Legion, p.1William Peter Blatty
FOR BILLY AND JENNIFER
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Other Books by William Peter Blatty
Jesus asked the man his name,
and he answered, “Legion, for we are many.”
SUNDAY, MARCH 13
He thought of death in its infinite groanings, of Aztecs ripping out living hearts and of cancer and three-year-olds buried alive and he wondered whether God was alien and cruel, but then remembered Beethoven and the dappling of things and “Hurrah for Karamazov” and kindness. He stared at the sun coming up behind the Capitol, streaking the Potomac with orange light, and then down at the outrage, the horror at his feet. Something had gone wrong between man and his creator, and the evidence was here on this boathouse dock.
“I think they’ve found it, Lieutenant.”
“The hammer. They’ve found it.”
“The hammer. Oh, yes.”
Kinderman’s thoughts found a grip on the world. He looked up and saw the crime lab crew on the dock. They were gathering with eyedropper, test tube and forceps; remembering with camera, sketchpad and chalk. Their voices were hushed, mere whispered fragments, and they moved without sound, gray figures in a dream. Nearby, the blue police dredgeboat’s engines churned with the morning’s completion of dread.
“Well, I guess we’re almost finished here, Lieutenant.”
“Are we really? Is that so?”
Kinderman squinted against the cold. The search helicopter was skimming away, throbbing low above the mud-brown darkness of the waters with its lights blinking softly red and green. The detective watched it growing smaller. It dwindled in the dawn like a fading hope. He listened, inclining his head a little; then he shivered and his hands began to dig deeper into the pockets of his coat. The shrieking of the woman had grown more piercing. It clawed at his heart and the twisted forests silent on the banks of the icy river.
“Jesus!” someone huskily murmured.
Kinderman looked at Stedman. The police pathologist was down on one knee beside a sheet of soiled canvas. Something lumpy lay under it. Stedman was staring at it, frowning in concentration. His body was motionless. Only his breath had life; it came frosty and then vanished in the hungry air. Abruptly he stood up and looked at Kinderman oddly. “You know those cuts on the victim’s left hand?”
“What about them?”
“Well, I think they’ve got a pattern.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes, I think so. A sign of the zodiac. I think Gemini.”
Kinderman’s heart skipped a beat. He drew a breath. Then he looked at the river. A Georgetown University crew team scull slipped silent and slim behind the bulky stern of the dredge. It reappeared, and then vanished underneath Key Bridge. A strobe light flashed. Kinderman looked down at the canvas throwsheet. No. It couldn’t be, he thought. It couldn’t be.
The pathologist followed Kinderman’s gaze and his hand, blotched red from the freezing air, pulled the folds of his coat collar tighter together. He regretted not wearing his scarf that day. He’d forgotten. He’d dressed in too much of a hurry. “What a weird way to die,” he said softly. “So unnatural.”
Kinderman’s breathing was emphysematous; white vapor wisped at his lips. “No death is natural,” he murmured.
Someone had created the world. Made sense. For why would an eye want to form? To see? And why should it see? In order to survive? And why should it survive? And why? And why? The child’s question haunted the nebulae, a thought in search of its maker that cornered reason in a dead-end maze and made Kinderman certain the materialist universe was the greatest superstition of his age. He believed in wonders but not in the impossible: not in an infinite regression in contingencies, or that love and acts of will were reducible to neurons firing in the brain.
“How long has the Gemini been dead?” asked Stedman.
“Ten, twelve years,” answered Kinderman. “Twelve.”
“Are we certain that he’s dead?”
“He is dead.”
In a sense, thought Kinderman. Partly. Man was not a nerve net. Man had a soul. For how could matter reflect upon itself? And how was it Carl Jung had seen a ghost in his bed and confession of a sin could cure a bodily illness and the atoms of his body were continually changing, yet each morning he awakened and was still himself? Without an afterlife, what was the value of work? What was the point of evolution?
“He is dead on the bias,” Kinderman murmured.
“What was that, Lieutenant?”
Electrons traveled from point to point without ever traversing the space between. God had His mysteries. Yahweh: “I shall be there as who I am shall I be there.” Okay. Amen. But it was all so confusing, such a mess. The creator made man to know right from wrong, to feel outrage at all that was monstrous and evil; yet the scheme of creation itself was outrageous, for the law of life was the law of feeding in a universe crammed from end to end with exploding stars and bloodied jaws. Avoid being food and there was always a chance you would die in a mudslide or in an earthquake or in your crib or you might be fed rat poison by your mother or fried in oil by Genghis Khan or be skinned alive or beheaded or suffocated just for the thrill of it, for the fun of it. Forty-three years on the force and he had seen it. Hadn’t he seen it all? And now this. For a moment he attempted familiar escapes: imagining the universe and everything in it were merely thoughts in the mind of the creator; or that the world of external reality existed nowhere but in his own head, so that nothing outside of him actually suffered. Sometimes it worked.
This time it didn’t.
