The Darkest Evening of the Year Page 11

He would like to watch her in an act of automatismic homicide. How breathtakingly terrible her beauty would be then: her eyes blank and her features without expression as she wielded a flensing knife.

He doubts that she has killed in such a condition or ever will, because murder-especially by fire-is the one thing the outer world can offer her that dependably staves off boredom. She does not need to kill in a trance when she can, without compunction and with deep satisfaction, kill while fully conscious.

Frequently she passes the better part of the day in grooming activities. She is eternally fascinated by herself, and her body is her best defense against boredom.

Sometimes she spends an entire afternoon washing her golden hair, applying to it a series of natural-substance rinses, slowly brushing it dry in the sun, and giving herself a long scalp and neck massage.

A restless man by nature, Harrow is nevertheless able to watch her for hours as she grooms herself. He is soothed by her flawless beauty, by her bottomless calm, and by her perfect self-absorption, and she inspires in him a curious hopeful feeling, though he has not yet been able to identify what it is that he hopes for.

Usually Moongirl grooms herself in silence, and Harrow is not sure that she is aware of his presence. This time, after a while, she speaks: “Have you heard from him?”


“I’m tired of this place.”

“We won’t stay much longer.”

“He better call soon.”

“He will.”

“I’m tired of the noise.”

“What noise?” he asks.

“The sea breaking on the shore.”

“Most people like it.”

“It makes me think,” she says.

“Think about what?”


He does not reply.

“I don’t want to think,” she says.

“About what?”

“About anything.”

“When this is done, we’ll go to the desert.”

“It better be done soon.”

“All sand and sun, no surf.”

With slow deliberate strokes of the brush, she paints a toenail purple.

As the earth turns slowly away from the sun, the feathery pine shadows stretch their wings toward the house.

Beyond the pocket yard, out of sight below the shelving slabs of granite, waves pound the beach.

To the west, a gunmetal-blue sea looks hard, cold. It alchemizes the molten-gold sunshine into shiny steel scales, which churn forward like the metal treads of war machines.

After a while she says, “I had a dream.”

Harrow waits.

“There was a dog.”

“What dog?”

“A golden retriever.”

“It would be, wouldn’t it?”

“I didn’t like its eyes.”

“What about them?”

She says nothing.

Then later: “If you see it, kill it.”

“What-the dog?”


“It was in a dream.”

“But it’s real, too.”

“Not a dangerous breed.”

“This one is.”

“If you say so.”

“Kill it on sight.”

“All right.”

“Kill it good.”

“All right.”

“Kill it hard.”

Chapter 23

A faint onshore breeze washed waves of golden grass up the meadow toward the hilltop, and the elongated oak-tree shadows rippled in the flow.

The sweet grassy scent, the brightness that fell from the air, and the majesty of the oaks was as close as Amy expected to get to Heaven this side of death.

Golden Heart had received these twelve acres from the estate of Julia Papadakis, who had fostered many a golden retriever between its rescue and its forever home.

Julia’s only living relative, a niece named Linnea, unhappy with a thirty-million-dollar inheritance, had challenged the will, seeking to add this valuable land to her portfolio. Linnea had millions for attorney fees. Amy’s counterattack was mounted on a budget.

Currently, even after years of operation, Golden Heart had no office other than Amy’s study, no care facilities for the dogs other than the volunteers’ homes. When she brought in more dogs than could be fostered by their members, she had to board them in the kennels of the animal hospitals that offered her a discount.

She was loath to board a single rescue. Even if they didn’t arrive beaten or tick-infested, even if they were healthy dogs, they were nevertheless anxious and in need of affection in excess of what any ordinary kennel staff could offer.

