The hand lay on the floor, in a corner, palm-up. Still.
Karloff had controlled that five-fingered explorer through the power of telekenesis, which his maker had hoped to engineer into him. An object of horror, he had nonetheless proved to be a successful experiment.
Self-disconnected from its sustaining machinery, the hand is now dead. Karloff can still animate it, although not for much longer. The flesh will rapidly deteriorate. Even the power of telekenesis will not be able to manipulate frozen joints and putrefying musculature.
Surely, however, Victor had not anticipated that Karloff would be able to employ his psychic ability to gain even a limited form of freedom and to roam the mansion with the desperate hope of inciting his maker’s murder.
With that same uncanny power, Karloff had activated the electric mechanism that operated the secret door in the food pantry, providing entrance to Erika. With it, he had also controlled the television in the master suite, to speak with her and to encourage rebellion.
Being less of a complete creation than Erika, Karloff had not been programmed with a full understanding of Victor’s mission or with knowledge of the limitations placed upon the freedom of the New Race. Now he knew that she could not act against her maker, and his despair was complete.
When she suggested that he use his power to disable the machines that supported his existence, Erika discovered that he, too, had been programmed to be incapable of self-destruction.
She struggled against despondency, her hope reduced to the shaky condition of a three-legged table. The crawling hand and the other apparitions had not been the supernatural events that she had longed to believe they were.
Oh, how badly she had wanted these miracles to be evidence of another world beyond this one. What seemed to be a divine Presence, however, had been only the grotesque Karloff.
She might have blamed him for her deep disappointment, might have hated him, but she did not. Instead she pitied this pathetic creature, who was helpless in his power and condemned to a living hell.
Perhaps what she felt wasn’t pity Strictly speaking, she should not be capable of pity. But she felt something, felt it poignantly.
“Kill me,” the pathetic thing pleaded.
The bloodshot eyes were haunted. The half-formed face was a mask of misery Erika began to tell him that her program forbade her to kill either the Old Race or the New except in self-defense or at the order of her maker. Then she realized that her program did not anticipate this situation.
Karloff did not belong to the Old Race, but he did not qualify as one of the New Race, either. He was something other, singular.
None of the rules of conduct under which Erika lived applied in this matter.
Looking over the sustaining machinery, ignorant of its function, she said, “I don’t want to cause you pain.”
“Pain is all I know,” he murmured. “Peace is all I want.”
She threw switches, pulled plugs. The purr of motors and the throb of pumps subsided into silence.
“I’m going,” Karloff said, his voice thickening into a slur. His bloodshot eyes fell shut. “Going…”
On the floor, in the corner, the hand spasmed, spasmed.
The bodiless head’s last words were so slurred and whispery as to be barely intelligible: “You . . . must be… angel.”
She stood for a while, thinking about what he’d said, for the poets of the Old Race had often written that God works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform.
In time she realized that Victor must not find her here.
She studied the switches that she’d thrown, the plugs that she’d pulled. She reinserted one of the plugs. She repositioned the hand on the floor directly under the switches. She put the remaining plug in the hand, tightened the stiff fingers around it, held them until they remained in place without her sustained pressure.
In the pantry once more, she needed a minute to find the hidden switch. The shelves full of canned food slid into place, closing off the entrance to Victor’s studio.
She returned to the painting by van Huysum in the drawing room. So beautiful.
To better thrill Victor sexually, she had been permitted shame. From shame had come humility. Now it seemed that from humility had perhaps come pity, and more than pity: mercy.
As she wondered about her potential, Erika’s hope was reborn. Her feathered thing, perched in her heart if not her soul, was a phoenix, rising yet again from ashes.
FROM THE SWIVELING BEACONS on the roofs of police cruisers and ambulances, unsynchronized flares of red and white and blue light painted a patriotic phantasmagoria across the face of the apartment building.
Some in pajamas and robes, others dressed and primped for the news cameras, the neighbors gathered on the sidewalk. They gossiped, laughed, drank beer from paper cups, drank beer from cans, ate cold pizza, ate potato chips from the bag, took snapshots of the police and of one another. They seemed to regard the eruption of sudden violence and the presence of a serial killer in their midst as reason for celebration.
