Lost Souls Page 19

Along the park pathway came a middle-aged man on a skateboard. His beard was unkempt, his ponytail tied with a blue cord. He wore khakis, two layers of flannel shirts, and a toboggan cap. Without glancing at either of them, he shot past.

“Only a loser?” Dagget asked.

“Definitely just a loser.”

“I keep thinking we’ve been made.”

“Why?” Frost asked. “Your room been tossed or something?”

Dropping the ice-cream stick and the napkin in the trash can, Dagget said, “No good reason. I just have this creepy feeling … I can’t explain it.”

Frost and Dagget were FBI agents, though a kind of which even the Director had no knowledge. Their names appeared nowhere on the official rolls of the Bureau.

“Personally,” Frost said, “I think no one’s interested in us. I was going to suggest we can start working together safely if you want.”

“Works for me,” Dagget said. “I get the feeling any moment now we’re going to need each other for backup.”

As one, with a furious beating of the air, the flock of pigeons flew.

Chapter 40

Riding shotgun, Michael phoned Erika Swedenborg to tell her that they were en route and would be at her door in a few minutes. Because they had been in San Francisco when she called them less than an hour earlier, their arrival surprised her.

Michael said, “Our elderly friend knew a shortcut. We took a right turn at nevermore and then a hard left at everafter.”

No sooner had Michael terminated the call than the female voice of the navigational system said, “Turn right in two hundred yards.”

The oil-and-gravel road flanked by enormous pines and the steel-pipe gate were as Erika had described them. Carson stopped at the bell post, put down her window, pushed the call button, and stared directly at the embedded camera lens. The gate swung open.

On the front porch, at the top of the steps, the woman waited.

Carson had met Erika Four in Louisiana, and this fifth edition appeared to be identical to the fourth. Victor might hate humankind, but his appreciation of human beauty couldn’t have been more refined. This might have been how ancient Romans thought of Diana, the goddess of the moon and the hunt: this flawless beauty, this exquisite grace, this physical vitality with which she seemed to glow.

Introductions took place on the porch, and to Deucalion, Erika said, “That we should meet astonishes me.”

“And that we should be alive,” he said.

“In those days so long ago … was he then as he became?”

“The pride was there, a tendency to corruption,” Deucalion said. “Pride can become arrogance. Arrogance is the father of cruelty. But in the beginning, there was also an idealism, a hope that he could change the human condition.”

“Utopian ideas. They always lead to destruction … blood, death, and horror. And you—two centuries alone. How have you … endured?”

“Rage and revenge at first. Murder and brutality. But gradually I realized I’d been given one gift greater than all others, the gift of possibility. I could become what I chose, better than my origins. Rage can be a kind of pride. I turned away from it before I became an eternal monster, in his image.”

Carson saw unshed tears in Erika’s eyes. She doubted that Victor would be pleased that one of his New Orleans–bred New Race possessed enough empathy to recognize and to be moved by another’s anguish. In Victor’s view, empathy was evidence of weakness, an emotion suitable only for the timid and the foolish.

Erika led them into the house, to the kitchen, where the aroma of brewing coffee enriched the air. On the table was a large tray of cookies.

Coffee and cookies with the Frankenstein monster and the bride of Frankenstein.

Carson wasn’t surprised to see Michael smiling, and the self-control revealed by his silence impressed her.

With coffee served and the four of them at the table, the crisis of the moment was not their first concern. How Erika had gotten here was of more immediate interest.

After her call to them in San Francisco, she knew for certain that Victor had been killed on the night that she had fled from him. She assumed he must be dead, for only his death would have released her from the absolute obedience to him that was part of her program. But now for the first time she knew.

That rainy night two years previously, as Victor’s empire began to disintegrate, she entered a secret vault in his Garden District mansion and, operating on his telephoned instructions, packed one suitcase with bricks of hundred-dollar bills, euros, bearer bonds, and gray velvet bags full of precious gems, mostly diamonds: on-the-run money in case he needed it. As ordered by her husband, her maker, she had brought that fortune to a secret facility of his, northeast of Lake Pontchartrain.

