“Shake off your slumber, O son of Jupiter.”
Tommy Campbell, lightning fast wide receiver for the Boston Rebels, opened his eyes expecting to see the end-zone. He could hear the cheers of the crowd --- that familiar drone of “Sooooup!” coming from the stands --- and his heart was pounding, could feel it pumping in his thighs as he ran. Yes, he was sure that he had caught the ball --- his fingertips, the palms of his hands electrified with that familiar sting of “Touchdown!”
But as the cries of his fans quickly faded, as his vision cleared into a bright ball of light, amidst a milky haze Tommy Campbell understood all at once that he had been dreaming. Yes, he was lying down --- could feel something cold, something steel-hard on his back and buttocks. He felt groggy, doped up on something, but at the same time alive with energy. And he thought he recognized the light hovering above him.
From a movie? Or from that time in the hospital. When they operated on my ---
“That’s it,” said a deep voice to his right. “Come forth from the stone.”
“Not my knee again, Doc,” said Tommy. His throat was dry, and his words came out in spurts of cracked whispers. “Tell me it’s not my knee…”
No reply, but instead a dull prick, a tug at the skin on his forearm. His heart was racing now --- even more so than before his first start as a freshman at Boston College; even more so than before his first game as a second round draft pick with the Rebels. But this was different. Indeed, Tommy felt as if there was a war raging inside him: one side trying to drag him back down to his dream, to his winning thirty-seven yard touchdown versus the Dolphins; the other, trying desperately to pull him awake, to bring him back to reality --- to wherever he was now.
“Where am I?” Tommy whispered. The light above him solidified into a white rectangle --- like a floating movie screen only a few feet from his face, its edges sharp against the surrounding darkness. Yes, his senses were returning quickly now --- the blood pumping fast through his veins --- and with every beat of his heart the memories came flooding back.
He had been drinking a beer on the porch, looking out over the water --- had made only a brief appearance at the victory celebration that afternoon in Boston; had wanted to spend time with his parents down at Watch Hill in Rhode Island before the big game, before flying off to Tampa to prepare for the Super Bowl versus the Giants. He had been alone ---
Yes, Vicky is gone now, and Mom and Pop had gone to bed. And it had been cold, the January moon dancing playfully on the frigid waters of Foster Cove --- those very same waters in which Rhode Island’s favorite son used to swim with his father as a boy.
“Pop?” Tommy croaked. “You there, Pop?”
Then he remembered the wasp --- Wasps in January? --- the hiss, the sharp pain as if something had bitten him on the neck, right on the jugular. Tommy Campbell had shot up instantly, sure that the top of his six-foot-six frame would crash into the low ceiling of the wraparound porch. But he did not remember coming down, did not remember landing on the wooden planks the way he still remembered landing on the five yard line last season versus the Texans --- the now infamous landing that the networks played over and over again; the landing that dislocated his knee and caused him to fumble; the landing that --- as those asshole Monday morning quarterbacks put it --- cost his team the AFC championship.
But this was a new season, and the tough-as-nails twenty-six-year-old had healed up quickly. And since his career threatening injury less than a year earlier Tommy “Soup” Campbell had broken the record for most pass receiving yards in a single season. Never mind his personal problems, the split with his fiancée --- Hell, in a way I have Vicky to thank for it! No, the beloved wide receiver had defied the odds, had returned to the NFL with a vengeance, and most of all had led his team to the Big One --- what those same asshole Monday morning quarterbacks were already calling “The Souper Bowl.”
But now something was wrong. He could feel it in his chest, in his fingers and his toes --- pumping hard, pumping painfully. Tommy tried to get his bearings, tried to turn away from the glowing white rectangle hovering above him, but his head was locked in place --- something pinning him down at his forehead, something preventing him from moving side to side. Instinctively, Tommy made to reach for it, but realized at once that his wrists were locked down also; and although he could not see his chest, his thighs or his ankles, he suddenly became aware of pressure in those places, too.
