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No LONGER concerned about the danger of touching Frank, Bobby grabbed handsful of his jacket and shoved him backward against the wide-louvred shutters on the library window. “You heard him, Frank. Don’t run. Don’t run this time, or I’ll hang on to you and never let go, no matter where you take me, I swear to God, you’ll wish you’d put your neck on Candy’s platter instead of mine.” He slammed Frank against the shutters to make his point, and behind him he heard Lawrence Fogarty’s soft, knowing laughter.

Registering the terror and confusion in his client’s eyes, Bobby realized that his threats would not achieve the effect he desired. In fact, threats would almost certainly frighten Frank into flight, even if he wanted to help Julie. Worse, by stooping to violence as a first resort, he was treating Frank not as a person but as meat, confirming the depraved code by which the corrupt old physician had led his entire life, and that was almost as intolerable as losing Julie.

He let go of Frank.

“I’m sorry. Listen, I’m sorry, I just got a little crazy.”

He studied the man’s eyes, searching for some indication that sufficient intelligence remained in the damaged brain for the two of them to reach an understanding. He saw fear, stark and terrible, and he saw a loneliness that made him want to cry. He saw a lost look, too, hot unlike what he had sometimes seen in Thomas’s eyes when they had taken him on an excursion from Cielo Vista, “out in the world,” as he had said.

Aware that perhaps two minutes of Candy’s fifteen-minute deadline had passed, trying to remain calm nonetheless, Bobby took Frank’s right hand, turned it palm up, and forced himself to touch the dead roach that was now integrated with the man’s soft white flesh. The insect felt crisp and bristly against his fingers, but he did not permit his disgust to show.

“Does this hurt, Frank? This bug mixed up with your own cells here, does it hurt you?”

Frank stared at him, finally shook his head. No.

Heartened by the establishment of even this much dialogue, Bobby gently put his fingertips to Frank’s right temple, feeling the lumps of precious gems like unburst boils or cancerous tumors.

“Do you hurt here, Frank? Are you in pain?”

“No,” Frank said, and Bobby’s heart pounded with excitement at the escalation to a spoken response.

From a pocket of his jeans, Bobby removed a folded Kleenex and gently blotted away the spittle that still glistened on Frank’s chin.

The man blinked, and his eyes seemed to focus better.

From behind Bobby, still in the leather chair at the desk, perhaps with a glass of bourbon in his hand, almost certainly with that infuriatingly smug smile plastered on his face, Fogarty said, “Twelve minutes left.”

Bobby ignored the physician. Maintaining eye contact with his client, his fingertips still on Frank’s temple, he said quietly, “It’s been a hard life for you, hasn’t it? You were the normal one, the most normal one, and when you were a kid you always wanted to fit in at school, didn’t you, the way your sisters and brother never could. And it took you a long time to realize your dream wasn’t going to happen, you weren’t going to fit in, because no matter how normal you were compared to the rest of your family, you’d still come from that goddamned house, out of that cesspool, which made you forever an outsider to other people. They might not see the stain on your heart, might not know the dark memories in you, but you saw, and you remembered, and you felt yourself unworthy because of the horror that was your family. Yet you were also an outsider at home, much too sane to fit in there, too sensitive to the nightmare of it. So all your life, you’ve been alone.”

“All my life,” Frank said. “And always will be.”

He wasn’t going to travel now. Bobby would have bet on it.

“Frank, I can’t help you. No one can. That’s a hard truth, but I won’t lie to you. I’m not going to con you or threaten you.”

Frank said nothing, but maintained eye contact.

“Ten minutes,” Fogarty said.

“The only thing I can do for you, Frank, is show you a way to give your life meaning at last, a way to end it with purpose and dignity, and maybe find peace in death. I have an idea, a way that you might be able to kill Candy and save Julie, and if you can do that, you’ll have gone out a hero. Will you come with me, Frank, listen to me, and not let Julie die?”

Frank didn’t say yes, but he didn’t say no, either. Bobby decided to take heart from the lack of a negative response.

“We’ve got to get moving, Frank. But don’t try teleporting to the house, because then you’ll just lose control again, pop off to hell and back a hundred times. We’ll go in my car. We can be there in five minutes.”

