Page 44


Checking the names on the street signs as he drove, Harry said, “He will be.”


“But what if he's not?”


“He has to be,” Harry replied, which pretty much said all that could be said about how frighteningly limited their options were.


2:29. Damn. Time stopped, now going too fast.


The name of the street was Phaedra Way. Letters on the Laguna Beach street signs were too small, hard to read. Especially in the fog.


He leaned over the wheel, squinting.


“How can he be killed?” Sammy asked worriedly. “I don't see how the ratman can be killed, not him.”


“Well, we can't just risk wounding him, that's for damned sure,” Connie said. “He might be able to heal himself.”


Phaedra Way. Phaedra. Come on, come on.


“But if he's got healing power,” Harry said, “it comes from the same place all his other power comes from.”


“His mind,” Janet said.


Phaedra, Phaedra, Phaedra...


Letting the van slow because he was sure they were in the area where Ticktock's street ought to be, Harry said, "Yeah. Will power.


Mind power. Psychic ability is the power of the mind, and the mind is seated in the brain."


“Head shot,” Connie said.


Harry agreed. “At close range.”


Connie looked grim. “It's the only way. No jury trial for this bastard. Damage the brain instantly, kill him instantly, and he doesn't have a chance to strike back.”


Remembering how the golemvagrant had hurled fireballs around his condo bedroom and how instantly whitehot flames erupted from the things he torched, Harry said, "Yeah. For sure, before he has a chance to strike back. Hey! There. Phaedra Way.


The address they had gotten from Jennifer Drackman was less than two miles from Pacific View Care Home. They located the street at 2:31, slightly more than one hour after the Pause had begun and ended.


It was actually more of a long driveway than a short street, serving only five homes with ocean views, though now the Pacific was lost in fog. Because, from spring through autumn, the entire coastal area was crawling with tourists seeking parking spaces near beaches, a sign was posted at the entrance, sternly announcing PRIVATE VIOLATORS WILL BE TOWED, but no security gate restricted access.


Harry didn't make the turn. Because the street was so short and because the van would be loud enough to wake the sleeping and draw attention at that dead hour of the morning, he drove past the turnoff and coasted to a stop two hundred feet farther along the highway.


Everything better, everyone together, so maybe they can all be a family and want a dog to feed and all live in a people place, warm and dryand then suddenly everything wrong, wrong.


Death coming. The woman who has no boy. The notsostinky man.


Sitting up front in the van, and death coming all around them.


He smells it on them, yet it is not an odor. He sees it on them, yet they look no different. It makes no sound, yet he hears it when he listens to them. If he licked their hands, their faces, death coming would have no taste of its own, yet he would know it was on them. If they petted or scratched him, he would feel it in their touch, death coming. It is one of those few things he senses without really knowing how he knows. Death coming.


He is shaking. He cannot stop shaking.


Death coming.


Bad. Very bad. The worst.


He must do something. But what? What what what what?


He doesn't know when the death coming will be or where it will be or how it will be. He doesn't know whether death coming will be to both of them or only to one of them. It could be only to one of them, and he senses it on both of them only because it will happen when they are together. He cannot sense this thing as clearly as he can sense the countless odors of the stinky man or the fear on all of them, because it is not really something to be smelled or tasted so much as just felt, a coldness, a dark, a deepness.


Death coming.


So...


Do something.


So...


Do something.


What what what?


When Harry switched off the engine and doused the headlights, the silence seemed almost as deep as it had been during the Pause.


The dog was agitated, sniffing and whining. If he began to bark the walls of the van would muffle the sound. Besides, Harry was confident that they were too far from the Drackman house for Ticktock to be disturbed by any. sound the dog could make.


Sammy said, “How long before we should.figure... you know ... you didn't get him, he got you? Sorry, but I had to ask. When should we run?”


“If he gets us, you won't have a chance to run,” Connie said.


Harry turned to look at them in the shadowy rear compartment.


"Yeah. He's going to wonder how the hell we found him, and after he kills us, there'll be another Pause, immediately, while he checks out all of you, everything, trying to figure it out. If he gets us, you'll know it, because just a few seconds later in real time, one of his golems will probably appear right here in the van with you.


Sammy blinked owlishly. He wetted his cracked lips with his tongue.


“Then, for God's sake, be sure you kill him.”


