The killing kind, p.28
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       The Killing Kind, p.28

           John Connolly
 

  It was a shard of clay.

  20

  WE DROVE BACK TO SCARBOROUGH THAT NIGHT, Angel and Louis going on ahead while I stopped briefly in Augusta. From a public phone I called the office of the Portland Press Herald, asked to be put through to the news desk, and told the woman who answered that there was a body in the house of Carter Paragon in Waterville but that the police didn’t know about it yet. Then I hung up. At the very least, the Herald would check with the cops, who would in turn head out to knock on Paragon’s door. In the meantime, I had avoided the possibility of enhanced 911, which would have pinpointed my location and raised the possibility of being intercepted by the nearest patrol car, or of my voice being recorded using RACAL or any similar procedure. Then I drove on in silence, thinking of Carter Paragon and the clay that had been deposited in his mouth as a message for whoever found him.

  Angel and Louis were already making themselves at home by the time I got back to the Scarborough house. I could hear Angel in the bathroom, making the place untidy. I banged on the door.

  “Don’t make a mess,” I warned him. “Rachel’s coming up, and I just cleaned it specially.”

  Rachel didn’t like untidiness. She was one of those people who got a kind of satisfaction out of scrubbing away dust and dirt, even other people’s. Whenever she stayed with me in Scarborough, I would be sure to find her advancing on the bathroom or kitchen in rubber gloves with a determined look on her face.

  “She cleans your bathroom?” Angel once asked, as if I had told him that Rachel regularly sacrificed goats or played women’s golf. “I don’t even clean my own bathroom, and I sure as hell ain’t gonna clean no stranger’s bathroom.”

  “I’m not a stranger, Angel,” I explained.

  “Hey,” he replied, “when it comes to bathroom stuff, everybody’s a stranger.”

  In the kitchen, Louis was squatting in front of the fridge, discarding items on the floor. He checked the expiration date on some cold cuts.

  “Damn, you buy all this food at auction?”

  I wondered, as I called out for a pizza delivery, if agreeing to let them inside my door had been such a good idea after all.

  ∗ ∗ ∗

  “Who is this guy?” asked Louis. We were sitting at my kitchen table while we waited for our food to arrive, discussing the shard of clay left by Paragon’s killer.

  “Al Z told me he calls himself the Golem, and Epstein’s father confirmed it. That’s all I know. You ever hear of him?”

  He shook his head. “Means he’s very good, or an amateur. Still, cool name.”

  “Yeah, why can’t you have a cool name like that?” asked Angel.

  “Hey, Louis is a cool name.”

  “Only if you’re the king of France. You think he got much out of Paragon?”

  “You saw what he did to him,” I replied. “Paragon probably told him everything he could remember since grade school.”

  “So this Golem knows more than us?”

  “Everybody knows more than us.”

  There came the sound of a car pulling up out front.

  “Pizza boy,” I said.

  Nobody else at the table made a sudden move for his wallet.

  “Guess dinner’s on me, then.”

  I went to the door and took the two pizza boxes from the kid. As I gave him the cash, he spoke quietly to me.

  “I don’t want to worry you, man, but you got a guy over there watching your house.”

  “Where?” I asked.

  “Over my right shoulder, in the trees.”

  “Don’t look at him,” I said. “Just drive away.”

  I tipped him an extra ten, then glanced casually to my left as his car pulled away. Among the trees, something pale hung unmoving in the darkness: a man’s face. I stepped back into the hallway, drew my gun, and called back quietly: “Boys, we’ve got company.”

  I walked out to the porch, the gun at my side. Angel was behind me, his Glock in his hand. Louis was nowhere to be seen, but I guessed that he was already moving around the back of the house. I stepped slowly from the porch and moved forward, the gun held low, until I got a clearer view of the watcher. I saw his hairless scalp and face, his pale skin, his thin mouth and dark eyes. His hands were held slightly out from his sides, so that I could see they were empty. He wore a black suit with a white shirt and black tie under a long black overcoat. In every respect, he resembled the man who had taken out Lester Bargus and probably Carter Paragon as well.

