The affair, p.6
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       The Affair, p.6

         Part #16 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
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Chapter Six

 

  17

  I finished my breakfast before I spoke again. French toast, maple syrup, coffee. Protein, fiber, carbohydrates. And caffeine. All the essential food groups, except nicotine, but I had already quit by then. I put my silverware down and said, "There's really only one obvious way to cut a woman's throat. You stand behind her and use one hand in her hair to pull her head back. Or you hook your fingers in her eye sockets, or if you're sure your hands are steady you could use your palm under her chin. But whichever, you expose her throat and you put some tension in the ligaments and the blood vessels. Then you get busy with the blade. You're taught to expect major resistance to the cut, because there's some pretty tough stuff in there. And you're taught to start an inch earlier and finish an inch later than you think is really necessary. Just to be absolutely sure. "

  Deveraux said, "I'm assuming that's exactly what happened in the alley. But suddenly, I hope. So it was over before she realized it was happening at all. "

  I said, "It didn't happen in the alley. It can't have. "

  "Why not?"

  "One of the side benefits of doing it from behind is you don't get covered in blood. And there's a lot of blood. You're talking about carotids and jugulars, and a young healthy person suddenly agitated and struggling, maybe even fighting. Her blood pressure must have been spiking sky high. "

  "I know there's a lot of blood. I saw it. There was a huge pool of it. She was all bled out. As white as a sheet. I assume you saw the sand. That's how big the pool was. It looked like a gallon or more. "

  "You ever cut a throat?"

  "No. "

  "You ever seen it done?"

  She shook her head.

  "No," she said.

  "The blood doesn't just seep out like you slit your wrists in the bathtub. It comes out like a fire hose. It sprays everywhere, ten feet or more, great gouts of it, splattering all over the place. I've seen it on ceilings, even. Crazy patterns, like someone took a paint can and threw it around. Like that guy, Jackson Pollock. The painter. "

  Deveraux said nothing.

  I said, "There would have been blood all over the alley. On the loan office's wall, for sure. And on the bar's wall, and maybe on the pharmacy's wall. On the floor, too, yards away. Crazy thin patterns. Not a neat pool right underneath her. That's just not possible. She wasn't killed there. "

  Deveraux linked her hands on the table and bowed her head over them. She was doing something I had never seen a person do before. Not literally. She was hanging her head. She breathed in, breathed out, and five seconds later she looked up again and said, "I'm an idiot. I suppose I must have known all that, but I didn't remember it. I just didn't see it. "

  "Don't feel bad," I said. "You never saw it happen, so you don't have anything to remember. "

  "No, it's basic," she said. "I'm an idiot. I've wasted days. "

  "It gets worse," I said. "There's more. "

  She didn't want to hear about how it got worse. She didn't want more. Not immediately. Not right then. She was still beating herself up for missing the thing with the blood. I had seen that kind of reaction many times. I had had that kind of reaction many times. Smart, conscientious people hate making mistakes. Not just because of ego. Because mistakes of a certain type have the kind of consequences that people with consciences don't like to live with.

  She frowned and ground her teeth and growled at herself for a minute, and then she shook her head and stopped and came up with a brave smile, tighter and grimmer than her normal sunny radiance. She said, "OK, tell me more. Tell me how it gets worse. But not in here. I have to eat here three times a day. I don't want the associations. "

  So we paid for our breakfasts and stepped out to the sidewalk. We stood there for a long moment, near her car, saying nothing. I could tell by her body language she wasn't going to invite me to her office. She didn't want me near the Sheriff's Department. This wasn't a democracy. In the end she said, "Let's go back to the hotel. We can use the lounge. We're guaranteed privacy there, after all. Since we're the only two guests. "

  We walked back down the street, and up the shaky steps, and across the old veranda. We went in and used the door on the left of the lobby. I smelled the same damp and dust and mildew as the night before. In the daylight the humped shapes I had seen in the dark turned out to be armchairs, as I had thought. There were twelve of them, grouped in various combinations, twos and fours. We took a matched pair, either side of a cold fireplace.

  I asked her, "Why do you live here?"

  "Good question," she said. "I thought it would be a month or two. But it extended. "

  "What about your old man's house?"

  "Rented," she said. "The lease died with him. "

  "You could rent another one. Or buy one. Isn't that what people do?"

