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Turning his face into Janet's side, Danny said, “Mama, the man really stinks.”


“Danny!” Janet said, appalled.


“It's okay,” Sammy said. He was inspired to launch into another of his earnest but rambling assurances of repentance. "It's true. I stir I'm a mess. Been a mess for a long time, but that's over now. You know one reason I was a mess? Because I thought I knew everything, thought I understood exactly what life was about, that it was meaningless, that there was no mystery to it, just biology. But after this, after tonight, I have a different view on things. I don't know everything, after all. It's true. Hell, I don't know diddlysquat! There's plenry of mystery in life, something more than biology for sure. And if there's something more, who needs wine or coc**ne or anything?


Nope. Nothing. Not a drop. Nada."


One block later, the dog turned right, heading east along a steeply rising street.


Detective Lyon turned the corner after Woofer, then glanced at his wristwatch. “Two o'clock. Damn, time's just going too fast.”


Outside, Woofer rarely turned his head to glance at them any more. He was confident that they would stay with him.


The sidewalk along which he padded was littered with bristly red blooms from the large bottlebrush trees that lined the entire block.


Woofer sniffed at them as he proceeded east, and they made him sneeze a couple of times.


Suddenly Janet thought she knew where the dog was taking them.


“Mr. Ishigura's nursing home,” she said.


Detective Gulliver turned in the front seat to look at her. “You know where he's going?”


“We were there for dinner. In the kitchen.” And then: “My God, the poor blind woman with no eyes!”


Pacific View Care Home was in the next block. The dog climbed the steps and sat at the front door.


After visiting hours, no receptionist was on duty. Harry could look through the glass in the top of the door and see the dimly lit and totally deserted public lounge.


When he rang the bell, a woman's voice responded through the intercom.


He identified himself as a police officer on urgent business, and she sounded concerned and eager to cooperate.


He checked his wristwatch three times before she appeared in the lounge. She didn't take an extraordinarily long time; he was just remembering Ricky Estephen and the girl who had lost an arm at the rave, and each second blinked off by the red indicator light on his watch was part of the countdown to his own execution.


The nurse, who identified herself as the night supervisor, was a nononsense Filipino lady, petite but not in the least fragile, and when she saw him through the portal in the door, she was less sanguine than she had been over the intercom. She would not open up to him.


First of all, she didn't believe he was a police officer. He couldn't blame her for being suspicious, considering that after all he had been through during the past twelve or fourteen hours, he looked as if he lived in a packing crate. Well, actually, Sammy Shamroe lived in a packing crate, and Harry didn't look quite that bad, but he certainly C looked like a flophouse dweller with a longterm moral debt to the Salvation Army.


She would only open the door the width of the industrialquality security chain, so heavy it was surely the model used to restrict access to nuclearmissile silos. At her demand, he passed through his police ID wallet. Although it included a photograph that was sufficiently unflattering to resemble him in his current battered and filthy condition, she was unconvinced that he was an officer of the law.


Wrinkling her cute nose, the night supervisor said, “What else have you got?”


He was sorely tempted to draw his revolver, shove it through the gap, c**k the hammer, and threaten to blow her teeth out through the back of her head. But she was in her middle to late thirties, and it was possible that she had grown up underand been toughened bythe Marcos regime before emigrating to the US, so she might just laugh in his face, stick her finger in the barrel, and tell him to go to hell.


Instead, he produced Connie Gulliver, who was for once a more presentable police officer than he was. She grinned through the door glass at the pintsized Gestapo Florence Nightingale, made nice talk, and passed her own credentials through the gap on demand. You would have thought they were trying to get into the main vault at Fort Knox instead of a pricey private nursing home.


He checked his watch. It was 2:03 A.M. Based on the limited experience they'd had with Ticktock, Harry guessed that their psychotic Houdini required as little as an hour but more commonly an hour and a half of rest between performances, recharging his supernatural batteries in about the same amount of time that a stage magician needed to stuff all the silk scarves and doves and rabbits back up his sleeves to get ready for the late show. If that was the case, then they were safe at least until twothirty and probably until three o'clock.


Less than an hour at the outside.


