Lost Souls Page 31

When he heard them unbolting the rear doors, Deucalion instantly transitioned from inside the cargo box to the roof, where he arrived supine. Above were rafters, catwalks, and a twenty-foot-deep open loft that ran around three sides of the large building.

If anyone had been on the catwalks or in the loft, they could have seen him lying atop the truck. Furthermore, the vehicle wasn’t so high that someone at a distance on the main floor would fail to spot him. At the moment, however, the two evident workers in the warehouse remained close to the truck, assisting with the unloading of the prisoners.

He raised his head to reconnoiter. In the southwest quarter of the warehouse, sixteen-foot-high steel racks held hundreds of crates.

Deucalion sat up on the roof of the truck—and came to his feet in an aisle between two of those storage rows. The racks paralleled the truck from which he departed, so they concealed him.

From gaps between the shelved crates, he could see the truck and the line of prisoners. As the driver and his mate cruised away to collect more human cargo, the two warehouse workers led the obedient eleven toward the north end of the enormous room.

Deucalion took the risk of transitioning to the open loft, from which he could survey the entire layout of the building. At this hour, the fluorescent panels in the loft were off, and not much light rose from the hooded, hanging lamps that illuminated the floor below.

Against the north wall, a series of offices were set side by side. He stared down on their flat roofs. Two offices had windows from which their occupants could monitor activity in the warehouse, but four did not. The offices with windows were dark.

A shadow in shadows, Deucalion watched from above as the eleven were led to an area outside of the windowless offices, where they were left standing with another twenty people in the same condition as they were.

When each of the two warehouse workers went into a different windowless room and closed the door behind him, Deucalion seized the opportunity to transition from the loft to the group of prisoners. For the first time, as he walked among them, he saw the gleaming silver nailheads in their temples and began to understand, at least in conceptual terms, what had been done to them.

Chapter 70

After leaving the hospital, where the Builders would finish killing and processing the patients no later than dawn, Chief Rafael Jarmillo patrolled Rainbow Falls. He followed no planned route, and he was not looking for anything in particular. With the Community’s secret war against humanity begun, the chief remained alert for anything out of the ordinary that might suggest some of the citizens were awakening to the realization that they were under attack.

As he cruised, he listened to the radio transmissions of his officers. Instead of the usual ten code, which had not been designed for security but for saving air time, they employed a code devised specifically for this operation. Any hobbyist or retired cop passing time by monitoring transmissions would be unable to follow the action or understand the department’s intentions.

When the report of a murder on Purcell Street came in, the chief asked the dispatcher to repeat. The code number first given signified the killing of one of the Community, and Jarmillo assumed that this must be a mistake. Upon hearing the number repeated with emphasis, he switched on the rotating beacons but not the siren, and sped to the scene of the crime.

Two black-and-whites were at the Benedetto house when Jarmillo arrived. As he got out of his car, he saw an officer, Martin Dunn, hurrying around the side of the house from the backyard.

He said, “Who’s down?”

“Replicant,” Dunn said. “Denise Benedetto.”


“Shot. Multiple wounds.”

“You’re sure she’s dead?”

“Someone knew what it would take. At least eight rounds. Maybe more. Probably all ten in the magazine. The shooter was methodical.”

Behind the wheel of his car again, Chief Jarmillo asked the dispatcher to check the war directory to determine how many people were in the Benedetto family.

The answer came within a minute: Lawrence Benedetto, wife Denise, five-year-old daughter Christine. Lawrence Benedetto, now a replicant, currently manned a war-duty post at the power company. The child should have been with the replicant of her mother.

Christine was not a replicant. With the exception of Ariel Potter—who was not a mere replicant but a Builder of a unique kind—no citizen of the town under the age of sixteen would be replaced. For reasons of efficiency and in respect of the Creator’s philosophy, they would all be processed by Builders, some of them this day and the next, but most of them on Thursday, children’s day.

Jarmillo went into the Benedetto house just as Officers Dunn and Caponica descended the stairs from the second floor.

“There should be a child. A little girl.”

“Not here,” Caponica said.

Jarmillo thought about Bryce Walker and Travis Ahern, about Nummy O’Bannon and the vagrant Lyss. Now this.

He ran to his patrol car and by radio arranged for roadblocks to be established just beyond city limits, at each end of town.

