Thorp smiled at him. He was still operating under the previous orders Salsbury had given him.
“Answer me, damn you!”
Thorp’s smile vanished.
Salsbury was livid and greasy with sweat. “Haven’t I got this fu**ing town sewed up tight?”
“Oh, yes,” Thorp said obediently.
“No one can get out of this crummy burg unless I let them out of it. Isn’t that right?”
“Yes. You’ve got it sewn up.”
Salsbury was shaking. Dizzy. “Even if they slipped out of the store, I can find them. I can find them any damned time I want to. Can’t I?”
“I can tear this goddamned town apart, rip it wide open and find those sonsofbitches.”
“Any time you want.”
“They can’t escape.”
Abruptly sitting down, almost as if he had collapsed, Salsbury said, “But that doesn’t matter. They haven’t left the store. They can’t have left it. It’s guarded. Closely guarded. It’s a damned prison. So they’re still in the place. Being quiet as mice. They know I’m listening. They’re dying to trick me. That’s what it is. A trick. That’s precisely what it is.”
He dialed the Edisons’ number.
He heard the familiar ticking of the clock in one of the rooms where there was a receiver.
He hung up.
He hung up.
Grinning at the chief of police, he said, “Do you realize what they want me to do?”
Thorp shook his head: no.
“They want me to panic. They want me to order you to make a house-to-house search for them.” He giggled. “I could do that. I could make everyone in town cooperate in a house-to-house search. But that would take hours. And then I’d have to erase the memory of it from everyone’s mind, Four hundred minds. That would take a couple of hours more. They want me to waste my time. Precious time. They want me to panic and waste hours and maybe give them a chance to slip by me in the confusion. Isn’t that what they want?”
Salsbury giggled. “Well, I’m not playing their game. I’m going to wait for Dawson and Klinger. I’m not going to panic. Not me. I am in control of the situation—and I’ll stay that way.”
Ti-under boomed over the valley and reverberated in the two office windows.
He dialed the general store.
He giggled and hung up.
Then he had a startling thought: if the Edisons and the Annendales knew he was listening to them, that meant they knew the entire story, the truth, knew who he was, really was, and what be was doing here in Black River. . . And that was impossible.
He dialed again.
He put down the receiver and turned to Thorp. “Well, I guess it doesn’t matter if they do know. They can’t get away. I’ve got them where I want them. I have the power . . .“ He stared at the infinity transmitter for a while, then looked back at Thorp. “What do you think Miriam will do when she finds out about the power I’ve got?”
“You know Miriam.”
“I don’t know her.”
“She’s my ex-wife.”
“A rotten bitch.”
Thorp said nothing.
“Frigid as a Popsicle.”
“I know what she’ll do,” Salsbury said. “She’ll come crawling to me. Old Miriam. Crawling to me, Bob. On her hands and knees. She will. Won’t she?”
“Yes,” Thorp said.
“You know what I’ll do?”
Thorp said, “No.”
“You know what the hell I’ll do when that rotten bitch comes on her hands and knees, crawling on her hands and knees to me?”
“Kick her in the face.”
“That’s assault,” Thorp said.
“Same for Dawson. Kick him in the face.”
“That’s assault. You’ll wind up in jail.”
“I’ll get Dawson,” Salsbury said solemnly. Then he giggled. “I’ll get that sanctimonious old bastard.”
“Think I could find a pair of jackboots, Bob?”
“A pair of what?”
“Maybe there are a few people, just a few people, not many mind you, that I’d want jackboots for.”
“I am the key.”
“I am the lock.”
“Is your husband there?” “He’s upstairs right now.”
“Is he alone upstairs?” “Alone? Yes.” “Are you alone downstairs?” “Yes.”
“Do you know Sam Edison?” “Oh, sure.”
“Is he at your house now?” “Sam? No.”
“Is Jenny Edison at your house?” “No. Why should she be?”
“Haven’t you seen either of the Edisons today?”
“No. Look here, I—”
“Mrs. Wolinski, when you hang up your telephone, you’ll forget every word of this conversation. You’ll only remember that someone called and tried to sell you life insurance. Someone from Bexford. Is that understood?”
“Hang up, Mrs. Wolinski.”
“St. Margaret Mary’s.”
“Is this the rectory?” “Yes, it is.” “Father O’Hara?” “Speaking.”
“I am the key.”
“I am the lock.”
“Are you alone, father?”
“What about your housekeeper?”
“She’s gone home for the day.”
“Do you know Sam and Jenny Edison?”
“Certainly. Fine people.” “Is either of them with you now?”
“Here at the rectory? No.”
“In the church perhaps?” “No. Why do you ask?”
“Have you seen either of the Edisons today?”
“Do you know Paul Annendale?”
“I don’t believe so. If there’s some sort of emergency—” “Shut up, O’Hara. When you hang up your telephone, you’ll forget every word of this conversation. You’ll only remember that someone dialed a wrong number. Is that understood?”
“Hang up, O’Hara.”
either of the Edisons today?” “I saw Sam. Down at the store.” “When was that, Mrs. Jamison?” “This morning. Around nine.” “You haven’t seen him since?”
“Mrs. Jamison, I don’t want you to go away from the phone. You stand right there. But give the receiver to your husband.”
“I am the key.”
“I am the lock.”
“...don’t want you to go away from the phone, Mrs. Potter. You stand right there. But give the receiver to Reverend Potter.”
“All right. Just a minute. .
“This is he.”
“I am the key.”
“I am the lock.”
“Do you know Sam and Jenny Edison?” “Yes. Very well, in fact.”
“Have you seen either of them today?” "No."