Harry was so intently focused on the blinking red light of his watch that he lost track of what Connie said to the nurse. Either she charmed the lady or came up with an incredibly effective threat, because the security chain was removed, the door was opened, their ID wallets were returned to them with smiles, and they were welcomed into Pacific View.


When the night supervisor saw Janet and Danny, who had been out of sight on the lower front steps, she had second thoughts. When she saw the dog; she had third thoughts, even though he was wagging his tail and grinning and, quite clearly, being intentionally cute.


When she sawand smelledSammy, she almost became intractable again.


For policemen, as well as for housetohouse salesmen, the supreme difficulty was always getting through the door. Once inside, Harry and Connie were no easier to dislodge than the average vacuumcleaner salesman intent on scattering all manner of sample filth on the carpet to demonstrate the superior suction of his product.


When it became clear to the Filipino nurse that resistance to them was going to disturb the home's patients more than would cooperation, she spoke a few musical words in Tagalog, which Harry assumed was a curse on their ancestors and progeny, and led them through the facility to the room of the patient they sought.


Not surprisingly, in all of Pacific View's accommodations, there was only one eyeless woman with lids sewn shut over empty sockets.


Her name was Jennifer Drab.


Mrs. Drackman's handsome but “distant” sonthey were told in whispered confidence while in transitpaid for three shifts of the finest private nurses, seven days a week, to care for his “mentally disoriented” mother. She was the only patient in Pacific View provided with such “suffocating” ministrations on top of the already “extravagant” care that the facility offered in its minimum package. With those and a number of other loaded words, the night supervisor made it clear, ever so politely that she didn't care for the son, felt the private nurses were unnecessary and an insult to the staff, and thought the patient was creepy.


."?


The private nurse on the graveyard shift was an exotically beautiful black woman named Tanya Delaney. She was not sure of the propriety and wisdom of letting them disturb her patient at such an ungodly hour, even if some of them were police officers, and briefly she threatened to be even more of a barrier to their survival than the night supervisor had been.


The gaunt, mealy, bony woman in the bed was a ghastly sight, but Harry could not look away from her. She compelled attention because within the horror of her current condition there was a tragically faint but undeniable ghost of the beauty that had once been, a specter that haunted the ravaged face and body and, by refusing to relinquish entire possession of her, allowed a chilling comparison between what she most likely had been in her youth and what she had become.


“She's been sleeping.” Tanya Delaney spoke in a whisper, as they all did. She stood between them and the bed, making it clear that she took nursing seriously. “She doesn't sleep peacefully very often, so I wouldn't like to wake her.”


Beyond the piled pillows and the patient's face, on a nightstand that also held a corkbottom tray with a chrome carafe of icewater, stood a simple blacklacquered picture frame with a photograph of a goodlooking young man of about twenty. An aquiline nose.


Thick dark hair. His pale eyes were gray in the blackand white photo and were surely gray in reality, the precise shade of slightly tarnished silver. It was the boy in blue jeans and a Tecate Tshirt, the boy licking his lips with a pink tongue at the sight of James Ordegard's bloodsoaked victims. Harry remembered the hateful glare in the boy's eyes after he'd been forced back behind the yellow crimescene tape and humiliated in front of the crowd.


“It's him,” Harry said softly, wonderingly.


Tanya Delaney followed his gaze. “Bryan. Mrs. Drackman's son.”


Turning to meet Connie's eyes, Harry said, “It's him.”


“Doesn't look like the ratman,” Sammy said. He had moved to the corner of the room farthest from the patient, perhaps remembering that the blind supposedly compensated for their loss of sight by developing better hearing and a sharper sense of smell.


The dog mewled once, briefly, quietly.


Janet Marco pulled her sleepy boy tighter against her side and stared worriedly at the photograph. "Looks a little like .......


the hair... the eyes. No wonder I thought Vince was coming back."


Harry wondered who Vince was, decided it wasn't a priority, and said to Connie, “If her son really does pay all of her bills-” “Oh, yes, it's the son,” said Nurse Delaney. “He takes such good care of his mother.”


-then the business office here will have an address for him."


Connie finished.


Harry shook his head. “That night supervisor won't let us look at the records, no way. She'll guard them with her life until we come back with a warrant.”


