The Lost Relic Chapter
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Well, actually, it wasn't lost. It was just asleep. And now it has been nudged awake again, and put on display for the first time since it was written. The chapter reprinted here was actually from the earliest incarnation of RELIC--the final version turned out to be very, very different. As a result, some of the events that take place in this chapter, or certain references or allusions made in it, may not make sense to those who have read the published book. Douglas Preston explains:

"What we find amusing in looking back over our earlier drafts is how bad some of them were. For example, the Pendergast in this chapter is certainly not the Pendergast readers remember from Relic; in this chapter, he comes off as a pompous windbag, pontificating to Margo about "compartmentalization of labor" and "extended similes." On the other hand, the Lieutenant is pretty much the Vincent D'Agosta that we meet in the finished novel. And finally, we introduced a red herring in this chapter that we decided to cut out of the final novel--Smithback's criminal record, which makes him a suspect to Pendergast. It seemed an unnecessary complication, and frankly, Smithback just wasn't the type--obnoxious, maybe, but no criminal.

"Smithback, despite his grating personality, irritating witticisms, careerism, and inflated ego, was one of our favorite characters. He makes an appearance in our fifth novel, Thunderhead, more self-satisfied than ever after the best-selling success of his book about the Museum murders. In Thunderhead, we wipe the smirk off his face pretty quick. And in the books that followed, things frequently went from bad to worse."

In this original version of chapter 12 of Relic, Lieutenant D'Agosta is hip-deep in interviewing museum employees, looking for leads on the recent rash of murders. In walks Margo Green, who, it turns out, knows a lot more about what's really going on than she realizes.

 

Warning: May contain profanity and violence.

 

CHAPTER 12

D'Agosta sat in a stiff chair behind a long table in the Museum's makeshift police headquarters. It was Monday afternoon, and he'd interviewed two dozen Museum employees since morning. He had found out absolutely nothing, except that he was getting heartily sick of the whole damn case. Nine hundred employees. Why the hell did a museum need nine hundred people? And it was his tax dollars that supported this place. How many people did it take, for Chrissakes, to clean the glass in the exhibit cases and take tickets at the door?

This was the second day he'd been at it--not counting the weekend he'd spent catching up on paperwork--and so far he'd found zilch. No leads, absolutely nothing of interest. But he'd known it would be hopeless from the beginning. Only seventeen of the staff had any criminal records, all for petty misdemeanors. Pendergast had taken those himself, of course.

D'Agosta heaved a huge sigh. At least he wasn't the only one coming up with squat. The second pass with the bloodhounds had yielded nothing more interesting than a dried wild boar skin somebody had draped over a rafter and then forgotten.

He looked up at the clock: five minutes to three. He'd give almost anything to be home in his barcalounger now, watching TV. A Sherlock Holmes film would be coming on at three, he knew. A real one, too, with all the musty trimmings--not one of those modernized ones, with Sherlock keeping the A-bomb out of the hands of the Nazis. D'Agosta liked Sherlock Holmes more than the heroes of modern detective stories. He was colorful. Basil Rathbone was perfect for the part. And that old fart Nigel Bruce was a pisser as Watson. D'Agosta heaved another sigh. He wondered how Sherlock would have gone about solving this case, if he would have had it all figured out by now. He sure as hell wouldn't be sitting on his ass for days interviewing pencil pushers and four-eyed scientists, as Pendergast had him doing. It was incredible how many nerds and weirdos you could cram into one place. If the Museum closed tomorrow, he thought, the population of bag people on Broadway would double.

Pendergast, now--Pendergast might have made even Sherlock Holmes do a double-take. In his days as a street cop, D'Agosta had come to believe in only two kinds of policemen: tough head-bangers and desk jockeys hungry for early retirement. But Pendergast didn't fit either mold. Pendergast was one of a kind. Like Holmes, he had a knack for seeing through the bullshit, peeling away the layers of a case until he got to the heart of the matter. But Pendergast also had this way of coming out of left field with bizarre ideas, weird intuitions that, almost always, turned out to be right. That was Pendergast in a nutshell: methodical, but a little crazy.

A little crazy. D'Agosta didn't know if that was normally a plus in detective work. But right now, D'Agosta had no doubt: if there was ever a case where a little craziness was needed, this was it.

The small, dark-haired girl that had been sitting on a nearby bench was being sent over to his desk. Another one. Jesus.

"Hi. How ya doin'?" said D'Agosta, looking up briefly. "Sit down, please, and I'll be with you in just a moment. Name's D'Agosta."

She sat down nervously. He filled out the top section of a fresh form, then switched on his tape recorder.

"Name, position, address, date of birth?"

She gave the information.

"Okay. Please describe your movements during the twenty-four hour period beginning at or around three o'clock on the afternoon of February 24th."