Kinderman studied the lump beneath the canvas. No, it wasn’t this, he thought: not the evil that we choose or inflict. The horror was the evil in the fabric of creation. The songs of the whales were haunting and lovely but the lion ripped open the stomach of the wildebeest and the tiny ichneumonids fed in the living bodies of caterpillars underneath the pretty lilacs and the lawns; the black-throated honey guide bird chattered gaily but it laid its eggs in alien nests and when the baby honey guide hatched it immediately killed its foster brethren with a hard, sharp hook near the tip of its beak, which it promptly shed upon completion of the slaughter. What immortal hand or eye? Kinderman grimaced at an awful recollection of a hospital psycho ward for children. In a room there were fifty beds with cages, each with a shrieking child inside. Among them was an eight-year-old whose bones had not grown since infancy. Could the glory and beauty of creation justify the pain of one such child? Ivan Karamazov deserved an answer.
“Elephants are dying of coronaries, Stedman.”
“In the jungle. They are dying of stress about their food and their water supply. They try to help one another. If one of them dies too far away then the others take its bones to the bur
The pathologist blinked and clutched at the folds of his coat more tightly. He’d heard of these flights, these irrelevant sallies, and that they’d been occurring with frequency lately; but this was the first he had personally witnessed. Rumors had been drifting and circling through the precinct that Kinderman, colorful or not, was getting senile, and Stedman examined him now with an air of professional interest, seeing nothing unusual in the detective’s manner of dress: the oversized, tattered gray tweed coat; the rumpled trousers, baggy and cuffed; the limp felt hat, in the band a feather plucked from some mottled, disreputable bird. The man is a walking thrift shop, he thought, and his eye caught an egg stain here and there. But this much had always been Kinderman’s style, he knew. Nothing unusual there. Nor in his physical being: the short, fat fingers were neatly manicured, the jowly cheeks gleamed of soap, and the moist brown eyes which drooped at the corners still seemed to be staring into times gone by. As ever, his manner and his delicate movements suggested an old-world Viennese father perpetually engaged in the arranging of flowers.
“And at Princeton University,” Kinderman continued, “they’re doing experiments with chimpanzees. The chimp pulls a lever and out from this machine comes a nice banana. So far, so wonderful, correct? But now the good doctors build a little cage and they put a different chimp inside it. Then along comes the first chimp looking for his usual sturgeon and bagel, only this time when the lever gets pulled, the banana comes out, all right, but the chimp sees his pal in the cage is now screaming from electrical shock. After that, no matter how hungry or starving he is, the first chimp won’t pull the lever whenever he sees another chimp in that cage. They tried it on fifty, a hundred chimps, and every time it was the same. All right, maybe some goniff, some smartass Dillinger type, some sadist would pull the lever; but ninety percent of the time they wouldn’t do it.”
“I didn’t know that.”
Kinderman continued to stare at the canvas. Two Neanderthal skeletons discovered in France were examined and found to have lived for two years despite seriously incapacitating injuries. Clearly, he thought, the tribe had kept them alive. And look at children, he pondered. There was nothing keener, the detective knew, than a child’s sense of justice, of what was fair, of how things should be. Where did that come from? And when my Julie was three, you couldn’t give her a cookie or a toy but she’d give it away to some other kid. Later on she’d learned to hoard it for herself. It wasn’t power that corrupted, he thought; it was the jostling and unfairness of the world of experience and a bag of M and M’s with short weight. Children came into this world with no baggage except for their innocence. Their goodness was innate. It wasn’t learned and it wasn’t enlightened self-interest. What chimpanzee ever buttered up a buyer so she’d buy his entire spring line of negligees? It’s ridiculous. Really. Who ever heard of such a case? And there lay the paradox. Physical evil and moral goodness intertwined like the strands of a double helix embedded in the DNA code of the cosmos. But how can this be? the detective wondered. Was there a spoiler at large in the universe? A Satan? No. It’s dumb. God would give him such a dizzying klop on the head that he’d be spending eternity explaining to the sun how he’d met Arnold Schwarzenegger once and shook his hand. Satan left the paradox intact, a bleeding wound of the mind that never healed.
Kinderman shifted his weight a little. God’s love burned with a fierce dark heat but gave no light. Were there shadows in His nature? Was He brilliant and sensitive, but bent? After all was said and done was the answer to the mystery no more than that God was really Leopold and Loeb? Or could it be that He was closer to being a putz than anyone heretofore had imagined, a being of stupendous but limited power? The detective envisioned such a God in court pleading, “Guilty with an explanation, Your Honor.” The theory had appeal. It was rational and obvious and certainly the simplest that suited all the facts. But Kinderman rejected it out of hand and subordinated logic to his intuition, as he had in so many of his homicide cases. “I did not come into this world to sell William of Occam door-to-door,” he had often been heard to tell baffled associates or even, on one occasion, a computer. “My hunch, my opinion,” he would always say. And he felt that way now about the problem of evil. Something whispered to his soul that the truth was staggering and somehow connected to Original Sin; but only by analogy and dimly.
Something was different. The detective looked up. The dredge-boat’s engines had stopped. So had the shrieking of the woman. In the silence he could hear the river lapping at the dock. He turned and met Stedman’s patient gaze. “Point one, we can’t go on meeting like this. Point two, have you ever tried putting your finger in a red-hot frying pan and holding it there?”
