Lost Souls Page 18

“Who? What people? What the hell kind of people would like the way I smell?”

“You must like it. So other people like you, they’d like it.”

Gathering the clothes he had chosen, Mr. Lyss said, “I’m going to take a shower before I change. Don’t try to talk me out of it.”

Nummy followed the old man into the hallway, to the door of the bathroom. “What if you’re showering, the doorbell rings?”

“Don’t answer it.”

“What if the phone rings?”

“Don’t answer it.”

“What if Mrs. Trudy LaPierre comes back?”

“She won’t.”

“What if—”

Mr. Lyss turned on Nummy, and his face twisted up so he looked every bit like the worst kind of bad man that he claimed to be. “Stop badgering me! Stay away from the windows and sit somewhere with your head up your butt till I tell you to take it out, you clueless, useless, fumbling, flat-footed retard!”

The old man stepped into the bathroom and slammed shut the door.

For a moment, Nummy stood there, wanting to ask a couple of questions through the door, but he decided that would be a bad idea.

Instead, he went into the kitchen. He circled the room, studying everything.

He said aloud, “Faster is disaster. Easy and slow makes it all go just so. Think it through double, you’ll stay out of trouble.”

The phone didn’t ring.

Nobody rang the doorbell.

Everything was going to be all right.

Chapter 37

When Bryce came out of Room 218, no one manned the nurses’ station. Her back to him, Doris Makepeace proceeded to the farther end of the main wing and disappeared into a patient’s room.

No other nurse, orderly, or maintenance person could be seen. Even for a hospital, the long hallway struck him as uncannily quiet. Especially for a hospital. The impression of serious understaffing seemed to confirm that the remaining nurses were making a pretense of normalcy to conceal some unpleasant and perhaps alarming truth.

With the nurses’ station unattended, the moment had come for Bryce to get to a staircase without being noticed. He wanted to check out lower floors to learn if the conditions here were universal.

The building was shaped like a squared-off C, with three wings of equal length, one running north-south and two running east-west. The main wing offered central stairs and elevators, and the east-west wings each provided a staircase. The hallway at the south end of the building was the nearer of the two, and he headed for it.

As he passed rooms where doors stood open wide, he glanced at the patients. For this time of day, an unusual number appeared to be asleep. Few TVs were on. He saw a couple of visitors sitting at bedsides, waiting for the sleepers to wake.

He should have told Travis to pretend to take any pill a nurse might bring, to hold it under his tongue and spit it out the moment she left the room.

In the south hall, he went to the west end, where an exit sign identified the emergency stairs. He descended two flights to the ground floor.

This was the main level, with the lobby and gift shop, with the labs and surgeries. It also provided additional patient rooms.

Bryce cracked the door, peered out. As he remembered, before him lay the technical wing, where MRIs, X-rays, and other tests were performed. To meet requirements of the hospital’s liability insurance, a patient here would always be in a wheelchair, being taken to and from his room by a member of the staff.

If Bryce was going to risk being stopped and escorted back to his room, he preferred first to have a glimpse of the lowest floor, the basement. The voices that he’d heard in the return-air duct had seemed to come from a distance even greater than the basement, but they had certainly originated below the main floor.

He eased the door shut and descended two flights to the bottom of the stairwell. The basement door bore the same stern notice that had appeared on upper doors—THIS FIRE EXIT MUST REMAIN UNLOCKED AT ALL TIMES—but it would not open. He tried the lever again, with no success.

Then he heard someone insert a key in the lock.

With the instinct of a rabbit stalked by a wolf, Bryce turned and bounded up the stairs two at a time to the landing. Out of sight of anyone who might enter below, he snatched off his slippers because they made too much noise.

As the lower door opened, Bryce continued climbing, soundlessly now, to the ground-floor landing, where he paused with one hand on the lever of the exit door.

He heard no footsteps ascending, but neither did he hear the basement door close. The person down there must be holding it open.

Whoever ordered the door to be illegally locked had not trusted in the lock alone. A guard apparently had been stationed on the other side.

Bryce held his breath, listening to the sentinel who listened for movement in the silent stairwell.

From somewhere in the basement came a stifled cry as miserable and despairing as any of the tortured voices that had risen through the return-air duct.

