The three horses in the stalls along the north wall were not troubled by the shriek of the power drill. They watched from over the half doors of their stalls, intrigued by the activity.
When all daylight was banished from the barn, illumination came solely from a dozen bare bulbs under copper shades that dangled on chains from the ceiling beams.
In two of the three empty stalls along the south side of the big room, the walls and doors were fortified with eighth-inch-thick interior steel plating fixed snugly in place with lag bolts. Simple hook-and-eye latches were changed out for two sturdy latch bolts, one at the top and one at the bottom of each door.
While the men replaced the locks on the outer barn doors, Ariel carried a small bag of apples to the horses in the north-side stalls. With a knife, she cut two of the apples in quarters and fed the pieces one at a time to Queenie, a handsome bay mare. She did the same with Valentine, another bay mare, and then cut three apples in quarters for the stallion.
Commander was a powerful beast, sorrel with a lighter mane and tail. As Ariel fed him the apples, the mares craned their necks over their stall doors to watch him eat, and they nickered softly as if with approval.
“We’ll be so fast, faster than the fastest wind,” she whispered to Commander.
He met her eyes as he crunched the apples. His teeth were large and square.
“We’ll never sleep,” she said, “we’ll run the hills, the fields, the forest paths.”
Commander’s nostrils flared, and he snorted. With one hoof, he pawed the stall floor.
His size appealed to her—so strong, so formidable.
As Commander finished the last piece of the third apple, Ariel said, “We’ll go where we want and chase them down, and nothing will be able to stop us.”
She reached up to stroke his forehead. With her fingers, she combed the pale forelock that cascaded over his poll.
“We’ll kill everything. We’ll kill them all,” she said. “We’ll kill every last one of them.”
How much they hated me.
Room 218. The boy in the bed. Bryce Walker pacing and restless.
How much they hated me.
If Bryce had been inclined to second-guess his suspicion that the atmosphere in the hospital had become downright eerie and that the medical personnel were markedly less professional than they had been only the previous night, his conversation with young Travis Ahern all but eliminated his doubt.
The two nurses standing over the boy’s bed, in the dark, saying nothing, attending to no nursing task, only watching him, watching and—in his words—hating him … The character of that incident was of such a piece with Bryce’s experiences during the morning that he and Travis at once became allies and conspirators.
If something singular was happening, if the air of threat was not imagined, he would be responsible for the boy in a crisis. He needed, therefore, to know what had led to his hospitalization.
According to the extensive notes on his chart and according to the young man himself, Travis Ahern was brought into the emergency room suffering from anaphylactic shock, an allergic reaction of such severity that his tongue, throat, and airways were nearly swollen shut. His blood pressure dropped so low that he lost consciousness. Injections of epinephrine saved his life.
Because Rainbow Falls lacked an allergist, Travis’s G.P.—Kevin Flynn—hospitalized the boy and the next day administered skin tests, injections of small amounts of forty allergens in Travis’s back. Only strawberries and cat dander caused reactions, both moderate. Dr. Flynn scheduled another series of injections for later in the day.
Before the physician returned, Travis endured a second episode of anaphylactic shock as bad as the first. He might well have died if he had not already been in the hospital.
The boy was immediately put on a diet consisting only of those foods to which he had shown no sensitivity in the first battery of tests, and the second group of tests was postponed until the following day. His lunch, consumed before the allergen injections, became the focus of the search for a causative agent.
In spite of a restricted diet known to be safe for him, Travis suffered a third episode, the worst of the three. This time, when he was revived with epinephrine and antihistamines, he was disoriented for a while, and his eyes remained nearly swollen shut for hours.
Alarmed at the frequency of the attacks, Dr. Flynn decided, incredibly, that the offending substance must be in the boy’s drinking water. Travis drank eight to ten glasses of city tap water a day.
His bedside carafe had been taken away and filled with orange juice. Ice cubes were made specially for him, using bottled water. Since then, he hadn’t experienced another allergic reaction.
