The Killing Kind by John Connolly
Did Grace Peltier commit suicide? When a mass grave in northern Maine reveals the final resting place of a religious community that disappeared almost forty years earlier, private detective Charlie Parker, hired to investigate the circumstances of her death, realises that their deaths and the violent passing of Grace Peltier are part of the same mystery, one that has its roots in her family history and in the origins of the shadowy organisation known as the Fellowship. Aided by the genial killers Angel and Louis, Parker must descend into the depths of a honeycomb world populated by dark angels and lost souls, a world where the ghosts of the dead wait for justice and the unwary are prey for the worst kind of creatures. The killing kind...
The Killing Kind
The third book in the Charlie Parker series
Copyright ? 2001 by John Connolly
For my mother
The Killing Kind
And heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead
Returning lightly dance . . .
—EDWARD THOMAS, “ROADS”
THIS IS A HONEYCOMB WORLD.
It hides a hollow heart. The truth of nature, wrote the philosopher Democritus, lies in deep mines and caves. The stability of what is seen and felt beneath our feet is an illusion, for this life is not as it seems. Below the surface, there are cracks and fissures and pockets of stale, trapped air; stalagmites and helactites and unmapped dark rivers that flow ever downward. It is a place of caverns and stone waterfalls, a labyrinth of crystal tumors and frozen columns where history becomes future, then becomes now.
For in total blackness, time has no meaning.
The present is imperfectly layered on the past; it does not conform flawlessly at every point. Things fall and die and their decay creates new layers, thickening the surface crust and adding another thin membrane to cover what lies beneath, new worlds resting on the remains of the old. Day upon day, year upon year, century upon century, layers are added and the imperfections multiply. The past never truly dies. It is there, waiting, just below the surface of the now. We stumble into it occasionally, all of us, through remembrance and recall. We summon to mind former lovers, lost children, departed parents, the wonder of a single day when we captured, however briefly, the ineffable, fleeting beauty of the world. These are our memories. We hold them close and call them ours, and we can find them when we need them.
But sometimes that choice is made for us: a piece of the present simply falls away, and the past is exposed like old bone. Afterward, nothing can ever be the same again, and we are forced to reassess the form of what we believed to be true in the light of new revelations about its substance. The truth is revealed by a misstep and the fleeting sense that something beneath our feet rings false. The past bubbles out like molten lava, and lives turn to ash in its path.
This is a honeycomb world. Our actions echo through its depths.
Down here, dark life exists: microbes and bacteria that draw their energy from chemicals and natural radioactivity, older than the first plant cells that brought color to the world above. Every deep pool is alive with them, every mine shaft, every ice core. They live and die unseen.
But there are other organisms, other beings: creatures that know only hunger, entities that exist purely to hunt and kill. They move ceaselessly through the hidden cavities, their jaws snapping at the endless night. They come to the surface only when they are forced to do so, and all living things flee from their path.
They came for Alison Beck.
Dr. Beck was sixty and had been performing abortions since 1974, in the immediate aftermath of Roe v. Wade. As a young woman she had become involved in Planned Parenthood following the rubella epidemic of the early 1960s, when thousands of American women delivered babies with serious birth defects. She had progressed to outspoken membership of NOW and the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws before the changes for which they fought enabled her to establish her own clinic in Minneapolis. Since then, she had defied Joseph Scheidler's Pro-Life Action Network, his sidewalk counselors and bullhorn mafia, and had stood head-to-head with Randall Terry when Operation Rescue tried to blockade her clinic in 1989. She had fought against the Hyde amendment of '76, which cut off Medicaid funding for abortions, and had cried when the antiabortionist C. Everett Koop became U.S. surgeon general. On three separate occasions butyric acid had been injected into the clinic walls by antiabortion activists, forcing it to close its doors for days until the fumes had dispersed. The tires on her car had been slashed more times than she could count, and only the toughened glass on the clinic window had prevented an incendiary device housed in a fire extinguisher from burning the building to the ground.
But in recent years the strain of her profession had begun to tell and she now looked much older than her years. In almost three decades, she had enjoyed the company of only a handful of men. David had been the first, and she had married him, and loved him, but David was gone now. She had held him as he died, and she still kept the shirt he had worn on that day, the bloodstains like the shadows of dark clouds floating across its once pristine whiteness. The men who followed offered many excuses for departing but, in the end, all the excuses could be distilled down to one simple essence: fear. Alison Beck was a marked woman. She lived each day in the knowledge that there were those who would rather see her dead than have her continue her work, and few men were willing to stand beside such a woman.
