In the week and a half following the discovery of Tommy Campbell and Michael Wenick, Sam Markham spoke with Cathy Hildebrant only twice: once on Thursday to ask her if she had any insight into the coroner’s preliminary findings; once the following Wednesday to tell her that the FBI was temporarily reassigning him to the Boston Field Office and to ask her to join him there the next morning.
In their Thursday conversation, Markham told Cathy that the internal organs of both Campbell and Wenick had been removed by the killer-Wenick’s through the lower half of his severed torso, Campbell’s through a previously undetected incision running from the base of his testicles through his rectum-and the resulting cavities were found stuffed with a mixture of tightly packed sawdust and hay. Both the victims’ heads were shaved and their hair replaced with special “wigs” sculpted from an epoxy compound. The killer had also removed the victims’ brains from what was clearly a postmortem-drilled hole at the base of each of their skulls. Wenick, Markham said, most likely died from a broken neck, for even though both the bodies had been contorted and mounted on a zigzagged iron bar that ran up through the wooden tree stump, through Campbell’s buttock and into his torso, only the bones in Wenick’s neck showed signs of trauma that occurred prior to death.
Markham went on to explain that Campbell’s penis appeared to have been removed while he was still alive, but because of the missing organs-and because both the bodies had been drained and the veins and tissues embalmed with some kind of preservative that needed further analysis-the wide receiver’s cause of death was still to be determined. The final results of the autopsy, Markham stressed, would not be in until the following week, and everything-the white lacquered paint, as well as the epoxy sculptured wigs, the fake grapes, and other accoutrements that adorned the bodies-would require further analysis. Markham told Cathy that all pertinent forensic evidence-including the entire base of the statue-had already been flown to the FBI Laboratory at Quantico for testing. That was good, Markham said, for that meant the detail about the inscription to Cathy could be kept out of the public eye a bit longer.
And that meant that Cathy could be kept out of the public eye a bit longer, too. Immediately following that fateful Sunday, Dr. Catherine Hildebrant was met with an onslaught of messages on her University voice mail asking for an interview-so many, in fact, that she had to instruct her students to contact her only via e-mail. And even though it had been the end of the semester and she could finish up most of her work at Janet’s, by Friday of that first week-when other art historians and so-called experts had already been making the interview circuits for days-the media seemed to have forgotten all about the pretty art history professor who had initially been brought in as a consultant on the case, and who subsequently refused all their requests for an interview.
However, even though by Friday of that first week interest in Cathy had waned, interest in her book had not. Amazon and Barnes & Noble quickly sold out of their few remainder copies of Slumbering in the Stone, and both placed a large backorder with Cathy’s publisher-a small, academic press which in turn informed their star author to expect some hefty royalty checks in the months to come. Other books on Michelangelo began to sell out, too; and by that first Friday, The Agony and the Ecstasy had cracked the number 10 spot on Amazon’s bestseller list.
While both professional and amateur sleuths alike waxed philosophical on the deeper meaning, the deeper cultural significance behind the murder/ sculpture of Tommy Campbell and Michael Wenick-some of whom actually referred to Slumbering in the Stone while postulating their theories of The Michelangelo Killer’s motives-none made the connection to Cathy’s book as a possible inspiration for the killings-a fact that Sam Markham in his second conversation with Cathy did not find surprising. Without the knowledge of the inscription at the base of the statue, he explained, without the knowledge of the quotes and a direct connection between the killer and herself, there would be no reason for the public to make a connection with her book more than any other the killer might have read, including literature not necessarily related to Michelangelo.
Thus, following a number of carefully calculated comments by Special Agent Rachel Sullivan in her press conferences that week-comments that suggested Cathy had been consulted by the FBI simply because of her geographic proximity to the crime scene-by that first Friday the media seemed to have moved on from Dr. Catherine Hildebrant.
Markham, however, had not. Had he known how many times Cathy had wanted to call him just to chat-and had he known how often she had Googled his name on her laptop while at the Polks’-the FBI agent might have better understood the turmoil that fate had awakened in both their hearts. During his first conversation with her that week, Markham had assured Cathy that it was better for her if he should keep his distance until the media attention died down. She needn’t worry, he said, for even though she was staying with the Polks, she was still under constant surveillance by the FBI. And so Markham felt a certain amount of relief that he had an excuse to stay away from Cathy Hildebrant. But even though the demands of the investigation actually warranted his distance from her, coupled with his relief was a mixture of guilt and shame-guilt because his nagging preoccupation with the pretty art history professor often took his mind off his work; shame because he felt dishonest for not admitting even to himself how often his thoughts of her made him smile.
