—the kitchen snapped completely out of existence. He was in a car, rocketing along a foggy highway, pushing the muzzle of the revolver into the blonde's side. With horror, as she looked up at him, he felt his finger squeeze the trigger once, twice. She was punched sideways by the dual impact as the ear-shattering crash of the shots slammed through the car.
Vassago could not have anticipated what happened next.
The gun must have been loaded with magnum cartridges, for the two shots ripped through the blonde more violently than he expected and slammed her into the passenger door. Either her door was not properly shut or one of the rounds punched all the way through her, damaging the latch, because the door flew open. Wind rushed into the Pontiac, shrieking like a living beast, and Lisa was snatched out into the night.
He jammed on the brakes and looked at the rearview mirror. As the car began to fishtail, he saw the blonde's body tumbling along the pavement behind him.
He intended to stop, throw the car into reverse, and go back for her, but even at that dead hour of the morning, other traffic shared the freeway. He saw two sets of headlights maybe half a mile behind him, bright smudges in the mist but clarifying by the second. Those drivers would encounter the body before he could reach it and scoop it into the Pontiac.
Taking his foot off the brake and accelerating, he swung the car hard to the left, across two lanes, then whipped it back to the right, forcing the door to slam shut. It rattled in its frame but didn't pop open again. The latch must be at least partially effective.
Although visibility had declined to about a hundred feet, he put the Pontiac up to eighty, bulleting blindly into the churning fog. Two exits later, he left the freeway and rapidly slowed down. On surface streets he made his way out of the area as swiftly as possible, obeying speed limits because any cop who stopped him would surely notice the blood splashed across the upholstery and glass of the passenger door.
In the rearview mirror, Hatch saw the body tumbling along the pavement, vanishing into the fog. Then for a brief moment he saw his own reflection from the bridge of his nose to his eyebrows. He was wearing sunglasses even though driving at night. No. He wasn't wearing them. The driver of the car was wearing them, and the reflection at which he stared was not his own. Although he seemed to be the driver, he realized that he was not, because even the dim glimpse he got of the eyes behind the tinted lenses was sufficient to convince him that they were peculiar, troubled, and utterly different from his own eyes. Then—
—he was standing at the kitchen sink again, breathing hard and making choking sounds of revulsion. Beyond the window lay only the backyard, blanketed by night and fog.
Startled, he turned.
Lindsey was standing in the doorway, in her bathrobe. “Is something wrong?”
Wiping his soapy hands on his sweatshirt, he tried to speak, but terror had rendered him mute.
She hurried to him. “Hatch?”
He held her tightly and was glad for her embrace, which at last squeezed the words from him. “I shot her, she flew out of the car, Jesus God Almighty, bounced along the highway like a rag doll!”
At Hatch's request, Lindsey brewed a pot of coffee. The familiarity of the delicious aroma was an antidote to the strangeness of the night. More than anything else, that smell restored a sense of normalcy that helped settle Hatch's nerves. They drank the coffee at the breakfast table at one end of the kitchen.
Hatch insisted on closing the Levolor blind over the nearby window. He said, “I have the feeling … something's out there … and I don't want it looking in at us.” He could not explain what he meant by “something.”
When Hatch had recounted everything that had happened to him since waking from the nightmare of the icy blonde, the switchblade, and the mutilated eye, Lindsey had only one explanation to offer. “No matter how it seemed at the time, you must not have been fully awake when you got out of bed. You were sleepwalking. You didn't really wake up until I stepped into the kitchen and called your name.”
“I've never been a sleepwalker,” he said.
She tried to make light of his objection. “Never too late to take up a new affliction.”
“I don't buy it.”
“Then what's your explanation?”
“I don't have one.”
“So sleepwalking,” she said.
He stared down into the white porcelain cup that he clasped in both hands, as if he were a Gypsy trying to foresee the future in the patterns of light on the surface of the black brew. “Have you ever dreamed you were someone else?”
“I suppose so,” she said.
He looked hard at her. “No supposing. Have you ever seen a dream through the eyes of a stranger? A specific dream you can tell me about?”