Bobby took his client’s hand. He made a point of taking the one with the roach embedded in it, hoping Frank would remember that he had a fear of bugs and perceive that his willingness to overrule the phobia was a testament to his sincerity.

They crossed the room to the door.

Rising from his chair, Fogarty said, “You’re going to your death, you know.”

Without glancing back at the physician, Bobby said, “Well, seems to me, you went to yours decades ago.”

He and Frank walked out into the rain and were drenched by the time they got into the car.

Behind the wheel, Bobby glanced at his watch. Less than eight minutes to go.

He wondered why he accepted Candy’s word that the fifteen-minute deadline would be observed, why he was so sure that the madman had not already torn out her throat. Then he remembered something she had said to him once: Sweet-cakes, as long as you’re breathing, Tinkerbell will live.

Gutters overflowed, and a sudden wind wound skeins of rain, like silver yam, through his headlights.

As he drove the storm-swept streets and turned east on Pacific Hill Road, he explained how Frank, through his sacrifice of himself, could rid the world of Candy and undo his mother’s evil the way he had wanted to undo it—but had failed—when he had taken the ax to her. It was a simple concept. He was able to go over it several times even in the few minutes they had before pulling to a stop at the rusted iron gate.

Frank did not respond to anything that Bobby said. There was no way to be sure he understood what he must do—or if he had even heard a word of it. He stared straight ahead, his mouth open an inch or so, and sometimes his head ticked back and forth, back and forth, in time with the windshield wipers, as if he were watching Jackie Jaxx’s crystal pendant swinging on its gold chain.

By the time they got out of the car, went through the gate, and approached the decrepit house, with less than two minutes of the deadline left, Bobby was reduced to proceeding entirely on faith.

WHEN CANDY brought her into the filthy kitchen, pushed her into one of the chairs at the table, and let go of her, Julie reached at once for the revolver in the shoulder holster under her corduroy jacket. He was too fast for her, however, and tore it from her hand, breaking two of her fingers in the process.

The pain was excruciating, and that was on top of the soreness in her neck and throat from the ruthless treatment he had dealt out at Fogarty’s, but she refused to cry or complain. Instead, when he turned away from her to toss the gun into a drawer beyond her reach, she leapt up from the chair and sprinted for the door.

He caught her, lifted her off her feet, swung her around, and body-slammed her onto the kitchen table so hard she nearly passed out. He brought his face close to hers and said, “You’re going to taste good, like Clint’s woman, all that vitality in your veins, all that energy, I want to feel you spurting in my mouth.”

Her attempts at resistance and escape had not arisen from courage as much as from terror, some of which sprang from the experience of deconstruction and reconstitution, which she hoped never to have to endure again. Now her fear doubled as his lips lowered to within an inch of hers and as his charnel-house breath washed over her face. Unable to look away from his blue eyes, she thought these were what Satan’s eyes would be like, not dark as sin, not red as the fires of Hell, not crawling with maggots, but gloriously and beautifully blue—and utterly devoid of all mercy and compassion.

If all the worst of human savagery from time immemorial could be condensed into one individual, if all of the species’ hunger for blood and violence and raw power could be embodied in one monstrous figure, it would have looked like Candy Pollard at that moment. When he finally pulled back from her, like a coiled serpent grudgingly reconsidering its decision to strike, and when he dragged her off the table and shoved her back into the chair, she was cowed, perhaps for the first time in her life. She knew that if she exhibited any further resistance, he would kill her on the spot and feed on her.

Then he said an astonishing thing: “Later, when I’m done with Frank, you’ll tell me where Thomas got his power.”

She was so intimidated by him that she had difficulty finding her voice. “Power? What do you mean?”

“He’s the only one I’ve ever encountered, outside our family. The Bad Thing, he called me. And he kept trying to keep tabs on me telepathically because he knew sooner or later you and I would cross paths. How can he have had any gifts when he wasn’t born of my virgin mother? Later, you’ll explain that to me.”

As she sat, actually too terrified either to cry or shake, in a storm’s-eye calm, cradling her injured hand in the other, she had to find room in her for a sense of wonder too. Thomas? Psychically gifted? Could it be true that all the time she worried about taking care of him, he was to some extent taking care of her?

She heard a strange sound approaching from the front of the house. A moment later, at least twenty cats poured into the kitchen through the hall doorway, tails sweeping over one another.

