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The killing kind, p.8
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       The Killing Kind, p.8

           John Connolly
 

  ∗ ∗ ∗

  The Fellowship had its registered office at 109A Main Street, in the middle of Waterville’s central business district. Parts of Waterville are pretty but downtown is a mess, largely because it looks like the ugly Ames shopping mall was dropped randomly from the sky and allowed to remain where it landed, reducing a huge tract of the town center to a glorified parking lot. Still, enough brownstone blocks remained to support a sign welcoming visitors to the joys of downtown Waterville, among them the modest offices of the Fellowship. They occupied the top two floors over an otherwise vacant storefront down from Joe’s Smoke Shop, nestled between the Head Quarters hairdressing salon and Jorgensen’s Café. I parked in the Ames lot and crossed at Joe’s. There was a buzzer beside the locked glass door of 109A, with a small fish-eye lens beneath it. A metal plate on the door frame was engraved with the words: THE FELLOWSHIP—LET THE LORD GUIDE YOU. A small shelf to one side held a sheaf of pamphlets. I took one and slipped it into my pocket, then rang the buzzer and heard a voice crackle in response. It sounded suspiciously like that of Ms. Torrance.

  “Can I help you?” it said.

  “I’m here to see Carter Paragon,” I replied.

  “I’m afraid Mr. Paragon is busy.” The day had hardly begun and already I was experiencing déjà vu.

  “But I let the Lord guide me here,” I protested. “You wouldn’t want to let Him down, would you?”

  The only sound that came from the speaker was that of the connection between us being closed. I rang again.

  “Yes?” The irritation in her voice was obvious.

  “Maybe I could wait for Mr. Paragon?”

  “That won’t be possible. This is not a public office. Any contact with Mr. Paragon should be made in writing in the first instance. Have a good day.”

  I had a feeling that a good day for Ms. Torrance would probably be a pretty bad day for me. It also struck me that in the course of our entire conversation, Ms. Torrance had not asked me my name or my business. It might simply have been my suspicious nature, but I guessed that Ms. Torrance already knew who I was. More to the point, she knew what I looked like.

  I walked around the block to Temple Street and the rear of the Fellowship’s offices. There was a small parking lot, its concrete cracked and overgrown with weeds, dominated by a dead tree beneath which stood two tanks of propane. The back door of the building was white and the windows were screened, while the black iron fire escape looked so decrepit that any occupants might have been better advised to take their chances with the flames. It didn’t look like the back door to 109A had been opened in sometime, which meant that the occupants of the building entered and left through the door on Main Street. There was one car in the lot, a red 4 × 4 Explorer. When I peered in the window I saw a box on the floor containing what looked like more religious pamphlets bound with rubber bands. Using my elementary deduction skills, I guessed that I’d found the Fellowship’s wheels.

  I went back onto Main Street, bought a couple of newspapers and the latest issue of Rolling Stone, then headed into Jorgensen’s and took a seat at the raised table by the window. From there I had a perfect view of the doorway to 109A. I ordered coffee and a muffin, then sat back to read and wait.

  The newspapers were full of the discovery at St. Froid, although they couldn’t add much to the news reports I’d seen on television. Still, somebody had dredged up an old photograph of Faulkner and the original four families that had journeyed north with him. He was a tall man, plainly dressed, with long dark hair, very straight black eyebrows, and sunken cheeks. Even in the photograph, there was an undeniable charisma to him. He was probably in his late thirties, his wife slightly older. Their children, a boy and a girl aged about seventeen and sixteen respectively, stood in front of him. He must have been comparatively young when they were born.

  Despite the fact that I knew the photograph had been taken in the sixties, it seemed that these people could have been frozen in their poses at any time over the previous hundred years. There was something timeless about them and their belief in the possibility of escape, twenty people in simple clothes dreaming of a utopia dedicated to the greater glory of the Lord. According to a small caption, the land for the community had been granted to them by the owner, himself a religious man, for the sum of $1 per acre per annum, paid in advance for the term of the lease. By moving so far north the congregation’s privacy was virtually guaranteed. The nearest town was Eagle Lake to the north, but it was then already in decline, the mills closing and the population depleted. Tourism would eventually rescue the area but, in 1963, Faulkner and his followers would have been left largely to their own devices.

