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"So are you.”


As she stopped at the curb in front of the terminal, Holly said, "NO, if I were good, by now I'd at least have found out what the hell you do for a living." He had a charming smile. And those eyes "I didn't say you were as good as I am just that you were good." He got out and retrieved his suitcase from the back seat, then returned to the open front door.


"Look, I happened to be in the right place at the right time. By sheer chance, I was able to save that boy. It wouldn't be fair to have my whole life turned upside down by the media just because I did a good deed.”


"No, it wouldn't," she agreed.


With a look of relief, he said, "Thank you.”


"But I gotta say-your modesty's refreshing.”


He looked at her for a long beat, fixed her with his exceptional blue eyes.


"So are you, Miss Thorne.”


Then he closed the door, turned away, and entered the terminal.


Their last exchange played again in her mind: Your modesty's refreshing.


So are you, Miss Thorne She stared at the terminal door through which he had disappeared, and he seemed too good to have been real, as if she had given a ride to a hitchhiking spirit. A thin haze filtered flecks of color from the late-afternoon sunlight, so the air had a vague golden cast of the kind that sometimes hung for an instant in the wake of a vanishing remnant in an old movie about ghosts.


A hard, hollow rapping noise startled her.


She snapped her head around and saw an airport security guard tapping with his knuckles on the hood of her car. When he had her attention, he pointed to a sign: LOADING ZONE.


Wondering how long she had sat there, mesmerized by thoughts of Jim Ironheart, Holly released the emergency brake and slipped the car in gear.


She drove away from the terminal.


Your modesty's refreshing.


So are you, Miss Thorne All the way back into Portland, a sense of the uncanny lay upon her, a perception that someone preternaturally special had passed through her life. She was unsettled by the discovery that a man could so affect her, and she felt uncomfortably girlish, even foolish. At the same time, she enjoyed that pleasantly eerie mood and did not want it to fade.


So are you, Miss Thorne That evening, in her third-floor apartment overlooking Council city park, as she was cooking a dinner of angel-hair pasta with pesto sauce pine nuts, fresh garlic, and chopped tomatoes, Holly suddenly wondered how Jim Ironheart could have known that young Billy Jenkins was in danger even before the drunken driver in the pickup truck had appeared over the crest of the hill.


She stopped chopping in the middle of a tomato and looked out the kitchen window. Purple-red twilight was settling over the greensward low. Among the trees, the park lamps cast pools of warm amber light on the grass-flanked walkways.


When Ironheart had charged up the sidewalk in front of McAlbery School, colliding with her and nearly knocking her down, Holly started after him, intending to tell him off By the time she reached the intersection , he was already in the street, turning right then left, looking a little agitated. . . wild. In fact he seemed so strange, the kids moved around him in a wide arc. She had registered his panicked expression and the kids' reaction to him a second or two before the truck had erupted over the hill like a daredevil's car flying off the top of a stunt ramp.


Only then had Ironheart focused on Billy Jenkins, scooping the boy out of the path of the truck.


Perhaps he had heard the roar of the engine, realized something was approaching the intersection at reckless speed, and acted out of an instinctive perception of danger. Holly tried to remember if she had been aware of the racing engine as early as when Ironheart had collided with her, but she could not recall. Maybe she had heard it but had not been as alert to meaning as he had. Or perhaps she hadn't heard it at all because she'd been trying to shake off the indefatigable Louise Tarvohl, who had insisted on walking with her to her car; she had felt that she'd go stark raving crazy if she were forced to listen to even another minute of the poet's chatter, she knew she had been distracted by the desperate need to escape.


Now, in her kitchen, she was conscious of only one sound: the vigorously boiling water in the big pot on the stove. She should turn the gas down, put in the pasta, set the timer. . . . Instead she stood at the cutting board, tomato in one hand and knife in the other, staring out at the park but seeing the fateful intersection near the McAlbery School.


Even if Ironheart had heard the approaching engine from halfway down the block, how could he so quickly determine the direction from which the truck was approaching, that its driver was out of control, and that the children were consequently in danger? The crossing guard, initially much closer to the sound than Ironheart, had been taken by surprise, as had the kids themselves.


Okay, well, some people had sharper senses than others-which was why composers of symphonies could hear more complex harmonies and rhythms in music than could the average concert goer, why some baseball players could see a pop fly against a glary sky sooner than others, and why a master viniculturist could appreciate subtler qualities of a rare vintage than could a stoned-blind wino who was only concerned with the effect.


