My driver’s license still served its fundamental purpose. The door latch popped, and I entered the kitchen.
For a minute, I stood inside the threshold, listening. The hum of the refrigerator motor. Faint ticks and creaks marked the steady ex­pansion of the old house’s joints in the ascending heat of the new morning.
Instinct told me that I was alone.
I went directly to the neatly kept study. Currently, it didn’t serve as a train station for incoming bodachs.
From the wall above the file cabinets, McVeigh, Manson, and Atta watched me as if with conscious awareness.
At the desk, I sifted through the contents of the drawers once more, seeking names. On my previous visit, I had considered the small address book to be of little value, but this time I paged through it with interest.
The book contained fewer than forty names and addresses. None resonated with me.
I didn’t peruse the bank statements again, but I stared at them, thinking about the $58,000 in cash that he’d withdrawn over the past
two months. More than four thousand had been in his pants pockets when I found his body.
If you were a rich sociopath interested in funding well-planned acts of mass murder, how big a circus of blood could you purchase for ap­proximately $54,000?
Even sleep-deprived, with a caffeine headache and a sugar buzz, I could answer that one without much consideration; big. You could buy a three-ring circus of death - bullets, explosives, poison gas, just about anything short of a nuclear bomb.
Elsewhere in the house, a door closed. Not with a bang. Quietly, with a soft thump and click.
Moving stealthily but quickly, I went to the open door of the study. I stepped into the hall.
No intruder in sight. Except me.
The bathroom and bedroom doors stood open, as they had been.
In the bedroom, the closet door was a slider. That couldn’t have made the sound I heard.
Aware that death is frequently the reward for the reckless and the timid alike, I moved with cautious haste into the living room. Deserted.
The swinging door to the kitchen could not have been what I heard. The entry door to the house remained dosed, as it had been.
In the front left corner of the living room, a closet. In the closet: two jackets, a few sealed cartons, an umbrella.
Into the kitchen. No one.
Maybe I had heard an intruder leaving. Which meant someone had been in the house when I arrived and had crept out when certain that I was distracted.
Perspiration prickled my brow. A single bead quivered down the nape of my neck and traced my spine to the coccyx.
The morning heat was not the sole cause of my sweat.
I returned to the study and switched on the computer. I sampled Robertson’s programs, surfed his directories, and found a library of sleaze that he had downloaded from the Internet. Files of sadistic porn. Child porn. Still others were about serial killers, ritualistic muti­lation, and satanic ceremonies.
None of it seemed certain to lead me to his collaborator, at least not quickly enough to resolve the current crisis favorably. I switched the computer off.
If I’d had some Purell, the sanitizing gel that the nurse used at the hospital, I might have poured half a bottle on my hands.
During my first visit to this casita, I had conducted a quick search, which concluded when I’d made enough disturbing discoveries to take my case against Robertson to the chief. Although a countdown clock ticked in my head, this time I went through the house more thoroughly, grateful that it was small.
In the bedroom, in one drawer of a highboy, I found several knives of different sizes and curious design. Latin phrases were engraved in the blades of the first few weapons that I examined.
Although I don’t read Latin, I sensed that the character of the words would prove, on translation, to be as wicked as the sharpness of each razor-edged blade.
Another knife featured hieroglyphics from the hilt to the point. These pictographs meant no more to me than did the Latin, although I recognized a few of the highly stylized images: flames, falcons, wolves, snakes, scorpions__
Searching a second drawer, I discovered a heavy silver chalice. Engraved with obscenities. Polished. Cool in my hands.
This unholy chalice was a hateful mockery of the communion cup that held consecrated wine in a Catholic Mass. The ornate handles were inverted crucifixes: Christ turned on His head. Latin encircled
the rim, and around the bowl of the cup were engraved images of na*ed men and women engaged in various acts of sodomy.
In the same drawer, I found a black-lacquered pyx likewise deco­rated with pornographic images. On the sides and the lid of this small box, colorful hand-painted scenes of lurid degradation depicted men and women copulating not with one another but with jackals, hyenas, goats, and serpents.
In an ordinary church, the pyx contains the Eucharist, communion wafers of unleavened bread. This box brimmed with coal-black crack­ers flecked with red.
Unleavened bread exudes a subtle, appealing aroma. The contents of this pyx had an equally faint but repellent odor. First whiff - herbal. Second whiff - burnt matches. Third whiff - vomit.
