“Maybe. Probably. Who knows?”
“We better hope that's how it is. Because if he's listening and watching all the time, we don't have a snowball's chance in Hell of nailing the son of a bitch. The moment we start getting close, he'll burn us to the ground as sure as he burned down your condo.”
On the shoplined main street of Corona Del Mar, and along the dark Newport coast where land was being graded for a new community on the oceanfacing hills and where enormous earthmoving machines stood like prehistoric beasts asleep on their feet, Harry had a crawling sensation along the back of his neck. Descending the coast highway into Laguna Beach, it got worse. He felt as if he were being watched in the same way that a mouse is watched by a stalking cat.
Laguna was an arts colony and tourist mecca, still renowned for its beauty even though it had seen better days. Speckled with golden lights and adorned with a softening mantle of greenery, serried hills sloped down from the east to the shores of the Pacific, as graceful as a lovely woman descending a stairway to the surf. But tonight the lady seemed less lovely than dangerous.
The house stood on a bluff above the sea. The west wall of tinted glass encompassed a primal view of sky, water, and crashing surf.
When Bryan wished to sleep during the day, electrically operated Rolladen shutters motored down to banish the sun. It was night, however, and while Bryan slept, the huge windows revealed a black sky, blacker sea, and phosphorescent incoming breakers like marching ranks of soldier ghosts.
When Bryan slept, he always dreamed.
Though most people's dreams were in black and white, his were in full color. In fact the spectrum of colors in his dreams was greater than in real life, a fabulous variety of hues and shadings that made each vision enthrallingly intricate.
Rooms in his dreams were not simply vague suggestions of places, and landscapes were not impressionistic smears. Every locale in his sleep was vividlyeven excruciatingly detailed. If he dreamed of a forest, every leaf was rendered with veining, individually mottled and shaded.
If snow, every flake was unique.
After all, he was not a dreamer like every other. He was a slumbering god. Creative.
That Tuesday evening Bryan's dreams were, as always, filled with violence and death. His creativity was best expressed in imaginative forms of destruction.
He walked the streets of a fantasy city more labyrinthine than any that existed in the real world, a metropolis of crowding spires.
When children looked upon him, they were stricken by a plague of such exquisite virulence that their small faces instantly erupted in masses of oozing pustules; bleeding lesions split their skin. When he touched strong men, they burst into flame and their eyes melted from their sockets. Young women aged before his eyes, withered and died in seconds, transformed from objects of desire into piles of wormriddled refuse. When Bryan smiled at a shopkeeper standing in front of a corner grocery, the man fell to the pavement, writhing in agony, and swarms of cockroaches erupted from his ears, nostrils, and mouth.
For Bryan, this was not a nightmare. He enjoyed his dreams and always woke from them refreshed and excited.
The city streets faded into the uncountable rooms of an infinite bordello, with a different beautiful woman waiting to please him in every richly decorated chamber. Naked, they prostrated themselves before him, pleaded to be allowed to provide him with relief, but he would lie with none of them. Instead, he slaughtered each woman in a different fashion, endlessly inventive in his brutalities, until he was drenched with their blood.
He was not interested in sex. Power was more satisfying than sex could ever be, and by far the most satisfying power was the power to kill.
He never tired of their cries for mercy. Their voices were very much like the squeals of the small animals that had learned to fear him when he'd been a child and had just begun to Become. He had been born to rule both in the dream world and the real, to help humankind relearn the humility that it had lost.
For long delicious minutes, Bryan lay in a tangle of black sheets, as pale upon that rumpled silk as the luminescent foam was pale upon the crest of each wave that broke on the shore below his windows.
The euphoria of the bloody dream stayed with him for a while, and was immeasurably better than a postorgasmic glow.
He longed for the day when he could brutalize the real world as he did the world in his dreams. They deserved punishment, these swarming multitudes. In their selfabsorption, they had pridefully assumed that the world had been made for them, for their pleasure, and they had overrun it. But he was the apex of creation, not them.
They must be profoundly humbled, and their numbers reduced.
However, he was still young, not in full control of his power, still Becoming. He didn't yet dare to begin the cleansing of the earth that was his destiny.
Naked, he got out of bed. The slightly cool air felt good against his bare skin.
