Having been stitched together from cadavers, he sometimes wondered if the light within might be evidence that, when lightning animated him, he had been given not only his various powers but also a soul and perhaps a soul of a unique kind. Although he had come to love this intricately woven world with all its grace and beauty, he was weary of the strife that was as well an element in the weave. And he was weary of the loneliness unique to one who had not been born of man and woman. He hoped for a better world beyond this place, a realm of peace and charity … and perfect tenderness. But he was also disquieted by the possibility that he possessed a soul, because the rage and murderous violence of his early years, when he had been so bitter and confused, left him with a daunting weight of guilt from which he must be redeemed. Perhaps a realm of peace was not a reward that he could earn. His inner light might be an inevitable hellfire.
Having risen from his chair, the engineer stood in the corner formed by the L-shaped control board, regarding Deucalion as if he were indeed a demon. His round face and rubbery features would more readily shape themselves to smiles and laughter. His expression of shock and terror was so at odds with the nature of his fundamental appearance that it seemed comic, like the exaggerated look of fright that a mime might wear as he strove mightily to sell his emotion to the audience without benefit of a voice.
“They weren’t human,” Deucalion said. “And regardless of how I may appear, I’m not one of them. But more of them are coming, and they’ll be here soon.”
The engineer’s mouth moved, though no sound issued from him. With both trembling hands, he gestured so aimlessly that no sign he made conveyed the slightest meaning.
“Pull yourself together, man. You’ve got to fight or die. There is no other choice. How many of you are in the building?”
The engineer clutched one hand with the other, as if to still them both, and when at last he spoke, his voice was unexpectedly calm. “Four. There’s just four of us.”
Jocko on the brink of greatness. In the study of the pretty little house he shared with Erika Five. Beyond the town limits of Rainbow Falls. Snow at the window.
Sometimes Jocko sat on the swiveling desk chair in front of the computer. Sometimes knelt on it. Sometimes stood on it. Stood on it and danced. Danced hard enough to make the chair spin. His red-and-green hat with silver bells jingled merrily.
Sometimes Jocko typed with his feet. Long ugly toes. Ugly but flexible and limber. Good toes for typing.
His fingers were ugly, too. Everything about his body was ugly. Even his bizarre tongue with its three hairs.
Jocko was a tumor.
Well, he started out as a tumorlike lump in the biologically chaotic flesh of one of Victor’s New Race in New Orleans. Then he became self-aware. A tumor with attitude. Hopes and dreams. And he grew fast. Later he burst out of that host body. Became something more than a tumor. Something better.
He became a monster. Some people screamed when they saw Jocko. Others fainted. Birds dive-bombed him. Cats hissed and rats fled squeaking. Jocko was a very effective monster. Misshapen skull. Pale warty skin. Lipless slit of a mouth. Eerie yellow eyes, both too large for his head, one larger than the other.
A monster was a more respectable thing to be than a mere tumor. Nobody liked a tumor. What was to like? But they wrote books about monsters. Made movies about them, too. People liked some monsters as much as they feared them.
When you started out as a tumor with a brain, you had nowhere to go but up. Jocko was passionate about self-improvement. Although he had become a monster and harbored even greater aspirations, Jocko nevertheless remained humble. He never forgot where he came from. Once a tumor, always a tumor.
Somewhat taller than a dwarf, Jocko secretly wished he were six foot two. And handsome. With hair on his head instead of on his tongue. In some dreams, Jocko was not himself. In dreams, he was a movie star. Often George Clooney. Sometimes Ashton Kutcher. Once he was Dakota Fanning and knew what it must be like to be loved by everyone. He wished that he really could be a handsome male movie star. He didn’t care which one, except not Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp scared Jocko.
The thought of Johnny Depp made Jocko’s hands shake badly. Ugly fingers stuttered across the keys, and gibberish appeared on the screen. He took his hands off the keyboard. Slow deep breaths. Easy. Calm. Johnny Depp was at least a thousand miles away from Rainbow Falls.
Jocko wasn’t just typing on the computer. Wasn’t playing games. Wasn’t working on Excel spreadsheets. He was hacking. His online path wasn’t through a phone or a cable company, but through the satellite dish on the roof. Jocko was a total firewall-busting, code-breaking, backdoor-building Internet wildcatter who could drill out more data than Exxon drilled oil.
That was why he wore the red-and-green hat with silver bells. His hacking hat. He had thirteen other hats. Hats for different occasions. Jocko loved hats.
Deucalion—monster of monsters, Victor’s first-made, mentor and maven, legend!—had entrusted Jocko with an important task. Hack into the department of motor vehicles’ secured files. Find out who owned a blue-and-white truck with a certain license-plate number.
Jocko was part of the team. Needed. Maybe a hero.
In the past, Jocko had sometimes been a screwup. Washout. Flop. Failure. Fool. Moron, idiot, ninny-hammer, dumb-bunny.
But all that was behind him. Now he was going to make his mother proud of him.
Erika wasn’t his biological mother. Former tumors didn’t have real moms. She adopted him unofficially.
They didn’t take mother-child trips to the park. Or go into town for an ice-cream soda. On the rare occasions when people saw Jocko, they wanted right away to beat him with sticks. Sticks, umbrellas, canes, buckets, anything handy. So far, Jocko didn’t seem to be one of those monsters that most people feared but also liked. For his safety, Jocko was limited to this house and the forty acres that came with it.
Erika Five, who lived now as Erika Swedenborg, was the fifth of five identical wives that Victor had grown in his creation tanks in New Orleans. The first four displeased him. They were terminated. Victor didn’t believe in divorce. Erika Five also displeased him. But she escaped on the night that Victor’s evil empire in Louisiana collapsed. Took a bunch of his money, too. She was the only member of his New Race to survive that catastrophe.
Suddenly Jocko peeled the final DMV passcode out of its security skin as easily as stripping a banana, and he was in.
“Banzai!” he cried.
He entered the truck’s license-plate number. Requested the owner’s ID. The information appeared on the screen.
“Huzza! Hoorah! Hooray!”
The truck was owned by a nonprofit corporation, Progress for Perfect Peace. That sounded nice. Warm and cuddly. Progress was a good thing. Perfect peace was a good thing. Even a monster with lemon-yellow eyes and virtually no proper moral upbringing could see what good things they were.
Progress for Perfect Peace had an address. In Rainbow Falls. Jocko printed it.
After he backed out of the DMV, he looked for a Progress for Perfect Peace website. Wasn’t one. That seemed peculiar. Suspicious. A charity ought to have a website. Everyone had a website.
Even Jocko had a website: www.jockothinksaboutlife.com. When he had an important insight about life, he posted it there. Maybe his thoughts could help other people. Just a few days ago he had posted: All muffins are tasty, but some are tastier than others—which isn’t an insult to the lesser muffins, it’s just the way life is. I like mine with jelly.
Jocko checked public records for Montana corporations. No need to hack them. Progress for Perfect Peace, Inc., had an address. It matched the one from the DMV.
The CEO was Victor Leben. The name was no coincidence. Victor Frankenstein. Then Victor Helios. Now Victor Leben. Victor.
On the screen, the o in Victor seemed to be an eye. Watching Jocko. Victor would know Jocko found him. Victor knew everything.
Jocko was wearing a T-shirt bearing the image of Buster Steelhammer, the greatest star in the history of World Wrestling Entertainment. The shirt usually made him feel brave. Not now.
The o in Victor. Watching. Impossible. But Victor could do anything. Victor was omniscient.
Bad. Very bad. Terrible. Catastrophe! Jocko suddenly became supercharged with negative energy. Nerves wound tight. Heart swelling with fear. Work it off, work it off. Dance! Dance! Jocko sprang to his feet on the chair. He danced desperately. The chair spun. Victor watched through the o in his name, somehow, some way, watched.
Dancing, spinning, watched by Victor, Jocko was as good as dead. Jocko was a dead monster dancing.
Behind the wheel of his Land Rover, Dagget followed a serpentine course through Rainbow Falls, hoping his lawman’s intuition inspired the many turns he made. He suspected that he was probably guided by nothing more than whim.
In the passenger seat, Frost studied his laptop. On the screen, a blinking red dot on a partial map of the town revealed the current location of the patrol car driven by Rafael Jarmillo, the chief of police. The day before, they had secretly affixed a transponder to Jarmillo’s vehicle, and thereafter they had monitored his movements. Since the previous morning, the chief had visited a lot of places around town, only one of them with any apparent law-enforcement connection.
“Yeah,” Frost said, “he’s not just paused at Montana Power and Light. It’s a full stop.”
The Land Rover was fitted out with a police scanner, but Dagget and Frost no longer bothered to listen to it. More than twelve hours earlier, Chief Jarmillo and his men stopped using a common ten-code that any cop anywhere might understand, and began to use a code of their own creation. Frost had tried to crack it with his computer, but he had failed. The portions of the police transmissions that weren’t in this code were crisp statements, revelatory of nothing.
“You want to go to the power company?” Frost asked. “See what’s happening?”
“What I’m thinking is, while the chief is out and about, maybe we stop by his house, have a little chat with his wife.”
Dagget and Frost, who had been in town three days, were agents with a unit of the FBI so secret that it was unknown even to the director of the bureau. They believed something was badly wrong in Rainbow Falls, but they didn’t have any clue what it might be. The whistle-blower who had alerted them to the situation knew only that during the past couple of years, enormous money had gone into some operation in this burg, channeled to a nonprofit named Progress for Perfect Peace. The sum was so huge—the funds laundered through so many accounts before arriving here—that it suggested a criminal enterprise of extraordinary proportions.
And this past afternoon, from their unit boss, Maurice Moomaw in D.C., they had learned that the Moneyman, source of those funds, was scheduled to arrive somewhere in the Rainbow Falls area the following day. Weather permitting, he would come in by helicopter from Billings. The Moneyman was a high-profile individual. If he was making a personal appearance, the conspiracy—whatever the hell it might entail—must be approaching one critical point or another.
“Talk to Jarmillo’s wife?” Frost didn’t like the idea. “I’m not ready yet to drop our cover.”
“I didn’t say we’d flash bureau ID. We snow her with some story just to see what she might say, just to get a look in the house.”
Frost shook his head. “I’m not a good bullshit artist.”
“You’ve seen me in action. I can produce more than a herd. You just stand there smiling and nodding, leave the rest to me.”
Frost considered the blinking light on the laptop map and then gazed through the windshield at the falling snow. All day, the atmosphere in Rainbow Falls had been strange, disquieting. He could not say why. The behavior of the police suggested they were engaged in some secret and perhaps illegal activity, but that alone wasn’t what made him so deeply uneasy. For the past several hours, he had sensed that the apparent normalcy of Rainbow Falls was a deception, as though the quaint and pretty town were only a hyper-realistic painting on a stage curtain, which at any moment would be swept aside to reveal a different municipality of strange and hideous structures in a state of advanced decay, narrow twisted streets, and in every shadow some creeping feral thing without a name.
Now, as the town succumbed to the bleaching snow, it seemed not to be vanishing beneath a shroud that would later be drawn aside by the restorative sun, but seemed instead to be fading entirely from the world. As if, when the snow eventually melted away, Rainbow Falls would be gone as though it had never existed.
Frost was not a man who spooked easily. Until now, he’d never had the kind of imagination that made hobgoblins out of shadows and sensed boogey-men around every corner. The problem wasn’t him. The problem was Rainbow Falls. Something was very wrong with this place.
“All right,” he said. “Let’s go have a chat with Jarmillo’s wife.”
In addition to the guy in the Stetson and the greatcoat, two other men materialized out of the night and snow. They were also armed with shotguns.
Carson and Michael had their Urban Snipers as well as pistols, but seated in the Grand Cherokee, they were not in a position to survive an exchange of fire.
To Michael, she said, “I could shift gears, tramp the gas.”
“Bad idea. I didn’t take my invincibility pill this morning.”
“Then what do we do?”
“Whatever they want us to do,” Michael said.
“That’s pu**y talk. We’re not pussies.”
He said, “Sometimes you’re too macho for your own good.”
The guy with the walrus mustache rapped on her window again with his gun barrel. He looked as if he had been constipated since birth. When she smiled at him, his scowl curdled into a glower.
Carson thought of Scout, her baby, not seven months old, back in San Francisco, in the expert care of Mary Margaret Dolan, housekeeper and nanny. Her little daughter had a smile that could melt glaciers. With Scout in her mind’s eye, Carson was overcome by a dread that she would never see the girl again.
Switching off the engine, she said, “They’ll make a mistake. We’ll get an opening.”
“ ‘All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.’ ”
“Who said that?”
“I don’t know. One of the Muppets. Maybe Kermit.”
They opened their doors and got out of the SUV, raising their hands to show that they were not armed.
The cowboy with the walrus mustache warily stepped back from Carson, as if she were the biggest and meanest piece of work that he had ever seen. His face suggested fearlessness, but his quick shallow inhalations, revealed by rapid frosty exhalations, further belied his fierce expression. He directed her toward the front of the Grand Cherokee.
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