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William Smithback, a New York Times reporter, and his wife Nora Kelly, a Museum of Natural History archaeologist, are brutally attacked in their apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Eyewitnesses claim, and the security camera confirms, that the assailant was their strange, sinister neighbor–a man who, by all reports, was already dead and buried weeks earlier. While Captain Laura Hayward leads the official investigation, Pendergast and Lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta undertake their own private–and decidedly unorthodox–quest for the truth. Their serpentine journey takes them to an enclave of Manhattan they never imagined could exist: a secretive, reclusive cult of Obeah and vodou which no outsiders have ever survived.
Table of Contents
More Preston and Child
In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitute unlawful piracy and theft of the author's intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at email@example.com. Thank you for your support of the author's rights.
Lincoln Child dedicates this book to his daughter, Veronica
Douglas Preston dedicates this book to Karen Copeland
For their various and sundry ministrations, we'd like to thank the following: Jaime Levine, Jamie Raab, Kim Hoffman, Kallie Shimek, Mariko Kaga, Jon Couch, Claudia Rülke, Eric Simonoff, Matthew Snyder, and everyone at Grand Central Publishing and beyond who help bring our books to our readers.
We are extremely grateful to those who helped create Corrie Swanson's Pendergast Web site, including Carmen Elliott, Nadine Waddell, Cheryl Deering, Ophelia Julien, Sarah Hanley, Kathleen Munsch, Kerry Opel, Maureen Shockey, and Lew Lashmitt. We raise a glass of Lagavulin 21-year-old to your exceptional talent and literary taste.
And, as always, our endless and abiding gratitude to our families for their love and support.
Readers familiar with upper Manhattan may notice that we have taken certain liberties with Inwood Hill Park.
It goes without saying that all people, places, public and private institutions, corporate and official entities, and religious establishments described in Cemetery Dance are either fictitious or used fictitiously. In particular, the ceremonies and beliefs depicted in the novel are completely fictitious and are not meant in any way to resemble, imply, or depict any existing religion or creed.
Can you believe it, Bill? I still can't. They told me almost twelve hours ago and I still can't believe it."
"Believe it, sweet thing." William Smithback, Jr., unfolded his lanky limbs, stretched out on the living room couch, then draped one arm over his wife's shoulders. "Any more of that port?"
Nora filled his glass. He held it up to the light, admiring its garnet color. Cost him a hundred bucks—and well worth it. He sipped, exhaled. "You're a rising star at the museum. Just wait. In five years, they'll make you dean of science."
"Don't be silly."
"Nora, this is the third straight year of budget cuts—and here they've given your expedition a green light. That new boss of yours is no fool." Smithback nuzzled Nora's hair. After all this time, he still never failed to find its smell—a touch of cinnamon, a hint of juniper—arousing.
"Just think: next summer, we'll be back in Utah on a dig. That is, if you can get the time off."
"I've got four weeks coming to me. They'll miss me desperately at the Times, but they'll just have to make do." He took another sip, swirled the liquid around in his mouth. "Nora Kelly: expedition number three. You couldn't have asked for a better anniversary present."
Nora glanced at him sardonically. "I thought tonight's dinner was my anniversary present."
"That's right. It was."
"And it was perfect. Thanks."
Smithback winked back. He'd treated Nora to his favorite restaurant, Café des Artistes on West 67th. It was the perfect place for a romantic meal. The soft, seductive lighting; the cozy banquettes; the titillating artwork of Howard Chandler Christy—and then, on top of everything else, the sublime food.
Smithback realized Nora was looking at him. There was a promise, in those eyes and that sly smile, of another anniversary present to come. He kissed her cheek, pulled her closer.
She sighed. "They gave me every dime I asked for."
