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The killing kind, p.7
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       The Killing Kind, p.7

           John Connolly
 

  Her sister had called on her and smelled something foul coming from inside the apartment. When she tried to gain entry using a spare key given to her by Marilyn, she found that the lock had been jammed up with adhesive and informed the super, who immediately notified the police. My father, who had been eating a sandwich at a diner around the corner, was the first officer to reach the building.

  It emerged that, two days before she died, Marilyn Hyde had called her sister. She had been walking up from the subway at Ninety-sixth and Lexington when she caught the eye of a man descending. He was tall and pale, with dark hair and a small, thin mouth. He wore a yellow squall jacket and neatly pressed jeans. Marilyn had probably held his glance for no more than a couple of seconds, she told her sister that night, but something in his eyes caused her to step back against the wall as if she had been slammed in the chest by a fist. She felt a dampness on the legs of her pantsuit, and when she looked down, she realized that she had lost control of herself.

  The following morning she called her sister again and expressed concern that she was being followed. She couldn’t say by whom, exactly; it was just a feeling she had. Her sister told her to talk to the police but Marilyn refused, arguing that she had no proof that she was being followed and had seen nobody acting suspiciously in her vicinity.

  That day she left work early, pleading sickness, and returned to her apartment. When she didn’t turn up for work the next morning and didn’t answer her phone, her sister went to check on her, setting in motion the sequence of events that led my father to her door. The hallway was quiet, since most of the other tenants were at work or out enjoying the summer sun. After knocking, my father unholstered his weapon and kicked the door in. The A/C in the apartment had been turned off and the smell hit him with a force that made his head reel. He told the super and Marilyn Hyde’s sister to stay back, then made his way through the small living area, past the kitchen and the bathroom, and into the apartment’s only bedroom.

  He found Marilyn chained to her bed, the sheets and the floor below drenched with blood. Flies buzzed around her. Her body had swollen in the heat, the skin stained a light green at her belly, the superficial veins on the thighs and shoulders outlined in deeper greens and reds like the tracery in autumn leaves. There was no longer any way to tell how beautiful she had once been.

  The autopsy found one hundred separate knife wounds on her body. The final cut to the jugular had killed her: the preceding ninety-nine had simply been used to bleed her slowly over a period of hours. There was a container of salt by the bed, and a jar of fresh lemon juice. Her killer had used them to rouse her when she lost consciousness.

  That evening, after my father returned home, the smell of the soap he had used to wash away the traces of Marilyn Hyde’s death still strong upon him, he sat at our kitchen table and opened a bottle of Coors. My mother had left as soon as he came home, anxious to meet up with friends whom she had not seen in many weeks. His dinner was in the oven, but he did not touch it. Instead, he sipped from the bottle and did not speak for a long time. I sat across from him and he took a soda from the refrigerator and handed it to me, so that I would have something to drink with him.

  “What’s wrong?” I asked him at last.

  “Somebody got hurt today,” he replied.

  “Somebody we know?”

  “No, son, nobody we know, but I think she was a good person. She was probably worth knowing.”

  “Who did it? Who hurt her?”

  He looked at me, then reached out and touched my hair, the palm of his hand resting lightly on my head for a moment.

  “A dark angel,” he said. “A dark angel did it.”

  He did not tell me what he had seen in Marilyn Hyde’s apartment. It was only many years later that I would hear of it—from my mother, from my grandfather, from other detectives—but I never forgot the dark angels. Many years later, my wife and child were taken from me, and the man who killed them believed that he, too, was one of the dark angels, the fruit of the union between earthly women and those who had been banished from heaven for their pride and their lust.

  St. Augustine believed that natural evil could be ascribed to the activity of beings who were free and rational but nonhuman. Nietzsche considered evil to be a source of power independent of the human. Such a force of evil could exist outside of the human psyche, representing a capacity for cruelty and harm distinct from our own capabilities, a malevolent and hostile intelligence whose aim was, ultimately, to undermine our own essential humanity, to take away our ability to feel compassion, empathy, love.

