Night chills, p.16
“Relax, Bob. You’re going to enjoy this. You’re going to love it. You can’t wait for me to have her.”
Thorp’s hands opened. He leaned back in his chair.
Touching her breasts, staring into her shimmering green eyes, Salsbury had a delightful idea. Marvelous. Exciting. He said, “Emma, I think this would be more enjoyable if you resisted me a bit. Not seriously, you understand. Not physically. Just keep asking me not to hurt you. And cry.”
She stared at him.
“Could you cry for me, Emma?”
“I’m so scared.”
“Good! Excellent! I didn’t tell you to relax, did I? You should be scared. Damned scared. And obedient. Are you frightened enough to cry, Emma?”
“You’re very firm.”
She said nothing.
“Cry for me.”
“Bob ... ”
“He can’t help you.”
He squeezed her breasts.
“My son ...”
“He’s watching. It’s all right if he watches. Didn’t he suck these when he was a baby?”
Tears formed at the comers of her eyes.
“Fine,” he said. “Oh, that’s sweet.”
Mark could only carry the squirrel and the cage for fifteen or twenty steps at a time. Then he had to put it down and shake his arms to get the pain out of them.
“Cup your breasts with your hands.”
She did as she was told.
“Pull on the nipples.”
“Don’t make me do this.”
“Come on, little animal.”
At first, upset by all the jerking and shaking and swinging of his cage, Buster ran in tight little circles and squealed like an injured rabbit.
“You sound like a rabbit,” Mark told him during one of the rest stops.
Buster squealed, unconcerned with his image.
“You should be ashamed of yourself. You’re not a dumb bunny. You’re a squirrel.”
In front of Edison’s store, as he was closing the car door, Paul saw something gleam on the back seat. “What’s that?”
Rya was still in the car, undoing her safety belt. “What’s what?”
“On the back seat. It’s the key to Buster’s cage.”
Rya squirmed into the back seat. “I’d better take it to him.”
“He won’t need it,” Paul said. “Just don’t lose it.”
“No,” she said. “I’d better take it to him. He’ll want to let Buster out so he can show off for Emma.”
“Who are you—Cupid?”
She grinned at him.
“Unzip my trousers.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Enjoying yourself, Bob?”
He laughed. “Dumb cop.”
By the time he reached the edge of the Thorp property, Mark had found a better way to grip the cage. The new method didn’t strain his arms so much, and he didn’t have to stop every few yards to rest.
Buster had become so upset by the erratic movement of his pen that he had stopped squealing. He was gripping the bars with all four feet, hanging on the side of the cage, very still and quiet, frozen as if he were in the woods and had just seen a predator creeping through the brush.
“They’ll be eating breakfast,” Mark said. “We’ll go around to the back door.”
“Don’t hurt me.”
“Is it hard?”
Sobbing, shaking, begging him not to hurt her, she did as she had been told. Her face glistened with tears. She was almost hysterical. So beautiful ...
Mark was passing the kitchen window when he heard the woman crying. He stopped and listened closely to the broken words, the pitiful pleas that were punctuated by long sobs. He knew at once that it was Emma.
The window was only two feet away, and it seemed to beckon him. He couldn’t resist. He went to it.
The curtains were drawn shut, but there was a narrow gap between them. He pressed his face to the windowpane.
Sixteen Days Earlier: Wednesday, August 10, 1977
At three o’clock in the morning, Salsbury joined Dawson in the first-floor study of the Greenwich house.
“Have they begun already?”
“Ten minutes ago,” Dawson said.
“What’s coming in?”
“Exactly what we’d hoped for.”
Four men sat on straight-backed chairs around a massive walnut desk, one at each side of it. They were all household servants: the butler, the chauffeur, the cook, and the gardener. Three months ago the entire staff of the house had been given the drug and treated to the subliminal program; and there was no longer any need to hide the project from them. On occasion, as now, they made very useful tools. There were four telephones on the desk, each connected to an infinity transmitter. The men were referring to lists of Black River telephone numbers, dialing, listening for a few seconds or a minute, hanging up and dialing again.