Here on this hill, in this meadow, with determination and the grace of God, she would oversee the construction of a facility where Golden Heart could receive new rescues, evaluate them, bathe them, and prepare them for their new homes. For those who couldn’t quickly be placed in a forever home or in a foster situation, heated and air-conditioned kennels of generous size, with clean bedding, would be staffed around the clock. There would be a simple clinic, a well-equipped grooming salon, a fenced playground, a training room, a playroom for use in rainy weather…

Until the bequest was successfully defended in court, however, only Amy’s kids could enjoy this sunny meadow and the oak shade. Fred and Ethel bounded now through the tall grass, chasing each other, tempted this way and that by rabbit scent, squirrel scent.

Nickie remained at her master’s side.

Amy had departed from the blacktop and had driven the Expedition overland, parking on the hilltop, while the Land Rover had pulled to the shoulder of the highway.

Evidently not tempted by the wild scents or by the prospect of play, Nickie remained focused on the vehicle far below.

Although Amy had brought Renata’s binoculars, she didn’t bother to use them. The driver remained in the Rover, and at this distance, even with the powerful field glasses, she would not be able to see his face.

She wondered if Linnea Papadakis had put her under surveillance.

Although an injunction prevented Golden Heart from developing this land until Linnea’s challenge to her aunt’s last will and testament had been adjudicated, Amy was not enjoined from visiting the property. She couldn’t imagine what Linnea hoped to gain by having her watched.

Low in her throat, Nickie growled.

Chapter 24

When he had finished searching every corner of Redwing’s house, Vernon Lesley stood in her kitchen and placed a cell-phone call to Bobby Onions.

“You still on her?”

“I’d like to be on her,” said Onions.

“Don’t be tiresome.”

“She’s out in this field.”

“What field?”

Onions had a state-of-the-art satellite navigation system that displayed the precise latitude and longitude of his Land Rover, in degrees and minutes, on the vehicle’s computer screen. He read these coordinates to Vern.

“For all I know,” Vern said wearily, “that could be someplace in Cambodia.”

“It couldn’t possibly be in Cambodia. You don’t know jack about latitude and longitude. How do you expect to do your job, you don’t know the essentials?”

“I don’t need to know latitude and longitude to be a gumshoe.”

“Gumshoe,” Onions said disdainfully. “So do you still call the refrigerator an icebox? It’s a new century, Vern. These days, we’re in a paramilitary profession.”

“Private investigation isn’t a paramilitary profession.”

“The world gets more dangerous by the week. People need private detectives, private bodyguards, private security, private police, and we’re all those things. Police are paramilitary.”

“We’re not police,” Vern said.

“You’ve got your philosophy of the profession, and I’ve got mine,” said Bobby Onions. “The point is, I’m still on her, and I know the precise cartographic coordinates. If I had to call down a missile strike on her, she’d be toast.”

“Missile strike? She’s one woman.”

“Osama bin Laden is one man. They ever got precise coordinates on him, they’d call down a missile strike.”

“You’re just a private dick. You don’t have any authority to order a missile strike.”

“I’m only saying if I did, then I could because I’ve got the precise coordinates.”

Silently vowing to find another gumshoe for any future team jobs, Vern said, “Good for you.”

“Anyway, she’s on this hilltop, out in the sun, not in the tree shadows, nice silhouette against the sky. Easiest thing in the world to pick her off with a SIG 550 Sniper.”

Vern winced. “Tell me you’re not watching her through the scope of a rifle.”

“I’m not. Of course I’m not. I’m just saying.”

“Do you have a SIG 550 Sniper?” Vern asked.

“Minimum basic ordnance, Vern. Never know when you’ll need it.”

“Where is your rifle right now, Bobby?”

“Relax. It’s wrapped in a blanket in the back of the Rover.”

“We’re not hit men, Bobby.”

“I know we’re not. I know, Vern. I know better than you what we are. Relax.”

“Anyway, nobody wants her dead.”

“There isn’t nobody that somebody doesn’t want dead, Vern. Bet a hundred people wouldn’t mind you dead.”

“How many you think wouldn’t mind you dead, Bobby?”

“Probably a thousand,” Bobby Onions said with what sounded like a note of pride.