  I think my father saw certain acts of violence and cruelty, such as the terrible death of Marilyn Hyde, and wondered if there were some deeds that were beyond even the potential of human beings to commit; if there were creatures both more and less than human who preyed upon us.

  They were the violent ones, the dark angels.

  Manhattan North, the best homicide squad in the city, maybe even in the whole country, investigated the Marilyn Hyde case for seven weeks but found no trace of the man in the subway. There were no other suspects. The man at whom Marilyn Hyde had simply looked for a second too long and who had, it was believed, bled her to death for his own pleasure, had returned to the hidden place from which he came.

  Marilyn Hyde’s murder remains unsolved, and detectives in the squad still catch themselves staring at the faces on the subway, sometimes with their own wives, their own children beside them, trying to find the dark-haired man with the too small mouth. And some of them, if you ask, will tell you that perhaps they experience a moment of relief when they find that he is not among the crowds, that they have not caught his eye, that they have not encountered this man while their families are with them.

  There are people whose eyes you must avoid, whose attention you must not draw to yourself. They are strange, parasitic creatures, lost souls seeking to stretch across the abyss and make fatal contact with the warm, constant flow of humanity. They live in pain and exist only to visit that pain on others. A random glance, the momentary lingering of a look, is enough to give them the excuse that they seek. Sometimes it is better to keep your eyes on the gutter, for fear that by looking up you might catch a glimpse of them, black shapes against the sun, and be blinded forever.

  ∗ ∗ ∗

  And now, on a patch of damp, muddy ground by a cold lake in northern Maine, the work of the dark angels was slowly being exposed.

  The grave had been discovered at the boundary of the public reserved lands known as Winterville. The integrity of the scene had been compromised somewhat by the activities of the maintenance and construction crews, but there was nothing that could now be done except to ensure that no further damage was caused.

  On that first day, the emergency team had taken the names of all of the workers at the lake site, interviewed each briefly, and then secured the scene with tape and uniformed officers. Initially there had been some trouble from one of the timber companies that used the road, but the company had agreed to postpone its truck runs until the extent of the grave had been determined.

  Following the initial examination the sandbag levees were strengthened, while a command post, including the mobile crime scene unit, was established in a turnaround by the side of the Red River Road, with a strict sign-in policy in place to ensure that no further contamination of the area occurred. A pathway through the scene was created and marked with tape, after which a walking tour of the ground was made with a video camera to indoctrinate the police officers who would take no direct role in the investigation.

  The scene was photographed: overall views first, to preserve the essential history of the scene at the moment of discovery, then orientation shots of the visible bones, followed by close-ups of the bones themselves. The camcorder was brought into play again, this time detailing the scene instead of merely recording it. Sketches were made, a three-foot-long metal stake indicating the center point from which all measurements of distance and angles would be taken. The boun
daries of Red River Road were marked and recorded, in case any widening might occur in the future to alter the territory, and GPS equipment was used to take a satellite reading of the crime scene location.

  Then, the light by now almost gone, the investigators dispersed following a final meeting, leaving state troopers and sheriff’s deputies to guard the scene. The autopsy team would arrive at first light, when the inquiry into the deaths of the Aroostook Baptists would begin in earnest.

  And in all that they did and in all that would follow, the sound of the hybrids stayed with them, so that each night, when they returned home and tried to sleep, they would wake to imagined howls and think that they were once again standing by the shores of the lake, their hands cold and their boots thick with mud, surrounded by the bones of the dead.

  ∗ ∗ ∗

  That night, for the first time in many months, I dreamed, as memories of Grace and my own father followed me from waking to sleeping. In my dream I stood on a patch of cleared land with bare trees at its verge and frozen water glittering coldly beyond. There were fresh mounds of earth scattered randomly on the ground and the dirt seemed to shift as I watched, as if something was moving beneath it.

