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Kathy said, “I’ll show you.”


In the living room, a computer stood on a corner desk. White letters on a field of blue offered a peculiar farewell:


Killed what I wanted. Took what I needed. Now I leave when I want, how I want, and go where I want—one level below Hell.


“The taunting tone is typical for a sociopath,” Kathy said. “The suggestion that he’s earned a princely place in Hell isn’t unique, either, but usually if he’s playing out a satanic fantasy, you find occult literature, posters. We haven’t come across any of that yet.”


Only half listening, chilled by a sense of deja vu, of having seen this message before, Carson stared at the screen, reading the words twice, three times, four.


As she read, she extracted a latex glove from a jacket pocket, pulled it on her right hand, and then keyed in a print request.


“There was a time,” Kathy said, “if a suicide note wasn’t handwritten, it was suspicious. But these days, they often use their computers. In some cases they e-mail suicide notes to friends and relatives just before offing themselves. Progress.”


Stripping off the glove, waiting impatiently for the printer to produce a hard copy, Carson said, “Down there in the alley, is there enough left of his face to get a good photograph?”


“No,” Kathy said. “But his bedroom’s full of them.”


Was it ever. On both nightstands and on the dresser were a dozen or more photos of Roy Pribeaux, mostly glamour shots by professional photographers, each in an expensive, ornamental silver frame.


“He doesn’t seem to have been lacking in self-esteem,” Kathy said drily.


CHA PTER 59 JENNA PARKER, TWENTY-FIVE, lived for parties. She seemed to be invited to one every night.


This evening, she obviously had taken a few pre-party toots of something, getting primed for a late-night bash, for she was buzzed when she came out of her apartment, singing tunelessly With or without drugs, Jenna was perpetually happy, walking on sunshine even when the day offered only rain.


On this rainless night, she seemed to float a quarter inch off the floor as she tried to lock her door. The proper relationship of a key to a keyhole seemed to elude her, and she giggled when, three times in a row, she failed the simple insertion test.


Maybe she wasn’t merely buzzed but fully stung.


She succeeded on the fourth try, and the dead-bolt snapped shut with a solid clack.


“Sheryl Crowe,” Jonathan Harker said from the doorway of his apartment, across the hall from hers. She turned, saw him for the first time, and broke into a sunny grin. “Johnny!”


“You sound like Sheryl Crowe when you sing.” “Do I really?” “Would I lie?”


“Depends on what you want,” she said coyly “Now, Jen, have I ever come on to you?” “No. But you will.” “When will I?” “Later. Sooner. Maybe now” She’d been to his apartment a couple times for pasta dinners, and he’d been to her place for take- out, since she didn’t cook even pasta. These had been strictly neighborly occasions.


He didn’t want sex from Jenna Parker. He wanted to learn from her the secret of happiness.


“I told you—it’s just you remind me of my sister.” “Sister. Yeah, right.”


“Anyway, I’m almost old enough to be your father.”


“When has that ever mattered to a man?”


“We aren’t all swine,” he said.


“Oh. Sorry, Johnny. Jeez, I didn’t mean to sound . . . mean. I’m just floatin’ so high inside that I’m not always down there where the words come out.”


“I noticed. Why do you ever use drugs, anyway? You’re happy when you’re sober. “You’re always happy.”


She grinned, came to him, and pinched his cheek affectionately “”You’re right. I love life. I’m always happy. But it’s no crime to want to be even happier now and then.”


“Actually,” he said, “if I were in Vice instead of Homicide, maybe I’d have to consider it a crime.”


“You’d never arrest me, Johnny Probably not even if I killed someone.”


“Probably not,” he agreed, and squirted her in the mouth and nostrils with chloroform solution.


Her gasp of surprise did what a blow across the backs of her knees would have done: dropped her to the floor. She sputtered, wheezed, and passed out.


He had taken the squeeze bottle from Roy Pribeaux’s apartment. It was one of three he had found there.


Later he would leave it with her dead body. Her remains wouldn’t be found for months, so their condition wouldn’t enable CSI to date her death after Pribeaux’s. The bottle would be one of several pieces of evidence identifying her as his final victim.


Now Jonathan lifted her effortlessly, carried her into his apartment, and kicked the door shut behind them.


