The Door to December Page 2

'I thought maybe they'd even left the country, gone to Mexico or somewhere—and all the time they were right here.'

The wind subsided, and the rain came straight down, even heavier than before. The lawn would soon be a lake.

'There are some clothes here for a little girl,' Haldane said, 'several books suitable for a kid her age. There's a box of Count Chocula cereal in the cupboard, and I'm sure none of the adults were eating that.'

'None of them? There were more people here than just Dylan and Melanie?'

'We're not sure. We've got... other bodies. We think one of them was living here, because there were men's clothes in two sizes, some of which would fit your husband, but some that might fit one of the other men.'

'How many bodies?'

'Two others. Three altogether.'

'Beaten to death?'

He nodded.

'And you don't know where Melanie is?'

'Not yet.'

'So maybe... whoever killed Dylan and the others took her away with him.'

'It's a possibility,' he said.

Even if Melanie wasn't already dead, she was the hostage of a killer. Maybe not just a killer but a rapist.

No. She was only nine years old. What would a rap**t want with her? She was hardly more than a baby.

Of course, these days, that didn't make any difference. There were strange animals out there, monsters who preyed on children, who had a special appetite for little girls.

She was far colder than the incessant winter rain.

'We've got to find her,' Laura said, and her voice was a thin croak that she didn't even recognize.

'We're trying,' Haldane said.

She saw sympathy and compassion in his blue eyes now, but she could take no comfort from him.

'I'd like you to come inside with me,' he said, 'but I have to warn you it's not a pretty scene.'

'I'm a doctor, Lieutenant.'

'Yeah, but a psychiatrist.'

'And a medical doctor. All psychiatrists are medical doctors.'

'Oh, that's right. I didn't think.'

'I assume you want me to identify Dylan's body.'

'No. I'm not going to ask you to look at it. Wouldn't do any good. The condition... no visual identification is really possible. There's something else I want you to see, something I hope you might be able to explain to me.

'What's that?'

'Something weird,' he said. 'Something damned weird.'


Every lamp and ceiling light in the house was blazing. Laura blinked against the glare as she looked around. The living room was furnished neatly but without style. The sectional sofa, covered in a bold geometric pattern, clashed with the floral drapes. The carpet was one shade of green, the walls another. Only the bookcases and the few hundred volumes in them appeared to have been collected with genuine interest and to a particular taste. The rest of the room might have been a stage set hastily assembled by a theater company with a small budget.

At the cold fireplace, a cheap black tin container had tipped over, spilling wrought-iron tools across the white-brick hearth. Two lab technicians were dusting powder over exposed surfaces and lifting tape impressions where they found fingerprints.

'Please don't touch anything,' Haldane told Laura.

'If you don't need me to identify Dylan—'

'Like I said, it wouldn't do much good.'


'Nothing to identify.'

'Surely the body can't be that badly...'

'Battered,' he said. 'No face left.

'My God.'

They stood in the foyer, by the living-room arch. Haldane seemed as reluctant to take her deeper into the house as he had been to bring her inside in the first place.

'Did he have any identifying marks?' Haldane asked.

'A discolored patch of skin—'




'The middle of his chest.'

Haldane shook his head. 'Probably won't help.'

'Why not?'

He stared at her, then looked away, at the floor.

'I'm a doctor,' she reminded him.

'His chest was caved in.'

'Beaten in?'

'Yeah. Every rib broken and rebroken. Breastbone smashed like a china plate.'


'Yeah. The word's carefully chosen, Doctor McCaffrey. Not just broken. Not just fractured or splintered. Smashed. Like he was made of glass.'

'That's impossible.'

'Saw it with my own eyes. Wish I hadn't.

'But the breastbone is solid. That and the skull are the closest things the human body has to armor plating.'

'The killer was one big, strong son of a bitch.

She shook her head. 'No. You might smash the breastbone in an auto accident, where there are tremendous forces, sudden impacts at fifty and sixty miles an hour, crushing forces and weights... But it couldn't happen in a beating.'

'We figure a lead pipe or—'

'Not even that, she said. 'Smashed? Surely not.'

