By the Light of the Moon / Page 44

Page 44

Ruby and sapphire beams of stained-glass light, carved-marble columns, ranks of wooden pews, upturned faces wrenched in horror – all folded away from her. Judging by the percentage of blue-and-white brightness in the kaleidoscopic pattern that rapidly folded toward her, however, the new place appeared too well lighted to be the work platform atop the east scaffold.

She arrived, of course, standing high on the roof of the church, having dramatically overshot her target this time instead of coming up ten feet short of it. Azure-blue sky, white puffy clouds, golden sunshine.

Black slate.

The black slate roof had a fearsomely steep pitch.

Peering down the slope toward the street, she suffered an attack of vertigo. When she looked up at the bell tower looming three stories above the roof, her vertigo only grew worse.

She would have folded off the church roof instantly upon arrival – except that she clutched, lost her nerve, afraid of making a still bigger mistake. Maybe this time she would unfold with half her body inside one of the marble columns down in the nave, and half her body out of it, limbs flapping in death throes, most of her internal organs mingled with stone.

In fact, now that she had thought of such a gruesome turn of events, it would almost certainly come to pass. She wouldn't be able to banish the mental image of herself half wedded to stone, and when she folded herethere, there would prove to be the heart of a column, leaving her more completely involved with the church than ever she had been when she'd sung in the choir.

She might have stood on the roof for a couple minutes, until she calmed herself and regained her confidence; but she didn't have that option. Three seconds, four maximum, after her arrival, she began to slide.

Maybe the slate had been black when first installed, but maybe it had been mostly gray or green, or pink, for all she knew. Right now, here in the heart of a rainless summer, these shingles appeared smooth and black because a fine powder of soot had settled upon them from the oily air of smoggy days.

This soot proved to be as fine as powdered graphite. Powdered graphite is an excellent lubricant. So was this.

Fortunately Jilly started near the peak of the roof; therefore, she didn't at once slide all the way off and drop to whatever expanse of bone-breaking concrete, or impaling iron fence, or pack of savage pit bulls, might be waiting for her below. She glided about ten feet, regained traction too abruptly, almost pitched forward, but stayed upright.

Then she slid again. Skiing down black slate. Big jump coming up. Building momentum for an Olympic-qualifying distance.

Jilly wore athletic shoes, and she was pretty athletic herself, but she couldn't arrest her slide. Although she waved her arms like a lumberjack in a log-rolling contest, she teetered on the brink of losing her balance, teetered, and then one foot flew out from under her. As she started to go down, realizing that she was going to smack slate with her tailbone, she wished she had a fat butt instead of a skinny little ass, but all the years of doughnut denial had at last caught up to her, and here came the void.

Like hell. She refused to die a Negative Jackson death. She had the willpower to make her destiny, rather than be a victim of fate.

The round and round of all that is, beautiful in its eleven-dimensional simplicity, folded to her command, and she left the roof, the soot, left the slide to death unfinished.

* * *

Falling toward the floor of the church, Jilly vanished, and with her disappearance, the screams of the wedding guests spiked, causing the organist to abandon the keyboard. The many screams broke off as one in a collective gasp of astonishment.

Gazing down on the spectacle, Shepherd said, 'Wow.'

Dylan snapped his attention toward the work platform on the east scaffold, where the gunman with the rifle stood. Perhaps too stunned to act on his original intentions, the killer hadn't yet opened fire. His hesitation wouldn't last long; in mere seconds, his hatred would prove powerful enough to purge the wonder of having witnessed an apparent miracle.

'Buddy, here to there.'


'Take us over there, buddy. To the bad man.'


'Don't think, buddy. Just go. Here to there.'

Down on the floor of the church, the majority of the wedding guests, who hadn't been looking up during Jilly's midair appearance and subsequent plunging disappearance, turned in bewilderment to those who had seen it all. A woman started to cry, and the piping voice of a child – no doubt a certain pigtailed girl – said, 'I told you so, I told you so!'



'For God's sake—'


Inevitably, one of the wedding guests – a woman in a pink suit and a pink feathered hat – spotted the third killer, who stood at the edge of the work platform atop the east-wall scaffold, leaning out, looking down, restrained from falling by a tether that anchored him to the wall. The pink-suited woman must have seen the rifle, too, for she pointed and screamed.

