Dragon Tears / Page 29

Page 29



He was recalling certain folk legends, fairy tales of a fashion, although with even a stronger religious overtone than those of Hans Christian Andersen. Judaic in origin, if he wasn't mistaken. Tales of cabalistic magic.


He said, “If you gathered up all this dirt and debris, if you packed it together real tight... do you think it would be just exactly the right amount of material to fill in the wound in his throat and the hole in the side of his face?”


Frowning, Connie said, “Maybe. So ... what're you saying?”


He stood and pocketed the slug. He knew that he didn't have to remind her about the inexplicable pile of dirt in Ricky Estefan's living roomr about the exquisitely sculpted hand and coat sleeve sprouting from it.


“I'm not sure what I'm saying just yet,” Harry told her “I need to think about it a little more.”


As they passed through Ordegard's house, they turned off the lights.


The darkness they left behind seemed alive.


Outside in the postmidnight world, ocean air washed the land without cleansing it. Wind off the Pacific had always felt crisp and clean to Harry but no longer. He had lost his faith that the chaos of life was continuously swept into order by the forces of nature.


Tonight the cool breeze made him think of unclean things: graveyard granite, fleshless bones in the eternal embrace of gelid earth, the shiny carapaces of beetles that fed on dead flesh.


He was battered and tired; perhaps exhaustion accounted for this new somber and portentous turn of mind. Whatever the cause, he was drifting toward Connie's view that chaos, not order, was the natural state of things and that it could not be resisted, only ridden in the manner that a surfer rides a towering and potentially deadly wave.


On the lawn, between the front door and the driveway where he had parked the Honda, they almost walked into a large mound of raw earth.


It had not been there when they had first gone inside.


Connie got a flashlight from the glove compartment of the Honda, returned, and directed the beam on the mound, so Harry could examine it more closely. First he carefully circled the pile, studying it closely, but he could find no hand or other human feature molded from it. Deconstruction had been complete this time.


Scraping at the dirt with his hands, however, he uncovered clusters of dead and rotting leaves like the wad he had discovered in Ordegard's bedroom. Grass, stones, dead earthworms. Soggy pieces of a moldering cigar box. Pieces of roots and twigs. Thin parakeet bones, including the fragile calcium lace of one folded wing. Harry wasn't sure what he expected to find: maybe a heart sculpted from mud with all the detail of the hand they had seen in Ricky's living room, and still beating with strange malignant life.


In the car, after he started the engine, he switched on the heater. A deep chill had settled in him.


Waiting to get warm, staring at the black mound of earth on the dark lawn, Harry told Connie about that vengeful monster of legend and lolklorothe golem. She listened without comment, even less skeptical about this astonishing possibility than she had been at her apartment, earlier in the night, when he had raved on about a sociopath with psychic abilities and the demonic power to possess other people.


When he finished, she said, “So he makes a golem and uses it to kill, while he stays safe somewhere.”


“Maybe.”


“Makes a golem out of dirt.”


“Or sand or old brush or maybe just about anything.”


“Makes it with the power of his mind.”


Harry didn't respond.


She said, “With the power of his mind or with magic like in the folktales?”


“Jesus, I don't know. It's all so crazy” “And you still think he can also possess people, use them like puppets?”


“Probably not. No proof of it so far.”


“What about Ordegard?”


“I don't think there's any connection between Ordegard and this Ticktock.”


“Oh? But you wanted to go to the morgue because you thought-” “I did, but I don't now. Ordegard was just an ordinary, garden variety, premillennium nutcase. When I blew him away in the attic yesterday afternoon, that was the end of it.”


“But Ticktock showed up here at Ordegard's” “Because we were here. He knows how to find us somehow. He came here because we were here, not because he has anything to do with James Ordegard.”


A forced stream of hot air poured out of the dashboard vents. It washed over him without melting the ice he imagined he could feel in the pit of his stomach.


“We just ran into two psychos within a couple of hours of each other,” Harry said. “First Ordegard, then this guy It's been a bad day for the home team, that's all.”


“One for the record books,” Connie agreed. “But if Ticktock isn't Ordegard, if he wasn't angry with you for shooting Ordegard, why'd he fixate on you? Why's he want you dead?”