Melanie, my little Melanie, my God, what's happened to you, where have they taken you, will I ever see you again?

She shuddered. 'Listen, if you don't need me to identify Dylan, then I'm not sure what help I can—'

'Like I said, there's something I want you to see.'

'Something weird?'


Yet he kept her in the foyer and even seemed to be using his body to prevent her from seeing farther into the house. Clearly, he was torn between his need for the information that she might be able to give him and his dismay at having to drag her through the scene of such bloody murders.

'I don't understand,' she said. 'Weird? What?'

Haldane didn't answer the question. He said, 'You and he were in the same line of work.'

'Not exactly.'

'He was a psychiatrist too, wasn't he?'

'No. A behavioral psychologist. With a special interest in behavior modification.'

'And you're a psychiatrist, a medical doctor.'

'I specialize in the treatment of children.'

'Yes, I see. Different fields.'


He frowned. 'Well, if you have a look at his lab, you still might be able to tell me what your husband was doing there.'

'Lab? He was working here too?'

'He was primarily working here. I don't think that he or your daughter led much of a real life in this place.'

'Working? Doing what?'

'Experiments of some sort. We can't figure it.'

'Let's have a look.'

'It's... messy,' he said, studying her closely.

'I told you—I'm a doctor.'

'Yeah, and I'm a cop, and a cop sees more blood than a doctor does, and this was so messy it made me sick.'

'Lieutenant, you brought me here, and now you're not getting rid of me until I know what my husband and my little girl were doing in this house.'

He nodded. 'This way.'

She followed him past the living room, away from the kitchen, into a short hallway, where a slender, good-looking Latino in a dark suit was overseeing two men whose uniform jackets were stenciled with the word CORONER. They were stowing a corpse in an opaque plastic body bag. One of the men from the coroner's office pulled up the zipper. Through the milky plastic, Laura saw only a lumpish man-shaped form, no details but a few thick smears of blood.


'Not your husband,' Haldane said, as if reading her mind. 'This one wasn't carrying any ID at all. We'll have to rely entirely on a fingerprint check.'

More blood was spattered and streaked over the walls, pooled on the floor, lots of it, so much that it didn't seem real, like a scene in a cheap horror film.

A plastic runner had been put down along the center of the hall, so the investigating officers and technicians wouldn't have to step in the blood and get their shoes sticky.

Haldane glanced at her, and she tried not to let him see how scared she was.

Had Melanie been here when the murders had taken place? If she had been, and if she was now with the man—or men—who had done this, she was marked for death too, because she had been a witness. Even if she had seen nothing, the murderer would kill her when he was ... through with her. No doubt about that. He would kill her because he would enjoy killing her. From the look of this place, he was a psychopath; a sane person would not have slaughtered with such savage, blood-spraying glee.

The coroner's two men went outside to get a wheeled stretcher on which the body could be removed.

The slender Latino in the dark suit turned to Haldane. His voice was surprisingly deep: 'We've vacuumed the place, Lieutenant, finished with photographs, lifted what prints we could, all the rest of it. We're moving this victim out.'

'See anything special in the preliminary exam, Joey?' Haldane asked.

Laura supposed Joey was a police pathologist, although he was badly shaken for someone who should have been accustomed to scenes of violent death.

Joey said, 'Looks like nearly every bone in the body was broken at least once. One contusion atop another, hundreds, no way to tell how many. I'm positive an autopsy is going to show ruptured organs, damaged kidneys.' He glanced uneasily at Laura, as if not certain he should go on.

She maintained a bland expression of professional interest that she hoped didn't look as phony and sick as it felt. Joey continued: 'Crushed skull. Teeth broken loose. One eye was jarred out of its socket.'

Laura saw a fireplace poker on the floor, against the baseboard. 'Is that the murder weapon?'

'We don't think so,' Haldane said.

And Joey said, 'It was in this guy's hand. Had to pry it out of his fingers. He was trying to defend himself.'

Staring at the opaque body bag, they fell into a mutual silence. The ceaseless percussion of the rain on the roof was simultaneously a mundane and strange sound—like the rumble of enormous doors sliding open in a dream to reveal a mysterious and unearthly vista.

