Page 26

The moon.

No one knew, damn it. No one but . Dom himself.

In the streetlamp's dim glow, he had not checked for a postmark. Now, he saw that its point of origin was not a mystery, as was the case with the letter that had come this morning. It was clearly stamped NEW YORK, N Y., and dated December 18. Wednesday of last week.

He almost laughed out loud. He was not insane, after all. He was not sending these cryptic messages to himselfcould not possibly be sending thembecause he had been in Laguna last week. Three thousand miles separated him from the mailbox in which thisand undoubtedly the otherstrange message had first been deposited.

But who had sent him the notesand why? Who in New York could know that he was sleepwalking ... or that he had repeatedly typed “the moon” on his word processor? A thousand questions crowded Dom Corvaisis' mind, and he had no answers to any of them. Worse, at the moment, he could see no way even to seek answers. The situation was so bizarre that there was no logical direction for his inquiries to take.

For two months, he had thought that his sleepwalking was the strangest and most frightening thing that had ever happenedor ever would happento him. But whatever lay

behind the somnambulism must be even stranger and more frightening than the nightwalking itself.

He recalled the first message he had left for himself on the word processor: I'm afraid. What had he been hiding from in closets? When he had started to nail the windows shut while sound asleep, what had he hoped to keep out of his house?

Dom saw now that his sleepwalking had not been caused by stress. He was not suffering anxiety attacks because he feared the success or failure of his first novel. It was nothing as mundane as that.

Something else. Something very strange and terrible.

What did he know in his sleep that he did not know when awake?


New Haven County, Connecticut

The sky had cleared before nightfall, but the moon had not yet risen. The stars shed little light upon the cold earth.

With his back against a boulder, Jack Twist sat in the snow atop a knoll, at the edge of pines, waiting for the Guardmaster armored truck to appear. Only three weeks after personally netting more than a million dollars from the mafia warehouse job, he was already setting up another heist. He was wearing boots, gloves, and a white ski suit, with the hood over his head and tied securely under his chin. Three hundred yards behind him and to the southwest, beyond the small woods, the darkness was relieved by the light of a housing development; however, Jack waited in utter blackness, his breath steaming.

In front of him, two miles of nightclad fields lay northeast, barren but for a few widely spaced trees and some winterstripped brush. In the distance beyond the emptiness, there were electronics plants, then shopping centers, then residential neighborhoods, none of which was visible from Jack's position, though their existence was indicated by the glow of electric lights on the horizon.

At the far edge of the fields, headlights appeared over a low rise. Raising a pair of night binoculars, Jack focused on

the approaching vehicle, which was following the twolane county road that bisected the fields. In spite of the leftward cast of his left eye, Jack had superb vision, and with the help of the night binoculars, he ascertained that the vehicle was not the Guardmaster truck, therefore of no consequence to him. He lowered the glasses.

In his solitude upon the snowy knoll, he thought back to another time and a warmer place, to a humid night in a Central American jungle, when he had studied a nocturnal landscape with binoculars just like these. Then, he had been searching anxiously for hostile troops that had been stalking and encircling him and his buddies. . . .

His platoontwenty highly trained Rangers under the leadership of Lieutenant Rafe Eikhorn, with Jack as second in commandhad crossed the border illegally and gone fifteen miles inside the enemy state without being detected. Their presence could have been construed as an act of war; therefore, they wore camouflage suits stripped of rank and service markings, and they carried no identification.

Their target was a nasty little “reeducation” camp, cynically named the Institute of Brotherhood, where a thousand Miskito Indians were imprisoned by the People's Army. Two weeks earlier, courageous Catholic priests had led another fifteen hundred Indians through the jungles and out of the country before they could be imprisoned, too. Those clergymen had brought word that the Indians at the Institute would be murdered and buried in mass graves if not rescued within the month.

The Miskitos were a fiercely proud breed with a rich culture that they refused to forsake for the antiethnic, collectivist philosophy of the country's latest leaders. The Indians' continued loyalty to their own traditions would ensure their extermination, for the ruling council did not hesitate to call up the firing squads to solidify its power.

Nevertheless, twenty Rangers in mufti would not have been committed to such a dangerous raid merely to save Miskitos. Both left- and rightwing dictatorial regimes routinely slaughtered their citizenry in every corner of the world, and the United States did notcould notprevent those statesanctioned murders. But in addition to the Indians at the Institute,

there were eleven others whose rescue, along with the Indians, made the risky operation worthwhile.

