Night chills, p.21
operations around Bexford. A lot of that route has been abandoned. None of it’s paved. A few sections may be graveled if they haven’t been washed out this summer, but mostly it’s just dirt. Narrow. Full of weeds. But I guess if a man was determined enough, he could drive out that way.”
“Then we’ll block it,” Salsbury said, getting up from the chair. He paced nervously to the windows and back to the desk. “This town is mine. Mine. And it’ll stay that way. I’m going to keep my hands on every man, woman, and child here until I’ve solved this problem.”
The situation had gotten incredibly far out of hand. He would have to call Dawson. Sooner or later. Probably sooner. Couldn’t be avoided. But before he placed that call, he wanted to be certain that he had done everything that he could possibly do without Leonard’s help, without Klinger’s help. Show them he was decisive. Clever. A good man to have around. His efficiency might impress the general. And that Christ-kissing bastard. Impress them enough to compensate for his having caused the crisis in the first place. That was very important. Very important. Right now the trick was to survive his partners’ wrath.
The air in Sam’s library was stale and humid.
Rain drummed on the outside window, and hundreds of tiny beads of dew formed on the inside.
Still numb with the discovery of his son’s body, Paul sat in one of the easy chairs, his hands on the arms of the chair and his fingertips pressed like claws into the upholstery.
Sam stood by one of the bookcases, pulling volumes of collected psychology essays from the stacks and leafing through them.
On the wide window ledge, an antique mantel clock ticked hollowly, monotonously.
Jenny came into the room from the hall, letting the door stand open behind her. She knelt on the floor beside Paul’s chair and put her hand over his.
“How’s Rya?” he asked.
Before they had gone to the Thorp house to search for the body, Sam had given the girl a sedative.
“Sleeping soundly,” Jenny said. “She’ll be out for at least two more hours.”
“Here!” Sam said excitedly.
They looked up, startled.
He came to them, holding up a book of essays. “His picture. The one who calls himself Deighton.”
Paul stood up to have a better look at it.
“No wonder Rya and I couldn’t find any of his articles,” Sam said. “We were looking through tables of contents for something written by Albert Deighton. But that’s not his name. His real name’s Ogden Salsbury.”
“I’ve seen him,” Paul said. “He was in Ultman’s Cafe the day that waitress drove the meat fork through her hand. In fact she waited on him.”
Rising to her feet, Jenny said, “You think that was connected with the rest of this, with the story Buddy Pellineri told us—with what they did to Mark?” Her voice faltered slightly on those last few words, and her eyes grew shiny. But she bit her lip and held back the tears.
“Yes,” Paul said, wondering again at his own inability to weep. He ached. God, he was full of pain! But the tears would not come. “It must be connected. Somehow.” To Sam he said, “Salsbury wrote this article?”
“According to the introductory blurb, it was the last piece he ever published—more than twelve years ago.”
“But he’s not dead.”
“Then why the last?”
“Seems he was quite a controversial figure. Praised and damned but mostly damned. And he got tired of the controversy. He dropped out of his lecture tours and gave up his writing so that he’d have more time to dedicate to his research.”
“What’s the article about?”
Sam read the title. “ ‘Total Behavioral Modification through Subliminal Perception.’ ” And the subtitle: “ ‘Mind Control from the Inside Out.’ ”
“What does all of that mean?”
“Do you want me to read it aloud?”
Paul looked at his watch.
“It wouldn’t hurt if we knew the enemy before we went into Bexford to see the state police,” Jenny said.
“She’s right,” Sam said.
Paul nodded. “Go ahead. Read it.”
Friday afternoon H. Leonard Dawson was in the study of his Greenwich, Connecticut house, reading a long letter on lavender paper from his wife. Julia was one-third of the way through a three-week trip to the Holy Land, and day by day she was discovering that it was less and less like she had imagined and hoped it would be. The best hotels were all owned by Arabs and Jews, she said; therefore, she felt unclean every time she went to bed. There were plenty of rooms in the inns, she said, but she would almost have preferred to sleep in the stables. That morning (as she wrote the letter) her chauffeur had driven her to Golgotha, that most sweetly sacred of places; and she had read to herself from the Bible as the car wended its way to that shrine of both sorrow and everlasting joy. But even Golgotha had been spoiled for her. Upon arriving there, she found that the holy hill was literally swarming with sweaty Southern Negro Baptists. Southern Negro Baptists, of all people. Furthermore ...
The white telephone rang. Its soft, throaty burrrr-burrrr-burrrr was instantly recognizable.
The white phone was the most private line in the house. Only Ogden and Ernst knew the number.
He put down the letter, waited until the telephone had rung a second time, picked up the receiver. “Hello?”
“I recognize your voice,” Salsbury said guardedly. “Do you find mine familiar?”
“Of course. Are you using your scrambler?”
“Oh, yes,” Salsbury said.
