Hal’s hands were down, leaving him briefly defenseless, but he clasped them, with his thumbs aligned, and rammed them upward, between Candy’s pile-driving arms, catching him in the Adam’s apple. The blow was hard enough to make Candy gag on his own cry of pain, and Hal’s thumbnails gouged the madman’s flesh, skidding all the way up under his chin, tearing the skin as they went.
Choking, unable to draw breath through his bruised and spasming esophagus, Candy staggered backward, both hands to his throat.
Hal pushed away from the chair, against which he had been pinned, but he didn’t go after Candy. Even the blow he’d delivered was the equivalent of a tap with a flyswatter to the snout of that bull with the bee up its butt. An overconfident charge would no doubt end in a swift goring. Instead, hurting from the punches to his gut, with the sour taste of pizza sauce in the back of his throat, he hurried around the desk, hot to get his hands on that 9mm Browning.
The desk was large, and the dimensions of the kneehole were correspondingly spacious. He wasn’t sure where the pistol was clipped, and he didn’t want to bend down to look under because he would have to take his eyes off Candy. He slid his hand from left to right along the underside of the desktop, then reached deeper and slid it back the other way.
Just as he touched the butt of the pistol, he saw Candy thrust out both hands, palms forward, as if the guy knew Hal had found a gun and was saying, Don’t shoot, I surrender, stop. But as Hal tugged the Browning free of the metal spring clamp, he discovered that Candy didn’t have surrender in mind: blue light flashed out of the madman’s palms.
The heavy desk abruptly behaved like a wire-rigged, balsa-wood prop in a movie about poltergeists. Even as Hal was raising the gun, the desk slammed into him and carried him backward, into the huge window behind him. The desk was wider than the window, and the ends of it met the wall, which prevented it from sailing straight through the glass.
But Hal was in the center of the window, and the low sill hit him behind the knees, so nothing inhibited his plunge. For an instant the jangling Levolor blinds seemed as if they might restrain him, but that was wishful thinking; he carried them with him, through the glass, and into the night, dropping the Browning without ever having fired it.
He was surprised how long it took to fall six stories, which was not such a terribly great distance, though a deadly one. He had time to marvel at how slowly the lighted office window receded from him, time to think about people he had loved and dreams never fulfilled, time even to notice that the clouds, which had returned at twilight, were shedding light sprinkles of rain. His last thought was about the garden behind his small house in Costa Mesa, where he tended an array of flowers year-round and secretly enjoyed every moment of it: the exquisitely soft texture of a coral-red impatiens petal, and on its edge a single tiny drop of morning dew, glistening—
CANDY SHOVED the heavy desk aside and leaned out of the sixth-floor window. A cool updraft rose along the side of the building and buffeted his face.
The shoeless man lay on his back on a broad concrete walk below, illuminated by the amber backsplash of a landscape spotlight. He was surrounded by broken glass, tangled metal blinds, and a swiftly spreading blot of his own blood.
Coughing, still having a little difficulty drawing deep enough breaths, with one hand pressed to the stinging flesh of his battered throat, Candy was upset by the man’s death. Actually, not by the fact of it but by the timing of it. First, he’d wanted to interrogate him to learn who Bobby and Julie were, and what association they had with the psychic Thomas.
And when Candy had teleported into the reception lounge, the guy had thought he was Frank; he had spoken Frank’s name. The people at Dakota & Dakota were somehow associated with Frank—knew all about his ability to teleport!—and therefore would know where to find the mother-murdering wretch.
Candy supposed the office would hold answers to at least some of his questions, but he was concerned that police, responding to the dead man’s plunge, would necessitate a departure before he turned up all the information he needed. Sirens were the background music to this night’s adventures.
No sirens had arisen yet, however. Maybe he had gotten lucky; maybe no one had seen the man fall. It was unlikely that anyone was at work at any of the other companies in the office building; it was, after all, ten minutes till nine. Perhaps janitors were polishing floors somewhere, or emptying wastebaskets, but they might not have heard enough to warrant investigation.
The man had plummeted to his death with surprisingly little protest. He had not screamed. An instant before impact, the start of a shout had flown from him, but it had been too short to attract notice. The explosion of the glass and the tinny clanging of the blinds had been loud enough, but the action had been over before anyone could have located the source of the sound.
