“It’s hard to tell under that long black coat. Don’t you know where you’re going? We’ve got a navigation system. I could switch it on.”
“Is she always like this in a car?” Deucalion asked Michael.
“Like what?” Michael asked warily.
“If she’s driving, she’s not unpleasant,” Michael said. “If she can put the pedal to the floor, take corners on two wheels, and weave around other cars like a bobsled taking slalom turns, she’s not only gracious, she’s as bubbly as champagne.”
“Do you want me to put an address in the navigator?” Carson persisted. “What’s the address?”
Looking left to right, right to left, back and forth as he slowly cruised the street, Deucalion said, “So it’s important to you to be behind the wheel, to control your fate. And on a subconscious level, perhaps you equate speed—or at least being in motion—with safety.”
“I realize you’re old enough to have known Sigmund Freud,” she said, “but I consider his entire life’s work to be claptrap, so save the analysis.”
“I’m just looking for a junction. Ah … here it is ahead, and we’re going to need a little speed, no less than fifty-seven miles an hour, no more than fifty-nine.”
The Jeep shot forward. They raced to the end of the block, he hung a right so sharp they bounced onto the curb and off, and when they came out of the turn, San Francisco was gone.
They were on a rural road flanked by golden meadows. Beyond the fields to their right were forested foothills. Farther away, majestic mountains rubbed their stegosaurian backs against iron-gray clouds that looked harder than the granite peaks.
“Montana,” Deucalion said, and stopped on the shoulder of the highway. “Would you like to drive now, Carson?”
She seemed unable to exhale.
In the backseat, Michael said, “An intuitive understanding of the quantum nature of the universe.”
Deucalion apparently thought his words explained the miraculous transition when he said, “At the most fundamental level of structure, Montana is as close to San Francisco as the first page of a notebook is close to the twentieth.”
Carson said, “Yeah, sure, I’ll drive.”
When she got out of the Jeep, she needed to lean against it for a moment because the tremors in her legs and a weakness in her knees made her unsteady.
She took slow deep breaths. The cool air was the cleanest she had ever breathed. It seemed to purge from her the weariness of a night spent conducting surveillance, and the stress of the showdown with Chang.
Twenty yards to the north, a herd of elk grazed in a meadow, scores of them. The bulls looked as if they must weigh a thousand pounds or more. They were adorned with massive racks of antlers, elaborate four-foot-high crowns that gave them a regal bearing. The past summer’s newborns were growing but were still recognizably calves, and each stayed near its mother.
Scout and Arnie were nearly a thousand miles away by air, yet they were as close to her as these calves were to their mothers, not just close in her heart but also in fact. Without Deucalion, Carson could not be at their side in a single step or with one revolution of the Jeep Cherokee’s wheels, yet she took comfort from the thought that the farthest place on a map was in some strange way as near as the house next door. The layered mysteries of this world were proof that her life and her actions mattered, for mystery was the mother of meaning.
The driver’s door opened, and Deucalion got out of the Cherokee. Across the roof of the vehicle, he said, “I entered Erika’s address in the navigator for you. She’s no more than five minutes west of here. Rainbow Falls is only a few miles farther.”
He opened the left rear door of the Jeep and settled in the backseat as Michael opened the right rear door and got out.
Carson went around the front of the vehicle and claimed the driver’s seat, pulling the door shut behind her.
Michael took his customary position in the front passenger seat. He said, “Better.”
“Of course,” Carson said.
“You know, it’s funny, I didn’t sleep all night, yet suddenly I feel fresh and awake.”
As Carson put the car in gear and drove onto the highway, she said, “Me too. I think maybe it’s the Montana air, so clean.”
From the backseat, Deucalion said, “It isn’t the Montana air. You had considerable rest during our drive from San Francisco.”
“It was like a two-second road trip,” Michael said, “and anyway I didn’t nap during it.”
