Lost Souls Page 20

He outlined his plan, and the boy listened without interruption.

When Bryce finished, Travis said only, “Will it work?”

“It has to, doesn’t it?” Bryce said.

Chapter 43

In the main basement hallway of the hospital, Chief Jarmillo and Dr. Henry Lightner stood on opposite sides of the gurney on which rested the body of Brian Murdock.

“The whole face is stoved in,” Jarmillo said.

“Cody had to stop him.”

“Of course.”

“You or I would have done the same.”

“Perhaps not so aggressively.”

“Or perhaps more so,” Lightner said.

Jarmillo looked up from the body and met the physician’s eyes. “Obsessing of any kind must be reported.”

“He wasn’t obsessing.”

“How many blows with the nightstick?”

“We don’t have time for an autopsy. With everything we have to accomplish by tonight, that wouldn’t be an efficient use of time.”

“But how many blows do you think? Just a guess.”

“Not many.”


“Not many,” Lightner repeated. “Not many. He did what he had to do.”

“And efficiently. The problem is where he did it. In the open.”

“No one saw,” Lightner said.

“We can’t be sure of that.”

“If someone saw, they would have told a nurse, an orderly, they would have wanted us to call the police.”

“Not if they’re suspicious of … all of us.”

“Why suspicious? Even dogs can’t smell a difference between us and them.”

“We might not mimic as well as we think we do. Maybe the more perceptive of their kind can sense something wrong.”

“If one of them saw, he’ll soon be dead anyway.”

Jarmillo nodded. “You need Cody here.”

“I need everybody to get this done.”

“And no one at the scene thinks he was obsessing?”

“No one.”

Jarmillo considered the situation for a moment. None of the hospital patients had phone service. Cell phones and text-messaging devices had been collected using one excuse or another. No one in the building could leave without either being returned to his room or being dealt with as Cody had dealt with Murdock. They had hoped to begin delivering the patients to the Builders after visiting hours. But if someone had seen the killing, and if he had a visitor, they risked exposure if that visitor left the hospital.

“Midday visiting hours are over?” Jarmillo asked.


“Evening hours are … ?”

“From five till eight.”

“It’s going to complicate things for us, but we’ll have to prevent the evening visitors from leaving. They’ll all have to be rendered to the Builders, as well.”

“We’ll need some help.”

“I’ll give you three more deputies.”

“Then we’ll be fine.”

Jarmillo turned his attention once more to Murdock’s face. “I think the Creator might call Cody obsessive.”

“And I think,” Lightner said, “you seem to be obsessing about obsession.”

The chief met Lightner’s eyes again. After a mutual silence, he said, “For the Community.”

“For the Community,” Dr. Lightner replied.

Chapter 44

Jocko’s big moment. The first people he’d met in two years. He wanted to make a good impression. To be liked. To be accepted as a fellow American. To make Erika proud. To not be a screwup.

Scaring them was a bad start. Stop grinning. Just a small smile.

Maybe wiggle his ears. No! No, no, no! That old woman that time, that alleyway, Jocko wiggled his ears, she beat him with a trash can. And threw the cat at him. The cat was horrible. No ear wiggles.

Extending his right hand in greeting, he went to Deucalion. “I am Jocko. Jocko juggles. Jocko pirouettes. Jocko is a monster like you but not as pretty. Jocko is immensely pleased to make your great acquaintance.”

Deucalion’s hand was so large that he only used his thumb and forefinger to shake Jocko’s hand. But it still counted as a shake.

So far so good.

He went next to Carson O’Connor. “I am Jocko. Jocko cartwheels. Jocko writes poetry. Jocko used to eat soap. But he doesn’t anymore. Bowel problems. But Jocko still likes the taste.”

Carson O’Connor grimaced when she shook Jocko’s hand. But she didn’t recoil. Didn’t spit at him. He didn’t think she’d throw a cat even if she had one. Very nice. A nice lady.

“Ms. Carson O’Connor, if you please. Jocko apologizes for his nasty hand. It is cold. Clammy. Sticky. But Jocko assures you, it is clean.”

“I’m sure it is,” she said. “Please just call me Carson.”

Never had Jocko thought it would go this well. Jocko was making an impression. Jocko was almost debonair.

To Carson, he said, “Jocko is supremely delighted to see you again.”

She looked confused. “Again?”

“Jocko met you briefly. New Orleans. A warehouse roof. In a thunderstorm. You had a shotgun. Another lifetime.”

