She eased to the edge of the roof and looked down at the yard to the east of the house.
The uninjured Doberman trotted around the front of the motor home and spotted her at once. It stood directly under her, gazing up, teeth bared. It seemed unfazed by the suffering of its three comrades.
Chyna moved away from the edge and got to her feet. The metal surface was somewhat slippery with dew, and she was thankful for the rubber tread on her Rockports. If she lost her footing and fell off into the yard, with no weapons and no protective clothing, the one remaining Doberman would overwhelm her and tear out her throat in ten seconds flat.
The motor home was only a few inches below the edge of the porch roof. She had parked so close that the distance between the vehicle and the house was less than a foot.
She stepped up and across that gap, onto the sloped roof of the porch. The asphalt shingles had a sandy texture and weren’t nearly as treacherous as the top of the motor home.
The slope wasn’t steep either, and she climbed easily to the front wall of the house. The recent rain had liberated a tarry scent from the numerous coats of creosote with which the logs had been treated over the years.
The double-hung window of Vess’s second-story bedroom was open three inches, as she had left it before departing the house. She slipped her aching hands through the opening and, groaning, shoved up on the bottom panel. In this wet weather, the wood had swollen, but although it stuck a couple of times, she got it all the way open.
She climbed through the window into Vess’s bedroom, where she had left a lamp burning.
In the upstairs hall, she glanced at the open door across from the bedroom. The dark study lay beyond, and she was still troubled by the feeling that there was something in it that she had missed, something vital she should know about Edgler Vess.
But she had no time for additional detective work. She hurried downstairs to the living room.
Ariel was huddled in the armchair where she had been left. She was still hugging herself and rocking, lost.
According to the mantel clock, the time was four minutes past eleven.
“You stay right there,” Chyna instructed. “Just a minute more, honey.”
She went through the kitchen to the laundry room, in search of a broom. She found both a broom and a sponge mop. The mop had the longer handle of the two, so she took it instead of the broom.
As she entered the living room again, she heard a familiar and dreaded sound. Squeak-squeak. Squeak-squeak-squeak.
She glanced at the nearest window and saw the uninjured Doberman clawing the glass. Its pointy ears were pricked, but they flattened against its skull when Chyna made eye contact with the creature. The Doberman issued the now-familiar needful keening that caused the fine hairs to stiffen on the nape of Chyna’s neck.
Turning away from the dog, Chyna started toward Ariel — and then had her attention drawn to the other living-room window. A Doberman stood with its forepaws at the base of that pane too.
This had to be the first one she had encountered when she’d gone out of the house, the same animal that she had sprayed in the muzzle. It had recovered quickly and had bitten her foot when she’d been pinned on the ground by the third dog.
She was sure that she’d blinded the second dog, which had shot at her like a mortar round from out of the darkness, and the third as well. Until now she had assumed that her second chance at this animal had also resulted in a disabling eye shot.
She’d been wrong.
At the time, of course, she herself had been all but blinded by her fogged visor — and frantic, because the third dog had been holding her down and chewing through the padding at her throat, licking at her chin. All she had known was that this animal had shrieked when she’d squirted it and that it had stopped biting her foot.
The stream of ammonia must have splashed the dog’s muzzle the second time, just as it had during their first encounter.
“Lucky bastard,” she whispered.
The twice-injured Doberman didn’t scratch at the window glass. It just watched her. Intently. Ears standing straight up. Missing nothing.
Or perhaps it wasn’t the same dog at all. Perhaps there were five of them. Or six.
At the other window: Squeak-squeak. Squeak-squeak.
Crouching in front of Ariel, Chyna said, “Honey, we’re ready to go.”
The girl rocked.
Chyna took hold of one of Ariel’s hands. This time, she didn’t have to pry the fingers out of a marble-hard fist, and at her urging, the girl got up from the chair.
Carrying the sponge mop in one hand, leading the girl with the other, Chyna crossed the living room, past the two big front windows. She moved slowly and didn’t look directly at the Dobermans, because she was afraid that either haste or another moment of confrontational eye contact might spur them to smash through the glass.
She and Ariel stepped through a doorless opening to the stairs.
Behind them, one of the dogs began to bark.
Chyna didn’t like that. Didn’t like that at all. None of them had barked before. Their disciplined stealth had been chilling — but now the barking was worse than their silence.
