This meant that the middle number of the threedigit lockcode was 4. After loading sacks of money and checks into the cargohold at the last stop on the route, the driver had pushed 4 to activate the lock. The contact point of that button would remain closed until the entire code was punched in, thereby unlocking the door.
With three unknown numbers, the possible combinations had been one thousand. But now that they needed to find only the first and last numbers, the search was reduced to one hundred combinations.
Ignoring the howling wind, Jack withdrew another instrument from the SLICKS. This was also on a twofoot cord but resembled a watercolor brush though with a single bristle. The bristle glowed with light and was thicker than a sixtypound fishing line, stiff yet flexible. Jack inserted it into a crack at the base of the #1 button on the lock keyboard, glanced at the computer video display, but was not rewarded, He moved the bristleprobe from number to number. The display screen blinked, then showed a partial diagram of a circuit board.
The bristle that he had thrust inside the mechanism was actually the end filament of an optical laser, a more sophisticated cousin of the similar device which, in supermarket cash registers, read the bar codes on grocery items. The SLICKS was not programmed to read bar codes but to recognize circuitry patterns and render models of them on the display screen. The screen would register nothing whatsoever until the bristleprobe was aimed directly at a circuit or portion thereof, but then it would faithfully reproduce the hidden pattern that it saw.
Jack had to move the probe three times, insert it into the lock mechanism at three different points, before the computer was able to piece together a picture of the entire circuitry from partial views. The diagram glowed in bright green lines and symbols on the miniature video display. After three seconds of consideration, the computer drew boxes around two small portions of the diagram to indicate those points at which a tap could easily be applied to the circuitry. Then it superimposed an image of the tendigit keyboard over the diagram, to show where those two weak points were in relation to that portion of the lock mechanism that was visible to Jack.
“There's a good tapin spot below the number four button,” Jack said.
“You need me to drill?” Pollard asked.
“I don't think so.”
Jack returned the optical probe to its slot and withdrew a third slender instrument with a spongy mesh tip of some material he could not identify, which the designer of SLICKS had labeled the “tapwand.” He inserted it through the tiny gap in the lock mechanism at the base of the 4 button, slowly moved it up and down, left and right, until the computer beeped and flashed INTERVENTION on the miniature video display.
While Jack held the tapwand in place and Chad Zepp held the SLICKS upright, Pollard used the computer's small programming board to quickly type instructions. INTERVENTION disappeared, and onto the screen came other words: SYSTEM CONTROL ESTABLISHED. The computer could now feed commands directly to the microchip that processed the lock codes and that directed the sliding steel bolts to either close or open.
Pollard hit two more keys, and the SLICKS began to send sequences of three numbers to the microchip, one combination every sixhundredths of a second, all of which used the already known 4 as the middle digit of the code. SLICKS hit the right code-545-in only nine seconds.
With four simultaneous thumps, the lock bolts retracted as one.
Jack returned the tapwand to its niche, switched off the computer. Only four minutes had passed since the rifleshot that had blown out the truck's right front tire.
As Zepp slung the SLICKS over his shoulder again, Pollard opened the rear doors of the armored car. The money was theirs for the taking.
Zepp laughed with delight. With a gleeful whoop, Pollard clambered into the truck and began to push out bulging canvas bags.
But Jack still felt empty and cold inside.
A few snow flurries suddenly appeared in the wind.
The unexplained change in Jack, which had begun weeks ago, had now reached completion. He no longer cared about getting even with society. He felt purposeless, as adrift as the windborne flakes of snow.
Elko County, Nevada.
Faye Block had turned on the NO VACANCY notice to ensure that they would not be disturbed.
Sitting around the table in the cheery kitchen of their apartment above the motel office, with the blinds shut against the night, the Blocks sipped coffee and listened spellbound as Dom told his story.
The only point at which they registered disbelief was when he told them of the impossible dance of paper moons in Zebediah Lomack's house in Reno. But he was able to describe that startling event in such sharp detail that he felt gooseflesh pimpling his arms, and he saw that his own awe and fear were being transmitted to Faye and Ernie.
They appeared most impressed by the two Polaroid photographs that had arrived in the mail from the unknown correspondent two days before Dom had flown to Portland. They studied the picture in which the zombiefaced priest was sitting at a writing desk, and they were certain it had been taken in one of their motel rooms. The photo of the blond in bed with an IV line in her arm was a closeup that showed nothing of the room, but they recognized the floralpatterned bedspread visible in one corner of the shot; it was the kind that had been in use in some units until ten months ago.
