Snowball in Hell
An excerpt from the novel by Josh Lanyon
"I knew you'd come."
Andrew Corian, dubbed "The Sculptor" by the national press, was smiling that same old smile. Supremely confident and a little scornful. For a moment it was almost as if he were seated at his desk in his office at Puget Sound University and not in this sterile interview room at The Federal Detention Center in Sea-Tac.
"Sure you did," Elliot said.
Corian's powerful hands, thick wrists handcuffed, rested on the resin table. He spread his fingers, palms up in a "be my guest" gesture as Elliot took the plastic chair across the table.
He had been second-guessing the decision to meet with Corian from the minute he'd acceded to SAC Montgomery's request, and Corian's supercilious attitude just confirmed his doubts. They were not going to get anything useful out of the Sculptor.
"How could you resist?" Corian was saying. "A chance to play hero one last time. A chance to convince yourself you got the better of me."
"Sounds like you've been hitting the library psych shelves pretty hard." Elliot folded his arms on the tabletop, glanced casually around the room.
He'd been in plenty of these interview cells back when he'd been with the FBI. Neutral colors. Durable furniture. Stainless-steel mesh over the bulletproof frosted windows. A guard outside the door. Generic right down to the two-way mirror, behind which stood Detective Pine of Tacoma Homicide and FBI special agent Kelli Yamiguchi.
Just in case Pine and Yamiguchi missed anything, cameras overhead were recording the interview.
Corian's eyes, a weird shade of hazel that looked almost yellow in the harsh institutional light, narrowed at Elliot's gibe, but his broad smile never faltered. He seemed to be in a great mood for a guy looking at multiple life sentences.
"I don't need to read a psychology book to understand you, Mills. There's nothing complicated about your psyche."
"But enough about me," Elliot said. "Let's talk about your favorite subject. You. Or more exactly, why you wanted to see me."
The rough material of Corian's prison khakis rustled as he sat back in his chair. He looked a bit like a cartoonist's idea of the devil. Gleaming bald head and immaculately trimmed Vandyke. He was a big man and prison had made him bigger. Leaner. Harder. He looked like he ate steroids with every meal and spent all his free time bodybuilding. Maybe the bodybuilding wasn't far from the truth. There wasn't a hell of a lot to do while sitting around waiting for trial. Not when you'd been caught red-handed, as it were, in a series of brutal slayings and mutilations spanning more than fifteen years.
He said, "I didn't want to see you. I gave you permission to visit. That's all."
"Two letters in two months? We're practically pen pals. Come off it, Corian. You want me to sit here and listen to you explain in detail how brilliant you were. How brilliant you still are compared to the rest of us."
Corian's smile widened. "That wouldn't be the only reason."
"It'll be the main reason. You're sure as hell not interested in bringing closure to the families of the victims."
It was quiet in the interview room. On the other side of the heavy soundproof door a symphony of discordant sounds were reaching crescendo level: guards yelling, televisions blasting, prisoners shouting, the incessant thunder of an industrial-strength plumbing system, the chatter and buzz of walkie-talkies, the jangle of keys and slamming of steel doors.
"You've never understood me, Mills."
"You're right about that."
"But you're afraid of me."
Elliot sighed. "No, Andrew. I'm not."
They had never been on first-name terms. Corian replied, "You should be, Elliot."
"This is bullshit." Elliot made sure to keep his tone bored, indifferent. The last thing he wanted was for Corian to know just how tense he really was. "If the idea was to get me here so you could practice your bogeyman routine, you're wasting both our time." He pushed his chair back as though to rise.
Corian sat back and expelled an exasperated sigh. "Goddamn. Can't you at least buy me a drink before you screw me over?"
The indignation was almost funny.
"Look, you wrote me. I'm not looking to continue our relationship--if you want to call it that. I don't need closure. I got my closure when they slammed the cell door on you."
That wasn't completely true. Like everyone else involved in the case, Elliot wasn't going to truly breathe a sigh of relief until Corian was tried and convicted. He wanted the reassurance of knowing Corian was locked up in a maximum facility until the end of time. The numerous court date postponements were wearing on everyone's nerves.
