'You're going to be there?'
'No, ma'am. Who's out there is Crocker's elderly mother. Noreen, I think her name is. She's chained in the basement.'
'Chained in the basement?'
'She's been left in her own filth for a couple weeks now, and it's not a pretty situation.'
'You chained her in the basement?'
'No, ma'am. Crocker wrangled a power of attorney, and he's starving her to death while he gradually loots her bank accounts and sells off her belongings.'
'And where can we find you, sir?'
'Don't you worry about me, ma'am. You're going to have your hands full enough tonight.'
He pushed END, then switched the phone off and handed it to Jilly. 'Wipe it clean and throw it out the window.'
She used a Kleenex and disposed of it with the phone.
A mile later, he handed the keys to the Corvette to her, and she tossed those out the window, as well.
'It'd be ironic if we were stopped for littering,' she said.
'While I was waiting for you, I moved him into the cargo space, so I could have legroom.'
'You think he's okay back there?'
'I braced him between suitcases. He's solid.'
'I meant psychologically okay.'
'Fred's highly resilient.'
'You're pretty resilient yourself,' he said.
'It's an act. Who was the old cowboy?'
As he was about to answer her question, Dylan suffered a delayed reaction to the confrontation with Lucas Crocker and to the purity of evil that he'd experienced so intimately from contact with the wad of money. He felt as though clouds of frenzied moths swarmed within him, seeking a light they couldn't find.
Already he had driven through the dusty outskirts of Safford and into relatively flat land that in the night, at least, seemed almost as devoid of the human stain as it had been in the Mesozoic Era, tens of millions of years ago.
He pulled onto the shoulder of the highway and stopped. 'Give me a minute. I need to get... to get Crocker out of my head.'
When he closed his eyes, he found himself in a cellar, where an old woman lay in chains, caked with filth. With an artist's attention to minutiae and to the meaning of it, Dylan furnished the scene with baroque details as significant as they were disgusting.
He had never actually seen Lucas Crocker's mother when he had touched her son's dropped money in the parking lot. This cellar and this wretchedly abused woman were constructs of his imagination and they most likely in no way resembled either the real cellar or the real Noreen Crocker.
Dylan didn't see things with his sixth sense, not any more than he heard or smelled or tasted them. He simply, instantly knew things. He touched an object rich with psychic spoor, and knowledge arose in his mind as though summoned from memory, as though he were recalling events that he had once read in a book. Thus far this knowledge had usually been the equivalent of a sentence or two of linked facts; at other times, it equaled paragraphs of information, pages.
Dylan opened his eyes, leaving the imagined Noreen Crocker in that squalid cellar even as the real woman might at this very moment be listening to the approaching sirens of her rescuers.
'You okay?' Jilly asked.
'I'm maybe not quite as resilient as Fred.'
She smiled. 'He's got the advantage of not having a brain.'
'Better get moving.' He popped the handbrake. 'Put some distance between ourselves and Safford.' He drove onto the two-lane highway. 'For all we know, the guys in the black Suburbans have a statewide alert out to law-enforcement agencies, asking to be informed of any unusual incidents.'
At Dylan's request, Jilly got an Arizona map out of the glove box and studied it with a penlight while he drove northwest.
North and south of them, the black teeth of different mountain ranges gnawed at the night sky, and as they traveled the intervening Gila River Valley here between those distant peaks, they seemed to be traversing the jaw span of a yawning leviathan.
'Seventy-eight miles to the town of Globe,' Jilly said. 'Then if you really think it's necessary to avoid the Phoenix area – '
'I really think it's necessary,' he said. 'I prefer not to be found charred beyond recognition in a burnt-out SUV.'
'At Globe, we'll have to turn north on Highway 60, take it all the way up to Holbrook, near the Petrified Forest. From there, we can pick up Interstate 40, west toward Flagstaff or east toward Gallup, New Mexico – if it matters which way we go.'
'Negative Jackson, vortex of pessimism. It'll matter.'
'Because by the time we get there, something will have happened to make it matter.'
'Maybe by the time we get up to Holbrook, we'll have gotten so good at positive thinking that we'll have thought ourselves into being billionaires. Then we'll go west and buy a mansion overlooking the Pacific.'
