The Sculptor stepped out of the shower and toweled off in the middle of his studio. His skin smelled clean, industrially so-like hospital disinfectant, like a job well done. Yes, the only thing out of order now was the pile of dirty clothes in the slop sink. He would not don them again, would not even touch them until it was time to go back to the house. Then he would drop them in the washer and give his father his supper. The Sculptor would not put on a fresh set of clothes either, for The Sculptor loved being naked-looked forward to remaining that way well into the evening, when he would sit in the dim light of the parlor watching his Bacchus plans burn in the fireplace as he sipped his Brunello.
But first The Sculptor needed to check his technology, needed to see if his premiere exhibit had made the news yet. He had been patient, had resisted looking at his monitors until he was finished tidying up his workspace. And so the man once called Christian rode the mortician’s table up to the second floor-the gears of the winch system much quieter now that he had oiled them. He turned off the audio feed from his father’s bedroom-the A-side of Scarlatti now on its fourth time through-and sat naked at his desk, flicking on the sound of the flat-screen TV just as the Fox News Channel was turning over the broadcast to its local affiliate.
The Sculptor did not recognize the pretty young woman with the red hair and emerald green eyes-for The Sculptor never watched the local news, almost never watched TV at all-and thus did not consider it anything special when the Fox News anchor mentioned that WNRI’s Meghan O’Neill had been the first to break the story. And of course, like the rest of Channel 9’s loyal viewers, there was no way he could have known about the reporter’s anonymous source inside the Westerly Police Department. If he had, he might have decided to wait; might have decided to let O’Neill’s man tell her what she needed to know. But just as The Sculptor was in the dark with regard to that, so was Meghan O’Neill. Her five hundred dollars had landed her only half a story-a rookie, like herself, who was on the periphery of the investigation; one who got his information secondhand back at headquarters, and who was kept out of the loop about the specific details regarding Campbell’s remains.
And so The Sculptor felt somewhat disappointed to learn from the breaking news report that-unless they were doing a good job of hiding it-all the media seemed to know thus far was that the bodies of Tommy Campbell and an unidentified person had been discovered down at Watch Hill, and that both of them had been moved from the site to an “undisclosed location.” And from the way the pretty redhead and the Fox News anchor were trading theories as to Campbell’s connection with Dodd-a connection that The Sculptor knew went only as far as the millionaire’s lovely topiary garden-The Sculptor also knew that the media had not captured any footage of his exhibit-not even a picture! That was unfortunate; that was not part of his plan; for that meant it might be days, perhaps even a whole week before the details of his Bacchus were made public. And although The Sculptor was a very, very patient man, the idea that the media might miss something suddenly did not sit well with him.
However, it was not impatience that influenced his decision to telephone the pretty young reporter’s home station, but the sight of a familiar face behind her-more of a grainy shadow, really-in the front seat of what he knew to be an unmarked FBI vehicle. The glimpse of her lasted only a millisecond-would probably have gone unnoticed even by the art history professor’s ex-husband-but could not escape The Sculptor’s keen eye. No, as Meghan O’Neill directed her cameras across the street to Dodd’s front gate, just as it was opening three Chevy Trailblazers emerged from behind the high wall of hedges. And for the briefest of moments The Sculptor was sure he had spied the figure of Cathy Hildebrant through the windshield of the lead car. And despite his excitement, despite his joy that Dr. Hildy had finally seen his work, The Sculptor was at the same time struck with an idea.
He would make the telephone call from his cell phone, with a Wal-Mart calling card that still had plenty of minutes left on it. His number would be blocked anyway, but this was just a little more insurance. And of course, there was no need to worry about the ping off the local cell tower. No, he himself had designed the phone’s encrypter to cloak all his calls in and out of the carriage house just in case. Yes, for as much as The Sculptor hated technology, he had resigned himself long ago that he would have to master it in order to complete his work. And so, after a quick search online-a search with a rerouted IP address, of course-The Sculptor muted the television and placed his call.
“Thank you for calling the WNRI Channel 9 Eye-Team Hotline,” droned the recorded voice on the other end. “Your call is important to us, but due to the heavy amount of traffic at present, your wait time to speak with an investigator is approximately-se-ven mi-nutes.”
The Sculptor refreshed his computer screens; whistled Scarlatti’s Sonata in D Minor as he read the headlines on the Drudge Report and CNN.com. While he had been tidying up his studio, a spokesperson for the FBI had confirmed with the Associated Press that the body of missing Boston Rebels wide receiver Tommy Campbell, as well as another unidentified person, had been found on the property of a wealthy businessman in Campbell’s hometown of Westerly, Rhode Island-blahdy-blahdy-blah, details to follow in a press conference at 5:00 P.M.
That’s good, The Sculptor thought. A little over two hours to plant the seeds; a little over two hours to make sure the press would ask the right questions come conference time.
