As they reached the living room, a gun roared upstairs. It was a big sound, as if an armoire had toppled over. The whole house seemed to shake.
Cindi looked at the chloroform in her hand. She looked at the Taser.
Another shot roared.
Cindi put the Taser in an inside jacket pocket, switched the chloroform to her left hand, and pulled her pistol.
Upstairs the big gun boomed twice again, and Benny drew his piece, too. The gun was a 9mm semi-auto, but this caliber would be a more serious problem for O’Connor and Maddison than for the Lovewells.
Who the intruder had been, how he had gotten into the house, why he seemed to have targeted Arnie specifically—none of that mattered as much as the fact that he was of the New Race and that this case had come home in the most literal sense, as from the start Carson had been afraid it would.
The walls of their house, the locks in its doors, offered them no more security than did Arnie’s Lego castle. Perhaps the fate of this city, of the world, in the hands of Victor Helios, was such that no time would ever come again when they could spend a peaceful moment in their home. They couldn’t stay here anymore.
And they had to get out fast.
Neighbors might not have been able to identify the precise location of the four shotgun blasts. Nevertheless, gunfire in this neighborhood would not go unreported.
Soon NOPD would have a patrol car or two cruising the area, on the lookout for anything suspicious. Carson preferred to avoid even a friendly encounter with uniforms. She didn’t want to have to explain the weapons for which she possessed neither a receipt of purchase nor department authorization.
Besides, a uniform no longer earned immediate trust from her. The brotherhood of the police had been infiltrated by the New Race; and those who were loyal to Helios might have been told—or might be told at any moment—to make the elimination of Carson and Michael their top priority.
She picked up the Urban Sniper that Randal had torn from her grasp. Fingering two shells out of the dump pouch at her right hip, inserting them in the side carrier to bring the weapon to full load once more, she said, “Good thing we went with slugs.”
“Buckshot wouldn’t have stopped him,” Michael agreed, reloading his shotgun.
“Maybe the shots will make the two in the Mountaineer hesitate.”
“Or bring them running.”
“We grab Vicky, go straight out the front door. Her car’s at the curb. We leave in that.”
Reloading his Sniper, Michael said, “You think they’ve got a hear-me-see-me on the plainwrap?”
“Yeah. They’ve been following us by remote view”
Arnie had gotten out of his chair. He stood gazing at his blood-spattered castle.
Carson said, “Honey, we have to go. Right now.”
The last thing they needed was for Arnie to be mulish. Most of the time, he remained docile, cooperative, but he had his stubborn moments, which could be caused by traumatic experiences and loud noises.
Four shotgun blasts and the intruder dead on the floor qualified on both counts, but Arnie seemed to realize that survival depended on his finding the courage not to withdraw further into his shell. He went at once to the door.
Michael said, “Stay behind me, Arnie,” and led the way into the upstairs hall.
Glancing at the intruder, half expecting to see him blink and shake off the effects of being repeatedly shotgunned, relieved to have her expectations disappointed, Carson followed Arnie out of his room, his refuge, desperately afraid that she would not be able to protect him any longer now that the Big Easy had become the city of night.
Benny started up the steps, and behind him Cindi whispered, “If there’s a baby in the house, let’s take it.”
He kept moving, his back to the staircase wall, sideways from riser to riser. “There’s no baby in the house.”
“But if there is.”
“We didn’t come here for a baby.”
“We didn’t come here for the bitch in the kitchen, either, but we’ll be taking her.”
He reached the landing, peered up the second flight. Nobody in the upstairs hall, as far as he could see.
Behind him, she wouldn’t relent: “If we take the baby, you can kill it with the others.”
Cindi was nuts, and she was making him nuts, too. He refused to get into this debate with her, especially in the middle of a hit.
Besides, if they took the baby, she wouldn’t let him kill it. Once she had it, she would want to keep it and dress it up in frilly outfits.
Anyway, there was no baby in the house!
Benny reached the top of the second flight. With his back still to the wall, he stuck his head out, looked around the corner—and saw Maddison coming with a shotgun, a boy behind him, O’Connor behind the boy with a shotgun of her own.
