When Hatch reached the front lawn, Lindsey was nowhere to be seen. He hurried to the walkway, through the open door—and discovered her in the den, where she was standing beside the desk, making a phone call.
“You find her?” she asked.
“No. What're you doing?”
“Calling the police.”
Taking the receiver out of her hand, dropping it onto the phone, he said, “By the time they get here, listen to our story, and start to do something, he'll be gone, he'll have Regina so far away they'll never find her—until they stumble across her body someday.”
“But we need help—”
Snatching the shotgun off the desk and pushing it into her hands, he said, “We're going to follow the bastard. He's got her in a car. A Honda, I think.”
“You have a license number?”
“Did you see if—”
“I didn't actually see anything,” he said, jerking open the desk drawer, plucking out the box of 12-gauge ammunition, handing that to her as well, desperately aware of the seconds ticking away. “I'm connecting with him, it flickers in and out, but I think the link is good enough, strong enough.” He pulled his ring of keys from the desk lock, in which he had left them dangling when he had taken the magazine from the drawer. “We can stay on his ass if we don't let him get too far ahead of us.” Hurrying into the foyer, he said, “But we have to move.”
He stopped and swiveled to face her as she followed him out of the den.
She said, “You go, follow them if you think you can, and I'll stay here to talk to the cops, get them started—”
Shaking his head, he said, “No. I need you to drive. These … these visions are like being punched, I sort of black out, I'm disoriented while it's happening. There's no way I won't run the car right off the damn road. Put the shotgun and the shells in the Mitsubishi.” Climbing the stairs two at a time, he shouted back to her: “And get flashlights.”
“I don't know, but we'll need them.”
He was lying. He had been somewhat surprised to hear himself ask for flashlights, but he knew his subconscious was driving him at the moment, and he had a hunch why flashlights were going to be essential. In his nightmares over the past couple of months, he had often moved through cavernous rooms and a maze of concrete corridors that were somehow revealed in spite of having no windows or artificial lighting. One tunnel in particular, sloping down into perfect blackness, into something unknown, filled him with such dread that his heart swelled and pounded as if it would burst. That was why they needed flashlights—because they were going where he had previously been only in dreams or in visions, into the heart of the nightmare.
He was all the way upstairs and entering Regina's room before he realized that he didn't know why he had gone there. Stopping just inside the threshold, he looked down at the broken doorknob and the overturned desk chair, then at the closet where clothes had fallen off the hangers and were lying in a pile, then at the open window where the night breeze had begun to stir the draperies.
Something … something important. Right here, right now, in this room, something he needed.
He switched the Browning to his left hand, wiped the damp palm of his right hand against his jeans. By now the son of a bitch in the sunglasses had started the car and was on his way out of the neighborhood with Regina, probably on Crown Valley Parkway already. Every second counted.
Although he was beginning to wonder if he had flown upstairs in a panic rather than because there was anything he really needed, Hatch decided to trust the compulsion a little further. He went to the corner desk and let his gaze travel over the books, pencils, and a notebook. The bookcase next to the desk. One of Lindsey's paintings on the wall beside it.
Come on, come on. Something he needed … needed as badly as the flashlights, as badly as the shotgun and the box of shells. Something.
He turned, saw the crucifix, and went straight for it. He scrambled onto Regina's bed and wrenched the cross from the wall behind it.
Off the bed and on the floor again, heading out of the room and along the hall toward the stairs, he gripped the icon tightly, fisted his right hand around it. He realized he was holding it as if it were not an object of religious symbolism and veneration but a weapon, a hatchet or cleaver.
By the time he got to the garage, the big sectional door was rolling up. Lindsey had started the car.
When Hatch got in the passenger's side, Lindsey looked at the crucifix. “What's that for?”
“We'll need it.”
Backing out of the garage, she said, “Need it for what?”
“I don't know.”
As the car rolled into the street, she looked at Hatch curiously. “A crucifix?”
“I don't know, but maybe it'll be useful. When I linked with him he was … he felt thankful to all the powers of Hell, that's how it went through his mind, thankful to all the powers of Hell for giving Regina to him.” He pointed left. “That way.”