Deucalion leaned forward to explain. “On the subjective level of our five senses, the arrow of time is always moving forward, but on the quantum level, the arrow of time is indeterminate and, for certain purposes, its flight can be adjusted to one’s intention. We can’t actually go back in time to affect the future, but we can travel through the past on the way to the future.”
Carson said, “We don’t really need to understand.”
“To bring us to Montana,” Deucalion continued, “ … let’s just imagine that for us the arrow of time flew in a circle, backward into the past for a few hours, then forward to the moment from which we departed, simultaneously moving us nearly a thousand miles through space. You were unaware of the hours the journey took backward and forward in time, because we arrived at the same moment we left. But being unaware on a subjective level has, in this case, the equivalent rehabilitating effect of sleep.”
After a silence, Carson said, “I’d rather think it’s just the fresh Montana air.”
“Me too,” Michael agreed.
“Is that all right with you?” Carson asked Deucalion.
“If it makes you happier.”
Carson said, “It does. It makes me happier.”
Michael took a deep breath and exhaled with gusto. “So clear and crisp.”
The reassuring female voice of the navigator said, “You will make a right turn in two point seven miles.”
The lunch trays were inexcusably late. The orderly and nurse who delivered them offered no apologies or explanations.
After convincing the shift supervisor, Doris Makepeace, that he was Travis Ahern’s uncle by marriage—a lie—Bryce Walker received his lunch in the boy’s room.
The food was indifferently presented on the plate. The soup was lukewarm in spite of being served in a capped, insulated cup. Neither Bryce nor Travis had much of an appetite.
Every fifteen minutes or so, Bryce tried to call Travis’s mother at Meriwether Lewis Elementary, but each time the recorded voice told him that the hospital phones were temporarily out of service.
The dead phones, the confiscated BlackBerry, the demeanor and behavior of the staff, and the voices in the ductwork were evidence for the case that something had gone wrong at Memorial Hospital, that possibly some kind of conspiracy was being carried out, that violence had occurred, and that more violence must be impending.
Try as he might, however, Bryce could not imagine for what purpose the entire staff of the institution would turn against the patients—who were in many cases friends and neighbors—or what could cause the personality changes that they seemed to have undergone. He couldn’t explain why previously peaceful people might abruptly turn to senseless violence.
After hearing about the voices in the duct, young Travis didn’t have to imagine; he knew the answer. As a product of contemporary culture, having seen scores of science-fiction films and having read hundreds of comic books, he harbored no doubt that Rainbow Falls had been invaded by aliens, extraterrestrials who could masquerade as the human beings they killed and replaced.
Bryce had been shaped by far different fiction from the stories to which Travis had turned for entertainment. The Westerns he spent a long lifetime reading—and writing—were about good and evil of the human kind, about courage and conviction in response to danger and hardship. Westerns taught him a love of place, of home and family and truth, taught him how to live honorably. The genre hadn’t prepared him to cope with otherworldly shape-changers intent on exterminating the human race; indeed, it hadn’t prepared him even to imagine such a threat.
Although he could develop no theory of his own that made sense, Bryce resisted the boy’s fantastic explanation, even as he pretended to consider it seriously. Gazing out the window, across the roofs of the town to the foothills and mountains, he didn’t believe that a flying saucer had landed in the Treasure State, and he doubted that one ever would.
Turning to the boy again, he said, “I need to poke around some more, see what else might be amiss, talk to another patient or two and find out if they have stories to tell.”
Sitting up straighter in bed, hands fisted against his chest, Travis said, “Don’t leave me here.” He was obviously embarrassed to admit his fear of being alone; he was nine, after all, and thought himself almost grown.
“I’m not leaving you,” Bryce assured him. “I’ll be back. I just need to scout the territory some.”
The drowned sun pressed its smothered glow through fathoms of clouds, but no longer had the strength to penetrate the windows and brighten the room. Energy-efficient bulbs produced hard light that made everything appear flat and cheerless.
Without the more nuanced sunlight, the boy seemed to have turned a whiter shade of pale. When his face had swollen during the episodes of anaphylactic shock, the tissue around his eyes had sustained light bruises that now lent him a gaunt quality. He said, “We can scout the territory together.”