The broadcast on the Fox News Channel switched to an aerial view of Dodd’s estate, and as the line of FBI vehicles snaked down the driveway, The Sculptor could make out the handful of agents and state troopers who still littered the scene. His Bacchus, however, was gone-already on its way to the medical examiner’s office, no doubt. The Sculptor shivered with excitement, felt his nipples grow hard at the thought of the FBI analyzing his work, of them dismantling his exhibit and deciphering the connection between his Bacchus and Dr. Hildy’s Slumbering in the Stone. Yes, it was only a matter of time before everyone would begin to understand the message behind his work; only a matter of time before everyone would begin to finally wake up.
The Sculptor knew, of course, that the media and the FBI would soon brand him a serial killer, for like Michelangelo himself, his contemporaries did not have a name for what he really was; could not begin to grasp the depth of his tortured soul-that fountain of love and anguish, of beauty and divine insight from which his genius flowed, and from which his artistry craved release. Yes, they would think him a monster; would group him with other monsters and misinterpret his work as some demented, selfish pursuit in the vein of a Dahmer, a Gacy, or a Nilsen. The Sculptor had understood that from the beginning; had long ago resigned himself to the fact that only after his death-perhaps hundreds of years after-would the true nature of his artistry be fully comprehended by everyone.
Everyone, that is, except Dr. Catherine Hildebrant.
Yes, here in the present, only one person possessed an understanding, a genius on par with his own. And that person would soon become his mouthpiece-the vehicle through which he would get his message out to the world; the vehicle through which The Sculptor would wake them all from their slumber.
“Eye-Team Hotline,” said the voice on the other end of the phone-a deep, male voice that The Sculptor immediately found alluring.
“Greetings,” said The Sculptor. “And congratulations to WNRI and the Eye-Team for being the first to break the news on the discovery of Tommy Campbell. Judging from the amount of time I had to hold the line, I assume your operation there in Providence is being flooded with calls about the case, am I correct?”
“What can I do for you, sir?” said the voice impatiently-an impatience that The Sculptor found endearing.
“Perhaps you should be asking what I can do for you,” chuckled The Sculptor. “You see, my friend, as a reward for WNRI’s tenacity, I would like to offer you some information pertaining to the case-a tip, as those in your line of work are apt to call it.”
“May I have your name?”
“If it’s all right with you, my friend, I would like to remain anonymous. Surely that is par for the course on a day like today-a day when a lot of tidily-squat about what’s what must be clogging up the pipes down there at W-N-R-I.” The manner in which The Sculptor sang the station’s call letters, like a cheesy radio announcer, had the unintended effect of irritating the investigator on the other end.
“Look, pal, we got a lot going on down here. I don’t have time today for nonsense-”
“Now, now, let’s not get testy. I could always call one of your competitors, and just think what your superiors would do to you if they found out you turned your back on perhaps the biggest story in your station’s history.”
“All right,” sighed the investigator, unimpressed. “What have you got for me?”
“The FBI has brought in an expert to assist them with their investigation of Tommy Campbell’s demise. Her name is Dr. Catherine Hildebrant-H-I-L-D-E-BR-A-N-T-and she is a professor of art history at Brown University.”
“I’m sorry, you said art history?”
“That is correct. This can easily be confirmed by a quick tour of the school’s Web site, and if you hurry-that is, if you’re a real go-getter like that pretty redhead on the beat-you can confirm for yourself Dr. Hildebrant’s involvement in the case. An unmarked FBI vehicle, a black Chevy Trailblazer I believe, will soon drop her off at her place of residence. If you review your latest footage of the crime scene, you’ll be able to see the truck exiting the property. From what I can tell, the good doctor left Watch Hill not even ten minutes ago, and unless our friends with the Federal Bureau of Investigation have more goodies in store for her today, I expect that the same Chevy Trailblazer will put her back at 311 East George Street in about forty to fifty minutes-depending on traffic, of course.”
“You said 311 East George Street?”
“I most certainly did.”
“Why would the FBI be consulting an art history professor?”
“The bodies of Tommy Campbell and his companion were found in that wealthy banker’s garden painted white like marble and posed upright in the form of a classical sculpture. Michelangelo’s Bacchus, to be exact.”
“I’m sorry, could you repeat that?”
“I’m sorry, I cannot. Hopefully, the powers-that-be at W-N-R-I are smart enough to record their hotline. Therefore, I suggest you review the tape and that footage and get a reporter over to Dr. Hildebrant’s house as soon as possible. The arrival of the black FBI vehicle will be confirmation that I’m not full of poop.”
The Sculptor hung up. His pulse had quickened-not because he was worried about getting caught; not because he was excited about all those pointed questions he imagined the press would soon be asking the FBI. No, The Sculptor’s heart knocked at his chest because of his conversation, his flirtation with the man on the other end of the hotline-a man whose voice had aroused him greatly.
