“I’ve entered the call on the computer while I’ve been talking to you,” Ostov said. “A couple of units are on the way now.”
WITH HIS fingertips, Candy traced lazy circles on the surface of the dresser, then explored the contours of each brass handle on the drawers. He touched the light switch on the wall and the switches on both bedside lamps. He let his hands glide over doorframes on the off-chance that one of his intended prey might have paused and leaned there while in conversation, examined the handles on the mirrored closet doors, and caressed each number and switchpad on the remote-control device for the TV, hoping that they had clicked on the set even during the short time they had been home.
Because he needed to be calm and methodical in his search if he were to succeed, Candy had to repress his rage and frustration. But his anger grew even as he struggled to contain it, and in him the thirst of anger was always a thirst for blood, that wine of vengeance. Only blood would slake his thirst, quench his fury, and allow him an interlude of relative peace.
By the time he moved from the Dakotas’ bedroom into the adjoining bath, Candy was possessed of a need for blood almost as undeniable and critical as his need for air. Looking at the mirror, he did not see himself for a moment, as if he cast no reflection; he saw only red blood, as if the mirror were a porthole on one of the lower decks of a ship in Hell, on a cruise through a sea of gore. When that illusion faded and he saw his own face, he quickly looked away.
He clenched his jaws, struggled even harder to control himself, and touched the hot-water faucet, searching, seeking....
THE MOTEL ROOM in Santa Barbara was spacious, quiet, clean, and furnished without the jarring clash of colors and patterns that seemed de rigueur in most American motels—but it was not a place in which Julie would have chosen to receive the terrible news that came to her there. The blow seemed greater, the ache in the heart more piercing, for having to be borne in a strange and impersonal place.
She really had thought that Bobby was letting his imagination run away with him again, that Thomas was perfectly fine. Because the phone was on the nightstand, he sat on the edge of the bed to make the call, and Julie watched him and listened from a chair only a few feet away. When he got that recording again, explaining that the Cielo Vista number was temporarily out of service due to line problems, she was vaguely uneasy but still sure that all was well with her brother.
However, when he called the office in Newport to talk with Hal, got Lee Chen instead, and spent the first minute or so listening in shocked silence, responding with a cryptic word or two, she knew this was to be a night that cleaved her life, and that the years to come inevitably would be darker than the years she had lived on the other side of that cleft. As he began to ask questions of Lee, Bobby avoided looking at Julie, which confirmed her intuition and made her heart pound faster. When at last he glanced at her, she had to look away from the sadness in his eyes. His questions to Lee were clipped, and she couldn’t ascertain much from them. Maybe she didn’t want to.
Finally the call seemed to be drawing to an end. “No, you’ve done well, Lee. Keep handling it just the way you have been. What? Thank you, Lee. No, we’ll be all right. We’ll be okay, Lee. One way or another, we’ll be okay.”
When Bobby hung up, he sat for a moment, staring at his hands, which he clasped between his knees.
Julie did not ask him what had happened, as if what Lee had told him was not yet fact, as if her question was a dark magic and as if the unrevealed tragedy would not become real until she asked about it.
Bobby got off the bed and knelt on the floor in front of her chair. He took both of her hands in his and gently kissed them.
She knew then that the news was as bad as it could get.
Softly he said, “Thomas is dead.”
She had steeled herself for that news, but the words cut deep.
“I’m sorry, Julie. God, I’m so sorry. And it doesn’t end there.” He told her about Hal. “And just a couple minutes before he talked to me, Lee received a call about Clint and Felina. Both dead.”
The horror was too much to assimilate. Julie had liked and respected Hal, Clint, and Felina enormously, and her admiration for the deaf woman’s courage and self-sufficiency was unbounded. It was unfair that she could not mourn each of them individually; they deserved that much. She also felt that she was somehow betraying them because her sorrow at their deaths was only a pale reflection of the grief she felt at the loss of Thomas, though that was, of course, the only way it could be.
Her breath caught in her throat, and when it flew free, it was not just an exhalation but a sob. That was no good. She could not allow herself to break down. At no point in her life had she needed to be as strong as she needed to be now; the murders committed in Orange County tonight were the first in a domino-fall of death that would take down her and Bobby, too, if misery dulled their edge.