To Dom's surprise, they had been sent a similar photograph. Ernie remembered receiving it in a plain envelope on December 10, five days before thee had flown to Milwaukee. Faye got it from the center drawer of the desk in the downstairs office, and they hunched conspiratorially over the kitchen table, studying the print. It was a shot of three peopleman, woman, childstanding in sunshine by the door to Room 9.
All three were dressed in shorts, T_shirts, and sandals.
“Do you recognize them?” Dom asked.
“ No,” Faye said.
“But I feel like I ought to remember them,” Ernie said.
Dom said, "Sunshine . . . summer clothes . . . so we can almost certainly conclude it was taken the summer before last, that weekend, between Friday the sixth of July and the following Tuesday. These three people were part of whatever happened. Maybe innocent victims like us. And our unknown correspondent wants us to think about them, remember them."
Ernie said, "Whoever sent the pictures would've been one of the people who erased our memories. So why would he want to stir us up like this after so much trouble was taken to make us forget?"
Dom shrugged. "Maybe he never believed it was rightwhat was done to us. Maybe he only went along with it because he had to, and maybe it's been on his conscience ever since. Whoever he is, he's afraid to come right out with what he knows. He's got to do it indirectly."
Abruptly, Faye pushed her chair back from the table. "Five weeks of mail piled up while we were away. Might be something more in it."
As the sound of Faye's descending footsteps echoed up from the stairs, Ernie said, "Sandythat's our waitress at the Grillesorted through the mail and paid the bills as they arrived. But the rest of the mail she just dropped in a paper sack. Since we came back this morning, we've been so busy getting the place open, we didn't bother looking to see what the postman brought."
Faye returned with two plain white envelopes. In a state of high excitement, they opened the first. It contained a Polaroid of a man lying on his back in bed, an intravenous needle in his arm. He was in his fifties. Dark hair, baking. In ordinary circumstances, he probably had a jovial look, for he resembled W. C. Fields. But he was staring blankly toward the camera, face bleak. Zombie eyes....
“My God, it's Calvin!” Faye said.
“Yeah,” Ernie said. "Cal Sharkle. He's a longhaul trucker movin' freight between Chicago and San Francisco."
“He stops at the Grille most every trip,” Faye said. "Sometimes, when he's beat, he stays overnight. Calvin's such a nice man."
“What company's he drive for?” Dom asked.
“He's independent,” Ernie said. “Owns his own rig.”
“Would you know how to get in touch with him?”
“Well,” Ernie said, "he signs the registry every time he checks in, so we'll have his address . . . around Chicago somewhere, I think."
“We'll check later. First, let's look in that other envelope.”
Faye opened it and produced another Polaroid. Again, it was a shot of a man lying in one of the Tranquility Motel's beds, an IV line in one arm. Like all the others, he had no expression whatsoever, and soulless eyes that reminded Dom of horror movies about the living dead.
But this time, they all recognized the man in the bed. It was Dom.
Las Vegas, Nevada.
When Marcie's bedtime came, she was sitting at the little desk in the corner of her room, occupied with her collection of moons.
Jorja stood in the doorway, watching. The girl was so thoroughly engaged by the task that she remained unaware she was being observed.
A box of crayons lay beside the album full of moons. Marcie was hunched over the work surface, carefully coloring one of the lunar faces. This was a new development, and Jorja wondered what it meant.
In the week since Marcie had begun her collection with magazine clippings, she had filled the album. She had few sources for photos, so she drew hundreds of pictures to add to the monotonous gallery. Using templets as varied as coins, jar lids, vases, drinking glasses, cans, and thimbles, she traced lunar forms of all sizes on tablet paper, construction paper, paper bags, envelopes, and wrapping, paper. She did not spend most of her time with the album, but each day she devoted a bit more time to it than she had the day before.
Dr. Ted Coverly, the psychologist treating Marcie, believed the anxiety that had generated the girl's irrational fear of doctors had not been relieved. Now, the child was expressing that anxiety through her lunar preoccupation. When Jorja noted that Marcie did not seem to be particularly frightened of the moon, Coverly said, "Well, her anxiety doesn't have to seek expression in another phobia. It can show itself in other ways . . . such as an obsession." Jorja could not understand where her daughter's extraordinary anxiety came from. Coverly said, "That's why the therapyto seek understanding. Don't worry, Miss Monatella."
