Every dead thing, p.41
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       Every Dead Thing, p.41

           John Connolly
 

  My eye caught movement at the western corner of the house as we neared the steps. A muzzle flashed and Louis yelled in pain. The Calico dropped to the ground as he leaped for the steps, cradling his injured hand. I fired three shots and the guard dropped. Behind me, one of Fontenot’s men fired single shots from his M16 as he advanced toward the house, then let the gun hang from its shoulder strap as he reached the corner. I saw moonlight catch the blade of his knife as he stood waiting. The short muzzle of a Steyr appeared, followed by the face of one of Joe Bones’s men. I recognized him as the one who had driven the golf cart to the plantation gates on our first visit here, but the flash of recognition became one with the flash of the knife as it struck across his neck. A crimson jet flew into the air from his severed artery, but even as he fell Fontenot’s man raised the M16 once again and fired past him as he moved toward the front of the house.

  Louis was examining his right hand as I reached him. The bullet had torn across the back of the hand, leaving a bad gash and damaging the knuckle of his forefinger. I tore a strip from the shirt of a dead guard who lay sprawled across the patio and wrapped it around Louis’s hand. I handed him the Calico and he worked the strap over his head, then fitted his middle finger into the trigger guard. With his left hand he freed his SIG, then nodded to me as he rose. “We better find Joe Bones.”

  Through the patio doors lay a formal dining room. The dining table, which could seat at least eighteen people comfortably, was splintered and pitted by shots. On the wall, a portrait of a Southern gentleman standing by his horse had sustained a large hole through the horse’s belly and a selection of antique china plates lay shattered in the remains of their glass-fronted display cabinet. There were two bodies in the room. One of them was the ponytailed man who had driven the Dodge.

  The dining room led out into a large carpeted hallway and a white chandeliered reception area, from which a staircase wound up to the next floor. The other doors at ground level stood open, but there were no sounds coming from inside. There was sustained firing on the upper levels as we made our way to the stairs. At their base, one of Joe Bones’s men lay in a pair of striped pajama bottoms, blood pooling from an ugly head wound.

  From the top of the stairs, a series of doors stretched left and right. Fontenot’s men seemed to have cleared most of the rooms, but they had been pinned down in the alcoves and doorways by gunfire from the rooms at the western end of the house, one on the river side to the right, its panels already pockmarked by bullets, and the other facing out to the front of the house. As we watched, a man in blue overalls carrying a short-handled axe in one hand and a captured Steyr in the other moved quickly from his hiding place to within one doorway of the front-facing room. Shots came through the door on the right and he fell to the ground, clutching his leg.

  I leaned into an alcove in which the remains of long-stemmed roses lay in a pool of water and shattered pottery and fired a sustained burst at the door on the front-facing side. Two of Fontenot’s men moved forward at the same time, keeping low on the ground as they did so. Across from me, Louis fired shots at the semiclosed river-side door. I stopped firing as Fontenot’s men reached the room and rushed the occupant. There were two more shots, then one of them emerged wiping his knife on his trousers. It was Lionel Fontenot. Behind him was Leon.

  The two men took up positions at either side of the last room. Six more of his men moved forward to join him.

  “Joe, it’s over now,” said Lionel. “We gon’ finish this thing.”

  Two shots burst through the door. Leon raised his H&K and appeared to be about to fire, but Lionel raised his hand, looking past Leon to where I stood. I advanced forward and waited behind Leon’s back as Lionel pushed open the door with his foot, then pressed himself flat against the wall as two more shots rang out, followed by the click of a hammer on an empty chamber, a sound as final as the closing of a tomb.

  Leon entered the room first, the H&K now replaced by his knives. I followed him, with Lionel behind me. The walls of Joe Bones’s bedroom were marked with holes and the night air entered through the shattered window and sent the white curtains swirling in the air like angry ghosts. The blonde who had lunched with Joe on his lawn earlier in the week lay dead against the far wall, a red stain on the left breast of her silk nightgown.

  Joe Bones stood before the window in a red silk dressing gown. The Colt in his hand hung uselessly at his side but his eyes glowed with anger and the scar on his lip seemed painfully pinched and white against his skin. He dropped the gun.

