She said, “Tell me not all kids these days go to places like this, saturate their brains with chemicals.”
“They don't. Not all of them. Not even most of them. Most kids are reasonably together.”
“Because I wouldn't want to think this crowd is typical of 'our next generation of leaders,' as they say.”
“If it is,” she said, “then the postmillennium cotillion is going to be even nastier than what we've been living through these last few years.”
Inn “Ecstasy causes pinsize holes in the brain,” he said.
“I know. Just imagine how much more inept the government would be if the Congress was full of boys and girls who like to ride the Xpress.”
“What makes you think it isn't already?”
She laughed sourly. “That would explain a lot.”
The air was neither cold nor warm, but they were shivering worse than ever.
The warehouse remained deathly still.
“I'm sorry about your condo,” she said.
“It burned down, remember?”
“Well.” He shrugged.
“I know how much you loved it.”
“Still, it was so nice, cozy, everything in its place.”
“Oh? The one time you were there, you said it was 'the perfect selfconstructed prison' and that I was a shining example to every analretentive nutcase fussbudget from Boston to San Diego.”' “No, I didn't.”
“Yes, you did.”
“Well, you were angry with me.”
“I must have been. About what?”
He said, “That was the day we arrested Norton Lewis, he gave us a little run for our money, and I wouldn't let you shoot” "That's right.
I really wanted to shoot him."
“Wasn't necessary.”' She sighed. “I was really up for it.”
“We nailed him anyway.”
“Could've gone bad, though. You were lucky. Anyway, the son of a bitch deserved shooting.”
“No argument there,” he said.
“Well, I didn't mean itabout your condo.”
“Yes, you did.”
“Okay, I did, but I have a different take on it now. It's a screwedup world, and we all need to have a way of coping. Yours is better than most. Better than mine, in fact.”
“You know what I think's happening here? I think maybe this is what the psychologists call 'bonding.”' “God, I hope not.”
“I think it is.”
She smiled. “I suspect that already happened weeks or months ago, but we're just getting around to admitting it.”
They stood in companionable silence for a while.
He wondered how much time had passed since they'd fled from the counting golem on Pacific Coast Highway. He felt as if he had surely been on the run for an hour, but it was difficult to tell real time when you were not living in it.
The longer they were stuck in the Pause, the more inclined Harry was to believe their enemy's promise that the ordeal would only last one hour.
He had a feeling, perhaps at least partly cop instinct rather than entirely wishful thinking, that Ticktock was not as all powerful as he seemed, that there were limits to even his phenomenal abilities, and that engineering the Pause was so draining, he could not long sustain it.
The growing inner cold that troubled both him and Connie might be a sign that Ticktock was finding it increasingly difficult to exempt them from the enchantment that had stilled the rest of the world. In spite of their tormentor's attempt to control the altered reality that he had created, perhaps Harry and Connie were gradually being transformed from movable game pieces to permanent fixtures on the game board itself.
He remembered the shock of hearing the gravelly voice speak to him out of his car radio last evening, when he had been speeding between his burning condo in Irvine and Connie's apartment in Costa Mesa. But until now he had not realized the importance of the words the golemvagrant had spoken: Gotta rest now, hero... gotta rest...
tired... a little nap. ... More had been said, mostly threats, the raspy voice gradually fading into static, silence. However, Harry suddenly understood that the most important thing about the incident was not the fact that Ticktock could somehow control the ether and speak to him out of a radio, but the revelation that even this being of godlike abilities had limits and needed periodic rest like any ordinary mortal.
When Harry thought about it, he realized that each of Ticktock's more flamboyant manifestations was always followed by a period of an hour or longer when he didn't come around to continue his torments.
Gotta rest, ..... ......... a little nap. ...
He remembered telling Connie, earlier at her apartment, that even a sociopath with enormous paranormal powers was certain to have weaknesses, points of vulnerability. During the intervening hours, as he had seen Ticktock perform a series of tricks each of which was more amazing than the one before it, he had grown more pessimistic about their chances. Now optimism blossomed again.
Gotta rest, ..... ......... a little nap. ...
