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The killing kind, p.35
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       The Killing Kind, p.35

           John Connolly
 

  In my panic, I had moved almost to the aisle between the first and second lines of shelves. To my right, shards of glass caught the light and the remains of a case shattered by my 10-millimeter bullets lay in pieces on the second level. A square of card, heat-sealed in plastic, was among the glass fragments on the floor. In ornate black script were written the words Phoneutria nigriventer and then, in English below, Brazilian wandering spider. I glanced back toward the shadows into which the aggressive brown spider had bounced, and shuddered.

  From far to my right came the sound of something brushing against the leaves of a plant, and the shadows on the ceiling rearranged themselves briefly. Pudd now knew where I was. The sounds of my frantic kicks at the spider had alerted him. I found that my left hand was trembling, so I used it to double-grip my gun. If I couldn’t see it shaking, then I could convince myself that I wasn’t afraid. Slowly, I moved to the second row of shelves, took a deep breath, and glanced into the aisle.

  It was empty. Beside my left eye, a shape shifted in a case. It was small, maybe just over an inch in total, with a broad red stripe running along its abdomen. White spherical egg sacs, almost as big as the spider herself, hung suspended in the web that surrounded her. Latrodectus hasselti, read the card: Red-back spider. Starting a family too, I thought. How sweet. Shame Pop probably wouldn’t be alive to see the birth.

  Two more cases lay shattered beside each other in the third row. Amid the sharp edges, a long green shape stood semi-motionless. The mantid’s huge eyes seemed to stare right at me as its jaws worked busily on the remains of the occupant of the adjoining case. Small brown legs moved weakly as the huge insect chomped away. I didn’t feel sorry for whatever the mantid was consuming. As far as I was concerned, the sooner it finished its appetizer and got busy with some of the main courses wandering the floor, the better.

  My skin was crawling, and I had to fight the urge to brush at my hair and neck, so I was partly distracted as I stepped into the next aisle. I looked to my left and saw Mr. Pudd standing at the far end, his gun raised. I threw myself forward and the bullet hit the fuse box beside the door. Sparks flew and the lights died as I rolled on the floor and came to rest against the far wall, the gun raised before me, my left hand now supporting myself on the ground for only as long as it took me to realize that something soft was crawling across it. I lifted it quickly and shook it, but not before I felt a sharp bite, like twin needles being inserted beneath my skin. I rose quickly, my lips drawn back from my teeth in disgust, and examined my hand in the dim light that filtered through the windows. Just below the knuckle of my middle finger, a small red lump was already beginning to form.

  In a pair of large plastic terrariums to my right, thousands of small bodies moved. From the first terrarium came the chirping of crickets. The second contained oatmeal and bran flakes across which tiny mealworms crawled, speckled with some small black beetles that had already grown to their mature stage. To my left, arrayed along the wall in a long, multilayered display cabinet, were what looked like row upon row of plastic cups. I leaned down and made out a small black-and-red shape at the base of each cup, the remains of crickets and fruit flies lying in the ugly web beside the spider. The smell was particularly strong here, so strong that I started to gag.

  This was Mr. Pudd’s black widow farm.

  My ears rang from the sound of the shots and there were spots before my eyes from the muzzle flare as I returned my attention to the room itself. A long shadow trailed along the ceiling, heading away from me. Through the leaves I caught a glimpse of what might have been Pudd’s tan shirt, and I fired. There was a grunt of pain and the sound of glass breaking as the empty cases in that corner tumbled to the ground. I heard the glass grinding beneath his feet as he stepped over them. He was now at the far wall, close to where I had started, and I knew then what I had to do.

  The shelves were not bolted to the cement floor. Instead, they rested on tripod legs, the weight of the frame and the cases it supported insurance enough against any casual impact. Ignoring the spreading pain in my hand and the possibility that the spider responsible might still be close by, I lowered myself to the ground, braced my back against the wall beside the racks of widows, and pushed at the shelf with the soles of my feet. For a moment I thought that it might just move across the floor, but then the top row tilted and the heavy frame fell slowly away from me, impacting loudly on the next shelf and creating a domino effect; two, three, four shelves fell, accompanied by the sounds of breaking glass and grinding metal, and then their combined weight collapsed on the final shelf, and I heard a sound that might have been a man’s voice before it was lost in the final tumultuous roar of metal and glass.