  “Do it, you fuck,” he hissed at Lionel. “Kill me, you got the fucking guts.”

  Lionel closed the bedroom door behind us as Joe Bones turned to look at the woman.

  “Ask him,” said Lionel.

  Joe Bones didn’t seem to hear. His face seemed consumed with a look of terrible grief as his eyes traced the contours of the dead woman’s face. “Eight years,” he said softly. “Eight years she was with me.”

  “Ask him,” repeated Lionel Fontenot.

  I stepped forward and Joe Bones sneered as he turned, that look of sadness now gone. “The fucking grieving widower. You bring your trained nigger with you?”

  I slapped him hard and he took a step back.

  “I can’t save you, Joe, but if you help me maybe I can make it quicker for you. Tell me what Remarr saw the night the Aguillards died.”

  He wiped blood from the corner of his mouth, smearing it across his cheek. “You have no idea what you’re dealing with, no fucking idea in the world. You’re so out of your fucking depth, the fucking pressure should be making your nose bleed.”

  “He kills women and children, Joe. He’s going to kill again.”

  Joe Bones twisted his mouth into the semblance of a grin, the scar distorting his full lips like a crack in a mirror. “You killed my woman and now you’re gonna kill me, no matter what I say. You got nothing to bargain with,” he said.

  I glanced at Lionel Fontenot. He shook his head almost imperceptibly, but Joe Bones caught it. “See, nothing. All you can offer is a little less pain, and pain don’t hold no surprises for me.”

  “He killed one of your own men. He killed Tony Remarr.”

  “Tony left a print at the nigger’s house. He was careless and he paid the price. Your guy, he saved me the trouble of killing the old bitch and her brood myself. I meet him, I’ll shake his hand.”

  Joe Bones smiled a broad smile like a flash of sunshine through dark, acrid smoke. Haunted by visions of tainted blood flowing through his veins, he had moved beyond ordinary notions of humanity and empathy, love and grief. In his shimmering red robe, he looked like a wound in the fabric of space and time.

  “You’ll meet him in Hell,” I said.

  “I see your bitch there, I’ll fuck her for you.” His eyes were bland and cold now. The smell of death hung around him like old cigar fumes. Behind me, Lionel Fontenot opened the door and the rest of his men walked quietly into the room. It was only now, seeing them all together in the ruined bedroom, that the resemblance between them became clear. Lionel held the door open for me.

  “It’s a family thing,” he said as I left. Behind me, the door closed with a soft click like the knocking of bones.

  After Joe Bones died, we gathered the bodies of the Fontenot dead on the lawn in front of the house. The five men lay side by side, crumpled and torn as only the dead can be. The gates to the plantation were opened and the Dodge, the VW and the pickup sped in. The bodies were loaded gently but quickly into the trunks of the cars, the injured helped into the rear seats. The pirogues were doused in gasoline, set on fire, and left to float down the river.

  We drove from the plantation and kept driving until we reached the rendezvous point at Starhill. The three black Explorers I had seen at the Delacroix compound stood waiting, their motors idling, their lights dimmed. As Leon sprayed gasoline into the cars and the pickup, the bodies of the dead were removed, wrapped in tarps, and placed in the backs of two of the jeeps. Louis and
I watched it all in silence.

  As the jeeps roared into life and Leon threw lighted rags into the discarded vehicles, Lionel Fontenot walked over to us and stood with us as they burned. He took a small green notebook from his pocket, scribbled a number on a sheet, and tore it out.

  “This guy will look after your friend’s hand. He’s discreet.”

  “He knew who killed Lutice, Lionel,” I said.

  He nodded. “Maybe. He wouldn’t tell, not even at the end.” He rubbed his index finger along a raw cut on the palm of his right hand, picking dirt from the wound. “I hear the feds are looking for someone around Baton Rouge, used to work in a hospital in New York.”

  I stayed silent and he smiled. “We know his name. Man could hide out in the bayou for a long time, he knew his way around. Feds might not find him, but we will.” He gestured with his hand, like a king displaying his finest troops to his worried subjects. “We’re looking. We find him, it’ll end there.”

