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At that island, as we entered, Mazie finished pouring Dom Perignon into four champagne flutes. “None for you,” she told Biggy as he hurried to her side, nostrils flaring, a potential four-legged alcoholic.

Tall, willowy, beautiful, her glossy black hair worn long, Mazie was wrapped in an elegant black-silk kimono patterned with white koi mottled red and red koi mottled gold. Her large almond-shaped eyes were so dark that, reflecting several points of candlelight, they might have been portals offering two views of a night sky and stars ever receding into eternity.

After more warm greetings and another introduction, we stood at the island and raised the slender glasses, and Mazie said, “To Oscar, in whom the fire and the rose are now one.”

Mrs. Fischer and Kipp said, “To Oscar.” I didn’t have any idea what the toast meant, but I don’t have any idea what a lot of things mean, so I said, “To Oscar,” as well, and we sipped the champagne, which was icy cold and delicious.

Biggy padded to the corner of the kitchen in which his water bowl stood on a mat, and he noisily lapped at the contents, perhaps joining in a nonalcoholic toast, as if he were the designated driver.

After a second sip of Dom Perignon, Mazie turned to me and spoke as if she already knew what we’d come here to acquire and what task I had set out upon that would require those acquisitions. “Tom, if Tom is your truest name, are you afraid of the battle that lies ahead of you?”

Remembering what Annamaria had told me, I said, “Yes, ma’am, I’m afraid, but I hope only in proportion to the threat.”

“I sense a terrible longing in you, a deep yearning. I hope you don’t yearn for death.”

“No, ma’am. I yearn for what comes after it. But I’m not keen on suffering.”

“None of us are. But we suffer nonetheless. Until we reach that condition Oscar reached a few years ago.”

“You mean … fully blue and smooth?”

Mazie’s smile was beatific, a curve of pure grace. She had an aura of perfect calm and great strength. Her uncommonly direct gaze suggested that she had once stared down Death himself and no longer feared what she might see in other eyes.

Later, I would learn from Mrs. Fischer that Mazie had been an attorney in a major Manhattan law firm when Kipp had been an equities trader. After the video of the senator had been posted on YouTube, clearing Kipp and implicating the former politician in the theft of investors’ money, their wobbling world seemed to have been returned to its proper angle of rotation.

But then the worse thing happened. A senior partner in Mazie’s firm introduced her to two new clients, Mr. Reasoner and Mr. Power, businessmen who had a complaint against a major competitor, involving patent infringement, which seemed an easy case for a litigator of her talents. Because the clients were wary to the point of paranoia, the first meeting with them took place in a soundproof conference room. After introductions but before the meeting began, the senior partner excused himself “for just a moment,” without explanation. As Mr. Reasoner took a seat at the table and opened his briefcase, Mr. Power crossed the room to have a closer look at a bronze sculpture with which he professed to be quite taken, and as he passed behind Mazie, she felt something sting the back of her neck.

When she regained consciousness, her wrists were bound to the arms of a chair. A rubber ball had been placed in her mouth, and her lips had been firmly sealed with duct tape. For a grueling hour, the two men discussed in loving detail their favorite methods of torture, and while they talked, they took turns pinching shut her nose, inducing suffocation panic before letting her breathe again. They made certain she understood that if she wasn’t safe in the luxurious offices of this prestigious law firm, she would be safe nowhere. If she couldn’t trust a senior partner—or perhaps any senior partner, or anyone at all—in the firm where she had worked for eleven years, she could trust no one anywhere.

This was payback, they said, for what Kipp did to the senator, who still had more loyal and powerful friends than could be easily counted. Kipp was innocent, yes, but that didn’t matter. The only purpose of the innocent was to be used, like cattle, by those who despised innocence. Oh, maybe the meek will inherit the earth, but not now, not until the end of time. Now the meek, the innocent, had to learn to take what was dealt to them and endure it.

Reasoner and Power, obviously not their names, said they would not mark her this time, because the punishment that she and Kipp had earned wasn’t to be administered in a single visit. Days or weeks, perhaps even months from now, they would surprise her again, four of them instead of two, and they would brutally rape her until they were satiated. After that, they might give her several months, maybe a full year, in which to anticipate their third visit. No one can be vigilant 24/7 for an extended period of time, and no bodyguards she might hire could be trusted, because the majority of people were easily corrupted. On their third visit, they would torture her, blind her, visit upon her a measure of brain damage that would ensure her permanent disability, but they would not kill her. Kipp’s punishment was to bear the guilt that would only grow as he saw her emotionally, physically, and intellectually degraded.