'Maybe,' he said. 'One thing I'm buying for sure, soon as the stores open in the morning, wherever we are.'
Outside Globe, Arizona, past midnight, they stopped at a service station where the night man had almost finished closing. Nature had given him an unfortunately thin fox face, which he failed to enhance with a hedgehog haircut. In his twenties, he had the surly manner of a fourteen-year-old with a severe hormonal imbalance. According to the tag on his shirt, his name was SKIPPER.
Perhaps Skipper would have switched on the pumps again and would have filled the Expedition's tank if Dylan had offered a credit card, but no bookmaker in Vegas would have been naive enough to quote odds in favor of that outcome. At the mention of cash, however, his crafty eyes sharpened on the promise of an easy skim, and his poor attitude improved from surly to sullen.
Skipper turned on the pumps but not the exterior lights. In the dark, he filled the tank while Dylan and Jilly cleaned bug splatters and dust off the windshield and the tailgate glass, no more likely to offer assistance than he was likely to start reciting Shakespeare's sonnets with a perfect seventeenth-century English accent.
When Dylan caught Skipper watching Jilly with obvious lascivious interest, a low-grade fever of anger warmed his face. Then, with some surprise, he wondered when he'd become possessive of her – and why he thought he had any reason or right to be possessive.
They had known each other less than five hours. True, they had been subjected to great danger, enormous pressures, and consequently they had discovered more about each other's character than they might have learned during a long acquaintance under ordinary circumstances. Nevertheless, the only fundamental thing he knew about Jilly was that she could be depended upon in a pinch, that she did not back down. This wasn't a bad thing to know about anyone, but it wasn't a full portrait, either.
Or was it?
As he finished cleaning the windshield, angered by Skipper's leer, Dylan wondered if this one thing he knew about Jilly might be all he needed to know: She deserved his trust. Perhaps everything else that mattered in a relationship grew from trust – from a tranquil faith in the courage, integrity, and kindness of the other person.
He decided that he was losing his mind. The psychotropic stuff had affected his brain in more ways than he yet knew. Here he was thinking about committing his life to a woman who already thought he was a Disney comic book, all sugar and talking chipmunks.
They were not an item. They weren't even friends. You didn't make a true friend in mere hours. They were at most fellow survivors, victims of the same shipwreck, with a mutual interest in staying afloat and remaining alert for sharks.
Regarding Jilly Jackson, he wasn't feeling possessive. He was only protective, just as he felt toward Shep, just as he would feel toward a sister if he had one. Sister. Yeah, right.
By the time he accepted cash for the gasoline, Skipper brightened from surliness to sullenness to peevishness. Making no pretense of adding the currency to the station receipts, he tucked the money in his wallet with a pinched look of spiteful satisfaction.
The total had been thirty-four dollars; but Dylan paid with two twenties and suggested that the attendant keep the difference. He did not want the change, because those bills would carry Skipper's spoor.
He had been careful not to touch the fuel pumps or anything else on which the attendant might have left a psychic imprint. He didn't want to know the nature of Skipper's soul, didn't want to feel the texture of his mean life of petty thefts and petty hatreds.
Regarding the human race, Dylan was as much of an optimist as ever. He still liked people, but he'd had enough of them for one day.
* * *
Traveling north from Globe, through the Apache Mountains, with the San Carlos Indian Reservation to the east, Jilly gradually became aware that something had changed between her and Dylan O'Conner. He wasn't relating to her quite as he had previously. He glanced away from the road more frequently than before, studying her in what he believed to be a surreptitious manner, and so she pretended not to notice. A new energy flowed between them, but she couldn't define it.
Finally she decided she was just tired, too exhausted and too stressed to trust her perceptions. After this eventful night, lesser mortals than Jillian Jackson, Southwest Amazon, might have lost their sanity altogether, so a little paranoia was nothing to worry about.
From Safford to Globe, Dylan had told her about the encounter with Lucas Crocker. He'd also recounted the story of Ben Tanner and his granddaughter, which revealed an application of his sixth sense that was more appealing than being drawn into the depraved psychotic worlds of people like Crocker and like Kenny of the Many Knives.
Now, as the lights of Globe receded, as Shep remained quietly engaged with Great Expectations, Jilly brought Dylan up to speed on the unsettling incident in the women's restroom at the restaurant.