“Pop, you there?” Tommy called out again. “Did I fall on the porch? They got me in traction or something?” His voice was clear now, shaky, and his senses razor sharp, when suddenly the screen above him flickered into life.
The image was of a statue --- dirty white marble against black, so that the figure appeared to be standing, floating in the darkness just inches from his face. The statue was that of a naked man --- a Greek god or something, Tommy thought --- but he could not be sure, could not remember ever having seen the figure before. At the same time, however, he felt as if he recognized it from some place. It was not the pose itself that struck Tommy as familiar --- the awkward way in which the god was standing, the bowl raised in his right hand as if in a toast. And it certainly wasn’t the curly hair—or are they little grapes? --- surrounding the god’s face that sparked a memory in Tommy’s feverish brain. No, there was something about the face itself, something about the body…
As his mind scrambled to remember, to understand, the statue began to rotate as if it were on a turntable. Tommy saw that behind the statue was another figure --- a child, perhaps --- that came up to the god’s waist. The child --- Is it a child? What’s wrong with his feet? His legs? --- was smiling impishly with a handful of grapes. It appeared to be hiding behind the god, almost supporting him.
Yes! Tommy thought. The guy with the bowl looks like a staggering drunk, like he’s having a hard time standing up!
Incredibly, amidst his confusion, amidst the pounding of his heart, flashed fragmented memories of parties at Boston College; of nights out in Vegas with his teammates; of the time he met Vicky at that posh party in Manhattan…
Pop didn’t like her from the start. Fucking models. He was right. I must have been out of my mind proposing to that ---
“That’s it,” said the voice again. “Shake off your slumber, O son of Jupiter.”
Tommy tried in vain to turn his head, to search the darkness out of the corner of his eye, but he could see nothing but the strange image before him. It had morphed into a close-up of the statue’s head. Yes, those had to be grapes, had to be leaves surrounding the god’s face --- a face with rolling eyes, a face lolling forward with a half-open mouth.
“Who are you?” Tommy cried. “What am I doing here?” He began to panic, began to strain against the straps as the image before him moved again. Tommy watched as it slowly panned down over the statue’s chest, over its somewhat bloated belly, and finally to its hairless groin --- to the place where its penis should have been.
Yes, the god before him, whoever he was, was missing his crank --- had only a pair of swollen testicles between his legs.
“What the hell is going on?” Tommy screamed.
He was sweating profusely now --- his heart pounding loudly in his ears, the straps boring into his wrists like string on an Easter ham. Then suddenly the image flickered, and Tommy Campbell saw himself, saw his face on the screen before him --- as he was now, lying down, his head strapped to a table. Only Tommy could not see the strap. No, surrounding his head were clusters of grapes and leaves like the face of the nameless god to whom he had just been introduced.
“What the fuck is --- ”
Then Tommy froze --- watched in horror as the image on the screen began to pan down over his own body. The camera had to be someplace above him --- beyond the screen, to the right a bit from where that voice had come --- but Tommy could see no sign of it or the cameraman --- just the image of his own muscular physique on the screen before him. Tommy began to tremble violently, thought he could feel his brain squirming behind his eyes, and in a frenzied burst of adrenaline tried desperately to free himself --- the body above him writhing as he writhed, jerking as he jerked. Yet as strong as Tommy Campbell was, he could no more break his bonds than if he had been sealed inside a block of marble. Worst of all, Tommy Campbell could not take his eyes off himself, and amidst his panic the young man watched as his tanned, hairless chest --- there was the strap! --- passed slowly across the screen to his belly.
Only then did Tommy Campbell understand.
“This can’t be happening,” he whimpered --- the merciless, deafening war drum in his chest a brutal herald of what lay over the horizon, of what he knew he was about to see. “I must be dreaming!”
“No, my Bacchus,” said the voice in the darkness. “You are finally awake.”
And as Tommy Campbell began to convulse, upon the terror of his confirmation, the young man’s heart all at once stopped beating forever.
Furious, Dr. Catherine Hildebrant threw the student’s cell phone out the window --- watched it explode in a puff of smoke on the lawn outside the List Art Center.
