Jack Mercier had his home on Winslow Homer Road, within sight of the painter's former house. As we approached, an electronically operated barrier opened and a second Mercedes swept toward us from the house, headed for Black Point Road. In the backseat sat a small man with a dark beard and a skullcap on his head. We exchanged a look as the two cars passed each other, and he nodded at me. His face was familiar, I thought, but I couldn't place it. Then the road was clear and we continued on our way.
Mercier's home was a huge white place with landscaped gardens and so many rooms that a search party would have to be organized if anybody got lost on the way to the bathroom. The man with the mustache parked the Mercedes while I followed Harrold through the large double front doors, down the hallway, and into a room to the left of the main stairs. It was a library, furnished with antique couches and chairs. Books stretched to the ceiling on three walls; on the east-facing wall, a window looked out on the grounds and the sea beyond, a desk and chair beside it and a small bar to the right.
Harrold closed the door behind me and left me to examine the spines on the books and the photographs on the wall. The books ranged from political biographies to historical works, mainly examinations of the Civil War, Korea, and Vietnam. There was no fiction. In one corner was a small locked cabinet with a glass front. The books it contained were different from those on the open shelves. They had titles like Myth and History in the Book of Revelation; Apocalypse and Millennium in English Romantic Poetry; The Book of Revelation: Apocalypse and Empire; and The Apocalyptic Sublime. It was cheerful stuff: bedtime reading for the end of the world. There were also critical biographies of the artists William Blake, Albrecht Dürer, Lucas Cranach the Elder, and Jean Duvet, in addition to facsimile editions of what appeared to be medieval texts. Finally, on the top shelf were twelve almost identical slim volumes, each bound in black leather with six gold bands inset on the spine in three equidistant sets of two. At the base of each spine was the last letter of the Greek alphabet: W, for omega. There was no key in the lock, and the doors stayed closed when I gave them an experimental tug.
I turned my attention to the photographs on the walls. There were pictures of Jack Mercier with various Kennedys, Clintons, and even a superannuated Jimmy Carter. Others showed Mercier in an assortment of athletic poses from his youth: winning races, pretending to toss footballs, and being carried aloft on the shoulders of his adoring teammates. There were also testimonials from grateful universities, framed awards from charitable organizations headed by movie stars, and even some medals presented by poor but proud nations. It was like an underachiever's worst nightmare.
One more recent photograph caught my eye. It showed Mercier sitting at a table, flanked on one side by a woman in her sixties wearing a smartly tailored black jacket and a string of pearls around her neck. To Mercier's right was the bearded man who had passed me in the Mercedes, and beside him was a figure I recognized from his appearances on prime-time news shows, usually looking triumphant at the top of some courthouse steps: Warren Ober, of Ober, Thayer & Moss, one of New England's top law firms. Ober was Mercier's attorney, and even the mention of his name was enough to send most opposition running for the hills. When Ober, Thayer & Moss took a case, they brought so many lawyers with them to court that there was barely enough room for the jury. Even judges got nervous around them.
Looking at the photograph, it struck me that nobody in it seemed particularly happy. There was an air of tension about the poses, a sense that some darker business was being conducted and the photographer was an unnecessary distraction. There were thick files on the table before them, and white coffee cups lay discarded like yesterday's roses.
Copyright © 2001 by John Connolly
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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