Maddison saw him, Benny juked back, and where the wall turned the corner from stairwell to hall, a shotgun blast ripped Sheetrock, shattered framing, showered him with powdered gypsum and splinters of wood.
Dropping to his knees on the steps, Benny risked exposure to fire again, but down low, where Maddison would not expect him, and squeezed off three shots without taking time to aim, before pulling back onto the stairs.
Three pistol shots, all wild, but one of them close enough to sing like a wasp past Carson, suggested the wisdom of a change in plans.
Even from the brief glimpse she had of him, Carson recognized the man on the stairs. He was the guy in the Mountaineer, the one who had smiled and waved.
Figure there were two of them on the stairs, the woman behind him. Figure they were both New Race, and both armed with pistols.
To drop Randal, she and Michael had had to scramble his internal organs, shred both his hearts, and shatter his spine with three point-blank slugs from the Urban Snipers.
These two golems on the stairs would be at least as difficult to kill as he had been. And unlike Randal, they were armed and seemed to have some paramilitary framing or at least experience.
Without Arnie to consider, Carson might have relied on the power of their weaponry, might have stormed the stairs, but with the boy to worry about, she couldn’t roll the dice.
“Vicky’s room,” she told Michael, grabbed Arnie by the arm, and retreated toward the end of the hall.
Michael backed away from the head of the stairs, laying down two spaced rounds of suppressing fire to discourage another fusillade from the pistol.
The juncture of hall and stairwell walls took such a beating from the shotgun that the metal corner beading under the Sheetrock was exposed, snapped, sprung like a clock spring, and shards of it peppered Benny and embedded in his face.
For a moment he thought they were recklessly charging the stairs. Then he heard a door slam, and no more gunfire followed.
He scrambled up, off the stairs, and found the upper hallway deserted.
“Those’re the guns they were trying out in the woods,” Cindi said as she joined him.
Plucking the metal splinters out of his face, Benny said, “Yeah, I figured.”
“You want to back off, come at them someplace later when their guard’s down?”
“No. They have a kid with them. That complicates things, limits their options. Let’s whack them now.”
“Kid? They’ve got a kid?”
“Not a baby. Like twelve, thirteen.”
“Oh. Too old. You can kill him, too,” she said.
Unfortunately, now that the situation had blown up, Benny didn’t expect to be able to take either O’Connor or Maddison alive. This job wouldn’t give him the opportunity for any of the careful carving that he enjoyed and for which he had such a talent.
Three rooms opened off the hall. A door was ajar. Benny kicked it open. A bathroom. Nobody in there.
On the floor of the second room, a body lay in blood.
In that room also stood a humungous model of a castle, about as big as an SUV. Weird. You never knew what strange stuff you’d find in Old Race houses.
So the door Benny had heard slam must have been the last one in the hall.
As Carson hurriedly replenished the expended shells in his shotgun, Michael shoved the dresser in front of the locked door, further bracing it.
When he turned and took the weapon from her, she said, “We can go out the window, onto the porch roof and down.”
“What about Vicky?”
Although it hurt to put the thought in words, Carson said, “She either ran when she saw them or they got her.”
As Carson took Arnie by the hand and led him toward the open window, one of the golems in the hallway threw itself against the door. She heard wood crack, and a hinge or lock plate buckled with a twang.
“Carson!” Michael warned. “It’s not gonna hold ten seconds.”
“Onto the roof,” she told Arnie, pushing him to the window.
She turned as the door took another hit. It shuddered violently, and a hinge tore out of the casing.
No ordinary man could come through a door this easily. This was like a rhino charge.
They raised both shotguns.
The door was solid oak. As the golems broke through, they would use it as a shield. The shotgun slugs would penetrate, but do less damage than an unobstructed shot.
On the third hit, the second hinge tore loose and the lock bolt snapped.
“Here they come!”
After sitting for a few minutes with the body of the replicant Pastor Laffite, Deucalion walked out of the parsonage kitchen and into the kitchen of Carson O’Connor’s house, where Vicky Chou lay unconscious on the floor, in the reek of chloroform.
A tremendous crash from upstairs indicated worse trouble, and he walked out of the kitchen into the second-floor hall in time to see some guy slam his shoulder into a bedroom door as a woman stood to one side, watching.
