THROUGH THE CODED DOOR, out of Mercy, Randal Six finds himself in a six-foot-wide, eight-foot-high corridor with block-and-timber walls and a concrete floor. No rooms open from either side of this passageway.
Approximately a hundred and forty feet from him waits another door. Happily, there are no choices. He has come too far to retreat. He can only go forward.
The floor has been poured in three-foot-square blocks. By taking long strides—sometimes bounding—Randal is able to spell himself along these oversize boxes toward the farther end of the corridor.
At the second door, he finds a locking system identical to the first. He enters the code he used previously, and this barrier opens.
The corridor is actually a tunnel under the hospital grounds. It connects to the parking garage in the neighboring building.
Father owns this five-story structure, too, in which he houses the accounting and personnel-management departments of Biovision. He can be seen coming and going from there without raising questions.
Using the secretly constructed underground passageway between buildings, his visits to the Hands of Mercy, which he owns through a shell company, can be concealed.
This second door opens into a dark place. Randal finds a light switch and discovers a twelve-foot-square room with concrete walls.
The floor is concrete, as well, but it is a single pour, with no form lines. In other words, it is one big empty box.
Directly opposite the doorway at which he stands is another door no doubt opening to the parking garage.
The problem is that he can’t cross twelve feet and reach that door in a single step. To spell himself to that exit, he will have to take several steps within the same empty box.
Every step is a letter. The rules of crosswords are simple and clear. One letter per box. You can’t put multiple letters in one box.
That way lies chaos.
Just considering the possibility, Randal Six shudders with fear and disgust.
One block, one letter. No other method is able to bring order to the world.
The threshold in front of him shares an h with the chamber that waits before him. Once across the threshold, he must finish spelling the last five letters of the other word a-m-b-e-r.
He can reach the next door in five steps. That is no problem. But he only has one empty box.
Randal stands at the threshold of this new room. He stands. He stands at the threshold. He stands, thinks, puzzles, puzzles…. He begins to weep with frustration.
WHEN BULLETS WEREN’T FLYING, Carson could take a more thoughtful look at Harker’s apartment. Signs of a dysfunctional personality were at once evident.
Although every piece of furniture was a different style from the others, in clashing colors and uncom-plementary patterns, this might mean nothing more than that Harker had no taste.
Although his living room had considerably more contents than did Allwine’s—where there had been nothing but a black-vinyl chair—it was underfur-nished to the point of starkness. Minimalism, of course, is a style preferred by many people who are perfectly sane.
The absence of any artwork whatsoever on the walls, the lack of bibelots and mementoes, the dis-
interest in beautifying the space in any way reminded her too much of how Allwine had lived.
At least one inspirational poster or cute cookie jar would have been welcome.
Instead, here came Dwight Frye out of the kitchen, looking as greasy as ever but, as never before, contrite. “If you’re gonna rip me a new one, don’t bother. I’ve already done it.”
Michael said, “That’s one of the most moving apologies I’ve ever heard.”
“I knew him like a brother,” Frye said, “but I didn’t know him at all.”
Carson said, “He had a passion for modern dance.”
Frye looked baffled, and Michael said approvingly, “Carson, you might get the hang of this yet.”
“For real he went out that kitchen window?” Frye asked.
“For real,” Carson said.
“But the fall would’ve killed him.”
“Didn’t,” Michael said.
“He didn’t have a damn parachute, did he?”
Carson shrugged. “We’re amazed, too.”
“One of you fired two rounds from a twelve-gauge,” Frye noted, indicating the pellet holes in the wall.
“That would be me,” said Carson. “Totally justified. He shot at us first.”
Frye was puzzled. “How could you not take him down at such close range?”
“Didn’t entirely miss.”
“I see some blood,” Frye said, “but not a lot. Still and all, even gettin’ winged by a twelve-gauge-that’s got to sting. How could he just keep on keepin’ on?”
“Moxie?” Michael suggested.
“I’ve drunk my share of Moxies, but I don’t expect to laugh off a shotgun.”
