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The killing kind, p.4
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       The Killing Kind, p.4

           John Connolly
 

  Orthodox preachers found it difficult to achieve a foothold in the state, Calvinists being particularly unwelcome as much for their unyielding doctrines as for their associations with the forces of government. Baptists and Methodists, with their concepts of egalitarianism and equality, found more willing converts. In the thirty years between 1790 and 1820, the number of Baptist churches in the state rose from seventeen to sixty. They were joined, in time, by Free Will Baptists, Free Baptists, Methodists, Congregationalists, Unitarians, Universalists, Shakers, Millerites, Spiritualists, Sandfordites, Holy Rollers, Higginsites, Free Thinkers, and Black Stockings.

  Yet the tradition of Schaeffer and other charlatans still remained: in 1816, the “delusion” of Cochranism grew up around the charismatic Cochrane in the west of the state, ending with charges of gross lewdness being leveled at its founder. In the 1860s, the Reverend Mr. George L. Adams persuaded his followers to sell their homes, stores, even their fishing gear, and to pass the money on to him to help establish a colony in Palestine. Sixteen people died in the first weeks of the Jaffa colony’s foundation in 1866. In 1867, amid charges of excessive drinking and misappropriation of funds, Adams and his wife fled the short-lived Jaffa colony, Adams later reemerging in California where he tried to persuade people to invest money in a five-cent savings bank until his secretary exposed his past.

  Finally, at the turn of this century, the evangelist Frank Weston Sandford founded the Shiloh community in Durham. Sandford is worthy of particular attention because the Shiloh community clearly provided a model for what the Reverend Faulkner attempted to achieve more than half a century later.

  Sandford’s cultlike sect raised huge sums of money for building projects and overseas missions, sending sailing vessels filled with missionaries to remote areas of the planet. His followers were persuaded to sell their homes and move to the Shiloh settlement at Durham, only thirty miles from Portland. Scores of them later died there from malnutrition and disease. It is a testament to the magnetism of Sandford, a native of Bowdoinham, Maine, and a graduate of the divinity school at Bates College, Lewiston, that they were willing to follow him and to die for him.

  Sandford was only thirty-four when the Shiloh settlement was officially dedicated, on October 2, 1896, a date apparently dictated to Sandford by God himself. Within the space of a few years, and funded largely by donations and the sale of his followers’ property, there were over $200,000 worth of buildings on the land. The main building, Shiloh itself, had 520 rooms and was a quarter of a mile in circumference.

  But Sandford’s increasing megalomania——he claimed that God had proclaimed him the second Elijah——and his insistence on absolute obedience began to cause friction. A harsh winter in 1902–3 caused food supplies to shrink, and the community was swept by smallpox. People began to die. In 1904, Sandford was arrested and charged on five counts of cruelty to children and one charge of manslaughter as a result of that winter’s depredations. A guilty verdict was later overturned on appeal.

  In 1906, Sandford sailed for the Holy Land, taking with him a hundred of the faithful in two vessels, the Kingdom and the Coronet. They spent the next five years at sea, sailing to Africa and South America, although their conversion technique was somewhat unorthodox: the two ships cruised the coast while Sandford’s followers prayed continuously for God to bring the natives to him. Actual contact with potential converts was virtually nil.

  The Kingdom was eventually wrecked off the west coast of Africa, and when Sandford tried to force the crew of the Coronet to sail on to Greenland, they mutinied, forcing him to return to Maine. In 1911, Sandford was sentenced to jail for ten years on charges of manslaughter arising from the deaths of six crewmen. Released in 1918, he set up home in Boston and allowed subordinates to take care of the day-to-day running of Shiloh.

  In 1920, after hearing testimony of the terrible conditions being endured by the children of the community, a judge ordered their removal. Shiloh disintegrated, its membership falling from four hundred to one hundred in an incident that became known as the Scattering. Sandford announced his retirement in May 1920 and retreated to a farm in upstate New York, from which he attempted, unsuccessfully, to rebuild the community. He died, aged eighty-five, in 1948. The Shiloh community still exists today, although in a very different form from its original inception, and Sandford is still honored as its founder.

