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About the Author
National bestselling author Charles Wilson has become known for edge-of-your-seat tension and fast-paced action in his novels. His first work, Nightwatcher, a psychological thriller, was called "splendid" by John Grisham and "quite an achievement" by the Los Angeles Times. Ed Gorman, publisher of Mystery Scene magazine says, "Wilson might flat-out be the best plotter of our generation." Wilson's Direct Descendant and Extinct, novels exploring the chilling consequences of so-called scientific advances, have been optioned by Hollywood filmmakers. Other Wilson novels are Game Plan, Fertile Ground and Embryo; three suspense novels, When First We Deceive, Silent Witness and The Cassandra Prophecy; and Deep Sleep-- a psychological thriller set in a Voodoo-influenced swampy parish in South Louisiana. Charles Wilson currently lives with his wife and three children in Brandon, Mississippi, where he is at work on his next novel.
Read an Excerpt
By Charles Wilson
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2001 Charles Wilson
All rights reserved.
NORMALLY, THE TALL IRON gates leading into the grounds were kept closed, but they stood open now, stark in the dim moonlight.
Mark French drove onto the gravel entry road. The shirt of his deputy's uniform showed wrinkles. It was the one he had pitched onto the chair in his bedroom after ending his shift, then grabbed and put back on before hurrying from his apartment a few minutes before. He rested his elbow out his window. The night air, loaded with the moisture rising from the lowlands in this part of the parish, felt almost chilly when compared to the earlier heat of the day that had left him perspiring nearly as much as if he had been playing a game of handball at the gym. He looked off to the road's right, at the wide sign displaying the facility's name:
SOUTH LOUISIANA SLEEP DISORDERS INSTITUTE
Dennis Guitrau sat in the car's passenger seat. The stocky, forty-three-year-old deputy, his uniform sleeves stretched tightly around his heavy arms folded across his chest, stared ahead of them across the fog-cloaked uniformly flat land at a large antebellum house. Setting a hundred yards back from the entrance, it was surrounded by massive, aging oaks draped with long strands of Spanish moss. "When this opened ten years ago, I didn't know what to think," Guitrau said. "Why would something depending mostly on out-of-state clients locate here? Why not around New Orleans, closer to the airport? Then I got to thinking, you open up something like this ... maybe you want it in a place where it doesn't attract all that much attention."
Several cars sat in the circular drive in front of the home's tall white columns. The second floor was darkened, but the first-floor windows and big glass globes hanging down between the columns were ablaze with bright illumination. Mark could see someone standing on the deep porch. He knew that whatever Shasha Dominique's reason for locating the institute where she had, and despite the low profile those who worked there kept, it had become a point of contention among some in the mostly conservative, rural area. Not a sleep disorders clinic in the normal sense, but a place where clients could come to live out fantasies in their dreams. He remembered an older lady only a few weeks before asking him if he could imagine the kinds of fantasies some men would pay money to enjoy. She didn't like that idea and she didn't like those kinds of people coming into the parish. "From as far away as Chicago," he remembered the woman saying as she remarked about some of the license plates she had seen on cars driving out the blacktop toward the institute. But there had never been a problem associated with the place.
He looked toward the glow of flashing blue lights illuminating the darkness in the distance behind the home, then turned off the gravel, and with the damp wind whipping at his face, drove across the grass toward the thick trees that marked the beginning of the vast swamp that spread out beyond the institute.
He parked beside the department's forensic van. Two deputies his age, in their early thirties, wore rubber boots fitting high around the legs of their uniform trousers as they slowly waded a few feet out in the shallow water. The flashing lights reflecting off their faces and the fog curling up around them, they played their flashlight beams carefully over each patch of exposed mud and tall grass, looking for any evidence that might lie in easy sight. He lifted his flashlight from the dash, opened his door, and stepped outside as Guitrau climbed out the passenger side.
Dr. Poirier stood near the edge of the water. Short and gray-haired, he had his dark sports coat unbuttoned and spread open to the sides of his rounded stomach and held a cellular phone to his ear. A black body bag lay on the bank ten feet behind him.
Dottie waited next to the bag. Also in her early thirties, her sandy-blond hair was cut above her collar, and she was neither thin nor heavy but filled her uniform solidly; the tautness of her neck and her smooth, tight arms gave evidence of how often she worked out with weights. Her full lips and blue eyes pleasantly softened her look of strength. As Mark drew near, she knelt on one knee and pulled the bag's zipper down to expose the face of an attractive, young black female. Streaks of mud smeared her skin. A small laceration showed at a side of her forehead. Her shoulder-length black hair was wet and twisted into thick strands matted with decaying leaves.
"Hit one time with a blunt object," Dottie said. "Dr. Poirier found fragments of bark embedded in the wound, indicating a tree limb was used. He said the blow came when she was facing her assailant. It might or might not have knocked her unconscious. But the cause of death was strangulation."