  Then he turned and climbed into the driver’s seat of the lead jeep, Leon beside him, and they disappeared into the night, the red taillights like falling cigarettes in the darkness, like burning boats floating on black water.

  I called Angel as we drove back to New Orleans. At an all-night drugstore I picked up antiseptic and a first-aid kit so we could work on Louis’s hand. There was a sheen of sweat on his face as I drove and the white rags binding his fingers were stained a deep red. When we arrived back at the Flaisance, Angel cleansed the wound with the antiseptic and tried to stitch it with some surgical thread. The knuckle looked bad and Louis’s mouth was stretched tight with pain. Despite his protests, I called the number we had been given. The bleary voice that answered the phone on the fourth ring shook the sleep from its tones when I mentioned Lionel’s name.

  Angel drove Louis to the doctor’s office. When they had gone, I stood outside Rachel’s door and debated whether or not to knock. I knew she wasn’t asleep: Angel had spoken to her after I called, and I could sense her wakefulness. Still, I didn’t knock, but as I walked back toward my own room her door opened. She stood in the gap, a white T-shirt reaching almost to her knees, and waited for me. She stood carefully aside to let me enter.

  “You’re still in one piece, I see,” she said. She didn’t sound particularly pleased.

  I felt tired and sick from the sight of blood. I wanted to plunge my face into a sink of ice-cold water. I wanted a drink so badly my tongue felt swollen inside my mouth and only a bottle of Abita, ice frosting on its rim, and a shot of Redbreast whiskey could restore it to its normal size. My voice sounded like the croak of an old man on his deathbed when I spoke.

  “I’m in one piece,” I said. “A lot of others aren’t. Louis took a bullet across the hand and too many people died out at the house. Joe Bones, most of his crew, his woman.”

  Rachel turned her back and walked to the balcony window. Only the bedside lamp lit the room, casting shadows over the illustrations that she had kept from Woolrich and that were now restored to their places on the walls. Flayed arms and the face of a woman and a young man emerged from the semidarkness.

  “What did you find out, for all that killing?”

  It was a good question. As usual with good questions, the answer didn’t live up to it.

  “Nothing, except that Joe Bones was happier to die painfully than to tell us what he knew.”

  She turned then. “What are you going to do now?”

  I was getting tired of questions, especially questions as difficult as these. I knew she was right and I felt disgusted at myself. It felt as if Rachel had become tainted through her contact with me. Maybe I should have told her all of those things then, but I was too tired and too sick and I could smell blood in my nostrils; and, anyway, I think she already knew most of it.

  “I’m going to bed,” I said. “After that, I’m winging it.” Then I left her.

  47

  T HE NEXT MORNING I awoke with an ache in my arms from toting the Calico, exacerbated by the lingering pain of the gunshot wound inflicted in Haven. I could smell powder on my fingers, in my hair, and on my discarded clothes. The room stank like the scene of a gunfight, so I opened the window and let the hot New Orleans air slip heavily into the room like a clumsy burglar.

  I checked on Louis and Angel. Louis’s hand had been expertly bound after the doctor picked the shards of bone from the wound and padded the knuckle. Louis barely opened his eyes as I exchanged a few quiet words with Angel at the door. I felt guilty for what had happened, although I knew that neither of them blamed me.

  I sensed, too, that Angel was anxious now to return to New York. Joe Bones was dead, and the police and the feds were probably closing in on Edward Byron, despite Lionel Fontenot’s doubts. Besides, I didn’t believe that it would take long for Woolrich to connect us to what had happened to Joe Bones, especially if Louis was walking around with a bullet crease on his hand. I told Angel all of this and he agreed that they would leave as soon as I returned, so that Rachel would not be left alone. The whole case seemed to have ground to a kind of halt for me. Elsewhere, the feds and the Fontenots were hunting Edward Byron, a man who still seemed as distant from me as the last emperor of China.

  I left a message for Morphy. I wanted to see what his people had on Byron; I wanted to add flesh to the figure. As things stood, he was as shorn of identity as the faceless figures of the slain that the feds believed he had left behind. The feds might well have been right. With the local police, they could conduct a better search than a bunch of visitors from New York with delusions of adequacy. I had hoped to work my way toward him from a different direction, but with the death of Joe Bones that path seemed to have come to an end in a tangle of dark undergrowth.

