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Authors: Colleen McCullough

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Sins of the Flesh

BOOK: Sins of the Flesh
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DEDICATION

For KAREN QUINTAL

All the many loyal and loving years are deeply appreciated.

Here’s hoping there are just as many more to come.

Thanks, pal.

MIDNIGHT, SUNDAY/MONDAY, AUGUST 3–4, 1969

H
e had no idea it was midnight. In actual fact, he didn’t know whether the sun was shining or the stars were twinkling. Nor could he work out how long he’d been here, so timelessly did time pass. One moment he had been free, smiling with happiness, at the center of a world that had opened its arms wide to embrace him; the next moment he had fallen into a sleep so deep that he remembered not even the tiniest fragment of a dream.

When he woke he was here, to live a different life. Here, in a big, featureless room that contained a padded toilet and a plastic water bubbler that produced a slim fountain whenever he put his foot down on a button in the floor below it. So he could drink, and he had a tidy place in which to excrete. Here only had one color: a dirty beige, not from squalor but from the poor lighting of one dim bulb, center-ceiling behind a tough glass case wrapped in steel rods.

He was stark naked, though he wasn’t hot, and he wasn’t cold. Everything was oddly soft—the floor and the walls sighed and gently gave way wherever he touched them, akin to leather squabs on a car seat. What at first he thought were seams around the bottom of the walls turned out to be the exact opposite of seams: tucks, as if this cushioning surface were rammed down inside a crevice, together with the edges of the floor. No matter how he tried to dig with his fingertips, the fabric refused to move one single millimeter.

Soon his ravenous hunger became the be-all and the end-all of his entire existence, for though he could always drink, and as much as he wished, he had no particle of food. At times, coming in and going out of the sleeps, he vaguely remembered a taste of food, and understood that he was fed something that sat in his belly like a coal of such glorious warmth and comfort that even the most fleeting memory of it caused him to weep.

His panics belonged to differently befogged and shrouded periods, when he had screamed on and on and on, crashed against the walls, flailed his fists against those yielding surfaces, howled like an old dog, bleated and bayed and bellowed and bawled. No one ever answered. All he heard was himself. Emerging from the panic exhausted, he would drink thirstily and sleep the sleep of the dead, featureless, his last thought the hope of food.

He had nothing to do, nothing to look at—not even a mirror! Nothing to pass the time, he who had passed so much of it gazing at his own reflection, marveling at the perfection of his beauty. All he had to do to get what he wanted was to smile. But in here there was no one to smile at. Just one little chance to smile, that was all he needed! A smile would get him out—no one could ever, ever,
ever
resist his smile! A smile would get him food. It always came in his sleeps, the food, therefore he must go to sleep smiling.

He was weakening, it seemed the way a snail dragged itself around, with mind-numbing slowness and enormous effort, a visible labor just to hold the house of his life up off his head, for if it slipped, he was gone like a drop of slime on a white-hot stove. He didn’t want to part with his beauty yet! Or his smile!

“Why are you so cruel?” He smiled. “Who are you?”

This time his awakening brought changes: he was still hungry, and he was in pain.

No glowing coal of food lingered in his belly—it hadn’t fed him! But at least the pain said he was still alive, and it wasn’t agonizing—more an ache in the groin. One of the things he couldn’t fathom was its attention to his groin, stripped of all hair, since it had never, as far as he knew, subjected him to any kind of abuse. This wakening’s pain made him doubt, and he groped for his penis; it was there, unharmed. No, the soreness was behind it, in his ball-sack.
Something was wrong!
Each testicle should roll under his fingers as if it were free inside the sack, but no testicles rolled. His ball-sack was empty.
Empty!

He shrieked, and a voice spoke from every square inch of the room, impossible to pinpoint.

“Poor eunuch,” it cooed, dovelike. “You did well, my poor eunuch. No bleeding. They came out as easily as the stone out of a fleshless avocado. Snip, snip! Snip, snip! No balls.”

He screamed, and went on screaming, long shrill wails of grief and despair that finally died away into gibberish; and from that he passed to a silence flirting with catatonia, moving not the tiniest muscle. The pain was dying away to nothing, more bearable than the pain of no food, and even that didn’t matter the way it had before the discovery of his neutering. Without his manhood, there was nothing to smile about. An utterly weary hopelessness moved into his soul and took up residence there.

Though he didn’t know it was midnight, the savage hack of Time’s scythe that shoved Sunday the 3rd into the past and Monday the 4th into the present, he suddenly knew there would be no more food. Curling up to hug himself, arms around his knees, he gazed across the vast expanse of the floor into a dirty beige eternity.

