Night chills, p.29
“This is important, Paul.”
“He didn’t withhold anything,” Paul said. “And he didn’t lie to me. I’m sure of it.”
Stinking of sweat and blood, crying quietly, Salsbury looked from one to the other of them.
Does he understand what we’re saying? Paul wondered. Or is he broken, shattered, unable to think clearly, unable to think at all?
Paul felt unclean, sick to his soul. In dealing with Salsbury, he had descended to the man’s own level. He told himself that these were after all the 1970s, the very first years of a brave new world, a time when individual survival was difficult and when it counted for more than all else, the age of the machine and of the machine’s morality, perhaps the only era in the entire span of history when the ends truly did justify the means—but he still felt unclean.
“Then the time has come,” Sam said quietly. “One of us has to—do it.”
“A man named Parker apparently raped him when he was eleven years old,” Paul said. He was speaking to Sam, but he was watching Ogden Salsbury.
“Does that make any difference?” Sam asked.
“Does it make any difference that Hitler might have been born of a syphilitic parent? Does it make any difference that he was mad? Does that bring back the six million dead?” Sam was talking softly but with tremendous force. He was trembling. “Does what happened to him when he was eleven justify what he did to Mark? If Salsbury wins, if he takes control of everyone, does it matter what happened to him when he was eleven?”
“There’s no other way to stop him?” Paul asked, although he knew the answer.
“We’ve already discussed that.”
“I guess we have.”
“I’ll do it,” Sam said.
“No. If I can’t get up the courage here, I won’t be any help to you later, with Dawson and Klinger. We may be in a tight spot with one of those. You’ll have to know that you can count on me in the clinches.”
Salsbury licked his lips. He glanced down at the blood-soaked front of his shirt, then up at Paul. “You aren’t going to—kill me. You aren’t ... Are you?”
Paul raised the Smith & Wesson Combat Magnum.
Letting go of his left shoulder, reaching out as if to shake with one bloody hand, Salsbury said, “Wait. I’ll make you a partner. Both of you. Partners.”
Paul aimed at the center of the man’s chest.
“If you’re partners, you’ll have everything. Everything you could want. All the money you could ever spend. All the money in the world. Think of that!”
Paul thought of Lolah Tayback.
“Partners. That doesn’t mean just money. Women. You can have all of the women you want, any women you want, no matter who they are. They’ll crawl to you. Or men, if that’s what you like. You can even have children. Little girls. Nine or ten years old. Little boys. Anything you want. ”
Paul thought of Mark: a lump of frosted meat jammed into a food freezer.
And he thought of Rya: traumatized perhaps, but with a chance to live a halfway normal life.
He squeezed the trigger.
The .357 Magnum bucked in his hand.
Because of his revolver’s impressive kick—which jolted Paul from hand to shoulder in spite of the fact that he was using .38 Special ammunition rather than Magnums—the bullet was high. It tore through Salsbury’s throat.
Blood and bits of flesh spattered the metal firearms cabinet.
The roar of the shot was deafening. It bounced back and forth between the walls, echoed inside Paul’s skull, reverberated as it would forever in his memory.
He squeezed off another round.
That one took Salsbury in the chest, nearly rocked him and the chair backward onto the floor.
He turned away from the dead man.
“Are you going to be sick?” Sam asked.
“I’m all right.” He was numb.
“There’s a toilet at the end of the hall, to your left.”
“I’m okay, Sam.”
“I killed men in the war. Killed men over in Asia. Remember?”
“This is different. I understand that. In the war it’s always with rifles or grenades or mortars. It’s never from three feet with a handgun.”
“I’m fine. Believe me. Just fine.” He went to the door, pushed past Sam, stumbled into the corridor as if he had tripped, turned left, ran to the washroom, and threw up.
Scuttling sideways like a hermit crab, the Webley ready in his right hand, Klinger reached the western flank of the municipal building and found that the lawn there was littered with glass. He hadn’t made a sound on his run from the shrubbery. Now, pieces of glass snapped and crunched under his shoes, and he cursed silently. One of the windows in the police chief’s office was broken, and a few of the slats in the Venetian blind were bent out of shape, providing a convenient peephole for his reconnaissance work.
As he was rising up to have a look inside—cautious as a suspicious mouse sniffing the cheese in the trap—two shots exploded virtually in front of his face. He froze—then realized that he hadn’t been seen, that no one was firing at him.
Through the twisted slats of the blind, he could see two-thirds of Thorp’s starkly furnished and somewhat sterile office: gray-blue walls, a pair of three-drawer filing cabinets, an oak work table, a bulletin board with an aluminum frame, bookshelves, most of a massive metal desk—
Dead. Very dead.
