Chapter 13

CAROLE ...

"Look, Ma," Lacey said. "A double threat: no hands while walking on the thir d rail."

Carole knew Lacey had to be as uneasy as she, walking these subway tracks, b ut she was doing a better job of hiding it. She briefly angled her flashligh t beam at Lacey, then back to the tracks again.

"Under different circumstances I might call that a shocking display of brashne ss, but after yesterday ..."

Lacey laughed.

They'd huddled in the car in the park-and-lock garage all day, venturing out only to relieve themselves. When the sun had fallen and Joseph was awake, h e left alone to begin nighttime surveillance on the Empire State Building an d the area around it. But he'd returned less than an hour later driving a hu ge Lincoln Navigator he'd appropriated from a nearby parking lot. He insiste d that she and Lacey transfer to it, not because of the comfort its extra si ze afforded, but because of its hard top. They were already insulated by the garage's layers of reinforced concrete, but he wanted them further sealed i n steel. He begged them to stay locked in during the dark hours, telling the m their warm blood made them easy to pick out against the cold concrete and granite of the city. If a hybrid like him could sense them, what about the f ully undead?

Carole had missed him, worried about him, but had taken his advice. She a nd Lacey had slept when they could, and talked when they couldn't - talked about anything they could think of. Except sex. Lacey's lesbianism made Carole uncomfortable. Or was it the fact that she felt a growing fondness for this young woman who happened to be a lesbian.

She'd been relieved to see Joseph return with the dawn. He was excited. He'd found a place where they could watch the comings and goings at the Empire State Building in relative safety and comfort, and told them how to g et there.

So now it was their turn. They'd left the garage at sunrise when the undead w ere no threat. Only the living.

They'd walked the deserted pedestrian tunnel from the Port Authority to Tim es Square, and were now down on the tracks of the 42nd Street Shuttle. This seemed like the safest way to move about the city. Certainly less risk dow n here of running into a pack of cruising Vichy than up on the street. At l east she hoped so.

Flashlight in one hand, cocked-and-ready pistol in the other; backpacks fil led with sharpened stakes, hammers, batteries, and cans of salmon they'd br ought from the Shore.

What a way to travel. What a way to live.

Carole knew nothing about guns, had never liked them, had never so much as laid a finger on one until a few days ago. She'd always imagined she'd be a fraid of them, but had to admit she found something comforting in the weigh t, the solidity, the pent-up lethality of the semi-automatic Lacey had give n her. She'd shown her how to work the safety. All she had to do if the nee d arose was point and pull the trigger. She prayed that need would never ar ise. There was no place to practice so she hadn't fired it yet, and had no idea how it would feel when she did.

"You know," Lacey said, dancing along the third rail like a gymnast on a bal ance beam, "it's strange. From the instant we jumped off the platform onto t he tracks, I had to touch this rail. I was scared to - I mean, what if by some freak chance it was live - but I had to. Didn't you feel any of that?"

"Not at all." But seeing Lacey on the third rail made her nervous. The chance of the power coming back on was about equal to that of a subway full of comm uters coming by, but still it put her on edge. "We've been told all our lives that we could never touch the third rail because we'd be fried to a cinder.

At first opportunity you're up on the rail, walking along it. That's pretty m uch you in a nutshell, isn't it."

Lacey snickered. "I guess so. What's the psychology there? It no longer ha s power over me, so now I'm dancing on its grave?"

"I never placed much stock in psychology."

"But look where you're walking, Carole. What does that say about you?"

"It says nothing's changed. I was quite happy staying off the third rail when it was live, and am just as happy to stay off it now."

"Ever watch Ren and Stimpy?"

"Can't say that I have, although years ago at a school picnic I remember s ome of my students wearing badly drawn T-shirts with those words on them."

"It's a cartoon show, and in one of the early episodes they're in outer space and they come across this button with all these warnings about 'Do not press or you will destroy the space-time continuum,' or something like that. Anywa y, Stimpy just has to press it. And when I saw that I said, Yeah, I think I'd press it too."

"Good Lord, why?"

"Well, first off, part of me would be going, Yeah, right, like this button's gonna end the space-time continuum. Uh-huh. And another part would be think ing, Really? What would that be like? Let's find out..."

"How about a part of you saying, Let's lock the door to this place and thro w away the key?"

"I think when they were giving out parts I missed that one." She flashed her light at Carole and held out a hand. "Come on. I'll help you up."