At one of the sinks, as she'd washed her hands, she had looked up at the mirror and had seen a reflection of the bathroom that was accurate in every detail except one. Where the toilet stalls should have been, three dark wood confessionals stood instead; the carved crosses on the doors were brightened by gold leafing.
'I turned around to look directly, and there were only toilet stalls, as there should have been. But when I looked at the mirror again... the confessionals were still reflected in it.'
Rinsing her hands, unable to take her eyes off the mirror, she had been watching when the door of one of the confessionals slowly opened. A priest came out of the booth, not with a smile, not with a prayer book, but in a sliding heap, dead and drenched in blood.
'I got the hell out of the bathroom,' she said, shivering at the memory. 'But I can't turn this off, Dylan. These visions keep coming at me, and they mean something.'
'Visions,' he said. 'Not mirages?'
'I was in denial,' she admitted. She slipped one fingertip under the gauze pad of the Band-Aid that covered the point of injection in her arm, and she gently fingered the sore, slightly swollen puncture wound. 'But I'm not playing that game anymore. These are visions, all right. Premonitions.'
The first town ahead was Seneca, thirty miles away. Twenty-eight miles beyond Seneca lay Carrizo. Both were just wide spots in the road. Dylan was driving deeper into one of those many areas in the Southwest known separately and collectively as the Big Lonely.
'In my case,' he said, 'I seem to be making connections between people and places, regarding events that happened in the past or that are already underway in current time. But you think you're seeing some event in the future.'
'Yeah. An incident in a church somewhere. It's going to happen. And soon, I think. Murder. Mass murder. And somehow... we're going to be there when it goes down.'
'You see us there? In your visions?'
'No. But why else would these same images keep coming to me – the birds, the church, all of it? I'm not having premonitions about train wrecks in Japan, airplane crashes in South America, tidal waves in Tahiti. I'm seeing something in my own future, our future.'
'Then we don't go anywhere near a church,' Dylan said.
'Somehow... I think the church comes to us. I don't think there's any way we can avoid it.'
A rapid moonset left the night with none but starlight, and the Big Lonely seemed to get bigger, lonelier.
* * *
Dylan didn't pilot the Expedition as if it were a wingless jet, but he pushed it hard. He completed what should have been more than a three-hour drive in two and a half hours.
For a town of five thousand, Holbrook boasted an unusual number of motels. It provided the only convenient lodging for tourists who wanted to visit the Petrified Forest National Park or various Native American attractions at nearby Hopi and Navajo Indian reservations.
No five-star resorts were among the accommodations, but Dylan wasn't looking for amenities. All he wanted was a quiet place where the cockroaches were discreet.
He chose the motel farthest from service stations and other businesses likely to get noisy in the morning. At the registration counter, he presented a sleepy-eyed desk clerk with cash in advance, no credit card.
The clerk required a driver's license. Dylan was loath to give it, but refusal would arouse suspicion. He had already given an Arizona license-plate number, and not the one on the plates that he had stolen. Fortunately, the sleepy clerk seemed not to be intrigued by the apparent conflict between a California license and Arizona plates.
Jilly didn't want adjoining rooms. After all that had happened, even if they left the door open between rooms, she'd feel isolated.
They booked a single unit with two queen-size beds. Dylan and Shep would share one, and Jilly would take the other.
The usual decor of bold clashing patterns, calculated to conceal stains and wear, gave Dylan a faint case of motion sickness. He was bone tired, too, and grainy-eyed, suffering from a killer headache.
By 3:10 A.M., they had transferred the essential luggage to the room. Shep wanted to bring the Dickens novel, and Dylan noticed that although the boy had appeared to be absorbed in the book throughout the ride north, he was on the same page that he'd been reading in the restaurant, all the way back in Safford.
Jilly used the bathroom first, and when she came out, teeth brushed and ready for bed, she still wore street clothes. 'No pajamas tonight. I want to be ready to move fast.'
'Good idea,' Dylan decided.
Shep had responded to an evening of chaos and shattered routines with remarkable equanimity, so Dylan didn't want to push him further by making him forgo his customary sleepwear. One straw too many, and Shep might break out of his stoic silence into a hyperverbal mode, which could last for hours, ensuring that none of them got any sleep.