The killer and I sat together in the back seat of the late-model Range Rover, our shoulders just touching.
Wesley Currim, early twenties, in jeans and a faded “Beer Me” sweatshirt, shifted uneasily next to me, rubbing his cuffed hands between his knees. His face, profiled in the half-light glazing the snow-encrusted windows, was narrow, acne-pitted. Hard-planed as though etched with acid. His bony frame—so slender he seemed swallowed up by the threadbare County parka—practically vibrated with banked anger.
I turned away from him to stare out my own side window, out at the grey blur of blowing snow beating sideways against the car, as though propelled by a rage of its own. Beyond that relentless swirl of dirty white flakes clinging wetly to the window glass, stretched the darkly-forested, isolated landscape of rural West Virginia. Far from the interstate and highways, from the lights of the beleaguered small towns and gasping, dying farms. I shivered in my own fleece-lined parka and gloves. My hur- ried summons down here from Pittsburgh—the desperate phone call from Detective Chief Avery Block, the nerve-twisting drive through a rattling storm to Wheeling PD headquarters, then over just-plowed county roads to the main lock-up to meet Wes Currim himself—all this urgent, headlong momentum had left me little time to think about what it was I’d actually agreed to.
I glanced then at the two officers in the front seat. Or, to be more precise, at the backs of their heads. Though the temperature was just above freezing outside, the dashboard heater was pumping waves of thick, airless heat into the cramped forward area, and both men were sweating. Dark drops beaded the clean lines of their regulation haircuts along the backs of their necks. The older of the two, in the passenger seat, was Chief Avery Block, far past middle-aged, balding, thick-waisted. Furiously chewing his ever-present nicotine gum. When he spoke, which was rarely, it was more like a grunt. The labored effort of a beaten, disillusioned small town cop for whom things hadn’t exactly worked out as planned. And who no longer cared who knew it. In the driver’s seat sat Detective Sergeant Harve Randall, barely thirty, lean and wiry, gloved hands tapping anxiously on the wheel as he peered through the storm-blurred windshield. Dark sleeves of snow were pushed to the side by noisy wipers, only to be replaced by fresh clumps.
“This your first visit to West Virginia, Doc?”
Randall asked me this without taking his gaze from the windshield. His boss, with an obvious cough, turned to look at him through weary, rheumy eyes. Chewing slower now.
“Yes it is, Sergeant.” I was their guest, so I went with polite. “Too bad about the storm, though. Looks like nice, wide-open country. Wish I could see more of it.”
I watched the back of his head bob. “Almost Heaven. Like the song says.”
Chief Block pulled the exhausted wad of gum from his teeth, pinched it between gloved fingers. Stuck it up on the window visor, with its gooey brethren.
“You just keep your eyes peeled for that turnoff, Sergeant.
Another head bob. “Yes, sir.”
It was then that Wes Currim spoke. For the first time since we’d all climbed into the Range Rover back in Wheeling, shoulders hunched against the punishing storm, and then to head south through the back woods.
For the first time in an hour.
“Turnoff should be just ahead, up on your right there, Harve.” I could see Randall’s hands tighten on the wheel.
“That’s Sergeant Randall to you, douche bag.”
Currim gave a low, dark chuckle. As if in response to some private joke in his mind.
I looked over at him again, and he swiveled his head to meet my gaze. A slow, deliberate movement. Like a clockwork person in a dream.
Yet his eyes were moist, bright, agitated. As though straining to convey either assured bemusement or callous disregard. A ploy betrayed by his thin, twitching fingers.
Of course, I knew this could just be my own mind, telling stories. A product of the numbing cold, the snow, the wind- whipped moonscape outside. Of the strange, sad journey we were on.
I’d no sooner had that thought than the Range Rover tipped and tilted over a hard snow rut, as Sgt. Randall wheeled to the right onto a barely-visible back road.
The vehicle’s engine roared in protest, and, as we lumbered down the winding road, crisscrossed with deep furrows, whatever remained of the shocks noisily gave up the ghost.
Randall struggled to maintain control of the wheel.
“Just metal on metal under us now, Chief. And that transmission’s about to go, too.”
“You just get us there, Harve. In one fuckin’ piece, if you don’t mind.” Chief Block pushed another stick of nicotine gum into his jowled, reddened cheeks.
Wes Currim stirred again, straining to look past the chief ’s shoulder at the road up ahead. All I could see when I did the same was more goddam snow. Flying out of the gloom to be illuminated for a fleeting moment by the car’s powerful headlights, only to disappear again.
“Almost there, gentlemen.” Currim grinned with serene satisfaction. “End o’ the road.”
“For you it is, Currim.” Chief Block turned then, eyes black as the coal they pull from the unforgiving earth all around us. “No matter what, it’s the end of the road for your sorry ass.”
Currim shrugged. “Don’t see why you gotta be so nasty all the time, Chief. I swear, you oughtta give up on that gum and go back to the smokes.”
Block just stared at him, chewing deliberately, and said not a word. Then he turned and faced front again.
With another shrug, Wes leaned back in his seat.
“Nice havin’ you along, though, Doc. Elevates the company, if ya know what I mean.”
“It’s not like I had any choice.”
My voice was flat. I could feel the fatigue, the strain of the past hours. The loss of a full night’s sleep.
“Price o’ fame, Doctor Rinaldi. You oughtta be used to it by now.”
Sergeant Randall spoke up. “You keep your mouth shut, Wes, or I’ll shut it for you. Now how much farther, you worthless piece o’ shit?”
“Figure another mile or so, Harve.” Currim clucked his tongue. “Though I ain’t exactly thrilled with the treatment I’m gettin’ here from the department. Especially since I’m cooperatin’ an’ all.” Another glance at me. “Ain’t I, Doc?”
I didn’t answer. I knew what my job was at the moment: shut up and let Wesley be Wesley, whatever the hell that was. No pressing him about the crime, no attempts at connection or clinical intimacy to ferret out the gruesome details.
There was no need. He was going to tell us. Show us. As long as we went along with his little game.
Not twenty-four hours before, in a small interrogation room at police headquarters in Wheeling, Wes Currim had confessed—after declining legal counsel—to the murder of Edward Meachem, a businessman whose family had reported him missing the week before.
Following the confession, Currim asked to meet with the city’s interim district attorney. He told her he’d be willing to take the police to where Meachem’s body was.
“As a gesture to his family,” Wes had reportedly said, “so they can have that…dammit, whatja call it?…that closure thing.”
But Currim had one condition, one request that had to be honored before he’d show the authorities where he’d left the body. “I want that shrink that was on the news last year to come with me. Works with the Pittsburgh cops. I need him to help keep me from wiggin’ out, from the shock or whatever.” Apparently, the DA knew who he was talking about. “You mean Daniel Rinaldi? The psychologist?”
“Yeah, that’s him. I want Rinaldi to come with me when I show you where I left the poor bastard. And you better get him to do it. Or else I don’t show you shit.”