The Initiate – Snippet 05

Billy had been cared for at home by his parents until they died, then for a few months by an aunt, but she was apparently in poor health herself and couldn’t manage him. He had no other close relatives, his parents had set up a trust to pay for his care, and his only belongings were some toys.

But he did have a Social Security number. William Phillips Hunter existed, legally — and there were probably dozens of men with the same name in the United States, making it harder to verify who was the real one. Sam copied down all of Billy’s information from the files. He set up a post-office box in Hartford, and began to adopt Billy’s identity.

It was difficult at first. When he went to get a new driver’s license he had to tell a DMV clerk in New Haven that he’d been living in London for the past five years. He got a very funny look from a bank teller when he opened an account with an envelope full of cash. But with a bank account, a copy of Billy’s birth certificate, and a photo I.D. he could get a credit card, a passport, everything. By March, his William Hunter identity was ready for Sam Arquero to move into.

And that meant that he had to take the step he’d been putting off all this time. Since Mr. Lucas’s visit the whole project had been almost like a game — he’d taken steps, he’d even broken the law. But he could walk away from all of it, stay with his old life. To Samuel’s surprise, he realized the hardest thing would be to leave Bright Hill. The residents there, even the staff, liked him. They depended on him. What was worse, he had come to like them. So late one Sunday night Samuel sat in his darkened house with the first pitcher of Bloody Marys he’d mixed up in weeks. After three drinks he stumbled upstairs. The room he’d shared with Alice was cold and musty. The bloodstains on the carpet were almost black now. Maybe he could just get the place redone. Pull out the carpet and get hardwood floors. Get a new job. Maybe go on a date. That new nurse aide at Bright Hill was pretty cute.

Then he crossed the hall into Tommy’s room. The first thing that caught his eye was a drawing in purple crayon taped on the wall over the bed. Two big smiling stick figures with a little smiling stick figure between them, hand in hand. Over the three was a big blobby heart shape. The bottom of the picture was spattered with blood.

He fell to his knees in the middle of the floor. He’d done this before, during the months after it happened. Once he had spent a full day lying on the rug weeping. This time there were no tears in his eyes. His heart was pounding. Every muscle in his body was tensed up. His fingers clutched the rug, tearing the fabric like sharp black talons. Samuel Arquero threw back his head and gave a long scream of rage. He pounded the floor. He knelt in the darkness a long time. Finally he stood up and took a couple of deep breaths.

The Bloody Marys went down the sink, and he made a pot of coffee. It was time to begin. He had wasted too many weeks already. By dawn he had packed up half a dozen boxes. When the work day began he started making calls.

All of Alice’s jewelry and clothing went into boxes. He shipped them off to her sister, accompanied by a brief letter explaining that he was taking a job overseas. He rented a storage unit and put two carloads of personal belongings into it, then called a used furniture store and got rid of everything else. He hired a real estate dealer and put the house on the market. The car would be the last thing to sell.

He went to Tommy’s room with a box and a couple of contractor bags. The broken stuff went in the trash. The intact toys he scrubbed in the bathtub with bleach, and when they were dry he packed them all up in a big box addressed to Billy Hunter, Bright Hill Residential Care Facility. He wrote a letter to Mrs. Varelli explaining that he had been offered a job in Texas, and thanking her for letting him volunteer at the facility.

Three weeks later it was all done. The house was empty, and he handed the keys over to the real estate agent along with a power of attorney to sell it. He dropped off his car at the dealership and collected the check.

He got a cab from the dealership to Bradley airport north of Hartford, where he tipped the driver and then walked through the terminal and took the escalator down to the baggage-claim level, where he boarded a shuttle to the car rental lot. There he took possession of a newly washed Honda compact. He signed the paperwork “William Hunter” with a flourish, and paid with his new credit card.

William Hunter got a one-room apartment on the fourth floor of a crummy building in the Bronx. He signed up for martial-arts classes four nights a week to get back in shape. He bought a pristine new computer and set up new accounts for “willhunter1231.” He put Samuel Arquero’s credit cards and phone into a safe-deposit box.

He started doing research. Every morning he woke, had a long hot shower to get the soreness out of his muscles, dressed, and took the subway to the New York Public Library. Springtime became summer as he worked his way through their occult collection.

From time to time he varied his routine with trips to Columbia’s library, or train excursions to Yale and Princeton. On weekends he took long walks in Greenwich Village and Soho, visiting the used bookstores and New Age shops.

He filled notebooks, organized neatly under headings like “ALCHEMY” or “RITUAL SPACE” or “SPIRITS.” At first he noted down almost everything, but as the months passed he gained greater sensitivity to quackery and nonsense. He tore whole pages out of his notebooks and burned them.

By autumn he knew he needed professional help. He signed up for classes in Greek and Akkadian at Columbia, switched to morning boxing lessons at a gym near his apartment, and began attending “occult workshops” in the evenings. There were dozens of them around New York, and Sam tried to sample each one.

At a meeting of Theosophists in Brooklyn he was the youngest person in the room by twenty years, and the entire session was devoted to obscure political maneuverings among the club officers. At an Umbanda service not far from his apartment he was the only non-Brazilian present, and nobody spoke to him the whole time. In a grand apartment overlooking Central Park he listened to a very erudite lecture on the worship of the Peacock Angel. In a slightly seedier apartment in Hell’s Kitchen two weeks later he attended a Satanic Mass. He greeted the dawn on the autumn equinox with a group of “sky-clad” worshippers on the beach at Sandy Hook.