“Are you absolutely sure of that?”
“Oh, yes. Absolutely.”
“Have you talked to either of them today?”
“Do you know Paul Annendale or his daughter?” “Yes. Every year they—”
“Have you seen or talked to them today?”
“No. I’ve spent the day—”
“What the fuck’s happening, Potter?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Where in the hell are they?”
“I don’t like foul language or—”
“I’ve called fifty people in the past hour and a half. Nobody’s seen them. Nobody’s heard from them. Nobody knows anything. Well, they’ve got to be in this town. I’m damn sure of that! They can’t get out . . . Christ. You know what I think, Potter? I think they’re still in the general store.”
“Being quiet as mice. Trying to fool me. They want me to come looking for them. They want me to send Bob Thorp after
them. They probably have guns in there. Well, they can’t fool me. They’re not going to start a shooting match and leave me with a dozen bodies to account for. I’ll wait them out. I’ll get them, Potter. And you know what I’ll do when I get my hands on them? The Edisons will have to be studied, of course. I’ll have to End out why they didn’t respond to the drug and the subliminals. But I know why the Annendales didn’t respond. They weren’t here for the program. So when I get them, I can dispose of them right away. Right away. I’ll have Bob Thorp blow their fu**ing heads off. The sonsofbitches. That’s exactly what I’ll do.”
AT DUSK, when the thunderstorm temporarily abated for the fourth time that day, a streamlined executive helicopter, painted bright yellow and black like a hornet, already gleaming with green and red running lights, fluttered into the east end of the Black River valley. It was flying low, no higher than sixty feet above the ground. It followed Main Street toward the town square, chopping up the humid air. A flat echo of the stuttering blades rebounded from the wet pavement below.
In the bell tower of the all-denominational church, also sixty feet above the ground-—but safely hidden in the deep shadows that were cast by the overhanging belfry roof—Rya, Jenny, Paul, and Sam watched the aircraft as it approached. In the penumbral, purple-gray twilight the helicopter seemed dangerously close to them; but no one in it was looking their way. However, the waning daylight was still bright enough to allow them to see into the flight deck and into the cozy passenger cabin behind it.
"Two men besides the pilot,” Sam said.
At the square the helicopter hovered for a moment, then swept across the municipal building and settled into the parking lot ten yards from the spare police car.
As the evening quietude returned in the aircraft’s wake, jenny said, “Do you think those men are connected with Salsbury?”
“No doubt about it,” Sam said.
Paul said, “No.”
“I agree,” Sam said almost happily. “Even the President’s chopper is military-style on the outside—although probably not on the inside. The government doesn’t use sleek little executive machines like that yellow and black job.”
“Which doesn’t rule out the government’s having a part in this,” Paul said.
“Oh, certainly not. It doesn’t rule out anything,” Sam said. “But it’s a good sign.”
“What now?” Rya asked.
“Now we watch and wait,” Paul said, his eyes fixed on the white-brick municipal building. “Just watch and wait.”
The damp air still held an unpleasant tang of the helicopter's exhaust fumes.
Up in the mountains, thunder rumbled menacingly. Lightning arced between two of the higher peaks as if they were terminals in Frankenstein’s laboratory.
To Paul time seemed almost at a standstill. Each minute ticked on and on and on. Each second was like a tiny bubble of air rising slowly through the bottle of glucose on the intravenous-feeding rack that he had watched for hour after leaden hour at Annie’s hospital bedside.
Finally, at 9:20 two cars came down Main Street from the municipal building: the second police cruiser and a one-year-old Ford LTD. The four headlamps sliced open the crescent darkness. Half a block beyond the church, they parked at the curb in front of the general store.
Bob Thorp and two men with handguns climbed out of the squad car. For a moment they stood in the splash of amber white light from the LTD; then they went up the porch steps and disappeared beneath the veranda roof.
Three men got out of the second car. They left the engine
running and the doors open. They didn’t follow Thorp; they remained at the LTD. Because they were standing behind the headlights, they were for the most part in darkness. Paul couldn’t tell if they were armed or not. But he knew for certain who they were: Salsbury and the two passengers from the helicopter.
“Do you want to go down there and take them now?” Paul asked Sam. “While they have their backs to us?”
“Too risky. We don’t know if they’ve got guns. They might hear us coming. And even if we did catch them by surprise, one of them would get away, sure as hell. Let’s wait a bit.”
At 9:35 one of Bob Thorp’s “deputies” came down the porch steps and joined the three men at the second car. They talked, possibly argued, for a few seconds. The deputy remained at the LTD while Salsbury and his associates mounted the steps to the general store.
Turning away from the bookshelves in Sam Edison’s study, Dawson said, “All right then. Now we understand how they might have pieced it together. Ogden, do they know the code phrases?”
Shocked by the question, Salsbury said, “Of course not! How in the hell could they know?”
“The little girl might have heard you use them with Thorp or with her brother.”
“No,” he said. “Impossible. She didn’t Step into that doorway until long after I gave up trying to get control of her brother—and long, long after I’d already assumed control of Thorp.”
“Did you try to use the phrase on her?”
Did I? Salsbury wondered. I remember seeing her there, taking a step toward her, being unable to catch her. But did I use the code phrase?
He rejected that notion because if he accepted it he would
have to accept defeat, complete destruction. “No,” he told Dawson. “I didn’t have time to use the phrase. I saw her. She turned and ran. I ran after her, but she was too fast.”
“You’re absolutely certain?”
Regarding Salsbury with unvarnished disgust, the general said, “You should have foreseen this development with Edison. You should have known about this library, this hobby of his.”