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Authors: Robert Pobi

Bloodman (9 page)

BOOK: Bloodman
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19

The pool, like the rest of the home, had surpassed disregard and was well on its way to developing its own ecosystem. The surface was skinned with algae and lily pads. A merganser circled the lip, her large, late-summer ducklings following in file. Beyond the line of birds was the sagging handrail of the deck, the beach beyond, and the Atlantic stretching out to the edge of the world.

But Jake Cole had forgotten all of this, including the sounds, because he was deep into the work. He was comfortably ensconced in the sofa, his cold coffee swirling into a loose spiral that resembled the eye of Dylan—still a day and a half away. His mind was lost in the rooms of the house up the beach. He was alone, and he moved through the lifeless house without worrying about what Hauser and his flag pin were thinking. He strolled through time, taking in the details.

His eyes were locked on his Mac as he cycled through the nearly 1,300 high-resolution shots that Conway had taken. The photographer had done a good job. Hauser’s own shots were fine, but not much past adequate, and Jake had been at this long enough that he had developed his own unique way of doing things; he was glad Conway had understood what he had wanted.

Much of his work followed typical FBI protocol; the bureau had a solid forensics system that covered every base that could be imagined. Everything from the genetic evidence gathered under the CODIS umbrella to their Behavioral Science Department operated on good, solid principles. But what Jake did, the way he worked, was viewed with more than a modicum of skepticism by many of the people he helped. He understood that the sideways-glance treatment was the result of his solid—not weak—results. What they didn’t understand was which set of senses he used. And as many times as he had tried to explain what he did, he ended up confusing the issue more than clarifying it.

Jake didn’t believe in any of the parasciences. He didn’t believe in mediums or psychics or any of the unquantifiable bullshit that the Discovery Channel was so fond of talking about. Jake didn’t receive visions or see auras or summon spirits, although the people around him treated him like he did. No, the process Special Agent Jake Cole used was little more than a nineteenth-century parlor trick.

Jake knew that no quantifiable proof of tangible psychic power had ever been demonstrated. Never. Not once. People believe because they want to believe. Some are duped, others outright lied to, but the great truth is that there has never been a controlled experiment where a psychic was able to prove anything other than an extremely well-honed set of observation skills. And this was what Jake capitalized on. He didn’t talk with the dead, or speak with the spirit world. He observed. Watched. Saw. And computed. The con artists who masquerade as psychics call it
cold reading
.

In simple terms, he solved riddles—it was as mundane as that.

The element of the otherworldly that his coworkers subscribed to was simply confusion in the face of a mental acuity they could not understand. Like a musical or mathematical savant, Jake was able to tap into something that those around him could not and the result was that they were uncomfortable around him. Some were even afraid.

Jake did not create character sketches of killers; his talent lay in creating detailed renderings of the mechanics of a murder. It was a subtle science where slight nuances equaled a vastly different image. He never changed his opinion about a case because he never made a judgment call until he was certain.

Jake looked away from the screen and rubbed his eyes. The defining factor in this case was the lack of details he was seeing. Men like Hauser would call it evidence but Jake didn’t think in those terms. Jake thought of each detail as a pixel of color in a painting, and like any art, when enough pixels were present, an image took shape. But when they were absent, all the mental gymnastics in the world wouldn’t be able to finish the picture. This time, though, the lack of details was a godsend. Without a lot of physical evidence to sift through he had been forced to fall back on that part of him that even he didn’t understand. And through this computational process he had somehow recognized the killer’s smell. After all this time. After all the anger and hate and fear and heroin and booze. He would—

The phone jolted him out of the reenactment stage lit up in his head. “Cole,” he said wearily. Warily.

“This is Nurse Rachael at the hospital. You need to come down here
right now
.”

“My father—” He stopped himself. “What happened?”

“I think you should come to the hospital.”

There was the cymbal-like clang of something metal bouncing on a floor. Of breaking glass. Swearing. A slap. “Please,” someone said in the background. “Mr. Coleridge. Please stop. It’s going to be okay.”

And then the background static was buried under the wail of a single, high-pitched shriek that rattled the speaker. Jake jolted the phone away from his ear.


Please. He’s coming. He’s coming. I can’t stay here! I can’t! Oh, God. Please. Let me go. I won’t tell him about you, I won’t. But if you don’t let me go, I’ll have to and then…and then—”
His old man’s voice was panicked, mad. “
Get away from me with that needle!

