He stopped in front of the sedan.
Staring up through the oaks at the creamy moon,
she said, “This is real, Michael. I know it. Our lives will never be the same.”
He recognized in her a yearning for change so strong that even this—a trading of the world they knew for another that had even more terror in it-was preferable to the status quo.
“Okay, okay,” he said. “So where’s Deucalion? If any of this is real, then it’s his fight more than ours.
She lowered her gaze from the moon to Michael. She moved toward the front of the car.
“Deucalion is incapable of violence against his maker,” she said. “It’s like the proscription against suicide. He tried two hundred years ago, and Victor nearly finished him. Half his face … so damaged.”
They stood face to face.
He wanted to touch her, to place a hand on her shoulder. He restrained himself because he didn’t know what a touch might lead to, and this was not a moment for even more change.
Instead, he said, “Man-made men, huh?”
“Honestly? I don’t know Maybe I just want to be sure.”
Heat, humidity, moonlight, the fragrance of jasmine: New Orleans sometimes seemed like a fever dream, but never more than now.
“Frankenstein alive,” he said. “It’s just a National Enquirer wet dream.”
A harder expression pinched her eyes.
Hastily Michael said, “I like the National Enquirer. Who in his right mind would believe the New York Times anymore? Not me.”
“Harker’s out there,” she reminded him.
He nodded. “Let’s get him.”
IN A mansion as large as this, a severed hand had to do a lot of crawling to get where it wanted to go.
When previously it had scuttled unseen through the bedroom, the hand, judging by the sound of it, had moved as fast as a nervous rat. Not now.
The concept of a weary severed hand, exhausted from relentless creeping, made no sense.
Neither did the concept of a confused severed hand. Yet this one paused from time to time, as though it were not sure of the correct direction, and once it even retraced the path that it had taken and chose another route.
Erika persisted in the conviction that she was witnessing an event of supernatural character. No science she knew could explain this crawling marvel.
Although Victor had long ago trafficked in such parts as this, making jigsaw men from graveyard fragments, he had not used such crude methods in a long time.
Besides, the hand did not end in a bloody stump. It terminated in a round stub of smooth skin, as though it had never been attached to an arm.
This detail, if nothing else, seemed to confirm its supernatural origins.
In time, with Erika in patient attendance, the hand made its way to the kitchen. There it halted before the pantry door.
She waited for it to do something, and then she decided that it was in need of her assistance. She opened the pantry door, switched on the light.
As the determined hand crawled toward the back wall of the pantry, Erika realized that it must wish to lead her into Victor’s studio. She knew of the studio’s existence but had never been there.
His secret work space lay beyond the back wall of the pantry. Most likely, a hidden switch would cause the food-laden shelves to swing inward like a door.
Before she could begin to search for the switch, the shelves in fact slid aside. The hand on the floor had not activated them; some other entity was at work.
She followed the hand into the hidden room and saw on the center worktable a Lucite tank filled with a milky solution, housing a man’s severed head. Not a fully realized head, but something like a crude model of one, the features only half formed.
Bloodshot blue eyes opened in this travesty of a human face.
The thing spoke to Erika in a low, rough voice exactly like that of the entity who, through the TV, had urged her to kill Victor: “Look at what I am . . . and tell me if you can that he’s not evil.”
when SHE parked in front of Harker’s apartment house, Carson got out of the car, hurried to the back, and grabbed the pistol-grip, pump-action shotgun from the trunk.
Michael joined her as she loaded. “Hey Wait. I don’t pretend to be a SWAT team.”
“If we try to take Harker into custody like he’s an ordinary wack job, we’ll be two dead cops.”
A guy in a white van across the street had noticed them. Michael didn’t want to make a scene, but he said, “Gimme the shotgun.”
“I can take the kick,” she assured him.
“We’re not going in that way.”
She slammed the trunk and moved toward the sidewalk.
Michael moved with her, trying reason where gimme didn’t work. “Call for backup.”
“How’re you gonna explain to Dispatch why you need backup. You gonna tell them we’ve cornered a man-made monster?”
As they reached the front door of the building, he said, “This is crazy.”
“Did I say it wasn’t?”
The front door opened into a shabby-genteel lobby with sixteen brass mailboxes.
