Cammy was no less shaken by what Puzzle said to her than by the fact that Puzzle spoke in the first place. The creature’s voice was mellifluous, the sweet voice of a child, and with her strange eyes, she seemed to see to the heart of Cammy, as a child sometimes can see a truth to which adults have willfully blinded themselves.
When Riddle spoke to Grady in the equally musical voice of a young boy—” Please don’t be afraid. We would never devour you in your sleep”—the clock began ticking and their course was set. No discussion was necessary between her, Grady, and Lamar; they knew in the instant that they could not allow Paul Jardine and Homeland Security to keep these creatures secret from the world.
This was not merely the event of the century. This was perhaps the most significant event of a millennium. The future of humanity, the paths that mankind followed and the choices it made, would be affected by this event in more ways than she could imagine. No one, no bureaucrat or king, no institution, no government, had the right to deny this news to the world.
They couldn’t hide the two anywhere here and hope to ride out the search, for the search would not end until Puzzle and Riddle were found. Jardine had considerable manpower at his disposal, and he had as well the laser polygraph.
“The scientific team’s at dinner in the mess tent,” Lamar said. “Then they’re scheduled to stay there for at least an hour to blue-sky this as a group. As long as the guard at the tent doesn’t glance inside and see the cage empty, we’ve got a couple hours before the alarm bells.”
“We can’t drive out, no way,” Grady said. “Two guards at every house on Cracker’s Drive, to see us going past. And then an entire contingent, a roadblock most likely, at the intersection with the state route. If we didn’t stop, if we tried to run it, I think they’d shoot the tires out, at least the tires. If we use four-wheel drive, go overland, they’ll hear us, even see us in this moon, and cut us off.”
No phones, no text-messaging devices, no computers with Internet access were available to get a message out. Besides, there was no way to describe Puzzle and Riddle that would convince and energize anyone who hadn’t seen them.
“Going overland in any direction, I mean on foot,” Cammy said, “where’s the nearest house? The MacDermotts’?”
Grady shook his head. “That’s over two miles through some rough territory, ravines and rockslides.”
Sitting prairie-dog style, Puzzle and Riddle flanked Merlin, each with an arm across his back. The three of them listened to the big furless folks, heads cocked one way and then the other.
Grady said, “The Carlyle place is a mile and a half, and that way is all deer paths through easy woods and a meadow or two, before you come to their open fields.”
“Jim and Nora Carlyle? I take care of their horses. They’re good people, and they’re smart. When they see Puzzle and Riddle, they’ll understand what’s at stake, they’ll let us use one of their vehicles. Then we drive out from there, and we’re past all the guards, the roadblocks.”
Lamar said, “I should stay here, do what I can to delay them from discovering you’ve gone, then confuse and misdirect them. Chaos is what I do.”
“No,” Grady said. “Jardine knows about me in the army, so he knows about me and Marcus, so he probably knows about the connection between you and me by now. You’ll grow old and die in the slammer. Your best hope is to stay with us all the way until we can present Puzzle and Riddle to the TV cameras, when and wherever we’re able to do that.”
“What about these shoes? Will I make it in these shoes, maybe slow you down?”
“Aren’t those Rockports? Sure, you’ll be fine. We aren’t rock climbing, just walking in the woods.”
“I’ve never been a walking-in-the-woods kind of guy, but I’ll do my best, I’ll keep up with you.”
“Will there be guards between us and the woods?”
“Yes,” said Lamar. “Definitely.”
“We’ll know,” Puzzle said. “We see everything in the dark, all the way to the bottom of the night.”
To Cammy, Grady said, “I’ll grab a jacket. Collar Merlin for me. We can use flashlights when we’re so far into the woods no one here can see them, but for some distance, when the branches are too thick to let the moonlight in, we might need Merlin on a leash to lead us. He knows the paths that way, it’s one of our favorite walks.”
Cammy slipped into her jacket, collared Merlin, and clipped the leash to the collar.
Standing at the door, ready to open it, Lamar Woolsey said, “Too bad I don’t have time to run a probability analysis on this plan of yours. I have a nasty feeling, there’s chaos brewing in it.”
