A song of shadows, p.36
A Song of Shadows, p.36John Connolly
‘So you’re saying that he came to murder you, but before he could, he was shot.’
‘I guess we’ll never know.’
‘You seem certain that the mystery of his death is destined to remain unsolved.’
It was Welbecke. Parker had to admit that she had a nice line in withering sarcasm.
‘Since he was about to shoot me,’ he replied, ‘you’ll understand if I have a natural sympathy for his killer, and wish him – or her – every success in the future.’
Tyler began going back through the same questions again for form’s sake, although Walsh could tell that she still hoped to trip Parker up on the details of Werner’s killing. Walsh admired her tenacity, but Parker wasn’t going to make any slips. There was not a single person in the room who accepted that he didn’t know the identity of Werner’s killer, but it was also true that none of the three detectives believed Werner’s shooting was anything but a last resort. That didn’t make it right, but they had more hope of charging Parker as an accessory to the rising and setting of the sun than they had of linking him to the shooting.
Tyler was almost done when there was a knock on the door. Walsh opened it, and Parker caught a glimpse of a small, dark woman in a gray suit. She radiated seriousness. Parker figured her for a fed, or maybe Justice Department. She couldn’t have screamed government more if her face had been stamped with the Presidential seal. She struck him as vaguely familiar, and he wondered if their paths had crossed before. Walsh went outside to speak with her, and when he returned he whispered something in Tyler’s ear that made her wrap up the interview there and then. She thanked Parker for his time, even if she didn’t sound like she meant it, and left the final word to Welbecke.
‘Sometime soon your luck is going to run out,’ Welbecke told Parker.
‘I’ll know it’s happened when we start dating.’
Tyler hustled her partner out before the interview descended into actual violence. Walsh retrieved his phone and ended the recording.
‘Really?’ he said. ‘A dating joke?’
‘I was under pressure.’
‘Huh.’ Walsh pocketed the phone. ‘Right now, I’d like to feed you to Welbecke and let her chew on your bones for what went down on that beach.’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘Spare me,’ said Walsh. ‘When they eventually come for you, just remember that you brought it on yourself.’
‘Is that all?’ said Parker. ‘I’d like to leave now, if I’m free to go.’
‘You can stay where you are,’ said Walsh. ‘That was just the warm-up. The good stuff is next.’
He admitted the woman in the suit. She took a seat across from Parker, and asked Walsh if he wanted to stay.
‘No, I’ve heard enough,’ said Walsh. ‘I’m going to get some sleep.’
He already had the door open when Parker called to him.
Parker wanted to tell him about Cambion’s call to Louis, and his confirmation that Werner had been behind not just the Wilde killings, but the deaths of Perlman and the Tedescos as well, but to do so would effectively be to negate his earlier statement, and put Walsh in a position of knowing for certain that it was untrue.
‘Somehow, Werner knew the Wildes. He didn’t pluck them from thin air. He was familiar with the family. He killed them and then he put Oran Wilde in the ground.’
‘We found a D-ring fixed to the wall of his basement,’ he said. ‘The house is empty, but we’ll start searching the grounds at first light.’
Marie Demers introduced herself, and at the mention of her name Parker realised who she was. He’d seen her in TV news reports about Engel and Fuhrmann. She didn’t produce any recording devices more sophisticated than a yellow legal pad and a pencil. For the next two hours, Parker recounted in detail all that had occurred during his time in Boreas, including his dealings with Ruth and Amanda Winter, and his conversations with Isha Winter, Pastor Werner, and lastly, Marcus Baulman. He left out only matters pertaining to Angel and Louis, and his daughter and his private concerns about her. By the end, he was exhausted, but he also felt a certain satisfaction. It was the first time that he had been able to properly assemble a coherent version of events from start to finish and recite it aloud, both to himself and another. It enabled him to hear the places where it rang hollow.
‘I don’t believe that Werner’s father underwent any kind of conversion during or after the war,’ he told Demers. ‘I think he used his position to arrange for war criminals to enter the United States under the guise of immigrants and displaced persons. When he died, his son took on the responsibility of protecting them. Somehow Bruno Perlman discovered the truth, and it involved Lubsko. He made contact with the Winter family, but Werner found out, and so it began.’
