“There were three.”
“I don’t know the pilot’s name.”
“Dawson and Klinger. First names?”
“Leonard Dawson and—” “The Leonard Dawson?” “Yes. And Ernst Klinger.”
“Is Klinger a government man?”
“He’s an army general.”
“Is this a military project?”
“A government project?”
“No,” Salsbury said.
Paul knew all of the questions. There was no point in the rapid-fire interrogation at which he had to hesitate.
And there was never a single moment when Salsbury dared hesitate.
Ernst Klinger crouched behind a yard-high wall of shrubbery across the alleyway from the municipal parking lot. Stunned, confused, he watched them load the woman into the white Cadillac van with the words BLACK RIVER—EMERGENCY painted in red letters on the side.
At 11:02 the ambulance pulled out of the parking lot, swung into the alley and from there onto North Union Road. It turned right, toward the square.
Its bright red flashers washed the trees and the buildings, and Sent crimson snakes of light wriggling along the wet pavement.
The bearded, white-haired man who stood in the parking lot was Sam Edison. Klinger recognized him from a photograph that he had seen in one of the rooms above the general store, little more than an hour ago.
Edison watched the ambulance until it turned east at the Square. He was too far away for Klinger to get a shot at him with the Webley. When the ambulance was out of sight, he went inside the municipal building.
Have we lost control of the town? Klinger asked himself. Is
it all coming down on our heads: the field test, the plan, the project, the future? Sure as hell looks that way. Sure does. So... Is it time to get out of Black River, out of the country with a big bundle of cash and the phony identity Leonard provided?
Don’t panic, another part of him thought. Don’t be rash. Wait. See what happens. Give it a few minutes.
He looked at his watch. 11:03.
Thunder rumbled in the mountains.
It was going to rain again.
He had been hunkered down for so long that his legs ached. He longed to stand up and stretch.
What are you waiting here for? he asked himself. You can’t plan your strategy without information. You’ve got to reconnoiter. They’re probably in Thorp’s office. Get under those windows. Maybe you can hear what they’re up to.
At five minutes past the hour, he hurried across the alley. He dodged from car to car in the parking lot, and then to the thick trunk of a pine tree.
Just like in Korea, he thought almost happily. Or Laos in the late fifties. Just like it must have been for the younger guys in Nam. Commando work in an enemy town. Except this time the enemy town is American.
Sam stood in the doorway and studied Ogden Salsbury, who was still in the spring-backed office chair. To Paul, Sam said, “You’re sure he told you everything?”
“And that everything he’s told you is true?”
“This is important, Paul.”
“He didn’t withhold anything,” Paul said. “And he didn’t lie to me. I’m sure of it.”
Stinking of sweat and blood, crying quietly, Salsbury looked from one to the other of them.
Does he understand what we’re saying? Paul wondered. Or is be broken, shattered, unable to think clearly, unable to think at all?
Paul felt unclean, sick to his soul. In dealing with Salsbury, be had descended to the man’s own level. He told himself that these were after all the 1970s, the very first years of a brave new world, a time when individual survival was difficult and when it counted for more than all else, the age of the machine and of the machine’s morality, perhaps the only era in the entire span of history when the ends truly did justify the means—but he still felt unclean.
“Then the time has come,” Sam said quietly. “One of us has to—do it.”
“A man named Parker apparently raped him when he was eleven years old,” Paul said. He was speaking to Sam, but he was watching Ogden Salsbury.
“Does that make any difference?” Sam asked.
“Does it make any difference that Hitler might have been born of a syphilitic parent? Does it make any difference that he was mad? Does that bring back the six million dead?” Sam was talking softly but with tremendous force. He was trembling. “Does what happened to him when he was eleven justify what he did to Mark? If Salsbury wins, if he takes control of everyone, does it matter what happened to him when he was eleven?”
“There’s no other way to stop him?” Paul asked, although he knew the answer.
“We’ve already discussed that.”
“I guess we have.”