  I turned my attention to the Fellowship’s pamphlet. It was basically one long sales pitch designed to elicit the appropriate response from any readers: namely, to hand over all of the loose change they might have on their person at the time, plus any spare cash that might be making their bank statements look untidy. There was an interesting medieval illustration on the front, depicting what looked like the Last Judgment: horned demons tore at the naked bodies of the damned while God looked on from above, surrounded by a handful of presumably very relieved good folk. I noticed that the damned outnumbered the saved by about five to one. All things considered, those didn’t look like very good odds on salvation for most of the people I knew.

  Beneath the illustration was a quotation: “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works (Revelation 20:12).”

  I laid aside the pamphlet, kind of relieved that I’d bought Rolling Stone. I spent the next hour deciding who among the good and not-so-good of modern music was unlikely to be taking up salvation space in the next world. I had made a pretty comprehensive list when, shortly after one-thirty, a woman and a man came out of the Fellowship’s offices. The man was Carter Paragon: I recognized the slicked-back dark hair, the shiny gray suit, and the unctuous manner.

  The woman with him was tall and probably about the same age as Paragon; early forties, I guessed. She had straight dark brown hair that hung to her shoulders, and her body was hidden beneath a dark blue wool overcoat. Her face was hardly conventionally pretty; the jaw was too square, the nose too long, and the muscles at her jaws looked overdeveloped, as if her teeth were permanently gritted. She wore white pancake makeup and bright red lipstick like a graduate of clown school, although if she was, nobody was laughing. Her shoes were flat, but she was still at least five-ten or five-eleven and towered over Paragon by about four inches. The look that passed between them as they made their way toward Temple Street was strange. It seemed that Paragon deferred to her and I noticed that he stepped back quickly when she turned away from the door after checking the lock, as if afraid to get in her way.

  I left $5 on the table, then walked out onto Main and strolled over to the Mustang. I had been tempted to tackle them on the street but I was curious to see where they were going. The red Explorer emerged onto Temple, then drove past me through the lot, heading south. I followed it at a distance until it came to Kennedy Memorial Drive, where it turned right onto West River Road. We passed Waterville Junior High and the Pine Ridge Golf Course before the Explorer took another right onto Webb Road. I stayed a couple of cars behind as far as Webb, but the Explorer was the only car to make the right. I hung back as much as I could and thought that I’d lost them when an empty stretch of road was revealed after I passed the airfield. I made a U-turn and headed back the way I had come, just in time to see the Explorer’s brake lights glow about two hundred yards on my right. It had turned up Eight Rod Road and was now entering the driveway of a private house. I arrived in time to see the black steel gates close and the red body of the 4 x 4 disappearing around the side of a modest two-story white home with black shutters on the windows and black trim on the gable.

  I parked in front of the g
ates, waited for about five minutes, and then tried the intercom on the gatepost. I noticed that there was another fish-eye lens built in so I covered it with my hand.

  “Yes?” came Ms. Torrance’s voice.

  “UPS delivery,” I said.

  There was silence for a few moments as Ms. Torrance tried to figure out what had gone wrong with her gate camera, before her voice told me that she’d be right out. I was kind of hoping that she might have let me in, but I settled for keeping my hand on the camera and my body out of sight. It was only when Ms. Torrance was almost at the gate that I stepped into view. She didn’t look too pleased to see me, but then I couldn’t imagine her looking too pleased to see anyone. Even Jesus would have received a frosty reception from Ms. Torrance.

  “My name is Charlie Parker. I’m a private detective. I’d like to see Carter Paragon, please.” Those words were assuming the status of a mantra, with none of the associated calm.