  It is known that Faulkner regarded Sandford as a particular inspiration: Sandford had shown that it was possible to build an independent religious community using donations and the sale of the assets of true believers. It is therefore both ironic and strangely apt that Faulkner’s attempt at establishing his own religious utopia, close to the small town of Eagle Lake, should have ended in bitterness and acrimony, near starvation and despair, and finally the disappearance of twenty people, among them Faulkner himself.

  2

  THE NEXT MORNING I sat in my kitchen shortly after sunrise, a pot of coffee and the remains of some dry toast lying beside my PowerBook on the table. I had a report to make to a client that day, so I put Jack Mercier to the back of my mind. Outside, rainwater dripped from the beech tree that grew by my kitchen window, beating an irregular cadence on the damp earth below. There were still one or two dry, brown leaves clinging to the branches of the beech but they were now surrounded by green buds, old life preparing to make way for the new. A nuthatch puffed out its red breast and sang from its nest of twigs. I couldn’t see its mate, but I guessed that it was close. There would be eggs laid in the nest before the end of May and soon a whole family would be waking me in the mornings.

  By the time the main news commenced on WPXT, the local Fox affiliate, I had finished a pretty satisfactory draft and ejected the disk so that I could print from my desktop. The news led with the latest report on the remains unearthed at St. Froid Lake the day before. Dr. Claire Gray, the state’s newly appointed ME, was shown arriving at the scene, wearing fireman’s boots and a set of overalls. Her dark hair was long and curly, and her face betrayed no emotion as she walked down to the lakeshore.

  Sandbag levees had already been built to hold back the waters, and the bones now rested in a layer of thick mud and rotting vegetation, over which a tarpaulin had been stretched to protect them from the elements. A preliminary examination had been conducted by one of the state’s two hundred part-time MEs, who confirmed that the remains were human, and the state police had then E-mailed digital images of the scene to the ME’s office in Augusta so that she and her staff would be familiar with the terrain and the task they faced. They had already alerted the forensic anthropologist based at the University of Maine at Orono: she was due to travel up to Eagle Lake later that day.

  According to the reporter, the danger of further weakening the bank and the possibility of damaging the remains had ruled out the use of a backhoe to uncover the bodies and it was now likely that the task would have to be completed entirely by hand, using shovels and then small trowels in a painstaking, inch-by-inch dig. As the reporter spoke, the howling of the wolf hybrids was clearly audible from the slopes above her. Maybe it had to do with the sound from the live broadcast, but the howls seemed to have a terrible, keening tone to them, as if the animals somehow understood what had been found on their territory. The howling increased in intensity as a car pulled up at the edge of the secured area and the deputy chief ME, known to one and all as Dr. Bill, climbed out to talk to the trooper. In the back of his car sat his two cadaver dogs: it was their presence that had set off the hybrids.

  A mobile crime scene unit from the state police barracks at Houlton stood behind the reporter, and members of CID III, the Criminal Investigation Division of the state police with responsibility for Aroostook, mingled with state troopers and sheriff’s deputies in the background. The reporter had obviously been talking to the right people. She was able to confirm that the bodies had been underground for some time, that there were children’s bones among them, and there was damage to some of the visible skulls consiste
nt with the kind of low-velocity impact caused by a blunt instrument. The transportation of the first of the bodies to the morgue in Augusta would probably not begin for another day or two; there they would be cleaned with scalpels and a mix of heated water and detergents before they were laid out on metal trays beneath a fume hood to dry them for analysis. It would then be up to the forensic anthropologist to rearticulate the bodies as best she could in the ME’s office.

  But it was the reporter’s concluding comment that was particularly interesting. She said that detectives believed they had made a preliminary identification of at least three of the bodies, although they declined to give any further details. That meant they had found something at the scene, something they had chosen to keep to themselves. The discovery aroused my curiosity—mine and a million other people’s—but no more than that. I did not envy the investigators who would have to wade through the mud of St. Froid in order to remove those bones with their gloved hands, fighting off the early blackflies and trying to blank out the howls of the hybrids.