The other men returned with the wheeled stretcher. One of the wheels wobbled erratically like a malfunctioning supermarket cart: a cold, clattering noise.

Three doors led off the short hall, one on each side and one at the end. All three were ajar. Haldane led Laura around the corpse and into the room at the end of the passageway.

In spite of her warm sweater and lined raincoat, she was cold. Freezing. Her hands were so white they looked dead. She knew the heat was on, because she felt the warm air blowing out of the vents when she passed them, so she knew the chill came from within her.

The room had once been an office-study, but now it was a monument to destruction and chaos. Steel file drawers were ripped from their cabinets, scraped and dented, handles twisted off; the contents were scattered across the floor. A heavy chrome-and-walnut desk was on its side; two of its metal legs were bent, and the wood was cracked and splintered as if it had taken a few blows from an axe. A typewriter had been thrown against one wall with such force that several keys had snapped off and were embedded in the drywall board. Papers were everywhere—typewritten sheets, graphs, pages covered with figures and notations in a small precise handwriting—many of them shredded or crumpled or wadded into tight balls. And there was blood everywhere: on the floor, the furniture, the rubble, the walls, even on the ceiling. The place had a raw, coppery smell.

'Jesus,' she said.

'What I want you to see is in the next room,' he said, leading her toward a door at the rear of the demolished study. She noticed two opaque plastic body bags on the floor. Looking back at her, Haldane said again, 'Next room.'

Laura didn't want to stop, but she stopped. She didn't want to look down at the two shrouded bodies, but she looked. She said, 'Is one of these... Dylan?'

Haldane had moved ahead of her. Now he returned to her side. 'This one had Dylan McCaffrey's ID,' he said, pointing. 'But you don't want to see him.'

'No,' she agreed, 'I don't. She glanced at the other bag. 'Who was this one?'

'According to the driver's license and other cards in his wallet, his name was Wilhelm Hoffritz.'

She was astonished.

Her surprise must have been evident, for Haldane said, 'Do you know him?'

'He was at the university. One of my husband's ... colleagues.'


'Yes. Dylan and Hoffritz conducted a number of joint studies. They shared some of the same ... obsessions.'

'Do I detect disapproval?'

She said nothing.

'You didn't like Hoffritz?' Haldane pressed.

'I despised him.'


'He was a smug, self-important, condescending, pompous, arrogant little man.'

'What else?'

'Isn't that enough?'

'You're not the kind of woman who would use the word "despise" lightly,' Haldane said.

When she met his stare, she saw a sharp and probing intelligence that she hadn't noticed before. She closed her eyes. Haldane's direct gaze was discomfiting, but she didn't want to look anywhere else because anywhere else was sure to be smeared with blood.

She said, 'Hoffritz believed in centralized social planning. He was interested in the use of psychology, drugs, and various forms of subliminal conditioning to reform and direct the masses.'

Haldane was silent. Then: 'Mind control?'

'That's right. Her eyes were still closed, her head bowed. 'He was an elitist. No. That's too kind. He was a totalitarian. He would have made an equally good Nazi or Communist. Either one. He had no politics except the politics of raw power. He wanted to control.'

'They do that kind of research at UCLA?'

She opened her eyes and saw that he wasn't kidding. 'Of course. It's a great university, a free university. There aren't any overt restrictions on the directions a scientist's research can take—if he can round up the funding for it.'

'But the consequence of that kind of research...'

Smiling sourly, she said, 'Empirical results. Breakthroughs. The advancement of knowledge. That's what a researcher is concerned about, Lieutenant. Not consequences.'

'You said your husband shared Hoffritz's obsession. You mean he was deep into research with mind-control applications?'

'Yes. But he wasn't a fascist like Willy Hoffritz. He was more interested in modifying the behavior of criminal personalities as a means of reducing the crime rate. At least I think that's what he was interested in. That's what he talked most about. But the more involved Dylan got with any project, the more obsessed with it, the less he talked about it, as if talking used up energy that could be better spent in thought and work.'

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