“Another cell phone goes off in my class and you’ll be taken out back and shot!”
Then Cathy stopped.
There’s no lawn outside my window, she said to herself. No window in my classroom either.
The cell phone kept ringing --- Beethoven, Für Elise.
Cathy turned to face her art history class, who behind her back had changed to her classmates from the third grade at Eden Park Elementary School. Mrs. Miller was staring at her impatiently --- show and tell, Cathy’s turn, anger at once replaced by panic. Cathy’s classmates began to snicker at her with whispers of “Ching-chong, ching-chong!” She could feel the fear tightening in her chest as the room brightened, as she stared down at the smooth white blob in her hands.
What is this? What did I bring for show and tell today?
Amidst the laughter and the cat-calls, the white blob suddenly burst outward into snow as Cathy’s classroom dissolved into the morning sun of her bedroom --- her cell phone Für Elise–ing on the nightstand beside her.
She opened it.
“Hildy?” It was her boss, Dr. Janet Polk, Chair of the Department of History of Art and Architecture at Brown University --- the only person in Providence who dared call Catherine Hildebrant “Hildy” to her face.
“Hey, Jan,” Cathy yawned. “Christ, what time is it?”
“My God, that wine must have been roofied. Was up late last night grading those final ---”
“Sorry to bother you on a Sunday, Hil, but did that FBI guy call you yet?”
“I think he said his name was Markham, or maybe it was Peckham. I’m not sure. Was kind of flustered by the whole thing.”
“What are you talking about?”
“He just left here not five minutes ago—caught me and Dan turning the flower beds out back. He said that he was looking for information in connection with the disappearance of that football player.”
“Tommy Campbell?” Cathy asked, sitting up.
Although she was an attractive woman, Cathy could not deny that she had been a nerd all her life --- never had a taste for sports; would much rather have listened to a lecture on Donatello than be caught dead at a football game in college. However, even she had become smitten with Rhode Island’s favorite son --- that dashing, blond-haired, blue-eyed lightning bolt that nobody in the NFL could seem to catch. And more and more last season Cathy found herself doing something she had never dreamed of: sitting in front of a television watching football on a Sunday.
“Yes,” Janet said. “That’s him. Tommy Campbell --- the one who disappeared back in January.”
“Why did the FBI want to talk to you?”
“He actually wanted to talk to you, Hildy. Said he needed to talk to an expert on Renaissance art --- Italian Renaissance, to be exact.”
“Let me guess. They found him on a beach somewhere with a stolen Botticelli?”
Since Tommy Campbell had vanished without a trace nearly four months earlier, since the Boston Rebels had lost the Super Bowl to the New York Giants in early February, theories about what had happened to the wide receiver were as numerous as the Rebel fans themselves --- from his drowning in the waters of Foster Cove to his having been kidnapped by the coach of a rival team to his simply disappearing into anonymity à la Elvis Presley. Cathy had always suspected the latter, for she saw something of herself in the modest, soft-spoken “Mama’s boy” who the tabloids claimed still visited his parents whenever he got the chance --- that desire not for fame and fortune, but just to live his life with those he loved, in obscurity, doing what made him happy.
“The FBI agent wouldn’t say anything more about it,” Janet sighed. “When I told him that it wasn’t my area, that you were our go-to-gal for the Italian thing, he said he knew that. He asked me where he could find you. Said he’d been by your office and your house already but you weren’t home. Then I realized he meant your old house.”
Steve must have spent the night at the slut’s, Cathy thought. Still won’t bang her in our old bed. Fucking actor. Fucking spineless pussy.
