He stepped from the park to the riverbank, near the fabled falls that churned up a constant mist in which, on a bright day, sunshine wove rainbows for hours at a time. In the dark, the mist was colorless, legions of pale ghosts rising from each of the six cascades and drifting eastward to haunt places downriver.
Turning away from the river, he swung into the bell tower of St. Helena’s Church. For a while he watched the flow of traffic on Cody Street: the warmly bundled pedestrians going home or out to dinner, the shoppers beyond the display windows of the brightly lighted stores …. Then he sampled a quiet middle-class residential neighborhood, the alleyway behind the Rainbow Theater, a parapeted rooftop overlooking Beartooth Avenue … .
The trucks were the only things that seemed odd to him. He saw five of them at various places around town: large paneled trucks, with midnight-blue cabs and white cargo sections. Evidently new, well washed and waxed, shiny, they bore no company name. He had not caught them when they were making a delivery or a pickup, but always saw them en route. Each was manned by a crew of two, and after a while of watching them, Deucalion decided the drivers were remarkably uniform in their absolute respect for traffic lights, stop signs, and the rules of the road.
Using his gift, from rooftop to rooftop, to quiet street corner, to alleyway, to a dark parking lot past which the street ran, and to more rooftops, Deucalion stepped and stepped, following one of the trucks until it arrived at last at a warehouse near the railroad tracks. A large sectional door rolled up, the truck disappeared into the building, and the door descended in its wake.
He circled the warehouse, searching for a window, but found none. Like the truck, the building bore no sign.
He could step through a wall as easily as through an open door, but because he didn’t know what the interior of the warehouse was like or what might be occurring in there, he could enter only at the risk of being seen. If the trucks had something to do with Victor, if Deucalion was spotted, and if a description of him was carried to Victor, he would have lost the advantage of surprise, which he wasn’t yet prepared to discard lightly.
From behind a Dumpster across the street, he watched the big door and waited to see what would happen next.
Having been Victor’s wife for only two eventful days, Erika Five hadn’t suffered as much as the earlier Erikas. She didn’t know Victor as completely as they had known him, but she knew him well enough to be pleased that he was dead, that his death had been hard, and that he died at the hands of his own creations. The thought of him alive again—though not the same individual, though only a clone of the man—made her apprehensive.
She was prepared to assist Deucalion, Carson, and Michael in any way necessary, but until they assessed the situation and had a plan of action, Erika remained content to follow her usual routine. Her favorite pastime was reading, which occupied her evenings. But books were not merely a form of entertainment; through books, she gradually learned what it meant to be human.
As the product of a laboratory, even though flesh and blood, she literally wasn’t a human being, no matter how much—externally—she could pass for one. As far as she knew, she had no rightful place in this ordained world. She was neither an innocent, as were the simple beasts of field and forest, nor one of the fallen, for she’d never been in a state of grace from which to fall. Nevertheless, in every way but the most important, the human condition was her condition, and with a good book, especially a novel, she could immerse herself in the human adventure and, page by page, more fully understand it. She was not human, but she yearned to be.
For the past two years, Jocko had been content to sit with her in the living room or on the porch in good weather, enchanted by a book of his own. Occasionally he would exclaim—“Holy moly! No, no! Boogers! Catastrophe!”—over some startling development in the tale or mutter darkly, or sigh with pleasure, or giggle. But ensconced in a chair with a book in his hands—or sometimes in his feet, with which he could hold it just as well—the little guy never spiraled into one of his hyperkinetic episodes. Books were his Ritalin.
This evening, however, Jocko rejected the very idea of settling down to read as though nothing had changed. Victor Frankenstein was alive! Clone Victor! Engaged upon his skullduggery in or near Rainbow Falls! Boogers! Catastrophe! Everything precious was at stake: their happiness, their freedom, their lives, Jim James cinnamons!
Worse than the danger suddenly threatening from all sides was Jocko’s inability to do anything about it. Deucalion, Carson, and Michael were in town investigating, digging up clues, tracking down leads, seeking the snake in its lair or wherever you sought snakes if you knew more about where they lived than Jocko did. But because of his extraordinary appearance, he could not race into town to spy and snoop, probe and plumb. He knew he must have a part to play in their battle against Victor, but he didn’t know what that part was.