“I'll do it,” Sam said.
“No. If I can’t get up the courage here, I won’t be any help to you later, with Dawson and Klinger. We may be in a tight spot with one of those. You’ll have to know that you can count
Letting go of his left shoulder, reaching out as if to shake with one bloody hand, Salsbury said, “Wait. I’ll make you a partner. Both of you. Partners.”
Paul aimed at the center of the man’s chest.
“If you’re partners, you’ll have everything. Everything you could want. All the money you could ever spend. All the money in the world. Think of that!”
Paul thought of Lolah Tayback.
“Partners. That doesn’t mean just money. Women. You can have all of the women you want, any women you want, no matter who they are. They’ll crawl to you. Or men, if that’s what you like. You can even have children. Little girls. Nine or ten years old. Little boys. Anything you want.”
Paul thought of Mark: a lump of frosted meat jammed into a food freezer.
And he thought of Rya: traumatized perhaps, but with a chance to live a halfway normal life.
He squeezed the trigger.
The Magnum bucked in his hand.
Because of his revolver’s impressive kick—which jolted Paul from hand to shoulder in spite of that fact that he was using .38 Special ammunition rather than Magnums—the bullet was high. It tore through Salsbury’s throat.
Blood and bits of flesh spattered the metal firearms cabinet. The roar of the shot was deafening. It bounced back and forth between the walls, echoed inside Paul’s skull, reverberated as it would forever in his memory.
He squeezed off another round.
That one took Salsbury in the chest, nearly rocked him and the chair backward onto the floor.
He turned away from the dead man.
“Are you going to be sick?” Sam asked.
“I’m all right.” He was numb.
“There’s a toilet at the end of the hail, to your left.”
“I’m okay, Sam.”
“I killed men in the war. Killed men over in Asia. Remember?”
“This is different. I understand that. In the war it’s always with rifles or grenades or mortars. It’s never from three feet with a handgun.”
“I’m fine. Believe me. Just fine.” He went to the door, pushed past Sam, stumbled into the corridor as if he had tripped, turned left, ran to the washroom, and threw up.
Scuttling sideways like a hermit crab, the Webley ready in his right hand, Klinger reached the western flank of the municipal building and found that the lawn there was littered with glass. He hadn’t made a sound on his run from the shrubbery. Now, pieces of glass snapped and crunched under his shoes, and he cursed silently. One of the windows in the police chief’s office was broken, and a few of the slats in the Venetian blind were bent out of shape, providing a convenient peephole for his reconnaissance work.
As he was rising up to have a look inside—cautious as a suspicious mouse sniffing the cheese in the trap—two shots exploded virtually in front of his face. He froze—then realized that he hadn’t been seen, that no one was firing at him.
Through the twisted slats of the blind, he could see two-thirds of Thorp’s starkly furnished and somewhat sterile office:
gray-blue walls, a pair of three-drawer filing cabinets, an oak work table, a bulletin board with an aluminum frame, bookshelves, most of a massive metal desk— And Salsbury.
Dead. Very dead.
Where was Sam Edison? And the other one, Annendale? And the woman, the little girl?
There appeared to be no one in the room except Salsbury. Salsbury’s corpse.
Suddenly afraid of losing track of Edison and Annendale, afraid that they might somehow get away or sneak around behind him, afraid of being outmaneuvered, Klinger turned from the windows. He loped to the end of the lawn, then across the
parking lot and the alleyway. He hid behind the hedge again, where he commanded a good view of the back door of the municipal building.
When he came out of the washroom, Sam was waiting in the corridor for him.
“Yeah,” Paul said.
“It’ll get worse.”
“That it will.”
“What did you learn from Salsbury? Who were those men in the helicopter?”
Leaning against the wall, Paul said, “His partners. One of them was H. Leonard Dawson.”
“I’ll be damned.”
“The other one is a general. United States Army. His name’s Ernst Klinger.”
Scowling, Sam said, “Then this is a government project?”
