"That's right, kiddo," P.J. encouraged. "Don't be afraid. Your big brother won't spout green fire out his nose or sprout leathery wings."

Desert-dry heat was still coming through the floor.

Like ectoplasmic faces pressed to the glass, condensation began to form on some of the windows.

"Why did you do it, P.J.?" Joey asked, pretending to believe in such things as souls and bargains with the devil.

"Oh, kiddo, even then I was sick to death of being poor, afraid of growing up to be a useless piece of shit like our old man. Wanted money in my pocket, cool cars when I got old enough for them, my pick of the girls. And there was no way that was ever going to happen to me like I was, not when I was just one of the Shannon boys, living in a room next to the furnace. But after I made the deal—well, look what happened. Football star. Top grades in my class. Most popular boy in school. Girls couldn't wait to spread their legs for me—and even after I'd dump one of them, she'd still love me, moon over me, never say a word against me. Then a full scholarship to a Catholic university, and how's that for irony"

Joey shook his head in denial. "You were always a good athlete, even as a kid. And real smart. And everyone always liked you. You always had those things, P.J."

"The hell I did," P.J. said, raising his voice for the first time. "God gave me nothing when I came into this world, nothing, nothing but crosses to bear. He's a great advocate of suffering, God is. A real sadist. I had nothing until I made a deal for it."

Reason and logic would have no effect on him, especially not if his psychosis had taken root when he'd been a child. He was a long time gone into madness. The only hope of manipulating him into a disadvantageous position was to play into his fantasy, encourage him.

P.J. said, "Why don't you try it, Joey? You won't have to learn a lot of chants, conduct ceremonies in the woods, none of that. Just want it, open your heart to it, and you can have your own companion."


"Like I have Judas. A rider on the soul. I invited him into me. I let him out of Hell for a while, and in return he takes good care of me. He has big plans for me, Joey. Wealth, fame. He wants me to satisfy every desire I have, because he experiences everything through me—feels the girls through me, tastes the champagne, shares the sense of power, the glorious power, when it's time to kill. He wants only the very best for me, Joey, and he makes sure that I get it. You could have a companion of your own, kiddo. I can make it happen, I really, can."

Joey was rendered speechless by the astonishing complexity of P.J.'s twisted fantasy of Faustian bargains, negotiated damnation, and possession. If he had not spent twenty years reading the most exotic cases of aberrant psychology ever published, he could not have begun to grasp the nature of the human monster with whom he was dealing He could not possibly have understood P.J. the first time that he'd lived through this night, because then he had lacked the special knowledge that allowed him to comprehend.

P.J. said, "You just have to want it, Joey. Then we kill this bitch here. One of the Dolan boys is sixteen. Big kid. We can make it look like he did it all, then killed himself. You and me—we walk away, and from now on we're together, tighter than brothers, together like we've never been before."

"What do you really need me for, P.J.?"

"Hey, I don't need you, Joey. I'm not out to use you for any reason. I just love you. Don't you think I love you? I do. You're my baby: brother. Aren't you my one and only little baby brother? Why shouldn't I want to have you at my side, share my good fortune with you?"

Joey's mouth was dry, and not just from the sudden heat. For the first time since turning off the county route onto Coal Valley Road, he longed for a double shot of Jack Daniel's. "I think you just need me to take down the crucifix for you. Maybe hang it upside down instead of the way it is."

P.J. didn't respond.

"I think you're desperate to finish the little tableau that you started to set up here, but now you're afraid to come into the church since we've restored things."

"You haven't restored anything," P.J. said scornfully.

"I bet if I took down the crucifix, blew out the candles, tore up the altar, if I just made the place safe for you again—then you'd kill both of us, just like you planned all along."

"Hey, kiddo, don't you see who you're talking to? This is your brother here. What's wrong with you? Am I your brother, the one who always fought all your fights with you, took good care of you? Am I ever going to hurt you? Hurt you? Does that make any sense at all?"

