Page 80


"Sir, as you know, one or more people in this facility attempted, by indirection, to bring some of the witnesses back to the Tranquility, evidently with the hope that the witnesses will remember what they've been made to forget and will create a media circus that'll force us to reveal what we've hidden. Now, these traitors are probably just wellintentioned men, most likely members of Bennell's staff, who simply believe the public should be informed. But the possibility also exists that they've got other and darker motives."


“Monsters,” Alvarado repeated sourly.


When the polygraph was repaired, Leland charged Major Fugata and Lieutenant Helms with interrogating everyone in Thunder Hill who had knowledge of the special secret harbored there for more than eighteen months. “If you screw up again,” Leland warned them, "I'll have your heads." If they failed again to find the man who'd sent the Polaroids to the witnesses, he would view their failure as one more bit of evidence that rot had spread widely through the Thunder Hill staff, and that it was not ordinary human corruption but the result of an extraordinary and terrifying infection. Their failure would cost them their lives.


At onefortyfive, Leland and Lieutenant Horner returned to Shenkfield, leaving the Depository's entire staff locked deep in the bosom of the earth. Upon his return to his windowless office in that other underground facility, the colonel received several doses of bad news, all courtesy of Foster Polnichey, the head of the Chicago office of the FBI.


First, Sharkle was dead out in Evanston, Illinois, which should have been good news, but he had taken his sister, brotherinlaw, and an entire SWAT team with him. The siege of Sharkle's house had become national news due to the extreme violence of its conclusion. The bloodhungry media would be focused on O'Bannon Lane until endless rehashing of the story drained it of thrills. Worse, among Sharkle's mad ravings, there had been enough truth to lead a perceptive and aggressive reporter to Nevada, to the Tranquility, and perhaps all the way to Thunder Hill.


Worst of all, Foster Polnichey reported that "something almost . . . well . . . supernatural is happening here." A stabbing and shooting in an Uptown apartment, involving a family named Mendoza, had caused such a sensation within the city's police department that newspaper reporters and television crews had virtually set siege to the tenement house hours ago. Evidently, Winton Tolk, the officer whose life had been saved by Brendan Cronin, had brought a stabbed child back from neardeath.


Incredibly, Brendan Cronin had passed his own amazing talents to Tolk. But what else had he passed on to the black policeman? There might be only a wondrous new power in Winton Tolk . . . or something dark and dangerous, alive and inhuman, living within the cop.


The worst possible scenario was, after all, unfolding. Leland was halfsick with apprehension as he listened to Polnichey.


According to the FBI agent, Tolk was giving no interviews to the press and was, in fact, now in seclusion in his own house, where another mob of reporters had gathered. Sooner or later, however, Tolk would agree to speak with the press, and he would mention Brendan Cronin, and from there they would eventually find the link to the Halbourg girl.


The Halbourg girl. That was another nightmare. Upon receiving this morning's news of Tolk's unexpected healing powers, Polnichey had gone to the Halbourgs' home to determine if Emmy had acquired unusual powers subsequent to her own miraculous recovery. What he found there beggared description, and he immediately isolated the entire Halbourg family from the press and public before their secret was discovered.


Now all five Halbourgs were in an FBI safehouse, under the watchful eyes of six agents who'd been informed only that the family was as much to be feared as protected and that no agent was to be alone with any member of the family at any time. If the Halbourgs made threatening or unusual moves, they would all be killed instantly.


“But I think it's all pointless now,” Polnichey said on the phone from Chicago. "I think we've lost control of it. ' It's spread, and we've no hope of containing it again. So we might as well call an end to the coverup, go public."


“Are you mad?” Leland demanded.


"If it's come to the point where we have to kill people, lots of people, like the Halbourgs and the Tolks and all the witnesses there in Nevada, in order just to keep the story contained, then the cost of containment has gotten too damn high."


Leland Falkirk was furious. "You've lost sight of what's at stake here. My God, man, we're no longer merely trying to keep the news from the public. That's almost immaterial now. Now, we're trying to protect our entire species from obliteration. If we go public, and if then we decide to use violence to contain the infection, every goddamn politician and bleedingheart will be secondguessing us, interfering, and before you know it, we'll have lost the war!"


