The Darkest Evening of the Year / Page 31

Page 31


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Amy had not heard the woman before. She was struck that, even through the cheap speaker on the call post, the voice was throaty yet strong, and uncommonly seductive.


The gate swung open, and they passed through, and as the barrier swung shut again, Nickie growled.


The dog stood behind them in the cargo space. She looked left, right, and then forward through the windshield. The growl was low but not brief. She held it in her throat, then let it deepen, as though warning something off that didn’t take the first growl seriously enough to suit her.


Braking to a stop, Brian said, “Maybe the fog spooks her.”


“Maybe,” Amy said. “Where are the security people Vanessa said would sweep the car, us, and Nickie?”


“She said it’s still a mile and a half to his place. There’s probably a more formal guardhouse somewhere ahead.”


The car drifted forward. Amy said, “Wait.” Brian stopped again.


Amy turned in her seat, said “Move” to Nickie, and snatched her carryall from the back. She opened a zipper, withdrew the SIG P245.


“If it’s feeling funky to you,” he said, “we can turn around, drive past the gate. The open ground’s rough but passable.”


“I don’t know how it feels. I have to trust furface here.”


At the sight of the pistol, the golden stopped growling.


Amy said, “We know Vanessa’s sick. How sick, do you think?”


“She’s too in love with herself to do anything too stupid.”


“That’s the calculation I made when I wondered whether I should bring a gun. I decided I didn’t need it. Yet here it is in my hand.”


He nodded. “Let’s go back.”


“No.”


“You just said-”


“Here’s the thing. There’s a pattern. I lost a girl, and you lost a girl. Mine is gone forever. Yours isn’t, but she may be soon.”


Nickie whined, as though to suggest urgency and to add emphasis to Amy’s use of the word soon.


“But they want us to take her,” Brian said.


“The pattern includes things unseen. That night, Michael wasn’t in Argentina, he was right there, I didn’t know. The alarm system appeared to be engaged, a secret override disarmed it.”


Phantoms of fog shaped all the monsters of myth.


“Vanessa’s rich boy is waiting with documents, a fat checkbook,” Amy continued. “But he’s a thing unseen, maybe he doesn’t exist.”


“We agreed her story made sense.”


“The pattern is clearer now. In Connecticut, I thought I might get a golden. If I’d had one, it would have warned me, saved us.”


As if on cue, Nickie growled again.


“We have a golden now,” Amy said. “And not just any golden.”


“For sure, not just any. She’s…something.”


“I had a phone call from a dead nun.”


“Is this a Marco-and-his-blind-dog moment?”


“The dog isn’t blind. I told myself Just a dream. I knew better. Sister Jacinta said tell you about my girl, how I lost her.”


“Okay, that’s it, we go back to the county road, call the cops.”


“No. Vanessa expects us in a few minutes. The fog explains a short delay, not a long one. I’ve got a bad feeling, Brian.”


“Yeah. It’s infectious.”


“Truth is, I’ve had a bad feeling the whole way here.”


“You didn’t say.”


“Because it was maybe the only chance to find your girl. Let’s go a little farther.”


The amorphous white tissue of the late afternoon parting as if to the thrust of a blade, healing at once behind, enfolding on every side things unseen…


Amy said, “If something about this does stink, and she thinks we smell it, she’ll kill Hope.”


“Where do you get that from?”


“Intuition. Pattern. What Theresa said.”


“Theresa?”


“She told her mother the dog’s name was always Nickie. Always.”


In the deep swamp of fog, half-seen trees, bearded and strange, prehistoric and insectile, looming then gone…


Amy said, “You and me forever, Brian. Isn’t that where we are?”


“God, I hope it is. It’s what I want.”


“So if it’s you and me, and Hope is yours, then Hope is mine, too. Our daughter. I couldn’t save my own girl. Not back then.” Her voice pulled tight, didn’t break. “But two nights ago I saved her.”


“Amy…?”


“I saved her, and now she’s helping us save Hope.”


He coasted toward a stop. “Amy, you don’t mean…”


“Keep moving.” She held the pistol in both hands, palms dry, ready. “Whatever I mean, this is a second chance for both of us. If we fail to take it, the levels of Hell don’t go deep enough to give us what we’ll deserve.”


