Night chills, p.2
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       Night Chills, p.2

           Dean Koontz

  The instant the station wagon stopped at the curb, Mark was out on the pavement. He bounded up the three concrete steps, raced across the wide roofed veranda, and disappeared into the store. The screen door slammed shut behind him just as Paul switched off the engine.

  Rya was determined not to make a spectacle of herself, as Mark had done. She took her time getting out of the car, stretched and yawned, smoothed the knees of her jeans, straightened the collar of her dark blue blouse, patted her long brown hair, closed the car door, and went up the steps. By the time she reached the porch, however, she too had begun to run.

  Edison’s General Store was an entire shopping center in three thousand square feet. There was one room, a hundred feet long and thirty feet wide, with an ancient pegged pine floor. The east end of the store was a grocery. The west end held dry goods and sundries as well as a gleaming, modem drug counter.

  As his father had been before him, Sam Edison was the town’s only licensed pharmacist.

  In the center of the room, three tables and twelve oak chairs were grouped in front of a wood-burning country stove. Ordinarily, you could find elderly men playing cards at one of those tables, but at the moment the chairs were empty. Edison’s store was not just a grocery and pharmacy; it was also Black River’s community center.

  Paul opened the heavy lid on the soda cooler and plucked a bottle of Pepsi from the icy water. He sat down at one of the tables.

  Rya and Mark were standing at an old-fashioned glass-fronted candy counter, giggling at one of Sam’s jokes. He gave them sweets and sent them to the paperback and comic book racks to choose presents for themselves; then he came over and sat with his back to the cold stove.

  They shook hands across the table.

  At a glance, Paul thought, Sam looked hard and mean. He was very solidly built, five eight, one hundred sixty pounds, broad in the chest and shoulders. His short-sleeved shirt revealed powerful forearms and biceps. His face was tanned and creased, and his eyes were like chips of gray slate. Even with his thick white hair and beard, he looked more dangerous than grandfatherly, and he could have passed as a decade younger than his fifty-five years.

  But that forbidding exterior was misleading. He was a warm and gentle man, a push-over for children. Most likely, he gave away more candy than he sold. Paul had never seen him angry, had never heard him raise his voice.

  “When did you get in town?”

  “This is our first stop.”

  “You didn’t say in your letter how long you’d be staying this year. Four weeks?”

  “Six, I think.”

  “Wonderful!” His gray eyes glittered merrily; but in that very craggy face, the expression might have appeared to be malice to anyone who didn’t know him well. “You’re staying the night with us, as planned? You aren’t going up into the mountains today?”

  Paul shook his head: no. “Tomorrow will be soon enough. We’ve been on the road since nine this morning. I don’t have strength to pitch camp this afternoon.”

  “You’re looking good, though.”

  “I’m feeling good now that I’m in Black River.”

  “Needed this vacation, did you?”

  “God, yes.” Paul drank some of the Pepsi. “I’m sick to death of hypertense poodles and Siamese cats with ring-worms.”

  Sam smiled. “I’ve told you a hundred times. Haven’t I? You can’t expect to be an honest veterinarian when you set up shop in the suburbs of Boston. Down there you’re a nurse-maid for neurotic house pets—and their neurotic owners. Get out into the country, Paul.”

  “You mean I ought to involve myself with cows calving and mares foaling?”


  Paul sighed. “Maybe I will one day.”

  “You should get those kids out of the suburbs, out where the air is clean and the water drinkable.”

  “Maybe I will.” He looked toward the rear of the store, toward a curtained doorway. “Is Jenny here?”

  “I spent all morning filling prescriptions, and now she’s out delivering them. I think I’ve sold more drugs in the past four days than I usually sell in four weeks.”


  “Yeah. Flu, grippe, whatever you want to call it.”

  “What does Doc Troutman call it?”

  Sam shrugged. “He’s not really sure. Some new breed of flu, he thinks.”

  “What’s he prescribing?”

  “A general purpose antibiotic. Tetracycline.”

  “That’s not particularly strong.”

  “Yes, but this flu isn’t all that devastating.”

  “Is the tetracycline helping?”

  “It’s too soon to tell.”

  Paul glanced at Rya and Mark.

  “They’re safer here than anywhere else in town,” Sam said. “Jenny and I are about the only people in Black River who haven’t come down with it.”

