Every dead thing, p.42
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       Every Dead Thing, p.42

           John Connolly

  I put the paper down wearily. “Did the leak come from your guys?” I asked.

  “Could have done, but I don’t think so. The feds are blaming us: they’re all over us, accusing us of sabotaging the investigation.” He sipped his beer before saying what was on his mind.

  “One or two people maybe felt that it could have been you who leaked the stuff.” He was obviously uncomfortable saying it, but he didn’t look away.

  “I didn’t do it. If they’ve got as far as Jennifer and Susan, it won’t be too long before they connect me to what’s happening. The last thing I need is the press crawling all over me.”

  He considered what I said, then nodded. “I guess you’re right.”

  “You speak to the editor?”

  “He was contacted at home when the first edition came out. We got freedom of the press and the protection of sources coming out our ass. We can’t force him to tell but”— he rubbed at the tendons on the back of his neck—“it’s unusual for something like this to happen. The papers are real careful about jeopardizing investigations. I think it had to come from someone close to all this.”

  I thought about it. “If they felt okay about using this stuff, then it must be cast iron and the source impeccable,” I said. “It could be that the feds are playing their own game on this.” It seemed to reaffirm our belief that Woolrich and his team were holding back, not only from me but probably from the police investigating team as well.

  “It wouldn’t be anything new,” said Morphy. “Feds wouldn’t tell us what day it is, they thought they could get away with it. You think they might have planted the story?”

  “Somebody did.”

  Morphy finished his beer and crushed the can beneath his foot. A small stain of beer spread itself on the bare wood. He picked up a tool belt from where it hung on a hat stand near the door and strapped it on.

  “You need any help?”

  He looked at me. “Can you carry planks without falling over?”


  “Then you’re perfect for the job. There’s a spare pair of work gloves in the kitchen.”

  For the rest of the afternoon I worked with my hands, hoisting and carrying, hammering and sawing. We replaced most of the wood on the west side, a gentle breeze spraying sawdust and shavings around us as we worked. Later, Angie returned from a shopping trip to Baton Rouge, carrying groceries and boutique bags. While Morphy and I cleaned up, she grilled steaks with sweet potatoes, carrots, and Creole rice, and we ate them in the kitchen as the evening drew in and the wind wrapped the house in its arms.

  Morphy walked me out to my car. As I put the key in the ignition, he leaned in the window and said softly: “Someone tried to get to Stacey Byron yesterday. Know anything about it?”


  “You were there, weren’t you? You were there when they took Joe Bones?”

  “You don’t want to know the answer to that,” I replied. “Just like I don’t want to know about Luther Bordelon.”

  As I drove away, I could see him standing before his uncompleted house. Then he turned away and returned to his wife.

  When I arrived back at the Flaisance, Angel and Louis were packed and ready to go. They wished me luck and told me that Rachel had gone to bed early. She had booked a flight for the next day. I decided not to disturb her and went to my own room. I don’t even remember falling asleep.

  The luminous dial on my watch read 8:30 A.M. when the pounding came at my door. I had been in deep sleep and I pulled myself slowly into wakefulness like a diver struggling for the surface. I had got as far as the edge of the bed when the door exploded inward and there were lights shining in my face and strong arms hauled me to my feet and pushed me hard against the wall. A gun was held to my head as the main light came on in the room. I could see NOPD uniforms, a couple of plainclothesmen, and directly to my right, Morphy’s partner Toussaint. Around me, men were tearing the room apart.

  And I knew then that something had gone terribly, terribly wrong.

  They allowed me to pull on a tracksuit and a pair of sneakers before cuffing me. I was marched through the hotel, past guests peering anxiously from their rooms, to a waiting police car. In a second car, her face pale and her hair matted from sleep, sat Rachel. I shrugged helplessly at her before we were driven in convoy from the Quarter.

  I was questioned for three hours, then given a cup of coffee and grilled again for another hour. The room was small and brightly lit. It smelled of cigarette smoke and stale sweat. In one corner, where the plaster was broken and worn, I could see what looked like a bloodstain. Two detectives, Dale and Klein, did most of the questioning, Dale assuming the role of aggressive interrogator, threatening to dump me in the swamp with a bullet in the head for killing a Louisiana cop, Klein taking the part of the reasonable, sensitive man trying to protect me while ensuring that the truth was told. Even with other cops as the object of their attentions, the good cop—bad cop thing never went out of fashion.

  I told them all I could, again and again and again. I told them of my visit to Morphy, the work on the house, the dinner, the departure, all of the reasons why my prints were all over the house. No, Morphy hadn’t given me the police files found in my room. No, I couldn’t say who did. No, only the night porter saw me re-enter the hotel, I didn’t speak to anyone else. No, I didn’t leave my room again that night. No, there was no one to confirm that fact. No. No. No. No. No.

  Then Woolrich arrived and the merry-go-round started all over again. More questions, this time with the feds in attendance. And still, no one told me why I was there or what had happened to Morphy and his wife. In the end, Klein returned and told me I could go. Behind a slatted-rail divider, which separated the detective squadroom from the main corridor, Rachel sat with a mug of tea while the detectives around her studiously ignored her. In a cage ten feet behind her, a skinny white man with tattooed arms whispered obscenely to her.

