Page 46


Jeffrey Dahmer crossed with Superman, John Wayne Gag with a sorcerer's spells and magics.


And if not in the bed, awake, oh Jesus, awake and therefore more formidable, harder to get close to.


Closet. Check it. Just clothes, not many, mostly jeans and red robes.


Move, move.


The little creep was Ed Gein, Richard Ramirez, Randy Kraft, Richard Speck, Charles Whitman, Jack the Ripper, all the homicidal sociopaths of legend rolled into one and gifted with paranormal talents beyond measure.


The adjoining bathroom. Through the door, no light, find it, just mirrors, more mirrors on all walls and the ceiling.


Back in the black bedroom, heading toward the door, stepping as silently as possible on the black ceramic tiles, Harry didn't want to look again at the floating eyes but couldn't stop himself. When he glanced at them again, he realized Ricky Estefan's eyes must be among those in the jars, though he couldn't identify which pair they were, couldn't, under the current circumstances, even remember what color Ricky's eyes had been.


He reached the door, crossed the threshold, into the upstairs hall, dizzied by infinite images of himself, and from the corner of his eye he saw movement to his left. Movement that was not another Harry Lyon.


Coming straight at him and not from out of a mirror, either, coming low.


He swiveled toward it, bringing the revolver around, pressure on the trigger, telling himself it had to be a headshot, a headshot, only a headshot would be sure to stop the bastard.


It was the dog. Tail wagging. Head cocked. He almost killed it, mistaking it for the enemy, almost alerted Ticktock that someone was in the house. He let up on the trigger a fraction of an ounce short of the pressure needed to squeeze off a shot, and would have made the mistake of cursing the dog aloud if his voice hadn't caught in his throat.


Connie kept listening for gunfire from the second floor, hoping Harry had found Ticktock asleep and would scramble his brain with a couple of rounds. The continued silence was beginning to worry her.


After quickly checking out another mirrored chamber opposite the living room, Connie was in what she assumed would have been the dining room in an ordinary house. It was easier to inspect than the other areas she'd been through, because a band of fluorescent '<a quality light came under the door from the adjoining kitchen, dispelling some of the gloom.


One wall featured windows, and the other three were mirrored.


No furniture, not one stick. She supposed he never ate in the dining room, and he was certainly not the sort of sociable guy who would entertain a lot.


She started to return through the archway to the downstairs hall, then decided to go directly to the kitchen from the dining room.


Having looked into the kitchen from an outside window, she knew Ticktock wasn't there, but she had to sweep it again, just to be sure, before joining Harry upstairs.


Carrying two boxes of Reese's peanut butter cups and one bag of chips, Bryan left the light burning in the pantry and went into the kitchen.


He glanced at the table but didn't feel like eating there.


Heavy fog pressed at the windows, so if he went outside to the patio, he would have no view of the breaking surf on the beach below, which was the best reason for eating out there.


He was happiest, anyway, when the votive eyes watched him; he decided to go upstairs and eat in the bedroom. The glossy whitetile floor was sufficiently polished to reflect the red of his robe, so it seemed as if he walked through a thin, constantly evaporating film of blood as he crossed the kitchen toward the rear stairs.


After pausing to wag his tail at Harry, the dog hurried past him to the end of the hall. It stopped and peered down into the back stairwell, very alert.


If Ticktock was in any of the upstairs rooms that Harry had not yet checked, the dog surely would have shown interest in that closed door.


But he had trotted by all of them to the end of the hall, so Harry joined him there.


The narrow stairwell was an enclosed spiral, curving down and around and out of sight like stairs in a lighthouse. The concave wall '<n on the right was paneled with tall narrow mirrors that reflected the steps immediately in front of them; because each was angled slightly toward the one before it, every subsequent panel also partly reflected the reflection in the previous one. Because of the weird funhouse effect, Harry saw his full reflection in the first couple of panels on the right, then fractionally less of himself in each succeeding panel, until he did not appear at all in the panel just this side of the first turn in the stairwell.


He was about to start down the steps when the dog stiffened and nipped a mouthful of trouser cuff to restrain him. By now he knew the dog well enough to understand that the attempt to hold him back meant there was danger below.


But he was hunting danger, after all, and had to find it before it found him; surprise was their only hope. He tried to jerk loose of the dog without making any noise or causing it to bark, but it held fast to his cuff Damn it.


