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Bryan opened one of the pair of French doors and stepped onto the masterbedroom balcony.

The doors were unlocked, as were all others in the house. Though it was prudent to keep a low profile until he had Become, he feared no one, never had. Other boys were cowards, not him. His power made him confident to an extent that perhaps no one else in the history of the world had ever been. He knew that no one could prevent him from fulfilling his destiny; his journey to the ultimate throne was ordained, and all he needed was patience in order to finish Becoming.

The hour before midnight was cool and humid. The balcony deck was beaded with dew. A refreshing breeze swept in from the sea. His red robe was belted tightly at the waist, but around his legs the hem belIed out like a spreading pool of blood.

The lights of Santa Catalina, twentysix miles to the west, were hidden by a thick bank of fog lying more than twenty miles offshore and invisible itself. In the wake of the rain, the sky remained low, forbidding any relief from starlight, moonlight. He could not see his neighbors' bright windows, for his house sat farthest out on the point, with the bluff falling away on three sides of the rear yard.

He felt wrapped by a darkness as comforting as his fine silk robe.

The rumble and splash and ceaseless susurration of the surf was soothing.

Like a sorcerer at a lonely altar high upon a pinnacle of rock, Bryan closed his eyes and got in touch with his power.

He ceased to feel the cool night air and the chilly dew on the balcony deck. He could no longer feel the robe billowing around his legs, either, or hear the waves breaking on the shore below.

First he reached out to find the five diseased cattle that were awaiting the axe. He had marked each of them with a loop of psionic energy for easy location. With eyes closed, he felt as if he were floating high above the earth, and gazing down he saw five special lights, auras different from all other sources of energy along the southern coast. The objects of his blood sport.

Employing clairvoyancer “farseeing”-he could observe these cattle, one at a time, as well as their immediate surroundings.

He couldn't hear them, which was occasionally frustrating. However, he assumed that he would develop full fivesense clairvoyance when at last he Became the new god.

Bryan looked in upon Sammy Shamroe, whose torments had been postponed due to the unanticipated need to deal with the smartass hero cop. The boozesoaked loser was not huddled in his crate under the drooping boughs of alleyway oleander, not sucking down his second doubleliter jug of wine, as Bryan expected. Instead he was on the move in downtown Laguna, carrying what appeared to be a thermos bottle, stumbling drunkenly past shuttered shops, leaning for a moment against the trunk of a tree to catch his breath and orient himself. Then he staggered ten or twenty steps only to lean against a brick wall and hang his head, evidently considering whether to heave up his guts. Deciding against regurgitation, he staggered forth again, blinking furiously, squinting, head thrust forward, an uncharacteristic look of determination on his face, as if he had some meaningful destination in mind, although he was most likely on a random ramble, driven by irrational oxstupid motivations that would be explicable only to someone whose brain, like his, was pickled in alcohol.

Leaving Sam the Sham, Bryan next looked in upon the bigshot hero jackass and, by association, his bitchcop partner. They were in the hero's Honda, pulling into the driveway of a contemporary house with weatheredcedar siding and lots of big windows, high in the hills.

They were talking. Couldn't hear what they were saying.

'nc Animated. Serious. The two cops got out of the car, unaware that they were being observed. Bryan looked around. He recognized the neighborhood because he had lived all his life in Laguna Beach, but he didn't know to whom the house belonged.

In a few minutes he would visit Lyon and Gulliver more directly.

Finally he tuned in on Janet Marco and her ragamuffin child, where they were huddled in their dilapidated Dodge in the parking lot beside the Methodist Church. The boy appeared to be asleep on the back seat. The mother was behind the steering wheel, slumped down in the seat and against the driver's door. She was wide awake, keeping a watch on the night around the car.

He had promised to kill them at dawn, and intended to meet his selfimposed deadline. Dealing with them and two cops, after recently expending. so much energy to torment and waste Fnrique Estephen, would be taxing. But with a nap or two between now and sunrise, with a couple of bags of potato chips and some cookies and possibly another sundae, he believed he would be able to crush all of them in ways that would be wonderfully satisfying.

Ordinarily he would manifest himself through a golem at least two or three times during the last six hours of the mother's and son's lives, harassing them to bring the sharpest possible edge to their terror.