As Erika sat in a living-room armchair with her current book, feet up on an ottoman, a glass of cream on ice close at hand, Jocko repeatedly passed the archway as he stomped up and down the hall, gesticulating and grumbling aloud to himself. Sometimes instead of stomping, he shambled or staggered, or scuttled, or clomped, but he was in too dour a mood to pirouette or cartwheel. He berated himself for his ineffectiveness, for his incompetence, for his uselessness. He bemoaned the ugliness that so limited his options and rued the day that he had become more than a nameless and unthinking tumor.
When Deucalion phoned with a task for Erika, she was relieved to discover that Jocko, more than she, possessed the skills and the temperament for the job. Aware that she was something of a computer hacker, Deucalion gave her the make, model, and license-plate number of a truck that interested him and asked if she might find a way into the Department of Motor Vehicles’ records to discover the owner of the vehicle and his address.
Erika disliked the Internet more than she liked it, because something about it seemed less informational than disinformational, potentially totalitarian. She hacked systems only if they were hate sites or dangerous utopian groups, and she hacked them only to mess with their data and cause them headaches.
Jocko, on the other hand, was a firewall-busting, code-breaking, backdoor-building, antiviral-thwarting, data-drilling maniac, a cyber cowboy riding a virtual horse almost anywhere he wanted. He was much smarter than he sometimes seemed to be, but his greatest advantage as a hacker was less his intelligence than his singular ability to obsess combined with his wildly enthusiastic nature, combined with his unconventional patterns of thought, combined with his ability to stay awake for months at a time if he wished to do so, combined with the stunning dexterity of his bizarre hands and more bizarre feet—he could keyboard with both and simultaneously—combined with his fierce and adorable determination to make his adopted mother proud of him.
After speaking with Deucalion, Erika stepped out of the living room, into the hallway, from which Jocko had disappeared into the kitchen on his endless loop of worry-mongering and unsparing self-denunciation. She could hear him stomping around the dinette table, his feet slap-slap-slapping, and after a moment he appeared at the doorway, shaking a fist in his face as if threatening to punch himself.
He was not wearing one of his fourteen funny hats with little bells. This was not a time for happy headgear. This was a time for hair shirts, except that Jocko didn’t own any hair shirts, and Erika refused to make one for him no matter how earnestly he begged her to buy a bolt of haircloth and get to work at her sewing machine.
Approaching Erika, he sneered at himself, jeered and mocked and scoffed and taunted himself, pointed at himself scornfully, wagged a finger at himself, progressing slowly because with every second step, he stomped on one foot with the other, accompanying the stomp with a declaration of contempt: “You deserve it!” and “So there!” and “Ninnyhammer!”
When at last Jocko reached her and tried to go around her, she sidestepped to block his way and said, “Deucalion called. He has an urgent task that he will entrust to no one but you.”
Jocko glanced left, right, over his shoulder, and then at Erika once more. “You who?” he asked.
“You, little one.”
“Me, Jocko, me?”
Such a look of wonder came over his face that it would have shattered a mirror if he had been standing before one. Then bright wonder was clouded by suspicion.
He said, “Which Deucalion?”
“I know of only one.”
Jocko cocked his head and narrowed his eyes, studying her for evidence of deception.
He said, “Tall guy, big feet, huge hands, tattooed face, and sometimes weird light throbs through his eyes?”
“Yes. That’s the one.”
“He has something for Jocko to do? An important something? That is so special. So lovely. So sweet. To be needed. But of course Jocko will fail.”
Erika handed him a page from a notepad, on which she had written the make, model, and license number of the truck. “He wants you to hack into the DMV computer and find out the name and address of the person who owns this vehicle.”
Jocko stared at the page from the notepad as if it were an object worthy of veneration. His peculiar tongue slowly licked the flaps that served as his lips.
“Today is the day,” he whispered.
“You only need to seize it, sweetie.”
“Today Jocko becomes a member of the team. A comrade. Commando. Warrior. One of the good guys.”
“Go for it,” Erika urged.
He snatched the paper from her hand, spun away from her, cried out—“Banzai!”—and scampered along the hallway to the study, where the computer waited.
