Night chills, p.13
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       Night Chills, p.13
 

           Dean Koontz
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  “Yes.”

  “Who was she?”

  “My sister-in-law.”

  “She lives in Black River?”

  “Has most all her life.”

  “Quite a looker.”

  “She was in the Miss USA contest.”

  “Oh? When was that?”

  “Twelve, thirteen years ago.”

  “Still looks twenty-two.”

  “She’s thirty-five.”

  “She win?”

  “Came in third.”

  “Big disappointment, I’ll bet.”

  “For Black River. She didn’t mind.”

  “She didn’t? Why not?”

  “Nothing bothers her.”

  “Is that so?”

  “She’s that way. Always happy.”

  “What’s her name?”

  “Emma.”

  “Last name?”

  “Thorp. ”

  “Thorp? She married?”

  “Yes.”

  He frowned. “To that cop?”

  “He’s the chief of police.”

  “Bob Thorp.”

  “That’s right.”

  “What’s she doing with him?”

  She was baffled.

  She blinked at him.

  Cute little animal.

  He swore he could still smell her.

  She said, “What do you mean?”

  “What I said. What’s she doing with him?”

  “Well... they’re married.”

  “A woman like her with a big, dumb cop.”

  “He’s not dumb,” she said.

  “Looks dumb to me.” He thought about it for a moment, and then he smiled. “Your maiden name’s Brenda Thorp.”

  “Yes. ”

  “Bob Thorp’s your brother.”

  “My oldest brother.”

  “Poor Bob.” He leaned back in the sofa and folded his arms on his chest and laughed. “First I get to his kid sister—then I get to his wife.”

  She smiled uncertainly. Nervously.

  “I’ll have to be careful, won’t I?”

  “Careful?” she said.

  “Bob may be dumb, but he’s big as a bull.”

  “He isn’t dumb,” she insisted.

  “In high school I dated a girl named Sophia.”

  She was silent. Confused.

  “Sophia Brookman. God, I wanted her.”

  “Loved her?”

  “Love’s a lie. A myth. It’s bullshit. I just wanted to screw her. But she dropped me after a few dates and started going with this other guy, Joey Duncan. You know what Joey Duncan did after high school?”

  “How would I know?”

  “He went to junior college.”

  “So did I.”

  “Took criminology for a year.”

  “I majored in history.”

  “He flunked out.”

  “Not me.”

  “Ended up with the hometown police.”

  “Just like my brother.”

  “I went to Harvard.”

  “Did you really?”

  “I was always a better dresser than Joey was. Besides that, he was as dull as a post. I was much wittier than he was. Joey didn’t read anything but the jokes in Reader’s Digest. I read The New Yorker every week.”

  “I don’t like either one.”

  “In spite of all that, Sophia preferred him. But you know what?”

  “What?”

  “It was in The New Yorker that I first saw something about subliminal perception. Back in the fifties. An article, editorial, maybe a little snippet at the bottom of a column. I forget exactly what it was. But that’s what got me started. Something in The New Yorker.”

  Brenda sighed. Fidgeted.

  “Tired of standing?”

  “A little.”

  “Are you bored?”

  “Kind of. ”

  “Bitch.”

  She looked at the floor.

  “Get your clothes off.”

  The lovely power. He was filled with it, brimming with it—but it had changed. At first it had seemed to him like a steady, exhilarating current. Part of the time it was still like that, a soft humming inside of him, perhaps imagined but nevertheless electrifying, a river of power on which he sailed in complete command. But occasionally now, for short periods, it felt not like a constant flow but like a continuous and endless series of short, sharp bursts. The power like a submachine gun: tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat ... The rhythm of it affected him. His mind spun. Thoughts advanced, no thought finished, leaping from one thing to another: Joey Duncan, Harvard, key-lock, Miriam, his mother, dark-eyed Sophia, breasts, sex, Emma Thorp, bitches, Dawson, Brenda, his growing erection, his mother, Klinger, Brenda, cunt, the power, jackboots, Emma’s legs—

  “What now?”

