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Frost’s training had given him tactics and protocols for every situation that he had previously encountered in his career, but not for this. He could see nothing that he and Dagget could do other than wait, observe, and hope for understanding. The woman was more than a woman, and she was strange, and the pieces of bodies strewn here and there were proof that terrible violence had been committed in the house, but there was no proof that she committed it.

Traditional interrogation wouldn’t get them anywhere in these extraordinary circumstances. She seemed to be half in a trance, not much interested in them. Although Frost couldn’t make sense of what she’d said—I think my builder built this builder wrong—he detected in her tone the dismay of someone who had sustained a serious offense, suggesting that she was a victim rather than a victimizer.

As she regarded herself in the mirror again, a fine twinkling cloud of mist came off her skin, and for a moment she seemed to have the radiant aura of a supernatural being. And then the mist coalesced into a blue silk robe that clung to her body.

Dagget said, “Sonofabitch.”

“Yeah,” Frost agreed.

“Something is going to happen.”

“It just did.”

“Something worse,” Dagget said.

The woman raised her right hand to her face and stared at it in what appeared to be bafflement.

She turned her head to look at Frost and Dagget as if she had just remembered that she was not alone.

She reached out to them with her right hand, and when her arm was fully extended, she revealed to them her palm. In it was a mouth bristling with teeth.

Chapter 24

One-eyed, one-eared, with a steel-and-copper mechanical hand at the end of his left arm, Sully York could see and hear as well as anyone, better than some. As well as anyone, he could serve up mixed nuts, three varieties of cheese, three varieties of crackers, thick slices of Armenian sausage, and drinks, a forty-year-old Scotch for him and Bryce Walker, and a Pepsi for the boy, Travis Ahern, who was only about ten, which in Sully’s opinion was four years too early either for Scotch or women, or life-and-death exploits.

By the time that Sully had been fourteen, he had enjoyed a good whiskey now and then and could hold his liquor. But of course he had been six feet three at that age, had looked twenty-one, on his own in the world and ready for adventure. Back then, he hadn’t lost the eye yet or the ear, or the hand, and he hadn’t sustained the sabre slash from his right eye to the corner of his mouth that left him with a livid scar in which he took much delight. In fact, at fourteen he hadn’t known much fun at all but was determined to have some, which he damn well did over the decades. Back then, all of his teeth had been real, whereas they were all gold these forty-seven years later, and he had cracked and broken off and simply lost each of them in a thrilling and memorable fashion.

They settled in Sully’s den, which was his favorite room in the house. Over the stone fireplace hung a fierce boar’s head, the tusks as pointed as ice picks, and with it the knife that Sully wielded to kill the beast. One wall and his desktop offered framed photographs of him and his buddies in exotic locales, from jungles to deserts, from mountain passes to ships sailing on strange tides, and in every case he and those good old boys—all dead now, each killed as colorfully as he had lived—had been in the service of their country, though never once in uniform. The kind of work they did was so deep cover that it made the CIA seem by comparison as open as a community-outreach organization. Their group had no name, only a number, but they had called themselves the Crazy Bastards.

On shelves and tables were souvenirs: a perfectly preserved six-inch-long hissing cockroach from Madagascar; an ornately carved wooden leg once worn by a dwarf Soviet assassin; a dirk and a dagger and a kris, all of which had cut him and all of which he had taken away from the cutters, who were rotting in Hell; the knobkerrie that had knocked out his left eye and with which he had dealt immediate vengeance to the one who had half blinded him; a blowgun, a scimitar, a pike, a tomahawk, a yataghan, intricately worked iron handcuffs, and many more items of sentimental value.

They settled in big leather armchairs around the coffee table where all the food was laid out, while Bryce and Travis recounted events they had witnessed—and escaped—at Memorial Hospital. Of the two, Bryce did most of the talking and most of the eating, as the boy slumped in a bleak mood that damn well did not become him. Sully had no patience for sulkers or whiners or negativists in general. He would have given Travis some sharp advice about the necessity to have a positive and high-spirited response to everything in life, from a certain glorious young woman in Singapore to a knobkerrie in the eye, but he restrained himself because he suspected that in spite of the boy’s current annoying mood, he had the right stuff. Sully York had a nose for people with the right stuff, which was one of the reasons he was the only surviving Crazy Bastard.