A four-lane street encircled the Fashion Island shopping center and also served the office towers that, like this one, stood on the outer rim. Apparently, however, no cars had been on it when the man had fallen.
Now two appeared to the left, one behind the other. Both passed without slowing. A row of shrubberies, between the sidewalk and the street, prevented motorists from seeing the corpse where it lay. The office-tower ring of the sprawling complex was clearly not an area that attracted pedestrians at night, so the dead man might remain undiscovered until morning.
He looked across the street, at the restaurants and stores that were on this flank of the mall, five or six hundred yards away. A few people on foot, shrunken by distance, moved between the parked cars and the entrances to the businesses. No one appeared to have seen anything—and in fact it would not have been that easy to spot a darkly dressed man plunging past a mostly dark building, aloft and visible for only seconds before gravity finished him.
Candy cleared his throat, wincing in pain, and spat toward the dead man below.
He tasted blood. This time it was his own.
Turning away from the window, he surveyed the office, wondering where he would find the answers he sought. If he could locate Bobby and Julie Dakota, they might be able to explain Thomas’s telepathy and more important, they might be able to deliver Frank into his hands.
AFTER TWICE responding to an alarm from the radar detector and avoiding two speed traps in the west valley, Julie cranked the Toyota back up to eighty-five, and they dusted L.A. off their heels.
A few raindrops spattered the windshield, but the sprinkles did not last. She switched the wipers off moments after turning them on.
“Santa Barbara in maybe an hour,” she said, “as long as a cop with a sense of duty doesn’t come along.”
The back of her neck ached, and she was deeply weary, but she didn’t want to trade places with Bobby; she didn’t have the patience to be a passenger tonight. Her eyes were sore but not heavy; she could not possibly have slept. The events of the day had murdered sleep, and alertness was assured by concern about what might lie ahead, not just on the highway before them but in El Encanto Heights.
Ever since he’d been awakened by what he called the “wordburst,” Bobby had been moody. She could tell he was worried about something, but he didn’t seem to want to talk about it yet.
After a while, in an obvious attempt to take his mind off the wordburst and whatever gloomy ruminations it had inspired, he tried to strike up a conversation about something utterly different. He lowered the volume on the stereo, thereby frustrating the intended effect of Glenn Miller’s “American Patrol,” and said, “You ever stop to think, four out of our eleven employees are Asian-Americans?”
She didn’t glance away from the road. “So?”
“So why is that, do you think?”
“Because we hire only first-rate people, and it so happened that four of the first-rate people who wanted to work for us were Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese.”
“That’s part of it.”
“Just part?” she said. “So what’s the other part? You think maybe the wicked Fu Manchu turned a mind-control ray on us from his secret fortress in the Tibetan mountains and made us hire ’em?”
“That’s part of it too,” he said. “But another part of it is—I’m attracted to the Asian personality. Or to what people think of when they think of the Asian personality: intelligence, a high degree of self-discipline, neatness, a strong sense of tradition and order.”
“Those are pretty much traits of everyone who works for us, not just Jamie, Nguyen, Hal, and Lee.”
“I know. But what makes me so comfortable with Asian-Americans is that I buy into the stereotype of them, I feel everything will go along in an orderly, stable fashion when I’m working with them, and I need to buy into the stereotype because ... well, I’m not the kind of guy I’ve always thought I was. You ready to hear something shocking?”
“Always,” Julie said.
OFTEN, WHEN Lee Chen was laboring in the computer room, he popped a CD in his Sony Discman and listened to music through earphones. He always kept the door closed to avoid distraction, and no doubt some of his fellow employees thought he was somewhat antisocial; however, when he was engaged in the penetration of a complex and well-protected data network, like the array of police systems he was still plundering, he needed to concentrate. Occasionally music distracted him as much as anything, depending on his mood, but most of the time it was conducive to his work. The minimalist New Age piano solos of George Winston were sometimes just the thing, but more often he needed rock-‘n’-roll. Tonight it was Huey Lewis and The News: “Hip to Be Square” and “The Power of Love,” “The Heart of Rock & Roll” and “You Crack Me Up.” Focused intently on the terminal screen (his window on the mesmerizing world of cyberspace), with “Bad Is Bad” pouring into his ears through the headset, he might not have heard a thing if, in the world outside, God had peeled back the sky and announced the imminent destruction of the human race.