While Bobby continued to kneel before her and reveal more details—Derek was dead, too, and perhaps others at Cielo Vista—she gripped his hands tightly, inexpressibly grateful to have him for an anchor in this turbulence. Her vision was blurry, but she held back the tears with a sheer effort of will—though she dared not make eye contact with Bobby just yet; that would be the end of her self-control.
When he finished, she said, “It was Frank’s brother, of course,” and was dismayed by the way her voice quavered.
“Almost certainly,” Bobby said.
“But how did he find out Frank was our client?”
“I don’t know. He saw me on the beach at Punaluu—”
“Yeah, but didn’t follow you. He has no way of knowing who you were. And for God’s sake, how did he find out about Thomas?”
“There’s some crucial bit of information missing, so we can’t understand the pattern.”
“What’s the bastard after?” she said. Now her voice was marked by nearly as much anger as grief, and that was good.
“He’s hunting Frank,” Bobby said. “For seven years Frank was a loner, and that made him harder to find. Now Frank has friends, and that gives Candy more ways to search for him.”
“I as good as killed Thomas when I took the case,” she said.
“You didn’t want to take it. I had to talk you into it.”
“I talked you into it, you wanted to back out.”
“If there’s guilt, we share it, but there isn’t any. We took on a new client, that’s all, and everything ... just happened.”
Julie nodded and finally met his eyes. Although his voice had remained steady, tears slid down his cheeks. Preoccupied with her own grief, she had forgotten that the friends lost were his as well as hers, and that he had come to love Thomas nearly as much as she did. She had to look away from him again.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“For now, I have to be. Later, I want to talk about Thomas, how brave he was about being different, how he never complained, how sweet he was. I want to talk about all of it, you and me, and I don’t want us to forget. Nobody’s ever going to build a monument to Thomas, he wasn’t famous, he was just a little guy who never did anything great except be the best person he knew how, and the only monument he’s ever going to have is our memories. So we’ll keep him alive, won’t we?”
“We’ll keep him alive ... until we’re gone. But that’s for later, when there’s time. Now we have to keep ourselves alive, because that son of a bitch will be coming for us, won’t he?”
“I think he will,” Bobby said.
He rose from his knees and pulled her up from the chair.
He was wearing his dark brown Ultraseude jacket with the shoulder holster under it. She’d taken off her corduroy blazer and her holster; she put both of them on again. The weight of the revolver, against her left side, felt good. She hoped she’d have a chance to use it.
Her vision had cleared; her eyes were dry. She said, “One thing for sure—no more dreams for me. What good is it, having dreams, when they never come true?”
“Sometimes they do.”
“No. They never came true for my mom or dad. Never came true for Thomas, did they? Ask Clint and Felina if their dreams came true, see what they say. You ask George Farris’s family if they think being slaughtered by a maniac was the fulfillment of their dreams.”
“Ask the Phans,” Bobby said quietly. “They were boat people on the South China Sea, with hardly any food and less money, and now they own dry-cleaning shops and remodel two-hundred-thousand-dollar houses for resale, and they have those terrific kids.”
“Sooner or later, they’ll get it in the neck too,” she said, unsettled by the bitterness in her voice and the black despair that churned like a whirlpool within her, threatening to swallow her up. But she could not stop the churning. “Ask Park Hampstead, down there. in El Toro, whether he and his wife were thrilled when she developed terminal cancer, and ask him how his dream about him and Maralee Roman worked after he finally got over the death of his wife. Nasty bugger named Candy got in the way of that one. Ask all the poor suckers lying in the hospital with cerebral hemorrhages, cancer. Ask those who get Alzheimer’s in their fifties, just when their golden years are supposed to start. Ask the little kids in wheelchairs from muscular dystrophy, and ask all the parents of those other kids down there in Cielo Vista how Down’s syndrome fits in with their dreams. Ask—”
She cut herself off. She was losing control, and she could not afford to do so tonight.
She said, “Come on, let’s go.”
“First, we find the house where that bitch raised him. Cruise by, get the lay of it. Maybe just seeing it will give us ideas.”
“I’ve seen it.”