Nurse Rachael came back on, winded. “
Please
, Mr. Cole.”

20

Jake shoved the door open and a little old lady with an unlit cigarette clamped in her teeth and wheeling an IV stand barked a
Watch where you’re going!
dodged the swinging door, and kept moving on her mission. Jake ran to the nursing station.

In the after-lunch lull, two nurses were going about various tasks at the station. A tall heavyset man in thick glasses and a thin horseshoe of gray hair looked around, smiled a public-service-announcement smile, and came to the counter. “Mr. Cole, I’m Dr. Sobel, one of your father’s physicians.”

Jake pulled up the name from the files he had been given—Sobel was a psychiatrist. If nothing else, Jake’s profession had taught him to mistrust people who said they could understand how the mind worked.

Sobel stuck out his hand. “I’ve got a few minutes until an appointment—but it’s important we talk. Could we have a follow-up tomorrow morning?”

“One of my father’s nurses called me. She said—”

Sobel waved it away, as if Jake was being melodramatic. “Rachael Macready. Yes, her shift is over.”

Jake recognized the calming tone and soothing word choice of a man trained to manipulate. “What happened?” he asked.

“Your father’s okay for now. We’ve sedated him. Again.” That last word said a little tersely, as if Jake might run out on his bills.

The psychiatrist went to a wall of cubbyholes and pulled out his father’s chart, then came around from behind the counter. He pulled Jake off into a small conference room. “I have two minutes, let’s make this count. Your father’s very agitated. I know you were here for one of his earlier episodes so I think you know what I mean. Do you have any idea what’s going on with him? What’s got him so worked up?” He closed the door.

Jake perched on the edge of the conference table. “I’m the last person who could tell you about him.”

Sobel made a note in the chart. “I’d like to tell you that it’s full-moon fever or that the coming storm is affecting him—which it probably is—but there’s something else agitating your father.” Sobel kept his eyes on the chart as he flipped through the pages.

Jake resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “He burned off his hands, Dr. Sobel. He’s in an unfamiliar environment. He’s loaded up on morphine, which is probably not the best thing for a man of his age. You’d probably prefer an anxiolytic mixed with a muscle relaxant and a sedative. Alprazolam’s your best bet. But my father’s an alcoholic so his renal function comes into question along with his age. So you go with the morphine. I know what’s going on.”

Sobel stopped flipping through the chart and looked up at Jake. “Are you a doctor?”

Jake smiled, almost laughed. “No. But I know about managing difficult personalities and you don’t have a lot of options with an old alcoholic who’s been a belligerent sonofabitch most of his life. You have to keep him—and those around him—comfortable.”

Sobel nodded and the planes of his face slid into a half-smile. “Your father’s always been an interesting man.”

“Do you know him?” Jake asked, surprised that his voice was so calm.

Sobel’s head bobbed back and forth in a no-yes-nod-shake. “My wife and I knew your mother. At the yacht club. She filled in when we needed a fourth for doubles. Your mother was a wonderful tennis player.”

Jake smiled. He hadn’t known that. “But not my dad?”

Sobel shook his head. “We had drinks a few times. But he didn’t play tennis and I know he worked a lot.” Sobel was doing a good job of making Jake feel at ease. “I own one of your father’s paintings. Bought it at a silent auction at the club in ’67 or ’68. Best investment I ever made.” He realized that he was running out of time and turned back to the chart. “How was your father living?”

Jake thought about the chunk of grass in the fridge. About the eyes sliced out of the giant Chuck Close. The barricaded bedroom door. The knives. “A little obsessive.”

“Any signs of paranoia?”

Not if he was worried about a boatload of Vikings landing on the beach. “What are you not telling me, Dr. Sobel?”

Sobel closed the metal clipboard. “I had to give your father four hundred milligrams—that’s nearly half a gram—of Chlorpromazine and it hasn’t slowed him down at all. And that’s
on top of
the morphine. I can’t use any more on a man his age. Hell, a man your age couldn’t take that kind of dose.”

For an instant Jake thought about arguing with Sobel.

“Your father has a tolerance for narcotics that I’ve only seen one other time in thirty years of practice. He has the metabolism of a racehorse. That, coupled with his agitation, is a formula for disaster. I am afraid that he is going to hurt himself or, God forbid, someone else. I think he needs to be restrained.”

“Are you looking for permission or absolution?”