Carson read the names on the boxes. “Harker’s on the fourth floor. Top of the building.”
Not convinced of the wisdom of this but caught up in Carson’s momentum, Michael went with her to a door beyond which lay stairs that led up through a shaft too long in need of fresh paint.
She started to climb, he followed, and she warned: “Deucalion says, in a crisis, wounded, they’re probably able to turn off pain.”
“Do we need silver bullets?”
“Is that some kind of sarcasm?” Carson asked, mimicking Dwight Frye.
“I’ve got to admit it is.”
The stairs were narrow. The odors of mildew and disinfectant curdled together in the stifling air. Michael told himself he wasn’t getting dizzy “They can be killed,” Carson said. ‘Allwine was.”
“Yeah. But he wanted to die.”
“Remember, Jack Rogers said the cranium has incredible molecular density”
“Does that mean something in real words?” he asked.
“His brain is armored against all but the highest caliber.”
Gasping not from exertion but from a need for cleaner air than what the fumy stairwell offered, Michael said, “Monsters among us, masquerading as real people—it’s the oldest paranoia.”
“The word impossible contains the word possible.”
“What’s that—some Zen thing?”
“I think Star Trek. Mr. Spock.”
At the landing between the third and fourth floors, Carson paused and pumped the shotgun, chambering a shell.
Drawing his service piece from the paddle holster on his right hip, Michael said, “So what are we walking into?”
“Scary crap. What’s new about that?”
They climbed the last flight to the fourth floor, went through a fire door, and found a short hallway serving four apartments.
The wood floor had been painted a glossy battleship gray. A few feet from Harker’s door lay keys on a coiled plastic ring.
Michael squatted, snared the keys. Also on the ring was a small plastic magnetic-reader membership card in a supermarket discount club. It had been issued to Jenna Parker.
He remembered the name from the mailboxes in the public foyer on the ground floor. Jenna Parker lived here at the top of the building; she was one of Harker’s neighbors.
Carson whispered, “Michael.”
He looked up at her, and she pointed with the shotgun barrel.
Closer to Harker’s door than where the keys had fallen, an inch from his threshold, a dark spot marred the glossy gray planks. The spot was glossy, too, approximately the size of a quarter but oval. Dark, glossy, and red.
Michael touched it with a forefinger. Wet.
He rubbed forefinger to thumb, smelled the smear. Rising to his feet, he nodded at Carson and showed her the name on the supermarket card.
Standing to one side of the door, he tried the knob. You never knew. Most killers were far short of a genius rating on the Stanford-Binet scale. If Harker had two hearts, he still had one brain, and if he was responsible for some of the murders attributed to the Surgeon, a lot of his synapses must be misfiring. All murderers made mistakes. Sometimes they did everything but post a sign inviting arrest.
This time the door proved to be locked. Michael felt enough play in it, however, to suggest that only the latch was engaged, not the deadbolt.
Carson could have destroyed the lock with one round from her 12-gauge. A shotgun is a pretty good residential-defense weapon because the pellets won’t penetrate a wall and kill an innocent person in the next room as easily as will the rounds from high-power handguns.
Although a blast to the lock wouldn’t risk deadly consequences to anyone inside, Michael wasn’t keen to use the shotgun.
Maybe Harker wasn’t alone in there. Maybe he had a hostage.
They had to use the minimum force necessary to effect entrance, then escalate as developments required.
Michael stepped in front of the door, kicked it hard in the lock zone, but it held, and he kicked it again, kicked it a third time, each blow booming almost as loud as a shotgun, and the latch snapped. The door flew open.
Quarter-crouched and fast, Carson went through the door first, the shotgun in front of her, sweeping the muzzle left and right.
Behind her, over her shoulder, Michael saw Harker crossing the far end of the room.
“Drop it!” Carson shouted because he had a revolver.
Harker squeezed off a shot. The door frame took it.
A spray of splinters peppered Michael’s brow, his hair, as Carson fired at Harker.
The primary force of the blast caught Harker in the left hip, the thigh. He reeled, crashed against the wall, but didn’t go down.
As soon as she fired, still moving, Carson cham-
bered another round and simultaneously sidestepped to the left of the door.
