Then, quickly back into the hallway, directly to a nearby maintenance closet that could be opened with his suite key. There, tuck the gun, the holster, and the blue bag deep behind rest-room supplies. Later, retrieve them after the police were gone.
Defy the tooth of time.
As he turned away from the corridor, intending to return to his office, he realized that no bloodstains marred the hallway carpet, which should have been liberally spattered if Skeet had traveled over it, gushing as he was now gushing in the reception lounge. Even as his lightning-quick gamesman’s mind was arriving at the significance of this odd detail, the doctor heard Moshlien’s door open behind him, and he cringed in expectation of the usual Say, Abriman, do you have a moment? and the torrent of idiocies that would follow it.
The words never came, but bullets did. The doctor didn’t hear a single shot, but he felt them, all right, at least three, slamming into him from the small of his back in a diagonal line to his right shoulder.
With less grace than he would have liked, he staggered into the reception lounge. Fell half on top of Skeet. Rolled off the little dope fiend in revulsion. Rolled onto his back, and looked up at the doorway.
The Keanuphobe stood on the threshold, bracing the door open with her body, holding a silenced pistol with both hands. “You’re one of the machines,” she said. “That’s why you weren’t really paying attention during our sessions. Machines don’t care about real people like me.”
Ahriman recognized in her eyes a fearsome quality that he had overlooked before: She was one of The Knowers, those girls who could see right through his disguises and deceptions, who mocked him with their eyes, with smug smiles and sly looks behind his back, who knew something hilarious about him that he himself did not know. Since he was fifteen, when he’d grown into his fine face, The Knowers had not been able to penetrate his facade, and so he had ceased to fear them. Now this.
He tried to raise the Beretta and return fire, but he discovered that he was paralyzed.
She pointed the pistol at his face.
She was reality and she was fantasy, truth and lie, an object of mirth, yet deadly serious, all things to all people and a mystery to herself, the quintessential person for her times. She was a nouveauriche ditz with a husband as dull as a spoon, but she was also Diana, the goddess of the moon and the hunt, on whose bronze spear Minette Luckland had impaled herself in that Palladian mansion in Scottsdale, after first killing her father with a handgun and her mother with a hammer.
How fun that had been, but how lacking in fun this was.
My rich Diana. Fly me to the moon with you. Dance among the stars.
Treacle. Romantic hogwash. Derivative. Unworthy.
My rich Diana. I hate you, hate you, hate you. Hate you, hate you, hate.
“Do it,” he said.
The goddess emptied the magazine into his face, and the doctor’s phantasm of falling petals vanished into moon and flowers. And fire.
As she and Dusty came out of the elevator alcove, Martie saw a woman standing half in the doorway to Ahriman’s reception lounge, near the end of the corridor. The pink Chanel suit marked her as the same woman who had followed Skeet into the elevator, downstairs in the lobby. She moved all the way into the office, out of sight.
Running along the hall, with Dusty close behind, Martie thought of enchanted New Mexico—and two dead men at the bottom of an ancient well. The purity of falling snow—and all the blood it covered. She thought of Claudette’s face—and Claudette’s heart. The beauty of haiku—and the hideous use to which it had been put. The glory of high green branches—and spiders squirming out of egg cases inside curled leaves. Things visible and invisible. Things revealed and hidden. This flash of cheerful pink, baby-pink, cherry-blossom pink, but a sense of darkness in the flash, poison in the pink.
All her dread expectations became dread realities in gruesome detail when she pushed through the door into Mark Ahriman’s reception lounge and was received by bodies sprawled in blood.
The doctor lay faceup, but without a face: thin noxious smoke rising from scorched hair, terrible craters in the flesh, cheekbones imploded, red pools where eyes had once been—and beyond one torn and gaping cheek, half a grin.
Facedown, Skeet was the less dramatic figure of the two, and yet more real. His own red lake surrounded him, and he was so frail that he seemed to float in the crimson as though he were but a tangle of rags.
Martie was rocked harder by the sight of Skeet than she would have expected to be. Skeet the feeb, perpetual boy, so earnest but so weak, self-destructive, always seeking to do to himself what his mother had failed to do with a pillow. Martie loved him, but only now did she realize how much she loved him—and only now was she able to understand why. For all his faults, Skeet was a gentle soul, and like his precious brother, his heart was kind; in a world where kind hearts were more rare than diamonds, he was a treasure flawed but a treasure nonetheless. She could not bear to stoop to him, touch him, and find that he was also a treasure broken beyond repair.
