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The Doll Maker
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A quiet Philadelphia suburb. A woman cycles past a train depot with her young daughter. There she finds a murdered girl posed on a newly painted bench. Beside her is a formal invitation to a tea dance in a week’s time.
Seven days later, two more young victims are discovered in an abandoned house, posed on painted swings. At the scene is an identical invitation. This time, though, there is something extra waiting for Detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano: a delicate porcelain doll.
It’s a message. And a threat. With the killers at large, Detectives Byrne and Balzano have just seven more days to find the link between the murders before another innocent child is snatched from the streets.
Table of Contents
A Preview of Shutter Man
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He knew the moment she walked in.
It wasn't the way she was dressed—he had been fooled by this more often than he had been right, and he had been right many times—it was, instead, the way her heels fell on the old hardwood floor, the weight of her stride, the way he knew she'd put a thousand sad stories to bed.
He remembered her from Raleigh, from Vancouver, from Santa Fe. She was no one he recognized. She was every woman he'd ever met.
The bar was long and U-shaped. He was seated on one of the short sides, next to the wall, his right shoulder against the paneling. This helped to hide from the world the large scar on his right cheek. As little as he cared about anything, he was still self-conscious about his scar, a birthday present from his father and a Mason jar of moonshine. Besides, with one shoulder to the wall, he was always protected from that flank.
The bar was almost empty. It smelled of overcooked fish and Mr Clean.
The woman sat two stools to his left, leaving an empty seat between them. As she dropped her purse to the floor, wrapping the strap around an ankle, the juke spun a new song, a tune by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Or maybe it was the Allman Brothers. He wasn't big into seventies southern rock. Oddly enough, considering his job, he didn't care much for music at all. He enjoyed the silence. There was precious little of it these days.
It was clear that the woman expected him to summon the barkeep, offer her a drink. When he didn't, she did. The barman took his time. Had the woman been ten years younger, or five years prettier, the barman would have flown.
When he finally made his way down the bar the woman looked over, giving it one more chance. When she looked back she said, simply:
'Seven and Seven.'
The barman dawdled, returned, slid a napkin onto the bar in front of the woman, put down the watery cocktail, waited. The woman picked up her bag, then fished out a rumpled twenty, dropped it onto a wet spot—a spot the barman, if he'd given a shit, would have wiped down.
The man made an elaborate process out of straightening out the wet bill. Eventually he came back with the change. All singles. He dropped them into the puddle on the bar.
He wished he had time to deal with the bartender.
Two songs later the woman slid one stool to her right, uninvited, bringing her almost empty drink with her, rattling the cubes.
'What's your name?' she asked.
He glanced over, got his first good look. Her eye shadow was electric blue, her lipstick far too red for a woman her age, which he pegged at forty-five, maybe more. She looked like a woman who slept in her makeup, only bothering to wash her face when she took that infrequent shower. Her foundation spackled a landscape of acne scars.
'Jagger,' he said.
She looked surprised. They always did.
'Jagger?' she asked. 'Really? Like Mick Jagger?'
'Something like that.'
She smiled. She shouldn't have. It ruined what little about her face there was to like. In it he saw every regret, every Sunday morning, every gray towel and yellowed bed sheet.
But this was still Saturday night, and the lights were low.
'You got as much money as Mick Jagger?' she asked.
'I got enough.'
She leaned closer. Her perfume was too sweet and too heavy, but he liked it that way.
'How much is enough?' she asked.
'Enough for the night.'
Something lit her eyes. It helped. Maybe she wasn't so banged up after all, despite the fact that she was turning tricks in a hole like this. He nodded at the bartender, dropped a fifty on the bar. This time the barkeep was prompt. Odd, that. In a flash he was back with refills. He even wiped down the bar.
'But can you go all night, that's the question,' she said.
'I don't need to go all night. I just need to go until the meter runs out.'
She laughed. Her breath smelled of cigarettes and Altoids and gum disease.
'You are funny,' she said. 'I like that.'
