In these mutual silences, Deucalion’s reading consisted of the articles about Victor Helios, alias Frankenstein, that Ben had accumulated. He pored through them, trying to accustom himself to the bitter, incredible truth of his creator’s continued existence, while also contemplating how best to destroy that pillar of arrogance.
Again and again, he caught himself unconsciously fingering the ruined half of his face until eventually Jelly could not refrain from asking how the damage had been done.
“I angered my maker,” Deucalion said.
“We all do,” Jelly said, “but not with such consequences.”
“My maker isn’t yours,” Deucalion reminded him.
A life of much solitude and contemplation accustomed Deucalion to silence, but Jelly needed background noise even when reading a novel. In a corner of the projection booth, volume low, stood a TV flickering with images that to Deucalion had no more narrative content than did the flames in a fireplace.
Suddenly something in one of the droning newscast voices caught his attention. Murders. Body parts missing.
Deucalion turned up the volume. A homicide detective named Carson O’Connor, beseiged by reporters outside the city library, responded to most of their questions with replies that in different words all amounted to no comment.
When the story ended, Deucalion said, “The Surgeon…..How long has this been going on?”
As a mystery novel aficionado, Jelly was interested in true crime stories, too. He not only knew all the gory details of the Surgeon’s murder spree; he also had developed a couple of theories that he felt were superior to any that the police had thus far put forth.
Listening, Deucalion had suspicions of his own that grew from his unique experience.
Most likely, the Surgeon was an ordinary serial killer taking souvenirs. But in a city where the god of the living dead had taken up residence, the Surgeon might be something worse than the usual psychopath.
Returning the clippings to the shoe box, rising to his feet, Deucalion said, “I’m going out.”
“To find his house. To see in what style a self-appointed god chooses to live these days.”
illegally parked IN Jackson Square, the hood of the plainwrap sedan served as their dinner table.
Carson and Michael ate corn-battered shrimp, shrimp etouffee with rice, and corn maque choux from take-out containers.
Strolling along the sidewalk were young couples hand-in-hand. Musicians in black suits and porkpie hats hurried past, carrying instrument cases, shouldering between slower-moving older Cajun men in chambray shirts and Justin Wilson hats. Groups of young women showed more skin than common sense, and drag queens enjoyed the goggling of tourists.
Somewhere good jazz was playing. Through the night air wove a tapestry of talk and laughter.
Carson said, “What pisses me off about guys like Harker and Frye—“
“This’ll be an epic list,” Michael said.
“—is how I let them irritate me.”
“They’re cheesed off because no one makes detective as young as we did.”
“That was three years ago for me. They better adjust soon.”
“They’ll retire, get shot. One way or another, we’ll eventually have our chance to be the old cranks.”
After savoring a forkful of corn maque choux, Carson said, “It’s all about my father.”
“Harker and Frye don’t care about what your father did or didn’t do,” Michael assured her.
“You’re wrong. Everyone expects that sooner or later it’ll turn out I carry the dirty-cop gene, just like they think he did.”
Michael shook his head, “I don’t for a minute think you carry the dirty-cop gene.”
“I don’t give a shit what you think, Michael, I know what you think. It’s what everyone else thinks that makes this job so much harder for me than it ought to be.”
“Yeah, well,” he said, pretending offense, “I don’t give a shit that you don’t give a shit what I think.”
Chagrined, Carson laughed softly. “I’m sorry, man. You’re one of a handful of people I do care what they think of me.”
“You wounded me,” he said. “But I’ll heal.”
“I’ve worked hard to get where I am.” She sighed. “Except where I am is eating another meal on my feet, in the street.”
“The food’s great,” he said, “and I’m glittering company”
“Considering the pay, why do we work so hard?”
“We’re genuine American heroes.”
Michael’s cell phone rang. Licking Creole tartar sauce off his lips, he answered the call: “Detective Maddison.” When he hung up moments later, he said, “We’re invited to the morgue. No music, no dancing. But it might be fun.”
CARESSED BY CANDLELIGHT, the chased surfaces of classic silver seemed perpetually about to melt.