Fear had aged Lindsey a few years in the past ten minutes. Now the lines in her face grew deeper still as she threw the car in gear and turned left. “Hatch, what are we dealing with here, one of those Satanists, those crazies, guys in these cults you read about in the paper, when they catch one of them, they find severed heads in the refrigerator, bones buried under the front porch?”
“Yeah, maybe, something like that.” At the intersection he said, “Left here. Maybe something like that … but worse, I think.”
“We can't handle this, Hatch.”
“The hell we can't,” he said sharply. “There's no time for anybody else to handle it. If we don't, Regina's dead.”
They came to an intersection with Crown Valley Parkway, which was a wide four- to six-lane boulevard with a garden strip and trees planted down the center. The hour was not yet late, and the parkway was busy, though not crowded.
“Which way?” Lindsey asked.
Hatch put his Browning on the floor. He did not let go of the crucifix. He held it in both hands. He looked left and right, left and right, waiting for a feeling, a sign, something. The headlights of passing cars washed over them but brought no revelations.
“Hatch?” Lindsey said worriedly.
Left and right, left and right. Nothing. Jesus.
Hatch thought about Regina. Auburn hair. Gray eyes. Her right hand curled and twisted like a claw, a gift from God. No, not from God. Not this time. Can't blame them all on God. She might have been right: a gift from her parents, drug-users' legacy.
A car pulled up behind them, waiting to get out onto the main street.
The was she walked, determined to minimize the limp. The way she never concealed her deformed hand, neither ashamed nor proud of it, just accepting. Going to be a writer. Intelligent pigs from outer space.
The driver waiting behind them blew his horn.
Regina, so small under the weight of the world, yet always standing straight, her head never bowed. Made a deal with God. In return for something precious to her, a promise to eat beans. And Hatch knew what the precious thing was, though she had never said it, knew it was a family, a chance to escape the orphanage.
The other driver blew his horn again.
Lindsey was shaking. She started to cry.
A chance. Just a chance. All the girl wanted. Not to be alone any more. A chance to sleep in a bed painted with flowers. A chance to love, be loved, grow up. The small curled hand. The small sweet smile. Goodnight… Dad.
The driver behind them blew his horn insistently.
“Right,” Hatch said abruptly. “Go right.”
With a sob of relief, Lindsey turned right onto the parkway. She drove faster than she usually did, changing lanes as traffic required, crossing the south-county flatlands toward the distant foothills and the night-shrouded mountains in the east.
At first Hatch was not sure that he had done more than guess at what direction to take. But soon conviction came to him. The boulevard led east between endless tracts of houses that speckled the hills with lights as if they were thousands of memorial flames on the tiers of immense votive-candle racks, and with each mile he sensed more strongly that he and Lindsey were following in the wake of the beast.
Because he had agreed there would be no more secrets between them, because he thought she should know—and could handle—a full understanding of the extremity of Regina's circumstances, Hatch said, “What he wants to do is hold her beating heart in his bare hand for its last few beats, feel the life go out of it.”
“She's still alive. She has a chance. There's hope.” He believed what he said was true, had to believe it or go mad. But he was troubled by the memory of having said those same things so often in the weeks before cancer had finally finished with Jimmy.
DOWN AMONG THE DEAD
Death is no fearsome mystery.
He is well known to thee and me.
He hath no secrets he can keep
to trouble any good man's sleep.
Turn not thy face from Death away.
Care not he takes our breath away.
Fear him not, he's not thy master,
rushing at thee faster, faster.
Not thy master but servant to
the Maker of thee, what or Who
created Death, created thee
—and is the only mystery.
—THE BOOK OF COUNTED SORROWS
Jonas Nyebern and Kari Dovell sat in armchairs before the big windows in the darkened living room of his house on Spyglass Hill, looking at the millions of lights that glimmered across Orange and Los Angeles counties. The night was relatively clear, and they could see as far as Long Beach Harbor to the north. Civilization sprawled like a luminescent fungus, devouring all.