The laboratory was conducting chemical and mineral analyses of tap water. The primary purifying chemical used by the city was a form of chlorine. The number of parts per million seemed far too low to trigger anaphylactic shock, but apparently there were cases on record of minute quantities of substances causing fatal shock. Dr. Flynn was supposed to have done a skin test with the chlorine almost two hours earlier; but as yet he had not appeared.
“As soon as they know what I’m allergic to, what I’m not allowed to eat or drink, then I can go home,” Travis said. “I really want to go home now.”
Grace Ahern, a single mother, visited her son in the evenings. But because she struggled to support them on her salary, and feared for her job in this poor economy, she couldn’t leave work to be with him during the day. Morning and afternoon, they kept in touch by phone.
“Except Mom hasn’t called today,” Travis said. “When I called her at home, I got our answering machine. Her direct line at work put me on to voice mail, but she must be there.”
“Where does she work?”
“At Meriwether Lewis.”
“The elementary school?”
“Yeah. She’s the dietician and chef. She’s a real good cook.”
“I’ll call information, get the main number at Meriwether, and ask the receptionist to track down your mom for you.”
Travis’s expression brightened. “That would be great.”
At the nightstand, Bryce plucked the handset from the phone. Instead of a tone, he got a recorded message in a woman’s voice of such studied pleasantness that it irritated him: “Telephone service has been temporarily disrupted. Please try again later. Thank you for your patience.”
After Carson called Erika Five, Deucalion rose from the game table and placed Scout in her uncle Arnie’s arms. To Michael and Carson, he said, “Pack what you think you’ll need, but be quick. I’ll be waiting at the car.”
“What I think we’ll need is guns,” Michael said.
Carson said, “Big ones. But aren’t we flying to Rainbow Falls? We can’t take guns on a plane.”
“We’re not going by a commercial airline. There won’t be any baggage inspection.”
“A charter flight? You can arrange that?”
“Just meet me at the car as quickly as you can.”
Without using a door, a hallway, or stairs, Deucalion stepped out of the study and, apparently, into their garage.
Michael said, “I sure wish I’d been born with an intuitive understanding of the quantum nature of the universe.”
“I’d be happy if you just understood how to operate the washer and dryer.”
“What do you expect when the manufacturer makes one look so much like the other?”
“The poor repairman was sobbing.”
“He was laughing,” Michael said.
“He was laughing and sobbing,” Arnie said. “When you’re packed, Scout and I will be in the kitchen with Mrs. Dolan.”
As Arnie carried her out of the study, Scout said, “Ga-ga-wa-wa-ga-ga-ba-ba,” and Michael said, “She’s brilliant.”
Upstairs, they packed clothes and toiletries in two small bags, guns and ammunition in two big suitcases.
“I hate this,” Carson said.
“Ahhh, it’ll be fun.”
“Nobody should have to slam down Victor Frankenstein twice in the same lifetime. And I can’t believe what I just heard myself say.”
“It could be worse,” Michael said.
“How could it be worse?”
“Everywhere you look these days—movies, TV, books—everything is vampires, vampires, vampires. Booorrring. If this was vampires, I’d just shoot myself now and to hell with Montana.”
Carson said, “Maybe we should just say to hell with Montana.”
“And shoot ourselves?”
“And not shoot ourselves.”
“Well, you know, this isn’t about Montana.”
“I know. I know it’s not.”
“It’s about Scout.”
“Sweet little Scout. And Arnie.”
“And it’s about Mrs. Dolan,” he said.
“It’s not that much about Mrs. Dolan.”
“Well, it’s a little bit about Mrs. Dolan.”
“A little bit,” she admitted.
“And it’s about the future of the human race.”
“Don’t lay that on me.”
“At least we know we’re fighting for the right side.”
“I think the jury’s still out on that one.”
Snapping shut the latches on his large suitcase, he said, “I don’t have clothes warm enough for Montana.”
“We’ll buy some jackets there, boots, whatever.”
“I hope I don’t have to wear a cowboy hat.”
