Medusas web, p.30
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       Medusa's Web, p.30

           Tim Powers

  “The wire numbers must have suggested the dartboard disguise for it,” said Madeline.

  “But neither of us sensed it,” said Scott. “And we were right there in his kitchen with it.”

  Madeline rolled her eyes. “We were there in actual real life, Scott; we weren’t in a spider vision! It’s the spiders that sense it. You gotta be riding a spider to share that.”

  Louise was looking intently from Scott to Madeline and back. “This is important, isn’t it?” she said. “A clock the size of a hubcap, with no machinery in it? A dartboard disguise? The film can—it’s disguised as a dartboard now? Where?”

  When Scott and Madeline ignored her question, Louise went on, “You need me as a consultant. I know more about this stuff than you do.” After another pause while Ariel inched forward through traffic on Fourth, Louise said, “I’m on your side now—I was never against your side.”

  “You don’t want to come,” said Madeline, still staring at her brother. “It’s in a place we went to yesterday.”

  Ariel sighed. “I think we have to let her come along now.”

  “Oh,” said Madeline. She shook her head as if trying to clear it. “Yeah. Sorry.”

  “He still has it,” said Scott. “And you remember how he seemed to recognize you? Little Miss Muffet, sticking your hand between the bars at a zoo?—like teasing a restrained animal, right? He had seen you before—sometime in the 1940s, when he did a spider and found himself chained to a pipe in the apiary, staring at you and Ariel through my eyes. And when you told him it was 2015, he thought you meant what time it was.”

  “Oh!” exclaimed Madeline. “Yes—you must be right. And when Ariel and I asked him who he was, he laughed and said he was between names.”

  Scott turned to stare ahead, for his face was numb and he had no idea what his expression was. He was, at least at this moment, certain that he knew what the man’s previous and subsequent names were.

  So was Madeline. “Paul Speas, and Adrian Ostriker,” she said hollowly. “His beard must really be fake.”

  “Even in the ’40s he had a trunk full of wigs and beards,” Scott said.

  “Genod’s father,” said Madeline. “Genod said he was the devil. He sure looks younger than Genod.”

  “Spider rejuvenations, dilutions with young blood and bone,” said Scott, quoting Nazimova.

  Louise had clearly been mentally reciting the Little Miss Muffet nursery rhyme, for now she said out loud, “Along came a spider who sat down beside her and frightened Miss Muffet away.” She looked at Scott. “The guy’s name is Paul Speas?—or Adrian Ostrich? And you found an old spider of his and looked at it?”

  “Sat down beside her,” echoed Madeline, talking to herself.

  Scott looked around at his sister and saw tiny beads of sweat along her hairline. “Are you okay?”

  Madeline gave him a brief, frail smile and nodded. “I just have to concentrate on staying me. I feel her pushing up like a burp.”

  “We’ve got to steal his dartboard,” said Scott, “and quick.” The bulk of Claimayne’s gun in his jacket made him dizzy. “Ariel, never mind the bank. Get back on the 101 north.”


  TWENTY MINUTES LATER ARIEL steered the Datsun off Laurel Canyon Boulevard onto Jorgensen Road, past the blue and green recycling bins, and she switched down to low gear to drive up the narrow road between stone walls and twisted oak trees. Scott and Madeline remembered the route they had followed yesterday well enough to guide her through the sharp turns.

  “Turn right by that wooden fence,” said Scott finally, “and then it’ll be on your right, a stone arch between two cypress trees.”

  Ariel made the turn and bumped cautiously along the narrow road, then braked and spun the steering wheel to make the sharp right turn through the arch. Now they were grinding up the curling driveway under overhanging vines, and finally they emerged in gray daylight on the wide cement apron in front of the two-story adobe house set back among the pines.

  The neon-green Ford pickup truck and the black Camaro convertible sat where they had been yesterday morning, but now a gleamingly restored yellow Chevrolet station wagon was parked next to the Camaro. Scott judged it to be roughly a 1957 model.

  “A hundred-something years old,” said Scott nervously, “and all he cares about is old cars.”

  “They probably look real modern to him,” said Madeline as all four of them climbed out of her Datsun. “And he cares about whiskey.”