  By then I was already on my feet, using the frames of the fallen shelves to keep off the floor. I was conscious of movement all around me as predatory, multilegged things began to hunt and die. I reached the door and pushed it open, the feel of the sea breeze and the cold rain beautiful after the stale, rotten smell of the insects and spiders. The door slammed behind me and I jammed the bolt home, then stepped back. My hand was throbbing now and the swelling had increased in size, but it didn’t feel too bad. Still, it would need a shot, and the sooner the better.

  From inside the bug house, I heard sounds of movement. I raised my gun and aimed. A face appeared at the glass screen, and the door shook as Mr. Pudd hurled his body against it. His eyes were huge, one of them already filling with blood, and a muscle in his cheek was spasming. Tiny brown spiders, each only a fraction of an inch in length, crawled across his face and lost themselves in his hair as a large black spider with thin, skeletal legs pursued them relentlessly. Then Pudd’s mouth opened and two legs appeared at each corner, pushing his lips apart, and I glimpsed palps and a cluster of dark eyes as the spider emerged from his mouth. I turned away for an instant and when I looked back, Pudd was gone.

  A low thudding sound came from behind me, and the door to the lighthouse slammed softly against its frame. I was soaked through and beginning to feel the cold desperately, but I wiped the rain from my eyes and started toward the lighthouse.

  The floor inside the door was flagged with stone and an iron staircase wound up to the top of the structure. There were no levels between where I stood and the open platform at the top of the lighthouse, through which a small panel allowed access to the exposed gallery.

  At my feet, a trapdoor stood open. It was made of heavy oak bound with iron, and below it a flight of stone steps led into a patch of bright yellow light.

  I had found the entrance to the honeycomb world.

  I took each step slowly, my gun aimed below me. The final step led into a concrete bunker, furnished with armchairs and an old couch. A dining table stood in the far corner, on a worn Persian rug. To my right was a small galley-style kitchen, separated from the main room by a pair of saloon doors. Wire-rimmed lights hung from the ceiling. A set of shelves in one corner lay empty, a box filled with books and newspapers on the floor beside it. There was a smell of wax polish in the air. The tabletop gleamed, as did the shelves and the breakfast counter.

  But it was the walls that drew the eye; every available space, every inch from corner to corner, ceiling to floor, had been illustrated. There were Kohn-like impressions of death upon a dark horse; images of war victims inspired by Dix and Goerg; cities crumbling in a fury of reds and yellows as in Meidner’s apocalyptic landscapes. They overlapped one another, blurring at the edges into greens and blues where the pigments had mixed. Images taken from one artist recurred in the work of another, at once out of context yet still part of the greater vision. One of Goerg’s demons fell upon the crowds fleeing Meidner’s destruction; Kohn’s horse wandered among Dix’s battlefield corpses.

  No wonder his kids were screwed up.

  The next room was similarly decorated, although this time the images were medieval in origin and much more ornate. This room was larger than its neighbor, with two double beds on a linoleum floor, a slatted wood divider between them. There
were books and magazines on rough shelves, two closets, and a small shower and toilet in one corner, separated from the main room by sliding glass doors. The only light came from a single bedside lamp standing on a table. Close by where I stood were two cardboard boxes filled with women’s clothing and an open suitcase containing some men’s suits and jackets. All of the clothes looked at least two decades out of date. The sheets had been removed from the beds and tied in two bundles. A vacuum cleaner stood in one corner, its dust bag removed and lying beside it. It seemed that all traces of the bunker’s occupants were in the process of being removed.

  A door stood half open at the entrance to the third room. I paused as a sound came from inside, a noise like the jangling of chains. I smelled blood on the air. I could sense no movement close to the doorway. Again the sound of metal on metal rang out. I pushed the door open with my foot and drew back against the wall, waiting for the shots. None came. I waited for a few seconds longer before glancing inside.