With five movers and shakers and their spouses gathered in his dining room, Victor looked forward to stimulating conversation that he could guide subtly into channels that would serve his interests long after the mayor, the district attorney, the university president, and the others had left his table. To Victor, every social occasion was primarily an opportunity to influence political and cultural leaders, discreetly advancing his agenda.
Initially, of course, the talk was of frivolous things, even among such accomplished guests. But Victor fancied himself to be as capable of light chatter as anyone and could enjoy this witty froth because it sharpened his anticipation for meatier discussion.
William and Christine served the soup, the butler holding the tureen while the maid ladled a creamy pink richness into the bowls.
This was Erika’s third dinner party in the five weeks since she had risen from the tank, and she exhibited some improvement in her social skills, though less than he had hoped.
He saw her frown as she noticed that the flower arrangements were different from those that she had painstakingly created. She possessed the good sense to say nothing of the change.
When his wife glanced at him, however, Victor said, “The roses are perfect,” so she would learn from her error.
District Attorney Watkins, whose once-patrician nose had begun subtly to deform as inhaled coc**ne ate away supporting cartilage, used one hand to fan the rising aroma from the bowl to his nostrils. “Erika, the soup smells delicious.”
John Watkins’s opponent in the next election— Buddy Guitreau—was one of Victor’s people. With all the dirt about Watkins that Victor could provide, Buddy would romp to victory at the polls. In the months until then, however, it was necessary to flatter Watkins with dinner invitations and to work with him.
“I love lobster bisque,” said Pamela Watkins. “Is this your recipe, Erika?”
“No. I found it in a magazine, but I added some spices. I doubt I’ve improved it, probably the opposite, but I like even lobster bisque to have a little bite.”
“Oh, it’s divine,” the university president’s wife declared after her first taste.
This compliment, at once echoed by others, brought a glow of pride to Erika’s face, but when she herself raised a spoonful to her mouth, she took it with a soft, protracted slurp.
Appalled, Victor watched her dip the spoon into the bowl once more.
Soup had not been on the menu at either of their previous dinner parties, and Victor had taken a meal with Erika only twice otherwise. Her faux pas surprised and unsettled him.
She sucked in the second spoonful no less noisily than she had the first.
Although none of the guests appeared to notice this ghastly play of tongue and lips, Victor took offense that as his wife she should risk being mocked. Those who might laugh at her behind her back would also laugh at him.
He announced, “The bisque is curdled. William, Christine, please remove it at once.”
“Curdled?” the mayor’s wife asked, bewildered. “Not mine.”
“Curdled,” Victor insisted as the servants quickly retrieved the soup bowls. ‘And you don’t want to eat a lobster dish when it might be in any way off.”
Stricken, Erika watched as the bowls were removed from the table.
“I’m sorry, Erika,” Victor said, into an awkward silence. “This is the first time I’ve ever found fault with your cooking—or with anything about you.”
John Watkins protested, “Mine was delicious.”
Although she might not have understood the cause of Victor’s action, Erika recovered quickly. “No, John. You’ve always got my vote for district attorney. But in culinary matters, I trust Victor. His palate is as refined as any chef’s.”
Victor felt his clenched jaw relaxing into a genuine smile. In part, Erika had redeemed herself.
THE GRAY vinyl-TILE FLOOR squeaked under Carson’s and Michael’s shoes. Although subtle, the sounds seemed loud in the otherwise silent hallway.
The forensic pathology unit appeared to be deserted. At this hour, staffing should have been reduced but not this drastically.
They found Jack Rogers where he said he’d be—in Autopsy Room Number 2. With him were the professionally fileted corpse of Bobby Allwine, supine upon a guttered steel table, and a lanky young assistant whom Jack introduced as Luke.
“Trumped up an excuse to send the rest of the night staff home,” Jack said. “Didn’t want to take a chance of some chatterbox getting a glimpse of what we’ve got here.”
‘And what do we have?” Carson asked. “A miracle,”Jack said. “Except I get a squamous feeling, like it’s too dark a miracle to have anything to do with God. That’s why only Luke and I are here. Luke isn’t a gossiping jackass, are you, Luke?”
