Lost Souls Page 32

The kids came through first, running for their parents’ trucks and SUVs, and Van thought and prayed they hadn’t lost a single child.

They had lost four or five adults, however, and he didn’t know who, other than Tank Tankredo and Jenny Vinnerling. They didn’t have time to take a census as people exited, so Van shouted to Turner and Doogie to get their families packed up and out, and leave him to give a ride to anybody who needed one. Van was a single man, and his big Suburban could carry a crowd.

As it turned out, Tom Vinnerling had died trying to save Jenny, so the three Vinnerling children were the only people Van needed to accommodate. Cubbie was eight, Janene ten, and Nick fourteen.

The younger kids were in tears, but Nick’s jaw was tight with anger and his mind dead-set against crying. He wanted to drive his brother and sister away in his parents’ Mountaineer.

As the tires of departing vehicles squealed across the blacktop, Van Colpert kept one eye on the front door when he said, “I know you could drive if you had to, Nick, I suspect you could do anything you had to, but there’s nobody home now for you and Cubbie and Janene. We don’t know what’s happening, what’s next, this is something big, so you guys are going to stay with me. We’re it now, we’re together from here on out. It’s the only right way.”

The boy was in shock, in grief, but he had never been a bad kid, strong-willed but never willful. He relented at once and helped his siblings into the backseat of the Suburban. He sat in the front with Van.

As they drove onto the highway, close behind the last of the departing vehicles, Nick showed Van a 9mm Beretta that he had snatched off the floor in the roadhouse. “I’m keeping it.”

“You know how to use it?” Van asked.

“I’ve been target shooting since I was twelve.”

“Target’s different than shooting for real.”

“It would have to be,” Nick said, which was just the right answer, as far as Van was concerned.

In the backseat, the two children were sobbing.

The sound of them tore at Van, the sound of them and the awful truth that he could do nothing to restore their lives to them. All he could hope to do was help them find new ones.

“What were those things?” Nick asked.

“Something no one’s ever seen before.”

“We’re going to see them again, aren’t we?”

“I’d bet on it.” Van passed his cell phone to the boy. “Call the police, 911.”

He wasn’t all that surprised when Nick tried to place the call and then said, “There’s no 911 service.”

With a first-time-ever lack of respect for speed limits, Dolly Samples drove while she, her husband, Hank, and her sons, Whit and Farley, worked out who would do what when they arrived home.

Loreen Rudolph, her husband, Nelson, and their kids would be moving in with the Samples family for the duration because their house had some land around it and on first assessment seemed to be generally more defensible than the Rudolph place. Loreen and Nelson would be bringing a lot of canned food and bagged staples, tools, ammunition, and other goods that would be necessary to fortify and defend the Samples home.

“We lost dear friends tonight,” Dolly said, “and we have to hold fast to their memories. There’s going to be some hard times ahead, too, you better believe it.”

“Well, we always knew something was coming in our lifetimes,” said Hank. “We just figured it would be the Chinese or the Russians or some plague. We never thought outer-space aliens, but if that’s what it’s to be, so be it.”

“I wish I’d have thought to grab my dish from the buffet before we got out of there,” Dolly said.

“It’s just a dish,” Hank said.

“Well, it’s not just a dish. It was my grandmother’s dish, and it’s a favorite of mine. I figured to pass it along to my first daughter-in-law whenever Whit or Farley got married.”

“I’m sorry I diminished it,” Hank said sincerely. “I forgot what dish it was you took tonight. If we get through this with all of our fingers and toes, I’ll go back and retrieve it for you one day.”

“You’re a thoughtful man, Hank Samples.”

“And you did right getting all those kids gathered together in all that turmoil. You’re a good woman, Doll.”

“We sure love you, Mom,” Farley said from the backseat, and Whit echoed that sentiment.

“Love is what’ll get us through this,” Dolly said. “Love and the Good Lord and the backbone to protect our own. And pumpkin pie. I was planning to bake a couple tomorrow, but now, Lord willing, I’m going to bake them tonight.”