  And in the trees, shapes gathered, huge, black, birdlike figures with red eyes that gazed with hunger upon the shifting earth below. Then one unfurled its wings and dived, but instead of making for the earth it flew toward me, and I saw that it was not a bird but a man, an old man with flowing gray hair and yellow teeth and nodes on his back from which the leathery wings erupted. His legs were thin, his ribs showed through his skin, and his wrinkled male organ bobbed obscenely as he flew down. He hovered before me, the dark wings beating at the night. His gaunt cheeks stretched and he spat the word at me:

  “Sinner!” he hissed. His wings still flapping, he tore at a pile of earth with his clawlike feet until he revealed a patch of white skin that glowed translucently in the moonlight. His mouth opened and his head descended toward the body, which writhed and twisted against him as he bit into it, blood flowing over his chin and pooling on the ground below.

  Then he smiled at me, and I turned away from the sight to find myself reflected in the waters before me. I saw my own face twinned with the moon, bleeding whitely into my naked shoulders and chest. And from my back, huge dark wings unfurled themselves and spread behind me, covering the surface of the lake like thick, black ink and stilling all life beneath.

  THE SEARCH FOR SANCTUARY

  Extract from the postgraduate thesis

  of Grace Peltier . . .

  In April 1963, a group of four families left their homes on the eastern seaboard and journeyed north in a collection of automobiles and trucks for two hundred miles, to an area of land close by the town of Eagle Lake, twenty miles south of the border between New Brunswick and Maine. The families were the Perrsons, from Friendship, south of the coastal town of Rockland; the Kellogs, from Seal Cove; the Cornishes, from Ripley; and the Jessops, from Portland. Collectively, they became known as the Aroostook Baptists, or sometimes as the Eagle Lake Baptists, although there is no evidence to suggest that any families other than the Perrsons and the Jessops were, in fact, originally members of that faith.

  Once they reached their final destination, all of the automobiles were taken and sold, the money raised being used to buy essential supplies for the families over the coming year until the settlement could become self-sufficient. The settlement land, approximately forty acres, was rented on a thirty-year lease from a local landowner. Following the desertion of the settlement, this land eventually reverted to the family of the original owner, although until recently a dispute over boundaries has prevented any development of the site.

  In total, sixteen people journeyed north that month: eight adults and eight children, all equally divided between the sexes. At Eagle Lake they were met by the man they knew as Preacher (or sometimes Reverend Faulkner), his wife, Louise, and their two children, Leonard and Muriel, aged seventeen and sixteen respectively.

  It was at Faulkner’s instigation that the families, mainly poor farmers and blue-collar workers, had sold their properties, pooled the money made, and traveled north to establish a community based on strict religious principles. A number of other families had also been willing to make the journey, motivated variously by their persistent fears of the perceived communist threat, their own fundamentalist religious beliefs, poverty, and an inability to cope with what they saw as the moral deterioration of the society around them, and perhaps subconsciously by the tradition of adherence to non-mainstream religious movements that was so much a part of the state’s history. These additional applicants had been rejected on the basis of family size and the ages and sexes of their children. Faulkner stipulated that he wanted to create a community where families could intermarry, strengthening the bonds between them over generations, and that he therefore required equal numbers of male and female partners of similar age. The families he chose were, to a greater or lesser degree, estranged from their own relatives and appeared to be untroubled by the thought of being cut off from the outside world.

  The Aroostook Baptists arrived in Eagle Lake on April 15, 1963. By January 1964, the settlement had been abandoned. No trace of the founding families or of the Faulkners was ever found again.

  4

  I SLEPT LATE THE NEXT MORNING but didn’t feel refreshed when I woke. The memory of my dream was still vivid, and despite the cool of the night, I had sweated under the sheets.

