The killing kind, p.6
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       The Killing Kind, p.6

           John Connolly
 

  “Where did you get these, Mr. Peltier?” I asked, but I knew the answer almost as soon as the words were out of my mouth. Jack Mercier always got what he wanted.

  “I think you know,” he replied. He wrote his telephone number on a small pad and tore the page out. “You can usually get me here, day or night. I don’t sleep much these days.”

  I thanked him, then he shook my hand and walked me to the door. He was still watching me as I climbed into the Mustang and drove away.

  I parked on Congress and took the reports into Kinko’s to photocopy them, a precaution that I had recently started to take with everything from tax letters to investigation notes, with the originals retained at the house and the copies put into storage in case the originals were lost or damaged. Copying was a small amount of trouble and expense to go to for the reassurance that it offered. When I had finished, I went to Coffee by Design and started to read the reports in detail. As I did, I found myself growing more and more unhappy with what they contained.

  The police report listed the contents of the car, including a small quantity of cocaine found in the glove compartment and a pack of cigarettes that was lying on the dashboard. Fingerprint analysis revealed three sets of prints on the pack, only one of them belonging to Grace. The only prints on the bag of coke were Grace’s. For someone who didn’t smoke or take drugs, Grace Peltier seemed to be carrying a lot of narcotics in her car.

  The certificate of death didn’t add much else to what I already knew, although one section did interest me. Section 42 of the state of Maine certificate of death requires the ME to ascribe the manner of death to one of six causes. In order, these are: “natural,” “accident,” “suicide,” “homicide,” “pending investigation,” and “could not be determined.”

  The ME had not ticked “suicide” as the manner of Grace Peltier’s death. She had, instead, opted for “pending investigation.” In other words, she had enough doubts about the circumstances to require the state police to continue their inquiries into the death. I moved on to the ME’s own report.

  The report noted Grace’s body measurements, her clothing, her physique and state of nutrition at the time of death, and her personal cleanliness. There were no signs of self-neglect indicative of mental disorder or drug dependency of any kind. The analysis of her ocular fluid found no traces of drugs or alcohol taken in the hours before her death, and urine and bile analysis also came up negative, indicating that she had not ingested drugs in the three days preceding her death either. Blood taken from a peripheral vein beneath her armpit had been combined in a tube with sodium fluoride, which reduces the microbiologic action that may increase or decrease any alcohol content in the blood after collection. Once again, it came up negative. Grace hadn’t been drinking before she died.

  It’s a difficult thing to do, taking one’s own life. Most people require a little Dutch courage to help them on their way, but Grace Peltier had been clean. Despite the fact that her father said she was happy, that she had no alcohol or drugs in her system when she died, and that the autopsy revealed none of the telltale signs of a disturbed, distracted personality of the type likely to attempt suicide, Grace Peltier had still apparently put a gun close to her head and shot herself.

  Grace’s fatal injury had been caused by a .40 caliber bullet fired from a Smith & Wesson at a range of not more than two inches. The bullet had entered through the left temple, burning and splitting the skin and singeing Grace’s hair above the wound, and shattering the sphenoid bone. The bullet hole was slightly smaller than the diameter of the bullet, since the elastic epidermis had stretched to allow its passage and then contracted afterward. There was an abrasion collar around the hole, caused by the friction, heating, and dirt effect of the bullet, as well as surrounding bruising.

  The bullet had exited above and slightly behind the right temple, fracturing the orbital roof and causing bruising around the right eye. The wound was large and everted, with an irregular stellate appearance. Its irregularity was due to the damage caused to the bullet by contact with the skull, which had distorted the bullet’s shape. The only blood in the car had come from Grace, and the bloodstain pattern analysis was consistent with the injury received. A ballistics examination of the recovered bullet also matched up. Chemical and scanning electron microscope analysis of skin swabs taken from Grace’s left hand revealed propellant residues, indicating that the gun had been fired by Grace. The gun was found hanging from Grace’s left hand. On the seat, beside her right hand, was a Bible.