  “What are you going to do here?” asked Louise.

  “Brandy, not whiskey,” said Scott, nervously running his fingers through his hair. “We’re going to fetch that dartboard—he stole it from our aunt in 1922.”

  They crossed the cement area and clumped up the steps to the verandah under the second-floor balcony, and Scott knocked on the door.

  “You still haven’t shaved,” whispered Madeline.

  “It’s not really a formal call,” Scott told her, trying to imagine what he would do here.

  The door swung inward, this time without the preliminary snap of the bolt being drawn back, and Adrian Ostriker was staring at them with an expression of tense appraisal. He was wearing another one-piece flight suit, or possibly the same one as yesterday, and the fabric was dark with sweat under the arms; but he wasn’t holding one hand behind his back now. Scott paid attention to the man’s long hair and beard, wondering if they were among the specimens he’d seen in the trunk in the Bunker Hill hotel.

  “More of your sisters?” Ostriker said to Scott.

  “Couple of friends.”

  And before Scott had decided among several ways to try to get invited inside again, Ostriker took a step back.

  “Why waste time,” Ostriker said, waving toward the living room.

  Scott stepped over the threshold onto the pale hardwood floor, noting the zigzag framed couch and the spectrum of books on the shelves above it. As he slowly walked across the room he let himself glance at the open kitchen area, peripherally noting the dartboard on the wall beside the refrigerator. He heard Ariel and Madeline and Louise shuffle in behind him, and Ostriker closed the door and audibly shot the bolt.

  Ostriker moved a few yards away, and both his hands were still visible and empty. Dazedly Scott realized that within moments he meant to pull out Claimayne’s revolver and point it at Ostriker—and he reminded himself that Ostriker was the man who had gone by the name of Paul Speas, at least until 1922, and that he had taken the contents of the dartboard from Aunt Amity while she’d been in a hospital. I’m just going to take back what was hers, he told himself. Sweat was cold on his forehead, and he swallowed against nausea.

  “Let’s talk in the living room today,” said Ostriker. His voice was pitched higher than it had been yesterday.

  Scott took a deep breath and put his hand in his pocket—

  And two men stepped out from the hallway behind Ostriker, and they had big-caliber semiautomatic pistols in their hands. Ostriker showed no surprise, just stared wrathfully at Scott.

  “You blundering little fools,” he muttered.

  Louise sat down on the couch. “I told you not to go back to places you’ve been to before!”

  Scott blinked at the newcomers. Both were tanned and wore dark windbreakers and slacks, and both had close-cropped gray hair; clearly not wigs.

  One held a cell phone to his ear. “No, they’re not,” he was saying. “They’re here, at the Ostriker place. And they arrived in the green Datsun. You tell me. Yeah, till you send somebody over.” He brushed a thumb over the screen and put the phone in his pocket and looked at his partner. “Asleep at his post?”

  The other man shook his head. “Doesn’t matter now.” Speaking loudly, he said, “You can call me Polydectes, and my buddy here Perseus. Everybody sit down. You too,” he added, waving his gun toward Ostriker.

  Ostriker and Ariel sat down on the couch beside Louise, and Scott and Madeline sat on the floor.

  The man who was calling himsel
f Polydectes dragged up a wooden Danish Modern chair and sat down facing the couch from several yards away. “You’ve all got the stink of spiders on you, and if we have to kill every one of you and burn this place to the ground, we won’t lose any sleep over it. But we’d rather find Taylor’s exorcism and let you all go your ways.”

  “Why would you kill us?” asked Madeline, sounding only curious.

  Polydectes shrugged. “You’re all users, infected—possibly even by the big spider itself, through proxy retinas. And,” he added with a chilly smile, “we’d be saving you from the strenuous attentions of wheelbugs. But if you tell us what we want to know, all those issues evaporate.”

  It occurred to Scott that these two represented the group that Louise had said was in opposition to Ferdalisi’s group—these were the “vandals” and “vigilantes” who wanted to banish the spiders.

  “You guys drive a white Chevy Blazer,” he said.