It doesn't matter what you like, he thought. It hasn't mattered for more than twenty years.
She drained her Seven and Seven, tapped her plastic nails on the bar. She turned to face him again, as if the idea had just come to her. 'What do you say we buy a bottle and go have some fun?'
He glanced over. 'We? You pitching in?'
She gave him a gentle slap on the shoulder. 'Oh, stop.'
'I've got a bottle in my truck,' he said.
'Is that an invitation?'
'Only if you want it to be.'
'Sounds like a plan,' she said. She slipped off the stool, toddled a bit, grabbed the rail to steady herself. These were clearly not her first two drinks of the evening. 'I'm just going to visit the little girls' room. Don't you dare go anywhere.'
She flounced to the far side of the bar, drawing meager attention from the two old codgers at the other end.
He finished his beer, picked up the bills, leaving the barkeep a thirty-nine cent tip. It didn't go unnoticed.
A few minutes later the woman returned, heavier on the eye shadow, lipstick, perfume, breath mints.
They stepped into the cold night air.
'Where's your truck?' she asked.
He pointed to the footpath, the trail that snaked through the woods. 'Through there.'
'You're parked in the rest area?'
She looked at her shoes, a pair of cut-rate white heels, at least one size too small. 'I hope the path ain't muddy.'
She slipped an arm through his, the one opposite his duffel. They crossed the tavern's small parking lot, then walked into the woods.
'What's in the bag?' she asked.
'All my money.'
She laughed again.
When they got to the halfway point, far from the lights, he stopped, opened his duffel, took out a pint of Southern Comfort.
'For the road,' he said.
He uncapped the bottle, took a drink.
'Open your mouth and close your eyes,' he said.
She did as she was told.
'Wider,' he said.
He looked at her standing there, in the diffused moonlight, her mouth pink and gaping. It was how he planned to remember her. It was how he remembered them all.
At precisely the same instant he dropped the razor blade into her mouth, he poured in a third of the bottle of Comfort.
The steel hit first. The woman gagged, choked, bucked. When she did this the blade shot forward in her mouth, sliced through her lower lip.
He stood to the side as the woman coughed out a gulp of blood and whiskey. She then spit the blade into her hand, dropped it to the ground.
When she looked up at him he saw that the razor had sliced her lower lip in half.
'What did you do?' she screamed.
Because of her destroyed mouth it came out whan nin you noo? But he understood. He always understood.
He pushed her into a tree. She slumped to the ground, gasping for air, hacking blood like some just hooked fish.
He circled her, the adrenaline now screaming in his veins.
'What did you think we were going to do?' he asked. He put a boot on her stomach, along with half his weight. This brought another thick gout of red from her mouth and nose. 'Hmm? Did you think we were going to fuck? Did you think I was going to put my cock into your filthy, diseased mouth?'
He dropped to the ground, straddled her.
'If I did that, I'd be fucking everyone you've ever been with.'
He leaned back to admire his work, grabbed the bottle, downed some Comfort to ward off the chill. He took his eyes off her for a second, but it was long enough.
Somehow the razor blade was in her hand. She swiped it across his face, cutting him from just below his right eye to the top of his chin.
He felt the pain first, then the heat of his own blood, then the cold. Steam rose from his open wound, clouding his eyes.
'You fucking bitch.'
He slapped her across the face. Once, twice, then once more. Her face was now marbled with blood and phlegm. Her ruined mouth was open, her lower lip in two pieces.
He thought about taking a rock to her skull, but not yet. She'd cut him, and she would pay. He killed the bottle, wiped it clean, tossed it into the woods, then ripped off her tank top, used it to sponge his face. He reached into his duffel.
'That is one nasty cut,' he said. 'I'm going to close that wound for you. There's all kinds of bacteria out here. You don't want to get an infection, do you? It wouldn't be good for business.'
