the Foreign Legion.’

  ‘It gets better when the tourists come,’ said Stunden. ‘Not much, but some.’

  ‘Damn, I might be dead of frustration by then.’

  They both stared into the bottom of their glasses, as though hoping a mermaid might pop her head out of the booze and flick her tail invitingly at them.

  ‘About Harold Proctor,’ I said, trying to move the conversation along.

 
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