Corian had the gall to look wounded. It was only partly an act. Being a psychopath, his own pain and his own frustrations were very real to him. It was the suffering of other people he was indifferent to.
"You want something from me. So be it. I'd appreciate a little courtesy. A few minutes of intelligent conversation. Or as close as you can manage."
Elliot eyed him without emotion. "All right. But we don't have all day. If you've got something to say, you'd better spit it out."
Corian leaned back in his chair, smiling. "How's the fall session shaping up? Have they hired someone to replace me yet?"
"Oh, no one could replace you."
"True." Corian merely grinned at the sarcasm. "How's Rollie? I read his book. When you think about it, it's pretty ironic. The only child of a celebrity sixties' radical joining the FBI."
"Yep. Ironic. Are we done with the chitchat?"
Corian's smile faded. "All right. Ask your questions."
"As of this date, sixteen bodies have been removed from the cellar of your property in Black Diamond, bringing the number of victims to twenty-three. Is that it? Is that an accurate head count? Or are there more?"
"Head count." Corian's smile was pure Mephistophelian. Partly he was acting. Partly he was simply...evil.
An old-fashioned concept, but what else did you call someone who was technically--well, legally--sane and yet a ruthless, remorseless predator? Maybe the problem was with the way the legal system defined insanity, but mostly the problem was how society dealt with monsters like Corian once they were identified and captured. Elliot had grown up believing the death penalty was barbaric, an anathema in a civilized society. But was warehousing monsters really a better plan?
"If you want to go there," Elliot said. "What did you do with the heads of your victims?"
"That's an interesting question. Why do you think some of the bodies were buried and some were used in sculptures?" Corian was equally aware that they had an audience, both human and mechanical.
"No clue. Like you said, I've never understood you. Why did you only target young men? You're not gay. Why did you never target women?"
"Where's the sport in that? Besides, I like women." Corian didn't wait for Elliot's response. "My turn. Why do you think all the bodies were headless?"
A game. That's all this was to Corian. Another game. "To make it harder to identify the victims."
Corian tipped his head as though considering this. "I wonder. Maybe. Partly, no doubt. But you're a student of history. You understand the possibilities and precedents."
The theory of ritualized cannibalism had certainly occurred to Elliot before that moment, but his stomach still gave a queasy roll of revulsion.
Watching him, Corian said, "You're horrified, yes, but you're fascinated too."
"Mostly I'm troubled. My concern is for the families who deserve to know whether their missing child is one of your victims."
"I don't know that they deserve anything. After all, their children wouldn't be missing if they hadn't failed as parents."
"Yeah, that's right," Elliot said. "It's the fault of the parents that these young men were captured and butchered for your...art. Did you have some method, some system of record-keeping that would make it possible for you at this late date to identify the remains?"
"What remains? Who says there were any remains?" Corian was grinning. "Waste not, want not."
It wasn't easy, but Elliot kept his gaze level, his expression emotionless. "I'm speaking now of the sixteen previously mentioned bodies recovered from your cellar. Do you have any means of identifying them?"
"This is deal-making territory," Corian said. "We both know you're not in a position to offer me any deals."
"Then why am I here?" Elliot gestured at the mesh-covered window. "What's the point of this?"
Corian pretended to give this serious thought. "Several reasons. First and foremost, your being here annoys the hell out of your boyfriend. Special agent Tucker Lance."
The bastard was right about that.
"Okay," Elliot said evenly. "You're having your laugh now. But the joke will be on you after the jury listens to all that evidence. It'll be too late for making deals then."
Corian's eyes gleamed. "Don't you want to ask me why? Why I did it? Why I killed them?"
"I know why. You're a sick sonofabitch."
That was the truth. As far as it went. But even Elliot, who knew there was no possibility of understanding a brain like Corian's, sometimes found himself questioning, puzzling over why. Certainly the families wanted to know, wanted some explanation, wanted to be able to make sense of these multiple tragedies.
How could such things happen?
Was there anything worse than losing a loved one to a random act of violence?
Probably not. But even if you could understand the pathology of one serial killer, you were essentially starting from scratch with the next. At least as far as prevention went.
Apprehension was another matter. But apprehension was moot in this case.
Corian's lip curled scornfully. "That's not worthy of you."