  When the report ended, I printed off my own work and then drove to the offices of PanTech Systems to deliver my findings. PanTech operated out of a three-story smoked-glass office in Westbrook and specialized in making security systems for the networks of financial institutions. Their latest innovation involved some kind of complex algorithm that made the eyes of anyone with an IQ of less than 200 glaze over with incomprehension but was reckoned by the company to be a pretty surefire thing. Unfortunately, Errol Hoyt, the mathematician who understood the algorithm best and who had been involved in its development from the start, had decided that PanTech didn’t value him enough and was now trying to sell his services, and the algorithm, to a rival company from behind the backs of his current employers. The fact that he was also screwing his contact at the rival firm—a woman named Stacey Kean, who had the kind of body that caused highway pileups after Sunday services—made the whole business slightly more complicated.

  I had monitored Hoyt’s cell phone transmissions using a Cellmate cellular radio monitoring system, aided by a cellular gain antenna. The Cellmate came in a neat brushed-aluminum case containing a modified Panasonic phone, a DTMF decoder, and a Marantz recorder. I simply had to enter the number of Hoyt’s cellular and the Cellmate did the rest. By monitoring his calls, I had traced Hoyt and Kean to a rendezvous at the Days Inn out on Maine Mall Road. I waited in the parking lot, got photos of both of them entering the same room, then checked into the room on their right and removed the Penetrator II surveillance unit from my leather bag. The Penetrator II sounded like some kind of sexual aid but was simply a specially designed transducer that attached to the wall and picked up vibrations, converting them into electrical impulses that were then amplified and became recognizable audio. Most of the audio was recognizable only as grunts and groans, but when they’d finished the pleasure part they got down to business, and Hoyt provided enough incriminating detail of what he was offering, and the how and when of its transfer, to enable PanTech to secure his research and then fire him without incurring a major damages suit for unlawful dismissal. Admittedly, it was a kind of sordid way to earn a few bucks, but it had been painless and relatively easy. Now it was simply a matter of presenting the evidence to PanTech and collecting my check.

  I sat in a conference room on one side of an oval glass table while the three men across from me examined the photographs, then listened to Hoyt’s telephone conversations and the recording of his romantic interlude with the lovely Stacey. One of the men was Roger Axton, PanTech’s vice president. The second was Philip Voight, head of corporate security. The third man had introduced himself as Marvin Gross, the personnel director. He was short and reedily built, with a small belly that protruded over the belt of his pants and made him look like he was suffering from malnutrition. It was Gross, I noticed, who held the checkbook.

  Eventually, Axton reached across with a plump finger and killed the tape. He exchanged a look with Voight, then stood.

  “That all seems to be in order, Mr. Parker. Thank you for your time and efforts. Mr. Gross will deal with the matter of payment.”

  I noticed that he didn’t shake my hand but simply departed from the room with a swish of silk like a wealthy dowager. I guessed that if I’d just listened to the sounds of two strangers having sex, I wouldn’t want to shake hands with the guy who’d made the tape either. Instead, I sat in silence while Gross’s pen made a scratching noise on the checkbook. When he had finished, he blew softly on the ink and carefully tore away the check. He didn’t hand it over immediately but looked at it for a time before peering out from under his brow and asking:

  “Do you like your work, Mr. Parker?”

  “Sometimes,” I replied.

  “It seems to me,” Gross continued languidly, “that it’s somewhat . . . sleazy.”

  “Sometimes,” I repeated, neutrally. “But usually that’s not the nature of the work, but the nature of some of the people involved.”

  “You’re referring to Mr. Hoyt?”

  “Mr. Hoyt had sex in the afternoon with a woman. Neither of them is married. What they did wasn’t sleazy, or at least it was no sleazier than a hundred other things most people do every day. Your company paid me to listen in on them, and that’s where the sleaze part came in.”

  Gross’s smile didn’t waver. He held the check up between his fingers as if he was expecting me to beg for it. Beside him, I saw Voight look down at his feet in embarrassment.

  “I’m not sure that we are entirely to blame for the manner in which you conducted your task, Mr. Parker,” said Gross. “That was your own choice.”

