Evidence of BloodThomas H. Cook
PRAISE FOR THOMAS H. COOK
“Cook is a master, precise and merciless, at showing the slow-motion shattering of families and relationships…The Chatham School Affair ranks with his best.”
“Intelligent …compassionate …surprising.”
—The Boston Sunday Globe
“Cook uses the genre to open a window onto the human condition…. Literate, compelling …Events accelerate with increasing force, but few readers will be prepared for the surprise that awaits at novel’s end.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Thomas Cook is an artist, a philosopher, and a magician; his story is spellbinding.”
—The Drood Review of Mystery
“Cook is one of the most lyrical of today’s novelists. His prose flows effortlessly, yet beneath its rhythm Cook’s characters perform the most shocking and deadly of deeds…. An extraordinary writer.”
—Sun, Calgary, Alberta
“[Cook’s] portrait of a small—and ultimately small-minded—town is a skillful one. And just when you think the puzzle is complete, Cook artfully presents yet another piece—rearranging all your expectations.”
—The Orlando Sentinel
“Cook has crafted a novel of stunning power, with a climax that is so unexpected the reader may think he has cheated. But there is no cheating here, only excellent storytelling.”
“Cook’s writing is distinguished by finely cadenced prose, superior narrative skills, and the author’s patient love for the doomed characters who are the object of his attention…. Highly recommended.”
—Library Journal (starred review)
“Cook builds a family portrait in which violence seems both impossible and inevitable. One of [Mortal Memory’s] greatest accomplishments is the way it defies expectations …surprising and devastating.”
“Cook’s night visions, seen through a lens darkly, are haunting.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“A gifted novelist, intelligent and compassionate.”
—Joyce Carol Oates, The New York Review of Books
ALSO BY THOMAS H. COOK
*THE CHATHAM SCHOOL AFFAIR
THE CITY WHEN IT RAINS
STREETS OF FIRE
FLESH AND BLOOD
and coming in hardcover
in September 1998
*INSTRUMENTS OF NIGHT
Look for it at your favorite bookstore
* Available in Bantam
JIM BRODIE AND
COMRADES IN ARMS.
The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman’s lime.
He’d seen shadows of his own. Hers did not surprise him. It was only surprising how often they recurred, as if something in the mind still insisted that it had never really happened. Daphne Moore had seen one pass her bedroom window with something large and bulky in its hand. It had been tall and slender when Ellen Ferry had seen it glide swiftly across her closet door. Wyndham Knight had only glimpsed a head and shoulders as they skirted along the bright blue surface of her lighted, nightbound pool. Try as he had, he’d never been able to imagine what little Billy Flynn had seen.
“So you saw his shadow first?”
She nodded slowly, ponderously, as if underwater. “It came up from behind me. He was real close. Then he opened the door on the driver’s side. He said, ‘Get in. Get in, or you’re dead.’ Something like that. Then he came in after me, sort of pushing me in, you know?”
“Did he speed away?”
“No. He was going slow, like he didn’t want to attract attention, and he was doing everything like he’d really studied about it, very, very …” She searched for the word. He did his job, found it for her.
“Yeah, like that.”
Her voice was weak, her eyes slightly diverted, a shy maiden reluctantly going over the unseemly details. He could sense her groping through the tale, hesitant, disordered, whole segments lost or out of sequence.
“I stayed in the frontseat, where he put me. I didn’t know what else to do.”
His pencil whispered softly as it glided across the lined yellow paper of his notebook. All around, the world seemed very still, despite the patter of the rain against her window, the sounds of traffic moving along the nearby street. It was a stillness that seemed to radiate out from her testimony in a cold, numbing wave.
Her eyes drifted to the window, then about the room, before finally returning to him. It was a gesture that reminded him of someone who could have been a nun, perhaps should have been a nun, secure in a cloistered life, beyond the reach of shadows.
“I was sitting up. I could see everything. It was at night. But I could see things.”
She seemed mildly surprised by the fact that she’d never been pressed down onto the floorboard or locked in the trunk, that she’d been sitting up for the whole ride, as if she were his wife, sister, girlfriend. She considered it for a moment. “I saw people. It was dark, but we passed people walking down the road.” She shrugged slightly. “But there was nothing they could do.”
Kinley nodded. He’d heard this before, too, and always with the same tone of irony and unreality. How could other people be so near, and yet so far away? Patricia Quinn had passed three security guards as she was led down the corridor toward the room in which she would be slaughtered. Felicia Sanchez had seen her mother approach the house and peer toward the wrong bedroom window for a moment before going on her way. In those who survived their experiences of sudden, mortal danger, there was always a sense of being in and out of the world at the same time, a feeling that time had stopped, that everything had suddenly gone mute and motionless, except for the rope’s flapping ends, the crack of the belt, the slight nudge of the muzzle.
“Did you talk to him?”
