Page 45


He recalled the pleasure of blue eyes captured between the l of his hands and his body, the smooth damp intimacy of their loving inspection.


His red robe lay at the foot of the shelves, where he had dropped it He picked it up, slipped into it, cinched and knotted the belt.


All the while, he scanned the eyes, and none of them regarded him with scorn or rejected him.


Not for the first time, Bryan wished that his mother's eyes were part of his collection. If he possessed those eyes of all eyes, he would allow her communion with every convexity and concavity of his wellproportioned body, so she could understand the beauty of him, which she had never seen, and could know that her fears of hideous mutation had been foolish and that her sacrifice of vision had been so pointless, stupid.


If he had her eyes before him now, he would take one gently into his mouth and let it rest upon his tongue. Then he would swallow it whole, so she might see that his perfection was internal as well as external.


Thus enlightened, she would lament her misguided act of selfmutilation the night of his birth, and it would be as if the intervening years of estrangement had never happened. The mother of the new god would then come willingly and supportively to his side, and his Becoming would be easier and would move more rapidly toward completion, toward his Ascension to the throne and the beginning of the Apocalypse.


But the hospital staff had disposed of her damaged eyes long ago, in whatever manner they dealt with all dead tissue from tainted blood to an excised appendix.


He sighed with regret.


Standing in the foyer, Harry tried not to look toward the light at the end of the hall where the kitchen door was ajar, so his eyes would adjust to the darkness quicker. It was time to move on. But they had choices to make.


-Ordinarily he and Connie would conduct an interior search together, room by room, but not always. Good partners had a reliable and mutually understood routine for every basic situation, but they were also flexible.


Flexibility was essential because there were some situations that weren't basic. Like this one.


He didn't think it was a good idea to stay together because they were up against an adversary who had weapons better than guns or submachine guns or even explosives. Ordegard had almost taken out both of them with a grenade, but this scumbag could waste them with ball lightning that he shot off his fingertips or some other bit of magic they hadn't seen yet.


Welcome to the '90s.


If they stayed widely separated, say one of them searching the first floor while the other took the rooms upstairs, they would not only save time when time was at a premium, but they would double their chances of surprising the gee Harry moved to Connie, touched her shoulder, put his lips to her ear, and barely breathed the words: “Me upstairs, you down.”


From the way she stiffened, he knew she didn't like the division of labor, and he understood why. They had already looked through the first floor window into the lighted kitchen and knew it was deserted.


The only other light in the house was upstairs, so it was more likely than not that Ticktock was up in that other room. She wasn't worried that Harry would botch the job if he went up alone; it was just that she had a big enough hateon for Ticktock that she wanted to have an equal chance to be the one who put the bullet in his head.


But there was neither time for debate nor the circumstances, and she knew it. They couldn't plan this one. They had to ride the wave.


When he moved across the foyer toward the stairs, she didn't stop him.


Bryan turned away from the votive eyes. He crossed the room toward the open door. His silk robe rustled softly as he moved.


He was always aware of the time, the second and minute and hour, so he knew dawn was still a few hours away. He needn't be in a rush to keep his promise to the bigshot hero cop, but he was eager to locate him and see to what depths of despair the man had plummeted after experiencing the stoppage of time, the world frozen for a game of hideandseek.


The fool would know, now, that he was up against immeasurable power, and that escape was hopeless. His fear, and the awe with which he'd now regard his persecutor, would be enormously satisfying and worth relishing for a while.


First, however, Bryan had to satisfy his physical hunger. Sleep was only part of the restorative he needed. He knew that he had lost a few pounds during the most recent creative session. The use of his Greatest and Most Secret Power always took a toll. He was famished in need of sweets and salties.


Stepping out of his bedroom, he turned right, away from the front of the house, and hurried along the hallway toward the back stairs that led directly down to the kitchen.


Enough light spilled from his open bedroom door to allow him to observe himself in motion both to his left and right, reflections of the young god Becoming, a spectacle of power and glory, striding purposefully to infinity in swirls of royal red, royal red, red upon red upon red.


Connie did not want to split off from Harry. She was worried about him.