The story Bryce told—of patients being killed at the hospital, of some kind of mass-murder conspiracy that Travis insisted had to be the work of extraterrestrials—was so screwball and wild-assed that Sully quickly recognized it as the dead-serious truth. Besides, Bryce had as much of the right stuff as anyone Sully York had ever known. Bryce hadn’t spent his life cutting the throats of slick villains who needed their throats cut; he hadn’t pushed off cliffs the people who, in being pushed off, gave noble meaning to those cliffs. Instead, Bryce had written Western novels, damn good ones, full of heroism, in which he portrayed exactly how true evil operated and how good people sometimes had to deal hard with the bad ones if civilization was to survive.

When Bryce finished, Sully looked at the boy, who sat holding a cube of cheese at which he had fitfully nibbled. “Son, I really believe you’ve got moxie in your veins and steel in your spine. I have a nose for people with the right stuff, and you smell to high heaven of it. But there you sit as spiritless as that damn chunk of cheese. Hell, the cheese looks more capable of being ornery than you do. If half of what Bryce has told me is true—and I think it’s full true, front to back—then we have a hard job of work ahead of us, and we have to go at it with spunk and spirit and absolute confidence that we’re going to storm the hill and plant the flag. If we’re to be on the same team, I have to know why you’re moping like this and that you have the guts and the love of glory to get up out of your funk and fight to win.”

Bryce said, “Sully, his mother has gone missing. Travis doesn’t know for sure, can’t know, but he thinks they got her. He thinks she must be dead.”

Thrusting up from his armchair, making a fist of his mechanical hand, Sully said, “Maybe she’s dead? Is that all? Hell, no, she’s not dead. Nobody’s dead until you see the stinking body. I won’t damn well believe that I’m dead until I can look down on my corpse and see for sure there aren’t any vital signs. I’ve known people who were surely dead—he was flung out the door of a chopper at two thousand feet without a parachute, another supposedly took three rounds in the back and fell into an ice crevasse—but a year or two passes and one night in a dark alley or in a crowded bazaar in Morocco, here he is coming at you with a meat ax or pushing you face-first into a huge old basket full of cobras! Dead, my ass. You haven’t seen your mother dead, have you? If you haven’t seen her dead, she’s not dead, and we’re going to go out there and find her. So eat the rest of that cheese and prepare yourself. You understand me, short stuff?”

The flat dull look in Travis Ahern’s eyes had given way to a lively light.

“Better,” Sully York said.

Chapter 25

Carson would have preferred to stay at the Samples house with the Riders and Riderettes, having all those well-intentioned, well-armed, tough, and savvy people covering her back. Not to mention the excellent coffee and the pumpkin pies in the oven. But considering their numbers, the percentage of them who had been in the military and therefore knew something about strategy and tactics, and the cell-phone videos of the horror at the roadhouse, they didn’t need Carson and Michael to recruit their neighbors and turn their block into a garrison.

The most urgent task at hand was locating Deucalion. With his singular gifts, only he would be able to drive the children out of Rainbow Falls, past the roadblocks, to the comparative safety of Erika’s house four miles west of town. With no telephone service of any kind, they would need to track him down somehow, which at first seemed to be an almost impossible mission in a town of nearly fifteen thousand.

As Carson piloted the Grand Cherokee through a sea of snow, tides washing across the windshield and foaming at the wheels, heading toward the center of Rainbow Falls, Michael said, “I’ve got an idea.”

“You always have an idea. You always have a dozen ideas. That’s why I married you. Just to see what ideas you’ll come up with today.”

“I thought you married me for my looks, my sensitivity, and my fabulous bedroom stamina.”

Carson said, “Lucky for you, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But I will acknowledge you really do an exhaustive job cleaning the bedroom.”

“Here’s an idea. Why do I have to do any house-cleaning? We have a full-time housekeeper. Why doesn’t she do it?”

“Mary Margaret is a great cook and a nanny. She does only light housekeeping. Keeping a spotless house requires someone with muscle, determination, and fortitude.”

“Sounds like you.”

Carson said, “Do you want me to clean, and from now on you do all the stuff I do, like fix plumbing and electrical problems, keep the cars fine-tuned, do the accounting and taxes?”

“No. I’d wind up electrocuted trying to replace a valve in the toilet just before the IRS seized the house. But back to my idea—we know Deucalion intends to take out the crews of as many of those blue-and-white trucks as he can. So if we can locate one that’s still operating and we tail it, maybe we’ll find Deucalion when he finds the truck.”

“That’s pretty much a lame idea.”