“All right.” From a nightstand drawer he removed a telephone directory for Santa Barbara, Montecito, Goleta, Hope Ranch, El Encanto Heights, and other surrounding communities. He brought it with him to the door.
She said, “What do you want that for?”
“We’ll need it later. I’ll explain in the car.”
Sprinkles of rain were falling again. The Toyota’s engine was still so hot from the drive north that in spite of the cool night air, steam rose from its hood as the beads of rainwater evaporated. Far away a brief, low peal of thunder rolled across the sky. Thomas was dead.
HE RECEIVED images as faint and distorted as reflections on the wind-rippled surface of a pond. They came repeatedly as he touched the faucets, the rim of the sink, the mirror, the medicine cabinet and its contents, the light switch, the controls for the shower. But none of his visions was detailed, and none provided a clue as to where the Dakotas had gone.
Twice he was jolted by vivid images, but they were related to disgusting sexual episodes between the Dakotas. A tube of vaginal lubricant and a box of Kleenex were contaminated with older psychic residue that had inexplicably lingered beyond its time, making him privy to sinful practices that he had no desire to witness. He quickly snatched his hands away from those surfaces and waited for his nausea to pass. He was incensed that the need to track Frank through these decadent people had forced him into a situation where his senses had been so brutally affronted.
Infuriated by his lack of success and by the unclean contact with images of their sin (which he seemed unable to expel from his mind), he decided that he must burn the evil out of this house in the name of God. Burn it out. Incinerate it. So that maybe his mind would be cleansed again as well.
He stepped out of the bathroom, raised his hands, and sent an immensely destructive wave of power across the bedroom. The wooden headboard of the big bed disintegrated, flames leaped from the quilted spread and blankets, the nightstands flew apart, and every drawer in the dresser shot out and dumped its contents on the floor, where they instantly caught fire. The drapes were consumed as if made from magicians’ flashpaper, and the two windows in the far wall burst, letting in a draft that fanned the blaze.
Candy often wished the mysterious light that came from him could affect people and animals, father than just inanimate things, plants, and a few insects. There were times when he would have gone into a city and melted the flesh from the bones of ten thousand sinners in a single night, a hundred thousand. It didn’t matter which city, they were all festering sewers of iniquity, populated by depraved masses who worshiped evil and practiced every repulsive degeneracy. He had never seen anyone in any of them, not a single person, who seemed to him to live in God’s grace. He would have made them run screaming in terror, would have tracked them down in their secret places, would have splintered their bones with his power, hammered their flesh to pulp, made their heads explode, and torn off the offensive sex things that preoccupied them. If he had been that gifted, he would not have shown them any of the mercy with which their Creator always treated them, so they would have realized, then, how grateful and obedient they should have been to their God, who always so patiently tolerated even their worst transgressions.
Only God and Candy’s mother had such unlimited compassion. He did not share it.
The smoke alarm went off in the hall. He walked out there, pointed a finger at it, and blew it to bits.
This part of his gift seemed more powerful tonight than ever. He was a great engine of destruction.
The Lord must be rewarding his purity by increasing his power.
He thanked God that his own saintly mother had never descended into the pits of depravity in which so much of humanity swam. No man had ever touched her that way, so her children were born without the stain of original sin. He knew this to be true, for she had told him—and had shown him that it was.
He descended to the first floor and set the living-room carpet on fire with a bolt from his left hand.
Frank and the twins had never appreciated the immaculate aspect of their conceptions, and in fact had thrown away that incomparable state of grace to embrace sin and do the devil’s work. Candy would never make that mistake.
Overhead he heard the roar of flames, the crash of a partition. In the morning, when the sun revealed a smoldering pile of blackened rubble, the remains of this nest of corruption would be a testament to the ultimate perdition of all sinners.
Candy felt cleansed. The psychic images of the Dakotas’ fevered degeneracy had been expunged from his mind.
He returned to the offices of Dakota & Dakota to continue his search for them.
BOBBY DROVE, for he didn’t think Julie ought to be behind the wheel any more tonight. She had been awake for more than nineteen hours, not a marathon all-nighter yet, but she was exhausted ; and her bottled-up grief over Thomas’s death could not help but cloud her judgment and dull her reflexes. At least he had napped a couple of times since Hal’s call from the hospital had awakened them last night.
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