Harker might have been crouched against the farther side of the counter, waiting for her, but she doubted she would find him there. His priority wasn’t to waste her, just to get away She cleared the gate fast, swiveling the 12-gauge to cover the area behind the counter. No Harker.
A door stood ajar behind the clerical pen. She pushed it open with the shotgun barrel.
Enough light came from behind her to reveal a short hallway No Harker. Deserted.
She stepped inside, flicked on the hall light. She listened but heard only the thunder and the insistent crash of rain on the roof.
To each side stood a door. Signs identified them as men’s and women’s lavatories.
Harker wouldn’t have stopped to take a pee, wash his hands, or admire himself in a mirror.
Assuring herself that he would have no desire to get behind her and take her by surprise, that he only wanted to escape, Carson went past the lavatories toward another door at the end of the hall.
She glanced back twice. No Harker.
The end door featured a traffic-check window through which she saw darkness beyond.
Conscious that she was a backlit target as long as she lingered on the threshold, Carson cleared it fast and low, scanning left and right in the flush of light that accompanied her. No Harker.
The door fell shut, leaving her in darkness. She backed up against the wall, felt the switches pressing into her back, slid aside, held the 12-gauge with one hand, snapped on the lights.
Suspended from the thirty-foot ceiling, a series of lights in cone-shaped shades revealed a large warehouse with goods stacked on pallets to a height of twenty feet. A maze.
She turned right across the open ends of the aisles, looking into each. No Harker. No Harker. No Harker. Harker.
Thirty feet from the mouth of the aisle, moving away from her, Harker hobbled as if in pain, bent forward, cradling his torso with both arms.
Thinking of the people he’d sliced open, thinking of the makeshift autopsy table in his bedroom, where he had been prepared to dissect Jenna Parker, Carson went after him with no intention of cutting him any slack. Closing to within twenty feet before shouting his name, she brought up the shotgun, finger on the trigger rather than on the guard.
If he dropped like he should, she’d cover him, use her cell phone to get Michael, get backup.
Harker turned to face her. His wet hair hung over his face. The shape of his body seemed . . . wrong.
The son of a bitch didn’t drop. From him came the eeriest sound that she had ever heard: part a cry of agony, part excited laughter, part an expression of brute rage.
The pellets hit him in a tight group, where his cradling arms crossed his abdomen. Blood sprayed.
So fast that it seemed as if he were not a real figure but one in a time-lapse film, Harker clambered up a wall of crates, out of the aisle.
Carson chambered another round, tracked him as if he were a clay disk in a skeet shoot, and blew a chunk off the top crate, missing him as he vanished over the palisade.
SAYING A PRAYER for the family jewels, Michael jammed Carson’s pistol into his waistband, scaled the fence at the mouth of the alleyway, wincing as an ax of lightning chopped the night, figuring it would whack the steel chain-link and electrocute him.
He got over the fence, into the alley, unfried, and ran through drenching rain and the rolling echoes of thunder to the rear of the warehouse.
A concrete ramp led up to the loading dock at the back. A big roll-up door and a man-door served that deep platform. Harker would come out of the smaller door.
He drew Carson’s pistol but left his own hol-stered. He was not literally going to two-gun the fugitive, one pistol in each hand. For the best possible placement of shots, he needed a two-hand grip on the weapon.
If as advertised Harker proved to be as hard to bring down as a charging rhino, Michael might empty a magazine trying to pop both his hearts. If after that Harker was still on the move, there would not be time to eject a magazine and slap in a fresh one. He’d drop Carson’s piece, draw his own, and hope for the kill with the next ten rounds.
Embracing this strategy, Michael realized that although the Frankenstein story seemed like a can of Spam, he had gone for it as eagerly as if it had been filet mignon.
Inside, the 12-gauge boomed. Almost at once, it boomed again.
Thrusting one hand into his jacket pocket, he felt spare shotgun shells. He’d forgotten to give them to Carson. She had one round in the breach, three in the magazine. Now only two left.
The 12-gauge boomed again.
She was down to one round, with no backup handgun.
Waiting for Harker on the loading dock wasn’t a workable plan any longer.
Michael tried the man-door. It was locked, of course, but worse, it was steel plate, resistant to forced entry, with three deadbolts.
Movement startled him. He reeled back and discovered Deucalion at his side —tall, tattooed, totemic in the lightning.
