She opened the driver’s door of the Honda, and the dome light came on, and she slipped in behind the steering wheel. No keys dangled in the ignition, so she
searched under the seat with one hand to see if the owner had left them there.
Standing at the open door of the Honda, Tommy said, ‘Then let’s just walk out of here.’
‘We wouldn’t get far on foot before it caught us. I’m going to have to hot-wire this crate.’
Watching as Del groped blindly for the ignition wires under the dashboard, Tommy said, ‘You can’t do this.’
‘Keep a watch on my Ford.’
He glanced over his shoulder. ‘What am I looking for?’
‘Movement, a strange shadow, anything,’ she said ner¬vously. ‘We’re running out of time. Don’t you sense it?’
Except for the wind-driven rain, the night was still around Del’s van.
‘Come on, come on,’ Del muttered to herself, fumbling with the wires, and then the Honda engine caught, revved.
Tommy’s stomach turned over at the sound, for he seemed to be sliding ever faster down a greased slope to destruction — if not at the hands of the demon, then by his own actions.
‘Hurry, get in,’ Del said as she released the hand-brake.
‘This is car theft,’ he argued.
‘I’m leaving whether you get in or not.’
‘We could go to jail.’
She pulled the driver’s door shut, forcing him to step back, out of the way.
Under the tall sodium-vapour lamp, the silent van appeared to be deserted. All the doors remained closed. The most remarkable thing about it was the Art Deco mural. Already its ominous aura had faded.
Tommy had allowed himself to be infected by Del’s hysteria. The thing to do now was get control of himself, walk over to the van, and show her that it was safe.
Del put the Honda in gear and drove forward. Quickly stepping in front of the car, slapping his palms down flat on the hood, Tommy blocked her way, forcing her to stop. ‘No. Wait, wait.’
She shifted into reverse and started to back out of the parking space.
Tommy ran around to the passenger’s side, caught up with the car, pulled open the door, and jumped inside. ‘Will you just wait a second, for God’s sake?’
‘No,’ she said, braking and shifting out of reverse. As she tramped the accelerator, the car shot forward across the parking lot, and the door beside Tommy was flung shut.
They were briefly blinded by the rain until Del found the switch for the windshield wipers.
‘You’re not thinking this through,’ he argued.
‘I know what I’m doing.’
The engine screamed, and great plumes of water sprayed up from the tires.
‘What if the cops stop us?’ Tommy worried.
‘They will if you keep driving like this.’
At the end of the large building, before turning the corner, Del braked hard. The car shrieked, fishtailing as it slid to a full stop.
Studying her rear-view mirror, she said, ‘Look back.’
Tommy turned in his seat. ‘What?’
Under the tall lamppost, falling rain danced on empty pavement.
For a moment Tommy thought he was looking in the wrong place. There were three other lampposts behind the bakery. But the van was not under any of those, either.
‘Where’d it go?’ he asked.
‘Maybe out to the alley, or maybe around the other side
of the building, or maybe it’s just behind those delivery trucks. I can’t figure why it didn’t come straight after us.’ She drove forward, around the corner, along the side
of the bakery, toward the front.
Bewildered, Tommy said, ‘But who’s driving it?’
‘Not a who. A what.’
‘That’s ridiculous,’ he said.
‘It’s a lot bigger now.’
‘It would have to be. But still—’ ‘It’s changed.’
‘And it got a driver’s license, huh?’
‘It’s very different from what you’ve seen before.’ ‘Yeah? What’s it like now?’
‘I don’t know. I didn’t see it.’ ‘Intuition again?’
‘Yeah. I just know. . . it’s different.’
Tommy tried to envision a monstrous entity, some¬thing like one of the ancient gods from an old H.P. Lovecraft story, with a bulbous skull, a series of mean little scarlet eyes across its forehead, a sucking hole where the nose should be, and a wicked mouth surrounded by a ring of writhing tentacles, comfortably ensconced behind the steering wheel of the van, fumbling with a clumsy tentacle at the heater controls, punching the radio selector buttons in search of some old-fashioned rock-’n’-roll, and checking the glove box to see if it could find any breath mints.