Climbing the stairs, pulling the girl after her, Chyna felt a hundred years old, weak and depleted. She wanted to sit and catch her breath and let her aching legs rest. To keep moving, Ariel needed constant tension on her arm; without it, she stopped and stood murmuring soundlessly. Each riser seemed higher than the one below it, as though Chyna were the storybook Alice in the wake of the white rabbit, her stomach full of exotic mushrooms, ascending an enchanted staircase in some dark wonderland.
Then, as they turned at the landing and started up the second flight, glass shattered into the living room below. In an instant, that sound made Chyna young again, able to bound like a gazelle up stairs made for giants.
“Hurry!” she urged Ariel, pulling her along.
The girl picked up her pace but still seemed to be plodding.
Leaping, desperate, to the top of the second flight, Chyna said, “Hurry!”
Vicious barking rose in the stairwell below.
Chyna entered the upstairs hall, holding tightly to the girl’s hand. She could hear the galloping thunder of ascending dogs louder even than her own heart.
To the door on the left. Into Vess’s bedroom.
She dragged Ariel after her, across the threshold, and slammed the door. There was no lock, just the spring latch activated by the knob.
They’re dogs, for God’s sake, just dogs, mean as hell, but they can’t operate a doorknob.
A dog threw itself against the door, which rattled in its frame but seemed secure.
Chyna led Ariel to the open window, where she propped the mop against the wall.
Barking, barking, the dogs clawed at the door.
With both hands, Chyna clasped the girl’s face, leaned close, and peered hopefully into her beautiful blue but vacant eyes. “Honey, please, I need you again, like I needed you with the power drill and the handcuffs. I need you a lot worse now, Ariel, because we don’t have much time, not much time at all, and we’re so close, we really are, so damn close.”
Though their eyes were at most three inches apart, Ariel seemed not to see Chyna.
“Listen to me, listen, honey, wherever you are, wherever you’re hiding out there in the Wild Wood or beyond the wardrobe door there in Narnia — is that where you are, baby? — or maybe Oz, but wherever you are, please listen to me and do what I tell you. We’ve got to go out on the porch roof. It’s not steep, you can do it, but you have to be careful. I want you to go out the window and then take a couple of steps to the left. Not to the right. There’s not much roof to the right, you’ll fall off. Take a couple steps to the left and stop and just wait there for me. I’ll be right behind you, just wait, and I’ll take you on from there.”
She let go of the girl’s face and hugged her fiercely, loving her as she would have loved a sister if she’d had one, as she wished she had been able to love her mother, loving her for what she had been through, for having suffered and survived.
“I am your guardian, honey. I’m your guardian. Vess is never going to touch you again, the freak, the hateful bastard. He’s never going to touch you again. I’m going to get you out of this stinking place, and away from him forever, but you have to work with me, you have to help and listen and be careful, so careful.”
She let go of the girl and met her eyes again.
Ariel was still Elsewhere. There was no flicker of recognition as there had been for a split second in the cellar, after the girl had used the drill.
The barking had stopped.
From the far side of the room came a new and disturbing sound. Not the clatter of the door shaking in its frame. A harder rattling noise. Metallic.
The knob was jiggling back and forth. One of the dogs must be pawing industriously at it.
The door wasn’t well fitted. Chyna could see a half-inch gap between the edge of it and the jamb. In the gap was a gleam of shiny brass: the tongue of the simple latch. If the latch was not seated deeply in the jamb, even the dog’s fumbling might, by purest chance, spring it open.
“Wait,” she told Ariel.
She crossed the room and tried to pull the dresser in front of the door.
The dogs must have sensed that she’d drawn nearer, because they began barking again. The old black iron knob rattled more furiously than before.
The dresser was heavy. But there was no straight-backed chair that she could wedge under the knob, and the nightstand didn’t seem bulky enough to prevent the dogs from shoving the door open if, in fact, the spring latch popped out of the jamb.
Heavy as it was, she nevertheless dragged the dresser halfway across the bedroom door. That seemed good enough.
The Dobermans were going crazy, barking more ferociously than ever, as if they knew that she had foiled them.
When Chyna turned to Ariel again, the girl was gone.
Panicked, she ran to the window and looked outside.