The infinity transmitters—purchased in Brussels for $2,500 each—allowed them to eavesdrop on most of the bedrooms of Black River in perfect anonymity. With an IF hooked to a telephone, they could dial any number they wished, long distance or local, without going through an operator and without leaving a record of the call in the telephone company’s computer. An electric tone oscillator deactivated the bell on the phone being called—and simultaneously opened that receiver’s microphone. The people at the other end of the line heard no ringing and were not aware that they were being monitored. These four servants were able, therefore, to hear anything said in the room where the distant telephone was placed.
Salsbury went around the desk, leaned down and listened at each earpiece.
“... nightmare. So vivid. I can’t remember what it was, but it scared the hell out of me. Look how I’m shaking.”
“... so cold. You too? What the devil?”
... feel like I’m going to throw up.”
“... all right? Maybe we should call Doc Troutman.”
And around again:
“... something we ate?”
“... flu. But at this time of year?”
... first thing in the morning. God, if I don’t stop shaking, I’ll rattle myself to pieces!”
“... running with sweat but cold.”
Dawson tapped Salsbury on the shoulder. “Are you going to stay here and watch over them?”
“I might as well.”
“Then I’ll go the chapel for a while.”
He was wearing pajamas, a dark blue silk robe, and soft leather slippers. At this hour, with rain falling outside, it didn’t seem likely that even a religious fanatic of Dawson’s bent would get dressed and go out to church.
Salsbury said, “You’ve got a chapel in the house?”
“I have a chapel in each of my residences,” Dawson said proudly. “I wouldn’t build a house without one. It’s a way of thanking Him for all that He’s done for me. After all, it’s because of Him that I have the houses in the first place.” Dawson went to the door, paused, looked back, and said, “I’ll thank Him for our success and pray for more of the same. ”
“Say one for me,” Salsbury said with sarcasm he knew would escape the man.
Frowning, Dawson said, “I don’t believe in that.”
“I can’t pray for your soul. And I can only pray for your success so far as it supports my own. I don’t believe one man should pray for another. The salvation of your soul is your own concern—and the most vital of your life. The notion that you can buy indulgences or have someone else—a priest, anyone else—pray for you ... Well, that strikes me as Roman Catholic. I’m not Roman Catholic.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Leonard said. He smiled warmly, one Pope-hater to another, and went out.
A maniac, Salsbury thought. What am I doing in partnership with that maniac?
Disturbed by his own question, he went around the desk again, listening to the voices of the people in Black River. Gradually he forgot about Dawson and regained his confidence. It was going to work out as planned. He knew it. He was sure of it. What could possibly go wrong?
Friday, August 26, 1977
Rya flung the cage key high into the air and a few feet ahead of her. She ran forward as if she were playing center field, and she caught the golden “ball.” Then she flipped it up and ran after it again.
At the comer of Main Street and Union Road, she tossed the key once more—and missed. She heard the metal edge ring as it struck the sidewalk behind her, but when she turned she couldn’t see the trinket anywhere.
Emma Thorp bent over and braced her arms on the kitchen table. She accidentally knocked aside an empty coffee cup. It fell off the table and shattered on the tile floor.
Kicking the fragments out of his way, Salsbury stepped in behind her and with both hands stroked the graceful curve of her back.
Bob watched, smiling primly.
Jeremy watched, amazed.
Tat-tat-tat-tat-tat: the power, Miriam, his mother, the whores, Dawson, Klinger, women, vengeance ... Ricocheting thoughts.
She looked over her shoulder at him.
“I’ve always wanted one of you like this.” He giggled. He could not suppress it. He felt good. “Scared of me. Of me!”
Her face was pale and streaked with tears. Her eyes were wide.
“Lovely,” he said.
“I don’t want you touching me.”
“Miriam used to say that. But with Miriam it was an order. She never begged.” He touched her.
She was covered with gooseflesh.
“Don’t stop crying,” he said. “I like you crying.”
She wept, not quietly but uncontrollably and unashamedly, as if she were a child—or as if she were in agony.
