The withered woman in the bed appeared to shrivel further while she spoke, as though she needed to burn her very substance for the requisite energy to share her dark memories.
Harry had the feeling that she'd held fast to life all these years only for this moment, for an audience that would not merely listen patronizingly but would believe.
In that voice of dust and corrosion, she said, "He's only twenty years old. I was twentytwo when I became pregnant with him..
but I should begin... a few years before his... conception."
Simple calculation revealed she was now only fortytwo or fortythree.
Harry heard small startled sounds and nervous fidgeting from Connie and the others as the awareness of Jennifer's relative youth swept through them. She looked more than merely old. Ancient. Not prematurely aged by ten or even twenty years, but by fonry.
As thickening cataracts of fog formed over the night windows, the mother of Ticktock spoke of running away from home when sheøwas sixteen, sick to death of school, childishly eager for excitement and experience, physically mature beyond her years since she'd been thirteen but, as she would later realize, emotionally underdeveloped and not half as smart as she thought she was.
In Los Angeles and later in San Francisco, during the height of the freelove culture of the late '60s and early '70s, a beautiful girl had a choice of likeminded young men with whom to crash and an almost infinite variety of mindaltering chemicals with which to experiment.
After several jobs in head shops, selling psychedelic posters and Lava lamps and drug paraphernalia, she went for the main chance and started selling drugs themselves. As a dealer and a woman who was romanced by suppliers for both her sales ability and her good looks, she had the opportunity to sample a lot of exotic substances that were never widely distributed on the street.
“Hallucinogens were my main thing,” said the lost girl still wandering somewhere within the ancient woman on the bed. “Dehydrated mushrooms from Tibetan caves, luminescent fungus from remote valleys of Peru, liquids distilled from cactus flowers and strange roots, the powdered skin of exotic African lizards, eye of newt, and anything that clever chemists could concoct in laboratories. I wanted to try it all, much of it over and over, anything that would take me places I'd never been, show me things that no one else might ever see.”
In spite of the depths of despair into which that life had led her, a frigorific wistfulness informed Jennifer Drackman's voice, an eerie longing.
Harry sensed that a part of Jennifer would want to make all the same choices if given a chance to live those years again.
He had never entirely rid himself of the chill that had seeped into him during the Pause, and now coldness spread deeper into the marrow of his bones.
He checked his watch. 2:12.
She continued, speaking more quickly, as if aware of his impatience.
“In nineteenseventytwo, I got myself knocked up...”
Not sure which of three men might be the father, nevertheless she had at first been delighted by the prospect of a baby. Although she could not coherently have defined what the relentless ingestion of so many mindaltering chemicals had taught her, she felt that she had a great store of wisdom to impart to her offspring. It was then one small step of illogic to decide that continuedven increaseduse of hallucinogens during pregnancy would result in the birth of a child of heightened consciousness. Those were strange days when many believed that the meaning of life was to be found in peyote and that a tab of LSD could provide access to the throne room of Heaven and a glimpse of the face of God.
For the first two to three months of her term, Jennifer had been aglow with the prospect of nurturing the perfect child. Perhaps he would be another Dylan, Lennon, or Lenin, a genius and peacemaker, but more advanced than any of them because his enlightenment had begun in the womb, thanks to the foresight and daring of his mother.
Then everything had changed with one bad trip. She could not recall all of the ingredients of the chemical cocktail that marked the beginning of the end of her life, but she knew that among other things it had contained LSD and the powdered carapace of a rare Asian beetle.
In what she had believed to be the highest state of consciousness that she had ever achieved, a series of luminous and uplifting hallucinations had suddenly turned terrifying, filling her with a nameless but crippling dread.
Even when the bad trip ended and the hallucinations of death and genetic horrors had passed, the dread remained with herand grew day by day. She did not at first understand the source of her fear, but gradually she focused on the child within and came to understand that in her altered state of mind she had been sent a warning: her baby was no Dylan, but a monster, not a light unto the world but a bringer of darkness.
