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A trellis covered the wall immediately below her window. A lush trumpet vine with purple flowers grew up the sturdy lattice to the windowsill, and then around one side almost to the eaves. She was like some princess locked in a tower, pining for a prince to climb up the vine and rescue her. The tower that served as her prison was life itself, and the prince for whom she waited was Death, and that from which she longed to be rescued was the curse of existence.

Vassago said softly, “I am here for you,” but he did not move from his hiding place.

After a couple of minutes, she turned away from the window. Vanished. A void lay behind the glass where she had stood.

He ached for her return, one more brief look at her.


He waited five minutes, then another five. But she did not come to the window again.

At last, aware that dawn was closer than ever, he crept to the back of the garage once more. Because he had already freed it, the window swung out silently this time. The opening was tight, but he eeled through with only the softest scrape of clothes against wood.

Lindsey dozed in half-hour and hour naps throughout the night, but her sleep was not restful. Each time she woke, she was sticky with perspiration, even though the house was cool. Beside her, Hatch issued murmured protests in his sleep.

Toward dawn she heard noise in the hall and rose up from her pillows to listen. After a moment she identified the sound of the toilet flushing in the guest bathroom. Regina.

She settled back on her pillows, oddly soothed by the fading sound of the toilet. It seemed like such a mundane—not to say ridiculous—thing from which to take solace. But a long time had passed without a child under her roof. It felt good and right to hear the girl engaged in ordinary domestic business; it made the night seem less hostile. In spite of their current problems, the promise of happiness might be more real than it had been in years.

In bed again, Regina wondered why God had given people bowels and bladders. Was that really the best possible design, or was He a little bit of a comedian?

She remembered getting up at three o'clock in the morning at the orphanage, needing to pee, encountering a nun on the way to the bathroom down the hall, and asking the good sister that very question. The nun, Sister Sarafina, had not been startled at all. Regina had been too young then to know how to startle a nun; that took years of thinking and practice. Sister Sarafina had responded without pause, suggesting that perhaps God wanted to give people a reason to get up in the middle of the night so they would have another opportunity to think of Him and be grateful for the life He had granted them. Regina had smiled and nodded, but she had figured Sister Sarafina was either too tired to think straight or a little dim-witted. God had too much class to want His children thinking about Him all the time while they were sitting on the pot.

Satisfied from her visit to the bathroom, she snuggled down in the covers of her painted mahogany bed and tried to think of an explanation better than the one the nun had given her years ago. No more curious noises arose from the backyard, and even before the vague light of dawn touched the windowpanes, she was asleep again.

High, decorative windows were set in the big sectional doors, admitting just enough light from the streetlamps out front to reveal to Vassago, without his sunglasses, that only one car, a black Chevy, was parked in the three-car garage. A quick inspection of that space did not reveal any hiding place where he might conceal himself from the Harrisons and be beyond the reach of sunlight until the next nightfall.

Then he saw the cord dangling from the ceiling over one of the empty parking stalls. He slipped his hand through the loop and pulled downward gently, less gently, then less gently still, but always steadily and smoothly, until the trapdoor swung open. It was well oiled and soundless.

When the door was all the way open, Vassago slowly unfolded the three sections of the wooden ladder that were fixed to the back of it. He took plenty of time, more concerned with silence than with speed.

He climbed into the garage attic. No doubt there were vents in the eaves, but at the moment the place appeared to be sealed tight.

With his sensitive eyes, he could see a finished floor, lots of cardboard boxes, and a few small items of furniture stored under dropcloths. No windows. Above him, the underside of rough roofing boards were visible between open rafters. At two points in the long rectangular chamber, light fixtures dangled from the peaked ceiling; he did not turn on either of them.

Cautiously, quietly, as if he were an actor in a slow-motion film, he stretched out on his belly on the attic floor, reached down through the hole, and pulled up the folding ladder, section by section. Slowly, silently, he secured it to the back of the trapdoor. He eased the door into place again with no sound but the soft spang of the big spring that held it shut, closing himself off from the three-car garage below.