Chapter 72

In their room at the Falls Inn, Carson and Michael unpacked the big suitcases that contained their Urban Sniper pistol-grip shotguns, which fired only slugs, not buckshot. These weapons were essential at the end in New Orleans and would probably again make the difference between dying and surviving. The kick was the maximum Carson could handle; however, she didn’t shoot this gun with the stock high, but instead from a forward-side position, so she didn’t have to worry about dislocating her shoulder. They loaded the Snipers and put them on the bed with boxes of spare shells.

Five-year-old Chrissy Benedetto sat in an armchair that dwarfed her, drinking a grape soda that Michael had bought from the motel vending machine. She hadn’t seen Carson kill the not-mommy, and in spite of her nasty teddy-bear experience, she seemed only mildly unsettled by recent events.

“When will my real mommy come to get me?” she asked as Carson and Michael prepared the guns.

“Soon,” Carson said, because she had no idea how to tell a girl this young that her mother was gone forever. The prospect of doing so made her throat tight and seemed to constrict her lungs so she could not draw deep breaths.

The girl said, “She’s going to be very mad at the stupid pretend mommy.”

“Yes, she will,” Michael said. “And she should be.”

“Where’d that stupid pretend mommy come from?” Chrissy asked.

“We’re going to find out,” Michael said, “and we’re going to send her back there and lock her away so she can never come here again.”

“That’s good,” Chrissy said. “This is good grape.”

“I made it myself,” Michael said.

“Oh, you did not.”

“Show me the bottle.”

The girl held the bottle so he could see the label.

“You’re right,” he said. “Carson here made that one. It’s one of your bottles of grape, Carson.”

Carson said nothing because she was afraid her voice would break. She couldn’t stop thinking about Denise Benedetto with the silver disc on her temple, blood oozing from it and from her nose. Me isn’t me. Tell my baby.

“Who’re you people?” Chrissy asked.

“We’re friends of your mommy’s. She sent us to get you.”

“Where is she?”

“She’s in the city, buying you new teddy bears.”

“What city?”

“The big city,” Michael said. “The biggest big city, where they have the most teddy bears to choose from.”

“Wow,” said Chrissy. “I wish she was here.”

“She will be soon,” Michael said.

Carson said, “I have to get some fresh air. Just a minute.”

She left the room, walked a few steps along the promenade, put her back to the motel wall, and wept quietly.

After a minute or two, someone squeezed her shoulder, and she thought Michael had come to comfort her, but it was Deucalion.

He said, “This is new for you.”

“There’s a little girl with us now. I’m pretty sure she’s an orphan. She’s not going to be the only one in this town.”

“What’s softened you?”


“I guess she would.”

“Don’t worry. I can still handle myself.”

“I have no doubt you can.”

“But what are we going to do with her? Little Chrissy? She’s not safe with us.”

“I’ll take her to Erika.”

“Erika and—Jocko?”

He smiled. “What kid wouldn’t fall in love with Jocko—as long as he’s wearing a hat with bells when she first meets him?”

“All right. Let me tell you about her mother. Before it’s done, this is going to be worse than New Orleans.”

“It’s already worse,” Deucalion said. “I’ve got a few things to tell you, too.”

Jocko’s online path was through the satellite dish on the roof. Once online, he backlooped through the downtown-Denver telephone exchange. He sidelooped from Denver to Seattle. Seattle to Chicago. Hiding his origins. Not as easy to do when starting from a satellite uplink. But doable if you’re Jocko. Banzai!

He started with a light touch. Soon he hammered the keys. They kept spare keyboards in a closet. Sometimes Jocko busted them up a little when he used his feet for the keyboard, his hands for other tasks.

He wore his hacking hat. Green and red with silver bells. When he was plinking passcodes like ducks in a shooting gallery, the room filled with a merry jingle.

This was the best. He had never been happier. One of the good guys! Cyber commando! The only thing that would make it better was a bar of soap to nibble.

He calls himself Victor Leben these days. Leben is German for “life.” He is the creator of life and the ultimate destroyer of it. His life is about life.

The wall-size plasma screen is blank. He remains in the chair, thinking about what has occurred.

He is not concerned about the unexpected direction of events at the roadhouse. There are contingency plans for everything.