‘Ridiculous,’ he repeated.
‘Better belt up,’ she said. ‘We might be in for a bumpy ride.’
As Tommy buckled the safety harness across his chest, Del drove speedily but warily from the shadow of the bakery and across the front parking lot. Clearly, she expected the Art Deco van to bullet out of the night and crash into them.
A debris-clogged storm drain had allowed a small lake
to form at the exit from the lot. Leaves and paper litter swirled across the choppy surface.
Del slowed and turned right into the street, through the dirty water. Theirs was the only vehicle in sight.
‘Where did it go?’ Del Payne wondered. ‘Why the hell isn’t it following us?’
Tommy checked his luminous wristwatch. Eleven min¬utes after one o’clock.
Del said, ‘I don’t like this.’
Half a mile from the New World Saigon Bakery, in the stolen Honda, Tommy broke a three-block silence. ‘Where did you learn to hot-wire a car?’
‘My mom taught me.’
‘The one who likes speed, races stock cars and motor¬cycles.’
‘Yep. That’s the one. The only mom I’ve got.’ ‘What is she — a getaway driver for the mob?’ ‘In her youth, she was a ballet dancer.’ ‘Of course. All ballet dancers can hot-wire a car.’
‘Not all of them,’ Del disagreed. ‘After she was a ballet dancer‘ ‘She married Daddy.’
‘And what does he do?’
Checking the rear-view mirror for any sign of a pursuer, Del said, ‘Daddy plays poker with the angels.’
‘You’re losing me again.’
‘He died when I was ten.’
Tommy regretted the sarcastic tone he had adopted. He felt coarse and insensitive. Chastened, he said, ‘I’m sorry. That’s tough. Only ten.’
‘Mom shot him.’
Numbly, he said, ‘Your mother the ballerina.’
‘Ex-ballerina by then.’
‘She shot him?’
‘Well, he asked her to.’
Tommy nodded, feeling stupid for having regretted his sarcasm. He slipped comfortably back into it: ‘Of course, he did.’
‘She couldn’t refuse.’
‘It’s a marital obligation in your religion, is it? To kill one’s spouse upon request?’
‘He was dying of cancer,’ Del said.
Tommy felt chastened again. ‘Jesus, I’m sorry.’
‘Pancreatic cancer, one of the most vicious.’
‘You poor kid.’
They were no longer in an industrial district. The broad avenue was lined with commercial enterprises. Beauty salons. Video stores. Discount electronics and discount furniture and discount glassware stores. Except for an occasional 7-Eleven or twenty-four-hour-a-day coffee shop, the businesses were closed and dark.
Del said, ‘When the pain got so bad Daddy couldn’t concentrate on the cards any more, he was ready to go. He loved cards, and without them, he just didn’t feel he had any purpose.’
‘I told you — Daddy was a professional poker player.’
‘No, you said he now plays poker with the angels.’
‘Well, why would he be playing poker with them if he wasn’t a professional poker player?’
‘Point taken,’ Tommy said, because sometimes he was smart enough to know when he had been defeated.
‘Daddy travelled all over the country, playing in high stakes games, most illegal, though he played a lot of legal games in Vegas too. In fact, he twice won the World Championship of Poker. Mom and I went with
him everywhere, so by the time I was ten, I’d seen most of this country three times or more.’
Wishing he could just keep his mouth shut but too fascinated to resist, Tommy said, ‘So your mother shot him, huh?’
‘He was in the hospital, pretty bad by then, and he knew he was never getting out.’
‘She shot him right there in the hospital?’
‘She put the muzzle of the gun against his chest, positioned it very carefully right over his heart, and Daddy told her he loved her more than any man had ever loved a woman before, and she said she loved him and would see him on the Other Side, and then she pulled the trigger, and he died instantly.’
Aghast, Tommy said, ‘You weren’t there at the time, were you?’
‘Heavens, no. What kind of person do you think Mom is? She’d never have put me through something like that.’
‘I’m sorry. I should have—’
‘She told me all about it an hour later, before the cops came by the house to arrest her, and she gave me the expended cartridge from the round that killed him.’