"Let's see," the girl said. She was silent for a moment. "God, I can't remember." She looked really nervous.

"Take it easy and think." Shit, thought D'Agosta. Nobody ever remembered a thing. It wasn't like in the books, where the detective asks someone what he was doing the night of the murder, three weeks before, and the guy goes on about it for twenty minutes. Most people couldn't remember what they did three nights ago, let alone three weeks ago. And then you had to sit there while they couldn't remember and got all nervous and sweaty. The guilty man was always the guy who remembered right away, and reeled it out like he was reading from a book.

D'Agosta waited while the girl said the usual "let's see," and "no, that must have been Saturday," and a lot of irrelevant things about appointments and dates. Next, she'd probably tell him when she fed the frigging dog.

"Okay," she finally said. "I guess I got up pretty late. I just puttered around the apartment all day, didn't do much. Read the paper. Did a little cleaning up. Late in the afternoon I walked down to a bookstore near the Museum to pick up a book I'd ordered. Then I went home again."

"Walking? Subway?"

"I walked. You know, West 82nd. It's just a few blocks."

D'Agosta waited.

"I fed Acomita--that's my dog--and then took her out for a walk. When I came back I turned on the T.V. to catch the seven o'clock news, and I guess I put a piece of fish in the microwave to thaw out for dinner."

D'Agosta tapped his fingers. Great. Everybody led such damn boring lives.

"Then I watched the news."

There was a pause.

"Is this the kind of detail you want?"

Against his better judgment, D'Agosta slowly nodded.

"I cooked and ate dinner. I spent a little time working on my dissertation. Not as much as I should have, of course. I called mother. Then I went to bed, I guess around eleven."

"You live alone?" D'Agosta asked. It was more polite than asking, "Did you sleep with anybody who could verify your whereabouts?"

"Yes."

D'Agosta nodded again, absently.

"Sounds pretty boring, doesn't it?"

D'Agosta sat up a little.

"No, no," he said. Then, jokingly: "Just the facts, ma'am."

She laughed.

This one wasn't so bad, D'Agosta thought. He looked down at the day's interview list. Margo was her name. Margo Green. Could be cute, if she put on a little makeup, did her hair. These women scientists just didn't know how to take care of themselves.

"I got up about seven the next morning, as usual. Fed the dog again, walked the dog--"

She stopped of her own accord. "Boy, this is boring. How many people have you interviewed so far?"

D'Agosta smiled. "Enough."

In fact, the entire room was filled with police behind desks, interviewing employees. The murmur of voices, ringing of phones, and clacking of keyboards filled the room. D'Agosta felt sorry for the person who'd have to catalogue all this shit, wade through about a million tapes and transcripts. Probably they would just sit in dusty boxes high up on a shelf in the P.D. archives.

"And you have to listen to this kind of thing all day?" the girl asked.

"Hours and hours of it." That wasn't professional of him, he supposed, but the hell with it. She wasn't bad at all. No tits, but a really nice girl.

Margo went on describing her morning, her arrival at the Museum, her conversation with Curly, Wright and the others, being locked out of her office, the uproar in the staff lounge.

When she was finished, D'Agosta had her retrace her movements on the day of the second murder.

Finally, he said: "Okay, Margo. Thanks for your time. Before you leave, though, maybe you could tell me something you saw, or think you saw--or thought--during the last week, that might be relevant to the case. Trivial or not." He hoped he didn't sound desperate.

Margo thought for a moment. Then she said:

"Am I allowed to ask you about something?"

D'Agosta shrugged. "Why not?"

"I know this is going to seem really strange."

"Shoot."

"Well," she said hesitantly, "I know this sounds funny, but were either of the bodies found with mud in their mouths?"

D'Agosta felt like someone had just cracked him over the head with a baseball bat. He saw stars for a moment, and couldn't seem to close his gaping jaw.

He tried to keep his composure. He cleared his throat. "Where did you get that idea?" he asked, as nonchalantly as possible. He tried to think of how Pendergast would answer her question.

"Oh, it was nothing," Margo said, collecting her things and getting ready to stand up. "I was just trying to think of anything relevant, like you said. It's crazy. Forget it."

"No, really," D'Agosta said. "Where did you get it?" It was all he could do to keep from forcibly holding her in her seat.

"It was just an idea I had."

D'Agosta was really struggling now. Maybe he should call Pendergast. Nah, he could handle it.

"Look, I really want you to tell me, as clearly as possible, where you got that idea." Nobody knew that. It was the one little detail about the murder they'd kept secret; what Pendergast called their "one-way membrane" to filter out the professional confessors. Already several creeps had called in, swearing up and down that they had done it. But they didn't know about the mud. Nobody knew about the mud.

Margo told him.

D'Agosta could hardly believe what he was hearing. Mingled with the rush at having stumbled on a breakthrough was the knowledge that--if there was anything to what this girl was telling him--it was the weirdest stuff he'd ever heard in his career.

