The Unquiet | Chapter 9 of 12

Author: John Connolly | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 8947 Views | Add a Review

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Into the dark night
Resignedly I go,
I am not so afraid of the dark night
As the friends I do not know,
I do not fear the night above,
As I fear the friends below



Chapter XXVI


I made the call while I was slipping a speed loader for the .38 into my jacket pocket. Louis answered on the second ring. He and Angel had hit the Collector’s safe house within an hour of Bob Johnson’s call to the inn, and had left a message on my cell informing me that they were, to use Angel’s words, “in country.”

“So I figure you got busted from the joint,” said Louis.

“Yeah, it was spectacular. Explosions, gunfire, the whole deal. You ought to have been there.”

“Anywhere be better than here.”

He sounded tetchy. Spending long periods of time with his partner in an enclosed space tended to do that to him. I figured their home life must be something to see.

“You say that now. Before this is over, I’ll bet you’ll be looking back fondly on your time spent in that car. You find anything?”

“We got nothing ’cause there’s nothing to get. House is empty. We checked before we start freezing our asses off out here. Nothing’s changed since then. We still freezing our asses off. Place still looked the same, except for one small difference: the closet in the basement was empty. Looks like the freak moved his collection.”

The Collector knew that someone had been in his house; he had discovered the trespass in his own way.

“Leave it,” I said. “If Merrick hasn’t returned there by now, he’s not going to.”

It had been a long shot to begin with. Merrick knew that the house would be the first place we would look for him. He had gone underground instead. I told Louis to have Angel drop him in Augusta, then pick up a rental car and head back to Scarborough. Angel would drive north to Jackman to see what he could find out there, as well as keeping watch for Merrick, because I was certain that Merrick would head for Jackman, and Gilead, eventually.

“How come he get to go to Jackman and I got to stay down there with you?” asked Louis.

“You know when you drop a lump of coal in snow?” I said.


“Well, that’s why you’re not going to Jackman.”

“You a closet racist, man.”

“You know, sometimes I almost forget you’re black.”

“Yeah? Well, I never forget you’re white. I seen you dance.”

With that, he hung up.



My next call was to Rebecca Clay to inform her that Merrick was well and truly off the leash. She didn’t take the news well, but agreed to let Jackie Garner shadow her again, with the Fulcis in tow. Even if she hadn’t agreed, I would have browbeaten her into it eventually.

Moments after I finished talking to Rebecca, I received a call from an unexpected source. Joel Harmon was on the end of the line: not his secretary, not Todd, the driver who knew how to hold a gun, but the man himself.

“Someone broke into my house early this morning,” he said. “I was up in Bangor last night so I wasn’t there when it happened. Todd discovered the damage to the window this morning.”

“Why are you telling me this, Mr. Harmon?” I wasn’t on Joel Harmon’s dime, and my head still ached from the chloroform.

“My office was ransacked. I’m trying to figure out if anything was taken. But I thought you might be interested to know that one of Daniel Clay’s paintings was vandalized. Nothing else was damaged in the same way, and none of the other paintings were touched, but the Gilead landscape was torn apart.”

“Don’t you have an alarm system?”

“It’s hooked up to the telephone. The line was cut.”

“And there was nobody in the house?”

“Only my wife.” There was a pause. “She slept through it all.”

“That’s quite a deep sleep, Mr. Harmon.”

“Don’t be a smart-ass. You’ve met her. You don’t need me to tell you that she’s doped up to the eyeballs. She could sleep through the apocalypse.”

“Any indication of who might have been responsible?”

“You talk like a fucking lawyer, you know that?” I could almost hear the spittle landing on the phone. “Of course I have a fucking idea! He cut the phone lines, but one of the security cameras on the grounds picked him up. The Scarborough cops came out here and identified him as Frank Merrick. This is the same guy who’s been terrorizing Rebecca Clay, right? Now I hear he may have blown some pedophile’s head off in a trailer park on the same night he busted into the house where my wife was sleeping. The hell does he want from me?”

“You were a friend of Daniel Clay’s. He wants to find him. Maybe he figured you’d know where he was.”

“If I knew where he was, I’d have told someone long before now. My question is, how did he know to come looking for me?”

“I found out about you and Clay easily enough. So could Merrick.”

“Yeah? Well how come that the night you came to see me, the car Merrick was driving at the time was seen outside my property? You know what I think, you fucking asshole? I think he followed you. You brought him to my door. You put my family at risk, all for a man who’s long dead. You prick!”

I hung up. Harmon was probably right, but I didn’t want to hear about it. I had enough baggage to carry already, and too much on my mind to worry about his painting or his anger at me. At least the damage confirmed my suspicion that Gilead was Merrick’s ultimate destination. I felt as if I had spent a week wading through mud, and I regretted the day that Rebecca Clay had called me. I wasn’t even sure what I was looking for anymore. Rebecca had hired me to get rid of Merrick, and instead he was roaming wild. Ricky Demarcian was dead, and the use of my gun made me culpable in his killing. According to the police, Demarcian had been involved in child pornography, and possibly even the supply of women and children to clients. Someone had handed him on a plate to Merrick, who might simply have killed him out of rage, finding in Demarcian’s shooting a convenient outlet for some of his own anger at whoever was responsible for what had happened to his daughter, or he might have learned something from Demarcian before his death. If he did, then Demarcian was also a piece of the puzzle, linked to Clay and Gilead and abusers with the faces of birds, but the man with the eagle tattoo, the only solid means of identifying those responsible for abusing Andy Kellog and, it seemed, Lucy Merrick, remained elusive. I couldn’t talk to any more of the victims because they were protected by bonds of confidentiality, or by the simple fact that nobody was aware of who they were. And I was still no closer to discovering the truth about Daniel Clay’s disappearance, or the extent of his involvement in the abuse of his patients, but nobody had asked me to do that anyway. I had never felt more frustrated, more at a loss as to how to proceed.

So I decided to place my head in the lion’s mouth. I made a call and told the woman on the other end of the phone that I was on my way to see her boss. She didn’t reply, but it didn’t matter. The Collector would find out soon enough.



The office of Eldritch and Associates was still knee deep in old paper and short on associates when I arrived. It was also short of Eldritches.

“He ain’t here,” said the secretary. Her hair was still big and still black, but this time her blouse was dark blue with a white frilled collar. An overlarge silver crucifix hung from a chain around her neck. She looked like a minister who specialized in cheap lesbian weddings. “You hadn’t hung up so soon, I’d have told you you were wasting your time coming down here.”