Smithback mumbled his response. He was content to snuggle with his wife and perform a mental postmortem on the meal he'd just consumed. He'd sharpened his appetite with a brace of dirty martinis, followed by a charcuterie plate. And for a main course he could never resist the steak béarnaise, rare, accompanied by pommes frites and a savory dollop of creamed spinach—and, of course, he'd had a hearty helping of Nora's loin of venison…
"… And you know what that means? I'll be able to complete my analysis of the spread of the Kachina Cult through the Southwest."
"That's fantastic." Dessert had been chocolate fondue for two, accompanied by a plate of delightfully malodorous French cheeses. Smithback let his free hand settle lightly over his stomach.
Nora fell silent and they lay there a moment, satisfied to enjoy each other's company. Smithback stole a glance at his wife. A feeling of contentment settled over him like a blanket. He wasn't a religious man, not exactly; and yet he felt blessed to be here, in a classy apartment in the world's greatest city, holding down the job he'd always dreamed of. And in Nora, he'd found no less than the perfect companion. They'd been through a lot in the years since they'd first met, but the trouble, and the danger, had only served to bring them closer. She was not only beautiful, svelte, gainfully and eagerly employed, immune to nagging, empathetic, intelligent—she'd also proven to be the ideal soul mate. Looking at her, he smiled despite himself. Nora was, quite simply, too good to be true.
Nora roused herself. "Can't let myself get too comfortable. Not yet, anyway."
She disentangled herself and walked into the kitchen to grab her purse. "There's one more errand I have to run."
Smithback blinked. "At this hour?"
"I'll be back in ten minutes." She returned to the couch and leaned over him, one hand smoothing his cowlick as she kissed him. "Don't go anywhere, big boy," she murmured.
"Are you kidding? I'll be a regular Rock of Gibraltar."
She smiled, stroked his hair again, then headed for the front door.
"Be careful," he called after her. "Don't forget those weird little packages we've been getting."
"Don't worry. I'm a grown-up girl." A moment later, the door closed and the lock turned.
Smithback put his hands behind his head and stretched out on the sofa with a sigh. He heard her footsteps recede down the corridor; heard the chime of the elevator. Then all was quiet save for the low hum of the city outside.
He could guess where she'd gone—to the patisserie around the corner. They made his favorite specialty cakes and were open until midnight. Smithback was particularly partial to their praline génoise with calvados buttercream; with any luck, that was the cake Nora had ordered for tonight's celebration.
He lounged there, in the dimly lit apartment, listening to Manhattan breathe. The cocktails he'd consumed had slowed everything down just a little. He recalled a line from a Thurber short story: drowsily contented, mistily contented. He had always felt an unreasoning fondness for the writings of fellow journalist James Thurber. Along with those of pulp fictioneer Robert E. Howard. One, he felt, had always tried too hard; the other, not hard enough.
For some reason, he found his thoughts spiraling back to the summer day when he'd first met Nora. All the memories returned: Arizona, Lake Powell, the hot parking lot, the big limo he'd arrived in. He shook his head, chuckling at the memory. Nora Kelly had seemed like a bitch on wheels, a freshly minted PhD with a chip on her shoulder. Then again, he hadn't exactly made a good impression, acted like a perfect ass, that was for sure. That was four years ago, or was it five… oh, God, had the time really gone that fast?
There was a shuffling outside the front door, then the rattle of a key in the lock. Nora, back so soon?
He waited for the door to open, but instead the key rattled again, as if Nora was having trouble with the lock. Maybe she was balancing a cake on her arm. He was about to rise to open it for her when the door creaked open and he heard steps cross the entryway.
"As promised, I'm still here," he called out. "Mr. Gibraltar. But hey, you can call me Rock."
There was another step. Somehow, it didn't sound like Nora: it was too slow and heavy, and it seemed to be shambling, as if uncertain.
Smithback sat up on the couch. A figure loomed in the small foyer, framed in the light of the corridor beyond. It was too tall and broad-shouldered to be Nora.
"Who the hell are you?" he said.