He pulled a few of the dropcloths off the furniture. They were relatively dust free. He folded them to make a nest among the boxes and then settled down to await the passage of the day.

Regina. Lindsey. I am with you.



Lindsey drove Regina to school Wednesday morning. When she got back to the house in Laguna Niguel, Hatch was at the kitchen table, cleaning and oiling the pair of Browning 9mm pistols that he had acquired for home security.

He had purchased the guns five years ago, shortly after Jimmy's cancer had been diagnosed as terminal. He had professed a sudden concern about the crime rate, though it never had been—and was not then—particularly high in their part of Orange County. Lindsey had known, but had never said, that he was not afraid of burglars but of the disease that was stealing his son from him; and because he was helpless to fight off the cancer, he secretly longed for an enemy who could be dispatched with a pistol.

The Brownings had never been used anywhere but on a firing range. He had insisted that Lindsey learn to shoot alongside him. But neither of them had even taken target practice in a year or two.

“Do you really think that's wise?” she asked, indicating the pistols.

He was tight-lipped. “Yes.”

“Maybe we should call the police.”

“We've already discussed why we can't.”

“Still, it might be worth a try.”

“They won't help us. Can't.”

She knew he was right. They had no proof that they were in danger.

“Besides,” he said, keeping his eyes on the pistol as he worked a tubular brush in and out of the barrel, “when I first started cleaning these, I turned on the TV to have some company. Morning news.”

The small set, on a pull-out swivel shelf in the end-most of the kitchen cabinets, was off now.

Lindsey didn't ask him what had been on the news. She was afraid that she would be sorry to hear it—and was convinced that she already knew what he would tell her.

Finally looking up from the pistol, Hatch said, “They found Steven Honell last night. Tied to the four corners of his bed and beaten to death with a fireplace poker.”

At first Lindsey was too shocked to move. Then she was too weak to continue standing. She pulled a chair out from the table and settled into it.

For a while yesterday, she had hated Steven Honell as much as she had ever hated anyone in her life. More. Now she felt no animosity for him whatsoever. Just pity. He had been an insecure man, concealing his insecurity from himself behind a pretense of contemptuous superiority. He had been petty and vicious, perhaps worse, but now he was dead; and death was too great a punishment for his faults.

She folded her arms on the table and put her head down on them. She could not cry for Honell, for she had liked nothing about him—except his talent. If the extinguishing of his talent was not enough to bring tears, it did at least cast a pall of despair over her.

“Sooner or later,” Hatch said, “the son of a bitch is going to come after me.”

Lindsey lifted her head even though it felt as if it weighed a thousand pounds. “But why?”

“I don't know. Maybe we'll never know why, never understand it. But somehow he and I are linked, and eventually he'll come.”

“Let the cops handle him,” she said, painfully aware that there was no help for them from the authorities but stubbornly unwilling to let go of that hope.

“Cops can't find him,” Hatch said grimly. “He's smoke.”

“He won't come,” she said, willing it to be true.

“Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not next week or even next month. But as sure as the sun rises every morning, he'll come. And we'll be ready for him.”

“Will we?” she wondered.

“Very ready.”

“Remember what you said last night.”

He looked up from the pistol again and met her eyes. “What?”

“That maybe he's not just an ordinary man, that he might have hitchhiked back with you from … somewhere else.”

“I thought you dismissed that theory.”

“I did. I can't believe it. But do you? Really?”

Instead of answering, he resumed cleaning the Browning.

She said, “If you believe it, even half believe it, put any credence in it at all—then what good is a gun?”

He didn't reply.

“How can bullets stop an evil spirit?” she pressed, feeling as if her memory of waking up and taking Regina to school was just part of a continuing dream, as if she was not caught in a real-life dilemma but in a nightmare. “How can something from beyond the grave be stopped with just a gun?”

“It's all I have,” he said.

Like many doctors, Jonas Nyebern did not maintain office hours or perform surgery on Wednesday. However, he never spent the afternoon golfing, sailing, or playing cards at the country club. He used Wednesdays to catch up on paperwork, or to write research papers and case studies related to the Resuscitation Medicine Project at Orange County General.