  “If I get up there in the mountains and find I’ve got two sick kids on my hands, what should I expect? Nausea? Fever?”

  “None of that. Just night chills.”

  Paul tilted his head quizzically.

  “Damned scary, as I understand it.” Sam’s eyebrows drew together in one bushy white bar. “You wake up in the middle of the night, as if you’ve just had a terrible dream. You shake so hard you can’t hold on to anything. You can barely walk. Your heart is racing. You’re pouring sweat—and I mean sweating pints—like you’ve got awfully high blood pressure. It lasts as much as an hour, then it goes away as if it never was. Leaves you weak most of the next day.”

  Frowning, Paul said, “Doesn’t sound like flu.”

  “Doesn’t sound like much of anything. But it scares hell out of people. Some of them got sick Tuesday night, and most of the others joined in on Wednesday. Every night they wake up shaking, and every day they’re weak, a bit tired. Damned few people around here have had a good night’s sleep this week.”

  “Has Doc Troutman gotten a second opinion on any of these cases?”

  “Nearest other doctor is sixty miles away,” Sam said. “He did call the State Health Authority yesterday afternoon, asked for one of their field men to come up and have a look. But they can’t send anyone until Monday. I guess they can’t get very excited about an epidemic of night chills.”

  “The chills could be the tip of an iceberg.”

  “Could be. But you know bureaucrats.” When he saw Paul glance at Rya and Mark again, Sam said, “Look, don’t worry about it. We’ll keep the kids away from everyone who’s sick.”

  “I was supposed to take Jenny up the street to Ultman’s Cafe. We were going to have a nice quiet dinner together.”

  “If you catch the flu from a waitress or another customer, you’ll pass it on to the kids. Skip the cafe. Have dinner here. You know I’m the best cook in Black River.”

  Paul hesitated.

  Laughing softly, stroking his beard with one hand, Sam said, “We’ll have an early dinner. Six o’clock. That’ll give you and Jenny plenty of time together. You can go for a ride later. Or I’ll keep myself and the kids out of the den if you’d rather just stay home.”

  Paul smiled. “What’s on the menu?”


  “Who needs Ultman’s Cafe?”

  Sam nodded agreement. “Only the Ultmans.”

  Rya and Mark hurried over to get Sam’s approval of the gifts they had chosen for themselves. Mark had two dollars’ worth of comic books, and Rya had two paperbacks. Each of them had small bags of candy.

  Rya’s blue eyes seemed especially bright to Paul, as if there were lights behind them. She grinned and said, “Daddy, this is going to be the best vacation we’ve ever had!”


  Thirty-one Months Earlier: Friday, January 10, 1975

  Ogden Salsbury arrived ten minutes early for his three o’clock appointment. That was characteristic of him.

  H. Leonard Dawson, president and principal stockholder of Futurex International, did not at once welcome Salsbury into
his office. In fact Dawson kept him waiting until three fifteen. That was characteristic of him. He never allowed his associates to forget that his time was inestimably more valuable than theirs.

  When Dawson’s secretary finally ushered Salsbury into the great man’s chambers, it was as if she were showing him to the altar in a hushed cathedral. Her attitude was reverent. The outer office had Muzak, but the inner office had pure silence. The room was sparsely furnished: a deep blue carpet, two somber oil paintings on the white walls, two chairs on this side of the desk, one chair on the other side of it, a coffee table, rich blue velvet drapes drawn back from seven hundred square feet of lightly tinted glass that overlooked midtown Manhattan. The secretary bowed out almost like an altar boy retreating from the sanctuary.

  “How are you, Ogden?” He reached out to shake hands.

  “Fine. Just fine—Leonard.”

  Dawson’s hand was hard and dry; Salsbury’s was damp.

  “How’s Miriam?” He noticed Salsbury’s hesitation. “Not ill?”

  “We were divorced,” Salsbury said.

  “I’m sorry to hear that.”

  Was there a trace of disapproval in Dawson’s voice? Salsbury wondered. And why the hell should I care if there is?

  “When did you split up?” Dawson asked.

  “Twenty-five years ago—Leonard.” Salsbury felt as if he ought to use the other man’s last name rather than his first, but he was determined not to be intimidated by Dawson as he had been when they were both young men.