At the open trunk of the department sedan, as Carson stowed the shotgun, Michael said, “How can he jump up and run away after a four-story face plant?”
“It’s more than gumption.”
“And how are we gonna write up this report without landing in a psych ward?”
Slamming the trunk lid, Carson said, “We lie.”
A Subaru Outback angled to the curb behind them, and Kathleen Burke got out. “Can you believe—Harker?”
“He always seemed like such a sweetheart,” Michael said.
“The moment I saw that suicide note on Roy Pribeaux’s computer,” Carson informed Kathy, “I didn’t believe that he wrote it. Yesterday, ragging Michael and me, Harker used the same phrase that ends Pribeaux’s note—’one level below Hell.”‘
Michael confirmed: “Harker told us that to catch this guy, we were going to have to go to a weirder place—one level below Hell.”
Surprised, Kathy said, “You mean you think he did it on purpose, he wanted you to tumble to him?”
“Maybe unconsciously,” Carson said, “but yeah, he did. He threw the pretty boy off the roof after setting him up to take the rap for both Pribeaux’s string of murders and those that Harker himself committed. But with those four words—’one level below Hell’—he lit a fuse to destroy himself.”
“Deep inside, they pretty much always want to be caught,” Kathy agreed. “But I wouldn’t expect Harker’s psychology to …” “To what?”
She shrugged. “To work that way I don’t know. I’m babbling. Man, all the time I’m profiling him, the bastard’s on my doorstep.”
“Don’t beat yourself up,” Carson advised. “None of us suspected Harker till he all but pointed the finger at himself.”
“But maybe I should have,” Kathy worried. “Remember the three nightclub murders six months ago?”
“Boogie City,” Carson recalled. “Sounds like a place people go to pick their noses,” Michael said.
“Harker and Frye were on that case,” Kathy said. Michael shrugged. “Sure. Harker shot the perp. It was an iffy shoot, but he was cleared.”
‘After a fatal OIS,” Kathy said, “he had six hours of mandatory counseling. He showed up at my office for two of the hours but then never came back.”
“No offense, Dr. Burke,” Michael said, “but lots of us think mandatory counseling sucks. Just because Harker bailed doesn’t mean you should’ve figured he had severed heads in his refrigerator.”
“Yeah, but I knew something was eating him, and I didn’t push him hard enough to finish the sessions.”
The previous night, Carson had passed on the opportunity to tell Kathy the Spooky Time Theater story about monsters in New Orleans. Now there was no way to explain that she hadn’t any reason to feel conscious-stricken, that Harker’s psychology was not even human.
Trying to make as light of the situation as possible, Carson said to Michael, “Is she doomed to Hell, or what?”
“She reeks of brimstone.”
Kathy managed a rueful smile. “Maybe sometimes I take myself too seriously.” Her smile faltered. “But Harker and I seemed to have such . . . rapport.”
Aparamedic interrupted. ‘”Scuse me, detectives, but we’ve given Ms. Parker first aid, and she’s ready for you now.”
“She doesn’t need to go to the hospital?” Carson asked.
“No. Minor injuries. And that’s not a girl who traumatizes easy. She’s Mary Poppins with attitude.”
JENNA PARKER, blithe spirit, lived in a collection of plush teddy bears, inspirational posters—every DAY IS THE FIRST DAY OF YOUR LIFE, JUST SAY NO TO THE BLUES—and cute cookie jars.
The ceramic cookie jars were for the most part confined to the kitchen. There were a clown jar, a polar-bear jar, a brown-bear jar, a Mother Hubbard jar, a Mickey Mouse jar, a Wookie jar. Jars in the form of a puppy, a kitten, a raccoon, a rabbit, a gingerbread house.
Carson’s favorite was a jar in the shape of a tall stack of cookies.
Apparently Jenna Parker didn’t spend much time cooking, for the jar collection occupied half the counter space. Doors had been taken off some of the cabinets, so that the shelves could serve as display space for more cookie jars.
“Don’t you dare say anything,” Carson muttered to Michael as they entered the kitchen and were confronted by the aggressively cheerful ceramic figures.
Pretending wide-eyed innocence, he said, “About what?”
Jenna sat on a stool, wearing a pink jogging suit with a small applique of a running turtle on the left breast. She was nibbling a cookie.