A bottle of Robert Mondavi chenin blanc was in an ice bucket on the floor between their chairs. It was their second bottle. They had not eaten dinner yet. He was talking too much.
They had been seeing each other socially once or twice a week for more than a month. They had not gone to bed together, and he didn't think they ever would. She was still desirable, with that odd combination of grace and awkwardness that sometimes reminded him of an exotic long-legged crane, even if the side of her that was a serious and dedicated physician could never quite let the woman in her have full rein. However, he doubted she even expected physical intimacy. In any case, he didn't believe he was capable of it. He was a haunted man; too many ghosts waited to bedevil him if happiness came within his reach. What each of them got from the relationship was a friendly ear, patience, and genuine sympathy without maudlin excess.
That evening he talked about Jeremy, which was not a subject conducive to romance even if there had been any prospect of it. Mostly he worried over the signs of Jeremy's congenital madness that he'd failed to realize—or admit—were signs.
Even as a child Jeremy had been unusually quiet, invariably preferring solitude to anyone's company. That was explained away as simple shyness. From the earliest age he seemed to have no interest in toys, which was written off to his indisputably high intelligence and a too-serious nature. But now all those untouched model airplanes and games and balls and elaborate Erector sets were disquieting indications that his interior fantasy life had been richer than any entertainment that could be provided by Tonka, Mattel, or Lionel.
“He was never able to receive a hug without stiffening a little,” Jonas remembered. “When he returned a kiss for a kiss, he always planted his lips on the air instead of your cheek.”
“Lots of kids have difficulty being demonstrative,” Kari insisted. She lifted the wine bottle from the ice, leaned out, and refilled the glass he held. “It would seem like just another aspect of his shyness. Shyness and self-effacement aren't faults, and you couldn't be expected to see them that way.”
“But it wasn't self-effacement,” he said miserably. “It was an inability to feel, to care.”
“You can't keep beating yourself up like this, Jonas.”
“What if Marion and Stephanie weren't even the first?”
“They must have been.”
“But what if they weren't?”
“A teenage boy might be a killer, but he's not going to have the sophistication to get away with murder for any length of time.”
“What if he's killed someone since he slipped away from the rehab hospital?”
“He's probably been victimized himself, Jonas.”
“No. He's not the victim type.”
“He's probably dead.”
“He's out there somewhere. Because of me.”
Jonas stared at the vast panorama of lights. Civilization lay in all its glimmering wonder, all its blazing glory, all its bright terror.
As they approached the San Diego Freeway, Interstate 405, Hatch said, “South. He's gone south.”
Lindsey flipped on the turn signal and caught the entrance ramp just in time.
At first she had glanced at Hatch whenever she could take her eyes off the road, expecting him to tell her what he was seeing or receiving from the man they were trailing. But after a while she focused on the highway whether she needed to or not, because he was sharing nothing with her. She suspected his silence simply meant he was seeing very little, that the link between him and the killer was either weak or flickering on and off. She didn't press him to include her, because she was afraid that if she distracted him, the bond might be broken altogether—and Regina lost.
Hatch continued to hold the crucifix. Even from the corner of her eye, Lindsey could see how the fingertips of his left hand ceaselessly traced the contours of the cast-metal figure suffering upon the faux dogwood cross. His gaze seemed to be turned inward, as if he were virtually unaware of the night and the car in which he traveled.
Lindsey realized that her life had become as surreal as any of her paintings. Supernatural experiences were juxtaposed with the familiar mundane world. Disparate elements filled the composition: crucifixes and guns, psychic visions and flashlights.
In her paintings, she used surrealism to elucidate a theme, provide insight. In real life, each intrusion of the surreal only further confused and mystified her.
Hatch shuddered and leaned forward as far as the safety harness would allow, as if he had seen something fantastic and frightening cross the highway, though she knew he was not actually looking at the blacktop ahead. He slumped back into his seat. “He's taken the Ortega Highway exit. East. The same exit's coming up for us in a couple of miles. East on the Ortega Highway.”