Markham spent the majority of that week and a half traveling between the Boston Field Office and the Resident Agency in Providence. Most of the time he was alone, but sometimes Rachel Sullivan accompanied him, as on the two occasions when they attempted to speak with Laurie Wenick. Both times they had to settle for her father; for Laurie-who had tried to stab herself in the neck with a butcher’s knife upon learning what had become of her son-was presently being held under a strict suicide watch at the Rhode Island Institute of Mental Health. Thus, it had fallen to John Wenick to perform the grim task, the grim technicality of identifying the upper half of his grandson-that is, once little Michael Wenick had been removed from the rocky cliff and separated from the goat’s legs. John Wenick could offer nothing to help Markham and Sullivan with their investigation other than a tearful oath that he would one day see “whoever did this to my grandson dead at my feet.”
And so, while the remaining pieces of The Sculptor’s Bacchus were being processed and analyzed back at the FBI Laboratories at Quantico, and while Rachel Sullivan and her team began following up on the class rosters obtained from the Registrar’s Office at Brown, Special Agent Sam Markham immediately set about pursuing leads gathered from the plethora of physical evidence The Michelangelo Killer had left behind-the most promising of which so far being the hindquarters of the goat.
The first element of the killer’s Bacchus to be examined at the FBI Laboratory, DNA testing quickly determined that the goat which The Michelangelo Killer had selected for the bottom half of his satyr was a medium-sized adult male of the Nubian variety: a short-haired, somewhat muscular goat distinguished by its floppy ears and what breeders called its distinctively “Roman” nose-a characteristic that Markham, given what he knew of The Michelangelo Killer so far, did not treat as a coincidence. Indeed, through his research, Markham also discovered that, as far as goats go, the Nubian was one of the most sociable, vocal, and outgoing of all the different breeds. Outgoing, Markham said to himself over and over. The same word John Wenick had used to describe his grandson. Another coincidence? Perhaps, but Markham could not help but think otherwise.
The special agent began his investigation by surfing the Internet and telephoning the handful of farms in the New England area that either featured the Nubian breed, or had Nubians among their livestock-beginning with and working his way outward from the farms closest to the area where Michael Wenick was abducted. He got lucky on his second try: a farm called Hill Brothers Homestead in Burrillville-a rural, heavily wooded town located in the northwest corner of Rhode Island. Markham followed up with calls to the other farms as well, but only Louis Hill, owner of Hill Brothers Homestead, confirmed that one of his Nubians had indeed gone missing the previous fall.
“Mr. Hill?” said Markham, emerging from his car.
“One of ’em, yes,” said the old man in the beat-up Boston Red Sox hat. He stood on the porch of his small farmhouse with his hands in the pockets of his baggy overalls. “If you’re looking for my brother, he’s a ways down the road. You’ll have to shout, though, as he’ll have a hard time hearing ya from six feet under.”
“I spoke with you on the phone, Mr. Hill,” said Markham, showing his ID. “Special Agent Sam Markham. Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
“I know, son. Just giving you a hard time. Louis Hill. A pleasure to meet you.”
“About time someone got up here about Gamble.”
“The buck I told you about on the phone. Reported it to the police back in November, but nobody done shit since. Didn’t think they’d get the FBI on it, though. You boys got a missing animals division or something?”
“Mr. Hill, you said on the phone that Gamble was the only one of your goats to go missing last year?”
“Yep. Hadn’t had a goat go missing in over a decade. And as far as I know, never had one stolen neither. Had big plans for that boy. Shoulda seen him-was a be-ute of a stud.”
“And you said Gamble was stolen at night, in the dark sometime between eight o’clock and five the next morning?”
“Had to have been, yeah. Grandson checked on the goats and locked the barn as he usually does before he goes to bed. All present and accounted for. Went to feed them the next morning, lock on the barn was busted open and the door to Gamble’s stall ripped off the hinges.”
“May I see the barn?”
Hill led Markham from the porch around to the back of the farmhouse. In addition to the large barn and a pair of smaller buildings at the rear of the property, Markham spied about two dozen Nubian goats in a nearby paddock-many of whom raised their heads and approached the fence as the men passed.
Outgoing indeed, Markham thought.
