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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group


A Novel from the Author of The Exorcist

William Peter Blatty

Tor Books



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."
"Excuse me?"
"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."
"Beg pardon?"
"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 burial ground."
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?"
"Not yet."
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 bones of his legs and then into the earth beneath him, heavy.
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."
"A shame."
"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?"
"A barrette. For a woman's hair."
Kinderman squinted, holding it closer. "There's some printing on it."
"Yes. It says, ‘Great Falls, Virginia.' "
Kinderman lowered the packet and looked at Atkins. "They sell them at the souvenir stand at Great Falls," he said. "My daughter Julie, she had one. That was years ago, Atkins. I bought it for her. Two of them I bought. She had two." He gave the envelope to Atkins and breathed, "It's a child's."
Atkins shrugged. He glanced toward the boathouse, pocketing the envelope in his coat. "We have that woman here, Lieutenant."
"Would you kindly remove that ridiculous cap? We're not doing Dick Powell in Here Comes the Navy, Atkins. Stop shelling Haiphong; it's all over."
Dutifully, Atkins slipped off the cap and stuffed it into the other pocket of the peacoat. He shivered.
"Put it back," said Kinderman quietly.
"I'm okay."
"I'm not. The crewcut is worse. Put it back."
Atkins hesitated, then Kinderman added, "Come on, put it back. It's cold."
Atkins fitted the cap back on. "We have that woman here," he repeated.
"We have who?"
"The old woman."
The body was discovered on the boathouse dock that morning, Sunday, March thirteenth, by Joseph Mannix, the boathouse manager, on his arrival to open for business: bait and tackle, and the rental of kayaks, canoes and rowboats. Mannix's statement was brief:
My name is Joe Mannix and—what?
(Interruption by investigating officer.) Yes. Yes, I've got you, I understand. My name is Joseph Francis Mannix and I live at 3618 Prospect Street in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. I own and manage the Potomac Boathouse. I got here at half past five or so. That's when I usually open up and set out the bait and start the coffee. Customers show up as early as six; sometimes they're waiting for me when I get here. Today there was nobody. I picked up the paper from in front of the door and I—oh! Oh, Jesus! Jesus!
(Interruption; witness composes himself.) I got here, I opened the door, I went in, I started the coffee. Then I came out to count the boats. Sometimes they rip them off. They cut the chain with a wire cutter. So I count them. Today they're all there. Then I turn to go back in and I see the kid's cart and this stack of papers and I see—I see …
(The witness gestures toward the body of the victim; cannot continue; investigating officer postpones further questioning.)
The victim was Thomas Joshua Kintry, a twelve-year-old black and the son of Lois Annabel Kintry, widowed, thirty-eight, and a teacher of languages at Georgetown University. Thomas Kintry had a newspaper route and delivered the Washington Post. He would have made his delivery that morning at the boathouse at approximately five A.M. Mannix's call to police headquarters came in at five thirty-eight A.M. Identification of the victim was immediate because of the nametag—with address and telephone number—embroidered on his green plaid windbreaker: Thomas Kintry was a mute. He'd had the paper route for only thirteen days, or else Mannix would have recognized him. He didn't. But Kinderman did; he had known the boy from police club work.
"The old woman," Kinderman echoed dully. Then his eyebrows gathered in a look of puzzlement and he stared away at the river.
"We've got her in the boathouse, Lieutenant."
Kinderman turned his head and fixed Atkins with a penetrating look. "She's warm?" he asked. "Make sure that she's warm."
"We've got a blanket around her and the fireplace going."
"She should eat. Give her soup, hot soup."
"She's had broth."
"Broth is good, just be sure that it's hot."
The dragnet had picked her up about fifty yards above the boathouse, where she was standing on the grassy southerly bank of the dried-out C & O Canal, a now-disused waterway where horse-drawn wooden barges once carried passengers up and down its fifty-mile length; now it had been given up mainly to joggers. Perhaps in her seventies, when the search team picked her up the woman had been shivering, standing with her arms tightly akimbo and staring all around her with tears in her eyes as if lost and disoriented and frightened. But she could not or would not answer questions and gave the appearance of being either senile, stunned or catatonic. No one knew what she'd been doing there. There were no habitations nearby. She wore cotton pajamas with a small flower pattern underneath a blue woolen belted robe, and pale pink wool-lined slippers. The temperature outside was freezing.
Stedman reappeared. "Are you through with the body yet, Lieutenant?"