Besides, already many Builders are finishing in their cocoons, and as they come forth, the pace of the assault on Rainbow Falls will accelerate dramatically. The first should mature by morning.

He is confident that Jarmillo and his team will prevent anyone from leaving town. At their disposal is an extraordinary array of tools to quarantine Rainbow Falls, including a fleet of Predator drones equipped with night vision, and armed with missiles; they will henceforth ceaselessly circle over the surrounding fields and hills. Any hiker, off-road vehicle, or rider on horseback will be spotted and destroyed.

Victor Immaculate, unlike the original Victor, does not feel the need to be the puppeteer of all, to keep the many strings strictly in his hands. He has delegated well and can be confident in his people.

As he has meditated on the roadhouse, someone has discreetly come and gone, leaving a pink capsule in the white dish on the small table beside his chair. He takes the capsule now with a swallow of the bottled water.

Mentally he reviews the strategy and tactics of the taking of Rainbow Falls. The plan is sublime. No need for adjustments. He has thought of everything.

Travis followed Bryce onto the porch and watched the old man ring the doorbell.

“You’ll like this friend of mine,” Bryce said. “Sully York. He’s led a life that any man would envy, with great spirit and on his own terms. He has put himself on the line in ways that most of us would never dare, in exotic and generally inhospitable places, always for the good of his country, and he’s come out of every tight spot in triumph.”

The door opened and before Travis stood a bald man with one ear, an eye patch, a mouthful of gold teeth, and a livid scar from his right eye to the corner of his mouth.

“Sully,” Bryce said, “I’d like you to meet Travis Ahern. Travis, Colonel Sully York.”

“Pleased to meet you,” York said in a low rasp-and-rattle voice, and he held out an elaborate mechanical hand of steel and copper to be shaken.

Mr. Lyss found a car with keys in it. He said people left keys in their car when they wanted other people to feel free to use it, but Nummy wasn’t fooled.

“This here is stealing is what it is,” he said.

They were on Cody Street, heading out of town.

“I once drove from Detroit to Miami without ever using the brake pedal,” Mr. Lyss said.

“That’s no more true than people leaving keys for you to use.”

“Peaches, after all we’ve been through, I think you’d trust me by now. I was bunking in a new car, on a car hauler, and I rode all the way from Detroit to Miami on that big old truck without needing the brakes or the steering wheel. The driver never knew I was there.”

Nummy saw how that might be true, especially when it was Mr. Lyss, who seemed to know how to do everything at no cost to himself.

He said, “Well, now I feel bad for saying it was a lie.”

“You should feel bad,” Mr. Lyss said.

“Well, I do.”

“Maybe you’ll be a little more trusting in the future.”

“I guess I might be,” Nummy said.

“Uh-oh,” said Mr. Lyss, and he stopped at the side of the road. Ahead were police cars with flashing lights, blocking both lanes. “Roadblock.”

“They’re looking for jailbreakers,” Nummy said, “and we’re it.”

“Those aren’t real police, boy. Those are monster police.”

Mr. Lyss turned the car around and drove back into town.

“What now?” Nummy asked.

“I’ll think of something,” Mr. Lyss said.

After half a minute, Nummy said, “You think of something yet?”

“Not yet.”

As they slowed for the red light at Beartooth Avenue, Nummy said, “You think of something yet?”

“Not yet.”

When the light changed, Mr. Lyss drove into the intersection.

As Nummy opened his mouth, Mr. Lyss said, “Not yet.”

In the gloom between streetlamps, Frost and Dagget sat in Frost’s car across the street from the Benedetto house. They watched two Rainbow Falls police officers carry the corpse out of the house in a body bag.

“Where’s the coroner’s van?” Frost asked.

“Apparently they have a different routine than we’d think was suitable for Bureau agents like us.”

The two cops dumped the bagged body into the trunk of their patrol car and slammed the lid.

“They’re as absurd as Abbott and Costello but not as funny,” Frost said.

“What the hell is going on in this town?” Dagget wondered.

“I don’t know,” Frost said as he watched the patrol car drive away from the Benedetto place. “But I’ve got a totally bad feeling about this.”

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