“Here you go, Hildy,” said Janet Polk. “This is the stuff I was telling you about-the stuff my friend over in Anthropology gave me. It smells funky, but it’ll relax you. I promise.”
Cathy held the cup of tea to her nose-a powerful odor reminiscent of curry making her wince.
“Just drink it, wimp.”
Cathy took a sip. It tasted wonderful. “Thank you,” she said.
“First fix is free,” said Dan Polk. “That’s how she rolls. Gets you hooked, then pimps you out on the street like the rest of us bitches.”
Cathy smiled for the first time since she left Sam Markham-had almost called him when the reporters began showing up at her door. But, as usual, it was Janet who came to her rescue; Janet who packed up her things and brought her back to her place across town. Cathy always liked coming to the Polks’ house in Cranston, especially in the evenings-the way the muted lamplight played off the antique furniture, off the leaves of their countless plants and the richly colored wallpaper that enveloped everything. But more than the house itself, more than coming back to the neighborhood where she grew up, Cathy just liked being with the Polks. She instantly became calm and centered around them-ol’ Jan n’ Dan, her best friends and surrogate parents. Dan was a retired real estate broker-an odd match for the brainy Dr. Polk, but somehow they made it work. Married for almost forty years, no children, but one of the happiest couples Cathy had ever met. And not since her mother’s death had Cathy felt so grateful to be with them.
“You’re going to have to talk to them sooner or later,” Janet said, settling herself next to her husband on the sofa. “You know that, right?”
“Yes,” said Cathy.
Janet had insisted on picking Cathy up after seeing the clip of her and Sam Markham on the news; got a little taste of media attention herself when she backed out of Cathy’s driveway and a reporter-the last remaining holdout after Cathy turned off her lights-asked her who she was. “None of your damn business!” she had snapped. And despite the gravity of the situation, Dan Polk could not help but laugh out loud when he saw that clip on CNN later that evening.
As was the case for the majority of Americans that evening, Cathy and the Polks sat glued to their television set as the media once again devoured their scraps of Tommy Campbell. The identity of the second body was released to the public around eight o’clock. Michael Wenick. The boy who had gone missing back in September, who had lived seven streets away from the Polks-only two streets away from the street on which Cathy grew up!
Unlike the rest of Rhode Islanders, Cathy had followed that story only superficially-did not watch or read much news the previous fall; had spent way too much time on her latest journal article. And in the months following her separation from Steve and the disappearance of Tommy Campbell, she had simply forgotten all about the little boy who had vanished from the woods around Blackamore Pond-the very same woods in which her mother forbade her to play as a child.
For that, for forgetting, Cathy felt ashamed.
What Cathy found even more disturbing was that she had not put two and two together when she saw the heinous sculpture in person. Had the figure in the background been only incidental to her? Had she been that overwhelmed by Tommy Campbell, by Bacchus, by the star of the exhibit?
And so, while the Polks watched the news in stunned silence, Cathy sat across the room staring past the TV-her mind secretly scrolling with passages from Slumbering in the Stone. She had not told Janet about the inscription at the base of the statue or about the possible connection between this nightmare and her book-a book that she had written not only as a testament to Michelangelo’s genius, but also as a critique of a celebrity obsessed culture asleep on a featherbed of mediocrity. Had her experience with the sculpture down at Watch Hill been a mirror of that very dynamic? Had she been so taken, so fascinated with Tommy Campbell-the football player, the celebrity she had once made time for on Sundays-that she did not even think about little Michael Wenick, the little boy whose disappearance got nowhere nearly as much attention as Campbell’s, and who ultimately, literally ended up taking a backseat to him-both in the minds of Rhode Islanders and the tableau of death in which he played a supporting role?
In essence, Cathy thought, is this psycho, the sculptor of this Bacchus trying to say the same thing I was? Is he holding up Michelangelo’s genius as the standard by which everything else should be judged? Is he, too, saying, “Shame on you world!” for accepting, for worshipping anything less?
