Part Four: The Methods of Murder Chapter Forty-Seven
Matthew threw himself aside as the hawk sailed past his right shoulder, its talons grasping at empty air. a second bird of prey came in from the opposite direction, this one moving in a blur, and almost before he could register that it was right there in his face he felt a searing pain across his left cheek and knew he'd been hit.
The third hawk came down almost lazily and grazed Berry's forehead. She gave a wounded cry but her stride never slowed. She kept her head down as another hawk sped by with a high shrill shriek and began to turn a slow circle for its next pass.
Sixty yards to the forest. Suddenly Matthew had feathers in his face and talons jabbing for his eyes. He hunched his shoulders up and head down and felt the sharp claws rip furrows across his left shoulder. There was no time to waste; he had to keep moving, just as Berry was not letting the next attack-even so close as it came to taking out her own left eye-make her lose her speed and determination to live.
Two birds passed close over Matthew's head, one from the right and one from behind. a third darted in, again shrieking, and this time slammed into the left side of Berry's face. as it flew on she stumbled and fell to one knee. Matthew stood over her shouting, "Get away! Get away!" as another hawk skimmed her head. She got up, breathing raggedly, and then Matthew looked back and saw the boys coming.
Sunlight glinted off their knives. Three of the smaller and faster boys were already halfway to the first vine row. He saw Simon Chapel watching, standing between Lawrence Evans and Count Dahlgren. Four other adults Matthew did not recognize-three men in suits and tricorn hats and a woman under a dark blue parasol-stood with them. The instructors had emerged to watch their pupils in action. The desire to live caught flame within him. If they could get their wrists free...
Berry was up and moving again, still heading toward the forest. Just above her left eye what was lamb's blood and what her own was difficult to tell. Matthew ran after her. a hawk flashed by his face with a noise like bacon sizzling in a pan. an instant later, a pair of talons were scrabbling at his forehead and the fresh pain told him he was going to be cut to pieces out here in the open. a red haze shimmered before his eyes. If he fell or was overcome, he was most certainly dead. The hawk's shriek pierced his ears, but he ducked his head down before further damage could be done.
Forty yards to go, and with every stride the forest neared.
Matthew could imagine what the hawks must have done to Billy Hodges. Three on him at once; it had been a cutting party before the boys had even-
The largest hawk was suddenly upon him. From which direction it had come, he had no clue. It was just there, its wings outstretched as if to enfold him. His instinctive turning of his head and squeezing his eyes shut probably saved him from being blinded, as the claws caught at the front of his coat and the hooked beak, intending to pierce his left lamp, tore flesh a half-inch beside it. The bird's talons ripped shreds of cloth from his suit and through slitted eyes Matthew saw a flurry of beating wings and a blur of red-spark eyes and flashing beak. He was hit again on the cheek just under the right eye, a pain like a burn, and then what felt like a broomstick clobbered him across the back of the head and talons were caught in his hair. He heard himself cry out with pain and abject terror and he did the only thing he could do: he crashed himself headlong into the grapevines with the strength of the damned. as he rolled on the earth, he realized the large hawk was still clutched to his coat and the beak was trying to hook an eye. Matthew desperately twisted his head back and forth, his shoulders hunched and his eyes tightly sealed against the onslaught. Then the bird gave a sudden human-like grunt and near-squeal, and Matthew opened his eyes to see the hawk whirling away on the toe of Berry's shoe.
"Get up!" she shouted. She thrust her foot under his armpit and he got his legs beneath him and stood up. The world spun and the sun burned down but the air had one less predator, for a hawk lay at the base of the grapevines twitching on a broken wing.
Berry ran and Matthew followed. Twenty yards to go. He glanced back and saw sweat glistening on the three faces of the fastest boys, who were about fifty yards behind. Beyond them came the other sixteen.
The pursued were nearly to the woods, which offered no safety but a modicum of cover from overhead attack, when one of the birds swooped down on Berry again with a fierce show of nature's will at work. The creature struck at her forehead, which caused Berry to scream and double over to protect her face but she kept staggering forward. Matthew saw the hawk get tangled in Berry's hair and almost lift her off the ground as it fought itself free. Then it was loose and sailing up into the blue once more, and as Matthew dodged the attentions of the second hawk and it shrieked its indignation the forest took them in.