  Toussaint appeared. He was an overweight, balding man in his early fifties, with straggly white curls around his pate like the top of a hill erupting from out of a mist. He looked red eyed and nauseous and was as out of place here as I was.

  A patrolman motioned to Rachel. “We’ll take you back to your hotel now, ma’am.” She stood. Behind her, the guy in the cage made sucking noises and grabbed his crotch in his hand.

  “You okay?” I asked as she passed by.

  She nodded dumbly, then: “Are you coming with me?”

  Toussaint was at my left hand. “He’ll follow later,” he said. Rachel looked over her shoulder at me as the patrolman led her away. I gave her a smile and tried to make it look reassuring, but my heart wasn’t in it.

  “Come on, I’ll drive you back and buy you a coffee on the way,” said Toussaint, and I followed him from the building.

  We ended up in Mother’s, where less than twenty-four hours before I had sat waiting for Morphy’s call and where Toussaint would tell me how John Charles Morphy and his wife, Angela, had died.

  Morphy had been due to work a special early duty that morning and Toussaint had dropped by to pick him up. They alternated pickup duties as it suited. That day, it happened to be Toussaint’s turn.

  The screen door was closed, but the front door behind stood open. Toussaint called Morphy’s name, just as I had the afternoon before. He followed in my footsteps through the central hallway, checking the kitchen and the rooms to the right and left. He thought Morphy might have slept in, although he had never been late before, so he called up the stairs to the bedroom. There was no reply. He recalled that his stomach was already tightening as he worked his way up the stairs, calling Morphy’s name, then Angie’s, as he advanced. The door of their bedroom was partially open, but the angle obscured their bed.

  He knocked once, then slowly opened the door. For a moment, the merest flashing splinter of a second, he thought he had disturbed their lovemaking, until the blood registered and he knew that this was a parody of all that love stood for, of all that it mea
nt, and he wept then for his friend and his wife.

  Even now, I seem to recall only snatches of what he said, but I can picture the bodies in my head. They were naked, facing each other on what had once been white sheets, their bodies locked together at the hips, their legs intertwined. From the waist, they leaned backward at arm’s length from each other. Both had been cut from neck to stomach. Their rib cages had been split and pulled back, and each had a hand buried in the breast of the other. As he neared, Toussaint saw that each was holding the other’s heart in the palm of a hand. Their heads hung back so that their hair almost touched their backs. Their eyes were gone, their faces removed, their mouths open in their final agony, their moment of death like an ecstasy. In them, love was reduced to an example to other lovers of the futility of love itself.

  As Toussaint spoke, a wave of guilt swept over me and broke across my heart. I had brought this thing to their house. By helping me, Morphy and his wife had been marked for a terrible death, just as the Aguillards too seemed to have been tainted by their contact with me. I stank of mortality.

  And in the midst of it all, some lines of verse seemed to float into my head and I could not recall how I had resurrected them, or who had given them to me in the first place. And it seemed to me that their source was important, although I could not tell why, except that in the lines there seemed to be echoes of what Toussaint had seen. But as I tried to remember a voice speaking them to me, it slipped away, and try as I might, I could not bring it back. Only the lines remained. Some metaphysical poet, I thought. Donne, perhaps. Yes, almost certainly Donne.

  If th’unborne

  Must learne, by my being cut up, and torne:

  Kill, and dissect me, Love; for this

  Torture against thine owne end is,

  Rack’t carcasses make ill Anatomies.

  Remedium amoris, wasn’t that the term? The torture and death of lovers as a remedy for love.

  “He helped me,” I said. “I involved him in this.”

  “He involved himself,” Toussaint said. “He wanted to do it. He wanted to bring this guy to an end.”

  I held his gaze.

  “For Luther Bordelon?”

  Toussaint looked away. “What does it matter now?”

  But I couldn’t explain that in Morphy I saw something of myself, that I had felt for his pain, that I wanted to believe he was better than me. I wanted to know.

  “Garza called the Bordelon thing,” said Toussaint at last. “Garza killed him and then Morphy supplied the throwdown. That’s what he said. Morphy was young. Garza shouldn’t have put him in that situation, but he did, and Morphy’s been paying for it ever since.” And then he caught himself using the present tense and went silent.

  Outside, people were living another day: working, touring, eating, flirting still continued despite all that had taken place, all that was happening. It seemed, somehow, that it should all have come to a halt, that the clocks should have been stopped and the mirrors covered, the doorbells silenced and the voices reduced to a respectful, hushed volume. Maybe if they had seen the pictures of Susan and Jennifer, of Tante Marie and Tee Jean, of Morphy and Angie, then they would have stopped and considered. And that was what the Traveling Man wanted: to provide, in the deaths of others, a reminder of the deaths of us all and the worthlessness of love and loyalty, of parenthood and friendship, of sex and need and joy, in the face of the emptiness to come.

  As I stood to leave, something else came to me, something awful that I had almost forgotten, and I felt a deep, violent ache in my gut, which spread through my body until I was forced to lean against the wall, my hand scrabbling for purchase.