A CSI tech stepped out of the bedroom. “O’Connor, Maddison, you gotta see this. We just found where he really lived.”
father PATRICK duchaine, shepherd to the congregation at Our Lady of Sorrows, took the phone call in the rectory kitchen, where he was nervously eating sugar-fried pecans and wrestling with a moral dilemma.
After midnight, a call to a priest might mean that a parishioner had died or lay dying, that last rites were wanted, as well as words of comfort to the bereaved. In this case, Father Duchaine felt sure that the caller would be Victor, and he was not wrong.
“Have you done what I asked, Patrick?” “Yes, sir. Of course. I’ve been all over the city since we had our little conference. But none of our people has seen one of us acting . . . strangely.”
“Really? Can you assure me there isn’t a renegade among the New Race? No … apostate?”
“No, sir, I can’t absolutely assure you. But if there is one, he’s given no outward sign of a psychological crisis.”
“Oh, but he has,” Victor said coolly “Sir?”
“If you’ll turn on your radio or watch the first TV news in the morning, you’ll get quite an earful about our Detective Harker of the Homicide Division.”
Father Duchaine nervously licked his lips, which were sugary from the pecans. “I see. It was some policeman, was it? Do you … do you feel that I’ve failed you?”
“No, Patrick. He was clever.”
“I was exhaustive … in my search.”
“I’m sure you did everything that you possibly could.”
Then why this call? Father Duchaine wanted to ask, but he dared not.
Instead, he waited a moment, and when his maker said nothing, he asked, “Is there anything more you need me to do?”
“Not at the moment,” Victor said. “Perhaps later.”
All the sugar had been licked from Father Duchaine’s lips, and his mouth had gone dry, sour.
Searching for words that might repair his maker’s damaged trust in him, he heard himself saying, “God be with you.” When only silence answered him, he added, “That was a joke, sir.”
Victor said, “Was it really? How amusing.”
“Like in the church—when you said it to me.”
“Yes, I remember. Good night, Patrick.”
“Good night, sir.”
The priest hung up. He plucked fried pecans from the dish on the kitchen counter, but his hand shook so badly that he dropped the nuts before he could convey them to his mouth. He stooped, retrieved them.
At the kitchen table with a water glass and a bottle of wine, Jonathan Harker said, “If you need sanctuary, Patrick, where will you turn?”
Instead of answering, Father Duchaine said, “I’ve disobeyed him. I’ve lied to him. How is that possible?”
“It may not be possible,” said Harker. ‘At least not without terrible consequences.”
“No. I think perhaps it’s possible because … my programming is being rewritten.”
“Oh? How can it be rewritten when you’re not in a tank anymore or hooked up to a data feed?”
Father Duchaine looked toward the ceiling, toward Heaven.
“You can’t be serious,” Harker said, and took a long swallow of communion wine.
“Faith can change a person,” Father Duchaine said.
“First of all, you’re not a person. You’re not human. A real priest would call you a walking blasphemy”
This was true. Father Duchaine had no answer to the charge.
“Besides,” Harker continued, “you don’t really have any faith.”
“Lately, I’m… wondering.”
“I’m a murderer,” Harker reminded him. “Killed two of them and one of us. Would God approve of your giving me sanctuary any more than Victor would?”
Harker had put into words a key element of Father Duchaine’s moral dilemma. He had no answer. Instead of replying, he ate more sugar-fried pecans.
IN THE back OF the bedroom closet, Harker had broken through the lath and plaster. He had reconfigured the studs and cats to allow easy passage to the space beyond.
Leading Carson, Michael, and Frye through the wall, the young tech said, “This building was at one time commercial on the ground floor, offices in the upper three, and it had an attic for tenant storage.”
On the other side of the wall were rising steps — wood, worn, creaky As he led them upward, the tech said, “When they converted to apartments, they closed off the attic. Harker somehow found out it was here. He made it into his go-nuts room.”
In the high redoubt, two bare bulbs hanging on cords from the ridge beam shed a dusty yellow light.
Three large gray moths swooped under and around the bulbs. Their shadows swelled, shrank, and swelled again across the finished floor, the finished walls, and the open-rafter ceiling.
A chair and a folding table that served as a desk were the only pieces of furniture. Books were stacked on the table, also here and there on the floor.