In addition to the sleek, ultramodern, blacklacquered bed with its silk sheets, the large room contained no other furniture except two matching black nightstands and black marble lamps with black shades.
No stereo, television, or radio. There was no chair in which to relax and read; books were of no interest to him, for they contained no knowledge he needed to acquire and no entertainment equal to that he could provide himself. When he was creating and manipulating the phantom bodies in which he patrolled the outer world, he preferred to lie in bed, staring at the ceiling.
He had no clock. Didn't need one. He was so attuned to the mechanics of the universe that he always knew the hour, minute, and second. It was part of his gift.
The entire wall opposite the bed was mirrored floor to ceiling. He had mirrors throughout the house; he liked what they showed him of himself, the image of godhood Becoming in all its grace, beauty, and power.
Except for the mirrors, the walls were painted black. The ceiling was black as well.
The blacklacquered shelves of a large bookcase contained scores of onepint Mason jars filled with formaldehyde. Floating therein were pairs of eyes, visible to Bryan even in deep gloom. Some were the eyes of human beings: men, women, and children who had received his judgment; various shades of blue, brown, black, gray, green. Others were the eyes of the animals on which he'd first experimented with his power years ago: mice, gerbils, lizards, snakes, turtles, cats, dogs, birds, squirrels, rabbits; some were softly luminescent even in death, glowing pale red or yellow or green.
Votive eyes. Offered by his subjects. Symbols acknowledging his power, his superiority, his Becoming. At every hour of the day and night, the eyes were there, acknowledging, admiring, adoring him.
Look upon me and tremble, said the Lord. For I am mercy but also am I wrath. I am forgivenns but also am I vengeance. And whatevereth to thee shall from me.
In spite of the humming vent fans, the room was redolent of blood, bile, intestinal gases, and an astringent disinfectant that made Connie squint.
Harry sprayed his left hand with some Binaca breathfreshener.
He cupped his moistened palm over his nose, so the minty fragrance would block out at least some of the smell of death.
He offered Connie the Binaca. She hesitated, then accepted it.
The dead woman lay na*ed and staring on the tilted, stainlesssteel table. The coroner had made a large Y incision in her abdomen, and most of her organs had been carefully removed.
She was one of Ordegard's victims from the restaurant. Her name was Laura Kincade. Thirty years old. She had been pretty when she'd gotten out of bed that morning. Now she was a fright figure from a grisly carnival funhouse.
The fluorescent lights imparted a milky sheen to her eyes, on which were reflected twin images of the overhead microphone and the flexible, segmentedmetal cable on which it hung. Her lips were parted, as if she were about to sit up, speak into the mike, and add a few comments to the official record of her autopsy.
The coroner and two assistants were working late, finishing the final of three examinations of Ordegard and his two victims. The men looked weary, both physically and spiritually.
In all her years of police work, Connie had never encountered one of those hardened forensic pathologists who appeared so frequently in the movies and on television, carving up corpses while they made crude jokes and ate pizza, untouched by the tragedies of others. On the contrary, although it was necessary to approach such a job with professional detachment, regular intimate contact with the victims of violent crime always took its toll one way or another.
Teel Bonner, the chief medical examiner, was fifty but seemed older.
In the harsh fluorescent light, his face looked less tanned than sallow, and the bags under his eyes were large enough to pack for a weekend getaway.
Bonner paused in his cutting to tell them that the tape of the Ordegard autopsy had already been transcribed by a typist. The transcription was in a folder on his desk, in the glasswalled office adjacent to the dissection room. “I haven't written the summary yet, but the facts are all there.”
Connie was relieved to get into the office and close the door. The small room had a vent fan of its own, and the air was relatively fresh.
The brown vinyl upholstery on the chair was scarred, creased, and mottled with age. The standardissue metal desk was scratched and dented.
This was no bigcity morgue with several dissection rooms and a professionally decorated office for receptions with reporters and politicians. In smaller towns, violent death was still generally viewed as less glamorous than in larger metropolises.
Harry sat and read from the autopsy transcript while Connie stood at the glass wall and watched the three men gathered around the corpse in the outer room.
