Harry rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands, struggled to order his thoughts. “Haven't you noticed there's something childish about him?”
“Ticktock? That ox?”
"That's his golem. I'm talking about the real Ticktock, the one who makes the golems. This seems like a game to him. He's playing with me the wayanasty little boy will pull the wings off a fly and watch it struggle to get airborne, or torture a beetle with matches.
The deadline at dawn, the taunting attacks, childish, as if he's some playground bully having his fun."
He remembered more of what Ticktock had said as he had risen from the bed in the condo, just before he'd started the fire:. . you people are so muchjisn to pay with... big hero... you think you can shoot anyone you like, push anyone around you want. ...
Push anyone around if you want...
He blinked, shivered. “Some sociopaths are made by having been abused as children. But others are just born that way, bent.”
“Something screwed up in the genes,” she agreed.
“Suppose Ticktock was born bad.”
“He was never an angel.”
“And suppose this incredible power of his doesn't come from some weird lab experiment. Maybe it's also a result of screwedup genes. If he was born with this power, then it separated him from other people the way fame separated Presley, and he never learned to grow up, didn't need or want to grow up. In his heart he's still a child. Playing a child's game. A mean little child's game.”
Harry recalled the bearish vagrant standing in his bedroom, redfaced with rage, shouting over and over again: Do you hear me, hero, -you bear me, d'you hear me, d'you bear me, DO YOU HEAR ME, DO YOU HEAR ME ... ? That behavior had been terrifying because of the hobo's size and power, but in retrospect it distinctly had the quality of a little boy's tantrum.
Connie leaned across the table and waved one hand in front of his face.
"Don't go catatonic on me, Harry. I'm still waiting for the punchline.
Who is Ticktock? You think maybe he actually is a child?
Are we looking for some gradeschool boy, for God's sake?
“No. He's older. Still young. But older.”
“How can you be sure?”
“Because I've met him.” Push anyone around if you want...
He told Connie about the young man who had slipped under the crimescene tape and crossed the sidewalk to the shattered window of the restaurant where Ordegard had shot up the lunchtime crowd.
Tennis shoes, jeans, a Tecate beer Tshirt.
"He was staring inside, fascinated by the blood, the bodies. There was something eerie about him... he had this faraway look... and licking his lips as if... as if, I don't know, as if there was something erotic about all that blood, those bodies. He ignored me when I told him to get back behind the barrier, probably didn't even hear me...
like he was in a trance . . . licking his lips."
Harry picked up his brandy snifter and finished the last of his cognac in one swallow.
“Did you get his name?” Connie asked.
“No. I screwed up. I handled it badly.”
In memory, he saw himself grabbing the kid, shoving him across the sidewalk, maybe hitting him and maybe nothad he jammed a knee into his crotch?-jerking and wrenching him, bending him double, forcing him under the crimescene tape.
“I was sick about it later,” he said, "disgusted with myself.
Couldn't believe I'd roughed him up that way. I guess I was still uptight about what had happened in the attic, almost being blown away by Ordegard, and when I saw that kid getting off on the blood, I reacted like. . . like . .
“Like me,” Connie said, picking up her burger again.
"Yeah. Like y Although he had lost his appetite, Harry took a bite of his sandwich because he had to keep his energy up for what might lie ahead.
“But I still don't see how you can be so damn sure this kid is Ticktock,” Connie said.
“I know he is.”
“Just because he was a little weird-” “It's more than that.”
“A lotøbetter than a hunch. Call it cop instinct.”
She stared at him for a beat, then nodded. “All right. You remember what he looked like?”
“Vividly, I think. Maybe as young as nineteen, no older than twentyone or so' ”Height?"
“An inch shorter than me.”
“Maybe a hundred and fifty pounds..Thin. No, that's not right, not thin, not scrawny. Lean but muscular.”
"Fair. He's been indoors a lot. Thick hair, dark brown or black.
Goodlooking kid, a little like that actor, Tom Cruise, but more hawkish. He had unusual eyes. Gray. Like silver with a little tarnish on it."
Connie said, "What I'm thinking is, we go over to Nancy Quan's house.