Puzzle said, “What is leads to what will be, and all will be well if we do what is right.”
Lamar nodded. “If you say so.”
“She did,” Riddle told him. “She said so. And she’s right. Never fear the future. Whatever happens, the future is the only way back.”
The novelty of hearing them talk was probably years away from wearing off, and Cammy listened, rapt. “The only way back to what?”
“Back to where we belong forever,” said Riddle. “The future is the one path out of time into eternity.”
Grady returned with three flashlights. “Are we ready?”
“Absolutely,” Lamar said. “The coach just gave us a pep talk, and we’re in gear for action. I’ll scout the way.”
Lamar stepped onto the back porch, leaving the door open, and after a moment motioned for them to follow him.
In Jim’s cramped study, Henry Rouvroy put down the hand grenade, looked over the books on the shelves, and removed the volume of his brother’s haiku.
The noise in the attic faded away. He took no comfort in the silence. He knew the rapping-out of meter on a ceiling beam would soon resume.
Or the torment would take another form. His tormentor had not finished with him yet; and would not be finished until he thrust in the knives, thrust again and again.
Restless, Henry walked the house, back and forth, around and around, carrying the hand grenade in one hand and the book in the other, reading haiku, thumbing pages.
He didn’t know why he felt compelled to read Jim’s haiku. But intuition told him that he might be rewarded for doing so.
When he found the harrier poem, his breath caught in his throat:
calligraphy on the sky,
talons, then the beak.
Henry’s keen intuition served him well, and his classes in logic at Harvard prepared him to reason his way quickly to the meaning of this discovery.
The poem left on the kitchen notepad was not a new composition. Jim had written it long before Henry’s arrival, not just hours ago.
Therefore, the poem could not possibly refer to the harriers in the sky moments before Henry murdered Jim. The poem had nothing to do with Jim’s murder and nothing to do with Henry’s, either.
Not that he had believed for a minute that Jim had returned from the dead to compose verse and threaten him with it. Henry was not a superstitious person, and even immersion in the primitive culture of these rural hills could not so quickly wash away the education and, indeed, enlightenment that he received in those hallowed halls in Cambridge. But at least finding the haiku in this book confirmed his certainty that his tormentor must be someone pretending to be Jim.
Or did it?
Jim didn’t need to copy a haiku out of a book. Having written it, he would remember it. Remembering, he would see how useful it could be in the current circumstances.
No. Jim was not alive and was not one of the living dead. Jim was, damn it, as dead as—
In the attic, someone rapped out a few lines of iambic pentameter, then a few lines of dactylic heptameter.
After more than thirty-one years, Tom Bigger remembered the way home as clearly as though he had left it only a month before. The street canopied with alders that were old even when he’d been a boy, the cast-iron streetlamps with the beveled panes, the grand old houses behind deep lawns all stirred in him a time when he was a boy, preadolescence, before he became so angry, before he was made angry by ideologies that now seemed insane to him and alien.
Like some others, his parents’ house had not been restored so much as remade into a greater grandeur than it originally possessed. Nevertheless, he could recognize it, and the sight of it thrilled as much as it saddened him.
The time had arrived to say good-bye to Josef Yurashalmi, and Tom fumbled for words to adequately express his gratitude.
But as the old man parked in front of the house, he said, “You don’t know they still live there, Tom. All these years … And though it pains me to say it, the way you look, you won’t inspire the confidence of whoever might live there now. If maybe your folks have moved and if maybe the people here know where they’ve gone, you’ll be more likely to learn their whereabouts if I’m at your side when you ring the bell.”
“You’ve done too much already. You should be heading home to Hannah, she’s not—”
“Hush, Tom. I’m an old man trying to do a gemilut chesed, and if you care about my soul, you’ll stop arguing with me and let me get it done.”
“Gemilut chesed? What is that?”
“An act of loving kindness, which I guess you haven’t seen much of in your years of rambling. At this time in his life, any old Jew like me starts wondering if he’s done enough of them.”
Humbled, Tom said, “I don’t think I’ve done any.”
“You’re young, you have time. I’m sorry if my slippers might embarrass you, but let’s go see if your tata-mama are waiting for you.”