Whether that perception was in fact correct or merely drug induced madness, whether the child inside her was already a mutant or still a perfectly normal fetus, she would never know, for as a result of her overwhelming fear, she set out upon a course of action that in itself might have introduced the final mutagenic factor which, e hanced by her pharmacopeia of drugs, made Bryan what he was. She sought an abortion, but not from the usual sources, for she was afraid of midwives with their coat hangers and of backalley doctors whose alcoholism had driven them to operate beyond the law. Instead, she resorted to strikingly untraditional and, in the end, riskier methods.
“That was in seventytwo.” She clutched the bed rail and squirmed under the sheets to pull her halfparalyzed and wasted body into a more comfortable position. Her white hair was wirestiff.
The light caught her face from a slightly new angle, revealing to Harry that the milkwhite skin over her empty eye sockets was embroidered with a network of threadfine blue veins.
His watch. 2:16.
She said, “The Supreme Court didn't legalize abortion until early seventythree, when I was in the last month of my term, so it wasn't available to me until it was too late.”
In fact, had abortion been legal, she still might not have gone to a clinic, for she feared and distrusted all doctors. She first tried to rid herself of the unwanted child with the help of a mystic Indian homeopathic practitioner who operated out of an apartment in HaightAshbury, the center of the counterculture in San Francisco at that time. He had first given her a series of herb potions known to affect the walls of the uterus and sometimes cause miscarriages.
When those medications did not work, he tried a series of potent herbal douches, administered with increasing pressure, to flush the child away.
When those treatments failed as well, she turned in desperation to a quack offering a briefly popular radium douche, supposedly not radioactive enough to harm the woman but deadly to the fetus. That more radical approach was equally unsuccessful.
It seemed to her as if the unwanted child was consciously aware of her efforts to be free of it and was clinging to life with inhuman tenacity, a hateful thing already stronger than any ordinary unborn mortal, invulnerable even in the womb.
Harry was impatient. She had told them nothing, thus far, that would help them deal with Ticktoc “Where can we find your son?”
Jennifer probably felt she would never have another audience like this one, and she was not going to tailor her story to their schedule, regardless of the cost. Clearly, in the telling there was some form of expiation for her.
Harry could barely stand the sound of the woman's voice, and could no longer tolerate the sight of her face. He left Connie by the bed and went to the window to stare out at the fog, which looked cool and clean.
“Life became, like, really a bad trip for me,” Jennifer said.
Harry found it disorienting to hear this pinched and haggard ancient use such dated slang.
She said her fear of the unborn was worse than anything she had experienced on drugs. Her certainty that she harbored a monster only increased daily. She needed sleep but dreaded it because her sleep was troubled by dreams of shocking violence, human suffering in infinite variety, and something unseen but terrible moving always in shadows.
“One day they found me in the street, screaming, clawing at my stomach, raving about a beast inside of me. They put me in a psychiatric ward.”
From there she had been brought to Orange County, under the care of her mother, whom she'd deserted six years earlier. Physical examinations had revealed a scarred uterus, strange adhesions and polyps, and wildly abnormal blood chemistry.
Although no abnormalities were detectable in the unborn child, Jennifer remained convinced that it was a monster, and became more hysterical by the day, the hour. No secular or religious counseling could calm her fears.
Hospitalized for a monitored delivery that was necessitated by the things she had done to be rid of the child, Jennifer had slipped beyond hysteria, into madness. She experienced drug flashbacks rife with visions of organic monstrosities, and developed the irrational conviction that if she merely looked upon the child she was bringing into the world, she would be at once damned to Hell. Her labor was unusually difficult and protracted, and due to her mental condition, she was restrained through most of it. But when her restraints were briefly loosened for her comfort, even as the stubborn child was coming forth, she gouged out her eyes with her own thumbs.
At the window, staring into the faces that formed and dissolved in the fog, Harry shuddered.
“And he was born,” Jennifer Drackman said. “He was born” Even eyeless, she knew the dark nature of the creature to which she had given birth.
But he was a beautiful baby, and then a lovely boy (so they told her), and then a handsome young man. Year after year no one would take seriously the paranoid ravings of a woman who had put out her own eyes.
Harry checked his watch. 2:21.
