Page 40


It became a less celebratory roar, darkened into an uglier rumble shot through with panicky shrieks.


Connie was gripping Harry's hand so tightly she was grinding his knuckles together.


In the gloom Harry pushed against the door. Pushed with his shoulders.


Wouldn't budge. No. Must be an outside door. Pull inward. But that didn't work either.


The crowd broke toward the outer walls. A wave of screaming swelled, and Harry could actually feel the heat and terror of the oncoming mob that was surging even toward the back wall. They were probably too disoriented to remember where the main entrances were.


He fumbled for the door handle, knob, pushbar, whatever, and prayed it wasn't locked. He found a vertical handle with a thumb latch, pressed down, felt something click.


The first of the escaping crowd rammed into them from behind, Connie cried out, Harry shoved back at them, trying to keep them out of the way so he could pull the door open please God don't let it be a restroom or c: :the we'll be hell smotheredkept his thumb down hard on the latch, the door popped, he pulled it inward, shouting at the crowd behind him to wait, wait, for God's sake, and then the door was torn out of his grasp and slammed all the way open, and he and Connie were carried outside into the cool night air by the desperate tide of people behind them.


More than a dozen ravers were in a parking area, gathered 'I around the back of a white Ford van. The van was draped with two sets of green and red Christmastree lights, which operated off its battery and provided the only illumination in the deep night between the back of the building and the scrubcovered canyon wall. One longhaired man was filling balloons from a pressure tank of nitrous oxide that was strapped to a hand truck behind the van, and a totally bald guy was collecting fivedollar bills. All of them, both merchants and customers, looked up in amazement as screaming and shouting people erupted through the back door of the warehouse.


Harry and Connie separated, bypassing everyone behind the van.


She went around to the passengerside door, and Harry went to the driver's side.


He jerked open the door and started to climb in behind the steering wheel.


The guy with the shaved head grabbed his arm, stopped him and pulled him out. “Hey, man, what do you think you're doing?”


As he was being dragged backward out of the van, Harry reached under his coat and drew his revolver. Turning, he jammed the muzzle against his adversary's lips. “You want me to blow your teeth out the back of your head?”


The bald man's eyes went wide, and he backed up fast, raising both hands to show he was harmless. “No, hey, no man, cool it, take the van, she's yours, have fun, enjoy.”


Distasteful as Connie's methods might be, Harry had to admit there was a certain timesaving efficiency when you handled problems her way.


He climbed behind the steering wheel again, pulled the door shut, and holstered his revolver.


Connie was already in the passenger seat.


The keys were in the ignition, and the engine was running to keep the battery charged up for the Christmas lights. Christmas lights, for God's sake. Festive bunch, these NO dealers.


He released the hand brake, switched on the headlights, threw the van in gear, and tramped hard on the accelerator. For a moment the tires spun and smoked, squealing like angry pigs on the blacktop, and all the ravers scattered. Then the rubber bit in, the van shot toward the back corner of the warehouse, and Harry hammered the horn to keep people out of his way.


“The road out of here's going to jam tight in two minutes,” Connie said, bracing herself against the dashboard as they rounded the corner of the warehouse not quite on two wheels.


“Yeah,” he said, “everyone trying to get away before the cops show up.”


“Cops are such party poopers.”


“Such numbnuts.”


“Never any fun.”


“Prudes.”


They rocketed down the wide driveway alongside the warehouse, where there was no exit door and therefore no panicked people to worry about.


The van handled well, real power and a good suspension. He supposed it had been modified for quick escapes when the police showed up.


Out in front of the warehouse, the situation was different, and he had to use the brake and the horn, weaving wildly to avoid fleeing partiers. More people had escaped the building more quickly than he had imagined possible.


“Promoters were smart enough to roll up one of the big truck doors to let people out,” Connie said, turning in her seat to look out the side window as they went past the place.


“Surprised it even works,” Harry said. “God knows how long the place has stood empty.”


With the pressure inside so quickly relieved, the death tollif there was onwould be substantially smaller.