Yet in the sun-dappled glade there could be no pause, for the shouting of the boys was coming ever nearer. Here the going was rougher, over ancient tree roots and sharp-edged rocks. Matthew thought one of those edges might serve to sever a rope, but there was no time to find out with nineteen killers breathing down their necks.
"This way!" Matthew shouted, and he tore off at an angle to the right between two massive oaks. Berry followed right behind. He had no clear sense of where he was heading, other than to get as much distance between them and the knives as possible. He looked up and saw the two hawks trailing them above the green treetops. all the boys had to do was look to the hawks to mark the progress of their soon-to-be-victims.
There was a gully ahead. Matthew ran along its edge, his eyes searching for any sign of the estate's wall. But how to climb the damned thing, even if it was anywhere neari He ducked under low branches, Berry at his heels, and suddenly one of the hawks flashed past his face. He kept going, into a dense thicket where vines and thorns clutched at his suit. another hawk came zooming down through the branches and skreeled so loud it was a sure call to the young killers. Matthew realized that even if he and Berry found a place to hide, the hawks would either attack or give them away. There was no stopping.
He heard crashing through the woods over on their left, but he couldn't yet see anyone. Then a damned hawk went screaming over his head and he felt its talons go through his hair like razors.
Suddenly the forest thinned and parted and Matthew and Berry emerged onto the road that led from the vineyard to the main house. as he stood for a second thinking what direction they ought to go, the two hawks flew in almost side-by-side and left Berry staggering from another gash across the cheek. The hawks went up and started circling for a renewed attack. Matthew looked toward the vineyard, then in the direction of the house. He was aware of shouting in the woods behind them and the shadows of the hawks on the road. It came to him that Chapel had asked Lawrence Evans a question: Who's on the gate todayi
Enoch Speck, sir, was the answer.
On the way out, tell Mr. Speck he may join in the game after he locks up tight.
The gate, Matthew thought. It was unguarded.
The gatehouse had windows.
"Come on!" he told Berry, whose face-like his own-was well-marked under the lamb's blood. He began running at full speed toward the house, his knees starting to go wobbly. He could hear her breathing harshly behind him, or was that his own breathi The road curved to the right. a glance back. The pack hadn't yet come out of the woods. Then around the curve, the hawks flew at them again and once more the largest chose Matthew as a target. It came down like the devil's own fury, the beak stabbing for his eyes. He thought he'd been struck again, or at least grazed, but everything was hurting now from chin to hairline and as he ducked his face down he knew it was just a matter of time-and seconds, at that-before a beak or claw rendered him if not completely blind then one-eyed. The hawks climbed, trailing their eerie cries.
Matthew took three more strides and then saw on the road before him the mounds of fresh horse manure he'd stepped into. When he abruptly stopped, Berry slammed into his back.
He had very clearly remembered the taunting voice of Eben ausley.
You might even scare the carrion birds away with that face, Corbett!
The hawks were circling. Their shadows, growing larger.
"What are you doingi" Berry asked through gashed and swollen lips, her eyes bright blue against the glistening red.
They're trained to go for the color, Chapel had said.
"Trust me," Matthew said, and heard his own mangled voice. He dropped to his knees, pressed his lips together, and squeezed his eyes shut. He pushed his face into the pile. When he struggled up again, his face was freighted with a mask of manure.
"You have gone mad," said Berry, who was backing away from him.
"We'll find out," came Matthew's answer, as he looked up and saw the hawks coming down.
Berry realized what he was doing. The hawks were almost upon them, shrieking as they came.
"Oh, sh-!" she started to say, but then she dropped down as he had done, leaned forward, and with a muffled groan applied her own grassy brown mask.
The large hawk darted in first, its talons extended. Matthew stood his ground, his eyes half-slitted. He was ready to dodge if his stratagem turned out to be a stinking failure.
The bird's wings spread. It was about to strike. Matthew caught the red gleam of the predator's eyes. He tensed, his heart hammering.
a few feet from Matthew's face, the hawk suddenly pulled its claws in and accelerated. He felt the wind of its passage as it streaked by with a blur of wings. The second hawk skimmed over Matthew's head but its talons had also retracted. Berry got up off the ground, the blood on her face covered by muddy dung. They saw the two hawks make a ragged searching circle above them and then, in the manner of any practical killer, call off the hunt. The birds flew back toward the vineyard, in the direction of their aerie.