He had been sitting for too long. He felt as though he were being repeatedly lanced in his side. He wanted to lie down and sleep.
‘What I don’t understand,’ he finished, ‘is why Ruth Winter was targeted, but not Isha. As the last survivor, Isha had to be the one with dangerous knowledge, even if she didn’t know that she was in possession of it.’
‘Maybe Perlman thought Isha Winter was too old to be able to do anything about it,’ said Demers, ‘and, for the same reason, Werner didn’t perceive her as a threat.’
Now that he had acknowledged his desire to rest, Parker was overcome with weariness. He couldn’t think clearly. He could barely keep his eyes open.
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘That must be it. I think I’d like to rest now.’
‘One last question.’
‘What is it?’
‘Did you have Werner killed?’
Parker summoned up his last reserves of energy. He had almost begun to relax. He looked at her over the table: so small, so neat, so threatening.
‘I wanted him alive,’ he replied.
‘You’re not answering the question.’
‘No,’ said Parker, ‘I just did. There is no more. I’m done.’ He rose from his chair. It fell backwards as he pushed it away. ‘You know where to find me.’
‘Yes, I do,’ said Demers, and this time the threat was audible. ‘Sleep well, Mr Parker.’
He left her sitting at the table, pages of her legal pad filled with penciled notes. Preston gave him a ride back to Green Heron Bay. He dozed all the way, and when he woke the next morning he could not remember how he had gotten from the car to his bed. Through his window he saw gray clouds heavy with the promise of rain. Just as Werner had said, the tide had washed the beach clean of all traces of their presence. Over in the dunes, a forensic team searched for traces of a shooter they would never find.
Parker made a pot of coffee, put the last of his possessions into two boxes, and prepared to leave Boreas at last.
One of the more useful aspects of mortality, from an investigator’s point of view, is that the dead can’t object. They have no privacy. By noon that day, the detectives sequestered in Boreas had obtained Werner’s telephone records, and some, but not all, of his bank details.
The call came through to Parker while he was putting the boxes in his car. He was grateful that most of his stuff was already gone. There was a limit to what a Mustang could hold and still be driven safely, and lifting boxes hurt like a bitch.
‘Are you leaving us?’ asked Walsh.
Parker glanced to his left. One of Stynes’s officers was sitting in an unmarked car on the road above the dunes, watching the house.
‘I was planning on saying goodbye.’
‘I’m sure you were. We’re going to arrest Baulman.’
‘On what grounds?’
‘It looks like you panicked him when you got in his face yesterday. He called Werner from his home telephone. It was careless of him. Demers recognized the number. We’re going to ask him the purpose of the call, just as we’r
‘Protection costs money,’ said Parker.
‘Although some folk get it for free. Is the forensics team still out on the dunes?’
From what Parker could see, the search of the area was drawing to a close.
‘They’re almost done. I don’t think they’ve left a grain of sand untouched.’
‘You could have saved them a lot of trouble.’
‘You want me to go through it all again? It was growing dark. I didn’t see anything. I just heard the shot and hit the sand.’
‘There’s something I didn’t tell you last night: Werner was present at a nursing home called Golden Hills when a patient named Bernhard Hummel choked to death on grapes. Hummel knew Baulman: they’d come to this country together. Hummel suffered from dementia, and didn’t eat unless someone fed him with a spoon.’
‘Werner was afraid that Hummel might let something slip.’
‘Whoever’s work he was doing, it wasn’t God’s. It seems that Marcus Baulman also visited Hummel shortly before Werner did.’
‘So Baulman raised the alarm, and Werner did the killing.’
‘We’re planning to ask Baulman about that, along with everything else.’
‘What about Werner’s property?’
