Read The Whisperers Online

Authors: John Connolly

Tags: #Thrillers, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Azizex666, #Fiction

The Whisperers (3 page)

BOOK: The Whisperers
I didn’t know Sally Cleaver. Apparently she had low self-esteem, and lower expectations, but somehow Cliffie Andreas succeeded in reducing the former still further, and failed to live up even to the latter. Anyway, one evening Cliffie found Sally’s small, hard-earned stash, and decided to treat himself and his buddies to a free night at the Moon. Sally came home from work, found her money gone, and went looking for Cliffie at his favorite haunt. She found him holding court at the bar, drinking on her dime the Moon’s only bottle of cognac, and she decided to stand up for herself for the first, and last, time in her life. She screamed at him, scratched him, tore at his hair, until at last Earle Hanley told Cliffie to take his woman, and his domestic problems, outside, and not to come back until he had both under control.
So Cliffie Andreas had grabbed Sally Cleaver by the collar and pulled her through the back door, and the men at the bar had listened while he pounded her into the ground. When he came back inside, his knuckles were raw, his hands were stained red, and his face was flecked with freckles of blood. Earle Hanley poured him another drink and slipped outside to check on Sally Cleaver. By then, she was already choking on her own blood, and she died on the back lot before the ambulance could get to her.
And that was it for the Blue Moon, and for Cliffie Andreas. He pulled ten to fifteen in Thomaston, served eight, then was killed less than two months after his release by an ‘unknown assailant’ who stole Cliffie’s watch, left his wallet untouched, then discarded the watch in a nearby ditch. It was whispered that the Cleavers had long memories.
Now Foster Jandreau had died barely yards from the spot on which Sally Cleaver had choked to death, and the ashes of the Moon’s history were being raked through once again. Meanwhile, the state police didn’t like losing troopers, hadn’t liked it since right back in 1924 when Emery Gooch was killed in a motorcycle accident in Mattawamkeag; nor since 1964, when Charlie Black became the first trooper killed by gunfire while responding to a bank raid in South Berwick. But there were shadows around Jandreau’s killing. The paper might have claimed that there were no leads, but the rumors said otherwise. Crack vials had been found on the ground by Jandreau’s car, and fragments of the same glass were discovered on the floor by his feet. He had no drugs in his system, but there were now concerns on the force that Foster Jandreau might have been dealing on the side, and that would be bad for everyone.
Slowly, the diner began to empty, but I stayed where I was until I was the only one remaining at the counter. Kyle left me to myself, making sure that my cup was full before he started cleaning up. The last of the regulars, mostly older men for whom the week wasn’t the same without a couple of visits to the Palace, paid their checks and left.
I’ve never had an office. I never had any use for one, and if I had, I probably couldn’t have justified the expense of it to myself, even given a favorable rent in Portland or Scarborough. Only a handful of clients had ever commented upon it, and on those occasions when a particular need for privacy and discretion had arisen, I’d been in a position to call in favors, and a suitable room had been provided. Occasionally I used the offices of my attorney up in Freeport, but there were people who disliked the idea of going into a lawyer’s office almost as much as they disliked the idea of lawyers in general, and I’d found that most of those who came to me for help preferred a more informal approach. Usually I went to them, and spoke with them in their own homes, but sometimes a diner like the Palace, empty and discreet, was as good as anywhere. In this case, the venue for the meeting had been decided by the prospective client, not by me, and I was fine with it.
Shortly after midday, the Palace’s door opened, and a man in his late sixties entered. He looked like a model for the stereotypical old Yankee: feed cap on his head, an L.L. Bean jacket over a plaid shirt, neat blue denims, and work boots on his feet. He was wiry as a tension cable, his face weathered and lined, light brown eyes glittering behind surprisingly fashionable steel-framed spectacles. He greeted Kyle by name, then removed his hat and gave a courtly little bow to Tara, Kyle’s daughter, who was cleaning up behind the counter and who smiled and greeted him in turn.
‘Good to see you, Mr. Patchett,’ she said. ‘It’s been a while.’ There was a tenderness to her voice, and a brightness to her eyes, that said all that needed to be said about the new arrival’s recent sufferings.