The street was quiet, but Tom’s heart was not. Walking with Josef toward the front door, he lost courage step by step. He had rejected them, had spoken of despising them and their values, and after all this time, they would be justified in despising him.
“You can do it,” Josef said. “You need to do it. I’ll stay as long as it takes for the three of you to be comfortable. But your folks are my age, Tom, so I probably know how they think better than you know. And how they’ll think about this—they’ll thank God you came back, and they’ll kiss you and cry and kiss you some more, and it’ll be like none of it ever happened.”
On the veranda, Tom took a deep breath and pressed the doorbell.
With Puzzle and Riddle looking into the very bottom of the night, they found ways around three guards at different stations. The escapees made their way boldly toward the line of mobile laboratories, between two of them, south and then west toward the end of the yard, into the meadow.
From there they had to double back toward the north to find the entrance to the woods and the path that Merlin knew as well as any dray horse, in older times, knew and could follow its route without its driver’s direction.
Under the interlaced branches of the trees, the moonlight flickered and eventually went out. The way before them became black and forbidding. But Cammy knew that Merlin saw well in darkness, and his two new friends apparently saw even more clearly than he did.
Halfway to the Carlyle house, Puzzle halted them with a single word, “Bear,” and they waited for a while in silence. Perhaps the bear had paused to listen to them, for after four or five minutes, Cammy heard it moving off, through the woods.
After the bear, they used flashlights, and progressed more quickly, with less stumbling and thrashing through the brush that here and there intruded on the trail.
When they left the forest and entered the fields farmed by the Carlyles, the lights of Jim and Nora’s house were a welcome sight.
At the front-porch steps, on the lawn, someone had parked a Land Rover that Cammy had never seen before. She was prepared to reveal Puzzle and Riddle to the Carlyles, but she wasn’t pleased about taking the risk of bringing someone unknown into the picture.
When her flashlight revealed Virginia license plates on the vehicle, her concern grew, and she whispered to Grady, “Better take them to the garage back of the barn. Jim’s Mountaineer is there, and I think he keeps the keys under the floor mat on the driver’s side. Load everybody and drift down here as quiet as you can.”
“Come with us,” Grady urged.
“Tell you what—I’ll wait on the porch until I see you coasting down this way. Then I’ll knock on the door. If I get Jim and Nora’s okay, we’ll be able to go legally, and that’s a lot better, nobody looking for a stolen Mountaineer. But if something’s wrong here, we’ll go any way we can.”
Earlier, in the late afternoon, Rudy Neems parked the rented SUV a block from Liddon Wallace’s house. In the cargo hold stood ten two-gallon cans that he bought at a Pep Boys and filled at a Mobil station. Because the cans featured safety vents, the interior of the vehicle smelled of gasoline, but there weren’t sufficient fumes to cause an explosion. When he had finished with Kirsten Wallace and the boy, he would return for the SUV, drive it into their garage, and prepare for the burning.
He approached the house openly, carrying a clipboard and a small toolbox that he also bought at Pep Boys, as bold as anyone would be who belonged there. He might have been a meter reader or a repairman of some kind.
No one saw him, no one crossed his path, and he used a key that the attorney had provided to let himself into the side garage door.
During the day, the alarm system was not engaged. When Kirsten Wallace switched on the system later, Rudy would already be inside and comfortable in his hidey-hole, contemplating his enjoyment of her.
Because two housekeepers were in the residence, one until six o’clock and the other until nine, Rudy was cautious when he entered from the garage and through the laundry room.
He was prepared to kill the housekeepers if he encountered them, even if he was not attracted to them, so much did he want Kirsten. But if Kirsten came home shortly before six, as per her schedule, she would know something was wrong when she found the housekeepers gone. Rudy would have lost the advantage of surprise, and he would have to take her the moment that she came through the door, before her suspicion was aroused.
Happily, he found the mechanical room across the hall from the laundry. Here were water heaters, one of the furnaces, the water softener, and other equipment.
According to Wallace, the two maids cleaned the mechanical room on the first Friday of the month and otherwise never entered it. Nevertheless, Rudy crawled into a space behind the furnace and sat there in the dark, where he would not be seen even if someone turned on a light and came in here for some reason.
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