Of the four apartments here on the fourth floor, one stood vacant. Paul Miller, in 4-C, was away at a sales conference in Dallas. Only Jonathan and Jenna were in residence. No one could have witnessed the assault and abduction.


Jenna wouldn’t be missed for a day or two. By then, he would have opened her top to bottom, would have found the special something that she had and that he was missing, and would have disposed of her remains.


He was taking all these precautions not because he feared going to prison but because he feared that Father would identify him as the renegade.


In his bedroom, Jonathan had pushed the bed into a corner. He had stacked the other furniture atop it to create sufficient space for the makeshift autopsy table that he had prepared for her.


Plastic sheeting covered the floor. At the head and foot of the table stood lamps that were bright enough to reveal the source of her happiness whether it was nestled in a tangle of guts or embedded in the cerebellum.


Putting her on the table, he noticed that she was bleeding from one nostril. She’d cracked her nose against the floor when she had fallen. The bleeding wasn’t serious. The nose injury wasn’t what would kill her.


Jonathan checked her pulse. Steady.


He was relieved. He’d been concerned that she had inhaled too much chloroform, that maybe she’d suffered chemical suffocation or anaphylactic shock.


He wanted her to be alive through this procedure. For some of it, he needed her to be awake and responsive.


CHAPTER 60


IN THE BASEMENT of Mercy, hiding behind a row of file cabinets, Randal Six hears noise from beyond the walls of his world: first, the hollow sound of a door falling shut in another room.


According to what Randal has overheard while seeming to be lost in his autism, only Father enters and leaves through the outer door of this chamber. Now, after a late dinner, as he often does, Father must be returning with the intention of working through the night.


Crouched at the end of the cabinet row, Randal cocks his head and listens intently. After a moment, he hears the electronic tones of the numbers being entered in an electric-lock keypad on the far side of the outer file-room door.


The ten tones that represent numbers—zero through nine—on telephone, security-system, electric-lock, and other keypads are universal. They do not vary from one manufacturer to another.


He learned this from an educational web site maintained by one of the nation’s largest communications companies. Having downloaded these tones in preparation for this odyssey, he has replayed them hundreds of times until he can unfailingly identify any code by the tones that comprise it.


Because the file-room door intervenes, the tones are muffled. If he didn’t have the enhanced hearing of the New Race, Randal might not be able to identify the code: 368284.


A soft burrrrr indicates that the circuit engaging the lock has been broken.


Although the door is not in Randal’s line of sight, the creak of hinges suggests that Father has opened it. Footsteps on vinyl tile reveal that Father has entered the file room.


Out of view of the main aisle, Randal suddenly wonders to what degree, if any, Father’s senses might have been enhanced—and he holds his breath lest the faintest exhalation reveal his presence.


Without hesitation, Father’s footsteps cross the room.


The outer door falls shut behind him, and the bumrr of the disengaged lock is cut short by the hard snap of the bolt.


The inner door opens, closes, and Father is now gone into the basement corridor where piles of rubble remind him of a bad day here at the bottom of Mercy.


Patience is a virtue that Randal has in spades. He does not move at once from hiding, but waits a few minutes until Father is almost certainly on another floor, far out of hearing.


Vinyl square by vinyl square, he spells himself to the outer door. Here, as on the other side, there is a keypad. He enters the code: 368284.


The electric lock releases. He puts his hand on the door but cannot find the courage to open it.


Beyond, there is no Mercy. All is new and full of bewildering choices.


He delays so long that the electric lock engages once more.


He enters the code in the keypad. The lock releases: burrrrr.


He tells himself to open the door. He cannot. The lock engages once more. Trembling, he stands before the door, terrified to go through it, but also terrified to remain on this side.


Into his tortured mind comes the memory of the newspaper photo: Arnie O’Connor, autistic but smiling. Arnie is clearly happier than Randal has ever been or ever will be.


A bitter, caustic sense of injustice floods through Randal. This emotion is so intense that he fears it will dissolve him from the inside out if he does not take action to secure for himself the happiness that Arnie O’Connor enjoys.


The little snot. The hateful little worm, selfishly keeping the secret of happiness. What right does be have to be happy when a child of Father, superior in every way, lives in misery more than Mercy?


