Night chills, p.26
“If you had done your duty—”
“Duty,” Salsbury said scornfully. Half of his anger was generated by his fear; but it was important that neither Dawson nor Klinger see that. “This isn’t the stinking military, Ernst. This isn’t the army. I’m not one of your oh-so-humble enlisted men!”
Klinger turned away from him, went to the window, and said, “Maybe we’d all be better off if you were.”
Willing the general to look at him, aware that he was at a disadvantage so long as Klinger felt safe enough to turn his back, Salsbury said, “Christ! No matter how careful I’d been—”
“That’s enough,” Dawson said. He spoke softly but with such command that Salsbury stopped talking and the general looked away from the window. “We haven’t time for arguments and accusations. We’ve got to find those four people. ”
“They can’t have gotten out of town through the east end of the valley,” Salsbury said. “I know I’ve got that sealed tight.”
“You thought you had this house sealed up tight too,” Klinger said. “But they slipped past you.”
“Let’s not judge too harshly, Ernst,” Dawson said. He smiled in a fatherly, Christian fashion and nodded at Salsbury. But there was only hatred and loathing in his black eyes. “I agree with Ogden. His precautions at the east end are certainly adequate. Although we might consider tripling the number of men along the river and in the woods now that night has fallen. And I believe Ogden’s also covered the logging roads well enough.”
“Then there are two possibilities,” Klinger said, deciding to play the military strategist. “One—they might still be in town, hiding somewhere, waiting for a chance to get past the roadblock or the men guarding the river. Or two—maybe they’re going to walk out through the mountains. We know from Thorp that the Annendales are experienced campers and hikers.”
Bob Thorp was standing by the door, as if he were an honor guard. He said, “That’s true.”
“I don’t see it,” Salsbury said. “I mean, they have an eleven-year-old girl with them. She’ll slow them down. They’ll need days to reach help that way.”
“That little girl has spent a big part of the last seven summers in these forests,” the general said. “She might not be as much of a drag on them as you think. Besides, if we don’t locate them, they’ll do the same damage whether they reach help tonight or not until the middle of next week.”
Dawson thought about that. Then: “If they’re trying to walk out through the mountains, sixty miles round-about to Bexford, how far do you think they’ve gotten by now?”
“Three, maybe three and a half miles,” Klinger said.
“No farther than that?”
“I doubt it,” Klinger said. “They’d have to be damned careful leaving town if they didn’t want to be seen. They’d move slowly, a few yards at a time for the first mile. In the forest they’d need a while to really hit their stride. And even if the little girl is at home in the woods, she’d slow them down a bit. ”
“Three and a half miles,” Dawson said thoughtfully. “Wouldn’t that put them somewhere between the Big Union mill and the planned forests?”
“That’s about right. ”
Dawson closed his eyes and seemed to mutter a few words of silent prayer; his lips moved slightly. Then his eyes snapped open, as if sprung by a holy revelation, and he said, “The first thing we’ll do is organize a search in the mountains. ”
“That’s absurd,” Salsbury said, although he was aware that Dawson probably thought of his plan as a divine inspiration, the very handiwork of God. “It would be like—well, like hunting for a needle in a haystack.”
His voice as cold as the dead boy in the next room, Dawson said, “We have nearly two hundred men at the logging camp, all of them familiar with these mountains. We’ll mobilize them. Arm them with axes and rifles and shotguns. Give them flashlights and Coleman lanterns. We’ll put them in trucks and jeeps and send them a mile or so beyond the logging camp. They can form a search line and walk back. Forty feet between the men. That way, the line will be a mile and a half from one end to the other—yet each man will have only a small area of ground to cover. The Edisons and the Annendales won’t be able to get by them. ”
“It’ll work,” Klinger said admiringly.
“But what if they aren’t up there in the mountains?” Salsbury said. “What if they’re right here in town?”
“Then we’ve nothing to worry about,” Dawson said. “They can’t get to you because you’re surrounded by Bob Thorp and his deputies. They can’t get out of town because every exit is blocked. All they can do is wait.” He smiled wolfishly. “If we don’t find them in the mountains by three or four o’clock in the morning, we’ll begin a house-to-house search here in town. One way or another, I want this whole affair wrapped up by noon tomorrow. ”
“That’s asking a lot,” the general said.
“I don’t care,” Dawson said. “It isn’t asking too much. I want the four of them dead by noon. I want to restructure the memories of everyone in this town to cover our trail completely. By noon. ”
“Dead?” Salsbury said, confused. He pushed his glasses up on his nose. “But I need to study the Edisons. You can kill the Annendales if you want. But I’ve got to know why the Edisons weren’t affected. I’ve got—”
“Forget that,” Dawson said brusquely. “If we attempted to capture them and take them back to the laboratory at Greenwich, there’s a good chance they’d escape along the way. We can’t risk that. They know too much. Much too much. ”
“But we’ll have so damned many corpses!” Salsbury said. “For God’s sake, there’s already the boy. And Buddy Pellineri. Four more ... And if they fight back, we may have as many as a dozen to bury. How are we going to account for so many?”