Coming behind her, Michael moved to the right as Harker fired a second shot. He heard the keening lament of a bullet cleaving the air, a near miss, inches from his head.
Carson fired again, and Harker staggered with the impact, but he kept moving, plunging into the kitchen, out of sight, as Carson chambered a third round.
STANDING WITH her BACK to the shared wall between the living room and the kitchen, Carson fished shotgun shells out of a jacket pocket.
She had the shakes. She handled the fat shells one at a time, afraid of fumbling them. If she dropped one, if it rolled under a piece of furniture …
Outside at the open trunk of the car, when she had loaded the 12-gauge, she almost hadn’t pocketed any spare rounds. This was a finishing weapon, useful for bringing a quick end to a dangerous situation; it wasn’t a piece you used for extended fire-fights.
Only twice before had she needed a shotgun. On each occasion a single shot—in one instance, just a warning; in the other incident, intended to wound—had put an end to the confrontation.
Apparently Harker would be as hard to bring down as Deucalion had predicted.
She only had three spare shells. She inserted them in the tube-style magazine and hoped she had enough to do the job.
Skull bone as dense as armor plating. She might blind him with a face shot, but would that matter, could he function anyway?
Two hearts. Aim for the chest. Two rapid-fire rounds, maybe three, point-blank if possible. Take out both hearts.
Across the room, Michael was staying low, using furniture for cover, moving deeper into the living room, angling for a line of sight into the kitchen, where Harker had taken cover.
Harker was only part of their problem, Jenna the other part. The blood in the hallway suggested she was in the apartment. Hurt. Maybe mortally wounded.
Small apartment. Probably three rooms, one bath. He had come out of the bedroom. Jenna might.be in there.
Or she might be in the kitchen, where he had gone. He might be slitting her throat now Back against the wall, holding the shotgun cross-body, Carson eased toward the archway between this room and the kitchen, aware that he might be waiting to shoot her in the face the instant she showed.
They had to whack Harker quickly, get Jenna medical help. The woman wasn’t screaming. Maybe dead. Maybe dying. In this situation, time was the essence, terror the quintessence.
A noise in the kitchen. She couldn’t identify it.
Rising recklessly from behind a sofa to get a better look, Michael said, “He’s going out a window!”
Carson cleared the archway, saw an open casement window. Harker crouched on the sill, his back to her.
She swept the room to be sure that Jenna wasn’t there to take ricochets. No. Just Harker.
Monster or no monster, shooting him in the back would earn her an OIS investigation, but she would have shot him anyway, except that he was gone before she could squeeze the trigger.
Rushing to the window, Carson expected a fire escape beyond, perhaps a balcony She found neither.
Harker had thrown himself into the alleyway The fall was at least thirty feet, possibly thirty-five. Far enough to acquire a mortal velocity before impact.
He lay facedown on the pavement. Unmoving.
His plunge seemed to refute Deucalion’s contention that Victor’s creations were effectively forbidden to self-destruct.
Below, Harker stirred. He sprang to his feet. He had known that he could survive such a fall.
When he looked up at the window, at Carson, reflected moonlight made lanterns of his eyes.
At this distance, a round—or all four rounds — from the shotgun wouldn’t faze him.
He ran toward the nearest end of the alley There he halted when, with a bark of brakes in the street beyond, a white van skidded to a stop in front of him.
The driver’s door flew open, and a man got half out. From this distance, at night, Carson couldn’t see his face. He seemed to have white or pale-blond hair.
She heard the driver call something to Harker. She couldn’t make out his words.
Harker rounded the van, climbed in the passenger’s side.
Behind the wheel again, the driver slammed his door and stood on the accelerator. Tires spun, shrieked, smoked, and left rubber behind as the vehicle raced off into the night.
The van might have been a Ford. She couldn’t be certain.
Perspiration dripped from Carson’s brow. She was soaked. In spite of the heat, the sweat felt cold on her skin.
VICTOR had NAMED HIM Karloff, perhaps intending humor, but Erika found nothing funny about the hideous “life” that this creature had been given.
The bodiless head stood in a milky antibiotic bath, served by tubes that brought it nutrients and by others that drained metabolic waste. An array of machines attended and sustained Karloff, all of them mysterious and ominous to Erika.
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