Three days to never a no.., p.29
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       Three Days to Never: A Novel, p.29

           Tim Powers
 

  The bus vibrated as Hinch started the engine, and then the shadows and light moved across the seats as the bus backed around in a wide circle in the parking lot, and Marrity saw the supermarket swing past outside the left-side windows. The bus slowed to a halt, facing south now.

  The Ouija board pointer now rested on the pin at the letter A.

  “The young Frank Marrity,” said Golze distinctly, “is now behind us. Northeast of here.”

  “He’s in the hills, I’ll bet,” chimed Rascasse. “This vehicle is far too big and slow. Hinch, radio to Amboy—tell them we need full support.”

  There’s no towels,” said Daphne meekly.

  Frank Marrity was sitting on the floor against the kitchen cabinet, next to Bennett, and he looked up and saw Daphne shivering in the hall entry in her old jeans and blouse, which were now visibly wet.

  He got to his feet, leaving the bottle beside Bennett. “Not even any curtains,” he agreed. “Sorry, Daph, I should have thought of that before I said you could take a shower. You could sit downstairs by the windows, it’s sunny there.”

  His voice echoed in the empty house. Until Daphne had spoken, the only sounds had been from outside: birdcalls, faint sounds of car motors, a helicopter thudding over the hills.

  “It’s been half an hour again,” said Moira. She was leaning against the rail, her back to the sloped ceiling of the living room on the lower level.

  Marrity peered at his watch. Sure enough, it was 12:35. He turned to the telephone as Daphne pattered barefoot down the stairs.

  As soon as he had dialed the number, the Jackson man said, “Hello?” apparently before the phone had even rung.

  “It’s me, it’s been—”

  “Right. Where are you?”

  Daphne’s voice echoed up from the living room behind and below Moira: “Dad, can I lay out on the deck? You can see the Hollywood sign real close!”

  “It’s inaccessible,” said Bennett, still sitting on the floor. “And the only street it overlooks is across the canyon.”

  “Go with her, would you, Moira?” said Marrity. Into the phone he said, “We’re at the top of—” And then he paused to ask Bennett, “Where are we?”

  Moira sighed and pushed herself away from the rail.

  “Go up—give me that.” Bennett stood up and took the phone. “Go up Beachwood till it loops sharp to the right and becomes Hollyridge, which heads back downhill. I’m his brother-in-law. The sister, correct. We’re the third house downhill after the Hollyridge dogleg, on your right.” He paused, listening. “Yes, I’ll turn it on.” He hung up the phone. “The porch light. He wants us to turn it on.”

  “Do you know where the switch is?”

  Bennett turned toward the door. “Gotta be by the—hey!”

  Marrity had grabbed the pockets of Bennett’s coat and yanked the pistol free and then lunged down the stairs, mostly sliding along the banister.

  His attention had been caught by a sharp pain in Daphne’s cracked ribs, and in the same instant he had experienced her sensory impressions of a cloth pressed over her mouth and the breath driven out of her nose from hard constriction around her arms as she was abruptly lifted up backward; Daphne’s jerky field of view was only of the converging treetops overhead, but she heard Moira grunt sharply. Marrity felt Daphne’s bare heels kick at the aluminum-pole railing as she was hoisted over it.

  When Marrity burst out onto the sunlit deck, a young man in a sweatshirt was outside the northside railing, facing him but leaning away; the man’s tan-gloved hands gripped a rope moored to the railing, and he was clearly about to slide down to the dark slope below. Moira was sprawled on the deck planks behind Marrity, her hair over her face.

  Daphne was gone.

  Marrity lifted the pistol and fired it straight into the man’s chest.

  Marrity saw the man jerk his blond head forward and fall away from the balcony, and as the ejected shell flew through the open door into the living room, Marrity sprang to the rail and swung one leg over it, tucking the hot pistol behind his belt and grabbing the rope with both hands as the echoes of the shot rapped back from the far side of the canyon. The sound of the helicopter was louder out here.

  He tried to go down the rope hand over hand but mostly slid, with the bristly rope burning the skin off his palms, his legs flailing uselessly in the rushing, empty air. He landed jarringly, sitting down on the body of the man he had shot, and rolled off and began crawling up the leafy slope even before he could suck air into his shocked lungs. His vision was dimmed, but he could see figures scrambling up the slope above him.