Michael Maddison accepted Jocko’s outstretched hand.

“I am Jocko. Jocko does backflips. Jocko can eat a big cinnamon roll in one bite. Jocko collects funny hats with bells.”

He shook his head. All the little bells rang on his hat.

“Jocko is enchanted to see you again.”

“Forgive me,” Michael said, “but I don’t recall … ”

“Back then, things were going wrong with Victor’s people. So wrong. Strange things. Jocko was a strange thing that went wrong. Jocko grew inside Jonathan Harker.”

Harker had been one of Victor’s New Race. The replicant of a police detective. In the homicide department with Michael and Carson.

“Jocko was sort of a kind of a tumor. But with a brain. And hope. Hope for a better life. Freedom. Maybe go to Disney World one day. That’ll never happen. Still, one can dream. Anyway, Jocko burst from Harker’s chest.”

They remembered. Eyes wide. Jocko was happy they remembered.

“Jocko has Harker’s memories. But is not Harker. Jocko lived for a while in sewers. Ate bugs to survive. So tragic. But kinda tasty. Then Jocko met Erika. No more bugs. Life is good.”

Suddenly, Jocko feared they might misunderstand. Might get the wrong idea. Jocko felt himself blush.

Jocko clutched Michael’s hand in both of his. “Please to understand—Jocko and Erika are not lovers. No, no, no!”

Jocko let go of Michael. Spun to Carson. Seized one of her hands with both of his.

“Erika is virtuous. Erika is Jocko’s mom. Adopted mother. Jocko has no gen**als. Zero, zip, nada.”

“That’s good to know,” said Carson.

“Jocko doesn’t need gen**als. Jocko is only one of his kind. No one to reproduce with. Jocko doesn’t want gen**als. Ick! Bleh! Ugh! Gag me with a spoon!”

Jocko scurried to Deucalion.

“Jocko has only the thing he pees with. Jocko calls it his swoozle. But it has no other purpose. No other purpose!”

Jocko sprang to Michael again. Put his right foot on Michael’s left foot. To hold him there, keep his attention.

“Jocko’s swoozle folds up and rolls away. After use. It is disgusting! Jocko’s knees are ugly, too. And his butt.”

Jocko grabbed the sleeve of Carson’s jacket.

“Jocko always washes his hands. After folding and rolling. For you, Jocko could wash his hands in alcohol. And sterilize them with fire. If you want.”

“Washing is fine,” Carson said.

“Jocko has made a fool of himself. Yes? No? Yes! Jocko is still making a fool of himself. Jocko will always make a fool of himself. Excuse Jocko. He will go now and kill himself.”

Jocko cartwheeled out of the kitchen. Along the hallway. Into the foyer.

Jocko looked in the foyer mirror. Hooked two fingers in his nostrils. Pulled his nose back toward his forehead. Back as far as it would go. This hurt so much, it brought tears to Jocko’s eyes.

Jocko spat on his left foot. Spat on his right. Spat on them some more.

It was the end. Death by immolation. Jocko threw himself into the fireplace. No fire. Screwup.

Jocko could never face them again. He would wear a bag over his head. Forever.

After a while, Jocko returned to the kitchen.

Erika had drawn another chair to the table. Beside hers. She had put a pillow on the chair. To boost Jocko. She smiled and patted the pillow.

Jocko sat beside Erika. His three new acquaintances smiled at him. So nice. Jocko was nice, too. He didn’t smile.

“May Jocko have a cookie?” he asked Erika.

“Yes, you may.”

“May Jocko have nine cookies?”

“One cookie at a time.”

“Okay,” Jocko said, and took a cookie from the tray.

Erika said, “I was about to tell everyone how Victor can have died at the landfill—yet be alive here in Montana.”

Cookie unbitten, Jocko stared at his brilliant mother, amazed. “You know how?”

“Yes,” Erika said. “And you do, too.” To the others, she said, “In Victor’s mansion in the Garden District, in the library, there was a hidden switch that caused a section of bookshelves to swivel and reveal a passageway.”

“Passageway,” Jocko confirmed.

“At the end of the passageway, past various defenses and a vault door, there was a room.”

“Room,” Jocko agreed.

“In this room, among other things, was a large glass case about nine feet long, five feet wide, more than three feet deep. It stood on bronze ball-and-claw feet.”

“Feet,” Jocko attested.