He pulled the blowtorch from his bag, a big BernzOmatic. When she saw it she tried to wiggle out from under him, but her strength was all but sapped. He hit her in the face again—just hard enough to keep her in place—then took a lighter from his pocket, lit the torch, adjusted the flame. When it was a perfect yellow-blue point, he said:
'Tell me you love me.'
Nothing. She was going into shock. He brought the flame closer to her face.
'I… na… yoo.'
'Of course you do.'
He went to work on her lip. Her dying screams were swallowed by the sound of the blowtorch. The smell of charred flesh rose into the night air.
By the time he reached her eyes she was silent.
The clouds had again pulled away from the moon by the time he emerged from the woods, the quarter-mile pass-through that led to the rest area where he had parked.
When he had parked his truck, earlier in the day, he had positioned it as close to the path as he could. There had been three other rigs closer, but he figured he was near enough.
The other trucks were now gone.
Before stepping into the sodium streetlights of the massive parking lot—which held a fueling station and an all-night diner—he looked at his clothes. His jacket was covered in blood, large patches that appeared black in the moonlight. He took off his down jacket, turned it inside out, put it back on. He picked up a handful of leaves and wiped the blood from his face.
A few moments later, when he came around the back of the diner, he saw a woman standing there. She saw him, too.
It was one of the diner waitresses, standing by the back door, her powder blue rayon uniform and white sweater looking bright and clean and sterile under the sodium lamps. She was on break, using an emery board, sanding her nails.
'Oh, my goodness,' she said.
He could only imagine what he must look like to her.
'Hey,' he said.
'Are you okay?'
'Yeah,' he said. 'You know. I'm good. Ran into a low branch back there. Cut me pretty fine, I reckon.'
He was lightheaded, and not just from the watered down Scotch and flat beer and warm Comfort. He had lost blood.
The waitress glanced over his shoulder, back. She'd seen him come out of the woods. Bad for him, worse for her. The night was getting deeper. As exhausted as he was, he knew what he had to do. She would get the short ride, but she'd ride.
He turned, scanned the parking lot, looked at the steamed windows of the diner. No one was watching. At least, no one he could see.
'You don't happen to have a Band-Aid or anything do you?' he asked.
'Maybe.' She unzipped and ransacked her purse. 'No, sweetie. Best I can do is a Kleenex, but I don't think that'll help. You're bleeding pretty good. You should go to the hospital.' She pointed at a blue Nissan Sentra in the lot. 'I can take you if you want.'
He chucked a thumb toward his rig. 'I've got a first aid kit in my truck,' he said. 'You any good with that stuff?'
She smiled. 'I've got a whole passel of younger brothers and sisters. Always getting in scrapes. I think I can manage.'
They walked to the far end of the lot. More than once he had to slow down, dizzy. When they got to the truck he unlocked the passenger side first. The waitress got in.
'The kit's in the glove box,' he said.
He closed the door. On the way to the driver's side he unsnapped the closure on his knife sheath. It was a six-inch Buck, razor sharp.
He opened his door, pulled himself into the cab, angled the mirror toward his face.
The whore had sliced him good.
While the waitress lined up the gauze and the foil-wrapped alcohol swabs on the dashboard, he pushed back the mirror, glanced around the lot. No other drivers, no one coming out of the diner.
He would do it now.
Before he could slip the knife from its sheath he noticed something in the parking lot, right near the entrance to the path. It was a small red wallet. It matched the red vinyl of the waitress's purse. For any number of reasons, he couldn't leave it there.
'Is that yours?' he asked.
She glanced to where he was pointing, put down the first aid kit, looked in her purse. 'Oh, shoot,' she said. 'I must have dropped it.'
'I'll get it.'
'You're a doll.'
He stepped out of the truck, walked across the lot, his head throbbing. He had a few Vicodin left. He reached into his pocket, pulled out the vial, chewed them dry, trying to recall if he had an inch or so of Wild Turkey left in the truck.
He picked up the wallet, thought for a moment about opening it, about learning the waitress's name. It didn't matter. It never had.
Still, his curiosity got the better of him.