“When are you expecting him back?”

“When he comes back. I’m his secretary, not his keeper.”

She fed a sheet of paper into an old electric typewriter and began tapping out a letter. Her cigarette never moved from the corner of her mouth. She had perfected the art of puffing on it without touching it with her hand until it became necessary to do so in order to prevent the dangling column of ash from sending her to meet her maker in an inferno of burning paper, assuming her maker was prepared to own up and claim her.

“Maybe you could call him and let him know that I’m here,” I said, after a couple of minutes had passed in noncompanionable silence.

“He doesn’t use a cell phone. He doesn’t like ’em. Says they give you cancer.” She squinted at me. “You use a cell phone?”



She returned to her typing.

I took in the nicotine-encrusted walls and ceiling. “A safe workplace is a happy workplace,” I said. “I can wait for him.”

“Not here you can’t. We’re closing for lunch.”

“Kind of early for lunch.”

“It’s a busy day. I been run off my feet.”

She finished typing, then carefully removed the letter from the typewriter. The letter was then added to a pile of similar documents in a wire tray, none of which looked like they were ever likely to be sent. Some of those at the bottom had already yellowed.

“Do you ever get rid of any of this stuff ?” I asked, indicating the stacks of paper and dusty files.

“Sometimes people die,” she said. “Then we move their files to a storage facility.”

“They could die here, and just be buried under paper.”

She stood and retrieved a drab olive overcoat from a battered coatrack.

“You have to go now,” she said. “You’re just too much fun for me.”

“I’ll come back after lunch.”

“You do that.”

“Any idea when that might be?”

“Nope. Could be a long one.”

“I’ll be waiting when you return.”

“Uh-huh. Be still my heart.”

She opened the office door and waited for me to leave before locking it with a brass key that she kept in her purse. Then she followed me down the stairs and double-locked the main door before climbing into a rusted brown Caddy parked in Tulley’s lot. My own car was down the block. There didn’t seem to be much more that I could do other than to get a bite to eat and wait around in the hope that Eldritch might materialize, unless I just gave up and drove home. Even if Eldritch made an appearance, he wasn’t my principal reason for being there. It was the man who paid his bills. I couldn’t force Eldritch to tell me more about him. Well, I could, but I found it hard to imagine myself grappling with the old lawyer in an effort to make him confess what he knew. At worst, I saw him disintegrate into fragments of dust in my hands, staining my jacket with his remains.

And then a pungent hint of nicotine stung my nostrils, blown toward me by the wind. The smell was peculiarly acrid, heavy with poisons, and I could almost feel cells in my body threatening to metastasize in protest. I turned around. The dive bar at the opposite end of the block from Tulley’s was open for business, or at least as open as it could be when its windows were covered with wire mesh, its windowless door scuffed and scarred, and the lower half blackened where an attempt had been made to set it on fire. A sign at eye level advised that anyone who looked under the age of twenty-one would be asked for identification. Someone had altered the two to make it look like a one.

A man stood outside, his dark hair slicked back, the ends congregating in a mass of untidy, greasy curls just below his collar. His once-white shirt had faded to yellow, the collar unbuttoned to reveal dark stains along the inside that no amount of washing could ever remove. His old black coat was frayed at the ends, the stray threads moving slowly in the breeze like the legs of dying insects. His trousers were too long, the ends touching the ground and almost entirely obscuring the thick-soled shoes that he wore. The fingers that clutched the cigarette were burned a deep yellow at the tips. The nails were long and furrowed, with dirt impacted beneath them.

The Collector took a final drag on the cigarette, then flicked it neatly into the gutter. He held in the smoke, as though draining it of every last iota of nicotine, then released it in wisps from his nostrils and the corners of his mouth so that he appeared to be burning inside. He regarded me silently through the fumes, then opened the door to the bar and, with a last glance in my direction, disappeared from within.

After only a moment’s pause, I followed.


Chapter XXVII


The interior of the bar wasn’t nearly as bad as its façade might have led a casual observer to expect. On the other hand, the façade suggested that the interior would be occupied by intoxicated twelve-year-olds and frustrated firebugs, so it didn’t have to do much to exceed those expectations. It was dark, lit only by a series of flickering lamps on the walls, as the windows facing the street were masked by thick red drapes on the inside. A bartender in a startlingly white shirt prowled the long bar to the right, three or four of its stools occupied by the usual assortment of daytime rummies blinking indignantly at the unwelcome shaft of sunlight from the open door. The bar was strangely ornate, and behind it, reflecting the rows of liquor bottles, were tarnished mirrors bearing the names of whiskeys and beers that had long since ceased to exist. The floor was made of exposed boards, scuffed by decades of traffic, and burned here and there by the discarded butts of dead smokers, but clean and, it seemed, freshly varnished. The brass work on the stools, the footrests at the bar, the coat hooks gleamed, and every table had been dusted and bore fresh beer coasters. It was as though the exterior had been deliberately designed to discourage casual custom, while retaining a degree of sophistication within that spoke of a once noble past.

A series of booths took up the wall to the left, with a scattering of round tables and old chairs between the booths and the bar. Three of the booths were occupied by office workers eating what looked like good salads and club sandwiches. There seemed to be an unspoken divide between the bar crew and the others, with the circular tables and chairs in between representing a kind of no-man’s-land that might as well have been littered with barbed wire and tank traps.

Ahead of me, the Collector was picking his way carefully toward a booth at the back of the bar. A waitress emerged from the kitchens nearby, a huge tray of food balanced on her left shoulder. She didn’t look at the Collector, but she gave him a wide berth, moving left in the direction of the bar as he came and effectively traversing two sides of a triangle to reach the booth nearest the door. In fact, at no point did anyone in the room even glance at him as he made his way down its entire length, and although it made no sense to me, had I been asked, I would have said that their decision to ignore him was an unconscious one. Some part of them was aware of his presence; after all, he had a drink before him in the booth, and someone must have served it to him. His cash would end up in the register. A faint smell of nicotine would hang around the booth for a time even after he was gone. Yet, I suspected that one minute after he left, if asked about him, every person in that bar would have had difficulty remembering him. That part of their brains that had been aware of his presence would also have registered even the memory of him as a threat—no, not a threat, but a kind of pollutant of the soul—and would quickly and efficiently have set about erasing all traces of him from itself.

