Night chills, p.15
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       Night Chills, p.15
 

           Dean Koontz
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  gave it to Rossner. “Do you know what that is, Glenn?”

  “Yes.” He had watched impassively as Holbrook murdered the Frenchman.

  “Glenn, I want you to give the cord to Peter.” Without even pausing to think about it, Rossner placed the second garrote in the Englishman’s hands.

  “Now turn your back to Peter.”

  Rossner turned.

  “Are you relaxed, Glenn?”

  “No.”

  “Relax. Be calm. Don’t worry about anything at all. That’s an order.”

  The lines in Rossner’s face softened.

  “How do you feel, Glenn?”

  “Relaxed.”

  “Good. You won’t try to keep Peter from obeying the orders I give him, regardless of what those orders are.”

  “I won’t interfere,” Rossner said.

  Salsbury turned to the Englishman. “Loop that cord around Glenn’s neck as you did with Michel.”

  With an expert flip and twist of the garrote, Holbrook was in position. He waited for orders.

  “Glenn,” Salsbury said, “are you tense?”

  “No. I’m relaxed.”

  “That’s fine. Just fine. You will continue to be relaxed. Now, I’m going to tell Peter to kill you—and you are going to permit him to do that. Is that clear?”

  “Yes. I understand.” His placid expression didn’t waver.

  “Don’t you want to live?”

  “Yes. Yes, I want to live.”

  “Then why are you willing to die?”

  “I—I—” He looked confused.

  “You are willing to die because refusal to obey the key means pain and death anyway. Isn’t that right, Glenn?”

  “That’s right.”

  Salsbury watched the two men closely for signs of panic. There were none. Nor even any of stress.

  The stench from Michel Picard’s fouled body was nearly overpowering and getting worse.

  Rossner surely knew what was about to happen to him. He had seen Michel die, had been told he would die in the same way. Yet he stood unmoving, apparently unafraid.

  He was willing to commit what amounted to suicide rather than disobey the key. In fact disobedience was literally inconceivable to him.

  “Total control,” the general said. “Yet they don’t look or behave like zombies.”

  “Because they aren’t. There’s nothing supernatural involved. Just the ultimate in behavior modification techniques.” Salsbury was elated. “Peter, give me the cord. Thank you. You have both done well. Exceptionally well. Now, I want you to wrap Michel’s body in the canvas and move it to the next room. Wait there until I have additional orders for you. ”

  As if they were a pair of ordinary laborers talking about how to move a load of bricks from here to there, Rossner and Holbrook quickly discussed the job at hand. When they had decided on the best way to roll and carry the corpse, they set to work.

  “Congratulations,” Klinger said. He was perspiring. Cool, dry, steady-eyed Ernst Klinger was sweating like a pig.

  What do you think of the computer lights now? Salsbury wondered. Do they look as Christmasy as they did ten minutes ago?

  The computer room smelled of lemons. Salsbury had used an aerosol spray to get rid of the odor of feces and urine.

  He took a bottle of whiskey from his desk drawer and poured himself a shot to celebrate.

  Klinger had a double shot to steady his nerves. When he had tossed it back he said, “And now what?”

  “The field test.”

  “You’ve mentioned that before. But why? Why can’t we go ahead with the Middle East plan as Leonard outlined it in Tahoe, nearly two years ago? We know the drug works, don’t we? And we know the subliminals work.”

  “I achieved the desired results with Holbrook, Rossner, and poor Picard,” Salsbury said, sipping his whiskey. “But it doesn’t necessarily follow that everyone will react as they have. I can’t possibly have complete confidence in the program until I’ve treated and observed and tested a few hundred subjects of both sexes and of all ages. Furthermore, our three mercenaries were treated and responded in controlled lab situations. Before we can take the extraordinary risks involved with something like the Middle East plan—where we’ve got to create a new subliminal series for another culture and in another language—we’ve simply got to know what the results will be in the field.”

  Klinger poured himself another shot of whiskey. As he lifted the glass to his lips, a look of fear flitted across his face. It lasted no more than a second or two. Pretending to be thinking about the field test, he stared at the liquor in his glass and then at the bottle on the desk and then at Salsbury’s glass.

  Laughing, Salsbury said, “Don’t worry, Ernst. I wouldn’t slip the drug into my own Jack Daniels. Besides, you’re not a potential subject. You’re my partner.”

  Klinger nodded. Nevertheless, he put his glass down without tasting the whiskey. “Where would you run a field test like this?”

  “Black River, Maine. It’s a small town near the Canadian border. ”

  “Why there?”

  Salsbury went to the nearest programming console and typed out an order to the computer. As he typed he said, “Two months ago I drew a list of the basic requirements for the ideal test site.”

  All of the screens began to present the same information:

  “Lumber camp?” Klinger asked.

  “It’s a company town for Big Union Supply. Nearly everyone in Black River works for Big Union or services the people who do. The company maintains a full-scale camp—barracks, mess hall, recreation facilities, the whole works—near their planned forests for unmarried loggers who don’t want to go to the expense of renting a room or an apartment in the village.”

