Night chills, p.28
“Oh, is that so? Like hell I am.”
“You are. So save yourself some pain.”
Salsbury said nothing.
“Were they government men?”
The blue-eyed man reversed the revolver in his right hand, and he used the butt to rap hard on Salsbury’s right hand. The blow seemed to send jagged shards of glass through his skinned knuckles. But that was the least of the pain. The shock was transmitted through his hand, to and into the tender, bloody wound in his shoulder.
He gasped. He bent over and almost vomited.
“Do you see what I mean?”
“Were they government men?”
“I ... told you ... to ... fuck off.”
Klinger parked the car on West Main Street, two blocks from the town square.
He slid out from behind the wheel, closed the door—and heard gunfire. Three shots. One right after the other. Inside muffled by walls. Not far away. Toward town. The municipal building? He stood very still and listened for at least a minute, but there was nothing more.
He took the snub-nosed .32 Webley from the ankle holster and flicked off the safety.
He hurried into the alleyway beside the Union Theater, taking a safe if circuitous route to the back door of the municipal building.
In the ambulance Lolah Tayback lay on a cot, strapped down at chest and thighs. A crisp white sheet was drawn up to her neck. Her head had been elevated with two pillows to prevent her from choking on her own blood during the trip to the hospital in Bexford. Although her breathing was regular, it was labored; and she moaned softly as she exhaled.
Behind the ambulance, at the open bay doors, Sam stood with Anson Crowell, Thorp’s night deputy. “All right. Let’s go through it one more time. What happened to her?”
“She was attacked by a rapist,” the deputy said, as Sam had programmed him to say.
“Where did it happen?”
“In her apartment.”
“Who found her?”
“Who called the police?”
“They heard screaming.”
“Did you catch her assailant?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Do you know who he is?”
“No. But we’re working on it.”
“Have any leads?”
“What are they?”
“I’d prefer not to say at this time.”
“I might prejudice the case.”
“By talking to other policemen?”
“We’re real careful in Black River.”
“That’s being too careful, isn’t it?”
“No offense. That’s just how we operate.”
“Do you have a description of the man?”
The deputy recited a list of physical characteristics that Sam had made up off the top of his head. The fictitious assailant did not remotely resemble the real one, Ogden Salsbury.
“What if the state police or the Bexford police offer assistance in the case?”
“I tell them thanks but no thanks,” the deputy said. “We’ll handle it ourselves. We prefer it that way. Besides, I don’t have the authority to allow them to come in on it. That would be up to the chief.”
“Good enough,” Sam said. “Get in.”
The deputy clambered into the passenger bay of the ambulance and sat on the padded bench beside Lolah Tayback’s cot.
“You’ll be stopping at the end of Main Street to pick up her boyfriend,” Sam said. He had already talked to Phil Karkov on the telephone, had primed him to play the role of the anxiety-stricken lover at the hospital—just as he had primed Lolah to play a bewildered rape victim who had been attacked in her apartment. “Phil will be staying at the hospital with her, but you’ll come back as soon as you’ve learned she’s going to be okay. ”
“I understand,” Crowell said.
Sam closed the doors. He went around to the driver’s window to reinforce the story that he had planted in the mind of the night duty volunteer fireman who was behind the wheel.
At first it seemed that there was no way to break through Salsbury’s iron resolve, no way to open him up and make him talk. He was in great pain—shaking, sweating, dizzy—but he refused to make things easier for himself. He sat in Thorp’s office chair with an air of authority that simply did not make sense under the circumstances. He leaned back and gripped his shoulder wound and kept his eyes shut. Most of the time he ignored Paul’s questions. Occasionally he responded with a string of profanities and sex words that sounded as if they had been arranged to convey the minimum of meaning.