  She was naked.

  He said, “Come here.”

  Little animal.

  “Get down.”

  “On the floor?”

  “On your knees.”

  She got down.

  “Beautiful animal.”

  “You like me?”

  “You’ll do until.”

  “Until what?”

  “Until I get your sister-in-law.”

  “Emma?”

  “I’ll make him watch.”

  “Who?”

  “That dumb cop.”

  “He isn’t dumb.”

  “Lovely ass. You’re horny, Brenda.”

  “I’m getting hot. Like before.”

  “Of course you are. Hotter and hotter.”

  “I’m shaking.”

  “You want me more than you did before.”

  “Do it to me.”

  “Hotter and hotter.”

  “I’m—embarrassed.”

  “No. You aren’t.”

  “Oh, God.”

  “Feel good?”

  “So good.”

  “You don’t look at all like Miriam.”

  “Who’s Miriam?”

  “The old bastard should see me now.”

  “Who? Miriam?”

  “He’d be outraged. Quote the Bible.”

  “Who would?”

  “Dawson. Probably can’t even get it up.”

  “I’m scared,” she said suddenly.

  “Of what?”

  “I don’t know. ”

  “Stop being scared. You aren’t scared.”

  “Okay. ”

  “Are you scared?”

  She smiled. “No. You going to screw me?”

  “Batter the hell out of you. Hot, aren’t you?”

  “Yes. Burning up. Do it. Now.”

  “Klinger and his damned chorus girls.”

  “Klinger?”

  “Probably queer anyway.”

  “Are you going to do it?”

  “Tear you up. Big as a horse.”

  “Yes. I want it. I’m hot.”

  “I think maybe Miriam was queer.”

  Tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat ...

  At five o’clock Monday afternoon, Buddy Pellineri, just out of bed with seven hours to pass before he had to report to work at the mill, went to Edison’s store to see if any new magazines had been put on the racks. His favorites were the ones that had a lot of pictures in them: People, Travel, Nevada, Arizona Highways, Vermont Life, a few of the photography journals. He found two issues that he didn’t have and took them to the counter to pay for them.

  Jenny was at the cash register. She was wearing a white blouse with yellow flowers on it. Her long black hair looked freshly washed, thick and shiny. “You look so pretty, Miss Jenny. ”

  “Why, thank you, Buddy.”

  He blushed and wished he had said nothing.

  She said, “Is the world treating you right?”

  “No complaints.”

  “I’m glad to hear it.”

  “How much I owe you?”

  “Do you have two dollars?”

  He thrust a hand into his pocket, came out with some change and rump
led bills. “Sure. Here.”

  “You get three quarters in change,” she said.

  “I thought they cost more.”

  “Now, you know you get a discount here.”

  “I’ll pay. Don’t want special treatment.”

  “You’re a close friend of the family,” she said, shaking a finger at him. “We give discounts to all close friends of the family. Sam would be angry if you didn’t accept that. You put those quarters in your pocket.”

  “Well ... thanks.”

  “You’re welcome, Buddy.”

  “Is Sam here?”

  She pointed to the curtained doorway. “Upstairs. He’s getting dinner. ”

  “I ought to tell him. ”

  “Tell him what?” she asked.

  “About this thing I saw.”

  “Can’t you tell me?”

  “Well ... Better him.”

  “You may go up and see him, if you like.”

  The invitation frightened him. He was never comfortable in other people’s houses. “You have cats up there?”

  “Cats? No. No pets at all.”

  He knew she wouldn’t lie to him—but then, cats turned up in the most unexpected places. Two weeks after his mother died, he was asked to visit the parsonage. Reverend Potter and Mrs. Potter had taken him straight to the parlor where she had served homemade cakes and cookies. He sat on the divan, knees together, hands in his lap. Mrs. Potter made hot chocolate. Reverend Potter poured for everyone. The two of them sat opposite Buddy in a pair of wing-backed chairs. For a while everything was so nice. He ate the gingerbread and the little cookies with red and green sugar on them and he drank the cocoa and smiled a lot and talked a little—and then a big white furry cat leaped over his shoulder, onto his lap, claws digging in for an instant, from his lap to the floor. He didn’t even know they had a cat. Was that fair? Not to tell him? It had crept onto the window sill behind the divan. How long had it been there? All the while he ate? Paralyzed with fear, unable to speak, wanting to scream, he spilled his chocolate on the carpet and wet himself. Peed in his pants right on the preacher’s brocade divan. What a stain. It was awful. An awful day. He never went back there again, and he stopped going to church as well, even if he might go to hell for that.

  “Buddy?”

  She startled him. “What?”

  “Do you want to go upstairs and see Sam?”

  Picking up his magazines, he said, “No. No. I’ll tell him some time. Some other time. Not now.” He started toward the door.

  “Buddy?”

  He glanced back.

  “Is something wrong?” she asked.

  “No.” He forced a laugh. “No. Nothing. World’s treating me okay.” He hurried out of the store.

  On the other side of Main Street, back in his two-room apartment, he went to the bathroom and peed, opened a bottle of Coca-Cola, and sat down at the kitchen table to look at his magazines. First thing, he paged through both of them, searching for articles about cats and pictures of cats and advertisements for cat food. He found two pages in each magazine that offended him, and he tore them out at once, regardless of what was on the backs of them. Methodically, he ripped each page into hundreds of tiny pieces and threw the resultant heap of confetti into the wastebasket. Only then was he prepared to relax and look at the pictures.

  Halfway through the first magazine, he came across an article about a team of skin divers who were, it seemed to him, trying to uncover an ancient treasure ship. He couldn’t read more than two words out of five, but he studied the pictures with great interest—and suddenly was reminded of what he had seen in the woods that night. Near the mill. When he was taking a pee. At a quarter of five in the morning, on the day he’d so carefully marked on his calendar. Skin divers. Coming down from the reservoir. Carrying flashlights. And guns. It was such a silly thing, he couldn’t forget it. Such a funny ... such a scary thing. They didn’t belong where he had seen them. They hadn’t been hunting for treasure, not at night, not up in the reservoir.

  What had they been doing?

  He’d thought about that for ever so long, but he simply couldn’t figure it out. He wanted to ask someone to explain it, but he knew they’d laugh at him.

  Last week, however, he realized that there was someone in Black River who would listen to him, who would believe him and wouldn’t laugh no matter how silly the story was. Sam. Sam always had time for him, even before his mother died. Sam never made fun of him or talked down to him or hurt his feelings. Furthermore, so far as Buddy was concerned, Sam Edison was easily the smartest person in town. He knew just about everything; or Buddy thought he did. If there was anyone who could explain to him what he had seen, it was Sam.

  On the other hand, he didn’t want to look like a fool in Sam’s eyes. He was determined to give himself every chance to work out the answer first. That was why he had delayed going to Sam since he had remembered him last Wednesday.

  A while ago in the store, he finally was ready to let Sam take over his thinking for him. But Sam was upstairs, in rooms that were unfamiliar to Buddy, and that raised the question of cats.

  Now he had more time to puzzle it out on his own. If Sam was in the store the next time Buddy went there, he would tell him the story. But not for a few days yet. He sat in the patterned late-afternoon sunlight that came through the curtain, drank Coca-Cola, and wondered.

  8

  Eight Months Earlier: Saturday, December 18, 1976

  In the computer center of the sealed wing of the Greenwich house, seven days before Christmas, the monitor boards and systems bulbs and cathode-ray tubes and glowing scopes, although they were mostly red and green, had not reminded Salsbury of the holiday.

  When he entered the room, his first time there in months, Klinger looked around at the lights and said, “Very Christmasy.”

  Strangely enough, it was rather Christmasy.

 
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