  I felt my fist tighten, partly out of my rising anger at Gross but also because I knew that he had a point. Sitting in that room, watching those three well-dressed men listening to the sounds of a couple’s lovemaking, I had felt ashamed at them, and at myself. Gross was right: this was dirty work, marginally better than repos, and the money didn’t make up for the filthy sheen it left on the clothes, on the skin, and on the soul.

  I sat in silence, my eyes on him until he stood and gathered up the material relating to Hoyt, returning it to the black plastic folder in which I had brought it. Voight stood too, but I remained seated. Gross took one more look at the check, then dropped it on the table in front of me before leaving the room.

  “Enjoy your money, Mr. Parker,” he concluded. “I believe you’ve earned it.”

  Voight gave me a pained look, then shrugged and followed Gross. “I’ll wait for you outside,” he said.

  I nodded and began replacing my own notes in my bag. When I was done, I picked up the check, examined the amount, then folded it and put it in the small zipped compartment at the back of my wallet. PanTech had paid me a bonus of 20 percent. For some reason, it made me feel even dirtier than before.

  Voight walked me to the lobby, then made a point of shaking my hand and thanking me before I left the building. I walked through the parking lot, past the lines of reserved spaces with the names of their owners marked on small tin plates nailed to the parking lot’s surrounding wall. Marvin Gross’s car, a red Impala, occupied space number 15. I removed my keys from my pocket and flicked open the little knife I kept on the key chain. I knelt down beside his left rear tire and placed the tip of the blade against it, ready to slash the rubber. I stayed like that for maybe thirty seconds, then stood and closed the knife, leaving the tire undamaged. There was a tiny indentation where the blade had touched it, but nothing more.

  As Gross had intimated, following couples to motel rooms was the poor cousin of divorce work, but it paid the bills and the risks were minimal. In the past I had taken on jobs out of a sense of charity but I quickly realized that if I kept doing things for charity, then pretty soon charities would be doing things for me. Now Jack Mercier was offering me good money to look into Grace Peltier’s death, but something told me that the money would be hard earned. I had seen it in Mercier’s eyes.

  I drove into the center of Port
land and parked in the garage at Cumberland and Preble, then headed into the Portland Public Market. The Port City Jazz Band was playing in one corner and the smells of baking and spices mingled in the air. I bought some skim milk from Smiling Hill Farm and venison from Bayley Hill, then added fresh vegetables and a loaf of bread from the Big Sky Bread Company. I sat for a time by the fireplace, watching the people go by and listening to the music. Rachel and I would come here next weekend, I thought, browsing among the stalls, holding hands, and the scent of her would linger on my fingers and palms for the rest of the day.

  With the arrival of the lunchtime crowds I headed back toward Congress, then cut down Exchange Street toward Java Joe’s in the Old Port. As I reached the junction of Exchange and Middle, I saw a small boy seated on the ground at Tommy’s Park on the opposite side of the street. He was wearing only a check shirt and short pants, despite the fact that it was a cool day. A woman leaned over him, obviously talking to him, and he stared up at her intently. Like the boy, the woman was dressed for very different weather. She wore a pale summer dress decorated with small pink flowers, the sunlight shining through the material to reveal the shape of her legs, and her blond hair was tied back with an aquamarine bow. I couldn’t see her face, but something tightened in my stomach as I drew nearer.

  Susan had worn just such a dress and had tied her blond hair back with an aquamarine bow. The memory made me stop short as the woman straightened and began to walk away from the boy in the direction of Spring Street. As she walked, the boy looked up at me and I saw that he was wearing old black-rimmed eyeglasses, one lens of which was obscured by black masking tape. Through the clear lens his single visible eye stared unblinkingly at me. Around his neck hung a wooden board of some sort, held in place by a length of thick rope. There was something carved into the wood, but it was too faint to see from where I stood. I smiled at him and he smiled back as I stepped from the sidewalk and straight into the path of a delivery truck. The driver slammed on the brakes and blew his horn, and I was forced to jump back quickly as the truck shot past. By the time the driver had finished giving me the finger and proceeded on his way, both the woman and the boy were gone. I could find no trace of them on Spring Street, or Middle, or Exchange. Despite that, I could not shake off the sense that they were near, and were watching.

 
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