  “Who is he?” hissed Angel.

  “I’m guessing he’s the guy with the cool name.”

  I leaned down, placed my gun on the ground, and walked toward him.

  “Bird,” said Angel, a note of warning in his voice.

  “He’s on my property,” I said, “and he knows it’s mine. Whatever he has to say, he’s here to say it to my face.”

  “Then keep to the right,” he said. “He makes a move, maybe I can take him out before he kills you.”

  “Thanks. I feel safer already.” But I kept to the right as I had been told.

  When I was within a few feet of him he raised one white hand. “That’s close enough, Mr. Parker.” The accent was unusual, with odd, European inflections. “I suggest that your friend also halt his advance through the woods. I’m not going to harm anyone here.”

  I paused, then called out. “Louis, it’s okay.”

  From about fifteen feet to my left, a dark figure separated itself from the trees, his gun held steadily in front of him. Louis didn’t lower the gun, but he didn’t make any further move either.

  Up close, the man was startlingly white, with no color to his lips or his cheeks and only the faintest of dark smudges beneath his eyes. They were a washed-out blue, almost lifeless. Combined with the absence of hair on his face, they made him appear like a wax model that had been left incomplete. His scalp was deeply scarred, as were the places where his eyebrows should have been. I noticed one other thing about him: his face was dry and flaking in places, like a reptile discarding its skin.

  “Who are you?” I asked.

  “I think you know who I am.”

  “Golem,” I said.

  I expected him to nod, maybe even to smile, but he did neither. Instead he said: “The Golem is a myth, Mr. Parker. Do you believe in myths?”

  “I used to discount them, but I’ve been proved wrong in the past. Now I try to keep an open mind. Why did you kill Carter Paragon?”

  “The question is really, Why did I hurt Carter Paragon? For the same reason that you broke into his house an hour later: to find out what he knew. His death was a consequence, not an intention.”

  “You killed Lester Bargus too.”

  “Mr. Bargus supplied weapons to evil men,” he responded simply. “But no longer.”

  “He was unarmed.”

  “So was the rabbi.” He pronounced it “rebbe.”

  “An eye for an eye,” I said.

  “Perhaps. I know something of you too, Mr. Parker. I don’t believe you are in a position to pass judgment on me.”

  “I’m not judging you. Lester Bargus was a lowlife and nobody will miss him, but I’ve found in the past that people willing to strike at unarmed men tend not to be too particular about whom they kill. That concerns me.”

  “Once again, I do not plan to harm you or your friends. The man I want calls himself Pudd. You know of him, I think.”

  “I’ve encountered him.”

  “Do you know where he is?”

  For the first time, a note of eagerness crept into his voice. I guessed that either Paragon had died before he could tell all, or, more interestingly, that he had been unable to tell his killer where Pudd had his lair because he didn’t know.

  “Not yet. I intend to find out, though.”

  “Your intentions and mine may conflict, then.”

  “Maybe we both have similar aims,” I suggested.

  “No, we do not. Yours is a moral crusade. Those who engaged me for this task have a more
specific purpose.”

  “Revenge?”

  “I do only what is required of me,” he said. “No more.” His voice was deep and the words seemed to echo inside him, as if he were a hollow man without substance, only form. “I came to give you a message. Do not come between me and this man. If you do, I will be forced to take action against you.”

  “That sounds like a threat.”

  I didn’t even see him move. One moment he was in front of me, his hands empty, the next he was close by my side and a small center-fire derringer was at my throat, the twin barrels pointing upward to my brain. From out of the darkness, the Beamshot laser sight on Louis’s gun projected its light as he tried to find a clear shot, but my body and the darkness of the Golem’s clothes shielded him from both Louis and Angel.

  “Tell them to back off, Mr. Parker,” he whispered, his head behind mine. “I want you to walk me to my car. You have two seconds.”