He was sitting in the booth, waiting for me to draw near, and I had to fight my urge to turn away, to retreat from him into the sunlight. Foul. The word forced itself up like bile. I could almost feel it forming on my lips. Foul thing.

And as I reached the booth, the Collector spoke that word to me.

“Foul,” he said. He seemed to be testing it, tasting it like an unfamiliar food, uncertain as to whether he found it to his liking or not. In the end, he touched his stained tongue with those yellowed fingers and picked a piece of tobacco from it, as though he had given form to the word and chosen to expel it. There was a mirror behind him, and I could see the bald patch at the back of his head. It was slightly flattened, suggesting that at some point in the distant past he had received a blow heavy enough to impact upon the skull and fracture it. I wondered how long ago it might have occurred; in childhood, perhaps, while the skull was still soft. Then I tried to imagine this creature as a child and found that I could not.

He gestured to the seat across from him, indicating that I should sit, then raised his left hand and allowed his fingers to pluck gently at the air, like a fisherman testing the lure at the end of his line. It summoned the waitress, and she approached the booth slowly and reluctantly, her face already trying to form a smile that the muscles seemed unwilling to support. She did not look at the Collector. Instead, she tried to keep her eyes fixed firmly on me, even turning her back on him slightly so as to exclude him from her peripheral vision.

“What can I get ya?” she asked. Her nostrils twitched. The tips of her fingers were white where they gripped the pen. As she waited for me to answer, her eyes and head shifted slightly to the right. The smile, already struggling to survive, entered its death throes. The Collector stared at the back of her head. He grinned. A frown creased the waitress’s forehead. She flicked at her hair distractedly. The Collector’s mouth moved, soundlessly ejecting a word. I read it on his lips.


The waitress’s lips moved too, forming the same word. Whore. Now she shook her head, trying to dislodge the insult like an insect that had crawled into her ear.

“No,” she said. “That’s—”

“Coffee,” I said, a little too loudly. “Just coffee will be fine.”

It brought her back. For a moment, she seemed about to continue, to protest at what she had heard, or thought she had heard. Instead, she swallowed the words. The effort made her eyes water.

“Coffee,” she repeated. She wrote it on her pad, her hand trembling as the pen moved. She looked to be on the verge of tears. “Sure, I’ll be right back with it.”

But I knew she would not be back. I saw her go to the bar and whisper something to the bartender. She began untying her apron and headed for the kitchen. There was probably a staff bathroom in back. She would stay there, I figured, until the crying and the shaking stopped, until she felt that it was safe to come out. She might try to light a cigarette, but the smell of it would remind her of the man in the booth, the one who was both there and not there, present and absent, a raggedy man trying just too hard to be unremarkable.

And as she reached the kitchen door, she found it within herself to look straight at the man in the booth, and her eyes were bright with fear and anger and shame before she vanished from sight.

“What did you do to her?” I asked.

“Do?” He sounded genuinely surprised. His voice was surprisingly soft. “I did nothing. She is what she is. Her morals are lax. I merely reminded her of it.”

“And how do you know that?”

“Ways and means.”

“She’d done you no harm.”

The Collector pursed his lips in disapproval.

“I’m disappointed in you. Perhaps your morals are as lax as hers. Whether she had done me harm or not is irrelevant. The fact remains that she is a whore, and she will be judged as such.”

“By you? I don’t think you’re fit to judge anyone.”

“I don’t pretend to be. Unlike you,” he added, with just a hint of malice. “I am not the judge, but the application of judgment. I do not sentence, but I carry out the punishment.”

“And keep souvenirs of your victims.”

The Collector spread his hands before me.

“What victims? Show them to me. Display for me the bones.”

Now, although we had spoken before, I noticed for the first time the careful way in which he expressed himself, and the occasional strange locutions that emerged when he did. Display for me the bones. There was a trace of something foreign to his accent, but it was impossible to place. It seemed to come from anywhere and nowhere, just like him.

His hands closed into fists. He allowed only his right index finger to remain extended.

“But you…I smelled you in my house. I marked the places where you had lingered, you and the others who came with you.”

“We were looking for Merrick.” It sounded like I was trying to justify the trespass. Perhaps I was.

“But you did not find him. From what I hear, he found you. You are fortunate to be alive after crossing such a man.”

“Did you set him on me, like you set him on Daniel Clay and on his daughter? Like you set him on Ricky Demarcian?”

“Did I set him on Daniel Clay?” The Collector touched an index finger to his lower lip, a simulation of thoughtfulness. His lips parted slightly, and I glimpsed his crooked teeth, blackening at the roots. “Perhaps I have no interest in Daniel Clay, or his daughter. As for Demarcian, well, the loss of a life is always regrettable, but in some cases it is less regrettable than in others. I suspect few will mourn his absence from the world. His employers will find another to take his place, and the deviants will congregate around him like flies on a wound.

“But we were talking about your intrusion upon my privacy. At first, I must confess that I was aggrieved. You forced me to move part of my collection. But when I considered the situation, I was grateful. I knew that we were destined to meet again. You could say that we move in the same circles.”

“I owe you for the last time we met in one of those circles.”

“You would not give me what I wanted—no, what I needed. You left me no choice. Nevertheless, I apologize for any hurt I inflicted. It appears to have caused no lasting damage.”

It was strange. I should have taken him there and then. I should have rained blows upon him in retribution. I wanted to break his nose and his teeth. I wanted to force him to the floor and shatter his skull with the heel of my boot. I wanted to see him burn, his ashes scattering to the four winds. I wanted his blood on my hands and my face. I wanted to lick it from my lips with the tip of my tongue. I—

I stopped. The voice in my head was mine, yet it was echoed by another. Silken tones goaded me.

“You see?” said the Collector, even though his lips did not move. “You see how easy it could be? Do you want to try? Do you want to punish me? Come, do it. I am alone.”

But that was a lie. It was not only the Collector that those in the bar had chosen to ignore, if they were aware of the others at all. There was now movement in the shadows, dark on light. Faces formed at the edges of perception, then were gone, their black eyes unblinking, their ruined mouths gaping, the lines on their skin speaking of decay and absence within. In the mirror, I saw some of the businessmen push their food away half-finished. One of the afternoon drunks at the bar brushed at a presence beside his ear, swatting it away like the whine of a mosquito. I saw his lips move, repeating something that only he could hear. His hand trembled as he reached for the shot glass before him, his fingers failing to grasp it so that it slipped away from him, falling on its side and spilling amber liquid across the wood.

