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The killing kind, p.32
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       The Killing Kind, p.32

           John Connolly

  I had never seen a gun like it. It was about the same length as a sawed-off, with twin barrels over a raised sight. Beneath the twins was a third, thicker barrel, which acted as a grip. It was surprisingly light, and the stock fitted easily into my shoulder as I sighted down the gun.

  “Very impressive,” I said. “What is it?”

  “Neostead. South African. Thirteen rounds of spin-stabilized slugs and a recoil so light you can fire it with one hand.”

  “It’s a shotgun?”

  “No, it’s the shotgun.”

  I shook my head despairingly and handed the shotgun back to him. Behind us, Rachel leaned against the car, her mouth tightly closed. Rachel didn’t like guns. She had her reasons.

  “Okay.” I nodded. “Let’s go.”

  Louis shook his head sadly as he climbed into the Lexus and propped the Neostead against the dashboard. “Can’t believe you don’t like my gun,” he remarked.

  “You have too much money,” I replied.

  We headed up the drive at full speed, the gravel in front of the house crunching loudly as we pulled up. I got out first, Louis seconds behind me. As he was stepping from the car, I heard the back door of the lodge slam.

  We both moved at the same time, Louis to the left and I to the right. As I rounded the house, I saw a woman wearing a red shirt and jeans running downhill toward the cover of the trees, a rucksack over her shoulder. She was big and a little slow, and I caught up with her before she made it even halfway. Just inside the woodland ahead of us, I could see the shape of a motorcycle covered by a tarp.

  As I got within touching distance of her back, she spun around, the rucksack held by its straps, and caught me a hard blow on the side of the head. I stumbled, my ears ringing, then shot a foot out and tripped her as she tried to get away. She landed heavily and the rucksack flew from her hands. I was on top of her before she could even think of getting up. Behind me, I heard Louis slowing down and then his shadow fell across us.

  “Damn,” I said. “You nearly took my head off!”

  Marcy Becker was squirming furiously beneath me. She was in her late twenties, with light brown hair and plain, blunt features. Her shoulders were large and muscular and she looked like she might once have been a swimmer or a field athlete. When I saw the expression on her face I felt a twinge of guilt for scaring her.

  “Take it easy, Marcy,” I said. “We’re here to help you.” I lifted my weight from her and let her rise. Almost immediately, she tried to run again. I wrapped my arms around her, gripped her wrists in my hands, and twisted her so that she was facing Louis.

  “My name is Charlie Parker. I’m a private investigator. I was hired by Curtis Peltier to find out what happened to Grace, and I think you know.”

  “I don’t know anything,” she hissed. Her left heel shot back and nearly caught me a nasty blow on the shin. She was a big, strong young woman, and holding her was taking quite an effort. Louis just looked at me, one eyebrow raised in amusement. I guessed that I wasn’t going to get any help from that quarter. I turned her again so that she was facing me, then shook her hard.

  “Marcy,” I said. “We don’t have time for this.”

  “Fuck you!” she spat. She was angry and frightened, and she had good reason to be.

  I felt Rachel’s presence beside me and Marcy’s eyes shifted to her.

  “Marcy, there’s a man on his way here, a policeman, and he’s not coming to protect you,” said Rachel quickly. “He found out from your parents where you were hiding. He thinks you’re a witness to Grace Peltier’s death, and we think so too. Now, we can help you, but only if you’ll let us.”

  She stopped struggling and tried to read the truth of what Rachel was saying from her eyes. Acceptance altered the expression on her face, easing the lines that furrowed her brow and dousing the fire in her eyes.

  “A policeman killed Grace,” she said simply.

  I turned to Louis. “Get the cars out of sight,” I said.

  He nodded and ran back up the hill. Seconds later, the Lexus pulled into the yard above us, hidden from the road by the house itself. The Mustang quickly joined it.

  “I think the man who killed Grace is called Lutz,” I told Marcy. “He’s the one who’s coming. Are you going to let us help you?”

  She nodded mutely. I picked up her bag and handed it to her. As she reached for it, I pulled it out of her grasp.

  “No hitting, okay?”