‘We’ve started looking, but nothing yet. As for the gun, we’re not a hundred percent sure, but it looks like the same one that was used to kill the Wildes. I still have some folks who want to believe that Werner was Oran Wilde’s accomplice and protector, but a body will shut them up. We found the link between Werner and Oran, by the way: Oran won an essay competition organized by the Lutheran churches in the northeast. Werner was one of the judges. We have a picture of him presenting Oran with a certificate and a check. Oran won a hundred dollars, and it cost him and his family their lives.’
‘Where are you?’
‘Outside the Boreas PD, taking the air. Why?’
‘There’s a bookstore called Olesens in the center of town, with a parking lot at the back. I’ll see you there in about fifteen minutes.’
‘God, Walsh, just be there, okay?’
It was unfortunate that Marcus Baulman opened his front door to take his dog for a walk just as the two unmarked cars pulled up outside. He didn’t recognize the women who stepped from the first car, but he made them for police. When Marie Demers appeared from the second vehicle, he was certain that they had come for him. Werner was dead, and who knew what they had subsequently discovered about him – about all of them?
Baulman darted back inside and closed the door. Lotte, primed for her walk, looked confused. He patted her on the head. He would miss her. He pushed her into the living room and closed the door. He did not want the police to panic and hurt her.
The doorbell rang, followed by three heavy knocks. An unfamiliar female voice called his name, and the woman identified herself as a detective, but by then Baulman was already heading for the stairs. Lotte started barking, and he caught sight of a shape passing by the kitchen window, making for the back door of the house. He was in his bedroom when he heard the sound of glass breaking, and he had the gun in his hand by the time the first footsteps sounded on the stairs.
He tasted oil in his mouth as he pulled the trigger.
Walsh was waiting for Parker in the lot. He hadn’t driven over. The Boreas Police Department was only a short walk away. Parker pulled up beside him and got out of the car.
‘Do I need to make it okay with Stynes and Demers before I leave?’ Parker asked.
‘I’ll let them know. They’ll be heartbroken.’
‘About Oran Wilde.’
‘Louis told you that Steiger might have worked for a man named Cambion. Now Cambion is dead. He was killed in a house in Queens the night before last. It made the papers, although they haven’t formally identified him yet, or the man who died with him. The woman who owned the house is in a catatonic state. Before he died, Cambion confirmed that Werner killed not only the Wildes but stuck that blade in Perlman’s eye, and ordered Earl Steiger to kill Ruth Winter and the Tedescos.’
If Walsh already knew this through Ross, then he gave no sign.
‘Who did he tell?’ asked Walsh.
‘Fuck you. Who did he tell? You? Louis?’
‘It doesn’t matter.’
‘You know, you’re right: it doesn’t. You set up Werner, you and Louis and that other son of a bitch. You lured him out, and then you killed him.’
‘He didn’t come to that beach to give himself up.’
‘He didn’t get the chance!’
‘He murdered children, Walsh. He kept Oran Wilde alive for just long enough to use him, and then he killed him too.’
‘Maybe if you’d left Werner alive, we could have asked him ourselves.’
Parker leaned against his car. His face was expressionless. He knew that he had put himself at risk by telling Walsh about Cambion’s call. If Walsh chose to do so, he could arrest him on suspicion of accessory to murder. Parker would deny having said anything at all, of course, and Walsh knew it, but Walsh’s word would be worth more in a court of law, and accessory charges brought a sentence of up to three years. Conspiracy to commit murder, meanwhile, was twenty-five to life.
‘I’ve turned a blind eye in the past,’ said Walsh. ‘But this is different.’
‘This is murder! Look at yourself. What happened to you?’
Parker’s blank visage stared back at him.
‘I died,’ he said. ‘And then I came back.’
‘This is—’ Walsh began.
‘Did you enjoy your meal, detective?’ asked Parker.
‘Your meal in Augusta. Did you enjoy it?’
He did not sound triumphant, just sorrowful.
And Walsh understood. He had shown Steiger’s body to Louis and Angel, and afterwards he ate and drank with them. He was complicit. He had made himself so, step by step, ever since he had taken sides with Ross, but Ross would not protect him. To turn on Parker, and by extension on Angel and Louis, was to initiate the destruction of his own career.