Quickly, Smithback reached for the lamp on the adjoining table, snapped it on. He recognized the figure almost immediately. Or he thought he did—there was something wrong with the face. It was ashen, puffy, almost pulpy. It looked sick… or worse.
"Colin?" Smithback said. "Is that you? What the hell are you doing in my apartment?"
That was when he saw the butcher knife.
In an instant he was on his feet. The figure shuffled forward, cutting him off. There was a brief, awful moment of stasis. Then the knife darted forward with terrible speed, slashing at air Smithback had occupied less than a second before.
"What the fuck?" Smithback yelled.
The knife shot forward again, and Smithback fell over the coffee table in a desperate attempt to avoid the blow, overturning the table as he did so. He scrambled to his feet again and turned to face his assailant, crouching low, hands apart, fingers spread and ready. Quickly, he glanced around for a weapon. Nothing. The figure stood between him and the kitchen—if he could get past, he could grab a knife, even the odds.
He ducked his head slightly, extended an elbow, and charged. The figure fell back under this attack, but at the last moment the knife hand came around, slashing at Smithback's arm and cutting a deep stripe from elbow to shoulder. Smithback wrenched to one side with a cry of surprise and pain—and as he did so he felt the exquisitely cold sensation of steel being driven deep into his lower back.
It seemed to keep sinking forever, plucking at his innermost vitals, piercing him with a pain that had been matched only once before in his life. He gasped, staggered to the floor, trying to get away; he felt the knife slip out, then plunge in again. There was a sudden wetness on his back, as if someone were pouring warm water on him.
Summoning all his strength, he rose to his feet, grabbing desperately at his attacker, pummeling him with his bare hands. The knife slashed again and again at his knuckles but Smithback no longer felt it. The figure fell back under the ferocity of his charge. This was his opportunity, and Smithback wheeled around, ready to retreat to the kitchen. But the floor seemed to be tilting crazily under his feet, and there was now a strange boiling in his chest with every breath he took. He staggered into the kitchen, gasping, fighting for balance, slick fingers scrabbling at the knife drawer. But even as he managed to pull it open, he saw a shadow fall over the counter… and then another terrible blow landed deep between his shoulder blades. He tried to twist away, but the knife kept rising and falling, rising and falling, the crimson gleam of its blade dimming as the light began to fail him…
All fled, all done, so lift me on the pyre; the feast is over and the lamps expire…
The elevator doors slid back, and Nora stepped out into the corridor. She'd made good time, and with any luck Bill would still be on the couch, perhaps reading that Thackeray novel he'd been raving about all week. Carefully, she balanced the cake box in her hands as she reached for her key; he'd no doubt guessed where she'd gone, but it was hard to mount a surprise on somebody's first anniversary…
There was something wrong. She'd been so preoccupied with her thoughts that it took her a moment to realize what it was: the door to her apartment was wide open.
As she stared, somebody stepped out. She recognized him. His clothes were smeared and soaked with blood, and he held a large knife in his hand. As he stood looking toward her, the knife dripped copiously onto the floor.
Instinctively, without thought, she dropped the cake and the key and rushed at him. Neighbors were coming out of their apartments now, their voices raised in fear and terror. As she ran toward the figure he raised the knife, but she knocked his hand aside, punching him in the solar plexus as she did so. He lashed out, throwing her against the opposite wall of the corridor, slamming her head against the hard plaster, and she fell to the floor. Spots danced before her eyes as he shambled toward her, knife raised. She threw herself out of the way as it slashed downward; he kicked her viciously in the head, knife rising again. The sound of screaming echoed in the hall. But Nora couldn't hear it; there was no longer any sound, only blurry images. And then those disappeared, as well.
Lieutenant Vincent D'Agosta stood in the crowded hallway outside the door to the two-bedroom apartment. He moved his shoulders inside the brown suit, trying to unstick his damp arms from his polyester shirt. He was very angry, and angry wasn't good. It would affect everything he did, detract from his powers of observation.