Worship, Cathy said to herself, turning the word over and over again in her mind. They once worshipped Bacchus, god of wine, of celebration and theatre, of sexual excess; and now they worship Tommy Campbell, god of a meaningless game, of empty celebrity hookups and breakups, and now the worst of all media excesses.
Perhaps, answered another voice in Cathy’s head-a voice that sounded a lot like Sam Markham’s. But perhaps you’re looking too deeply in the wrong direction. Perhaps the killer not only chose his victims because they looked like the figures in Michelangelo’s original, but also because only the death of a public persona like Campbell’s, or the incomprehensible death of a child, could draw the kind of media attention you’re witnessing now. Maybe it takes that much nowadays to get through to us. Maybe the killer is trying to show us not only where our values are, but also, by virtue of his actions, how much it will take to wake us up.
Wake us up. Yes. Wake us up in some sick way to remind us of our own potential.
What do you mean? asked Sam Markham in her mind.
The deeper message in Slumbering in the Stone-the quote by Michelangelo upon which the title of the book is based.
Of course. The quote.
“The quotes,” Cathy said out loud.
“What’d you say, Hildy?”
“Excuse me, Jan. Is it okay if I use my cell phone in the kitchen?”
“Is everything all right, dear? Do you want us to turn off the television?”
“No, no, please,” Cathy said. Had she known that the FBI agent had already finished reading her book in his hotel room, that he, too, had drawn his own conclusions about the killer’s motives, Cathy might have had second thoughts about calling him. “I just remembered something I forgot to tell the FBI. But I’d like a little privacy. Is that okay, guys?”
“Of course,” said Dan Polk. “And while you’re in there, call the escort service for me. Tell ’em to send over Helga. Tall, blond, and a little Hulk Hoganesque is what I’m craving this evening.”
Janet elbowed him and Cathy disappeared into the kitchen-found her purse on the table and retrieved the FBI agent’s card. Samuel P. Markham, it read beneath the official seal. Supervisory Special Agent, Behavioral Analysis Unit-2.
“ Markham,” Cathy said to herself `a la James Bond. “Samuel P. Markham. The ‘P.’ stands for ‘Pretty Damn Cool.’” Cathy smiled-felt the blood go warm in her cheeks-and dialed the number.
“Hello?” said the voice on the other end.
“It’s Cathy. Cathy Hildebrant.”
“Hi, Cathy. I was going to call you to see how you were doing, but I didn’t want to bother you. You’ve had quite a day. The reporters have left you alone, I take it?”
The FBI agent sounded different, Cathy thought-his voice tired and tight.
“Yes,” Cathy said. “I’m spending the night in Cranston with Janet Polk and her husband.” Markham did not say anything, and Cathy had the sneaking suspicion he already knew. “Anyway, we were watching TV and I saw they released the identity of that boy-the one who was murdered along with Tommy Campbell. Michael Wenick is his name.”
“Yes. We suspected it was him from the beginning, but couldn’t alert the public until we got confirmation from the medical examiner and the boy’s mother. It all came together shortly after I dropped you off.”
“He was a local, Sam-grew up in the same neighborhood as I did. And I feel awful for not recognizing him when we were down there at Watch Hill. It’s why I’m calling you.”
“I just remembered that, when we were talking about the anonymous quotes in connection to my book, well, I forgot to mention that the title of the book itself, Slumbering in the Stone, was also taken from a quote by Michelangelo.”
“‘The best artist has that thought alone which is contained within the marble shell,’” Markham said. “‘Only the sculptor’s hand can break the spell to free the figures slumbering in the stone.’”
“Yes, that’s it,” said Cathy, flustered.
“I have your book right here in front of me. Just finished skimming through it about a half an hour ago. Interesting stuff.”
“Thank you,” Cathy said, suddenly nervous. “Well, you see, Sam, upon its initial publication, Slumbering in the Stone was met with quite a bit of controversy in academic circles-beginning with my interpretation of that quote. What I mean is, the traditional translation of Michelangelo’s Italian held that the word ‘only’ in the last half of the quote came after the word ‘can.’ Thus, for years the statement was thought to have read, ‘The sculptor’s hand can only break the spell to free the figures slumbering in the stone.’ I won’t bore you with the details, but through my research I discovered that the word ‘only’ should actually come at the beginning of the sentence. Therefore, the quote should really read, ‘Only the sculptor’s hand can break the spell to free the figures slumbering in the stone.’ You see how it changes the meaning?”
