One of the quotations on the wall caught Ben's eye:
SEVEN THUNDERS UTTERED THEIR VOICES
—Revelation, x, 3
"Mrs. Karnes," Ben said, "did you make the samplers yourself?"
"Yes. Needlepoint helps keep my hands to the Lord's work."
"They're lovely. But I was wondering ... what does that one mean exactly?"
"Seven thunders all at once," she said quietly, without fervor—in fact, with an unnervingly calm authority that made it seem as if what she said must surely make sense. "That's how it will be. And then we'll know why we've always got to do our best. Then we'll wish we'd done better, much better, when the seven thunders roll all at once."
At the front door, as Ben and Glenda were leaving, Mrs. Karnes said, "Does God work through you, Mr. Chase?"
"Doesn't He work through all of us?" Ben asked.
"No. Some aren't strong enough. But you—are you His hand, Mr. Chase?"
He had no idea what answer she wanted. "I don't think so, Mrs. Karnes."
She followed them onto the front walk. "I think you are."
"Then God works in even more mysterious ways than anyone ever knew before."
"I think you are God's hand."
The scorching, late-afternoon sun was oppressive, but Lora Karnes still chilled Ben. He turned from her without another word.
The woman was still standing in the doorway, watching, as they drove away in the battered Mustang.
* * *
All day, from Glenda's apartment to the Allenby house to Hanover Park to the Karnes's house, Ben had driven evasively, and both he and Glenda had looked for a tail. No one had followed them at any point in their rambling journey.
No one followed them from the Karnes's house either. They drove until they found a service station with a pay phone.
On the floor of the booth, an army of ants was busy moving the carcass of a dead beetle.
Glenda stood at the open door while Ben searched for Richard Linski in the directory. He found a number. In Crescent Heights.
With change from Glenda's purse, Ben made the call.
It rang twice. Then: "Hello?"
Ben said nothing.
"Hello?" Richard Linski said. "Is anyone there?"
Quietly, Ben hung up.
"Well?" Glenda asked.
"It's him. Judge's real name is Richard Linski."
THE MOTEL ROOM WAS SMALL, FILLED WITH THE RUMBLE OF THE WINDOW-mounted air-conditioner.
Ben closed the door and checked the dead-bolt lock to be sure that it worked properly. He tested the security chain; it was well fitted.
"You're safe enough if you stay here," he said. "Linksi can't know where you are."
To avoid giving Judge a chance to find them, they hadn't gone back to her apartment to pack a bag for her. They had checked in without luggage. If everything went well, they wouldn't be staying the whole night anyway. This was just a way station between the loneliness of the past and whatever future fate might grant them.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, still childlike in her pink socks and twin ponytails, she said, "I should go with you."
"I have combat training. You don't. It's that simple."
She didn't ask him why he hadn't called the police. With what they had learned, even Detective Wallace would at least question Linski—and if Linski was the killer, then the evidence would fall into place. Anyone else would have asked him that tough question—but she was not like anyone else.
Night had fallen.
"I better go," he said.
She got off the edge of the bed and came into his arms. For a while he held her.
By unspoken mutual consent, they didn't kiss. A kiss would have been a promise. In spite of his combat training, however, he might not leave Linski's house alive. He didn't want to make a promise to her that he might be unable to fulfill.
He unlocked the door, took the chain off, and stepped outside onto the concrete promenade. He waited for her to close the door and engage the deadbolt.
The night was warm and humid. The sky was bottomless.
He left the motel in his Mustang.
* * *
At ten o'clock, Ben parked two blocks from Richard Linski's house and put on a pair of gardening gloves that he had purchased earlier. He made the rest of the journey on foot, staying on the opposite side of the street from the house.
The well-kept house was the second from the corner: white brick with emerald-green trim and dark-green slate roof. It was set on two well-landscaped lots, and the entire property was ringed with waist-high hedges that were so even they might have been trimmed with the aid of a quality micrometer.
Some windows glowed. Linski was apparently at home.
Ben walked the street that ran perpendicular to the one on which the bungalow faced. He entered a narrow, deserted alleyway that led behind the property.
A wrought-iron gate punctuated the wall of hedges. It wasn't locked. He opened it and went into Linski's backyard.