In the old woman's room at the nursing home, he had looked like death warmed over and served on a paper plate. He was desperately tired, a walking mass of contusions and abrasions, and he had seen his world fall apart in little more than twelve hours, losing not merely possessions but cherished beliefs and much of his selfimage.


Of course, aside from the part about lost possessions, much the same could be said of Connie. Which was another reason she did not want to separate to search the house. Neither of them had his usual sharp edge, yet considering the nature of this perp, they needed a greater advantage than usual, so they had to separate.


Reluctantly, as Harry moved toward the steps and then started up, Connie turned to the door on the right, off the foyer. It had a lever handle. She eased it down with her left hand, revolver in her right and in front of her. Faintest click of the latch. Ease the door inward and to the right.


Nothing for it but to cross the threshold, clearing the doorway as fast as possible, doorways always being the most dangerous, and slipping to the left as she entered, both hands on the gun in front of her, arms straight and locked. Keeping her back to the wall. Straining her eyes to see in the deep darkness, unable to find and use the light switch without giving away the game.


A surprising plenitude of windows in the north and east and west wallsrso many windows on the exterior, were the'e?fered only minor relief from the darkness. Vaguely luminous fog pressed against the panes, like cloudy gray water, and she had the queer feeling of being under the sea in a bathysphere.


The room was wrong. Didn't feel right somehow. She didn't know what it was that she sensed, what wrongness, but it was there.


Something was also odd about the wall at her back when she brushed against it. Too smooth, cold.


She let go of the gun with her left hand, and felt behind her.


Glass.


The wall was glass but it wasn't a window because it was the wall shared with the foyer.


For a moment Connie was confused, thinking frantically because anything inexplicable was frightening under the circumstances.


Then she realized it was a mirror. Her fingers slid across a vertical seam, onto another big sheet of glass. Mirrored. Floor to ceiling.


Like the south wall of the foyer.


When she looked behind her, at the wall along which she had been slipping so stealthily, she saw reflections of the northside windows and the fog beyond. No wonder there were more windows than there should have been. The windowless south and west walls were mirrored, so half the windows she saw were only reflections.


And she realized what bothered her about the room. Although she had kept on the move to the left, putting herself at changing angles to the windows, she hadn't seen silhouettes of any furniture between her and the grayish rectangles of glass. She hadn't bumped against any piece of furniture set with its back to the south wall either.


Both hands on the gun again, she eased toward the center of the room, wary of knocking something over and drawing attention. But inch by inch, cautious step by step, she became convinced there was nothing in her way.


The room was - empty. Mirrored and empty As she neared the center, in spite of the unrelenting gloom, she was able to see a dim image of herself to her left. A phantom with her form, moving across the reflection of the foggray eastfacing window.


Ticktock was not here.


A chaos of Harrys moved along the upstairs hall, gunbearing clones in dirty rumpled suits, unshaven faces gray with stubble, tense and scowling. Hundreds, thousands, an uncountable army they advanced abreast in a single slightly curved line, stretching forever to the left and right. In their mathematical symmetry and perfect choreography they should have been the apotheosis of order.


Even glimpsed with peripheral vision, however, they disoriented Harry, could not look directly either left or right without risking dless.


Both walls were mirrored floor to ceiling, as were all of the doors to the rooms, creating an illusion of irfirvty bouncing his reflection back and forth, reflecting reflections of reflections of reflections.


Harry knew, he should check room by room as he advanced, leaving no unexplored territory behind him, from which Ticktock might be able to move in on his back. But the sole light on the second floor was ahead, spilling out of the only open door, and chances were that the bastard who had murdered Ricky Estefan was in that lighted room and no other.


Although he was so tired that his cop instinct had deserted him, and simultaneously so jumpedup with adrenaline that he did not I- trust his reactions to be calm and measured, Harry decided to hell with traditional procedure, go with the flow, ride the wave, and let unexplored rooms at his back. He went directly to the doorway with the light beyond, on his right.


The mirrored wall opposite the open door would give him a look at part of the room before he had to step into the doorway and across the threshold, committing himself. He halted beside the door with his back to the mirrored wall, looking at an angle toward the wedge of the room's interior that was reflected across the hallway in another length of mirror.