Among the pack came the Pollard twins, long-legged and barefoot, one in panties and a red T-shirt, the other in panties and a white T-shirt, as sinuous as their cats. They were as pale as spirits, but there was nothing soft or ineffectual about them. They were lean and vital, filled with that tightly coiled energy that you always knew was in a cat even when it appeared to be lazing in the sun. They were ethereal in some ways, yet at the same time earthy and strong, powerfully sensual. Their presence in the house must have cranked up the unnatural tensions in their brother, who was doubly male in the matter of testes but lacking the crucial valve that would have allowed release.

They approached the table. One of them stared down at Julie, while the other hung on her sister and averted her eyes. The bold one said, “Are you Candy’s girlfriend?” There was unmistakable mockery of her brother in the question.

“You shut up,” Candy said.

“If you’re not his girlfriend,” the bold one said, in a voice as soft as rustling silk, “you could come upstairs with us, we have a bed, the cats wouldn’t mind, and I think I’d like you.”

“Don’t you talk like that in your mother’s house,” Candy said fiercely.

His anger was real, but Julie could see that he was also more than a little unnerved by his sister.

Both women, even the shy one, virtually radiated wildness, as if they might do anything that occurred to them, regardless of how outrageous, without compunctions or inhibitions.

Julie was nearly as scared of them as she was of Candy.

From the front of the moldering house, echoing above the roar of the rain on the roof, came a knocking.

As one, the cats dashed from the kitchen, down the hall to the front door, and less than a minute later they returned as escort to Bobby and Frank.

ENTERING THE KITCHEN, Bobby was overcome with gratitude—to God, even to Candy—at the sight of Julie alive. She was haggard, gaunt with fear and pain, but she had never looked more beautiful to him.

She had never been so subdued, either, or so unsure of herself, and in spite of the banshee chorus of emotions that roared and shrieked in him, he found capacity to contain a separate sadness and anger about that.

Though he was still hoping that Frank would come through for him, Bobby had been prepared to use his revolver if worse came to worst or if an unexpected advantage presented itself. But as soon as he walked in the room, the madman said, “Remove your gun from your holster and empty the cartridges out of it.”

As Bobby had entered, Candy had moved behind the chair in which Julie sat, and had put one hand on her throat, his fingers hooked like talons. Inhumanly strong as he was, he could no doubt tear her throat out in a second or two, even though he lacked real talons.

Bobby withdrew the Smith & Wesson from his shoulder holster, handling it in such a way as to demonstrate that he had no intention of using it. He broke out the cylinder, shook the five cartridges onto the floor, and put the revolver down on a nearby counter.

Candy Pollard’s excitement grew visibly second by second, from the moment Bobby and Frank appeared. Now he removed his hand from Julie’s throat, stepped away from her, and glared triumphantly at Frank.

As far as Bobby could tell, it was a wasted glare. Frank was there in the kitchen with them—but not there. If he was aware of everything that was happening and understood the meaning of it, he was doing a good job of pretending otherwise.

Pointing to the floor at his feet, Candy said, “Come here and kneel, you mother-killer.”

The cats fled from the section of the cracked linoleum which the madman had indicated.

The twins stood hipshot but alert. Bobby had seen cats feign indifference in the same way but reveal their actual involvement by the prick of their ears. With Violet and Verbina, their true interest was betrayed by the throbbing of their pulses in their temples and, almost obscenely, by the erection of their ni**les against the fabric of their T-shirts.

“I said come here and kneel,” Candy repeated. “Or will you really betray the only people who ever lifted a hand to help you in these last seven years? Kneel, or I’ll kill the Dakotas, both of them, I’ll kill them now. ”

Candy projected the awesome presence not of a psychotic but of a genuinely supernatural being, as if his name were Legion and forces beyond human ken worked through him.

Frank moved forward one step, away from Bobby’s side.

Another step.

Then he stopped and looked around at the cats, as if something about them puzzled him.

Bobby could never know if Frank had intended to evoke the bloody consequences that ensued from his next act, whether his words were calculated, or whether he was speaking out of befuddlement and was as surprised as anyone by the turmoil that followed. Whatever the case, he frowned at the cats, looked up at the bolder of the twins, and said, “Ah, is Mother still here, then? Is she still here in the house with us?”

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