Chapter 27: Friday, Dec. 1

In which Korky Kummerbund reappears and remembers the clack of paws on a concrete floor.

Published September 7, 2001 7:00PM (EDT)

I have had some good news that's shocking in its own way. Lieutenant Tracy phoned this morning to tell me that Korky Kummerbund, in a state of near starvation and in considerable disorientation, was found staggering along a back road in Worthington State Park, some twenty-five miles north of Seaboard. I called Elsbeth immediately and gave her the good news, although lately she has been in such a weakened state, I'm not sure she understood the import of what I told her.

And what a different human being I found when I walked into Seaboard General where they took Korky for tests and recovery. He recognized me, lifted his hand weakly to shake mine, and said, "How's Elsbeth?" His concern touched me nearly to tears, and I sat by his bed, reassuring the nurse that I would not stay long.

"You're safe now, Korky," I reassured him. "The worst is over."

He nodded. "The worst thing was ... the music."

"Music? I thought you said it was noise on a loop?"

He nodded and a look of horror crossed his wasted face. "They played it twenty-four hours a day, over and over."

"What was it?"

He wavered a moment, as though reaching inwardly for courage. "Stockhausen," he managed. Then, "Cage." Then, "And the symphonies of Leonard Bernstein."

"You poor man," I said. "From the unspeakable to the unfortunate."

"Over and over."

I was still trying to reassure him when Lieutenant Tracy showed up with Sergeant Lemure in tow. The Sergeant scowled at me, but the Lieutenant asked me to stay.

The latter conducted his interrogation with an incisiveness and gentleness I found to be the epitome of investigative professionalism. In a halting voice, Korky told us that he indeed had gone to the White Trash Grill to meet a friend. When asked what friend, he replied, "any friend."

"You mean a pick-up?" the Sergeant put in rather bluntly.

Korky nodded.

"Did you meet anyone?" the Lieutenant asked.

Korky nodded again.

"Can you describe him?"

"Yes. But I think he was in disguise."

"What do you mean?"

"He wore dark glasses and a fake mustache."

"Yeah but how big was he? What was he wearing?" The Sergeant bulked over the bed and Lieutenant Tracy waved him back.

"Was it anyone you remember seeing before?"

"I don't think so."

"Then what happened?"

Korky shook his head. His voice was growing weak, as though powered by a fading battery.

"I got into his car ..."

"Do you remember the make?"

"No. Some kind of SUV ... blue or grey ..."

"So you got into the car."

"Yes. Then someone in the backseat put a handkerchief over my mouth and held it there. I think it was laced with chloroform."

He told the detectives that the room he was kept in was as he had described it in his article. The only distinctive detail he could recall was that during the very infrequent times he was fed, the person who brought him his food was accompanied by one or two large dogs, because he thought he could hear, over the piped-in noise, the clack of their paws on the concrete floor of what he assumed to be a cellar.

When Sergeant Lemure started an aggressive new round of questioning, I intervened, saying I thought Korky needed his rest. The Sergeant looked like he wanted to punch me, but Lieutenant Tracy agreed. They would be able to be more thorough later on.

Out in the corridor, we held a brief conference. I repeated to the Lieutenant that it might be useful to have someone in the SPD go over the past year of Korky's reviews to find out whom he might have offended to the point they would want to wreak this kind of revenge. I didn't want to make obvious the fact that the Seaboard Police should have already followed up.

The Sergeant said he didn't have that kind of time and, besides, "It's probably just some kind of fag thing. I mean they're weird people."

Lieutenant Tracy nodded to his man. "Yeah, and you've got to go fly to New York and run down what you can about Celeste Tangent's mob connections."

At the same time the Sergeant wasn't very happy when I volunteered to call Don Patcher at The Bugle to have him pull copies of Korky's reviews and send them over to me. I soothed his ruffled feathers somewhat by saying that Korky was a very close friend of my wife, and that I would be doing it as a favor to her. We did agree that we were dealing with someone possessed of a distinctly malicious sense of humor, and that we had entered that deadly realm where evil and comedy batten on each other.

Speaking of which, I had another call this afternoon from Mr. Castor of Urgent Productions. He sounded a very conciliatory tone, saying how he understood completely my position in regard to the Museum as a backdrop to the film they were making. But not only would they treat any setting with the utmost respect, but they would clear any perspective with me personally. He assured me as well that the film would be sensitive in every possible way.

I demurred again. But in a like conciliatory spirit, I held out some hope to him, telling him I would shortly be taking the matter up with Professor Brauer.

By Alfred Alcorn

Alfred Alcorn, formerly a journalist at the Boston Herald and CBS, is also the former director of the travel program at Harvard's Museum of Natural History. In addition to "The Love Potion Murders (in the Museum of Man)," he is the author of two previous novels, "The Pull of the Earth" (Houghton Mifflin, 1985) and "Murder in the Museum of Man" (Zoland Books, 1997). He lives in Belmont, Mass.

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