Hatch still had the imaginary gun in his hand, withdrawn from under the seat. But because they were moving so much slower than the killer had been driving, they had not yet reached the spot at which the revolver had been fired.
Traffic was creeping bumper-to-bumper not because the rush hour was heavier than usual but because motorists were slowing to stare at the police. It was what the radio traffic reporters called “gawkers' block.”
“He was really barreling along,” Hatch said.
“In heavy fog.”
“Stupid,” Lindsey said.
“No. This guy's smart.”
“Sounds stupid to me.”
“Fearless.” Hatch tried to settle back into the skin of the man with whom he had shared a body in the nightmare. It wasn't easy. Something about the killer was totally alien and firmly resisted analysis. “He's extremely cold … cold and dark inside … he doesn't think like you or me.…” Hatch struggled to find words to convey what the killer had felt like. “Dirty.” He shook his head. “I don't mean he was unwashed, nothing like that. It's more as if … well, as if he was contaminated.” He sighed and gave up. “Anyway, he's utterly fearless. Nothing scares him. He believes that nothing can hurt him. But in his case that's not the same as recklessness. Because … somehow he's right.”
“What're you saying—that he's invulnerable?”
“No. Not exactly. But nothing you could do to him … would matter to him.”
Lindsey hugged herself. “You make him sound … inhuman.”
At the moment the police search for evidence was concentrated in the quarter of a mile just south of the Culver Boulevard exit. When Hatch got past that activity, traffic began to move faster.
The imaginary gun in his right hand seemed to take on greater substance. He could almost feel the cold steel against his palm.
When he pointed the phantom revolver at Lindsey and glanced at her, she winced. He saw her clearly, but he could also see, in memory, the face of the blonde as she had looked up from her purse with too little reaction time even to show surprise.
“Here, right here, two shots, fast as I … as he could pull the trigger,” Hatch said, shuddering because the memory of violence was far easier to recapture than were the mood and malign spirit of the gunman. “Big holes in her.” He could see it so clearly. “Jesus, it was awful.” He was really into it. “The way she tore open. And the sound like thunder, the end of the world.” The bitter taste of stomach acid rose in his throat. “She was thrown back by the impact, against the door, instantly dead, but the door flew open. He wasn't expecting it to fly open. He wanted her, she was part of his collection now, but then she was gone, out into the night, gone, rolling like a piece of litter along the blacktop.”
Caught up in the dream memory, he rammed his foot down on the brake pedal, as the killer had done.
A car, then another, then a third, swerved around them in flashes of chrome and sun-silvered glass, horns blaring, narrowly avoiding a collision.
Shaking himself out of the memory, Hatch accelerated again, back into the traffic flow. He was aware of people staring at him from other cars.
He didn't care about their scrutiny, for he had picked up the trail as if he were a bloodhound. It was not actually a scent that he followed. It was an indefinable something that led him on, maybe psychic vibrations, a disturbance in the ether made by the killer's passage just as a shark's fin would carve a trough in the surface of the sea, although the ether had not repaired itself with the alacrity of water.
“He considered going back for her, knew it was hopeless, so he drove on,” Hatch said, aware that his voice had become low and slightly raspy, as if he were recounting secrets that were painful to reveal.
“Then I walked into the kitchen, and you were making an odd choking-gasping sound,” Lindsey said. “Gripping the edge of the counter tight enough to crack the granite. I thought you were having a heart attack—”
“Drove very fast,” Hatch said, accelerating only slightly himself, “seventy, eighty, even faster, anxious to get away before the traffic behind him encountered the body.”
Realizing that he was not merely speculating on what the killer had done, Lindsey said, “You're remembering more than you dreamed, past the point when I came into the kitchen and woke you.”
“Not remembering,” he said huskily.
“Somehow.” He simply could not explain it better than that. “Somehow,” he whispered, and he followed the ribbon of pavement across that largely flat expanse of land, which seemed to darken in spite of the bright morning sun, as if the killer cast a shadow vastly larger than himself, a shadow that lingered behind him even hours after he had gone. “Eighty … eighty-five … almost ninety miles an hour … able to see only a hundred feet ahead.” If any traffic had been there in the fog, the killer would have crashed into it with cataclysmic force. “He didn't take the first exit, wanted to get farther away than that … kept going … going.…”
He almost didn't slow down in time to make the exit for State Route 133, which became the canyon road into Laguna Beach. At the last moment he hit the brakes too hard and whipped the wheel to the right. The Mitsubishi slid as they departed the interstate, but he decreased speed and immediately regained full control.
“He got off here?” Lindsey asked.
Hatch followed the new road to the right.
“Did he go into Laguna?”
“I … don't think so.”
He braked to a complete halt at a crossroads marked by a stop sign. He pulled onto the shoulder. Open country lay ahead, hills dressed in crisp brown grass. If he went straight through the crossroads, he'd be heading into Laguna Canyon, where developers had not yet managed to raze the wilderness and erect more tract homes. Miles of brushland and scattered oaks flanked the canyon route all the way into Laguna Beach. The killer also might have turned left or right. Hatch looked in each direction, searching for … for whatever invisible signs had guided him that far.
After a moment, Lindsey said, “You don't know where he went from here?”
Hatch blinked, not sure why he had chosen that word. “He went back to his hideaway … into the ground.…”
“Ground?” Lindsey asked. With puzzlement she surveyed the sere hills.
“… into the darkness …”
“You mean he went underground somewhere?”
“… cool, cool silence …”
Hatch sat for a while, staring at the crossroads as a few cars came and went. He had reached the end of the trail. The killer was not there; he knew that much, but he did not know where the man had gone. Nothing more came to him—except, strangely, the sweet chocolate taste of Oreo cookies, as intense as if he had just bitten into one.