For a woman who had such a short time ago been naked, strapped to an autopsy table, and about to be dissected alive, Jenna seemed remarkably cheerful. “Hi, guys. Want a cookie?”
“No thanks,” Carson said, and Michael managed to decline, as well, without shtick.
Holding up one bandaged thumb like a child proudly displaying a boo-boo, Jenna said, “I mostly just tore off my thumbnail when I fell. Isn’t that great?”
“Imagine how good you’d feel,” Michael said, “if you’d broken a leg.”
Well, he had repressed himself for the better part of a minute.
Jenna said, “I mean, considering I could’ve been sitting here with my heart cut out, what’s a thumbnail?”
“A thumbnail is zip, zero, nada,” said Michael.
“It’s a feather on the scale,” she said.
“Dust in the balance,” he agreed. “It’s a shadow of nothing.” “Denada.”
“Peu de chose,” she said.
“Exactly what I would’ve said if I knew French.” She grinned at him. “For a cop, you’re fun.” “I majored in banter at the police academy.” “Isn’t he fun?” Jenna asked Carson. Rather than stuff one or both of them into a damn cookie jar, Carson said impatiently, “Miss Parker, how long have you been Jonathan Harker’s neighbor?”
“I moved in about eleven months ago. From day one, he was a sweetie.”
“A sweetie? Did you and he …” “Oh, no. Johnny was a man, yeah, and you know what they’re like, but we were just good buds.” To Michael, she said, “That thing I just said about men—no offense.” “None taken.” “I like men,” she said. “I don’t,” he assured her.
‘Anyway, I’ll bet you’re not like other men. Except where it counts.” “Peu de chose,” he said.
“Oh, I’ll bet it’s not,” Jenna said, and winked. Carson said, “Define ‘buds’ for me.” “Once in a while Johnny would come over for dinner or I’d go across the hall to his place. He’d cook pasta. We’d talk about life, you know, and destiny, and modern dance.”
Boggled, Carson said, “Modern dance? Harker?”
“I was a dancer before I finally got real and became a dental hygienist.”
Michael said, “For a long time, I wanted to be an astronaut.”
“That’s very brave,” Jenna said with admiration.
Michael shrugged and looked humble.
Carson said, “Miss Parker, were you conscious any time after he chloroformed you?”
“On and off, yeah.”
“Did he talk to you during this? Did he say why?”
“I think maybe he said ha**ng s*x with me would be like ha**ng s*x with a monkey.”
Carson was nonplussed for a moment. Then she said, “You think he said it?”
“Well, with the chloroform and whatever he pumped into me through the IV, I was sort of in and out of it. And to be perfectly frank, I was going out to a party when he grabbed me, and I had a little bit of a pre-party buzz on. So maybe he said it or maybe I dreamed he said it.”
“What else did you maybe dream he said?”
“He told me I was pretty, a fine example of my species, which was nice, but he said that he was one of the new race. Then this weird thing.”
“I wondered when this would get weird,” Michael said.
“Johnny said he wasn’t allowed to reproduce but was reproducing anyway, dividing like an ameba.”
Even as those words chilled Carson, they invoked in her a sense of the absurd that made her feel as if she were a straight man in a burlesque revival. “What do you think he meant by that?”
“Well, then he pulled up his T-shirt, and his belly was like a scene from. Alien, all this squirming inside, so I’m pretty sure all of that was just the drugs.”
Carson and Michael exchanged a look. She would have liked to pursue this subject, but doing so would alert Jenna to the fact that she might have experienced what she thought she had only dreamed.
Jenna sighed. “He was a sweetie, but sometimes he could get so down, just totally bummed out.” ‘About what?” Carson asked. Jenna nibbled her cookie, thinking. Then: “He felt something was missing in his life. I told him happiness is always an option, you just have to choose it. But sometimes he couldn’t. I told him he had to find his bliss. I wonder …”
She frowned. The expression came and went from her face twice, as though she wore a frown so seldom that she didn’t know how to hold on to one when she needed it.
Carson said, “What do you wonder?” “I told him he had to find his bliss, so I sure hope his bliss didn’t turn out to be chopping people to pieces.”
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