Before she could get out of the car and deliver the suitcase, a singular and strange display of lightning turned night to noon. Great barrages of thunderbolts struck the pavement all around her vehicle, so many in number and so completely encircling her that from every window she could see nothing of the surrounding landscape, only a screen of light—a shield—so bright that she closed her eyes and bowed her head, expecting death.

“Thanks to our phone call earlier,” Erika said to those around her kitchen table, “I now know the lightning occurred at the moment Victor died. The signal his dying body transmitted to his creations, the signal that killed them, couldn’t reach me behind that shield of lightning.”

“He harnessed the lightning of a terrible storm to bring me to life,” Deucalion said, “but it was lightning of unprecedented power, and it brought me more than life. It brought me the gifts I would eventually need to destroy him. And lightning spared you because we need to work together to find and stop him in his new, mysterious incarnation.”

“What brought you here to Montana,” Michael wondered, “instead of anywhere else?”

“I don’t know. I had the fortune in the suitcase, enough to start a new life anywhere. I just drove and drove, guided by whim, until I found a place that seemed right.”

Deucalion shook his head. “No. You were guided by more than a whim.”

They were silenced by this suggestion of a destiny. Of a hard obligation. Of a responsibility that was grave, if not even sacred.

“If we were brought here by some kind of Providence,” Erika suggested, “then surely we can’t lose this war.”

“I wouldn’t count on that,” Deucalion warned. “We have the free will to do the right thing or the wrong. One curse that our kind and humankind share—even when our minds are clear, our hearts can too easily deceive us.”

“Besides,” Carson said, “there at the end in New Orleans, we had more allies than we do this time. Here in Rainbow Falls, there are only four of us.”

“There is a fifth,” Erika said. “Both he and I thought you needed time to hear my story before meeting him. His looks can be … distracting.”

Hinges creaked, drawing their attention to a pantry door that had stood one inch ajar.

Into the kitchen stepped a trollish thing in children’s clothes, Rumpelstiltskin cubed, a cacodemon, a hobgoblin, a thing for which no word existed, a thing wearing a floppy hat decorated with tiny bells. Its eerie yellow eyes were bright with some terrible hunger, and its hideous face twisted into a mask of hatred so raw that Carson and Michael—and even Deucalion—skidded their chairs back from the table and shot to their feet in alarm.

“Sweetie,” Erika said, “I warned you not to grin. A slight smile is disturbing enough for people who don’t know you.”

Chapter 41

Frost and Dagget had walked to the park by different routes. Having decided to work more directly as a team, they left together.

Dagget was staying at one of the town’s four motels—Falls Inn—on Falls Road just north of Beartooth Avenue. The inn stood near the river with a view of the natural wonder after which Rainbow Falls had been named.

Over a distance of five hundred feet, the river stepped down six times, providing cascade points across its entire width. The highest falls measured only twelve feet; the lowest, seven. The cumulative effect stirred pride in the hearts of the members of the Chamber of Commerce. The spectacle was a must-see if you were already in town, but it didn’t warrant a weekend stay and a memory stick full of photographs.

In his motel room, Dagget could hear the falls 24/7 even with the windows closed. He said it was a soothing sound, as effective as a lullaby.

“Still sleeping well?” Frost asked as they drew near the Bearpaw Lane entrance to the park.

“Like a baby, even though the sound makes me get up for the john six times a night. I know the route from the bed to the pot so well I don’t really need to wake up even halfway to answer the urge.”

21st-Century Green Incorporated, dedicated to viable alternative sources of clean energy, had rented a small furnished house for three months, which was where Frost bedded down. The company didn’t exist, except on paper, and Frost wasn’t its property scout, as he claimed to be, but the landlord had been paid in full in advance, which was as real as anything got in contemporary America.

Green was the perfect camouflage these days. If you worked for a company with green in its name, you were assumed to be responsible, compassionate, farsighted, of high moral character, one of the good guys—which was ironic, because Frost was one of the good guys even though he worried not at all about his carbon footprint.

“If I were a serial killer,” Frost said, “I’d travel the country pretending to be an environmental activist, wearing clothes made from soybean fabric. Women wouldn’t just throw themselves at me, they’d also give me the hatchet to chop them up with.”

