“Is Jocko dancing?” he asked, continuing to spin.
“It’s just … a thing … Jocko does,” he said, and pirouetted into the bedroom.
Following with the cart, Erika said, “Don’t you get very dizzy?”
“Sometimes … Jocko vomits.”
“Well then, you better stop.”
Putting the bedding on the floor, in a corner, Erika said, “You mean you’re compelled to pirouette?”
The troll spun to a stop, came off pointe, and weaved a few steps before regaining his equilibrium. “Not so bad that time.”
“You poor thing.”
He shrugged. “Everybody’s got problems.”
“That’s very philosophical.”
“Most worse than mine.”
Erika was pretty sure there weren’t many fates worse than being a grotesque troll with three hairs on your tongue, penniless, living mostly in storm drains, with a compulsion to spin until you threw up. But she admired the little guy’s positive attitude.
In the bathroom, Jocko helped her unload the cart and distribute the items to cabinets and drawers. He was delighted with the supply of snack foods that she had brought.
“Jocko likes salty, Jocko likes sweet, but never bring Jocko any hot sauce, like with jalapeńos, because it makes Jocko squirt funny-smelling stuff out his ears.”
“I’ll be sure to remember that,” Erika said. “Of course, I’ll bring you healthy meals whenever I can, not just snack foods. Is there anything you don’t like besides hot sauce?”
“Jocko’s been living mostly in storm drains, eating bugs and rats. And hot sauce on corn chips that one time. Anything you bring is delicious enough for Jocko.”
“This is very exciting, isn’t it?” Erika said.
“Having a secret friend.”
“Oh. Yes. Jocko is excited.”
Putting away the last of the towels, she said, “I’ll be back in the morning, in just a few hours, after Victor has gone to the Hands of Mercy, and then you can read to me.”
Sitting on the edge of the tub, Jocko asked, “Is this good to eat?”
“No, that’s bath soap.”
“Oh. Is this good to eat?”
“That’s another bath soap.”
“So it’s good to eat?”
“No. Soap is never good to eat.”
“Is this good to eat?”
“That’s also bath soap. It’s a four-pack.”
“Why soap, soap, soap, soap?”
“I brought extras of several things. You’re going to be here awhile…. Aren’t you?”
“As long as you say Jocko can.”
“Good. That’s very good.”
“Now go away,” said Jocko.
“Oh, of course, you must be tired.”
“Must be,” he agreed, following her into the living room. “Go away.”
Erika left the stainless-steel cart, intending to return it to the kitchen in the morning, after Victor went to the lab.
Cracking the door, she scoped the hallway, which was deserted and quiet. Glancing back at the troll, she said, “Don’t be afraid.”
“Just lie low.”
Stepping into the hall, Erika quietly pulled the door shut behind her.
THE INSTANT THE DOOR CLOSED, Jocko scampered into the bathroom. Snatched up a bar of soap. Tore the wrapper off. Took a bite.
Erika was wrong. Soap looked delicious, and it was.
She was wrong or … she lied.
How sad she would lie. She seemed so different from others. So pretty. So kind. Such delicate nostrils. But a liar.
Almost everybody lied. The world was a kingdom of lies.
Jocko lied, too. Told her he was Harker.
True, he came out of Harker. All Harker’s knowledge. Harker’s memories. But he wasn’t Harker.
Jocko was Jocko, unique. Jocko wanted what Jocko wanted. Not what anybody else wanted.
Only one way Jocko and Harker were alike. Hated Victor Helios. Hated him.
One thing Jocko wanted, Harker had wanted. Victor Helios dead.
Jocko was Jocko. But he was also vengeance.
Soap tasted better than rats. Almost as good as bugs. But so chewy. Not easy to swallow.
Jocko put down the half-eaten bar. Didn’t have time for so much chewing. Later.
Jocko wanted what Jocko wanted. Wanted it so bad. But couldn’t have what he wanted until he killed Victor Helios.
He dashed into the living room. Stood on his hands. Walked around the room on his hands. Around and around.
Such a waste of time. Jocko didn’t want to walk around on his hands. But he just had to.
Finally, enough. On his feet again. To the bathroom again. One more bite of soap. Good.
Time to kill Victor.
Quick, quick, quick through the bedroom. Through the living room. To the door.