Hanging a hard left into the street, Harry clipped a parked car with the rear bumper of the van but kept going, blowing the horn at the few ravers who had made it that far and were running down the middle of the street like terrified people in one of those Godzilla movies fleeing from the giant thunderlizard.


Connie said, “You pulled your gun on that bald guy.”


“Yeah.”


“I hear you tell him you'd blow his head off?”


“Something like that.”


“Didn't show him your badge?”


“Figured he'd have respect for a gun, none at all for a badge.”


She said, “I could get to like you, Harry Lyon.”


“No future in itunless we get past dawn.”


In seconds they were past all of the partiers who had left the warehouse on foot, and Harry tramped the accelerator all the way to the floor. They shot by the nursery, body shops, and recreationalvehicle storage lot that they had passed on the way in, and were soon beyond the partiers' parked cars.


He wanted to be long gone from the area when the Laguna Beach Police arrived, which they wouldand soon. Being caught in the aftermath of the rave debacle would tie them up too long, maybe just long enough so they would lose their one and only chance at getting the drop on Ticktock.


“Where you going?” Connie asked.


“The Green House.”


“Yeah. Maybe Sammy's still there.”


“Sammy?”


“The bum. That was his name.”


“Oh, yeah. And the talking dog.”


“Talking dog?” she said.


"Well, maybe he doesn't talk' but he's got something to tell us we need to know, that's for damn sure, and maybe he talk' what the hell, who knows any more; it's a crazy world, a crazy damn night.


There are talking animals in fairy tales, why not a talking dog in Laguna Beach?"


Harry realized he was babbling, but he was driving so fast and recklessly that he didn't want to take his eyes off the road even to glance at Connie and see if she was giving him a skeptical look.


She didn't sound worried about his sanity when she said, “What's the plan?”


“I think we've got a narrow window of opportunity.”


“Because he has to rest now and then. Like he told you on the car radio.”


“Yeah. Especially after something like this. So far there's always been an hour or more between his... appearances.”


“Manifestations.”


“Whatever.”


After a few turns they were back in residential neighborhoods, working through Laguna toward the Pacific Coast Highway.


A police car and an ambulance, emergency beacons flashing, shot past them on a cross street, almost certainly answering a call to the warehouse.


“Fast response,” Connie said.


“Someone with a car phone must have dialed 911.”


Maybe help would arrive in time to save the girl who had lost an arm.


Maybe the arm could even be saved, sewn back on. Yeah, and maybe Mother Goose was real.


Harry had been buoyant because they had escaped the Pause and the rave.


But his adrenaline high faded swiftly as he recalled, too vividly, how savagely the golem had torn off the young woman's slender arm.


Despair crept back in at the edges of his thoughts.


“If there's a window of opportunity while he rests or even sleeps, Connie said, ”how can we possibly find him fast enough?"


“Not with one of Nancy Quan's portraits, that's for sure. No time for that approach any more.”


She said, “I think next time he manifests, he'll kill us, no more playing around.”


“I think so, too' ”Or at least kill me. Then you the time after that."


"By dawn. That's one promise our little boy will keep.


They were both silent for a moment, somber.


“So where does that leave us?” she asked.


“Maybe the bum in front of The Green House-” “Sammy.”


"-maybe he knows something that will help us. Or if not...


then. . : hell, I don't know. It looks hopeless, doesn't it?"


“No,” she said sharply. “Nothing's hopeless. Where there's life, there's hope. Where there's hope, it's always worth trying, worth going on.”


He wheeled around another corner from one street full of dark houses to another, straightened out the van, let up on the accelerator a little, and looked at her in astonishment. "Nothing's hopeless?


What's happened to you?"


She shook her head. “I don't know. It's still happening.”


Although they had spent at least half of the hourlong Pause on the run before they had wound up in the warehouse at the end of that canyon, they didn't need nearly as long to get back to where they had started from. According to Connie's wristwatch, they reached the coast highway less than five minutes after commandeering the nitrousoxide dealers' wheels, partly because they took a more direct return route and partly because Harry drove fast enough to scare even her.