"No, thank you. If one of us slips off and sprains an ankle, the other has to remain well enough to carry on."

Lacey loosed a dramatic sigh, then stepped off the rail and fell in beside he r. "Spoil sport." She flashed her beam ahead. "Damn, it's dark."

Carole nodded. The light-colored tiles - she supposed they'd once been white - in the pedestrian tunnel and in the Times Square station had reflected the glow from their flashes, letting them see more than just what was in the be am. But down here on the tracks, surrounded by grimy steel girders and soot-blackened concrete walls, with no reflective surface except the polished u pper surface of the tracks and an occasional puddle, the darkness seemed a living thing, pressing against them. And all those recesses and access tunn els and crawl spaces . . .

Something splashed behind them.

Carole heard Lacey gasp. Both whirled and flashed their beams madly about but found nothing moving. Carole could feel her heart pounding.

"Think it was a rat?" Lacey said.

"Could have been."

"I hate rats."

"They're just animals."

"Yeah, but I really skeeve them."

"Skeeve?"

"Yeah. Heard it from some Italian girl I knew. Means to make your skin crawl.

If we see a rat, that'll be a good time for you to get used to firing your p istol. I think we can risk a few shots down here."

"I'm not shooting a rat. And neither are you. They're no threat to us, it's a waste of ammunition, and besides, they were here first. It isn't rodentia you should be worried about down here. Genus Homo offers the main threat rig ht now."

They started walking through the dark again, but every so often one of th em - they took turns - would turn and flash her light behind them.

Lacey whispered, "I remember hearing about homeless people who used to liv e in the subway tunnels. I wonder if any of them are left."

"If I were a betting woman - and I'm not - I'd say no. Underground is where th e undead go to hide from the light. Once down here they'd sniff out the li ving in no time."

Lacey grabbed her arm. "Speaking of sniffing, what is that?"

Carole felt her nose wrinkling. She knew the odor: carrion. "Something died nearby."

"Which means there's a good chance one of them is nearby."

They followed the stench to a recess in the right wall that led to an alcov e beyond it. Carol flashed her beam down the narrow passage. The floor was littered with the bodies, of beheaded rats, some of them acrawl with maggot s.

"What's with the dead rats?" Lacey whispered behind her.

"I don't know."

"We don't want to go in there."

"Right," Carole said. "But we must."

"Like hell."

"We can't leave any undead along our route. What if we're delayed coming back and we're caught down here after sundown? We can't see in the dark; they can."

Lacey was silent a moment, then grumbled, "All right, but let's go in with all bases covered." Carole felt a tug on her backpack. "I'll handle the gun and flashlight - in case whatever's in there is human - while you take the ham mer-and-stake detail."

A moment later Carole had her crucifix and a stake in her left hand, thrust out ahead of her, the hammer clutched in her right. Lacey was squeezed bes ide her, manning the flashlight. Carole wished she had a third hand to hold a cloth over her mouth and nose. The stench was unbearable.

They edged down the passage, shuffling to avoid stepping on the dead rats, a nd entered a small square alcove, maybe ten feet on a side. The first thing Carole saw was a naked corpse crumpled in the far corner, face to the wall; the position made it impossible to determine its sex. The floor was littered with more dead rats, most of them clustered around the naked emaciated male figure that lay in the center of the space. When Lacey shone the light on i ts face, the gummy lids parted slowly. It let out a feeble hiss and bared it s fangs. Although this one didn't quite qualify as a feral, its appearance w as a long way from human.

Carole wasted no time. "Keep the light on it," she told Lacey as she knelt bes ide the thing.

She touched the crucifix to its sunken belly, eliciting a flash and a puff o f smoke. That proved beyond doubt it was undead. The creature writhed as she raised the stake - she'd have no trouble finding a space between the jutting ribs of this washboard chest. But just as Carole pressed the point of the wo oden shaft against its skin, Lacey let out a cry of terror and the flash bea m darted around the room.

Carole turned and saw Lacey struggling as if her foot was caught.

"It's got me!" Lacey cried. "Damn it to hell, I thought it was dead!"

In the wildly wavering light Carole saw that what she too had assumed to be a human cadaver had locked its fingers around Lacey's ankle. Lacey was try ing to kick herself free but the creature clung to her like a weighted mana cle. Panic bloomed in the hollow of her gut. Were there more?

