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23

ON THE TOP wire shelf were two bald mannikin heads, one male, one female, with blank faces smeared black with frozen blood. They had been m used as forms for the faces Joyce had stolen, each one laid over the mannikin's face, then frozen hard to give his trophies shape. Joyce had shrouded his mask-like horrors in triple layers of plastic freezer bags that were labeled like evidence, with case numbers, locations, and dates.

The most recent was the one on top, and I robotically picked it up as my heart began to pound so hard that for an instant, the world went black. I began to shake and was aware of nothing else until I came to in McGovern's arms. She was helping me into the chair where Lucy had been seated at the desk.

'Someone bring her some water,' McGovern was saying. 'It's all right, Kay. It's all right.'

I focused on the freezer with its wide-open door and stacks of plastic bags hinting of flesh and blood. Marino was pacing the garage, running his fingers through his thinning strands of hair. His face was the hue of a stroke about to happen, and Lucy was gone.

'Where's Lucy?' I asked with a dry mouth.

'She's gone to get a first aid kit,' McGovern answered in a gentle voice. 'Just be quiet, try to relax, and we're going to get you out of here. You don't need to be seeing all this.'

But I already had. I had seen the empty face, the misshapen mouth and nose that had no bridge. I had seen the orange-tinted flesh sparkling with ice. The date on the freezer bag was June 17, the location Philadelphia, and that had penetrated at the same time I was looking, and then it was too late, or maybe I would have looked anyway, because I had to know.

'They've been here,' I said.

I struggled to get up and got light-headed again.

'They came here long enough to leave that. So we'd find it,' I said.

'Goddamn son of a bitch!' Marino screamed. 'GODDAMN-MOTHER-FUCKING-SON-OF-A-BITCH!'

He roughly wiped his eyes on his fist as he continued to pace like a madman. Lucy was coming down the steps. She was pale, her eyes glassy. My niece seemed dazed.

'McGovern to Correll,' she said into her portable radio.

'Correll,' the voice came back.

'You guys get on over here.'

'Ten-four.'

'I'm calling our forensic guys,' said Detective Scroggins.

He was stunned, too, but not the same way we were. For him, this wasn't personal. He had never heard of Benton Wesley. Scroggins was carefully going through the bags in the freezer, his lips moving as he counted.

'Holy God,' he said in amazement. 'There's twenty-seven of these things.'

'Dates and locations,' I said, mustering my reserved strength to walk over to him.

We looked together.

'London, 1981. Liverpool, 1983. Dublin, 1984, and one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten-eleven. Eleven, total, from Ireland, through 1987. It looks like he really started getting into it,' Scroggins said, and he was getting excited, the way people do when they are on the verge of hysteria.

I was looking on with him, and the location of Joyce's kills began in Northern Ireland in Belfast, then continued into the Republic in Galway, followed by nine murders in Dublin in neighborhoods such as Malahide, Santry and Howth. Then Joyce had begun his predation in the United States, mainly out west, in remote areas of Utah, Nevada, Montana, and Washington, and once in Natches, Mississippi, and this explained a lot to me, especially when I remembered what Carrie had said in her letter to me. She had made an odd reference to sawed bone.

'The torsos,' I said as the truth ran through me like lightning. 'The unsolved dismemberments in Ireland. And then he was quiet for eight years because he killed out west and the bodies were never found, or else never centrally reported. So we didn't know about them. He never stopped, and then he came to Virginia, where his presence definitely got my attention and drove me to despair.'

It was 1995 when two torsos had turned up, the first near Virginia Beach, the next in Norfolk. The following year there were two more, this time in the western part of the state, one in Lynchburg, the other in Blacksburg, very close to the campus of the Virginia Tech. In 1997, Joyce seemed to have gotten silent, and this was when I suspected Carrie had allied herself with him.

The publicity about the dismemberments had become overwhelming, with only two of the limbless, headless bodies identified by X-rays matching the premortem films of missing people, both of them male college students. They had been my cases, and I had made a tremendous amount of noise about them, and the FBI had been brought in.

I now realized that Joyce's primary purpose was not only to foil identification, but more importantly, to hide his mutilation of the bodies. He did not want us to know he was stealing his victims' beauty, in effect, stealing who they were by taking his knife to their faces and adding them to his frigid collection. Perhaps he feared that additional dismemberments might make the hunt for him too big, so he had switched his modus operandi to fire, and perhaps it was Carrie who had suggested this. I could only assume that somehow the two of them had connected on the Internet.