“I don't know.”


“Back at your place, before he burned it down, didn't he say you couldn't shoot him and think that was the end of it?”


“Yeah, that's part of what he said.” Harry tried to recall the rest of what the vagrantgolem had thundered at him, but the memory was elusive. "Now that I think of it, he never mentioned Ordegard's name.


I just assumed. ... No. Ordegard's been a false trail."


He was afraid she was going to ask how they could pick up the real trail, the right one, that would lead them to Ticktock But she must have realized that he was completely at a loss, because she didn't put him on the spot.


“It's getting too hot in here,” she said.


He lowered the temperature control on the heater.


At the bone, he was still chilled.


In the light from the instrument panel, he noticed his hands.


They were coated with grime, like the hands of a man who, buried prematurely, had desperately clawed his way out of a fresh grave.


Harry backed the Honda out of the driveway and drove slowly down through the steep hills of Laguna. The streets in those residential neighborhoods were virtually deserted at that late hour.


Most of the houses were dark. For all they knew, they might have been descending through a modern ghost town, where all of the residents had vanished like the crew of the old sailing ship Mary CeI'ste, beds empty in the darkened houses, televisions aglow in deserted family rooms,midnight snacks laid out on plates in silent kitchens where no one remained to eat.


He glanced at the dashboard clock. 12:18.


Little more than six hours until dawn.


“I'm so tired I can't think straight,” Harry said. “And, damn it, I've got to think.”


“Let's find some coffee, something to eat. Get our energy back” “Yeah, all right. Where?”


“The Green House. Pacific Coast Highway. It's one of the few places open this late.”


“Green House. Yeah, I know it.”


After a silence during which they descended another hill, Connie said, “You know what I found weirdest about Ordegard's house?”


“What?”


“It reminded me of my apartment.”


“Really? How?”


“Don't shine me on, Harry. You saw both places tonight.”


Harry had noticed a certain similarity, but he hadn't wanted to think about it. “He has more furniture than you do.”


“Not a whole damn lot more. No knickknacks, none of what they call decorative pieces, no family photos. One piece of art hanging in his place, one in mine.”


“But there's a big difference, a huge differenceyou've got that skydiver's eyeview poster, bright, exhilarating, gives you a sense of freedom just to look at it, nothing like that ghoul chewing on human body parts.”


“I'm not so sure. The painting in his bedroom's about death, human fate. Maybe my poster isn't so exhilarating, really. Maybe what it's really about is death, too, about falling and falling and never opening the chute.”


Harry glanced away from the street. Connie wasn't looking at him. Her head was tilted back, eyes closed.


“You're not any more suicidal than I am,” he said.


“How do you know?”


“I know.”


“The hell you do.”


He stopped at a red traffic light at Pacific Coast Highway, and looked at her again. She still hadn't opened her eyes. “Connie-” “I've always been chasing freedom. And what is the ultimate freedom?”


“Tell me.”


“The ultimate freedom is death.”


“Don't get Freudian on me, Gulliver. One thing I've always liked about you is, you don't try to psychoanalyze everyone.”


To her credit, she smiled, evidently remembering that she had used those words on him in the burger restaurant after the shooting of Ordegard, when he had wondered if she was as hard inside as she pretended to be.


She opened her eyes, checked the traffic light. “Green.”


“I'm not ready to go.”


She looked at him.


He said, “First I want to know if you're just jiving or if you really think you've got something in common with a fruitcake like Ordegard.”


“All this shit I go on about, how you have to love chaos, have to embrace it? Well, maybe you do, if you want to survive in this screwedup world. But tonight I've been thinking maybe I used to like surfing on it because, secretly, I hoped it would wipe me out one day.”


“Used to?”


“I don't seem to have the same taste for chaos that I once did.”


“Ticktock give you your fill of it?”


“Not him. It's just... earlier, right after work, before your condo was burned down and everything went to hell, I discovered I've got a reason to live that I never knew about.”


The light had turned red again. A couple of cars wbooshed past on the coast highway, and she watched them go.


Harry said nothing because he was afraid that any interruption would discourage her from finishing what she had begun to tell him.