Connie thought she heard something just before she entered the kitchen, so she paused on the diningroom side of the door and listened closely.


Nothing. Nothing.


She couldn't wait forever. It was a swinging door. Cautiously, she pulled it toward her, easing around it, rather than pushing the door in where it would block part of her view.


The kitchen appeared deserted.


Harry tugged again, with no better result than he'd gotten before; the dog held tight.


Glancing nervously down the mirrored stairs again, Harry had the terrible feeling that Ticktock was down there and was going to get away, or more likely encounter Connie and kill her, all because the dog wouldn't let him slip down and behind the perp. So he rapped the dog smartly on the top of the head with the barrel of his revolver, risking its yelp of protest.


Startled, it let go of him, thankfully didn't bark, and Harry stepped out of the hallway, onto the first stair. Even as he started to descend, he saw a flash of red in the mirror at the farthest curve of the first spiral, another red flash, a billow of red fabric.


Before Harry could register the meaning of what he had seen, the dog shot past him, nearly knocking him off his feet, and it plunged into the stairwell. Then Harry saw more red like a skirt and a red sleeve and part of a bare wrist and a hand, a man's hand, holding something, somebody coming up, maybe Ticktock, and the dog hurtling toward him.


Bryan heard something, looked up from the boxes of candy in his hands, and saw a pack of snarling dogs erupting toward him, down the staircase, all identical dogs. Not a pack, of course, only one dog reflected repeatedly in the angled mirrors, revealed in advance of its attack, not yet even visible in the flesh. But he only had time to gasp before the beast flew around the curve in front of him. It was moving so fast that it lost its footing and bounced off the concave outer wall.


Bryan dropped the candy, and the dog regained enough purchase on the stairs to launch itself at him, crashing into his chest and face, both of them falling backward, the dog snapping and snarling, end over end.


Snarling, a startled cry, and the thumpcrash of falling bodies caused Connie to turn away from the open pantry door where shelves were stacked with bundles of cash. She spun toward the arch beyond which the back stairs curved upward out of sight.


The dog and Ticktock spilled onto the kitchen floor, Ticktock flat on his back and the dog on top of him, and for an instant it looked as if the dog was going to tear out the kid's throat. Then the dog squealed and was flung away from the kid, not thrown by hands or booted with a foot, but sent with a pale flash of telekinetic power, hurled across the room.


It was going down, holy God, right there and then, but going down all wrong. She wasn't close enough to jam the muzzle of her revolver against his skull and pull the trigger, she was about eight feet away, but she fired just the same, once even as the dog was in the air, again as the dog slammed into the front of the refrigerator. She hit the perp both times, because he didn't even realize she was in the kitchen until the first shot took him, maybe in the chest, the second in the leg, and he rolled off his back, onto his stomach. She fired again, the bullet -god off the tile, spraying up ceramic chips, and from his prone position Ticktock held one hand toward her, the palm spread, that strange flash as with the dog, and she felt herself airborne, then slammed into the kitchen door hard enough to shatter all the glass in it and send shock waves of pain up her spine.


Her gun flew out of her hand, and her corduroy jacket was suddenly on fire.


As soon as the snarling dog exploded past Harry and scrambledbouncedleaped out of sight around the first curve in the narrow spiral staircase, Harry followed, taking the steps two at a time. He fell before he reached the turn, cracked one of the mirrors with his head, but didn't tumble all the way to the bottom, came up wedged at the midpoint of the well, with one leg twisted under him.


Dazed, he looked around frantically for his weapon, discovered it was still clutched in his hand. He clambered to his feet and continued down, dizzy, one hand braced against the mirrors to keep his balance.


The dog squealed, gunshots boomed, and Harry spiraled down into the last turn, to the foot of the stairs in time to see Connie catapulted backward, crashing into the door, on fire. Ticktock was lying on his stomach, directly in front of the stairs, facing out toward the kitchen, and Harry leaped off the last step, landed hard on red silk stretched taut across the kid's back, jammed the muzzle hard against the base of the kid's skull, saw the gunmetal suddenly glow green and felt the start of what might have been a swift and terrible heat in his hand, but pulled the trigger. The explosion was muffled like firing into a pillow, the green glow disappeared in the instant it first arose, and he squeezed the trigger again, both rounds into the troll's brain.


