The Darkest Evening of the Year Page 32

Billy is a jewel, a treasure, irreplaceable. Harrow regrets the necessity of killing him later.

The other reason Harrow does not want to participate in the early stages of the action is because he has a program written for the evening, one that he has refined for months. He wants the full enjoyment of realizing the show as he conceived it.

He prefers to delay his entrance, giving Amy an hour or more to anticipate his arrival. She must be humiliated, emotionally broken, and in a state of terror before he appears.

Harrow will see his ex-wife after she has been reduced to the condition of a caged breeder dog in those puppy mills against which she crusades. Then he will prove to her that worse horrors exist.

At gunpoint, she and the architect will undress. They will be chained to chairs.

Then Billy will leave, and Harrow will listen from an adjoining room as Moongirl breaks down Amy.

He will enter when she can’t stop sobbing, and all that he will do at first is fix open her eyes so she cannot close them.

He wants her to see what Moongirl will do to Brian. The father of the freak will end the evening as a eunuch.

No transgression exists that won’t be committed here this night.

Harriet Weaver would be proud of him. She’d been his nanny, who from the cradle quietly schooled him to understand that the values of his family were repressive, that the world was a more exciting place for the transgressors than for the submissives. They had shared such thrilling secrets from the earliest days of his memory.

At Harriet’s instruction, he exhibited behavior problems that she convinced the family could be resolved by home-schooling, with her as the only tutor, and when all his time was spent with her, he obliged by behaving much better. She hated the Coglands and all their kind, and she was right, for in the end he hated them, too.

The incoming fog carries a chill and the fecund scent of the sea. Harrow is invigorated by it, and by anticipation.

At the first burst of gunfire, he steps across the threshold, out of the house, onto the brick deck, alert, standing tall and stiff with expectation.

An answering weapon, of a different character from the first, damps his excitement but does not greatly discourage him.

He stands motionless, listening. Perhaps Billy moved in on them with a gun in each hand, Old-West style. Billy does have flair.

When half a minute passes, a minute, with no further gunplay, it seems that the two-gun theory might be correct.

Then the engine roar swells, as if Billy is driving them down to the house when he was instructed to walk them, cuffed together. But with the engine noise comes others: a banshee shriek of tortured metal, a series of small collisions that suggests a runaway vehicle.

Harrow backs off the deck, into the open doorway.

Headlights dimly announcing it, the Expedition careens through the fog, across the corner of the deck, and across the rocks toward the oval yard.

Because the SUV passes so close and because the interior lights are on, Harrow can see that no one is behind the wheel.

The yard is lost in fog, and when he hears the Expedition come to a violent stop, he can only assume that it has crashed into the giant Montezuma pine.

He steps into the kitchen, leaving the door open behind him.

At the table, Moongirl has been arranging surgical instruments. The commotion outside has caused her to pause in her preparations.

“Trouble,” he says.

“Watch out for the dog.”

“You’re the one afraid of it.”

“I’m not afraid. It can’t smell me.”

He can make no sense of that.

“I just want it dead,” she says.

“I think it is.”

She stares at him.

Harriet Weaver had such eyes, though gray, not bottle-green.

He says, “Amy and Brian are probably dead, too.”

“Billy? Why would he?”

“We had a weird conversation earlier.”

She waits.

“He was testing me somehow.”

“That could get him dead.”

“I gave him all the pieces of this. I should have split it up.”

“It’s over just like that?”

“Billy figured out he’s the last link between me and Amy, no future in that. So he kills them to show me no hard feelings, but he’s not coming down here.”

“You’ll find him.”

“He’s going ‘on vacation.’ Which means new name, new look, and he’ll do it right.”

“They got off easy.”

“I’ll check the Expedition. Maybe they’re not dead on the floor. Maybe he just wounded them for us.”

“I’m sick of this place.”

“We’ll go to the desert.”

“I hate the gulls and the damp.”

“You’ll like the desert.”

“Not with Piggy.”

Her elegant fingers move across the blades on the table, but she seems unable to decide upon a favorite.

He says, “You want to do her tonight?”

She nods. “Tonight.”


“Hard, the little freak. Real hard.”