Kinderman looked down at the bloodstained canvas. "Is Thomas Kintry through with it?"
The sobbing came through to him again. He shook his head. "Atkins, take Mrs. Kintry home," he breathed. "And the nurse, take the nurse with you, too. Make her stay with her today, the whole day. I'll pay the overtime myself, never mind. Take her home."
Atkins started to speak and was interrupted.
"Yes, yes, yes, the old lady. I remember. I'll see her."
Atkins left to do Kinderman's bidding. And now Kinderman stooped to one knee, half wheezing, half groaning with the effort of bending. "Thomas Kintry, forgive me," he murmured softly, and then lifted off the drape and let his gaze brush lightly over the arms and the chest and the legs. They're so thin, like a sparrow, he thought. The boy had been an orphan and had once had pellagra. Lois Kintry had adopted him when he was three. A new life. And now ended. The boy had been crucified, nailed through the wrists and feet to the flat end sections of kayak oars arranged in the form of a cross; and the same thick three-inch carpenters' ingots had been pounded through the top of his skull in a circle, penetrating dura and finally brain. Blood streaked down in twisted rivulets over eyes still wide in fright and into a mouth still gaping open in what must have been the mute boy's silent scream of unendurable pain and terror.
Kinderman examined the cuts on the palm of Kintry's left hand. It was true: they had a pattern—the sign of the Gemini. Then he looked at the other hand and saw that the index finger was missing. It had been severed. The detective felt a chill.
He replaced the canvas and slowly heaved himself to his feet. Then he stood looking down with a sad resolve. I will find your murderer, Thomas Kintry, he thought.
Even if it were God.
"All right, Stedman, take a walk," he said. "Take the body and get out of my sight. You stink of formaldehyde and death."
Stedman moved to get the ambulance team.
"No, no, wait a minute," Kinderman called to him.
Stedman turned. The detective moved toward him and spoke to him softly. "Wait until his mother is gone."
Stedman nodded.
The dredge had docked. A police sergeant wearing a fleece-lined black leather jacket jumped lightly to the dock and came over. He was carrying something wrapped in cloth and was about to speak when Kinderman stopped him. "Wait a minute, hold it; not now; just a minute."
The sergeant followed Kinderman's gaze. Atkins was talking to the nurse and Mrs. Kintry. Mrs. Kintry nodded and the women stood up. Kinderman had to look away as for a moment the mother stared over at the canvas. At her boy. He waited a while and then asked, "Are they gone?"
"Yes, they're getting in the car," said Stedman.
"Yes, Sergeant," said Kinderman, "let's see it."
The sergeant silently undid the brown cloth wrapping and disclosed what appeared to be a kitchen meat-pounding mallet; he was careful not to touch it with his hands.
Kinderman stared and then said, "My wife has a thing like that. For the schnitzel. Only smaller."
"It's a type used in restaurants," Stedman observed. "Or in large institutional kitchens. I saw them in the Army."
Kinderman looked up at him. "This could do it?" he asked.
Stedman nodded.
"Give it to Delyra," Kinderman instructed the sergeant. "I'm going inside to see the old lady."
* * *
THE BOATHOUSE interior was warm. Logs burned and crackled in a massive fireplace faced with large gray rounded stones, and mounted in the walls there were crew racing shells.
"Could you tell us your name, please, ma'am?"
She was sitting on a torn yellow Naugahyde sofa in front of the fireplace, a policewoman close beside her. Kinderman stood before them, wheezing, his hat held in front of him clutched by the brim. The old woman didn't seem to see or hear him, and her vacant stare seemed fixed on something inward. The detective's eyes crinkled up in puzzlement. He sat down in a chair that faced her and gently put his hat on some old magazines that lay torn and coverless and neglected on a small wooden table in between; the hat covered up an ad for whiskey.
"Could you tell us your name, dear?"
There was no response. Kinderman's eyes threw a silent question to the policewoman, who immediately nodded and told him quietly, "She's been doing that continually, except for when we gave her some food. And when I was brushing her hair," she added. Kinderman's stare returned to the woman. She was making curious, rhythmic motions with her hands and arms. Then his eye fell on something he had missed before, something small and pink near his hat on the table. He picked it up and read the small print: "Great Falls, Virginia." The n was missing from Virginia.
"I couldn't find the other one," the policewoman said, "so when I brushed her hair I left it off."
"She was wearing this?"