The rear porch was not so deep as the one at the front. It was bracketed by large lilac bushes. The boards didn't creak under his feet.
Lights were on in the kitchen, filtered through red-and-white-checkered curtains.
He waited a few minutes in the lilac-scented darkness, not thinking about anything, geared down and idling, preparing himself for confrontation as he had learned to do in Nam.
The back door was locked when he quietly tried it. But both kitchen windows were open to admit the night breeze.
Deeper in the house, a radio was playing big-band music. Benny Goodman. One O'clock Jump.
Stooping low, he brought his face to the window and peered between the half-drawn curtains, which stirred in the gentle breeze. He saw a pine table and chairs, a straw basket full of apples in the center of the table, a refrigerator, and double ovens. Cannisters for flour and sugar and coffee. A utensil rack holding scoops and ladles and big spoons and cooking forks. A blender plugged into a wall outlet.
No Judge. Linski was elsewhere in the house.
Glenn Miller. String of Pearls.
Ben examined the window screen and found that it was held in place by simple pressure clips. He removed the screen and set it aside.
The table was just beyond the window. He had to climb onto it as he went inside, careful not to knock over the basket of apples. From the table he eased himself silently to the vinyl-tile floor.
The music on the radio covered what small noises he made.
Acutely aware that he was without a weapon, he considered trying the drawers in the cupboard by the sink and securing a sharp knife, but he quickly dismissed that idea. A knife would bring events to an unnerving point, full circle, except that now he himself would be the slasher—and would be forced to confront directly the issue of not Linski's sanity but his own.
He paused at the archway between the kitchen and the dining room, because there were no lights in that intervening space except what spilled into it from the kitchen and living room. He didn't dare risk stumbling over anything in the dark.
When his eyes adjusted to the shadows, he edged across the room. Here, a deep-pile carpet absorbed his footsteps.
He stood at the threshold of the front room, letting his eyes adjust to the brighter light.
Someone coughed. A man.
In Nam, when a mission was especially tense, Ben had been able to devote his mind to its completion with a singleness of purpose that he had never achieved before or since. He wanted to be as brisk and clean and quick about this as he had been about those wartime operations, but he was bothered by thoughts of Glenda waiting alone and surely wondering if the motel-room door would be one of those special doors beyond which lay the thing that she needed.
He flexed his gloved hands and drew a slow breath. Preparing himself.
The smart thing to do was to turn around right now, cross the darkened dining room as quietly as possible, cross the kitchen, leave by the back door, and call the police.
But they would be real police. Not like the police in books. Perhaps reliable. Perhaps not.
He stepped into the living room.
In a large armchair near the fireplace sat a man with an open newspaper on his lap. He wore tortoiseshell reading glasses pushed far down on his thin, straight nose, and he was humming along with Glenn Miller's tune while reading the comics.
Briefly, Ben thought that he had made a grave mistake, because he couldn't quite believe that a psychotic killer, like anyone else, could become happily engrossed in the latest exploits of Snoopy and Charlie Brown and Broom Hilda. Then the man looked up, surprised, and he fit Judge's description: tall, blond, ascetic.
"Richard Linski?" Ben asked.
The man in the chair seemed frozen in place, perhaps a mannequin propped there to distract Ben while the real Judge, the real Richard Linski, crept up on him from behind. The illusion was so complete that Ben almost turned to see if his fear was warranted.
"You," Linski whispered.
He wadded the comic pages in his hands and threw them aside as he exploded out of the armchair.
All fear left Ben, and he was unnaturally calm.
"What are you doing here?" Linski asked, and his voice was without doubt the voice of Judge.
He backed away from the chair, toward the fireplace. His hands were feeling behind him for something. The fireplace poker.
"Don't try it," Chase said.
Instead of making a grab for the brass poker, Linski snatched something off the mantel, from beside an ormolu clock: a silencer-fitted pistol.
The clock had hidden it.
Ben stepped forward as Linski brought the weapon up, but he did not move quite fast enough. The bullet took him in the left shoulder and twisted him sideways, off balance, and into the floor lamp.
He fell, taking the lamp with him. Both bulbs smashed when they struck the floor, plunging the room into near-total darkness that was relieved only by the weak light from distant streetlamps outside and the faint glow from the kitchen.
"Fornicator," Judge whispered.