She lives right here in Laguna Beach-" Nancy was a sketch artist who worked for Special Projects and had a gift for hearing and correctly interpreting the nuances in a witness's description of a suspect. Her pencil sketches often proved to be astonishingly good portraits of the perps when they were at last cornered and hauled into custody.
“-you describe this kid to her, she draws him, and we take the sketch to the Laguna police, see if they know the little creep.”
Harry said, “What if they don't?”
ø “Then we start knocking on doors, showing the sketch.”
“Houses and apartments within a block of where you ran into him. It's possible he lives in that immediate area. Even if he doesn't live there, maybe he hangs out there, has friends in the neighborhood-” “This kid has no friends.”
“r relatives. Someone might recognize him.”
“People aren't going to be real happy, we go knocking on their doors in the middle of the night.?”
Connie grimaced. “You want to wait for dawn?”
The band was returning for their final set.
Connie chugged the last of her coffee, pushed her chair back, got up, took some folding money from one coat pocket, and threw a couple of bills on the table.
“Let me pay half,” Harry said.
“No, really, I should pay half.”
She gave him an areyounuts look.
“I like to keep accounts in balance with everyone. You know that,” he explained.
“Take a walk on the wild side, Harry. Let the accounts go out of balance. Tell you whatif dawn comes and we wake up in Hell, you can buy breakfast.”
She headed for the door.
When he saw her coming, the host in the Armani suit and hand painted silk tie scurried into the safety of the kitchen.
Following Connie, Harry glanced at his wristwatch. It was twentytwo minutes past one o'clock in the morning.
Dawn was perhaps five hours away.
Padding through the night town. People in their dark places all drowsy around him.
He yawns and thinks about lying under some bushes and sleeping.
There's another world when he sleeps, a nice world where he has a family that lives in a warm place and welcomes him there, feeds him every day, plays with him anytime he wants to play, calls him Prince, takes him with them in a car and lets him put his head out the window in the wind with his ears flappingfeels good smells coming at him dizzyfast, yes yes yesand never kicks him.
It's a good world in sleep, even though he can't catch the cats there, either.
Then he remembers the youngmanbadthing, the black place, the people and animal eyes without bodies, and he isn't sleepy any more.
He's got to do something about the bad thing, but he doesn't know what.
He senses it is going to hurt the woman, the boy, hurt them bad. It has much anger. Hate. It would set their fur on fire if they had fur.
He doesn't know why. Or when or how or where. But he must do something, save them, be a good dog, good.
Until he can think what to do about the bad thing, he might as well look for some more food. Maybe the smiling fat man left more good scraps for him behind the people food place. Maybe the fat man is still there in the open door, looking this way and that way along the alley, hoping to see Fella again, thinking he would like to take Fella home, give him a warm place, feed him every day, play with him anytime he wants to play, take Fella for rides in cars with his head sticking out in the wind.
Hurrying now. Trying to smell the fat man. Is he out in the open?
Sniffing, sniffing, he passes a rustsmelling, greasesmelling, oil smelling car parked in a big empty space, and then he smells the woman, the boy, even through the closed windows. He stops, looks up.
Boy sleeping, can't be seen. Woman leaning against door, head against window. Awake, but she does not see him.
Maybe the fat man will like the woman, the boy, will have room for all of them in his nice warm people place, and they can play together, all of them, eat when they want, go for rides in cars with their heads sticking out windows, smells coming at them dizzyfast.
Yes yes yes yes yes yes. Why not? In the sleep world, there is a family Why not in this world, too?
He is excited. This is good. This is really good. He feels the wonderful thing around the corner, wonderful thing coming that he always knew was out there somewhere. Good. Yes. Good. Yes yes yes yes yes.
The people food place with the fat man waiting is not far from the car, so maybe he should bark to make the woman see him, then lead her and the boy to the fat man.
Yes yes yes yes yes yes.
But wait, wait, it could take too long, too long, getting them to follow him. People are so slow to understand sometimes. The fat man might go away. Then they get there, the fat man is gone, they're standing in the alley and they don't know why, they think he's just a stupid dog, stupid silly dog, humiliated like when the cat is up in the tree looking down at him.
