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Authors: Robert Pobi

Bloodman (5 page)

BOOK: Bloodman
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Jake’s eyes left Spencer and slid down to the safari pool out on the deck. In a way there was something serene, almost meditative about it. Maybe it wasn’t a sign of neglect after all. Maybe his father had been going Zen.

“What, exactly, do you do, Jake?”

“I paint the dead.” He looked back to the pond/pool.

“Another great American artist,” Spencer said, and poured his coffee down the drain.

8

His father’s jaw hung slack, cheeks dented in as if an invisible hand squeezed his face. Charred gray stubble flecked his skin and white specks of mucus hung at the corners of his closed eyes and open mouth. The left side of his face was a black-red mess of scab and antibiotic ointment bisected by a long sutured scar that ran from eyebrow to chin. His hands were bandaged knobs at the ends of his wrists, bloody gauze clubs. He snored loudly, the tremor of his voice shaking the air in the room. Even in medicated sleep the man commanded attention.

The room was full of flowers of every conceivable color, hue, and proportion. It smelled like a jungle, and Jake wondered what his old man would say about the composition.

The pneumatic door closer hissed softly and Jake turned to see a nurse in hospital blues come in. She was small, compact, and there was something familiar about her. “Has anyone asked you about the mail?”

Jake’s eyes swept back to his father, then to her brown stare, then down to her name tag.
Rachael
, it read. He would have much preferred a last name to go with the woman. “Mail?” was all he said.

She nodded. “The mail department called up and asked the station what they should do.”

Jake looked at her, wondering what the hell she was talking about. “About what?” he asked.

“About your father’s mail. It’s piling up.”

Jake sighed, tightened up his chest to process oxygen a little more efficiently, then shrugged. “Just put it in his nightstand. I’ll take care of it.”

The nurse stared at him for a few seconds, then her head began to shake side to side. She raised an eyebrow. “There’s an
awful lot
, Mr. Coleridge.”

“Cole. My name is Cole.”

She paused for a second, as if her hard drive had crashed. “Um, there’s nine sacks of mail for your father downstairs. I suspect that a lot more is coming. There will be more flowers, too.”

Jake’s brain was still hung up on trying to figure out what was so familiar about her. “Nine sacks?” he asked, jerking a thumb at his father. “For him?”

“Apparently so, yes.”

Jake let out a sigh that he followed with a loose shrug. It was hard to forget that his father was famous but he had somehow managed it. But the world of the triple W would no doubt be abuzz with news of his father’s accident. “Any suggestions?”

“Peter Beard stayed overnight once. His people took care of everything. We’re not equipped to handle this much mail.”

Jake smiled. “I don’t have any people.”
Or a desire to be here
, he wanted to add. “I’ll get someone to come collect it.” His father’s snoring hitched with an interrupted breath, then stopped. “Do you have a pediatrics ward?” he asked.

Nurse Rachael nodded. “Of course, second floor. Why?”

“Take all of my father’s flowers to pediatrics. Hand them out to the children. Throw the cards out.”

The nurse nodded slowly as she tried to find something wrong in his directives. When she couldn’t find a loophole, she smiled. “That’s a wonderful idea.” Suddenly, Jake realized what was so familiar about her.

Jake turned back to his father. “Has he been awake at all?”

Nurse Rachael nodded. “He was up last night, at the beginning of my shift.” As if to accentuate the point, she suppressed a yawn with the back of her hand. “He was in pretty good spirits.”

“Him?” he asked, not meaning to sound so surprised. Jake could not remember his father ever being in good spirits. The light etched his face with deep shadow, hollowed out his cheeks. He looked dead. Then the snoring started back up and the illusion was broken. “Did he say anything?”

“We talked a little. He asked for a drink and I got him a glass of water. When he took a sip he asked, ‘What the hell is this piss?’ Apparently he was hoping for scotch.” She smiled. “He seems to like me. He gets agitated around the other nurses. But a little of his fear seems to leave when I’m here. He keeps telling me that I look like Mia.”

Jake’s vital signs fluttered and he felt a little more of the old fear come back. So his father had noticed it, too. “You do.” He took in a breath and thought back to the days when you could smoke in a hospital room. Glory Days, Springsteen had called them. “Mia was my mother. My father hasn’t spoken her name in thirty-three years.”

Nurse Rachael—look-alike—nodded knowingly. “Divorce?”