The detective felt a thrill of discovery and bafflement. The old woman was conceivably a witness to the crime. But what had she been doing on the dock at that hour? And in this cold? What had she been doing for that matter up above by the C & O Canal where they had found her? It occurred to Kinderman immediately that this sickly old creature was senile and perhaps had been walking a dog. A dog? Yes, maybe he ran off and she couldn't find him. That would account for the way she was crying. A more terrible suspicion then occurred to him: the woman might have witnessed the murder and it might have unbalanced and traumatized her; temporarily, at least. He felt a mixture of pity, excitement and annoyance. They must get her to speak.
"Can't you tell us your name, please, ma'am?"
No response. In the silence, she continued her mysterious movements. Outside a cloud slipped past the sun, and thin winter sunlight fell through a nearby window like an unexpected grace. It softly illuminated the old woman's face and eyes and gave her a look of tender piety. Kinderman leaned forward a little; he thought he'd detected a pattern to the movements: her legs pressed together, the old woman would alternately move each hand to her thigh, make a slight, odd movement, and then draw the hand high into the air above her head, where she finished the sequence with several minute and jerky pulls.
He continued to watch for a while, then stood up. "Keep her in the holding ward, Jourdan, until we find out who she is."
The policewoman nodded.
"You brushed her hair," the detective told her. "That was nice. Stay with her."
Kinderman turned and left the boathouse. He gave various instructions, closed his mind and then drove home to a small, warm Tudor house off nearby Foxhall Road. It was only six years since he'd broken the habit of apartment living to please his wife, and he still called this mildly rustic area "the country."
He entered the house and called, "Dumpling, I'm home. It's me, your hero, Inspector Clouseau." He hung up his hat and coat on a coat-tree in the tiny foyer, then unstrapped his revolver and holster and locked them in the drawer of a small, dark chest beside the coat-tree. "Mary?" No one answered. He smelled fresh coffee and shuffled toward the kitchen. Julie, his twenty-two-year-old daughter, doubtless was sleeping. But where was Mary? And Shirley, his mother-in-law?
The kitchen was colonial. Kinderman cast a glum eye at the copper pots and various utensils hanging from hooks affixed to the stove hood, trying to picture them hanging in somebody's kitchen in a Warsaw ghetto; then he sauntered heavily and slowly to the kitchen table. "Maple," he muttered aloud, for when alone he often talked to himself. "What Jew would know maple from cheese? They wouldn't know, it's impossible, it's strange." He saw a note on the table. He picked it up and read it.
Dearest Billy,
Don't get sore, but when the phone woke us up, Mom insisted we should go and visit Richmond, as a punishment, I guess, so I thought we'd better get an early start. She said Jews in the South should stick together. Who's in Richmond?
You had fun at your Police Encounter Group? I can't wait to get home and hear all about it. I fixed you the usual and put it in the fridge. Are you planning to be home tonight, or as usual ice-skating on the Potomac with Omar Sharif and Catherine Deneuve?
A small, fond smile warmed his eyes. He replaced the note, found the cream cheese, tomatoes, lox, pickle and an Almond Roca on a plate in the refrigerator. He sliced and toasted two bagels, poured coffee and sat down to it all at the table. Then he noticed the Sunday Washington Post on the chair to his left. He looked at the plate of food before him. His stomach was empty but he could not eat. He had lost his appetite.
For a time he sat drinking his coffee. He looked up. Outside a bird was singing. In this weather? He ought to be put in an institution. He's sick, he needs help. "Me, too," the detective muttered aloud. Then the bird fell silent and the only sound was the beat of the pendulum clock on the wall. He checked the time; it was eight forty-two. All the goyim would be going to church. Couldn't hurt. Say a prayer for Thomas Kintry, please. "And William F. Kinderman," he added aloud. Yes. And one other. He sipped at the coffee. What a twisted coincidence, he thought, that a death like Kintry's should occur on this day, this twelfth anniversary of a death just as shocking and violent and mysterious.
Kinderman looked up at the clock. Had it stopped? No. It was running. He shifted in his chair. He felt a strangeness in the room. What was it? Nothing. You're tired. He picked up the candy and unwrapped it and ate it. Not as good without the pickle taste first, he mourned.
He shook his head and stood up with a sigh. He put away the plate of food, rinsed out his coffee cup at the sink and then left the kitchen and walked up the stairs toward the second floor. He thought he might nap for a while and allow his unconscious to work, to sort out clues he never knew he had seen, but at the top of the stairs he halted and muttered, "The Gemini."