Celeste rose from her knees to stand beside Joey, as though she sensed that any small show of courage on her part would help convince P.J. that she and Joey were confident about the protection provided by the symbols with which they had surrounded themselves. Their confidence might feed his apprehension.

"If you're not afraid of the church, why won't you come farther in?" Joey asked.

"Why's it so warm in here?" P.J. tried to sound as self-assured as always, but doubt tainted his voice. "What's there to be afraid of? Nothing."

"Then come on in."

"There's nothing sacred here."

"Prove it. Put your fingers in the holy water."

P.J. turned his attention to the marble font at his right side. "It was dry before. You put the water there yourself."

"Did we?"

"It hasn't been blessed," P.J. said. "You're not a damn priest. It's just ordinary water."

"Then put your fingers in it."

Joey had read of psychotics who, swept away by delusions that they possessed Satanic power, were capable of literally blistering when they put their fingers into holy water or touched a crucifix. The injuries they suffered were real, although induced entirely by their own powers of suggestion, by the depth of their belief in their own sick fantasies.

When P.J. continued to regard the shallow pool of holy water with trepidation, Joey said, "Go on, touch it, go on—or are you afraid it'll eat into your hand, burn like an acid?"

P.J. reached hesitantly toward the marble bowl. Like a dragonfly, his spread fingers hovered over the water. Then he pulled his hand back.

"Jesus," Celeste said softly.

They had found a way to use P.J.'s madness to protect themselves from him.

The first time that he had lived through this night, Joey had been little more than a boy, just out of his teens, up against not merely an older brother but a psychopath of extreme cunning and high intelligence. Now, he had twenty years of experience on P.J., which gave him the psychological advantage this time.

"You can't touch us," Joey said. "Not here in this sacred place. You can't do anything that you planned to do here, P.J. Not now, not since we've let God back inside these walls. All you can do now is run for it. Morning will roll around eventually, and we'll just wait here until someone comes looking for us or until someone finds the Bimmers."

P.J. tried again to put his hand in the water, but he couldn't do it. Crying out wordlessly in fear and frustration, he kicked the font.

The wide marble bowl crashed off the fluted pedestal, and P.J. took sufficient courage from that destruction to rush forward into the nave while the font was still toppling.

Joey stooped and reached for the 20-gauge.

Even as the contents of the bowl spilled onto the floor, P.J. stepped into the spreading puddle, and a cloud of sulfurous steam erupted around his feet as if the water had indeed been blessed and had reacted with fierce corrosive power upon encountering the shoe of a demon-ridden man.

Joey realized that the floor must have been much hotter at the back of the nave than in the sanctuary, fearfully hot.

Having noticed the extreme and increasing heat in the church, P.J. should have realized as much himself; however, in his dementia, he reacted not with reason but with superstitious panic. The gush of steam from the "holy" water reinforced his bizarre delusion, and he screamed as if he'd actually been burned. In fact, he surely was suffering, because to anyone afflicted with psychosomatic pain, it seemed as genuine as the real thing. P.J. let out a shriek of abject misery, slipped and fell in the water, into more steam, landing hard on his hands and

knees, wailing, squealing. He raised his hands, fingers smoking, and then put them to his face but tore them away at once, as though the beads of water on them were indeed the tears of Christ and were searing his lips, his cheeks, half blinding him. He thrashed to his feet, stumbled out of the nave into the narthex, to the front doors, into the night, alternately shouting in rage and bleating in purest anguish, like neither a man nor a man possessed but like a wild beast in excruciating torment.

Joey had only half raised the Remington. P.J. had never come close enough to warrant the use of the gun.

"My God," Celeste said shakily.

"That was amazing luck," Joey agreed.

But they were talking about different things.

She said, "What luck?"

"The hot floor."

"It's not that hot," she said.

He frowned. "Well, it must be a lot hotter back there than at this end of the building. In fact, I'm wondering how long we'll even be safe here."

"It wasn't the floor."

"You saw—"

"It was him."


She was as deathly pale as one of the distorted, ghostly faces of condensation on the church windows. Staring at the shallow puddle that was still lightly steaming at the far end of the center aisle, she said, "He couldn't touch it. Wasn't worthy."