"But I think what's being proven here is that the danger isn't that great,“ Polnichey said. ”Sure, I've told the men guarding the Halbourgs to regard them as a threat, but I don't really believe they're a danger to us. That little Emmy ... she's a darling, not a monster. I don't know how the power got in Cronin or how he conveyed it to the girl, but I'm almost willing to bet my life that the power is the only thing inside the child. The only thing inside any of them. If you could meet Emmy and watch her, Colonel! She's a delight. All evidence points to the fact that we should regard what's happening as the greatest event in the history of mankind."


“Of course,” Leland said coldly, "that's what an enemy like this would want us to believe. If we can be convinced that accommodation and surrender are a great blessing, we'll be conquered without a fight."


"But Colonel, if Cronin and Corvaisis and Tolk and Emmy have been infected, if they're no longer human, or at least no longer like you and me, they wouldn't advertise by performing miraculous cures and feats of telekinesis. They'd keep their amazing abilities secret in order to spread their infection to more people without detection."


Leland was unmoved by that argument. "We don't know exactly how this thing works. Maybe a person, once infected, surrenders control to the parasite, becomes a slave. Or to answer the point you've just made, maybe the relationship between the host and parasite is benign, mutually supportiveand maybe the host doesn't even know the parasite is inside him, which would explain why the Halbourg girl and the others don't know where their power comes from. But in either case, that person is no longer strictly human. And in my estimation, Polnichey, that person can no longer be trusted. Not an inch. Now, for God's sake, you've got to take the entire Tolk family into custody, too. Isolate them at once."


"As I told you, Colonel, journalists surround the Tolk house. If I go in there with agents and take the Tolks into custody in front of a score of reporters, our coverup is blown. And although I no longer believe in the coverup, I'm not going to sabotage it. I know my duty."


“You've at least got agents watching the house?”


“Yes.”


"What about the Mendozas? If Tolk infected the boy the way Cronin apparently infected him . . ."


“We're watching the Mendozas,” Polnichey said. "Again, we can't make a bold move because of the reporters."


The other problem was Father Stefan Wycazik. The priest had been to the Mendozas' apartment and then to the Halbourg house before Foster Polnichey had known what was going on at either location. Later, an FBI agent had seen Wycazik at barricades near the Sharkle house in Evanston, at the very moment when Sharkle had detonated his bomb. But no one knew where he had gone; no one had seen him in almost six hours. "Obviously he's putting it together, piece by piece. One more reason to call off the coverup and go public, before we're all caught in the act anyway."


Leland Falkirk suddenly felt that everything was flying apart, out of control, and he had trouble breathing, for he had dedicated his life to the philosophy and principles of control, unremitting iron control in all things. Control was what mattered more than anything else. First came selfcontrol. You had to learn to exert unfaltering control over your desires and ignoble impulses, or otherwise you risked destruction by one vice or another: alcohol, drugs, sex. He had learned that much from his ultrareligious parents, who had begun drumming the lesson into him before he was even old enough to understand what they were saying. And you also had to control your intellectual processes; you had to force yourself to rely always on logic and reason, for it was human nature to drift into superstition, into patterns of behavior based on irrational assumptions. That was a lesson he had learned in spite of his parents, from attending Pentecostal services with them and watching in shock and fear as they fell to the floor of the church or revival tent, where they screamed and thrashed in wild abandon, transported by what they claimed was the spirit of Godthough it was actually just hysterical Holy Rollerism. You had to control your fear, too, or you could not hold on to sanity for long. He had taught himself to conquer his fear of his parents, who had routinely beat and punished him while claiming it was for his own good because the devil was in him and must be driven out. One way of learning to control fear was by subjecting yourself to pain and thereby increasing your tolerance for it, because you couldn't be afraid of anything if you were sure you could bear the pain it might cause you. Control. Leland Falkirk controlled himself, his life, his men, and any assignment that he was given, but now he felt control of this situation slipping quickly out of his grasp, and he was closer to panic than he had been in more than forty years.


“Polnichey,” he said, "I'm going to hang up, but you stand by your phone. My man will set up a scrambled conference call between me, you, your director, Riddenhour in Washington, and our White House contact. We're going to agree on a tough policy and the best way of implementing it. Damned if I'll let you gutless wonders fall apart on this. We'll keep control. We're going to eradicate the infected people if that's necessary, even if some of them are cute little girls and priests, and we're going to save our asses. By God, I'm going to make sure we do!"