“I guess I did, but I don’t know what I said. I guess I was asking him things. Like: ‘Why?’ Like: ‘Why are you doing this?’”
She flicked a bit of ash into the small plastic ashtray on the table, and the gentle, retiring nun disappeared. Now she was just a jittery woman with dry skin and a Death Valley emptiness in her eyes. The universal victim. She could be a battered wife sucking at her broken fingernail or a factory worker slumped in a fat recliner. The falling ash would fall in exactly the same way, the mouth tighten into the same red scar. It was a look he’d seen a thousand times: the eyes closing languidly as if indifferent to the lash; the head drooping very slightly, ready for the axe; then, inevitably, the eyes opening again, though vacant and passionless, as if any remaining rage would be dismissed as self-indulgence, even by the drowsy reporter taking down the tale. It’s all ashes, ashes. Who really gives a shit about what happened to me?
Kinley made his own stage move, pretending to write something in his notebook as he glanced about the room, taking in its small details. He had always assumed that if God was in the details, then Satan must be in them too, leering unrepentantly from a pile of tangled sheets or from behind a spent ring of masking tape. His
experience had taught him that nothing betrayed the quirkiness of the mind more than the odd minutiae of crime: the pasteboard box Perry had laid Mr. Cutter on to keep him comfortable until he cut his throat; the can of deodorant Whitman had taken with him to the Texas Tower, not wanting to offend; the little Christmas ornament Mildred Haskell had dangled out the door to coax in Billy Flynn.
As his eyes moved about the room, he could feel them gather in its small details. It had always been this way, his mind, a thing that feasted on the tiniest particulars. The apartment it inventoried now was a kingly banquet. There was a large, slightly faded doily on the boxy television. The lamp on top of it resembled a small mound of sea-shells or various other beach droppings, all of them glued together and polished to a glassy sheen. In a far bedroom, he could see part of the wooden bed frame, and a bit of the wallpaper behind it, English fox-hunting scenes, red jackets, horses, dogs. He remembered similar wallpaper in the little house where he’d grown up, only it had been a Southern scene, little girls in bonnets and hoopskirts dancing on a vast green lawn. Tara, his grandmother had called it, though always with that arctic smile.
Other walls, other rooms had suggested other things: the illuminated Christ that hung over Wilma Jean Comstock’s bed (how fervently she must have prayed to it during the hours it took for Colin Bright to kill her); the pentagram in Mildred Haskell’s dripping smokehouse (what must little Billy Flynn have thought?); the life-sized, semen-stained diagram of internal organs that Willie Connors had slept with before trying the real thing (had Wyndham Knight seen that?). He wondered what his grandmother would have called such adornments had she seen them as he had seen them, live, in living color.
His eyes returned to the witness. “Did he ever mention why he was doing any of this?” he asked.
She shook her head determinedly. “No, no, he never said anything like that.”
Kinley brought his pencil to attention. “Okay, just tell me what happened after you got in the car.”
“Right after he pushed me in. He made me do it.” She looked away shyly, a nun again. “To myself.”
Kinley noted the slight hesitation before the last two words, and the barely perceptible sense of shame which accompanied them, all common victim reactions, a strange, irrational belief that nothing ever happened entirely by accident, that even the most horrible events had some kind of explanation, something you’d done to make it happen. Maybe my hair was too loose, my sweater too tight; maybe that’s what made him do it to me.
“Play with myself. He made me do it. In the car while we were going.” She took a long draw on the cigarette. Her foot began to tap at the floor in a soft, rapid beat. “He looked like he’d done it before, made girls do that.”
“Did he say he’d done it before?”
If she said yes, he’d have to do more leg work, track down the possibility, however remote, that he had, in fact, done it before. He waited as she considered the question.
“You just had that feeling?”
“Yes. Just the way he did things. Like he’d done it before. Like it wasn’t just something he was making up as he went along.”
The “he” was Fenton Norwood, now resident number EG14679 at the Walpole Correctional Institute in Walpole, Massachusetts. At the time he’d abducted her, fall, 1974, he’d been twenty-four years old, a high school dropout and U.S. Army deserter roaming the Portuguese districts of New Bedford. As far as Kinley had been able to track down, Maria Spinola had been his first victim. Still, he needed to be sure.
“So he didn’t actually mention anything about having done it before?”
“Did he tell you where he was taking you?”
“No, but we were on the highway. Going east. Southeast. Toward the Cape.”
At the time of the incident, Maria Spinola had been sixteen years old. Now she was just over thirty, an alcoholic with an edgy manner, twice divorced, the mother of two children currently in her former husband’s custody, her life in ruins, she claimed, because of what Fenton Norwood had done to her.