“Then there’s no need to talk in riddles and be mysterious. Even if the line is tapped, which it isn’t, they can’t make sense of what we’re saying.”
“With the situation what it is at my end,” Salsbury said, “I think we should take the precaution of riddle and mystery and not trust solely in the scrambler.”
“What is the situation at your end?”
“We’ve got serious trouble here.”
“At the test site?”
“At the test site.”
“Trouble of what sort?”
“There’s been one fatality.”
“Will it pass for natural causes?”
“Not in a million years.”
“Can you handle it yourself?”
“No. There are going to be more.”
“Fatalities?” Dawson asked.
“We’ve got people here who are unaffected.”
“Unaffected by the program?”
“Why should that lead to fatalities?”
“My cover is blown.”
“How did that happen?”
“You’d better tell me the truth,” Dawson said sharply. “For all our sakes. You’d better tell me the truth.”
“I was with a woman.”
“It was a mistake,” Salsbury admitted.
“It was idiotic. We’ll discuss it later. One of these unaffected people came upon you while you were with the woman. ”
“If your cover is blown it can be repaired. Undramatically.”
“I’m afraid not. I ordered the killer to do what he did.”
Despite the riddle form of the conversation, the events in Black River were becoming all too clear to Dawson. “I see.” He thought for a moment. “How many are unaffected?”
“Besides a couple of dozen babies and very young children, at least four more. Maybe five.”
“That’s not so many.”
“There’s another problem. You know the two men we sent up here at the beginning of the month?”
“To the reservoir.”
“They were seen.”
Dawson was silent.
“If you don’t want to come,” Salsbury said, “that’s okay. But I have to have s
“We’ll both arrive tonight by helicopter,” Dawson said. “Can you hold it yourself until nine or ten o’clock?”
“I think so.”
“You had better.”
Dawson hung up.
Oh Lord, he thought. You sent him to me as an instrument of Your will. Now Satan’s gotten to him. Help me to set all of this aright. I only want to serve You.
He telephoned his pilot and ordered him to fuel the helicopter and have it at the landing pad behind the Greenwich house within the hour.
He dialed three numbers before he located Klinger. “There’s some trouble up north.”
“Extremely serious. Can you be here in an hour?”
“Only if I drive like a maniac. Better make it an hour and a quarter. ”
Dawson hung up again.
Oh Lord, he thought, both of these men are infidels. I know that. But You sent them to me for Your own purposes, didn’t You? Don’t punish me for doing Your will, Lord.
He opened the lower right-hand drawer of the desk and took out a folder thick with papers.
The label on it said:
HARRISON-BODREI DETECTIVE AGENCY SUBJECT: OGDEN SALSBURY
Thanks to the Harrison-Bodrei Agency, he understood his partners almost better than they understood themselves. For the past fifteen years he had kept a constantly updated file on Ernst Klinger. The Salsbury dossier was comparatively new, begun only in January 1975; but it traced his life all the way back through his childhood, and it was undeniably complete. Having read it ten or twelve times, from cover to cover, Dawson felt that he should have anticipated the current crisis.
Ogden was neither stark-raving mad nor perfectly sound of mind. He was a pathological woman-hater. Yet periodically he indulged in lascivious sprees of whoring, using as many as seven or eight prostitutes during a single weekend. Occasionally, there was trouble.
To Dawson’s way of thinking, two of the reports in the file were more important, told more about Ogden, than all of the others combined. He withdrew the first of them from the folder and read it yet again.
A week past his eleventh birthday, Ogden was taken from his mother and made a ward of the court. Katherine Salsbury (widowed) and her lover, Howard Parker, were later convicted of child abuse, child molestation, and corrupting the morals of a minor. Mrs. Salsbury was sentenced to seven to ten years in the New Jersey Correctional Institution for Women. Upon her conviction, Ogden was transferred to the home of a neighbor, Mrs. Carrie Barger (now Peterson), where he became one of several foster children. This interview was conducted with Mrs. Carrie Peterson (now sixty-nine years old) in her home in Teaneck, New Jersey, on the morning of Wednesday, January 22, 1975. The subject was obviously intoxicated even at that early hour and sipped at a glass of “just plain orange juice” throughout the interview. The subject was not aware that she was being recorded.
Dawson had marked the sections of the report that most interested him. He skipped ahead to the third page.
AGENT: Living next door to Mrs. Salsbury, you must have witnessed a great many of those beatings.
MRS. PETERSON: Oh, yes. Oh, I should say. From the time that Ogden was old enough to walk, he was a target for her. That woman! The least little thing he did—whup! she beat him black and blue.
AGENT: Spanked him?
MRS. PETERSON: No, no. She hardly ever spanked. Had she only spanked! That wouldn’t have been so horrid. But that woman! She started out hitting him with her open hands. On the head and all about his sweet little face. As he got older she’d sometimes use her fists. She was a big woman, you know. She’d use her fists. And she’d pinch. Pinch his little arms ... I cried many the time. He’d come over to play with my foster children, and he’d be a mess. His little arms would be spotted with bruises. Just spotted all over with bruises.