The chair came down out of the ceiling behind him, descending silently to a halt with its foot platform still a meter short of the floor. Had he turned his head, he would have seen it and the person who occupied it, but he didn’t turn his head. Everything that was left of him was focused on his contemplation of eternity, though he was a long way off dying yet. A complete authority on the matter, his observer estimated that he had about forty days left before the very last flicker of life snuffed out. Forty days of ecstatic conversation and study—but how interesting! He
still
wore a kind of a smile ….

The chair lifted itself back into the ceiling while the dying man on the floor continued to plumb his perspective on eternity.

MONDAY, AUGUST 4, 1969

“I
told you, Abe, I told you,” Delia said, “but you and Carmine were being typical men—wouldn’t listen to a woman, oh, no!”

She and Abe were sitting in a booth at Malvolio’s waiting for their lunch, and Abe had miscalculated his moment: Delia’s gauzy outfit of mustard yellow and coral pink had seemed tame to him, an indication that today’s Delia was placidly bored. But her reaction to his news said otherwise; Abe heaved an internal sigh and revised his mental chart labeled DELIA CARSTAIRS.

“It’s taken this one to convince me,” he said in undefeated tones. “Until now, the evidence was insufficient.”

“No evidence, but no guts either,” she said, disgusted.

“I don’t see why you’re crowing so loud,” he said.

“Minnie is coming with our omelets,” she said in the voice of a prissy schoolmarm, “and I propose we eat before we discuss.”

Ah, that was it! Delia was plain hungry! Meekly Abe ate. Luigi’s summer cook produced superb Western omelets, and Delia hadn’t grown tired of them yet. Which didn’t mean Abe’s mental chart of Delia could stay unamended. The real problem was, did he modify
CLOTHES, COLOR
or
FOOD
, and how much ought he to cross-index? A very complicated mental chart, Delia’s.

The eating dealt with, Delia leaned forward, her bright brown jewels of eyes glittering. “Enlighten me,” she commanded.

Abe began. “Same as James Doe. Gus has named him Jeb Doe until he’s identified—if he ever is. I know you maintained James Doe was related to the four earlier bodies, but decomposition did
not
permit any positivity, whereas Jeb Doe does.” His cigarette kindled, he inhaled with obvious pleasure. “Gus hasn’t posted Jeb yet, but the preliminary examination is uncannily like James. The body was found on Willard two blocks farther out than Caterby, where Little San Juan has taken to dumping trash. No apparent cause of death, except that starvation sure played a part in it. His testicles had been removed some weeks prior to death.”

“Cause of death will be starvation,” Delia said confidently, “and the perpetrator is a multiple murderer, you must admit that now. Jeb and James Doe are preceded by four John Does whose bones we’ve found. My guess is that there are a lot more than four.”

“If so, not in Holloman. We’ve looked back twenty years, and found nothing before John Doe One in 1966.” Abe puffed away luxuriously, then gazed at his dwindling cigarette in real grief. “Why do they go so fast?”

“Because you’re quitting, Abe dear, and you can’t have your next ciggy until after dinner tonight. Are you sure there are no other John Does elsewhere in Connecticut?”

“At this moment, yes, but I’ll have Liam and Tony repeat our enquiries.” Abe smiled wryly. “At least we can be pretty sure no bodies will turn up in idyllic rustic settings.”

“Yes, this chap definitely thinks of his victims as garbage the moment they’re dead.” Delia put her hand on Abe’s arm when he rose to go. “No, let’s stay here a minute more, please. I love the air-conditioning.”

Abe sat with the alacrity of a trained husband. “It’s cool, yeah, but the smoke torments me,” he said plaintively.

She gave a mew of exasperation. “I love you dearly, Abraham Samuel Goldberg, but you have to get through kicking the habit, and in one respect Jews are like Catholics—they find it easier to suffer one torture when they have to suffer more than one. Well, I am not sweltering in County Services just so you can, a, swelter, and b, withdraw simultaneously. Set your mind where it ought to be—on Jeb Doe, not the Marlboro Man.”

“Sorry,” he muttered, wrestling a grin. “If Jeb Doe’s cause of death is starvation, then we know that the last two Does were definitely starved to death, as well as emasculated. In turn, it suggests an MO for all of them. Gruesome!”

“Yes, quite horrible,” said Delia, grimacing. “It’s a very unusual way to murder because the degree of premeditation is truly formidable—I mean, it takes weeks if not months, and can be stopped at any time. While it may not be messy, it’s certainly the opposite of most murder.”

“You mean it’s colder than ice, harder than steel?”

“Yes, whereas murder of its very nature suggests passion and rage,” said Delia, frowning.

