New York was just a city.
He had seen her wake in the morning like a slut, and pick murdered men from between her teeth, and suicides from the tangles of her hair. He had seen her late at night, her dirty back streets shamelessly courting depravity. He had watched her in the hot afternoon, sluggish and ugly, indifferent to the atrocities that were being committed every hour in her throttled passages.
It was no Palace of Delights.
It bred death, not pleasure.
Everyone he met had brushed with violence; it was a fact of life. It was almost chic to have known someone who had died a violent death. It was proof of living in that city.
But Kaufman had loved New York from afar for almost twenty years. He'd planned his love affair for most of his adult life. It was not easy, therefore, to shake the passion off, as though he had never felt it. There were still times, very early, before the cop-sirens began, or at twilight, when Manhattan was still a miracle.
For those moments, and for the sake of his dreams, he still gave her the benefit of the doubt, even when her behavior was less than ladylike.
She didn't make such forgiveness easy. In the few months that Kaufman had lived in New York her streets had been awash with spilt blood.
In fact, it was not so much the streets themselves, but the tunnels beneath those streets.
"Subway Slaughter' was the catch-phrase of the month. Only the previous week another three killings had been reported. The bodies had been discovered in one of the subway cars on the AVENUE OF THE AMERICAS, hacked open and partially disemboweled, as though an efficient abattoir operative had been interrupted in his work. The killings were so thoroughly professional that the police were interviewing every man on their records who had some past connection with the butchery trade. The meat-packaging plants on the water-front were being watched, the slaughter-houses scoured for clues. A swift arrest was promised, though none was made.
This recent trio of corpses was not the first to be discovered in such a state; the very day that Kaufman had arrived a story had broken in The Times that was still the talk of every morbid secretary in the office.
The story went that a German visitor, lost in the subway system late at night, had come across a body in a train. The victim was a well-built, attractive thirty-year-old woman from Brooklyn. She had been completely stripped. Every shred of clothing, every article of jewellery. Even the studs in her ears.
More bizarre than the stripping was the neat and systematic way in which the clothes had been folded and placed in individual plastic bags on the seat beside the corpse.
This was no irrational slasher at work. This was a highly-organized mind: a lunatic with a strong sense of tidiness. Further, and yet more bizarre than the careful stripping of the corpse, was the outrage that had then been perpetrated upon it. The reports claimed, though the Police Department failed to confirm this, that the body had been meticulously shaved. Every hair had been removed: from the head, from the groin, from beneath the arms; all cut and scorched back to the flesh. Even the eyebrows and eyelashes had been plucked out.
Finally, this all too naked slab had been hung by the feet from one of the holding handles set in the roof of the car, and a black plastic bucket, lined with a black plastic bag, had been placed beneath the corpse to catch the steady fall of blood from its wounds.
In that state, stripped, shaved, suspended and practically bled white, the body of Loretta Dyer had been found. It was disgusting, it was meticulous, and it was deeply confusing.
There had been no rape, nor any sign of torture. The woman had been swiftly and efficiently dispatched as though she was a piece of meat. And the butcher was still loose.
The City Fathers, in their wisdom, declared a complete close-down on press reports of the slaughter. It was said that the man who had found the body was in protective custody in New Jersey, out of sight of enquiring journalists. But the cover-up had failed. Some greedy cop had leaked the salient details to a reporter from The Times. Everyone in New York now knew the horrible story of the slaughters. It was a topic of conversation in every Deli and bar; and, of course, on the subway.
But Loretta Dyer was only the first.
Now three more bodies had been found in identical circumstances; though the work had clearly been interrupted on this occasion. Not all the bodies had been shaved, and the jugulars had not been severed to bleed them. There was another, more significant difference in the discovery: it was not a tourist who had stumbled on the sight, it was a reporter from The New York Times.
Kaufman surveyed the report that sprawled across the front page of the newspaper. He had no prurient interest in the story, unlike his elbow mate along the counter of the Deli. All he felt was a mild disgust, that made him push his plate of over-cooked eggs aside. It was simply further proof of his city's decadence. He could take no pleasure in her sickness.
Nevertheless, being human, he could not entirely ignore the gory details on the page in front of him. The article was unsensationally written, but the simple clarity of the style made the subject seem more appalling. He couldn't help wondering, too, about the man behind the atrocities. Was there one psychotic loose, or several, each inspired to copy the original murder? Perhaps this was only the beginning of the horror. Maybe more murders would follow, until at last the murderer, in his exhilaration or exhaustion, would step beyond caution and be taken. Until then the city, Kaufman's adored city, would live in a state somewhere between hysteria and ecstasy.
At his elbow a bearded man knocked over Kaufman's coffee.
"Shit!" he said.
Kaufman shifted on his stool to avoid the dribble of coffee running off the counter.
"Shit," the man said again.
No harm done," said Kaufman.
He looked at the man with a slightly disdainful expression on his face. The clumsy bastard was attempting to soak up the coffee with a napkin, which was turning to mush as he did so.
Kaufman found himself wondering if this oaf, with his florid cheeks and his uncultivated beard, was capable of murder. Was there any sign on that over-fed face, any clue in the shape of his head or the turn of his small eyes that gave his true nature away?
The man spoke.
Kaufman shook his head.
"Coffee. Regular. Dark," the oaf said to the girl behind the counter. She looked up from cleaning the grill of cold fat. "Huh?"
"Coffee. You deaf?"
The man grinned at Kaufman.
"Deaf," he said.
Kaufman noticed he had three teeth missing from his lower jaw.
"Looks bad, huh?" he said.
What did he mean? The coffee? The absence of his teeth?
"Three people like that. Carved up." Kaufman nodded.
"Makes you think," he said. "Sure."
"I mean, it's a cover-up isn't it? They know who did it."
This conversation's ridiculous, thought Kaufman. He took off his spectacles and pocketed them: the bearded face was no longer in focus. That was some improvement at least.
"Bastards," he said. "Fucking bastards, all of them. I'll lay you anything it's a cover-up."
"They got the evidence: they're just keeping us in the fucking dark. There's something out there that's not human." Kaufman understood. It was a conspiracy theory the oaf was trotting out. He'd heard them so often; a panacea. "See, they do all this cloning stuff and it gets out of hand.They could be growing fucking monsters for all we know.There's something down there they won't tell us about.Cover-up, like I say. Lay you anything."
Kaufman found the man's certainty attractive. Monsters, on the prowl. Six heads: a dozen eyes. Why not?
He knew why not. Because that excused his city: that let her off the hook. And Kaufman believed in his heart that the monsters to be found in the tunnels were perfectly human.
About the book:
The Books of Blood combine the ordinary with the extraordinary while radiating the eroticism that has become Barker's signature. Weaving tales of the everyday world transformed into an unrecognizable place, where reason no longer exists and logic ceases to explain the workings of the universe, Clive Barker provides the stuff of nightmares in packages too tantalizing to resist.
Excerpt from Possession
- A. S. Byatt
Excerpt from Breakfast at Tiffany's
- Truman Capote