  She nodded. "I looked at some. Couldn't pull the trigger. Have you seen the houses around here?"

  I said, "Some of them look OK. "

  "Not to me," she said. "I wasn't ready, anyway. I hadn't decided how long I was going to stay. Still haven't, really. No doubt it will turn out to be the rest of my life, but I guess I don't want to admit that to myself. I'd rather let it creep up on me day by day, I suppose. "

  I thought about my pal Stan Lowrey, and his want ads. There was a lot more to leaving the service than getting a job. There were houses, and cars, and clothes. There were a hundred strange, unknown details, like the customs of a remote foreign tribe, glimpsed only in passing, and never fully understood.

  Deveraux said, "So let's hear it. "

  I said, "Her throat was cut, right? We're clear on that?"

  "Definitely. Unmistakably. "

  "And that was the only wound?"

  "The doctor says so. "

  "So somewhere there's blood all over the place. Wherever it was actually done. In a room, maybe, or out in the woods. It's impossible to clean up properly. Literally impossible. So there's evidence out there, just waiting for you. "

  "I can't search the base. They won't let me. It's a jurisdiction thing. "

  "You don't know for sure it happened on the base. "

  "She was raped on the base. "

  "It's not impossible she was raped on the base. That's not quite the same thing. "

  "I can't search five hundred square miles of Mississippi, either. "

  "So zoom in on the perpetrator. Narrow it down. "

  "How?"

  "No woman can bleed out twice," I said. "Her throat was cut in some unknown location, blood sprayed everywhere, she died, and that's all she wrote. Then she was dumped in the alley. But whose blood was she lying in? Not her own, because she'd left it all back in the unknown location. "

  "Oh, God," Deveraux said. "Don't tell me the guy collected it and brought it with him. "

  "Possible," I said. "But a little unlikely. It would be tricky to cut someone's throat while simultaneously dancing around with a bucket, trying to catch the spray. "

  "There could have been two guys. "

  "Possible," I said again. "But still unlikely. It's like a fire hose, flipping all around. Here, there, and everywhere. The second guy would be lucky to gather a pint. "

  "So what are you saying? Whose blood was it?"

  "An animal's, possibly. Maybe a deer. Freshly slaughtered, but not quite fresh enough. There was some time lag. That blood was already congealing. A gallon of liquid blood would have spread much farther than that pile of sand. A little goes a long way, where blood is concerned. "

  "A hunter?"

  "That's my guess. "

  "Based on not very much. You didn't see the blood. You didn't test it. It could have been fake blood from a joke store. Or it could have been hers. Someone might have figured out a way to collect it. Just because you can't see a way doesn't mean a way doesn't exist. Or they could have bled her out first and then cut her throat afterward. "

  "Still a hunter," I said.

  "Why?"


  "There's more," I said. "It continues to get worse. "

  18

  At that point the old lady I had seen in the diner stuck her head in the door. The hotel's co-owner. She asked if she could bring us anything. Elizabeth Deveraux shook her head. I asked for coffee. The old lady said sorry, she didn't have any. She said I could get it to go from the diner, if I really needed it. I wondered what exactly she was offering, therefore, if anything. But I didn't ask. The old lady left again, and Deveraux said, "Why are you fixated on hunters?"

  "Pellegrino told me she was all dressed up for a night out, as neat as a pin, just lying there on her back in a pool of blood. Those were his words. Is that a fair summary?"

  Deveraux nodded. "That's exactly what I saw. Pellegrino is an idiot, but a reliable one. "

  "That's more proof she wasn't killed there. She would have fallen forward on her face, not on her back. "

  "Yes, I missed that too. Don't rub it in. "

  "What was she wearing?"

  "A dark blue sheath dress with a low white collar. Underwear and pantyhose. Dark blue shoes with spike heels. "

  "Clothes in disarray?"

  "No. They looked neat as a pin. Like Pellegrino told you. "

  "So she wasn't put into those clothes postmortem. You can always tell. Clothes never go on a corpse just right. Especially not pantyhose. So she was still dressed when she was killed. "

  "I accept that. "

  "Was there blood on the white collar? At the front?"

  Deveraux closed her eyes, presumably to recall the scene. She said, "No, it was immaculate. "

  "Was there blood anywhere on her front?"