Into the last white-blind minutes before twilight, when the mist will darken to murk…


Brian said, “So it’s this again.”


“This?”


“Tagging after you into crazy-violent, tire-iron, jumping-on-the-table places.”


Chapter 62


L ike ten thousand people whispering in the distance.


Standing with his back to the fissured trunk of a pine, Billy strove to silence the sea, but the sea had no respect for Billy.


Not only had the stupid simile changed how he perceived the sound of the surf, but it also led him to the further conviction that those ten thousand people were whispering his name.


Everybody liked Billy. Likability had always been his most valuable asset. But the ten thousand people out there in the fog, down on the shore, were not whispering his name in a friendly way. The muttering multitudes were angry, hostile, and eager.


He didn’t know what they were eager for, and he refused to think further about it, because they weren’t people, damn it, just waves.


What he needed to do was come up with a simile that would push his stuck mind on to a more pleasant image.


Muffled by fog, the breaking surf sounded like…


Muffled by fog, the breaking surf sounded like…


A condensation of fog soaked his thin hair and beaded on his face. Just fog, not a cold sweat.


Muffled by fog, the breaking surf sounded like ten thousand of Billy’s friends whispering about what a great guy he was.


Pathetic. He might be having a midlife crisis, but he was still the old Billy, a tough guy, a funny guy, a guy who embraced the truth of truths, that nothing matters, nothing except how to get what you want.


He had read all the great deathworks, he had read Finnegans Wake three times, three times, he had decanted all those brilliant beautiful scalding ideas into his head, thousands of volumes of deathworks, and because you are the ideas you pour into yourself, he had in a sense been killed by what he read, was already dead to any truth except the truth that no truths exist. Having died in this way, he had no fear of death, no fear of anything, and he certainly did not fear breaking surf that sounded like ten thousand people whispering in the distance!


With one hand he wiped at his wet face.


How could a drawing of a dog give a guy a midlife crisis?


He cocked his head and listened for the sound of an engine.


He thought that he heard the Expedition approaching. Then the fog stole that sound, though it kept paying out the susurrations of the sea.


Nickie growled, Amy said “Stop,” and Brian braked on the rising road.


Denser than any waves before it, a tide of fog poured down from a crest unseen, as formless as dreams, as weightless as air yet as solid as alabaster, pressing the vehicle as if to encapsulate and fossilize it.


Here in a snowless whiteout, where nothing beyond the Expedition could be seen, where nothing layered upon nothing, Amy Redwing was perhaps at an ultimate place, deep in the immortal primordial, where faith mattered so much that she dared rely on nothing else.


Nickie let out a faint sigh, and Amy felt the equivalent of a sigh in the centrum of her soul, an expelled breath of resignation to the power of fate.


“How far yet?” she asked.


“Just over half a mile.”


“She’s lying. We’re close.”


“Why would she lie about that?”


“I don’t know. But I know.”


Billy again heard the engine of the Expedition, and this time it did not fade, as before, but grew louder by the moment, until he could no longer hear the surf crawling on the shore.


Although no headlights brightened the fog at the crest, the SUV appeared, ten feet away, like the specter of a vehicle, ghost ship on wheels.


Puzzled by the lampless arrival, but happy to be back in action, Billy rushed from the shelter of the trees.


Because the sea held the fog close to itself before flinging it at the land, the high catwalk and lantern room of the lighthouse were visible above the slowly churning curdled mass that hid the rest of it, though at the brink of twilight, the halogen beam did not yet stab out from those summit windows.


As expected, at the sight of the lighthouse, the Expedition braked to a stop, and at the same moment, Billy arrived beside it, squeezing a short burst from the Glock 18, blowing out the front portside tire.


He would have stooped and fired under the vehicle, popping other tires, before pointing the gun at the driver’s door and shouting Put the window down, but after he blew one tire, nothing went as planned.


Brian drove slowly up the hill, and Amy walked behind the SUV, concealed by it, left hand on the vehicle to steady herself on the slick pavement, the SIG P245 in her right hand.


From the cargo space, solemn Nickie peered out at her through the tailgate window.


For some reason, for luck, for a blessing, Amy raised her hand from the tailgate handle, to which she had been holding, and put it on the glass, in front of Nickie’s face.


Twice Amy glanced around the side of the Expedition, but she could see nothing more than streaming fog.