Those eleven were former revolutionaries who had fought the just war against the nowdeposed rightwing dictator, but who had refused to remain silent when their revolution had been betrayed by totalitarians of the left. Undoubtedly, those eleven possessed valuable information. The opportunity to debrief them was more important than saving the lives of a thousand Indiansat least as far as Washington was concerned.

Undetected, Jack's platoon reached the Institute of Brotherhood in a farming district at the edge of the jungle. It was a concentration camp in all but name, a place of barbedwire fences and guard towers. Two buildings stood outside the fenced perimeter of the camp: a twostory concreteblock structure from which the government administered the district, and a dilapidated wooden barracks housing sixty troops.

Shortly after midnight, the platoon of Rangers stealthily took up positions and launched a rocket attack on the barracks and the concrete building. The initial artillery barrages were followed by handtohand combat. Half an hour after the last shot was fired, the Indians and other prisonersas jubilant a group as Jack had ever seenwere formed into a column and moved out toward the border, fifteen miles away.

Two Rangers had been killed. Three were wounded.

As first in command of the platoon, Rafe Eikhorn led the exodus and oversaw security along the column's flanks, while Jack stayed behind with three men to be sure the last of the prisoners got out of the camp in orderly fashion. It was also his responsibility to gather up files relating to the interrogation, torture, and murder of Indians and district peasants. By the time he and his four men left the Institute of Brotherhood, they were two miles behind the last of the Miskitos.

Though Jack and his men made good time, they never caught up with their platoon and were still miles from the Honduran border when, at dawn, hostile army helicopters, like giant black wasps, came in low over the trees and began offloading enemy troops wherever a clearing could be found. The other Rangers and all the Indians reached freedom, but Jack and his three men were captured and transported to a facility similar to the Institute of Brotherhood. However, the place was so much worse than the concentration camp that

it had no official existence. The ruling council did not admit that such a hellhole existed in the new workers' paradiseor that monstrous inquisitions were conducted within its walls. In true Orwellian tradition, because the fourstory complex of cells and torture chambers had no name, it did not exist.

Within those nameless walls, in cells without numbers, Jack Twist and the three other Rangers were subjected to psychological and physical torture, relentless humiliation and degradation, controlled starvation, and constant threats of death. One of the four died. One went mad. Only Jack and his closest friend, Oscar Weston, held on to both life and sanity during the eleven and a half months of their incarceration. . . .

Now, eight years later, leaning against a boulder atop a knoll in Connecticut, waiting for the Guardmaster truck, Jack heard sounds and detected odors which were not of this windswept winter night. The hard footfalls of jackboots on concrete corridors. The stench from the overflowing slops bucket, which was the cell's only toilet. The pathetic cry of some poor bastard being taken from his cell to another session with interrogators.

Jack took deep breaths of the clean, cold Connecticut air. He was seldom troubled by bad memories of that time and nameless place. He was more often haunted by what had happened to him after his escapeand by what had happened to his Jenny in his absence. It was not his suffering in Central America that turned him against society; rather, subsequent events were what had soured him.

He saw other headlights out on the black fields and raised his night binoculars. It was the Guardmaster armored transport.

He looked at his watch. Ninethirtyeight. It was right on schedule, as it had been every night for a week. Even with the holiday tomorrow, the truck kept to its route. Guardmaster Security was nothing if not reliable.

On the ground beside Jack was an attache case. He lifted the lid. The blue numerals of a digital scanner were locked on the Guardmaster's open radio link to the company dispatcher. Even with his stateoftheart equipment, he had needed three nights to discover the truck's frequency. He turned the volume dial on his own receiver. Static crackled, hissed. Then he was rewarded by a routine exchange between the driver and the distant dispatcher.

“Threeohone,” the dispatcher said. “Reindeer,” the driver said.

“Rudolph,” the dispatcher said. “Rooftop,” the driver said.

The hiss and crackle of static settled in once more.

The dispatcher had opened the exchange with the truck's number, and the rest of it had been the day's code which served as confirmation that 301 was on schedule and in no trouble of any kind.

Jack switched off his receiver. The lighted dials went dark.

The armored transport passed less than two hundred feet from his position on the knoll, and he turned to watch its dwindling taillights.

He was confident of Guardmaster's schedule now, and he would not be returning to these fields until the night of the stickup, which was tentatively scheduled for Saturday, January 11. Meanwhile, there was a great deal more planning to be done.