  “There’s an interesting bit of additional data that goes with that one,” Salsbury said. “The American station is owned by a subsidiary of Futurex. It plays a lot of old movies at night and on weekends. We’ll be able to get copies of the station’s program schedules well in advance. We can prepare subliminally augmented prints of the movies they’re going to show and switch those for the original prints in the station’s film library.”

  “That’s a bit of luck.”

  “Saves us some time. Otherwise, Futurex would have had to acquire one of the stations, and that could take years.”

  “But how can you be certain the people in Black River will watch these movies you’ve doctored?”

  “They’re going to be inundated with subliminals in a variety of media that will command them to watch. For instance, the Dawson Foundation for Christian Ethics will run dozens of public service commercials on both the Canadian and American stations, two days in advance of the movies. Each of these commercials will harbor very strong subliminal commands directing the people in town and in the lumber camp to tune in at the right time on the right channel. We’ll also do direct mail advertising for several of Leonard’s companies—as a means of getting even more subceptive messages to them. Everyone in town will receive ads in the mail and some free gifts like soap samples, shampoo samples, and free rolls of photographic film. The advertisements and the samples will be packaged in wrappers rich in subliminal commands to watch a certain television station at a certain hour on a certain day. Even if the subject throws the piece of mail away without opening it, he’ll be affected, because the envelopes will also be printed over with subliminal messages. The major magazines and newspapers entering Black River during the period of programming will carry ads full of subceptive commands that direct the people to watch the movies.” He was getting a bit breathless in his recital. “A motion picture theater could not ordinarily prosper in a town the size of Black River. But Big Union runs one as a service to the town. During the summer, every day but Sunday, there’s a matinee show for children. The prints of the films shown at those matinees will be our prints, with subliminals urging the children to watch the television movies that will contain the key-lock program. All radio stations reaching the area
will carry special thirty-second spot ads, hundreds of them, with subaudial subliminal directives. These account for only half our methods. By the time all of this washes through the community, everyone will be in front of a television set at the right time.”

  “What about the people who don’t have television sets?” Klinger asked.

  “There’s not much to do in a place as isolated as Black River,” Salsbury said. “The recreation hall in the camp has ten sets. Virtually everyone in town owns a set. Those who don’t will be directed, by the first wave of preliminary subliminals, to watch the movies at a friend’s house. Or with a relative or neighbor.”

  For the first time, Klinger looked at Salsbury with respect. “Incredible.”

  “Thank you.”

  “What about the drug? How will that be introduced?”

  Salsbury finished his whiskey. He felt wonderful. “There are only two sources of food and beverage within the site. The lumber camp men get what they want from the mess hall. In town everyone buys from Edison’s General Store. Edison has no competition. He even supplies the town’s only diner. Now, both the mess hall and the general store receive their goods from the same food wholesaler in Augusta.”

  “Ahhh,” the general said. He smiled.

  “It’s a perfect commando operation for Holbrook and Rossner. They can break into the wholesaler’s warehouse at night and quickly contaminate several different items set aside for shipment to Black River.” He pointed to the cathode-ray tubes where the list of requirements for an ideal site was being reprinted. “Number four. ”

  Klinger looked at the screen to his left.

  “Ordinarily, in a backwoods village like this,” Salsbury said, “each house would have its own fresh-water well. But the mill needs a reservoir for industrial purposes, so the town benefits.”

  “How did you choose Black River? Where did you learn all of this stuff?”

  Salsbury depressed a tab on the programming keyboard and cleared the screen. “In 1960, Leonard bankrolled a company named Statistical Profiles Incorporated. It does all the marketing research for his other companies—and for companies he doesn’t own. It pays for a trunk line to the Census Bureau data banks. We used Statistical Profiles to run a search for the ideal test site. Of course, they didn’t know why we were interested in a town that met these particular requirements.”

  Frowning, the general said, “How many people at Statistical Profiles were involved in the search?”

  “Two,” Salsbury said. “I know what you’re thinking. Don’t worry. They’re both scheduled to die in accidents well before we begin the field test.”

  “I suppose we’ll send Rossner and Holbrook to contaminate the reservoir. ”

  “Then we get rid of them.”

  The general raised his bushy eyebrows. “Kill them?”

  “Or order them to commit suicide.”

  “Why not just tell them to forget everything they’ve done, to wipe if from their minds?”

  “That might save them from prosecution if things went badly wrong. But it wouldn’t save us. We can’t wipe from our minds all memory of what we had them do. If problems develop with the field tests, serious problems that throw our entire operation in the garbage, and if it turns out that Rossner and Holbrook were seen at the reservoir or left any clues behind—well, we don’t want the authorities to connect us with Glenn and Peter. ”

  “What problems could arise that would be that serious?”

  “Anything. Nothing. I don’t know.”

  After he had thought about it for a while, Klinger said, “Yes, I suppose you’re right.”

  “I know I am.”