Heedless of the blood, Dusty dropped to his knees and put his hands on his brother’s face, touched Skeet’s closed eyes, felt the side of his neck, and in a voice torn as Martie had never heard it torn, he cried, “Oh, Jesus, an ambulance! Hurry, someone!”
Jennifer appeared at the open door to her work area. “I called. They’re coming. They’re on their way.”
The woman in pink stood at the reception window, on the ledge of which she had placed two guns, including the machine pistol that Skeet had taken off Eric’s body. “Jennifer, don’t you think it would be a good idea if you put these out of the way someplace until the police arrive? Have you called the police?”
“Yes. They’re coming, too.”
Warily, Jennifer went around to the inside of the window, took possession of the guns, and put them aside on her desk.
Maybe it was because Skeet was dying, maybe it was the horror of Ahriman’s ghastly face and the blood everywhere, but whatever the reason, Martie couldn’t think clearly enough to make sense of what had happened here. Had Skeet shot Ahriman? Had Ahriman shot Skeet? Who had shot first and how often? The positions of the bodies didn’t support any scenario that she could imagine. And the eerie calm of the woman in pink, as though she were accustomed to witnessing gun battles daily, seemed to argue that she had played some mysterious role.
The woman stepped to the least spattered corner of the lounge, withdrew a cell phone from her purse, and placed a call.
Still far away but drawing nearer, distorted by distance and topography, the shrillness of sirens sounded fearsome and curiously prehistoric, organic rather than mechanical, a pterodactyl shriek.
Jennifer hurried to the entrance door, opened it, and placed a small rubber wedge to prevent it from closing.
To Martie, she said, “Help me move these chairs out to the end of the hall, so the paramedics will have room to work when they get here.”
Martie was glad to have something to do. She felt that she was standing on a crumbling brink. Helping Jennifer, she was able to step back from the abyss.
Holding the phone away from her mouth, the woman in pink paid a compliment to Jennifer: “You’re quite impressive, young lady.”
The receptionist cast an odd look at her. “Uh, thanks.”
By the time the last chair and small table had been transferred to the nearer end of the corridor, multiple sirens had grown louder and then, one by one, had cycled into silence. Help must be in the elevators.
Speaking into her cell phone, the woman in pink said, “Will you stop babbling, Kenneth? For an expensive attorney, you’re something of a ninny. I’ll need the finest criminal-defense attorney, and I’ll need him immediately. Now get a grip on yourself and do it.”
When she terminated the call, the woman smiled at Martie.
Then she took a card from her purse and held it out to Jennifer. “You’ll be needing a job, I suppose. I could use a young woman as competent as you, if you’re interested.”
Jennifer hesitated, but then she took the card.
On his knees in blood, repeatedly smoothing Skeet’s hair back from his pale face, her special husband was talking softly to his brother, though there was no indication that the kid could hear him. Dusty spoke about the old days, about things they had done as boys, pranks they had played, discoveries they had made together, escapes they had planned, dreams they had shared.
Martie heard men running in the hall, the heavy booted feet of fire-department paramedics, and she had the crazy wonderful feeling, just for a moment, that when they burst through the open doorway, one of them would be Smilin’ Bob.
Out of chaos, more chaos for a while. Too many strangers’ faces and too many voices talking at once, paramedics and police, quickly but noisily negotiating jurisdictional boundaries between the living and the dead. If confusion had been loaves of bread and if suspicion had been fishes, no miracles would have been required to provide a banquet for multitudes.
Martie’s confusion was only fed by the startling news that the woman in the pink Chanel suit had shot both Skeet and Ahriman. She admitted to the shooting, requested to be arrested, and would provide no further details, though she complained about the lingering stink from the doctor’s burnt hair.
Skeet on a gurney, lifeless to the layman's eye, was attended by four beefy paramedics in white, their uniforms strangely radiant under the fluorescent corridor lights, as if they were linebackers who had gone to Heaven and now returned here dressed in this modern version of angels’ robes. One sprinting ahead to block the elevator, one pulling, one pushing, one holding an W bottle high and running alongside the gurney, they swept Skeet away, swiftly and smoothly, and to Martie it seemed that neither the wheels nor their feet were actually touching the floor, as though they were flying down the long corridor, not conveying a wounded man to a hospital, but escorting an immortal soul on a far longer journey.
