It was not Michael Wenick that Sam Markham saw when he closed his eyes that night, or even the Bacchanalian visage of Tommy Campbell. No, there in the gloom of his Providence hotel room was only his wife Michelle. She came to him as she usually did, her presence inextricably linked with his solitude; a jigsaw puzzle of memory-some of which was jumbled into fuzzy pieces, while other parts fit together in segments of some larger picture, the border of which was never quite finished. Tonight, however, the memories of his Michelle brought with them the dull but crushing pain of longing-a pain that was always there for Sam Markham, but that most often lurked only in the deepest catacombs of his hardened heart.
It had been fourteen years since his wife’s murder at the hands of a serial rapist by the name of Elmer Stokes. Stokes-a brutish-looking but charming singer whose specialty was traditional sea shanty songs-had been performing for the summer at Mystic Seaport when he saw the pretty, twenty-six-year-old “scientist lady” taking some water samples with her colleagues. Stokes would later tell police that he had followed “the bitch and her scientist friends” back to the Aquarium, where he waited for her in his car until long after dark. His intention, he said, had only been to watch her, to “get a feel for her.” But when he saw the lovely Markham emerge from the Aquarium alone, he was overcome with the irresistible urge to take her then.
Elmer Stokes stated in his confession that he wore a ski mask and “pulled a pistol on the bitch.” When he ordered Markham into the backseat of her car, she screamed, and Stokes tried to subdue her. Michelle Markham fought back-kicking Stokes in the groin and biting him hard on his forearm. She managed to tear off the ski mask, and Stokes said it was then that he panicked. He shot her twice in the head and fled the scene in his beat-up ’85 Corolla. A coworker at Mystic Seaport spotted the bite marks on the shanty man’s forearm a couple days later and called the police. At first Elmer Stokes denied any involvement in the murder-a murder that rocked the sleepy little town of Mystic, Connecticut, to its core. However, when police recovered the pistol from the trunk of Stokes’s car, the lovable singer who had been such a hit with the kiddies that summer confessed. The authorities were eventually able to tie Elmer Stokes to nine rapes in four states going back over a decade.
Michelle Markham, however, had been his first and only murder.
It was Sam Markham who discovered his wife’s body lying next to her car in the Mystic Aquarium parking lot-had gone looking for her when she didn’t come home that night. The couple was less than a week shy of their two-year wedding anniversary, for which Markham had saved enough money from his meager English teacher’s salary to surprise Michelle with a weekend in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Their courtship had been brief-a six-month whirlwind of passion and romance followed by an elopement and the happiest two years of their lives. And so it was inevitable that, as Sam Markham sat cradling his wife’s head in a pool of blood, his entire world imploded into a downward spiral of grief.
Under Connecticut law, for the murder and attempted rape of Michelle Markham, Elmer Stokes received the death penalty. It was of little consolation to Sam Markham, who sat numb-eyed in the courtroom while his parents and Michelle’s family wept with relief at the judge’s sentence. Years later, when Markham’s sorrow had leveled, he would look back on that time following the trial of Elmer Stokes and invariably think of a crappy Disney movie he saw as a boy called The Black Hole, in which the main characters, protected by a special spaceship designed to resist the gravitational forces of the title entity, get sucked down into a hokey and ambiguous sequence where they travel through Heaven and Hell, only to emerge on the other side of the black hole in what appears to be another dimension.
And so it had been for Markham, for the black hole that had been the year following his wife’s murder compressed time into a confusing and hazy journey in which he felt like a bearded spaceship drifting aimlessly through the universe of his boyhood bedroom at his parents’. And although, unlike the characters in the Disney movie, Markham could remember little of the black hole that had been his mourning, he emerged on the other side with a decision to apply for a career as a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Yes, a new dimension in Markham ’s life had begun.
With his newfound sense of purpose, the physically fit and always intellectually superior Markham quickly moved to the head of his class at the FBI Academy at Quantico. After graduation, over the next few years he followed the normal routine of rotating assignments until, while working as a special agent with the Tampa Office, he single-handedly brought down Jackson Briggs, the man the press had dubbed “The Sarasota Strangler”-a vicious serial killer and rapist who had been terrorizing Sarasota retirement communities for almost two years, and who, by the time Markham caught up with him, had a string of seven victims to his credit. Markham ’s efforts not only earned him a citation of merit from the FBI director himself, but also secured his position as a supervisory special agent in the Behavioral Analysis Unit at the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime in Quantico.
Yet through it all, Sam Markham walked alone. Thought simply a solitary man by some, perhaps aloof and arrogant by others, life for the special agent was his job and only his job. Unlike those who knew him, however, Markham was keenly aware of his own psyche-knew that it was his work that brought him closer to his wife; knew that, like a character in a movie, he was on a mission to avenge her death by sparing others the heartache he had suffered. And it was for this very reason that Sam Markham watched himself in his role as an FBI special agent with the same sense of detached clich'e and boredom with which he had watched The Black Hole as a child. For underneath it all was a nagging sense of futility; an inherent cynicism and understanding that, even at the end, the movie would simply not pay off. Yes, when it came right down to it, Sam Markham knew as well as anybody that, no matter how many serial killers he brought down, he would never find peace until he joined his wife in the afterlife.