  "No. "

  "OK," I said. "So her throat was cut in an unknown location, while she was dressed in those clothes. But she had gotten no blood on her, until she was dumped on her back in a pool that was separately transported. Tell me how that isn't a hunter. "

  "Tell me how it is. If you can. You can help the army all you want, but you don't have to believe your own bullshit. "

  "I'm not helping the army. Soldiers can be hunters too. Many of them are. "

  "Why is it a hunter at all?"

  "Tell me how you cut a woman's throat without getting a drop of blood on her front. "

  "I don't know how. "

  "You string her up on a deer trestle. That's how. By her ankles. Upside down. You tie her hands behind her. You haul her arms up until her back is arched and her throat is presented as the lowest point. "

  We sat in the shadowed silence for a minute, not saying a word. I guessed Deveraux was picturing the scene. I sure was. A clearing in the woods somewhere, remote and lonely, or a room far from anywhere, with improvised equipment, or a hut or a shack with roof beams, Janice May Chapman hanging upside down, her hands hauled up behind her back, toward her feet, her shoulders straining, her back curving painfully. She was probably gagged, too, the gag tied to a third rope looped over the trestle's top rail. That third rope must have been pulled tight, arching her head up and back, keeping it well out of the way, leaving her throat completely accessible.

  I asked, "How did she wear her hair?"

  "Short," Deveraux said. "It wouldn't have gotten in the way. "

  I said nothing.

  Deveraux asked, "Do you really think that's how it was done?"

  I nodded. "Any other method, she wouldn't have bled out all the way. Not white as a sheet. She would have died, and her heart would have stopped pumping, and there would have been something left inside her. Two, three pints, maybe. It was being upside down that finished the job. Gravity, plain and simple. "

  "The ropes would have left marks, wouldn't they?"

  "What did the medical examiner say? Have you had his report?"

  "We don't have a medical examiner. Just the local doctor. One step up from when all we had was the local undertaker, but not a very big step. "

  Not a democracy. I said, "You should go take a look for yourself. "

  She said, "Will you come with me?"

  We walked back to the diner and took Deveraux's car from the curb and U-turned and headed back down Main Street, past the hotel again, past the pharmacy and the hardware store, and onward to where Main Street turned into a wandering rural route. The doctor's place was half a mile south of the town. It was a regular clapboard house, painted white, set in a large untidy yard, with a shingle next to the mailbox at the end of the driveway. The name on the shingle was Merriam, and it was lettered crisply in black over a rectangle of white paint that was brighter and newer than the surrounding surface. A new arrival, not long in town, new to the community.

  The house had its ground floor given over to the medical practice. The front parlor was a waiting room, and the back room was where patients were examined and treated. We found Merriam in there, at a desk, doing paperwork. He was a florid man close to sixty. New in town, perhaps, but not new to doctoring. His greeting was languid and his pace was slow. I got the impression he regarded the Carter Crossing position as semi-retirement, maybe after a pressurized career in a big-city practice. I didn't like him much. A snap judgment, maybe, but generally those are as good as any other kind.

  Deveraux told the guy what we wanted to see and he got up slowly and led us through the house to what might once have been a kitchen. It was now tiled in cold white, and it had no-nonsense medical-style sinks and cupboards all over it. In the center of the floor it had a stainless steel mortuary table, and on the table was a corpse. The light over it was bright.

  The corpse was Janice May Chapman. She had a tag on her toe with her name written on it in a spidery hand. She was naked. Pellegrino had called her as white as a sheet, but by that point she was pale blue and light purple, blotched and mottled with the characteristic marbling of the truly bloodless. She had been perhaps five feet seven inches tall, and she might once have weighed about a hundred and twenty pounds, neither fat nor excessively thin. She had dark hair bobbed short. It was thick and heavy, well cut, and still in good condition. Pellegrino had called her pretty, and it didn't require much imagination to agree. The flesh on her face was collapsed and empty, but her bone structure was good. Her teeth were white and even.

  Her throat was a mess. It was laid open from side to side and the wound had dried to a rubbery gape. Flesh and muscle had shrunk back, and tendons and ligaments had curled, and empty veins and arteries had retracted. White bone was visible, and I could see a single horizontal score mark on it.

