Page 49


He crossed most of Santa Barbara and entered Goleta before bothering to look for a service station where they could ask for directions to Pacific Hill Road.


At his request, Julie opened the telephone directory on her lap, and with the assistance of a small flashlight taken from the glove compartment, she looked under the Fs for Fogarty. He didn’t know the first name, but he was only interested in a male Fogarty who carried the title of doctor.


“He might not live in this area,” Bobby said, “but I have a hunch he does.”


“Who is he?”


“When Frank and I were traveling, we stopped in this guy’s study, twice.” He told her about both brief visits.


“How come you didn’t mention him before?”


“At the office, when I told you what happened to me, where Frank and I had gone, I had to condense some of it, and this Fogarty seemed comparatively uninteresting, so I left him out. But the longer I’ve had time to think about it, the more it seems to me that he might be a key player in this. See, Frank popped us out of there so fast because he seemed especially reluctant to endanger Fogarty by leading Candy to him. If Frank’s especially concerned about the man, then we ought to have a talk with him.”


She hunched over the directory, studying it closely. “Fogarty, James. Fogarty, Jennifer. Fogarty, Kevin....”


“If he’s not a medical doctor and doesn’t use the title daily, or if ‘Doc’ is a nickname, we’re in trouble. Even if he is a medical doctor, don’t bother looking in the Yellow Pages under ‘physicians’, because this guy is up in years, got to be retired.”


“Here!” she said. “Fogarty, Dr. Lawrence J.”


“There’s an address?”


“Yes.” She tore the page out of the book.


“Great. As soon as you’ve seen the infamous Pollard place, we’ll pay Fogarty a visit.”


Though Bobby had visited the house three times, he had traveled there with Frank, and he had not known the precise location of 1458 Pacific Hill Road any more than he had known exactly what flank of Mount Fuji that trail had ascended. They found it easily, however, by following the directions they received from a long-haired guy with a handlebar mustache at a Union 76 station.


Though the houses along Pacific Hill Road enjoyed an El Encanto Heights address, they were actually neither in that suburb nor in Goleta—which separated El Encanto from Santa Barbara—but in a narrow band of county land that lay between the two and that led east into a wilderness preserve of mesquite, chapparal, desert brush, and pockets of California live oaks and other hardy trees.


The Pollard house was near the end of Pacific Hill, on the edge of developed land, with few neighbors. Oriented west-southwest, it overlooked the charmed Pacific-facing communities so beautifully sited on the terraced hills below. At night the view was spectacular—a sea of lights leading to a real sea cloaked in darkness—and no doubt the immediate neighborhood remained rural and free of expensive new houses only because of development restrictions related to the proximity of the preserve.


Bobby recognized the Pollard place at once. The headlights revealed little more than the Eugenia hedge and the rusted iron gate between two tall stone pilasters. He slowed as they went by it. The ground floor was dark. In one upstairs room a light was on; a pale glow leaked around the edges of a drawn blind.


Leaning over to look past Bobby, Julie said, “Can’t see much.”


“There isn’t much to see. It’s a crumbling pile.”


They drove over a quarter of a mile to the end of the road, turned, and went back. Coming downhill, the house was on Julie’s side, and she insisted he slow to a crawl, to allow her more time to study it.


As they eased past the gate, Bobby saw a light on at the back of the house, too, on the first floor. He couldn’t actually see a lighted window, just the glow that fell through it and painted a pale, frosty rectangle on the side yard.


“It’s all hidden in shadows,” Julie said at last, turning to look back at the property as it fell behind them. “But I can see enough to know that it’s a bad place.”


“Very,” Bobby said.


VIOLET LAY on her back on the bed in her dark room with her sister, warmed by the cats, which were draped over them and huddled around them. Verbina lay on her right side, cuddled against Violet, one hand on Violet’s breasts, her lips against Violet’s bare shoulder, her warm breath spilling across Violet’s smooth skin.


They were not settling down to sleep. Neither of them cared to sleep at night, for that was the wild time, when a greater number and variety of nature’s hunters were on the prowl and life was more exciting.


At that moment they were not merely in each other and in all of the cats that shared the bed with them, but in a hungry owl that soared the night, scanning the earth for mice that weren’t wise enough to fear the gloom and remain in burrows. No creature had night vision as sharp as the owl, and its claws and beak were even sharper.