“Well … no. But I'm sure I must've, at one time. I just don't remember. Dreams are smoke, after all. They fade so fast. Who remembers them for long?”
“I'll remember this one for the rest of my life,” he said.
Although they returned to bed, neither of them could get to sleep again. Maybe it was partly the coffee. She thought he had wanted the coffee precisely because he hoped that it would prevent sleep, sparing him a return to the nightmare. Well, it had worked.
They both were lying on their backs, staring at the ceiling.
At first he had been unwilling to turn off the bedside lamp, though he had revealed his reluctance only in the hesitancy with which he clicked the switch. He was almost like a child who was old enough to know real fears from false ones but not quite old enough to escape all of the latter, certain that some monster lurked under the bed but ashamed to say as much.
Now, with the lamp off and with only the indirect glow of distant streetlamps piercing the windows between the halves of the drapes, his anxiety had infected her. She found it easy to imagine that some shadows on the ceiling moved, bat-lizard-spider forms of singular stealth and malevolent purpose.
They talked softly, on and off, about nothing special. They both knew what they wanted to talk about, but they were afraid of it. Unlike the creepy-crawlies on the ceiling and things that lived under children's beds, it was a real fear. Brain damage.
Since waking up in the hospital, reanimated, Hatch had been having bad dreams of unnerving power. He didn't have them every night. His sleep might even be undisturbed for as long as three or four nights in a row. But he was having them more frequently, week by week, and the intensity was increasing.
They were not always the same dreams, as he described them, but they contained similar elements. Violence. Horrific images of naked, rotting bodies contorted into peculiar positions. Always, the dreams unfolded from the point of view of a stranger, the same mysterious figure, as if Hatch were a spirit in possession of the man but unable to control him, along for the ride. Routinely the nightmares began or ended—or began and ended—in the same setting: an assemblage of unusual buildings and other queer structures that resisted identification, all of it unlighted and seen most often as a series of baffling silhouettes against a night sky. He also saw cavernous rooms and mazes of concrete corridors that were somehow revealed in spite of having no windows or artificial lighting. The location was, he said, familiar to him, but recognition remained elusive, for he never saw enough to be able to identify it.
Until tonight, they had tried to convince themselves that his affliction would be short-lived. Hatch was full of positive thoughts, as usual. Bad dreams were not remarkable. Everyone had them. They were often caused by stress. Alleviate the stress, and the nightmares went away.
But they were not fading. And now they had taken a new and deeply disturbing turn: sleepwalking.
Or perhaps he was beginning, while awake, to hallucinate the same images that troubled his sleep.
Shortly before dawn, Hatch reached out for her beneath the sheets and took her hand, held it tight. “I'll be all right. It's nothing, really. Just a dream.”
“First thing in the morning, you should call Nyebern,” she said, her heart sinking like a stone in a pond. “We haven't been straight with him. He told you to let him know immediately if there were any symptoms—”
“This isn't really a symptom,” he said, trying to put the best face on it.
“Physical or mental symptoms,” she said, afraid for him—and for herself if something was wrong with him.
“I had all the tests, most of them twice. They gave me a clean bill of health. No brain damage.”
“Then you've nothing to worry about, do you? No reason to delay seeing Nyebern.”
“If there'd been brain damage, it would've showed up right away. It's not a residual thing, doesn't kick in on a delay.”
They were silent for a while.
She could no longer imagine that creepy-crawlies moved through the shadows on the ceiling. False fears had evaporated the moment he had spoken the name of the biggest real fear that they faced.
At last she said, “What about Regina?”
He considered her question for a while. Then: “I think we should go ahead with it, fill out the papers—assuming she wants to come with us, of course.”
“And if … you've got a problem? And it gets worse?”
“It'll take a few days to make the arrangements and be able to bring her home. By then we'll have the results of the physical, the tests. I'm sure I'll be fine.”
“You're too relaxed about this.”
“If Nyebern finds something seriously wrong …?”
“Then we'll ask the orphanage for a postponement if we have to. The thing is, if we tell them I'm having problems that don't allow me to go ahead with the papers tomorrow, they might have second thoughts about our suitability. We might be rejected and never have a chance with Regina.”