At The Cottage in Laguna Beach, they had a late breakfast of homefries, eggs, bacon, and buttered toast. Since he had died and been resuscitated, Hatch didn't worry about things like his cholesterol count or the long-term effects of passive inhalation of other people's cigarette smoke. He supposed the day would come when little risks would seem big again, whereupon he would return to a diet high in fruits and vegetables, scowl at smokers who blew their filth his way, and open a bottle of fine wine with a mixture of delight and a grim awareness of the health consequences of consuming alcohol. At the moment he was appreciating life too much to worry unduly about losing it again—which was why he was determined not to let the dreams and the death of the blonde push him off the deep end.
Food had a natural tranquilizing effect. Each bite of egg yolk soothed his nerves.
“Okay,” Lindsey said, going at her breakfast somewhat less heartily than Hatch did, “let's suppose there was brain damage of some sort, after all. But minor. So minor it never showed up on any of the tests. Not bad enough to cause paralysis or speech problems or anything like that. In fact, by an incredible stroke of luck, a one in a billion chance, this brain damage had a freak effect that was actually beneficial. It could've made a few new connections in the cerebral tissues, and left you psychic.”
“I'm not psychic.”
“Then what do you call it?”
“Even if I was psychic, I wouldn't say it was beneficial.”
Because the breakfast rush had passed, the restaurant was not too busy. The nearest tables to theirs were vacant. They could discuss the morning's events without fear of being overheard, but Hatch kept glancing around self-consciously anyway.
Immediately following his reanimation, the media had swarmed to Orange County General Hospital, and in the days after Hatch's release, reporters had virtually camped on his doorstep at home. After all, he had been dead longer than any man alive, which made him eligible for considerably more than the fifteen minutes of fame that Andy Warhol had said would eventually be every person's fate in celebrity-obsessed America. He'd done nothing to earn his fame. He didn't want it. He hadn't fought his way out of death; Lindsey, Nyebern, and the resuscitation team had dragged him back. He was a private person, content with just the quiet respect of the better antique dealers who knew his shop and traded with him sometimes. In fact, if the only respect he had was Lindsey's, if he was famous only in her eyes and only for being a good husband, that would be enough for him. By steadfastly refusing to talk to the press, he had finally convinced them to leave him alone and chase after whatever newly born two-headed goat—or its equivalent—was available to fill newspaper space or a minute of the airwaves between deodorant commercials.
Now, if he revealed that he had come back from the dead with some strange power to connect with the mind of a psycho killer, swarms of newspeople would descend on him again. He could not tolerate even the prospect of it. He would find it easier to endure a plague of killer bees or a hive of Hare Krishna solicitors with collection cups and eyes glazed by spiritual transcendence.
“If it's not some psychic ability,” Lindsey persisted, “then what is it?”
“I don't know.”
“That's not good enough.”
“It could pass, never happen again. It could be a fluke.”
“You don't believe that.”
“Well … I want to believe it.”
“We have to deal with this.”
“We have to try to understand it.”
“Don't 'why' me like a five-year-old child.”
“Be serious, Hatch. A woman's dead. She may not be the first. She may not be the last.”
He put his fork on his half-empty plate, and swallowed some orange juice to wash down the homefries. “Okay, all right, it's like a psychic vision, yeah, just the way they show it in the movies. But it's more than that. Creepier.”
He closed his eyes, trying to think of an analogy. When he had it, he opened his eyes and looked around the restaurant again to be sure no new diners had entered and sat near them.
He looked regretfully at his plate. His eggs were getting cold. He sighed.
“You know,” he said, “how they say identical twins, separated at birth and raised a thousand miles apart by utterly different adopted families, will still grow up to live similar lives?”
“Sure, I've heard of that. So?”
“Even raised apart, with totally different backgrounds, they'll choose similar careers, achieve the same income levels, marry women who resemble each other, even give their kids the same names. It's uncanny. And even if they don't know they're twins, even if each of them was told he was an only child when he was adopted, they'll sense each other out there, across the miles, even if they don't know who or what they're sensing. They have a bond that no one can explain, not even geneticists.”
“So how does this apply to you?”
He hesitated, then picked up his fork. He wanted to eat instead of talk. Eating was safe. But she wouldn't let him get away with that. His eggs were congealing. His tranquilizers. He put the fork down again.
“Sometimes,” he said, “I see through this guy's eyes when I'm sleeping, and now sometimes I can even feel him out there when I'm awake, and it's like the psychic crap in movies, yeah. But I also feel this … this bond with him that I really can't explain or describe to you, no matter how much you prod me about it.”
“You're not saying you think he's your twin or something?”
“No, not at all. I think he's a lot younger than me, maybe only twenty or twenty-one. And no blood relation. But it's that kind of bond, that mystical twin crap, as if this guy and I share something, have some fundamental quality in common.”
“I don't know. I wish I did.” He paused. He decided to be entirely truthful. “Or maybe I don't.”
Later, after the waitress had cleared away their empty dishes and brought them strong black coffee, Hatch said, “There's no way I'm going to go to the cops and offer to help them, if that's what you're thinking.”
“There is a duty here—”
“I don't know anything that could help them anyway.”
She blew on her hot coffee. “You know he was driving a Pontiac.”
“I don't even think it was his.”
“That was something else you sensed?”
“Yeah. But I don't know what he looks like, his name, where he lives, anything useful.”
“What if something like that comes to you? What if you see something that could help the cops?”
“Then I'll call it in anonymously.”
“They'll take the information more seriously if you give it to them in person.”
He felt violated by the intrusion of this psychotic stranger into his life. That violation made him angry, and he feared his anger more than he feared the stranger, or the supernatural aspect of the situation, or the prospect of brain damage. He dreaded being driven by some extremity to discover that his father's hot temper was within him, too, waiting to be tapped.