In fact, when they slid to a stop in front of The Green House, with some stillunbroken Christmas lights clinking noisily along the sides of the van, the time was just thirtyfive seconds past 1:37 in the morning. That was little more than eight minutes since the Pause had both begun and ended at 1:29, which meant they had taken about three minutes to fight their way out of the crowded warehouse and seize their transportation at gunpointthough it sure had seemed a lot longer.


The tow truck and the Volvo, which had been frozen in the southbound lane, were gone. When time had started up again, their drivers had continued on with no realization that anything unusual had happened.


Other traffic was moving north and south.


Connie was relieved to see Sammy standing on the sidewalk in front of The Green House. He was gesticulating wildly, arguing with the permed host in the Armani suit and handpainted silk tie.


One of the waiters was standing in the doorway, apparently prepared to help the boss if the confrontation got physical.


When Connie and Harry got out of the van, the host saw them and turned away from Sammy “You!” he said. “My God, it's you!”


He came toward them purposefully, almost angrily as if they had left without paying their check.


Bar patrons and other employees were at the windows, watching.


Connie recognized some of them as the people who had been watching her and Harry with Sammy and the dog, and who had been frozen there, staring fixedly after the Pause hit. They were no longer as rigid as stone, but they were still watching with fascination.


“What's going on here?” the host asked as he approached, an edge of hysteria in his voice. “How did that happen, where did you go' What is this . . . this . . . this van!”


Connie had to remind herself that the man had seen them vanish in what seemed to him a split second. The dog had yelped and nipped the air and plunged for the shrubbery, alerting them that something was happening, which had spooked Sammy into sprinting for the alley. But Connie and Harry had remained ø on the sidewalk in full view of the people at the restaurant windows, the Pause had hit, they had been forced to run for their lives, then the Pause had ended without them where they originally had been on the sidewalk, and to the onlookers it had seemed as if two people had vanished into thin air. Only to turn up eight minutes later in a white van decorated with strings of red and green Christmas lights.


The host's exasperation and curiosity were understandable.


If their window of opportunity for finding and dealing with Ticktock had not been so small, if the ticking seconds had not been leading them inexorably closer to sudden death, the uproar in front of the restaurant might even have been funny. Hell, it was funny, but that didn't mean she and Harry could take the time to laugh at it.


Maybe later. If they lived.


“What is this, what happened here, what's going on?” the host demanded. “I can't make heads or tails out of what your raving lunatic over there is telling me.”


By “raving lunatic,” he meant Sammy.


“He's not our raving lunatic,” Harry said.


“Yes he is,” Connie reminded Harry, "and you better go talk to him.


I'll handle this."


She was half afraid that Harry as painfully aware of their time limit as she wasmight pull his revolver on the host and threaten to blow his teeth out the back of his head if he didn't shut up and get inside. As much as she approved of Harry taking a more aggressive approach to certain problems, there was a proper time and place for aggression, and this was not it.


Harry went off to talk with Sammy.


Connie put one arm around the host's shoulders and escorted him up the walkway to the front door of his restaurant, speaking in a soft but authoritative voice, informing him that she and Detective Lyon were in the middle of important and urgent police business, and sincerely assuring him that she would return to explain everything, even what might seem to him inexplicable, “just as soon as the ongoing situation is resolved.”


Considering that it was traditionally Harry's job to calm and placate people, her job to upset them, she had a lot of success with the restauranteur. She had no intention of ever returning to explain anything whatsoever to him, and she had no idea how he thought she could explain people vanishing into thin air. But he calmed down, and she persuaded him to go inside his restaurant with the bodyguardwaiter who was standing in the doorway.


She checked the shrubbery but confirmed what she already knew: the dog was not hiding there any more. He was gone.


She joined Harry and Sammy on the sidewalk in time to hear the hobo say, “How should Iknow where he lives? He's an alien, he's a long way from his planet, he must have a spaceship hidden around here somewhere.”


More patiently than Connie expected, Harry said, “Forget that stuff, he's no alien. He-” A dog barked, startling them.

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