He went up three more steps.
Ahead, Dawson disappeared around a corner of the mill.
When he reached the same corner a moment later, Paul stopped and studied the north work yard: huge stacks of logs that had been piled up to feed the mill during the long winter; several pieces of heavy equipment; a couple of lumber trucks: a conveyor belt running on an inclined ramp from the mill to the maw of a big furnace where sawdust and scrap wood were incinerated . . . There were simply too many places out there in which Dawson could hide and wait for him.
He turned away from the north yard and went to the door in the west wall of the building, back the way he had come, thirty feet from the corner. It wasn’t locked.
He stepped into a short, well-lighted corridor. The enormous processing room lay at the end of it: the bull chain leading from the mill pond, up feeding shoots, into the building; then a crosscut saw, a log deck, the carriage that moved logs into the waiting blades that would make lumber of them, the giant band saw, edging machine, trimmer saws, dip tank, grading ramp, the green chain, and then the storage racks . . . He remembered all of those terms from a tour that the manager had given Rya
and Mark two summers ago. In the processing room the fluorescent strip lights were burning, but none of the machines was working; there were no men tending them. To his right was a washroom, to his left a set of stairs.
Taking the steps two at a time for four flights—the first level was two floors high in order to accommodate the machines in it—he came out in the second-floor hallway. He stopped to think, then went to the fifth office on the left.
The door was locked.
He kicked it twice.
The lock held.
There was a glass case bolted to the corridor wall. It contained a fire extinguisher and an ax.
He jammed the revolver in his belt, opened the front of the case, and took out the ax. He used the flat head of it to batter the knob from the office door. When the knob fell off, the cheap latch snapped. He dropped the ax, pushed open the ruined door, and went inside.
The office was dark. He didn’t switch on any lights because he didn’t want to reveal his position. He closed the door to the hall so that he would not be silhouetted by the pale light that spilled in.
The windows in the north wall of the office opened above the first-floor terrace. He slid one of them up, slipped through it, and stepped onto the tar-papered terrace roof.
The wind buffeted him.
He took the Combat Magnum from his belt.
If Dawson was hiding anywhere in the north yard, this was the best vantage point from which to spot him.
The darkness offered Dawson good protection, for none of the lights was on in the yard.
He could have turned them on, of course. But he didn’t know where to find the switches, and he didn’t want to waste a lot of time looking for them.
The only thing that moved out there was the clattering conveyor belt that rolled continuously up the inclined ramp to the Scrap furnace. It should have been shut down with the rest of
the equipment, but it had been overlooked. The belt came out of the building directly beneath him and sloped to a high point twenty feet above the ground. It met the furnace door forty yards away. Because the cone-shaped furnace—thirty feet in diameter at the base, ten feet in diameter at the top; forty feet high—was primed by a gas flame, the fire in it was never out unless the mill foreman ordered it extinguished. Even now, when the belt had no fuel for it, the furnace roared. Judging by the intensity of the flames leaping beyond the open door, however, several hundred pounds of the day’s input—conveyed out of the mill before Dawson had halted operations— had yet to be fully consumed.
Otherwise, the yard was quiet, still. The mill pond—with the giant grappling hook suspended from thick wires over the center of it—lay to the right of the ramp and the furnace. It was dotted with logs that looked a bit like dozing alligators. A narrow channel of water called the slip led from the pond to the terrace. When the mill was in operation, slip men poled logs along the slip to the chutes that were covered by the terrace roof. Once in the chutes, the logs were snared by hooked bull chains and dragged into the processing system. East and north of the pond was the deck, those forty-foot-high walls of gargantuan logs set aside to supply the mill with work during the winter. To the left of the ramp and the furnace, two lumber trucks, a high-lift, and a few other pieces of heavy equipment were parked in a row, backed up against the chain-link fence of a storage yard. Dawson wasn’t to be seen in any of that.
Thunder and lightning brought a sudden fall of fat raindrops. Some sixth sense told Paul that he had heard more than the clap of thunder. Propelled by an icy premonition, he spun around.