They were here. The Hollow Men were here.

And even if he were alone, which he was not, even if there was no sense that half-glimpsed presences trailed behind him like fragments of himself, only a fool would try to tackle the Collector. He exuded menace. He was a killer, of that I was certain. A killer just like Merrick, except Merrick took lives for money and, now, for revenge, never deluding himself into thinking that what he did was right or justified, while the Collector ended lives because he thought he had been given permission to do so. All that the two men had in common was a shared belief in the utter inconsequentiality of those whom they dispatched.

I took a deep breath. I found that I had moved forward in my seat. I sat back and tried to release some of the tension from my shoulders and arms. The Collector seemed almost disappointed.

“You think that you are a good man?” he said. “How can one tell the good from the bad when their methods are just the same?”

I didn’t answer. “What do you want?” I asked instead.

“I want what you want: to find the abusers of Andrew Kellog and the others.”

“Did they kill Lucy Merrick?”


“You know that for certain.”



“The living leave one mark on the world, the dead another. It is a matter of learning to read the signs, like—” He searched for the right comparison, and clicked his fingers as he found it. “—like writing on glass, like fingerprints in dust.”

He waited for me to react, but he was disappointed.

And around us, the shadows moved.

“And you thought you’d use Frank Merrick to flush out the men responsible,” I said, as if he had not spoken those words, as if he did not seem to know things of which he could not possibly be aware.

“I thought he might be useful. Mr. Eldritch, needless to say, was not convinced, but like a good attorney, he does as his client wishes.”

“Looks like Eldritch was right. Merrick is out of control.”

The Collector conceded the point with a click of his tongue.

“It would appear so. Still, he may yet lead me to them. For the present, though, we are no longer aiding him in his searches. Eldritch has already had some awkward questions from the police. That bothers him. He has been forced to open a new file, and despite his love of paper, he has files enough as matters stand. Eldritch likes…old things.”

He rolled the words around in his mouth, savoring them.

“Are you looking for Daniel Clay?”

The Collector grinned slyly. “Why would I be looking for Daniel Clay?”

“Because children in his care were abused. Because the information that led to that abuse could have come from him.”

“And you believe that if I am looking for him, then he must be guilty, is that not right? Despite your distaste for me, it seems that perhaps you trust my judgment.”

He was right. The realization troubled me, but there was no denying the truth of what he had said. For some reason, I believed that if Clay was guilty, then the Collector would be seeking him out.

“The question remains: are you looking for him?”

“No,” said the Collector. “I am not.”

“Because he wasn’t involved, or because you already know where he is?”

“That would be telling. Would you have me do all your work for you?”

“So what now?”

“I want you to leave Eldritch be. He knows nothing that would be useful to you, and would not tell you even if he did. I wanted to express my regret at what passed between Merrick and you. It was not my doing. Finally, I wanted to tell you that, in this instance, we are working toward the same end. I want those men identified. I want to know who they are.”


“So they can be dealt with.”

“The courts will take care of them.”

“I answer to a higher court.”

“I won’t hand them over to you.”

He shrugged. “I am patient. I can wait. Their souls are forfeit. That is all that matters.”

“What did you say?”

He traced patterns upon the table. They looked like letters, but of some alphabet that was unknown to me. “Some sins are so terrible that there can be no forgiveness for them. The soul is lost. It returns to the One who created it, to be disposed of as He sees fit. All that is left behind is an empty shell, consciousness without grace.”

“Hollow,” I said, and I thought that something in the darkness responded to the word, like a dog hearing its name called by a stranger.

“Yes,” said the Collector. “That is an apt word.”

He looked around, seeming to take in the bar and its denizens, yet he focused not on people and objects but on the spaces between them, finding movement where there should have been only stillness, shapes without true form. When he spoke again, his tone was altered. He sounded thoughtful, almost regretful.

“And who would see such things, if they existed?” he said. “Sensitive children, perhaps, abandoned by their fathers and fearful for their mothers. Holy fools who are attuned to such things. But you are neither.” His eyes flicked toward me, regarding me slyly. “Why do you see what others do not? Were I in your shoes, I might be troubled by such matters.”

He licked at his lips, but his tongue was dry and gave them no moisture. They were cracked deeply in places, the partly healed cuts a darker red against the pink. “Hollow.” He repeated the word, drawing out the final syllable. “Are you a hollow man, Mr. Parker? After all, misery loves company. A place might be found in the ranks for a suitable candidate.” He smiled, and one of the cracks on his lower lip opened. A red pearl of blood rose briefly before flowing back into his mouth. “But no, you lack…spirit, and it may be that there are others more adaptable to the role. By their actions shall they be known.”

He stood to leave, depositing twenty dollars on the table to cover his drink. It smelled like Jim Beam, although it had remained untouched throughout.

“A generous tip for our waitress,” he said. “After all, you seem to feel that she has earned it.”

“Are these men the only ones you’re looking for?” I asked him suddenly. I wanted to know if there were others, and if, perhaps, I was among them.

He crooked his head, like a magpie distracted by an object shining in the sunlight.

“I am always searching,” he said. “There are so many to be dealt with. So many.” He began to drift away. “Perhaps we’ll meet again, for better or worse. It is almost time to be moving on, and I find the thought that you might choose to snap at my heels slightly troubling. It will be for the best if we find a way to coexist in this world. I’m sure that an accommodation can be reached, a bargain struck.”

He walked toward the door, and shadows followed him along the walls. I saw them in the mirror, smears of white on black, just as I had seen the face of John Grady in a mirror once, howling against his own damnation. It was only when the door opened, and sunlight briefly invaded once again, that I saw the envelope that the Collector had left on the seat across from me. I reached for it. It was thin and unsealed. I opened the tab and looked inside. It contained a black-and-white photograph. I took it out and laid it on the table as the door closed behind me, so that there was only the flickering lamplight to illuminate the picture of my house, the clouds gathering above it, and the men standing beside the car in my drive, one tall, black, and severe, the other smaller, smiling in his dishevelment.

I stared at the picture for a time, then put it back in the envelope and tucked it into my jacket pocket. From the kitchen door, the waitress emerged. Her eyes were red. She glanced at me, and I felt the sting of her blame. I left the bar, left Eldritch and his secretary and his office filled with old paper and the names of the dead. I left them all, and I did not return.