And to what end: for a killer of children?
Walsh’s anger began to ebb, to be replaced by a sense of vertigo, of a spinning, nauseating world. He believed in good, in morality, but so too did the man standing before him, and Walsh found himself unable to balance the two perspectives. Was this how it had to be? To eradicate a little of the evil from the world, did you have to sacrifice something of your own goodness? He had thought that he could consort with men like this, yet keep a moral distance. He had been wrong.
Walsh’s cellphone rang in his pocket. He answered it, listened, and said only ‘I’m coming down there’ before he hung up.
‘Baulman is dead,’ he said. ‘He shot himself before they could get to him.’
He stared at the phone in his hand, as though expecting another call that might explain everything to him.
‘I’m going home,’ said Parker. ‘It’s time.’
The Fulcis had done a good job, even in the few days allowed them. The plywood over the busted window in the kitchen door was gone, and there was new glass in its place. The holes left by bullets and shotgun pellets had been filled in, and the kitchen repainted. His office had a new door. They had even bought milk, bread, and coffee, and put a six-pack of Shipyard Export in the refrigerator. Two bottles of wine stood on the kitchen counter. A note, signed by both of them, wished him well, and advised that they had one or two small tasks to finish up whenever it suited him.
And here, in the place in which he had almost died, the home that he had once shared with Rachel and Sam, he felt suddenly overwhelmed by emotion – rage, gratitude, guilt, regret. He
Werner’s property was searched with radar to detect anomalies in the soil. Three holes were dug as a result, but only an old tarp and some animal remains were found. On the second day, the compost pile was noticed. Werner had built himself a wooden composting unit and placed it at the end of his yard beneath a copse of trees. There was concern that the heat from the pile would play hell with the equipment, so it was decided to make an exploratory dig once the unit had been moved.
They discovered Oran Wilde’s body buried just two feet below the ground.
Sometimes convictions come from meticulous police work, from thousands of hours of effort. Sometimes a witness emerges. Sometimes a confession is made.
Sometimes you get a break.
One week after Werner’s death, a letter arrived at Bruno Perlman’s old address from a mailbox company located two miles from his house, notifying him that his two-month rental agreement was about to expire, and offering him one year for the price of six months should he choose to extend. A court order was obtained to open the box, which was found to contain paperwork relating to the late Bernhard Hummel, aka Udo Hoch, a former guard at Lubsko concentration camp; and another Maine resident named Ambros Riese, tentatively identified by Perlman as Anselm Trommler, an Obersturmbannführer and engineering specialist at Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp. Perlman, it seemed, had not been such a fantasist after all, although it was not clear at first how he had come to find these men. Eventually it was established that his was the most basic kind of investigation: in the aftermath of Engel’s arrest, he had used voter records to create a short list of German Americans living in Maine whose ages corresponded to Engel’s. He then appeared to have surreptitously begun photographing them, and comparing them with available photographs of men and women who had served on the staff at Lubsko by using a fairly simple piece of face-aging software.
Perlman’s mailbox also contained two high-quality copies of photographs that were neither from official Nazi party identification documents, nor taken by Perlman himself. One showed a woman in profile, her face almost entirely hidden by her blond hair, her left hand raised to fire a pistol. She was surrounded by a small crowd of SS officers and men. It was unclear at what exactly she was firing, but when enlarged, two shapes on the ground to her right were revealed to be the bodies of naked men. The second photograph showed another woman standing at a chalkboard, pointing at some writing with a piece of chalk held in her right hand. Her light hair was pulled back in a bun. In front of her were two rows of teenagers, the first standing, and the second kneeling. The writing on the board read: ‘Der Jahrgang 1938, Klassenlehrer Fraulein Górski.’ It was a picture of the graduating students of 1938, with their homeroom teacher, Isha Górski, later Isha Winter, at the Bierhoff Jewish Private School in Aachen. On the back of the photo, Perlman had written down the names of each of the students, and the camps to which they had been taken.
A Song of Shadows by John Connolly / Thrillers & Crime / Mystery & Detective / Horror have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes