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The midnight club, p.3
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       The Midnight Club, p.3

           Christopher Pike
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  Sandra seemed mildly frustrated, which was probably how she felt. "I don't have your imagination, Ilonka. You're the one who should do it."

  "No, I think it's yours to tell." A chill touched her right then, out of nowhere, and she reached for her robe. Her window was partway open, that must be it—the night air was creeping in like a breath fix)m the other world. She would have to watch that she didn't catch a cold. Swinging her feet onto the floor, she said, "Let's go. I don't want them starting without us."

  Rotterham Hospice offered regular counseling sessions for those who had yet to come to grips with their illnesses. These groups were usually led by Dr. White and were really no more than opportunities for people to unburden themselves, although Dr.

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE

  White occasionally did say something useful. Ilonka had attended a couple of them before the formation of the Midnight Club and had felt they were beneficial for those who found comfort in shared sorrow. Yet she didn't feel she fit into that category because she didn't want others to have to take on her sorrow. She wished they could all get up and walk out the door and play baseball, even if it meant they all had to sit on the bench. At least this is what she told Dr. White, who had not argued with her about it.

  But the Midnight Club was different. It was about life—sometimes extremely violent life, true —not about death. How had it started? None of them was exactly sure. Spence said it was his idea, but Ilonka thought Kevin had been the first to bring it up. Then again, Kevin said she was the brains behind it. Whatever, the idea had clicked instantly. They would meet in the study at the stroke of midnight. There would be a roaring fire. The stories would flow, they would fly with them, and the nights would be a little less dark. The four of them were already friends: Spence, Kevin, Anya, and Ilonka. Sandra they let come along for the ride. That was it, they all agreed, on one else was to join the club. And the funny thing was, no one else asked to join. The late hour of their meetings may have had something to do with it. Midnight was prohibitive for the deathly ill.

  When Dr. White heard of the club, he was enthusiastic, as they knew he would be. But he was surprised when they refused to let him sit in,

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB surprised but not offended. He knew the best therapies were the ones they created for themselves. He offered them the study, the best room in the house, plenty of firewood, and told them to enjoy.

  Ilonka and Sandra hurried toward the study, entering as Spence was throwing another log on the already hearty fire. The walls were wood paneled— walnut—the room smelled of wood and old books, no wonder, as the many shelves were stuffed with volumes that could have been brought over with the first American settlers. Ilonka had once found a two-century-old French pornographic novel in the study. At least that was what Spence said it was, who just happened to be walking by at the time, and who just happened to read and speak French. Of course the book might have been about child care for all she knew.

  The study was centered on the fireplace, an ancient brick affair that they often joked was big enough to cremate all of them. Although the room was fitted with easy chairs, and even a couple of small couches, they chose to meet at the heavy mahogany table in the center of the room. Here each night they set up silver candle holders borrowed from a cabinet in another room and fitted them with long white candles that burned like holy flames in a medieval church. Ilonka took a seat between Kevin and Spence, and across from Anya and Sandra. Anya was in her wheelchair, as usual, a blue shawl wrapped around her shoulders. A tightness in her features betrayed the fact that she was in

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE pain. Kevin was also wrapped in a blanket; he hadn't changed from that afteraoon, except to remove his coat and boots. He continued to be deathly pale. But there was no sense going to Dr. White and asking for a blood transfusion for him because treatment was against the rules. Only painkillers were administered. Ilonka had pain herself, but it was less than during the afternoon, and she suspected the Tylenol was still in her system. She had yet to feel totally awake.

  "Sorry I'm late," she said.

  "Heard you had a date," Spence said.

  Ilonka smiled at the thought. She had never had a date in her life. Her illness had hit when she was fifteen, six months after her mother had died, and she had been in and out of hospitals since. She was the youngest in the group. Her eighteenth birthday was in four weeks. Spence was the oldest, at nineteen. The others were all eighteen.