Nurse Delaney said, “I really think you should go before you wake her.”


“I'm not asleep,” said the white scarecrow in the bed. Her permanently shut eyelids didn't even twitch, lay slack, as if the muscles in them had atrophied over the years. "And I don't want his photo here.


He forces me to keep it."


Harry said, “Mrs. Drackman-” "Miss. They call me Mrs. but I'm not.


Never was.“ Her voice was thin but not frail. Brittle. Cold. ”What do you want with him?"


“Miss Drackman,” Harry continued, “we're police officers. We need to ask you some questions about your son.”


If they had the opportunity to learn more than Ticktock's address, Harry believed they should seize it. The mother might tell them something that would reveal some vulnerability in her exceptional offspring, even if she had no idea of his true nature.


She was silent a moment, chewing on her lip. Her mouth was pinched, her lips so bloodless they were almost gray.


Harry looked at his watch.


2:08.


The wasted woman raised one arm and hooked her hand, as lean and fiercelooking as a talon, around the bed rail. “Tanya, would you leave us alone?”


When the nurse began to voice a mild objection, the patient repeated the request more sharply, as a command.


As soon as the nurse had gone, closing the door behind her, Jennifer Drackman said, “How many of you are there?”


“Five,” Connie said, failing to mention the dog.


“You aren't all police officers, and you aren't here just on police business, ”Jennifer Drackman said with perspicacity that might have been a gift she'd been given to compensate for the long years of blindness.


Something in her tone of voice, a curious hopefulness, induced Harry to answer her truthfully. “No. We're not all cops, and we're not here just as cops.”


“What has he done to you?” the woman asked.


He had done so much that no one could think how to put it into words succinctly.


Interpreting the silence correctly, the woman said, “Do you know what he is?” It was an extraordinary question, and revealed that the mother was aware, at least to some degree, of the son's difference.


“Yes,” Harry said. “We know.”


“Everyone thinks he's such a nice boy,” the mother said, her voice tremulous. “They won't listen. The stupid fools. They won't listen All these years... they won't believe.”


“We'll listen,” Harry said. “And we already believe.”


A look of hope flickered across the ravaged face, but hope was an expression so. unfamiliar to those features that it could not be sustained. She raised her head off the pillows, a simple act that made the cords go taut with strain under the sagging skin of her neck. “Do you hate him?”


After a moment of silence, Connie said, “Yes. I hate him.”


“Yes,” Janet Marco said.


“I hate him almost as much as I hate myself,” the invalid said. Her voice was now as bitter as bile. For a moment the ghost of beauty past was no longer visible in her withered face. She was sheer ugliness, a grotesque hag. “Will you kill him?”


Harry was not sure what to say.


Bryan Drackman's mother was at no such loss for words: “I'd kill him myself, kill him... but I'm so weak... so weak. Will you kill him?”


“Yes,” Harry said.


“It won't be easy,” she warned.


“No, it won't be easy,” he agreed. He glanced at his watch again.


“And we don't have much time.”


Bryan Drackman slept.


His was a deep, satisfying sleep. Replenishing.


He dreamed of power. He was a conduit for lightning. Though it was daylight in the dream, the heavens were almost nightdark, churning with the black clouds of Final Judgment. From that storm to end all storms, great surging rivers of electric current flowed into him, and from his hands, when he willed them, flashed lances and balls of lightning. He was Becoming. When that process was someday concluded, he would be the storm, a great destroyer and cleanser, washing away what had been, bathing the world in blood, and in the eyes of those who were permitted to survive, he would see respect, adoration, love, love.


Through the eyeless night came blind hands of fog, seeking. White vaporous fingers pressed inquisitively against the windows of Jennifer Dracknaan's room.


Lamplight glimmered in the cold beads of sweat on the water carafe, and burnished the stainless steel.


Connie stood with Harry at the side of the bed. Janet sat in the nurse's chair, holding her sleeping boy on her lap, the dog lying at her feet with its head upon its paws. Sammy stood in the corner, wrapped in shadows, silent and solemn, perhaps recognizing a few elements of his own story in the one to which they listened.

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