Nothing could have been better calculated than this cry of alarm to snap the gunman out of his merciful hesitation.

* * *

Sooty roof to scaffold platform, Jilly folded in to the church with the expectation of finding the third gunman and kicking him in the head, the gut, the gonads, or any other kickable surface that might be presented to her. She found herself facing a long run of deserted platform, with the painted-plaster frieze to her left, and with the massive marble columns rising through the open church to her right.

Instead of a multitude of screams, as there had been when she'd folded in midfall to the roof, only one rose from below. Looking down, she saw a woman in a pink suit attempting to alert the other guests to the danger – 'Up there, up there!' – pointing not at Jilly, but some distance past her.

Realizing that she faced the back of the nave, not the altar, Jilly turned and saw the third killer, twenty feet away, tethered to the wall, balancing on the edge of the platform, peering down at the crowd. He held the rifle with the muzzle up, aimed at the vaulted ceiling – but he began to react to the woman in pink.

Jilly ran. Twenty-four hours ago, she would have run away from a man with a gun, but now she ran toward him.

Even with her heart lodged in her throat and pounding as loud as a circus drum, with fear twisting like a snake through the entire length of her entrails, she possessed sufficient presence of mind to wonder if she had found a fine new courage in herself or instead had lost her sanity. Maybe a little of both.

She sensed also that her compulsion to go after the gunman might be related to the fact that the nanogadgets busily at work in her brain were making profound changes in her, changes more fundamental and even more important than the granting of supernatural powers. This was not a good thought.

The twenty feet between her and the would-be bride killer were as long as a marathon. The plywood seemed to move under her, foiling her advance, as if it were a treadmill. Nonetheless, she preferred to sprint rather than to trust once more in her as yet unpolished talent for folding.

The hard boom-boom-boom of running feet on the platform and the vibrations shuddering through the scaffolding distracted the gunman from the wedding guests. As he turned his head toward Jilly, she slammed into him, rocking him sideways, grabbing the rifle.

On impact, she tried to wrench the gun away from the killer. His hands remained locked to it, but she held tight, as well, even when she lost her footing and fell off the scaffold.

Her grip on the weapon spared her from another plunge. The garlic-reeking gunman's tether prevented him from being dragged immediately off the platform with her.

Dangling in space, looking up into the bigot's eyes – such black pools of festering hatred – Jilly found in herself an intensity of anger that she had never known before. Anger became a rage stoked by the thought of all the sons of Cain crawling the hills and cities of this world, all like this man, motivated by innumerable social causes and visions of Utopia, but also by personal fevers, forever craving violence, thirsting for blood and mad with dreams of power.

With Jilly's entire weight suspended from the rifle, the killer didn't have the strength to shake the weapon out of her hands. He began instead to twist it left and right, back and forth, thereby torquing her body and putting stress on her wrists. As the torsion built, twist by twist, the laws of physics required rotation, which would tear her hands off the gun as her body obeyed the law.

The pain in her tortured wrist joints and tendons rapidly became intolerable, worse than the still tender spot in her hand where the splinter had punctured her. If she let go, she could fold to safety during her fall, but then she would be leaving him with the rifle. And before she could return, he'd pump hundreds of rounds into the crowd, which was so transfixed by the contest above it that no one had yet thought to flee the church.

Her rage flared into fury, fueled by a fierce sense of injustice and by pity for the innocent who were always the targets of men like this, for the mothers and babies blown to pieces by suicide bombers, for the ordinary citizens who often found themselves between street-gang thugs and their rivals in drive-by shootings, for the merchants murdered for the few dollars in their tills – for one young bride and a loving groom and a flower girl who might be shredded by hollow-point bullets on what should have been a day of joy.

Empowered by her fury, Jilly attempted to counter the killer's torquing motion by swinging her legs forward, back, forward, like an acrobat hanging from a trapeze bar. The more successfully she swung to and fro, the more difficult he found it to keep twisting the rifle from side to side.

Her wrists ached, throbbed, burned; but his arms must have felt as though they would pull out of his shoulder sockets. The longer she held on, the greater the chance that he would let go of the weapon first. Then he would be not a potential killer anymore, but merely a madman on a high scaffold with spare magazines of ammunition that he couldn't use.

