Since his most recent nap, he had created a golem to kill Ricky Estefan, built another golem to tie the silver buckle to the rearview mirror of Lyon's Honda, practiced godhood by bringing to life the flying reptile from the sand on the beach, and created yet another golem to terrorize the bigshot hero cop and his partner. He had also used his Greatest and Most Secret Power to put the spiders and snakes in Ricky Estefan's kitchen cabinets, to place the broken head of the religious figurine in Connie Gulliver's tightly clenched hand, and to drive Lyon half crazy by returning him three times to that kitchen chair in various suicidal postures.
Bryan giggled at the memory of Harry Lyon's utter confusion and fear.
Stupid cop. Big hero. Almost peed his pants in terror.
Bryan giggled again. He rolled over and buried his face in a pillow as the giggling built.
Almost peed his pants. Some hero.
Pretty soon he had stopped feeling sorry for himself. He was in a much better mood.
He was still exhausted, needed to sleep, but he was also hungry.
He had burned up a tremendous number of calories in the exercise of his power and had lost a couple of pounds. Until he quelled his hunger pangs, he would not be able to sleep.
Pulling on his red silk robe, he went downstairs to the kitchen. He took a package of Mallomars, a package of Oreos, and a large bag of onionflavored potato chips from the pantry. From the refrigerator he got two bottles of YooHoo, one chocolate and one vanilla.
He carried the food through the living room and outside, to the Mexicantile patio, part of which was overhung by the master bedroom balcony on the second story. He sat on a lounge chair near the railing, so he could see the dark Pacific.
As Tuesday ticked past midnight and became Wednesday, the breeze off the ocean was cool, but Bryan didn't mind. Grandma Drackman would have nagged him about catching pneumonia. But if it became too chilly he was able with little effort to make some adjustments in his metabolism and raise his body temperature.
He washed down the whole bag of Mallomars with vanilla YooHoo.
He could eat what he wanted.
He could do what he wanted.
Although Becoming was a lonely process, and although it seemed unfair to be without his admiring disciples and his own Holy Mother, all was for the best in the end. While Jesus was a god of compassion and healing, Bryan was meant to be a god of wrath and cleansing; for this reason, it was desirable that he Become in solitude, without having been softened by a mother's love, without being encumbered by teachings of solicitude and mercy.
So this stinky man, stirkier than rotten oranges dropped off a tree and full of squirming things, stinkier than a threedaydead mouse, stinkier than anything, stinky enough to make you sneeze when you smell too much of him, goes from street to street and into an alley, trailing clouds of odors.
The dog follows a few steps back, curious, keeping his distance, sniffing out the trace of the thingthatwillkillyou which is mixed in with all the other smells.
They stop at the back of a place where people make food.
Good smells, almost stronger than the stinky man, hungry making smells, lots of them, lots. Meat, chicken, carrots, cheese.
Cheese is good, sticks in the teeth but is real good, much better than old chewing gum from the street which sticks in the teeth but isn't so good. Bread, peas, sugar, vanilla, chocolate, and more to make your jaws ache and your mouth water.
Sometimes he comes to food places like this, wagging his tail, whining, and they give him something good. But most of the time they chase him, throw things, shout, stamp their feet. People are strange about a lot of things, one of which is food. A lot of them guard their food, don't want you to have anythen they throw some of it away in cans where they let it go stinky and sickmaking. If you knock over the cans to get the food before it goes all sickmaking, people come runnlug and shouting and chasing like they think you're a cat or something.
He is not for fun chasing. Cats are for fun chasing. He is not a cat.
He is a dog. This seems so obvious to him.
People can be strange.
Now the stinky man knocks on a door, knocks again, and the door is opened by a fat man dressed in white and all surrounded by clouds of hungrymaking smells.
Dear God, Sammy, you're a biger mess than usual, says the fat man in white.
Just some coffee, says the stinky man, holding out the bottle he's carrying. Don't want to bother you, really, I feel bad about this, but I need a little coffee.
I remember when you first started out yean a Some coffee to sober me up.
working with that little ad agency in N Beach Gotta get sober fast before you moved to the big time in L.A you were always so sharp a real dresser, the best clothes.
Gonna die -I don't get sober.
You've the truth there, says the fat man.
Just a thermos of coffee, Andy please.