"Ah...let me get the Lieutenant over here," he said. "Better yet, let's just go find him."

"You mean," Margo said, "there was mud--?"

"Wait, hold it. Don't say any more. We'll just talk to the Lieutenant."

D'Agosta shut off the tape recorder, picked it up, and motioned for Margo to precede him into a small office down the hall. Inside, Pendergast was sitting back, feet on the desk, examining a typed transcript. He looked up from the pages, his eyebrows rising with just a flicker of inquiry.

"Lieutenant," D'Agosta said. "This lady here, she's got something really interesting to say.

*

Pendergast listened first to D'Agosta, then to Margo. Then he asked Margo a few questions, and listened for a long time. Halfway through Margo's response, he took his feet off the desk and leaned forward, folding his lean arms carelessly across the clutter in front of him; after that, he remained absolutely motionless until she had finished.

He let the silence grow for a few moments, looking at her with an expression Margo couldn't decipher. Something about the Lieutenant felt wrong to her, apart from his ascetic dress and strange-looking eyes. Then she realized what it was: the man never seemed to blink.

Finally, he heaved a long sigh, and spoke. "This is a most interesting tale, Miss Green," he said. "Your powers of deductive reasoning impress me. So does your fecund imagination. However, you're going to have to learn to harness your imagination, make it a slave instead of a master." He silenced Margo's protest with a quick lift of a finger. "But that's beside the point. Indulge me, for a moment, and let me tell you a brief story about myself." Leaning against the door in the back of the room, D'Agosta pricked up his ears.

"Many years ago," Pendergast began, "I worked in a small room on the top floor of a building in Washington. The department that employed me had no official name. The door to the office was always locked, and a marine was always posted outside. You needed clearance to get in. My job was to arrange things, to put things in order. I took tiny fragments of seemingly random data, and helped make a picture from them. That's a simplification, of course." He tapped his index fingers together as he looked at Margo.

"We had one unbreakable rule in that office," he continued. "Compartmentalization of labor. Everybody worked on a separate part of the puzzle. It wasn't simply a question of duplication of effort. Two people, working on the same puzzle without each other's knowledge or consent...they could corrupt the source material, or come to erroneous conclusions. Worst of all, time would be wasted--and time was always a critical element."

Pendergast smiled slightly as he watched Margo's expression. "Don't worry, Miss Green, I'm about to bring this extended simile home. My work in the police department really isn't all that different. I still put puzzles together to make pictures we can understand. True, it's on a macro level now, but the process is remarkably similar. And the same rules hold true. As much as I admire your sleuthing, I can't have you working at cross purposes to us." Once again, he silenced her protest with a gesture. "As you can imagine, this is a delicate, complicated investigation. There have been two tragic killings. It's our responsibility to not only solve those killings, but also to make sure no others occur in the process. If word of your--conclusions-- leaked out...well, let's just say that, under the present circumstances, people aren't as rational as they might be. They might decide to panic, instead of passing it off as a silly coincidence." He paused. "Yes, I'm afraid I did use the word 'silly.' "

He looked at Margo, as if to allow her a response at long last. None was forthcoming. Margo looked sullenly back, and remained silent. D'Agosta snuck a pitying glance at her. He felt the Lieutenant was being a little hard on the kid. After all, he thought, she'd only been trying to answer his final interview question.

But Pendergast wasn't finished. "We also want the--culprit, shall we say?--to be as much in the dark as possible about what we're doing," he continued. "The last thing we need is to have a hundred grass roots investigations spring up, confounding our little stratagems." He paused a moment, and smiled. " 'confounding our little stratagems.' That's a nicer term, don't you think, than 'conspiring to obstruct a police investigation' ? And we do so want to be nice." He nodded at D'Agosta, who gestured to Margo that she could leave.

Pendergast watched her as she stood up. "In short, Miss Green, thank you very much for being so forthcoming, but I must ask you to keep your suppositions to yourself. Don't mention our conversation to your friends, or to anyone else. In time, the veil will be drawn, and all will be made clear, I promise you. Then, I know you'll agree that your silence will have saved you much embarrassment. Good day."

After the door closed, Pendergast turned to D'Agosta. "What I just told Miss Green goes for you, too. Not a word of this to anyone. Not yet."

