Over a week and a half passed before Steve Rogers would finally be reported missing by his distraught girlfriend, who had hopped a bus from New York City after her repeated e-mails and telephone calls went unanswered. Ali Daniels arrived at Rogers ’s home to find his mail piling up and the previous week’s issue of The Providence Sunday Journal lying in the middle of his unkempt front lawn. Rogers’s BMW Z4 roadster was nowhere to be found-had already been impounded after the groundskeeper who maintained the big gazebo in Garden City reported it abandoned, and Cranston’s finest simply hadn’t gotten around to notifying its owner yet.
To top things off, it would be twenty-four hours after Ali reported her boyfriend missing before the Cranston Police would finally connect the dots to Rogers ’s impounded roadster. And although Rogers had long been dead by the time the authorities began treating him as a missing person, the self-centered theatre professor might have taken comfort in knowing that fate had been kind to him in the end. For if he had dumped Ali before his meeting with The Sculptor, who knows how long his disappearance might have gone unnoticed, as it was not unusual for his colleagues, his family, and his friends not to hear from him for weeks at a time-especially after the end of the semester, when he and Cathy would sometimes vacation before summer theatre rehearsals began at Brown.
The Cranston Police, of course, were entirely unaware that another man had been recently reported missing in Boston -a young man known as “Jim Paulson,” or simply as “Jim.” And despite the cryptic description of Mr. Paulson’s lifestyle given by the young man’s friends, it soon became clear to the Boston Police that lover boy Jim and his constituents dwelt in that world where people rarely ask your last name, let alone your real one. Yes, the Boston Police were very familiar with the way things worked on Arlington Street. And given that-wherever he had gone-Mr. Paulson had taken with him almost everything he owned, until anything told them differently the Boston Police would treat Mr. Paulson as they had treated so many other boys whose cruel fates led them down the great white way of drugs and prostitution: Mr. Paulson either moved on or jacked too much shit; either way, he’d turn up eventually; either way, it wasn’t their problem.
And even if Paul Jimenez’s friends had known about his online persona as RounDaWay17, The Sculptor had long ago taken care of that loose end-had long ago hacked into Jimenez’s e-mail account, the most recent activity of which would have shown Jimenez taking care of business as usual from an IP address at the public library in Dayton, Ohio.
Yes, The Sculptor was very, very thorough.
It was late in the afternoon when Cathy received the call from the Cranston Police on her cell phone-an unknown number she immediately muted into voice mail. She and Markham were on their way to an interview-a scenario she had become quite familiar with since Markham ’s return from Quantico, one quite different than what she had expected via her television crime drama education. The people Cathy and Markham spoke to could use a good scriptwriter; they were not nearly as articulate or helpful as those witnesses on TV-who, after a string of three or four of them, always led the authorities straight to their man. Indeed, the handful of people who the FBI questioned with regard to the Gabriel Banford connection did not help at all. And the investigation into any other possible murders/disappearances that fit The Michelangelo Killer’s victim profile, as well the leads derived from the forensic evidence on which she and her new colleagues at the FBI Field Office in Boston had been briefed two weeks earlier, had all so far turned up nothing.
All, that is, except one curious clue: the Carrara marble dust found in The Michelangelo Killer’s paint.
“Except for the Carrara marble,” Markham said, pulling into the parking lot, “it seems almost as if The Michelangelo Killer had all that other stuff just lying around. The amount of formaldehyde, of acetone, the silicone rubber needed for the Plastination process-never mind the drugs-strange that we’re not able to get a lead from any of it, where this guy got hold of the large quantities of chemicals and equipment he would need to get his job done.”
“Unless he made the chemicals himself,” Cathy said. “Unless he distilled them from products that were much more readily available.”
“Yes. Like the acetone-the primary ingredient in paint thinner and nail polish remover. But then there’s the formaldehyde. Not something you can pick up at Lowes or Home Depot. And from what I’ve read, not only does it have a short shelf-life, it’s much more difficult to manufacture from other base products-that is, unless we’ve got a chemist with a large lab on our hands.”
“This man is very bright, Sam, and very thorough. He knew that the first thing the FBI would look into would be the unusual forensic evidence-wouldn’t have used anything that could be traced directly back to him. And given the fact that The Michelangelo Killer has been active for at least six years, he could have acquired his equipment and replenished his chemicals gradually. He could have even broken into any number of funeral parlors and stolen just enough formaldehyde here and there so it wouldn’t be noticed. I mean, the time and planning it took to prepare and display his figures-it’s almost as if The Michelangelo Killer also planned on what forensic evidence he would leave behind.”
“Nothing is left to chance.”
“The Carrara marble dust.”