  The man looked at Scott. “Sometimes. I was ready to try rescuing you two from those wheelbugs yesterday. We’ve got a camouflage station wagon today.” He sighed. “We think you know where the exorcism film is, Scott Madden, or at least you know how to find it. Two days ago you went to where Taylor’s apartment was. So where’s the film now?”

  Scott chewed his lip. “What do you want with it?”

  “Not your concern. Where is it?”

  “If you’re going to use it, banish the spiders, then we’re on your side. I—”

  “But I need to use it,” said Madeline anxiously.

  Polydectes grimaced. “Shut up. You’re not on our side. Ferdalisi has been to your house twice; you’ve got his girl with you.”

  “Twice?” murmured Ariel.

  “When would you use it?” said Scott desperately. “When would you watch the film? It’s got to be right now, today.”

  “I don’t know these people,” interjected Ostriker, starting to stand up and then sitting down again when Perseus raised his pistol. “I use spiders, sure, but I don’t know anything about a big spider—”

  “How old are you?” interrupted Polydectes. “You appeared out of nowhere with a fake birth certificate in 1960, looking about like you look now. Who were you before that?”

  Ostriker opened his mouth, then closed it without saying anything.

  Before that he was between names, thought Scott; and before that, his name was Paul David Speas.

  “I’ll make you a deal,” said Scott, “if you can assure me—”

  “No deals,” said Polydectes. “This is your sister, right?” He pointed his semiautomatic at Madeline’s knee. “A .45 Hydra-Shok round there won’t kill her, but it’ll probably take her leg right off. Where is it?”

  Even as Scott opened his mouth to say In the dartboard in the kitchen!, the couch shook as Madeline sprang up from the floor and threw herself onto Ostriker.

  Ostriker neighed in alarm as he blocked her with a hastily raised forearm, trying to keep her fingers from getting at his eyes. She caught the edge of his beard and pulled it half off.

  “I need it now!” Madeline was screaming in something like Aunt Amity’s voice. “You’re my husband, and you stole it for yourself while I was in the hospital! I’m hanging on by my fingernails; I’m in shreds!”

  Perseus tried to grab her shoulder with his free hand, but she was clinging to Ostriker; Perseus tucked his pistol into his belt and took hold of her with both hands.

  Polydectes took a step back, his own pistol raised.

  And then a jarring explosion shook the house; the entire pane of a window at the back of the room fell out of its frame and shattered on the floor.

  Polydectes turned his head toward the noise, and Scott yanked Claimayne’s revolver out of his pocket and stood up.

  “Drop it!” he yelled, pointing the revolver at the man’s chest. His pulse made the barrel jerk rhythmically, but he kept it effectively aimed.

  Peripherally he saw that Ariel was now standing on his right, pointing her old .32 Seecamp at Perseus. “Let go of her,” Ariel said. “Hook your gun out with your left hand and let it drop.”

  Beyond Perseus, Scott saw yellow scraps spinning down outside the window.

  Polydectes stared speculatively at Scott, then let go of his gun. It clattered on the floor.

  Perseus had stepped back, and now he pulled his gun free and it too fell to the floor.

  Ostriker had got hold of Madeline’s wrists and was keeping his face well back from her teeth. He managed to stand up and throw her onto the couch where he had been sitting, and he darted one hand to a pocket on his thigh, and then he was holding a short, gleaming knife and drawing it back for a thrust at Madeline.

  Without thinking, Scott swung the revolver toward him and pulled the trigger. The deafening bang seemed to momentarily compress the air, and confetti flew around Ostriker’s startled upturned face.

  Ariel had moved back to cover Polydectes as well as Perseus.

  “Drop the knife,” gasped Scott, speaking loudly over the ringing in his ears, and he was horrified to realize that only luck had kept him from hitting Madeline with his unaimed shot. One of the books in the yellow section of the bookcase now had a ragged hole in its spine.

  Ostriker tossed the knife toward Scott and hurried to stand behind Perseus. The knife rattled across the floor. Scott swung the revolver back to cover the three men.

  Madeline glowered at Ostriker but didn’t get up. “Never morrow shall dawn upon him, desolate!” she said. It was another line of the poem in Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

  “Kill them,” Louise said, getting to her feet. “They were going to kill us.”