Dawson had come out of the window behind him. He was no more than a yard away. He was older than Paul, a decade and a half older, but he was also taller and heavier; and he looked deadly in the rain-lashed night. He had an ax. The goddamned fire ax! In both hands. Raised over his head. He swung it.
* * *
Klinger was at the mid-point of the tower when the rain began to fall again. It drummed noisily on the belfry shingles and on the roof of the church, providing excellent cover for his ascent.
He waited until he was absolutely certain that the downpour would last—then he went upward without pausing after every third step. He couldn’t even hear the creaking himself. Exhilarated, brimming with confidence now, the Webley clutched in his right hand, he climbed through the last half of the tower in less than a minute and rushed onto the belfry platform.
The ax blade whistled over his head.
Startled to hear himself screaming, unable to stop screaming, abruptly aware that the Smith & Wesson was still in his hand, Paul pulled the trigger.
The bullet tore through Dawson’s right shoulder.
The ax flew from his hands. It arced out into the darkness and smashed through the windshield of one of the lumber trucks.
With a certain eerie grace, Dawson pirouetted just once and toppled into Paul.
The Combat Magnum tumbled in the path of the ax.
Grappling with each other, clinging to each other, they fell off the terrace roof.
The belfry held very little light in the midst of that primeval Storm, but it was bright enough for Klinger to see that the only person there was the Annendale girl.
She was sitting on the platform, her back to the half-wall. And she seemed to be regarding him with dread.
What the hell?
There should have been two of them. The nine-foot-square belfry wasn’t large enough for a game of hide-and-seek. ‘What he Saw must be true. But there should have been two of them.
The night was rocked with thunder, and razor-tined forks of
white lightning stabbed the earth. Wind boomed through the open tower.
He stood over the child.
Looking up at him, her voice wavering, she said, “Please... please.. . don’t.. . shoot me.”
“Where is the other one?” Klinger asked. “Where did she go?”
A voice behind him said, “Hey, mister.”
They had heard him coming up the stairs. They were ready and waiting for him.
But how had they done it?
Sick, trembling, aware that it was too late for him to save himself, he nevertheless turned to meet the danger.
There was no one behind him. The storm conveniently provided another short burst of incandescent light, confirming that he saw what he thought he saw: he and the child were alone on the platform.
He looked up.
A black form, like a monstrous bat, was suspended above him. The woman. Jenny Edison. He could not see her face, but he had no doubt about who she was. She had heard him coming up the stairs when he thought he was being so clever. She had climbed atop the bell and had braced herself in the steel bell supports, against the ceiling, at the highest point of the arch, six feet overhead, like a goddamned bat.
It’s twenty-seven years since I was in Korea, he thought. I’m too old for commando raids. Too old .
He couldn’t see the gun she held, but he knew he was looking into the barrel of it.
Behind him the Annendale girl scrambled out of the line of fire.
It happened so fast, too fast.
“Good riddance, you bastard,” the Edison woman said.
He never heard the shot.
Dawson landed on his back in the middle of the inclined ramp. Trapped in the other man’s clumsy but effective embrace,
Paul fell on top of him, driving the breath from both of them. After a long shudder, the conveyor belt adjusted to their
weight. It swiftly carried them headfirst toward the open mouth of the scrap furnace.
Gasping, limp, Paul managed to raise his head from Dawson’s heaving chest. He saw a circle of yellow and orange and red flames flickering satanically thirty yards ahead.
Winded, with a bullet wound in one shoulder, having cracked his head against the ramp when he fell, Dawson was not immediately in a fighting mood. He sucked air, choked on the fiercely heavy rain, and blew water from his nostrils.
The belt clattered and thumped upward.
Paul tried to roll off that highway of death.
With his good hand Dawson held Paul by the shirt.
Fifteen yards .
“Let go . . . you . . . bastard.” Paul twisted, squirmed, hadn’t the strength to free himself.
Dawson’s fingers were like claws.
Ten yards .
Tapping his last reserves of energy, the dregs from the barrel, Paul pulled back his fist and punched Dawson in the face.
Dawson let go of him.
Five yards .
Whimpering, already feeling the furnace heat, he threw himself to the right, off the ramp.