The Gemini? Impossible. That monster is dead, it couldn't be. And so why was the hair on the back of his hands prickling upward? he wondered. He held them up, the palms turned down. Yes. They are standing on end. Why is that?
He heard Julie waking up now and clumping to her bathroom, and he stood there for a while, baffled and uncertain. He ought to be doing something. But what? The usual lines of investigation and induction were precluded; they were looking for a maniac, and the lab would have nothing to report until tonight. Mannix, he sensed, had already been squeezed of what little he knew, and Kintry's mother was surely to be left alone at this time. Anyway, the boy had never had unsavory acquaintances or habits; that much Kinderman knew himself from his regular contact with him. The detective shook his head. He had to get out, to get moving, to pursue. He heard Julie's shower running. He turned and walked back down the stairs to the foyer. He recovered his gun, put on his hat and coat and went out.
Outside, he stood with his hand on the doorknob, troubled and thoughtful and undecided. The wind blew a styrofoam cup down the driveway and he listened to its thin and forlorn little impacts; then it was still. Abruptly he went to his car, got in and drove away.
Without knowing how he'd gotten there, he found himself parked illegally on Thirty-third Street, close to the river. He got out of the car. Here and there he saw a Washington Post on a doorstep. He found the sight painful and glanced away. He locked the car.
He walked through a little park to a bridge that traversed the canal and followed a towpath to the boathouse. Already the curious had gathered and were milling about and chattering, although no one seemed to know just exactly what had happened. Kinderman went up to the boathouse doors. They were locked and a red-and-white sign said CLOSED. Kinderman glanced at the bench by the doors and then sat down, his breath coming raspingly as he drooped with his back against the boathouse.
He studied the people on the dock. He knew that psychotic killers frequently relished the attention that their violent deeds had drawn. He might be here in this group on the dock, perhaps asking, "What happened? Do you know? Was someone murdered?" He looked for somebody smiling a little too fixedly, or with a tic or with the stare of the drugged, and most especially for anyone who'd heard what had happened but then lingered and asked the same questions of some newcomer. Kinderman's hand reached into an inside pocket of his coat; there was always a paperback book in there. He pulled out Claudius the God and looked at its jacket with dismay. He wanted to pretend to be an old man who was passing his Sunday by the river, but the Robert Graves novel held the danger that he might unwittingly actually read it and perhaps allow the killer to elude his scrutiny. He'd already read it twice and knew well the danger of becoming engrossed in its pages again. He slipped it back inside the pocket and quickly extracted another book. He looked at the title. It was Waiting for Godot. He sighed with relief and turned to Act Two.
He stayed until noon, seeing no one suspicious. By eleven there'd been nobody else on the dock and the flow had stopped, but he'd waited the extra hour, hoping. Now he looked at his watch, and then at the boats that were chained to the dock. Something was nagging at him. What? He thought for a while but could not identify it. He put away Godot and left.
He discovered a parking ticket on the windshield of his car. He slipped it out from under the wiper blade and eyed it with disbelief. The car was an unmarked Chevrolet Camaro but it carried the plates of the District Police. He crumpled the ticket into his pocket, unlocked the car, got in and drove off. He had no clear idea of where to go and wound up at the precinct house in Georgetown. Once inside he approached the sergeant in charge of the desk.
"Who was giving parking tickets on Thirty-third near Canal this morning, Sergeant?"
The sergeant looked up at him. "Robin Tennes."
"I am thrilled to be alive in a time and a place where even a blind girl can be a policewoman," Kinderman told him. He handed him the ticket and waddled away.
"Any news on the kid, Lieutenant?" the sergeant called out. He hadn't yet examined the ticket.
"No news, no news," replied Kinderman. "Nothing."
He went upstairs and walked through the squad room, deflecting the questions of the curious, until at last he was in his office. The space of one wall was taken up with a finely detailed map of the northwest section of the city, while still another was covered by a blackboard. On the wall behind the desk, between two windows that faced toward the Capitol, hung a Snoopy poster, a gift from Thomas Kintry.
Kinderman sat behind his desk. His hat and coat were still on, the coat buttoned. On the desk were a calender pad, a paperback copy of the New Testament and a clear plastic box containing Kleenex. He pulled out a tissue and wiped his nose, and then gazed at the photos set into the facings of the box: his wife and his daughter. Still wiping, he turned the box a little, disclosing a photo of a dark-haired priest; then Kinderman sat motionless, reading the inscription. "Keep checking those Dominicans, Lieutenant." The signature read "Damien." The detective's glance flicked up to the smile on the rugged face, and then to the scar above the right eye. Abruptly, he crumpled the tissue in his hand, threw it into a wastebasket and had reached to pick up a phone when Atkins walked in. Kinderman looked up as he was closing the door. "Oh, it's you." He released the phone and clasped his hands together in front of him, looking like a garment district Buddha. "So soon?"