“What’s wrong with a cowboy hat?”
“I’d look like a dink in one.”
“You’d look as adorable as ever.”
“Adorable, huh. In the movies, this is where we go into a clinch, lock lips, and make mad passionate love.”
“Not in a Frankenstein movie, it isn’t.”
They carried their luggage downstairs, left everything in the back hall, and went to the kitchen.
Mary Margaret Dolan was basting a tray of apple dumplings in a milk-and-egg wash and dusting them with cinnamon before putting the tray in the oven. Duke remained attentive to the nanny’s every move.
“Do I have to say how foolish this is,” Mary Margaret said, “flying off to Montana on another case already? Then I will. It’s entirely foolish, you haven’t even slept.”
“We’ll sleep during the flight,” Carson said.
“And we’ll sleep on the job when we get there,” Michael said.
Arnie stood at a counter, rolling out dough for more dumplings. “You’ll be all right. That’s what I told Scout. You’re always all right in the end.”
He sounded worried.
Alert to the boy’s mood, Mary Margaret said, “So you’re going out on another limb and sawing it off after yourselves, are you?”
“We never do the sawing ourselves,” Michael said. “We leave that to volunteers.”
“You always have a joke, so you do, but that little one in the playpen is no joke. She needs a dad and mother.”
“It’s just another case,” Michael assured the nanny. “It’s not as if we’re hunting vampires.”
Carson wanted to pick up Scout and hold her tight, but the baby was sound asleep. She and Michael stood at the playpen for a moment, gazing down at their child, torn by the thought of leaving her. Scout farted in her sleep.
Arnie continued working the dough, and Carson could see that her brother didn’t want a good-bye hug or kiss. Barely repressed tears stood in his eyes and he was determined not to spill them.
“Take care of Scout” was all she said to him, and he nodded.
Putting a hand on Mary Margaret’s arm, Carson kissed her cheek and said, “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Biting her lower lip, Mary Margaret searched Carson’s eyes for a moment, and then she said, “This is something different, isn’t it, lass?”
“Just a little job for an old friend,” she assured the nanny.
“You don’t lie any better than my daughters back in the day when they dared try to deceive me.”
“Maybe not. But I wouldn’t make a good nun.”
In the back hall with Michael, before they picked up their luggage, she leaned against him, put her arms around him, her head on his chest. He held her tight.
After a moment, she said, “Scout farted in her sleep.”
“It was so cute.”
“It was,” he agreed. “It was really cute.”
Carson said nothing more, and clearly he understood that she didn’t need any reassuring words, that she needed only to hold him and to be held and to get past the pain of leaving.
They knew when the moment came to go; they broke the embrace simultaneously. They picked up their bags and went into the garage.
Deucalion had already opened the tailgate of the Jeep Grand Cherokee. He waited by the open driver’s door.
They loaded their bags in the back. Michael closed the tailgate, and Carson said to Deucalion, “I’ll drive.”
“Not this time,” he said.
“I always drive.”
“She does,” Michael said. “She always drives.”
Deucalion got in behind the wheel and pulled his door shut.
“Monsters,” Michael said. “What can you do? They all have attitude.” He got in the backseat.
Carson settled for riding shotgun. Deucalion was huge in the driver’s seat beside her.
He drove out of the garage, lowered the roll-down door by remote control, and turned left into the street.
“Where’s the private terminal? Where do we get the airplane?” Carson asked.
“I’m surprised you’re okay being out like this, in daylight.”
“The side windows are tinted. In the Jeep, I’m not that easy to see. Besides, this is San Francisco, I don’t look that strange.”
After a couple of blocks, she said, “Do you always drive below the speed limit?”
In the backseat, Michael said, “Here we go.”
“Don’t be impatient,” Deucalion advised her.
“I’m not impatient. I’m just not used to riding with a two-hundred-year-old senior citizen who wears his pants under his armpits and thinks twenty miles an hour is reckless speed.”
“I don’t wear my pants under my armpits, and I’m just trying to find the correct moment to turn.”
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