That was surely enough, had to be enough, but you never knew with magic, never knew in this premillennium cotillion, these wild '90s, so he squeezed the trigger again. The skull was coming apart like chunks of rind from a cantaloupe hit with a hammer, and still Harry pulled the trigger, and a fifth time, until there was a terrible spreading mess on the floor and no more rounds in the revolver, the hammer snapping against expended casings with a dry click, click, click, click, click.


Connie had stripped off the burning jacket and stamped out the fire by the time Harry realized his gun was empty, climbed off the dead traIl, and managed to reach her. It was amazing she'd been able to act fast enough to avoid going up like a torch, because shedding the jacket had been complicated by the fact that her left wrist was broken. She'd suffered a minor burn on the left arm, as well, but nothing serious.


“He's dead,” Harry said, as if it needed saying, and then he put his arms around her, held her as tightly as he could without touching her injuries.


She returned his hug fiercely, onearmed, and they stood that way for a while, unable to talk, until the dog came sniffing around. He was lame, holding his right rear leg off the floor, but he seemed otherwise all right.


Harry realized that Woofer had not, after all, been the cause of a disaster. In fact, if he hadn't plunged down those stairs and knocked Ticktock ass over teakettle, thereby preserving the surprise of Connie's and Harry's presence in the house for just a few vital additional seconds, they would be dead on the floor, the golemmaster alive and grinning.


A shiver of superstitious dread swept through Harry. He had to let go of Connie and return to the body, look at it again, just to be sure Ticktock was dead.


They built houses better in the 1940s, with thick walls and lots of insulation, which might have explained why none of the neighbors responded to the gunfire and why no oncoming sirens wailed in the fogbound night.


Suddenly, however, Connie wondered if, in his last moment of life, Ticktock had thrown the world into another Pause, exempting only his own house, figuring to disable them and then kill them at his leisure.


And if he had died with the world stopped, would it ever start up again? Or would she and Harry and the dog wander through it alone, among millions of onceliving mannequins?


She raced to the kitchen door and through it to the night outside. A breeze, cool on her face, ruffling her hair. log swirling, not suspended like a cloud of glitter in an acrylic paperweight. The rumble of waves on the shore below. Beautiful, beautiful sounds of a world alive.


They were police officers with a sense of duty and justice, but they were not foolish enough to follow prescribed procedures in the aftermath of this one. No way could they call it in to the local authorities and explain the true circumstances. Dead, Bryan Drackman was just a twentyyearold man, and there was nothing about him to prove that he'd possessed astonishing powers. To tell the truth would be a ticket to institutionalization.


The jars of eyes, however, floating blindly on the shelves in Ticktock's bedroom, and the mirrored strangeness of his house would be evidence enough that they had crossed paths with a homicidal psychopath, even if no one ever produced the bodies from which he had removed the eyes. They were able to provide one body, anyway, to support a charge of brutal murder: Ricky Estefan down in Dana Point, eyeless, with snakes and tarantulas.


“Somehow” Connie said, as they stood in the pantry staring at the shelves laden with cash, “we've got to concoct a story to cover everything, all the holes and weirdnesses, the reason why we broke procedures on this case. We can't just close the door and walk away because too many people at Pacific View know we were there tonight, talking to his mother, seeking his address.”


“Story?” he said blearily. “Dear God in Heaven, what kind of story?”


“I don't know” she said, wincing from the pain in her wrist.


“That's up to you.”


“Me? Why me?”


“You've always liked fairy tales. Make one up. It has to cover the burning of your house, Ricky Estefan, and this. At least that much.”


He was still gaping at her when she pointed to all the piles of cash.


“This is only going to complicate the story. Let's just simplify things by getting it out of here.”


“I don't want his money,” Harry said.


“Neither do I. Not a dollar of it. But we'll never know who it was stolen from, so it'll only go to the government, the same damn government that's given us this premillennium cotillion, and I can't tolerate the idea of giving it more to waste. Besides, we both know a few people who could sure use it, don't we?”


“God, they're still waiting in the van,” he said.


"Let's bag this cash and take it out to them. Then Janet can drive them away in the van, with the dog, so they don't get wrapped up in it.


Meanwhile, you'll be putting together a story, and by the time they're gone, we'll be ready to call in."


“Connie, I can't possibly-” “Better start thinking,” she said, pulling a plastic garbage bag from a box of them on one shelf.

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