The vinyl tiles in Mercy are gray with speckles of green and rose. In the laundry room they are yellow. These two styles of flooring are at once different yet the same.
While the music from high in the house changes a few times, Randal gradually grows embarrassed by his timidity. Peering through a door into the O’Connors’ laundry is not, after all, a heroic accomplishment.
He is deluding himself. He is succumbing to his agoraphobia, to his autistic desire to minimize sensory input.
If he proceeds at this agonizing pace, he will need six months to make his way through the house and find Arnie.
He can’t live under the structure, in the crawl space, for such an extended time. For one thing, he is hungry. His superlative body is a machine in need of much fuel.
Randal doesn’t mind eating what spiders, rodents, earthworms, and snakes that he might find under the house. However, judging by the creatures he has encountered thus far during his hours in the crawl space, that shadowy realm doesn’t contain even a small fraction of the game he needs to sustain himself.
He opens the door again.
The wonderful laundry room. Waiting.
He steps out of the furnace closet and gently closes the door behind him. Thrilled beyond words.
He has never walked on yellow vinyl tiles before. They work the same as gray-vinyl tiles. The soles of his shoes make the faintest squeaking sounds.
A door stands open between the laundry room and the kitchen.
Randal Six halts at this new threshold, marveling. A kitchen is everything—more!—that he thought it would be, a place of numerous conveniences and overwhelming charm.
He could easily become inebriated with ambience. He must remain sober and cautious, prepared to retreat if he should hear someone approaching.
Until he can locate Arnie and wrench from him the secret of happiness, Randal wants to avoid coming face to face with anyone. He isn’t sure what would happen in such an encounter, but he feels certain that the consequences would not be pleasant.
Although he was engineered to be autistic for the purposes of Father’s experiments, which makes him different from others of the New Race, he shares much of their programming. He is incapable of suicide, for instance.
He isn’t permitted to kill except when instructed by his maker to do so. Or in self-defense.
The problem is that Randal is terribly fearful in his autism. He feels easily threatened.
Hiding in the Dumpster, he had killed a homeless man who had come searching for soft-drink cans and other small treasures.
The hobo might not have meant him any harm, might not in fact have been capable of causing him harm, yet Randal had dragged him headfirst into the Dumpster, had snapped his neck, and had buried him under bags of trash.
Considering that mere newness frightens him, that the smallest change fills him with trepidation, any encounter with a stranger is more likely than not to result in a violent act of self-defense. He has no moral concern about this. They are of the Old Race and must all die sooner or later, anyway.
The problem is that snapping the spine of a hobo in a deserted alleyway is not likely to draw attention; but killing someone in this house will be a noisy affair certain to reveal his presence to other residents and possibly even to neighbors.
Nevertheless, because he is hungry and because the refrigerator no doubt contains something tastier than spiders and earthworms, he steps out of the laundry room and into the kitchen.
Each carrying a suitcase full of weapons, Carson and Michael left The Other Ella.
As the daughter of a detective who had supposedly gone bad, Carson believed that she was under closer scrutiny by her fellow officers than was the average cop. She understood it, resented it—and was self-aware enough to realize that she might be imagining it.
Fresh from consorting with the likes of foulmouthed Francine and courtly Godot, crossing the sidewalk toward the unmarked sedan, Carson surveyed the street, half convinced that the Internal Affairs Division, having staked out the scene, would at any moment break cover and make arrests.
Every pedestrian appeared to take an interest in Carson and Michael, to glance with suspicion at the bags they carried. Two men and a woman across the street seemed to stare with special intensity.
Why would anyone walk out of a restaurant with suitcases? Nobody bought takeout in that volume.
They put the bags in the trunk of the sedan, and Carson drove out of Faubourg Marigny, into the Quarter, without being arrested.
“What now?” Michael wondered.
“We think it through.”
“Think what through?”
“The color of love, the sound of one hand clapping. What do you think we have to think through?”
“I’m not in a mood to think,” he said. “Thinking’s going to get us killed.”
“How do we get at Victor Frankenstein?”
“Helios, Frankenstein—it’s still the same Victor. How do we get at the Victor?”
Michael said, “Maybe I’m superstitious, but I wish the Victor had a different first name.”
“A victor is someone who defeats his adversary. Victor means ‘winner.’”
“Remember that guy we busted last year for the double homicide in the antique shop on Royal?”
“Sure. He had a third testicle.”
“What the hell does that have to do with anything?” she asked impatiently. “We didn’t know that till he’d been arrested, charged, and had his jailhouse physical.”
“It doesn’t have anything to do with anything,” he admitted. “It’s just one of those details that stick in your mind.”
“My point is, the guy’s name was Champ Champion, but he was a loser anyway.”
“His real name was Shirley Champion, which explains everything.”
“He’d had his name legally changed to Champ Champion.”
“Cary Grant was born Archie Leach. The only name that matters is the born name.”
“I’ll pull to the curb, you roll down your window and ask any pedestrian you want, have they seen an Archie Leach movie. See how much born names matter.”
“Marilyn Monroe—she was really Norma Jean Mortenson,” he said, “which is why she ended up dead young of an overdose.”
“Is this one of those times you’re going to be impossible?”
“I know that’s usually your job,” he said. “What about Joan Crawford? She was born Lucille Le Sueur, which explains why she beat her children with wire coat hangers.”
“Cary Grant never beat anyone with coat hangers, and he had a fabulous life.”
“Yeah, but he was the greatest actor in the history of film. The rules don’t apply to him. Victor and Frankenstein are two power names if I ever heard them, and he was born with them. No matter what you say, I’d feel more comfortable if his mother had named him Nancy.”
“What are they doing?” Cindi asked impatiently, glancing again at the street map on the dashboard screen.