"No. Nonsense. It was just the hot floor meeting the cool water, steam—"

She shook her head vigorously. "Corrupt. Couldn't touch something holy."


"Corrupt, foul, tainted."

Worried that she was on the brink of hysteria, he said, "Have you forgotten?"

Celeste met his eyes, and he saw such an acute awareness in her that he dismissed all concerns about panic attacks and hysteria. In fact, there was a curiously humbling quality about her piercing stare. She'd forgotten nothing. Nothing. And he sensed that her perception was, in fact, clearer than his.

Nevertheless, he said, "We put the water in the font."


"Not a priest."


"We put it there, and it's just ordinary water."

"I saw what it did to him."

"Just steam—"

"No, Joey. No, no." She spoke rapidly, running sentences together, frantic to convince him: "I got a glimpse of his hands, part of his face, his skin was blistered, red and peeling, the steam can't have been that hot, not off a wooden floor."

"Psychosomatic injury," he assured her.


"The power of the mind, autohypnosis."

"There's not much time," she said urgently, looking around at the crucifix and then at the candles, as if to make sure that their stage setting was still in order.

"I don't think he'll be back," Joey said.

"He will."

"But when we played straight into his fantasy, we scared the bejesus —

"No. He can't be frightened. Nothing can scare him."

Even in her urgency, she seemed mildly dazed, in shock. But Joey was overcome by the odd certainty that she was not distracted, as she seemed, but was functioning at a level of awareness and with a degree of insight that he had never known. Heightened perceptions.

She crossed herself. " ... in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti ... " She was spooking Joey worse than P.J. had done.

"A homicidal psychotic," Joey said nervously, "is full of rage, sure, but he can be as susceptible to fear as any sane person. Many of them—"

"No. He's the father of fear—"

"—many of them live in constant terror—"

"—the father of lies, such inhuman fury—"

"—even when they're on power fantasies like he is, they live in fear of—"

"—fury driving him for eternity." Her expressive eyes were glazed, haunted. "He never gives up, never will, nothing to lose, in a perpetual state of hatred and rage ever since the Fall .... "

Joey glanced toward the spilled water in which P.J. had slipped. The church was hotter than ever, sweltering, but steam had stopped rising from the puddle. Anyway, that wasn't the fall she meant.

After a hesitation, he said, "Who're we talking about, Celeste?"

She appeared to be listening to voices that only she could hear. "He's coming," she whispered tremulously.

"You're not talking about P.J., are you?"

"He's coming."

"What? Who?"

"The companion."

"Judas? There's no Judas. That's fantasy."

"Beyond Judas."

"Celeste, be serious, the devil himself isn't really in P.J."

As alarmed by his insistence on reason as he was alarmed by her sudden descent into full-blown mysticism, she gripped him by the lapels of his denim jacket. "You're running out of time, Joey. Not much time left to believe."

"I believe—"

"Not in what matters."

She let go of him, vaulted over the presbytery balustrade into the choir enclosure, landing solidly on both feet.


Rushing to the sanctuary gate, she shouted, "Come touch the floor, Joey, touch where the water spilled, see whether it's hot enough for steam, hurry!"

Frightened for her, frightened by her, Joey also vaulted the balustrade. "Wait!"

She shoved through the sanctuary gate.

Over the incessant drumming of the rain on the roof, another sound arose. An escalating roar. Not from under them. Outside.

She hurried into the center aisle.

He looked toward the windows on the left. Toward the windows on the right. Darkness on both sides.

"Celeste!" he shouted as he pushed through the sanctuary gate. "Show me your hands!"

She was halfway down the aisle. She turned toward him. Her face was slick with sweat. Like a ceramic glaze. Glistening with candlelight. The face of a saint. A martyr.

The roar swelled. An engine. Accelerating.

"Your hands!" Joey shouted desperately.

She raised her hands.

In her delicate palms were hideous wounds. Black holes thick with blood.