AGENT: Was she an alcoholic?
MRS. PETERSON: She drank. Some. But she wasn’t addicted to gin or anything. She was just mean. Naturally mean. And I don’t think she was too smart. Sometimes, very dim-witted people, when they get frustrated, they take it out on children. I’ve seen it before. Too often. Suffer the little children. Oh, they suffer so much, I tell you.
AGENT: She had a great many lovers?
MRS. PETERSON: Dozens. She was a vile woman. Very common-looking men. Always very common-looking. Dirty. Crude laborers. Her men drank a lot. Sometimes they’d stay with her as much as a year. More often it was a week or two, a month.
AGENT: This Howard Parker—
MRS. PETERSON: Him!
AGENT: How long was he with Mrs. Salsbury?
MRS. PETERSON: Nearly six months, I think, before the crime. What a horrible man. Horrible!
AGENT: Did you know what was happening in the Salsbury house when Parker was there?
MRS. PETERSON: Of course not! I’d have called the police at once! Of course the night of the crime—Ogden came to me. And then I did call the police.
AGENT: Do you mind talking about the crime?
MRS. PETERSON: It still upsets me. To think of it. What a horrible man! And that woman. To do that to a child.
AGENT: Parker was—bisexual?
MRS. PETERSON: He was what?
AGENT: He customarily had relations with both sexes. Is that right?
MRS. PETERSON: He raped a little boy! It’s ... I don’t know. I just don’t know. Why did God make some people so wicked? I love children. Have all my life. Love them more than anything. I can’t understand a man like that Parker.
AGENT: Does it embarrass you to talk about the crime?
MRS. PETERSON: A little bit.
AGENT: If you can bear with me ... It’s really important that you answer a few more questions.
MRS. PETERSON: If it’s for Ogden’s sake, like you said, I surely can. For Ogden’s sake. Although he never comes back to see me. You know that? After I took him in and raised him from the age of eleven. He just never comes back.
AGENT: The court records of that time were not properly explicit. Either that or the judge had some of the testimony altered to protect the boy’s reputation. I am not certain whether Mr. Parker subjected the boy to—you’ll excuse me, but it has to be said—to oral or anal intercourse.
MRS. PETERSON: That horrible man!
AGENT: Do you know which it was?
MRS. PETERSON: Both.
AGENT: I see.
MRS. PETERSON: With the mother watching. His mother watched! Can you imagine such a thing? Such a rotten thing? To do that to a defenseless child ... What monsters they were!
AGENT: I didn’t mean to make you cry.
MRS. PETERSON: I’m not crying. Just a tear or two. It’s so sad. Don’t you think? So terribly sad. Suffer the little children.
AGENT: There’s no need to continue with—
MRS. PETERSON: Oh, but you said this was for Ogden’s sake, that you needed to ask all of this for Ogden’s sake. He was one of my children. Foster children. But I felt like they were my own. I loved them dearly. Loved all of them. Little dears, every one. So if it’s for Ogden’s sake ... Well ... For months, without anyone at all knowing, with poor little Ogden too afraid to tell anyone, that terrible Howard Parker ... was using the boy ... using ... his mouth. And the mother watching! She was a vicious woman. And sick. Very sick.
AGENT: And the night of the crime—
MRS. PETERSON: Parker used the boy ... he used ... the boy’s rectum. Hurt him terribly. You can’t know the pain that boy suffered.
AGENT: Ogden came to you that night.
MRS. PETERSON: I lived right next door to them. He came to me. Shaking like a leaf. Scared out of his wits. The poor, poor baby ... Crying his heart out, he was. That awful Parker had beat him up. His lips were cracked. One eye was puffed and black. At first I thought that was all that was wrong with him. But I soon discovered ... the other. We rushed him to the hospital. He needed eleven stitches. Eleven!
MRS. PETERSON: That’s right. He was in such pain. And he was bleeding. He had to stay in the hospital for nearly a week.
AGENT: And eventually you became his foster mother.
MRS. PETERSON: Yes. And never sorry for it. He was a fine boy. A dear boy. Very bright too. At school they said he was a genius. He won all of those scholarships and went up to Harvard. You’d think he’d come to see me, wouldn’t you? After all I did for him? But no. He never comes. He never comes around. And now the social workers won’t let me have any more children. Not since my second husband died. They say there have to be two parents in a foster home. And besides they say that I’m too old. Well, that’s craziness. I love children, and that’s all that should count. I love each and every one of them. Haven’t I dedicated my life to foster children? I’m not too old for them. And when I think of all the suffering children, I could just cry.
The last half of that report was a transcription of a long and rambling conversation with the man to whom Mrs. Peterson had been married at the time that she took the eleven-year-old Ogden Salsbury into her home.
Night Chills by Dean Koontz / Horror / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.3 out of 5 / Based on48 votes