The door at the bottom of the stairwell at once fell shut, and Bryce could no longer hear the muffled scream.

Bryce didn’t know whether the guard had returned to the basement or lingered this side of the door. If someone still listened for him, he dared not make any noise.

Although an entirely internal sound, his thunderous heartbeat hampered his hearing. He focused on the landing between the ground floor and the basement, waiting to see a shadow move, a hand appear on the railing. The concrete was cold under his bare feet.

Chapter 38

Patient Brian Murdock, in Room 108, saw something he wasn’t supposed to see or overheard something he wasn’t supposed to hear. Nobody knew what alarmed him. He was sufficiently frightened to change out of his pajamas into the street clothes he’d been wearing upon admission, and to try to leave the hospital without drawing attention to himself.

Nurse Ginger Newbury encountered Murdock, recognized him, and told him that it was against the rules for him to self-release. He shoved her aside and ran, and she shouted for security.

Ordinarily, security didn’t cover every exit from the hospital, and in the past, Cory Webber, a maintenance man, served no security function. This was a new day, however, and a new Cory Webber. He was dressed in his janitorial uniform, and he had a mop and a bucket and a rack of supplies on wheels, as usual. Secreted among his supplies, however, were a can of Mace and a nightstick. Although he pretended to be intent on his cleaning chores, his only responsibility was to prevent any unauthorized exits along the personnel-only hallway that served the staff lunchroom and the nurses’ lounge and led to the door to the employee parking lot.

When Brian Murdock burst into that corridor, running, with an orderly named Vaughn Nordlinger in pursuit, Cory Webber dropped his mop and snatched the can of Mace from his supply rack.

Murdock carried a weapon in each hand, heavy casters that he somehow removed from his hospital bed, and he threw them, surprising Cory. The first hit the janitor in the chest, the second in the face, and he stumbled backward against the wall.

At the end of the corridor, Murdock slammed through the door, which wasn’t locked because it was the primary door by which various members of the Community came and went during this momentous day. He was out, free, but not for long, as both Vaughn and Cory were close on his heels.

From behind, Vaughn snared the escapee’s jacket and yanked hard, pulling him off his feet. Murdock hit the pavement with bone-breaking force. But he was a strong young man. He rolled onto his hands and knees and launched himself at the orderly.

Cory stepped in, swung the nightstick at the back of Murdock’s head. He struck him across the shoulders instead, but the blow was enough to make the escapee lose his grip on Vaughn and drop onto his back on the blacktop.

Murdock started to shout for help, and Cory responded in the most efficient fashion, hammering at his throat with the nightstick. The escapee tried to protect his throat with his hands, but Cory was an irresistible force, intent upon putting an end to the cries, and the man fell silent almost at once.

Suddenly, others of the Community were gathered around Murdock, and some of them were restraining Cory, though there was no need for them to do so. Someone asked for his nightstick, and of course he relinquished it.

Only then did he realize that Murdock was dead and that not only his throat but also his face had been shattered. Cory Webber had no memory of striking the escapee in the face.

Waiting for Mr. Walker to return, worrying that he might not see the old man again or that if the old man returned he wouldn’t be himself anymore, Travis Ahern restlessly roamed the hospital room. From time to time he tried the telephone, which remained out of service, and checked the hallway, which remained deserted.

He was at one of the windows when the man came running out of the hospital with two guys chasing him. The first man wore street clothes, but one of the pursuers was dressed in medical whites and the other in the gray uniform of a hospital janitor.

The two from the hospital attacked the first man. The janitor had some kind of club. He knocked the man down with it and then hit him, hit him, hit him.

Travis didn’t want to watch, but he couldn’t look away. Nobody could be clubbed that hard, that often, and still be alive. Travis had never seen a man killed before, and even from a distance, it was so terrible that he had to lean against the windowsill to keep his trembling legs from failing him.

Nurses, a security guard, and other hospital workers rushed into the parking lot. They took the club away from the janitor, and they gathered around the beaten man as though they were concerned about him, but they were really just blocking him from the sight of anyone who, like Travis, might be at a window.

Already, an orderly and a doctor had appeared with a gurney. The physician was Kevin Flynn. Travis’s doctor. Flynn and the orderly, with the help of the security guard, began to lift the dead man onto the gurney.