That first Wednesday in May, he planned to spend eight or ten busy hours in the study of his house on Spyglass Hill, where he had lived for almost two years, since the loss of his family. He hoped to finish writing a paper that he was going to deliver at a conference in San Francisco on the eighth of May.

The big windows in the teak-paneled room looked out on Corona Del Mar and Newport Beach below. Across twenty-six miles of gray water veined with green and blue, the dark palisades of Santa Catalina Island rose against the sky, but they were unable to make the vast Pacific Ocean seem any less immense or less humbling than if they had not been there.

He did not bother to draw the drapes because the panorama never distracted him. He had bought the property because he had hoped that the luxuries of the house and the magnificence of the view would make life seem beautiful and worth living in spite of great tragedy. But only his work had managed to do that for him, and so he always went directly to it with no more than a glance out of the windows.

That morning, he could not concentrate on the white words against the blue background on his computer screen. His thoughts were not pulled toward Pacific vistas, however, but toward his son, Jeremy.

On that overcast spring day two years ago, when he had come home to find Marion and Stephanie stabbed so often and so brutally that they were beyond revival, when he had found an unconscious Jeremy impaled on the vise-held knife in the garage and rapidly bleeding to death, Jonas had not blamed an unknown madman or burglars caught by surprise in the act. He had known at once that the murderer was the teenage boy slumped against the workbench with his life drizzling onto the concrete floor. Something had been wrong with Jeremy—missing in him—all his life, a difference that had become more marked and frightening as the years passed, though Jonas had tried for so long to convince himself the boy's attitudes and actions were manifestations of ordinary rebelliousness. But the madness of Jonas's father, having skipped one generation, had appeared again in Jeremy's corrupted genes.

The boy survived the extraction of the knife and the frantic ambulance ride to Orange County General, which was only minutes away. But he died on the stretcher as they were wheeling him along a hospital corridor.

Jonas had recently convinced the hospital to establish a special resuscitation team. Instead of using the bypass machine to warm the dead boy's blood, they employed it to recirculate cooled blood into his body, hastening to lower his body temperature drastically to delay cell deterioration and brain damage until surgery could be performed. The air conditioner was set all the way down at fifty, bags of crushed ice were packed along the sides of the patient, and Jonas personally opened the knife wound to search for—and repair—the damage that would foil reanimation.

He might have known at the time why he wanted so desperately to save Jeremy, but afterwards he was never able to understand his motivations fully, clearly.

Because he was my son, Jonas sometimes thought, and was therefore my responsibility.

But what parental responsibility did he owe to the slaughterer of his daughter and wife?

I saved him to ask him why, to pry from him an explanation, Jonas told himself at other times.

But he knew there was no answer that would make sense. Neither philosophers nor psychologists—not even the murderers themselves—had ever, in all of history, been able to provide an adequate explanation for a single act of monstrous sociopathic violence.

The only cogent answer, really, was that the human species was imperfect, stained, and carried within itself the seeds of its own destruction. The Church would call it the legacy of the Serpent, dating back to the Garden and the Fall. Scientists would refer to the mysteries of genetics, biochemistry, the fundamental actions of nucleotides. Maybe they were both talking about the same stain, merely describing it in different terms. To Jonas it seemed that this answer, whether provided by scientists or theologians, was always unsatisfying in precisely the same way and to the same degree, for it suggested no solution, prescribed no preventative. Except faith in God or in the potential of science.

Regardless of his reasons for taking the action he did, Jonas had saved Jeremy. The boy had been dead for thirty-one minutes, not an absolute record even in those days, because the young girl in Utah had already been reanimated after being in the arms of Death for sixty-six minutes. But she'd been severely hypothermic, while Jeremy had died warm, which made the feat a record of one kind, anyway. Actually, revival after thirty-one minutes of warm death was as miraculous as revival after eighty minutes of cold death. His own son and Hatch Harrison were Jonas's most amazing successes to date—if the first one qualified as a success.

For ten months Jeremy lay in a coma, feeding intravenously but able to breathe on his own and otherwise in need of no life-support machines. Early in that period, he was moved from the hospital to a high-quality nursing home.