Harry opened his door quietly, while Connie left the van on her side.


When he stepped out; the dog slipped between the front seats and.


followed him before he realized what was happening.


He made a grab at the mutt as it brushed past his legs, but he missed.


“Woofer, no!” he whispered.


Ignoring him, the dog padded to the back of the van.


Harry went after him.


The dog broke into a sprint, and Harry ran several steps in pursuit, but the dog was faster and vanished into the heavy fog heading north along the highway in the general direction of the turnoff to the Drackman house.


Harry was cursing under his breath when Connie joined him.


“He can't be going there,” she whispered.


“Why can't he?”


“Jesus. If he does anything to alert Ticktock...” .If.


Harry checked his watch. 2:34.


Maybe they had twenty, twentyfive minutes. Or maybe they were already too late.


He decided they couldn't worry about the dog.


“Remember,” he said, “headshot. Quick and up close. It's the only way.”


When they reached the entrance to Phaedra Way, he glanced back toward the van. It had been swallowed by the fog.


He is not afraid. Not. Not afraid.


He is a dog, sharp teeth and claws, strong and quick.


Creeping, he passes thick, high oleander. Then the people place where he's been before. High white walls. Windows dark. Near the top, one square of pale light.


The smell of the thingthatwillkillyou is heavy on the fog. But like all smells in fog, not as sharp, not as easy to trace The iron fence. Tight. Wriggle. Through.


Careful at the corner of the people place. The bad thing was out there last time, behind the place, with bags of food. Chocolate.


Marshmallow. Potato chips. Didn't get any. But almost got caught.


So put just the nose past the corner this time. Sniff sniff sniff.


Then the whole head for a look. No sign of the youngmanbadthing.


Was there, not now, safe so far.


Behind the people place. Grass, dirt, some flat stones that people put down. Bushes. Flowers.


The door. And in the door the little door for dogs.


Careful. Sniff. Youngmanbadthing smell, very strong. Not afraid.


Not, not, not, not. He is a dog. Good dog, good.


Careful. Head in, lifting the dog door. It makes a faint squeak People food place. Dark. Dark.


Inside.


The softly fluorescent fog refracted every ray of ambient light on Phaedra Way, from the low mushroomshaped Malibu lamps along the front walk at one house to the lighted numerals of the address on another, seeming to brighten the night. But, in fact, its slowly churning, amorphous luminosity was deceptive; it revealed nothing and obscured much.


Harry could see little of the houses past which they walked, except that they were large. The first of them was modern, sharp angles looming out of the fog in several places, but the others seemed to be older Mediterraneanstyle homes from a more graceful era ofLagunas history than the end of the millennium, sheltered by mature palms and ficuses.


Phaedra Way followed the shoreline of a small promontory that jutted out into the sea. According to the prematurely aged woman at Pacific View, the Drackman house was the farthest out, at the point of the bluff Considering how much of his ordeal had seemed to be based upon the darker elements of fairy tales, Harry would not have been at all surprised if they had found a small but preternaturally dark forest at the end of the promontory filled with lanterneyed owls and slinking wolves, the Drackman house tucked therein, decidedly gloomy and brooding, in the finest tradition of the residences of witches, warlocks, sorcerers, trolls, and the like.


He almost hoped that was the kind of house he would find. It would be a comforting symbol of order.


But when they reached the Drackman place, only the eerie pall of fog upheld the tradition. In both its landscaping and architecture, it was less menacing than the scary little cottage in the woods for which folk and fairy tales had long prepared him.


Like the neighboring houses, it had palm trees in its shallow front yard. Even in the cloaking mist, masses of bougainvillaea vines were visible climbing one white stucco wall and spreading onto the red tile roof The driveway was littered with their bright blossoms. A nightlight to one side of the garage door illuminated the house number, its glow reflected in beads of dew on the hundreds of bright bougainvillaea blossoms that glimmered like jewels on the driveway.


It was too pretty He was irrationally angry at its prettiness.


Nothing was as it ought to be any more, all hope of order gone.


They quickly checked the north and south sides of the house for signs of occupancy. Two lights.


One was upstairs on the south side, toward the back. A single window, not visible from the front. It might have been a bedroom.