The highboy contained other satanic paraphernalia; but I’d seen enough.
I couldn’t fathom how adults could take seriously the Hollywood trappings and hokey rituals of glamorized satanism. Certain fourteen-year-old boys, yes, because some of them were washed half loose from reason by shifting tides of hormones. But not adults. Even so­ciopaths like Bob Robertson and his unknown pal, as enthralled by vi­olence and as crackbrained as they were, must have some clarity of perception, surely enough to see the absurdity of such Halloween games.
After replacing the items in the highboy, I closed the drawers.
A knocking startled me. The soft rap of knuckles.
I looked at the bedroom window, expecting to see a face at the glass, perhaps a neighbor tapping the pane. Only the hard desert light, tree shadows, and the brown backyard.
The knocking came again, as quiet as before. Not just three or four brisk raps. A stutter of small blows lasting fifteen or twenty seconds.
In the living room, I went to the window beside the front door and carefully parted the greasy drapes. No one waited on the stoop out­side.
Mrs. Sanchez’s Chevy was the only vehicle at the curb. The weary dog that had slouched along the street the day before now traveled it again, head held low, tail lower than its head.
Recalling the racket of the quarrelsome crows on the roof during my previous visit, I turned from the window and studied the ceiling, listening.
After a minute, when the knocking didn’t come again, I stepped into the kitchen. In places, the ancient linoleum crackled underfoot.
Needing a name to put to Robertson’s collaborator, I could think of no place in a kitchen likely to contain such information. I looked through all the drawers and cupboards, anyway. Most were empty: only a few dishes, half a dozen glasses, a small clatter of flatware.
I went to the refrigerator because eventually Stormy would ask if this time I had checked for severed heads. When I opened the door, I found beer, soft drinks, part of a canned ham on a platter, half a strawberry pie, as well as the usual staples and condiments.
Next to the strawberry pie, a clear plastic package held four black candles, eight-inch tapers. Maybe he kept them in the fridge because they would soften and distort if left in this summer heat, in a house without air conditioning.
Beside the candles stood a jar without a label, filled with what ap­peared to be loose teeth. A closer look confirmed the contents: dozens of molars, bicuspids, incisors, canines. Human teeth. Enough to fill at least five or six mouths.
I stared at the jar for a long moment, trying to imagine how he had obtained this strange collection. When I decided that I’d rather not think about it, I closed the door.
Had I found nothing unusual in the refrigerator, I would not have
opened the freezer compartment. Now I felt obligated to explore further.
The freezer was a deep roll-out compartment under the fridge. The hot kitchen sucked a quick plume of cold fog from the drawer when I pulled it open.
Two bright pink-and-yellow containers were familiar: the Burke & Bailey’s ice cream that Robertson had purchased the previous after­noon. Maple walnut and mandarin-orange chocolate.
In addition, the compartment held about ten opaque Rubbermaid containers with red lids, the shape and the size in which to store left­over deep-dish lasagna. I would not have opened these if the topmost containers hadn’t featured freezer-proof hand-printed labels: HEATHER
JOHNSON, JAMES DEERFIELD.
After all, I was looking specifically for names.
When I lifted aside the top containers, I saw more names on the lids under them: LISA BELMONT, ALYSSA RODRIQUEZ, BENJAMIN NADER….
I started with Heather Johnson. When I pried off the red lid, I found a woman’s breasts.
SOUVENIRS. TROPHIES. OBJECTS TO SPUR THE IMAGINATION and thrill the heart on lonely nights.
As though it had burned my hands, I dropped the container back in the freezer. I shot to my feet and kicked the drawer shut.
I must have turned away from the refrigerator, must have crossed the kitchen, but I was not aware of going to the sink until I found my­self there. Leaning against the counter, bent forward, I struggled to re­press the urge to surrender Mrs. Sanchez’s cookies.
Throughout my life, I have seen terrible things. Some have been worse than the contents of the Rubbermaid container. Experience has not immunized me to horror, however, and human cruelty still has the power to devastate me, to loosen the locking pins in my knees.
Although I wanted to wash my hands and then splash cold water in my face, I preferred not to touch Robertson’s faucets. I shrank from the thought of using his soap.
Nine more containers waited in the freezer. Someone else would have to open them. I had no curiosity about the rest of the grotesque collection.