Likewise, some people had far quicker reflexes than others, which was part of what made Wayne Gretzky worth millions a year to a professional ice hockey team. She had seen that Ironheart had the lightning reflexes of an athlete. No doubt he was also blessed with especially keen hearing. Most people with a notable physical advantage also had other gifts: it was all a matter of good genes. That was the explanation.


Simple enough. Nothing unusual. Nothing mysterious.


Certainly nothing supernatural. Just good genes.


Outside in the park, the shadows grew deeper. Except at those places where lamplight was shed upon it, the pathway disappeared into gathering darkness. The trees seemed to crowd together.


Holly put down the knife and went to the stove. She lowered the gas flame under the big pot, and the vigorously bubbling water fell to a slow boil. She put the pasta in to cook.


Back at the cutting board, as she picked up the knife, she looked out the window again. Stars began to appear in the sky as the purple light of dusk faded to black and as the crimson smear on the horizon darkened to burgundy. Below, more of the park walkway lay in shadow than in lamplight.


Suddenly she was gripped by the peculiar conviction that Jim Ironheart was going to walk out of darkness into a pool of amber light on the pathway, that he was going to raise his head and look directly up at her window, that somehow he knew where she lived and had come back for her.


It was a ridiculous notion. But a chill quivered along her spine, tightening each knotted vertebra.


Later, near midnight, when Holly sat on the edge of her bed switched off the nightstand lamp, she glanced at her bedroom window through which she also had a view of the park, and again a chill ran up her back. She started to lie down, hesitated, and got up instead. In panties and T-shirt, her usual sleeping attire, she moved through the dark room to the window, where she parted the sheers between the drapes.


He was not down there. She waited a minute, then another. He did appear. Feeling foolish and confused, she returned to bed.


She woke in the dead hours of the night, shuddering. All she could remember of the dream were blue eyes, intensely blue, with a gaze that penetrated her as completely as a sharp knife slicing through soft butter She got up and went into the bathroom, guided only by the thin moon glow that filtered through the sheers over the window. In the bath room she did not turn on the light. After she peed, she washed her hands and stood for a while just looking at her dim, amorphous reflection in the silvery-black mirror. She washed her hands. She got a drink of cold water She realized that she was delaying her return to the bedroom because she was afraid she would be drawn to the window again.


This is ridiculous, she told herself What's gotten into you? She reentered the bedroom and found herself approaching the window instead of the bed. She parted the sheers.


He was not out there.


Holly felt as much disappointment as relief As she stared into the night-swaddled reaches of Council Crest Park, an extended chill quivered through her again, and she realized that only half of it was generated by nameless fear. A strange excitement coursed through her, as well, a first ant anticipation of. . .


Of what? She didn't know.


Jim Ironheart's effect on her was profound and lingering. She had not experienced anything like it. Although she struggled to understand what she was feeling, enlightenment eluded her. Mere sexual attraction was the explanation. She was long past puberty, and neither the tidal pull hormones nor the girlish desire for romance could affect her like this At last she returned to bed. She was certain that she would lie awake for the rest of the night, but to her surprise she soon drifted off again. As she tumbled on the wire of consciousness, she heard herself mumble, "those" then fell into the yawning void.


In his own bed in Laguna Niguel, Jim woke just before dawn. His heart was pounding. Though the room was cool, he was bathed in sweat.


He'd 'been having one of his frequent nightmares, but all he could recall of it was that something relentless, powerful, and vicious had been pursuing him. His sense of onrushing death was so powerful that he had to turn on the lights to be certain that something inhuman and murderous was not actually in the room with him. He was alone.


"But not for long," he said aloud.


He wondered what he meant by that.


AUGUST 20 THROUGH AUGUST 23


Jim Ironheart peered anxiously through the dirty windshield of the stolen Camaro. The sun was a white ball, and the light it shed was as white a bitter as powdered lime.


Even with sunglasses, he had to squint. Rising sun-scorched blacktop, currents of superheated air formed into mirages people and cars and lakes of water.


He was tired, and his eyes felt abraded. The heat illusions combined with occasional dust devils to hamper visibility. The endless vistas of the Mojave Desert made it difficult to maintain an accurate perception of speed; he didn't feel as if the car was streaking along at nearly a hundred miles an hour, but it was. In his condition, he should have been driving a lot slower.


But he was filled with a growing conviction that he was too late, that he was going to screw up. Someone was going to die because he had not been quick enough.