The day had been so perfect, from their meeting in Salvatore Gujilio's office to their lovemaking before the fire and again in the massive old Chinese sleigh bed. The future had looked so bright, the worst behind them. She was stunned at how suddenly they had taken another nasty plunge.
She said, “God, Hatch, I love you.”
In the darkness he moved close to her and took her in his arms. Until long after dawn, they just held each other, saying nothing because, for the moment, everything had been said.
Later, after they showered and dressed, they went downstairs and had more coffee at the breakfast table. Mornings, they always listened to the radio, an all-news station. That was how they heard about Lisa Blaine, the blonde who had been shot twice and thrown from a moving car on the San Diego Freeway the previous night—at precisely the time that Hatch, standing in the kitchen, had a vision of the trigger being pulled and the body tumbling along the pavement in the wake of the car.
For reasons he could not understand, Hatch was compelled to see the section of the freeway where the dead woman had been found. “Maybe something will click,” was all the explanation he could offer.
He drove their new red Mitsubishi. They went north on the coast highway, then east on a series of surface streets to the South Coast Plaza Shopping Mall, where they entered the San Diego Freeway heading south. He wanted to come upon the site of the murder from the same direction in which the killer had been traveling the previous night.
By nine-fifteen, rush-hour traffic should have abated, but all of the lanes were still clogged. They made halting progress southward in a haze of exhaust fumes, from which the car air-conditioning spared them.
The marine layer that surged in from the Pacific during the night had burned off. Trees stirred in a spring breeze, and birds swooped in giddy arcs across the cloudless, piercingly blue sky. The day did not seem like one in which anyone would have reason to think of death.
They passed the MacArthur Boulevard exit, then Jamboree, and with every turn of the wheels, Hatch felt the muscles growing tenser in his neck and shoulders. He was overcome by the uncanny feeling that he actually had followed this route last night, when fog had obscured the airport, hotels, office buildings, and the brown hills in the distance, though in fact he had been at home.
“They were going to El Toro,” he said, which was a detail he had not remembered until now. Or perhaps he had only now perceived it by the grace of some sixth sense.
“Maybe that's where she lived—or where he lives.”
Frowning, Hatch said, “I don't think so.”
As they crept forward through the snarled traffic, he began to recall not just details of the dream but the feeling of it, the edgy atmosphere of pending violence.
His hands slipped on the steering wheel. They were clammy. He blotted them on his shirt.
“I think in some ways,” he said, “the blonde was almost as dangerous as I … as he was. …”
“What do you mean?”
“I don't know. It's just the feeling I had then.”
Sunshine glimmered on—and glinted off—the multitude of vehicles that churned both north and south in two great rivers of steel and chrome and glass. Outside, the temperature was hovering around eighty degrees. But Hatch was cold.
As a sign notified them of the upcoming Culver Boulevard exit, Hatch leaned forward slightly. He let go of the steering wheel with his right hand and reached under his seat. “It was here that he went for the gun … pulled it out… she was looking in her purse for something. …”
He would not have been too surprised if he had found a gun under his seat, for he still had a frighteningly clear recollection of how fluidly the dream and reality had mingled, separated, and mingled again last night. Why not now, even in daylight? He let, out a hiss of relief when he found that the space beneath his seat was empty.
“Cops,” Lindsey said.
Hatch was so caught up in the re-creation of the events in the nightmare that he didn't immediately realize what Lindsey was talking about. Then he saw black-and-whites and other police vehicles parked along the interstate.
Bent forward, intently studying the dusty ground before them, uniformed officers were walking the shoulder of the highway and picking through the dry grass beyond it. They were evidently conducting an expanded search for evidence to discover anything else that might have fallen out of the killer's car before, with, or after the blonde.
He noticed that every one of the cops was wearing sunglasses, as were he and Lindsey. The day was eye-stingingly bright.
But the killer had been wearing sunglasses, too, when he had looked in the rearview mirror. Why would he have been wearing them in the dark in dense fog, for God's sake?
Shades at night in bad weather was more than just affectation or eccentricity. It was weird.