In the file folder that bore his name, Robertson had included noth­ing but the calendar page for August 15, suggesting that his own ca­reer as a murderer would begin on this date. Yet evidence in the freezer suggested that his file should already be thick.
Sweat sheathed me, hot on my face, cold along my spine. I might as well not have showered at the hospital.
I consulted my wristwatch - 10:02.
The bowling alley didn’t open for business until one o’clock. The first showing of the hot-ticket dog movie was also scheduled for one o’clock.
If my prophetic dream was about to be fulfilled, evidence sug­gested that I might have no more than three hours to find Robertson’s collaborator and stop him.
I undipped the cell phone from my belt. Flipped it open. Pulled out the antenna. Pressed the power button. Watched the maker’s logo ap­pear and listened to the electronic signature music.
Chief Porter might not yet have regained consciousness. Even if he surfaced, his thoughts would be muddled by the lingering effects of anesthetic, by mor**ine or its equivalent, and by pain. He would have neither the strength nor presence of mind to give instructions to his subordinates.
To one extent or another, I knew all the officers on the PMPD. None had been made aware of my paranormal gift, however, and none had ever been as good a friend to me as was Chief Porter.
If I brought the police to this house, revealed to them the contents of the freezer, and urged them to apply all their resources to learning the name of Robertson’s kill buddy, they would need hours to wrap their minds around the situation. Because they did not share my sixth sense and would not easily be persuaded that it was real, they wouldn’t share my urgency
They would detain me here while they investigated the situation. In
their eyes, I would be as suspect as Robertson, for I had entered his house illegally. Who was to say that I hadn’t harvested these body parts myself and hadn’t planted the ten Rubbermaid containers in his freezer to incriminate him?
If ever they found Bob Robertson’s body, and if the chief - God for­bid - succumbed to postoperative complications, I would surely be ar­rested and charged with murder.
I switched off the phone.
Without a name to focus my psychic magnetism, without anyone to turn to for assistance, I had hit a wall, and the impact rattled my teeth.
Something crashed to the floor in another room: not just the thump of a closing door this time, not merely a soft rapping, but a hard thud and the sound of breakage.
Driven by frustration so intense that it allowed no caution, I headed for the swinging door, trying to clip the phone to my belt. I dropped it, left it for later, and shoved through the swinging door, into the living room.
A lamp had been knocked to the floor. The ceramic base had shat­tered.
When I tore open the front door and saw no one on the stoop or on the lawn, I slammed it shut. Hard. The boom shook the house, and making noise greatly pleased me after so much pussyfooting. My anger felt good.
I rushed through the archway, into the narrow hall, seeking the per­petrator. Bedroom, closet, study, closet, bathroom. No one.
Crows on the roof hadn’t knocked over the lamp. Nor a draft. Nor an earthquake.
When I returned to the kitchen to pick up my phone and get out of the house, Robertson was waiting there for me.
FOR A DEAD MAN WHO NO LONGER HAD A STAKE IN THE schemes and games of this world, Robertson lingered with singular ferocity, as infuriated as he had been when I had watched him from the bell tower at St. Bart’s. His mushroom-colony body now seemed powerful, even in its lumpiness. His soft face and blurry features hard­ened and sharpened with rage.
No bullet hole, scorch mark, or stain marred his shirt. Unlike Tom Jedd, who carried his severed arm and pretended to use it as a back scratcher out there at Tire World, Robertson was in denial of his death, and he chose not to sport his mortal wound, just as Penny Kallisto had initially manifested without evidence of strangulation, ac­quiring the ligature marks only in the company of Harlo Landerson, her killer.
In high agitation, Robertson circled the kitchen. He glared at me, his eyes wilder and more fevered than those of the coyotes at the Church of the Whispering Comet.
When I had begun to out him, I had unintentionally made him a li­ability to his collaborator, setting him up for murder, but I had not
pulled the trigger. Evidently, his hatred for me nonetheless exceeded what he harbored for the man who had killed him; otherwise, he would have done his haunting elsewhere.
Ovens to refrigerator, to sink, to ovens, he circled while I stooped and picked up the cell phone that I’d dropped earlier. Dead, he didn’t worry me a fraction as much as he had when I had thought he’d been alive in the churchyard.
As I clipped the phone to my belt, Robertson came to me. Loomed before me. His eyes were the gray of dirty ice, yet they conveyed the heat of his fury.
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