He took a long breath and released it, trying to let the anger flow out with the air.
The apartment door opened and a thin, stooped man with a tuft of hair on his pate emerged, lugging a bundle of equipment behind and pushing ahead an aluminum case strapped to a luggage roller. "We're done, Lieutenant." The man took a clipboard from another officer and logged out, followed by his assistant.
D'Agosta glanced at his watch. Three AM. The scene-of-crime team had taken a long time. They were being extra careful. They knew he and Smithback went back a long ways. It irritated him the way they went head-ducking past him, eyeing him sideways, wondering how he was taking it. Wondering if he'd recuse himself from the case. A lot of homicide detectives would—if only because it raised issues at the trial. It didn't look good when the defense put you on the witness stand. "The deceased was a friend of yours? Well now, isn't that a rather interesting coincidence?" It was a complication a trial didn't need, and the DA hated when it happened.
But D'Agosta had no intention of letting this one go. Never. Besides, it was an open-and-shut case. The perp was as good as convicted, they had him cold. All that was left was to find the bastard.
The last of the SOC team came out of the apartment and logged out, leaving D'Agosta alone with his thoughts. He stood for a minute in the empty hallway, trying to settle his frayed nerves. Then he snapped on a pair of latex gloves, pulled the hairnet close around his balding pate, and moved toward the open door. He felt faintly sick. The body had been removed, of course, but nothing else had been touched. He could see, where the entryway took a dogleg, just a sliver of the room beyond and a lake of blood on the floor; bloody footprints; a handprint streaked across a cream-colored wall.
He stepped carefully over the blood, pausing before the living room. Leather sofa, pair of chairs, overturned coffee table, more clots of blood on the Persian rug. He slowly walked into the center of the room, rolling his crepe-soled feet down, one after the other, stopped, turned, trying to reconstruct the scene in his mind.
D'Agosta had asked the team to take extensive samples of the bloodstains; there were complex overlapping splatter patterns that he wished to untangle, footsteps tracked through the blood, handprints layered on handprints. Smithback had fought like hell; there was no way the perp escaped without leaving DNA at this scene.
The crime, on the surface, was simple. It was a disorganized, messy killing. The perp had let himself in with a master key. Smithback was in the living room. The killer got in a good blow with his knife, right away putting Smithback at a severe disadvantage, and then they fought. The fight carried them into the kitchen—Smithback had tried to arm himself: the knife drawer was halfway open, bloody handprints on the knob and counter. Didn't get a knife, though; too damn bad. Got stabbed again from behind while at it. They fought a second time. He had been cut pretty bad by then, blood all over the floor, skid marks of bare feet. But D'Agosta was pretty sure the perp was also bleeding by this time. Bleeding, shedding hair and fibers, blowing and snorting with the effort, perhaps scattering saliva and phlegm. It was all there, and he had confidence that the SOC team had found it. They'd even cut out and taken away some floorboards, including several with knife marks; they'd cut pieces of drywall, lifted prints from every surface, collected every fiber they could find, every lint ball and piece of grit.
D'Agosta's eyes continued to roam, his mind continuing an interior film of the crime. Eventually, Smithback lost so much blood that he weakened sufficiently for the killer to deliver the coup de grâce: according to the M.E., a knife through the heart that went half an inch into the floor. The perp had twisted it violently to get it out, splintering the wood. At the thought, D'Agosta felt himself flushing with a fresh mixture of anger and grief. That board had been cut out, too.
Not that all this attention to detail would make much difference—they already knew who the perp was. Still, it was always good to pile on the evidence. You never knew what kind of jury you might draw in this crazy town.
Then there was the bizarre shit the killer left behind. A mashed-up bundle of feathers, tied with green twine. A piece of a garment covered with gaudy sequins. A tiny parchment bag of dust with a weird design on the outside. The killer had floated them in the lake of blood, like offerings. The SOC boys had taken them all away, of course, but they were still fixed in his mind.