“How would anyone light on starvation as a modus operandi? You’d need a dungeon.” Abe’s freckled face betrayed dismay. “We have had our share of underground premises in Holloman lately.”

“Exactly!” Delia cried, excited. “Starvation is a Middle Ages form of murder. Endowed with dungeons galore, the less civilized monarchs indulged in starving people to death. Aunt Sophonisba offended the King and the King threw her into a dungeon where—oh, how
could
it have happened?—they forgot to feed her. However, the victims were almost always women. Sort of murder by proxy, which lessens the guilt.”

Cigarettes forgotten, Abe stared at her, intrigued. “I hear you, but am I getting the correct message? Are you implying that our Doe murderer is a woman? Or that the victims should be women?”

Delia went wildly tangential. “Confining the word ‘homosexual’ to the male of our species while putting lesbians on a back burner, may I say that while a number of homosexuals may feel like women trapped inside men’s bodies, I believe the majority do not? After all, homosexuality isn’t exclusively the preserve of human beings. Animals practice it too,” she said.

Abe’s luminous grey eyes mirrored his brain’s confusion. “Are you saying these are homosexual murders? What
are
you saying?”

“I’m saying the killer is definitely not homosexual.”

Abe continued to stare at her, mesmerized. How did Delia’s mind work? Greater intellects than his had failed to find the answer to that question, thus he was able to view his defeat with equanimity. “So you’re hypothesizing that the four John Does, James Doe and Jeb Doe are all the work of the same heterosexual killer?”

“Definitely. Come, Abe, you think the same.”

“After Jeb, the same killer, yes. Heterosexual? Search me.”

“The real question is, how long ago were his trial runs?”

“Easing his way into his MO, you mean?”

“I do indeed.” Delia gave a wriggle of anticipatory delight. “James Doe was your case, Abe, so I need filling in.”

“The consensus of opinion at the time was that it was a homosexual murder, pure and simple. But after Liam and I had a talk with Professor Eric Soderstern, we had to can that,” Abe said.

There were many occasions, thought Delia, when being a minor police department in a small city could possess unexpected bonuses. The Holloman PD had all the resources and expertise of one of the world’s greatest universities at its fingertips; these included the Chubb University Medical School professors of psychiatry. Dr. Eric Soderstern, a famous authority on the psychology of homosexuality, had been consulted in Abe’s need.

“The prof said that castration of the victim indicated rape was the precipitating factor for murder, not homosexuality. We’d gotten nowhere with our enquiries among Holloman’s homosexual contingent.” Abe’s beautiful smile appeared. “We were also told that with this new decade coming up and so many guys coming out of the closet, homosexuality was taking a new lease on life with the word ‘gay.’ We have to educate ourselves to say gay rather than homosexual.”

“I’ve heard gay around a little,” said Delia. “It goes back at least as far as Oscar Wilde. But continue, dear.”

“Anyway, now at least we had a reason for the gay community’s ignorance—apparently James Doe wasn’t a homosexual and his murder had no gay aspects. Instead, we had to ask ourselves if he might have raped someone.”

“Perhaps he was homosexual, and raped a male?”

“Delia! That implication I don’t need!” Abe glowered at her, “Hot weather and you don’t mix, lady. I need a smoke.”

“Codswallop, of course you don’t. You’re down in the mouth, Abe dear, because the discovery of Jeb Doe does rather put the kibosh on rape theories of any kind. The killer lives for the act of murder, and has to be regarded as a multiple. His reasons for castration will be absolutely individual, not due to some Freudian generalization.” Delia arose in a mustard and coral cloud. “Come on, let’s see if Gus has done the autopsy.”

They stepped out into the August humidity, up near saturation point, and gasped.

“There’s method in my madness,” Delia said cheerfully as they descended to the Morgue, one floor below ground. “Everywhere in the ME’s is air-conditioned.” Her face saddened. “It’s still a wee bit of a shock, not seeing Patrick’s cheeky face. He seemed to resign his coroner’s duties overnight.”

“You can’t blame him.”

“No, of course not. But miss him, I do.”

Gustavus Fennell had stepped into Patrick O’Donnell’s shoes as Medical Examiner, a decision that had pleased everybody in the aftermath of Patrick’s sudden illness, a particularly malevolent arthritis. To have replaced a forceful, vital, pioneering man like Patrick with another of the same sort would have led to all kinds of wars, internal and external, whereas dear old Gus (who in fact was neither very old nor very much of a dear) knew all the ropes and could be relied upon to run the Medical Examiner’s department smoothly. Lacking his retired chief’s good looks and charm, Gus had gotten along as Second-in-Command by consciously playing the second lead, as Commissioner John Silvestri was well aware. Now, after three months as ME, the real Gus was starting to shed his veils in an intricate dance that would, Silvestri knew, finally end in revealing a gentle yet obdurate autocrat who would push his department onward and upward with extreme efficiency.