The cause of James Ordegard's death had been three gunshot wounds to the chestwhich Connie and Harry already knew because all three rounds had come from Harry's gun. The effects of the gunshots included puncture and collapse of the left lung, major damage to the large intestine, nicks to the common iliac and the celiac arteries, the complete severing of the renal artery, deep laceration of the stomach and liver by fragments of bone and lead, and a tear in the heart muscle sufficient to cause sudden cardiac arrest.
“Anything odd?” she asked, her back to him.
“Like what? Don't ask me. You're the guy who thinks possession ought to leave its mark.”
In the dissection room, the three pathologists working over Laura Kincade were uncannily like doctors attending to a patient whose life they were struggling to preserve. The postures were the same; only the pace was different. But the sole thing that these men could preserve was a record of precisely the means by' which one bullet had fatally damaged one fragile human body, the of Laura's death. They couldn't begin to answer the bigger question: Why? Even James Ordegard and his twisted motivations could not explain the why of it; he was only another part of the bow. Explaining why was a task for priests and philosophers, who floundered helplessly for meaning every day.
“They did a craniotomy,” Harry said from the coroner's creaking chair.
“No visible surface hematoma. No unusual quantity of cerebrospinal fluid, no indications of excess pressure.”
“They do a cerebrotomy?” she asked.
“I'm sure.” He rustled through the pages of the transcript. “Yeah, here.”
“Cerebral tumor? Abscess? Lesions?”
He was silent for a long moment, scanning the report. Then: “No, nothing like that.”
Sometimes the pineal gland could shift out of position and come under pressure from surrounding brain tissues, resulting in extremely vivid hallucinations, sometimes paranoia and violent behavior. But that was not the case with Ordegard.
Watching the autopsy from a distance, Connie thought of her sister, Colleen, dead these five years, killed by childbirth. It seemed to her that Colleen's death made no more sense than that of poor Laura Kincade who had made the mistake of stopping at the wrong restaurant for lunch.
Then again, no death made sense. Madness and chaos were the engines of this universe. Everything was born only to die. Where was the logic and reason in that?
“Nothing,” Harry said, dropping the report back onto the desk.
The chair springs squeaked and twanged as he got up. “No unexplained marks on the body, no peculiar physiological conditions. If Ticktock was in possession of Ordegard, there's no clue of it in the corpse.”
Connie turned away from the glass wall. “Now what?”
Teel Bonner pulled open the morgue drawer.
The na*ed body of James Ordegard lay within. His white skin had a bluish cast in some places. Blackthread stitches had been used to close the extensive incisions from the autopsy.
The moon face. Rigor mortis had pulled his lips into a lopsided smile.
At least his eyes were closed.
“What did you want to see?” Bonner asked.
“If he was still here.” Harry said.
The coroner glanced at Connie. “Where else would he be?”
The bedroom floor was covered with black ceramic tile. Like purling water, it glistened in places with dim reflections of the ambient light from the night beyond the windows. It was cool beneath Bryan's feet.
As he walked to the glass wall that faced the ocean, the huge mirrors reflected black on black, and his na*ed form drifted like a wraith of smoke through the layered shadows.
He stood at the window staring at the sable sea and tarry sky. The smooth ebony vista was relieved only by the crests of the combers and by frostlike patches on the bellies of the clouds. That frost was a reflection of the lights of Laguna Beach behind him; his home was on one of the westernmost points of the city.
The view was perfect and serene because it lacked the human element.
No man or woman or child, no structure or machine or artifact intruded.
So quiet, dark. So clean.
He longed to eradicate humanity and all its works from large portions of the earth, restrict people to selected preserves. But he was not yet fully in control of his power, still Becoming.
He lowered his gaze from the sky and sea to the pallid beach at the foot of the bluff.
Leaning his forehead against the glass, he imagined lifeand by imagining, created it. On the sward just above the tide line, the sand began to stir. It rose, forming a cone as big as a manand then became a man. The hobo. The scarred face. Reptile eyes.
No such person had ever existed. The vagrant was strictly a creature of Bryan's imagination. Through this construct and others, Bryan could walk the world without being in danger from it.
Though his phantom bodies could be shot and burned and crushed without causing harm to him, his own body was dismayingly vulnerable. When cut, he bled. When struck, he bruised.