Still, there was the one thing the SOC boys couldn't take away: the hurriedly drawn image on the wall, two snakes curled around some strange, spiky, plant-like thing, with stars and arrows and complex lines and a word that looked like DAMBALAH. It had clearly been drawn with Smithback's blood.
D'Agosta walked into the main bedroom, taking in the bed, bureau, mirror, window looking southeast onto West End Avenue, rug, walls, ceiling. There was a second bathroom at the far end of the bedroom and the door was shut. Funny, last time he was in here the door was open.
He heard a sound from the bathroom. The water turned on and off. Somebody from the forensic team was still in the apartment. D'Agosta strode over, grasped the door handle, found it locked.
"Hey, you in there! What the hell you think you're doing?"
"Just a moment," came the muffled voice.
D'Agosta's surprise turned to outrage. The idiot was using the bathroom. In a sealed crime scene. Un-frigging-believable.
"Open the door, pal. Now."
The door popped open—and there stood Special Agent A. X. L. Pendergast, rack of test tubes in one hand, tweezers in the other, a jeweler's loupe on a headband.
"Vincent," came the familiar buttery voice. "I'm so sorry we have to meet again under such unhappy circumstances."
D'Agosta stared. "Pendergast—I had no idea you were back in town."
Pendergast deftly pocketed the tweezers, slid the rack of tubes into a Gladstone doctor's bag, followed by the loupe. "The killer wasn't in here, or the bedroom. A rather obvious deduction, but I wanted to make sure."
"Is this now an FBI matter?" D'Agosta asked, following Pendergast as the agent moved through the bedroom into the living room.
"So you're freelancing again?"
"You might say that. I would appreciate it if we kept my involvement to yourself for the moment." He turned. "Your take, Vincent?"
D'Agosta went through his reconstruction of the crime while Pendergast nodded in approval. "Not that it makes much difference," D'Agosta summed up. "We already know who the dirtbag is. We just have to find him."
Pendergast gave a quizzical rise to his eyebrows.
"He lives in the building. We got two eyewitnesses who saw the killer enter, and two who saw him leave, all covered with blood, clutching the knife. He attacked Nora Kelly on the way out of the apartment—tried to attack, I should say, but the fight had attracted neighbors and he ran away. They got a good look at him, the neighbors I mean. Nora's in the hospital now—minor concussion, but should be all right. Considering."
Another faint incline of the head.
"He's a creep named Fearing. Colin Fearing. Out-of-work British actor. Apartment two fourteen. He'd hassled Nora once or twice in the lobby. Looks to me like a rape gone bad. He probably hoped he'd find Nora home alone, got Smithback instead. Chances are he lifted the key from the super's key locker. I've got a man checking on that."
This time there was no confirming nod. Just the usual inscrutable look in those deep, silvery eyes.
"Anyway, it's an open-and-shut case," D'Agosta said, starting to feel defensive for some unknown reason. "Wasn't just Nora's ID. We got him on the building's security tapes, too, an Oscar performance. Coming in and going out. On the way out we got a full-frontal shot, knife in hand, covered with blood, dragging his sorry ass through the lobby, threatening the doorman before splitting. Gonna look beautiful in front of a jury. This is one bastard who is going down."
"Open and shut, you say?"
D'Agosta felt another twinge at the doubtful note in Pendergast's voice. "Yeah," he said firmly. "Open and shut." He checked his watch. "They're holding the doorman downstairs, waiting for me. He's going to be a star witness, a reliable, solid family man—knew the perp for years. Want to ask him any questions before we send him home?"
"Delighted to. But before we go downstairs…" The agent's voice trailed off. A pair of spidery white fingers reached into the breast pocket of his black suit and withdrew a folded document. With a flourish of his wrist, he proffered it to D'Agosta.
"What's this?" D'Agosta took it and unfolded it, taking in the red notary stamp, the Great Seal of New York, the elegant engraving, the signatures.