  I shouted out the warning immediately, and Louis killed the beam. The Golem pulled me back through the trees, guiding my footsteps. The sleeve of his overcoat had rolled up on his arm and I could see the first of the small blue numbers etched on his skin. He was a concentration camp survivor. I also saw that he had no fingerprints. Instead, the skin and flesh appeared to have collapsed inward, creating a puckered, indented scar at the tip of each finger. Fire, I thought. It was fire that did this to him; fire that scarred his head, fire that took away his fingerprints.

  How do you create a clay demon?

  You bake it in an oven.

  When we reached his car, he made me stand in front of the driver’s door, the gun at my back, as he lowered himself into the driver’s seat.

  “Remember, Mr. Parker,” he said to my back. “Do not interfere with my work.”

  Then, his head low, he sped away.

  Louis and Angel appeared from the trees. I was shaking as I reached up and felt the twin marks where the derringer had been pushed into my flesh.

  “You think you could have hit him before he killed me?” I asked, as his lights faded away.

  Louis thought for a moment. “Probably not. You think he’d have bled?”

  “No. I think he’d just have cracked.”

  “What now?” said Angel.

  “We eat,” although I wasn’t sure how steady my stomach was. We began to walk back to the house.

  “You sure pick colorful people to fall out with,” said Louis as he fell in beside me.

  “Yes,” I said. “I guess I do.”

  All three of us heard the car approaching from behind at the same time. It turned into the yard at full speed and we were frozen in its headlights, our guns raised and our eyes wide. Instantly, the driver killed the beams, and still blinking, we scattered left and right. There was silence for a moment, then the driver’s door opened and Rachel Wolfe’s voice said:

  “Okay, no more coffee for you guys. Ever.”

  ∗ ∗ ∗

  After we had eaten, Rachel went off to take a shower. While Angel sipped his beer by the window, Louis sat at my table finishing a bottle of wine. It was Flagstone sauvignon blanc, from some new winery in Cape Town, South Africa. Louis had two mixed cases imported especially twice yearly and had brought two bottles with him in the trunk of his car. He and Rachel had spent so long cooing over it that I thought one of them must have given birth to the bottle.

  “If you’re a private eye,” asked Angel at last, “how come you ain’t got no office?”

  “I can’t afford an office. If I had an office, I’d have to sell the house and sleep on my desk.”

  “Wouldn’t be such a big stretch. You got next to nothing in this old house anyway. You ever worry about burglars?”

  “Burglars in general, or just the one who happens to be standing in my kitchen right now?”

  He scowled. “In general.”

  “I don’t have anything worth stealing.”

  “That’s what I mean. You ever think of the effect a big empty place like this is going to have on some guy who goes to the trouble of breaking into it? You better hope he ain’t agoraphobic, else you gonna have a lawsuit on your hands.”

  “What are you, some kind of organizer for Burglars Local three-oh-two?”

  “No, just a fly on the wall. One of many, judging by the state of your kitchen.”

  “What are you implying?”

  “What am I always implying? You need some company.”

  “I was thinking of getting a dog.”

  “That wasn’t what I meant, and you know it. How long you planning on keeping her at arm’s length? Till you die? You know, they don’t bury you side by side. You won’t be touching under the ground.”

  “Opportunity only knocks once, man,” drawled his partner. “It don’t knock, knock again, then leave a note asking you to give it a call back when you got your shit together.”

  Behind us there came the sound of bare feet on boards. Rachel stood at the door, drying her hair. Louis glanced at me, then rose and placed his empty bottle in the recycling bin.

  “Time for my bed,” he said. He jerked his chin at Angel as he reached the door. “You too.” He kissed Rachel on the cheek and headed out to the car.

  “You two kids don’t be staying up late smoochin’ and all,” Angel said, then followed Louis into the night.

  “Brought together by a pair of gun-toting gay matchmakers,” I said as we heard their car pull away. “It’ll be something to tell the grandchildren.”