Cathy gazed around the bedroom of her new Digs --- new to her, but built around the turn of the twentieth century; its architecture, a seamless blend of Victorian elegance and modern practicality characteristic of many of the three-story houses that line the Upper East Side of Providence. Cathy lived on the first floor; had moved in on the very same day the news broke about Tommy Campbell --- less than a week after she discovered the e-mails and Steve confessed to her about the affair. And now, three months later, boxes of her former self still littered every room of her two-bedroom, overpriced condominium. She had needed to break it fast and clean from Steven Rogers, and got lucky with a spur of the moment rent-to-own on East George Street --- the life she built with her husband down the drain because the childish theatre professor could not keep his dick in his pants, could not keep his hands off the only semi-good-looking graduate student to grace his presence in nearly ten years of marriage. That was the hardest part. Even at thirty-eight Catherine Hildebrant knew she was smarter and better looking than her husband’s mistress, but the little slut had one thing that Dr. Hildy didn’t: youth.
“Hildy, you there?”
“Sorry, Jan. Did you tell the FBI guy where I am now?”
“I did. I couldn’t remember the exact address, but I gave him your cell number. I’m sorry, Hildy, but I didn’t know what else to do. You’re not mad at me, are you?”
“Of course not. Let me get a shower and I’ll give you a ring after he calls. And thanks for the heads up, Jan. Love ya.”
“Love you, too,” Janet said, and Cathy closed her phone. She smiled. Cathy really did love Janet Polk, had thought of her as a second mother ever since she was her teaching assistant at Harvard. Indeed, it was Janet who, only days after she defected to Brown, literally stole Cathy from a junior lecturer position at her alma mater. It was Janet who, for better or worse, introduced Cathy to Steven Rogers; Janet who kept Cathy on track to see that her tenure went through; and, most of all, it was Janet who had been there for Cathy when her real mother died five and a half years ago.
“I don’t know what I’d do without ya, kid,” Cathy whispered to the boxes in the corner.
And with that she hopped in the shower.
Pulling her wet, jet-black hair into a ponytail, Cathy Hildebrant despised what she saw in the bathroom mirror that morning. Her skin looked pasty, and her normally bright, brown eyes were puffy --- the half-Asian, half-German smile lines in their corners deeper and more pronounced. The wine? she wondered. Or am I just getting old? She did not remember her dream about the third grade, about her botched show and tell assignment, but felt a gnawing anxiety that she had been laughed at nonetheless. Then she thought of Steve, of their first date and the dumb joke he made: “Oh you’re half-Korean? I just thought I was putting you to sleep!”
I should have asked for the check right then. Thanks a lot, Janet.
The doorbell rang, startling her, and instinctively Cathy reached for her cell phone on the bathroom sink.
“Dummy,” she muttered, and donning her black-rimmed glasses, she slipped into her sweatpants and a two-sizes-too-big Harvard T-shirt and made for the front door.
“May I help you?” Cathy called through the peephole.
The man on her front porch looked like he just stepped out of a J. Crew catalog --- the khakis, the windbreaker, the lightweight sweater underneath --- a nice change from all the artsy-fartsies on the east side, Cathy thought. He appeared to be in his thirties, good-looking, with close cropped brown hair and a square jaw. Cathy understood that the man had purposefully stepped back from the door so she could get a good look at him. And just as he was reaching underneath his jacket, Cathy realized that FBI-guy Markham or Peckham or whatever-his-name-was had decided to drop by unannounced.
“I’m Special Agent Sam Markham,” he said, raising his ID to the peephole.
So it is Markham, Cathy thought. You ain’t ready for retirement yet, Janet old girl.
“I’m with the FBI, Behavioral Analysis Unit. I’d like to ask you a few questions, Dr. Hildebrant.”
Behavioral Analysis. This is serious.
Cathy had seen The Silence of the Lambs six times; had seen enough of those police dramas on television to know that the Behavioral Analysis Unit was the division of the FBI that handled murders --- especially serial murders.
She opened the door.
“I’m sorry. Janet told me you were going to call.”
“Dr. Polk gave me your phone number, ma’am. But we traced your new address before we needed to call it. The Bureau likes to handle this kind of thing in person.”
The agent smiled thinly.
“I see,” Cathy said, embarrassed. “Please, come in.”