Where was Sam Edison? And the other one, Annendale? And the woman, the little girl?
There appeared to be no one in the room except Salsbury. Salsbury’s corpse.
Suddenly afraid of losing track of Edison and Annendale, afraid that they might somehow get away or sneak around behind him, afraid of being outmaneuvered, Klinger turned from the windows. He loped to the end of the lawn, then across the parking lot and the alleyway. He hid behind the hedge again, where he commanded a good view of the back door of the municipal building.
When he came out of the washroom, Sam was waiting in the corridor for him.
“Yeah,” Paul said.
“It’ll get worse.”
“That it will. ”
“What did you learn from Salsbury? Who were those men in the helicopter?”
Leaning against the wall, Paul said, “His partners. One of them was H. Leonard Dawson.”
“I’ll be damned.”
“The other one is a general. United States Army. His name’s Ernst Klinger.”
Scowling, Sam said, “Then this is a government project?”
“Surprisingly, no. Just Salsbury, Dawson, and Klinger. A bit of private enterprise.” Paul took three minutes to outline what he had learned about the field test and the conspiracy behind it.
Sam’s scowl disappeared. He risked a slight smile. “Then we have a chance of stopping it right here, for good.”
“It’s just a simple four-part problem,” Sam said. He held up one finger. “Kill Dawson.” Two fingers. “Kill Ernst Klinger.” Three fingers. “Destroy the data in the computer at the house in Greenwich.” Four fingers. “Then use the key-lock code to restructure the memories of everyone in town who’s seen or heard anything, to cover up every last trace of this field test.”
Paul shook his head. “I don’t know. It doesn’t sound so simple to me.”
For the moment at least, positive thinking was the only sort of thinking that interested Sam. “It can be done. First ... where did Dawson and Klinger go when they left here?”
“To the logging camp.”
Quoting Salsbury, he told Sam about Dawson’s plan to organize a search in the mountains. “But he and Klinger won’t be at the camp now. They intended to fall back to the mill and establish a sort of field headquarters there o
“Any guards he posts are worthless,” Sam said. “We’ll use the code phrase to get past them. We’ll move in on Dawson and Klinger before they know what’s happened.”
“I suppose it’s possible.”
“Of course it is.”
“But what about the computer in Greenwich?”
“We can deal with that later,” Sam said.
“How do we get to it?”
“Didn’t you say Dawson’s household staff is programmed?”
“According to Salsbury.”
“Then we can get to the computer.”
“And the cover-up here?”
“That’s the least of our problems.”
“You’re so goddamned optimistic.”
“I’ve got to be. So do you.”
Paul pushed away from the wall. “All right. But Jenny and Rya must have heard the shots. They’ll be worried. Before we go to the mill, we should stop back at the church and fill them in, let them know where we all stand.”
Sam nodded. “Lead the way.”
They left by the rear door and started across the parking lot toward the alley.
After a few steps Paul said, “Wait.”
Sam stopped, turned back.
“We don’t have to sneak around the long way,” Paul said. “We’re in control of the town now.”
“Good point. ”
They circled around the municipal building and went out to East Main Street.
Klinger stood in the velvety darkness, two-thirds of the way up the bell tower stairs, listening. Voices drifted down from above: two men, a woman, a child. Edison. And Jenny Edison. Annendale and his daughter ...
He now knew what was happening in Black River, what the carnage at Thorp’s office signified. He knew the extent of these people’s knowledge of the field test and of all the working, planning, and scheming that lay behind the field test—and he was shocked.
Because of what he had heard, he knew that they were motivated to resist, at least in part, for altruistic reasons. He didn’t understand that. He could easily have understood them if they had wanted to seize the power of the subliminals for their own. But altruism ... That had always seemed foolish to him. He had decided a long time ago that men who eschewed power were far more dangerous and deadly than those who pursued it, if only because they were so difficult to fathom, so unpredictable.
However, he also knew that these people could be stopped. The field test wasn’t an unmitigated disaster; not yet. They weren’t going to win as easily as they thought. They hadn’t yet brought him or Dawson to ruin. The project could be saved.
Overhead, they finished discussing their plans. They said good-by to one another and told one another to be careful and wished one another luck and hugged and kissed and said they would pray for one another and said that they really had to get on with it.
In the perfect darkness, without a flashlight or even a match to show them the way, out of sight around two or three bends in the long spiral staircase, Sam Edison and Paul Annendale started down the narrow, creaking steps.
Klinger’s own hurried descent was masked by the noise that the two men made above him.
He paused in the whispery, echo-filled nave of the church, where the walls and the altar and the pews were no more than adumbrated by the meager nocturnal storm light that shone through the arched windows. He wasn’t certain what he should do next.