  A butcher’s block supported by four thick legs stood in the center of the stone floor. There was old, dried blood at its edges. Beyond it, against the far wall, was a stainless steel table with a sink attachment and a pipe leading from the drain to a sealed metal container below. There were surgical implements on the table, some recently used. I saw a bone saw, and two scalpels with blood on their blades. A cleaver hung from a hook on the stone wall behind. The whole room stank of meat.

  It was only when I entered that I saw Angel. He was naked and attached to a metal rail above an iron tub, his arms held over the rail by a pair of handcuffs. He half stood, half knelt in the tub, its sides stained brown with dried blood. His body was twisted toward me, and his mouth had been taped shut. His torso was streaked with blood and sweat, and his eyes were half-open. They closed briefly as I moved to him, and he made a small sound from behind the tape. There was bruising on his face, and a long wound to his right leg; it looked like a knife slash, and had been left to bleed.

  I was about to reach around his back to support him before releasing him when the mewling sound rose in pitch. I stepped back and turned his body slightly. A patch of skin, easily six inches square, had been cut from his back, and the exposed flesh pulsed redly. As I stared at the wound, Angel’s legs began to shake and he started to sob. I found the keys to the cuffs hanging on a hook, then gripped him around the waist and released him, the full weight of him falling into my arms as I eased him from the tub and lowered him to the floor. I pulled the tape from his mouth as gently as I could, then took a plastic beaker from a shelf and filled it from the sink, the water sending the blood spiraling down into the drain. Angel took the cup and drank deeply, water spilling down his chin and onto his chest.

  “Get me my pants,” were his first words.

  “Who did this, Angel?”

  “Get. Me. My. Damn. Pants. Please.”

  His clothes lay in a pile by the tub. I found his chinos, then helped him into them as he sat on the floor, supporting himself as best he could on his weakened arms as he kept his back away from the wall.

  “The old man,” he said as we hauled the pants up to his waist. Immediately, they stuck to the wound in his leg and a red stain spread across them. Every time he moved, his face creased with pain and he had to grit his teeth to keep from howling. “There was gunfire from outside, and when I looked around he was disappearing up those stairs. He left the oven open. I might need what’s inside.”

  He pointed behind me, to where a steel box with a temperature dial at the top stood against the wall. A thin sheet of what might have been paper hung within, assuming paper could bleed. I turned off the dryer, then flipped the door closed with my foot.

  “You meet the other two?”

  I nodded.

  “They’re his kids, Bird.”

  “I know.”

  “What a fuckin’ family.” He nearly smiled. “You kill them?”

  “I think so.”

  “What does that mean?”

  “The woman’s dead. I fed Pudd to his pets.”

  I left Angel and walked over to where a staircase led up from a small doorway at the back of the room. To the left of the first step was a room with another bed and a crucifix hanging from the ceiling. The walls here were covered with shelving, the weight of their books causing them to sag. Some had already been removed in preparation for flight, but many still remained; the arrival of Angel must have caused Faulkner to rearrange his priorities. I doubted that he had been allowed many live subjects on which to practice before. There was a workbench against one wall, inks, pens, knives, and nibs arrayed carefully in a metal carrying case on top of it. In an alcove opposite the bedroom, a generator hummed.

  When I went back into Faulkner’s preparation room, Angel had struggled to his feet and stood, slightly hunched over, at the wall, supporting himself with his hands, his injured leg raised slightly. His back had begun to bleed again.

  “You think you can make it up?”

  He nodded. I took his left arm, draped it around my shoulder, then held him carefully around the waist. Slowly, and with the agony etched clearly on his face, he made his way up the stone steps. He was almost at the top when his foot slipped and his back banged against the wall. It left a bright red streak as he briefly lost consciousness, and I had to carry him the rest of the way. The stairs ended in a kind of alcove where a steel door stood open. A sheet of thick plastic lay beside it, slapping in the wind. Beside it, a shape lay rolled up in a second sheet stained inside with blood. Part of Voisine’s face was exposed. I recalled Pudd’s anger at the wounds inflicted by Angel on his associate; it looked like Voisine had since died from them.