Finished with her, they took the duct tape off her mouth, untied her wrists from the arms of the chair, and allowed her to remove the rubber ball from her mouth. Reasoner placed the ball, the tape, and the cord in his briefcase. The two men said, “Have a nice day,” and left the conference room. Mazie remained seated for several minutes, telling herself that she was waiting for the senior partner to return and babble out some excuse, perhaps tearfully, about why he had been unable to warn or to protect her. The truth was, she felt too weak to stand. She would never be given an excuse. She was done here. They would already have some reason for firing her, supported by reams of forged documentation. The firm occupied Floors 34 through 37, and when at last Mazie left that conference room, she found the entire thirty-sixth floor deserted. The hush was so eerie that it would not have been hard to believe that the city in all its boroughs had been depopulated. But when the elevator doors opened at the lobby, the bustle and bark of humanity returned, and she had to pass through it. In the street, the braying of car horns and engines and brakes and people overwhelmed her, oppressed her.

For a while, she leaned on a lamppost, head hung, expecting to vomit in the gutter. When she didn’t, she went home to Kipp. They had significant financial resources, in fact millions, and the expertise to move them around often enough and cleverly enough to leave a trail that eventually withered away. They made plans that very afternoon, not merely plans to vanish into new identities and hide, although that was part of it, but also to fight back, and not merely against the senator and Mazie’s former law firm but, wherever an opportunity presented itself, against any aspect of the vigorously metastasizing corruption that was a terminal cancer in this ever more dangerous postmodern world.

While waiting to vomit in the gutter, Mazie had recalled lines from her favorite poet, T. S. Eliot, who wrote that although the world ceaselessly turned and changed, one thing and one alone never changed. However you disguise it, this thing does not change: / The perpetual struggle of Good and Evil. Their plan seemed grandiose, foolish, hopeless, but step by step, as they worked to fulfill it, they found the surest footing they’d ever known. If they had elected merely to change identities and hide, they would have had no hope of full and meaningful lives, because those who cower forget how to stand and, in time, can only crawl. By choosing the path of resistance, they had discovered people like Mrs. Fischer and Oscar, like Gideon and Chandelle, and they had learned the true and hidden nature of the world.

In the candlelit kitchen, Mazie topped off the four glasses of champagne, and we carried them downstairs to the basement, Big Dog in the lead.

This subterranean level, as large as the main floor, was the heart of their campaign of principled resistance. A wide corridor offered rooms to the front of the house on the left, to the back of the house on the right. We were headed to the armory, but first we stopped at a chamber on the left that was occupied by four computer workstations, racks of servers, and all manner of other electronics that I didn’t recognize. For all I knew, the young couple currently laboring there might be hacking the CIA or in communication with extraterrestrials in an orbiting mother ship, or playing video games.

The man, in his late twenties, was Leander, Kipp and Mazie’s son. He had one of his father’s green eyes, having lost the other one during a tour of duty, as a marine, in Afghanistan, a year before his father crossed the senator. Leander had two-thirds of his dad’s winning smile, the last third having been twisted by the scar tissue that disfigured the left side of his face. His wife, Harmony, was as cute as Goldie Hawn in her prime, looked fit and tough enough to win an iron-man contest, and spoke with a Georgia drawl.

As we shook hands, Harmony asked, “Where do I know you from?”

“I’m sure we’ve never met, ma’am.”

“Maybe, but I’ve seen you. I have an honest-to-God spooky memory for faces,” she declared.

“Well, I do have a spooky face.”

“Yeah, right. About as spooky as any guy in a crazy-popular boy band. I’ll remember you before you leave, pilgrim.”

“Boy band?” I grimaced. “That’s a low blow.”

The next big room on the left contained an impressive array of printing presses, scanners, laminators, engraving machines, and other equipment used to forge documents. This appeared to be the domain of Tracker and his second wife, Justine. Leander’s identical twin, Tracker had served in Iraq but had returned without wounds. On his first day back, however, he walked in on his wife, Karen, in bed with two men, and twenty-four hours later, he filed for divorce. He had struck gold the second time, not just because of how Justine looked, which was really fine, but also because she radiated intelligence as surely as a lamp gave off light.

