Regina had never before been kissed goodnight, so she had not known how to respond. Some of the nuns were huggers; they liked to give you an affectionate squeeze now and then, but none of them was a smoocher. For as far back as Regina could remember, a flicker of the dorm lights was the signal to be in bed within fifteen minutes, and when the lights went out, each kid was responsible for getting tucked in himself. Now she had been tucked in twice and kissed goodnight twice, all in the same evening, and she had been too surprised to kiss either of them in return, which she now realized she should have done.
“You're such a screwup, Reg,” she said aloud.
Lying in her magnificent bed, with the painted roses twining around her in the darkness, Regina could imagine the conversation they were having, right that minute, in their own bedroom:
Did she kiss you goodnight?
No, did she kiss you?
No. Maybe she's a cold fish.
Maybe she's a psycho demon child.
Yeah, like that kid in The Omen.
You know what I'm worried about?
She'll stab us to death in our sleep.
Let's hide all the kitchen knives.
Better hide the power tools, too.
You still have the gun in the nightstand?
Yeah, but a gun will never stop her.
Thank God, we have a crucifix.
We 'II sleep in shifts.
Send her back to the orphanage tomorrow.
“Such a screwup,” Regina said. “Shit.” She sighed. “Sorry, God.” Then she folded her hands in prayer and said softly, “Dear God, if you'll convince the Harrisons to give me one more chance, I'll never say 'shit' again, and I'll be a better person.” That didn't seem like a good enough bargain from God's point of view, so she threw in other inducements: “I'll continue to keep an A average in school, I'll never again put Jell-O in the holy water font, and I'll give serious thought to becoming a nun.” Still not good enough. “And I'll eat beans.” That ought to do it. God was probably proud of beans. After all, He'd made all kinds of them. Her refusal to eat green or wax or Lima or navy or any other kind of beans had no doubt been noted in Heaven, where they had her down in the Big Book of Insults to God—Regina, currently age ten, thinks God pulled a real boner when He created beans. She yawned. She felt better now about her chances with the Harrisons and about her relationship with God, though she didn't feel better about the change in her diet. Anyway, she slept.
While Lindsey was washing her face, scrubbing her teeth, and brushing her hair in the master bathroom, Hatch sat in bed with the newspaper. He read the science page first, because it contained the real news these days. Then he skimmed the entertainment section and read his favorite comic strips before turning, at last, to the A section where the latest exploits of politicians were as terrifying and darkly amusing as usual. On page three he saw the story about Bill Cooper, the beer deliveryman whose truck they had found crosswise on the mountain road that fateful, snowy night in March.
Within a couple of days of being resuscitated, Hatch had heard that the trucker had been charged with driving under the influence and that the percentage of alcohol in his blood had been more than twice that required for a conviction under the law. George Glover, Hatch's personal attorney, had asked him if he wanted to press a civil suit against Cooper or the company for which he worked, but Hatch was not by nature litigious. Besides, he dreaded becoming bogged down in the dull and thorny world of lawyers and courtrooms. He was alive. That was all that mattered. A drunk-driving charge would be brought against the trucker without Hatch's involvement, and he was satisfied to let the system handle it.
He had received two pieces of correspondence from William Cooper, the first just four days after his reanimation. It was an apparently sincere, if long-winded and obsequious, apology seeking personal absolution, which was delivered to the hospital where Hatch was undergoing physical therapy. “Sue me if you want,”
Cooper wrote, “I deserve it. I'd give you everything if you wanted it, though I don't got much, I'm no rich man. But no matter whether you sue me or if not, I most sincerely hope you'll find it in your generous heart to forgive me one ways or another. Except for the genius of Dr. Nyebern and his wonderful people, you'd be dead for sure, and I'd carry it on my conscience all the rest of my days.” He rambled on in that fashion for four pages of tightly spaced, cramped, and at times inscrutable handwriting.
Hatch had responded with a short note, assuring Cooper that he did not intend to sue him and that he harbored no animosity toward him. He also had urged the man to seek counseling for alcohol abuse if he had not already done so.