Furthermore, Paul wasn’t a born inquisitor. He supposed that if he knew the proper way to torture Salsbury, if he knew how he could cause the man mind-shattering pain without actually destroying him—and if he had the stomach for it—he could get the truth in short order. When Salsbury’s stubbornness became particularly infuriating, Paul used the butt of his revolver to jar the man’s shoulder wound. That left Salsbury gasping. But it wasn’t enough to make him talk. And Paul was incapable of any more effective cruelties.
“Who were the men in the helicopter?”
Salsbury didn’t answer.
“Were they government people?”
“Is this a government project?”
“Go to hell.”
If he knew what most terrified Salsbury, he could use that to crack him. Every man had one or two deeply ingrained fears—some of them quite rational and some utterly irrational—that shaped him. And with a man like this, a man so apparently in the borderlands of sanity, there should be more than the usual number of terrors to play upon. If Salsbury were afraid of heights, he could take the bastard up to the church bell tower and threaten to throw him off if he didn’t talk. If Salsbury were severely afflicted with agoraphobia, he could take him to the flattest and biggest open space in town—perhaps to the baseball field—and stake him down in the very center of it. If, like the protagonist in 1984, he were brought near to madness merely by the thought of being placed in a cage with rats—
Suddenly Paul remembered how Salsbury had reacted to him when he had first come into the room. The man had been shocked, damned scared, devastated. But not just because Paul had surprised him. He had been terrified because, for some reason known only to himself, he had thought that Paul was a man named Parker.
What did this Parker do to him? Paul wondered. What could he possibly have done to leave such a deep and indelible scar?
“Who were the men in the helicopter?”
“You’re a fucking bore.”
“Were they government people?”
“A regular broken record.”
“You know what I’m going to do to you, Salsbury?”
He didn’t deign to answer.
“You know what I’m going to do?” Paul asked again.
“Doesn’t matter. Nothing will work.”
“I’ll do—what Parker did.”
Salsbury didn’t respond. He didn’t open his eyes. However, he grew stiff in the chair, tense, every muscle knotted tight.
“Exactly what Parker did,” Paul said.
When Salsbury finally opened his eyes there was a monstrous horror in them, a trapped and haunted look that Paul had never seen anywhere but in the eyes of cornered, panic-stricken wild animals.
This is it, Paul thought. This is the key, the pressure point, the knife with which I’ll open him. But how should I react if he calls my bluff?
He was close to getting the truth, so close—but he hadn’t the vaguest idea what Parker had done.
“How do you ... How do you know Parker?” Salsbury asked. His voice was a thin, pathetic whine.
Paul’s spirits lifted
“Never mind how I know him,” Paul said shortly. “But I do. I know him well. And I know what he did to you.”
“I... was only ... eleven. You wouldn’t.”
“I would. And enjoy it.”
“But you aren’t the type,” Salsbury said desperately. He had been shiny with sweat; now he was dripping with it. “You just aren’t the type!”
“What type is that?”
“Queer!” he blurted. “You aren’t a damned queer!”
Still bluffing but with more good cards on the table to back his hand, Paul said, “We don’t all look like what we are, you know. Most of us don’t advertise it.”
“You were married.”
“You had children!”
“You’re sniffing around that Edison bitch!”
“Have you ever heard of AC-DC?” Paul asked. He grinned.
Salsbury closed his eyes.
He said nothing.
“Get up, Ogden.”
“Don’t touch me.”
“Lean against the desk.”
“I won’t get up. ”
“Come on. You’ll love it.”
“No. I won’t.”
“You loved it from Parker.”
“That’s not true!”
“You’re not the type.”
He didn’t move.
“A talent for Greek. ”
Salsbury winced. “No.”
“Lean on the desk.”
“Of course. Now get up and lean on the desk and drop your pants. Come on.”
Salsbury shuddered. His face was drawn and ashen.
“If you don’t get up, Ogden, I’ll have to throw you out of that chair. You can’t refuse me. You can’t get away from me. You can’t fight me off, not when I’ve got the gun, not when your arm’s all torn up like that.”
“Oh, Jesus God,” Salsbury said miserably.