Jake thought back to the last time he had seen his mother. It had been after a gallery opening in the city when he was twelve. She drove home by herself, leaving Jacob to his sycophants, his critics, and his booze. She sat down on the corner of the bed and he woke in a fog. Her hair was tussled from the open convertible and she was wearing a black cocktail dress and a pearl necklace. She smelled faintly of perfume and salt air.

She had leaned over and kissed him. Told him she loved him. That she was going back out for cigarettes. And a bag of Mallomars. They’d go down to the beach and watch the sun come up from the sleeping bag. She rubbed his back, then went out for smokes and cookies.

She never came back.

“No,” he shook his head, and the loose image of that night fell apart. “My mother was murdered.”

9

June 1978
Sumter Point

 

Jake was deep in the heat stage of REM sleep when she put her hand on his back, and his skin felt like a smooth sun-baked stone. She rubbed gently, feeling bones under the skin. Eventually he woke, rolled over.

She just watched him, waiting to see if he would make the rare transition from sleeping child to awake child; most of the time he would just smile at her, close his eyes, and drift off into wherever it was that he went when he slept.

“What time is it?” Jake stretched and his pajama shirt climbed up, exposing ribs and tummy.

She looked at her watch. “Four thirteen.”

“Dad come back with you?”

His mother’s face, a beautiful mixture of gentle shadows, smiled. “The show went well and he wanted to stay and talk. I wanted to come back to see you.”

“You should have stayed,” Jake said through a gaping yawn. “Did you have a nice hotel room? The kind with free soap?”

She smiled, rubbed his leg. “Yeah, the kind with free soap.” She leaned over and kissed him on the forehead, something he was not yet embarrassed about—at least not in private. She had driven the coastal highway with the top down and she smelled of perfume and salt, that humid ocean smell that gets into everything by the water. “What did you do tonight, Jakey? Anything fun?”

“It was all right. Billy came over. We watched the Creature Feature.
Battle of the Gargantuas
was on but we didn’t have any Mallomars. Billy decided that he wanted to sleep at home.”

She ran her hand along his leg and kissed him again. “I have to run back to the Kwik Mart to get some cigarettes. I’m pretty sure they have Mallomars, too. You want me to get you some?”

It was the kind of thing his mother always did for him and he had to constantly resist the urge to abuse her kindness. Even at the age of twelve he could see that his dad did that enough for the both of them. “I’m okay, Mom.”

“I’ll be back in fifteen minutes. If you want, we can go down to the beach and watch the sun come up. I’ll put some coffee in Dad’s old army Thermos and we’ll cuddle up under a blanket and pretend that we’re the last two people on the planet and apes have taken over.”

“Cool.”

She smiled, stood up. “See? I’m not so bad for an old lady.” She was thirty-seven.

She leaned down and kissed him again and he couldn’t smell cigarettes on her and he knew that she was going to go to the store whether he asked her to or not. “Get a big bag,” he said.

“You got it.”

They found her car a mile from the Kwik Mart, pulled into the driveway of an empty summer rental.

There was no blood—no signs of a struggle—just her Pagoda sitting on the gravel with over half a tank of gas in it. A fresh pack of Marlboros sat on the middle console, a single cigarette missing from the pack. The bag of Mallomars and her purse were on the passenger’s seat. Two cookies were gone but the $25,000 in cash from the gallery show was still in her purse. Nothing missing but those two cookies and a single cigarette.

What was left of Mia Coleridge lay on a red patch of gravel 200 yards away.

10

Jake sat in a vinyl and aluminum chair jammed in between the sink and the window, staring at—but not seeing—his father. His mind was walking through the rooms at the Farmers’ house up the highway. He was in one of the guest rooms—an
empty
guest room—looking at the floor. He squatted down on his haunches and focused on something on the threshold. He had only seen it glimmer for a second, then he was past it, and it had become invisible. He leaned forward and the nearly straight line of a long strand of yellow hair, almost white, jumped off the topography of the wood grain.

He moved his mind’s eye back and forth, taking it in. It was twenty-six or twenty-seven inches in length, and thin, wispy. It was well past yellow and on its way to white. He hoped Hauser’s guys had bagged it.

Why hadn’t he said anything last night? Because he was used to working with the bureau boys, and their forensic guys never missed things like that. In a way, it was a test. A test he hoped Hauser’s people passed.