As he opened the wallet he felt the hot breath brush the back of his neck, saw the long shadow pool at his feet.
An instant later his head exploded into a supernova of bright orange fire.
Lying on his back, he opened his eyes, the pain in his head now a savage thing. The world smelled of wet compost and loam and pine needles. Snow whispered down, catching on his eyelashes.
He tried to stand up, but couldn't move his arms, his hands, his feet. He slowly turned his head, saw the whore's dead body next to him, the scorched holes where her eyes used to be. Something—some animal—had already been at her face.
'Stand up.' The voice was a whisper near his left ear.
By the time he managed to turn his head, no one was there.
'I… I can't.'
His words sounded distant, as if they belonged to someone else.
'No, you cannot,' came the soft voice. 'I have all but severed your spinal cord. You will never walk again.'
Why? he wanted to ask, but knew instantly that he could no longer make a sound. Perhaps it was because he knew why.
Time left, returned. It was morning somehow.
He looked into the gently falling snow, saw the axe, the bright steel wing glimmering in the splintered dawn like some silent, circling hawk.
Moments later, when the heavy blade fell, he heard them all—as he knew he would on this day—every dead thing beckoning him toward the darkness, a place where nothing human stirred, a place where his father still lay in wait, a place where the screams of children echo forever.
At just after six a.m., as every other day, Mr Marseille and I opened our eyes, dark lashes counterweighted to the light.
It was mid-November, and although the frost had not yet touched the windows—this usually comes to our eaves in late December—there was a mist on the glass that gave the early morning light a delicate quality, as if we were looking at the world through a Lalique figurine.
Before we dressed for the day we drew our names in the condensation on the windowpane, the double l in Mr Marseille's name and the double l in mine slanting toward one another like tiny Doric columns, as has been our monogram for as long as we both could remember.
Mr Marseille looked at the paint swatches, a frown tilling his brow. In the overhead lights of the big store his eyes appeared an ocean blue, but I knew them to be green, the way the trees appear after the first draft of spring, the way the grass of a well-tended cemetery looks on the Fourth of July.
On this day, beneath our drab winter overcoats, we were dressed for tea. My dress was scarlet; his suit, a dove gray. These were the colors of our amusements, you see, the feathers by which we cleave our places at the table.
'I don't know,' Mr Marseille said. 'I just don't know.'
I glanced at the selections, and saw his impasse. There had to be a half-dozen choices, all of which, from just a few feet away, could be described as yellow. Pale yellow, at that. Not the yellow of sunflowers or school buses or taxicabs, or even the yellow of summer corn. These were pastel shades, almost whitish, and they had the most scandalous of names:
Butter Frosting. Lemon Whip. Sweet Marzipan.
Mr Marseille hummed a song, our song, almost certainly turning over the words in his mind, perhaps hoping for a flicker of inspiration.
I soon became distracted by a woman with a small child, passing by at the end of our aisle. The woman wore a short puffy jacket and shockingly tight denim jeans. Her makeup seemed to have been applied in haste—perhaps reflected in a less than well-silvered mirror—and gave her an almost clownish look in the unforgiving light of the store. The child, a toddler at oldest, bounced along behind the woman, deliriously consumed by an oversized cookie with brightly colored candies baked in. A few moments after they passed from view I heard the woman exhort the child to hurry up. I don't imagine the little boy did.
At the thought of the mother and child I felt a familiar yearning blossom within me. I scolded it away, and turned once more to Mr Marseille and his assessments. Before I could choke the words, I pointed at one of the paint swatches in his hands, and asked:
'What's wrong with this one? Candlelight is a delightful name. Quite apropos, n'est-ce pas?'
Mr Marseille looked up—first at the long, empty aisle, then at the myriad cans of paint, then at me. He replied softly, but forcefully:
'It is my decision, and I will not be hurried.'