Confront them here and now? Shoot them both as they came out of the stairwell?
No. The light was much too poor for gunplay. He couldn’t target them with any accuracy. Under these conditions he would never bring down both of them—and perhaps not either of them.
He thought of searching quickly for a light switch. He could flip it on as they entered the nave and open fire on them in the same instant. But if there was a switch nearby, he would never find it in time. And if he did find it in time, he would be every bit as surprised and blinded by the light as they would be.
Even if, by the grace of one of the saints depicted in these stained-glass windows, he did somehow kill both of them, then he would have alerted the woman in the tower. She might be armed; she almost certainly was. And if that was the case, the belfry would be virtually impregnable. With any sort of weapon at all—rifle or shotgun or handgun—and a supply of ammunition, she would be able to hold him off indefinitely.
He wished to God that he were properly equipped. He should have at least those few essentials of behind-the-lines combat: a pretty damned good machine pistol, preferably German-made or Belgian, and several fully loaded magazines for it; an automatic rifle with a bandolier of ammo; and a few grenades, three or four. Especially the grenades. After all, this was no ladies’ tea party. This was a classic commando operation, a classic clandestine raid, deep in hostile territory.
Behind him, Edison and Annendale were unsettlingly close, on the last twenty steps and coming fast.
He dashed along the side aisle to the fourth or fifth row of pews where he intended to hide between the high-backed seats. He tripped over a kneeler that some thoughtless member of the congregation had forgotten to put up after saying a prayer, and he fell with a loud crash. His heart hammering, he scrambled farther along the row toward the center aisle, then stretched out on the bench of the pew, flat on his back, the Webley at his side.
As they came into the dark church, Paul put one hand on Sam’s shoulder.
Sam stopped. “Yeah?” he said softly.
“Sssshhh,” Paul said.
They listened to the storm wind and to the distant thunder and to the settling sounds that the building made.
Finally Sam said, “Is something wrong?”
“Yeah. What was that?”
“What was what?”
“I didn’t hear anything.”
Paul studied the darkness that seemed to pulse around them. He squinted as if that would help him penetrate the inky pools in the comers and the purple-black shadows elsewhere. The atmosphere was Lovecraftian, a dank seed bed of paranoia. He rubbed the back of his neck which was suddenly cold.
“How could you have heard anything with all that racket we were making on the stairs?” Sam asked.
“I heard it. Something...”
“Probably the wind. ”
“No. It was too loud for that. Sharp. It sounded as if—as if someone knocked over a chair.”
Half a minute. A minute.
“Come on,” Sam said. “Let’s go.”
“Give it another minute.”
As Paul spoke a particularly violent gust of wind battered the east side of the church; and one of the ten-foot-high windows fluttered noisily in its frame.
“There you are,” Sam said. “You see? That’s what you heard. It was just the window.”
Relieved, Paul said, “Yeah.”
“We’ve got work to do,” Sam said.
They left the church by the front door. They went east on Main Street to Paul’s station wagon, which was parked in front of the general store.
As the station wagon reached the mill road and its taillights dwindled to tiny red dots beyond the west end of town, Klinger left the church and ran half a block to the telephone booth beside Ultman’s Cafe. He paged through the slim directory until he found the numbers for the Big Union Supply Company: twenty of them, eight at the logging camp and twelve at the mill complex. There wasn’t time to try all of them. In what part of the mill would Dawson establish his HQ? Klinger wondered. He thought about it, painfully aware of the precious seconds tic
After it had rung fifteen times, just as Klinger was about to give up, Dawson answered it warily. “Big Union Supply Company. ”
“Have you finished?”
“He’s dead, but I didn’t kill him. Edison and Annendale got to him first.”
“They’re in town?”
“That’s right. Or they were. Right now they’re coming for you. And for me. They think we’re both at the mill.” As best he could in less than a minute, the general summed up the situation.
“Why didn’t you eliminate them when you had the chance, in the church?” Dawson asked.
“Because I didn’t have the chance,” Klinger said impatiently. “I didn’t have time to set it up right. But you can set it up just perfectly. They’ll probably park half a mile from the mill and walk in to you. They expect to surprise you. But now you can surprise them.”
“Look, why don’t you get in a car and come up here right away?” Dawson asked. “Come in behind them. Trap them between us.”
“Under the circumstances,” Klinger said, “that makes no military sense, Leonard. As a group of four, three of them armed, they’d be too formidable for us. Now that they’re split into pairs and puffed up with self-confidence, the advantage is ours.”
“But if Edison and Annendale know the key-lock phrases, I can’t keep guards posted. I can’t use any of these people up here. I’m alone.”
“You can handle it.”
Night Chills by Dean Koontz / Horror / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.3 out of 5 / Based on48 votes