As he prepared to enter her, he heard someone shout just beyond the window. Startled, he said, “Who—”
The kitchen door crashed open. A boy, no older than Jeremy Thorp, came inside, shouting at the top of his voice and windmilling his thin arms.
At the edge of the Thorp property, Rya tossed the key and missed it again.
Two errors out of forty catches isn’t so bad, she thought. In fact that’s major league talent. Rya Annendale of the Boston Red Sox! Didn’t sound bad. Not bad at all. Rya Annendale of the Pittsburgh Pirates! That was even better.
This time she saw where the key fell in the grass. She went straight to it and picked it up.
When the door flew open and the boy charged in like a dangerous animal breaking free of its cage, Salsbury stepped away from the woman and pulled up his trousers.
“You let go of her!”
The boy collided with him.
“Get out of here! Now! Out!”
Under attack, Salsbury staggered backwards. He was strong enough to handle the boy, but he was suffering from surprise and confusion; and he had lost his balance. When he backed into the refrigerator, still trying to button the waistband of his slacks, the boy pummeling him, he realized that it was ridiculous for him, of all people, to retreat. “I am the key.”
The boy hit him. Called him names.
Desperate, Salsbury fought back, seized him by the wrists and struggled with him. “I am the key!”
“Mr. Thorp! Jeremy! Help me!”
“Stay right where you are,” Salsbury told them.
They didn’t move.
He swung the boy around, reversing their positions, and slammed him against the refrigerator. Bottles and cans and jars rattled loudly on the shelves.
Very young children would not have been affected by the subliminal program that had been played for Black River. Below the age of eight, children were not sufficiently aware of death and sex to respond to the motivational equations that the subceptive films established in older individuals. Furthermore, although the vocabulary had been made as simple as possible since the Holbrook-Rossner-Picard indoctrination, a child had to have at least a third-grade reading ability to be properly impressed by the block-letter messages that established the key-lock code phrases. But this boy was older than eight, and he should respond.
Through clenched teeth Salsbury said, “I’m the key, damn you!”
Halfway across the lawn, atop the grape arbor, a robin bounced along the interlocking vines, stopped after every second or third hop, cocked its head, and peered between the leaves. Rya paused to watch him for a moment.
He had to guard against panic.
But he had made a fatal mistake, and he might have the power taken away from him.
No. It was a serious mistake. Granted. Very serious. But not fatal. He must not panic. Keep cool.
“Who are you?” he asked.
The boy squirmed, tried to free himself.
“Where are you from?” Salsbury demanded, gripping him so tightly that he gasped.
The boy kicked him in the shin. Hard.
For an instant Salsbury’s whole world was reduced to a bright bolt of pain that shot from his ankle to his thigh, coruscated in his bones. Howling, wincing, he almost fell.
Wrenching loose, the boy ran toward the sink, away from the table, intent on getting around Salsbury.
Salsbury stumbled after him, cursing. He grabbed at the boy’s shirt, hooked it with his fingers, lost hold of it in the same second, tripped and fell.
If the little bastard gets away ...
“Bob!” Panic. “Stop him.” Hysteria. “Kill him. For God’s sake, kill him!”
The canary cage was on the lawn by the kitchen window.
Rya heard Buster chattering—and then she heard someone shouting in the house.
Salsbury got up.
The naked woman wept.
Crazily, he thought of the refrain from the rhyme that went with a child’s game that he had once played: all fall down ... all fall down ... all fall down ...
Thorp blocked the door.
The boy tried to dodge him.
Thorp caught the intruder and drove him backwards, knocked him against the electric range with devastating force, clutched him by the throat, and pounded his head into the stainless steel brightwork that ringed the four burners. A frying pan fell to the floor with a clang! As if he were a machine, an automaton, Thorp hammered the boy’s head against the metal edge until he felt the skull give way. When blood sprayed across the wall behind the range and streamed from the boy’s nostrils, the big man let go, stepped back as the body crumpled at his feet.
Jeremy was crying.
“Stop that,” Salsbury said sharply.
Night Chills by Dean Koontz / Horror / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.3 out of 5 / Based on48 votes