No no no no no. The fat man can't go away, can't. Fat man goes away they won't be together in a nice warm place or in a car with the wind.
What to do, what to do? Excited. Bark? Don't bark? Stay, go, yes, no, bark, don't bark?
Pee. Got to pee. Lift the leg. Ah. Yes. Strongsmelling pee.
Steaming on, the pavement, steaming. Interesting.
Fat man. Don't forget the fat man. Waiting in the alley. Go to the fat man first, before he goes inside and is gone forever, get him and bring him back here, yes yes yes yes, because the woman and the boy are not going anywhere.
Good dog. Smart dog.
He trots away from the car. Then runs. To the corner. Around. A little farther. Another corner. The alley behind the people food place.
Panting, excited, he runs up to the door where the fat man gave out scraps. It is closed. The fat man is gone. No more scraps on the ground.
He is surprised. He was so sure. All of them together like in the sleep world.
He scratches at the door. Scratches, scratches.
The fat man doesn't come. The door stays closed.
He barks. Waits. Barks.
Well. So. Now what?
He is still excited, but not as much as before. Not so excited that he has to pee, but too excited to be still. He paces in front of the door, back and forth across the alley whining in frustration and confusion, beginning to be a little sad.
Voices echo to him from the far end of the alley and he knows one of them belongs to the stinky man who smells like everything bad at once, including like the touch of the thingthatwillkillyou. He can smell the stinky man really well even from a distance. He doesn't know who the other voices belong to, can't smell those people so much because the stinky man's odor covers them.
Maybe one is the fat man, looking for his Fella.
Wagging his tail, he hurries to the end of the alley but when he gets there he finds no fat man, so he stops wagging. Only a man and a woman he's never seen before, standing near a car in front of the people food place with the stinky man, all of them talking.
You reea'y cops? says the stinky man.
What 'd you do to the car? says the woman.
Nothing. I didn't do anythii:g to the car Tbere's any crop in this car, you're a dead man.
No, listen, for God's sake.
Forced detox, you scumb"g.
How couldlget in the car, with it locked?
So you tried, huh?
I just wanted to nose around, see were you really cops.
I'll show you are we really cops or not, you hairball.
He let go of me!
Jesus, you stink!
Let me go, let me go!
Come on, let him go. All right, easy now, says the man who isn't so stinky Sniffing, sniffing, he smells something on this new man that he smells on the stinky man, too, and it surprises him. The touch of the thingthatwillkill you. This man has been around the bad thing not long ago.
You smell like a walking toxic waste dump, says the woman.
She also has on her the smell of the thingthatwillkillyou. All three of them. Stinky man, man, and woman. Interesting.
He moves closer, sniffing.
Listen, please, I've got to talk to a cop, says the stinky man.
So talk, says the woman.
My name's Sammy Shamroe. I got a crime to report.
Let me guesssomebody stole your new Mercedes.
I need help!
So do we, pal.
All three of them not only have the touch of the bad thing on them, but they smell of fear, the same fear he has smelled on the woman and the boy who call him Woofer. They are afraid of the bad thing, all of them.
Someone's going to kill me, says the stinky man.
Yeah, it's gonna be me if you don't get out of my face.
Easy. Easy now.
The stinky man says, And he's not human, either. I call him the ratman.
Maybe these people should meet the woman and the boy in the car. All of them afraid separately. Together, maybe not afraid. Together, all of them, they might live in a warm place, play all the time, feed him every day all of them go places in a carxcept the stinky man would have to run behind unless he stopped being stinky enough to make you sneeze.
I call him the ratman 'cause he's made out of rats, he falls apart and he's just a bunch of rats running every which way.
But how? How to get them together with the woman and the boy?
How to make them understand, people being so slow sometimes?
When the dog came sniffing around their feet, Harry didn't know if it was with the bum, Sammy, or if it was just a stray on its own.
Depending on how obstreperous the vagrant became, if they had to use force with him, the dog might take sides. It didn't look dangerous, but you never could tell.