AS SHE TURNED away from the door to Jocko’s quarters, Erika knew that she should go to the master suite to see if Victor wanted her for any reason.
However, the prospect of her secret friend reading to her from a book so excited her that she didn’t want to wait until morning to select the volume for their initial session. She descended the back stairs at the west end of the north wing, eager to explore what titles the library offered.
The grand hall on the ground floor measured twelve feet across, a third more spacious than the upstairs hallways. It was furnished with sideboards, pairs of chairs separated by tables on which stood bowls of flowers, and pedestals supporting magnificent figurative bronzes. The walls were hung with priceless works by the European masters of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, which Victor had been clever enough to smuggle out of Germany shortly before his patron and dear friend, the much-misunderstood and delightfully witty Hitler, whom Victor called mein schatz, “my treasure,” was tragically brought to grief by the ignorant masses, by greedy capitalists, by voracious bankers, and by religious fanatics.
Victor suffered so much frustration and loss in his long life that Erika, who had been given everything from birth, might need twenty years, thirty, or longer to understand him. The problem was, thus far the Erikas tended to be short-lived.
Her best hope of understanding her husband, of learning how to be the kind of wife who never triggered his rage, seemed to be books. Books were dangerous, yes, but they were dangerous because they contained so much knowledge both of the helpful kind and the harmful kind. Perhaps Erika Four absorbed too much of the wrong information, things that would never be included in an education acquired by direct-to-brain data downloading, and was thereby corrupted. Erika Five intended to proceed cautiously with books, always alert for the harmful kind of knowledge.
She enjoyed an advantage over Erika Four: She had Jocko. She would instruct him to be always on the lookout for knowledge that was harmful in any way, to censor it as he read, so that she wouldn’t be contaminated by it. If a book contained too much harmful information to remain comprehensible when all of the bad stuff had been redacted, she would return it to the shelves and choose another.
Entering the library, Erika saw Christine getting up from the desk, holding a book and an envelope. She should have been in the staff dormitory.
“Why are you here at this hour?” Erika asked.
“Oh, goodness, you startled me.” Christine pushed the desk chair into the kneehole. “I’ve been selecting a book to send to a friend, and writing her a warm note of remembrance, with apologies for having been frightfully behind in my correspondence.”
Christine seemed to be speaking with a slight English accent.
“But these books don’t belong to you,” Erika reminded her.
Straightening her shoulders and lifting her head in what might have been defiance, Christine said, “I should think any books that belong to my husband also belong to me.”
“Your husband?” Erika said.
“Yes, Mrs. Danvers, quite mine. Rebecca is gone. I rather think you should get used to that.”
Erika didn’t need to learn anything from a book to know that Christine was suffering what Victor referred to as an interruption of function. The previous morning, the butler, William, had bitten off seven of his fingers during an interruption of function. For the moment, at least, Christine’s condition wasn’t as serious as William’s.
Approaching the maid, Erika reached out for the book. “I’ll take care of that for you.”
Pressing the volume and the letter to her bosom, Christine said, “No thank you, Mrs. Danvers. In the morning, I shall ask Christine to package and post it.”
IN A SUPERBLY TAILORED BLUE SUIT, white silk shirt with spread collar, and sapphire-amber-emerald striped tie, with an amber display handkerchief, carrying the Springfield Armory Colt .45 in a concealed shoulder rig that did not interfere at all with the elegant drape of the coat, Victor studied his reflection, and the mirror presented to him a man who had the style and the bearing of a sovereign born to the throne.
Because there were mirrors also at the Hands of Mercy, he left the closet. As he crossed the bedroom, his cell phone rang.
He stopped at the door to the hall and, after a hesitation, took the call. “Yes?”
“My esteemed master, my glorious brute,” said Erika Four, “we have prepared a resting place for you at the dump.”
He was resolved not to lose his temper and determined not to let her dominate as she had in her previous call. “I thought you were coming home.”
“We have lined your grave with the rotting cadavers of some of your Old Race victims, and with the remains of those of your people who failed you and could not be resuscitated as I was.”
“Perhaps,” he said, “you have the courage to call but not the courage to face me.”
“Oh, darling, sublime megalomaniac, you are the emperor of self-delusion. I will face you soon enough. I will smile at you and blow a kiss as we bury you alive in the depths of the dump.”