“No, son, that won’t work. If it’s just me, I appear to be a restless and lonely old man hoping to find some cordial company. If it’s the two of us, we’ll look like what we are—a suspicious pair nosing about in search of proof to support our worst fears. And if your worst fear is true, then the last thing we want them to think is that we’re suspicious.”
Travis thought about that, and nodded. “Don’t be gone long.”
“And when you come back—”
“I will come back.”
“—how will I know it’s you?”
“It’ll be me, Travis. Don’t you worry.”
“But how will I know?”
“You knew I was real when I first came in here. You’ll know the next time, too.”
Bryce crossed the room to the door. He glanced back at Travis and gave him two thumbs up.
The boy did not return the gesture. He looked grim.
After maybe two minutes, standing at the window in the LaPierre house and watching Nummy’s house through binoculars, Mr. Lyss said, “Both squad cars are leaving, but there’s only one cop in each. Two of them have holed up in your place.”
“What do they want in my place?” Nummy wondered.
“They want you, Peaches. They want to haul you back to the jail and throw you in the cell with that thing, so it can crunch you into mush.”
“That’s not fair, is it? I never done nothing to them.”
Turning away from the window and putting aside the binoculars, Mr. Lyss said, “It’s not what you’ve done, it’s what you’ve seen. They can’t let you run around loose after what you saw happen in that cell.”
“I don’t know what it was I seen. What happened to them people was ugly, scary, but I couldn’t tell nobody because I don’t know how to tell it. Anyway, people they wouldn’t believe me because of how I am. I’m a dummy, you know.”
“I had my suspicions that you are,” Mr. Lyss said as he returned to the bureau to select a sweater.
Nummy sat on the edge of Poor Fred’s bed. “I keep seeing the lady.”
“The one she reached through the bars, asked me could I save her. I feel sad I didn’t.”
“You’re a dummy. Dummies aren’t smart enough to save people. Don’t worry about it.”
“You’re not a dummy.”
“No, I’m not. But I couldn’t save her, either. I’m a bad man. I’m the worst of bad men. Bad men don’t save people.” He turned from the bureau, holding up a red sweater with orange and blue stripes. “What about this one?”
“It’s awful bright, sir.”
“You’re right. I don’t want to attract attention.” He threw the sweater on the floor.
“Why are you a bad man?” Nummy asked.
“Because that’s what I’m really good at being,” Mr. Lyss said, throwing more clothes on the floor.
“How did you get good at it?”
“Is your whole family bad people?”
Mr. Lyss showed him a light-brown sweater with checkers that were a little darker brown. “You think I’ll look good in this?”
“I told you true how I can’t lie.”
Frowning at the sweater, Mr. Lyss said, “What’s wrong with it?”
“Nothing wrong with it, sir.”
“Ah. I see. So you’re saying I’m such an ugly lump I won’t look good in anything.”
“I don’t want to say that.”
Mr. Lyss put the sweater on a chair. From the closet, he took a pair of khaki pants and put them with the sweater.
“What are we doing next?” Nummy asked.
Taking socks and underwear from another drawer, the old man said, “If we go out the front or back door, there’s a risk one of the cops at your place will look this way. So we either go out a window, keeping this place between us and them, or we wait till dark.”
“What about Norman?”
“I’m still thinking about you. It makes no sense bringing you, but I’m thinking. Don’t push me about it.”
“I mean my dog, Norman.”
“Don’t worry about him. He’s fine.”
“He’s over there alone with them.”
“What’re they going to do, take him to the pound and gas him? He’s a toy dog. You’re as dumb as dumb gets, but don’t be stupid.”
“Don’t say you’re sorry all the time. What’ve you got to be sorry about? Tell me—do I stink?”
“It’s not nice telling people their faults.”
“Take a walk on the wild side. Go ahead. Tell me if I stink.”
“Some people they might like the way you smell.”
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