He ordered Community operatives at the telephone company to shut down landline phone service, both local and long-distance. For now, cell-phone service within Rainbow Falls must be maintained, but relay towers capable of transmitting beyond the town should be disabled. Cable-television service, which also provided Internet access, would be discontinued as well, at once.

And they had to find the shooter who had killed the replicant of Denise Benedetto. Quickly.

Chapter 71

In the roadhouse, Dolly Samples and Loreen Rudolph were standing by the bar, talking about breast-reduction surgery, when the handsome young man stepped through the blue-velvet curtains and onto the stage.

The bar was closed. Just as parishioners brought their food for the family social, those who wanted drink were expected to provide it for themselves.

Because of her ample endowment, Loreen had suffered backaches and neckaches for the past three or four years. She also didn’t like the way some bold men stared at her; based on nothing more than her superstructure, they seemed to think she had round heels, when she was in fact a faithful wife whose gravest transgression was once in a while watching one of those daytime-TV talk shows that always featured women who slept with their sons-in-law and middle-aged men who wanted to become young women and dance in Vegas.

Her husband, Nelson, supported her regarding the surgery; he said he hadn’t married her because of her bra size. “Honeylamb, it was your blue eyes, your pot roast, and your good heart that got me to the altar. Just leave enough up top so you float if you fall in the river.”

Loreen worried, however, about going under the knife, about all the things that could go wrong during surgery, because she had two kids to raise and a disabled mother to look after. In addition, she thought maybe it was wrong to have some plastic surgeon reshape the body that God had given her—not sinful, exactly, but ungrateful.

“Loreen, you silly thing,” Dolly Samples said, “God gave you an appendix, too, but if you get appendicitis, He doesn’t expect you to let it burst and just die like a dog.”

That was when the handsome young man stepped onto the stage, and right behind him came a second no less striking than the first. They were at once joined by as beautiful a young woman as Dolly had ever seen.

She directed Loreen’s attention to the stage, and Loreen said, “Not even the Osmonds in their prime looked that good. They’re like three angels.”

“Reverend Fortis never mentioned entertainment.”

“They’re definitely entertainment,” Loreen agreed. “Real-world people don’t look that good.”

Dolly said, “Even most show-biz people don’t look half that good. I bet they have gorgeous voices, too. You just know they do. But where’s their guitars?”

“They don’t look like a comedy act,” Loreen said. “They look like a music act.”

“That’s what I’m saying.”

The three stood together, smiling brightly at the gathered families, and the power of their smiles was so compelling that the roar of conversation in the roadhouse diminished rapidly. All over the room, parishioners turned to look at the performers. Some children stood on chairs to see over the heads of their elders. People sitting in the mezzanine booths got to their feet and came to the railing between them and the main floor.

Reverend Fortis stepped through the curtains and onto the stage behind the trio. He held up his hands, whereupon the congregants fell entirely silent.

“My brothers and sisters,” said Reverend Fortis, “these three are lambs of God come to take away the sins of the world. Be not afraid of what they say or do, for they are here only to escort you to the new Jerusalem.”

Still at the bar, Dolly Samples said, “What on earth is the man saying? Does that sound like hoohaw to you?”

Loreen said, “What it doesn’t sound like is Reverend Fortis. It’s his voice but the words are fiddle-faddle.”

The three young singers, who evidently weren’t singers after all, stepped off the stage, onto the dance floor, where the bewildered congregants parted as if to make way for royalty.

The radiantly beautiful woman stopped in front of Johnny “Tank” Tankredo, who was big enough to bench-press a horse and gentle enough to make the horse happy about the experience.

Tank smiled at her, and there was an air of expectation as thick as anything that Dolly had ever felt, even just before a Garth Brooks concert back when he cared about blowing the roof off the place, and then the young woman’s smile became a yawn. The yawn grew until her mouth occupied most of her face, and out of her mouth came something like a churning mass of bees, though it was a part of her and not a separate thing. It bored right through Johnny Tankredo’s face and out the back of his head, and it pulled him against the girl, though she wasn’t a girl anymore, and Johnny began to come apart.

Dolly said, “Lord Jesus help us,” as she reached into her big purse and drew out her .38 Colt.

From her purse, Loreen retrieved her SIG P245, and said, “Praise the Lord, get the kids out of here.”