How far to the ground?
He fell with surprisingly little pain into a bed of weeds and mud beside the mill pond.
When he looked up he saw Dawson—delirious, unaware of the danger until it was too late for him—dropping headfirst into that crackling, spitting, roiling, hellish pit of fire.
If the man screamed, his voice was blotted out by a cymballike crash of thunder.
Saturday, August 27, 1977
THE MESS HALL at the logging camp was a rectangle, eighty feet by forty feet. Sam and Rya sat behind a dining
table at one end of the long room. A single-file line of weary lumbermen stretched from their table across the hail and out the door at the far end.
As each man stepped up to the table, Sam used the power of the key-lock program to restructure his memory. When the new recollections were firmly implanted, he excused the man—and Rya struck a name from the Big Union Supply Company’s employee list.
Between the thirtieth and the thirty-first subject, Rya said to Sam, “How do you feel?”
“How do you feel?”
“I’m not the one who was shot.”
“You’ve been hurt too,” he said.
“All I feel is—grown up.”
“More than that.”
“And sad,” she said.
“Because it’ll never be the same. Not ever.” Her lips trembled She cleared her throat. “Now, how’s your leg?”
“About a yard long,” he said.
He pulled on her chin.
She pulled on his beard.
He managed to get a smile from her, and that was better medicine than Doc Troutman’s antibiotics.
The storm clouds had begun to break up two hours ago. Dawn brought welcome shafts of autumn sunlight.
In the dense pine forest, half a mile above Black River, three men lowered the remains of Dawson, and the bodies of Salsbury and Klinger into a common grave.
“All right,” Jenny told them. “Fill it in.”
With each shovelful of dirt that struck the corpses, she felt more alive.
After a refueling stop in Augusta, the hornetlike helicopter put down on the landing pad behind the Greenwich house at nine thirty in the morning.
“Get it gassed up and serviced for a trip back to Black River this evening,” Paul said.
“Yes, sir,” Malcolm Spencer said.
“Then go home and get some sleep. Be back here by seven o’clock this evening. That should give us both time to rest.”
“I can use it,” Spencer said.
Paul got out of the helicopter and stretched. He had showered and shaved and changed clothes before leaving Maine, but that had refreshed him only temporarily. He was stiff, sore, and tired deep in his bones.
He went to the rear door of the stone house and knocked. A servant answered. She was a plump, pleasant-faced woman in her fifties. Her hair was tied back in a bun. Her hands were white with flour. “Yes, sir?”
“I am the key.”
“I am the lock.” -
“Let me in.”
She stepped out of his way.
Inside, he said, “Where’s the computer?”
“The what, sir?” she asked.
“The computer. Dawson’s computer.”
“I haven’t any idea, sir.”
He nodded. “Okay. Forget about me. Go back to whatever you were doing.” He looked around the elaborately equipped kitchen. “Doing a bit of baking, I see. Go ahead with it Forget that I was ever here.”
Humming to herself, she returned to the counter beside the oven.
He poked about on his own until he located the computer room. When he found it, he sat before one of the programming consoles and typed out the access code that he had gotten from Salsbury.
The computer responded on all of its read-out screens:
Pecking at the typewriter keys with one finger, doing precisely what Salsbury had told him to do, he ordered it to:
ERASE ALL STORED DATA
Five seconds later the read-out screen flickered:
ALL STORED DATA ERASED
That message disappeared from the tubes, and his second order was displayed for a few seconds:
ERASE ALL PROGRAMS
OF LAST DIRECTIVE
So weary that the letters on the keys blurred before him, Paul again typed:
ERASE ALL PROGRAM!
Those three words shimmered on the green background for perhaps half a minute. Then they blinked several times, vanished.
He typed the words “Black River” and asked for a read-out and a full print-out of associated data.
The computer did nothing.
Next, he typed the words “key-lock” and asked for a read-out and a full print-out of all information in that file.
He requested that the computer run a systems check on itself and display its circuitry on the cathode-ray tubes.
The tubes showed nothing.
He leaned back in the programmer’s chair and closed his eyes.