  "Yeah, I couldn't get rid of him," she said. "But I didn't know if he wanted me for my body or my drugs."

  "Speaking of which," Anya said, "is anyone carrying? I don't feel so hot."

  "You can ask the night nurse," Sandra said.

  "I want something now," Anya said. "Spence?"

  "I have morphine." He reached in his pocket and withdrew a couple of white one-gram pills. Spence always had extra pain medication on him, though God knew where he got it from because the nurses were strict with what they handed out. He slid the

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB pills across to Anya, who swallowed them with a glass of water. Sandra wore a look of disapproval, but Anya ignored her. The rest of them didn't care one way or the other.

  "Let's begin," Anya said.

  They all stood up, except for Anya, and hugged each other person, saying, "I belong to you." It was a ritual Ilonka had initiated at their first meeting. It had just come to her—or rather, as she now believed, it had been given to her. The effect of greeting each person in this way was dramatic. No matter how isolated they might have felt when they entered the room, before they began their stories they were all one family. Even Anya, hard head that she was, seemed to enjoy each person coming to her and hugging her in her wheelchair. Ilonka hugged Kevin especially hard, and even kissed him on the cheek. She could get away with it at this time.

  "I belong to you," she whispered in his ear. He felt so bony in her hands.

  "I'll always belong to you, Ilonka," he said with feeling, surprising her. He kissed her in return, on the forehead. The kiss meant a lot to her, like more than the rest of her life that far. It was a shame his lips felt so parched. Morphine did that, and it parched the throat as well. Kevin always sounded dry when he spoke.

  She smiled. "Do you mean it?"

  His brown eyes were kind. "Sure. Do you have a good story tonight?"

  "The best. How about yours?"

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE

  "Yours will have to be pretty good to beat mine," he said.

  They returned to their seats and turned to Spence. They didn't even ask if he wanted to go first because he always did, and in a way it was good to get the violence over with first, although Anya's inevitable horror was not the best way to finish. Ilonka had decided she was going to try to get Anya to be second. Spence took a sip of some tea he had brought with him. He was at home on stage and Ilonka wished he had had a chance to become an actor, which is what he had been studying before his brain tumor had come a knocking. Like Kevin, Spence was a young man of many talents. Spence set his tea down and cleared his throat.

  "This story's called 'Eddie Takes a Step Out,'" Spence said. "It takes place in Paris."

  Kevin immediately let out a groan.

  "What's the matter?" Spence asked.

  "My story starts in Paris," Kevin said. "Put yours somewhere else."

  "I can't. I need the Eiffel Tower. You put yours somewhere else."

  "I need the Louvre," Kevin said.

  "It doesn't matter," Ilonka said. "We're the only ones who'll hear these stories, and I, for one, don't mind if we have two stories set in Paris. I love Paris. My mother went there before she came to America. The people are all rude as hell but the city is the most romantic place on earth."

  Kevin stared at her strangely. "I didn't know you had ever been to Paris."

  THE MTONIGHT CLUB

  She didn't mind his staring at her. "You didn't notice the international flavor in my character?"

  "Hey, everyone can see you've been around, Ilonka," Spence said. "But are
we cool on this issue? Two stories in one night that take place in Paris?"

  "My story will take more than one night to tell," Kevin said.

  "Fine," Spence said with exaggerated patience. "I won't have a Paris story tomorrow night. Now let me begin before anyone else speaks."

  Spence had another sip of tea and then started.

  "There was this American tourist in Paris named Edward Maloney, or just Eddie for short. He was around forty, a Vietnam vet. His face was badly scarred from the napalm his buddies had accidentally dropped near him while clearing out the jungle. Because of his hideous appearance he had trouble getting girls, unless he paid for them. Even prostitutes didn't Uke to go to bed with him because it was hard to fake pleasure when they had a monster staring down at them."

  "We're off to a great start," Anya muttered.