Killing was pure pleasure, intense and orgiastic. But the houraand sometimes days of torment that preceded most of his killings were almost as much fun as the moment when, at last, blood flowed. He was excited by the fear the cattle showed, by the horror and awe that he engendered in them; he was thrilled by their stunned disbelief and hysteria when they failed in their pathetic attempts to hide or run, as they all did sooner or later. But withJanet Marco and her boy, he would have to forego the foreplay, visit them only once more, at dawn, when they would receive a bill of pain and blood for having polluted the world with their presence.

Bryan needed to conserve his energy for the bigshot cop. He wanted the great and mighty hero to suffer more torment than usual. Humble him.

Break him. Reduce him to a begging, sniveling baby There was a coward in the hotshot hero. Cowards hid in all of them. Bryan intended to make the coward crawl on his belly revealing what a weakling he really was, a jellyfish, nothing but a fraidycat hiding behind his badge and gun. Before he killed the two cops, he was going to run them to exhaustion, take them apart piece by piece, and make them wish they had never been born.

He stopped farseeing and withdrew from the Dodge in the church parking lot. He returned his full consciousness to his body on the masterbedroom balcony.

High waves tilted out of the lightless west and crashed onto the shore below, reminding Bryan Drackman of the gleaming highrises in the cities of his dreams, which toppled to the pull of his power and drowned millions of screaming people in tides of glass and splintered steel.

When he had completed his Becoming, he would never need to rest again or preserve energy His power would be that of the universe, endlessly renewable and beyond measure.

He returned to the black bedroom and slid the balcony door shut behind him.

He slipped off his red robe.

Naked, he stretched out on the bed, head propped up on two goosedown pillows in black silk cases.

A few slow, deep breaths. Close the eyes. Make the body limp.

Clear the mind. Relax.

In less than a minute he was ready to create. He projected a substantial measure of his consciousness to the side yard of the modern house with weatheredcedar siding and big windows, high in the hills, where the cop's Honda stood in the driveway.

The nearest streetlamp was half a block away. Shadows were everywhere and deep.

In the deepest, a section of the lawn began to churn. The grass folded into the earth beneath it as if an invisible tilling machine was at work, and the dirt boiled up with only a soft, wet sound like thick cake batter being folded over a rubber spatula. All of itgrass, soil, stones, dead leaves, earthworms, beetles, a cigar box containing the feathers and crumbled bones of a pet parakeet buried by a child long agrose in a swarthy, seething column as tall and broad as a large man.

Out of that mass, the hulking figure took shape from the top down.

The hair appeared first, tangled and greasy. Then the beard.

A mouth cracked open. Crooked, discolored teeth sprouted. Lips with oozing sores.

One eye opened. Yellow. Malevolent. Inhuman.

He is in a dark alley, padding along, seeking the scent of the thing thatwillkillyou, knowing he's lost it but sniffing for it anyway because of the woman, because of the boy, because he's a good dog, good.

Empty can, metal smell, rust. Puddle of rainwater, drops of oil shining on top. Dead bee floating in the water. Interesting. Not as interesting as a dead mouse but interesting.

Bees fly, bees buzz, bees hurt you like a cat can hurt you, but this bee is dead. First dead bee he's ever seen. Interesting, that bees can die. He can't remember ever seeing a dead cat, either, so now he wonders if cats can die like bees.

Funny to think maybe cats can die.

What could kill them?

They can go straight up trees and places nothing else can go, and slash your nose with their sharp claws so fast you don't see it coming, so if something is out there that kills cats, it can't be good for dogs either, not good at all, something quicker than cats and mean.


He moves along the alley.

Somewhere in a people place, meat is cooking. He licks his chops because he's still hungry Piece of paper. Candy wrapper. Smells good.

He puts a paw on it to hold it down, and licks it. The wrapper tastes good. He licks, licks, licks, but that's all of it, not much, just a little sweet on the paper.

That's the way it usually is, a few licks or bites and then it's all gone, seldom as much as he wants, never more than he wants.

He sniffs the paper just to be sure, and it sticks to his nose, so he shakes his head, flinging the paper free. It swoops up into the air and then floats along the alley on the breeze, up and down, side to side, like a butterfly. Interesting. All of a sudden alive and flying.

How can that be? Very interesting. He trots after it, and it floats up there, so he jumps, snaps at it, misses, and now he wants it, really wants it, has to have it, jumps, snaps, misses. What's going on here, what is this thing? Just a paper and now it's flying like a butterfly.

