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The killing kind, p.36
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       The Killing Kind, p.36

           John Connolly
 

  I was only a finger’s pressure away from killing him. When I breathed out and felt the trigger move forward, he seemed almost disappointed.

  “You’re a liar, Faulkner,” I said. “Wherever my wife and child are, they’re safe from you and all your kind. Now, for the last time, step off the boat.”

  He still made no move.

  “No earthly court will judge me, sinner. God will be my judge.”

  “Eventually,” I replied.

  “Good-bye, sinner,” said the Reverend Faulkner, and something struck me hard in the back, forcing me to my knees. A brown shoe stamped down hard on my fingers and the gun went off, sending a bullet into the jetty before it was kicked away from me. Then a huge weight seemed to fall upon me and my face was pressed hard into the mud. There were knees on my upper back, forcing the air from my lungs as my mouth and nostrils filled with dirt. I dug my toes into the soft earth, pressed my left arm against the ground and pushed upward as hard as I could, striking back with my right hand. I felt the blow connect and the weight on my back eased slightly. I tried to throw it off completely as I turned but hands closed on my neck and a knee struck me hard in the groin. I was forced flat on my back and found myself looking into the face of hell.

  Mr. Pudd’s features had swollen from the spider bites. His lips were huge and purple, as if they had been packed with collagen. The swelling had almost closed his nostrils, forcing him to breathe heavily through his mouth, his distended tongue hanging over his teeth. One eye was almost closed while the other had grown to twice its original size, so that it seemed about to burst. It was gray-white and partially filled with blood where the capillaries had ruptured. There were strands of silvery cobweb in his hair, and a black spider had become trapped between his shirt collar and his tumid neck, its legs flailing helplessly as it bit at him. I struck at his arms but he maintained his grip. Blood and saliva oozed from his mouth and dripped onto his chin as I reached up and dug the fingers of my right hand into his face, trying to strike at his injured eye.

  From behind me, I heard the sound of the boat’s engine starting and Pudd’s grip shifted as his thumbs tried to crush my Adam’s apple. I was tearing at his hands with my fingers, the pressure in my head increasing as my windpipe was slowly constricted. The outboard made a spluttering sound as it pulled away from the jetty, but I didn’t care. My ears were filled with the roaring in my head and the labored, spit-flecked breaths of the man who was killing me. I felt a burning pain behind my eyes, a numbness spreading from my fingers. Desperately I raked at his face, but I was losing the feeling in my hands and my vision was blurring.

  Then the top of Mr. Pudd’s head exploded, showering me with blood and gray matter. He stayed upright for a moment, his jaw slackening and his ears and nose bleeding, then tumbled sideways into the mud. The pressure eased on my throat and I drew in long, painful rattling breaths as I kicked Pudd’s body away from me. I got to my knees and spat dirt onto the ground.

  At the top of the grass verge, Angel lay on his stomach, the .38 outstretched before him in his right hand while the left used the plastic sheet to shield his injured back. I looked to the sea as the sound came to me of the runabout moving away on the dark, choppy waters. It was only twenty or thirty feet from the shore, the white froth churning at the bow as Faulkner stood at the wheel, his white face contorted with rage and grief.

  The engine coughed, then died.

  We stood facing each other across the waves, the rain falling on our heads, on the bodies behind me, on the dark waters of the bay.

  “I’ll see you damned, sinner.”

  He raised the gun with his left hand and fired. The first shot was wild, impacting with a whine on the rocks behind me. He swayed slightly with the movement of the boat beneath him, aimed, and fired again. This time the bullet tugged at the sleeve of my coat but there was no impact. It passed straight through the wool, leaving only a faint smell of burning in its wake. The next two shots hissed through the damp air close to my head as I knelt down and flipped open the emergency pack.

  The flare was a Helly-Hanson, and it felt good in my hand. I thought of Grace and Curtis, and the patch of black tape covering James Jessop’s ruined eye. I thought of Susan, the beauty of her on the first day we met, the smell of pecans on her breath. I thought of Jennifer, the feel of her blond hair against mine, the sound of her breathing as she slept.