As I drove north, Merrick was engaged in his own work. He approached Rebecca Clay’s home. Later, when everything ended in blood and gunfire, a neighbor would recall his presence, but for now he went unnoticed. It was a gift that he had, the ability to blend in when necessary, to avoid attracting attention. He saw the two big men in their enormous truck, and the car owned by the third man parked at the rear of the house. The car was empty, which meant that the man was probably inside. Merrick was sure that he could take him, but there would be noise, and it would draw the others to him. He might be able to kill them as well, but the risk was too great.

Instead, he retreated. He had acquired a new car, boosted from the garage of a summer home at Higgins Beach, and drove it to a warehouse on a decrepit industrial park near Westbrook, and there he found Jerry Legere working alone. He put my gun in Legere’s mouth and informed him that, when it was removed, Legere would tell him all that his wife had shared with him about her father, and all that he knew or suspected about the events leading up to Daniel Clay’s disappearance, or he would blow the back of his head off. Legere was certain that he was going to die. He told Merrick about his wife, the whore. He peddled fantasies to him: lies and half lies, untruths half-believed, and truths that were worth less than the lies.

But Merrick learned nothing useful from him, and he did not kill Rebecca Clay’s ex-husband, because Legere gave him no cause to do so. Merrick drove away, leaving Legere lying in the dirt, crying with shame and relief.

And the man who was watching from the woods took in everything and began making his calls.


Chapter XXVII


I was heading north on I-95 when the call came through. It was Louis. When he had returned to Scarborough, there was an unknown car waiting in my driveway. A couple of phone conversations later, and it was not unknown any longer.

“You got company up here,” he said.

“Anyone we know?”

“Not unless you planning on invading Russia.”

“How many?”



“Sitting slap bang in your yard. Apparently, there ain’t no Russian word for ‘subtle.’”

“Keep an eye on them. I’ll let you know when I’m coming off Route I.”

I guessed they’d be around asking questions eventually. They couldn’t let Demarcian’s death pass without mention or investigation. I had just hoped that I’d already be gone when they arrived.

I didn’t know much about the Russians, except for the little I’d learned from Louis in the past and what I’d read in the papers. I knew that they were big in California and New York and that the main groups in each of those places maintained contact with their peers in Massachusetts, Chicago, Miami, New Jersey, and a dozen or more other states, as well as their peers back in Russia, to form what was, in effect, a huge criminal syndicate. Like the individual mobs themselves, it appeared to be loosely structured, with little apparent organization, but it was believed that this was a ruse to throw investigators off the scent and make it difficult for them to infiltrate the syndicate. The soldiers were separated from the bosses by layers of buffers, so that those involved in drugs and prostitution at street level had little idea where the money they earned ultimately went. Demarcian had probably not been able to tell Merrick very much about the men with whom he dealt beyond first names, and those were unlikely to have been real anyway.

The Russians also seemed content to leave large-scale narcotics dealing to others, although they were said to have formed links with the Colombians. Mostly, they preferred insurance scams, identity theft, money laundering, and fuel tax fraud, the kind of complex rip-off operations that were hard for the authorities to track and prosecute. I wondered how many of the clients for Demarcian’s porn sites realized the kind of individuals to whom they were revealing their credit card details.

I figured they were here only to ask questions. If they’d come for something more serious, they wouldn’t have been dumb enough to park in my driveway and wait for me to arrive. Then again, that presupposed they gave a damn about their car being noticed or even about potential witnesses. The Russians were bad news. It was said that when the Soviet Union collapsed, the Italians sent a few guys over to Moscow to assess the potential for muscling in on the emerging market. They took one look at what was happening on the streets and went straight back home. Unfortunately, the Russians followed them back, joining the Odessa Mafia that had been operating in Brighton Beach since the midseventies, and now the Italians sometimes seemed almost quaint by comparison with the new arrivals. It was kind of ironic, I thought, that what ultimately brought the Russians to our door was not communism, but capitalism. Joe McCarthy must have been turning in his grave.

I reached Scarborough forty minutes later, and I called Louis when I was at Oak Hill. He asked me to give him five minutes, then head down at a steady thirty. I saw the car as soon as I rounded the bend. It was a big black Chevy 4x4, the kind of vehicle usually driven by people who would cry if they got real dirt on it. As if to confirm the stereotype, the Chevy was scrupulously clean. I did a U-turn as I passed my house and pulled up behind the Chevy with the passenger door closest to it, effectively blocking it from leaving the drive. It was bigger than the Mustang, and if they got enough power behind it they might manage to knock my car out of their way, but in the process they’d probably wipe out the back of their vehicle. Apparently, nobody had yet thought of putting bull bars on the rear of 4x4s, although I was sure that it could only be a matter of time. Both front doors of the Chevy opened, and two men emerged. They were dressed in standard hood chic: black leather jackets, black jeans, and black sweaters. One of them, a bald man built like a piece of Eastern Bloc architecture, was reaching inside his jacket for his gun when a voice behind him said only a single word: “Don’t.”

The Russian’s hand froze. Louis stood in the shadows of my house, his Glock in his gloved hand. They were trapped between us. I stayed where I was, my .38 now drawn and trained on them.

“Take your hand out of your jacket,” I told the bald Russian. “Slowly. When I see it, fingernails had better be the only thing on the end of it.”

The Russian did as he was told. His partner had already raised his hands. I came out from behind the car and advanced on them.

“Flat on the ground,” said Louis.

They did as they were told. Louis then frisked them both while I kept the gun on them. They were each armed with matching Colt nine-millimeter semiautomatics. Louis ejected the clips from the guns, then checked for any in the chute. When he was sure that they were empty, he tossed the clips into the undergrowth and retreated five feet from the two men.

“Up and kneel,” I told them. “Keep your hands behind your heads.”

They struggled to a kneeling position, then glared at me.

“Who are you?” I said.

They didn’t reply.

“Shestyorki,” said Louis. “Ain’t that what you are? Messenger boys.”

“Niet,” said the bald one. “Boyeviki.”

Boyeviki my ass,” said Louis. “He says they’re soldiers. Guess it’s hard to get good staff these days. This one can’t even answer a question in English. What happened, you fall off the boat and get left behind?”

“I speak English,” said the Russian. “I speak English good.”