Obviously pleased with himself, Dawson said, “We’ll put the lot of them in the Union Theater. Then we’ll stage a tragic fire. We’ve got Dr. Troutman to issue death certificates. And we can use the key-lock program to keep the relatives from requesting autopsies.”
“Excellent,” Klinger said, grinning, lightly clapping his hands.
Sycophant to the court of King Leonard the First, Salsbury thought sourly.
“Really excellent, Leonard,” Klinger said.
“Thank you, Ernst.”
“Christ on a crutch,” Salsbury said weakly.
Dawson gave him a nasty look. He was displeased with such strong profanity. “For every sin that we commit, the Lord will have His awful retribution one day. There’s no escaping that.”
Salsbury said nothing.
“There is a hell.”
Looking at Klinger, finding no support nor even a wink of sympathy, Salsbury managed to keep quiet. There was something in Dawson’s voice—like a well-honed knife hidden in the soft folds of a priest’s gown—something hard and sharp that frightened him.
Dawson glanced at his watch and said, “Time to be moving, gentlemen. Let’s get this over with.”
The helicopter rose from the parking lot behind the municipal building. It swung gracefully over the town square where several people stood watching it, and then it clattered westward toward the mountain, into the darkness.
In a moment it was gone.
Sam turned away from the street and slumped with his back to the belfry wall. “On their way to the mill?”
“Looks like it,” Paul said. “But why?”
“Good question. I would have asked the same thing myself if you hadn’t.”
“Another thing,” Paul said. “What if they’ve figured out how we escaped? What if they realize we know the code phrase?”
“That’s not very likely.”
“But if it’s the case?”
“I wish I knew,” Sam said worriedly. He sighed. “But remember that even under the worst circumstances, it’s just us against them. If they realize how much we know, we lose the advantage of surprise. But they’ve lost the advantage of an army of progra
Jenny said, “Do you think both of Salsbury’s friends are aboard the helicopter?”
Sam held his revolver before him. He was unable to see more than the outline of it in the darkness. Nevertheless, studying it with dread fascination, he said, “Well now, that’s another thing I sure wish I knew.”
Paul’s hands were shaking. His own Smith & Wesson felt as if it weighed a hundred pounds. He said, “I guess we go after Salsbury now. ”
“It’s past time we did. ”
Jenny touched her father’s hand, the one that held the gun. “But what if one of those men did stay with Salsbury?”
“Then it’s two against two,” Sam said. “And we sure as hell can handle that.”
“If I went along,” she said, “it would be three against two, and that would have to improve the odds.”
“Rya needs you,” Sam said. He hugged her, kissed her on the cheek. “We’ll be okay, Jen. I know we will. You just watch after Rya while we’re gone. ”
“And if you don’t come back?”
“If you don’t,” she insisted.
“Then—you’re on your own,” Sam said, his voice almost breaking. If there were tears in the comers of his eyes, the darkness hid them. “There’s nothing more I can do for you.”
“Look,” Paul said, “even if Salsbury does know how much we’ve learned, he doesn’t know where we are. But we know exactly where he is. So we still have some advantage. ”
Rya clung to Paul. She didn’t want to let him go. She spoke in a quiet but fierce voice, and she virtually demanded that he not leave her in the tower.
He stroked her dark hair, held her tight, spoke softly to her, calmed and reassured her as best he could.
And at 10:20 he followed Sam down the tower stairs.
Phil Karkov, the proprietor of Black River’s only service station and garage, and his girl friend, Lolah Tayback, tried to leave town a few minutes past ten o’clock. As programmed, the deputies who manned the roadblock sent them to the municipal building to have a talk with Bob Thorp.
The mechanic was soft-spoken, courteous, and obviously liked to think of himself as a model citizen. He was a tall, broad-shouldered, red-haired man in his middle thirties. His good looks were marred only by a bulbous and somewhat misshapen nose that appeared to have been broken in more than one fight. He was an amicable man with a ready smile; and he was most anxious to help the chief of police in any way that he could.
After he opened the two of them with the code phrase and spent a minute interrogating them, Salsbury was satisfied that Karkov and Lolah Tayback were fully, properly programmed. They hadn’t been trying to escape. They hadn’t seen anything out of the ordinary in town today. They had only been going to a bar in Bexford for beer and sandwiches.
He sent the mechanic home and told him to stay there for the rest of the night.
The woman was another matter altogether.