  You said the girl and the woman were safely out of sight of the men,” said Hinch, opening the driver’s-side door of the black BMW and swinging his legs out. “This is a mess.” The drone of the Bell helicopter that had landed on the cleared ground beyond the fence a hundred feet behind the car was louder now, and hot, dusty air blew away the car’s air-conditioned chill.

  The driver’s-side door slammed and Hinch was gone before Charlotte could answer. Through his eyes as he ran forward she saw three of Rascasse’s men scramble up from the shadowed slope to the sunlit street pavement, carrying a flexing canvas bundle that would be the little girl.

  Daphne was wrapped up, but Charlotte knew what she looked like.

  The men with the bundle, squinting in the rotor wind, hurried up the sloping road past where Charlotte sat in the idling BMW. Through Hinch’s eyes she had glimpsed herself in the passenger seat, and then he had run on past; now she saw the open gate on the far side of the road’s crest, and the open door in the helicopter’s bright blue fuselage, and a man inside waving. The tail rotor was a silvery blur, and the helicopter was bobbing on its landing-gear dampers.

  When the men had tumbled Daphne into the cabin of the helicopter and slid the door shut, Hinch turned back toward Charlotte—and so she could see, beyond the front of the car, a man come clambering up the slope and then stand shielding his eyes from the glare and the rotor wind. He was holding a handgun and he was the thirty-five-year-old Frank Marrity, and Hinch’s view was suddenly jolting as the back end of the black BMW increased in apparent size.

  When I consider how my light is spent—

  Blindly Charlotte lifted her feet and slid them under the steering wheel; her right foot hit the gas pedal, and the engine roared for a moment, then she had slid over into the driver’s seat and by touch pulled the gearshift lever from park down into drive.

  Through Hinch’s fast-approaching perspective from the rear, she could see that the car was aimed at the slope beyond the road, and she pulled the wheel to the right and was glad to see that she would miss the edge. Hinch saw Marrity step in front of the car, so she hit the brake. She banged her head against the closed driver’s-side window, then impatiently opened the door and yelled, “Get in if you want to save your daughter!”

  Through Marrity’s eyes now, she saw the BMW’s headlights and bumper, and her own face leaning out above the slant of the opened door, and Hinch sprinting up from behind.

  “Last chance!” she yelled.

  She heard the drone of the helicopter increase in pitch, and knew it must be taking off.

  Marrity saw the helicopter tilt and lift from the clear patch beyond the fence at the crest of the narrow road, and he guessed that Daphne was in it. A man was running toward the BMW in front of him, clearly meaning to stop the driver; and now an orange compact car nosed around the bend at the top of the road, probably allied with these people.

  Last chance! the woman had yelled.

  All he sensed from Daphne was fright and constriction and blackness.

  Marrity threw himself forward across the pavement and pulled open the passenger-side door—he tumbled in and yanked the door closed just as the man caught up with the car and opened the right-rear door.

  The woman behind the wheel stepped on the gas and the car shot forward; the sudden headwind blew the back door closed.

  Marrity looked back, and then was jolted fo
rward against the dashboard as the right fender grated against a parked car.

  “Look ahead!” the woman screamed.

  Marrity turned and blinked out through the windshield at the green Porsche they had sideswiped, and at the clear blacktop lane stretching away on the left, and she straightened the wheel and stepped on the gas again. He could still hardly get breath into his lungs, and his abraded hands stung.

  “Look at the road, don’t look away,” she said, a little more calmly. “I can’t see except through you.”

  Marrity ached to look back and try to see which way the helicopter went. “Can you,” he gasped, “follow that helicopter? Is my daughter—on it?”

  “Yes, she’s on it. I know where they’re going. Keep watching the road or we’re dead.”

  “You’re…Libra Nosamalo.” Marrity stared wide-eyed at the curving asphalt lane ahead of them. He thought about groping for the seat belt, then tensely decided it might momentarily interfere with his view.