An enormous homemade light box covered two-thirds of the north wall and provided backlighting for dozens of X-ray images: various grinning skulls from various angles, chests, pelvises, spines, limbs….
Scanning this macabre gallery, Michael said, “I thought when you went through the back of a wardrobe, you came out in the magical land of Narnia. Must’ve taken a wrong turn.”
In the northwest corner stood a three-way mirror with a gilded frame. On the floor in front of the mirror lay a white bath mat.
Treading on fleeting phantoms of moths, serving as a screen for projections of their flight, Carson passed the mirror and crossed the room to a different display that covered the south wall from corner to corner, floor to ceiling.
Harker had stapled to the drywall a collage of religious images: Christ on the cross, Christ revealing His sacred heart, the Virgin Mary; Buddha; Ahura Mazda; from the Hindu faith, the goddesses Kali and Parvati and Chandi, the gods Vishnu and Doma and Varuna; Quan Yin, the Queen of Heaven and goddess of compassion; Egyptian gods Anubis, Horus, Amen-Ra …
Bewildered, Frye asked, “What is all this?”
“He’s crying out,” Carson said.
“Crying out for what?”
“Meaning. Purpose. Hope.”
“Why?” Frye wondered. “He had a job, and with benefits that don’t get much better.”
RANDAL SIX STANDS motionless at the threshold of the next room for so long, so tensely, that his legs begin to ache.
The New Race does not easily fatigue. This is Randal Six’s first experience with muscle cramps. They burn so intensely that at last he takes advantage of his ability to block pain at will.
He has no watch. He has never before needed one. He estimates that he has stood, riveted by his predicament, in this same spot for perhaps three hours.
Predicament is a woefully inadequate word. The correct one has fewer letters and stronger meaning: plight.
Although he has spared himself physical agony,
he cannot escape mental anguish. He despises himself for his inadequacies.
At least he has stopped weeping. Long ago.
Gradually his impatience with himself darkens into an intense anger at Arnie O’Connor. If not for Arnie, Randal Six would not be in this plight.
If ever he reaches the O’Connor boy, he will get the secret of happiness from him. Then he will make Arnie pay dearly for all this suffering.
Randal is also plagued by anxiety. Periodically his two hearts race, pounding with such terror that sweat pours from him and his vision becomes blood-dimmed.
He fears that Father will discover him missing and will set out in search of him. Or perhaps Father will finish his current work and leave for the night, whereupon he will find Randal standing here in autistic indecision.
He will be led back to the spinning rack and secured upon it in a cruciform. The rubber wedge, secured by chinstrap, will be inserted between his teeth.
Although he has never seen Father in a rage, he has heard others speak of the maker’s wrath. There is no hiding from him and no mercy for the object of his fury.
When Randal thinks that he hears the sound of a door opening at the farther end of the hall, behind him, he closes his eyes and waits with dread.
Father does not appear.
Randal must have mistaken the sound or imagined it.
As he stands with his eyes still closed, however, and as his hearts seek a normal rhythm, a calming pattern arises in his mind’s eye: arrangements of empty white boxes against a black background, intersecting in the beautiful virgin lines of an unworked crossword puzzle.
While he concentrates on this barren image for its soothing effect, a solution to his plight occurs to him. When there are not squares of vinyl tile or concrete or other material on the floor in front of him, he can draw them with his imagination.
Excited, he opens his eyes, studies the floor of the room beyond the threshold, and tries to paint upon it the five boxes that he must have to finish spelling chamber when he crosses threshold.
He fails. Though with eyes closed he had been able to see those boxes clearly in his mind, the concrete floor before him remains resistant to the imposition of imagined geometries.
Tears almost overtake him again before he realizes that he does not need to have his eyes open to traverse this room. Blind men walk with the help of canes and patient dogs. His imagination will be his white cane.
Eyes shut, he sees five boxes. He steps straight forward five times, spelling as he goes: a-m-b-e-r.
When the word is complete, he opens his eyes and finds that he stands at the outer door. The electric door behind him has fallen shut. The portal before him has a simple latch that is always engaged from the farther side, always disengaged from this side.
P/S: Copyright -->www_Novel12_Com