  The knife had been substantial, the blade had been sharp, and the killing stroke had been forceful, confident, and fast.

  Deveraux said, "We need to examine her wrists and ankles. "

  The doctor made a have at it gesture.

  Deveraux took Chapman's left arm and I took her right. Her wrist bones were light and delicate. The skin lying over them had no abrasions. No rope burns. But there was faint residual marking. There was a two-inch-wide band that was slightly bluer than the rest. Very slightly bluer. Almost not there at all. But perceptible. And very slightly swollen, compared to the rest of her forearm. Definitely raised. The exact opposite of a compression.

  I looked at Merriam and asked, "What do you make of this?"

  "The cause of death was exsanguination through severed carotid arteries," he said. "That was what I was paid to determine. "

  "How much were you paid?"

  "The fee structure was agreed between my predecessor and the county. "

  "Was it more than fifty cents?"

  "Why?"

  "Because fifty cents is all that conclusion is worth. Cause of death is totally obvious. So now you can earn your corn by helping us out a little. "

  Deveraux looked at me and I shrugged. Better that I had said it than her. She had to live with the guy afterward. I didn't.

  Merriam said, "I don't like your attitude. "

  I said, "And I don't like twenty-seven-year-old women lying dead on a slab. You want to help or not
?"

  He said, "I'm not a pathologist. "

  I said, "Neither am I. "

  The guy stood still for a moment, and then he sighed and stepped forward. He took Janice May Chapman's limp and lifeless arm from me. He looked at the wrist very closely, and then ran his fingers up and down, gently, from the back of her hand to the middle of her forearm, feeling the swelling. He asked, "Do you have a hypothesis?"

  I said, "I think she was tied up tight. Wrists and ankles. The bindings started to bruise her, but she didn't live long enough for the bruises to develop very much. But they definitely started. A little blood leaked into her tissues, and it stayed there when the rest of it drained out. Which is why we're seeing compression injuries as raised welts. "

  "Tied up with what?"

  "Not ropes," I said. "Maybe belts or straps. Something wide and flat. Maybe silk scarves. Something padded, perhaps. To disguise what had been done. "

  Merriam said nothing. He moved past me to the end of the table and looked at Chapman's ankles. He said, "She was wearing pantyhose when she was brought in. The nylon was undamaged. Not torn or laddered at all. "

  "Because of the padding. Maybe it was foam rubber. Something like that. But she was tied up. "

  Merriam was quiet for another moment.

  Then he said, "Not impossible. "

  I asked, "How plausible?"

  "Postmortem examination has its limits, you know. You'd need an eyewitness to be certain. "

  "How do you explain the complete exsanguination?"

  "She could have been a hemophiliac. "

  "Suppose she wasn't?"

  "Then gravity would be the only explanation. She was hung upside down. "

  "By belts or straps, or ropes over some kind of padding?"

  "Not impossible," Merriam said again. "Turn her over," I said.

  "Why?"

  "I want to see the gravel rash. "

  "You'll have to help me," he said, so I did.

  19

  The human body is a self-healing machine, and it doesn't waste time. Skin is crushed or split or cut, and blood immediately rushes to the site, the red cells scabbing and knitting a fibrous matrix to bind the parted edges together, the white cells seeking out and destroying germs and pathogens below. The process is underway within minutes, and it lasts as many hours or days as are necessary to return the skin to its previous unbroken integrity. The process causes a bell curve of inflammation, peaking as the suffusion of blood peaks, and as the scab grows thickest, and as the fight against infection reaches its most intense state.

  The small of Janice May Chapman's back was peppered with tiny cuts, as was the whole of her butt, and as were her upper arms just above her elbows. The cuts were small, thinly scabbed incisions, all surrounded by small areas of crushing, which were colorless due to her bloodlessness. The cuts were all inflicted in random directions, as if by loose and rolling items of similar size and nature, small and hard and neither razor-sharp nor completely blunt.

  Classic gravel rash.

  I looked at Merriam and asked, "How old do you think these injuries are?"

  He said, "I have no idea. "

  "Come on, doctor," I said. "You've treated cuts and grazes before. Or have you? What were you before? A psychiatrist?"

  "I was a pediatrician," he said. "I have no idea what I'm doing here. None at all. Not in this area of medicine. "

  "Kids get cuts and grazes all the time. You must have seen hundreds. "

  "This is a serious business. I can't risk unsupported guesses. "

  "Try educated guesses. "

  "Four hours," he said.