He’d see the medical examiner in a few hours and there would be a lot more in the way of answers. Until he talked with the ME, and examined Madame X and the child, all he had was the three-dimensional model in his head. More than enough to work with. Enough to kill a few hours with at least.

In his head, Jake left the room with the yellow hairs, turned, and walked on down the hall to the room where the murderer had spread Madame and Little X all over the floor. He stared down at them. Eyes massaging the scarlet mess for…for…

“Can I get a drink?” a voice said out of the darkness and the model fell apart. He was back in the hospital in the chair in the corner and he blinked once, fiercely, and saw his father staring at him.

He had lost none of the worldliness that had made him a favorite of critics and fans alike. He had never pretended to be polished or special. He believed he was what he was: a painter. And now he was a thirsty painter. “Well, dickhead, can I get a drink?” he asked again, his voice hitching up with a tremor of irritation.

Jake stood up. “A drink? Sure.” Then he remembered Nurse Rachael’s story about the scotch. “There’s only water. No scotch.” Staring his old man in the eyes now, he felt nothing, not even a glimmer of the old poison. And his father’s snarl didn’t push any of the scare buttons it used to. Then again, he wondered if he even owned scare buttons anymore or if they had all been lost along the way.

The old man smiled as if he were talking to a person of diminished capacity. “Of course there’s no scotch. It’s a hospital. You think they hand out scotch at a fucking hospital? What kind of a volunteer are you, anyway? Sitting there staring off into space. Aren’t you supposed to be reading to me or scratching my ass or some such bullshit since I can’t do anything myself?” He held up his hands, two clumsy stubs of white gauze, black-red where dark punches of blood had seeped through. “Why don’t you—” And then he stopped abruptly, as if someone had pulled the plug to his vocal transformer. After a few seconds of examining Jake’s face, he asked, “You look a little like Charles Bronson. My son looked a lit—” And then he stopped again, voice box on pause. He looked at Jake for a few heavy breaths, examining his features. “I can see it in your eyes,” the old man said, something about him suddenly very still.

“See what?” Jake asked.

“The dead people have started showing up.”

11

The room was cold and humid and the air tasted of steel and disinfectant. But the lighting was good and Dr. Nancy Reagan knew how to run a lab. There were only two permanent autopsy tables in the room, and Jake was grateful that they weren’t in the middle of the busy season. He often wondered how little country offices managed to solve any crimes at all with the limited resources they had; the ME for the greater Manhattan area had sixty-five full-time autopsy tables and a four-floor lab that occupied an entire city block. Not to mention a backup network of nearly 1,000 folding units in the event of a natural disaster or pandemic situation.

Two bodies lay under semitransparent plastic sheets. Both were laid out straight now, the rigor mortis having either been eased or broken out of the joints. One body took up a lot less real estate under the sheet. Both looked black under the semi-transparent polyethylene covers, only going to red where a wet bit pushed up against the plastic.

Sheriff Hauser stood at the foot of the two tables, his arms crossed tightly across his chest, his jaw clenching its way through half a pack of very strong mint gum. His hat was on a seat by the door and he stood a little lopsided—not very pronounced, but noticeable if you paid attention.

Dr. Reagan had a home-court advantage here and she pretended to be busy for a few minutes before heading over. Jake thought about going to her desk and picking her up by the elbow but decided that he’d let her have her literal fifteen seconds. Of all the links in the chain here, Reagan was second in importance only to Sheriff Hauser—and it was an arguable distinction at this point of the investigation.

Jake stood beside the longer body, his hands on his hips, his breathing down into the slow range, waiting for Reagan’s power trip to blow itself out so they could all learn a little more about what had happened to Madame and Little X.

The ME finally stood up, straightened her lab coat, took a sip of coffee, and came over, her pumps—elegant and black—clack-clack-clacking on the cold linoleum.

She stared down at the autopsy report. “First off, Special Agent Cole was right. I don’t have DNA confirmation yet but I do have a matched blood type that points to mother and child. AB negative.”

“One person per hundred and sixty-seven individuals,” Jake repeated from memory.

Reagan raised her eyes above the lenses of her glasses. “Female. Roughly five foot one inch tall. Age twenty-five to thirty-five. I’d lean to early thirties. Ninety pounds, postmortem. Pre? We can say roughly one-twenty, depending on how much subcutaneous fat she had. I’d go with very little. She was fit.”

“COD?” Hauser asked.

Reagan’s eyes stayed balanced above her glasses. “She bled to death. They both did.”