Luke’s slightly protuberant eyes, long nose, and longer chin gave him a scholarly look, as if books exerted such an attraction on him that they had pulled his features toward the contents of their pages.
Potbellied, with a hound-dog face full of sags and swags that added years to his true age, Jack Rogers looked older now than he usually did. Although his excitement was palpable, his face had a gray tinge.
“Luke’s got a good eye for physiological anomalies,” Jack said. “He knows his guts.”
Luke nodded, taking pride in his boss’s praise. “I’ve just always been interested in viscera since I was a kid.”
“With me,” Michael said, “it was baseball.”
Jack said, “Luke and I completed every phase of the internal examination. Head, body cavities, neck, respiratory tract—“
“Cardiovascular system,” Luke continued, “gas-
trointestinal tract, biliary tract, pancreas, spleen, adrenals—“
“Urinary tract, reproductive tract, and muscu-loskeletal system,” Jack concluded.
The cadaver on the table certainly appeared to have been well explored.
If the body had not been so fresh, Carson would have wanted to grease her nostrils with Vicks. She could tolerate this lesser stench of violated stomach and intestines.
“Every phase revealed such bizarre anatomy,” Jack said, “we’re going back through again to see what we might’ve missed.”
“Bizarre? Such as?”
“He had two hearts.”
“What do you mean two hearts?”
“Two. The number after one, before three. Uno, dos.”
“In other words,” Luke said earnestly, “twice as many as he should have had.”
“We got that part,” Michael assured him. “But at the library, we saw Allwine’s chest open. You could have parked a Volkswagen in there. If everything’s missing, how do you know he had two hearts?”
“For one thing, the associated plumbing,” Jack said. “He had the arteries and veins to serve a double pump. The indicators are numerous. They’ll all be in my final report. But that’s not the only thing weird about Allwine.”
“Skull bone’s as dense as armor. I burnt out two electric trepanning saws trying to cut through it.”
“He had a pair of livers, too,” said Luke, “and a twelve-ounce spleen. The average spleen is seven ounces.”
“A more extensive lymphatic system than you’ll ever see in a textbook,” Jack continued. “Plus two organs —I don’t even know what they are.”
“So he was some kind of freak,” Michael said. “He looked normal on the outside. Maybe not a male model, but not the Elephant Man, either. Inside, he’s all screwed up.”
“Nature is full of freaks,” Luke said. “Snakes with two heads. Frogs with five legs. Siamese twins. You’d be surprised how many people are born with six fingers on one hand or the other. But that’s not like”—he patted Allwine’s bare foot—“our buddy here.”
Having trouble getting her mind around the meaning of all this, Carson said, “So what are the odds of this? Ten million to one?”
Wiping the back of his shirt sleeve across his damp brow, Jack Rogers said, “Get real, O’Connor. Nothing like this is possible, period. This isn’t mutation. This is design.”
For a moment she didn’t know what to say, and perhaps for the first time ever, even Michael was at a loss for words.
Anticipating them, Jack said, ‘And don’t ask me what I mean by design. Damn if I know.”
“It’s just,” Luke elaborated, “that all these things look like they’re meant to be … improvements.”
Carson said, “The Surgeon’s other victims . . . you didn’t find anything weird in them?”
“Zip, zero, nada. You read the reports.”
Such an aura of unreality had descended upon the room that Carson wouldn’t have been entirely surprised if the eviscerated cadaver had sat up on the autopsy table and tried to explain itself.
Michael said, “Jack, we’d sure like to embargo your autopsy report on Allwine. File it here but don’t send a copy to us. Our doc box is being raided lately, and we don’t want anyone else to know about this for … say forty-eight hours.”
‘And don’t file it under Allwine’s name or the case number where it can be found,” Carson suggested. “Blind file it under . . .”
“Munster, Herman,” Michael suggested.
Jack Rogers was smart about a lot more things than viscera. The bags under his eyes seemed to darken as he said, “This isn’t the only weird thing you’ve got, is it?”
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