“Yes. An interesting detail that I have a feeling The Michelangelo Killer wanted us to find. Let’s hope this interview turns up something.”
Despite the inconvenience that Carrara marble was still exported all over the world and in many forms-from blocks of raw material, to cheaply fashioned souvenirs, to large pieces of exquisite detail-Rachel Sullivan stumbled upon a police report from three years earlier that would eventually provide the FBI with their first real lead, their first big break in the strange case of The Michelangelo Killer.
Reverend Monsignor Robert Bonetti, who would be celebrating his eightieth birthday in less than a week, had served as resident pastor of St. Bartholomew’s Church in Providence longer than any other in parish history-twenty-nine years by his count-and had no plans on retiring anytime soon. This was his parish, his neighborhood, for not only had he grown up only a couple of miles away on Federal Hill, the Reverend Bonetti had over the years repeatedly turned down opportunities for promotion in order to remain among his people. And even though “St. Bart’s” was staffed by the Scalabrini Fathers-a Roman Catholic Holy Order that traditionally transferred its priests from parish to parish every ten years or so-because of Bonetti’s age, his impeccable record, his outstanding work within the community, his expansion of the church itself, and his desire to go on ministering to the masses long after he could have retired, the Scalabrini Fathers made an exception in his case and allowed him to stay on at St. Bart’s for as long as he wished.
The tall and lanky priest met Cathy and Markham on the front steps of St. Bart’s-a much more modern-looking structure than the traditional Romanesque Neo-Gothic churches that dotted the working-class neighborhoods in and around Providence. Cathy, as a professor in Brown University ’s Department of History of Art and Architecture, immediately pegged the church as having been built-or at least renovated-in the late sixties or early seventies.
“You must be Agent Markham,” said the Reverend Bonetti, offering his hand. “Which means that you, my dear, are Doctor Catherine Hildebrant.”
“Yes, I am. A pleasure to meet you, Father.”
“Likewise-the both of you.”
“You spoke with Special Agent Rachel Sullivan on the phone,” said Markham. “She explained why we wanted to talk to you?”
“Yes,” smiled the priest. “Ostensibly about our Piet`a. But you see, Agent Markham, I’ve been around long enough to know that things aren’t always what they seem. The FBI wouldn’t trouble themselves with a curious little theft that happened three years ago-that is unless they felt it was somehow connected to something much more important.”
There was nothing condescending in the priest’s tone; nothing sarcastic or off-putting. No, the Reverend Bonetti spoke with the simple sincerity of a man who did not wish to play games; a man whose gentle, bespectacled eyes and thick Rhode Island accent spoke of someone who had indeed been around long enough to know what’s what.
“This is really about that Michelangelo Killer, isn’t it?” asked the priest. “About what happened down there at Watch Hill?”
“Yes, it is,” said Markham.
For the first time the Reverend Robert Bonetti’s gaze dropped to the ground, his mind entirely somewhere else. And after what seemed to Cathy like an interminable silence, the priest once again met Markham ’s eyes.
“Follow me,” he said.
Once inside the dimly lit church, the good reverend led Cathy and Markham to a small chamber off the main church-the devotional chapel dedicated not only to a large pyramid of votive candles, but also to a series of marble statues that lined the surrounding walls. The statues were of various saints and were themselves also bordered by smaller stands of candles, and the sweet smell of scented wax made Cathy feel queasy. Behind the pyramid of votive candles, at the rear of the devotional chapel, Cathy and Markham were surprised by what they found: a large, exquisitely carved replica of Michelangelo’s Rome Piet`a.
“Exactly like the one that was taken three years ago,” said the Reverend Bonetti. “That one had been donated by a wealthy family a number of years before I arrived here at St. Bart’s. It was hand carved to the exact proportions of the original, as well as from the same type of marble Michelangelo used five hundred years ago. Carrara marble, it is called. And as is the case with the statue you see before you, our other Piet`a was made by a skilled artisan in Italy whose studio produces only a couple dozen statues per year-usually ranging in size, like this one, from about three to four feet high. His name is Antonio Gambardelli, and his statues are much more accurate, much more expensive than any other replicas on the market not only because of their attention to detail, but also because of their proportional accuracy. Indeed, at least three years ago, a Gambardelli Piet`a of this size was valued at close to twenty thousand American dollars. I know this because whoever took our statue not only left us with instructions on how to replace it, but also left us the means to do so.”
“Wait a minute,” said Markham. “You’re telling me that the thief left you twenty thousand dollars?”