“No shit?” said Louis. “What you want, a medal? A gold star?”

“Why are you here?” I asked, although I already knew.

“Razborka,” he said. “We want, uh—” He searched for the English word. “—clarification,” he finished.

“Well, let me give you clarification,” I said. “I don’t like armed men on my property. If I shot you now, you think that would be clarification enough for your bosses?”

The redheaded one glanced at his partner, then spoke.

“You kill us, and this gets worse. We are here to talk about Demarcian.” His English was better than his partner’s. He spoke it with only the faintest hint of an accent. It was clear that he was the one in charge, although he had been content to hide the fact until it became obvious that his bald friend was out of his depth in the current negotiations.

“I don’t know anything about him, apart from the fact that he’s dead.”

“The police questioned you. The rumor is that your gun was used to kill him.”

“The gun was taken from me,” I said. “I don’t know for certain that it was used to kill Demarcian. My guess is that it probably was, but I don’t go loaning it out for killings. The man who took it wanted it real bad.”

“It was careless of you to lose your gun,” said the Russian.

“As you can see, I have another. If I lose that, I can always borrow one from my friend behind you. He has lots of guns. Anyway, I didn’t have anything to do with Demarcian’s death, the weapon apart.”

“So you say,” said the Russian.

“Yeah, but we have guns, and you don’t, so our word wins.”

The Russian shrugged, as though the whole matter was immaterial to him anyway. “I believe you, then. We would still like to know about the man who killed Demarcian, this Merrick. Tell us about Merrick.”

“Do your own homework. You want him, you find him.”

“But we think you, too, are looking for him. You want your gun back. Perhaps we find him, and we get it back for you.”

His bald companion snickered and said something under his breath. It sounded like “frayeri.” Louis responded by striking him across the back of the head with the barrel of the Glock. It wasn’t enough to knock him out, but it laid him flat on his face. His scalp began to bleed.

“He called us suckers,” explained Louis. “That’s not nice.”

The redheaded man didn’t move. He just shook his head in apparent disappointment at his colleague’s stupidity. “I think your friend does not like Russians very much,” he said.

“My friend doesn’t like anybody very much, but he does appear to have a particular problem with you two,” I admitted.

“Perhaps he is a racist. Is that what you are?”

He turned his head slightly, trying to see Louis. I had to give him credit: he wasn’t easily intimidated.

“I can’t be no racist, man,” said Louis. “I’m black.”

It didn’t quite answer the Russian’s question, but he seemed content with what he heard. “We want Frank Merrick,” he continued. “We could make it worth your while if you tell us what you know.”


“Sure, money.” His face brightened. This was the kind of negotiation that he liked.

“I don’t need money,” I said. “I got too much as it is. What I need is for you to take your friend and get out of here. He’s bleeding on my driveway.”

The Russian looked genuinely regretful. “That is a shame.”

“It’s okay, it’ll wash off.”

“I meant about the money.”

“I know. Get up.”

He stood. Behind him, Louis was checking the interior of the Chevy. He found a little H&K P7 in the glove compartment, and a Benelli M1 tactical shotgun with a pistol grip stock and click-adjustable military ghost wing sights in a flip compartment under the rear seat. Again, he emptied both, then opened the back of the Chevy, wiped his prints from them, and stuck them under the gray lining in the trunk.

“Go back to Boston,” I said. “We’re all done here.”

“And what do I tell my bosses?” said the Russian. “Someone must answer for what happened to Demarcian. It has caused many problems for us.”

“I’m sure you’ll think of something.”

He sighed deeply. “Can I put my hands down now?” he asked. “Slowly,” I said.

He let his hands drop, then bent down to help his companion to his feet. The back of the bald man’s head was wet with blood. The redhead took in Louis for the first time. They exchanged nods of professional respect. Louis removed a pristine white handkerchief from the pocket of his jacket and handed it to the Russian.

“For your friend’s head,” he said.

“Thank you.”

“You know what blat means?” said Louis.

“Sure,” said the Russian.

“Well, my friend here has major blat. You be sure to tell your bosses that.”

The Russian nodded again. The bald man climbed gingerly into the passenger seat and rested his left cheek against the cool leather, his eyes closed. His colleague turned back to me.

“Good-bye, volk,” he said. “Until we meet again.”

He climbed into the Chevy, then began to reverse it down the drive, Louis keeping pace with him all the way, the Glock never wavering. I went back to my Mustang and moved it out of the way, then watched the Chevy head toward Route 1, Louis beside me.

“Ukrainians,” he said. “Maybe Georgians. Not Chechens.”

“Is that good?”

He shrugged. It seemed to be contagious. “They all bad,” he said. “Chechens just real bad.”

“The redhead didn’t seem like a foot soldier.”

“Underboss. Means they real pissed about Demarcian.”

“He doesn’t seem worth that kind of effort.”

“They lose business. Cops start tracing their clients, ask questions about pictures of children. Can’t let it slide.”

But he seemed to be holding something back.

“What else?”

“I don’t know. Feels off. I’ll ask around, see what I hear.”

“Will they be back?”

“Uh-huh. Might help if we found Merrick first, buy us a little influence.”

“I’m not going to give them Merrick.”

“Might not have a choice.” He started to walk back to the house.

“What does ‘blat’ mean?” I asked.

“Connections,” he replied. “And not the legal kind.”

“And ‘volk’?”

“It’s slang, word for a cop or an investigator. Kind of a compliment.” He put his gun back in its shoulder holster. “It means ‘wolf.’”


Chapter XXIX


We drove north to Jackman late that afternoon, through Shawmut and Hinckley and Skowhegan, through Solon and Bingham, Moscow and Caratunk, past places without names and names without places, the road following the bends and curves of the Kennebec, the banks lined with bare trees, the forest floor brilliant with their lost foliage. Gradually, the nature of the forest began to change as the evergreens raised their spires, dark against the dying light as winter winds whispered of the promise of snow. And as the cold began to bite, the woods would grow ever quieter as animals retreated into hibernation and even birds grew torpid to preserve their energy.