But as he looked at her, Kinley found he could not wholly accept the notion that Fenton Norwood was entirely to blame for Spinola’s fate. He had seen too many other people like her, programmed for misfortune, as if there were a trapdoor at the core of their makeup. He had checked her school records, talked with her former guidance counselor. When Norwood had picked her up, she’d already been pregnant by a high school boy who periodically beat her, and Kinley suspected it had been her pregnancy that had probably prevented Norwood—the former Catholic altar boy, working through his own oblique moral gymnastics: murder one thing, abortion another—from killing her. In any event, her life had already begun to strike him as one of those for which no safe harbor was ever really available, a wingless and descending life that on one particular afternoon had simply drifted aimlessly toward a shadow.
For the first time she seemed to stiffen slightly, as if in a sudden surge of resentment. “I couldn’t ever go to the Cape after what happened. I’ve never been to Cape Cod, you know? Not since that night. My whole life. Only a few miles away. But I can’t go there.” The momentary flash was quickly smothered by a thin, wet smile. “He didn’t look like he could do what he did. Strange, huh?”
Kinley stared at Spinola, but saw Norwood instead, a pudgy pink face, bug eyes and fat lips. The ultimate disguise, Jack the Ripper in the body of Elmer Fudd.
She lifted her head slightly. “He should have killed me. Right there in the woods that night. In a way, he did.”
But he didn’t. All of that had come later. First the woman in the discount clothing store in New Bedford; then the little girl in Boston, the one he’d kept for nearly three weeks, walking her on a leash through the Commons the rainy afternoon before he killed her; finally two at a time, twelve-year-old twins vacationing at Nickerson State Park on the Cape. The one similarity had been in their looks, all of them with dark skin, eyes and hair. Once, when Kinley had pointed it out to Norwood, his fat face had gone blank for a few seconds before brightening with an impish grin. “Maybe I just like ’em slightly toasted,” he’d said.
Spinola’s resentment built a moment, then reached its crescendo in a sudden burst. “Just left me in the woods. All dirty, filthy. Just left me there, the bastard.” She pulled in a long, exhausted breath, regained control. “Did you see the pictures?”
Kinley gave no indication of an answer, but he’d seen them, all right, the way he’d seen hundreds of others. Maria Spinola’s were nothing special in the gallery of his mind. They showed a young girl in torn clothes, with a muddy face and wet, matted hair. The forest was apathetically beautiful behind her, and there was even a hint of the blue-green pond Norwood had planned to drown her in. As pictures, they were a long way from others he had seen: dark cellars fitted with chains, pulleys, eyebolts, jungles of rope, clothesline, straps and latches, miniature racks, pillories, dunking stools, and everywhere, in every vision, the shadows of hooks.
She shook her head despondently, reaching out for his tender word. “I sometimes wish he’d gone ahead and done his worst to me,” she said.
Kinley looked at her distantly, remembering. No, you don’t. Believe me. No, you don’t.
He took the five o’clock shuttle out of Logan and arrived at La Guardia less than an hour later. The cab ride to his apartment on the Upper West Side came to almost thirty dollars, and once there, he walked to his desk, pulled out his business expense notebook and recorded the amount precisely for the IRS. Precision was everything to him, and he often clung to it the way another might cling to a log in a maelstrom, as something fixed within the chaos. It gave him comfort to see all his notes in order, all his books in a neat row. And though he recognized his obsessive orderliness, with its accompanying mother lode of rock-ribbed discipline and self-control, as a mild form of compulsiveness, its exact source continued to elude him. It was one of his own shadows, he supposed, but one that had
always served him well, ensuring that he would complete one book after another while others foundered in a seedy alcoholism or stumbled groggily from one domestic horror to the next. Whatever else could be said of a clean, unencumbered life, he often thought, it certainly was clean and unencumbered, and he had never felt the inclination to apologize for the choices he had made.
Even the simple arrangement of his desk for the night’s work brought him a sense of stability and resourcefulness, and after he’d done it, Kinley fixed himself a scotch and slouched down on the small sofa by the window. He always allowed himself a few minutes of calm between the interview and its transcription, though this, too, was “working” time, his mind playing it all through again, from the moment Spinola had opened the door until the time she closed it, her small brown face continuing to watch him, as witnesses always watched him, warily from the shadows behind their windows, as if he were somehow as threatening as the ones who’d done them harm. He looked at the digital clock on his desk. It was now almost seven o’clock, and the evening shade was falling over the streets below. He could hardly wait for it to deepen, since, in a way, he had always thought of night as his best friend. It was silent and unpeopled, a world of vastly reduced distractions. In the quiet he could let his mind do what it did best, retrieve and analyze, order and distinguish.
He was nearly finished playing back the interview with Maria Spinola when the phone rang. It was Wendy Lubeck, his agent, and for the next few minutes, Kinley listened as she related the details of a series of murders that had occurred in the Maine woods along the Canadian border. A publisher had asked if he might be interested in doing a book on the case, Wendy told him, and in response Kinley promised to think about it.