If the boys were watching the hawks to lead them, this might offer some time. But very little. "The gatehouse," Matthew said, and together the two dirty crows flew along the road toward the only way out.
There was no one around the house. Dragonflies flitted over the lily pond, which enticed Matthew and Berry to wash their faces yet they both knew there was no time to pause. They kept running past the pond, both of them sweating and their lungs afire. a hundred yards farther on, and there stood the white gatehouse with its multi-paned windows. The gate itself was secured by an iron rod. Matthew tried the gatehouse's door and it swung open. Inside there was a small desk, a chair, and on the wall some clothes pegs. a brown coat hung from one of the pegs, and from another dangled a canteen with a leather strap. Matthew judged how best to break the nearest window. His mind felt sludgy. The upper lid of his left eye was swollen and his lips felt shredded. He said to Berry, "Put your back against mine and stand firm."
In that position he put his foot through the window, careful not to break out all the glass at the bottom. Then, after the explosion of breakage that he thought surely must bring the deathpack running, he said, "Guide me!" and Berry directed him as he twisted his body and leaned backward to rub the cords against the edges of glass.
He worked with haste but not without pain, for glass cut skin as well as rope. If he sliced an artery, all was for naught. He did cut himself but it wasn't bad enough to stop. He just gritted his teeth, shifted his position, and kept sawing.
"That's it!" Berry said. "You've got it!"
Not yet. Damn these cords, they were as strong as Hudson Greathouse's breath.
What are you going to do, moonbeami
"I'll show you what I'm going to damned do," he said, and Berry asked, "Whati" but he shook his head and concentrated on the cutting. Something foul crept into Berry's mouth and she spat violently.
"Keep watch!" he told her, but he thought-hoped-the boys were still searching the woods for them. His shoulders were about to burst from their sockets. Was anything happeningi This was like trying to get through the Gordian Knot with a butterknife. Ow, that was skin! Come on, come on! Damn the pain, keep cutting!
He wrenched at his bonds. Nothing yet. Then he felt the pressure lessen just a fraction and he sawed with a maniacal fury. He imagined he heard the cords part with a quick pop, but whether he'd actually heard that or not, suddenly his wrists were coming unbound and he fought them free. The blood roared back into his hands as the cords fell away. He immediately went to work on Berry's ropes, though his fingers were still mostly long lengths of dead meat.
When Berry's hands were free, she gave a deep sob and began to cry but Matthew caught her filthy, beautiful face by the chin. "Stop that. No time." She stopped. He reached for the canteen, uncorked it, and poured some liquid into his palm but it was not water. Rum, he thought as he took a taste. There had to be some reward for the gate-watcher. He drank a swallow that burned his mind crystal clear and passed it to Berry, who in spite of a glob of horse shit on the canteen's mouth also took a drink. Matthew restrained himself from going through the coat and the desk drawers. He said urgently, "Come on," and led Berry to the gate. The iron rod was not so heavy that one older boy couldn't pull it free from the wooden guides on which it rested. He pulled the gate open.
"Stay off the road," he told her, as he stared into her eyes. "Just keep going, no matter what. I'll be along as soon as I can."
"You're coming too," she said; a statement.
"Not yet. I'm going back for the notebook."
"Matthew! You're mad! They'll-"
"Shut," he ordered. "Don't waste time." He pushed her out with his new-found and much-appreciated hands.
"You can't go back! If they-"
"I'm leaving the gate open. If they see it they'll think we're both out. That's why I say you've got to stay off the road, because they'll send riders. Go!"
She hesitated, but only for a few seconds. Then she went, fast as a hare before a hawk.
But sometimes the hares did escape, Matthew thought as he returned to the gatehouse. Especially a hare who did the unexpected. He took a longer drink of rum and saw stars. Going through the coat and the desk drawers, he found nothing useful. Like one of those multiple-barreled death-dealing pistols ashton McCaggers had told him were being developed in Prussia. He had the feeling he'd been born fifty years too early for this particular occupation. Still, here he was.
If Chapel destroyed that notebook-and he would, as soon as he thought Matthew and Berry had escaped-then all Matthew had to show Gardner Lillehorne was a madman in a cellar.
Get in quickly, break that office door open, and get out quickly. Would someone be guarding the housei Or were they all at the gamei What about the women who'd cooked their feasti He could stand here and second-and-third-guess himself to death. He started to take a last drink of courage, but instead he spat some shit out of his mouth and ran toward his fate.
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