Atkins sauntered closer and sat on a chair in front of the desk. He slipped off his cap, his eyes shifting up to Kinderman's hat.
"Never mind the insolence," Kinderman told him. "I told you to stay with Mrs. Kintry."
"Her brother and sister came over. Some people from the school, the university. I thought I should come back."
"And a good thing, Atkins. I have lots for you to do." Kinderman waited while Atkins produced a little red notepad and a ballpoint pen. Then he continued: "First, get hold of Francis Berry. He was chief investigator on the Gemini squad years back. He's still with San Francisco Homicide. I want everything he's got on the Gemini Killer. Everything. The whole entire file."
"But the Gemini's been dead for twelve years."
"Is that so? Really, Atkins? I had no idea. You mean all of those headlines in the papers were true? And the radio and television, Atkins? Astonishing. Really. I'm floored."
Atkins was writing, a small, wry smile curving his mouth. The door cracked open and the head of the crime lab team looked in. "Stop loitering in doorways, Ryan. Come in here," Kinderman told him. Ryan entered and closed the door behind him.
"Attend me, Ryan," said Kinderman. "Notice young Atkins. You are standing in the presence of majesty, a giant. No, really. A man should get his just recognition. Would you like to know the highlight of Atkins' career with us? Certainly. We shouldn't cover stars with an okra basket. Last week, for the nineteenth—"
"Twentieth," Atkins corrected him, holding up his pen for emphasis.
"For the twentieth time, he brings in Mishkin, the notorious evildoer. His crime? His unvarying M.O.? He breaks into apartments and moves all the furniture around. He redecorates." Kinderman shifted his remarks to Atkins. "This time we send him to Psycho, I swear it."
"How does Homicide fit into this?" asked Ryan.
Atkins turned to him, expressionless. "Mishkin leaves messages threatening death if he ever comes back and finds something out of place."
Ryan blinked.
"Heroic work, Atkins. Homeric," said Kinderman. "Ryan, have you anything to tell me?"
"Not yet."
"Then why are you wasting my time?"
"I just wondered what was new."
"It's very cold out. Also, the sun came up this morning. Have you any more questions of the oracle, Ryan? Several kings from the East have been waiting their turn."
Ryan looked disgusted and left the room. Kinderman followed him with his gaze and when the door had closed he looked at Atkins. "He bought the whole thing about Mishkin."
Atkins nodded.
The detective shook his head. "The man hears no music," he said.
"He tries, sir."
"Thank you, Mother Teresa."
Kinderman sneezed and reached for a Kleenex.
"God bless you."
"Thank you, Atkins." Kinderman wiped his nose and got rid of the tissue. "So you're getting me the Gemini file."
"Right, sir."
"After that see if anyone has claimed the old lady."
"Not yet, sir. I checked when I came in."
"Call the Washington Post, the distribution department; get the name of Kintry's route boss and run it through the FBI computer. Find out if he's ever been in trouble with the law. At five in the morning in the freezing cold chances are that the killer wasn't out for a stroll and came across Kintry just by accident. Somebody knew that he'd be there."
The clatter of a teletype machine began to seep through the floor from below. Kinderman glanced toward the sound. "Who can think in this place?"
Atkins nodded.
Abruptly the teletype stopped. Kinderman sighed and looked up at his assistant. "There's another possibility. Someone on Kintry's paper route might have killed him, someone he'd already delivered a paper to before he got to the boathouse. He could have killed him and then dragged him to the boathouse. It's possible. So all of those names should go into the computer."
"Very well, sir."
"One more thing. Almost half of Kintry's papers had yet to be delivered. Find out from the Post who called in and complained that they didn't get their paper. Then cross them off the list and whoever is left—whoever didn't call in—feed their names to the computer as well."
Atkins stopped writing in his notepad. He looked up at the detective with surmise.
Kinderman nodded. "Yes. Exactly. On Sunday people always want their funny papers, Atkins. So if someone didn't call and say they wanted their paper there could only be two reasons—either the subscriber is dead or he's the killer. It's a long shot. Couldn't hurt. You should check those names also with the FBI computer. Incidentally, do you believe there will come a day when computers will be able to think?"