  It is an established fact that women rarely commit suicide with guns. Although there are exceptions, women don’t seem to have the same fascination with firearms as men and tend to pick less obviously violent ways to end their lives. There is a useful rule in police work: a shot woman is a murdered woman unless proved otherwise. Suicides also shoot themselves in certain sites of election: the mouth, the front of the neck, the forehead, the temple, or the chest. Discharges into the temple usually occur on the side of the dominant hand, although that is not an absolute. Grace Peltier, I knew, was right handed, yet she had elected to shoot herself in the left temple, using her left hand and holding what I assumed to be an unfamiliar weapon. According to Curtis, she didn’t even own a gun, although it was possible that she had decided to acquire one for reasons of her own.

  There were three additional elements in the reports that struck me as odd. The first was that Grace Peltier’s clothes had been soaked with water when her body was found. Upon examination, the water was found to be salt water, although its precise source had yet to be determined. For some reason, Grace Peltier had taken a dip in the sea fully clothed before shooting herself.

  The second element was that the ends of Grace’s hair had been cut shortly before her death, using not a scissors but a blade. Part of her ponytail had been severed, leaving some loose hairs trapped between her shirt and her skin.

  The third was not an inclusion but an omission. Curtis Peltier had told me that Grace had brought all of her thesis notes with her, but there were no notes found in the car.

  The Bible was a nice touch, I thought.

  ∗ ∗ ∗

  I was walking back to my car when the cell phone rang.

  “Hi, it’s me,” said Rachel’s voice.

  “Hi, you.”

  Rachel Wolfe was a criminal psychologist who had once specialized in profiling. She had joined me in Louisiana as the hunt for the Traveling Man came to its end, and we had become lovers. It had not been an easy relationship: Rachel had been hurt badly both physically and emotionally in Louisiana, and I had spent a long time coming to terms with the guilt my feelings for her had provoked. We were now slowly establishing ourselves together, although she continued to live in Boston, where she was doing research and tutorial work at Harvard. The subject of her moving up to Maine had been glanced upon once or twice, but never pursued.

  “I’ve got bad news. I can’t come up on the weekend. The faculty has called an emergency meeting for Friday afternoon over funding cuts, and it’s likely to pick up again on Saturday morning. I won’t be free until Saturday afternoon at the earliest. I’m really sorry.”

  I found myself smiling as she spoke. Lately, talking to Rachel always made me smile. “Actually, that might work out okay. Louis has been talking about heading up to Boston for a weekend. If he can convince Angel to come along I can link up with them while you’re tied up in meetings, then we can spend the rest of the time together.”

  Angel and Louis were, in no particular order, gay, semiretired criminals; silent partners in a number of restaurants and auto shops; a threat to decent people everywhere and possibly to the fabric of society itself; and polar opposites in just about every imaginable way, with the exception of a shared delight in mayhem and occasional homicide. They were also, not entirely coincidentally, my friends.

  “Cleopatra opens at the Wang on the fourth,” probed Rachel. “I think I can probably hustle a pair of tickets.”

  Rachel was a huge fan
of the Boston Ballet and was trying to convert me to its joys. She was kind of succeeding, although it had led Angel to speculate unkindly on my sexuality.

  “Sure, but you owe me a couple of Pirates games when the hockey season starts.”

  “Agreed. Call me back and let me know what their plans are. I can book a table for dinner and join the three of you after my meeting. And I’ll look into those tickets. Anything else?”

  “How about lots of rampant, noisy sex?”

  “The neighbors will complain.”

  “Are they good looking?”

  “Very.”

  “Well, if they get jealous I’ll see what I can do for them.”

  “Why don’t you see what you can do for me first?”

  “Okay, but when I wear you out I may have to go elsewhere for my own pleasure.”

  I couldn’t be sure, but I thought her laughter had a distinctly mocking tone as she hung up.

