He insisted on moving to the chairs, so they could not be seen as easily from the street. Tessa was leery about sitting beside him. He said that he was operating undercover and therefore carried no Bureau ID, but he showed her everything else in his wallet driver's license, credit cards, library card, video rental card, photos of his son and his late wife, a coupon for a free chocolate-chip cookie at any Mrs. Fields store, a picture of Goldie Hawn torn from a magazine. Would a homicidal maniac carry a cookie coupon? In a while, as he took her back through her story of the massacre at Cove Lodge and picked relentlessly at the details, making sure that she told him everything and that he understood all of it, she began to trust him. If he was only pretending to be an agent, his pretense would not have been so elaborate or sustained.
"You didn't actually see anybody murdered?"
"They were killed," she insisted. "You wouldn't have any doubt if you'd heard their screams. I've stood in a mob of human monsters in Northern Ireland and seen them beat men to death. I was filming an industrial in a steel mill once, when there was a spill of molten metal that splattered all over workers' bodies, their faces. I've been with Miskito Indians in the Central American jungles when they were hit with antipersonnel bombs—millions of little bits of sharp steel, bodies pierced by a thousand needles—and I've heard their screams. I know what death sounds like. And this was the worst I've ever heard."
He stared at her for a long time. Then he said, "You look deceptively—"
"Therefore innocent? Therefore naive?"
"And an advantage sometimes?"
"Sometimes," she acknowledged. "Listen, you know something, so tell me What's going on in this town?"
"Something's happening to the people here."
"I don't know. They're not interested in movies, for one thing. The theater closed. And they're not interested in luxury goods, fine gifts, that sort of thing, because those stores have all closed too. They no longer get a kick from champagne …"
He smiled thinly. "The barrooms are all going out of business. The only thing they seem to be interested in is food. And killing."
Still standing at a tower-room window, Tom Shaddack said, "All right, Loman, here's what we'll do. Everyone at New Wave has been converted, so I'll assign a hundred of them to you, to augment the police force. You can use them to help in your investigation in any way you see fit—starting now. With that many at your command, you'll catch one of the regressives in the act, surely … and you'll be more likely to find this man Booker too."
The New People did not require sleep. The additional deputies could be brought into the field immediately.
Shaddack said, "They can patrol the streets on foot and in their cars—quietly, without drawing attention. And with that assistance, you'll grab at least one of the regressives, maybe all of them. If we can catch one in a devolved state, if I've a chance to examine one of them, I might be able to develop a test—physical or psychological—with which we can screen the New People for degenerates."
"I don't feel adequate to deal with this."
"It's a police matter."
"No, it isn't, really."
"It's no different than if you were tracking down an ordinary killer," Shaddack said irritably. "You'll apply the same techniques."
"What is it?"
"Regressives could be among the men you assign me."
"There won't be any…"
"But … how can you be sure?"
"I told you there won't be," Shaddack said sharply, still facing the window, the fog, the night.
They were both silent a moment.
Then Shaddack said, "You've got to put everything into finding these damned deviants. Everything, you hear me? I want at least one of them to examine by the time we've taken all of Moonlight Cove through the Change."
"I thought …"
"Well, I thought …"
"Come on, come on. You thought what?"
"Well … just that maybe you'd suspend the conversions until we understand what's happening here."
"Hell, no!" Shaddack turned from the window and glared at the police chief, who flinched satisfactorily.
"These regressives are a minor problem, very minor. What the shit do you know about it? You're not the one who designed a new race, a new world. I am. The dream was mine, the vision mine. I had the brains and nerve to make the dream real. And I know this is an anomaly indicative of nothing. So the Change will take place according to schedule."
Watkins looked down at his white-knuckled hands.
