The Lovers: A Charlie Parker Thriller | Chapter 25 of 49

Author: John Connolly | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 7972 Views | Add a Review

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CHAPTER FIFTEEN

I DIDN’T FIND WALLACE’S card until I opened the back door on the afternoon of the next day to put out the trash. It lay on the step, frozen to the cement. I looked at it, then went back inside and dialed his cell phone number from my office.

He answered on the second ring. “Mickey Wallace.”

“This is Charlie Parker.”

He didn’t reply for a moment or two, and when he did he sounded initially uneasy, although, like a true professional, he quickly rallied. “Mr. Parker, I was just about to call you. I was wondering if you’d considered my offer.”

“I’ve given it some thought,” I said. “I’d like to meet.”

“Great.” His voice rose an octave in surprise, then resumed its usual timbre. “Where and when?”

“Why don’t you come out to my place in, say, an hour. Do you know where it is?”

There was a pause. “No, I don’t. Can you give me directions?”

My directions were intricate and detailed. I wondered if he was even bothering to take them down.

“Got that?” I said when I was done.

“Yeah, I think so.” I heard him take a sip of liquid.

“You want to read them back to me?”

Wallace almost choked. When he had finished coughing, he said: “That won’t be necessary.”

“Well, if you’re sure.”

“Thank you, Mr. Parker. I’ll be with you shortly.”

I hung up. I put on a jacket, then went down the drive and found the tire tracks beneath the trees. If it was Wallace who had parked there, Kpar¤ithhe’d left in a real hurry. He’d managed to churn up ice and snow to reveal the dirt beneath. I walked back to the house, sat in a chair, and read the Press-Herald and The New York Times until I heard the sound of a car pulling into the drive, and Wallace’s blue Taurus came into view. He didn’t park in the same spot as the night before, but drove right up to the house. I watched him get out, take his satchel from the passenger seat, and check his pockets for a spare pen. When he was satisfied that all was in order, he locked the car.

In my drive. In Maine. In winter.

I didn’t wait for him to knock. Instead, I opened the door, and hit him once in the stomach. He buckled and dropped to his knees, then doubled over and retched.

“Get up,” I said.

He stayed down. He was struggling for breath, and I thought that he might vomit on my porch.

“Don’t hit me again,” he said. It was a plea, not a warning, and I felt like a piece of grit in a dog’s eye.

“I won’t.”

I helped him to his feet. He sat against the porch rail, his hands on his knees, and recovered himself. I stood opposite him, regretting what I had done. I had allowed my anger to simmer, and then I had taken it out on a man who was no match for me.

“You okay?”

He nodded, but he looked gray. “What was that for?”

“I think you know. For sneaking around my property. For being dumb enough to drop your card while you were here.”

He leaned against the rail to support himself. “I didn’t drop it,” he said.

“You’re telling me you left it for me in the dirt on my back porch? That doesn’t sound likely.”

“I’m telling you that I didn’t drop it. I slipped it under the door for the woman who was in your house last night, but she just pushed it back.”

I looked away. I saw skeletal trees amid the evergreens, and the channels in the salt marshes shining coldly amid the frozen snow. I saw a single black crow lost against the gray sky.

“What woman?”

“A woman in a summer dress. I tried to speak to her, but she wouldn’t say anything.”

I glanced at him. His eyes couldn’t meet mine. He was telling a version of the truth, but he had hidden away some crucial element. He was trying to protect himself, but not from me. Mickey Wallace was scared to death. I could see it in the way his eyes kept returning to something behind the window of my living room. I don’t know what he expected to see but, whatever it was, he was glad that it hadn’t appeared.

“Tell me what happened.”

“I came out to the house. I thought you might be more amenable to a discussion away from the bar.”

I knew that he was lying, but I wasn’t about to call him on it. I wanted to hear what he had to say about the events of the previous night.

“I saw a light, and I went around to the back door. There was a woman inside. I slipped my card under the door, and she slid it back. Then—”

He stopped.

“Go on,” I said.

“I heard a girl’s voice,” he continued, “but she was outside. I think the woman joined her at some point, but I didn’t look, so I can’t be sure.”

“Why didn’t you look?”

“I decided to leave.” His face, and those four words, spoke volumes.

“A wise choice. It’s just a shame that you were here in the first place.”

“I just wanted to see where you lived. I didn’t mean any harm by it.”

“No.”

He breathed in deeply, and once he was certain that he wasn’t going to throw up, he rallied and pulled himself up to his full height.

“Who were they?” he asked, and now it was my turn to lie.

“A friend. A friend and her daughter.”

“Your friend’s daughter always goes walking in the snow in dense fog, writing things on other people’s windows?”

“Writing? What are you talking about?”

Mickey swallowed hard. His right hand was trembling. His left was jammed in his coat pocket.

“There was something written on the window of my car when I got back to it,” he said. “It said ‘Stay away from my Daddy.’”