“All you were supposed to do was watch her while I searched her house, and warn me if she started to come home.”

“That’s all I’ve done, Vern. She’s up there on the hill with her dogs, silhouetted against the sky.”

Vern said, “I’m done here. I’m leaving as soon as I hang up. So you don’t need to watch her anymore.”

“I don’t mind watching her. I’m on the clock for you anyway until after the meeting with the wallet.”

“Wallet? What wallet?”

“That’s what I call the client. I call a client the wallet.”

“I call him the client.”

“Doesn’t surprise me, Vern. What do you call the subject of a surveillance, like this woman?”

“I call her the subject,” said Vern, “the mark, the bird.”

“That’s all so old,” Bobby said disdainfully. “These days, the mark is called the monkey.”

“Why?” Vern wondered.

“Because it’s not the Jurassic Period anymore, Vern.”

“You’re twenty-four. I’m only thirty-nine.”

“Fifteen years, Vern. These days, that’s an Ice Age. Times change fast. You still want to meet at two-thirty before we go see the wallet?”

“Yeah. Two-thirty.”

“Same rally you said before?”


“Rallying point, Vern, meeting place. Get it?”

“Yeah. Same rally as before. Two-thirty. Hey, Bobby.”


“If some guy’s an as**ole, what do people call him these days?”

“Far as I know, that’s what they call him.”

“I guess as**ole is a kind of timeless word. See you at two-thirty.”

Vern terminated the call and looked around the cheerful yellow-and-white kitchen. He wished he didn’t have to leave. Amy Cogland, alias Amy Redwing, had a sweet life here.

After locking the bungalow behind him, Vern walked back to his rustbucket Chevy, carrying the white trash bag of items that he had confiscated during the search. He felt old and dumpy, and melancholy.

As he drove away from Redwing’s neighborhood, he thought about Von Longwood and the flying sports car in Second Life, and his mood began to improve.

Chapter 25

A half dozen sea gulls drop out of the sky, shriek to perches on the higher branches of the Montezuma pine, fall silent in the same instant, seem simultaneously to detect a danger, and as one burst into flight, with a violent drumming of wings.

Either disturbed by the gulls or coming loose by coincidence, a ten-inch pine cone rattles down through the branches and lands on the blanket beside Moongirl.

She does not react to the sudden shrill cries of the gulls or to the thunder of their wings, or to the fall of the heavy cone. With the manicurist’s brush, she smoothly spreads purple polish across a toenail.

After a while, she says, “I hate the gulls.”

“We’ll go to the desert soon,” Harrow promises.

“Someplace very hot.”

“ Palm Desert or Rancho Mirage.”

“No waves breaking.”

“No gulls,” he says.

“Just hot silent sun.”

“And moonlit sand at night,” he says.

“I hope the sky is white.”

“You mean the desert sky.”

“Sometimes it’s almost white.”

“That’s more like August,” he says.

“Bone-white around the sun. I’ve seen it.”

“At high altitudes like Santa Fe.”


“If you want it, then it will be.”

“We’ll go from fire to fire.”

He doesn’t understand, so he waits.

She finishes painting the last toenail. She returns the brush to the bottle of purple polish.

She tosses her head to cast her long hair behind her shoulders, and her bare br**sts sway.

Far out on the scaly sea, a ship is northbound. Another sails south.

When one profile passes behind the other, perhaps the ships will cancel each other, and cease to exist.

This is not a thought he would have had before hooking up with Moongirl.

Eventually all ships sink or they are disassembled for scrap. In time, anything that was something becomes nothing. Existence has no ultimate purpose except cessation.

So why shouldn’t the existence of any one thing-ship or person-terminate at any moment, without cause or reason?

“We’ll burn them all,” she says.

“If that’s what you want.”

“Tomorrow night.”

“If they get here by then.”

“They will. Burn them down to bones.”

“All right.”

“Burn them, then to the desert. From fire to fire.”

Harrow says, “When you say burn them all…”

“Yeah. Her, too.”

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