He glanced at the loaded shotgun angled in front of the other bud seat, its butt on the floor, barrels pointed away from him. A full box of shells was on the seat.


Half sick with dread, he pressed the accelerator even closer to the floorboard. The needle on the speedometer dial shivered past the hundred mark.


He topped a long, gradual rise. Below lay a bowl-shaped valley twenty or thirty miles in diameter, so alkaline that it was mostly white, barren but for a few gray tumbleweed and a stubble of desert scrub. It might have been formed by an asteroid impact eons ago, its outlines considerably softened by the passage of millennia but otherwise still as primeval as any place on earth.


The valley was bisected by the black highway on which mirages of water glistened. Along the shoulders, heat phantoms shimmered and writhed languorously.


He saw the car first, a station wagon. It was pulled off to the right of the roadway, approximately a mile ahead, near a drainage culvert where no water flowed except during rare storms and flash floods.


His heart began to pound harder, and in spite of the rush of cool air coming out of the dashboard vents, he broke into a sweat. This was it.


Then he spotted the motor home, too, half a mile beyond the car, surfacing out of one of the deeper water mirages. It was lumbering away from him, toward the distant wall of the valley, where the highway sloped up between treeless, red-rock mountains.


Jim slowed as he approached the station wagon, not sure where his help was needed. His attention was drawn equally to the wagon and the motor home.


As the speedometer needle fell back across the gauge, he waited for a dearer understanding of his purpose. It didn't come. Usually he was compelled to act, as if by an inner voice that spoke to him only on a subconscious level, or as if he were a machine responding to a pre-programmed course of action. Not this time. Nothing.


With growing desperation, he braked hard and fishtailed to a full stop next to the Chevy station wagon. He didn't bother to pull onto the shoulder. He glanced at the shotgun beside him, but he knew somehow that he did not need it. Yet.


He got out of the Camaro and hurried toward the station wagon. luggage was piled in the rear cargo area. When he looked through the side window, he saw a man sprawled on the front seat. He pulled open the door -and flinched. So much blood.


The guy was dying but not dead. He had been shot twice in the chest.


His head lay at an angle against the passenger-side door, reminding Jim of Christ's head tilted to one side as he hung upon the cross. His eyes cleared briefly as he struggled to focus on Jim.


In a voice as frantic as it was fragile, he said, "Lisa. . .


Susie. . . My wife, daughter. . .”


Then his tortured eyes slipped out of focus. A thin wheeze of breath escaped him, his head lolled to one side, and he was gone.


Sick, stricken by an almost disabling sense of responsibility for the stranger's death, Jim stepped back from the open door of the station wagon and stood for a moment on the black pavement under the searing white sun. If he had driven faster, harder, he might have been there a few minutes sooner, might have stopped what had happened.


A sound of anguish, low and primitive, rose from him. It was almost a whisper at first, swelling into a soft moan. But when he turned away from the dead man and looked down the highway toward the dwindling motor home, his cry quickly became a shout of rage because suddenly he knew what had happened.


And he knew what he must do.


In the Camaro again, he filled the roomy pockets of his blue slacks with shotgun shells. Already loaded, the short-barreled pump-action 12-gauge was within easy reach.


He checked the rearview mirror. On this Monday morning, the highway was empty. No help in sight. It was all up to him.


Far ahead, the motor home vanished through shimmering thermal rents like undulant curtains of glass beads.


He threw the Camaro in gear. The tires spun in place for an instant then skidded on the clutching sun-softened blacktop, issuing a scream echoed eerily across the desert vastness. Jim wondered how the stranger and his family had screamed when he'd been shot point-blank in the car Abruptly the Camaro overcame all resistance and rocketed forward.


Tramping the accelerator to the floor, he squinted ahead to catch a glimpse of his quarry. In seconds the curtains of heat parted, and the vehicle hove into view as if it were a sailing ship somehow making way through that dry sea.


The motor home couldn't compete with the Camaro, and Jim was riding its bumper. It was an old thirty-foot Road king that had seen a lot of miles. Its white aluminum siding was caked with dirt, dented, and spotted. The windows were covered with yellow curtains that had no doubt once been white. It looked like nothing more than the home of a couple of travel-loving retirees living on dwindling Social Security and unable to maintain it with the pride they had when it had been new Except for the motorcycle. A Harley was chained to a roof rack to the left of the roof service ladder on the back of the motor home. It wasn't the biggest bike made, but it was powerful-and not something a pair of retirees typically tooled around on.

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