We were following the route that Arnold took on his expedition up the Kennebec to Quebec. His force of twelve hundred men marched from Cambridge to Newburyport, then took to the river on transports, navigating the crooked channel of the Kennebec as far as Gardinerstown. From there, they transferred to light bateaux, more than two hundred of them, each capable of holding six or seven men along with their provisions and baggage, perhaps four hundred pounds of weight in all. They were built hastily and from green lumber by Reuben Colburn at Gardinerstown, and they quickly began to leak and fall to pieces, ruining the troops’ supplies of powder, bread, and flour. Three companies were sent ahead under Daniel Morgan to the Great Carrying Place between the Kennebec and Dead Rivers, the others following slowly behind, using ox teams borrowed from settlers to move the bateaux around the impassable falls above Fort Western, hoisting them up the steep, icy banks at Skowhegan Falls, most of the men reduced to walking in order to ease the burden on the boats until they came at last to the twelve low, marshy miles of the Great Carrying Place. The soldiers sank into deep, green moss that looked firm from a distance but proved treacherous underfoot, a kind of calenture on land, so that the madness suffered by sailors too long at sea, who hallucinated dry earth where there was no earth and drowned beneath the waves when they jumped, found its echo in ground that was soft and yielding as water. They stumbled on logs and fell in creeks, and in time they cleared a road in order to travel, so that for many years the path they took could be traced by the difference in the color of the foliage on either side of the route.

I was struck by a sense of landscape layered upon landscape, past upon present. These rivers and forests were inseparable from their history; the distinction between what was now and what had gone before was fragile here. It was a place where the ghosts of dead soldiers passed through forests and over streams that had changed little in the intervening years, a place where family names had remained unaltered, where people still owned the land that their great-grandfathers had bought with gold and silver coin, a place where old sins persisted, for great change had not come to wash away the memory of them.

So this was the land traversed by Arnold’s army, the soldiers equipped with rifles, axes, and long knives. Now other bands of armed men moved through this landscape, adding their clamor to the creeping silence of winter, holding it at bay with the roar of their guns and the growl of the trucks and quads that carried them into the wilderness. The woods were alive with orange-clad fools, businessmen from Massachusetts and New York taking a break from the golf course to blast at moose and bear and buck, guided by locals who were grateful for the money the outsiders spent yet remained resentful of the fact that they needed it to survive.

We made but one stop along the way, at a house that was little more than a shack, three or four rooms in all, its windows unwashed and the interior hidden by cheap drapes. The yard was overgrown. A garage door gaped open, revealing rusted tools and stacks of firewood. There was no car, because one of the conditions of Mason Dubus’s parole was that he was not permitted to drive a vehicle.

Louis waited outside. I think, perhaps, that he would have found Dubus’s company intolerable, for Dubus was a man like those who had abused Louis’s beloved Angel, and it was Louis’s greatest regret that he had never been given the opportunity to punish those who had scarred his lover’s soul. So he leaned against the car and watched silently as the door was opened slightly, a chain securing it, and a man’s face appeared. His skin was yellow and his eyes were rheumy. His one visible hand shook with uncontrollable tremors.

“Yes?” he said, and his voice was surprisingly firm.

“Mr. Dubus, my name’s Charlie Parker. I think someone called to let you know I might want to speak with you.”

The eyes narrowed. “Maybe. You got some, whatchacallit, ID? A license or something?”

I showed him my PI’s license. He took it from me and held it close to his face, examining each and every word upon it, then handed it back to me. He looked beyond me to where Louis was standing.

“Who’s the other fella?”

“He’s a friend.”

“He’s gonna catch cold out there. He’s welcome to come in, if he chooses.”

“I think he’d prefer to wait where he is.”

“Well, it’s his call. Don’t say I didn’t offer.”

The door closed for a moment, and I could hear the rattling as the security chain was removed. When it opened again, I got my first proper look at Dubus. He was hunched by age and illness, and by his years in prison, but there was still a vestige of the big, strong man that he had once been. His clothes were clean and carefully ironed. He wore dark trousers, a blue-striped shirt, and a tightly knotted pink tie. He was wearing an old-fashioned eau de cologne that bore hints of sandalwood and incense. The interior of the house gave the lie to any first impressions evoked by the exterior. The floorboards shone, and it smelled of furniture polish and air freshener. There were paperback books on a small shelf in the hallway, on top of which stood an old-fashioned rotary dial telephone. Nailed to the wall above it was a copy of the “Desiderata,” a kind of twelve-step program for those afflicted by the trials of modern life. The rest of the walls were decorated with prints of paintings in cheap frames—some modern, some much older, and most unfamiliar to me—although the images had clearly been carefully chosen.

I followed Dubus into his living room. Again, everything was clean, even though the furniture had come from thrift stores and was scuffed and worn. A small TV sat on a pine table, tuned to a comedy show. There were more prints on the walls here, as well as a couple of originals, each depicting a landscape. One of them seemed familiar. I walked over to take a closer look at it. From a distance, it appeared to be a painting of a forest, a line of green trees against a red sunset, but then I saw that one of the trees stood taller than the rest and had a cross at its highest point. Daniel Clay’s signature was visible in the bottom right-hand corner. It was Gilead.

“He gave it to me,” said Dubus. He was standing at the opposite side of the room, keeping a distance between us. It was probably a result of his time in jail, when you learned to give every man his space, even in such a confined area, or you faced the consequences.


“For talking to him about Gilead. You mind if we sit down? I get tired. I have to take this medication.” He gestured at some bottles of pills on the mantel above the fireplace, where three logs were hissing and sparking. “It makes me drowsy.”

I sat down on the couch across from him.

“If you want coffee, I can make some,” he said.

“I’m fine, thank you.”

“Okay.” He tapped his fingers on the arm of the chair, his eyes flicking toward the TV. It appeared that I had disturbed his evening’s viewing. Then, apparently resigning himself to the fact that he wasn’t going to be left to watch it in peace, he hit a button on the remote, and the picture died.

“So what do you want to know?” he asked. “I get people through here now and again: students, doctors. You can’t ask me anything I ain’t already been asked a hundred times before.”

“I’d like to know what you discussed with Daniel Clay.”

“I talked about Gilead,” he said. “That’s all I ever talk about. They used to test me, show me pictures and stuff, but they don’t do that no more. I guess they think they know all that they need to know about me.”

“And do they?”

His Adam’s apple bobbed. I could hear the sound that it made deep in his throat. He regarded me for a time, then seemed to come to some decision.

“No, they don’t,” he said. “They got as much as they’re going to get. Don’t think you’re going to get anything more than they did.”

“What was Clay’s interest in Gilead?” I asked. I didn’t want to alienate Dubus. He might have been drowsy and medicated, but he was still sharp.