“The beveled-glass panes were very cold, held together by an ornate ormolu frame. It was like a giant jewel box. The box was filled with a semiopaque red-gold substance that sometimes seemed to be a liquid, sometimes a gas.”

“Gas,” Jocko said, and shuddered.

“And shrouded in that substance was a shadowy something that seemed to be alive but in suspended animation. On a whim, I don’t know why, I spoke to the thing in the box. It answered me. Its voice was low, menacing. It said, ‘You are Erika Five, and you are mine.’”

“Menacing.” Jocko had not yet taken a bite of the cookie. He no longer wanted it. Jocko felt nauseous.

“I never saw what was inside that box,” she said, “but now I think it must have been another Victor, his clone.”

Return the cookie to the tray? No. Impolite. Jocko had touched it. With his nasty hand. One of his nasty hands. Both were nasty.

“And perhaps when Victor died,” Erika continued, “the satellite-relayed signal from his body that terminated all of the New Race also released his clone from that glass case.”

Jocko took off his hat. Set the cookie on his head. Put the hat on again.

Chapter 45

Travis Ahern had been rushed to the hospital wearing jeans, a pullover sweater, and a jacket with several pockets stuffed full of all those tools and totems and curiosities that nine-year-old boys find essential when at play in the world. These items included a penknife with a mother-of-pearl handle, which Bryce Walker borrowed before he returned to his room.

Alone, Travis stripped the pillowcase off one of his pillows. At the small closet, he transferred his street clothes from hangers to the pillowcase, working rapidly because he feared that someone would enter the room and catch him packing. He left the makeshift suitcase in the closet and returned to his bed.

For fifteen minutes, he had nothing to do but wait. Lying on his right side, he pretended to sleep. By opening one eye just a slit, he could check the nightstand clock.

If a nurse brought him pills and insisted that he take them while she was there, he would pretend to swallow them but actually tuck them in his cheek or hold them under his tongue, and then spit them out when she was gone. Mr. Walker said it seemed an unusual number of other patients were sleeping. Maybe it was a good thing that neither of them had eaten much of his lunch.

If Dr. Flynn or anyone else came to take Travis downstairs for a test or for any other reason, pretending to sleep might not work. They might not go away. They might strap him in a wheelchair and take him to the basement, awake or asleep.

From the window, he had seen what happened to someone who fought them, and he felt small. For as long as he could remember, he had been in a hurry to grow up, to be tall and strong, but also to learn what men knew that made them able to deal with all kinds of bad luck and trouble. Some men seemed to walk easy through the world, dealing with anything that came their way, not full of swagger like the bullies at school, but quietly sure of themselves, like Bryce Walker.

Travis’s father wasn’t one of them. Mace Ahern abandoned them eight years earlier. Travis had no memory of his dad, only photos. A year ago, he decided never to look at them again. They hurt too much.

He wanted to grow up fast because he needed to take care of his mother. Her life was meaner than she deserved. Mace had left her with a lot of bills that she didn’t know about until he was gone, and she did the right thing by the people he owed. But she worked long hours, and Travis could see she was weary, though she never complained. She cooked at Meriwether Lewis, she cleaned house for four people, she sold her homemade cookies through Heggenhagel’s Market, and she did seamstress work at home. Travis wanted to be the responsible man that his father hadn’t been. He didn’t want to have to watch his mom be worn down by life and look old when she was still young.

Now Travis worried about her for an even more terrible reason. If brain-controlling alien parasites or body snatchers—or whatever they were—had taken over the hospital staff, they might be at work in other places, too. Like Meriwether Lewis Elementary. They might be all over Rainbow Falls, nest after nest of them, and the town might have fewer real people by the hour. He needed to escape from the hospital and warn her.

When fifteen minutes passed, Travis got out of bed and went to the hall door, which stood open. He eased his head around the jamb and peered north, where Nurse Makepeace sat at her station again. Coming along the hallway from his room was Mr. Walker, right on schedule, carrying his pill cup, his face as sour as if he’d just chugged a glass of spoiled milk.

Travis hurried to the closet, snatched up the pillowcase, and returned to the hall door.

At the nurses’ station, Bryce Walker complained that the pill he’d been given wasn’t the same as the one he’d taken the previous night, yet his chart didn’t say he should be given anything new. It must be the wrong medication, and he worried it might do him harm. Another nurse had given the pill to him. He didn’t see her around now, and he knew from his Rennie’s experience, back in the day, that Doris Makepeace ran a tight ship and could always be relied on to set things right.

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