Carson’s right arm hung at her side. She turned her hand and directed her pistol toward the deck immediately behind her.
“You have no reason to trust me, and I have no reason to trust you,” said Chang with what sounded like a perilous degree of despair.
“You have every reason to trust us,” said Michael. “We’re nice people.”
As Carson squeezed off a shot, she dropped toward her knees, intending to fling herself flat on the deck.
Chang screamed in pain and fired a round the instant he was hit.
Maybe Carson didn’t really feel the bullet sizzle across her scalp, but there was muzzle flash, the smell of burnt hair.
She sprawled facedown, rolled on her back, sat up with the pistol in a two-hand grip, saw Chang flat and Michael on top of him with a knee in his back.
“My foot, my foot,” Chang screamed, and Carson said urgently, “Michael, is my hair on fire?” and Michael said, “No, his piece is on the deck, find it!”
Carson found the weapon—“Got it”—and Michael said he needed to vomit, which he had never done in his years as a cop, so Carson knelt beside Chang and put her pistol to his head, which she greatly enjoyed. Chang kept screaming about his wounded foot, and Michael leaned over the railing and spewed into the bay. In the distance a siren rose, and when Michael had purged his stomach, he announced that he had called 911 from the quay, and then he asked Carson if she needed to vomit, and she said she didn’t, but she was wrong, and she vomited on Chang.
Mr. Lyss pointed a finger at Nummy. His fingers were long. They were more bone than flesh. The nails were the color of chicken fat.
Squinting down his arm, along his finger, right into Nummy’s eyes, Mr. Lyss said, “You’re sitting on my bunk.”
“I figured this must be my bunk.”
“You figured wrong. You’ve got the top one.”
“Sorry, sir,” Nummy said, and he got to his feet.
They were eye to eye.
Mr. Lyss’s eyes were like the gas flames on the kitchen cooktop. Not just blue, because lots of nice things were blue, but blue and hot and dangerous.
“What’re you in here for?” Mr. Lyss asked.
“For just a little time.”
“Moron. I mean what’d you do to land here?”
“Mrs. Trudy LaPierre—she hired a man to break in her place and steal the best she’s got.”
“She hired her own damn burglar?” Mr. Lyss chewed his pale, peeling lips with his dead-charcoal teeth. “So it’s an insurance scam, huh?”
“You’re not that dumb, boy, and the jury will know it. You knew why she hired you.”
Mr. Lyss’s breath smelled like tomatoes when you forget to pick them because you don’t like tomatoes, and then they rot on the vine.
Nummy moved away from Mr. Lyss and stood by the cell door. “No, she never done hired me. Who she hired is Mr. Bob Pine. She wanted Mr. Bob Pine to steal her best, then beat Poor Fred to death.”
“Poor Fred. Grandmama always called him Poor Fred. He’s Mrs. Trudy LaPierre’s husband.”
“Why’s he Poor Fred?”
“He got a brain stroke years ago. Poor Fred can’t talk no more, and he gets around in his walker. They live next door.”
“So this Trudy wanted him killed, made to look like it happened during a burglary.”
“Mr. Bob Pine he was going to put stolen stuff in my house, I’d go to prison.”
Eyes pinched to slits, shoulders hunched, head thrust forward, like one of those birds that ate dead things on the highway, Mr. Lyss came close again. “Is that your story, boy?”
“It’s what almost happened, sir. But Mr. Bob Pine he got a cold in his feet.”
“In his feet?”
“Such a bad cold, he didn’t feel good enough to do the stealing and killing. So he goes to Chief Jarmillo, tells him all what Mrs. Trudy LaPierre hired him for.”
“When did this happen?”
“So why are you here?”
“Mrs. Trudy LaPierre she’s dangerous. Chief says she’s got a history of dangerous, and she’s all crazy-mad at me.”
“She hasn’t been arrested?”
“Nobody can find her.”
“Why would she be mad at you?”
“It’s silly,” said Nummy. “Mr. Bob Pine come to my place to see me before doing the stealing and killing. He wanted to cremate me.”
For no clear reason, Mr. Lyss got angry and shook his bony old fist in Nummy’s face. His knuckles were dirty. “Damn it, boy, don’t complicate dumb with stupid. I’m trying to get a simple truth out of you, and you snarl it up so I just about need a translator. Cremate? Burn you to ashes? If he’s going to pin the crime on you, he’s not going to cremate you first.”