Again he enters the code. Burrrrr.


He pushes on the door. It opens.


Randal Six spells himself across the threshold, out of Mercy, into the unknown.


CHAPTER 61


THROUGH THE DOOR, Carson heard scary-movie music. She rang the bell, rang it again before the first series of chimes quite finished echoing through the apartment beyond.


In undershirt, jeans, and stocking feet, Michael answered the door. Tousled hair. Puffy face. Eyes heavy-lidded from the weight of a sleep not fully cast off. He must have dozed in his big green-leatherette recliner.


He looked adorable.


Carson wished he was grungy Or slovenly. Or geeky The last thing she wanted to feel toward a partner was physical attraction.


Instead, he looked as cuddly as a teddy bear. Worse, the sight of him filled her with a warm,


agreeable feeling consisting largely of affection but not without an element of desire.


Shit.


“It’s just ten o’clock,” she said, pushing past him into the apartment, “and you’re asleep in front of the TV. What’re those orange crumbs on your T-shirt? Cheez Doodles?”


“Exactly,” he said, following her into the living room. “Cheez Doodles. You are a detective.”


“Can I assume you’re sober?”


“Nope. Had two diet root beers.”


He yawned, stretched, rubbed at his eyes with the back of one fist. He looked edible.


Carson tried to derail that train of thought. Indicating the massive green recliner, she said, “That is the ugliest lump of a chair I’ve ever seen. Looks like a fungus scraped out of a latrine in Hell.”


“Yeah, but it’s my fungus from Hell, and I love it.”


Pointing to the TV, she said, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers?”


“The first remake.”


“You’ve seen it like what— ten times?”


“Probably twelve.”


“When it comes to glamour,” she said, “you’re the Cary Grant of your generation.”


He grinned at her. She knew why. Her curmudgeonly attitude did not fool him. He sensed the effect that he had on her.


Turning away from him as she felt her face flush,


Carson picked up the remote control and switched off the TV “The case is breaking. We’ve gotta move.”


“Breaking how?”


“Guy jumped off a roof, smashed himself into alley jam, leaving a freezer full of body parts. They say he’s the Surgeon. Maybe he is—but he didn’t kill them all.”


Sitting on the edge of the recliner, tying his shoes, Michael said, “What—he’s got a kill buddy or a copycat?”


“Yeah. One or the other. We dismissed that idea too easily”


“I’ll grab a clean shirt and a jacket,” he said.


“Maybe change the Cheez Doodle T while you’re at it,” she said.


‘Absolutely I wouldn’t want to embarrass you in front of some criminal scum,” he said, and stripped off the T-shirt as he left the room.


He knew exactly what he was doing: giving her a look. She took it. Good shoulders, nice abs.


CHAPTER 62


ERIKA ROAMED the silent mansion, pausing frequently to study Victor’s collection of European and Asian antiques.


As they did every night, the nine members of the household staff—butler, maids, chef, cleaning crew, gardeners—had retired to their quarters above the ten-car garage at the back of the property They lived dormitory-style, the sexes integrated. They were provided with a minimum of amenities.


Victor seldom needed servants after ten o’clock—even on those nights when he was home— but he preferred not to allow his household staff, all members of the New Race, to lead lives separate from the mansion. He wanted them to be available twenty-four hours a day. He insisted that the only focus of their lives should be his comfort.


Erika was pained by their circumstances. They were essentially hung on a rack, like tools, to await the next use he had for them.


The fact that her circumstances were not dissimilar to theirs had occurred to her. But she enjoyed a greater freedom to fill her days and nights with pursuits that interested her.


As her relationship with Victor matured, she hoped to be able to gain influence with him. She might be able to use that influence to improve the lot of the household staff.


As this concern for the staff had grown, she found herself less often despairing. Following her interests—and thus refining herself—was fine, but having a purpose proved more satisfying.


In the main drawing room, she paused to admire an exquisite pair of Louis XV ormolu-mounted boulle marquetry and ebony has d’armoires.


The Old Race could create objects of breathtaking beauty unlike anything the New Race had done. This puzzled Erika; it did not seem to square with Victor’s certainty that the New Race was superior. Victor himself had an eye for the art of the Old Race. He had paid two and a quarter million for this pair of has d’armoires.

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