I simply hated it when Mr Marseille was cross with me. It did not happen often—we were kindred and compatible spirits in almost all ways, especially in the habits of color and texture and fabric and song—but when I saw the flare in his eyes I knew that this would be a day of numbering, our first since that terrible moment last week, a day during which a young girl's blood would surely be the rouge that colored my cheeks.
We rode in our car, a white sedan that, according to Mr Marseille, had once been advertised during a football game. I don't know much about cars—or football, for that matter—and this was not our car, not by any watermark of legal ownership. Mr Marseille simply drove to the curb about an hour earlier, and I got in. In this manner it became our car, if only for the briefest of times. Mr Marseille, like all of our kind, was an expert borrower.
The first thing I noticed was that the front seat smelled of licorice. The sweet kind. I don't care for the other kind. It is bitter to my tongue. There are some who crave it, but if I've learned anything in this life it is that one can never reason, or truly understand, the tastes of another.
We drove on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the magnificent divided thoroughfare that I've heard is patterned, after a fashion, on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. I've never been to Paris but I've seen many photographs, and this seems to be true.
I speak a cluttered French, as does Mr Marseille—sometimes, for sport, we go for days speaking nothing else—and we often talk of one day travelling from the City of Brotherly Love to the City of Light.
The trees along the parkway were deep in their autumn slumber, but I've been on this street in summer, when the green seems to go on forever, bookended by the stately Museum of Art at one end, and the splendid Swann Fountain on the other. On this November morning the street was beautiful, but if you come here in July it will be breathtaking.
We followed the group of girls at a discreet distance. They had attended a showing of a film at the Franklin Institute, and were now boarding a bus to take them back to their school.
Mr Marseille had thought of making our invitation on Winter Street, but decided against it. Too many busybodies to ruin our surprise.
At just after noon the bus pulled over near the corner of Sixteenth and Locust. The teenage girls—about a dozen in number, all dressed alike in their school uniforms—disembarked. They lingered on the corner, chatting about everything and nothing, as girls of an age will do.
After a short time, a few cars showed up; a number of the girls drove off in backseats, carpooled by one mother or another.
The girl who would be our guest walked a few blocks south with another of her classmates, a tall, lanky girl wearing a magenta cardigan, in the style of a fisherman's knit.
We drove a few blocks ahead of them, parked in an alley, then marched briskly around the block, coming up behind the girls. Girls at this age often dawdle, and this was good for us. We caught them in short order.
When the tall girl finally said goodbye, on the corner of Sixteenth and Spruce, Mr Marseille and I walked up behind our soon-to-be guest, waiting for the signal to cross the street.
Eventually the girl looked over.
'Hello,' Mr Marseille said.
The girl glanced at me, then at Mr Marseille. Sensing no threat, perhaps because she saw us as a couple—a couple of an age not significantly greater than her own—she returned the greeting.
'Hi,' she said.
While we waited for the light to change, Mr Marseille unbuttoned his coat, struck a pose, offering the well-turned peak lapel of his suit jacket. The hem was a pick stitch, and finely finished. I know this because I am the seamstress who fitted him.
'Wow,' the girl added. 'I like your suit. A lot.'
Mr Marseille's eyes lighted. In addition to being sartorially fastidious, he was terribly vain, and always available for a compliment.
'What a lovely thing to say,' he said. 'How very kind of you.'
The girl, perhaps not knowing the correct response, said nothing. She stole a glance at the Walk signal. It still showed a hand.
'My name is Marseille,' he said. 'This is my dearest heart, Anabelle.'
Mr Marseille extended his hand. The girl blushed, offered her own.
Mr Marseille leaned forward, as was his manner, and gently kissed the back of the girl's fingers. Many think the custom is to kiss the back of a lady's hand—on the side just opposite the palm—but this is not proper.
A gentleman knows.
Nicole reddened even more deeply.
When she glanced at me I made the slightest curtsy. Ladies do not shake hands with ladies.
At this moment the light changed. Mr Marseille let go of the girl's hand and, in a courtly fashion, offered her safe passage across the lane.
We continued down the street in silence until we came to the mouth of the alley; the alley in which we parked our car.