“Twenty-five thousand to be exact,” smiled the priest. “A little detail that I neglected to tell the Providence Police upon their initial investigation. You see, Agent Markham, when you’ve been around as long as I have, you begin to understand something of human nature. The person or persons who took our Piet`a left the money in cash, in an envelope addressed to me right there on the pedestal, so that I could replace it-not so that I could redecorate the evidence room at the Providence Police Station, if you take my meaning.”
Sam Markham was silent, his mind spinning.
“The extra five thousand was undoubtedly intended for us to cover the shipping costs of the statue, as well as to repair the damage from the break-in and to compensate us for our trouble.”
“Why report the theft at all then?” asked Markham, his voice tight. “Why not just take the money, replace your statue, and not be bothered-that is, since you intended not to cooperate fully with the authorities to begin with?”
“I was the only one who knew about the money, Agent Markham, as I was the first one in the church on the morning after the break-in. However, the damage to the side door and the absence of the statue itself could not be hidden from my fellow Scalabrini, let alone the congregation. You see, Agent Markham, the money was addressed to me-twenty-five thousand dollar bills in a sealed envelope. There was no need to report it, as whoever took our Piet`a seemed to want it, seemed to need it more than we did here at St. Bart’s. And even though I may not have understood that need, I took the gift of the money as an act of faith, as a confidential act of penance. And up until the telephone call from the FBI, took the person who left the twenty-five thousand dollars in the statue’s place as a man with a conscience.”
Sam Markham was silent again, his eyes fixed on the Piet`a.
“But now,” the Reverend Bonetti continued, “I see that my silence may have been misguided, for now I see that the FBI thinks the man who took our Piet`a three years ago might be the same man who murdered those two boys-the same man who made them into that horrific sculpture down at Watch Hill.”
“The envelope,” said Markham, turning to the priest. “The sheet of instructions on how to replace the statue-I don’t suppose you saved them?”
The Reverend Robert Bonetti smiled and reached into the inside pocket of his black blazer.
“I hoped this might help you forgive me for not telling the authorities about the money sooner. But now I hope even more that it’ll change your opinion of me being just a simple and foolish old man.”
The envelope that the priest handed Markham had scrawled across it in neatly looped cursive the words, For Father Bonetti. Inside, Markham found a brief handwritten note not only giving instructions on how to obtain another Piet`a from Gambardelli, but also a short apology for any inconvenience the thief may have caused Father Bonetti and his parish. Markham showed the note to Cathy. She recognized the handwriting immediately.
Flowery. Feminine. Precise.
The same handwriting from the notes she received five and a half years earlier.
“The man we are looking for is tall, Father Bonetti,” said Markham. “About six-three to six-six. And very big, very strong-would have been able to lift the statue off its base and carry it from the church himself with no problem. Most likely a bodybuilder or someone who’s into power lifting. Anybody you know fit that bill, Father?”
“Most of the men in our congregation are working class, Agent Markham-skilled laborers or others who work with their hands. They are mostly Italians, but we have a growing Hispanic population as well. Yes, a lot of these men are powerfully built, but only a few that tall. And I know of none who have twenty-five thousand dollars to blow on a statue.”
“You ever see anyone strange hanging around the church? Not a regular parishioner, but someone just dropping by once or twice to poke around?”
“Not that I remember, no.”
“No unusual confessions that I should know about?”
The priest smiled thinly.
“Even if there were, Agent Markham, I’m not at liberty to tell you.”
“Is there anything else you might be able to tell us, Father Bonetti?” asked the FBI agent. “Anybody you might know that would have knowledge of the statue and also the means to pay you twenty-five thousand dollars for it?”
“We used to have quite an extensive picture gallery on our Web site,” said Father Bonetti. “Since the theft, however, most of the pictures have been taken down. They were mainly shots of the church interior. One of them, of course, contained our Gambardelli Piet`a. Perhaps your man simply recognized it and targeted us that way.”
Cathy and Markham traded glances.
“Thank you, Father,” said Markham. “You’ve been a great help.”
“I’ll walk you out,” said the priest. And once they had exited the church, once Cathy and Markham reached the bottom of the front steps, the Reverend Robert Bonetti called after them.
“I was down there, too, you know.”
Markham and Cathy turned to face him.
“Down at Watch Hill. At the Campbells ’ house on Foster Cove. Last time was over thirty years ago, before they owned the place. Used to belong to the family of a friend of mine-famous movie director, he was. Grew up with him. Even spent some time with him down at Watch Hill when we were kids. Lovely town, but a lot of evil lurking underneath. Never seen anything good come from that place. You best keep that in mind.”
Cathy and Markham exchanged an uneasy silence.
It was starting to rain.
“Everything is connected,” said the priest finally. “Remember that, you two. Everything is connected.”
And with that the Reverend Robert Bonetti disappeared back into the darkness of St. Bartholomew’s.