“Child-woman” was a better word for her, he thought. Her silvery-blond hair hung to her narrow shoulders and framed a face of childlike beauty: crystalline green eyes, a perfectly clear and milky complexion with a light, cinnamonlike dusting of freckles across her cheekbones, an upturned pixie nose, dimples, a blade-straight jawline and round little chin ... Every feature was delicate and somehow bespoke naivete. She stood perhaps five feet two and weighed no more than one hundred pounds. She seemed fragile. Yet in her red-and-white-striped T-shirt (sans bra) and blue jean shorts, she presented a strikingly desirable, quite womanly figure. Her breasts were small, high set, accentuated by an extremely thin waistline, the nipples delectably silhouetted through the thin material of the T-shirt. Her legs were sleek, supple, shapely. As he stood in front of her, looking her up and down, she regarded him shyly. She was unable to meet his eyes. She fidgeted. If appearance could count for anything, she ought to have been one of the most malleable, vulnerable women he had ever met.
However, even if she were a fighter, a real hellcat, she was now vulnerable. As vulnerable as he wished her to be. Because he had the power ...
“How old are you?”
“Are you engaged to Phil Karkov?”
“Going steady with him?”
“More or less.”
“Are you sleeping with him?”
She blushed. Fidgeted.
Lovely little animal ...
Screw you, Dawson.
You too, Ernst.
“Are you sleeping with him, Lolah?”
Almost inaudibly: “Do I have to say?”
“You must tell me the truth.”
“Yes,” she whispered.
“You’re sleeping with him?”
“Oh ... Every week.”
“Are you going to hurt me?”
He laughed. “Once a week? Twice?”
“Twice,” she said. “Sometimes three ...”
Salsbury turned to Bob Thorp. “Get the hell out of here. Go down to the end of the hall and wait with the guard there until I call you.”
“Sure.” Thorp closed the door as he left.
“What does Phil do to you?”
“What do you mean?”
She stared at her sandaled feet.
The power filled him, pulsed within him, leaped across tens of thousands of terminals in his flesh: sparked, flashed, crackled. He was exhilarated. This was what the key-lock program was all about: this power, this mastery, this unlimited command of other people’s souls. No one could ever touch him again. No one could ever use him. He was the user now. Always would be. From here on out. Now and forever, amen. Amen, Dawson. Did you hear that? Amen. Thank you, God, for sending along this cute little piece of ass, amen. He was happy again for the first time since this morning, since he had touched Thorp’s wife.
“I’ll bet Phil does everything to you,” he said.
She said nothing. Shuffled her feet.
“Doesn’t he? Doesn’t he do everything to you, Lolah? Admit it. Say it. I want to hear you say it.”
He put his hand under her chin, lifted her head.
She gazed at him. Timid, frightened.
“I’m going to do everything to you,” he said.
“Don’t hurt me.”
“Lovely, lovely little bitch,” he said. He was excited as he had never been in his life. Breathing hard. Yet everything so clear. So in control. Firmly in control. Her absolute master. Everyone’s absolute master. That was Howard Parker’s phrase, flashing back to him across the decades, much as a bizarre hallucination erupting in an acidhead’s mind years after his last tab of LSD: absolute master. “That’s exactly what I’m going to do to you,” he told Lolah Tayback. “I’m going to hurt you, just like I hurt the others. Make you pay. Make you bleed. I’m your absolute master. You’re going to take everything I dish out to you. Everything. Maybe even like it. Learn to like it. Maybe ...”
His hands curled into fists at his sides.
The pilot flew the helicopter in a wide circle around the logging camp, searching for the best place to set down between the scattered lights from the buildings.
In the passenger cabin, Dawson broke an extended silence. “Ogden has to be eliminated.”
Klinger had no difficulty accepting that judgment. “Of course. He’s untrustworthy.”
“But if we eliminate him,” the general said, “can we continue with the plan?”
“Everything that Ogden has learned is in the Greenwich computer,” Dawson said. “T
“Hasn’t he encoded his data?”
“Naturally. But the day after the computer was installed, long before Ogden began to use it, I had my people program it to decode and print out any data that I requested—regardless of how the request was phrased, regardless of passwords or number keys or other security devices that he might use to limit my access to the information.”
The helicopter hovered, descended.
“When do we deal with him?”
“You deal with him,” Dawson said.
“Me—or do I program someone to do it?”
“Do it yourself. He can deprogram anyone else.” Dawson smiled. “You do have a handgun with you?”
“In the small of your back?”
“Strapped to my right ankle.”
“Back to the original question,” Klinger said. “When do I eliminate him?”
“Tonight. Within the hour, if possible.”
“Why not back in Greenwich?”
“I don’t want to bury him on the estate. That’s taking too great a chance.”
“What will we do with the body?”
“Bury it here. In the woods.”
The helicopter touched ground.
The pilot shut off the engines.
Overhead, the rotors coughed and slowed down. A welcome silence gradually
Night Chills by Dean Koontz / Horror / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.3 out of 5 / Based on48 votes