A few weeks later, when Hatch was living at home again and back at work, after the media storm had swept over him, a second letter had arrived from Cooper. Incredibly, he was seeking Hatch's help to get his truck-driving job back, from which he had been fired subsequent to the charges that the police had filed against him. “I been chased down for driving drunk twice before, it's true,” Cooper wrote, “but both them times, I was in my car, not the truck, on my own time, not during work hours. Now my job is gone, plus they're fixing to take away my license, which'll make life hard. I mean, for one thing, how am I going to get a new job without a license? Now what I figure is, from your kind answer to my first letter, you proved yourself a fine Christian gentleman, so if you was to speak up on my behalf, it would be a big help. After all, you didn't wind up dead, and in fact you got a lot of publicity out of the whole thing, which must've helped your antique business a considerable amount.”
Astonished and uncharacteristically furious, Hatch had filed the letter without answering it. In fact he quickly put it out of his mind, because he was scared by how angry he grew whenever he contemplated it.
Now, according to the brief story on page three of the paper, based on a single technical error in police procedures, Cooper's attorney had won a dismissal of all charges against him. The article included a three-sentence summary of the accident and a silly reference to Hatch as “holding the current record for being dead the longest time prior to a successful resuscitation,” as if he had arranged the entire ordeal with the hope of winning a place in the next edition of the Guinness Book of World Records.
Other revelations in the piece made Hatch curse out loud and sit up straight in bed, culminating with the news that Cooper was going to sue his employer for wrongful termination and expected to get his old job back or, failing that, a substantial financial settlement. “I have suffered considerable humiliation at the hands of my former employer, subsequent to which I developed a serious stress-related health condition,” Cooper had told reporters, obviously disgorging an attorney-written statement that he had memorized. “Yet even Mr. Harrison has written to tell me that he holds me blameless for the events of that night.”
Anger propelled Hatch off the bed and onto his feet. His face felt flushed, and he was shaking uncontrollably.
Ludicrous. The drunken bastard was trying to get his job back by using Hatch's compassionate note as an endorsement, which required a complete misrepresentation of what Hatch had actually written. It was deceptive. It was unconscionable.
“Of all the fu**ing nerve!” Hatch said fiercely between clenched teeth.
Dropping most of the newspaper at his feet, crumpling the page with the story in his right hand, he hurried out of the bedroom and descended the stairs two at a time. In the den, he threw the paper on the desk, banged open a sliding closet door, and jerked out the top drawer on a three-drawer filing cabinet.
He had saved Cooper's handwritten letters, and although they were not on printed stationery, he knew the trucker had included not only a return address but a phone number on both pieces of - correspondence. He was so disturbed, he flicked past the correct file folder—labeled MISCELLANEOUS BUSINESS—cursed softly but fluently when he couldn't find it, then searched backward and pulled it out. As he pawed through the contents, other letters slipped out of the folder and clattered to the floor at his feet.
Cooper's second letter had a telephone number carefully handprinted at the top. Hatch put the disarranged file folder on the cabinet and hurried to the phone on the desk. His hand was shaking so badly that he couldn't read the number, so he put the letter on the blotter, in the cone of light from the brass desk lamp.
He punched William Cooper's number, intent on telling him off. The line was busy.
He jammed his thumb down on the disconnect button, got the dial tone, and tried again. Still busy.
“Sonofabitch!” He slammed down the receiver, but snatched it up again because there was nothing else he could do to let off steam. He tried the number a third time, using the redial button. It was still busy, of course, because no more than half a minute had passed since the first time he had tried it. He smashed the handset into the cradle so hard he might have broken the phone.
On one level he was startled by the savagery of the act, the childishness of it. But that part of him was not in control, and the mere awareness that he was over the top did not help him regain a grip on himself.
He looked up in surprise at the sound of his name and saw Lindsey, in her bathrobe, standing in the doorway between the den and the foyer.
Frowning, she said, “What's wrong?”
“What's wrong?” he asked, his fury growing irrationally, as if she were somehow in league with Cooper, as if she were only pretending to be unaware of this latest turn of events. “I'll tell you what's wrong. They let this Cooper bastard off the hook! The son of a bitch kills me, runs me off the goddamned road and kills me, then slips off the hook and has the nerve to try to use the letter I wrote him to get his job back!” He snatched up the crumpled newspaper and shook it at her, almost accusingly, as if she knew what was in it. “Get his job back—so he can run someone else off the fu**ing road and kill them!”