  Ms. Torrance’s face was so hard it could have mined diamonds. “I’ve told you before, Mr. Paragon isn’t available,” she said.

  “Mr. Paragon certainly is elusive,” I replied. “Do you deflate him and put him in a box when he’s not needed?”

  “I’m afraid I have nothing more to say to you, Mr. Parker. Please go away, or I’ll call the police. You are harassing Mr. Paragon.”

  “No,” I corrected. “I would be harassing Mr. Paragon, if I could find him. Instead, I’m stuck with harassing you, Ms. Torrance. It is Ms. Torrance, isn’t it? Are you unhappy, Ms. Torrance? You sure look unhappy. In fact, you look so unhappy that you’re starting to make me unhappy.”

  Ms. Torrance gave me the evil eye. “Go fuck yourself, Mr. Parker,” she said softly.

  I leaned forward confidentially. “You know, God can hear you talk that way.”

  Ms. Torrance turned on her heel and walked away. She looked a whole lot better from the back than she did from the front, which wasn’t saying much.

  I stood there for a time, peering through the bars like an unwanted party guest. Apart from the Explorer there was only one other vehicle in the driveway of the Paragon house, a beat-up blue Honda Civic. It didn’t look like the kind of car a man of Carter Paragon’s stature would drive, so maybe it was what Ms. Torrance used to get around when she wasn’t chauffeuring her charge. I went back to my car, listened to a classical music slot on NPR, and continued reading Rolling Stone. I had just begun to wonder if I was optimistic enough to buy one hundred rubbers for $29.99 when a white Acura pulled up behind me. A big man dressed in a black jacket and blue jeans, with a black silk-knit tie knotted over his white shirt, strode up to my window and knocked on the glass. I rolled down the window, looked at his shield and the name beside his photo, and smiled. The name was familiar from the police report on Grace Peltier. This was Detective John Lutz, the investigating officer on the case, except Lutz was attached to CID III and operated out of Machias, while Waterville was technically in the territory of CID II.

  Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice liked to say.

  “Help you, Detective Lutz?” I asked.

  “Can you step out of the car, please, sir?” he said, standing back as I opened the door. The thumb of his right hand hung on his belt, while the rest of his fingers pushed his jacket aside, revealing the butt of his .45 caliber H&K as he did so. He was six feet tall and in good condition, his stomach flat beneath his shirt. His eyes were brown and his skin was slightly tanned, his brown hair and brown mustache neatly trimmed. His eyes said he was about mid-forties, maybe older.

  “Turn around, put your hands against the car, and spread your legs,” he told me.

  I was about to protest when he gave me a sharp push, spinning me around and propelling me against the side of the car. His speed and his strength took me by surprise.

  “Take it easy,” I said. “I still owe payments on the car.”

  He patted me down, but he didn’t find anything of note. I wasn’t armed, which I think kind of disappointed him. All he got was my wallet.

  “You can turn around now, Mr. Parker,” he said when he had finished. I found him looking at my license, then back at me a couple of times, as if trying to sow enough doubt about its validity to justify hauling me in.

  “Why are you loitering outside Mr. Paragon’s home, Mr. Parker?” he said. “Why are you harassing his staff?”

  He didn’t smile. His voice was low and smooth. He sounded a little like Carter Paragon himself, I thought.

  “I was trying to make an appointment,” I said.

  “Why?”

  “I’m a lost soul, looking for guidance.”

  “If you’re trying to find yourself, maybe you should go look someplace else.”

  “Wherever I go, there I am.”

  “That’s unfortunate.”

  “I’ve learned to live with it.”

  “Doesn’t seem to me like you have much choice, but Mr. Paragon does. If he doesn’t want to see you, then you should accept that and be on your way.”

  “Do you know anything about Grace Peltier, Detective Lutz?”

  “What’s it to you?”

  “I’ve been hired to look into the circumstances of her death. Someone told me that you might know something about it.” I let the double meaning hang in the air for a time, its ambiguity like a little time bomb ticking between us. Lutz’s fingers tapped briefly on his belt, but it was the only indication he gave that his calm might be under threat.