Kyle leaned through the serving hatch between the kitchen and the counter area. ‘Come to check out a real diner, Bennett?’ he said. ‘You look like you could do with some feeding up.’
Bennett Patchett chuckled and swatted at the air with his right hand, as though Kyle’s words were insects buzzing at his head, then took a seat beside me. Patchett had owned the Downs Diner, close to the Scarborough Downs racetrack on Route 1, for more than forty years. His father had run it before him, opening it shortly after he returned from service in Europe. There were still pictures of Patchett Senior on the walls of the diner, some of them from his military days, surrounded by younger men who looked up to him as their sergeant. He’d died when he was still in his forties, and his son had eventually taken over the running of the business. Bennett had now lived longer than his own father, just as it seemed that I was destined to live longer than mine.
He accepted the offer of a cup of coffee from Tara as he shrugged off his coat and hung it close to the old gas fire. Tara discreetly went to help her father in the kitchen, so that Bennett and I were left alone.
‘Charlie,’ he said, shaking my hand.
‘How you doing, Mr. Patchett?’ I asked. It felt odd to be calling him by his last name. It made me feel about ten years old, but when it came to such men, you waited until they gave you permission to be a little more familiar in your mode of address. I knew that all of his staff called him ‘Mr. Patchett.’ He might have been like a father figure to some of them, but he was their boss, and they treated him with the respect that he deserved.
‘You can call me Bennett, son. The less formal this is, the better. I don’t think I’ve ever spoken with a private detective before, except you, and that was only when you were eating in my place. Only ever saw them on TV and in the movies. And, truth to tell, your reputation makes me a little nervous.’
He peered at me, and I saw his eye linger briefly at the scar on my neck. A bullet had grazed me there the previous year, deep enough to leave a permanent mark. In recent times, I seemed to have accumulated a lot of similar nicks and scratches. When I died, they could put me in a display case as an example to others who might be tempted to follow a similar path of beatings, gunshot wounds, and electrocution. Then again, I might just have been unlucky. Or lucky. It depended upon how you looked at the glass.
‘Don’t believe everything you hear,’ I said.
‘I don’t, and you still concern me.’
I shrugged. He had a sly smile on his face.
‘But no point in hemmin’ and hawin’,’ he continued. ‘I want to thank you for taking the time to meet with me. I know that you’re probably a busy man.’
I wasn’t, but it was nice of him to suggest that I might be. Since my license had been restored to me earlier in the year, following some misunderstandings with the Maine State Police, things had been kind of quiet. I’d done a little insurance work, all of it dull and most of it involving nothing more strenuous than sitting in a car and turning the pages of a book while I waited for some doofus with alleged workplace injuries to start lifting heavy stones in his yard. But insurance work was thin on the ground, what with the economy being the way it was. Most private detectives in the state were struggling, and I had been forced to accept any work that came along, including the kind that made me want to bathe in bleach when I was done. I’d followed a man named Harry Milner while he serviced three separate women in the course of one week in various motels and apartments, as well as holding down a regular job and taking his kids to baseball practice. His wife had suspected that he was having an affair but, unsurprisingly, she was a little shocked to hear that her husband was engaged in the type of extensive sexual entanglements usually associated with French farces. His time management skills were almost admirable, though, as were his energy levels. Milner was only a couple of years older than I was, and if I’d been trying to keep four women satisfied every week I’d have incurred a coronary, probably while I was soaking myself in a bath of ice to keep the swelling down. Nevertheless, that was still the best paying job I’d had in a while, and I was back doing a couple of days a month tending bar at the Great Lost Bear on Forest Avenue, as much to pass the time as anything else.
‘I’m not as busy as you might think,’ I replied.
‘Then you’ll have time to hear me out, I guess.’
I nodded, then said: ‘Before we go any further, I’d just like to say that I was sorry to hear about Damien.’
I hadn’t known Damien Patchett any better than I knew his father, and I hadn’t made any effort to attend the funeral. The newspapers had been discreet about it, but everybody knew how Damien Patchett had died. It was the war, some whispered. He had taken his own life in name only. Iraq had killed him.