“Settle down, children,” said Hill. “Don’t go begging the government for no handouts now.”
The large swinging doors were propped open, the inside of the barn empty, but the lingering smell of livestock-of hay and manure and sawdust-suddenly bombarded Markham with memories of a petting zoo to which his father had taken him as a little boy-a ramshackle affair at the local mall where a llama once nibbled at the collar of his shirt and made him cry. The barn itself was typical in its layout-a single corridor flanked by stalls for the animals. The horse stalls, of which there were four, came first; followed by six stalls on each side that Hill said were reserved for the goats. These-unlike the horse stalls, which had high wooden doors and barred windows-were enclosed by chain link gates and were separated from each other by 2 x 6s that Hill said could be removed to make the pens bigger.
“They usually go three or four to a stall,” said the farmer. “Sometimes more if a doe is weaning. And in the winter we can take down those walls and house more together, separating them by size, age, and sex if we need to. But Gamble always had his own stall down at the end year round. He could get a bit ornery, but he was smart, and would try sometimes to push the latch-why his was the only stall that was padlocked. He got the job done when it came time to getting with his honeys, though. That’s what a special boy he was. Goddamn shame if you ask me.”
Hill and Markham reached the opposite end of the barn.
“See there?” asked Hill, pointing to his prized buck’s former stall. “My grandson and I fixed it, but you can still see where the sons of bitches pulled the gate off. Didn’t even bother with the other goats-coulda gotten to them easy. Nope, no padlock or nothing was gonna stop these guys. Guess they had their sights on Gamble from the beginning-just pulled the goddamn thing right outta the frame.”
Markham squatted down and ran his pinky finger along the wooden beam-along the outline of the gate hinges’ former position.
“Cops took fingerprints and everything,” said Louis Hill, spitting. “But they found nothing-not even any pry marks. Said it woulda taken three or four men to pull that gate off its hinges. First I thought it mighta been kids-local boys playing a prank or something. Then I got to thinking it mighta been somebody who wanted to breed Gamble. I mean, these guys went to a lot of trouble to get him. I tell ya, that boy was a real be-ute of a-”
“Mr. Hill, you said Gamble went missing back in November?”
“Yep. Two weeks before Thanksgiving. I remember cuz my grandson had a game. He’s only a sophomore but he’s a starter. Quarterback. Gamble going missing messed up his head bad for that one. Felt like it was his fault. Good kid, my grandson. Always loved those-”
“And you never saw anyone suspicious lurking around the property?”
“I’m telling ya what I told the police. Have no idea who woulda wanted to take Gamble other than what I already told ya.”
“Mr. Hill, the FBI has reason to believe that Gamble may have been found.”
“He’s dead, ain’t he?” said Hill, spitting again. “Where’d they find him?”
“You been following the news at all lately, Mr. Hill? You’ve heard about the murder of Tommy Campbell and that boy down at Watch Hill? You know what happened to them?”
A look of grim realization suddenly washed over the old man’s face.
“I saw the picture of that statue on the news-the one they said looked like the thing the killer made outta those bodies. You mean to say that the bottom half of that boy is a real goat? You mean to say that you think it’s Gamble?”
“There’s a very high probability of that, yes.”
“So you’re telling me the fella who did that to those boys was here? On my property?”
“We won’t know for sure until I send a team here to get some DNA samples from Gamble’s offspring. We’re also going to need to question your grandson.”
“What’s he got to do with any of this?” asked the old man, his voice trembling.
“He was the last one to see Gamble alive. And the one who subsequently discovered him to be missing. He might be able to tell us something the police overlooked.” Markham had no intention of telling Louis Hill that his grandson could be a suspect in the case. No, he would let Rachel Sullivan and her team handle that; let them spring the search warrant on the old man if he refused to cooperate.
“I’ll do whatever I can to help,” said Louis Hill.
Markham left the farmer staring blankly into Gamble’s empty stall. But more than being disturbed at the incredible amount of strength it would have taken The Michelangelo Killer to rip the gate off its hinges-if in fact it was The Michelangelo Killer who had done so-what really bothered Sam Markham as he sped away down the shady country road was the date when the crime occurred.
November, Markham said to himself over and over again. The killer acquired the bottom half of his satyr after he already had the boy. That means the killer was confident enough in his technique for preserving humans before he murdered Michael Wenick. That means Michael Wenick might not have been his first. That means I was wrong about the timeline.
That means I was wrong.