He really really really need it. He trots and jumps and snaps and gets it this time, chews on it, but it's only paper, so he spits it out. He stares at it, stares and stares at it, waiting, watching, ready to pounce, not going to be fooled, but it doesn't move any more, dead as the bee.

PoIicn -wolf thing' The thingthatwillkillyou.

That strange and hateful scent suddenly comes to him on a breeze from the sea, and he twitches. He sniffs, seeking. The bad thing is out in the night, standing in the night, somewhere near the sea.

He follows the odor. At first it is faint, almost fading away at times, but then it grows stronger. He begins to get excited. He is getting closer, not yet really close, but a little closer all the time, moving from alley to street to park to alley to street again. The bad thing is the strangest, most interesting thing he has ever smelled, ever.

Bright lights. Beepbeepb'eeeeeeep. Car. Close. Could've been dead in a puddle like a bee.

He chases after the bad thing's scent, moving faster, ears pricked, alert and watchful, but still relying on his nose.

Then he loses the trail.

He stops, turns, sniffs the air this way and that. The breeze hasn't changed direction, still coming off the sea. But the smell of the bad thing is no longer on it. He waits, sniffs, waits, turns, whines in frustration, and sniffs sniffs sniffs.

The bad thing isn't out in the night any more. It went in somewhere, maybe into a people place where the breeze doesn't wash across it.

Like a cat going high up a tree, out of reach.

He stands around for a while, panting, not sure what to do, and then the most amazing man comes along the sidewalk, stumbling and weaving back and forth, carrying a funny bottle in one hand, and mumbling to himself. The man is putting off more odors than the dog has ever smelled on one people before, most of them bad, like lots of stinky people in one body. Sour wine. Greasy hair, sour sweat, onions, garlic, candle smoke, blueberries. Newspaper ink, oleander. Damp khaki. Damp flannel. Dried blood, faint people pee, peppermint in one coat pocket, an old bit of dried ham and moldy bread forgotten in another pocket, dried mustard, mud, grass, just a little people vomit, stale beer, rotting canvas shoes, rotten teeth.

Plus he keeps farting as he weaves along, farting and mumbling, leaning against a tree for a while, farting, then weaving farther and stopping to lean against the wall of a people place and fart some more.

All of this is interesting, very, but the most interesting thing of all is that, among the many other odors, the man is carrying a trace of the bad thing's smell. He is not the bad thing, no, no, but he knows the bad thing, is coming from a place where he met the bad thing not long ago, has the touch of the bad thing on him.

Without a doubt it is that scent, so strange and evil: like the smell of the sea on a cold night, an iron fence on a hot day, dead mice, lightning, thunder, spiders, blood, dark holes in the groundlike all of those things yet not really like any of them.

The man stumbles past him, and he backs off with his tail between his legs. But the man doesn't even seem to see him, just weaves on and turns the corner into an alley.


He watches.

He waits.

Finally he follows.

Harry was uneasy about being in Ordegard's house. A police notice on the front door had restricted entrance until the criminal investigation had been completed, but he and Connie had not followed proper procedure to get in. She carried a complete set of lock picks in a small leather pouch, and she was able to go through Ordegard's locks faster than a politician could go through a billion dollars.

Ordinarily, Harry was appalled by such methods, and this was the first time he'd allowed her to use her picks since she'd been his partner.

But there just wasn't enough time to follow the rules; dawn was less than seven hours away, and they were no closer to finding Ticktock than they had been hours ago.

The threebedroom house was not large, but the space was well designed.

Like the exterior, the interior lacked sharp angles. All corners were soft radiuses, and many rooms had at least one curved wall. Radiused, extremely shiny whitelacquered moldings were used throughout.

Highgloss white paint had been applied to most walls, too, which lent the rooms a pearly luster, though the dining room had been fitixfinished to give the illusion that it was upholstered in plush beige leather.

The place felt like the interior of a cruise ship, and it should have been soothing if not cozy. But Harry was edgy, not just because the moonfaced killer had lived there or because they had entered illegally, but for other reasons that he could not pin down.

Maybe the furnishings had something to do with his apprehension. Every piece was Scandinavian modern, severe, unornamented, in flatyellow maple veneers, as angular as the house was softedged and rounded. The extreme contrast with the architecture made the sharp edges of the chair arms and end tables and sofa frames seem as if they were bristling at him. The carpet was the thinnest Berber with minimal padding; if it gave at all underfoot, the resilience was too minor to be detected.