  She gave a little frightened smile and said, in agreement, “No hitting.” We started up the hill to the house.

  “It’s not just me that he wants,” she said quietly.

  “What else does he want, Marcy?” I asked.

  She swallowed, and that scared look darted into her eyes again. She raised the rucksack.

  “He wants the book,” she answered.

  ∗ ∗ ∗

  As Marcy Becker packed the last of her things, the clothes and cosmetics she had abandoned as she fled from us, she told us about Grace Peltier’s last hours. She wouldn’t let us look in the rucksack, though. I wasn’t sure that she completely trusted us yet.

  “She came out of the meeting with the Paragon guy in a real hurry,” she told us. “She ran straight up to the car, jumped in, and started to drive. She was really angry, as angry as I’ve ever seen her. She just kept swearing all the time, calling him a liar.

  “That night, she left me at the motel in Waterville and didn’t come back until two or three in the morning. She wouldn’t tell me where she’d been, but early the next morning we drove north. She abandoned me—again—in Machias and told me to knock myself out. I didn’t see her for two days.

  “I sat in my room most of the time, drank some beers, watched some TV. At about 2 A.M. on the second night, I heard this hammering on the door and Grace was there. Her hair was all damp and matted and her clothes were wet. She was really, really pale, like she had seen something that frightened the hell out of her. She told me we had to leave—quickly.

  “I put on my clothes, grabbed my rucksack, and we got in the car and started driving. There was a package on the backseat, wrapped in a plastic bag. It looked like a block of dark wood.

  “ ‘What is that?’ I asked her.

  “ ‘You don’t want to know,’ was all she told me.

  “ ‘Okay, so where are we going?’

  “ ‘To see my father.’ ”

  Marcy stopped talking, and looked at Louis and me. Louis stood by the window, looking down on the road below.

  “We better get going soon,” he warned.

  I knew Lutz was on his way, but now that I had got Marcy Becker talking I wanted her to finish.

  “Did she say anything else, Marcy?”

  “She was kind of hysterical. She said ‘He’s alive,’ and something about them taking him into town because he’d gotten sick. She’d seen him collapse on the road. That’s all she would say. She told me that, for the moment, it was better if I didn’t know anything else.

  “We’d been driving for maybe an hour. I was dozing on the backseat when Grace shook me awake. As soon as I woke up, I knew we were in trouble. She kept looking in the rearview. There was a cop following us, with lights flashing. Grace just stepped on the gas and tore away until he was out of view, then pulled off the road and told me to get out. I tried to get her to tell me why, but she wouldn’t. She just threw me my bag and then handed me the package and all of her study notes and told me to look after them until she contacted me. Then the cop appeared and I opened the door and headed into the bushes to hide. I guess something about the way Grace was acting transferred itself onto me, because now I was scared and I had no reason to be. I mean, what had we done? What had she done? And anyway, this guy was a cop, right? Even if she had stolen something she was maybe going to get in some trouble, but nothing worse.

  “Anyway, I could see her trying to start the car, but the cop walked up to her door and told her to kill the engine. He was a big guy smoking a cigarette. He kept his gloves on, e
ven while he smoked. I could hear him talking to her, asking her what she was doing, where she had been. He wouldn’t let her get out of the car, just kept leaning over her. I could hear him ask her, ‘Where is it?’ again and again, and Grace telling him that she didn’t know what he was talking about.

  “He took her car keys, then made a call on his cell phone. I think it must have been fifteen or twenty minutes before the other guy arrived. He was a big man, with a mustache.”

  Marcy began to cry. “I should have tried to help her, because I knew what was going to happen even before he took out the gun. I just knew. I felt him thinking about it. I saw him climb in and I was going to cry out. I thought he was trying to rape her, but I couldn’t do anything, I was so scared. I could hear Grace crying and he hit her on the head to shut her up. After that, he searched the trunk and the rest of the car, then started checking along the road. I moved back, and once I thought he might have heard me, because he stopped and listened before he went back to what he was doing. When he didn’t find what he was looking for, he slapped the hood of Grace’s car and I heard him swear.”