Mr Marseille held up a hand. He and I stopped walking.
'I have a confession to make,' he said.
The girl, appearing to be fully at ease with these two polite and interesting characters, stopped as well. She looked intrigued by Mr Marseille's statement.
'Yes,' he said. 'Our meeting was not by accident today. We're here to invite you to tea.'
The girl looked at me for a moment, then back at Mr Marseille.
'You want to invite me to tea?'
'I don't know what you mean,' she said.
Mr Marseille smiled. He had a pretty smile, brilliantly white, almost feminine in its deceits. It was the kind of smile that turned strangers into cohorts in all manner of petty crime, the kind of smile that puts at ease both the very young and the very old. I've yet to meet a young woman who could resist its charm.
'Every day, about four o'clock, we have tea,' Mr Marseille said. 'It is quite the haphazard affair on most days, but every so often we have a special tea—a thé dansant, if you'll allow—one to which we invite all our friends, and always someone new. Someone we hope will become a new friend. Won't you say you'll join us?'
The young woman looked confused. But still she was gracious. This is the sign of a good upbringing. Both Mr Marseille and I believe courtesy and good manners are paramount to getting along in the world these days. It is what lingers with people after you take your leave, like the quality of your soap, or the polish of your shoes.
'Look,' the young lady began. 'I think you've mistaken me for someone else. But thanks anyway.' She glanced at her watch, then back at Mr Marseille. 'I'm afraid I have a ton of homework.'
With a lightning fast move Mr Marseille took the girl by both wrists, and spun her into the alleyway. Mr Marseille is quite the athlete, you see. I once saw him catch a common housefly in midair, then throw it into a hot skillet, where we witnessed its life vanish into an ampersand of silver smoke.
As he seized the girl I watched her eyes. They flew open to their widest: counterweights on a precious Bru. I noticed then, for the first time, that her irises had scattered about them tiny flecks of gold.
This would be a challenge for me, for it was my duty—and my passion—to re-create such things.
We sat around the small table in our workshop. At the moment it was just Nicole, Mr Marseille, and me. Our friends had yet to arrive. There was much to do.
'Would you like some more tea?' I asked.
The girl opened her mouth to speak, but no words came forth. Our special tea often had this effect. Mr Marseille and I never drank it, of course, but we had seen its magical results on others many times. Nicole had already had two cups, and I could only imagine the colors she saw; Alice at the mouth of the rabbit hole.
I poured more tea into her cup.
'There,' I said. 'I think you should let it cool for a time. It is very hot.'
While I made the final measurements, Mr Marseille excused himself to make ready what we needed for the gala. We were never happier than at this moment, a moment when, needle in hand, I made the closing stiches, and Mr Marseille prepared the final table.
We parked by the river, exited the car. Before showing our guest to her seat, Mr Marseille blindfolded me. I could barely conceal my anticipation and delight. I do so love a tea.
Mr Marseille does, as well.
With baby steps I breached the path. When Mr Marseille removed my scarf, I opened my eyes.
- "A crime novel that reminded me how fun it is to be scared of my own reflection at 3 a.m. The plot is dense, blood-soaked and thrilling."—Arielle Landau, New York Daily News
- "A massively fun and thrilling read . . . Richard Montanari's expertly woven tale unfolds beautifully and smartly, never giving away too much, but always maintaining a sense of urgency and suspense that makes the act of reading such a joy."—Brooke Wylie, Examiner.com
- "A master storyteller. Be prepared to stay up all night."—James Ellroy
- "Montanari weaves a mesmerizing tale."—Lisa Gardner
- "Compelling . . . Montanari creates a large cast of believable, moving characters, men and women with families, needs, and histories. The workings of the Philadelphia PD are as detailed and convincing as those of Isola in an Ed McBain novel, in which the city itself becomes a virtual character."—Publishers Weekly
- On Sale
- Apr 28, 2015
- Page Count
- 496 pages
- Mulholland Books