Having been cleared by Jennifer—and by the pink lady’s succinct confession—Dusty was given permission by the police to accompany his brother. He gripped Martie by the shoulders and pulled her close, held her fiercely for a moment, kissed her, and then ran after the gurney.
She watched him until he turned the corner into the elevator alcove, out of sight, and then she saw that his hands had left faint bloody impressions on her sweater. Shaking uncontrollably, Martie crossed her arms over her breasts, placing her hands on the terrible red marks, as though by touching those vague prints, she would be with Dusty and Skeet in spirit, allowing her to draw strength from them and they from her.
Martie was detained at the scene. Because the police in Malibu had, too late, contacted the police in Newport, the link between this shooting and Eric Jagger’s death by crossbow was established, marking both Martie and Dusty as material witnesses in one case and perhaps in both. An officer was en route to the hospital, to question Dusty in the waiting room, but the police preferred to conduct the initial interrogation of at least one of them here rather than elsewhere, now rather than later.
Police photographer, SID technicians, representatives from the coroner’s office, detectives, all bitching about the contamination of the crime scene, methodically gathered evidence, in spite of the pink lady's confession, because she might, of course, retract it later or claim police intimidation.
Jennifer was questioned at her desk, but Martie was asked to sit with two detectives, both soft-spoken and polite, in Ahriman’s inner office. One of them perched beside her on the sofa, the other in a facing armchair.
Odd, to be once more in this mahogany forest of her nightmares, where the Leaf Man ruled. She felt his presence still, though he was dead. She crossed her arms, left hand on her right shoulder, right hand on her left, fingers spread across the red images of Dusty’s fingers.
The detectives saw, and asked if she wanted to wash her hands. They didn’t understand. She only shook her head.
Then, as the wind in her haiku had blown fallen leaves out of the west, the story blew out of her in one long gush. She held back no details, however fantastic or improbable—except that while she told them of the Glysons in Santa Fe, and of Bernardo Pastore and his lost family, she didn’t mention the encounter with Kevin and Zachary in a snowy twilight.
She expected disbelief, and disbelief she received in squint-eyed and open-mouthed abundance, although even in the early hours of the aftermath, things happened to lend her at least a small measure of credibility.
Hearing news of the shooting on one of the first radio reports, Roy Closterman had come to the scene from his office, which was only a few miles away. She learned that he was in the corridor, talking to police, when one of her questioners was called away and, on his return, was shaken enough to reveal that Closterman was providing corroboration.
And then there was the matter of the unfired Beret-ta clutched in Ahriman’s dead hand. A quick computer check of handgun registrations revealed no record of the psychiatrist ever having purchased this gun or any other. Likewise, he had never been granted a license to carry a concealed weapon in Orange County. His image as an upstanding and law-abiding citizen sustained some damage from these discoveries.
Perhaps what finally convinced the cops that this was a case involving unprecedented weirdness, even in the annals of southern California crime, was the discovery of a bag of feces in the doctor’s finely tooled custom shoulder holster. Sherlock Holmes himself would have been hard-pressed to logically deduce an explanation for this startling find. An assumption of major kinkiness was made at once: The blue bag was bagged, tagged, and sent to the lab, with police officers wagering among themselves as to the sex and species of the mystery person or creature who had produced the sample.
Martie didn’t think she was fit to drive, but once in the car, she drove as well as ever, directly to the hospital. She didn’t wash her hands until she had found Dusty in the ICU waiting room and knew that Skeet had survived three hours of surgery. He was in critical condition, unconscious, but hanging on.
Even then, in the women’s lavatory, Martie panicked and almost stopped scrubbing off the blood, for fear that this link to Skeet, once washed away, would leave him unable to draw needed strength from her, spirit to spirit. She surprised herself with this superstitious hysteria. Having survived an encounter with the devil, however, maybe she had reason to be superstitious. She finished washing her hands, reminding herself that the devil was dead.
Shortly after eleven o’clock, more than seven hours after he was admitted to the hospital, Skeet regained consciousness, coherent but weak. They were allowed to visit with him, but only for two or three minutes. That was long enough to say what needed to be said, which in the ICU is always the same simple thing that family members come there to say to every patient, the same and simple thing that matters more than all the words of all the doctors: I love you.
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