Bill Burrell sat with Thomas Campbell Sr. in his den, their coffee long gone cold. Neither of them had drunk much, for their cups were only props in a scene they had played many times over the last three months. The set was the same-the comfy leather chairs, the bookcases, the warm paneled walls peppered with family photographs. Today, however, the mood, the color of the scene was different, for today the wealthy businessman had finally learned what had become of his only son. And as Special Agent Rachel Sullivan concluded her press conference on the television in the corner, as if on cue a thud was heard above Burrell’s head.
“She’ll be fine,” said Campbell, clicking the remote. “Her sister is up there with her. Probably dropped something is all.”
In the awkward silence that followed, Burrell took a sip of his cold coffee. Instant. Bitter. Maggie Campbell did not make it for him today; did not brew her special blend of Sumatra as she usually did on the SAC’s visits. No, Burrell had learned from Agent Sullivan that, upon identifying her son, upon seeing him frozen white in the horror that was Bacchus, Maggie Campbell had gone first into shock, then into a fit of inconsolable hysteria-so much so that by the time Burrell arrived at the house on Foster Cove later that afternoon, Tommy Campbell’s mother had since collapsed into her bed upstairs, exhausted from her bout with borderline madness. And save for the handful of reporters that still lingered at the end of the driveway, the house in which Rhode Island ’s favorite son grew up was as quiet as a tomb.
“Someone was found dead on this property, too,” Campbell said. “Did you know that, Bill?”
Burrell looked up from his coffee. Thomas Campbell was staring back at him blankly-his eyes like slits, red from weeping; a haggard shell of the man standing with his son in the photograph on the bookshelf behind him.
“In the summer of 1940,” Campbell continued. “Out on the front lawn, a caretaker for the family who owned the house before us. Story goes he was attacking their boy, and a couple of strangers just happened to be passing by. Stabbed the guy dead and then took off. The boy was there the whole time-saw the whole thing. Went on to become a famous movie director-made all those horror pictures in the sixties and seventies. Died last year. Remember him?”
Burrell nodded vaguely.
“Saw a bunch of his movies when I was a kid-scared the hell out of me. We bought the house from his uncle-gosh, going on almost thirty years ago now. Nice old fella-his uncle, I mean. A lot of those old-timers around here still remember all that-the story about the murder and all. Tommy had heard that story, too. When he was a kid. And for years he used to swear that there was a ghost in this house. You know how kids are. But you know what, Bill? I remember him telling me, even when he was little, that he wasn’t afraid-that he hoped they could be friends someday, he and the ghost. Isn’t that something? A little kid not being afraid of ghosts?”
Burrell nodded, looking down again at his cup.
“That’s the kind of boy my Tommy was,” Campbell said, his voice beginning to break. “A good friend to everybody. Not afraid to love even a ghost.”
“I know, Tom. He was a good kid. The best.”
“It’s why they took advantage of him out there in that world of his-those people, that slut model he asked to marry him. He was so trusting. He just thought that everybody who smiled at him meant it the same way he did when he smiled back-that’s why that whoring cunt was able to break my boy’s heart.”
Burrell was silent. They had been over it before-had long ago exhausted the possibility that Tommy’s ex-fianc'ee, Italian supermodel Victoria Magnone, was somehow involved in the star Rebel’s disappearance. Even before Burrell had met Tommy Campbell’s father, even before the wide receiver had gone missing, the SAC had followed the young couple’s very public romance and breakup in the media-couldn’t help but hear about it every time he turned on the TV or clicked on his goddamn Yahoo! homepage to check his stocks. But what the media hadn’t told him, what Burrell hadn’t learned until he met Tommy Campbell’s father, was the degree to which the ending of their relationship had broken the boy’s heart. Only after spending time with the Campbells at their house on Foster Cove, only after learning about the loving son behind the image portrayed of him in the media did Bill Burrell begin to feel guilty. For as many times as he had watched him play for the Rebels on TV, as many times as he had seen his image splattered across the Internet and on the covers of magazines, only after Bill Burrell met the missing footballer’s grieving parents did he start to think of Tommy Campbell as human.
“Tell me, Bill-tell me you know why somebody would want to hurt my boy.”
Burrell could say nothing-could only drop his gaze back into his cup-for now that Tommy Campbell had been found, now that the moment for which they had waited three months had finally arrived, incredibly the SAC could not bring himself to comment, let alone ask his friend any more questions. Thomas Campbell Sr. thus turned once again to the television-his eyes as blank as the screen on which only moments before Rachel Sullivan had confirmed for the rest of America what he already knew.
Special Agent in Charge Bill Burrell was satisfied with the way his girl had fielded the press’s questions, but at the same time he was deeply disturbed-angry, of course, because they had to put on the fucking sideshow in the first place and because the news of Tommy Campbell’s murder had been leaked to the press before he gave the go. Oh yes, he would find out who opened his mouth; and when he did, Bulldog would take great pleasure in personally shutting it for them.