Violet shivered in anticipation of the moment when a mouse or other small creature would be seen below, slipping through tall grass that it believed offered concealment. From past experience she knew the terror and pain of the prey, the savage glee of the hunter, and she yearned now to experience both again, simultaneously.


At her side Verbina murmured dreamily.


Swooping high, gliding, spiraling down, swooping up again, the owl had not yet seen its dinner when the car came up the hill and slowed almost to a stop in front of the Pollard house. It drew Violet’s attention, of course, and through her the attention of the owl, but she lost interest when the car speeded up again and drove on. Seconds later, however, her interest was renewed when it returned and coasted almost to a stop, once more, at the front gate.


She directed the owl to circle the vehicle at a height of about sixty feet. Then she sent it out ahead of the car and brought it even lower, to about twenty feet, before guiding it around again to approach the curious motorist head-on.


From an altitude of only twenty feet, the vision of the owl was more than acute enough to see the driver and the passenger in the front seat. There was a woman Violet had never seen before—but the driver was familiar. A moment later she realized that he was the man who had appeared with Frank in the backyard, at twilight that very same day!


Frank had killed their precious Samantha, for which Frank must die, and now here was a man who knew Frank, who might lead them to Frank, and on the bed around Violet, the other cats stirred and made low growling sounds as her passion for vengeance was transmitted to them. A tailless Manx and a black mongrel leaped from the bed, raced through the open bedroom door, down the steps, into the kitchen, out the pet door, around the house, and into the street. The car was moving away, gaining speed, heading downhill, and Violet wanted to pursue it not only by air but on foot, to ensure that she would not lose track of it.


CANDY ARRIVED in the reception lounge at Dakota & Dakota. Cool cross-drafts circulated from the broken window in the next room and two open doors in this one, setting up opposing currents. The faint sounds announcing his arrival had evidently been masked by the bursts of static and harsh voices coming from the portable police radios that the cops had clipped to their belts. One policeman stood in the entrance to Julie and Bobby’s private office, and the other was at the open door to the sixth-floor corridor. Each of them was talking to someone out of sight, and both had their backs turned to Candy, which Candy knew was a sign that God was still looking out for him.


Though he was angered by this obstacle to his search for the Dakotas, he got out of there at once, materializing in his bedroom, nearly a hundred and fifty miles to the north. He needed time to think if there was some way that he could pick up their trail again, a place where they had been tonight—besides their office and their house—at which he could seek more visions of them.


WHEN THEY backtracked to the Union 76 station, the long-haired, mustachioed man who had given them directions to Pacific Hill Road was able to tell them how to find the street on which Fogarty lived. He even knew the man. “Nice old guy. Stops by here for gas now and then.”


“Is he a medical doctor?” Bobby asked.


“Used to be. Been retired quite a while.”


Shortly after ten o’clock, Bobby parked at the curb in front of Lawrence Fogarty’s house. It was a quaint Spanish two-story with the style of French windows that had been featured in the study to which Bobby and Frank had twice traveled, and lights were on throughout the first floor. The glass in the many panes was beveled, at least on the front of the house, and the lamplight inside was warmly refracted by those cut edges. When Bobby and Julie got out of the car, he smelled wood-smoke, and saw a homey white curl rising from a chimney into the still, cool, humid pre-storm air. In the odd and vaguely purple, crepuscular glow of a nearby streetlamp, a few pink flowers were visible on the azaleas, but the bushes were not as laden with early blooms as those farther south in Orange County. An ancient tree with a multiple trunk and enormous branches loomed over more than half the house, so it seemed like a wonderfully cozy and sheltered haven in some Spanish version of a Hobbity fantasy world.


As they followed the front walkway, something dashed between two low Malibu lights, crossed their path, and startled Julie. It stopped on the lawn after passing them, and studied them with radiant green eyes.


“Just a cat,” Bobby said.


Usually he liked cats, but when he saw this one, he shivered.


It moved again, vanishing into shadows and shrubs at the side of the house.


What spooked him was not this particular creature, but the memory of the feline horde at the Pollard house, which had raced to attack him and Frank, in eerie silence initially but then with the shrill single-voiced squeal of a banshee regiment, and with a most uncatlike unanimity of purpose. On the prowl alone, swift and curious, this cat was quite ordinary, possessed only of the mystery and haughtiness common to every member of his species.