All he could see was a confusion of black planes and angles, different black textures revealed by lamplight, black shapes against black backgrounds, all of it cubistic and strange. No other color. No Ticktock.


Suddenly he realized that, because he was seeing only part of the room, anyone standing in an unrevealed portion of it but looking toward the door might be at such an angle as to see his infinite reflections bouncing from wall to wall.


He stepped into the doorway and crossed the threshold, staying low and moving fast, his revolver held out in front of him with both hands.


The hallway carpet did not continue into the bedroom.


There was black ceramic tile on the floor instead, against which his shoes made noise, a clickscrapeclick, and he froze within three steps, hoping to God he hadn't been heard.


Another dark room, much larger than the first, what should have been' a living room, off the downstairs hall. More windows on the pearly luminescent fog and more reflections of windows.


Connie had a feel for that special oddness now, and wasted less time there than she had in the den off the foyer. The three walls without windows were mirrored, and there was no furniture.


Multiple reflections of her silhouette kept perfect time with her in the dark reflective surfaces, like ghosts, like other Connies in alternate universes briefly overlapping and barely visible.


Ticktock evidently liked to look at himself.


She would like to get a look at him, too, but in the flesh.


Silently she returned to the downstairs hall and moved on.


The big walkin pantry off the kitchen was filled with cookies, hard candies, taffy, chocolates of all kinds, caramels, red and black licorice, tins of sweet biscuits and exotic cakes imported from every corner of the world, bags of cheese popcorn, caramel popcorn, potato chips, tortilla chips, cheeseflavored tortilla chips, pretzels, cans of cashews, almonds, peanuts, mixed nuts, and millions of dollars in cash stacked in tight bundles of twenty- and hundred dollar bills.


While he examined the sweets and salties, trying to make up his mind what he most wanted to eat, what would be the least like a meal of which Grandma Drackkaan would have approved, Bryan idly picked up a packet of hundreddollar bills and riffled the crisp edges with one thumb.


He had acquired the cash immediately after he had killed his grandmother, stopping the worldwith his Greatest and Most Secret Power and wandering at his leisure into all the places where money was kept in large quantities and protected by steel doors and locked gates and alarm systems and armed guards. Taking whatever he wanted, he had laughed at the uniformed fools with all their guns and their somber expressions, who were oblivious of him.


Soon, however, he'd realized that he had little need of money. He could use his powers to take anything not merely cash, and to alter sales and public records to create extensive legal support for his ownership if he were ever questioned. Besides, if ever he were questioned, he had only to eliminate those idiots who dared to be suspicious of him, and alter their records to insure no further investigation.


He had stopped piling up cash in the pantry, but he still liked to riffle it under his thumb and listen to the crisp flutter, smell it, and play games with it sometimes. It felt so good to know that he was different from other people in this way, too: he was beyond money beyond concerns related to things material. And it was fun to think that he could be the richest person in the world if he wanted, richer than Rockefellers and Kennedys, could pile up cash to fill room after room, cash and emeralds if he wanted emeralds, diamonds and rubies, anything, anything, like pirates of old in their lairs and surrounded by treasure.


He tossed the packet of currency back on the shelf from which he'd taken it. From the side of the pantry where he kept food, he took down two boxes of Reese's peanut butter cups and a familysize bag of Hawaiianstyle potato chips, which were a lot oilier than ordinary chips. Grandma Drackman would've had a stroke at the very thought.


Harry's heart knocked so hard and fast that his ears were filled with -double time drumming that would probably drown out the sound of approaching footsteps.


In the black bedroom, on black shelves, scores of eyes floated in clear fluid, slightly luminous in the amber lamplight, and some were animal eyes, had to be because they were so strange, but others were human eyes, oh shit, no doubt at all about that, some brown and some black, blue, green, hazel. Unhooded by lids or lashes, they all looked scared, perpetually wide with fright. Crazily he wondered if, by looking closely enough, he would be able to see reflections of Ticktock in all the lenses of those dead eyes, the last sight each victim had seen in this world, but he knew that was impossible, and he had no desire to look that close anyway.


Keep moving. The insane sonofabitch was here. In the house.


Somewhere. Charles Manson with psychic power, for God's sake.


Not in the bed, sheets tossed and rumpled, but somewhere.

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