Night chills, p.30
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       Night Chills, p.30
 

           Dean Koontz
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  “Ernst, my training is in business, finance. This is more your line of work. ”

  “And I’ve got work down here in town.”

  “I don’t eliminate people. ”

  “Oh?”

  “Not like this.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Not personally. ”

  “You brought guns back from the camp?”

  “A few of them. I’ve posted guards.”

  “With a rifle or shotgun, you can do what’s necessary. I know you can. I’ve seen you shoot skeet both ways.”

  “You don’t understand. It’s against my beliefs. My religious beliefs.”

  “You’ll have to set those aside for now,” Klinger said. “This is a matter of survival.”

  “You can’t just set aside morality, Ernst, whether or not it’s a matter of survival. Anyway, I don’t like being here alone. Handling this alone. It’s no good.”

  Trying to think of some way to convince the man that he could and should do what had to be done so that he would get off the phone, the general hit upon an approach that he recognized at once as custom-tailored for Dawson. “Leonard, there’s one thing that every soldier learns his first day on the battlefield, when the enemy is firing at him and grenades are exploding around him and it seems like he’ll never get through to the next day alive. If he’s fighting for the right cause, for the just cause, he learns that he’s never alone. God’s always with him.”

  “You’re right,” Dawson said.

  “You do believe ours is a just cause?”

  “Of course. I’m doing all of this for Him.”

  “Then you’ll come out just fine.”

  “You’re right,” Dawson said. “I shouldn’t have hesitated to do what He so obviously wishes me to do. Thank you, Ernst. ”

  “Don’t mention it,” Klinger said. “You better get moving. They’re probably leaving the station wagon about now. You’ll have ten minutes at most to prepare for them.”

  “And you?”

  “I’ll go back to the church.”

  “God be with you.”

  “Good luck. ”

  They both hung up.

  10

  Saturday, August 27, 1977

  12:10 A.M.

  The wind raised a steady, haunting whooooo! in the highest reaches of the trees. Thunder rumbled frequently, each peal louder and more unsettling than the one that had come before it. Above the forest, the sky periodically blazed with lightning; the electric glow pulsed down through the canopy of interlaced branches and left in its wake a series of stroboscopic images that dazzled the eye.

  In the dense underbrush, small animals scampered this way and that, busily searching for food or water or companionship or safety. Or perhaps, Paul thought as one of them dashed across the path and startled him, they were frightened of the oncoming storm.

  Paul and Sam had expected to find armed guards rather than animals at the edge of the woods that surrounded the mill, but there were none. Although all of the lights were on in the main building, the structure seemed—as did the land around it—deserted.

  They circled through the woods. Eventually they came to the employee parking lot and studied the scene from behind a thick clump of laurel.

  The helicopter was there, on the macadam, thirty feet away. A man stood beside it in the darkness, smoking a cigarette, watching the lightning and the fast-moving clouds.

  Paul whispered: “Dawson or Klinger?”

  “I don’t think so,” Sam said.

  “Neither do I. ”

  “Then he’s the pilot.”

  “You see a gun?”

  “No. Nothing.”

  “Move in now?”

  “Wait.”

  “For what?”

  “The right moment.”

  They watched.

  A few seconds later the pilot dropped his cigarette and crushed it under the sole of his shoe. He put his hands in his pockets and began to walk aimlessly about, just killing time. At first he came toward the trees, wandered within ten or twelve feet of them, then turned and went back the way he’d come.

  “Quickly,” Sam said.

  Paul stood up. He eased through the laurel and ran after the pilot.

  The man heard him and turned. His face was a black mask, but his eyes seemed phosphorescent. “Who—”

  “I am the key,” Paul said.

  “I am the lock. ”

  “Speak softly.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  Paul looked beyond the helicopter. He could see the windows—most of them with light behind them—on the second and third floors of the main building at the end of the storage yard. If he could see the windows, anyone who happened to glance out might be able to see him, in turn, despite the darkness. He hustled the pilot closer to the helicopter, where they were pretty much hidden from the main building.

  Sam joined them and said, “What’s your name?”

  “Malcolm Spencer.”

  “You are the pilot?”

  “Yes. I am.”

  “Where’s Leonard Dawson?”

  “In the mill,” Spencer said.

  “Which building?”

  “The biggest one.”

  “Which floor? First, second, or third?”

  “First floor. There’s a sort of public sales area with—”

  “And Ernst Klinger,” Sam said. “Where’s he?”

  “He’s in Black River,” Spencer said.

  “That can’t be right.”

  “Sir?”