  “Charlotte Sinclair,” she said. “The other name was to be cute. Tilt the rear view mirror so you can see behind us through it.”

  “Okay, but—slow down a second.” Without looking away from the rushing road, Marrity felt for the rearview mirror with trembling fingers and then bent it around to a likely-feeling position. He darted a glance at it, bent it some more, and then glanced at it again. Back at the crest of the hill he could see the man who had tried to get into the car sprinting back now toward the orange car.

  “The orange car—” he said.

  “I see everything you see,” Charlotte Sinclair said. “They’ll try to catch us.”

  He managed to take a deep breath. “Where’s the helicopter going?” The gun was jabbing painfully against his lower ribs.

  “Palm Springs. Eyes front, dammit!” She wrenched the car back onto the road, but not before it had run up onto the shoulder and snapped off a post with a birdhouse mailbox on it. “Here’s a curve, up ahead,” she said, though in fact she speeded up. “Rearview.”

  Marrity flicked a look up at the mirror; the orange car was behind them now, only a hundred feet back and gaining fast.

  “Thanks,” she said. “Hang on.”

  The road curved to the left around a steep, rocky outcrop, and as soon as the BMW was around the bend, Charlotte stomped on the brake; the car came to a shuddering halt almost instantly, with no screeching of tires. “Look back!” she yelled, and then she clicked the gearshift to reverse and floored the gas pedal.

  Marrity pushed himself away from the dashboard and shifted around in the seat just in time to see the pursuing orange car flash into view around the rocky shoulder—and then with an almighty slam the cars smashed into each other and he was nearly pitched into the backseat.

  The black trunk lid was buckled and the orange car’s hood was folded up so sharply that he couldn’t see the windshield. Both cars were stopped, still rocking.

  “Front, front!” Charlotte was yelling, so he wrenched himself around to look ahead. She clicked the engine into low and pressed the accelerator, and the car quivered for a second and then pulled free. Metal and plastic clattered on the asphalt.

  She clicked it into drive and sped on down the road. Marrity couldn’t hear any bad noises from the car. “Antiskid brakes,” she said. “Standard on the new BMW Sixes.”

  For several seconds they drove downhill in a ringing silence. Marrity kept his eyes in a wide, unfocused stare through the windshield and concentrated on getting breath in and out of his lungs.

  “Aren’t you with these people?” he asked finally, forcing his voice to stay level. “Is Daphne a hostage?”

  The BMW was swerving smoothly down the canyon road, flashing in and out of the shadows of overhanging trees.

  “Rearview,” she said.

  Marrity glanced up at the mirror; there were no cars visible behind them. He reminded himself that he didn’t have to tell her that.

  “I’m not with them anymore,” Charlotte said, “I guess. God help me. Probably they wouldn’t have given me a new life anyway. I guess I knew that.” She exhaled, almost whistling, and Marrity was sure that if he could look at her he would see tears in her eyes. “You have some kind of overlap with your daughter’s mind, is that right? A link? You screwed up the smooth snatch back there, though I know they’re blaming me.”

  “Where in Palm Springs?”

  “Dammit,” said Charlotte, leaning into a turn while Marrity stared tensely at the road, “this is what might save her. When I look through one of you I get a bleed through from the other. Have you got some kind of psychic connection with her or not?”

  Marrity glanced at her, and he did see a glistening line down her right cheek, and a moment later the off-side wheels were thumping on dirt. “Watch the road!” she yelled.

  He looked up to see a shaggy green oleander bush with white flowers rushing at them; Charlotte stood on the brake and the car stopped short of it, half on the shoulder. Dust swirled around the windows.

  “You can drive now,” she said, opening the door on her side and stepping out. “Watch me.”

  Marrity kept his eyes on her as he slid across the seat, and when she had shuffled around the front of the car to the passenger side and climbed in, and he had steered the car back into the lane and begun driving too fast down the road, he said, “Yes, for the past couple of days Daphne and I have been able to see into each other’s minds. It’s happened before. Usually lasts about a week. Where in Palm Springs?”

  “That’s good,” she said, feeling for the seat belt. “I don’t know where. I’ve got to call them, my former employers back there. What a mess that operation turned out to be.” Having fastened the seat belt, she leaned back in the passenger seat and closed her eyes. “Did somebody get shot?”