As he spoke, Shaddack paced barefoot along the curved glass wall, then back again. "We now have more than enough doses to deal with the remaining townspeople. In fact, we've initiated a new round of conversions this evening. Hundreds will be brought into the fold by dawn, the rest by midnight. Until everyone in town is with us, there's a chance we'll be found out, a risk of someone carrying a warning to the outside world. Now that we've overcome the problems with the production of the biochips, we've got to take Moonlight Cove quickly, so we can proceed with the confidence that comes from having a secure home base. Understand?"
"Understand?" Shaddack repeated.
"Yes. Yes, sir."
Shaddack returned to his chair and sat down. "Now what's this other thing you called me about earlier, this Valdoski business?"
"Eddie Valdoski, eight years old," Watkins said, looking at his hands, which he was now virtually wringing, as if trying to squeeze something from them in the way he might have squeezed water from a rag. "He was found dead a few minutes past eight. in a ditch along the country road. He'd been … tortured … bitten, gutted."
"You think one of the regressives did it?"
"Who found the body?"
"Eddie's folks. His dad. The boy had been playing in the backyard, and then he … disappeared near sunset. They started searching, couldn't find him, got scared, called us, continued to search while we were on our way … and found the body just before my men got there."
"Evidently the Valdoskis aren't converted?"
"They weren't. But they are now."
Shaddack sighed. "There won't be any trouble about the boy if they've been brought into the fold."
The police chief raised his head and found the courage to look directly at Shaddack again. "But the boy's still dead." His voice was rough.
Shaddack said, "That's a tragedy, of course. This regressive element among the New People could not have been foreseen. But no great advancement in human history has been without its victims."
"He was a fine boy," the policeman said.
"You knew him?"
Watkins blinked. "I went to high school with his father, George Valdoski. I was Eddie's godfather."
Considering his words carefully, Shaddack said, "It's a terrible thing. And we'll find the regressive who did it. We'll find all of them and eliminate them. Meanwhile, we can take some comfort in the fact that Eddie died in a great cause."
Watkins regarded Shaddack with unconcealed astonishment. "Great cause? What did Eddie know of a great cause? He was eight years old."
"Nevertheless," Shaddack said, hardening his voice, "Eddie was caught up in an unexpected side effect of the conversion of Moonlight Cove, which makes him part of this wonderful, historical event." He knew that Watkins had been a patriot, absurdly proud of his flag and country, and he supposed that some of that sentiment still reposed in the man, even subsequent to conversion, so he said "Listen to me, Loman. During the Revolutionary War, when the colonists were fighting for independence, some innocent bystanders died, women and children, not just combatants, and those people did not die in vain. They were martyrs every bit as much as the soldiers who perished in the field. It's the same in any revolution. The important thing is that justice prevail and that those who die can be said to have given their lives for a noble purpose."
Watkins looked away from him.
Rising from his armchair again, Shaddack rounded the low cocktail table to stand beside the policeman. Looking down at Watkins's bowed head, he put one hand on the man's shoulder.
Watkins cringed from the touch.
Shaddack did not move his hand, and he spoke with the fervor of an evangelist. He was a cool evangelist, however, whose message did not involve the hot passion of religious conviction but the icy power of logic, reason. "You're one of the New People now, and that does not just mean that you're stronger and quicker than ordinary men, and it doesn't just mean you're virtually invulnerable to disease and have a greater power to mend your injuries than anything any faith healer ever dreamed of. It also means you're clearer of mind, more rational than the Old People—so if you consider Eddie's death carefully and in the context of the miracle we're working here, you'll see that the price he paid was not too great. Don't deal with this situation emotionally, Loman; that's definitely not the way of New People. We're making a world that'll be more efficient, more ordered, and infinitely more stable precisely because men and women will have the power to control their emotions, to view every problem and event with the analytical coolness of a computer. Look at Eddie Valdoski's death as but another datum in the great flow of data that is the birth of the New People. You've got the power in you now to transcend human emotional limitations, and when you do transcend them, you'll know true peace and happiness for the first time in your life."
After a while Loman Watkins raised his head. He turned to look up at Shaddack. "Will this really lead to peace?"