Hauser nodded like he regretted asking, then lapsed into his former sullenness.

“Distinguishing physical history?” Jake asked, his hand slowly climbing for the head of the sheet.

The medical examiner shook her head. “Her right wrist has been fractured. It’s an old break, most likely a fall. It was compound. Other than that, no previously broken bones. No wounds, operations, or deep-tissue scars on her body.” Dr. Reagan flipped through her notes, and pointed to the corpse laid out on the stainless-steel table.

“Last night makes up for that,” Hauser said, barely above a whisper.

Reagan took a deep breath, but there was nothing theatrical or pensive about it, she just wanted enough oxygen to run through her findings. “Three fractures to her jaw caused by a single impact with a pointed object—it left an octagonal indent in the bone. Her nose was broken and her left orbit was caved in. She was hit twice in the sternum, the first blow breaking the fourth through seventh rib on the left, the second snapping the third through seventh on the right. These strikes were probably used to keep her from making too much noise.”

“No one would have heard her way out there anyway,” Jake said flatly.

Hauser shifted in his boots, and looked over at Jake, thinking back to the sonofabitch he had been to Scopes last night.

“Race?” Jake asked, and locked his fingers around one of the plastic tarps. It felt like silk snakeskin.

“Her eyelids were gone. No skin between the toes. Nothing.”

Hauser swallowed again, remembering that Jake had got down on the blood-caked carpet and peered between the woman’s toes like some kind of perverted rubbernecker.

Jake peeled back the plastic sheet.

The sheriff saw Madame X, laid out like a blistering red roast. Her body had lost some of the humanity. He was grateful that it was no longer posed in the horror of agony, but in the
Now I lay me down to sleep
position that did absolutely nothing to soften the marks of violence on it. She still looked used, violated, and Hauser’s gum was tinged with the acid bursts of spit from the back of his throat when he swallowed. He turned around and spat the gum into a garbage can with a single bloody latex glove stuck just inside the rim.

Dr. Reagan looked up at Jake. “We sent DNA samples out to the bureau this morning. Do you know what kind of turnaround times we’re looking at?”

“Mitochondrial is twelve hours; we’ll get race, haplogroup, and confirmation of mother—child relationship between the two victims. Nuclear will take about seventy-two and hopefully we’ll find her in the system. Criminal record. Government employment. Diplomat. Missing person.”

Hauser raised his head, cleared his throat. “I put a search out on every case of domestic violence in the past six months where there is a two- to four-year-old boy at home. Maybe she had a husband who beat her and she ran. Maybe he found her.”

Jake shook his head. “This was not done by an angry husband.”

Dr. Reagan paused patiently, and her eyes went to Jake’s skin. She looked down at his hands, crosshatched in dark ink that swirled out of his sleeve, down over his wrists, over his metacarpals, ending along the first knuckle of his phalanges. In all her time as medical examiner, she had never had anyone who looked or talked like Jake Cole come through—especially not in the capacity of law-enforcement specialist.

Jake squinted at Madame X and took a flashlight off of a trolley to his right without moving his eyes. He leaned forward, flicked it on, and peered into her mouth. The splintered teeth glowed white and the dark black of the flesh went to a bright red under the harsh glare. “Dental records?”

“She shattered most of her teeth—the FBI labs said the dental reconstruction will take about two weeks. I can tell you that she had three fillings—two porcelain, one silver. Her teeth broke
because they weren’t that strong to begin with. She had a vitamin D
deficiency at some point and she’s never really recovered.”

Jake rolled the sheet back and away from Madame X. Bits of dried blood and muscle tissue cracked off and rained down. Jake put the sheet at the foot of the stainless-steel table and stared at the deep Y incision in her chest, now fastened with bloody baseball stitches in a braided line.

Reagan removed the shroud from the boy.

Hauser closed his eyes once, hard, and when he opened them his mouth was a tight line that said he was back in cop mode. At least for a few minutes.

Jake ignored the child and kept his attention locked on the dead woman on the table. He thought about the hairs he had seen earlier in his head. “What about the blond hairs on the floor of the guest room? There were more in the living room in front of the window, too.”

The effect on Hauser was instantaneous. “What blond hairs? I didn’t see any—”

“I didn’t see them until this morning.”

Hauser was frozen in a position that said he was either going to run or hit someone. “You didn’t go back in the house this morning. My deputy would have—”

Jake tried not to sound flippant. This was the part they never understood. “Not the real house.” He lifted his hand, tapped his index against his temple. “I recorded everything I saw last night, then went through it this morning. And I found hairs.”