Nobody seemed particularly interested in the janitor. They were not restraining him for the police.

Anyone just now looking out a window might think someone had collapsed of a heart attack and was fortunate to be so close to the aid he needed. The chase and the beating had lasted no more than a minute, most likely less. Perhaps no one but Travis had seen it.

One of the nurses turned toward the hospital and looked up, as if searching the windows for witnesses.

Hoping he had moved before her gaze could travel to his room, Travis stepped away from the glass. He backed into the armchair, almost fell over it, but instead fell into it.

He couldn’t think of anywhere to hide.

He waited for hurried footsteps in the hall, Dr. Flynn in his lab coat, the security guard, the janitor with the club in his hand once more.

But the second floor remained quiet.

From the chair, through the window, he could see only the gray sky. The clouds were as flat as an ironed sheet.

Travis thought of his mother and tried to picture her at work in the big kitchen at Meriwether Lewis Elementary. He couldn’t make that picture form in his mind.

He strove to imagine her in her car, the seven-year-old Honda with the slightly damaged fender, on her way to the hospital to visit him. His imagination failed him again.

Closing his eyes, covering his face with his hands, he struggled to raise the memory of her face, and he succeeded. When she was there in his mind’s eye, he wanted desperately to see her smiling, but her face remained without expression. Her eyes were as flat as the ironed clouds beyond the window.

Chapter 39

Frost sat on one of the benches in Memorial Park as if to watch the feral pigeons—rock doves, the locals called them—pecking seeds from grass already beginning to wither toward the golden-gray shade with which it welcomed the winter.

The birds walked with mincing steps and bobbing heads. Most were dark gray, some were checkered, and a few were pied.

Frost had been surprised to learn that although some pigeons would migrate south, many would stay here all year. He had thought a Montana winter must be too severe for anything other than the likes of owls, eagles, turkeys, pheasants, and grouse.

For three days, he had been in Rainbow Falls and the surrounding countryside, and as far as he was concerned, nights in early October already had too sharp a bite.

Although the digital clock at the First National Bank said the current temperature was fifty-six degrees, the day felt colder than that to Frost. He wore insulated boots, jeans, and a ski jacket, but he wished he had put on a pair of long underwear, as well. In spite of his name, if offered a meager retirement in a shack in some low warm desert or a rich pension tied to a palace in snow country, he would have taken the former with no regrets, subsisting on rice, beans, and sunshine.

Now thirty-five, he doubted that he would live to retire. A case could be made that he might be fortunate if he survived the next few days.

Anyway, old age had no more appeal to him than did living in an ice castle. The way this country was going, the golden years would be years of iron and rust for most people.

Frost had been pretending to be fascinated with the pigeons for almost five minutes when Dagget appeared on the winding walkway. He was eating ice cream on a stick.

The two of them had more in common than they had differences, and one thing they shared was the pleasure of needling each other. Dagget was as comfortable in Montana as in Key West, and he chose to emphasize that fact by strolling through the park in shirtsleeves.

Not far from Frost’s bench stood a trash receptacle, and Dagget stopped beside it as if to dispose of the stick and his paper napkin after he finished the ice cream, of which little remained.

No one else was nearby, so Dagget said, “Warm enough for you?”

“I think it’s getting warmer,” Frost said.

“Me too. Spent any time with your police scanner this morning?”

“More than the usual traffic,” Frost said, referring to the recent flurry of communications among the local police.

“Yeah. Very crisp, no chitchat. And what’s this code they’re using?”

“I don’t know. Tried working with it on my laptop. It won’t be broken easily.”

“So this time the whistle-blower blew some truth.”

Unfortunately, the information that launched this investigation had given them no sense of what was coming down in Rainbow Falls, only that it must be something of importance.

Frost said, “Chief Jarmillo’s been on the move. The hospital. Elementary school. High school. This country-western roadhouse out past the edge of town. Hard to see how any of it’s policework.”

They had placed a transponder on Jarmillo’s cruiser, which transmitted his constant whereabouts to an antitheft service on a commercial satellite, from which Frost periodically downloaded—hacked might be the more honest term—the chief’s itinerary.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

Prev Next