She switched on her flashlight and shone it close against the young woman's neck, revealing two bruises, each maybe a half-inch wide, a little more than an inch long, and horizontal across the throat. "Might be able to lift a print from those," Dottie said.
He nodded. With the use of the technology called blue light, forensic specialists now routinely picked up faint traces of blood left on walls that had been repeatedly scrubbed, and fingerprints off the skin of victims who had only been barely touched. The nearest law enforcement agency with that kind of expertise was in New Orleans. Some of their people would have to come over.
Dottie closed the bag and came to her feet. "If we're not able to lift those, we don't have anything at this point," she added. "There's no sign she put up a struggle — no skin under her nails, none of them broken off, no other marks on her body." She looked back toward the swamp. "She was lying facedown in the water, naked. The ground's soft there, but there's no shoe prints or footprints around where she was found — not even hers. It's almost as if she were thrown toward the water."
As Dottie paused, she turned her gaze in the direction of two men standing beside a department car off to the right. "Except for their prints," she said. "They pulled her out of the water."
One of the men was a tall black man in his mid- to late forties, wearing dark slacks and a red vest hanging open over a blue dress shirt. The other was a short white man of similar age with unusually pale skin. He was cloaked in an ankle-length black robe with its hood back against his shoulders.
"Samuel Johnson and Bennie Rogers," Dottie said. "Johnson — the one in the vest — is the one who actually discovered the body. He's an employee here. Rogers is one of the guests. They said she would have had on a robe like he's wearing."
Dr. Poirier walked up beside her. He nodded his greeting at Guitrau, then said, "No obvious sign she's been sexually assaulted, Mark. But I can't be certain until I get her back to the morgue."
Mark nodded. "Appreciate knowing as soon as you can."
"Only take me a little while," Poirier said.
"How did you get here so fast?"
"Mark, you don't know the work I got piled up at the morgue. Was determined to stay until I got caught up. I heard Dottie's call over the radio when I was on my way home. Sheriff still out of the country?"
"For a couple more weeks."
Dottie looked toward the two men again. "Johnson said she had gone into her dream sleep a few minutes before two. Dream sleep's the term they use when a guest is put to sleep to experience his or her fantasies. He said she must have awakened and wandered off down here right after that. He said they found her within thirty minutes. Based on that, she would have been attacked between an hour and a half to two hours ago."
Dr. Poirier nodded. "That fits. No more than two hours ago at the most."
Mark started toward the two men.
"Her name is Deloris Rivet," Dottie said as she walked beside him. "She went by Missey. She lived in San Francisco, but her family is originally from this area. Johnson's the one in the red vest," she reminded him as they neared the two men.
He was around six-feet-two, with an almost gaunt build and a dark face deeply creased with wrinkles that made him look older than his trim body had caused him to appear from farther away.
When Mark stopped in front of him, Dottie said, "Mr. Johnson, this is Chief Deputy Mark French."
"You found the body?" Mark asked.
"Yes, sir," Johnson answered in a low voice.
"We both found her," the other man said. "My name's Bennie Rogers, from Dallas. Did you see where someone knocked her on the head?"
Up close, he was even shorter than he had first appeared, maybe five-three or five-four, with a slight build. He had a deeply receding hairline, with what hair he did have lying in a thin blond layer on top of his head. His pale skin was made to look all the whiter by his black robe and the reflection of the lights flashing against his face. He held his glasses down at his side in his small hand.
"Yes, I saw it," Mark said and looked back at Johnson. "Why did you come down here to look for her?"
"I was looking everywhere," Johnson answered in his soft tone. "Guests sometimes get confused when they wake right after being put into their dream sleep."
"Get disoriented," Rogers said. He had slipped his glasses on, and his small eyes were blurred through the lenses. "Tell him about Boudron," he said to Johnson.
Johnson glanced in the direction of the deputies wading the swamp. "Have you heard of him?" he asked.
Mark nodded. He hadn't thought about it until now, but the institute wasn't all that far from the landing. There would be few people in the parish who hadn't heard of the wild man of the landing, as he was called in both exaggerated and normal conversation — a child who had been extensively deformed at birth and whose family had bought property in the swamp and moved there years before to save him from the stares of others.
"When we were on our way down here, I heard something in the trees," Johnson continued. "Over in there." He nodded off to his right, in the direction where the swamp veered in a gentle curve off to the north, away from where the victim's body lay.
"When I called out, I saw him when he ran between some trees. But Boudron couldn't have strangled Miss Rivet."
"No, sir, he has only one arm. He couldn't strangle nobody and leave thumbprints."
"One arm?" That was something Mark didn't remember hearing mentioned in the past.
"Yes, sir. That's what his parents said."
Mark looked at Guitrau. The stocky deputy shook his head that he hadn't heard that mentioned either.
"He was up here one time," Johnson said. "Frightened some guests who saw him moving around in the trees. He ran when I came up."
"And you're certain it was him tonight?"
"Well ... I just got a glimpse. But ... yes, I got a good enough look. It was him again."
"It had to be only minutes after the attack," Guitrau said. "He could have seen it."