  “It has been a long time since we’ve talked,” Dawson said. “That’s a shame. We had so many great times together. ”

  They had been fraternity brothers at Harvard and casual friends for a few years after they left the university. Salsbury could not remember a single “great” time they might have shared. Indeed, he had always thought of the name H. Leonard Dawson as a synonym for both prudery and boredom.

  “Have you remarried?” Dawson asked.


  Dawson frowned. “Marriage is essential to an ordered life. It gives a man stability.”

  “You’re right,” Salsbury said, although he didn’t believe it. “I’ve been the worse for bachelorhood.”

  Dawson had always made him uneasy. Today was no exception.

  He felt ill at ease partly because they were so different from each other. Dawson was six feet two, broad in the shoulders, narrow at the hips, athletic. Salsbury was five feet nine, slope-shouldered, and twenty pounds overweight. Dawson had thick graying hair, a deep tan, clear black eyes, and matinee-idol features; whereas Salsbury was pale with receding hair and myopic brown eyes that required thick glasses. They were both fifty-four. Of the two, Dawson had weathered the years far better.

  Then again, Salsbury thought, he began with better looks than I did. With better looks, more advantages, more money ...

  If Dawson radiated authority, Salsbury radiated servility. In the laboratory on his own familiar turf, Ogden was as impressive as Dawson. They were not in the laboratory now, however, and he felt out of place, out of his class, inferior.

  “How is Mrs. Dawson?”

  The other man smiled broadly. “Wonderful! Just wonderful. I’ve made thousands of good decisions in my life, Ogden. But she was the best of them.” His voice grew deeper and more solemn; it was almost theatrical in effect. “She’s a good, God-fearing, church-loving woman.”

  You’re still a Bible thumper, Salsbury thought. He suspected that this might help him achieve what he had come here to do.

  They stared at each other, unable to think of any more small talk.

  “Sit down,” Dawson said. He went behind the desk while Salsbury settled in front of it. The four feet of polished oak between them further established Dawson’s dominance.

  Sitting stiffly, briefcase on his knees, Salsbury looked like the corporate equivalent of a lap dog. He knew he should relax, that it was dangerous to let Dawson see how easily he could be intimidated. Nevertheless, knowing this, he could only pretend relaxation by folding his hands atop his briefcase.

  “This letter...” Dawson looked at the paper on his blotter.

  Salsbury had written the letter, and he knew it by heart.

  Dear Leonard:

  Since we left Harvard, you’ve made more money than I have. However, I haven’t wasted my life. After decades of study and experimentation, I have nearly perfected a process that is priceless. The proceeds in a single year could exceed your accumulated wealth. I am entirely serious.

  Could I have an appointment at your convenience? You won’t regret having given it to me.

  Make the appointment for “Robert Stanley,” a subterfuge to keep my name out of your date book. As you can see from the letterhead on this stationery, I direct operations at the main biochem research laboratory for Creative Development Associates, a subsidiary of Futurex International. If you know the nature of CDA’s business, you will understand the need for circumspection.

  As ever,

  Ogden Salsbury

  He had expected to get a quick response with that letter, and his expectations had been met. At Harvard, Leonard had been guided by two shining principles: money and God. Salsbury had supposed, and rightly, that Dawson hadn’t changed. The letter was mailed on Tuesday. Late Wednesday, Dawson’s secretary called to make the appointment.

  “I don’t ordinarily sign for registered letters,” Dawson said sternly. “I accepted it only because your name was on it. After I read it I very nearly threw it in the trash.”

  Salsbury winced.

  “Had it been from anyone else, I would have thrown it away. But at Harvard you were no braggart. Have you overstated your case?”


  “You’ve discovered something you think is worth millions?”

  “Yes. And more.” His mouth was dry.

  Dawson took a manila folder from the center desk drawer. “Creative Development Associates. We bought that company seven years ago. You were with it when we made the acquisition.”

  “Yes, sir. Leonard.”

