the impression that he’d been prepared to leave on a moment’s notice and to travel light.
The third room was the bedroom. The ceiling, the walls, and the floor were black. Even the bed and sheets: black. A black nightstand, black lamp, and black radio with glowing green numbers.
this place?” Carson wondered.
“Maybe he’s a satanist? Or just an over-the-top metal fan.”
“No music system. No TV.”
Michael found the source of the licorice odor. On the unpadded windowseat sat a tray holding several fat black candles, none burning at the moment. Bending down to sniff, he said, “Scented.”
Carson considered the time and effort required to create this unrelieved blackness, and suddenly she thought of Arnie and his Lego castle. Bobby Allwine held a job and interacted with the world, but on some level he was as dysfunctional as her brother.
Arnie was benign, however, whereas judging by the available evidence, Allwine’s psychology must be, at the core, malignant.
“This place is worth an extra
bucks a month,” Michael declared.
When Carson switched on the light in the adjacent bathroom, the startling contrast stung her eyes. Paint, floor tile, sink, toilet—everything was a dazzling
assiduously polished. The pungent smell of ammonia allowed no intrusion of the scent of licorice.
Opposite the vanity mirror, hundreds of single-edged razor blades bristled from the wall. Each had been pressed at the same angle into the sheetrock, leaving half of the blade exposed, like a wicked silver fang. Row after row after row of clean, sparkling, unused razor blades.
“Seems like,” she said, “the victim was even crazier than his killer.”
IN NEW ORLEANS uptown society, formal dinner parties were a political necessity, and Victor took his responsibilities seriously.
Inside the sprawling Garden District mansion, his housekeepers—Christine and Sandra—and his butler, William, had spent the day preparing for the evening’s event. They cleaned every room, added flowers and candles, swept the covered porches. Gardeners tended to the lawn, trees, flower beds, and shrubs.
These people were all his creations, made at the Hands of Mercy, and were therefore tireless and efficient.
In the formal dining room, the table was set for twelve with Pratesi linens, Buccelatti silverware, Limoges china, historic Paul Storr silver chargers, and a monumental Storr candelabrum featuring Bacchus and attendants. The sparkle factor was greater—and embodied greater value—than any display case of diamonds at Tiffany’s.
The housekeepers and butler awaited their master’s inspection. He entered the dining room, already dressed for dinner, and considered the preparations.
“Sandra, you’ve selected the right china for tonight’s guests.”
His approval drew a smile from her, though it was uneasy.
“But, William, there are fingerprints on a couple of these glasses.”
At once the butler took the indicated glasses away.
Two centerpieces of cream-colored roses flanked the candelabrum, and Victor said of them, “Christine, too much greenery. Strip some of it out to emphasize the blooms.”
“I didn’t arrange the roses, sir,” she said, and seemed to be dismayed to have to reveal that his wife had taken charge of the roses. “Mrs. Helios preferred to do it herself. She read a book on flower arranging.”
Victor knew that the staff liked Erika and worried that she should do well.
He sighed. “Redo the arrangements anyway, but don’t say anything to my wife.” Wistfully, he removed one of the white roses and slowly turned it between thumb and forefinger. He sniffed it, noting that a few of the petals already showed early signs of wilt. “She’s so…young. She’ll learn.”
AS THE HOUR drew near, Victor went to the master bedroom suite to determine what had delayed Erika.
He found her in the dressing room, at her vanity. Her shoulder-length bronze hair was as lustrous as
Jean-Marie Blas de Robles