When Faye and Ginger returned from Elko at twofortyfive in the motel van, the greenbrown car followed them down the exit ramp from I-80. Ginger was halfconvinced it would swing into the motel lot and park beside them, but it stopped along the county road, a hundred feet short of the Tranquility, and waited in the slanting snowfall.


Faye parked in front of the motel office door, and Dom and Ernie came out to help them unload the purchases they had made in Elko: ski suits, ski masks, boots, and insulated gloves for those who didn't already have them, based on sizes everyone had provided last night; two new semiautomatic .20gauge shotguns; ammunition for those weapons and the others; backpacks, flashlights, two compasses, a small acetylene torch with two bottles of gas, and a number of other items;


Ernie embraced Faye, and Dom embraced Ginger. Simultaneously, both men said, “I was worried about you.”


And Ginger heard herself saying, “I was worried about you, too,” even as Faye said it. Ernie and Faye kissed. With snowflakes frosting his eyebrows and melting into jeweled beads of water on his lashes, Dom lowered his face to Ginger's, and they kissed, tooa sweet, warm, lingering kiss. Somehow, it was as right for her and Dom to greet each other in such a fashion as it was for Faye and Ernie, husband and wife. That rightness was part of everything Ginger had felt for him since arriving in Elko two days ago.


When everything had been unloaded from the van and stashed in the Blocks' apartment, all ten members of the Tranquility family adjourned to the diner. Jack, Ernie, Dom, Ned, and Faye brought guns.


As she pulled some chairs up to the table where Brendan and Dom had tested their powers last night, Ginger noticed that the priest regarded the weapons with a mixture of displeasure and fear, that he seemed far less optimistic than yesterday, when his discovery of his amazing gift had sent his spirit soaring. “No dream last night,” he explained when she asked the reason for his grim mood. "No golden light, no voice calling to me. You know, Ginger, I told myself all along that I didn't believe I was being called here by God. But deep down that is what I believed. Father Wycazik was right: There was always a core of faith in me. Recently, I've been edging back to an acceptance of God. Not only acceptance: I need Him again. But now . . . no dream, no golden light ... as if God's abandoned me."


“No, you're wrong,” Ginger said, taking his hand as if she could absorb his distress by osmosis and leave him feeling


better. "If you believe in God, He never abandons you. Right?


You can abandon God, but never the other way around. He always forgives, always loves. Isn't that what you tell a parishioner?"


Brendan smiled wanly. “Sounds like you went to seminary.”


She said, "The dream was probably just a memory surging against the block that's holding it down in your subconscious. But if it was really God summoning you here ... well, the reason you no longer have the dream is because you've arrived. You've come as He wanted, so there's no need for Him to send you the dream any more. See?"


The priest's face brightened a little.


They took up seats around the table.


With dismay, Ginger saw that Marcie's condition had worsened since last night. The girl sat with her head bent, face halfhidden by her thick black hair staring at her tiny hands, which lay limply in her lap. She mumbled: "Moon, moon, the moon, moon......... She was in allout pursuit of those memories of July 6, which remained teasingly on the edge of her awareness and which, by their tantalizing inaccessibility, had drawn her into obsessive contemplation of their halfglimpsed forms.


“She'll come out of it,” Ginger told Jorja, knowing how empty and foolish the statement was, yet unable to think of anything else to say.


“Yes,” Jorja said, apparently not finding it empty or foolish but reassuring. “She has to come out of it. She has to.”


Jack and Ned stood the plywood panel against the door and braced it with a table again, assuring freedom from eavesdroppers.


Quickly, Faye and Ginger told of their visit to the Jamisons' ranch and of being followed by the two men in the Plymouth. Ernie and Dom had been followed, too.


This news made Jack edgy. "If they're coming out in the open to keep tabs on us, that means they're almost ready to grab us again."


Ned Sarver said, "Maybe I'd just better stand watch, make sure nobody's moving in on us already." Jack agreed, and Ned went to the door and put one eye against the narrow crack between the plywood and the door frame, looking out at the snowswept parking lot.

P/S: Copyright -->www_Novel12_Com

***