He surprised the woman, tore the pistol out of her hand, threw it aside even as he lifted her and pitched her farther than the gun.
As the guy hit the door again and it appeared to break off its last pins, Deucalion grabbed him by the nape of the neck and the seat of the pants. He lifted him, turned him, and slammed him into the wall across the hall from the room that he’d been trying to enter.
The force of impact was so tremendous that the guy’s face broke through the Sheetrock and hammered a wall stud hard enough to crack it. Deucalion kept shoving, and the stud relented, as did the rest of the wall structure, until the killer’s head was in Arnie’s room even as his body remained in the hall.
The woman was crawling toward her gun, so Deucalion left the guy with his neck in the wall as if in the lunette of a guillotine, and went after her.
She picked up the pistol, rolled onto her side, and fired at him. She hit him, but it was only a 9mm slug, and he took it in the breastbone without serious damage.
He kicked the gun out of her hand, probably breaking her wrist, and kicked her in the ribs, and kicked her again, sure that even New Race ribs could be broken.
By then, the guy had pulled his head out of the wall. Deucalion sensed him coming and turned to see an angry gypsum-whitened face, a bloody broken nose, and one eye bristling with wood splinters.
The killer was still game, and fast, but Deucalion didn’t merely sidestep him. In the same way that he had traveled from the parsonage kitchen to the O’Connor kitchen in a single step, he went twenty feet backward, leaving his assailant to stumble forward, grappling only with air.
In retreat, having abandoned her pistol, the woman had scrambled toward the stairs. Deucalion seized her and assisted her by pitching her down the first flight to the landing.
In spite of being the future of the planet and the doom of mere humanity, the New Race superman with the plaster-powdered face and the toothpick holder for a left eye had had enough. He fled the hall for Arnie’s room.
Deucalion went after the guy just in time to see him plunge through a window into the backyard.
Standing in Vicky’s room, listening to the ruckus in the hall, Michael said, “What—are they fighting with each other?”
Carson said, “Somebody’s kicking ass.”
They didn’t lower their shotguns, but they moved closer to the barricading dresser, against which the loose door was now merely propped.
When sudden quiet followed the uproar, Carson cocked her head, listened, then said, “What now?”
“Apocalypse,” Deucalion said behind them.
Carson turned with a jump and saw the giant standing beside Arnie. She didn’t think he had come in through the open window.
The boy was shaking as if with palsy. He had covered his face with his hands. Too much noise, too much new and strange.
“It’s all coming apart,” Deucalion said. “That’s why I was brought to this place, at this time. Victor’s empire is blowing up in his face. By morning, nowhere in the city will be safe. I must move Arnie.”
“Move him where?” Carson worried. “He needs quiet, peace. He needs—”
“There’s a monastery in Tibet,” said Deucalion, effortlessly lifting Arnie and holding him in his arms.
“The monastery is like a fortress, not unlike his castle, and quiet. I have friends there who’ll know how to calm him.”
Alarmed, Carson said, “Tibet? Hey, no. It might as well be the moon!”
“Vicky Chou is in the kitchen, unconscious. Better move that dresser and get out of here,” Deucalion advised. “Police will be coming, and you won’t know who they really are.”
The giant turned as if to carry Arnie through the open window, but in the turn itself, he was gone.
Maybe four minutes had passed since Carson had first fired the shotgun at Randal in Arnie’s room. Figure none of the neighbors had called 911 for a minute, taking that long to wonder if it had been a backfiring truck or the dog farting. So maybe a call had gone out three minutes ago.
In this city, the average police response time to a gunfire-heard call, when no gunman had actually been seen and no location verified, was about six minutes.
With three minutes to leave, Carson didn’t have time to worry about Arnie in Tibet.
Michael dragged the dresser out of the way, and the door fell into the room. They walked across it into the hall, and ran for the stairs.
Fragrant with evaporating chloroform, Vicky hadn’t cooperated by regaining consciousness. Carson carried both shotguns, and Michael carried Vicky.
When Carson unlocked the back door and opened it, she paused on the threshold, turned to survey the kitchen. “I may never see this place again.”
“It’s not exactly Tara,” Michael said impatiently.
“I grew up in this house.”
“And a fine job you did of it. Now it’s time to move on.”