Ordinarily, planning a job was nearly as exciting and satisfying as the actual commission of the crime. But as he left the knoll and headed toward the houses to the southwest, where he had parked his car on a quiet street, he felt no elation, no thrill. He was losing the ability to take delight in even the contemplation of a crime.

He was changing. And he did not know why.

As he drew near the first houses to the southwest of the knoll, he became aware that the night had grown brighter. He looked up. The moon swelled fat on the horizon, so huge it seemed to be crashing to earth, an illusion of enormousness created by the odd perspective of the early stages of the satellite's ascension. He stopped abruptly and stood with his head tilted back, staring up at the luminous lunar surface. A chill seized him, an inner iciness unrelated to the winter cold.

“The moon,” he said softly.

Hearing himself speak those words aloud, Jack shuddered violently. Inexplicable fear welled in him. He was gripped by an irrational urge to run and hide from the moon, as if its luminescence were corrosive and would, like an acid, dissolve him as he stood bathed in it.

The compulsion to flee passed in a minute. He could not understand why the moon had so suddenly terrified him. It was only the ancient and familiar moon of love songs and romantic poetry. Strange.

He headed toward the car again. The looming lunar face still made him uneasy, and several times he glanced up at it, perplexed.

However, by the time he got in the car, drove into New Haven, and picked up Interstate 95, that curious incident had faded from his mind. He was once more preoccupied with thoughts of Jenny, his comatose wife, whose condition haunted him more than usual at Christmastime.

Later, in his apartment, as he stood by a big window, staring out at the great city, a bottle of Becks in one hand, he was sure that from 261st Street to Park Row, from Bensonhurst to Little Neck, there could be no one in the Metropolis whose Christmas Eve was lonelier than his.


Christmas Day

Elko County, Nevada.

Sandy Sarver woke soon after dawn came to the high plains. The early sun glimmered vaguely at the bedroom windows of the house trailer. The world was so still that it seemed time must have stopped.

She could turn over and go back to sleep if she so desired, for she had eight more days of vacation ahead of her. Ernie and Faye Block had closed the Tranquility Motel and had gone to visit their grandchildren in Milwaukee. The adjacent Tranquility Grille, which Sandy operated with her husband, Ned, was also closed over the holidays.

But Sandy knew she could not get back to sleep, for she was wide awakeand horny. She stretched like a cat beneath the blankets. She wanted to wake Ned, smother him with kisses, and pull him atop her.

Ned was merely a shadowy form in the dark bedroom, breathing deeply, sound asleep. Although she wanted him badly, she did not wake him. There would be plenty of time for lovemaking later in the day.

She slipped quietly out of bed, into the bathroom, and showered. She made the end of it a cold shower.

For years she had been uninterested in sex, frigid. Not long ago, the sight of her own nude body had embarrassed her and filled her with shame. Although she did not know the reason for the new feelings that had risen in her lately, she definitely had changed. It had started the summer before last, when sex had suddenly seemed . . . well, appealing. That sounded silly now. Of course sex was appealing. But prior to that summer, lovemaking had always been a chore to be endured. Her late erotic blossoming was a delightful surprise and an inexplicable mystery.

Nude, she returned to the shadowy bedroom. She took a sweater and a pair of jeans from the closet, and dressed.

In the small kitchen, she started to pour orange juice but stopped when stricken by the urge to go for a drive. She left a note for Ned, put on a sheepskinlined jacket, and went outside to the Ford pickup.

Sex and driving were the two new passions in her life, and the latter was almost as important to her as the former. That was another funny thing: until the summer before last, she hated going anywhere in the pickup except to work and back, and she seldom drove. She'd not only disliked highway travel but had dreaded it the way some people were afraid of airplanes. But now, other than sex, there was nothing she liked better than to get behind the wheel of the truck and take off journeying on a whim, without a destination, speeding.

She had always understood why sex repelled herthat had been no mystery. She could blame her father, Horton Purney, for her frigidity. Though she had never known her mother, who had died giving birth, Sandy had known her father far too well. They had lived in a ramshackle house on the outskirts of Barstow, on the edge of the lonely California desert, just the two of them, and Sandy's earliest memories were of sexual abuse. Horton Purney had been a moody, brooding, mean, and dangerous man. Until Sandy escaped from home at fourteen, her father had used her as if she had been an erotic toy.

P/S: Copyright -->www_Novel12_Com