You're not going to get sober with coffee alone. I'll bring you some food, you promise you'll eat it.
Yeah, sure, sure I will, and some coffee, please.
Step aside there, away from the door Don't want the bois to see you, realize I'm giving you anything.
Sure, Andy, sure. I appreciate it, really, ':ause I just gotta get sober The fat man looks behind and to one side of the stinky man, and he says, You got a dog now' Sammy?
Huh? Me? A dog? Hell, no.
The stinky man turns, looks, is surprised.
Maybe the stinky man would kick at him or chase him away, but the fat man is different. The fat man is nice. Anybody who smells of so many good things to eat must be nice.
The fat man leans forward in the doorway, with light from the food place behind him. In a peoplewhowillfeedyou voice, he says, Hi there,fella, how you doin'?
Just people noises. He doesn't really understand any of this, it's just people noises.
So he wags his tail, which he knows people always like, and he tilts his head and puts on the look that usually makes them go ahhhhh.
The fat man says, Ahbhhh, you don't belong on the street, fella. What kind of people woisll abandon a nice mutt like you? You hunery? Bet you are. I can take care of that, fella.
Fella is one of the things people call him, the one they call him most often. He remembers being called Prince when he was a puppy, by a little girl that liked him, but that's long ago. The woman and her boy call him Woofer, but Fella is what he hears the most.
He wags his tail harder and whines to show he likes the fat man.
And he just sort of quivers all over to show how harmless he is, a good dog, a very good dog, good. People like that.
The fat man says something to the stinky man, then disappears into the food place, letting the door go shut.
Gotta get sober; the stinky man says, but he's just talking to himself.
Time to wait.
Just waiting is hard. Waiting for a cat in a tree is harder. And waiting for food is the hardest waiting of all. The time from when people seem to be going to give you food until when they really do give it to you is always so long that it seems like you could chase a cat, chase a car, sniff out every other dog in the territory, chase your tail until you're dizzy, turn over lots of cans full of sickmaking food, and maybe sleep a while and still have to wait before they come back with what you can eat.
I've seen things people got to know about, says the stinky man.
Staying away from the man, still wagging his tail, he tries not to smell all the smells that are coming out of the food place, which only make the waiting harder. But the smells keep coming. He can't not smell them.
The ratman is real. He's real.
At last the fat man returns with the strange bottle and a bag for the stinky manand with a plate heaped with scraps.
Wagging his tail, shivering, he thinks the scraps are for him, but he doesn't want to be too bold, doesn't want to go for the scraps and then they aren't for him and then the fat man takesakick at him oF something. He waits. He whines so the fat man won't forget about him.
Then the fat man puts the plate down, which means the scraps are for him, and this is good, this is very good, oh, this is the best.
He slinks up to the plate, snatches at the food. Ham. Beef. Chunks of bread soaked in gravy. Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes.
The fat man squats down, wants to pet him, scratch behind his ears, so he lets that happen though he's a little spooked. Some people, they tease you with food, hold it out to you, give it to you, make like they want to pet you, then they swat you on the nose or kick you or worse.
Once he remembers some boys who had food for him, laughing boys, happy boys. Pieces of meat. Handfeeding him. Nice boys. All of them petting him, scratching behind his ears. He sniffed them, smelled nothing wrong. Licked their hands. Happy boys, smelling like summer sun, sand, sea salt. He stood on his hind legs, and he chased his tail, and he fell over his own feetall to make them laugh, please them. And they did laugh. They wrestled with him. He even rolled on his back. Exposed his belly. Let them rub his belly.
Nice boys. Maybe one of them would take him home, feed him every day.
Then they grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, and one of them had fire on a little stick, and they were trying to light his fur.
He squirmed, squealed, whined, tried to get free. The fire stick went out. They lit another one. He could have bit at them. But that would have been bad. He was a good dog. Good. He smelled burnt fur but didn't quite catch fire, so they had to light another fire stick, and then he got away. He ran out of their reach. Looked back at them.
Laughing boys. Smelling of sun, sand, and sea salt. Happy boys.
Pointing at him and laughing.
Most people are nice but others are not nice. Sometimes he can smell the notnice ones right away. They smell... like cold things like ice... like winter metal. .. like the sea when it's gray and no sun and people all gone from the beach. But other times, the not nice people smell just like the nice ones. People are the most interesting things in the world. They are also the scariest.