Shutting the door behind him, Cathy stood awkwardly for a moment in the tiny entryway. She recognized Markham’s cologne --- Nautica Voyage. She had bought a bottle for her husband last fall after smelling it on one of her graduate students --- had all but begged Steve to wear it --- but the selfish prick never even took the plastic off the box.
“You’ll have to forgive me,” Cathy said. “I’m still unpacking and I don’t have much furniture yet. Why don’t we go into the kitchen --- unless you don’t mind sitting on boxes in the living room.”
“The kitchen’s fine, ma’am.”
Cathy led him down the narrow hallway to the back of the house. Special Agent Markham took his seat at the table.
“I was up late last night grading papers. Coffee isn’t on yet, but it’ll only take a couple of minutes.”
“No thank you, Dr. Hildebrant. I don’t drink coffee.”
“Some orange juice then? Some water?”
“No, ma’am. I don’t plan on us being here very long.” Cathy detected a hint of Yankee in his voice --- a disarming but relaxed formality that made her like him.
“Well, then,” Cathy said, sitting down across from him. “What can I do for you, Agent Markham?”
“I assume Dr. Polk told you why I was looking for you?”
“Yes. Something about the Italian Renaissance and the disappearance of Tommy Campbell?”
“Yes, ma’am, that’s correct.” Markham produced a thin stack of Polaroids from his jacket pocket. “What
I’m about to show you is confidential, though probably not for long. The Westerly Police were called to the scene first --- early this morning, before the state police arrived and our Field Office in Boston was notified. Even though Campbell disappeared down at Watch Hill, given his public profile, his celebrity, the case has been ours from the beginning. We’ve been able to keep things quiet thus far, but now with the locals involved, there’s always more of a chance of details leaking out to the media before we give the go ahead. Most likely the story will break this afternoon, but can I have your word that, until then, you’ll keep what I’m about to show you between us? Meaning, you won’t repeat our discussion to anyone, including your boss, Dr. Polk?”
“Yes, you have my word.”
Agent Markham peeled off a Polaroid and slid it across the table.
“Do you recognize the figure in this photograph?”
“Of course,” Cathy said immediately. “It’s Michelangelo’s Bacchus.”
“Are you sure? Please look closer, Dr. Hildebrant.”
Cathy obliged, although she did not have to look a second time; for even though the photograph was a full body shot --- taken somewhat at a distance and from the side --- Dr. Catherine Hildebrant, perhaps the foremost American scholar on the works of Michelangelo, could have described the details of Bacchus with her eyes closed. There before her once again was Michelangelo’s controversial but ground-breaking sculpture of the Roman god of wine --- drunk, unsteady, almost staggering off his rocky base. There was the bowl of wine raised in his right hand, and the tiger skin, the cluster of grapes by his side. Cathy could also see the goat-legged satyr behind him, smiling as he munches on the fruit which slips from the god’s left hand. Cathy knew the sculpture of Bacchus as intimately as her own body --- had taught a whole unit on it at Brown; had traveled to Italy to study it for part of her dissertation on Michelangelo at Harvard. Yes, if Special Agent Markham wanted to know anything about good ol’ boy Bacchus, he had certainly come to the right place, for Dr. Catherine Hildebrant had written the book on Bacchus --- literally.
“I can tell you that this is a reproduction, however,” Cathy said finally. “The background, the bushes behind the statue --- this picture was taken outside. The original now lives in the Bargello National Museum in Florence. It’s a fantastic copy, I’ll give you that --- right down to the coloring. But I don’t see what this has to do with the disappearance of Tommy Campbell.”
Special Agent Markham was silent for a moment, then slid another Polaroid across the table. This one was of a close-up of the statue’s head --- the crown of grapes, the mouth ajar, the eyes rolling backward as the head slumps forward. However, unlike the first photograph, Cathy noticed immediately that something was off.
Then like a slap on her heart it hit her.
“Oh my God,” she gasped. “It’s him! It’s Tommy Campbell!”
Excerpted from THE SCULPTOR © Copyright 2011 by Gregory Funaro. Reprinted with permission by Pinnacle. All rights reserved.