'I don't get it,' Marino was saying.

He had calmed a little and had brought himself to sift through Joyce's packages.

'How did he get all of these here?' he asked. 'All the way from England and Ireland? From Venice Beach and Salt Lake City?'

'Dry ice,' I said simply, looking at the metal camera cases and Styrofoam ice chests. 'He could have packed them well and put them through baggage without anyone ever knowing.'

Further searching of Joyce's house produced other incriminating evidence, all within plain view, for the warrant had listed magnesium fire starters, knives, and body parts, and that gave police license to rummage through drawers and even tear out walls, if they so chose. While a local medical examiner removed the contents of the freezer to transport it to the morgue, cabinets were gone through and a safe drilled open. Inside were foreign money and thousands of photographs of hundreds of people who had been granted the good fortune not to have turned up dead.

There also were photographs of Joyce, we presumed, sitting in the pilot's seat of his white Schweizer or leaning against it with his arms crossed at his chest. I stared at his image and tried to take it in. He was a short, slight man with brown hair, and might have been handsome had he not been terribly scarred by acne.

His skin was pitted down his neck and into the open shirt he wore, and I could only imagine his shame as an adolescent, and the mockery and derisive laughter of his peers. I had known young men like him as I was growing up, those disfigured by birth or disease and unable to enjoy the entitlement of youthfulness or being the object of love.

So he had robbed others of what he did not have. He had destroyed as he had been destroyed, the point of origin his own miserable lot in life, his own wretched self. I did not feel sorry for him. Nor did I think that he and Carrie were still here in this city, or even anywhere around. She had gotten what she'd wanted, at least for now. The trap I had set had caught only me. She had wanted me to find Benton, and I had.

The final word, I felt sure, would be what she eventually did to me, and at the moment, I was too beaten up to care. I felt dead. I found silence in sitting on an old, worn marble bench in the riotous tangle of Joyce's overgrown backyard. Hostas, begonias, and fig bushes fought with pampas grass for the sun, and I found Lucy at the edge of intermittent shadows cast by live oak trees, where red and yellow hibiscus were loud and wild.

'Lucy, let's go home.'

I sat next to my niece on cold, hard stone I associated with cemeteries.

'I hope he was dead before they did that to him,' she said one more time.

I did not want to think about it.

'I just hope he didn't suffer.'

'She wants us to worry about things like that,' I said as anger peeked through my haze of disbelief. 'She's taken enough from us, don't you think? Let's not give her any more, Lucy.'

She had no answer for me.

'ATF and the police will handle it from here,' I went on, holding her hand. 'Let's go home, and we'll move on from there.'

'How?'

'I'm not sure I know.' I was as truthful as I could be.

We got up together and went around to the front of the house, where McGovern was talking to an agent out by her car. She looked at both of us, and compassion softened her eyes.

'If you'll take us back to the helicopter,' Lucy said with a steadiness she did not feel, 'I'll take it on in to Richmond and Border Patrol can pick it up. If that's all right, I mean.'

'I'm not sure you should be flying right now.' McGovern suddenly was Lucy's supervisor again.

'Trust me, I'm fine,' Lucy replied, and her voice got harder. 'Besides, who else is going to fly it? And you can't leave it here on a soccer field.'

McGovern hesitated, her eyes on Lucy. She unlocked the Explorer.

'Okay,' she said. 'Climb in.'

'I'll file a flight plan,' Lucy said as she sat in front. 'So you can check on where we are, if that will make you feel better.'

'It will,' McGovern said, starting the engine.

McGovern got on the radio and called one of the agents inside the house.

'Put Marino on,' she said.

After a brief wait, Marino's voice came over the air.

'Go ahead,' he said.

'Party's taking off. You going along?'

'I'll stick to the ground,' his answer came back. 'Gonna help out here first.'

'Got it. We appreciate it.'

'Tell them to fly safe,' Marino said.

A campus police officer on bicycle patrol was standing sentry at the helicopter when we got there, and tennis was going strong on the courts next door, balls clopping, while several young men practiced soccer near a goal. The sky was bright blue, trees barely stirring, as if nothing bad had happened here. Lucy went through a thorough preflight check while McGovern and I waited in the car.