  I decided to grab breakfast in Portland before paying a visit to the Fellowship’s offices, but it wasn’t until I was in my car that I noticed that the red marker on the mailbox had been raised. It was a little early for a delivery, but I didn’t think anything more of it. I walked down the drive and was about to reach for the mailbox when something lithe and dark scurried across the tin. It was a small brown spider, with an odd violin-shaped mark on its body. It took me a moment or two to recognize it for what it was: a fiddleback, one of the recluses. I drew my hand away quickly. I knew that they could bite, although I’d never seen one this far north before. I used a stick to knock it away, but as I did so another set of thin legs pushed at the crack of the mailbox flap, and a second fiddleback squeezed its way out, then a third. I moved around the mailbox carefully and saw more spiders, some creeping along its base, others already rappelling slowly to the ground on lengths of silken thread. I took a deep breath and flipped the mailbox catch open with the stick.

  Hundreds of tiny spiders tumbled out, some falling instantly to the grass below, others crawling and fighting their way across the inside of the flap, clinging to the bodies of those below them. The interior was alive with them. In the center of the box itself stood a small cardboard packing crate with airholes in its side, spiders spilling from the holes as the sunlight hit them. I could see dead spiders lying curled in the crate or littered around the corners of the mailbox, their legs curled into their abdomens as their peers fed on them. I backed away in disgust, trying not to think of what would have happened had I thrust my hand unthinkingly into the semidarkness.

  I went to my car and took the spare gas can from the trunk, then retrieved a Zippo from the glove compartment. I sprinkled the gas both inside and outside the mailbox, and on the dry earth surrounding it, before lighting a roll of newspaper and tossing it in. The mailbox went up instantly, tiny arachnids falling aflame from the inferno. I stepped back as the grass began to burn and moved to the garden hose. I attached it to the outside faucet and wet the grass to contain the fire, then stood for a time and watched the mailbox burn. When I was content that nothing had survived, I doused it in water, the tin hissing at the contact and steam rising into the air. After it had cooled, I put on a pair of calfskin gloves and emptied the remains of the spiders into a black bag, which I threw in the garbage can outside my back door. Then I stood for a long time at the edge of my property, scanning the trees and striking at the invisible spiders I felt crawling across my skin.

  ∗ ∗ ∗

>   I ate breakfast in Bintliff’s on Portland Street and plotted my plan of action for the day. I sat in one of the big red booths upstairs, the ceiling fan gently turning as blues played softly in the background. Bintliff’s has a menu so calorific that Weight Watchers should place a permanent picket on the door; gingerbread pancakes with lemon sauce, orange graham French toast, and lobster Benedict are not the kind of breakfast items that contribute to a slim waistline, although they’re guaranteed to raise the eyebrows of even the most jaded dietician. I settled for fresh fruit, wheat toast, and coffee, which made me feel very virtuous but also kind of sad. The sight of the spiders had taken away most of my appetite anyhow. It could have been kids playing a joke, I supposed, but if so, then it was a vicious, deeply unpleasant one.

  Waterville, the site of the Fellowship’s office, was midway between Portland and Bangor. After Bangor I could head east to Ellsworth and the area of U.S. 1 where Grace Peltier’s body had been discovered. From Ellsworth, Bar Harbor, home of Grace’s good friend but funeral absentee Marcy Becker, was only a short drive to the coast. I finished off my coffee, took a last lingering look at a plate of apple, cinnamon, and raisin French toast that was heading toward a table by the window, then stepped outside and walked to my car.

  Across the street, a man sat at the base of the steps leading up to the main post office. He wore a brown suit with a yellow shirt and a brown-and-red tie beneath a long, dark brown overcoat. Short, spiky red hair, tinged slightly with gray, stood up straight on his head as if he were permanently plugged into an electrical outlet. He was eating an ice cream cone. His mouth worked at the ice cream in a relentless methodical motion, never stopping once to savor the taste. There was something unpleasant, almost insectlike, about the way his mouth moved, and I felt his eyes upon me as I opened the car door and sat inside. When I pulled away from the curb, those eyes followed me. In the rearview, I could see his head turn to watch my progress, the mouth still working like the jaws of a mantid.

 
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