"I doubt it."
"Me, too. I once read some theologian was asked this question and he said that this problem would give him insomnia only when computers started to worry that maybe their parts were wearing out. My sentiments. Computers, good luck, God bless them, they're okay. But a thing made out of things cannot think about itself. Am I right? It's all ka-ka, saying mind is really brain. Sure, my hand is in my pocket. Is my pocket my hand? Every wino on M Street knows a thought is a thought and not some cells or chazerei going on in the brain. They know that jealousy is not some kind of game from Atari. Meantime, who is kidding whom? If all those wonderful scientists in Japan could manufacture an artificial brain cell only one-fourth a cubic inch, for an artificial brain you'd need to keep it in a warehouse one and a half million cubic feet so you could hide it from your neighbor, Mrs. Briskin, and assure her nothing funny's going on next door. Besides, I dream the future, Atkins. What computer that you know could do that?"
"You've eliminated Mannix?"
"I don't mean I dream the general, predictable future. I dream what you never could guess. Not just me. Read Experiment with Time, J. W. Dunne. Also Jung the psychiatrist and Wolfgang Pauli, his bigshot quantum physicist buddy that they call now the father of the neutrino. You could buy a used car from such people, Atkins. As for Mannix, he's the father of seven, a saint, and I've known him for eighteen years. Forget it. What's peculiar—on my mind—is that Stedman didn't notice any sign that maybe Kintry first was hit on the head. With what was done to him, how could this be? He was conscious. My God, he was conscious." Kinderman looked down and shook his head. "We must be looking for more than one monster, Atkins. Someone had to hold him down. It had to be."
The telephone rang. Kinderman looked at the buttons. The private line. He picked up the phone and said, "Kinderman."
"Bill?" It was his wife.
"Oh, it's you, honey. Tell me, how is Richmond? You're still there?"
"Yes, we just saw the Capitol Building. It's white."
"How exciting."
"How's your day, honey?"
"Wonderful, sweetheart. Three murders, four rapes and a suicide. Otherwise, my usual jolly time up here with the boys at Precinct Six. Sweetheart, when is the carp coming out of the tub?"
"I can't talk now."
"Oh, I see. Then the Mother of the Gracchi is at hand. Mother Mystery. She's squeezed in the phone booth with you, right?"
"I can't talk. You're coming home tonight for dinner or not?"
"I think not, precious angel."
"Then lunch? You don't eat right when I'm not there. We could start back now—we'd be home by two."
"Thank you, darling, but today I have to cheer up Father Dyer."
"What's the matter?"
"Every year on this day he gets blue."
"Oh, it's today."
"It's today."
"I'd forgotten."
Two policemen were dragging a suspect through the room. He was forcibly resisting and screaming imprecations. "I didn't do it! Let go of me, you cocksucking fucks!"
"What's that?" asked Kinderman's wife.
"Only goyim, sweetheart. Never mind." A detention room door slammed on the suspect. "I'll take Dyer to a movie. We'll discuss. He'll enjoy."
"Well, okay. I'll fix a plate up and put it in the oven, just in case."
"You're a sweetheart. Oh, incidentally, lock the windows tonight."
"What for?"
"It would make me feel better. Hugs and kisses, darling dumpling."
"You, too."
"Leave a note about the carp, would you, sweetheart? I don't want to walk in there and see it."
"Oh, Bill!"
"Bye, darling."
He hung up the phone and stood up. Atkins was staring at him. "The carp is none of your business," the detective told him. "It should only concern you that something is rotten in the state of Denmark." He moved toward the door. "You have much to do, so kindly do it. As for me, from two until half past four I'm at the Biograph Cinema. After that, I'm at Clyde's or back here. Let me know when there's something from the lab. Anything. Beep me. Goodbye, Lord Jim. Enjoy your luxury cruise on the Patna. Check for leaks."
He walked through the doorway and into the world of men who die. Atkins watched him as he shuffled through the squad room waving off questions like beggars in a Bombay street. And then he was down the stairs and out of sight. Already Atkins missed him.
He got up from his chair and moved to the window. He looked out at the city's white marble monuments washed in sunlight, warm and real. He listened to the traffic. He felt uneasy. Some darkness was stirring that he could not comprehend; yet he sensed its movement. What was it? Kinderman had felt it. He could tell.
Atkins shook it off. He believed in the world and men and pitied both. Hoping for the best, he turned away and went to work.

Copyright © 1983 by William Peter Blatty