She knew the statistics by heart. There had been twenty-seven cases of extreme violence against American abortion clinics in the previous year, and two doctors had died. Seven abortion doctors and assistants had been killed in the preceding five years, and many others injured in bombings and shootings. She knew all of this because she had spent over twenty years documenting the incidences of violence, tracing common factors, establishing connections. It was the only way that she could cope with the loss of David, the only means she had of making sure that some small good might arise from the ashes of his death. Her research had been used to support the abortion providers' successful invocation of the RICO antiracketeering laws in their fight against their opponents, alleging a nationwide conspiracy to close down clinics. It had been a hard-won victory.
But slowly, another, more indistinct pattern had begun to emerge: names recurring and echoing down the canyons of the years, figures half-glimpsed in the shadows of violent acts. The convergences were visible in barely half a dozen cases, but they were there. She was certain of it, and the others seemed to agree. Together, they were drawing closer and closer to the truth.
But that brought with it its own dangers.
Alison Beck had an alarm system in her home, linked directly to a private security firm, and two armed guards were always on duty at the clinic. In her bedroom closet was an American Body Armor bulletproof vest, which she wore while traveling to and from the clinic despite the discomfort involved. Its twin hung on a steel rail in her consulting room. She drove a red Porsche Boxster, her only true indulgence. She collected speeding tickets the way other people collected stamps.
Alison was a conservative dresser. She typically wore a jacket, unbuttoned, which hung to midthigh level. Beneath the jacket she wore pants with either a brown or a black belt, depending on the color of her ensemble. Attached to the belt was an Alessi holster containing a Kahr K40 Covert pistol. The Kahr held a five-round magazine of .40 caliber ammunition. Beck had tried using six rounds for a time, but found that the extended magazine sometimes caught in the folds of her shirt. The Kahr had an abbreviated grip that suited her small hands, for Alison Beck was just a shade over five feet tall and slightly built. On a range, with the Kahr's smooth double-action trigger pull, she could put the five rounds through the heart of a target thirty feet away in under eight seconds.
Her shoulder bag contained a can of Mace and a stun gun that could send a 20,000-volt charge through a man and leave him gasping and quivering on the ground like a stranded fish. While she had never fired her gun in anger, she had been forced to use the Mace on one occasion when an antiabortion protester had tried to force his way into her home. Later she recalled, with a twinge of shame, that Macing him had felt good. She had chosen her life—that she simply could not deny—but the fear and the anger at the restrictions it had imposed upon her and the hatred and animosity of those who despised her for what she did had affected her in ways she did not like to admit. That November evening, with the Mace in her hand and the short, bearded man howling and crying in her hallway, all of that tension and anger had exploded from her through the simple action of pressing a plastic button.
Alison Beck was a familiar figure, a public figure. Although based on a leafy street in Minneapolis, she traveled twice each month to South Dakota, where she conducted a clinic at Sioux Falls. She appeared regularly on local and national television, campaigning against what she perceived as the gradual erosion of women's right to choose. Clinics were closing, she had pointed out on the local NBC affiliate only the previous week, and now 83 percent of U.S. counties had no abortion services. Three dozen congressmen, a dozen senators, and four governors were openly anti-choice. Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church was now the largest private health care provider in America, and access to abortion services, sterilization, birth control, and in vitro fertilization was becoming increasingly limited.
Yet faced with a pleasant, soft-spoken young woman from Right to Life of Minnesota, who concentrated on the health issues for women and the changing attitudes of a younger generation that could not remember the days before Roe v. Wade, Alison Beck had begun to feel that it was she, the campaigning doctor, who now sounded strident and intolerant, and that perhaps the tide was turning more than she realized. She admitted as much to friends in the days before she died.
But something else had given her cause to feel afraid. She had seen him again, the strange red-haired man, and she knew that he was closing in on her, that he intended to move against her and the others before they could complete their work.
But they can't know, Mercier had tried to reassure her. We've made no move against them yet.
I tell you, they know. I have seen him. And . . .
I found something in my car this morning.
What? What did you find? A skin.
I found a spider skin. Spiders grow by shedding their old exoskeleton and replacing it with a larger, less constraining hide, a process known as ecdysis. The discarded skin, or exuvium, that Alison Beck had found on the passenger seat of her car belonged to a Sri Lankan ornamental tarantula, Poecilotheria fasciata, a beautifully colored but temperamental arachnid. The species had been specifically selected for its capacity to alarm: its body was about two and a half inches in length, marked with grays, blacks, and creams, and its legspan was almost four inches. Alison had been terrified, and that terror had only slightly abated when she realized that the shape beside her was not a living, breathing spider.
Mercier had gone silent then, before advising her to go away for a time, promising that he would warn their associates to be vigilant.