“Yes,” said Markham -distantly, studying the quote. “It changes the emphasis entirely. The sculptor himself becomes of supreme importance, making him much more special-that he and only he has the power to release, to awaken the figures from their sleep inside the marble.”
“Exactly. Of course, Michelangelo is speaking metaphorically of the potential in a block of marble to become something beautiful, as well as the fact that only through the lens of true genius can this potential be seen. But the artist is also speaking of the magical, nothing short of divine connection that he felt between himself and his creations, for it was from God that Michelangelo received not only his talent and inspiration, but also his torment.”
“The classical tradition in which Michelangelo’s artistry is steeped-that is, the humanistic tradition hearkening back to the ancient Greeks-held that the male body was aesthetically superior to the female. It is a well-known fact that homosexuality was an integral part of ancient Greek culture, but not in the way we think of homosexuality today-or during Michelangelo’s time, for that matter. And remember, of course, that we are just talking about men here, for women in ancient Greece were viewed as little better than livestock. You see, although pretty much any type of sexual exploit was open to the male, exclusive homosexuality was actually frowned upon in ancient Greece. And they most certainly didn’t define a man by his sexual orientation the way we do today. In fact, sexual relations between men-usually between an older man and an adolescent boy between the ages of thirteen and nineteen-were not necessarily seen as a sexual act at all, but as an educational rite of passage into manhood. It was through the exploration of the male body that Greek men could experience the highest form of divinely inspired beauty-a realm, if you will, in which they could walk in the light of the gods. Sometimes the relationship between two males evolved into the deep, spiritual connection of love, and it is for this reason we see in Greek mythology love between two males much more highly prized than love between a man and a woman.
“We see such a dynamic in Michelangelo’s sculptures as well-the majority of which are male. The figure of the woman is only incidental for him, and Michelangelo’s lack of understanding of the female anatomy-such as his awkward placement of breasts and the rendering of female figures with large, manly frames-is evident throughout his career. For example, in another one of his famous sculptures, the Rome Piet`a, we see the Madonna not only with oddly shaped breasts and an unusually large frame out of proportion with the Christ figure, but the entirety of her body is covered in heavy robes-almost as if Michelangelo is hiding her.”
“Yes,” said Markham. “You have some lovely photographs of it in your book.”
“I’m sorry if I’m getting off track, Sam, but what I’m saying is that the male figures in Michelangelo’s work are always exquisitely rendered with a kind of detail and authenticity out of proportion to the female-detail that indisputably proves the artist’s obsession with the male anatomy. And so it is also through such flawless rendering that we see the classical dynamic of ancient Greece played out not only in the final execution of Michelangelo’s sculptures, but also in his experience of sculpting them, for it was only through his work that Michelangelo could come close to communing with what he saw as divinely inspired beauty-a beauty, for him, accessible only by the sculptor’s hand.”
“So, if I follow you, you’re saying that, for Michelangelo, it was as much the experience of carving as it was the finished product?”
“Yes. Think of the torment the artist must have gone through, born as he was with an inherent appreciation, an inherent love for the male-both spiritually and sexually. A love that he saw bestowed upon him by God and intrinsically woven into the very nature of his gift-that miraculous gift, given only to the sculptor, to release the figures slumbering in the stone. And thus it was the very nature of this gift that was both Michelangelo’s sanctuary and his prison. This was a gift bestowed upon him by a God who at the same time forbade him to commune with his figures in the flesh-a God who condemned the kind of deep, spiritual love that Michelangelo so desperately craved with Tommaso Cavalieri; a God who gave Michelangelo the power to create beauty, but, in essence, not the permission to touch it.”
“So then Michelangelo is also speaking about himself. That he, too, is a figure trapped in the stone-a figure imprisoned in the marble shell of his homosexuality, and that only through the act of carving could he, for lack of a better phrase, make love with another man.”