Having missed breakfast because of the murderous Chang, having missed lunch because of the need to teleport to Montana and gear up for a monster hunt, having had only coffee and a cookie at Erika’s place, with Mary Margaret’s incomparably delicious apple dumplings now a thousand air miles away, Carson and Michael decided that the first order of business, after checking in to Falls Inn, would be an early dinner.
Still in their California clothes, but too self-conscious to stroll into a restaurant in storm suits and ski boots, they walked two blocks, shivering, to the Andy Andrews Café. Copper ceiling, pine-paneled walls, red-and-white checkered tablecloths: The place was clean and cozy, a haven in a madhouse world.
As New Orleans police officers, then as homicide detectives, and subsequently as private investigators, they had always done their best work when well fed. Indeed, in Carson’s mind—and in Michael’s, too—cop work and good eats were inextricably linked. You couldn’t bust bad guys with high style and aplomb if you didn’t eat great food with gusto. Conversely, if you weren’t busting bad guys—if, say, you spent the week doing paperwork or giving depositions or, God forbid, on vacation—even the most exquisite culinary creations seemed to have less flavor than usual.
Before they were seated at their table, she knew that the Andy Andrews Café was aces. The aromatic air and the mouthwatering look of the comfort food on the other diners’ plates made her stomach flutter and her knees go weak.
They ordered a bottle of superb California cabernet sauvignon; because whatever Victor the clone might be up to, he wasn’t likely to detonate a nuclear device at the intersection of Cody Street and Beartooth Avenue later this evening or commit an equivalent atrocity requiring them to be abstinent and ready. Assuming the clone was as drunk with pride and as given to vainglory as his cloner had been, his experiments would be fraught with setbacks, resulting in the perpetual revision of his schedule for world domination.
“I kind of like Rainbow Falls,” Michael said.
“It’s quaint,” she agreed.
Indicating two different couples, he said, “We could have worn our storm suits.”
Referring to a few other customers, she said, “Or cowboy hats.”
“They don’t seem to go in for the goth look around here.”
“Or motorcycle-gang chic.”
“There’s definitely less nostril jewelry.”
“I don’t have a problem with that,” she said.
“If we lived here, Scout could grow up to be a rodeo cowgirl.”
“Fine with me, as long as there’s a way she can transition from that to the presidency.”
“Her campaign slogan could be, ‘No bull ever threw me, and I won’t throw any bull.’”
“Now if the country can just survive until she’s old enough to run for office.”
They ordered the same thing: homemade meat loaf with green chiles and cheese sauce, which came with a glistening mound of paper-thin home fries, baked corn, pepper slaw, cornbread, and enough whipped butter to grease an eighteen-wheeler.
Everything was so delicious that neither of them spoke for a minute or two, until Michael said, “Do you remember—on the menu, do they give the name and number of a cardiologist?”
“They don’t have cardiologists in towns as small as this. You just call up Roto-Rooter.”
After the dishes had been taken away and as Carson and Michael were lingering over the last of the wine, a young woman entered the café and crossed the room to a table near the wall, without waiting for the hostess to seat her. She might have been such a regular that she had privileges, but there was something odd about her behavior that suggested otherwise.
“Pretty girl,” Michael said.
“Anything else, Casanova?”
“By which you don’t mean drunk.”
“By which I mean wooden—the way she moves.”
The woman sat with her arms slack, hands in her lap. Motionless, she stared not at anything or anyone in the room but as if at some distant curiosity.
“Michael, there’s something wrong with her.”
“Maybe she’s just had a rotten day.”
“Look how pale she is.”
“What’s that face jewelry?” he asked.
“Where? On her temple?”
A waitress approached the woman’s table.
“I’ve never seen jewelry like that before.”
“How’s it held on?” Carson wondered.
“Are people now gluing things to their faces?”
“Life’s getting too weird for me,” she said, and her words were like an incantation that summoned more weirdness into the world.
The ceiling had knotty-pine beams with plaster between, and the different-shades-of-gray cocoons hung from the beams on thick, lumpy gray ropes. At first they seemed wet, greasy wet like spoiled cabbage leaves or lettuce, but then Nummy saw they weren’t really wet. They only looked wet because they were twinkling, not twinkling bright like Christmas-tree lights, but twinkling dimly, darkly, like … like nothing else he’d ever seen.
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