'What are you going to do?' I asked her.

'Bombard the news with pictures of them and any other info that might cause someone out there to recognize them,' she answered. 'They've got to eat. They've got to sleep. And he's got to have Avgas. He can't fly forever without it.'

'It doesn't make sense that it hasn't been spotted before, refueling, landing, flying, what all.'

'Looks like he had plenty of his own Avgas right there in his garage. Not to mention there are so many small airfields where he could land and gas up,' she said. 'All over. And he doesn't have to contact the tower in uncontrolled airspace, and Schweizers aren't exactly rare. Not to mention' - she looked at me - 'it has been spotted. We saw it ourselves, and so did the farrier and the director of Kirby. We just didn't know what we were looking at.'

'I suppose.'

My mood was getting heavier by the moment. I did not want to go home. I did not want to go anywhere. It was as if the weather had turned gray, and I was cold and alone and could escape none of it. My mind churned with questions and answers, and deductions and screams. Whenever it went still, I saw him. I saw him in smoldering debris. I saw his face beneath heavy plastic.

'… Kay?'

I realized McGovern was talking to me.

'I want to know how you're doing. Really.' Her eyes were fastened to me.

I took a deep, shaky breath, and my voice sounded cracked when I said, 'I'm going to make it, Teun. Beyond that, I don't know how I'm doing. I'm not, even sure what I'm doing. But I know what I've done. I've ruined everything. Carrie played me like a hand of cards, and Benton's dead. She and Newton Joyce are still out there, ready to do something bad again. Or maybe they already have. Nothing I've done has made a goddamn difference, Teun.'

Tears filled my eyes as I watched a blurry Lucy checking to make sure the fuel cap was tight. Then she began untying the main rotor blades. McGovern handed me a Kleenex. She gently squeezed my arm.

'You were brilliant, Kay. For one thing, had you not found out what you did, we wouldn't have had a thing to list on the warrant. We couldn't have even gotten one, and then where would we be? Yes, we haven't caught them yet, but at least we know who. And we will find them.'

'We found what they wanted us to,' I told her.

Lucy had finished her inspection and looked my way.

'I guess I'd better go,' I said to McGovern. 'Thank you.'

I took her hand and squeezed it.

'Take care of Lucy,' I said.

'I think she does a pretty good job of taking care of herself.'

I got out and turned around once to wave goodbye. I opened the copilot's door and climbed up in the seat, then fastened my harness. Lucy slipped her checklist out of a pocket on the door, and went down it, zeroing in on switches and circuit breakers, and making sure the collective was down, the throttle off. My heart would not beat normally, and my breathing was shallow.

We took off and nosed around into the wind. McGovern watched us climb, a hand shielding her eyes. Lucy handed me a sectional chart and said I was to help navigate. She lifted into a hover and contacted Air Traffic Control.

'Wilmington tower, this is helicopter two-one-niner Sierra Bravo.'

'Go ahead, helicopter two-one-niner, Wilmington tower.'

'Requesting clearance from university athletic field, direct to your location for ISO Aero. Over.'

'Contact tower when entering pattern. Cleared from present position, on course, stay with me and report down and secure at ISO.'

'Two Sierra Bravo, wilco.'

Then Lucy transmitted to me, 'We'll be following a three-three-zero heading. So your job after we gas up will be keeping the gyro consistent with the compass and helping out with the map.'

She climbed to five hundred feet and the tower contacted us again.

'Helicopter two Sierra Bravo,' the voice came over the air. 'Traffic is unidentified and at your six o'clock, three hundred feet, closing.'

'Two Sierra Bravo is looking, no joy.'

'Unidentified aircraft two miles southeast of airport, identify yourself,' the tower transmitted to all who could hear.

We were answered by nothing.

'Unidentified aircraft in Wilmington airspace, identify yourself,' the tower repeated.

Silence followed.

Lucy saw the aircraft first, directly behind us and below horizon, meaning its altitude was lower than ours.

'Wilmington tower,' she said over the air. 'Helicopter two Sierra Bravo. Have low-flying aircraft in sight. Will maintain separation.

'Something's not right,' Lucy commented to me, turning around in her seat to look behind us again.


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