D'Agosta swallowed. "But Lieutenant, maybe that lady zoologist--"

"Never mind about Madame Ziewicz. When it's time to tell her about the mud, she'll learn about it." He gave D'Agosta a sharp look. "Do you think she could explain to me how a jaguar could accomplish such a thing? I rather doubt it. No; in my opinion, it would only lead her further in the wrong direction." He scanned the room quickly, almost idly, then returned his gaze to D'Agosta. "What I do want, however, is a list of everyone involved with the superstition exhibition, and anyone else who might know about this Mbwun. Anthropologists, archaeologists, janitors, the lot. Find out what kind of information is available, and where. How widely known is it that the creature puts mud in its victims' mouths? If there's a publication in the library that mentions it, who checked it out? But, for God's sake, be subtle about it. Don't arouse suspicion. Make it a solo job. Then, take the list of people you've compiled and compare it with their transcripts. Confine your personal investigation to them, for the time being. Look for holes, inconsistencies, conflicting stories. And bring me your report."

He was silent for a moment. "I want to find out where that piece of claw husk came from," he resumed. "Let's start by assuming Madame Ziewicz is right about that, if nothing else. Do they have jaguar bones or skins in the collections here? Are we aware of any specialty stores or black-market operations that carry jaguar artifacts?" He paused again. "Oh, get cracking on that mud analysis. I want to know the origin of those two samples by Friday."

"But Lieutenant, the samples had to be flown down to Virginia," D'Agosta said. "The guard's sample just went down a couple days ago. The lab told us a thorough analysis would take two weeks."

Pendergast raised one hand and stroked his chin, as if feigning indecision. "Two weeks, hmm?" His hand fell to the desk and resumed its drumming. "As I mentioned, I want the report back by Friday." D'Agosta swallowed again, and Pendergast looked at him with some amusement. "What's the matter, D'Agosta?" he asked. "Rather be working on another Amsterdam Avenue case?"

"No, sir!" D'Agosta replied with real fervor. As weird as this Museum case was, and as much as it put him and the rest of the team in an unwelcome spotlight, at least it was a change of pace from the recent outbreak of killings related to glaze, the new drug of choice. Even though the drug had only surfaced a few months before, and seemed to still be confined to the Tri-state area, they were already running at five glaze-related drug murders a day in New York now, each one more senseless, violent and random than the last. D'Agosta didn't want any more museum murders, exactly...but a selfish inner part of him hoped that it would take them a while longer to find the killer. Working on glaze crimes was depressing.

A police officer knocked lightly, then opened the door and stuck his head around the corner of the frame. "Sorry to interrupt, sir, but there's a Ms. Ziewicz on the line. Says you haven't returned her calls in days."

Pendergast grimaced. "Tell her I'm in conference, please, and that I'll call her back tomorrow morning."

D'Agosta picked up his tape recorder and started to follow the officer out. In the doorway, he stopped and turned. "Lieutenant?"

Pendergast looked up. "Yes?"

D'Agosta was embarrassed. "What...what do you think, sir?"

Pendergast didn't move. "I think..." he began. "I think I'll keep my thoughts to myself awhile longer. But I'll tell you this," he said quietly as D'Agosta turned away. "I wouldn't start wearing a garlic necklace if I were you--not just yet. I'm not fully convinced there's a monster at work here, despite Miss Green's fieldwork. Quite the opposite, in fact. What I've just heard helps confirm my suspicion that whoever perpetrated these crimes isn't crazy at all...but clever. Yes, very clever," he murmured, almost to himself. "Now, if we can only manage to keep this little tidbit under wraps just a while longer...By the way, Sergeant, please continue to have the men bring me all the interview files as they're completed," he concluded in a louder voice.

D'Agosta nodded and shut the door on his way out. Clever, my ass, he thought. He wished he shared Pendergast's confidence that the zoologist's assumptions were incorrect. But the Lieutenant was probably right about one thing: Ziewicz wouldn't be able to figure out any way a jaguar could have slapped mud in the mouths of the two stiffs. And that's just what had D'Agosta worried. Because if a big cat couldn't have done it, and Ziewicz was right in believing the wounds were too savage to have been made by a human...then just what the hell were they dealing with?

Pendergast remained motionless while D'Agosta closed the door. The sound of the sergeant's footsteps slowly died away, eventually blending with the hubbub of the temporary headquarters outside. Only then did Pendergast allow himself to ease back from the desk, exposing the clutter of papers that his elbows had been concealing. On top lay a thin manila folder, stamped with the previous Friday's date and carrying an NYPD Active label. On the subject line of the label, someone had written, in large letters with a black marker: SMITHBACK, WILLIAM R.

 

Many things in this excerpt may be confusing to readers of the published version of RELIC; for example, all the references to jaguars and to mud in the mouths of the victims. In this early version, the pathologist, Dr. Ziewicz, believed the museum killings were the work of a jaguar. Also in this version, Mbwun was believed (by the Kothoga tribe) to leave a clot of swamp or riverine mud in the mouths of its victims as a way of marking its kills; Moriarty had explained this to Margo in the pub scene that eventually became the finished chapter 21.

Curious also are the references to the 'glaze' epidemic, and the fact that Pendergast was apparently part of NYPD.

 


Copyright 1999 by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child


2018 Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child