Bennett’s face creased with pain. ‘Thank you. In a way, as you might have figured, it’s why we’re here. I feel kind of funny approaching you about this. You know, you doing the things that you do: compared to them fellas who killed and got hunted down by you, what I’ve got to offer might seem pretty dull.’
I was tempted to tell him about waiting outside motel rooms while people inside engaged in illicit sexual congress, or sitting for hours in a car with a camera on the dashboard in the hope that someone might bend down suddenly.
‘Sometimes, the dull stuff makes a pleasant change.’
‘Ayuh,’ said Patchett. ‘I can believe that.’
His eyes shifted to the newspaper before me, and he winced again. Sally Cleaver, I thought. Damn, I should have put the newspaper away before Bennett arrived.
Sally Cleaver had been working at the Downs Diner when she died.
He sipped his coffee, and didn’t speak again for at least three minutes. People like Bennett Patchett didn’t reach their later years in pretty much perfect health by rushing things. They worked on Maine time, and the sooner that everyone who had to deal with them learned to adjust their clocks accordingly, the better.
‘I got a girl waitressing for me,’ he said at last. ‘She’s a good kid. I think you might remember her mother, woman name of Katie Emory?’
Katie Emory had been at Scarborough High School with me, although we’d moved in different circles. She was the sort of girl who liked jocks, and I wasn’t much for jocks, or the girls who hung with them. When I returned to Scarborough as a teenage boy after my father’s death, I wasn’t much in the mood for hanging with anyone, and I kept myself to myself. The local kids had all formed long-established cliques, and it was hard to break into them, even if you wanted to. I made some friends eventually, and for the most part I didn’t cross too many people. I remembered Katie, but I doubt if she would have remembered me, not in the normal course of events. But my name had made the papers over the years, and maybe she, and others like her, read it and remembered the boy who had arrived in Scarborough for the last two years of his schooling, trailing stories about a father who was a cop, a cop who had killed two kids before taking his own life.
‘How’s she doing?’
‘She lives up along the Airline somewhere.’ The Airline was the local name for Route 9, which ran between Brewer and Calais. ‘Third marriage. Shacked up with a musician.’
‘Really? I didn’t know her that well.’
‘Good for you. Could have been you shacked up with her.’
‘There’s a thought. She was a good-looking girl.’
‘Still not such a bad-looking woman now, I suppose,’ said Bennett. ‘A little thicker around the trunk than you might recall, but you can see what she was. Can see it in the daughter too.’
‘What’s the daughter’s name?’
‘Karen. Karen Emory. Only child of her mother’s first marriage, and born after the father took to his heels, so she has her mother’s name. Only child of any of her marriages, come to think on it. She’s been working for me for over a year now. Like I said, a good kid. She’s got her troubles, but I think she’ll come through them all right, long as she’s given the help that she needs, and she’s got the sense to ask for it.’
Bennett Patchett was an unusual man. He and his wife, Hazel, who had died a couple of years ago, had always viewed those who worked for them not simply as staff, but as part of a kind of extended family. They had a particular fondness for the women who passed through the Downs, some of whom stayed for many years, others for only a matter of months. Bennett and Hazel had a special sense for girls who were in trouble, or who needed a little stability in their lives. They didn’t pry, and they didn’t preach, but they listened when they were approached, and they helped when they could. The Patchetts owned a couple of buildings around Saco and Scarborough, and these they had converted into cheap lodgings for their own staff and for the staff of a select number of other established businesses run by people of a similar outlook to themselves. The apartments weren’t mixed, so that women and men were required to stay with their own sex. Some occasional meetings of the twain did inevitably occur, but less often than one might have thought. For the most part, those who took up the Patchetts’ offer of a place to stay were happy with the space – not just physical, but psychological and emotional – that it offered them. The majority moved on eventually, some getting their lives back together and some not, but while they worked for the Patchetts they were looked out for, both by the couple themselves and by the older members of staff. Sally Cleaver’s death had been a grave blow, but, if anything, it had made them more solicitous toward their charges. While Bennett had taken his wife’s death hard, the loss of her had not changed his attitude toward his staff one iota. Anyway, they were now all that he had left, and he saw Sally Cleaver in the face of every one of those women, and perhaps he had already begun to see Damien in the young men.
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