At most they had forty minutes of safe time remaining. Perhaps substantially less.
"There were so many surgeries, complications from the pregnancy, my eyes, infections. My health went steadily downhill, a couple of strokes, and I never returned home with my mother.
Which was good. Because he was there. I lived in a public nursing home for a lot of years, wanting to die, praying to die, but too weak to kill myself... too weak in many ways. Then, two years ago, after he killed my mother, he moved me here."
“How do you know he killed your mother?” Connie asked.
“He told me so. And he told me how. He describes his power to me, how it grows and grows. He's even shown me things. ... And I believe he can do everything he says. Do you?”
“Yes,” Connie said.
“Where does he live?” Harry asked, still facing the fog.
“In my mother's house.”
“What's the address?”
“My mind's not clear on a lot of things... but I remember that.”
She gave them the address.
Harry thought he knew approximately where the place was. Not far from Pacific View.
He checked his watch yet again. 2:23.
Eager to get out of that room, and not merely because they urgently needed to deal with Bryan Drackman, Harry turned away from the window.
Sammy Shamroe stepped out of the shadowhung corner. Janet rose from the nurse's chair, holding her sleeping child, and the dog got to his feet.
But Connie had a question. It was the kind of personal question Harry ordinarily would have asked and that until tonight would have made Connie scowl with impatience because they had already learned the essentials.
“Why does Bryan keep coming here to see you?” Connie inquired.
“To torture me in one way or another,” the woman said.
“That's allwhen he has a world full of people to torture?”
Letting her hand slide off the bed rail, which she had been grasping all this time, Jennifer Drackman said, “Love.”
“He comes because he loves you?”
“No, no. Not him. He's incapable of love, doesn't understand the word, only thinks he does. But he wants love from me.” A dr humorless laugh escaped the skeletal figure in the bed. “Can you believe he comes to me for this?”
Harry was surprised that he could feel a grudging pity for the psychotic child who had entered the world, unwanted, from this disturbed woman.
That room, though warm and comfortable enough, was the last place in creation to which anyone should go in search of love.
Fog poured off the Pacific and embraced the night coast, dense and deep and cool. It flowed through the sleeping town, like the ghost of an ancient ocean with a hightide line far above that of the modern sea.
Harry drove south along the coast highway, faster than seemed wise in that limited visibility. He had decided that the risk of a rearend collision was outweighed by the danger of getting to the Drackman house too late to catch Ticktock before he had recovered his energy.
The palms of his hands were damp on the steering wheel, as if the fog had condensed on his skin. But there was no fog inside the van.
Almost an hour had passed since Ticktock had gone away to rest.
On the one hand, they had accomplished a lot in that brief time. On the other hand, it seemed that time was not a river, like the song said, but a crashing avalanche of minutes.
In back, Janet and Sammy rode in uneasy silence. The boy slept.
The dog seemed restless.
In the passenger seat, Connie switched on the small overhead mapreading lamp. She cracked open the cylinder of her revolver to be sure there was a round in every chamber.
That was the second time she had checked.
Harry knew what she must be thinking: What if Ticktock had awakened; had stopped time since she had last checked her weapon; had removed all the cartridges; and when she had the chance to shoot him, what if he only smiled while the hammer fell on empty chambers?
As before, in the revolver, a full complement of case heads gleamed.
All chambers loaded.
Connie snapped the cylinder shut. Clicked off the light.
Harry thought she looked extremely tired. Face drawn. Eyes watery, bloodshot. He worried that they were going to have to stalk the most dangerous criminal of their careers at a time when they were exhausted.
He knew he was far off his usual form. Perceptions dulled, reactions slow.
“Who goes into his house?” Sammy asked.
“Harry and me,” Connie said. “We're the professionals. It's the only thing that makes sense.”
“And us?” Janet asked.
“Wait in the van.”
“Feel like I should help,” Sammy said.
“Don't even think about it,” Connie said sharply.
“How will you get in?”
Harry said, “My partner here carries a set of lock picks.”
Connie patted one jacket pocket to be sure the folding packet of burglary tools was still there.
“What if he's not sleeping?” Janet asked.