Farther along the hall and on the right, we came to the largest chamber in the basement, the armory, which contained more weapons and ammunition than the average gun shop, even more than the average rap star’s recreation room. Kipp and Mazie set to work fulfilling our order, and Mrs. Fischer assisted, seemingly as familiar with their stock as they were.

Big Dog padded up and down the aisles between tall metal shelves of inventory, sniffing with apparent approval. After all, in addition to being a pet, he was also a guard dog, and he appreciated the need for a strong defense.

At one point, as he was showing me the pair of Glock pistols he thought best for relatively in-close work, Kipp must have detected my antipathy to guns. He said, “We have no choice, Tom. The world is going mad, overseas and here. Year by year, the government ever more aggressively militarizes state and local police forces and even its most seemingly benign agencies. In August of last year, the Social Security Administration purchased one hundred seventy-four thousand rounds of hollow-point ammunition for distribution to forty-one of its offices around the country. They must expect Grandpa and Granny to get really pissed about something the SSA intends to do. The Environmental Protection Agency, too. And Homeland Security ordered seven hundred and fifty million rounds in various calibers last August. Now, either they expect a hell of a lot of terrorist attacks or a civil war, and no matter whether the enemy is shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ or ‘God bless America,’ they must figure they’ll have to kill a lot of people.”

I stared at him, speechless. His grin was as winning as ever. Finally, I said, “You’re a scary guy.”

“Good. It’s a scary world. You do know guns, don’t you?”

“I have some experience of them, sir.”

Leander appeared in the doorway to the hall and said, “Mom, Harmony wants to talk to you about something.”

After Mazie left, Kipp finished putting everything together and stuffed it into a gunnysack with a drawstring top. Mrs. Fischer paid him, and all of us followed Biggy into the hallway.

Mazie and Harmony were waiting for me. They had a printout of a newspaper story about the mall shootings in Pico Mundo nineteen months earlier. My high-school yearbook picture was featured under a headline that claimed too much credit for me.

“I knew I’d seen your face,” Harmony said. “I’m sorry I said the boy-band thing. You’re no boy-band phony.”

“I’m not what that paper calls me, either.”

“Once a decade or so,” she said, “the newspaper gets something right, and I think they did this time.”

Mazie said, “If you understand the true and hidden nature of the world, you know that even the smallest details are of profound importance. Like a silly nickname. You’re not Thomas as in Tom. Odd Thomas. Odd doesn’t mean curious or peculiar or eccentric. Something is odd when it can’t be matched, when it’s singular, alone of its kind.”

“Please, ma’am,” I objected. “My name is nothing but my name. In a drawer of mismatched socks, every one of them is odd. Nothing glorious about that. A mistake on the birth certificate left the T off Todd.”

Here came again that smile of pure grace. “Nothing so mundane as that. At your birth it was known what name best suited you, and if your parents had wished to name you Bob, the certificate would nevertheless have shown you to be Odd.”

Her eyes were night sky again, so dark but full of the infinite possibilities to which the stars bear witness, and I didn’t know what to say to her.

She said, “May I touch your heart, Odd Thomas?”

Uncertain of her meaning, I said, “Ma’am?”

She put her right hand flat to my breast. Nothing in her gesture was forward or improper, but tender and loving to such an extent that she almost brought tears to my eyes.

“Women are drawn to you, Odd, not as they may be drawn to other men. I’m sure that your life is full of women who are drawn to you. Because they know or sense that you take a vow seriously, that you’re faithful forever, that you recognize and cherish in good women what qualities you loved in the one you lost, that you respect them, that you care deeply about their dignity perhaps even when they don’t, that you will never walk away from one in need.”

I couldn’t let her think of me in such elevated terms, for the truth was not so defined by chivalry as she imagined. I could barely summon enough power of voice to reveal that truth in a whisper: “Ma’am, I’ve killed two women. Shot them to death.”

Perhaps she was by nature a romantic, or more sentimental than she seemed, because my words had no effect on her smile. “If you killed them, they were murderers who had murdered before and would have murdered you.”


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