  “You mean he’s in town?” Paul asked.

  “That’s right.”

  Paul and Sam glanced at each other.

  “Something wrong?” the pilot asked. He seemed to be concerned about them.

  “You’re lying,” Paul said.

  Surprised, Spencer said, “No, sir.”

  “I am the key,” Paul said.

  “I am the lock,” Spencer said.

  “Where’s Klinger?”

  “He’s in Black River.”

  Paul stared at Sam. “Christ!”

  To the pilot, Sam said, “You took Klinger and Dawson to the logging camp, didn’t you? And then brought them to the mill?”

  “No. Just Mr. Dawson. General Klinger went to town from the camp.”

  “When?”

  “A couple of minutes after we got there,” Spencer said. He smiled uncertainly. His teeth seemed even more radiant than his eyes.

  “How did he go? Not in the chopper?”

  “No, sir. He took a car.”

  “Why—”

  Before he could get out more than one word of the question, Sam screamed and stumbled forward against the helicopter.

  In the same instant, the night silence was split open by a single rifle shot.

  Instinctively, Paul dropped to the ground and rolled.

  A bullet cracked into the pavement where he’d just been, ricocheted into the darkness.

  A second bullet smashed the macadam on the other side of him, bracketing him.

  He rolled onto his back and sat up. He saw the rifleman at once: down on one knee in a sportsman’s pose, thirty feet away at the edge of the woods. On the drive from town, Paul had reloaded the Combat Magnum; now he held it with both hands and squeezed off five quick shots.

  All of them missed the mark.

  However, the sharp barking of the revolver and the deadly whine of all those bullets skipping across the pavement apparently unnerved the man with the rifle. Instead of trying to finish what he had begun, he stood and ran.

  Paul scrambled to his feet, took a few steps after him and fired once more.

  Untouched, the rifleman headed away in a big loop that would take him back to the mill complex.

  “Sam?”

  “Here.”

  He could barely see Sam—dark clothes against the macadam—and was thankful for the older man’s telltale white hair and beard. “You were hit.”

  “In the leg.”

  Paul st
arted toward him. “How bad?”

  “Flesh wound,” Sam said. “That was Dawson. Get after him, for God’s sake.”

  “But if you’re hurt—”

  “I’ll be fine. Malcolm can make a tourniquet. Now get after him, dammit!”

  Paul ran. At the end of the parking area he passed the rifle: it was on the ground; Dawson had either dropped it by accident and had been too frightened to stop and retrieve it—or he had discarded it in panic. Still running, Paul fished in his pocket with one hand for the extra bullets he was carrying.

  12:15 A.M.

  The wooden tower stairs creaked under Klinger’s weight. He paused and counted slowly to thirty before going up three more steps and pausing again. If he climbed too fast, the woman and the girl would know that he was coming. And if they were ready and waiting for him—well, he would be committing suicide when he walked onto the belfry platform. He hoped that, by waiting for thirty seconds or as much as a minute between brief advances, he could make them think that the creaking stairs were only settling noises or a product of the wind.

  He went up three more steps.

  12:16 A.M.

  Ahead, Dawson disappeared around a corner of the mill.

  When he reached the same comer a moment later, Paul stopped and studied the north work yard: huge stacks of logs that had been piled up to feed the mill during the long winter; several pieces of heavy equipment; a couple of lumber trucks; a conveyor belt running on an inclined ramp from the mill to the maw of a big furnace where sawdust and scrap wood were incinerated ... There were simply too many places out there in which Dawson could hide and wait for him.

  He turned away from the north yard and went to the door in the west wall of the building, back the way he had come, thirty feet from the corner. It wasn’t locked.

  He stepped into a short, well-lighted corridor. The enormous processing room lay at the end of it: the bull chain leading from the mill pond, up feeding shoots, into the building; then a cross-cut saw, a log deck, the carriage that moved logs into the waiting blades that would make lumber of them, the giant band saw, edging machine, trimmer saws, dip tank, grading ramp, the green chain, and then the storage racks ... He remembered all of those terms from a tour that the manager had given Rya and Mark two summers ago. In the processing room the fluorescent strip lights were burning, but none of the machines was working; there were no men tending them. To his right was a washroom, to his left a set of stairs.

  Taking the steps two at a time for four flights—the first level was two floors high in order to accommodate the machines in it—he came out in the second-floor hallway. He stopped to think, then went to the fifth office on the left.

  The door was locked.

  He kicked it twice.

  The lock held.

  There was a glass case bolted to the corridor wall. It contained a fire extinguisher and an ax.

