K is for Killer Page 30

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A uniformed officer spotted me and broke away from a conversation with a civilian clerk. He moved in my direction. "Can I help you?"

"I just talked to Lieutenant Dolan over at St. Terry's. He and Detective Phillips are letting me look at some files. There should be a set of photographs he said I could take."

"The name was Kepler, right? Lieutenant just called. I have 'em right back here. You want to come on through?"

"Thanks."

The officer depressed a button, releasing the door lock. I went through into a back hallway and turned right. The officer reappeared in the doorway to Records and Identification. "We got a desk back here if you want to take a seat."

I read through the file with care, making notes as I went. Janice Kepler had given me much of the same material, but there were many interdepartmental memos and notes that hadn't been part of her packet. I found the witness interviews the police had conducted with Hector Moreno, J. D. Burke, and Serena Bonney, whose home address and phone number I jotted down. There were additional interviews with Lorna's family, her former boss, Roger Bonney, and the very Danielle Rivers I was hoping to meet on lower State Street tonight. Again, I made a note of home addresses and telephone numbers. This was information I could develop on my own, but why pass it up? Lieutenant Dolan had left word that I could photocopy anything I needed. I took copies of countless pages. I'd probably interview many of the same people, and it would be instructive to compare their current opinions and observations with those made at the time. Finally I turned my attention to the crime scene photographs.

In some ways, it's hard to know which is more sordid, the pornography of sex or the pornography of homicide. Both speak of violence, the broken and debased, the humiliations to which we subject one another in the heat of passion. Some forms of sex are as cold-blooded as murder, some kinds of murder as titillating to the perpetrator as a sexual encounter.

Decomposition had erased most of the definition from Lorna Kepler's flesh. The very enzymes embedded in her cells had caused her to disintegrate. The body had been invaded, nature's little cleaning crew busily at work-maggots as light as a snowfall and as white as thread. It took me many minutes before I could look at the photographs without revulsion. Finally I was able to detach myself. This was simply the reality of death.

I was interested in the sight of the cabin in its furnished state. I had seen it empty: sooty and forsaken, full of spiders and mildew, the fusty smell of neglect. Here, in full color and again in black and white, I could see fabric, crowded countertops in use, sofa pillows in disarray, a vase full of sagging flowers in an inch of darkened water, rag rugs, the spindle-lathed wooden chair legs. I could see a pile of mail on the sofa cushion where she'd left it. There was something distasteful about the unexpected glimpses of her living space. Like a houseguest arriving early, who sees the place before the hostess has had the chance to tidy up.

Aside from a few photographs meant to orient the viewer, Lorna's body was the prime subject of most eight-by-ten glossies. She lay on her stomach. Her posture was that of someone sleeping, her limbs arranged in the classic chalk outline that marks the position of the corpse in any TV show. No Wood, no emesis. It was hard to imagine what she was doing when she went down-answering the front door, running for the telephone. She wore a bra and underpants, her jogging clothes tossed in a pile close by. Her long dark hair still carried its sheen, a tumble of glossy strands. In the light of the flashbulb, small white maggots glowed like a spray of seed pearls. I slipped the pictures back in the manila envelope and tucked them in my handbag.

7

I was leaning against my VW, parked at the curb in front of my place, when Cheney came around the corner in a VW that looked even older than mine. It was beige, very dinged up, an uncanny replica of the 1968 sedan I had run off the road nearly two years before. Cheney chugged to a stop, and I tried opening the car door on the passenger side. No deal. I finally had to put a foot up against the side of the car to get sufficient leverage to wrench the door open. The squawk it made sounded like a large, unruly beast breaking wind. I slid onto the seat and pulled futilely at the door, trying to close it. Cheney reached across me and wrenched it shut again. He threw the gears into first and took off with his engine rumbling.

"Nice car. I used to have one just like this," I said. I yanked at the seat belt, making a vain attempt to buckle it across my lap. The whole device was frozen, and I finally just had to pray he'd drive without crashing and burning. I do so hate to end an evening being flung through the windshield. At my feet I could feel a breeze blowing through a hole where the floor had rusted out. If it were daytime, I knew I'd see the road whipping past, like that small glimpse of track you see when you flush the toilet on a train. I tried to keep my feet up to avoid putting weight on the spot lest I plunge through. If the car stalled, I could push us along with one foot without leaving my seat. I started to roll down the window and discovered that the crank was gone. I opened the wing window on my side, and chilly air slanted in. So far, the wing window was the only thing on my side that functioned.

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