Benny had been studying the screen continuously as Cindi drove. He said, “At the end of every block, she makes another turn, back and forth, zig-zag, around and around, like a blind rat in a maze.”
“Maybe they know they’re being tailed.”
“They can’t know,” he said. “They can’t see us.”
Being able to track the sedan by the continuous signal of the transponder that Dooley had secreted under its hood, the Lovewells didn’t need to maintain visual contact. They could conduct a most leisurely pursuit from a distance of several blocks and even follow the detectives on parallel streets.
“I know how she feels,” Cindi said.
“What do you mean?”
“Like a blind rat in a maze.”
“I didn’t say that’s how she feels. I don’t know how she feels. I said that’s how she’s driving.”
“Most of the time,” Cindi said, “I feel like a blind rat in a maze. And she’s childless like me.”
“Detective O’Connor. She’s old enough to have had half a dozen children, at least, but she doesn’t have any. She’s barren.”
“You can’t know that she’s barren.”
“Maybe she just doesn’t want kids.”
“She’s a woman. She wants.”
“She just turned again, left this time.”
“She’s barren just because she made a left turn?”
Solemnly, Cindi said, “Like a blind rat in a maze.”
Carson turned right on Chartres Street, past the exquisitely decaying Napoleon House.
“Taking Victor down at Biovision is out of the question,” she said. “Too many people, too many witnesses, probably not all of them people he’s made.”
“We could hit him in his car, coming or going.”
“On a public street? If we can manage not to die while doing this, I don’t want to end up in women’s prison with all your former girlfriends.”
“We learn his routine,” Michael said, “and we find the least public place along the route.”
“We don’t have time to learn his routine,” she reminded him. “We’re a target now. We both know it.
“The secret lab we talked about earlier. The place where he… creates.”
“We don’t have time to find that, either. Besides, it’ll have better security than Fort Knox.”
“Fort Knox’s security is probably overrated. The bad guys had it figured in Goldfinger.”
“We’re not bad guys,” she said, “and this isn’t a movie. The best place to get him is at his house.”
“It’s a mansion. It’s got a big staff.”
“We’ll have to cut through them, straight to him, go in hard and fast,” she said.
“We’re not SWAT.”
“We’re not just parking patrol, either.”
“What if some of his household staff is our kind?” Michael worried.
“None of them will be. He wouldn’t want our kind serving in his home, where they might see or overhear something. They’ll all be part of the New Race.”
“We can’t be a hundred percent sure.”
On Decatur Street at Jackson Square, where carriages lined up to offer tours of the Quarter, one of the usually placid mules had broken away from the curb. The driver and a policeman were giving chase on foot as the mule pulled its fancy equipage in circles, blocking traffic.
“Maybe old Francine shoved someone up its butt,” Michael suggested.
Staying on point, Carson said, “So we’ve got to nail Victor at his house in the Garden District.”
“Maybe it would make more sense to pull out of New Orleans. We could go somewhere he couldn’t find us, take more time to think this through.”
“Yeah. Take the pressure off. Give ourselves a week to really think. Maybe two weeks. Maybe we’d never come back.”
“Would that be so bad?” he asked.
“ ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil’—”
“—‘is for good men to do nothing.’ Yeah. I heard already.”
“Who said that, anyway?” she wondered.
“I think it was Tigger, but it might have been Pooh.”
The carriage driver snared the bridle. The mule became calm and allowed itself to be walked back to the curb. The snarled traffic began to move.
Carson said, “He knows we’re on to him. Even if we leave the city, he won’t stop until he finds us, Michael. We’d always be on the run.”
“Sounds romantic,” he said wistfully.
“Don’t go there,” she warned him. “Aubrey’s rose garden wasn’t the place for it, and this is worse.”
“Will there ever be a place for it?”
She drove in silence for a minute, turned right at the next corner, and then said, “Maybe. But only if we can bring down Helios before his people rip our guts out and pitch us in the Mississippi.”
“You really know how to encourage a guy.”
“Now shut up about it. Just shut up. If we go all gooey over each other, we’ll lose focus. If we lose focus, we’re dead.”
“Too bad the rest of the world never gets to see this tender side of you.”
“I’m serious, Michael. I don’t want to talk about me and you. I don’t even want to joke about it. We’ve got a war to win.”
“All right. Okay. I hear you. I’ll stifle myself.” He sighed. “Champ Champion has three testicles, and pretty soon I’m not going to have any, they’ll just wither away.”
“Michael,” she said warningly.
He sighed again and said no more.
A couple of blocks later, she glanced sideways at him. He looked adorable. He knew it, too.
Stifling herself, she said, “We’ve got to find someplace private to have a look at the new guns, load them and the spare magazines.”
“City Park,” he suggested. “Take that service road to where we found the dead accountant two years ago.”
“The na*ed guy who was strangled with the Mardi Gras beads.”
“No, no. He was an architect. I’m talking about the guy in the cowboy outfit.”
“Oh, yeah, the black leather cowboy suit.”
“It was midnight blue,” Michael corrected.
“If you say so. You’re more fashion conscious than I am. The body was pretty close to the service road.”
“I don’t mean where we found the body,” Michael said. “I mean where we found his head.”
“You walk through a little stand of Southern pines.”
“And then some live oaks.”
“And then there’s open grass. I remember. That’s a nice place.”
“It’s very nice,” Michael agreed, “and it’s not close to any of the jogging paths. We’ll have privacy.”
“The killer certainly had privacy.”
“He certainly did,” Michael said.
“How long did it take us to get him—four weeks?”
“A little over five.”
“That was a hell of a trick shot you got him with,” Carson said.
“Ricocheted right off the blade of his ax.”