  Another shot came, this time missing by a good three feet. I pointed the gun at the sea and imagined the incandescent glow spreading across the water as the flare shot along the surface; the flash of pink-and-blue flame as the diesel fuel ignited, bursting from the waves and moving toward the man with the gun; the explosion of the outboard and then the flames scouring the deck, engulfing the figure in their midst. The heat would sear my face and the sea would be lit with red and gold, and the old man would travel, wreathed in fire, from this world to the next.

  I tightened my finger on the trigger.

  Click.

  Out upon the waves, Faulkner rocked slightly as the hammer fell upon the empty chamber of his revolver. He tried to fire again.

  Click.

  I walked to the edge of the water and raised the flare gun. Once more the hollow sound came, yet the old man seemed neither to notice nor to care. The barrel of the gun followed me as I moved, as if with each pull of the trigger the empty weapon launched a fresh volley of lead that tore through my body and brought me, inch by inch, closer to death.

  Click.

  For an instant, the flare was level with him, its thick muzzle centered on his body, and I saw the satisfaction on his face. He would die, but I would damn myself in his destruction.

  Click.

  Then the muzzle rose until the gun was above my head, pointing at the heavens.

  “No!” said Faulkner. “No!”

  I pulled the trigger and the flare shot forth, shedding bright light on the dark waves, turning the rain to falling silver and gold, the old man screaming in rage as a new star was born in the void.

  ∗ ∗ ∗

  I went to Angel. A smear of blood lay across the width of his plastic shield, where it had fallen against his wound. Carefully, I lifted it away so that it would not stick. The gun was still in his hand and his eyes were open, watching the figure out on the water.

  “He should have burned,” he said.

  “He will burn,” I replied.

  And I held him until they came for us.

  THE SEARCH FOR SANCTUARY

  Extract from the postgraduate thesis

  of Grace Peltier . . .

  “Truth exists,” wrote the painter Georges Braque. “Only lies are invented.” Somewhere, the truth about the Aroostook Baptists remains to be discovered and written at last. All that I have tried to do is to provide a context for what occurred: the hopes that inspired the undertaking, the emotions that undermined it, and the final actions that swept it away.

  In August 1964, letters were sent to relatives of each of the families who had joined Faulkner more than one year earlier. Each letter was written by the male or female parent of the family involved. Lyall Kellog wrote his family’s letter; it was posted from Fairbanks, Alaska. Katherine Cornish’s letter came from Johnstown, Pennsylvania; Frida Perrson’s from Rochester, Minnesota; and Frank Jessop’s, which assured his family that all was well with his wife and children, from Porterville, California. Each letter was undated, contained general good wishes, and added little more than that the Aroostock Baptists were no more and that the families involved had been chosen to send out the Reverend Faulkner’s message to the world like the missionaries of old. Few of the relatives involved were particularly concerned. Only Lena Myers, Elizabeth Jessop’s sister, persisted in the belief that something might have happened to her sister and her family. In 1969, with the permission of the landowner, she engaged a private firm of contractors to excavate sections of land on the site of the Eagle Lake community. The search revealed nothing. In 1970, Lena Myers died as a result of injuries rec
eived in a hit-and-run accident in Kennebec, Maine. No one has ever been charged in connection with her death.

  No trace of the families has been found in any of the towns from which their letters originated. Their names have never been recorded. No descendants have been discovered. No further contact was ever made by them.

  The truth, I feel certain, lies buried.

  EPILOGUE

  THIS IS A HONEYCOMB WORLD, each hollow linked to the next, each life inextricably intertwined with the lives of others. The loss of even one reverberates through the whole, altering the balance, changing the nature of existence in tiny, imperceptible ways.

  I find myself returning again and again to a woman named Tante Marie Aguillard, her impossibly tiny child’s voice coming to me from out of her immense form. I see her lying on a mountain of pillows in a warm, dark room in western Louisiana, the smell of the Atchafalaya drifting through the house; a shining, black shadow among shifting forms, heedless of the boundaries between the natural and the man-made as one world melts into another. She takes my hand and talks to me of my lost wife and child. They call to her, and tell her of the man who took their lives.

