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Authors: Thomas Perry

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Dance for the Dead

BOOK: Dance for the Dead
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DANCE
FOR THE DEAD

 

Thomas
Perry

 

Copyright
© 1996 by Thomas Perry

 

 

For Jo

with
love to Alix and Isabel

 

 

The common aim of all war parties was
to bring back persons to replace the mourned-for dead. This could be
done in three ways: by bringing back the scalp of a dead enemy (this
scalp might even be put through an adoption ceremony); by bringing
back a live prisoner (to be adopted, tortured, and killed); or by
bringing back a live prisoner to be allowed to live and even to
replace in a social role the one whose death had called for this
“revenge.”

Anthony
F. C. Wallace,
The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca,
1969

 

1

 

The
tall, slim woman hastily tied her long, dark hair into a knot behind
her head, planted her feet in the center of the long courthouse
corridor, and waited. A few litigants and their attorneys passed her,
some of them secretly studying her, more because she was attractive
than because she was standing motionless, forcing them to step around
her on their way to the courtrooms. Her chest rose and fell in deep
breaths as though she had been running, and her eyes looked past
them, having already dismissed them before they approached as she
stared into the middle distance.

She heard the chime sound above
the elevator thirty feet away. Before the doors had fully parted,
three large men in sportcoats slipped out between them and spun their
heads to stare up the hallway. All three seemed to see her within an
instant, their eyes widening, then narrowing to focus, and then
becoming watchful and predatory, losing any hint of introspection as
they began to move toward her, one beside each wall and one in the
middle, increasing their pace with each step.

Several bystanders averted their
eyes and sidestepped to avoid them, but the woman never moved. She
hiked up the skirt of her navy blue business suit so it was out of
her way, took two more deep breaths, then swung her shoulder bag hard
at the first man’s face.

The man’s eyes shone with
triumph and eagerness as he snatched the purse out of the air. The
triumph turned to shock as the woman slipped the strap around his
forearm and used the momentum of his charge to haul him into the
second man, sending them both against the wall to her right. As they
caromed off it, she delivered a kick to one and a chop to the other
to put them on the floor. This bought her a few heartbeats to devote
to the third man, who was moving along the left wall to get behind
her.

She leaned back and swung one
leg high. The man read her intention, stopped, and held up his hands
to clutch her ankle, but her back foot left the ground and she hurled
her weight into him. As her foot caught him at thigh level and
propelled him into the wall, there was the sickening crack of his
knee popping. He crumpled to the floor and began to gasp and clutch
at his crippled leg as the woman rolled to the side and sprang up.

The first two men were rising to
their feet. Her fist jabbed out at the nearest one and she rocked him
back, pivoted to throw an elbow into the bridge of his nose, and
brought a knee into the second man’s face.

There was a loud slapping sound
and the woman’s head jerked nearly to her left shoulder as a
big fist swung into her cheekbone. Strong arms snaked around her from
behind, lifted her off her feet to stretch her erect, and she saw the
rest as motion and flashes. The first two men rushed at her in rage,
aiming hard roundhouse punches at her head and face, gleeful in the
certainty that she saw the blows coming but could do nothing to block
them or even turn to divert their force.

Two loud, deep voices
overlapped, barking for dominance. “Police officers! Freeze!”

“Step away from her!”
When her opponents released her and stepped away, she dropped to her
knees and covered her face with her hands. In a moment, several
bystanders who had stood paralyzed with alarm seemed to awaken. They
were drawn closer by some impulse to be of use, but they only hovered
helplessly nearby without touching her or speaking.

The judge’s chambers were
in shadow except for a few horizontal slices of late-afternoon
sunlight that shone through the blinds on the wood-paneled wall.
Judge Kramer sat in his old oak swivel chair with his robe unzipped
but with the yoke still resting on his shoulders. He loosened his tie
and leaned back, making the chair’s springs creak, then pressed
the play button on the tape recorder.

There were sounds of chairs
scraping, papers shuffling, and a garble of murmured conversation, so
that the judge’s empty chamber seemed to be crowded with
invisible people. A female voice came from somewhere too close to the
microphone. “This deposition is to be taken before Julia R.
Kinnock, court stenographer at 501 North Spring Street, Los Angeles,
California, at ten… seventeen a.m. on November third. The
court’s instructions were that if there is an objection to the
use of a tape recorder, it will be turned off.” There was
silence. “Will the others in the room please identify
themselves.”

“David M. Schoenfeld,
court-appointed counsel to Timothy Phillips.” Schoenfeld’s
voice was smooth, and each syllable took too long to come out. Judge
Kramer could almost see him leaning into the microphone to croon.

“Nina Coffey, Department
of Children’s Services, Los Angeles County, in the capacity of
guardian for a minor person.” Kramer had read her name on a
number of official papers, but he had never heard her voice before.
It was clear and unapologetic, the words quick and clipped, as though
she were trying to guard against some kind of vulnerability.

“Kyle Ambrose, Assistant
District Attorney, Los Angeles.” As usual, the prosecutor
sounded vaguely confused, a pose that had irritated Kramer through
six or seven long trials.

Then came the low, monotone
voices that were at once self-effacing and weighty, voices of men who
had spent a lot of time talking over radios. They started quietly and
grew louder, because the last part of each name was the important
part.

“Lieutenant James E.
Bates, Los Angeles Police Department.”

“Agent Joseph Gould,
Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

There was some more shuffling of
papers and then Julia Kinnock said, “Mr. Ambrose, do you wish
to begin?”

Ambrose’s parched,
uncertain voice came in a beat late. “Will you state your name
for the record, please?”

There was some throat clearing,
and then the high, reedy voice of a young boy. “Tim…
Timothy John Phillips.”