  “Ah, God, she was pregnant.”

  I looked at Toussaint and his eyes briefly fluttered closed.

  “He knew, didn’t he?”

  Toussaint said nothing, but there was despair in his eyes. I didn’t ask what the Traveling Man had done to the unborn child, but in that instant, I saw a terrible progression over the last months of my life. It seemed that I had moved from the death of my own child, my Jennifer, to the deaths of many children, the victims of Adelaide Modine and her partner, Hyams, and now, finally, to the deaths of all children. Everything this Traveling Man did signified something beyond itself: in the death of Morphy’s unborn child, I saw all hope for the future reduced to tattered flesh.

  “I’m supposed to bring you back to your hotel,” said Toussaint at last. “The New Orleans PD will make sure you get on the evening flight back to New York.”

  But I hardly heard him. All I could think was that the Traveling Man had been watching us all along and that his game was still going on around us. We were all participants, whether we wanted to be or not.

  And I recalled something that a con man named Saul Mann had once told me back in Portland, something that seemed important to me yet I couldn’t recall why.

  You can’t bluff someone who isn’t paying attention.


  T OUSSAINT DROPPED ME at the Flaisance. Rachel’s door was half open when I reached the carriage house. I knocked gently and entered. Her clothes had been thrown across the bedroom floor and the sheets from her bed were tossed in an untidy pile in the corner. All of her papers were gone. Her suitcase sat open on the bare mattress. I heard movement from the bathroom and she emerged carrying her cosmetics case. It was stained with powder and foundation and I guessed that the cops had broken some of its contents during their search.

  She was wearing a faded blue Knicks sweat top, which hung down over her dark blue denims. She had washed and showered and her damp hair clung to her face. Her feet were bare. I had not noticed before how small they were.

  “I’m sorry,” I said.

  “I know.” She didn’t look at me. Instead, she started to pick up her clothes and fold them as neatly as she could into her suitcase. I bent down to pick up a pair of socks, which lay in a ball by my feet.

  “Leave it,” she said. “I can do it.”

  There was another knock at the door and a patrolman appeared. He was polite, but he made it clear that we were to stay in the hotel until someone arrived to take us to the airport.

  I went back to my room and showered. A maid came and made up the room and I sat on my clean sheets and listened to the sounds from the street. I thought about how badly I had screwed up, and how many people had been killed because of it. I felt like the Angel of Death; if I stood on a lawn, the grass would die.

  I must have dozed for a while, because the light in the room had changed when I awoke. It seemed that it was dusk, yet that could not have been the case. There was a smell in the room, an odor of rotting vegetation and water filled with algae and dead fish. When I tried to take a breath, the air felt warm and humid in my mouth. I was conscious of movement around me, shapes shifting in the shadows at the corners of the room. I heard whispered voices and a sound like silk brushing against wood and, faintly, a child’s footsteps running through leaves. Trees rustled and there came a flapping of wings from above me, beating unevenly as if the bird was in distress or pain.

  The room grew darker, turning the wall facing me to black. The light through the window frame was tinged with blue and green and shimmered as seen through a heat haze.

  Or through water.

  They came from out of the dark wall, black shapes against green light. They brought with them the coppery scent of blood, so strong that I could taste it on my tongue. I opened my mouth to call out something—even now, I am not sure what I could have called, or who would have heard—but the dank humidity stilled my tongue like a sponge soaked in warm, filthy water. It seemed that a weight was on my chest, preventing me from rising, and I had trouble taking air into my lungs. My hands clasped and unclasped until they too were still and I knew then how it felt to have ketamine coursing through one’s veins, stilling the body in preparation for the anatomist’s knife.

  The figures stopped at the edge of the darkness, just beyond the reach of the window’s dim light. They were indist
inct, their edges forming and reforming like figures seen through frosted glass, or a projection losing and then regaining its focus.

  And then the voices came,


  soft and insistent,


  fading and then strong again,


  voices that I had never heard and others that had called out to me in passion,


  in anger, in fear, in love.


  She was the smallest of them all, linked hand in hand with another who stood beside her. Around them, the others fanned out. I counted eight in all and, behind them, other figures, more indistinct, women, men, young girls. As the pressure built on my chest and I struggled to draw the shallowest of breaths, it came to me that the figure that had haunted Tante Marie Aguillard, that Raymond believed he had seen at Honey Island, the girl who seemed to call out to me through dark waters, might not have been Lutice Fontenot.


  Each breath felt like my last, none getting farther than the back of my throat before it was choked in a gasp.


  The voice was old and dark as the ebony keys on an ancient piano singing out from a distant room.

  wake up, chile, his world is unraveling

  And then my last breath sounded in my ears and all was stillness and quiet.

  I woke to the sound of a tapping on my door. Outside, daylight had passed its height and was ebbing toward evening. When I opened the door, Toussaint stood before me. Behind him, I could see Rachel waiting. “It’s time to go,” he said.

  “I thought the New Orleans cops were taking care of that.”

  “I volunteered,” he replied. He followed me into the room as I threw my shaving gear loosely into my suit carrier, folded it over, and attached the clasps. It was London Fog, a present from Susan.


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