“Why is it you don’t like Terry? You never really have. Even as kids you two were always at each other’s throats.”


“I don’t know. Bad chemistry, I guess. There was just always something…off about him. I don’t know how to describe it. I just wish Crow wouldn’t hang out with him so much, that’s all.”


“Now, now, darlin’, don’t be trying to tell your young man who his friends should be.”


“Mm.”


“Just like your mom. One grunt is worth a thousand words.”


“Mm,” she said again, but smiled.


“Crow can take care of himself. Hell, we’ve all seen that.”


“I know, Daddy, but you know what it did to him. He probably wouldn’t have even started drinking if it hadn’t been for that job.”


“Yep, and I also know that he pulled himself up by his own bootstraps and put his life back together—while he was still in that job. Not a lot of men could do that. He fixed himself, as my pappy would say. He saw that his life was broken, and he fixed himself.”


“Mm.”


“Will you stop that?”


“Mm-​hm.”


He threw a cracker at her, which she surprised herself by catching. She ate the cracker and stuck a crumb-​covered tongue at him.


Connie Guthrie whisked into the room, all fresh and cute in her floral-​print dress, sensible pumps, bouncing blond curls, and brilliant smile. She favored them with an airy wave of her hand and then made a beeline for the stove.


“Ooo! We have soup!”


“It’s for Crow,” Guthrie said quickly as if he didn’t have a spoon halfway to his mouth.


“Well, you have some. Maybe I’ll just try a little.” She looked quickly at Val, as if for approval, but neither wanting nor expecting any. Without another word she took a bowl from the cupboard and began ladling soup into it. Guthrie gave Val an apologetic look, but she waved it off. “I didn’t even know you could cook.”


Connie had just finished arranging her side of the table with a frilly place mat, precisely folded napkin, soupspoon set just so, the soup bowl positioned perfectly in the center of the plate with five crackers laid out overlapping each other around the rim, when the doorbell rang.


“Ooo, there’s the door!” Connie said, as if that were a hilarious joke. “Just when I was sitting down.” Then she actually sat down. Val exchanged an amazed and exasperated look with her father.


“Shall I get that, then?” she asked dryly.


“Oh, would you, dear?” cooed Connie. “I wouldn’t want this fabulous soup of yours to get all cold and nasty.”


“Heaven forbid.” Val stood up, waving to her father to remain seated just as he began to rise. “I’m up, I’ll get it.”


She moved toward the door, crossing behind Connie, who was delicately blowing across the surface of her first spoonful. Val paused and mimed strangling Connie. Connie saw none of it, and Guthrie had to pretend to cough to hide his laughter. Sighing audibly, Val walked out of the kitchen, down the long hall, and into the living room. The visitor knocked again. A hard, insistent rap.


“I’m coming!” Val called as she reached for the knob, turned it, and opened the door.


A man stood there, tall and thin and pale of face. He had dark hair greased back from a widow’s peak, black eyes, and a wide, friendly smile. In his right hand he held a small, almost delicate-​looking pistol. The barrel was pointed at Val’s stomach.


“Trick-​or-​treat,” whispered Karl Ruger, and pushed his way into the house.


Part II


Mr. Devil Blues


Gypsy woman told me I’ve got to walk the night Like a fallen angel, I’m blinded by the light.


Whitesnake, “Nighthawk (Vampire Blues)”


There’s a darkness deep In my soul I still got a purpose to serve.


Santana, “Put Your Lights On”


Well, I ain’t superstitious, black cat just cross my trail Well, I ain’t superstitious, oh the black cat just cross my trail.


Willie Dixon, “I Ain’t Superstitious”


Chapter 9


1


Tow-​Truck Eddie made no move to get out of the cab. For fifteen minutes he just sat there, looking at the blood on his hands, amazed. Doubt had plagued him for most of the drive home, but as he sat there and stared at the blood, he could feel his fears fragment and fall away, leaving only a clean, shining belief.


“Thank you, God,” he whispered. The gratitude welled up so suddenly and fiercely in his breast that tears sprang from his eyes. “Thank you, my sweet Lord God!”


Finding that man back there by the wrecked car, deep in the corn…how wonderful it had been. He marveled at the subtlety of God’s intricate design, and how he—humble Eddie, the Sword of God—was guided in such sure but secret ways so that hints and clues of the great plan opened up to him bit by bit.


It had been years since his first epiphany, since that day years ago when God had first whispered to him. An actual voice in his head, not just words on the pages of a Bible. A real voice. The voice of God.