She leaves the room without a scalpel.

Chapter 64

Daylight had begun to fail; and the white mist silvered.

After they had gone twenty yards north, staying pack-close in the fog, Amy and Brian followed Nickie downslope, sixty or eighty yards, out of the trees, onto open ground.

At a distance stood a door in the fog, dimly defined by light in a room beyond.

Out of pistol range, a woman came through the door, carrying something, turned west, and at once vanished in the murk.

“Vanessa,” Brian whispered.

As the sky tarnished and the silvering mist developed a darker patina, the automated-lighthouse program engaged. The lantern room high in the night brightened with a thousand watts of halogen glare. The rays were reflected by the prismatic rings of the Fresnel lens, amplified, concentrated, and beamed out into the Pacific.

Apart of Amy was in the past, on another coast, where the sweep of such a light had been the sharp scythe of Death. And a vision of aftermath flashed through her mind, Nickie dead at her father’s hand.

Her heart, so steady through so much, steady even through the killing of the shooter, slammed now, and her soaring blood pressure muffled her hearing until she stretched her jaw, cracked her ears.

Brian said, “Wait,” but she ran toward the lighted door, which was already fading in a thicker current of fog.

High overhead, the bright signal swept 360 degrees. It seemed to pulse as it passed out of each quadrant of its arc and into the next.

The fog-an optical construct with a million lenses, a billion bevels, infinite prisms-stole a minute fraction of the beam and shattered it through the night. From the dark trough of each pulse the fog took shadows, which chased the phantasms of light, which in turn chased the shadows.

She had never seen this phenomenon before and supposed it must be particular to this Fresnel lens, this landscape, and the unique nature of this fog.

At the periphery of vision, figures leaped, flew, fell. They were shadows from the lantern room, the consequence of the arc pulse, not cast by anything at ground level, though something malevolent and real might be moving in their cover. They chased directly in front of her eyes, too, and frequently flew up from the ground, as if they were dark gulls.

By the time she reached the building with the open door, the fast-waltzing dancers of shadow and light inspired dizziness that turned her in a half-circle with her last two steps. She found the wall with a soft thump.

Nickie followed at her heels, Brian close behind, and the dog padded past her, along the wall to the doorway, into the light.

Trusting the golden’s nose, Amy boldly followed, and found herself at the threshold of a garage. The place seemed deserted.

“She might come back,” Brian whispered.

“Then kill her.”

Amy started west, in the direction the woman had gone, but Brian grabbed her arm. He wanted her to be less reckless, to keep in mind the danger of blundering into a murderous burst of gunfire.

She didn’t want to waste time, but instead of pulling away from him, she turned, face close to his in the whirling harlequin parade, and whispered fiercely, “They’re killing Hope.”

This was not a fear, but a presentiment, not merely the dread of failing another child, but a knowledge that came to her from wherever this new Nickie had come.

Indeed, the dog was trotting west, receding into the fog, and now both Amy and Brian ran after her.

Cautious in this treacherous weather, carrying an eight-battery flashlight with a five-inch lens, Harrow crosses the slippery rock formations to the oval yard, searching for the Expedition.

He is accustomed to the disco dazzle that the great signal light generates in certain fog conditions. In fact, he is weary of it. He, too, is ready for the desert.

The SUV hit the Montezuma pine, skinned significant bark off the south side of the trunk, and kept going. It sits on the rocks beyond the grass, its undercarriage hung up on a thrust of granite.

Somehow, it got turned around, most likely after the collision with the tree, and now faces inland. The headlights are shattered, and one door is sprung open.

The garage was not attached to the house, but the structures stood close together. When Amy rounded the corner, she saw lighted house windows flanked by dark shutters, lamplight behind curtains.

The dog led the detail along the wall of the house, hesitating at a corner, peering around, then venturing forth.

As the door stood open at the garage, so another stood wide at the house, billows of cold fog swarming into warm rooms beyond.

On another coast, in another year, Amy had chased Michael out of the house, into the night. This was worse: out of the open into confinement, the short sight lines and the many corners and the closed doors of a house, a strange house, but not strange to him.

When the dog crossed the threshold, they were committed as well, and followed her into a kitchen.