  Spence smiled and continued. "Eddie was in Paris to get a little payback. Most of you probably don't know this, but the French were in Vietnam before the Americans, and in Eddie's mind it was the French who had started the war and been the cause of his misery. Also, like Ilonka said, everyone in town was rude to him since the day he had arrived. Eddie felt he was just going to give back where he felt the giving was due. The night we meet

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE

  Eddie he plans to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower with a couple of high-powered telescopic rifles and begin wasting people, one by one. You see, Eddie thinks he can shoot at people for a long time before the police discover where the shots are coming from. His rifles have silencers, sniper scopes, and have a range of over a mile."

  "You never have silencers on sniper rifles," Anya said. "Also, you can't shoot with accuracy at over a mile."

  "Please, I know more about guns than you. Let me go on. Eddie doesn't want to pull this little caper off alone. He has an old girlfriend from high school who now lives in Paris, which is another reason he has chosen Paris to make his big statement to the world. Her name is Linda, and she left him for a football jock while he was in the army. That was twenty years ago, but Eddie has tracked her down and decided she is to be by his side when he starts shooting. He also plans to use her as a shield when the police finally figure out where the bullets are coming from.

  "He goes to her house after midnight. He has a pistol with a silencer as well. He bought all these goodies on the black market in Paris, where, as you might guess, Arab and Israeli arms dealers practically work out of malls. Linda is shacked up with some guy from Colombia, but Eddie has no trouble or compulsion about blowing the guy away."

  "Wait," Anya said. "How did he get in the house?"

  THE MroNIGHT CLUB

  "No one in Paris locks their doors," Spence said.

  "Yeah, they do," Ilonka said.

  Spence shrugged. "Well then, he went in through a window. Eddie is a pretty good climber still for an old guy. Anyway, he blows away Linda's boyfriend while the guy is sleeping and jumps on her chest and puts the gun to her head. He said, *Scream, baby, and it'll be the last sound you hear in this life.' Linda recognized him because she had seen him once after the war. She knows to keep her mouth shut. Eddie told her to get dressed, and then he led her out to his car.

  "The Eiffel Tower has got to be the most famous landmark in Paris, but at night when it's closed its security is nothing compared to the Louvre's, or any other famous museum's. That's a fact; it's because you can't steal the tower. You can't do much of anything to it unless you had several cases of dynamite. But it does have some security, and Eddie had to dispatch it so he wouldn't raise an alarm before he got to the top of the blasted thing. But he was lucky in one respect in that he could deal with each level of security individually. If you visit the tower, you start at the bottom, of course, and then you go up a few hundred feet to the second level. Then another few hundred feet to the third level. Finally you enter an elevator that takes you right up the center to the top. Eddie had Linda with him as he parked and walked toward the entrance on the ground floor."

  "Can we interrupt if we don't think something is plausible?" Anya asked.

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE

  "No," Spence said, insulted. "You're the one who tells stories of demons and witches. How plausible are those? Besides, everything I say is theoretically possible. I've been to the tower. I know guys like Eddie. He's an amazing character, who had this planned for years. Let me continue.

  "With one hand he pulled Linda along, in the other he had his silencer pistol. He made Linda carry the suitcase that held the rifles. They were kind of heavy, but he told her if she didn't do her share he'd put a bullet in her brain. She wanted to scream, there were a few people around, but she decided to wait for a better chance to escape.

  "At the entrance there were two guards standing around drinking coffee. Eddie didn't hesitate. He shot them both in the chest. Quickly, he hid their bodies. Then he shoved Linda into the elevator that goes up to the second and third levels. It is operated manually, and as they started up, Eddie was feeUng good. He was committed.

  "On the second levd Eddie climbed out with Linda, leaving the suitcase with the rifles inside. He didn't have to stop there—he could have gone up to the third level. But he wanted to knock out all the security in the tower. There were only two security people on the second level. Eddie finished them off" in a minute."

  "How come Linda hasn't started screaming yet?" Anya wanted to know.