“Well, I don’t hear any dazzling suggestions from our plumber-electrician-mechanic-accountant.”

They rode in silence for a couple of minutes.

Then she said, “I’ve got a bad, bad feeling about this, Tonto.”

“The way I see it, kemo sabe, we can’t fail. When Deucalion received his gifts on the lightning, they had to have come from a higher power.”

“The Riders call Him the Trail Boss in the Sky.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Loreen Rudolph told me. You were at the other end of the kitchen, checking out the contents of all those cookie jars faster than the kids could.”

“Have you ever known anyone with five cookie jars? Anyway, for over two hundred years, Deucalion has been on Victor’s trail, and he won the round in New Orleans. I think he’ll win this round, too, the entire fight. He’s on a divine mission. It’s his destiny to stop Victor and undo everything Victor does, so this is going to turn out okay.”

No snowplows were on the streets. The replicants of the city employees were engaged in other activities, mostly murder.

Carson drove past a park where walkway lampposts dwindled along a serpentine path, the snow like white-hot sparks immediately around each lamp but like pale gray falling ashes in the gloom between them, and past the last post lay a black nothingness that felt as vast as the ominous dark of an ocean on a moonless night.

“The thing is,” she said, “this is Deucalion’s mission. We’re supporting players. We don’t have to live for him to fulfill his destiny.”

“Well,” Michael said, “I’m putting my trust in the Trail Boss.”

Only a few pedestrians were on the sidewalks, heads bent into the endless skeins of snow, and Carson looked them over as she passed them, wondering if they were ordinary men and women or instead might be dark beasts slouching into the world from a subterranean manger where demons were born.

When Carson turned left off Cody onto Russell Street, she saw one of the blue-and-white trucks parked at the curb, engine running, crystallized exhaust smoking from the tailpipe. She coasted past it.

Michael confirmed what she thought she had seen: “No one in the cab. Go around the block.”

She went around to Cody, turned onto Russell again, parked fifty feet behind the truck, and doused the headlights. They watched the vehicle for a few minutes. The pale exhaust feathered up into the night like a procession of spirits answering some celestial trumpet that only they could hear.

“Why would they leave the truck unattended?” she wondered.

“And they wouldn’t herd their silver-beaded zombies into it in such a public place. Alleyways, back entrances … that’s where they’d want to load up.”

“Check it?”

“Let’s check it.”

No businesses remained open in this block. Traffic was even lighter than it had been before they stopped at the Samples house. Russell Street looked as lonely as a trail through some arctic wasteland, so they boldly carried the Urban Snipers.

The night had grown colder, the snowflakes icier.

The cab of the truck was still unoccupied, but two dead men were sprawled in the cargo hold. Not men. Replicants. This was clearly Deucalion’s work.

Closing the cargo-space door, Michael said, “I already have another idea.”

“Your last one didn’t get us killed, so let’s hear this one.”

“Instead of us trying to find a truck to follow until Deucalion attacks it, we switch our gear from the Jeep to this and cruise until our monster buddy comes to kill the crew.”

“Let’s hope he recognizes us before he breaks our necks.”

Chapter 26

The sad piano music followed them through the house and all the way into Officer Bozeman’s two-car garage. The garage contained no cars, but there were a Ford Expedition, a motorcycle, and in front of the cycle a snowmobile on an open trailer, just as Nummy O’Bannon had told Mr. Lyss there would be.

“Peaches, every time I think you’re as useless as a two-legged cat, you come through for us. You’re all right.”

This praise greatly pleased Nummy until he realized they were stealing another vehicle, just one without wheels this time. He was being praised for helping Mr. Lyss to steal.

“Sir, when that there lottery ticket in your wallet wins big, it’ll be good if you pay for the Boze’s snowmobile then.”

“Hell and all, who would I pay? Bozeman is dead in the kitchen. His wife is dead and buried. They never had kids. I’m damn well not going to pay his monster look-alike so it can make the next mortgage payment and just sit on its ass playing morbid piano.” He poked Nummy in the chest with one finger. “You’ve got this fixation about always paying for things.” He poked Nummy again. “It’s not just because you’re a moron. It’s psychological.” He poked Nummy a third time. “It’s neurotic is what it is. Sick. It’s deeply sick. Sick and damn annoying. Nobody pays for everything. I guess I should pay for the air I breathe! For the sounds I hear! For all the things I can see because I’ve got eyes! Who do I write those checks to, hmmmmm? Who?”

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