Like Patrick, Gus enjoyed performing criminal autopsies, the more complicated or mysterious, the better. When Delia and Abe walked, gowned and booteed, into his autopsy room, he was just stripping off his gloves, leaving an assistant to close for him. If the cause of death were unknown and might conceivably have a contagious factor, he worked masked, as he had on Jeb Doe.

Mask off, he led his visitors to several steel chairs in a quiet corner of the room, and sat with a sigh of relief. His face and hair, stripped of their coverings, were displayed as—no other word would do—nondescript. Mr. Average Everything, to which add, fade into the wallpaper. However, his slight body had a wiry strength its proportions belied, and his face said its owner could be trusted. That he had certain crotchets Abe and Delia knew: he was a strict vegetarian who forbade smoking anywhere in his department, and if circumstances deprived him of his two generous pre-dinner sherries or after-dinner ports, then mild-mannered Dr. Fennell became a hideous Mr. Hyde. His passion was bridge, at which he was an acknowledged master.

“Unless the fluid or tissue assays come back to show some toxin—I doubt they will—the cause of death is simple starvation,” Gus said, kicking off his chef’s clogs. “My feet are so sore today, I don’t know why. The testicles were enucleated about six weeks before death, by someone who knew exactly how to do it. There was nothing in the alimentary canal that I could call a food residue, but he wasn’t dehydrated.”

“Water, Gus? Or fruit juice, maybe?” Abe asked.

“Nothing but plain water is my guess. Certainly nothing with fiber of any kind in it, or indigestible end products. If he were given plain water the starvation metabolism would proceed smooth as silk, and it did. There were no substances under his nails.”

“May we have a look at him?” Delia asked.

“Sure.”

Delia and Abe moved to the dissecting table, where the body now lay unattended.

Thick, waving black hair, cut to cover the neck and ears but not long enough to be tied back, they noted; it was almost the sole evidence of normality that the corpse displayed, so dynamic were the ravages of a metabolism forced to digest itself to obtain sustenance. The skin was very yellow and waxy, stretched fairly tautly over the skeleton, which showed in vivid detail.

“His teeth are perfect,” Delia said.

“Good nutrition and fluoride in the water supply. The latter says he wasn’t raised in Connecticut.” Abe shook his head angrily, balked. “I’ll get Ginny Toscano to flesh out the skull for me, no matter how bad her hysterics are. Jeb needs an artist’s sketch.”

“Haven’t you heard? We have a new artist,” said Delia, first with this news too. “His name is Hank Jones, and he’s a child just out of art school with a cast iron digestion, absolutely no finer feelings, and a macabre sense of humor.”

“A child?” Abe asked, grinning.

“Nineteen, bless him. Ethnicity—you name it, he has at least a drop of it in his veins. His hobby is drawing cadavers at the Medical School, but I met him in our parking lot sketching Paul Bachman’s 1937 Mercedes roadster. He’s gorgeous!”

“Gorgeous I can live without, but if he doesn’t mind the sight of a nasty dead body, he’s worth knowing,” Abe said.

“Those who’ve seen his work say he’s good.” Delia raised her voice. “Gus, does starvation make body hair fall out, or has someone depilated the poor little blighter?”

“The latter, Delia,” Gus answered. “He wasn’t hirsute by nature, but what body hair he had was plucked. Further to hair, his head hair has been dyed black, which was also true of James Doe. The natural color was fairish, for James as well as Jeb. Both had very blue eyes, and skins that tanned well. Bone structure—Caucasian.” Gus spoke from his chair, still waggling his feet.

Delia and Abe continued to cruise around the table, curiously unsettled by Jeb Doe, who was far from the most horrible body either had ever seen, yet had a power to impress beyond most victims of a violent end. His smell was oddly wrong, which Abe, better educated scientifically than Delia, put down to the beginnings of decay minus some of the usual murder concomitants—no blood, vomitus, open rot. Delia simply thought of it as an utterly bloodless murder, as murder by inches over months. Jeb’s body didn’t look moist or damp, and the head, with its black mop of hair, was a terrifying sight, the skull showing fully under its wrapping of veined skin, which of course gave it the death grin, emphasized by a pair of brown lips drawn back and up in a rictus. Appalling! The eyelids were closed, but Jeb had been gifted with dense, long dark lashes and arched, definitive brows. Nothing about the body suggested mummification—those, Abe and Delia had seen aplenty.

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