  "She's afraid he'll kill her," Spence said. "I've explained that already. Quit interrupting me so

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB

  then I won't interrupt you. Eddie went up to the third level, where it was the same story: two security guards blown away. Then he transferred Linda and the suitcases to the central elevator and was on his way to the top.

  "Here he ran into a problem. There was only one guard at the top, but the guy had been alerted because he had tried to call down to his buddies on the other levels and gotten no response. When Eddie got off the elevator, the security guard ordered him to halt. He was only twenty feet away. Eddie figured the guard wants him to stop—he didn't speak French. And Eddie did halt, for a moment, but then he reached into the elevator and dragged Linda out, holding her in front of him. He put his pistol to her head and said, 'I'll kill her.' But the guard didn't speak English. Besides, he didn't want to lay down his life to save what was obviously an American woman. He took aim and fired.

  "The bullet caught Linda above the waist, on the left side, and went right through her. It hit Eddie in about the same spot, only a bit lower. The bullet had lost speed from first hitting Linda and ended up lodged in Eddie's side. They were both seriously wounded, but not bad enough to kill either of them, at least not outright. Eddie fired a return shot and caught the guard in the right eye. The guy went down, dead. Eddie had the Eiffel Tower to himself. But he was bleeding—they both were, pretty bad.

  "The top of the Eiffel Tower has both an inside and an outside viewing area. Up there the wind is

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE always blowing—even in the summer it's cold. The door to the inside was locked and Eddie didn't bother taking the dead guard's key to open it. He didn't even bother tying Linda up. She was bleeding enough to keep her in one place, but not enough to shut her up. Not that Linda was a big talker. During all this time, from the moment he blew away her boyfriend, they hadn't had much conversation."

  "Yeah," Anya complained. ''I'd like some interaction between them before the police blow them away."

  "How do you know that's the way it's going to end?" Spence asked.

  "You're predictable," Anya said.

  Spence rubbed his hands together, getting into it. "I'll give you interaction. While Eddie loaded his rifles he laughed about how he wasted her boyfriend, but Linda just laughed back at him! 'The joke's on you,' she said. 'I've been trying to get rid of that jerk for the last six months. You just did me a favor.' Well, that took Eddie by surprise, but then he saw the humor in it and laughed with her. Linda sat there in her growing pool of blood and told him how ugly she thought he i
s with half his face burnt."

  "Wait a second," Anya said. "I thought she was afraid of him though."

  "She is," Spence said smoothly. "But she's losing blood and feeling kind of woozy, almost drunk. Also, she figures that by now she is as good as dead so she may as well get in her licks before he kills her."

  THE MTONIGHT CLUB

  Anya nodded, satisfied. *Td probably do the same. Did her insult hurt Eddie's feelings?''

  "Yeah, but he had work to do. His rifles have infrared or sniper scopes on them so he can see as well as if it were daytime. First he scanned across the River Seine to the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, where all the tourists go to shop and gawk at the Arc de Triomphe. There were a few people strolling, although it was now after two in the morning. Eddie focused his telescopic lens on an old man."

  "Why an old man?" Anya protested.

  "Will you please shut up?" Spence asked. "Eddie can kill who he wants. He took aim at the old man and pulled the trigger. The silencer took care of most of the noise and the wind drowned out the rest. Almost a mile away, the man fell to the ground. A few people ran to see what was wrong. They saw the blood, the bullet wound, and looked anxiously around. Eddie smiled—he felt good, like he was back in Vietnam. Oh, I forgot to tell you—Eddie loved his army tour of duty until they fried his face. For him. Nam was like Disneyland.

  "Behind him Linda asked if he has hit someone. He said, 'Yeah, one down, one hundred to go.' Linda swore at him. She was weird but she wasn't a murderer. She had been happy to see her boyfriend buy it, but that didn't mean she wanted to see a bunch of innocents go down. She tried to slow down his slaughter by asking him what he had been doing since they last talked. Like Eddie really wanted to recount his life story to her. After all, she

 
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