And so-even though it had been almost fifteen years since his wife’s murder and he had learned to accept his grief-Markham found it strange that, as he watched himself lying there in his Providence hotel room, the jigsaw puzzle that was the memory of his wife had been scattered across a tabletop of guilt. For tonight, mixed in with the images of Michelle were pieces from another puzzle-one that took Markham completely by surprise.
Of course, there had been other women over the last few years, but the FBI agent never allowed himself to get too close, never allowed himself to betray the memory of his wife in his heart. But now, with this art history professor from Brown, Markham was aware that something had happened; that something else besides his grief was stirring deep down in the catacombs of his heart-a something, for all his self-awareness, Markham did not quite understand, but at the same time in the role of detached moviegoer knew all too well. And so it was that, as he gazed down at the picture of Cathy Hildebrant on the back cover of Slumbering in the Stone, Markham watched himself for the first time long in his heart not only for his wife, but for another woman as well; and so it was that the FBI agent had also watched himself swallow his tears of guilt upon the art history professor’s phone call-a detail, Markham thought, that only added to the clich'e of the movie that had become his life.
By the time he hung up with Cathy, however, Markham ’s mind was back on his work. The conversation-as much as it had settled him, as much as he had actually enjoyed speaking with the art history professor-confirmed for him the conclusion he had drawn from reading Slumbering in the Stone: that the murderer of Tommy Campbell and Michael Wenick was sending a message that was part of a much larger purpose-a purpose that involved the public. But rather than delving back into Cathy’s book, rather than contemplating the merits of Dr. Hildebrant’s theories as to just what that purpose was, after he closed his cell phone Markham found himself unable to take his eyes off the book’s cover-specifically, the close-up of David’s piercing but delicately carved eyes. Indeed, for almost ten minutes did Sam Markham become mesmerized by the visage that was Michelangelo’s David-so much so, that when his cell phone startled him from his trance, it took a moment for Markham to remember where he was.
“You see the news?”
It was Bill Burrell.
“Not in the last couple of hours, no. I’ve been reading Dr. Hildebrant’s book.”
“Damn press,” grunted Burrell. “Already calling the son of a bitch ‘The Michelangelo Killer.’ And worse than all the pictures of that goddamn statue floating around is the word getting out about Hildebrant, about her involvement in the case. You think one of our guys could have rolled?”
“It’s possible. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the killer notified the press himself.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Well, it’s obvious that he wants attention, obvious that he’s sending a message, and that he wants the public to understand this message via the lens of Hildebrant’s book-almost like he intends Slumbering in the Stone to be some sort of owner’s manual for his creation. He went through a lot of trouble to execute this, Bill-to plan the murder of a celebrity like Campbell, to construct his Bacchus down to the minutest details, and to risk being discovered while installing the sculpture in Dodd’s garden. Consequently, I don’t think the killer would want to run the risk of the public misinterpreting his efforts.”
“All right, what have you got for me?”
“Half textbook, but the other half is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Beginning with the boilerplate stuff, he’s of the highly organized, highly intelligent variety. Other than what we’ll learn as a result of the autopsies, the only evidence the killer has left behind so far are those footprints-but he anticipated the possibility of a tread match and took the time to cover them. However, unless he was intentionally wearing bigger shoes, judging from the size of those footprints I’d peg him to be between six-three and six-six-most likely a white male, probably in his mid-to-late thirties, and definitely a loner. Would need a lot of time to accomplish his work, as well as a space in which to do so-perhaps a cellar or a garage. He’d also need a truck or a van to transport his creations. I would say that’s where the stereotype ends, however.”
“The fact that he carried his statue alone tells us that he’s a man of incredible strength-probably either holds a job doing some kind of menial labor, or is perhaps a bodybuilder. I would tend to lean toward the latter, for not only is the killer very bright and apparently well educated, but also his apparent identification with Michelangelo in terms of both the artist’s homosexuality and his genius as a sculptor might indicate a desire for the same aesthetic quality in his own physique as well.”
“So you’re saying now you do think this guy is gay?”
“I can’t say one hundred percent, Bill. But judging from my conversations with Dr. Hildebrant and my cursory reading of her book, my gut tells me yes.”
“That’s good enough for me. What about the motive?”
“Well, barring any connection between Campbell and Wenick of which we’re presently unaware, again we have a situation where our man does not fit neatly into the usual categories. Other than the fact that both his victims were male-perhaps, one could argue, only an incidental criterion that Michelangelo’s Bacchus demanded of him-on one level, the killer seems to have chosen Campbell and Wenick simply because they looked like the figures in the original.”
“What’s the other level?”
“The killer’s message. Why he went through all the trouble to kill specifically Tommy Campbell and Michael Wenick in the first place. Why he juxtaposed the wide receiver’s body with that of the boy’s, and then made the effort to exhibit his Bacchus in the garden of a wealthy banker down at Watch Hill-an obvious historical allusion to the exhibition of the original.”