"When there's no one left unconverted, will there be brotherhood at last?"
The Talbot house on Conquistador was a three-story redwood with lots of big windows. The property was sloped, and steep stone steps led up from the sidewalk to a shallow porch. No streetlamps lit that block, and there were no walkway or landscape lights at Talbot's, for which Sam was grateful.
Tessa Lockland stood close to him on the porch as he pressed the buzzer, just as she had stayed close all the way from the laundry. Above the noisy rustle of the wind in the trees, he could hear the doorbell ring inside.
Looking back toward Conquistador, Tessa said, "Sometimes it seems more like a morgue than a town, peopled by the dead, but then …"
"… in spite of the silence and the stillness, you can feel the energy of the place, tremendous pent-up energy, as if there's a huge hidden machine just beneath the streets, beneath the ground … and as if the houses are filled with machinery, too, all of it powered up and straining at cogs and gears, just waiting for someone to engage a clutch and set it all in motion."
That was exactly Moonlight Cove, but Sam had not been able to put the feeling of the place into words. He rang the bell again and said, "I thought filmmakers were required to be borderline illiterates."
"Most Hollywood filmmakers are, but I'm an outcast documentarian, so I'm permitted to think—as long as I don't do too much of it."
"Who's there?" said a tinny voice, startling Sam. It came from an intercom speaker that he'd not noticed. "Who's there, please?"
Sam leaned close to the intercom. "Mr. Talbot? Harold Talbot?"
"Yes. Who're you?"
"Sam Booker," he said quietly, so his voice would not carry past the perimeter of Talbot's porch. "Sorry to wake you, but I've come in response to your letter of October eighth."
Talbot was silent. Then the intercom clicked, and he said, "I'm on the third floor. I'll need time to get down there. Meanwhile I'll send Moose. Please give him your ID so he can bring it to me."
"I have no Bureau ID," Sam whispered. "I'm undercover here."
"Driver's license?" Talbot asked.
"That's enough." He clicked off.
"Moose?" Tessa asked.
"Damned if I know," Sam said.
They waited almost a minute, feeling vulnerable on the exposed porch, and they were both startled again when a dog pushed out through a pet door they had not seen, brushing between their legs. For an instant Sam didn't realize what it was, and he stumbled backward in surprise, nearly losing his balance.
Stooping to pet the dog, Tessa whispered, "Moose?"
A flicker of light had come through the small swinging door with the dog; but that was gone now that the door was closed. The dog was black and hardly visible in the night.
Squatting beside it, letting it lick his hand, Sam said, "I'm supposed to give my ID to you?"
The dog wuffed softly, as if answering in the affirmative.
"You'll eat it," Sam said.
Tessa said, "He won't."
"How do you know?"
"He's a good dog."
"I don't trust him."
"I guess that's your job."
"Not to trust anyone."
"And my nature."
"Trust him," she insisted.
He offered his wallet. The dog plucked it from Sam's hand, held it in his teeth, and went back into the house through the pet door.
They stood on the dark porch for another few minutes, while Sam tried to stifle his yawns. It was after two in the morning, and he was considering adding a fifth item to his list of reasons for living good Mexican food, Guinness Stout, Goldie Hawn, fear of death, and sleep. Blissful sleep. Then he heard the clack and rattle of locks being laboriously disengaged, and the door finally opened inward on a dimly lighted hallway.
Harry Talbot waited in his motorized wheelchair, dressed in blue pajamas and a green robe. His head was tilted slightly to the left in a permanently quizzical angle that was part of his Vietnam legacy. He was a handsome man, though his face was prematurely aged, too deeply lined for that of a forty-year-old.
His thick hair was half white, and his eyes were ancient. Sam could see that Talbot had once been a strapping young man, though he was now soft from years of paralysis. One hand lay in his lap, the palm up, fingers half curled, useless. He was a living monument to what might have been, to hopes destroyed, to dreams incinerated, a grim remembrance of war pressed between the pages of time.