Eddie had been twenty when it happened. It was only days after Eddie’s first encounter with the Beast. Back then the Beast had taken a different form—Satan is the Father of Lies—and Eddie and a few men from the town—Vic Wingate, Jim Polk, Gus Bernhardt, and others—had tracked the monster down and killed him, ending the string of murders that had been destroying the town.


After that night the voice of God started speaking to him during his prayers. Not often, at least not at first, and there were long stretches of months when no matter how fervently Eddie prayed there was no response from heaven. Then a few weeks ago God had begun speaking to him almost daily, sometimes several times a day. Then this morning he had been shown the new face that the Beast wore, and Eddie was filled with such holy purpose and glory that he felt he would burst. He kept looking in the rearview mirror to see if light was coming from his eyes and nostrils and mouth. Not yet. Not yet.


He had been cruising A-32 looking for the Beast, unsure if he had actually been killed or not back there. When Eddie had gotten out of the cab to look, there was no sign at all of either boy or bike. Was that how it was when the Beast, in this guise, was killed? Would he just simply dissolve, returning to the corruption from which he was formed? Eddie wasn’t sure and God had not spoken to him to tell him. So, he was prowling the road just in case when either some instinct or perhaps the subtle nudging of God’s hand directed him to the spot near the Guthrie farm where a car had gone off the road. Eddie had immediately pulled over and gone to investigate. Was the Beast here? Had the car struck the Beast and then both of them gone off the road? That thought gave him a pang because he wanted to kill the Beast. He—not anyone else—was the Sword of God.


He checked the scene and could find no traces of a broken bicycle, no debris left from even a minor impact. Just skid marks sliding off the road and into the cornfield.


Eddie moved quietly down the lane of smashed-​down corn stalks, his big hands held defensively. Though Eddie was now fifty, he was still in perfect health and his body—the temple of the Lord—was packed with muscle and finely toned from relentless exercise with free weights, jump rope, heavy bag, and speed bag. He kept his body a perfect offering to the Lord. He had begun to bathe three and even four times a day now, and he was constantly washing his hands at work, especially if he had touched a customer or one of the other mechanics. Those impure oils had to be cleansed from his flesh as quickly as possible, but he had had to do it in secret. The guys had started to notice his fetish for cleanliness, had begun to rib him about it, saying that Tow-​Truck Eddie had a new lady friend who didn’t like grubby fingers on her tender flesh. He had laughed along with the jokes, choking down the rage and shame he felt at such suggestions. A lady friend indeed! As if he could allow himself to be distracted with carnal desires at a time like this. What a pack of dimwitted, shortsighted, unenlightened mud heads he worked with. Might as well be working with pigs. They had no idea, no clue, as to why he was preparing himself.


I am God’s predator , he thought, then chastised himself for the vanity of that concept. He rephrased it, I am the Sword of God , and left it at that.


The beam of the flash sparkled on the black metal of the open trunk of the car, and he walked calmly toward it, surveying the scene. The car was smashed, the ball joint broken; he could see that from fifteen feet away. Eddie swept his flashlight over everything, seeing the carnage, examining the pitiful leavings of some kind of adventure that had ended recently and badly. He paused briefly to shine the light in the trunk, saw the scattering of blood-​soaked bills, the small mounds of white powder. He wrinkled his nose in disgust; if there was one thing Tow-​Truck Eddie despised it was pollution of the body. Beer and the like were bad enough, but drugs were downright unholy. He clucked his tongue in disapproval and began scouting the rest of the car. He had approached from the driver’s side of the car, and everything looked deserted. Shining the light in through the open driver’s door revealed nothing but blood. Quite a lot of it, which sent a thrill of excitement coursing through him. The keys were still in the ignition. Tow-​Truck Eddie frowned. Straightening from his inspection of the car, he swept his light over the rows of corn, seeing no one. Then he walked carefully around to the other side of the car, and there lay a man sprawled in the bloody mud. If he had shone his light down when he was peering into the trunk he might have seen him, but the man had fallen down by the passenger side of the car and lay entirely in shadow. The harsh white light of his flash made the scene look like a black-​and-​white photo: black for the man’s suit and tie, white for his face, black for the huge stain of blood that had entirely soaked his shirt.


Eddie had squatted down next to the man and looked him over, from death-​pale face to bloodstained shoes. Odd how lifelike the dead can sometimes look, he thought, and then actually gasped as the man moved his mouth in an attempt to speak, though he made no actual sounds.

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