  I took my phone and my book of Ralegh’s writings and headed for Mother’s on Poydras Street, where I drank too many cups of coffee and picked at some bacon and brown toast. When you reach one of life’s dead ends, Ralegh is good company. “Go soul…since I needs must die / And give the world the lie.” Ralegh knew enough to take a stoical attitude to adversity, although he didn’t know enough to avoid getting his head cut off.

  Beside me, a man ate ham and eggs with the concentrated effort of a bad lover, yellow egg yolk tingeing his chin like sunlight reflected from a buttercup. Someone whistled a snatch of “What’s New?” then lost his thread in the complicated chord changes of the song. The air was filled with the buzz of late morning conversation, a radio station easing into neutral with a bland rock song and the low, aggravated hum of distant, slow-moving traffic. Outside, it was another humid New Orleans day, the kind of day that leads lovers to fight and makes children sullen and grim.

  An hour passed. I rang the detective squad in St. Martin and was told that Morphy had taken a day’s leave to work on his house. I had nothing better to do now, so I paid my bill, put some gas in the car, and started out once again toward Baton Rouge. I found a Lafayette station playing some scratchy Cheese Read, followed by Buckwheat Zydeco and Clifton Chenier, an hour of classic Cajun and zydeco, as the DJ put it. I let it play until the city fell away and the sound and the landscape became one.

  A sheet of plastic slapped dryly in the early afternoon wind as I pulled up outside Morphy’s place. He was replacing part of the exterior wall on the west side of the house, and the lines holding the plastic in place over the exposed joints sang as the wind tried to yank them from their moorings. It tugged at one of the windows, which had not been fastened properly, and made the screen door knock at its frame like a tired visitor.

  I called his name but there was no reply. I walked to the rear of the house, where the back door stood open, held in place by a piece of brick. I called again but my voice seemed to echo emptily through the central hallway. The rooms on the ground level were all unoccupied and no sounds came from upstairs. I drew my gun and climbed the stairs, newly planed in preparation for treating. The bedrooms were empty and the bathroom door stood wide open, toiletries neatly arranged by the sink. I checked the g
allery and then went back downstairs. As I turned back toward the rear door, cold metal touched the base of my neck.

  “Drop it,” said a voice.

  I let the gun slip from my fingers.

  “Turn around. Slowly.”

  The pressure was removed from my neck and I turned to find Morphy standing before me, a nail gun held inches from my face. He let out a deep breath of relief and lowered the gun.

  “Shit, you scared the hell out of me,” he said.

  I could feel my heart thumping wildly in my chest. “Thanks,” I said. “I really needed that kind of adrenaline rush on top of five cups of coffee.” I sat down heavily on the bottom step.

  “You look terrible, mon. You up late last night?”

  I looked up to see if there was an edge to what he had said, but he had turned his back.

  “Kind of.”

  “You hear the news? Joe Bones and his crew were taken out last night. Someone cut Joe up pretty bad before he died, too. Police weren’t even sure it was him until they checked the prints.” He walked down to the kitchen and came back with a beer for himself and a soda for me. I noticed it was caffeine-free cola. Under his arm he held a copy of the Times-Picayune.

  “You see this today?”

  I took the paper from him. It was folded into quarter size, the bottom of the front page facing up. The headline read:

  POLICE HUNT SERIAL KILLER IN RITUAL MURDERS. The story below contained details of the deaths of Tante Marie Aguillard and Tee Jean that could only have come from the investigation team itself: the display of the bodies, the manner of their discovery, the nature of some of the wounds. It went on to speculate on a possible link between the discovery of Lutice Fontenot’s body and the death of a man in Bucktown, known to have links with a leading crime figure. Worst of all, it said that police were also investigating a connection to a similar pair of murders in New York earlier this year. Susan and Jennifer were not named, but it was clear that the writer—anonymous beneath a “Times-Picayune Journalists” byline—knew enough about the murders to be able to put a name on the victims.

 

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