  “No,” said Scott, panting, “those two are on our side, though they don’t know it. We—”

  Polydectes was looking from the broken window to the front door and back. “That bomb,” he said quickly, “that’s the Spanish group, they’ll be in here in a moment—”

  “That’s just our aunt,” interrupted Scott, “blowing up again.” The man started to say something else, but Scott said loudly, “Walk backward toward the broken window, slowly, all three of you. You saw I’m willing to shoot somebody—next time I’ll aim better.”

  “You stole it,” said Madeline from the couch, glaring at Ostriker, “you abandoned me pregnant, with a shattered foot, and you abandoned our son; you left us with nothing. I need it now.”

  Ostriker was shuffling backward with Polydectes and Perseus, who were eyeing him as cautiously as they were Scott and Ariel.

  “You bitch!” Ostriker shouted. His face gleamed with sweat and the left side of his jaw was bare, that half of the beard hanging now from his chin. “You think I didn’t know you were planning to show me a spider, and then in the after look at the Medusa? Through my eyes! I’d have died like Ince, and you’d have had a safe passage!”

  Keeping all three of the men in view over the muzzle of the revolver, Scott stepped toward the kitchen and called, “Ariel, get their guns and the knife.”

  Crouching but not lowering her own gun, Ariel tucked one of the dropped guns into the back of her waistband and gripped the other; the knife she kicked toward the front door.

  “Yes, like Ince,” yelled Madeline in their aunt’s voice, “and you need to do it now; you owe me. I have nothing.”

  Scott crossed to the refrigerator, and with his free hand lifted the dartboard from a hook on the wall.

  He looked at Ariel. “Get Madeline and Louise outside. We can shoot out their tires and go.”

  “That’s it,” called Polydectes urgently, “in the dartboard, isn’t it? We can make your deal, I can guarantee—”

  “You were going to shoot my sister’s leg off!” shouted Scott. The grip of the revolver in his right hand was slick with sweat, and he held it more tightly.

  Ariel and Louise had taken hold of Madeline’s arms and lifted her to her feet and marched her toward the front door. Louise reached out and turned the knob, and Scott followed them out onto the verandah, still facing t
he room as he held the dartboard to his chest and kept the gun trained on the three men standing by the empty window frame on the far side of the room.

  “I’m gonna close the door,” he called to them, “and if it opens, she and I will both shoot at whoever’s peeking out.”

  He slammed the door, then spun in alarm when he heard two close gunshots from behind him—but it had been Ariel shooting at the tires of the station wagon. One tire had gone flat.

  “The second one bounced off!” she said.

  “One’ll do. Cover the door, but watch the sides of the house too.” Scott hurried down the steps and across the cement apron to the pickup truck and the Camaro, where he quickly fired a shot into a back tire of each; the sound of the shots echoed away among the pines, and both vehicles abruptly sagged as the bursts of compressed air blew dust across the cement.

  “Your turn!” Ariel called. Scott raised his right arm and pointed his gun at Ostriker’s door, keeping a wide focus on the whole house. We’re nearly away, he thought, still clasping the dartboard to his chest; we’re nearly away. Madeline and Louise were already in the backseat of the Datsun, and now Ariel got in on the driver’s side, started the engine, and backed toward the verandah. She leaned across and pushed the door open, and after Scott had hurried to the car and slid in, she accelerated down the steep driveway until the house was out of sight. Scott shoved the revolver back in his pocket and slumped down in the passenger seat, and he let the fingers of his left hand unclamp from the dartboard.

  “Curl around west and find a way down to Sunset,” gasped Louise as the car swayed around the curves of the driveway. “Cops will arrive by way of Laurel Canyon.” She reached a shaky hand between the front seats and touched the rough surface of the dartboard on Scott’s lap.

  Madeline was blinking around as Ariel got to the bottom of the driveway and made a bouncy right turn. “I was Aunt Amity again, wasn’t I? He shouldn’t have pointed a gun at her foot.”

  “It was a lucky break this time,” said Scott. “She tried to poke Ostriker’s eyes out and then blew up on the roof.”

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