However, it was the flurry of questions at the end of the press conference that really bothered the SAC-questions that seemed to bother even the reporter who asked them. Burrell, of course, had no way of knowing that O’Neill had just been fed the information through her earpiece. He had no way of knowing that the reporter was at the same time irritated that her five hundred dollars had failed to yield this little tidbit of information: that Tommy Campbell and the unidentified person with whom he was discovered had been posed to look like a statue. A statue by Michelangelo. A statue by the name of Bacchus.
Even though only a handful of Westerly policemen knew the details about the statue, even though over a dozen state troopers had been brought in immediately to help secure the area around Dodd’s estate, it had been the FBI who-upon their initial forensic inspection of The Sculptor’s exhibit-discovered the dedication to Dr. Hildebrant beneath a light covering of beach sand on the base of the statue. And so it happened that, prior to Burrell’s arrival at the crime scene, Special Agent Sam Markham had given strict orders not to mention the art history professor’s name in the company of anyone other than federal agents. And so, as Burrell had watched Rachel Sullivan refuse to comment on the WNRI reporter’s questions, one thing became painfully clear: that even if a policeman, local or state, had recognized the statue to be a reproduction of Michelangelo’s Bacchus, it would have had to have been one of his guys that spilled the beans about Hildebrant-unless, of course, the killer had telephoned the media himself.
Either way, neither option sat well with him.
The only bonus about the whole mess, however, was that the WNRI reporter asked no questions about the inscription itself-did not seem to know exactly why Dr. Catherine Hildebrant had been called to the crime scene other than as an expert consultant. That was good, for that meant the FBI still might be able to do their job without a bunch of media attention on Hildebrant and her book. The media might leave her alone once the initial story blew over. Burrell liked the pretty professor-not because she reminded him of his wife, but because he could tell by the way she examined the bodies of Tommy Campbell and the boy that she was strong. Burrell liked that. Yes, indeed. One could say that Bill Burrell even admired her.
Thomas Campbell, on the other hand, was oblivious to Dr. Catherine Hildebrant-did not even ask Burrell who she was when Meghan O’Neill mentioned her name. In fact, Tommy Campbell’s father seemed to accept the media frenzy in front of the Westerly Police station as simply the next necessary step in the mourning for his son; did not even question Burrell as to how the information about the statue leaked out to the public-information that he himself had known since early that morning. No, his thoughts were only for his son-his son and someone else’s.
“Once they see that statue,” Campbell said, staring at the empty television screen, “the real one, I mean. Once they look it up online and see that the figure behind my son looks like a child, they-the people of Rhode Island at least-they’re going to know it’s that Wenick boy.”
“I know. We’ve got some people at her house now. Just glad they got there before all this about the statue came out.”
Although in the creation of his satyr The Sculptor had significantly altered Michael Wenick’s face-the tiny horns atop his forehead, the pointy ears, the mischievous half grimace of his mouth on the grapes-it had been a Rhode Island state trooper who, upon the FBI’s arrival, had first alerted them to the boy’s possible identity. And after the obligatory search of the missing person databases, after all the pictures and physical descriptions had been compared and analyzed, all signs did indeed point to little Michael Wenick. Burrell knew, however, that they had to be sure before they approached the boy’s mother, and that they would then need a positive ID from her before any information could be presented to the public requesting their assistance.
But how do you tell a mother her son has been sawed in half? How do you tell a mother her child has been given a pair of goat’s legs and been stuffed to look like a devil? What’s even worse, how do you show her? And although Bill Burrell had initially felt guilty for arriving at Dodd’s estate after Thomas and Maggie Campbell had left-after it took two state troopers, in addition to Thomas and his sister-in-law, to get the hysterical mother back home-now, sitting as he was in the den with the man who had in three months become a valued friend, the SAC felt even guiltier for his secret relief at not having had to break the news to the Campbells himself.
No. Even after twenty years with the Bureau, things just never got any easier.
“She’s sleeping now,” whispered a voice from the hall. In the doorway was Maggie Campbell’s twin sister-or a ghost, Burrell thought. A ghost of what Maggie Campbell looked like before her son’s disappearance, before she lost all that weight. He had met the woman before-had mistaken her once for Maggie-but for the life of him could not remember her name.
“Anything else I can do for you, Tom?” she asked. “Before I lay down for a bit?”
“No. Thank you, love. Please, get some rest.”
The ghost smiled wearily, nodded to Burrell, then disappeared back into the shadows outside the den.
“She’s a good girl,” Campbell said. “Been a big help to us from the beginning.”
Tommy Campbell’s father offered nothing more about his sister-in-law-no name to bail Burrell out of his embarrassment for forgetting.
No, the sad-eyed father with the snow white hair just stared silently into the empty television screen as if he were waiting for a commercial to finish-the prop that was his coffee cold and unmoved in his lap as it had been now for almost an hour.
No, Burrell thought. After twenty years with the Bureau it just never gets any fucking easier.