“You could put it that way, yes.”
Markham was silent for a long time-a silence in which Cathy thought she could hear the special agent’s brain ticking; a silence that made Cathy so uncomfortable that she told Markham the gist of her Socratic dialogue on the sofa-neglecting, of course, to tell him that he had played Socrates to her Gorgias.
“Yes,” said Markham when she had finished. “In your book you quite often contrast Michelangelo’s artistry, as well as the world of the Italian Renaissance, with the artistic output of our culture today-specifically with regard to the media. How it dominates our culture, how it dictates what is important, but most significantly, how it physically shapes our intellect-literally, our physiological capacity not only to process information, but also to appreciate beauty. You speak of the detrimental effects of the Internet, of television and movies, and how they are altering, actually conditioning our brains not only to focus for shorter periods of time and with less efficiency, but also to accept a standard of excellence that gets progressively lower and lower. In essence, you are saying that, today, the quality of the marble from which we as human beings are shaped is meager stuff compared to the metaphorical marble of Michelangelo’s time.”
“That’s a lovely way of putting it, yes.”
“And only the sculptor’s hand-whether it’s Michelangelo’s or the twisted psychopath’s who murdered Campbell and Wenick-can free us from the marble prison that is the media. Our society today, we children of this celebrity infatuated culture, we are the figures slumbering in the stone.”
“Yes, Sam. That’s exactly what I’m saying.”
“That would explain why he chose Campbell, and perhaps even that little boy. Or maybe, as you experienced in your examination of the statue, why he chose to portray them as Michelangelo’s Bacchus in the first place; a sculpture in which the god, the celebrity-by virtue not only of his size and orientation but also of the mythology he carries with him-dominates our thoughts.”
“It would also explain his contacting me via the quotes, don’t you think? Like the sculpture, the medium itself was part of his message-just as the quote at the beginning of my book was part of mine. In essence, the killer was saying to me, ‘I understand.’”
“And so the inscription on the base of the statue could just be the killer’s way of simply saying, ‘Thank you.’”
“Yes, I guess it could.”
Sam Markham was silent again-the flipping pages on the other end of Cathy’s cell phone the only sound.
“Thank you for calling me, Cathy,” he said finally. “You can’t imagine what a help you’ve been. I’ll be back and forth between Providence and Boston over the next few days while the autopsies are being performed. Procedure dictates that we collect as much evidence as possible and then send it off to our labs at Quantico for analysis. The way these things go, it’s better for the families to get their loved ones interred as soon as possible. I’ll be in touch. Try to get some rest, okay? Good night, Cathy.”
“Good night, Sam.”
Cathy stood in the kitchen feeling more at ease than she had all day, and despite the topic of their conversation, Cathy hated to admit that she had actually enjoyed talking to the FBI agent.
Must be the tea, said the voice in her head, and Cathy promptly told it to fuck off.
The Polks’ phone rang, and Cathy could hear Janet in the living room telling Steve Rogers that yes, Cathy was there, and no, she didn’t want to talk to him. Prick must have seen me on TV, Cathy thought. Then she smiled, for the scene playing out in the living room was one she had seen many times over the last few months. Yes, Janet knew all too well that, no matter what the occasion, when Cathy retreated to her home the last person in the world she would ever want to speak with was Steve Rogers.
“For the last time, Steven,” she heard Janet say. “I’m not going to give you her number. Now good night!”
Cathy returned to the living room to learn the Associated Press had confirmed that Tommy Campbell and Michael Wenick had indeed been found painted and posed like Michelangelo’s Bacchus. And as Janet and Dan followed the details with shock and disgust, Cathy was secretly relieved when nothing was mentioned about the little dedication to her at the base of the statue. However, after CNN showed a picture of Michael Wenick on a split screen next to a close-up of Michelangelo’s satyr, the reality of what had happened that day once again came rushing back to her.
And tea or no tea, Cathy knew that, when the lights were out in the Polks’ guest room, it was the marble face of Michael Wenick that she would see hovering over her in the darkness.