Something hit Carole's hand, knocking the stake from her grasp. She turned b ack to her vampire and felt it reaching for her. She patted the floor around her but found only dead rats.

"Lacey! The light!"

But her words didn't penetrate Lacey's stream of shouted curses as she frant ically tried to free her ankle. Carole could feel things spinning out of con trol as events accelerated, becoming increasingly surreal, chaotic, epilepti c. The creature before Carole clutched her wrist as Lacey began shooting at the one grasping her. The shots were deafening in the small space. Lacey's w ildly gyrating flashlight beam raked across Carole, revealing the lost stake. Ears ringing, she swung the hammer at the forearm of the hand holding her wrist, heard a bone snap, felt the grip break. She grabbed the stake and in the dark, placed it on the creature's chest over where she hoped its heart w ould be, then hammered it into the flesh. Its limbs flailed, back arched, ch est heaved, but Carole kept her grip on the stake, taking a second swing, th e hammer head glancing off the end of the stake and grazing her hand. She cl enched her teeth against the pain as Lacey fired again, the strobe of the mu zzle flash giving Carole just enough light to see where to strike a third bl ow. This one landed solidly, driving the stake through the heart beneath it.

The creature spasmed and lay still.

Carole looked around for Lacey, saw her limping away down the narrow corri dor, dragging the still-attached vampire after her through the maggoty rat s. Carole reached around and pulled another stake from her backpack, then followed.

"Lacey, stop."

"Carole, get this damn thing off of me!"

"I will. Just hold the light steady."

Lacey stopped moving. Carole knelt on the back of the thing, placed the point of the stake to the left of the spine, and drove it through with three swift blows. The thing shuddered and finally released its grip on Lacey's ankle.

Lacey lurched away and leaned against a steel support beam, gasping.

"I think I'm going to be sick. The undead always disgusted me, but these thin gs . .. what the hell?"

Carole rose and leaned against the wall, waiting for her pounding heart to slo w. "I think they're strays, and obviously they're starving."

"Have they been living on rats? Is that possible?"

"I don't know. Joseph said Franco told him Manhattan was empty and they we re hunting in the other boroughs. I do know that we got careless."

"Yeah," Lacey said. "Sorry for losing it in there. I didn't expect... wasn't re ady for being grabbed like that. I hope no one topside heard the shots."

So did Carole. "Let's keep moving."

JOE . . .

Joe suffers again through his daymare. Every day, the same dream, clinging by his fingertips to the lip of the same rocky precipice, his feet swinging and kicking over the same dark swirling infinity. The living darkness calling to him, beckoning, and still that same traitorous part of him longing to answe r, to let go and fall...

No. Not fall. Go home.

Then a sudden shift. He's now standing on the ledge. And below him, clingin g by their fingertips, hang Carole andLacey. He laughs as he grinds a heel into their fingers and sends them screaming, tumbling into the abyss.

LACEY . . .

"This is creepy, Carole," Lacey said as she scanned the street from the subwa y stairwell. Cars lined the curbs as always, but the streets lay still and si lent. "Nothing is moving. Nothing."

Except for the birds, but they didn't count.

The silence got to Lacey. She found the emptiness here eerier and far more su rreal than the close call with that pair of emaciated vampires. It sent cramp s rippling through her intestines.

But even so, it was good to be out of the tunnels, to feel a fresh breeze on her face, to inhale clean air. They'd found three more undead scattered in alcoves along the shuttle tracks before they reached the Lexington Avenue li ne, and a half a dozen more on the nine-block length of track they walked do wn to the Thirty-third Street station. All were emaciated, and they dispatch ed them without difficulty.

The morning was further along than they'd intended by the time they crept up to street level.

"We've got to head uptown a couple of blocks, then west," Lacey said.

Her uncle had laid out their route, but this was her city so it was only natural that she take the lead here.

"We'll be exposed," Carole said. "I don't like that."

"Neither do I, but the only really open spot will be crossing Thirty-fourth. A fter that there should be lots of nooks and crannies to hide in if need be."

They made a headlong dash to Thirty-fifth, then turned left.

"This area used to be called Murray Hill," Lacey told Carole as they hurried a long the sidewalk, staying low, ever ready to duck into a doorway at the first sign of movement or sound of a car. "I guess it still is. Very tony, very hig h rent. At least it was."