Sobel shook his head. “Neither, Jake. I just like to speak to a man before I strap his father into bed.”

Jake opened his mouth to speak but was cut off by a white-hot howl that shattered the silence. He recognized the voice and bounced up off the table just as another scream rattled the molecules of the third floor. He raced out of the room.

The end of the hallway was sewn up with a throng of people, clad in muted hospital pastels, craning their necks to get a view into Jacob Coleridge’s room.

Jake hit the wall of flannel-and-cotton-clad flesh and forced himself into their mass, birthing into a wide semicircle of awestruck faces, held back from Jacob Coleridge’s door by some invisible force.

Inside, kneeling before the broad wall that the shadow of his chair swung across each day, Jacob Coleridge was on his knees, his bandages chewed away, the pulpy stalks of his hands contorted and cracked, oozing pus and blood and the spider legs of torn-out sutures. His legs were splayed out on either side, like a child, and he stared up at a painting he had rendered in blobs and drips and splatters of red already drying to black.

Jake froze in the doorway, his eyes nailed to the bloody painting on the wall.

Jacob Coleridge had used his fried bone and scab-encrusted fingers to render depth and hardness to his finger-strokes, thickening or thinning a line as he applied more or less pressure, and the visage he had bled was frightening, without the slightest hint of elegance about it. It was a finger painting of madness. A three-quarter-length portrait of a man.

Jacob used forced perspective to give the figure depth and it looked like it stood in front of the wall, rather than being laid flat on it. It was the bloody image of a man, head cocked to one side as if he were examining something. But he had no expression because he had no face—just a black smear of red where his features should have been.

Jacob Coleridge had chewed off his bandages and gnawed through the gauze and tape and stitches to get at the exposed bone and flesh beneath. He had smeared blood from his sutured and cauterized veins and arteries, plunking, dabbing, stroking with the fierceness that had always marked his work. Where shadow was needed, the blood was thicker. For just a hint, a thin glaze.

Jake moved slowly forward, his eyes locked on the blood-drawn man. As he moved, it shifted with his line of sight—a masterful trick of forced perspective—and for a second Jake thought he had seen it move, twitch. It smelled like the Farmers’ house last night.

Him
, the voice said, and Jake felt his heart stutter in his chest.

Jake slid by his father to get closer to the painting, to take in the details. As he moved forward, the thick metallic smell of blood grew fiercer. It was something he had experienced on the job in degrees much worse—many, many times before—but he had never been bothered by it. In fact, if pressed, he would admit to having rarely noticed it—it was something he automatically blocked out. But now, staring into the black faceless portrait scribbled onto the wall, the smell brought him back to the night his mother had been taken apart.

Jake’s arm came up, his fingers splayed, like a man about to push on a glass door. His hand contacted the sheetrock wall, fingers and palm pressed to the portrait, and he felt heat coming off of it. A thick, humid wave that moistened his palm. He pulled his hand away and it left no marks at all and it was only then, when he examined his skin and saw the pale white crosshatch that made up his own flesh, that he was brought back to the now.

Dr. Sobel stood frozen in the doorway.

“Close that fucking door,” Jake barked.

Sobel stepped in, closed the door, and bolted it.

With the sound of the lock being driven home, Jacob looked up and the distant animal fear in his eyes softened.

“He needs help.” Jake picked up the phone and held it out. “Call people. Help him. Now.”

Sobel punched in an extension and barked orders. “Get Dr. Sloviak to 312,
immediately
! Operating room, now. Page Dr. Ramirez and tell him it’s urgent.”

And for no reason other than he thought that was what a son should do, Jake put a hand on his father’s shoulder. His father rocked back and forth, his mouth bent into a low sad howl. Blood and spit and bandages splattered his face, chest, and neck. Blood from his hands dripped onto the floor. He was looking up, his face pointed at the wall. But his eyes no longer saw the portrait he had scraped with his splintered damaged bones or the room he was in. What he was staring at was beyond the wall, beyond the blood and the faceless image, beyond everything that was around him. He was staring at an image flickering madly against his gray matter, pulsing and beating and shrieking and pounding at his skull, trying to get out.

“He’s coming,” Jacob’s voice echoed up from a metal room a thousand feet into the earth. “And I can’t even barricade the door.” Then he closed his eyes, buried his face into his son’s chest, and for the first time Jake could remember, wept.

BOOK: Bloodman
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