  She has no need of light; her blindness is less an impediment than an aid to a deeper, more meaningful perception. Sight would be a distraction for her strange, wandering consciousness, for her intense, fearless compassion. She feels for them all: the lost, the vanished, the dispossessed, the frightened, suffering souls who have been violently wrenched from this life and can find no rest in their world within worlds. She reaches out to them, comforting them in their final moments so that they will not die alone, so that they will not be afraid as they pass from light into dark.

  And when the Traveling Man, the dark angel, comes for her, she reaches out in turn to me, and I am with her as she dies.

  Tante Marie knew the nature of this world. She roamed through it, saw it for what it was, and understood her place in it, her responsibility to those who dwelt within it and beyond. Now, slowly, I too have begun to understand, to recognize a duty to the rest, to those whom I have never known as much as to those whom I have loved. The nature of humanity, its essence, is to feel another’s pain as one’s own, and to act to take that pain away. There is a nobility in compassion, a beauty in empathy, a grace in forgiveness. I am a flawed man, with a violent past that will not be denied, but I will not allow innocent people to suffer when it is within my power to help them.

  I will not turn my back on them.

  I will not walk away.

  And if, in doing these things, I can make some amends, some recompense, for the things that I have done and for all that I have failed to do, then that will be my consolation.

  For reparation is the shadow cast by salvation.

  I have faith in some better world beyond this one. I know that my wife and child dwell within it, for I have seen them. I know that they are safe now from the dark angels and that wherever may dwell Faulkner and Pudd and the countless others who wanted to turn life to death, they are far, far from Susan and Jennifer, and they can never touch them again.

  ∗ ∗ ∗

  There is rain tonight in Boston, and the glass of the window is anatomized with intricate veins traced across its surface. I wake, my knuckle still sore from the treated bite, and turn gently to feel her move close beside me. Her hand touches my neck and I know somehow that, while I have been asleep, she has been watching me in the darkness, waiting for the moment to arrive.

  But I am tired, and as my eyes close again,

  I am standing at the edge of the forest, and the air is filled with the howling of the hybrids. Behind me, the trees reach out to one another, and when they touch, they make a sound like children whispering. And as I listen, something moves in the shadows before me.

  “Bird?”

  Her hand is warm upon me, yet my skin is cold. I want to stay with her, but

  I am drawn away again, for the darkness is calling me and a shape still moves through the trees. Slowly, the boy emerges, the black tape masking the lens of his glasses, his skin white. I try to walk to him but I cannot raise my feet. Behind him, other figures drift but they are walking away from us, disappearing into the forest, and soon he will join them. The wooden board has been discarded but the burn marks from the rope remain visible at his neck. He says nothing but stands watching me for a long, long time, one hand gripping the bark of the yellow birch beside him, until, at last, he too begins to recede,

  “Bird,” she whispers.

  fading away, moving deeper and deeper,

  “I’m pregnant.”

  down, down into the depths of this honeycomb world.

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  The following books proved invaluable in the course of writing this novel:

  Wrath of Angels: The American Abortion War by James Risen and Judy L. Thomas (Basic Books, 1998); Eagle Lake by James C. Ouellette (Harpswell Press, 1980); The Red Hourglass: Lives of the Predators by Gordon Grice (Allen Lane, 1998); The Book of the Spider by Paul Hillyard (Hutchinson, 1994); The Bone Lady by Mary H. Manheim (Louisiana State University Press, 1999); Maine Lighthouses by Courtney Thompson (CatNap Publications, 1996); Apocalypses by Eugen Weber (Hutchinson, 1999); The Apocalypse and the Shape of Things to Come, edited by Francis Carey (British Museum Press, 1999); and The Devil’s Party by Colin Wilson (Virgin, 2000). In addition, Simpson’s Forensic Medicine by Bernard Knight (Arnold, 1997) and Introduction to Forensic Sciences, second edition, edited by William G. Eckert (CRC Press, 1997), rarely left my desk.