He was about to share these hopeful thoughts with Connie when she suddenly stiffened. His arm was still around her waist, so he also felt her shivering abruptly stop. For an instant he was afraid that she had been too deeply chilled, surrendered to entropy, and become part of the Pause.
Then he saw that she had tilted her head in response to some faint sound that he, in his woolgathering, had not heard.
It came again. A click.
Then a low scrape.
A much louder clatter.
The sounds were all flat, truncated, like those they themselves had made during their long run from the coast highway.
Alarmed, Connie slipped her arm from around Harry's waist, and he let go of her as well.
Down on the main floor of the warehouse, the golemvagrant moved through iron shadows and revealing shafts of frozen light, between the zombie spectators and among the petrified dancers.
Ticktock had entered through the same door they had used, following their trail.
Connie's instinct was to step back from the loft railing, so the golem would not look up and see her, but she overcame that reflexive urge and remained motionless. In the fathomless stillness of the Pause, even the whispery friction of shoe sole against floor, or the softest creak of a board, would instantly draw the creature's unwanted attention.
Harry was also quick enough to slam a lock on his instinctual reaction, remaining almost as still as any of the ravers caught in the Pause.
If the thing looked up, it probably would not see them. Most of the light was below, and the loft hung in shadows.
She realized she was clinging to the stupid hope that Ticktock really was trailing them only with ordinary senses, keeping his promise. As if any sociopathic serial killer, para normally empowered or not, could be trusted to keep a promise. Stupid, not worthy of her, but she clung to the possibility anyway. If the world could fall under an enchantment as profound as any in a fairy tale, who was to say that her own hopes and wishes did not also have at least some power?
And wasn't that an odd idea coming from her of all people, who had given up hope as a child, who had never in memory wished for any gift or blessing or surcease?
Everyone can change, they said. She had never believed it. For most of her life, she had been unchanging, expecting nothing from the world that she did not earn twice over, taking perverse solace from the fact that her expectations were never exceeded.
Life can be as bitter as dragon tears But whether dragon tears are bitter or sweet depend entirely on bow each man perceives the taste.
Now she felt a stirring within, an important change, and she wanted to live to see how it played out.
But below prowled the golemvagrant, hunting.
Connie breathed through her open mouth, slowly and quietly.
Moving among the fossilized dancers, the massive creature turned its burly head left and then right, methodically scanning the crowd. It changed color as it passed through frozen lasers and spotlights, red to green, green to yellow, yellow to red to white to green, gray and black when it moved between shafts of light. But always its eyes were blue, radiant and strange.
When the space between dancers narrowed, the golem shoved aside a young man in jeans and a blue corduroy jacket. The dancer toppled backward, but the resistance of all Paused things prevented him from completing the fall. He stopped at a fortyfivedegree angle to the floor and hung there precariously still poised mid dance, with the same celebratory expression on his face, ready to complete the fall in the first fraction of a second after time started up again, if it ever did.
Moving from front to back of the cavernous room, the hulking golem shoved other dancers aside, into falls and spins and stumbles and headbutting collisions that would not be completed until the Pause ended. Getting out of the building safely when real time kicked in again would be a challenge, because the startled ravers, never having seen the beast pass among them while they were Paused, would blame those around them for being knocked down and shoved. A dozen fights would erupt in the first halfminute, Pandemonium would break out, and confusion would inevitably give way to panic. With lasers and spotlights sweeping the crowd, the throbbing bass of the techno music shaking the walls, and violence inexplicably erupting at every turn, the rush to get out would pile people up at the doors, and it would be a miracle if a number of them were not trampled to death in the melee.
Connie had no special sympathy for the mob on the dance floor, since defiance of the law and policemen was one of the motivations that brought them to a rave in the first place. But as rebellious and destructive and socially confused as they might be, they were nonetheless human beings, and she was outraged at the callousness with which Ticktock was bulling through them, without a thought for what would happen to them when the world suddenly shifted into gear again.
She glanced at Harry beside her and saw a matching anger in his face and eyes. His teeth were clenched so tight that his jaw muscles bulged.