Ben's shoulder felt as if a nail had been driven into it, and his arm was half numb. He lay still, playing dead in the dark.
Linski stepped away from the mantel, bent forward as he tried to make out Ben's body in the jumble of shadows and furniture. Ben couldn't be certain, but he thought the killer was holding the pistol straight out in front of him, like a teacher holding a pointer toward a chalkboard.
Weak, trembling, cold, sweating, Ben knew that shock accounted for his sudden weakness more than the wound did. He could overcome shock.
"How's our hero now?" Judge asked.
Chase launched himself at Linski, ignoring the flash of pain in his shoulder.
The pistol fired—the whoosh of the silencer was clearly audible in such close quarters—but Ben was under the weapon by then, and the round passed over him, shattering glass at the other end of the room.
He dragged Linski down, past the fireplace, into the television, which toppled off its stand. It struck the wall and then the floor with two solid thumps, though the screen did not shatter.
The pistol flew from Linski's hand and clattered into the gloom.
Ben bore Linski all the way down onto the floor and drove a knee into his crotch.
With a dry and nearly silent scream of pain, Linski tried to throw Ben off, but he couldn't manage more than a weak shudder of protest.
Ben's wounded shoulder seemed afire. In spite of the pain, he throttled Linski with both hands, unerringly finding the right pressure points with his thumbs, as he'd been trained, applying as little pressure as possible but enough to put Linski out.
Getting to his feet, swaying like a drunk, Ben fumbled in the darkness until he found a lamp that hadn't been knocked over.
Linski was on the floor, unconscious, his arms out like wings at his sides, as if he were a bird that had fallen from the sky and broken its back on a thrust of rock.
Ben wiped his face with one gloved hand. His stomach, knotted with fear, now loosened too quickly, and he felt as if he might be sick.
Outside, a car full of shouting teenagers went by, screeched at the corner, sounded its horn, and peeled off with a squeal of rubber.
Ben stepped across Richard Linski and looked out the window. There was no one in sight. The lawn was dark. The sounds of the struggle had not carried any distance.
He turned from the window and listened to Linski's breathing. Shallow but steady.
A quick examination of his shoulder indicated that the bullet probably had passed straight through. He wasn't bleeding much, but he'd have to take a closer look at the wound as soon as possible.
In the half bath off the kitchen, he found two rolls of first-aid adhesive tape, enough to securely bind Linski. He dragged the killer into the kitchen and bound him to one of the breakfast chairs.
In the master bathroom, Chase took off his gloves and set them aside to avoid getting them bloody. He stripped out of his blood-soaked shirt and dropped it into the sink.
He took a bottle of rubbing alcohol from the medicine cabinet. When he poured it into the wound, he nearly passed out in agony. For a while he bent over the sink, paralyzed by the pain.
When he could move again, he packed the wound with wads of paper towels until the bleeding slowed even further. He slapped a washcloth over the wound and then wound wide adhesive tape over the entire mess. It wasn't a professional bandage, but it would ensure that he didn't get blood over everything.
In the bedroom, he took one of Linski's shirts from the closet and struggled into it. He was stiffening fast from the wound.
In the kitchen again, he found a box of large plastic garbage bags and brought one to the master bathroom. He dropped his bloody shirt into it. He used paper towels to wipe his blood off the sink and the mirror, and threw those in the garbage bag when he was done. Standing in the doorway, pulling on his gardening gloves, he studied the bathroom, decided that there was no trace of what he had done, turned off the light, and closed the door.
On his way downstairs, he stumbled and had to grab the railing for support. A spell of vertigo pulled a spinning darkness into the edges of his vision—but then it passed.
Judge's second shot had missed Chase, but it had thoroughly smashed a three-foot-square ornamental mirror that had hung on the wall above the bar at the far end of the living room. All the glass had fallen out of the ornate bronze frame, and fragments were scattered over a six-foot radius. In five minutes he had picked up all the major shards, but hundreds of slivers still sparkled in the nap of the carpet and in the upholstery of nearby chairs.
He was considering this problem when Richard Linski awoke and called out.
Ben went to the chair in the kitchen. Linski's wrists were taped to the arms, each ankle to a chair leg. He twisted and tried to break free, but stopped when he realized that he wouldn't be able to pull loose.