  As if he had not noticed Salsbury’s slip of the tongue, Dawson said, “CDA produces computer programs for universities and government bureaus involved in sociological and psychological studies.” He didn’t bother to page through the report. He seemed to have memorized it. “CDA also does research for government and industry. It operates seven laboratories that are examining the biological, chemical, and biochemical causes of certain sociological and psychological phenomena. You’re in charge of the Brockert Institute in Connecticut.” He frowned. “The entire Connecticut facility is devoted to top secret work for the Defense Department.” His black eyes were exceptionally sharp and clear. “So secret, in fact, that even I couldn’t find out what you’re doing up there. Just that it’s in the general field of behavior modification.”

  Clearing his throat nervously, Salsbury wondered if Dawson was broadminded enough to grasp the value of what he was about to be told. “Are you familiar with the term ‘subliminal perception’?”

  “It has to do with the subconscious mind.”

  “That’s right—as far as it goes. I’m afraid I’m going to sound rather pedantic, but a lecture is in order.”

  Dawson leaned back as Salsbury leaned forward. “By all means.”

  Extracting two eight-by-ten photographs from the briefcase, Salsbury said, “Do you see any difference between photo A and photo B?”

  Dawson examined them closely. They were black and white studies of Salsbury’s face. “They’re identical.”

  “On the surface, yes. They’re prints of the same photograph.”

  “What’s the point?”

  “I’ll explain later. Hold on to them for now.”

  Dawson stared suspiciously at the pictures. Was this some sort of game? He didn’t like games. They were a waste of time. While you were playing a game, you could just as easily be earning money.

  “The human mind,” Salsbury said, “has two primary monitors f
or data input: the conscious and the subconscious.”

  “My church recognizes the subconscious,” Dawson said affably. “Not all churches will admit it exists.”

  Unable to see the point of that, Salsbury ignored it. “These monitors observe and store two different sets of data. In a manner of speaking, the conscious mind is aware only of what happens in its direct line of sight, while the subconscious has peripheral vision. These two halves of the mind operate independently of each other, and often in opposition to each other—”

  “Only in the abnormal mind,” Dawson said.

  “No, no. In everyone’s mind. Yours and mine included.”

  Disturbed that anyone should think his mind performed in any state other than perfect harmony with itself, Dawson started to speak.

  “For example,” Salsbury said quickly, “a man is sitting at a bar. A beautiful woman takes the stool next to his. With conscious intent he tries to seduce her. At the same time, however, without being consciously aware of it, he may be terrified of sexual involvement. He may be afraid of rejection, failure, or impotency. With his conscious mind he performs as society expects him to perform in the company of a sexy woman. But his subconscious works effectively against his conscious. Therefore, he alienates the woman. He talks too loudly and brashly. Although he’s ordinarily an interesting fellow, he bores her with stock market reports. He spills his drink on her. That behavior is the product of his subconscious fear. His outer mind says ‘Go’ even as his inner mind shouts ‘Stop,’ ”

  Dawson’s expression was sour. He didn’t appreciate the nature of the example. Nevertheless, he said, “Go on.”

  “The subconscious is the dominant mind. The conscious sleeps, but the subconscious never does. The conscious has no access to the data in the subconscious, but the subconscious knows everything that transpires in the conscious mind. The conscious is essentially nothing more than a computer, while the subconscious is the computer programmer.

  “The data stored in the different halves of the mind are collected in the same way: through the five known senses. But the subconscious sees, hears, smells, tastes, and feels far more than does the outer mind. It apprehends everything that passes too quickly or too subtly to impress the conscious mind. For our purposes, in fact, that is the definition of ‘subliminal’: anything that happens too quickly or too subtly to make an impression on the conscious mind. More than ninety percent of the stimuli that we observe through our five senses is subliminal input.”

  “Ninety percent?” Dawson said. “You mean I see, feel, smell, taste, and hear ten times more than I think I do? An example?”

  Salsbury had one ready. “The human eye fixates on objects at least one hundred thousand times a day. A fixation lasts from a fraction of a second to a third of a minute. However, if you tried to list the hundred thousand things you had looked at today, you wouldn’t be able to recall more than a few hundred of them. The rest of those stimuli were observed by and stored in the subconscious—as were the additional two million stimuli reported to the brain by the other four senses.”

  Closing his eyes as if to block out all of those sights he wasn’t aware of seeing, Dawson said, “You’ve made three points.” He ticked them off on his manicured fingers. “One, the subconscious is the dominant half of the mind. Two, we don’t know what our subconscious minds have observed and remembered. We can’t
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