Polished steel glittered on the table, a variety of blades so sharp they seemed to slice the fluorescent light that fell on them, not the usual cutlery of a kitchen, but the kind that, after being used, were placed in an autoclave instead of a dishwasher.

Past an open door, back stairs led up to a landing and turned out of sight. Nickie appeared to be interested in them, but then not.

One closed door, maybe to a pantry. They wouldn’t be hiding in a pantry. Too bold to hide, both of them.

Incoming fog, cold on her neck, chilled Amy into a frightened turn, but nobody had followed them out of the night.

An open door, a hallway beyond. Nickie liked that route.

Brian motioned Amy ahead. He wanted to bring up the rear.

Archway to the left. Living room. Archway to the right. A study.

Every deserted room meant that the next one was more likely to be occupied.

Gun in both hands, muzzle jumping. Amy needed to get control of herself. Hold the muzzle down. It would kick up on recoil. Shoot them in the head, not over their heads.

Now a closed door on the right, two on the left. They could go through the doors like movie cops, low and fast, stepping away from the hinges after crossing the threshold. Although maybe that was just movie crap, and if you were a real cop, you laughed at it.

Nickie showed no interest in these rooms, and though Amy was nervous about proceeding past those spaces without checking them, leaving closed doors at their back, she followed the dog’s lead.

A vestibule ahead. The main stairs to the right. The front door flanked by French-pane sidelights, strobe-lit fog pressing against the glass.

To the left, a final door was ajar. Beside the door stood a red utility can marked GASOLINE.

Nickie sniffed at the gap between door and jamb. She pressed her head through the gap, pushed the door open wider with her body, and disappeared inside.

Amy found a bed-sitting room brightened by a desk lamp and a nightstand lamp with a glass-bead shade.

A girl in a gray sweatsuit knelt at an upholstered chair, half turned away from the door. Hope. It must be Hope.

She was talking, her speech slightly slurred. She seemed to be in distress, speaking fast.

Nickie stood at a distance, staring at the girl, as if not wanting to intrude.

Amy motioned Brian ahead of her. Quietly she closed the door to the hall, stepped away from it. She stood where she could both see the girl and cover the only entrance.

“You caught me, I don’t care, I don’t,” the girl said. “I have to say what’s in my heart, that’s the best you can do, say what’s in your heart. You can burn my feet again, I don’t care, I don’t. I’m gonna say what’s in my heart again.”

Brian went to his knees beside her.

The girl looked up, surprised. Clearly, she hadn’t known they were here. She had been talking to someone else.

Someone who had stepped out-and would be back.

Chapter 65

Harrow quickly ascertains that his ex-wife and the architect are not in the SUV either dead or wounded.

The back wheels of the Expedition overhang the edge of the cliff, forty feet above the beach, and the tailgate has sprung open.

He must therefore assume that the bodies were in the cargo space and were pitched out of the back when the vehicle came violently to a halt. In that case, they have been cast down to the beach below.

In this fog, in the last of the dying daylight, he will be wasting time and taking risks for nothing by trying to survey the terrain below from the slippery edge of the granite escarpment.

A set of old concrete stairs with a rusted iron railing lead down to the beach. He can descend by those.

He’s not keen on searching the strand, but if the bodies are down there, he needs to know. Before morning, the tide could carry them out to sea and move them farther along the coast.

The police are clever about coastal currents and tide charts. Upon finding a corpse and, by forensics, determining the length of time that it has been in the water, they can calculate its point of origin with disturbing accuracy.

The kneeling girl’s hands were folded, entwined by a silver chain, with perhaps a pendant hidden between her palms.

She was beautiful, as she’d been beautiful as an infant. Beauty has more faces than beaches have grains of sand; and this was the beauty of innocence, humility, gentleness.

Her eyes were blue, Brian’s shade of blue, and clear. They widened with wonder, but then a shyness came into them, and she looked away.

Brian wanted to put a hand to her face, lift her chin, raise her eyes to him. He wanted to put his hand over her hands.

That she might know who he was, that she might flinch at his touch, that she might ask where he had been all these years: The fear of rejection prevented him from touching her.

“Let’s go, come on,” Amy whispered.

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