“He wanted to know about what happened. I told him. I didn’t leave nothing out. I don’t have nothing to hide. I’m not ashamed of what we did together. It was all”—he screwed up his face in distaste—“misunderstood, misinterpreted. They made it out to be something it wasn’t.”

“What we did together,” as though it was a mutual decision reached between the adults and the children, as natural as fishing, or picking berries in summer.

“Children died, Mr. Dubus.”

He nodded. “That was bad. That shouldn’t have happened. They was babies, though, and times were hard up there. Might almost have been a blessing, what happened to them.”

“As I understand it, one was stabbed to death with a knitting needle. That’s a peculiar definition of a ‘blessing.’”

“You judging me, sir?” He squinted at me, the trembling of his hands giving the impression that he was struggling, yet failing, to control great anger.

“It’s not for me to do.”

“That’s right. That was why I got on with Dr. Clay. He didn’t judge me.”

“Did Daniel Clay ever talk about the children in his care?”

“No.” Something unpleasant animated his features for an instant. “I tried, though. He didn’t bite.” Dubus snickered.

“How many times did he come here?”

“Two or three, far as I can remember. He visited me in jail, too, but that was just once.”

“And it was all very businesslike. He interviewed you, and you talked.”

“That’s right.”

“And yet he gave you one of his paintings. I hear he was very careful about those to whom he gave his paintings. Very selective.”

Dubus shifted in his chair. That Adam’s apple began bobbing again, and I was reminded of Andy Kellog worrying at his loose tooth. Both were indicators of stress.

“Maybe I was helpful to him. Maybe he didn’t view me as no monster. I could see it in your friend’s face out there, and I could see it in yours when I opened the door. You tried to hide it with politeness and good manners, but I knew what you were thinking. And then you came in here, and you saw the pictures on my wall, and how clean and neat everything was. I wasn’t wallowing in my own filth. I wasn’t stinking, or dressed in filthy, tattered clothes. You think I want the outside of my place to look the way it does? You don’t think I want to paint it, to fix it up some? Well, I can’t. I do what I can around here, but there ain’t nobody going to help a man like me to keep his house in order. I paid for what they said I done, paid with years of my life, and they’re going to make me keep paying until I die, but I won’t give them the satisfaction of being ground down. You want monsters, you look elsewhere.”

“Was Daniel Clay a monster?”

The question seemed to shock him into silence, then, for a second time, I saw the intelligence at work behind the withered façade, that creeping, nasty, corrupted thing that had allowed him to do what he had done and to justify it to himself. I thought it might even have been what the children of Gilead had glimpsed as he moved upon them, his hand clasped across their mouths to stifle their cries.

“You got your suspicions of him, like the rest,” said Dubus. “You want me to tell you if they’re true, because if we shared something like that, if we both had the same tastes, then maybe I’d have known, or he’d have opened himself up to me. Well, if you think that, you’re a fool, Mr. Parker. You’re a fool, and someday you’ll die for your foolishness. I got no time to talk to foolish men. Why don’t you head off now? Drive on up the road there, because I know where you’re going. Could be you’ll find the answer in Gilead. That’s where Daniel Clay found the answer to his questions. Oh yes, he found what he was looking for up there, but he didn’t come back from that place. You best step carefully, or else you won’t come back neither. It gets inside your soul, old Gilead.”

He was smiling broadly now, the keeper of the truth of Gilead.

“Did you ever meet a man called Jim Poole, Mr. Dubus?”

He pantomimed deep thought.

“You know, I think I did. He was a fool, just like you.”

“He disappeared.”

“He got lost. Gilead took him.”

“Is that what you think?”

“I know it. Doesn’t matter where he is, or if he’s alive or dead, he’s a prisoner of Gilead. You set foot in Gilead, and you’re lost.” His gaze turned inward. His eyes stopped blinking. “They said that we brought evil to that place, but it was there already,” he said, and there was a touch of wonder to his voice. “I felt it as soon as I set foot there. Old Lumley picked a bad spot for his city of refuge. The ground was poisoned, and we were poisoned too. When we left, the forest, or something under it, took it back.”

He gave a small, sick laugh. “Too much time to myself,” he said. “Too much time to dwell on things.”

“What was the Project, Mr. Dubus?”

He laugh faded away. “The Project. The Hobby. The Game. They all mean the same thing.”

“The abuse of children.”

He shook his head. “You may call it that, but that’s because you don’t understand. It’s a beautiful thing. That’s what I try to explain to those who come here, but they don’t listen. They don’t want to know.”

“Did Daniel Clay listen?”

“He was different. He understood.”

“Understood how?”

But Dubus did not reply.

“Do you know where Daniel Clay is?” I asked.

Dubus leaned forward. “Who knows where dead men go?” he said. “You head north, and maybe you’ll find out. It’s time for my show.”

He hit the remote again, adjusting the volume as he did so, and the TV blared into life. He turned in his chair, no longer facing toward me. I let myself out.

And as we drove away, I saw the drapes move at Dubus’s window. A hand was raised in farewell, and I felt sure that, in his clean, neat house, the old man was laughing at me.



In the days that followed, the police would attempt to piece together the chain of events, to connect body to body, contacts to killings. During the final hours of his life, Dubus made two telephone calls, both to the same number. After his death, the cell phone would be found beside his body. He had hidden it under a loose plank beneath his bed, and to discourage any of those entrusted with monitoring him from discovering it, he kept a half-filled chamber pot above it, its stink enough to ensure that no fastidious parole officer would dare to venture there, although it might have struck a careful searcher that, in his otherwise pristine house, it was the only place where Dubus’s orderliness appeared to have lapsed. The phone was prepaid, and had been bought for cash at a bigbox store one month previously. It was not, the police guessed, the first time that Dubus had circumvented the restrictions on his telephone use in this way.

Dubus made the second-to-last call of his life minutes after Louis and I had departed, then presumably returned the phone to its hiding place and went back to watching his TV shows. Tick-tick-tick went the seconds, counting down to the moment when Mason Dubus would at last depart this earth and face the greater justice that waits for every man.

But that was all to come. For now, the daylight was gone. There was no moon. We drove on, speaking rarely. The music was low, the National on the car stereo singing of doves in the brain and hawks in the heart, and I thought of men with the heads of birds.

And in time we came to Jackman, and old Gilead got into our souls.



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Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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