  Much of the material relating to religious movements in Maine came from Elizabeth Ring’s introduction to her Directory of Churches & Religious Organizations in Maine, 1940 (Maine Historical Records Survey Project); “Till Shiloh Come” by Jason Stone (Down East magazine, March 1991); and “The Promised Land” by Earl M. Benson (Down East magazine, September 1953).

  As each novel progresses, the depths of my ignorance become more and more apparent. I have relied on the knowledge and kindness of a great many people in researching this book, among them James Ferland and the staff of the Maine Medical Examiner’s Office, Augusta; Officer Joe Giacomantonio, Scarborough Police Department; Captain Russell J. Gauvin, City of Portland Police Department; Sergeant Dennis R. Appleton, CID III, Maine State Police; Sergeant Hugh J. Turner, Maine State Police; L. Dean Paisley, my excellent guide to Eagle Lake; Rita Staudig, historian of the St. John Valley; Phineas Sprague Jr. of Portland Yacht Services; Bob and Babs Malkin, and Jim Block, who helped me with Jewish New York; Big Apple Greeters; Phil Procter, theater manager of the Wang Center in Boston; Beth Olsen at the Boston Ballet; the staff of the Center for Maine History in Portland, Maine; Chuck Antony; and many others. To all of them I owe a drink, and probably an apology for all of the mistakes that I’ve made.

  Finally, I wish to thank my agent, Darley Anderson, and his assistants, Elizabeth and Carrie; my foreign rights agent Kerith Biggs; my editor at Hodder & Stoughton, Sue Fletcher; my editor at Atria Books, Emily Bestler, for her constant kindness and support; her associate editor, Sarah Branham; and Judith Curr and Louise Burke, my publishers at Atria Books and Pocket Books.

  THE WRATH OF ANGELS

  In the depths of the Maine woods, the wreckage of a plane is discovered. There are no bodies, and no such plane has ever been reported missing, but men both good and evil have been seeking it for a long, long time.

  What the wreckage conceals is more important than money. It is power: a list of names, a record of those who have struck a deal with the devil. Now a battle is about to commence between those who want the list to remain secret, and those for whom it represents a crucial weapon in the struggle against the forces of darkness.

  The race to secure the prize draws in private detective Charlie Parker, a man who knows more than most about the nature of the terrible evil that seeks to impose itself on the world, and who fears that his own name may be on the list. It lures others, too: a beautiful, scarred woman with a taste for killing; a silent child who rem
embers his own death; and a serial killer known as the Collector, who sees in the list new lambs for his slaughter. But as the rival forces descend upon this northern state, the woods prepare to meet them, for the forest depths hide other secrets.

  Someone has survived the crash.

  Something has survived the crash.

  And it is waiting. . . .

  Read on for a preview of John Connolly’s latest Charlie Parker thriller

  The Wrath of Angels

  Available on January 1, 2013, from Emily Bestler Books/Atria

  Excerpt from The Wrath of Angels copyright © 2013 by John Connolly

  CHAPTER I

  At the time of his dying, at the day and the hour of it, Harlan Vetters summoned his son and his daughter to his bedside. The old man’s long gray hair was splayed against the pillow on which he lay, glazed by the lamplight, so that it seemed like the emanations of his departing spirit. His breathing was shallow; longer and longer were the pauses between each intake and exhalation, and soon they would cease entirely. The evening gloaming was slowly descending, but the trees were still visible through the bedroom window, the sentinels of the Great North woods, for old Harlan had always said that he lived at the very edge of the frontier, that his home was the last place before the forest held sway.

  It seemed to him now that, as his strength failed him, so too his power to keep nature at bay was ebbing. There were weeds in his yard, and brambles among his rosebushes. The grass was patchy and unkempt; it needed one final mow before the coming of winter, just as the stubble on his own chin rasped uncomfortably against his fingers, for the girl could not shave him as well as he had once shaved himself. Fallen leaves lay uncollected like the flakes of dry skin that peeled from his hands and his face, scattering themselves upon his sheets. He saw decline through his window, and decline in his mirror, but in only one was there the promise of rebirth.

 
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