  “We think Ms. Peltier took her own life,” he said. “We’re not looking for anyone else in connection with the incident.”

  “Did you interview Carter Paragon?”

  “I spoke to Mr. Paragon. He never met Grace Peltier.”

  Lutz moved a little to his left. The sun was behind him and he stood so that it shone over his shoulder and directly into my eyes. I raised a hand to shade myself and his hand nudged for his gun again.

  “Ah-ah,” he said.

  “A little jumpy, aren’t you, Detective?” I lowered my hand carefully.

  “Mr. Paragon sometimes attracts a dangerous element,” he replied. “Good men often find themselves under threat for their beliefs. It’s our duty to protect him.”

  “Shouldn’t that be the job of the police here in Waterville?” I asked.

  He shrugged. “Mr. Paragon’s secretary preferred to contact me. Waterville police have better things to be doing with their time.”

  “And you don’t?”

  He smiled for the first time. “It’s my day off, but I can spare a few minutes for Mr. Paragon.”

  “The law never rests.”

  “That’s right, and I sleep with my eyes open.” He handed my wallet back to me. “You be on your way, now, and don’t let me see you around here again. You want to make an appointment with Mr. Paragon, then you contact him during business hours, Monday to Friday. I’m sure his secretary will be happy to help you.”

  “Your faith in her is admirable, Detective.”

  “Faith is always admirable,” he replied, then started to walk back to his car.

  I had pretty much decided that I didn’t like Detective Lutz. I wondered what would happen if he was goaded. I decided to find out.

  “Amen,” I said. “But if it’s all the same to you, I’d prefer to stay here and read my magazine.”

  Lutz stopped, then walked quickly back to me. I saw the punch coming, but I was against the car and all I could do was curl to one side to take the blow to my ribs instead of my stomach. He hit me so hard I thought I heard a rib crack, the pain lancing through my lower body and sending shock waves right to the tips of my toes. I slid down the side of the Mustang and sat on the road, a dull ache spreading across my stomach and into my groin. I felt like I was going to vomit. Then Lutz reached down and applied pressure from his thumbs and forefingers just below my ears. He was using pain compliance techniques and I yelped in agony as he forced me to rise.

  “Don’t mock me, Mr. Parker,” he said. “And don’t mock my faith. Now get in your car
and drive away.”

  The pressure eased. Lutz walked over to his car and sat on the hood, waiting for me to leave. I looked over at the Paragon house and saw a woman standing at an upstairs window, watching me. Before I got back into the car, I could have sworn that I saw Ms. Torrance smile.

  ∗ ∗ ∗

  Lutz’s white Acura stayed behind me until I left Waterville and headed north on I-95, but the pain and humiliation I felt meant that the memory of him was with me all the way to Ellsworth. The Hancock County Field Office, home of Troop J of the state police, had dealt with the discovery of Grace Peltier’s body. It was a small building on U.S. 1, with a pair of blue state trooper cars parked outside. A sergeant named Fortin told me that her body had been found by Trooper Voisine on a site named Acadia Acres, which was scheduled to be developed for new housing. Voisine was out on patrol but Fortin told me that he’d contact him and ask him to meet me at the site. I thanked him, then followed his directions north until I came to Acadia Acres.

  A company called Estate Management was advertising it as the future setting for “roads and views,” although currently there were only rutted tracks and the main view was of dead or fallen trees. There was still some tape blowing in the wind where Grace’s car had been found, but that apart, there was nothing to indicate that a young woman’s life had come to an end in this place. Still, when I looked around, something bothered me: I couldn’t see the road from where I was standing. I went back to the Mustang and drove it up the track until it was in more or less the same position as Grace’s car must have occupied. I turned on the lights, then walked down to the road and looked back.

  The car still wasn’t visible, and I couldn’t see its lights through the trees.

  As I stood by the roadside, a blue cruiser pulled up beside me and the trooper inside stepped out.

 
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