'Jillian?' Someone down on the floor of the church called her name in astonishment. 'Jillian?' She was reasonably certain that it was Father Francorelli, the priest who had heard her confessions and given her the sacrament for most of her life, but she didn't turn her head to look.

Sweat was her biggest problem. The killer's perspiration dripped off his face, onto Jilly, which disgusted her, but she remained more concerned about her own sweat. Her hands were slick. By the second, her grip on the weapon became more tenuous.

Resolving her dilemma, the gunman's tether snapped, or the piton pulled out of the wall, unable to support both his weight and hers.

Falling, he let go of the gun.


Falling, Jilly folded.

* * *

The words astonishment and amazement both describe the momentary overwhelming of the mind by something beyond expectation, although astonishment more specifically affects the emotions, while amazement especially affects the intellect. The less-used word awe expresses a more intense and profound – and rare – experience, in which the mind is overwhelmed by something almost inexpressibly grand in character or formidable in power.

Awe-stricken, Dylan watched from atop the west scaffold as Jilly raced full-tilt along the east-scaffold platform, slammed violently into the gunman, plunged over the brink, hung from the assault rifle, and performed a credible audition for a job with the Flying Wallendas of circus fame.

'Wow,' said Shepherd as the tether snapped with a sound like the crack of a giant whip, dropping Jilly and the killer toward the church floor.

Penned in by the pews, the squealing wedding guests tried to scatter and duck.

Jilly and the gun vanished about four feet short of impact, but the hapless villain fell all the way. He struck the back of a pew with his throat, broke his neck, somersaulted into the next row, and in a tangle of limbs, he crashed to a stop, big-time dead, between a distinguished gray-haired gentleman in a navy-blue pinstripe suit and a matronly woman wearing an expensive beige knit suit and a lovely feathered hat with a wide brim.

When Jilly appeared at Shep's side, the dead man was already dead but still flopping and thudding into the final dramatic pose in which the police photographer would want to immortalize him. She put down the assault rifle and said, 'I'm pissed.'

'I could tell,' Dylan said.

'Wow,' said Shepherd. 'Wow.'

* * *

Cries flew up from the wedding guests when the gunman caromed off the back of one pew into the next row and stayed down dead, his head askew and one arm akimbo. Then a man in a gray suit spotted Jilly standing with Dylan and Shep atop the west-wall scaffold, and pointed her out to the others. In a moment, the entire congregation stood with heads tipped back, gazing up at her. Evidently because they were in a state of shock, every one of them had fallen silent, so the hush in the church grew as deep as the quiet in a tomb.

When the silence held until it became eerie, Dylan explained to Jilly: 'They're awe-stricken.'

Jilly saw a young woman wearing a mantilla in the crowd below. Perhaps the same woman in the desert vision.

Before the crowd's shock could wear off and panic set in, Dylan raised his voice to reassure them. 'Everything's okay. It's over now. You're safe.' He pointed to the cadaver crumpled among the pews. 'Two accomplices of that man are up here, out of commission, but in need of medical attention. Someone should call nine-one-one.'

Only two in the crowd moved: The woman in the mantilla went to the votive rack to light a candle and say a prayer, while a wedding photographer began shooting pictures of Dylan, Jilly, and Shep.

Looking down on these hundreds, sixty-seven of whom would have been shot, forty of whom would have perished, if she and Dylan and Shep hadn't gotten here in time, Jilly was overcome by emotions so powerful, so exalting, and simultaneously so humbling, that no matter how long she lived, she would never forget her feelings at this incredible moment or be able to describe adequately the intensity of them.

From the platform at her feet, she picked up her purse, which contained what little she still owned in this world: wallet, compact, lipstick.... She wouldn't have sold these pathetic possessions at any price, for they were the only tangible proof she had that she'd once lived an ordinary existence, and they seemed like talismans by which she might recover that lost life.

'Shep,' she whispered, her voice tremulous with emotion, 'I don't trust myself to fold three of us out of here. You'll have to do it.'

'Somewhere private,' Dylan warned, 'somewhere lonely.'

While everyone around her still stood immobile, the bride moved in the center aisle, weaving among her guests, stopping only when she arrived directly before Jilly. She was a beautiful woman, radiant, graceful in a stunning dress that would have been much talked about at the reception if the guests hadn't had plenty of murder, mayhem, and derring-do to discuss instead.

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