Dr. Reagan gave him a hard brown stare. “They are equine.”

Hauser, still stuck on disbelief, simply repeated the last word as if it were a question. “Equine?”

Jake thought out loud. “The Farmers are sailors—not horse people. I didn’t see one ribbon or photo in the place that would make me believe that they were horse people. And if the hairs had come from the antiques, they’d be black.”

“The antiques?” Hauser asked.

“Antique chairs and sofas are stuffed with horsehair.” He turned back to Dr. Reagan. “Tox scan?”

Reagan flipped through the printout and the pages rattled. Jake saw a coffee ring flip by. “I appreciate the late night.”

Reagan’s subway-tile hue darkened a little, as if she were done holding her breath. “There are plenty of slow days.” She stopped. “Toxicology. All negative. I did a CBC, a WBC, and a WBC differential.”

Jake waved it away. “That’s perfect.”

“Her liver was pretty beat up, her gamma-glutamyl levels were high but aspartate levels were perfect, so it’s an old problem. She gave up drinking a while ago.

“She had renal issues at one point—her kidneys had been stressed by something she used to take. Function was somewhere around seventy percent. I doubt she even knew she had problems unless she had a blood work done in the past little while. She smoked. Had at least one child. No venereal diseases. She was fit at the time of death—I’d say in super shape. No subcutaneous fat. No fat deposits in abdomen, posterior, under the arms, or around the neck. Her heart was in stellar shape.”

“What was she skinned with?” Hauser asked.

Jake stared down at the crescent-shaped ridges in the muscle. Without meaning to, he said, “Single-edged knife with a recurve blade. Heavy, probably a hunting knife.”

Reagan looked at her notes and nodded. “About eight inches.”

Hauser shook his head. “Not an ideal knife.”

“Meaning?” Jake asked.

Hauser swallowed. “A small curve-bladed skinning knife would do the job in half the time.”

Jake nodded. “What does that tell us?”

“That he had time?”

“Bingo.”

Jake examined the thin ridges along her muscles where the tip of the knife had left its mark, removing a little more of who the woman was with each swish of the razor-sharp edge. “Vaginal wounds?”

Hauser had fallen back into a nervous silence, his lopsided stance a little more pronounced now. His eyes were no longer on the woman, but spent their time nailed to Jake.

Reagan shook her head. “Nothing. Wash, swabs, and pelvic exam were clean. Nothing was put into her vagina.”

Jake was examining the bottom of Madame X’s foot. He ran his index up the muscle as if he expected it to curl in a ticklish reflex. “Size six feet,” he said softly. “Small.”

Hauser’s head tilted to one side in that canine way that was becoming familiar to Jake. His mouth opened up and in a monotone voice he said, “Female, roughly thirty-two years of age. One old break in her wrist. Slender athletic build. Good muscle mass. Light smoker. Weakened kidney function. Bad liver from an old alcohol problem. Three fillings and an old iron deficiency. Size six feet and her killer did not interact with her in a sexual manner.”

Jake held up his hand. “Don’t say that. We don’t know yet.”

Hauser pointed at Madame X. “No vaginal wounds, Dr. Reagan’s words, not mine.” Then, seeing his arm pointing at the dead, he let it drop to his side. “Was this about sex?”

“Not in any way you or I could relate to. But to the perp? That bastard got a massive endorphin rush out of it. It’s too early to tell if this is sexual for him. Where’s her skin?”

“I don’t know. It wasn’t there. We haven’t—”

“Because it was taken. Maybe it was a little porn to jerk off to later so he can feel all big and powerful and in control of the storm raging inside the fucked-up fusebox that passes for his brain.”

Hauser took a step back. “Jesus Christ.”

Jake looked at Hauser, saw his hands twitching, his face going green like last night. “Go get some air. I’ll fill you in when we’re done.” Then he turned to Dr. Reagan. “Can I get copies of her tox scans? Especially the GGT, ALT, and AST ratios,” he asked, ignoring Hauser.

Hauser spun and darted out of the room.

The sound of a kicked garbage can was the last noise before the sheriff’s steps disappeared into the stairwell. Jake ignored the sound of the metal lid rolling in faster and faster circles and turned to the smaller hump on the next table.

“Tell me about the child,” he said.

BOOK: Bloodman
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