  Angel came to as I laid him, facedown, on the floor. I removed the .38 from my holster and pressed it into his hand.

  “You killed Voisine.”

  His eyes focused blearily on me. “Good. Can I piss on his grave?”

  “I’ll make some calls, see what I can do.”

  “Where are you going?”

  “To find Faulkner.”

  “You find him, you tell him I sent you.”

  The rain fell relentlessly and the ground had turned to mud as I stepped carefully onto the grass. Some fifty feet behind me, the woman still lay where she had fallen and no sound came from inside Mr. Pudd’s spider house. The lighthouse was at my back, and in front of me a grass verge sloped down to the boathouse. There, in a sheltered inlet, was a small floating jetty. The door to the boathouse stood open and a boat bobbed at the end of the concrete ramp. It was a little Cape Craft runabout, with an Evinrude outboard. A figure stood on the deck, pouring diesel into the engine’s fuel hatch. The rain fell on its bare skull, on the long white hair plastered to its face and shoulders, on its black coat and black leather shoes. It must have sensed me approaching, for it looked up, the diesel spilling over the deck as its concentration lapsed.

  And it smiled.

  “Hello, sinner,” said the Reverend Faulkner. He went for the revolver tucked into his waistband and I fired once, the can falling from his hands as he stumbled back, his shattered right arm now hanging loosely by his side. The gun dropped from his fingers to the deck of the boat, but the smile stayed where it was, trembling slightly with the pain of the wound. I fired twice and holed the outboard. Diesel sprayed from the ruptured tank.

  He was, I guessed, about six feet tall, with long, white, tapering fingers and pale, elongated features. In the light from the cabin his eyes were a deep, dark blue, verging on black. His nose was exceptionally long and thin and his Cupid’s bow was tiny, his mouth seeming to begin just where his nostrils ended. His neck was scrawny and striated, and loose flesh hung in a wattle from beneath his chin.

  At my feet lay a suitcase and a battered waterproof emergency pack. I kicked at it once.

  “Going somewhere, Reverend?” I asked.

  He ignored the question.

  “How did you find us, sinner?”

  “The Traveling Man led me here.”

  The old ma
n shook his head.

  “An interesting individual. I was sorry when you killed him.”

  “You were the only one. Your daughter’s gone, Reverend, your son too. It’s over.”

  The old man spit into the sea and his eyes looked over my shoulder to where the woman lay dead in the rain. He betrayed no emotion.

  “Step off the boat. You’re going to stand trial for the deaths of your flock, for the killing of Jack Mercier and his wife and friends, for the murders of Curtis and Grace Peltier. You’re going to answer for them all.”

  He shook his head. “I have nothing to answer for. The Lord did not send demons to kill the firstborn of Egypt, Mr. Parker; he sent angels. We were angels engaged in the Lord’s work, harvesting the sinners.”

  “Killing women and children doesn’t sound like God’s work.”

  Blood dripped from his fingers onto the timbers of the boat. Gently, he raised his injured arm, seemingly oblivious to the pain, and showed me the blood on his hand. “But the Lord kills women and children every day,” he said. “He took your wife and child. If he believed that they were worthy of salvation, then they would still be alive.”

  My hand tightened on the gun and I felt the trigger shift slightly.

  “God didn’t kill my wife and child. A man tore them apart, a sick, violent man encouraged by you.”

  “He didn’t need encouragement in his work. He merely required a framework for his ideas, an added dimension.”

  He didn’t say anything more for some time. Instead he seemed to examine me, his head to one side.

  “You see them, don’t you?” he asked at last.

  I didn’t reply.

  “You think you’re the only one?” That smile came again. “I see them too. They talk to me. They tell me things. They’re waiting for you, sinner, all of them. You think it ended with their deaths? It did not: they are all waiting for you.”

  He leaned forward conspiratorially.

  “And they fuck your whore while they wait,” he hissed. “They fuck both your whores.”

 
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