  I nodded. I figured four hours was about right, judging by the scabs, which were more than nascent, but not yet fully mature. They had been developing steadily, and then their development had stopped abruptly when the throat was cut and the heart had stopped and the brain had died and all metabolism had ceased.

  I asked, "Did you determine the time of death?"

  Merriam said, "That's very hard to know. Impossible, really. The exsanguination interferes with normal biological processes. "

  "Best guess?"

  "Some hours before she was brought to me. "

  "How many hours?"

  "More than four. "

  "That's obvious from the gravel rash. How many more than four?"

  "I don't know. Fewer than twenty-four. That's the best I can do. "

  I said, "No other injuries. No bruising. No sign of a defensive struggle. "

  Merriam said, "I agree. "

  Deveraux said, "Maybe she didn't fight. Maybe she had a gun to her head. Or a knife to her throat. "

  "Maybe," I said. I looked at Merriam again and asked, "Did you do a vaginal examination?"

  "Of course. "

  "And?"

  "I judged she had had recent sexual intercourse. "

  "Any bruising or tearing in that area?"

  "None visible. "

  "Then why did you conclude she was raped?"

  "You think it was consensual? Would you lie down on gravel to make love?"

  "I might," I said. "Depending on who I was with. "

  "She had a home," Merriam said. "With a bed in it. And a car, with a back seat. Any putative boyfriend would have a home and a car, too. And there's a hotel here in town. And there are other towns, with other hotels. No one needs to conduct a tryst outdoors. "

  "Especially not in March," Deveraux said.

  The small room went quiet, and it stayed quiet until Merriam asked, "Are we done here?"

  "We're done," Deveraux said.

  "Well, good luck, chief," Merriam said. "I hope this one turns out better than the last two. "

  Deveraux and I walked down the doctor's driveway, past the mailbox, past the shingle, to the sidewalk, where we stood next to Deveraux's car. I knew she was not going to give me a ride. This was not a democracy. Not yet. I said, "Did you ever see a rape victim with intact pantyhose?"

  "You think that's significant?"

  "Of course it is. She was attacked on gravel. Her pantyhose should have been shredded. "

  "Maybe she was forced to undress first. Slowly and carefully. "

  "The gravel rash had edges. She was wearing something. Pulled up, pulled down, whatever, but she was partially clothed. And then she changed afterward. Which is possible. She had four hours. "

  "Don't go there," Deveraux said.

  "Go where?"

  "You're trying to plead the army down to rape only. You're going to say she was killed by someone else, separately, later. "

  I said nothing.

  "And that dog won't hunt," Deveraux said. "You stumble into someone and get raped, and then within the next four hours you stumble into someone else completely different and get your throat cut? That's a really bad day, isn't it? That's the worst day ever. It's too coincidental. No, it was the same guy. But he had himself an all-day session. He took hours. He had plans and equipment. He had access to her clothes. He made her change. This was all highly premeditated. "

  "Possible," I said.

  "They teach effective tactical planning in the army. So they claim, anyway. "

  "True," I said. "But they don't give you all day off very often. Not in a training environment. Not usually. "

  Deveraux said, "But Kelham is not just about training, is it? Not from what I've been able to piece together. There are a couple of rifle companies there. In and out on rotation. And they get leave when they come back. Days off. Plenty of them. All in a row. One after the other. "

  I said nothing.

  Deveraux said, "You should call your CO. Tell him it's looking bad. "

  I said, "He already knows. That's why I'm here. "

  She paused a long moment and said, "I want you to do me a favor. "

  "Like what?"

  "Go look at the car wreck again. See if you can find a license plate or identify the vehicle. Pellegrino got now
here with it. "

  "Why would you trust me?"

  "Because you're the son of a Marine. And because you know if you conceal or destroy evidence I'll put you in jail. "

  I asked, "What did Merriam mean, when he wished you better luck with this one than the other two?"

  She didn't answer.

  I said, "The other two what?"

  She paused a beat and her beautiful face fell a little and she said, "Two girls were killed last year. Same MO. Throats cut. I got nowhere with them. They're cold cases now. Janice May Chapman is the third in nine months. "

 

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