Indeed, The Sculptor was already erect-could feel the hard nakedness of his penis pressing against the underside of the desk. And like a blushing-pink Pria-pus he sauntered over to the mortician’s table. From the space underneath, he unfolded a three-sectional arm, at the end of which was attached a small, flat-screen television. The Sculptor maneuvered it into place-adjusted the arm so the screen hovered about three feet above the head of the mortician’s table-and then uncoiled the accompanying cables. He laid them carefully on the floor, plugging one into the wall and the other into a monitor on his computer desk. The screen above the mortician’s table at once flickered into life, its image the same as the monitor before him. The Sculptor minimized the CNN.com Web site and double clicked on one of the desktop icons-a marble hand holding a bowl titled “Bacchus2.” The screen went blank for a moment, and then the countdown began-thirty seconds, grainy black and white that The Sculptor had designed to look like an old, wipe-style film countdown.
The Sculptor turned on the baroque guitar music from his father’s bedroom and flicked off all the monitors-all except the monitor above the mortician’s table.
Then he turned out the lights.
The Sculptor crossed the darkened room and slid under the television screen onto his back-the cold steel of the mortician’s table sending a shiver through his buttocks; the black and white numbers above him wiping into each other like circle ghosts on a clock.
The Sculptor smiled, took his shaft in his hand, and waited.
At “ 2” the screen went blank-the room, black-and a second later, just as it had materialized for Tommy Campbell, The Sculptor saw what he had been waiting for: a statue, dirty white against black, so that it appeared to be floating just inches above his face. However, whereas it was Michelangelo’s Bacchus that had emerged from the darkness for Tommy Campbell, before The Sculptor now was HIS Bacchus, HIS creation. And as the marble white effigy of the Rebels wide receiver and his satyr companion began to rotate, unlike the mortician table’s former occupant, The Sculptor felt no fear, no confusion at all.
No, in the three months since he had taken the life of Tommy Campbell-especially in the last few weeks-The Sculptor had been in this position many, many times.
The Sculptor began to stroke his penis-hard, but slow at first, as he had learned to do in order to time things perfectly. And just as Michelangelo’s Bacchus had done for Tommy Campbell, the image before The Sculptor suddenly morphed into a close-up of the statue’s head: the grapes, the leaves, the curly hair surrounding the wide receiver’s drunken face-a gleaming white face with blank, porcelain eyes and a half-open mouth. The camera then panned down over Campbell ’s chest, over his bloated belly, and finally to his groin-to the place where The Sculptor had carefully removed the young man’s penis.
And in a fortuitous stroke of timing-an almost divine coincidence that The Sculptor did not fail to notice-as the all-enveloping sound of Scarlatti’s Sonata in D Minor faded into his Sonata in E, the image on the screen above faded into something else as well. Now it was just the face of Tommy Campbell-strapped to the table-filmed with a second, stationary camera that The Sculptor had set off to the side of the mortician’s table.
“Pop, you there? Did I fall on the porch? They got me in traction or something?”
Once again there was the look of confusion on the star Rebel’s face as the video above him commenced, as he tried to comprehend what he was seeing there in the darkness. The Sculptor instinctively focused his attention on Campbell ’s neck-had learned over the past month to watch his jugular vein, to time the strokes of his penis with the beating of the young man’s heart. He kept his rhythm steady, mimicking Campbell ’s pulse while the wide receiver watched the image of Michelangelo’s Bacchus rotate and morph above him.
“That’s it,” The Sculptor heard himself say off camera. “Shake off your slumber, O son of Jupiter.”
The Sculptor literally skipped a breath when he saw Tommy Campbell attempt to turn his head-actually felt his stomach spasm with delight when he saw the young man’s heart begin to beat faster in his neck.
“Who are you? What am I doing here?”
The Sculptor’s breathing quickened as he watched Campbell begin to panic, watched him struggle against the straps. The Sculptor knew that the image above the muscle-bound footballer was moving again, panning down over Bacchus’s chest, over his belly, to his hairless groin-to the place where his penis should have been.
“What the hell is going on?”
The Sculptor increased the speed, the intensity of his stroke-did not pause at the point in the video when the image above Campbell changed, when the young man finally saw himself, the clusters of grapes and vine leaves surrounding his face.
“What the fuck is-”
And as Tommy Campbell began to tremble violently on the screen above him, the heavy pounding of The Sculptor’s hand finally joined him with his Bacchus’s heart.
“This can’t be happening. I must be dreaming!”
“No, my Bacchus. You are finally awake.”
And thus, as he had done so many times before, at the precise moment of his Bacchus’s release, The Sculptor once again released himself into the darkness of their divine communion.