At the end of the walk, three front steps led up to an archway, through which they entered a small veranda.


Julie rang the bell, which was soft and musical, and when no one answered after half a minute, she rang it again.


As the second set of chimes faded, the stillness was disturbed by the rustle of feathered wings, as some night bird settled onto the veranda roof above them.


When Julie was about to reach for the bell push again, the porch light came on, and Bobby sensed they were being scrutinized through the security lens. After a moment the door opened, and Dr. Fogarty stood before them in an outfall of light from the hall behind him.


He looked the same as Bobby remembered him, and he recognized Bobby as well. “Come in,” he said, stepping aside to admit them. “I half expected you. Come in—not that any of you is welcome.”


55


“IN THE library,” Fogarty said, leading them back through the hall to a room on the left.


The library, where Frank had taken him during their travels, was the place Bobby had referred to as the study when he had described it to Julie. As the exterior of the house had a Hobbity-fantasy coziness in spite of its Spanish style, so this room seemed exactly the sort of place where one imagined that Tolkien, on many a long Oxford evening, had taken pen to paper to create the adventures of Frodo. That warm and welcoming space was gently illuminated by a brass floorlamp and a stained-glass table lamp that was either a genuine Tiffany or an excellent imitation. Books lined the walls under a deeply coffered ceiling, and a thick Chinese carpet—dark green and beige around the border, mostly pale green in the middle—graced a dark tongue-and-groove oak floor. The water-clear finish on the large mahogany desk had a deep luster; on the green felt blotter, the elements of a gold-plated, bone-handled desk set—including a letter opener, magnifying glass, and scissors—were lined up neatly behind a gold fountain pen in a square marble holder. The Queen Anne sofa was upholstered in a tapestry that perfectly complemented the carpet, and when Bobby turned to look at the wing-backed chair where he’d first seen Fogarty earlier in the day—he twitched with astonishment at the sight of Frank.


“Something’s happened to him,” Fogarty said, pointing to Frank. He was unaware of Bobby’s and Julie’s surprise, apparently operating under the assumption that they had come to his house specifically because they had known they would find Frank there.


Frank’s physical appearance had deteriorated since Bobby had last seen him at 5:26 that afternoon, in the office in Newport Beach. If his eyes had been sunken then, they were as deep as pits now; the dark rings around them had widened, too, and some of the blackness seemed to have leeched out of those bruises to impart a deathly gray tint to the rest of his face. His previous pallor had looked healthy by comparison.


The worst thing about him, however, was the blank expression with which he regarded them. No recognition lit his eyes; he seemed to be staring through them. His facial muscles were slack. His mouth hung open about an inch, as if he had started to speak a long time ago but had not yet managed to remember the first word of what he had wanted to say. At Cielo Vista Care Home, Bobby had seen only a few patients with faces as empty as this, but they had been among the most severely retarded, several steps down the ladder from Thomas.


“How long has he been here?” Bobby asked, moving toward Frank.


Julie seized his arm and held him back. “Don’t!”


“He arrived shortly before seven o’clock,” Fogarty said.


So Frank had traveled for nearly another hour and a half after he had returned Bobby to the office.


Fogarty said, “He’s been here over three hours, and I don’t know what the blazing hell I’m supposed to do with him. Now and then he comes around a little bit, looks at you when you talk to him, even responds more or less to what you say. Then sometimes he’s positively garrulous, runs on and on, won’t answer your questions but sure wants to talk at a person, you couldn’t shut him up with a two-by-four. He’s told me a lot about you, for instance, more than I care to know.” He frowned and shook his head. “You two may be crazy enough to get involved in this nightmare, but I’m not, and I resent being dragged into it.”


At first glance, the impression that Dr. Lawrence Fogarty made was that of a kindly grandfather who, in his day, had been the type of devoted and selfless physician who became revered by his community, known and beloved by one and all. He was still wearing the slippers, gray slacks, white shirt, and blue cardigan in which Bobby had first seen him earlier, and the image was completed by a pair of half-lens reading glasses, over which he regarded them. With his thick white hair, blue eyes, and gentle rounded features, he would have made a perfect Santa Claus if he had been fifty or sixty pounds heavier.

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