Easing back toward the bunks, trying to escape his cellmate’s breath, which burned in the nose worse than gasoline fumes, Nummy tried harder to get the word right. “Creminate. No. Increminate.”
“Incriminate,” said Mr. Lyss. “Pine wanted to incriminate you, set you up for old Fred’s murder.”
“But he hadn’t stolen anything yet, he didn’t have anything to plant in your house.”
“No, what he come for was to get some stuff of mine he was going to put in Poor Fred’s house.”
“Stuff I didn’t know was stuff I even had. Deeanhay.”
“What? What did you say?”
“Deeanhay. Chief Jarmillo says like some of my hairs, my spit on a water glass.”
“D-N-A, you damn fool.”
“My fingers on the glass, my marks.”
“My fingers, my marks again, on a hammer handle. Chief Jarmillo says I wouldn’t have no idea I was giving this stuff away.”
Mr. Lyss followed Nummy to the bunks. “So what happened? Why didn’t Pine go through with it?”
“Mr. Bob Pine he comes, I’m making toast.”
After a moment, Mr. Lyss said, “And?”
“It’s just white-bread toast.”
Mr. Lyss shifted back and forth from foot to foot, back and forth, as if he might break into a little dance. He kept knocking his fists together, too, and his eyes bulged more than it seemed eyes could bulge yet not fall out of their sockets.
He was for sure an excitable person.
“Toast?” Mr. Lyss said as if the whole idea of toast disgusted him. “Toast? Toast? What does toast have to do with anything?”
“What it has to do with is Grandmama’s peach preserves,” Nummy said. He started to sit down to get away from the man’s sickening breath, but he popped up again before his butt touched Mr. Lyss’s bunk. “I made good toast for Mr. Bob Pine. He was crazy for the peach preserves, so I told about Grandmama, how she teached me everything I needed to live okay at home by myself after she went to God.”
Lyss said, “He liked the peach preserves.”
“Sir, he was crazy for them preserves.”
“Because he liked the peach preserves, he decided not to kill old Fred—”
“—decided not to pin the murder on you, and decided to turn the bitch Trudy over to the cops.”
“Mrs. Trudy LaPierre,” said Nummy. “She done a bad thing, which is never a good idea.”
Mr. Lyss rapped his knuckles against Nummy’s chest, the way he might knock on a door. “Let me tell you something, Peaches. If it was me you made toast for, there’s no preserves in the world good enough to keep me from earning Trudy’s blood money. I’d have killed old Fred—”
“—and I’d kill you to make it look like a remorseful suicide after you offed your neighbor. What do you think of that?”
“Don’t want to think of it, sir.”
Rapping on Nummy’s chest again, Mr. Lyss said, “What you want to do, Peaches, is treat me with respect at all times. I am worse for real than any nightmare you ever dreamed. You want to walk on tippytoe around me from morning to night and back around again. I am the scariest sonofabitch in the state of Montana. Say it.”
“Say what?” Nummy asked.
“Tell me I’m the scariest sonofabitch in Montana.”
Nummy shook his head. “I told you true how I can’t lie.”
“Won’t be a lie,” said Mr. Lyss. He spat on Nummy’s sweatshirt. “Say it, dimwit, or I’ll bite your nose off. I’ve done it to others.”
“But lots of folks is scarier than you,” Nummy said, wishing he could lie if it would save his nose.
“Name me one,” Mr. Lyss demanded.
Pointing through the bars they shared with the adjoining cell, Nummy O’Bannon said, “All them is scarier.”
As if he had not noticed them until now, Mr. Lyss turned to look at the nine people in the neighboring cell and at the ten in the cell beyond that one. “What’s so scary about them?”
“Just you watch, sir.”
“They look like they all volunteered to suck on a gas pipe, and they’ll wait real nice and quiet till they’re allowed to do it. Bunch of nimrods.”
“Just you watch,” Nummy repeated.
Mr. Lyss stared at the other prisoners. He crossed to the shared bars for a closer look. He said, “What the hell?”
In that waning October darkness, when the earth rotated away from the earliest stars of the night, when the moon set, Deucalion stepped out of the California monastery into pre-dawn New Orleans.