“Surprisingly, no. Just Salsbury, Dawson, and Klinger. A bit of private enterprise.” Paul took three minutes to outline what he had learned about the field test and the conspiracy behind
Sam’s scowl disappeared. He risked a slight smile. “Then we have a chance of stopping it right here, for good.”
“It’s just a simple four-part problem,” Sam said. He held up one finger. “Kill Dawson.” Two fingers. “Kill Ernst Klinger.” Three fingers. “Destroy the data in the computer at the house in Greenwich.” Four fingers. “Then use the key-lock code to restructure the memories of everyone in town who’s seen or heard anything, to cover up every last trace of this field test.”
Paul shook his head. “I don’t know. It doesn’t sound so simple to me.”
For the moment at least, positive thinking was the only sort of thinking that- interested Sam. “It can be done. First . .
where did Dawson and Klinger go when they left here?”
“To the logging camp.”
Quoting Salsbury, he told Sam about Dawson’s plan to organize a search in the mountains. “But he and Klinger won’t be at the camp now. They intended to fall back to the mill and establish a sort of field headquarters there once the manhunt was underway. There are about eighty or ninety men working on the night and graveyard shifts up there. Dawson wants to post a dozen of them as guards around the mill and pack the rest of them off to join the search beyond the logging camp.
“Any guards he posts are worthless,” Sam said. “We’ll use the code phrase to get past them. We’ll move in on Dawson and Klinger before they know what’s happened.”
“I suppose it’s possible.”
“Of course it is.”
“But what about the computer in Greenwich?”
“We can deal with that later,” Sam said.
“How do we get to it?”
“Didn’t you say Dawson’s household staff is programmed?”
“According to Salsbury.”
“Then we can get to the computer.”
“And the cover-up here?”
“That’s the least of our problems.”
“You’re so goddamned optimistic.”
“I’ve got to be. So do you.”
Paul pushed away from the wall. “All right. But Jenny and Rya must have heard the shots. They’ll be worried. Before we go to the mill, we should stop back at the church and fill them in, let them know where we all stand.”
Sam nodded. “Lead the way.”
They left by the rear door and started across the parking lot toward the alley.
After a few steps Paul said, “Wait.”
Sam stopped, turned back.
“We don’t have to sneak around the long way,” Paul said. “We’re in control of the town now.”
They circled around the municipal building and went out to East Main Street.
Klinger stood in the velvety darkness, two-thirds of the way up the bell tower stairs, listening. Voices drifted down from above: two men, a woman, a child. Edison. And Jenny Edison. Annendale and his daughter...
He now knew what was happening in Black River, what the carnage at Thorp’s office signified. He knew the extent of these people’s knowledge of the field test and of all the working, planning, and scheming that lay behind the field test—and he was shocked.
Because of what he had heard, he knew that they were motivated to resist, at least in part, for altruistic reasons. He didn’t understand that. He could easily have understood them if they had wanted to seize the power of the subliminals for their own. But altruism . . . That had always seemed foolish to him. He had decided a long time ago that men who eschewed power were far more dangerous and deadly than those who pursued it, if only because they were so difficult to fathom, so unpredictable.
However, he also knew that these people could be stopped. The field test wasn’t an unmitigated disaster; not yet. They weren’t going to win as easily as they thought. They hadn’t yet brought him or Dawson to ruin. The project could be saved.
Overhead, they finished discussing their plans. They said good-by to one another and told one another to be careful and wished one another luck and hugged and kissed and said they would pray for one another and said that they really had to get on with it.
In the perfect darkness, without a flashlight or even a match to show them the way, out of sight around two or three bends in the long spiral staircase, Sam Edison and Paul Annendale started down the narrow, creaking steps.
Klinger’s own hurried descent was masked by the noise that the two men made above him.
He paused in the whispery, echo-filled nave of the church, where the walls and the altar and the pews were no more than adumbrated by the meager nocturnal storm light that shone through the arched windows. He wasn’t certain what he should do next.