Victor happened to be looking at the doorknob when it began to turn. He drew the .45 from his shoulder rig.
QUICK, QUICK, QUICK, Jocko scurried east along the north hall. Stopped at the corner. Peeked around. Nobody in sight.
A bite of soap would be nice. Stay focused. Kill first. Soap later.
He knew where to find the master bedroom. Erika mentioned it when sneaking him up the back stairs. Main hall. Opposite the grand staircase.
Tippytoe, tippytoe, across soft rugs. Pretty rugs. Would be fun to twirl on rugs so soft and pretty.
No! Don’t think about twirling. Don’t even think about it.
Grand staircase to the left. Double doors to the right. This was the place.
Standing at the doors, hand on a doorknob, Jocko heard a muffled voice. Harker’s memory said, Victor’s voice. Just beyond these doors.
“Perhaps you have the courage to call but not the courage to face me,” Victor Helios said.
A murderous fury gripped Jocko. As he tried to bare his teeth, the flaps of his mouth quivered against them.
Jocko knew what he would say. As he attacked Victor. Ferocious. Merciless. He would say, I am the child of Jonathan Harker! He died to birth me! I am an outcast, a monster from a monster! Now you die!
That seemed like a mouthful. He had tried to edit it. But he really, really wanted to say it all.
He started to turn the doorknob. Almost threw the door open. Then realized. No weapon. Jocko didn’t have a weapon.
Furious with himself, Jocko let the knob slip through his hand and, after all, did not burst into the master suite.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. He hooked two fingers in his nostrils. He pulled back toward his forehead. Pulled so hard tears streamed from his eyes. He deserved it.
Focus. Stay focused.
He needed a weapon. Knew where to get one. Kitchen. A knife.
Tippytoe, tippytoe, quick along the main hall. More soft rugs. To the south hall. Down the back stairs.
IN THE LIBRARY, Erika said, “My name isn’t Mrs. Danvers.”
Christine still spoke with a light English accent. “Please, Mrs. Danvers, I quite want to avoid unpleasantness of any kind. We can co-exist. I am confident we can, and we should. I know I want to, for Maxim’s sake.”
“Don’t you recognize me?” Erika asked. “What is wrong with you? Don’t you know where you are?”
Christine looked distressed, and her mouth trembled as if she might become emotional in a way precluded by her program. Clutching the book, regaining her composure, she said, “I am not as fragile a spirit as I might look, Mrs. Danvers.”
“Erika. I’m Erika.”
“Do not think you can convince me that my mind is going. I am weary of your wicked games.” She pushed past Erika and left the room in a rush.
SNEAK, PAUSE, RECONNOITER. Sneak, pause, reconnoiter. Stairs to hall to kitchen.
Oh. On a counter in the kitchen was a large bowl of apples. Yellow apples. Red apples.
The apples drew Jocko. So colorful. Not too big. He wanted them. Had to have them. Had to have. Apples, apples, apples. Not to eat. Something better.
Jocko selected three apples. Two yellow, one red.
Beginning with two apples in his right hand, one in his left, he juggled. Loved to juggle. Needed to juggle.
He had juggled before. Stones. Walnuts. Two spoiled lemons and a package of rancid cheese. Three rat skulls.
Apples were the best yet. Colorful. Almost round. Jocko was good. He could even caper while juggling.
He capered around the kitchen. Juggling, juggling. He wished he had a funny hat. One with bells.
ON THE PHONE, Erika Four said, “There is a legion in the dump, my darling psychopath. I need not come for you alone.”
“Only a legion of the dead,” Victor said. “And the dead don’t rise again.”
“Like me, they were not fully dead. Mistaken for dead, but with a trace of life remaining … and after a while, more than a trace.”
The doorknob had turned one way, then the other. For almost a minute now, it had not moved.
“We will carry you by torchlight down into the bowels of the dump. And though we’ll bury you alive, we’ll have our fun with you before interment.”
The knob turned again.
FROM THE LIBRARY, she hurried directly to the front stairs and ascended to the second floor. Enough was enough. Maxim would have to speak with Mrs. Danvers. The woman’s loyalty to Rebecca exceeded that of a faithful servant, was nothing as innocent as honest sentiment. It was mean, perverse, and suggested an unbalanced mind.
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