  She paused.

  “Then he stepped over to the driver’s side with the gun in his hand. He shouted at Grace again, pushing her head with the gun. She reached up to stop him; there was a struggle. The gun went off and the windows turned red. The other policeman started screaming at the big guy, asking him what he thought he was doing and what were they going to do now. But he just told him to be quiet.

  “After that, he leaned in and did something to the back of Grace’s head. When I saw him again, he had a piece of her hair in his hands and he was looking out at the trees, as if he guessed that I was out there somewhere. I crawled away on my belly. I could see Grace through the windshield, Mr. Parker. Her head was hanging to one side and there was blood all over the inside of the car. She was my friend, and I let her die.”

  Rachel reached out and held her hand.

  “There was nothing you could have done,” she said softly, and in her voice I heard echoes of my own words from the night before. “Nothing. This man Lutz would have killed you both, and then nobody would have known what happened. But you didn’t tell anyone what you saw?”

  She shook her head. “I was going to, until I saw the book. Then I was too scared. I figured the best thing to do was to lie low and stay out of the way of the cops. If they found me, if the man who killed Grace knew what I had seen, then I was afraid that he would do the same thing to me. I rang my mom and told her that something bad had happened to Grace and that I had to stay out of everyone’s way until I figured out what to do. I told her not to tell anyone where I was, not even the police. I took the first bus from Ellsworth the next morning and I’ve been here ever since, apart from one or two trips to the store. I rented the scooter, in case I needed to get away quickly.”

  “Were you going to stay here forever, Marcy?” I asked.

  She let out a long deep breath. “I had nowhere else to go,” she said.

  “Did she tell you where she had been?”

  “No. She mentioned a lighthouse, that’s all, but she was completely wired. I mean, she was scared and excited at the same time, you know? She wasn’t making a whole lot of sense.”

  “And you still have the book, Marcy?”

  She nodded, and pointed to her knapsack. “It’s in here,” she replied. “I was keeping it safe.”

  Then Louis called my name.

  I looked at him.

  “They’re coming,” he said.

  ∗ ∗ ∗

  Lutz’s white Acura roared up the gravel drive and drew up about twenty yards from the front of the house. Lutz emerged first, closely followed by a small, thin man with close-cropped hair. His eyes were crossed and he wore painter’s overalls and rubber gloves. He looked like what Louis would call a “puppy drowner,” the kind of guy who wasn’t happy unless he was hurting something smaller and weaker than himself. Both men had guns in their hands.

  “Guess they want her dead or alive,” I said.

  The smaller man opened the trunk of the Acura and removed an empty body bag.

  “Nope,” said Louis. “Looks like they just expressed a preference.”

  We drew back as Lutz examined the windows of the house from where he stood. He gestured at the smaller man to head around the back as he started for the front door. I put my finger to my lips and indicated to Rachel that she should take Marcy Becker into the small bedroom and keep her quiet. Louis handed Rachel his SIG, and after a moment’s hesitation, she took it. Then, shotgun in hand, he padded silently to the back door of the lodge, opened it, and disappeared to intercept Lutz’s associate. I waited until he was outside, then slipped the safety catch on my gun and examined my options.

  The front door opened straight into a blank wall. Four feet to the left, the living room began, a tiny kitchen area at the far end. To the right of the living room was the bedroom where Marcy Becker now lay huddled beneath the window with Rachel, so that anyone looking inside would be unable to see them. I raised the gun, walked to the wall where the hall ended and the living area began, and waited, shielded from anyone entering. I heard the handle on the door turn and then a noise like a cannon going off came from the back of the house. There was a thudding noise and Lutz entered fast, gun first. The noise had panicked him and he came in a little too quickly, his gun pointing into the main body of the room and away from me. I moved in hard with my left arm raised to push the gun away and knocked him back against the window, then brought the butt of the Smith & Wesson down as hard as I could on the side of his head. He staggered and I hit him again. He fired a shot into the ceiling and I hit him a third time, driving him to his knees. When he was on the floor I tore the gun from his fingers and tossed it into the kitchen before checking him for a spare. He had none, but I found his cuffs. I hit him one more time for luck, cuffed him, then dragged him outside and onto the gravel. I expected Louis to be there, and he was, but he wasn’t alone.