It took all of my self-control not to reveal myself to him. I wanted so badly to look up at the attic window, for I remembered a message written on the glass there, a warning left by an entity that was not quite my daughter. Yet the house did not feel the same way that it had felt then. It was no longer haunted by rage and grief and pain. Before, I had sensed their presence in the shifting of shadows and the creaking of boards, in the slow closing of doors where there was no breeze, and in the tapping on windows where there were no branches to touch them. Now the house was at peace, but if Wallace was speaking the truth, then something had returned.

I recalled my mother once telling me, some years after my father died, that on the night his body was taken to the church, she dreamed that she woke to a presence in the bedroom, and thought she could feel her husband close to her. In the far corner of the room there was a chair upon which he used to seat himself every night to finish undressing. He would ease himself into it in order to take off his shoes and socks, and sometimes he would remain there quietly for a while, his bare feet planted firmly on the carpet, his chin resting on the palms of his hands, and reflect upon the day that was coming to a close. My mother said that, in her dream, my father was back in his chair, except she couldn’t quite see him. When she tried to focus on the shape in the corner of the room, there was only a chair, but when she looked away a figure shifted position in the corner of her eye. She should have been frightened, but she was not. In her dream, her eyes became heavy. But how can my eyes be heavy, she thought, when I am still asleep? She fought against it, but the urge to sleep was too strong.


And just as she lost consciousness, she felt a hand on her brow, and lips softly brushed her cheek, and she sensed his sorrow and guilt, and in that moment I think that perhaps she started to forgive him at last for what he had done. For the rest of the night, she slept soundly and deeply, and despite all that had occurred, she did not weep as the final prayers were said for him in the church, and when his body was at last lowered into the ground, and the flag was folded and laid in her hands, she smiled sadly for her lost man and a single tear fell to the earth and exploded in the dirt like a fallen star.

“My friend’s daughter,” I said, “playing tricks on you.”

“Really?” said Wallace, and he did not even try to keep the skepticism from his voice. “They still here?”

“No. They’re gone.”

He let it go. “That was a low thing you did. You always hit people without warning?”

“It comes from the line of work. If I had told some of them that I was going to hit them, they would have shot me first. A warning kind of dulls the impact.”

“You know, right now, I kind of wish someone had shot you.”

“At least you’re honest.”

“Is that why you called me out here, to warn me off again?”

“I’m sorry that I hit you, but you need to hear this face-to-face, and not in a bar either. I’m not going to help you with your book. In fact, I’ll do everything in my power to make sure that it never gets beyond some scratches in one of your notebooks.”

“You’re threatening me?”

“Mr. Wallace, do you recall the gentleman at the Bear who was discussing the possible motives of alien abductors?”

“I do. In fact, I met him again yesterday. He was waiting for me in the parking lot of my motel. I assumed that you’d sent him.”

Jackie. I should have known that he’d take matters into his own hands in some misguided effort to help me. Part of me even felt a kind of admiration for him. I wondered how long he’d spent trawling the parking lots of the city’s motels, looking for Wallace’s car.

“I didn’t, but he’s the kind of man who can’t easily be controlled, and he has two buddies who make him look like a gentle soul. They’re brothers, and there are prisons that don’t want them back because they frighten the other inmates.”

“So? You’re going to set your buddies on me. Tough guy.”

“If I wanted to hurt you that badly, I’d do it myself. There are other ways to deal with the kind of problem that you represent.”

“I’m not a problem. I just want to tell your story. I’m interested in the truth.”

“I don’t know what the truth is. If I don’t know after all this time, then you’re not going to have any more success than I’ve had.”

His eyes narrowed shrewdly, and some of the color returned to his face. I had made a mistake even discussing the matter with him. He was like an evangelical Christian who finds someone on a doorstep willing to debate theology with him.

“But I can help you,” he said. “I’m a neutral party. I can find out things that might be useful to you. It doesn’t all have to go in the book. You’ll have control over how your image is presented.”

“My image?”

He realized that he had taken a wrong turn, and backpedaled furiously.

“It’s just a phrase. It means nothing. What I meant to say was, this is your story. If it’s to be told properly, it has to be told in your voice.”

“No,” I said. “That’s where you’re wrong. It doesn’t have to be told at all. Don’t come to my home, or to my place of work, again. I’m sure you know that I have a child. Her mother won’t talk to you. That I can tell you for sure. If you approach them, if you even pass them on the street and catch their eye, I’ll kill you and bury you in a shallow hole. You need to let this slide.”

Wallace’s face hardened, and I saw the man’s own inner strength reveal itself. Instantly, I felt tired. Wallace wasn’t going to fade into the night.