But there was nothing they could do to stop what was happening below.
Bullets had no effect, and Ticktock was not likely to respond to a heartfelt request.
Besides, by speaking out, they would only be revealing their presence.
The golemvagrant had not once glanced toward the loft, and as yet there was no reason to think either that Ticktock was using more than ordinary senses to search for them or that he knew they were in the warehouse.
Then Ticktock perpetrated an outrage that made it clear he fully intended to cause Bedlam and leave bloody tumult in his wake. He stopped in front of a ravenhaired girl of twenty, whose slender arms were raised above her head in one of those rapturous expressions of the joy that rhythmic movement and primitive driving music could sometimes bring to a dancer even without the assistance of drugs.
He loomed over her for a moment, studying her, as if taken with her beauty. Then he grabbed one of her arms in both his monstrous hands, wrenched with shocking violence, and tore it out of her shoulder socket. A low, wet laugh escaped him as he threw the arm behind him, where it hung in the air between two other dancers.
The mutilation was as bloodless as if he had merely disconnected the arm of a mannequin, but of course blood would not begin to flow until time itself flowed again. Then the madness of the act and its consequences would be all too apparent.
Connie squeezed her eyes shut, unable to watch what he might do next.
As a homicide cop, she had seen countless acts of mindless barbarityr the consequences of themand she had collected stacks of newspaper stories about crimes of positively fiendish brutality, and she had seen the damage this particular psychotic bastard had done to poor Ricky Estefan, but the fierce savagery of the act he committed on the dance floor rocked her as nothing had before.
The utter helplessness of this young victim might have been the difference that knocked the wind out of Connie and left her shaking not from any inner or outer chill but with icy horror. All victims were helpless to one degree or another; that was why they became targets for the savages among them. But this pretty young woman's helplessness was of an infinitely more terrible nature, for she had never seen her assailant coming, would never see him go or know his identity, would be stricken as suddenly as any innocent field mouse pierced by the razor claws of a swooping hawk which it had never seen diving from on high.
Even after she had been maimed, she remained unaware of the attack, frozen in the last moment of pure happiness and worryfree existence that she might ever know, a laugh still painted on her face though she had been forever crippled and perhaps condemned to death, not even permitted to know her loss or to feel the pain or to scream until her attacker had returned to her the ability to feel and react.
Connie knew that, to this monstrous enemy, she was as shockingly vulnerable as the young dancer below. Helpless. No matter how fast she could run, regardless of the cleverness of her strategies, no defense would be adequate and no hiding place secure.
Although she had never been particularly religious, she suddenly understood how a devout fundamentalist Christian might tremble at the thought that Satan could be loosed from Hell to stalk the world and wreak Armageddon. His awesome power. His relentlessness. His hard, gleeful, merciless brutality Greasy nausea slithered in her guts, and she was afraid she might Beside her, the softest hiss of apprehension escaped Harry, and Connie opened her eyes. She was determined to meet her death face to face with all the resistance she could muster, useless as resistance might be.
On the floor of the warehouse below, the golemvagrant reached the foot of the same set of stairs up which she and Harry had climbed to the loft. He hesitated there, as if considering whether to turn and walk away search elsewhere.
Connie dared to hope that their continued silence, in spite of every provocation to cry out, had encouraged Ticktock to believe that they could not possibly be hiding anywhere in the rave.
Then he spoke in that rough demonic voice. “Fee, fie, fo, fum,” he said, starting up the stairs, “I smell the blood of hero cops.”
His laugh was as cold and inhuman as any sound that might issue from a crocodileyet contained an eerily recognizable quality of childlike delight.
A psychotic child.
She remembered Harry telling her that the burning vagrant, in the process of destroying the condominium, had said, You people are so much things to play with. This was his private game, played by his rules, or without rules at all if he wished, and she and Harry were nothing but his toys. She had been foolish to hope that he would keep his promise.
The crash of each of his heavy footsteps reverberated across the wood treads and up through the entire structure. The floor of the loft shook from his ascent. He was climbing fast: BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!