The Deleted Epilogue
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The epilogue of THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES that was suppressed from the published book!

Well, maybe 'suppressed' is too strong a word. Let's say we were very, very, conflicted about whether to include this epilogue in the book. Having done so would have had ramifications for all future Preston-Child books in which a certain character appears. Did we make the right decision in leaving this out? Let us know!

Warning!! Certain plot secrets may be given away below, and in any case the epilogue will not make sense until you have already completed reading CABINET OF CURIOSITIES. Do not proceed unless you have already finished the novel!


 

A N D    L A S T

It was five minutes to closing at York Avenue Chemists & Pharmaceutical Supply, and Charlie McDorr was not at all pleased to see the gaunt man enter the shop and approach the counter. It was two days before Christmas, and he had some last minute shopping to catch up on after dinner. McDorr gave the man a peripheral glance - if he avoided eye contact, maybe he could discourage the fellow - but what he saw surprised him sufficiently to turn and stare.

At first the man looked like the director of a funeral parlor. He wore an impeccable black suit, brilliant white shirt, grayish tie of fine silk. But this was clearly no mortician: the suit was too expensive, the cut too elegant and fresh. The face, however, was worn and creased, with dark circles under the eyes: the man looked like he hadn’t been sleeping well at all. And yet the pale blue eyes were as clear and cold as two chips of ice, and there was a severity, an aloofness, about him that McDorr found unsettling.

The man spoke, his voice soft, subdued, yet overlain with a mellifluous southern accent. Without pleasantries or introductions, the names of the chemicals he desired began rolling off his tongue, with such felicity McDorr realized at once that, despite his dress, the man must be either a fellow pharmacologist or a chemist. He straightened up. The chemicals the man wanted were pretty sophisticated. Then, suddenly, McDorr had him pegged: the fellow was one of those famous medical researchers from nearby Rockefeller University, perhaps even a Nobel Laureate. Usually they sent underlings to buy their chemicals. Well, he’d come to the right place: York Avenue Chemists was the only place in Manhattan that carried what he was looking for, in stock, no waiting, ready in an hour.

McDorr jotted down the chemicals as the man spoke. Funny the man hadn’t just faxed or brought in a list. It was a damned complicated series of compounds, too, and he was amazed the man could have kept it all in his head.

In less than five minutes the man had finished his recitation. Some of them were restricted chemicals—Schedule C synthetic opiates, various poisons, and the like—but the man had all the required paperwork for each one, ready and waiting on the counter.

"How’s tomorrow at ten?" McDorr asked.

The man stared back. "I need them now. I’ll wait."

McDorr glanced at the clock. "It’s past closing time, sir."

The fleeting look on the man’s face—something not at all genteel—unnerved him. But when the man spoke, the voice remained soft, aristocratic, modulated. "I shall pay you triple if you would kindly fill this order immediately."

It was already close to a thousand-dollar order: there were some expensive exotics on the list. McDorr stared back. "Really?"

The man nodded, his face relaxing, the fleeting look, if it had ever been there, now gone. "It’s an ongoing experiment. Once I get started, I can’t bear to be interrupted. An annoying habit, but very hard to break."

McDorr nodded. "Suit yourself." Pretty cushy if the university’s springing for it, he thought to himself. What’s a thousand here, a thousand there? While he had to watch every penny.

He went into the back and began pulling bottles and cans and vials off the shelves, weighing or measuring them out, packing and sealing. A damned odd group of chemicals. McDorr wondered what kind of experiment this strange-looking professor was running. The look in the eyes, when he’d said he couldn’t fill the order until tomorrow. . . Like most pharmacologists, he’d seen that look before. A look, not of detached scientific curiosity, but of personal, desperate need. It occurred to him that the man might very well be some kind of drug addict. Still, it wasn’t his place to question a good order, with all the correct paperwork and a hefty profit besides.

Forty minutes later he was back with three plastic trays, their compartments loaded with chemicals.

The man eyed the tray with an intensity—even a hunger—that again alarmed McDorr. But when the man spoke it was in the same mild voice: "If it isn’t too much trouble, I’ll take the trays, too."

"Of course," said McDorr, setting them down on the counter and ringing up the order.

"The paper?" the man said.

McDorr’s hand paused at the register. "What paper?"

"The list of chemicals you wrote out."

McDorr removed it from his shirt pocket. "This?"

The man plucked it from his fingers. "Thank you. Proprietary information."

He paid. McDorr rapidly counted the money, but by the time he’d finished and looked up to give the man his change, he found himself staring at an empty shop. The man had vanished. Odd: the entry buzzer hadn’t even sounded when he’d opened the door to leave. Perhaps McDorr had been too busy counting the crisp new hundred-dollar bills the man had given him to hear it. And the man had left with almost thirty dollars in change coming to him. He glanced down at the name on the paperwork: Maurice de Poincarélle, M.D., and he remembered he was supposed to have asked for identification. He cursed inwardly, but it was too late.

And then the phone began to ring. The wife, no doubt, checking on why the hell he wasn’t home yet.

With a sigh, McDorr exited the shop, locking the door on the still ringing phone. Outside, he paused to look down East Sixty-Second, inhaling the crisp evening air. It was a beautiful night. Snow was falling. The big flakes dropped slowly out of the night sky, glittering momentarily as they passed the streetlights, then settling onto a layer of fresh snow covering the sidewalks and parked cars. He paused, staring for a moment at the single dark set of footprints that led from his shop door and off into the night, footprints that were rapidly vanishing under the deepening blanket of snow. Strange man. He wondered just what Maurice de Whatever would be doing that Christmas, and shivered involuntarily.

As for himself, he thought, what could be more perfect than a quick stop at Tammany's on the way home for a little refreshment with the boys? Yes, that's exactly what he would do, damn the Christmas shopping and damn the wife.

Life, he said to himself, was just too short.

 

 


Copyright © 2002 by Splendide Mendax, Inc. and Lincoln Child


© 2018 Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child