“Well, let me tell you something, Mr. Parker.” He mentioned the name of a famous actor, a man around whom rumors of a sexual nature had long circled without finding purchase. “Two years ago, I agreed to write an unauthorized biography of him. It’s not my area, all that Hollywood bullshit, but the publisher had heard of my talents, and the money was good, given the subject. He’s one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. His people threatened me with financial ruin, the loss of my reputation, even the loss of limbs, but that book is due to be published in six months’ time, and I can stand behind every word of it. He wouldn’t cooperate, but it didn’t matter. The book is still going to appear, and I’ve found people who’ve sworn that his whole life is a lie. You made a mistake punching me in the gut. It was the action of a frightened man. For that alone, I’m going to claw and dig in every dirty corner of your life. I’m going to find out things about you that you didn’t even know existed. And then I’m going to put them in my book, and you can buy a copy and read about them, and maybe then you’ll learn something about yourself, but I can tell you for sure that you’ll learn something about Mickey Wallace.

“And if you ever lay a hand on me again, I’ll see you in court, you fuck.”

With that, Wallace turned around and trudged back to his car.

And I thought: Aw, hell.


Aimee Price dropped by later that evening, after I had left another message for her at her office detailing most of what had happened since Wallace had appeared at the Bear. She declined coffee and asked if I had any wine uncorked. I didn’t, but I was happy to open a bottle for her. It was the least that I could do.

“Okay,” she said, once she had sipped the wine carefully and decided that it wasn’t about to send her into convulsions, “this isn’t my area, so I’ve had to ask around, but here is where we stand, in legal terms, on the book. Potentially, as the subject of an unauthorized biography of your life, you could bring a lawsuit for a number of legal reasons—libel, misappropriation of the right of publicity, breach of confidence—but the most likely avenue in your case would be invasion of privacy. You’re not a public figure in the way an actor or a politician might be, so you have a certain right to privacy. We’re talking about the right not to have private facts publicized that might prove embarrassing if they’re not related to matters of public concern; the right not to have false or misleading statements or suggestions made about you; and protection against intrusion, which means literal physical intrusion on your privacy by entering onto your property.”

“Which Wallace did,” I said.

“Yes, but he could argue that the first time he came by was to remonstrate with you, and to leave his card, and the second time, according to what you’ve told me, was at your invitation.”

I shrugged. She was right.

“So how did that second visit go?” she asked.

“Could have gone better,” I said.

“In what way?”

“Not punching him in the stomach would have been a start.”

“Oh, Charlie.” She seemed genuinely disappointed, and I felt even more ashamed of my actions earlier that day. In an effort to make up for my failings, I recounted my conversation with Wallace in as much detail as I could remember, leaving out any mention of the woman and child that he claimed to have glimpsed.

“You’re telling me that your friend Jackie threatened Wallace too?” she said.

“I didn’t ask him to. He probably thought that he was doing me a favor.”

“At least he exhibited more restraint than you did. Wallace could have you charged with assault, but my guess is that he probably won’t. Clearly he wants to write this book, and that may over-ride any other concerns as long as you didn’t do him any lasting damage.”

“He walked away under his own steam,” I said.

“Well, if he knows anything about you at all, he can probably consider himself lucky.”

I took the hit. I wasn’t in any position to argue.

“So where does that leave us?”

“You can’t stop him writing the book,” she said simply. “As he said himself, a lot of the relevant material is a matter of public record. What we can do is request, or otherwise obtain, a copy of the manuscript, and go through it with a fine-tooth comb looking for instances of libel, or egregious invasion of privacy. We could then apply to the courts for an injunction preventing publication, but I have to warn you that the courts are generally reluctant to permit injunctions of this kind in deference to the First Amendment. The best we could hope for would be monetary damages. The publisher has probably had a warranty and indemnity clause inserted into Wallace’s contract, assuming the contract has been formally agreed upon. Also, if the whole thing has been handled right, there will be a media-perils insurance policy in place to cover the work. In other words, not only will we not be able to stop this horse from bo Jd tf tlting, but we probably won’t even be able to do more than close the door halfway once it’s gone.”

I sat back in my chair and closed my eyes.

“You sure you don’t want some of this wine?” said Aimee.

“I’m sure. If I start, I may not stop.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ll talk to some more people and see if there are any other avenues open to us, but I don’t hold out much hope. And, Charlie?”

I opened my eyes.

“Don’t threaten him again. Just keep your distance. If he approaches you, walk away. Don’t get drawn into confrontations. That goes for your friends too, regardless of their good intentions.”

Which brought us to another problem.

“Yeah, well, that could be an issue,” I said.

“How?”

“Angel and Louis.”

I had told Aimee enough about them for her to be under no illusions.

“If Wallace starts digging, then their names may come up,” I said. “I don’t think they have any good intentions.”

“They don’t sound like the kind of men who leave too many traces.”

“It doesn’t matter. They won’t like it, Louis especially.”

“Then warn them.”

I thought about it. “No,” I said. “Let’s see what happens.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“Not really, but Louis believes in preventive measures. If I tell him that Wallace may start asking questions about him, he could decide that it might be better if Wallace didn’t ask any questions at all.”

“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that,” said Aimee. She finished her wine in a single gulp, and appeared to be debating whether or not to have more in the hope that it might destroy any memory of what I’d just said. “Jesus, how did you end up with friends like that?”

“I’m not sure,” I replied, “but I don’t think that Jesus had anything to do with it.”

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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