Two hundred years earlier, the singular lightning that animated him in that laboratory in the mountains of central Europe had also brought to him great longevity. And other gifts.
For one thing, on an intuitive level, he understood the quantum nature of the universe: how different futures were contained in every moment in the present and all of them not only equally possible but equally real; how mind ruled matter; how the flight of a butterfly in Tokyo could affect the weather in Chicago; how on the deepest level of structure, every place in the world was the same place. He did not need wheels or wings to travel where he wished, and no locked door was ever locked to him.
In New Orleans, he walked the street in the upscale Garden District where Victor Frankenstein had once lived under the name Victor Helios. The great mansion had burned to the ground on the night of Victor’s death. The lot was cleared and sold. A new owner had begun construction on a house.
He did not know why he had come here. Even if somehow Victor might be alive, he would never dare return to this city.
Long ago a monster but now the hunter of a monster, Deucalion perhaps expected that in New Orleans he would receive a vision of his maker’s whereabouts, clues clairvoyantly presented. But psychic powers were not one of his gifts.
A police car turned the corner and came toward him.
One half of Deucalion’s face was handsome by most standards, but the other half was broken, cleft, concaved, and thick with scar tissue, a consequence of his attempt to kill his maker two centuries earlier. A Tibetan monk had given him a disguise in the form of an intricate tattoo of many colors, a clever mask that distracted people from recognizing the extent of the underlying damage and from the realization that an ordinary man would not have survived such wounds.
Nevertheless, Deucalion ventured out mostly at night—or in stormy weather, when he felt especially at home. And he avoided the authorities, who had seldom been sympathetic to him.
When the headlights of the police cruiser flashed to high beams, Deucalion stepped from the Garden District into another part of the city, to a street lined with moss-robed oaks, where once the Hands of Mercy stood, an old Catholic hospital converted into the maze of laboratories where Victor had created his flawed New Race. That building was gone, too, burned to the ground, the rubble hauled away. No new structure had begun to rise from the property.
With a turn and a step, Deucalion left the vacant lot for a two-lane road outside a landfill in the uplands northeast of Lake Pontchartrain. A high chain-link fence fitted with nylon privacy panels and topped with coils of barbed wire surrounded Crosswoods Waste Management, and the fence itself was largely screened by offset rows of loblolly pines.
Here Victor had died. Deucalion witnessed his execution. This debunker of the idea of human exceptionalism, this enemy of humanity itself, this would-be designer of a super race, had after all been human himself, had died and been buried under hundreds of tons of trash, deep in the landfill. His crushed and lifeless body could not have been resurrected.
Low overhead, bat wings churned.
In the insect-rich air above the dump, the night of feeding was done. The flight from the approaching dawn had begun, the great flock of bats gathering from across the sprawling landfill where they had been dining as they swooped and soared, now coalescing into a wheel turning in the air directly above Deucalion, scores of individuals pumping around, around, and then hundreds in a widening gyre, the flock now a swarm, abruptly a thousand strong or stronger, unlike anything he had before experienced. The initial rustle of their membranous wings swelled into a hum that seemed to vibrate through Deucalion as if his spine were a tuning fork—or as if his entire skeleton were a receiving dish for a message the bats were sending.
In this intermission between moonset and sunrise, the airborne rodent pack shrieked as one and flew north toward whatever cave might be their sanctuary during the hours ruled by the sun. In their wake came stillness as deep as that of pooled and waveless water.
Mirroring the outer stillness, Deucalion felt a sudden and unique inner calm of uncommon depth. All his teeming thoughts were in an instant hushed and his attention was drawn deep into the still waters of his mind, where swam a momentous, slowly rising awareness: a realization that the bats had been a sign with specific meaning for him.
A sign that his suspicion had merit. His hunch was herewith elevated to a clear premonition of true threat. The bats circling overhead, focusing his attention, were a symbol meant to tell him that somehow Victor was alive.
Like the bats, Victor was a creature of the night. In fact, he was the avatar of night, the embodiment of darkness, his soul long lost and his moral landscape without a ray of light. In a world of profound meaning, Victor flew blind, counting on his obsession to be his radar.
After the debacle in New Orleans, he would be less inclined to show himself in public than the bats were inclined to linger for the rising of the sun. He would avoid cities in favor of a rural haven.
P/S: Copyright -->www_Novel12_Com