People were screaming but not as much as Glenn Botine, a full-time car mechanic and part-time quarter-horse breeder, would have expected under the circumstances, not like they screamed in horror movies. Mostly they were screaming names, shouting to their kids and wives and husbands, families trying to find their own and get out.

His Smith & Wesson Model 1076, the civilian version of the FBI’s pistol, loaded with 180-grain Hydra-Shok rounds, wouldn’t be worth spit against something like the thing that chewed up Tank Tankredo, but it ought to take out the Reverend Kelsey Fortis, who obviously was either not the reverend anymore or was in league now with Satan.

Glenn mounted the stage, where the preacher, grinning like a fiend, stood swaying from side to side. The reverend proved too slow on the draw to fire back, which alone vouched certain that he wasn’t the Kelsey Fortis whom Glenn had once admired as much as he had ever admired a mortal man. The fact that seven point-blank shots were required to take him down and keep him down only confirmed that there must have been at least a devil in the preacher if not something worse.

Someone was shouting that the front doors were chained shut.

Van Colpert, who had done two tours in Afghanistan, right away got Turner Ward and Doogie Stinson to agree that if the front entrance was chained shut or otherwise barred, the other exits also must be barricaded from outside. No sense wasting time running to one useless exit after another.

Leaving the women and some of the older men to gather the kids by the main exit, the three men circled the room to the bar, staying away from the freaky killing machines or whatever the hell they were. Machines seemed a better word for them; there was without a doubt a Terminator feel to the scene.

Erskine Potter was behind the bar, just himself, and from the smug look on the mayor’s face, Van Colpert knew that he was a Judas. Van shot him with his .44 Magnum and Turner Ward shot him with his modified Browning Hi-Power, and Doogie Stinson scrambled over the bar and shot him four times with both of his Smith & Wesson Model 640 .38 Special pocket revolvers.

Potter kept a 12-gauge shotgun behind the bar, loaded with buckshot. It was only for show. He never used it in the bar, though he’d done some hunting with it in the hills behind the roadhouse.

Doogie passed the rifle to Van and scrambled across the bar with a box of shells.

Van Colpert said, “Fortis and Potter might not be the only infiltrators. Keep your cheeks clenched and your hands quick, and God be with you.”

“God be with you,” Turner and Doogie said simultaneously.

They made their way through the tumult, trying to stay as far from the killing machines as possible. It was Afghanistan all over again, just with monsters instead of the Taliban.

Brock and Debbie Curtis—who earned a decent living escorting groups of city types on white-water rafting tours, fishing trips, and hunting expeditions—had found their two kids, George and Dick, and had progressed from the buffet table to the steps that led up to the mezzanine.

Brock saw Van, Turner, and Doogie returning from the bar with Potter’s shotgun, and Providence put him immediately behind Tom Zell and Ben Shanley when Ben said to Tom, “You take Colpert, I’ll take Ward and Stinson.”

Both men had big revolvers, they were gripping them two-handed, there was no doubt what they intended, and Brock had seen how many rounds Glenn Botine had needed to drop whatever the thing was that had been passing itself off as Kelsey Fortis. Debbie must have heard what Ben Shanley said, too, because she liked the man and wouldn’t otherwise have shot him five times in the back, which left only Tom Zell for Brock to deal with. The way they squirmed on the floor like whipping rattlesnakes and almost thrust to their feet again, Brock had no doubt they were no longer anything as mildly sinister as city councilmen, but something far nastier, and he finished them off with Debbie’s assistance.

The double doors were steel, to meet fire codes, but they were not set in steel casings. They were hung from a wooden jamb, with the hinges on the inside.

With the killing machines making a most demonic noise, Turner Ward shouted for everyone on the mezzanine in the vicinity of the doors to duck and cover to avoid ricochets.

Van Colpert took the risk of bounce-back lead and, with four rounds, blasted the wood out from under two of the three hinges on the right-hand door. He jammed another shell in the breech, three in the magazine tube, and took out the third hinge.

Doogie and Turner put their shoulders to the door, which was now held in place only by the chains that linked it to the left-hand door and by a half-rotted wooden stop molding on the outside. The wood cracked apart, the door shuddered open, and Van threw aside the 12-gauge to help Doogie and Turner lift the door as they swung it to the left, so it wouldn’t drag on the concrete.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

Prev Next