But now it was a ghost town, pimpled here and there with piles of black pla stic garbage bags, torn open, their contents pawed and pecked through by ra ts and pigeons, perhaps even people. Waiting in vain to be picked up by a n on-existent sanitation department. Waiting for Godot.

She led Carole past the brick-fronted Community Church of New York with BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS emblazoned on its front wall.

Peacemakers... is that us? she wondered.

Further up on the right, on the corner of Madison Avenue, sat a brown-stone church and steeple.

"The Church of the Incarnation," Carole muttered as they passed. "I wonder ... oh, it's Episcopal."

"Almost as good as Catholic, right?"

Carole smiled. "But not quite."

They dashed across Madison to the shadows of the Oxford University Press o ffices, then continued on toward Fifth Avenue. Before reaching Fifth they found the broken side doors of the City University Graduate Building. They squeezed through and climbed to the second floor. There, through huge arc hed windows, they had a panoramic view of the Art Deco lower levels of the Empire State Building and the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Thirty-fou rth Street.

Lacey leaned forward to see if she could see the top.

"Don't get too close to the window," Carole said, pointing to the sunlight s lanting through the dusty air. "Somebody might see you."

Lacey nodded, too awestruck by what she saw.

"Look. They have electricity."

Houlihan's bar and restaurant, occupying the ground-floor corner of the Em pire State nearest them, was lit up inside. A neon Red Hook Lager sign glo wed in the window. She'd stopped in there once to eat but had walked out.

Fourteen bucks for a hamburger. Location, location, location.

"Joseph told us they were using the generators."

"I know. But it's been so long since Eve seen a working electric light, I. ..

it's kind of wonderful in a way. Gives me hope."

They found some chairs well back in the shadows and settled down to watch. A few Vichy hung around under the canopied front entrance, but otherwis e there wasn't much activity.

"Do you think this is the right way to go?" Lacey said after a while. "The th ree of us attacking the Empire State Building, I mean."

"We don't know that we will be. That's why we're here now. To see if it's fea sible."

"Don't get me wrong, but do you get the feeling that no matter what we find, somehow Joe's going to think it's feasible?"

Carole turned and stared at her. "I don't think I understand."

"I think you do. My uncle's got a major hard on for this Franco."

Lacey -

"It's true and you know it. That's all he's talked about since we did the Post Office: Franco, Franco, Franco. Here we are, possibly the only three hu mans in the world with firsthand knowledge of the vampires' secret - how the death of one reverberates through the progeny, wiping out all his or her ge t down the line - and we're all together in New York instead of splitting up and trying to make it into the unoccupied areas of the country to spread th e news."

"We've been through that."

"Yeah, I know, but..."

It was easier to move around within the occupied zone than to get out of it. Vichy were stacked at the Delaware River crossings waiting to pick off an yone who tried. Joe's theory was that if they could knock off Franco and hi s get, the Vichy network would collapse in disarray - at least for a while - an d they could waltz across.

Maybe.

"And remember," Carole said, "one of the parishioners has a shortwave and is probably broadcasting the news to the world right now."

"We don't know that. And who'd believe him?"

"Exactly. That's why we agreed it will be much better to be able to show than simply tell."

Another idea of Joe's: use the building's security system to videotape the de aths of Franco and his get. Then they'd have proof.

"Look, Carole, I know Franco is the head honcho and taking him down will pu t a serious crimp in the undead master plan, but do you get the feeling tha t there's more to it, that if Joe could demonstrate this get-death on anoth er undead of equal stature, he'd bypass the opportunity and remain fixed on Franco?"

Carole's tone took on a definite chill. "You're saying that Joseph would je opardize our lives and what we know just to get revenge on Franco?"

"You're not answering the question."

Carole looked away.

Was it simple revenge? That had to be part of it, Lacey knew, and she had her own score to settle with this monster for what he had done to her Uncl e Joe. But she sensed something more than revenge driving Joe to this show down, something she was missing.

That worried her.

"Look, Carole, you've got to admit that Joe isn't exactly the same guy he w as a week ago. He was dead, and now he's not. What brought him back to life? It wasn't your God, so what was it?"

"God intervened. Joseph was supposed to become one of the undead, but he did not. God has turned the Devil's own work back on him, making Joseph an instrument of His divine vengeance."

"Buy into that if you want, Carole. I don't. I can't. And I'm a little worried about that weird dream he's been having. We know Joe's been to hell and back.

I just hope he didn't bring a little of that hell back with him."

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