The fat man behind the food place is a nice one. No hitting on the nose. No kicking. No fire. Just good food, yes yes yes yes, and a nice laugh when you lick his hands.
Finally the fat man makes it clear that there is no more food right now. You stand on your hind feet, you whine, whimper, roll over and expose your belly sit up and beg, do your little dance in a circle, tilt your head, wag wag wag wag your tail, shake your head and flap your ears, do all your little foodgetting tricks, but you can't get anything more out of him. He goes inside, closes the door.
Well, you are full. Don't need more food.
Doesn't mean you can't want more.
So wait anyway. At the door.
He's a nice man. He'll come back. How can he forget you, your little dance and wagging tail and begging whine?
Gradually he remembers that he was doing something interesting when he came upon the fat man with the food. But what?
Then he remembers: the stinky man.
The strange stinky man is at the far end of the alley, at the corner, sitting on the ground between two shrubs, his back against the wall of the food place. He is eating out of a bag, drinking out of a big bottle. Coffee smell. Food.
He trots toward the stinky man because maybe he can get some more to eat, but then he stops because he suddenly smells the bad thing. On the stinky man. But on the night air, too. Very strong again, that scent, cold and terrible, carried on the breeze.
The thingthatwillkillyou is outside again.
No longer wagging his tail, he turns away from the stinky man and hurries through the night streets, following that one scent among thousands of others, moving toward where the land disappears, where there is only sand and then water, toward the rumbling, cold, dark, dark sea.
James Ordegard's neighbors, like those of Ricky Estefan, did not acknowledge the commotion next door. The gunfire and shattering glass elicited no response. When Harry opened the front door and looked up and down the street, the night remained calm, and no sirens rose in the distance.
It seemed as if the confrontation with Ticktock had taken place in a dream to which only Harry and Connie were privy. However, they had plenty of proof that the encounter had been real: expended shell casings in their revolvers; broken glass all over the masterbedroom balcony; cuts, scrapes, and various tender spots that would later become bruises.
Harry's first urgeand Connie's towas to get the hell out of there before the vagrant returned. But they both knew that Ticktock could find them as easily elsewhere, and they needed to learn what they could from the aftermath of their confrontation with him.
In James Ordegard's bedroom again, under the malevolent stare of the ghoul in the Goya painting, Harry looked for one more proof.
nnie had shot Ticktock at least three times, maybe four, at close range. A portion of his face had been blown away, and there had been a substantial wound in his throat. After the vagrant had thrown Connie through the sliding glass door, Harry had pumped two rounds into his back.
Blood should have been splattered as liberally as beer at a frat house party Not one drop of it was visible on the walls or carpet.
“Well?” Connie asked from the doorway holding a glass of water.
The Anacins had stuck in her throat. She was still trying to wash them all the way down. Or maybe she had gotten the pills down easily enough, and something else had stuck in her throatlike fear, which she usually had no trouble swallowing. “Did you find anything?”
“No blood. Just this... dirt, I guess it is.”
The stuff certainly felt like moist earth when he crumbled it between is fingertips, smelled like it, too. Clots and spriles were scattered across the carpet and the bedspread.
Harry moved around the room in a crouch, pausing at the larger clumps of dirt to poke at them with one finger.
“This night's going too fast,” Connie said.
“Don't tell me the time,” he said without looking up.
She told him anyway. “Few minutes past midnight. Witching hour.”
He kept moving, and in one small mound of dirt, he found an earthworm.
It was still moist, glistening, but dead.
He uncovered a wad of decaying vegetable matter, which seemed to be ficus leaves. They peeled apart like layers of filio dough in a Mid eastern pastry. A small black beetle with stiff legs and jewelgreen eyes was entombed in the center of them.
Near one of the nightstands, Harry found a slightly misshapen lead slug, one of the rounds that Connie had pumped into Ticktock.
Damp earth clung to it. He picked it up and rolled it between his thumb and forefinger, staring at it thoughtfully.
Connie came farther into the room to see what he had discovered.
“What do you make of it?”
“I don't know exactly... though maybe...”
He hesitated, looking around at the soil on the carpet and the bedspread.