  When I got back to the house, I called a number on Manhattan’s Upper West Side using the land line. Angel and Louis didn’t like being called on a cell phone, because—as the unfortunate Hoyt was about to learn to his cost—cell-phone conversations could be monitored or traced, and Angel and Louis were the kind of individuals who sometimes dealt in delicate matters upon which the law might not smile too gently. Angel was a burglar, and a very good one, although he was now officially “resting” on the joint income he had acquired with Louis. Louis’s current career position was murkier: Louis killed people for money, or he used to. Now he sometimes killed people, but money was less of a concern for him than the moral imperative for their deaths. Bad people died at Louis’s hands, and maybe the world was a better place without them. Concepts like morality and justice got a little complicated where Louis was concerned.

  The phone rang three times and then a voice with all the charm of a snake hissing at a mongoose said, “Yeah?” The voice also sounded a little breathless.

  “It’s me. I see you still haven’t got to the chapter on phone etiquette in that Miss Manners book I gave you.”

  “I put that piece of shit in the trash,” said Angel. “Guy who laces his shoes with string is probably still trying to sell it on Seventh Avenue.”

  “Your breathing sounds labored. Do I even want to know what I interrupted?”

  “Elevator’s busted. I heard the phone on the stairs. I was at an organ recital.”

  “What were you doing, passing around the tin cup?”

  “Funny.”

  I don’t think he meant it. Louis was obviously still engaged in an unsuccessful attempt to expand Angel’s cultural horizons. You had to admire his perseverance, and his optimism.

  “How was it?”

  “Like being trapped with the phantom of the opera for two hours. My head hurts.”

  “You up for a trip to Boston?”

  “Louis is. He thinks it’s got class. Me, I like the order of New York. Boston is like the whole of Manhattan below Fourteenth Street, you know, with all them little streets that cross back over one another. It’s like the Twilight Zone down in the Village. I didn’t even like visiting when you lived there.”

  “You finished?” I interrupted.

  “Well, I guess I am now, Mr. Fucking Impatient.”

  “I’m heading down next weekend, maybe meet Rachel for dinner late on Friday. You want to join us?”

  “Hold on.” I heard a muffled conversation, and then a deep male voice came on the line.

  “You comin’ on to my boy?” asked Louis.

  “Lord no,” I replied. “I like to be the pretty one in my relationships, but that’s taking it a little too far.”

  “We’ll be at the Copley Plaza. You give us a call when you got a restaurant booked.”

  “Sure thing, boss. Anything else?”

  “We let you know,” he said, then the line went dead.

  It was a shame about the Miss Manners book, really.

  ∗ ∗ ∗

  Grace Peltier’s credit card statement revealed nothing out of the ordinary, while the telephone records indicated calls to Marcy Becker at her parents’ motel, a private number in Boston which was now disconnected but which I assumed to be Ali Wynn’s, and repeated calls to the Fellowship’s office in Waterville. Late that afternoon I called the Fellowship at that same number and got a recorded message asking me to choose one if I wanted to make a donation, two if I wanted to hear the recorded prayer of the day, or three to speak to an operator. I pressed three and when the operator spoke I gave my name and asked for Carter Paragon’s office. The operator told me she was putting me through to Paragon’s assistant, Ms. Torrance. There was a pause and then another female voice came on the line.

  “Can I help you?” it said, in the tone that a certain type of secretary reserves for those whom she has no intention of helping at all.

  “I’d like to speak to Mr. Paragon, please. My name is Charlie Parker. I’m a private investigator.”

  “What is it in connection with, Mr. Parker?”

  “A young woman named Grace Peltier. I believe Mr. Paragon had a meeting with her about two weeks ago.”

  “I’m sorry, the name isn’t familiar to me. No such meeting took place.” If spiders apologized to flies before eating them, they could have managed more sincerity than this woman.

  “Would you mind checking?”

  “As I’ve told you, Mr. Parker, that meeting never took place.”

  “No, you told me that you weren’t familiar with the name and then you told me that the meeting never happened. If you didn’t recognize the name, how could you remember whether or not any meeting took place?”