“I don’t need soybean clothes,” Dagget said. “I have the natural pheromones that women can’t resist.”

“Yeah? You have them in a spray can or a roll-on stick?”

The house rented by 21st-Century Green was on Bearpaw, across the street from the park.

Frost said, “Come on over. We’ll check the computer, see where Chief Jarmillo is, then maybe do some surveillance on him.”

The two-bedroom bungalow was furnished as if austerity had been proclaimed the new glamour, but at least it was clean.

As they passed through the living room and dining room to the kitchen, where Frost’s laptop and scanner were set up, Dagget said, “This makes Shaker furniture look decadent. Does the place come with a bed of nails?”

“No, but there’s a complimentary selection of woven bramble scourges if you’d like to whip yourself.”

“Maybe later. While you’re checking on Jarmillo, I’ll call Moomaw, see if the whistle-blower has turned up anything more about this. I don’t mind flying backward and upside down, but I don’t like flying blind, too.”

Maurice Moomaw was their superior in the Bureau. No one dared make fun of his name, even though Maurice was his middle name and his full name was Saint Maurice Moomaw. His father had been a black activist who changed his surname from Johnson, and his mother had been a devout Catholic who insisted on naming him after one of the few black saints. Maurice Moomaw had skin, hair, and eyes all pretty much the same shade of mahogany, and he stood as big as a tree. He had a law degree from Yale, and though he would never say a cross word to a subordinate in front of anyone else, in private he could cut you in half with words faster than a chain saw could do the job.

As Frost booted up the laptop and checked on Jarmillo, Dagget spoke with Moomaw by satellite phone, using the word sir a lot. When he terminated the call and came to the table, he said, “Moomaw says word is the Moneyman is coming here tomorrow.”

Frost was surprised.

“Well, not to this monk’s cell of yours,” Dagget said, “but he’s coming somewhere in the Rainbow Falls area, they don’t know where. He’s coming in by chopper from Billings.”


“They don’t know why. Probably to see what his money’s buying.”

“This is big. Moomaw thinks it’s big, doesn’t he?”

“Moomaw now thinks it’s huge.”

“This is dirty business of some kind. Why would the Moneyman risk being tied to it?”

“Dirty business is his favorite kind. Maybe you’ll get a chance to ask him why.”

“Wouldn’t that be something?” Frost said.

“Except it’s pretty much certain, if you ask the question, you’ll get a bullet for an answer.”

Chapter 42

Standing at a window in Room 218, Bryce watched a hospital janitor hosing off the area of parking-lot pavement where Travis had seen a man beaten and perhaps murdered. The boy said the man below was the same one who had swung the club.

In the armchair, crossed legs drawn up onto the seat, he said, “It happened. I didn’t imagine it.”

“I know you didn’t,” Bryce assured him.

Each half of the bronze casement window featured a handle with which it could be cranked open for ventilation. The center post was strong enough to support the weight of a climber. The distance from the windowsill to the blacktop appeared to be about fifteen feet.

Entirely plausible.

Bryce stepped away from the window, went down on one knee beside the armchair, and put a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “There’s hardly any staff on this floor because they’re downstairs, and I think it’s because they’re helping to guard every entrance to the basement and every exterior door on the ground floor.”

“Why did they kill that man?”

“He must’ve seen something they didn’t want him to see.”

“What? What did he see?”

“Listen, Travis, we’ve got to hang tough. Don’t give them any reason to think you’re suspicious.”

“But it’s just like I told you, isn’t it? They aren’t who they used to be. They’re not real anymore.”

“They’re real, son, they’re plenty real. But they’re different now.”

“What’re they doing to people down in the basement?”

“Whatever it is, we don’t want them doing it to us.”

Bryce’s own voice sounded alien to him, not because the pitch and timbre of it had changed, which they had not, but because of the things he heard himself saying. He remained a writer of Westerns, but his life had changed genres.

“There’s something we can do,” Bryce said, “but it’s going to take nerve, and we’ve got to be cautious.”

Source: www_Novel22_Net

Prev Next