“Where the hell-“
“I understand locks,” Deucalion interrupted.
Instead of applying the finesse his words implied, the huge man grabbed the door handle, wrenched it so hard that all three of the lock assemblies pulled out of the steel frame with a pop-crack-shriek of tortured metal, and threw the torqued door onto the loading dock.
“What the bell,” Michael asked, “was that?”
“Criminal trespass,” Deucalion said, and disappeared into the warehouse.
WHEN MICHAEL followed Deucalion into the warehouse, the giant wasn’t there. Whatever he might be, the guy gave new meaning to the word elusive.
Calling out to Carson would alert Harker. Besides, the storm was louder in here than outside, almost deafening: Rain roared against the corrugated metal roof.
Crates of various sizes, barrels, and cubes of shrink-wrapped merchandise formed a labyrinth of daunting size. Michael hesitated only briefly, then went searching for the minotaur.
He found hundreds of hermetically sealed fifty-gallon drums of vitamin capsules in bulk, crated machine parts, Japanese audio-video gear, cartons of sporting equipment—and one deserted aisle after another.
Frustration built until he thought maybe he would shoot up a few boxes that claimed to contain Rung Fu Elmo dolls, just to relieve the tension. If they had been Barney the Dinosaur dolls, he would more likely have acted on the impulse.
From overhead, louder than the rain, came the sound of someone running along the top of the stacked goods. The crates and barrels along the right side of the aisle shuddered and creaked and knocked together.
When Michael looked up, he saw something that was Harker but not Harker, a hunched and twisted and grotesque form, vaguely human but with a misshapen trunk and too many limbs, coming toward him along the top of the palisade. Maybe the speed with which it moved and the play of shadow and light fooled the eye. Maybe it was not monstrous at all. Maybe it was just old pain-in-the-ass Jonathan, and maybe Michael was in such a state of paranoid agitation that he was mostly imagining all the demonic details.
Pistol in a two-hand grip, he tried to track Harker, but the fugitive moved too fast, so Michael figured the first shot he would get would be when Harker leaped toward him and was airborne. At the penultimate moment, however, Harker changed directions and sprang off the right-hand stacks,
across the ten-foot-wide aisle, landing atop the left-hand palisade.
Gazing up, in spite of the extreme angle, Michael got a better look at his adversary He could no longer cling to the hope that he had imagined Harker’s grotesque transformation. He couldn’t swear to the precise details of what he glimpsed, but Johnny definitely was not in acceptable condition to be invited to dinner with genteel company Harker was Hyde out of Jekyll, Quasimodo crossed with the Phantom of the Opera, minus the black cape, minus the slouch hat, but with a dash of H. P. Lovecraft.
Landing atop the merchandise to the left of Michael, Harker crouched low, on all fours, maybe on all sixes, and with what sounded like two voices quarreling with each other in wordless shrieks, he scrabbled away, back in the direction from which he had come.
Because he didn’t suffer from any doubts about his manhood, because he knew that valor was often the better part of courage, Michael considered leaving the warehouse, going back to the station, and writing a letter of resignation. Instead, he went after Harker. He soon lost track of him.
LISTENING BEYOND the storm, breathing air that had been breathed by the quarry, Deucalion moved slowly, patiently, between two high ramparts of palleted goods. He wasn’t searching so much as waiting.
As he expected, Harker came to him. Here and there, narrow gaps in each wall of crates gave a view of the next aisle. As Deucalion came to one of these look-throughs, a pale and glistening face regarded him from eight feet away in the parallel passageway “Brother?” Harker asked.
Meeting those tortured eyes, Deucalion said, “No.”
“Then what are you?” “His first.”
“From two hundred years?” Harker asked. ‘And a world away” ‘Are you as human as me?” “Come to the end of the aisle with me,” Deucalion said. “I can help you.”
‘Are you as human as me? Do you murder and create?”
With the alacrity of a cat, Deucalion scaled the palisade, from floor to crest, in perhaps two seconds, three at most, crossed to the next aisle, looked down, leaped down. He had not been quick enough. Harker was gone.
CARSON FOUND A SET of open spiral stairs in a corner. Rapid footsteps rang off metal risers high above. A creaking noise preceded a sudden loud rush of rain. A door slammed shut, closing out the immediate sound of the downpour.