  He wasn’t even armed.

  Instead, he was kneeling on the ground with his hands on his head and the big shotgun in front of him. Behind him stood the tall, bald figure of the Golem, the Jericho two inches from Louis’s head. He had a second Jericho in his left hand, pointing at me, and a length of rope hung across his arm.

  “Sorry, man,” said Louis. To his left, Lutz’s associate lay dead on his back, a huge hole torn in his chest.

  The Golem looked at me, unblinking. “Put your gun down, Mr. Parker, or I will kill your friend.”

  I held the Smith & Wesson out at shoulder length from my body, gripping it by the trigger guard, then laid it gently on the ground before me. Lutz raised his bloodied head and stared dazedly at the bald man. I was gratified to see the look of fear that gradually spread across his face, but it was a small, fleeting pleasure. We were all at risk from this strange, hollow killer.

  “Now I want you to remove the detective’s shoes and socks.” I did as I was told, kneeling on Lutz’s legs to keep him still. With a flick of his wrist, the Golem tossed me the rope. “Tie his legs together.”

  Again, I knelt and tied him. All the while, Lutz was whispering to me: “Don’t let him take me, Parker. I’ll tell you what you want to know, just don’t let him take me.”

  The Golem heard him. “Be quiet, Detective. Mr. Parker and I have reached an accommodation.”

  I saw Rachel moving behind the window, and shook my head slightly to indicate that she shouldn’t get involved.

  “Have we?” I asked.

  “I will let you and your friend live, your girlfriend too, and you can take the young woman.” I should have known that nothing would get past this man. “I take Detective Lutz.”

  “No!” shouted Lutz. “No way, man. He’s going to kill me.”

  I looked at the Golem, although I hardly needed confirmation that Lutz’s fears were justified.

  “Detective Lutz is correct,” he said, “but first he will tell me where to find his associates. Put hi
m in the body bag, Mr. Parker, then you and your friend will carry the bag to my car.”

  I didn’t move. I wasn’t prepared to give up Lutz without first learning what he knew.

  “We both want the same thing,” I said. “We both want to find the people responsible for these deaths.”

  The Jerichos both cocked simultaneously beneath his thumbs. There was to be no discussion.

  After a struggle, we put Lutz in the body bag, stuck his socks in his mouth to silence him, and carried him down the road to where the Golem’s Lincoln Continental stood. We opened the Continental’s trunk and put Lutz inside before slamming the lid closed on him with the grim finality of a coffin lid being sealed. I could hear his muffled howls through the metal and the sound of his feet kicking against the sides of the trunk.

  “Now, start walking back to the house, please,” said the Golem.

  We stepped back and began walking slowly backward toward the house, never once taking our eyes off the bald man with the guns.

  “I don’t think we will be meeting again, Mr. Parker,” he said.

  “I won’t take it personally.”

  He waited until we were fifty yards from the car, then walked quickly to the driver’s door, got in, and drove away. Beside me, Louis released a long breath.

  “That went well,” I said. “Although your professional reputation took something of a beating.”

  Louis scowled. “You know, used to take me months to set up a hit. You give me five damn minutes. I ain’t no James Bond.”

  “Don’t sweat it. He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who’s going to tell.”

  “Guess not. Man seemed like the strong, silent type.”

  ∗ ∗ ∗

  We walked quickly back to the house. Rachel came out onto the porch to meet us. The blood had drained from her face, and I thought that she was going to faint.

  “Rachel?” I said, my hands gripping her shoulders. “What is it?”

  She looked up at me.

  “See for yourself,” she whispered.

  I found Marcy Becker sitting in one of the big armchairs, her legs curled into her body. She was looking at the wall, tearing at one of her fingernails with her teeth. She glanced at me, then her eyes flicked to what lay on the floor before she returned her gaze quickly to the blank wall. We stayed in those positions for what seemed like a long, long time, until I felt Louis behind me and heard him swear softly as he saw what lay before us.

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