In six months, her arctic reserve had never thawed until, for the briefest moment in her apartment, she had seemed about to disclose something both private and profound. She had quickly frozen again; but now the face of the glacier was cracking. His desire to be let into her world was so intense that it revealed as much about his own need for connections as it did about the extent to which she had heretofore guarded her privacy; he was prepared to expend all of his last six hours of life at that traffic light, if necessary, waiting for her to provide him with a better understanding of the special woman that he believed existed under the hard veneer of the streetwise cop.


“I had a sister,” she said. "Never knew about her until recently.


She's dead. Been dead five years. But she had a child. A daughter.


Eleanor. Ellie. Now I don't want to be wiped out, don't want to surf on the chaos any more. I just want to have a chance to meet Ellie, get to know her, see if I can love her, which I think maybe I can. Maybe what happened to me when I was a kid didn't burn love out of me forever. Maybe I can do more than hate. I've got to find out. I can't wait to find out."


He was dismayed. If he understood her correctly she had not yet felt for him anything like the love he had begun to feel for her. But that was all right. Regardless of her doubts, he knew that she had the ability to love and that she would find a place in her heart for her niece. And if for the girl, why not for him as well?


She met his eyes and smiled. “Good God, just listen to me, I sound like one of those confessional neurotics spilling their guts on an afternoon TV talk show.”


“Not at all. I . . . I want to hear it.”


“Next thing you know, I'll be telling you how I like to have sex with men who dress like their mothers.”


“Do you?”


She laughed. “Who doesn't?”


He wanted to know what she meant when she said what happened to me when I was a kid, but he dared not ask. That experience, if not the core of her, was at least what she believed the core to be, and she would be able to reveal it only at her own pace. Besides, there were a thousand other questions he wanted to ask her, ten thousand, and if he started, they really woull sit at that intersection until dawn, Ticktock, and death.


The traffic light was in their favor again. He entered the intersection and turned right. Two blocks farther north he parked in front of The Green House.


When he and Connie got out of the car, Harry noticed a filthy hobo in the shadows at the corner of the restaurant, by an alleyway that ran toward the back of the building. It was not Ticktock, but a smaller, patheticlooking specimen. He sat between two shrubs, legs drawn up, eating from a bag in his lap, drinking hot coffee from a thermos, and mumbling urgently to himself.


The guy watched them as they walked toward the entrance to The Green House. His stare was fevered, intense. His bloodshot eyes were like those of many other denizens of the streets these days, hot with paranoid fear. Perhaps he believed himself to be persecuted by evil space aliens who were beaming microwaves at him to muddle his thoughts.


Or by the dastardly hand of ten thousand and eighty two conspirators who had really shotJohn F Kennedy and who had secretly controlled the world ever since. Or by fiendish Japanese businessmen who were going to buy everything everywhere, turn everyone else into slaves, and serve the raw internal organs of American children as side dishes in Tokyo sushi bars. Recently it seemed that half the sane populationr what passed for sane these daysbelieved in one demonstrably ridiculous paranoid conspiracy theory or another. And for the most thorougtuy stoned streetwanderers like this man, such fantasies were de rigueur.


To the hobo, Connie said, “Can you hear me, or are you on the moon somewhere?”


The man glared at her.


“We're cops. You got that? Cops. You touch that car while we're gone, you'll find yourself in a detox program so fast you won't know what hit you, no booze or drugs for three months.”


Forced detoxification was the only threat that worked with some of these squires of the gutter. They were already at the bottom of the swamp, used to being knocked around and chewed up by the bigger animals. They had nothing left to lose except the chance to stay high on cheap wine or whatever else they could afford.


“Cops?” the man said.


“Good,” Connie said. “You heard me. Cops. Three months with not a single hit, it'll seem like three centuries.”


Last week, in Santa Ana, a drunken vagrant had taken advantage of their unattended department sedan to make a social protest by leaving his feces on the driver's seat. Or maybe he mistook them for space aliens to whom a gift of human waste was a sign of welcome and aninvitation to intergalactic cooperation. In either case, Connie had.wanted to kill the guy, and Harry had needed every bit of his diplomacy and persuasiveness to convince her that forced detox was crueller.


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