Del reached inside her wet uniform blouse and fished out a gold chain. The pendant suspended at the end of the chain was an empty brass shell casing.
‘When I hold this,’ Del said, wrapping her hand around the shell casing, ‘I can feel the love — the incredible love
— they had for each other. Isn’t it the most romantic thing ever?’
‘Ever,’ Tommy said.
She sighed and tucked the pendant inside her blouse once more. ‘If only Daddy hadn’t gotten cancer until I was closer puberty, then he wouldn’t have had to die.’
For a while Tommy struggled to understand that one, but at last he said, ‘Puberty?’
‘Well, it wasn’t to be. Fate is fate,’ she said cryp¬tically.
Half a block ahead of them, on the far side of the wide street, a police cruiser was just starting to turn out of the westbound lane into the parking lot at an all-night diner.
‘Cops,’ Tommy said, pointing.
‘I see them.’
‘Better slow down.’
‘I’m really in a hurry to get back to my place.’
‘You’re doing twenty over the speed limit.’
‘I’m worried about Scootie.’
‘We’re in a stolen car,’ he reminded her.
They breezed past the police cruiser without slowing. Tommy twisted in his seat to look through the back window.
‘Don’t worry about him,’ Del said, ‘he won’t come after us.’
The squad car had braked when they shot past it. ‘Who’s Scootie?’ Tommy asked, still watching the patrol car behind them.
‘I told you before. My dog. Don’t you ever listen?’ After a hesitation, the squad car continued to pull into the parking lot at the diner. The lure of coffee and doughnuts was apparently stronger than the call of duty.
As Tommy let out a sigh of relief and faced front again, Del said, ‘Would you shoot me if I asked you to?’
She smiled at him. ‘You’re so sweet.’
‘Did your mother go to jail?’
‘Only until the trial was over.’
‘The jury acquitted?’
‘Yeah. They deliberated only fourteen minutes, and they were all crying like babies when the foreman read
the verdict. The judge was crying too, and the bailiff. There wasn’t a dry eye in the courtroom.’
‘I’m not surprised,’ Tommy said. ‘After all it’s an extremely touching story.’ He wasn’t sure whether he was being sarcastic or not. ‘Why are you worried about Scootie?’
‘There’s some weird thing driving around in my van, you know, so maybe it knows my address now and even knows how much I love my Scootie.’
‘You really think it stopped chasing us just so it could go kill your dog?’
She frowned. ‘You’re saying that’s unlikely?’
‘It’s me that’s cursed, me that it’s been sent to get.’ Glancing at him disapprovingly, she said, ‘Well, look who’s all of a sudden turned into Mr. Ego. You’re not the centre of the universe, you know.’
‘I am as far as this demon is concerned! I’m its whole reason for existence!’
‘Whatever, I’m not taking any chances with my Scootie,’ she said stubbornly.
‘He’s safer at home than with us.’
‘He’s safest with me.’
She turned south on Harbour Boulevard. Even at that hour and in the rain, there was a steady flow of traffic.
‘Anyway,’ she said, ‘as far as I can see, you don’t exactly have any clever plan for survival that we have to put into action right this minute.’
‘Just keep moving, I think. When we stop, it’s easier for the thing to find us.’
‘You can’t know that for sure.’
‘I have intuition too, you know.’
‘Yeah, but it’s mostly bogus.’
‘It is not,’ he disagreed. ‘I’m very intuitive.’
‘Then why did you bring this devil doll into your house?’
‘It did make me uneasy.’
‘Later, you thought you’d gotten away from your house clean. You didn’t know the creature was hitching a ride in the Corvette’s engine compartment.’
‘No one’s intuition is totally reliable.’
‘Now, honey, face it. Back there at the bakery, you would’ve gotten in the van.’
Tommy chose not to respond. With a computer — or even a pencil and paper — and enough time, he could have crafted a reply to refute her, to humble her with logic and penetrating insights and dazzling wit. But he had neither a computer nor (with dawn rolling inexorably toward them out of the now-black east) enough time, so he would have to spare her the punishing experience of his devastating verbal virtuosity.
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