  Rachel looked at me, as if trying to determine if I was being flippant or not. Frankly, I wasn’t sure myself.

  She immediately cut to the chase. “Did you hire people to watch over me in Boston?” she asked.

  “You spotted them?” I was impressed with her, although I got the feeling that it wasn’t mutual.

  “I guess I was on my guard. I called in the license plate of their car when I saw them change shifts. One of them followed me all the way to your front gate.” Rachel’s brother had been a policeman, killed on duty some years back. She still had friends on various forces.

  “I was worried about you.”

  Her voice rose. “I told you, I don’t want you feeling you have to protect me.”

  “Rachel,” I said, “these people are dangerous. I was concerned for Angel too, but at least he carries a gun. What would you have done if they came for you? Thrown plates at them?”

  “You should have told me!” She slapped her hand hard on the table. There was real anger in her eyes.

  “If I had, would you have let it go ahead? I love you, Rach, but you’re stubborn enough to head up the Teamsters.”

  Some of the fury in her eyes died and the hand on the table curled into a small tight fist that shook as the tension gradually eased from her.

  “How can we be together if you’re always afraid of losing me?” she asked gently.

  I thought of the dead of St. Froid, crowding a narrow street in Portland. I thought of James Jessop and the figure I had glimpsed leaning over him, the Summer Lady. I had seen her before: in a subway train; outside the Scarborough house; and once, reflected in the window of my kitchen, as if she were standing behind me, but when I turned to look there was nobody there. Sitting in Chumley’s only a few nights before, it seemed that an accommodation with the past might be possible. But that was before Mickey Shine’s head was impaled on a tree, before James Jessop emerged from a dark forest and took my hand. How could I bring Rachel into that world?

  “I can’t compete with the dead,” she said.

  “I’m not asking you to compete with the dead.”

  “It’s not a question of asking.” She sat across from me, cupped her chin in her hands, and looked sad and distant.

  “I’m trying, Rachel.”

  “I know,” she said. “I know you are.”

  “I love you. I want to be with you.”

  “How?” she whispered, lowering her head. “On weekends in Boston, or weekends here?”

  “How about just here?”
>
  She looked up, as if unsure of what she had heard.

  “I mean it.”

  “When? Before I’m old?”

  “Older.”

  She slapped at me playfully and I reached out to touch her hair. “We’ll get there,” I said and felt her nod against my hand. “And sooner rather than later. I promise.”

  “We’d better,” she said, so quietly that it was almost as if I had heard her thoughts. I held her, sensing somehow that she had more to say, but nothing came.

  “What kind of dog were you planning to get?” she asked after a time, as the warmth of her spread across me.

  I smiled down at her. She had probably heard my entire conversation with Angel and Louis. I think she had been meant to.

  “I hadn’t decided. I thought you might help me pick one from the pound.”

  “That’s a very couply thing to do.”

  “Well, we are a couple.”

  “But not a normal one.”

  “No. Louis would never forgive us if we were.”

  She kissed me, and I kissed her back. Past and future receded from us like creditors temporarily denied their demands, and there was only the brief, fleeting beauty of the present to hold us. That night, I gathered her in my arms as she slept and tried to imagine a future for us together, but I seemed to lose us in tangles and weaves. Yet when I awoke my fist was clenched tightly, as if I had grasped something vital in my dreams and now refused to let it go.

  21

  I LAY WITH RACHEL and listened to the rising wheeps of a flycatcher from high in the trees. His stay in New England would be short; he had probably arrived in the past week, and would be gone by the end of September, but if he managed to avoid the hawks and the owls, then his little yellow belly would soon be filled with a smorgasbord of insects as the bug population exploded. Already the first of the horseflies were circling, their large green eyes glittering hungrily. They would quickly be joined by greenheads and locusts, ticks and deerflies. At Scarborough Marsh, clouds of golden saltmarsh mosquitoes would converge, the males sipping on plant juices while the females scoured the waters and the roadsides for meatier pickings.

 

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