With the headlights off, the taillights were off as well, and therefore did not prematurely reveal her.


She could not clearly express to Brian the purpose of this tactic, but she had no doubt that it was what she needed to do. Intuition is seeing with the soul.


She knew they reached the crest when she felt the front of the Expedition cant downward.


A moment later, as the back of the Expedition crossed the crest and Amy with it, the brake lights flared red, and she moved at once around to the driver’s side.


She saw a figure rush through the fog only twelve feet or so in front of her, saw muzzle flashes, heard a stutter of shots, the pop of a tire, ricochets off metal.


Her heart knocked against her ribs at the thought of Brian shot.


Sideways to Amy, the shooter started to turn his head, but she had the pistol in a two-hand grip.


In self-defense and in defense of the innocent, cowardice is the only sin.


Scared, she was scared, all right, but she stopped, squeezed off a pair of rounds, and when he rocked as if hit, she fired two more as she moved toward him.


Headlights bloomed, and the driver’s door flew open.


Brian got out, not a ghost in the fog, a ghost still safely in his skin, his explosive breath stirring the mist.


The man down, the shooter shot, lay on his back, as sweet-faced as a favorite uncle, bleeding from the abdomen, bleeding from his nostrils, eyes wide and lashes lush.


He blinked at Amy, said, “Do you know me? I’m Leopold Bloom, I’m Wallace Stevens. My name is Gregor Samsa,” and then closed his eyes.


When you shoot a man dead, even when it’s a righteous shooting, your attention tends to fix on him, and Amy’s was riveted, so that Brian had to say her name urgently twice, before she looked up and saw the lighthouse.


The lighthouse in Connecticut was made of limestone, this one of painted brick, and the stone tower’s catwalk was encircled by an ornate iron railing, this one by a plainer wooden railing painted red.


Materials didn’t matter, nor details, nor a distance of three thousand miles. Only the iconic form mattered, a symbol for death and for the love of death, for faithlessness and lies and vows taken with a stifled laugh.


Michael was here. He had found her at last; and through her, Brian; and through Brian, Vanessa.


She didn’t know how, didn’t know why such indirection, but she had no doubt that he meant to finish his blood sacrifice. She was a better woman than she had been on that distant day, and now she was being given the chance to save an innocent if she could be wise and brave and quick. Even if she died trying, there was redemption in that kind of death.


“Get Nickie,” she said, but as she turned, she saw that the dog had clambered across the console, onto the driver’s seat. She leaped out of the Expedition, to Amy’s side.


Somewhere in the dismalness below stood a caretaker’s house, probably two hundred yards away, judging by the position of the lighthouse. Maybe the flow of fog across its roof and around its corners suggested the lines of the place-there-or maybe not.


Michael might be in the house. Or anywhere. If he had been waiting for them to be brought to him at gunpoint, the different voices of the two weapons might have alerted him to trouble.


Brian picked up the dead man’s gun.


Somewhere in the fog, Michael was coming.


She said, “Keep Nickie back.”


Leaning into the SUV, she shifted it out of park.


Brian had engaged the emergency brake. She released it, and jumped out of the way as the car began to roll.


“Something to distract him.”


The blown tire began to shred, but the grade was too steep for the vehicle to be stopped or even much slowed by that friction. The Expedition pulled to the left as it descended, the bared wheel rim shrieking on blacktop, chunks of rubber torn loose and knocking against the undercarriage.


Fog licked thick tongues around the SUV, then swallowed it whole, and there was only the glow of its lights going down the gullet. Rattles and clatters rose as small obstructions were encountered and plowed aside.


“If he’s coming, he’s coming here,” Amy said.


As if she understood, Nickie led them across the road, onto the slope north of it, into scattered trees and universal fog.


Chapter 63


Waiting for the gunfire that will signal the game has begun, Harrow stands in the open kitchen door, fog seething past him and into the house.


He would have assisted Billy except for two reasons, the first of which is that, for this kind of work, Billy is the best man Harrow has ever encountered. Billy is a machine. A perpetual-motion machine, free of friction. He reliably functions flawlessly.


Billy is also brutal, without an instant’s hesitation in his brutality, utterly without remorse or second thoughts. Yet unlike most other men with these qualities, he is highly intelligent and sane.


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