“And the message you’re talking about is what?”
Markham gave Burrell a quick rundown of his conversation with Cathy, as well as their theories about the killer’s motives-that deeper message that The Michelangelo Killer had chiseled out of Cathy’s book: Only the sculptor’s hand can free the figures slumbering in the stone.
“So you think then that he’s a type of visionary killer?” asked Burrell. “You think he’s delusional? That he read into Hildebrant’s book a deeper message that told him to make statues out of people?”
“I wouldn’t go so far as to call him entirely delusional, Bill. Too much self-control, too much patience. No, I’d peg him somewhere between the visionary and missionary type, for I think Slumbering in the Stone clarified an urge to kill that was already there to begin with. It gave him a sense of purpose-not only, as I explained to you, in terms of ‘waking us up,’ but also, in light of his attempt to mimic the historical context of the original’s exhibition, perhaps to usher in a new Renaissance of thought. Maybe he’s trying to shock our culture into its next stage of evolution by harkening back to what he sees as an intellectually superior point in history. Perhaps he’s reminding us of a standard of excellence that has been lost, or at the very least, in his eyes, clouded by the mediocrity of media worship and empty celebrity.”
“And you don’t think sexual gratification is a factor?” asked Burrell, frustrated. “Even though both the victims were male and the killer, as you say, is a homosexual?”
Markham could tell by the sound of Burrell’s voice that the SAC did not want to entertain his hypothesis. Either all this intellectual nonsense was going over Burrell’s head, or the scope of Markham ’s theory on The Michelangelo Killer’s intentions was just too much for Bill Burrell to wrap his mind around.
“I hate to say this, Bill, but in a way I hope there is a sexual component to these murders-might actually make them easier to solve if we could follow a more visceral motive as opposed to an intellectual one. Yes, I think the killer does receive some kind of psychological gratification from his work, but the pattern of behavior thus far seems to indicate something else, something beyond his own, selfish interests-the totality of which we’ve never seen before. If, as I explained to you, the killer is in some sick way trying to imitate Michelangelo through his creations, then, although he may be sexually attracted to them, it would be inappropriate for him to consummate his relationship with them via the sexual act itself. Of course, I could be wrong. We won’t know for sure if there was any sexual assault until the autopsies are finished, let alone exactly how Campbell and Wenick were killed. And even then, given the state of the bodies, given the amount of chemicals and preservatives the killer must have used to achieve his goals, we might never know exactly what this guy did to his victims-if in fact Campbell and Wenick were his first victims.”
“You think he may have killed before?”
“Maybe not a human being, but I would be willing to bet the farm that the goat-the one from which he got the legs-had been the first to go. I’d also be willing to bet that the killer has a couple of cats and dogs to his credit, too. He knew what he was doing, Bill-chose Campbell and Wenick not only because they fit the vision of his Bacchus perfectly, but because he was ready for them. I don’t think he would let all the planning, all the effort he put into finding the perfect specimens go to waste unless he was completely sure that, at least in theory, his sculpture would work. Remember, Michelangelo had been carving reliefs and smaller sculptures for years before he broke onto the scene with his first life-size statue.”
“So what are you saying, Sam? You think this nut job is going to kill again? You think his message, as you say, goes beyond Campbell and that boy?”
“I hope to Christ no, Bill,” said Markham, flipping through his book. “I hope the same warped sense of purpose that caused him to murder Campbell and Wenick will also magnify in his mind the cultural significance of his creation to the point where he thinks he’s achieved his goal-that he thinks he’s done enough. But I’ll tell you this-if our man is in fact intent on killing again, it’ll be against the canon of Michelangelo’s sculptures from which he’ll select his victims. And, although I may be wrong, there’s a good chance those victims will be male. I just hope we can nab him before he begins his next project.”
Burrell was silent for a long time.
“I’m heading back to Boston as we speak,” the SAC said finally. “But I’ll be in the Providence office tomorrow. We got our team working with the state medical examiner on those autopsies, so hopefully we’ll get some solid leads to follow in the next couple of days.”
“I assume Washington is going to put you on reassignment-that you’ll be joining us here at the Boston office for a while?”
“You know how those things go. If Gates feels I can better serve the investigation at Quantico, he’ll want to keep me there to help oversee things. Depending on what happens, there’s a good chance they’ll eventually want me back.”
“Then, off the record, it’s square with you if I personally ask Gates to have you reassigned to the Boston office, have you set up to work out of the Resident Agency in Providence-temporarily, that is?”
“I’d rather be local-do my best work on the street, yes.”
“Good. We’re going to need you on this one.”
“And thanks, Sam.”
Burrell hung up, but Markham did not bother to close his cell phone. No, once again the special agent found himself instantly transfixed by Catherine Hildebrant’s Slumbering in the Stone-only this time it was not the determined eyes of David that had captured his gaze. No, there on the page to which he had intentionally flipped during his conversation with the SAC was a picture of Michelangelo’s second major sculpture.
Yes, there lying in Sam Markham’s lap was the Rome Piet`a.