"No? It's the truth though. The why doesn't matter." Elliot's chair scraped noisily as he rose.
"You're leaving?" Corian couldn't conceal his surprise.
Elliot had turned away, but he glanced back. "Yep. Things to do and places to go. I'm not interested in providing the audience for your insanity plea test run. And since you don't plan on telling me anything I don't already know..." He shrugged.
Corian was not used to being walked out on. His smile was slightly forced. "Are you so sure?"
Elliot smiled. He headed for the door.
As he reached for the buzzer, Corian spoke.
"Mills. About earlier. I didn't mean you have anything to fear from me personally."
The guard opened the door. Elliot spared Corian one final look. "No, of course not. You're worried about my karma."
"No." Corian grinned, looking more satanic than ever. "No, you should be worried. But not about me. My work is done."
"It sure is," Elliot replied. "And wait till you see the retirement package we've got for you."
* * * * *
"He's in a good mood," the guard observed as the door to the interview room settled into place with a heavy and final-sounding click.
The guard was probably in his mid- to late twenties. Medium height, buff, boyish. Corian's preferred type, if he only knew it.
"Never happier," Elliot agreed. "But then who doesn't like having company?"
By the time he made it over to the viewing room, SA Yamiguchi, Tucker's second on the multiagency task force responsible for bringing Corian to justice, had already taken off--no doubt in a hurry to get back to the Seattle field office and deliver her "I told you so!" to SAC Montgomery.
She wasn't alone in that sentiment.
"That was a waste of time," Detective Pine commented. He and Elliot had history, but this time they were on the same team. Pine was short, dark and ambitious. A few years younger than Elliot. Young enough to believe he had everything under control--young enough to believe in the concept of control.
"Pretty much," Elliot agreed.
"Why do you think he wanted to see you so bad?"
Pine's laugh was sour. "Maybe it's your sparkling conversation. I nearly spit my coffee out when you started to walk out the first time."
"I might as well have walked out, for all we got out of him."
Pine shrugged. "You opened up a dialogue. Maybe that's worth something." From his tone, Pine didn't believe it.
"Maybe." Elliot didn't believe it either.
"Do you think he's serious about trying to claim he had an accomplice?" Pine asked a short time later as they were walking to the parking lot.
It was a relief to be outside. To fill his lungs with fresh air and feel the sunlight on his face. Elliot had nearly forgotten that stale, metallic, disinfected scent unique to correctional institutions. The blur of chemicals was intended to mask sweat and urine and the inevitable odor of way too many people packed into too small a space for too long a time.
Pine added, "That had to be what he meant by "my work is done.' Why would he wait till now to play that card?"
Elliot shook his head. It was definitely late in the game for that move. But then Corian was playing his own game. And making the rules up as he went. "An apprentice? An acolyte? Who the hell knows?"
"That's for sure. Homicidal freak," Pine muttered.
Corian was an aberration, true enough, and nothing would have made Elliot happier than to never have to gaze into his odd tiger eyes again. But declining Corian's invitation was a luxury he didn't feel he had a right to. Not with so many grieving people waiting for answers.
Wednesdays were not regular visiting days for the detention center, and the large sloped lot was largely empty. Elliot had parked in the shade of a spindly maple, leaves already starting to yellow in the September sun.
"He can't plead not guilty," Pine said. "Not with the mountain of evidence we've got against him. He can't imagine--"
"Hell yeah, he'll plead not guilty." Elliot was almost touched by Pine's naivetÈ. "They always plead not guilty. His lawyers have already laid the groundwork for not guilty by reason of insanity and they'll keep hauling witnesses onto the stand to testify he's nuttier than a fruitcake. Which he is. Though not in the eyes of the law. Not so far. So yes, I think it's entirely feasible he'll try to play that card. What does he have to lose?"
Nothing. And they all knew it. Including Corian.
Pine gave a curt "See you at the briefing this afternoon."
Elliot raised a hand in dismissal and peeled off, striding toward his silver Nissan 350Z.
Pine stopped. Turned back. "Mills."
Elliot looked up from unlocking his car door.
"If he's not lying about an accomplice..."
Elliot nodded. "Yeah. The thought occurred to me."