  The backs of Marrity’s hands tingled, and he gripped the wheel more tightly, ignoring the sting of his scraped palms. “I shot a guy. One of the guys who grabbed Daphne.”

  “Shot dead?”

  Marrity remembered firing the gun directly into the man’s chest, and remembered the man falling. “I—I imagine so.”

  “Steady, slow down!” Charlotte said, her eyes still closed.

  Marrity hastily took his foot off the accelerator. They were down out of the hills now, and the street was two lanes each way, but there were more cars to watch.

  He tried to estimate what emotion killing that man had roused in him—it wasn’t triumph, certainly, but it wasn’t guilt or remorse either. He could hardly separate his own feelings from the tolling misery he sensed in Daphne’s mind.

  “Tell me the truth,” he said. “Do they mean to kill her?”

  “No,” said Charlotte. “And there isn’t any information they want out of her either. And they’re going to find out that what they do mean to do with her can’t happen while you’re still alive.”

  “What do they mean to do with her?”

  “They want to make her never have existed. Short out her lifeline. You’d never have had a daughter.”

  Marrity realized what emotion the shooting had left him with: depression. He thought of asking Charlotte, Why? but it seemed too hard; instead he said, “They can’t do it unless they kill me first, though. You say.”

  “Right. You’re her psychic Siamese twin right now. To, to unmake her, they’d have to isolate her, and they can’t isolate her from you.” She flinched, though her eyes were still closed. “Watch it.”

  He had been coming up fast on a station wagon that was moving too slowly in the left lane, and now he swerved around it to the right. “If you saw it,” he said irritably, “you know I saw it.”

  “I’m paying better attention. We’ve got to—”

  “My sister’s back there, unconscious. Will they hurt her?”

  “They don’t care about her, or her husband, now. He can call paramedics. But we’ve got to figure out a way to hide from the—from your father. He can track us on this electric Ouija board they’ve got. It’s in one of their other ca
rs now, not the orange one we just smashed.”

  The helicopter, Marrity told himself, the guy you shot, the NSA man, the cartoon creature that talked to Daphne from the hospital television last night. Daphne setting Rumbold on fire. Serious people are taking this stuff seriously. Electric Ouija boards.

  “My father saved my life. From you.”

  “That’s not your father. We need a drink. Do you know—”

  “Oh, bullshit. Excuse me.”

  “He’s not. Now—”

  “If he’s not my father, who is?” Marrity shrugged impatiently. “You said we’ve got to hide from my father.”

  He glanced sideways at her and saw her frown. “Your father is somebody else, okay?” she said. “Do you know where the Roosevelt Hotel is? The lobby bar there has a million exits, and it’s generally crowded, lots of eyes, I can monitor the whole place.”

  The next big street ahead of them was Hollywood Boulevard. To get to the Roosevelt Hotel he would turn right. “We should go straight to Palm Springs,” he said. To get to Palm Springs he would turn left, and get onto the 101 south.

  “I’ve got to call the guys who have your daughter. They don’t know yet that they’ve got to kill you before they can do anything to her, and I’ve got to point that out to them. And I need three fast drinks. In vino immortalitas.”

  He sighed and clicked the turn signal up, for a right turn. “Can you remember a phone number?” he said. “I can remember it right now, but I might not remember it when we’ve got to a phone.”

  Racing east, the twin-engine Bell 212 helicopter had skimmed between Mount Hollywood and the domes of the Griffith Park Observatory and over the dry-brush hills of Eagle Rock and was now following its shadow along Colorado Boulevard, a few hundred feet below.

  Denis Rascasse’s body lay stretched out on the rearmost bench seat, right over the fuel tank. He was still breathing, though his consciousness was now focused in a couple of giant pink banksia flowers and an orange-glowing rocket-shaped lava lamp, all belted into a bracket on the starboard bulkhead.

  Gray-haired Frank Marrity sat in a forward-facing seat, across from Golze, who was looking sleepy and red-faced since giving himself a shot of morphine from the bus’s first-aid kit. The air inside the cabin smelled of something like burnt peanut butter.

 

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