A COOL DRAFT circulated through the room from the broken window, but growing frustration generated a compensatory heat in Candy. He moved slowly around the spacious office, handling various objects, touching the furniture, trying to finesse a vision that would reveal the whereabouts of the Dakotas and Frank. Thus far he’d had no luck.
He could have pored through the contents of the desk drawers and filing cabinets, but that would have taken hours, since he didn’t know where they might have filed the information he was seeking. He also realized he might not recognize the right stuff when he found it, for it might be in a folder or envelope bearing a case name or code that was meaningless to him. And though his mother had taught him to read and write, and though he had been a voracious reader just like her—until he lost interest in books upon her death—teaching himself many subjects as well as any university could have done, he nevertheless trusted what his special gifts could reveal to him more than anything he might find on paper.
Besides, he had already stepped into the lounge, obtained the Dakotas’ home address and phone number, and called to see if they were there. An answering machine had picked up on the third ring, and he had left no message. He didn’t just want to know where the Dakotas lived, where they might turn up in time; he needed to know where they were now, this minute, because he was in a fever to get at them and wring answers from them.
He picked up a third Scotch-and-soda glass. They were all over the room. The psychic residue on the tumbler gave him an instant, vivid image of a man named Jackie Jaxx, and he pitched it aside in anger. It bounced off the sofa, onto the carpet, without shattering.
This Jaxx person left a colorful and noisy psychic impression everywhere in his wake, the way a dog with poor bladder control would mark each step on his route with a dribble of stinking urine. Candy sensed that Jaxx was currently with a large number of people, at a party in Newport Beach, and he also sensed that trying to find Frank or the Dakotas through Jaxx would be wasted effort. Even so, if Jaxx had been alone now, easily taken, Candy would have gone straight to him and slaughtered him, just because the guy’s lingering aura was so brassy and annoying.
Either he had not yet found an object that one of the Dakotas had touched long enough to leave an imprint, or neither of them was the type who left a rich, lingering psychic residue in his wake. For reasons Candy could not fathom, some people were harder to trace than others.
He had always found tracing Frank to be of medium difficulty, but tonight catching that scent was harder than usual. Repeatedly he sensed that Frank had been in the room, but at first he could locate nothing in which the aura of his brother was coagulated.
Next he turned to the four chairs, beginning with the largest. When he skimmed his sensitive fingertips lightly over the upholstery, he quivered with excitement, for he knew at once that Frank had sat there recently. A small tear marred the vinyl on one arm, and when Candy put his thumb upon the rent, particularly vivid visions of Frank assaulted him.
Too many visions. He was rewarded with a whole series of place images, where Frank had traveled after rising from the chair: the High Sierras; the apartment in San Diego in which he had lived briefly four years ago; the rusted front gate of their mother’s house on Pacific Hill Road; a graveyard; a book-lined study in which he’d stayed such a short time that Candy could get only the vaguest impression of it; Punaluu Beach, where Candy had nearly caught him.... There were so many images, from so many travels, layered one atop another, that he could not clearly see the later stops.
Disgusted, he pushed the chair out of his way and turned to the coffee table, where two more tumblers stood. Both contained melted ice and Scotch. He picked one up and had a vision of Julie Dakota.
WHILE JULIE drove toward Santa Barbara as if they were competing in time trials for the Indianapolis 500, Bobby told her the shocking thing: that he was not, at heart, the laid-back guy he appeared to be on the surface; that during his hectic travels with Frank—especially during the moments when he had been reduced to a disembodied mind and a frantic whirl of disconnected atoms—he’d discovered within himself a rich vein of love for stability and order that ran deeper than he could ever have imagined, a motherlode of stick-in-the-mudness; that his delight in swing music arose more from an appreciation for the meticulosity of its structures than from the dizzying musical freedom embodied in jazz; that he was not half the free-spirited man he’d thought he was ... and far more of a conservative embracer of tradition that he would have hoped.
“In short,” he said, “all this time when you thought you were married to an easy-going young-James-Garner type, you’ve actually been wed to an any-age-Charles-Bronson type.”
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