"It is Colin Fearing's death certificate. Signed and dated ten days ago."
D'Agosta entered the security nook of 666 West End Avenue, followed by the spectral figure of Pendergast. The doorman, a plump gentleman from the Dominican Republic named Enrico Mosquea, sat on a metal stool, hammy legs spread. He sported a pencil mustache and a marcel wave. The man sprang to his feet with surprising nimbleness as they came in.
"You find this son bitch," he said passionately. "You find him. Smithback, he was a good man. I tell you—"
D'Agosta gently laid a hand on the man's neat brown uniform. "This is Special Agent Pendergast of the FBI. He's going to help us out."
His eyes took in Pendergast. "Good. Very good."
D'Agosta took a deep breath. He hadn't quite absorbed the ramifications of the document Pendergast showed him. Maybe they were dealing with a twin. Maybe there were two Colin Fearings. New York was a big city, and half the Brits in town seemed to be named Colin. Or maybe the M.E.'s office had made a hideous mistake.
"I know you've already answered a lot of questions, Mr. Mosquea," D'Agosta went on, "but Agent Pendergast has a few more."
"No trouble. I answer questions ten times over, twenty times, if it help get this son bitch."
D'Agosta pulled out a notebook. What he really wanted was for Pendergast to hear what the man had to say. He was a very credible witness.
Pendergast spoke softly. "Mr. Mosquea, describe what you saw. From the beginning."
"This man, Fearing, he arrive when I was putting someone in a cab. I saw him come in. He didn't look too good, like he been in a fight. Face swollen, black eye maybe. Skin a funny color, too pale. He's walking kind of funny, too. Slow."
"When was the last time you saw him—before this?"
"Maybe two weeks. I think he been away."
"So he walk past me and into the elevator. A little later, Ms. Kelly come back to the building. Maybe five minutes pass. Then he is coming back out. Unbelievable. He all covered with blood, holding knife, lurching along like he been hurt." Mosquea paused for a moment. "I try to grab him, but he swing at me with knife, then turn and run. I call police."
Pendergast slid an ivory hand across his chin. "I imagine when you were putting the person in the cab—when he came in—you got a fleeting glimpse of him."
"I get good, long look. Not fleeting. Like I said, he was walking slow."
"You said his face was swollen? Could it have been someone else?"
"Fearing live here six years. I open door for that son bitch three, four times a day."
Pendergast paused. "And then, when he came back out, his face was covered with blood, I imagine."
"Not face. No blood on face, or maybe just a little. Blood all over hands, clothes. Knife."
Pendergast was silent for a moment, and then said, "What if I were to tell you that Colin Fearing's body was found in the Harlem River ten days ago?"
Mosquea's eyes narrowed. "Then I say you wrong!"
"I'm afraid not, Mr. Mosquea. Identified, autopsied, everything."
The man drew himself up to his full five foot three inches, his voice assuming a grave dignity. "If you don't believe, I ask you: look at the tape. The man on that tape is Colin Fearing." He stopped, giving Pendergast a challenging stare. "I don't care about any body in river. The murderer is Colin Fearing. I know."
"Thank you, Mr. Mosquea," said Pendergast.
D'Agosta cleared his throat. "If we need to speak to you again, I'll let you know."
The man nodded, keeping a suspicious eye on Pendergast. "The killer is Colin Fearing. You find that son bitch."
They stepped out into the street, the crisp October air refreshing after the sickening confines of the apartment. Pendergast gestured toward a '59 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith idling at the curb, and D'Agosta could see the stolid outline of Proctor, Pendergast's chauffeur, in the driver's seat. "Care to take a ride uptown?"
"Might as well. It's already half past three, I won't be getting any sleep tonight."
D'Agosta climbed into the leather-fragrant confines, Pendergast slipping in beside him. "Let's have a look at the security tape." The agent pressed a button in the armrest, and an LCD screen swung down from the ceiling.
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