Looking worried and confused, Lindsey stepped into the den. “They let him off the hook? How?”
“A technicality. Isn't that cute? A cop misspells a word on the citation or something, and the guy walks!”
“Honey, calm down—”
“Calm down? Calm down?” He shook the crumpled newspaper again. “You know what else it says here? The jerk sold his story to that sleazy tabloid, the one that kept chasing after me, and I wouldn't have anything to do with them. So now this drunken son of a bitch sells them the story about”—he was spraying spittle he was so angry; he flattened out the newspaper, found the article, read from it—“about 'his emotional ordeal and his role in the rescue that saved Mr. Harrison's life.' What role did he have in my rescue? Except he used his CB to call for help after we went off the road, which we wouldn't have done if he hadn't been there in the first place! He's not only keeping his driver's license and probably going to get his job back, but he's making money off the whole damn thing! If I could get my hands on the bastard, I'd kill him, I swear I would!”
“You don't mean that,” she said, looking shocked.
“You better believe I do! The irresponsible, greedy bastard. I'd like to kick him in the head a few times to knock some sense into him, pitch him into that freezing river—”
“Honey, lower your voice—”
“Why the hell should I lower my voice in my own—”
“You'll wake Regina.”
It was not the mention of the girl that jolted him out of his blind rage, but the sight of himself in the mirrored closet door beside Lindsey. Actually, he didn't see himself at all. For an instant he saw a young man with thick black hair falling across his forehead, wearing sunglasses, dressed all in black. He knew he was looking at the killer, but the killer seemed to be him. At that moment they were one and the same. That aberrant thought—and the young man's image—passed in a second or two, leaving Hatch staring at his familiar reflection.
Stunned less by the hallucination than by that momentary confusion of identity, Hatch gazed into the mirror and was appalled as much by what he saw now as by the brief glimpse of the killer. He looked apoplectic. His hair was disarranged. His face was red and contorted with rage, and his eyes were … wild. He reminded himself of his father, which was unthinkable, intolerable.
He could not remember the last time he had been that angry. In fact he had never been in a comparable rage. Until now, he'd thought he was incapable of that kind of outburst or of the intense anger that could lead to it.
“I … I don't know what happened.”
He dropped the crumpled page of the newspaper. It struck his desk and fell to the floor with a crisp rustling noise that wrought an inexplicably vivid picture in his mind—
dry brown leaves tumbling in a breeze along the cracked pavement in a crumbling, abandoned amusement park
—and for just a moment he was there, with weeds sprouting up around him from cracks in the blacktop, dead leaves whirling past, the moon glaring down through the elaborate open-beam supports of a roller-coaster track. Then he was in his office again, leaning weakly against his desk.
He blinked at her, unable to speak.
“What's wrong?” she asked, moving quickly to him. She touched his arm tentatively, as if she thought he might shatter from the contact—or perhaps as if she expected him to respond to her touch with a blow struck in anger.
He put his arms around her, and hugged her tightly. “Lindsey, I'm sorry. I don't know what happened, what got into me.”
“It's all right.”
“No, it isn't. I was so … so furious.”
“You were just angry, that's all.”
“I'm sorry,” he repeated miserably.
Even if it had appeared to her to be nothing but anger, he knew that it had been more than that, something strange, a terrible rage. White hot. Psychotic. He had felt an edge beneath him, as if he were teetering on the brink of a precipice, with only his heels planted on solid ground.
To Vassago's eyes, the monument of Lucifer cast a shadow even in absolute darkness, but he could still see and enjoy the cadavers in their postures of degradation. He was enraptured by the organic collage that he had created, by the sight of the humbled forms and the stench that arose from them. His hearing was not remotely as acute as his night vision, but he did not believe that he was entirely imagining the soft, wet sounds of decomposition to which he swayed as a music lover might sway to strains of Beethoven.
When he was suddenly overcome by anger, he was not sure why. It was a quiet sort of rage at first, curiously unfocused. He opened himself to it, enjoyed it, fed it to make it grow.