  “Have you set a date yet? For the field test?”

  “We should be ready by August,” Salsbury said.

  9

  Friday, August 26, 1977

  Tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat ... Since his experience with Brenda Macklin on Monday, Salsbury had been able to resist temptation. At any time he could have taken full control of another good-looking woman, could have raped her and erased all memory of the act from her mind. He took strength from the knowledge that the bitches were his for the asking. Whenever he could honestly conclude that the field test was a smashing success, and that no danger of discovery existed, he would screw every one of them that he wanted. The bitches. Animals. Little animals. Dozens of them. All of them. Because he knew the future held an almost endless orgy for him, he was able to cope, if only temporarily, with his desire. He went from house to house, using the key-lock code phrase, interviewing his subjects, observing and testing. Denying himself. Working hard. Doing his job. So strict with himself ... He was proud of his willpower.

  This morning his willpower shattered. For the past four nights, his sleep had been disturbed by grotesque dreams that featured his mother and Miriam and sudden violence and blood—and an eerie, indescribable atmosphere of perverted sex. When he came awake this morning, shouting and flailing at the bedclothes, he thought of Emma Thorp—deep cleavage in an orange sweater—and she seemed to him like an antidote for the poisons that had churned through him while he slept. He had to have her, was going to have her, today, soon, and to hell with self-denial.

  The smooth stream of power in him was again transformed into a rhythmic, alternating current, crackling across countless arcs, a hundred million synapses. His thoughts ricocheted with great energy from one subject to another, submachine-gun thoughts: tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat ...

  At 7:45 he left Pauline Vicker’s rooming house and went to the cafe on the square.

  The sky was cloudy, the air humid.

  At 8:25 he finished breakfast and left the cafe.

  At 8:40 he reached the Thorps’ place, the last house on Union Road, next to the river.

  He rang the doorbell twice.

  The chief of police himself answered. He hadn’t gone to work yet. Good. Wonderful.

  Salsbury said, “I am the key.”

  “I am the lock.”

  “Let me in.”

  Bob Thorp stepped out of his way, let him by, then closed the door after him.

  “Is your wife here?”

  “Yes.”

  “Your son?”

  “He’s here too.”

  “Anyone else?”

  “Just you and me.”

  “Your son’s name?”

  “Jeremy.”

  “Where are they?”

  “In the kitchen.”

  “Take me to them.”

  Thorp hesitated.

  “Take me to them!”

  They went along a narrow but brightly papered hallway.

  The kitchen was modem and stylish. Mediterranean cupboards and fixtures. Coppertone refrigerator and upright freezer. A microwave oven. A television set was suspended from the ceiling in one comer and angled toward the big round table by the window.

  Jeremy was at the table, eating eggs and toast, facing the hall.

  To the boy’s right, Emma sat with one elbow on the table, drinking a glass of orange juice. Her hair was as golden and full as he remembered it. As she turned to ask her husband who had rung the bell, he saw that her lovely face was still soft with sleep—and for some reason that aroused him.

  She said, “Bob? Who’s this?”

  Salsbury said, “I am the key.”

  Two voices responded.

  At 8:55, making the weekly trip into town to lay in a fresh supply of perishables, Paul Annendale braked at the end of the gravel road, looked both ways, then turned left onto Main Street.

  From the back seat Mark said, “Don’t take me all the way to Sam’s place. Let me out at the square.”

  Looking in the rearview mirror, Paul said, “Where are you going?”

  Mark patted the large canary cage that stood on the seat beside him. The squirrel danced about and chattered. “I want to take Buster to see Jeremy.”

  Swiveling around in her seat and looking back at her brother, Rya said, “Why don’t you admit that you don’t go over to their house
to see Jeremy? We all know you’ve got a crush on Emma.”

  “Not so!” Mark said in such a way that he proved absolutely that what she said was true.

  “Oh, Mark,” she said exasperatingly.

  “Well, it’s a lie,” Mark insisted. “I don’t have a crush on Emma. I’m not some sappy kid.”

  Rya turned around again.

  “No fights,” Paul said. “We’ll leave Mark off at the square with Buster, and there will be no fights.

  Salsbury said, “Do you understand that, Bob?”

  “I understand.”

  “You will not speak unless spoken to. And you will not move from that chair unless I tell you to move.”

  “I won’t move.”

  “But you’ll watch.”

  “I’ll watch.”

  “Jeremy?”

  “I’ll watch too.”

  “Watch what?” Salsbury asked.

  “Watch you—screw her.”

  Dumb cop. Dumb kid.

  He stood by the sink, leaned against the counter. “Come here, Emma.”

  She got up. Came to him.

  “Take off your robe. ”

  She took it off. She was wearing a yellow bra and yellow panties with three embroidered red flowers at the left hip.

  “Take off your bra.”

  Her breasts fell free. Heavy. Beautiful.

  “Jeremy, did you know your mother looked so nice?”

  The boy swallowed hard. “No.”

  Thorp’s hands were on the table. They had curled into fists.

 
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