  There was a pause on the end of the line, and I thought the receiver began to grow distinctly chilly in my hand. After a time, Ms. Torrance spoke again. “I see from Mr. Paragon’s diary that a meeting was due to be held with a Grace Peltier, but she never arrived.”

  “Did she cancel the appointment?”

  “No, she simply didn’t turn up.”

  “Can I speak to Mr. Paragon, Ms. Torrance?”

  “No, Mr. Parker, you cannot.”

  “Can I make an appointment to speak to Mr. Paragon?”

  “I’m sorry. Mr. Paragon is a very busy man, but I’ll tell him you called.” She hung up before I could give her a number, so I figured that I probably wasn’t going to be hearing from Carter Paragon in the near future, or even the distant future. It seemed that I might have to pay a personal call on the Fellowship, although I guessed from Ms. Torrance’s tone that a visit from me would be about as welcome as a whorehouse in Disneyland.

  Something had been nagging at me since reading the police report on the contents of the car, so I picked up the phone and called Curtis Peltier.

  “Mr. Peltier,” I asked, “do you recall if either Marcy Becker or Ali Wynn smoked.”

  He paused before answering. “Y’know, I think they both did at that, but there’s something else you should know. Grace’s thesis wasn’t just a general one: she had a specific interest in one religious group. They were called the Aroostook Baptists. You ever hear of them?”

  “I don’t think so.”

  “The community disappeared in nineteen sixty-four. A lot of folks just assumed they’d given up and gone somewhere else, somewhere warmer and more hospitable.”

  “I’m sorry, Mr. Peltier, I don’t see the point.”

  “These people, they were also known as the Eagle Lake Baptists.”

  I recalled the news reports from the north of the state, the photographs in the newspapers of figures moving behind crime scene tape, the howling of the animals.

  “The bodies found in the north,” I said quietly.

  “I’d have told you when you were here, but I only just saw the TV reports,” he said. “I think it’s them. I think they’ve found the Aroostook Baptists.”

  3

  THEY COME NOW, the dark angels, the violent ones, their wings black against the sun, their swords unsheathed. They move remorselessly through the gre
at mass of humanity: purging, taking, killing.

  They are no part of us.

  ∗ ∗ ∗

  The Manhattan North Homicide Squad is regarded as an elite group within the NYPD, operating out of an office at 120 East 119th Street. Each member has spent years as a precinct detective before being handpicked for homicide duty. They are experienced investigators, their gold shields bearing the hallmarks of long service. The most junior members probably have twenty years behind them. The more senior members have been around for so long that jokes have accreted to them like barnacles to the prows of old ships. As Michael Lansky, who was the senior detective on the squad when I was a rookie patrolman, used to say, “When I started in homicide, the Dead Sea was just sick.”

  My father was himself a policeman, until the day he took his own life. I used to worry about my father. That was what you did when you were a policeman’s son, or anyway, that was what I did. I loved him; I was envious of him—of his uniform, of his power, of the camaraderie of his friends; but I also worried about him. I worried about him all the time. New York in the 1970s wasn’t like New York now: policemen were dying on the streets in ever greater numbers, exterminated like roaches. You saw it in the newspapers and on the TV, and I saw it reflected in my mother’s eyes every time the doorbell rang late at night while my father was on duty. She didn’t want to become another PBA widow. She just wanted her husband to come home, alive and complaining, at the end of every tour. He felt the strain too; he kept a bottle of Mylanta in his locker to fight the heartburn he endured almost every day, until eventually something snapped inside him and it all came to a violent end.

  My father had only occasional contact with Manhattan North Homicide. Mostly, he watched them as they passed by while he held the crowds back or guarded the door, checking shields and IDs. Then, one stiflingly hot July day in 1980, shortly before he died, he was called to a modest apartment on Ninety-fourth Street and Second Avenue rented by a woman named Marilyn Hyde, who worked as an insurance investigator in midtown.

 

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