Radiant in moonlight, hair silver now instead of blond, Ariel waited on the porch roof exactly two short steps to the left of the window, where she’d been told to go. Her back was pressed to the log wall of the house, and she was staring at the sky, though she was probably still focused on something infinitely farther away than mere stars.
Chyna pushed the sponge mop onto the roof and then went out through the window while the infuriated Dobermans raged in the house behind her.
Outside, blinded dogs were no longer wailing miserably in the distance.
Chyna reached for the girl. Ariel’s hand was not stiff and clawlike as it had been before. It was still cold but now limp.
“That was good, honey, that was good. You did just what I said. But always wait for me, okay? Stay with me.”
She picked up the mop with her free hand and led Ariel to the edge of the porch roof. The gap between them and the motor home was less than a foot wide, but it was potentially dangerous for someone in Ariel’s condition.
“Let’s step across together. Okay, honey?”
Ariel was still gazing at the sky. In her eyes were cataracts of moonlight that made her look like a milky-eyed corpse.
Chilled as if the dead moonlight eyes were an omen, Chyna let go of her companion’s hand and gently forced her to tilt her head down until she was looking at the gap between the porch roof and the motor home.
“Together. Here, give me your hand. Be careful to step across. It’s not wide, you don’t even have to jump it, no strain. But if you step into it, you might fall through to the ground, where the dogs could get you. And even if you don’t fall through, you’re sure to be hurt.”
Chyna stepped across, but Ariel didn’t follow.
Turning to the girl, still holding her slack hand, Chyna tugged gently. “Come on, baby, let’s go, let’s get out of here. We’ll turn him in to the cops, and he’ll never be able to hurt anybody again, not ever, not you or me or anyone.”
After a hesitation, Ariel stepped across the gap onto the roof of the motor home — and slipped on the dew-wet metal. Chyna dropped the mop, grabbed the girl, and kept her from falling.
“Almost there, baby.”
She picked up the mop again and led Ariel to the open skylight, where she encouraged her to kneel.
“That’s good. Now wait. Almost there.”
Chyna stretched out on her stomach, leaned into the skylight, and used the mop to push the stepstool toward the back of the hall and out of the way. Dropping down onto it, one of them might have broken a leg.
They were so close to escape. They couldn’t take any chances.
Chyna got to her feet and threw the mop into the yard.
Bending down, putting one hand on the girl’s shoulder, she said, “Okay, now slide along here and put your legs through the skylight. Come on, honey. Sit on the edge, watch the sharp pieces of plastic, yeah, that’s it, let your legs dangle. Okay, now just drop to the floor inside, and then go forward. Okay? Do you understand? Go forward toward the cockpit, honey, so I won’t fall on you when I come through.”
Chyna gave the girl a gentle push, which was all she required. Ariel dropped into the motor home, landed on her feet, stumbled on the hammer that Chyna had discarded earlier, and put one hand against the wall to steady herself.
“Go forward,” Chyna urged.
Behind her, a second-story window shattered onto the porch roof. One of the two study windows. The door to Vess’s office had not been closed, and the dogs had gotten into it from the upstairs hall after the bedroom door had frustrated them.
She turned and saw a Doberman coming straight at her across the roof, leaping toward her with such velocity that, when it hit her, it would carry her off the top of the motor home and into the yard.
She twisted aside, but the dog was a lot quicker than she was, correcting its trajectory even as it bounded onto the vehicle. When it landed, however, it slipped on the dewy surface, skidded, claws screeching on the metal, and to Chyna’s astonishment, it tumbled past her, slid off the roof, and left her untouched.
Howling, the dog fell into the yard, squealed when it hit the ground, and tried to scramble to its feet. Something was wrong with its hindquarters. It couldn’t stand up. Perhaps it had broken its pelvis. It was in pain but still so furious that it remained focused on Chyna rather than itself. The dog sat barking up at her, its hind legs twisted to one side at an unnatural angle.
Not barking, wary and watchful, the other Doberman also had come through the broken study window onto the porch roof. This was the one that she’d squirted twice with ammonia, hitting the muzzle both times, for even now it shook its head and snorted as if plagued by lingering fumes. It had learned to respect her, and it wasn’t going to rush at her as rashly as the other dog had done.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com