Mark looked in the direction of the deputies wading the water. Past them, trees and stretches of dark water, separated by strips of muddy ground, spread out for miles to the sides. He judged the landing, a small section of higher, dry ground covered in tall pines, to be about a mile straight behind them, through the heart of the swamp.
"Do we need to take a boat to get back there?"
"No, sir," Johnson said. "You can walk in."
"Can you show us the way?"
Johnson nodded. "To where his parents live. He doesn't live with them. He cut everybody else off and then them, they said. He lives by himself in a place he's built somewhere on the landing. I didn't see him when I went in to speak with them. But like I said, I had seen him when he was up here by the guests."
Mark glanced at his watch. "We'll wait until it's light." He looked toward the big house a hundred yards in the distance. "Are there other guests here?"
"Two," Johnson said. "They've been in their dream sleep for hours. Missey was the next to last to be put into her sleep. Miss Shasha was preparing Mr. Rogers for his sleep when I found out Missey had left her room."
"I would like to speak with them," Mark said.
* * *
The home appeared even larger driving up from behind it than it had when they had passed it on the way down to the swamp. Guitrau stared at the oversized pool directly behind the wide structure. Thin plumes of mist curled above the water. Tall bushes ran along the sides of the pool and the rear of the house. A sidewalk lit with the glow of gas lamps wound past iron chairs and benches placed in areas surrounded by similar bushes planted to form privacy circles. Mark drove around the side of the home to its front, parking beside a Cadillac in the drive that curved by the wide steps leading up onto the porch.
As they walked toward the steps, Guitrau said, "Some families just live under dark clouds."
"You've heard about Shasha's mother?"
"Being convicted of murder?"
"Yeah," Guitrau said. "Her and her boy — they killed Shasha's uncle."
Mark nodded as they moved up onto the porch. He had heard the story before.
Guitrau explained anyway. "It was Shasha who turned them in. She wasn't much more than six or seven at the time."
When they stopped in front of the expensive inlaid glass front door, Guitrau said, "From a foster home to this," and shook his head.
Mark glanced at his watch. Johnson and Rogers were walking the hundred yards from the swamp. He looked out across the sprawling, neatly kept grounds. The only thing marring the overall beauty of the surroundings was a massive pine on the far side of the drive that had died, its covering of needles brown now, contrasting vividly with the dark green leaves and needles of the other pines and oaks in the curving line.
"Wouldn't want to be inside if that fell over," Guitrau said, looking at the tree. It was at least three feet in diameter. "Go right through to the first floor. You know," he added. "I've been thinking. Sort of like the talk in the parish about the types this place might attract. Have some character with a twisted fantasy in mind, come here, get it pumped up a little more ... and bang, pushed over the edge into trying it out in real life. That seems a lot more likely than a stranger wandering around out here in the middle of nowhere."
The door opened behind them.
"Gentleman," Johnson said, and stepped back from the doorway for them to come inside.
Shasha Dominique, in her late thirties, waited in the spacious living room. Tall earthen vases filled with plants with their limbs drooping toward the floor sat about the walls. A large couch covered with a bright yellow fabric, a coffee table nearly the width of a queen-size bed, and two heavily cushioned chairs covered in the same yellow fabric served as the centerpiece of the room. She sat in one of the chairs. Her elbows resting on its arms and her hands clasped in front of her chest, she wore a white sleeveless blouse and short black skirt that displayed her slim brown arms and legs.
"Mr. French," she said, smiling politely up at him.
Johnson said, "I'll bring the others down," and walked toward the carpeted staircase at the far side of the room.
"I find this deeply disturbing," Shasha said, bringing Mark's attention back to her. Her smile had gone away. "You've heard about my mother and brother?"
"Tonight makes me revisit my past in a most disturbing manner," she said in a voice so low it was almost as if she was thinking aloud rather than addressing him.
It took a moment and an obvious effort for her to bring a pleasant expression back to her face. She glanced over her shoulder in the direction of a man walking across the carpet toward her from a hallway at the rear of the room. Close to her age, maybe a couple of years older, forty to forty-one at the most, his head was shaved bare. He wore jeans and a T-shirt, and had a muscular build, a sharply chiseled face, and skin much darker than hers. He carried a serving tray holding a half dozen cups brimming with coffee.
"This is our cook, John Paul," she said as he stopped in front of her. She lifted a cup from the tray and said, "If you would like one? It's strong."
"No, thank you," Mark said. "Are there any other employees who live on the premises at night?"
Shasha shook her head. She looked toward Guitrau, and he stepped forward and lifted a cup into his big hand.
* * *
Johnson took several minutes before he appeared at the top of the stairs with two men. Both wore the long black robes with the hoods back. As they started down the stairs, he held one's arm; the man seemed unsteady.
Shasha came up from the chair, met them at the bottom of the stairs, and looked back across the living room. "This is Mr. Dale Dutt."
Excerpted from Deep Sleep by Charles Wilson. Copyright © 2001 Charles Wilson. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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