Schoenfeld’s courtroom
voice intoned, “Perhaps it would be a good idea to ask that the
record show that Lieutenant Bates and Agent Gould here present have
verified that the deponent’s fingerprints match those of
Timothy John Phillips, taken prior to his disappearance.”

The two voices muttered, “So
verified,” in the tone of a response in a church. Amen, thought
Kramer. Schoenfeld had managed to sidestep onto the record with the
one essential fact to be established in the case from Schoenfeld’s
point of view.

Ambrose’s voice became
slow and clear as he spoke to the boy. “You are to answer of
your own accord. You are not to feel that you are in any way
obligated to tell us things you don’t want to.” Judge
Kramer could imagine Ambrose’s dark eyes flicking to the faces
of Schoenfeld, the lawyer, and Nina Coffey, the social worker. It was
a confidence game, as Ambrose’s legal work always was. The kid
would have to answer all of the questions at some point, but Ambrose
was trying to put the watchdogs to sleep. “Mr. Schoenfeld is
here as your lawyer, so if you have any doubts, just ask him. And
Mrs. Coffey will take you home if you’re too tired. Do you
understand?”

The small, high-pitched voice
said, “Yes.”

“How old are you?”

“Eight.”

“Can you tell me, please,
your earliest recollections?” Judge Kramer clenched his teeth.

“You mean, ever?”

“Yes.”

“I remember… I
guess I remember a lot of things. Christmas. Birthdays. I remember
moving into our house in Washington.”

“When was that?”

“I don’t know.”

A male voice interjected, “The
lease on the Georgetown house began four years ago on January first.
That was established during the murder investigation. He would have
been four.” The voice would be that of the F.B.I, agent,
thought the judge.

“Do you remember anything
before that, in another house?”

“No, I don’t think
so.”

“When you moved in, was
Miss Mona Turley already with you?”

“I don’t know. I
guess so.”

“Who lived there?”

“My parents, me, Mona.”

“Did you have relatives
besides your parents? Cousins or uncles?”

“No, just my grandma.”

“Did you ever see her?”

“Not that I remember. She
lived far away. We used to send her a Christmas card every year.”

“Did you?” There was
the confusion again, as though Ambrose were hearing it for the first
time and trying to fathom the implications.

“Yeah. I remember, because
my daddy would put my handprint on it. He would write something, and
then he would squish my hand onto a stamp pad and press it on the
card, because I couldn’t write yet.”

Ambrose hesitated, then said
gently, “Do you remember anybody else? Any other grown-ups that
you were with?”

“You mean Mr. and Mrs.
Phillips?”

“Yes.”

“I know about them. I
don’t think I ever saw them.”

“So when you say your
‘parents’ you mean Raymond and Emily Decker?”

“They were my mother and
father.”

Judge Kramer’s brows
knitted in distaste. This was typical of Ambrose. Get on with it, he
thought. An eight-year-old’s distant recollections weren’t
going to get Ambrose anything in a criminal investigation. Such
meticulous, redundant questioning had bought him an inflated
reputation as a prosecutor – laying the groundwork for an
unshakable, brick-hard case. It looked like magic to juries, but to
Judge Kramer and the opposing attorneys who knew where he was going,
it was like watching an ant carrying single crumbs until he had a
hero sandwich.

“So you lived in
Washington from the time you were four until…? We’ll get
back to that. Tell me what it was like in Washington. Did you like
it?”

“It was okay.”

“Were your parents…
nice to you?”

There was a hint of shock in the
boy’s voice. “Sure.”

“How about discipline?
Rules. Were there rules?”

“Yeah.”

“Can you tell me some?”

“Ummm… Pick up the
toys. Brush your teeth. My father always brushed his teeth when I
did, and then he’d show me his fillings and tell me I’d
need some if I didn’t brush the ones in the back.”

“What happened when you
didn’t follow the rules?” Ambrose was casual. “Did
they hit you?”

Now the little voice was
scandalized. “No.”

“Did you go to school?”

“Sure. The Morningside
School. It wasn’t far, so sometimes we walked.”

“So life was pretty good
in Washington?”

“Yeah.”

“What did you do when you
weren’t in school?”

“I don’t know. Mona
used to take me to the park when I was little, and then later
sometimes I’d go with my friends. She would sit in the car and
wait for me.”

Ambrose paused and seemed to be
thinking for a long time, but then Judge Kramer recognized the sound
of someone whispering. After a second exchange it sounded angry. He
knew it was Nina Coffey. The lawyer Schoenfeld said, “I must
point out that this is not an adversarial proceeding, and this part
of the story adds no new information to any of the investigations in
progress. Miss Coffey has consented to this questioning because she
was assured its purpose was for the safety and future welfare of the
child. She has a right to withdraw the consent of the Department of
Children’s Services if she feels this is unnecessarily
traumatic. The child has been over this ground several times with the
psychologist and the juvenile officers already. Perhaps we could
depart from our regular habits of thoroughness and skip to the recent
past.”

Ambrose sounded defensive. “Then
would one of you care to help us in that regard to make the record
comprehensible?”

Nina Coffey said, “Timmy,
tell me if anything I say isn’t true.”

“Okay.”

“Timmy was raised from the
time of his earliest recollections until the age of six by Raymond
and Emily Decker. They hired Miss Mona Turley as a nanny when they
came to Washington, D.C. He has no direct knowledge of earlier
events. He was told he was Timmy Decker. From every assessment, he
had a normal early childhood. It was a loving home. Miss Turley was a
British citizen and a trained nanny, a legal resident alien. There
are no signs of physical or psychological abuse, or of developmental
difficulties that would indicate deprivation of any kind.” She
said pointedly, “This is all covered in the caseworker’s
report, so it already is part of the record.”

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