But Jorja was worried.
She was worried because Alan had killed himself only yesterday. Jorja had not yet told Marcie of her father's death. On leaving Pepper Carrafield's apartment, she had called Coverly to ask his advice. He was astonished to learn that Alan, too, had been dreaming of the moon and had independently developed an intense lunar fascination of his own. That one would take time to ponder. Meanwhile, Coverly thought it wise to withhold the bad news from Marcie until Monday. "Come with her to the appointment. We'll tell her
together." Jorj a was afraid that, in spite of Alan's inattention, Marcie would be devastated by his death.
As she stood in the bedroom doorway, watching Marcie diligently applying a crayon to one of the moons, Jorja was stricken by an acute awareness of the girl's fragility. Although she was seven years old and in second grade, the threequarterscale chair was still too big for her, and only the toes of her sneakers touched the floor. Even for a macho man armored with muscles, life was tenuous, and every additional day of existence was against the odds. But for a child as petite as Marcie, continued life seemed downright miraculous. Jorja realized how easily her precious daughter could be taken from her, and her heart swelled and ached with love.
When at last Jorja said, "Honey, better put your pajamas on and brush your teeth," she could not keep a tremor out of her voice.
The girl looked bewildered, as if she were not quite sure where she was or who Jorja was. Then her eyes cleared, and she gave her mother a smile that could melt butter. “Hi, Mommy. I been coloring moons.”
“Well, now it's time to get ready for bed,” Jorja said.
“In a little while, okay?” The girl appeared to be relaxed, yet she was gripping a crayon so tightly that her knuckles were white. "I want to color some more moons."
Jorja wanted to destroy the hateful album. But Dr. Coverly had warned that arguing with the child about the moons and forbidding her to collect them would only strengthen her obsession. Jorja was not sure he was right, but she stifled the urge to destroy the album.
,,Tomorrow, you'll have lots of time to color, Peanut."
Reluctantly, Marcie closed the album, put away her crayons, and went to the bathroom to brush her teeth.
Alone beside the child's desk, Jorja was overcome by weariness. In addition to working a full shift, she'd arranged a mortician for Alan's body, ordered flowers, and settled details with the cemetery for Monday's funeral. She had also called Alan's estranged father in Miami to break the bad news. She was drained. Wearily, she opened the album.
Red. The girl was coloring all the moons red, both those she had drawn and those clipped from newspapers and magazines. She had already painted more than fifty lunar images. The obsessive quality of the girl's work was evident in the great care she had taken to keep the crayon from slipping past the outline of each moon. The crayon had been applied more heavily picture by picture, until some moons were coated with so much scarlet wax that they had a glisteningly wet look.
The use of redand red aloneprofoundly disturbed Jorja. It almost seemed as if Marcie had glimpsed an augury of some onrushing terror, a premonition of blood.
Elko County, Nevada.
Faye Block had gone downstairs to the file cabinets, from which she had extracted the motel registry that had been in use the summer before last. Upon her return, she put the book on the kitchen table, in front of Dom, open to the guest lists of Friday and Saturday, July 6 and 7.
"There, just like Ernie and I remembered. That Friday was the night they closed the interstate because of a toxic spill. A truckload of dangerous chemicals headed out to Shenkfield. That's a military installation about eighteen miles southwest of here. We had to close the motel until Tuesday, until they got the situation under control."
Ernie said, "Shenkfield's an isolated testing ground for chemical and biological weapons, so the crap in that truck was damned nasty."
Faye continued, a new wooden note in her voice, as if reciting carefully memorized lines. "They erected roadblocks and ordered us to evacuate the danger zone. Our guests left in their own cars." Her face remained expressionless. "Ned and Sandy Sarver were allowed to go up to their trailer near Beowawe because it was outside the quarantine area."
Astonished and confused, Dom said, "Impossible. I don't remember any evacuation. I was here. I remember reading, researching the geography for a series of short stories . . . but those memories are so thin I suspect they aren't real. No substance to them. Still, I was here and nowhere else, and something weird was done to me." He indicated the Polaroid snapshot of himself. “There's the proof.”
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