With one shot left and ready in the breach, she climbed.
The steps led to a door. When she opened it, rain lashed her.
Beyond lay the roof.
She flipped a wall switch. Outside, above the door, a bulb brightened in a wire cage.
After adjusting the latch so the door wouldn’t automatically lock behind her, she went out into the storm.
The broad roof was flat, but she could not see easily to every parapet. In addition to the gray screens of rain, vent stacks and several shedlike structures—perhaps housing the heating-cooling equipment and electrical panels—obstructed her view.
The switch by the door had activated a few other lamps in wire cages, but the deluge drowned most of the light.
Cautiously, she moved forward.
SOAKED, CHILLED even though the rain was warm, certain that the phrase “like a drowned rat” would for the rest of his life bring him to tears, Michael moved among the vent stacks. Warily, he circled one of the sheds, making a wide arc at each corner.
He had followed someone—something—onto the roof and knew that he was not alone here.
Whatever their purpose might be, the cluster of small structures looked like cottages for roof Hobbits. After circling the first, he tried the door. Locked. The second was locked, too. And the third.
As he moved toward the fourth structure, he heard what might have been the rasp of hinges on the door he had just tried—and then from a distance Carson shouting his name, a warning.
IN EACH BLAZE of lightning, the shatters of rain glittered like torrents of beveled crystals in a colossal chandelier, but instead of brightening the roof, these pyrotechnics added to the murk and confusion.
Rounding a collection of bundled vent pipes, Carson glimpsed a figure in this darkling crystal glimmer. She saw him more clearly when the lightning passed, realized that he was Michael, twenty feet away, and then she spotted another figure come out of one of the sheds. “Michael! Behind you!”
Even as Michael turned, Harker—it had to be Harker— seized him and with inhuman strength lifted him off his feet, held him overhead, and rushed with him toward the parapet.
Carson dropped to one knee, aimed low to spare Michael, and fired the shotgun.
Hit in the knees, staggered, Harker hurled Michael toward the edge of the building.
Michael slammed into the low parapet, started to slide over, nearly fell, but hung on and regained the roof.
Although Harker should have been down, shrieking in agony, his knees no more supportive than gelatin, he remained on his feet. He came for Carson.
Rising from a position of genuflection, Carson realized she had fired the last round. She held on to the weapon for its psychological effect, if any, and backed away as Harker approached.
In the light of the rain-veiled roof lamps, in a quantum series of lightning flashes of escalating brightness, Harker appeared to be carrying a child against his chest, though his arms were free.
When the pale thing clinging to Harker turned its head to look at her, Carson saw that it was not a child. Dwarfish, but with none of a dwarf’s fairytale appeal, deformed to the point of malignancy, slit-mouthed and wicked-eyed, this was surely a phantasm, a trick of light and lightning, of rain and gloom, mind and murk conspiring to deceive.
Yet the monstrosity did not vanish when she tried to blink it away And as Harker drew nearer, even as Carson backed away from him, she thought the detective’s face looked strangely blank, his eyes glazed, and she had the unnerving feeling that the thing clinging to him was in control of him.
When Carson backed into a stack of vent pipes, her feet skidded on the wet roof. She almost fell.
Harker surged toward her, like a lion bounding toward faltering prey. The shriek of triumph seemed to come not from him but from the thing fastened to—surging out of?—his chest.
Suddenly Deucalion appeared and seized both the detective and the hag that rode him. The giant lifted them as effortlessly and as high as Harker had lifted Michael, and threw them from the roof.
Carson hurried to the parapet. Harker lay facedown in the alley, more than forty feet below. He lay still, as if dead, but she had seen him survive another killing fall the previous night.
A SET OF SWITCHBACK fire stairs zigzagged down the side of the warehouse. Carson paused at the top only long enough to take three spare shotgun shells from Michael and load them in the 12-
The iron stairs were slippery in the rain. When she grabbed the railing, it felt slick under her hand.
Michael followed close behind her, too close, the open stairs trembling and clanking under them. “You see that thing?’
“It was coming out of him.”
“Out of him!”
She said nothing. Didn’t know what to say. Just kept racing down, turning flight to flight.
“The thing touched me,” Michael said, revulsion thick in his voice.
“It’s not all right.”
“If it’s not dead-“
“It’s dead,” she hoped.
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