“No, I haven’t,” said Stedman.
“I’ve tried. You can’t do it. It hurts too much. You read in the papers that somebody died in a hotel fire. ‘Thirty-two Lost in Mayflower Blaze,’ it says. But you never really know what it means. You can’t appreciate, you can’t imagine. Put your finger in a frying pan, you’ll know.”
Stedman nodded mutely. Kinderman’s eyelids drooped and he stared at the pathologist sullenly. Look at him, he thought; he thinks I’m crazy. It’s impossible to talk about things like this.
“Was there anything else, Lieutenant?”
Yes. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. “Then the king, being angry, commanded frying pans and brazen cauldrons to be made hot; and he commanded to be cut out the tongue of him that had spoken first and, the skin of his head being drawn off, to chop off also his hands and his feet. And now he commanded him, being yet alive, to be brought to the fire and fried in the frying pan.”
“No, nothing else.”
“Can we have the body now?”
Pain had its uses, Kinderman ruminated, and the brain could shut it off at any time. But how? The Great Phantom in the Sky hasn’t told us. The secret Orphan Annie pain decoder rings through some clerical mistake had not been issued. Heads will roll, thought Kinderman bleakly.
“Stedman, go away. Get lost. Drink coffee.”
Kinderman watched him walk to the boathouse where he was joined by the crime lab team, by the Sketcher and the Evidence Man and the Measurer and the Master Taker of Notes. Their manner was casual. One of them chuckled. Kinderman wondered what it was that had been said, and he thought of Macbeth and the gradual numbing of the moral sense.
The Taker of Notes handed Stedman a ledger. The pathologist nodded and the crew walked away. Their steps crunched gravel along the path that led them quickly past an ambulance and waiting paramedics and soon they would be quipping and complaining of their wives on Georgetown’s empty cobblestoned streets. They were hurrying, probably heading for breakfast, perhaps at the cozy White Tower on M Street. Kinderman glanced at his watch and then nodded. Yes. The White Tower. It was open all night. Three eggs over easy, please, Louis. Lots of bacon, okay? And grill the roll. Heat had its uses. They rounded a corner and vanished from view. A laugh rang out.
Kinderman’s gaze shifted back to the pathologist. Someone else was talking to him now, Sergeant Atkins, Kinderman’s assistant. Young and frail, he wore a Navy peacoat over the jacket of his brown flannel suit, and a black woolen seaman’s cap was pulled down over his ears, obscuring a trim and bristling crewcut. Stedman was handing him the ledger. Atkins nodded, walked away a few steps and sat down on the bench in front of the boathouse. He opened the ledger and studied its contents. Seated not far from him were a weeping woman and a nurse. The nurse had her arms around the woman, consoling her.
Stedman, now alone, stood staring at the woman, unmoving. Kinderman observed his expression with interest. So you feel something, Alan, he thought; all the years of mutilations and violent endings, and still there is something within you that feels. Very good. Me, too. We are part of the mystery. If death were like rain, only natural, why would we feel this way, Alan? You and I in particular. Why? Kinderman ached to be home in his bed. The tiredness sank to the bone
Kinderman turned and said, “Yes?”
It was Atkins. “It’s me, sir,” he said.
“Yes, I see that it’s you. I can see that.”
Kinderman pretended to eye him with distaste, casting dismal looks at the coat and the cap before meeting his gaze. His eyes were small and the color of jade. They turned inward a little, and gave Atkins a perpetual look of meditation. He reminded Kinderman of a monk, the medieval kind, the kind that you saw in the movies, their expressions unsmiling and earnest and dumb. Dumb, Atkins was not, the lieutenant knew. Thirty-two and a Vietnam naval veteran out of Catholic University, behind that deadpan mask was something bright and strong that hummed, something wonderful and fey that he hid not from deviousness, in Kinderman’s opinion, but because of a certain gentility of soul. Although slight of build, he had once pulled a dope-crazed, knife-wielding giant from Kinderman’s throat; and when Kinderman’s daughter had been in a near-fatal automobile crash, Atkins had spent twelve days and nights in the visitors’ room of her hospital ward. He had taken his vacation time to do it. Kinderman loved him. He was loyal as a dog.
“I am also here, Martin Luther, and I’m listening. Kinderman, the Jewish sage, is all ears.” What was there to do now, otherwise? Cry? “I am listening, Atkins, you walking anachronism. Tell me. Report the good news from Ghent. Did we find any fingerprints?”
“Plenty. All over the oars. But they’re smeared pretty badly, Lieutenant.”
“Some cigarette butts,” offered Atkins hopefully. This was useful. They would check them for blood type. “Some hair on the body.”
“This is good. Very good.”
It could help to identify the killer.
“And there’s this,” said Atkins. He held out a cellophane envelope. Kinderman delicately grasped it at the top and frowned as he held it up to his eyes. Inside it there was something plastic and pink.
“What is it?”
Legion by William Peter Blatty / Horror / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes