“I can live with you anyway, Charlie.”
“This is serious. Sort of. I’ve tipped into my late thirties, I’m no child. I should’ve known this about myself a long time ago.”
“You love order, reason, logic—that’s why you got into a line of work where you could right wrongs, help the innocent, punish the bad. That’s why you share The Dream with me—so we can get our little family in order, step out of the chaos of the world as it is these days and buy into some peace and quiet. That’s why you won’t let me have the Wurlitzer 950—those bubble tubes and leaping gazelles are just a little too chaotic for you.”
He was silent a moment, surprised by her answer.
The lightless vastness of the sea lay to the west.
He said, “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’ve always known what I am, deep down. But then isn’t it unnerving that I’ve fooled myself with my own act for so long?”
“You haven’t. You’re easy-going and a bit of Charles Bronson, which is a good thing. Otherwise we probably couldn’t communicate at all, since I’ve got more Bronson in me than anyone but Bronson.”
“God, that’s true!” he said, and they both laughed.
The Toyota’s speed had declined to under seventy. She put it up to eighty and said, “Bobby ... what’s really on your mind?”
She glanced at him. “What about Thomas?”
“Since that wordburst, I can’t shake the feeling he’s in danger.”
“What did that have to do with him?”
“I don’t know. But I’d feel better if we could find a phone and put in a call to Cielo Vista. Just to be ... sure.”
She let their speed fall dramatically. Within three miles they exited the freeway and pulled into a service station. There was a full-service lane. While the attendant washed their windows, checked the oil, and filled the tank with premium unleaded, they went inside and used the pay phone.
It was a modem electronic version allowing everything from coin to credit calls, on the wall next to a rack of snack crackers, candy bars, and packages of beer nuts. A condom machine was there, too, right out in the open, thanks to the social chaos wrought by AIDS. Using their AT&T credit card, Bobby called Cielo Vista Care Home in Newport.
It didn’t ring or give a busy signal. He heard an odd series of electronic sounds, then a recording informed him that the number he had dialed was temporarily out of service as a result of unspecified line problems. The droning voice suggested that he try later.
He dialed the operator, who tried the same number, with the same results. She said, “I’m sorry, sir. Please call your party later.”
“What line problems could they be having?”
“I wouldn’t know, sir, but I’m sure service’ll be restored soon.”
He had tilted the phone away from his ear, so Julie could lean in and hear both sides of the exchange. When he hung up, he looked at her. “Let’s go back. I got this hunch Thomas needs us.”
“Go back? We’re little more than half an hour from Santa Barbara now. Much further to go home.”
“He may need us. It’s not a strong hunch, I admit, but it’s persistent and ... weird.”
“If he needs help urgently,” she said, “then we’d never get to him in time, anyway. And if it’s not so urgent, it’ll be okay if we go on to Santa Barbara, call again from the motel. If he’s sick or been hurt or something, the extra driving from here to Santa Barbara and back will only add about an hour.”
“He’s my brother, Bobby. I care about him as much as you do, and I say it’ll be all right. I love you, but you’ve never shown enough talent as a psychic to make me hysterical about this.”
He nodded. “You’re right. I’m just ... jumpy. My nerves haven’t settled down since all that traveling with Frank.”
Back on the highway, a few thin tendrils of fog were creeping in from the sea. Sprinkles of rain fell again, then stopped after less than a minute. The heaviness of the air, and an indefinable but undeniable quality of oppressiveness in the utterly black night sky, portended a major storm.
When they had gone a couple of miles, Bobby said, “I should’ve called Hal at the office. While he’s sitting around there waiting for Frank, he could use some of our contacts with the phone company, the cops, make sure everything’s jake at Cielo Vista.”
“If the lines are still out when you make the call from the motel,” Julie said, “then you can bother Hal about it.”
FROM THE weak psychic residue on the drinking glass, Candy received an image of Julie Dakota that was recognizably the same face that had seeped from Thomas’s mind earlier in the evening—except that it was not as idealized as it had been in Thomas’s memory. With his sixth sense he saw that she had gone home from the office, to the address he had obtained earlier from the secretary’s Rolodex. She had been there a short time, then had gone somewhere in a car with another person, most likely the man named Bobby. He could see no more, and he wished that the traces she left behind had been as strong as those of Jaxx.
He put down the tumbler and decided to go to her house. Though she and Bobby were not there now, he might be able to find an object that would, like the liquor glass, lead him another step or two along their trail. If he found nothing, he could return here and continue his search, assuming the police had not arrived in response to the discovery of the dead man outside.
LEE SWITCHED off the computer, then cut off the CD player too—Huey Lewis and The News were in the middle of “Walking On a Thin Line”—and removed the earphones.
Happy after a long and productive session in the land of silicon and gallium arsenide, he stood, stretched, yawned, and checked his watch. A little after nine. He’d been at work for twelve hours.
He should have wanted nothing more than to flop in bed and sleep half a day. But he figured he’d zip back to his condo, which was ten minutes from the office, freshen up, and catch some nightlife. Last week he’d found a new club, Nuclear Grin, where the music was loud and hard-edged, the drinks unwatered, the crowd’s politics unconsciously libertarian, and the women hot. He wanted to dance a little, drink a little, and find someone who wanted to screw her brains out.
In this age of new diseases, sex was risky; it sometimes seemed that drinking from the same glass as someone else was suicidal. But after a day in the painstakingly logical microchip universe, you had to get a little wild, take some risks, dance on the edge of chaos, to get some balance in your life.
Then he remembered how Frank and Bobby had vanished in front of his eyes. He wondered if maybe he hadn’t already had enough wildness for one day.
He picked up the latest printouts. It was more stuff that he had gleaned from police records, regarding the decidedly weird behavior of Mr. Blue, who would never need to get a little wild for balance, since he was already chaos walking around in shoes. Lee opened the door, switched off the lights, went down the hall and through another door into the lounge, intending to leave the printouts on Julie’s desk and say goodnight to Hal before splitting.
When he walked into Bobby and Julie’s office, it looked like the National Wrestling Federation had sanctioned a match there between tag teams of three-hundred-pound hulks. Furniture was overturned, and Scotch glasses, some of them broken, were scattered over the floor. Julie’s desk was aslant and askew: tilting on one shattered leg; the top no longer was properly aligned with the base, as if someone had gone at it with prybars and hammers.
He gingerly pushed open the door to the adjoining bath.
The bathroom was deserted.
He went to the broken window. A few small shards of glass still clung to the frame. Caught the light. Jagged.
With one hand against the wall, Lee Chen carefully leaned out. He looked down. In a much different tone of voice, he said, “Hal?”
CANDY MATERIALIZED in the foyer of the Dakotas’ house, which was dark and silent. He stood quietly for a moment, head cocked, until he was confident that he was alone.
His throat was healed. He was whole again, and excited by the prospects of the night.
He began the search from there, putting his hand on the doorknob in hope of finding some of the residue that, while lacking physical substance, nevertheless provided the nourishment for his visions. He felt nothing, no doubt partly because the Dakotas had touched it only briefly upon entering and departing the house.
Of course, a person could handle a hundred items, leaving psychic images of himself on only one of them, then touch the same hundred an hour later and contaminate every one with his aura. The reason for that was as mysterious, to Candy, as was so many people’s interest in sex. He remained as grateful to his mother for this talent as he was for all the others, but tracking his prey with psychometry was not always. an easy or infallible process.
The Dakotas’ living room and dining room were unfurnished, which gave him little to work with, although for some reason the emptiness made him feel comfortable and at home. That response puzzled him. The rooms in his mother’s house were all furnished—as much with mold and fungus and dust these days as with chairs, sofas, tables, and lamps; but he suddenly realized that, like the Dakotas, he lived in such a small percentage of the house that most of its chambers might as well have been bare, carpetless, and sealed off.
The Dakotas’ kitchen and family room were furnished and obviously lived in. Though it was unlikely that they had used the family room during their brief stop between the office and wherever they had gone from here, he hoped they might have lingered in the kitchen for a bite of food or a drink. But the handles of the cabinets, microwave, oven, and refrigerator provided him with no images whatsoever.
On his way to the second floor, Candy climbed the steps slowly, letting his left hand slide searchingly along the oak balustrade. At several points along the way, he was rewarded by psychic images that, while brief and not clear, encouraged him, and led him to believe that he would find what he needed in their bedroom or bath.
INSTEAD OF immediately dialing 911 to report the murder of Hal Yamataka, Lee ran first to the reception desk and, as he had been trained, removed a small brown notebook from the back of the bottom drawer on the right side. For the benefit of employees, like Lee, who did not often get into the field and seldom interfaced directly with the county’s many police agencies but might one day need to deal with them in an emergency, Bobby had composed a list of some of the officers, detectives, and administrators who were most professional, reasonable, and reliable in every major jurisdiction. The brown notebook contained a second list of cops to avoid: those who had an instinctive dislike for anyone in the private investigation and security business; those who were just pains in the ass in general; and those who were always on the lookout for a little green grease to lubricate the wheels of justice. It was a testament to the high quality of the county’s law enforcement that the first list was much longer than the second.
According to Bobby and Julie, it was preferable to try to manage the introduction of the police into a situation that required them, even going so far as to try to select one of the detectives who would show up at the scene—if it was a scene that needed detectives. Relying on the luck of the draw or a dispatcher’s whim was considered unwise.
Lee wondered if he should even call the cops. He had no doubt who had killed Hal. Mr. Blue. Candy. But also he knew that Bobby would not want to reveal more about Frank and the case than was truly necessary; the agency-client privilege was not as legally airtight as that of lawyer-client or doctor-patient, but it was important too. Since Julie and Bobby were on the road and temporarily unreachable, Lee could get no guidance on what and how much to say to the police.
But he couldn’t let a dead body lie in front of the building, hoping nobody would notice! Especially not when the victim was a man he had known and liked.
Call the cops, then. But play dumb.
Consulting the notebook, Lee dialed the Newport Beach Police and asked for Detective Harry Ladsbroke, but Ladsbroke was off duty. So was Detective Janet Heisinger. Detective Kyle Ostov was available, however, and when he came on the line he sounded reassuringly big and competent; his voice was a mellow baritone, and he spoke crisply.
Lee identified himself, aware that his own voice was higher than usual, almost squeaky, and that he was speaking too fast. “There’s been a ... well, a murder.”
Before Lee could go on, Ostov said, “Jesus, you mean Bobby and Julie know already? I just found out myself. It was pushed on to me to tell them, and I was just sitting here, trying to figure how best to break the news. I had my hand on the phone, going to call them, when you rang through. How’re they taking it?”
Confused, Lee said, “I don’t think they know. I mean, it must have happened just a few minutes ago.”
“A little longer than that,” Ostov said.
“When did you guys find out? I just looked, and there weren’t any patrol cars, nothing.” Finally the shakes hit him. “God, I was talking to him not that long ago, took him some pizza, and now he’s splattered all over the concrete six floors down.”
Ostov was silent. Then: “What murder you talking about, Lee?”
“Hal Yamataka. There must’ve been a fight here, and then—” He stopped, blinked, and said, “What murder are you talking about?”
“Thomas,” Ostov said.
Lee felt sick. He had only met Thomas once, but he knew that Julie and Bobby were devoted to him.
Ostov said, “Thomas and his roommate. And maybe more in the fire if they didn’t get them all out of the building in time.”
The computer that Lee had been born with was not functioning as smoothly as the ones made by IBM in his office, and he needed a moment to grasp the implications of the information that he and Ostov had exchanged. “They’ve got to be connected, don’t they?”
“I’d bet on it. You know of anybody who has a grudge against Julie and Bobby?”
Lee looked around the reception lounge, thought about the other deserted rooms at Dakota & Dakota, the lonely offices on the rest of the sixth floor, and the unpeopled levels below the sixth. He thought of Candy, too, all those people bitten and torn, the giant Bobby had seen on Punaluu Beach, the way the guy could zap himself from place to place. He began to feel very much alone. “Detective Ostov, could you get some people here really fast?”
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