“You’ll love it. You’ll love the pain. Parker told me how much you love the pain. ”
Salsbury began to cry. He didn’t weep gently or quietly, but let go with great, wracking sobs. Tears seemed to spurt from his eyes. He shook and gagged.
“Are you scared, Ogden?”
“You can save yourself.”
“From ... from ...”
“From being raped.”
“Answer my questions.”
“Don’t want to.”
“Get up then.”
Ashamed of himself, sick of this violent game but determined to carry on with it, Paul took hold of the front of Salsbury’s shirt. He shook him and tried to lift him out of the chair. “When I’m done with you, I’ll let Bob Thorp have you. I’ll tape your mouth so you can’t talk to him, and I’ll program him to put it to you.” He was incapable of doing that, of course. But Salsbury obviously believed he would. “And not just Thorp. Others. Half a dozen others.”
With that, Salsbury’s resistance dissolved. “Anything. I’ll tell you anything,” he said, his voice distorted by the wretched sobbing that he couldn’t control. “Anything you want. Just don’t touch me. Oh, Jesus. Oh, don’t touch me. Don’t make me undress. Don’t touch. Don’t.”
Still twisting Salsbury’s shirt in his left hand, leaning toward the man, nearly shouting in his face, Paul said, “Who were those men in the helicopter? Unless you want to be used until you’re raw, you better tell me who they were.”
“Dawson and Klinger.”
“There were three.”
“I don’t know the pilot’s name.”
“Dawson and Klinger. First names?”
“Leonard Dawson and—”
“The Leonard Dawson?”
“Yes. And Ernst Klinger.”
“Is Klinger a government man?”
“He’s an army general.”
“Is this a military project?”
“A government project?”
“No,” Salsbury said.
Paul knew all of the questions. There was no point in the rapid-fire interrogation at which he had to hesitate.
And there was never a single moment when Salsbury dared hesitate.
Ernst Klinger crouched behind a yard-high wall of shrubbery across the alleyway from the municipal parking lot. Stunned, confused, he watched them load the woman into the white Cadillac van with the words BLACK RIVER—EMERGENCY painted in red letters on the side.
At 11:02 the ambulance pulled out of the parking lot, swung into the alley and from there onto North Union Road. It turned right, toward the square.
Its bright red flashers washed the trees and the buildings, and sent crimson snakes of light wriggling along the wet pavement.
The bearded, white-haired man who stood in the parking lot was Sam Edison. Klinger recognized him from a photograph that he had seen in one of the rooms above the general store, little more than an hour ago.
Edison watched the ambulance until it turned east at the square. He was too far away for Klinger to get a shot at him with the Webley. When the ambulance was out of sight, he went inside the municipal building.
Have we lost control of the town? Klinger asked himself. Is it all coming down on our heads: the field test, the plan, the project, the future? Sure as hell looks that way. Sure does. So ... Is it time to get out of Black River, out of the country with a big bundle of cash and the phony identity Leonard provided?
Don’t panic, another part of him thought. Don’t be rash. Wait. See what happens. Give it a few minutes.
He looked at his watch. 11:03.
Thunder rumbled in the mountains.
It was going to rain again.
He had been hunkered down for so long that his legs ached. He longed to stand up and stretch.
What are you waiting here for? he asked himself. You can’t plan your strategy without information. You’ve got to reconnoiter. They’re probably in Thorp’s office. Get under those windows. Maybe you can hear what they’re up to.
At five minutes past the hour, he hurried across the alley. He dodged from car to car in the parking lot, and then to the thick trunk of a pine tree.
Just like in Korea, he thought almost happily. Or Laos in the late fifties. Just like it must have been for the younger guys in Nam. Commando work in an enemy town. Except this time the enemy town is American.
Sam stood in the doorway and studied Ogden Salsbury, who was still in the spring-backed office chair. To Paul, Sam said, “You’re sure he told you everything?”
“And that everything he’s told you is true?”
Night Chills by Dean Koontz / Horror / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.3 out of 5 / Based on48 votes