  He jammed the revolver in his belt, opened the front of the case, and took out the ax. He used the flat head of it to batter the knob from the office door. When the knob fell off, the cheap latch snapped. He dropped the ax, pushed open the ruined door, and went inside.

  The office was dark. He didn’t switch on any lights because he didn’t want to reveal his position. He closed the door to the hall so that he would not be silhouetted by the pale light that spilled in.

  The windows in the north wall of the office opened above the first-floor terrace. He slid one of them up, slipped through it, and stepped onto the tar-papered terrace roof.

  The wind buffeted him.

  He took the Combat Magnum from his belt.

  If Dawson was hiding anywhere in the north yard, this was the best vantage point from which to spot him.

  The darkness offered Dawson good protection, for none of the lights was on in the yard.

  He could have turned them on, of course. But he didn’t know where to find the switches, and he didn’t want to waste a lot of time looking for them.

  The only thing that moved out there was the clattering conveyor belt that rolled continuously up the inclined ramp to the scrap furnace. It should have been shut down with the rest of the equipment, but it had been overlooked. The belt came out of the building directly beneath him and sloped to a high point twenty feet above the ground. It met the furnace door forty yards away. Because the cone-shaped furnace—thirty feet in diameter at the base, ten feet in diameter at the top; forty feet high—was primed by a gas flame, the fire in it was never out unless the mill foreman ordered it extinguished. Even now, when the belt had no fuel for it, the furnace roared. Judging by the intensity of the flames leaping beyond the open door, however, several hundred pounds of the day’s input—conveyed out of the mill before Dawson had halted operations—had yet to be fully consumed.

  Otherwise, the yard was quiet, still. The mill pond—with the giant grappling hook suspended from thick wires over the center of it—lay to the right of the ramp and the furnace. It was dotted with logs that looked a bit like dozing alligators. A narrow channel of water called the slip led from the pond to the terrace. When the mill was in operation, slip men poled logs along the slip to the chutes that were covered by the terrace roof. Once in the chutes, the logs were snared by hooked bull chains and dragged into the processing system. East and north of the pond was the deck, those forty-foot-high walls of gargantuan logs set aside to supply the mill with work during the winter. To the left of the ramp and the furnace, two lumber trucks, a high-lift, and a few other pieces of heavy equipment were parked in a row, backed up against the chain-link fence of a storage yard. Dawson wasn’t to be seen in any of that.

  Thunder and lightning brought a sudden fall of fat raindrops.

  Some sixth sense told Paul that he had heard more than the clap of thunder. Propelled by an icy premonition, he spun around.

  Dawson had come out of the window behind him. He was no more than a yard away. He was older than Paul, a decade and a half older, but he was also taller and heavier; and he looked deadly in the rain-lashed night. He had an ax. The goddamned fire ax! In both hands. Raised over his head. He swung it.

  Klinger was at the mid-point of the tower when the rain began to fall again. It drummed noisily on the belfry shingles and on the roof of the church, providing excellent cover for his ascent.

  He waited until he was absolutely certain that the downpour would last—then he went upward without pausing after every third step. He couldn’t even hear the creaking himself. Exhilarated, brimming with confidence now, the Webley clutched in his right hand, he climbed through the last half of the tower in less than a minute and rushed onto the belfry platform.

  Paul crouched.

  The ax blade whistled over his head.

  Startled to hear himself screaming, unable to stop screaming, abruptly aware that the Smith & Wesson was still in his hand, Paul pulled the trigger.

  The bullet tore through Dawson’s right shoulder.

  The ax flew from his hands. It arced out into the darkness and smashed through the windshield of one of the lumber trucks.

  With a certain eerie grace, Dawson pirouetted just once and toppled into Paul.

  The Combat Magnum tumbled in the path of the ax.

  Grappling with each other, clinging to each other, they fell off the terrace roof.

  The belfry held very little light in the midst of that primeval storm, but it was bright enough for Klinger to see that the only person there was the Annendale girl.

  Impossible.

  She was sitting on the platform, her back to the half-wall. And she seemed to be regarding him with dread.

  What the hell?

  There should have been two of them. The nine-foot-square belfry wasn’t large enough for a game of hide-and seek. What he saw must be true. But there should have been two of them.

  The night was rocked with thunder, and razor-tined forks of white lightning stabbed the earth. Wind boomed through the open tower.

  He stood over the child.

  Looking up at him, her voi
ce wavering, she said, “Please ... please ... don’t ... shoot me. ”

  “Where is the other one?” Klinger asked. “Where did she go?”

  A voice behind him said, “Hey, mister.”

 
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