If the light was on, Ticktock must have awakened from his nap, or had never gone to sleep. Unless... some children wouldn't sleep without a light on, and in many ways Ticktock was a child. A twentyyearold, insane, vicious, exceedingly dangerous child.


The second light was on the north side, first floor at the rearor westorner Because it was at ground level, they were able to look inside and see a whiteonwhite kitchen. Deserted. One chair was turned halfaway from the glasstopped table, as if someone had been sitting there earlier.


2:39.


Since both lights were toward the back of the house, they did not attempt to gain entrance on the westr rearide. If Ticktock was in the upstairs room with the light, awake or asleep, he would be more likely to hear even the furtive noises they would make if they were directly beneath him.


Because Connie had the set of picks, they didn't even try the windows, but went straight to the front door. It was a big oak slab with raised panels and a brass knocker.


The lock might have been a Baldwin, which was good but not a Schlage.


In that gloom, it was difficult to tell the make.


Flanking the door were wide leadedglass sidelights with beveled panes.


Harry put his forehead against one to study the foyer beyond.


He could see through the foyer and down a shadowy hallway because, of light leaking through a partially open door at the end, which had to be the kitchen.


Connie opened the packet of lock picks. Before starting to work, she did what any good burglar did firsttried the door. It was unlocked, and she let it swing open a few inches.


She jammed the picks into one pocket without bothering to fold up the packet. From the shoulder holster under her corduroy jacket, she withdrew her revolver.


Harry pulled his weapon, too.


When Connie hesitated, he realized that she had broken open the cylinder. She did a Braille check to be sure that cartridges still filled all the chambers. He heard a soft, soft click as she closed it, evidently satisfied that Ticktock had not been playing any of his tricks.


She crossed the threshold first because she was nearest to it. He followed her.


They stood in the marblefloored foyer for twenty seconds, half a minute, very still, listening. Both hands on their guns, sights just below their lines of vision, Harry covering the left side, Connie covering everything on the right.


Silence.


The Hall of the Mountain King. Somewhere a sleeping troll. Or not sleeping. Maybe just waiting.


Not much light, even with that secondhand fluorescent glow leaking down the hall from the kitchen. Mirrors to the left, dark images of themselves in the glass, shadowy forms. To the right was a doorway to either a closet or a den.


Ahead and to the right, a switchback staircase led to a landing, shrouded in shadows, then to an unseen secondfloor hall.


Directly ahead, the firstfloor hall. Archways and dark rooms off both sides, the kitchen door at the end ajar maybe four or five inches with light beyond.


Harry hated this. He had done it scores of times. He was practiced and skilled. He still hated it.


Silence continuing. Only inner noise. He listened to his heart, not bad yet, fast but steady, not crashing yet, in control.


They were committed now, so he eased the front door shut behind them with no more noise than a padded coffin lid being lowered for the last time in the velvetcurtained hush of a funeral parlor.


Bryan woke from a fantasy of destruction, into a world that offered the satisfaction of real victims, real blood.


For a moment he lay na*ed on the black sheets, staring at the black ceiling. He was still dreamsodden enough to be able to imagine that he was adrift in the night, out over the lightless sea, beneath a starless sky weightless, floating.


Levitation was not a power he possessed, nor was he particularly skilled at telekinesis. But he was sure that the ability to fly and to manipulate all matter in all imaginable ways would be his when he had fully Become.


Gradually he became aware of wrinkled folds of silk that were pressing uncomfortably against his back and buttocks, the coolness of the air, a sour taste in his mouth, and a hunger that made his stomach growl.


Imagination was foiled. The Stygian sea became only ebony sheets, the starless sky became only a ceiling painted with black semigloss, and he had to admit that gravity still exerted a claim on him.


He sat up, swung his legs over the side of the bed, and stood. He yawned and stretched luxuriously studying himself in the wall of mirrors. Someday after he had thinned the human herd, there would be artists among those he spared, and they would be inspired to paint him, portraits infused with awe and reverence, like those that featured biblical figures and hung now in the great museums of Europe, apocalyptic scenes on cathedral ceilings where he would be shown as a titan dealing punishment to the wretched masses who died at his feet.


Turning from the mirrors, he faced the blacklacquered shelves on which stood the array of Mason jars. Because he had left one bedside lamp on while he slept, the votive eyes had watched him in his dreams of godhood. They watched him still, adoring.

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