So I have only three options I can see. One—I have to find your Annamaria real quick, before she squawks, and kill you both.
I consulted my watch, as if in fact I had a pending report time with my undercover co-agent. You won’t be able to pull that off.
That’s what I figured. Option two—I kill you here, now. When you don’t report to Annamaria, she sends the alarm, your agency comes storming into town. I play dumb, tough it out. Never saw you, don’t know what happened to you.
I said, I’m sorry to hear…this must mean Reverend Moran is in this with you.
He’s not. He found you in his church, you said your life had taken a wrong turn. Then you started talking Armageddon, the end of the world, you made him nervous. You told him the retriever’s name was Raphael, but he knew who owned the dog, and its name is Murphy.
I said, Gee, a troubled young man worried about the end of the world, maybe on drugs, has a dog isn’t his…I’d think a preacher would try some counseling and prayer before turning me in.
He feels comfortable calling me about small stuff, and don’t pretend you don’t know why.
Are you a member of his parish? I guessed.
You know I am.
I hesitated, then nodded. We know. I made the we sound like eight thousand bureaucrats in a block-square building near the CIA. And don’t forget—the reverend knows you arrested me.
He smiled and dismissed my concern with a wave of his hand. That doesn’t matter if before morning the reverend kills his wife and commits suicide.
I gather you’re not a believing member of the parish.
Do I sound like a Christian to you? he asked, and laughed softly, not as if he were remarking on his ruthless criminality but as if Christian were a synonym for brain-dead troglodyte.
I said, Back to your second option. You remember that?
I kill you now, play dumb, say I never met you.
Won’t work, I told him. They know I’m here right now.
My handlers in…the agency.
He looked dubious. They can’t know.
You aren’t carrying a transponder. We searched you at the church.
A little venom seeped into his twinkling Irish eyes. Where?
Very tiny, efficient device. Could be my right buttocks. Could be my left buttocks. Could be in an armpit. Even if you found it, cut it out, and crushed it, they already know I’m here.
He sat back in his chair and gradually repaired the politician demeanor that had begun to break down. He took an Almond Joy from his shirt pocket and began to unwrap it. You like half?
You don’t like Almond Joy?
You were going to kill me.
Not with poison candy.
It’s the principle of the thing, I said.
You don’t take sweets from men who threaten to kill you.
Well…more for me. After he had enjoyed a bite of the Almond Joy, he said, So there’s only option three. This is where I figured we would wind up. Which is why I had to trust you and tell you my situation. I can make you very rich.
What happened to ‘Every man for himself’?
Son, I like you, I do, and I see my best option is co-opting you, but I wouldn’t in a million years give you a piece of my cut. I’m surprised I offered you half of the candy bar.
I appreciate your honesty.
If I’m to trust you, then you’ve got to have good reason to trust me. So from now on, only truth between us.
Because he smiled at me so sincerely and because it would have been rude not to reciprocate, I returned his smile.
In the spirit of frankness that the chief encouraged, I felt it necessary to say, In all honesty, I don’t believe that Utgard Rolf is the kind of generous fellow who would share his cut with me.
You’re right, of course. Utgard would kill his own mother for a thousand dollars. Or maybe it was five thousand.
He ate more candy, and I digested the proposition that he had made to me.
After what seemed enough time for serious consideration, I said, So, supposing I have a price—
Everyone has a price.
Who would meet mine?
The men backing this operation have some of the deepest pockets on the planet. They have a contingency fund. At this late hour, with so much on the line, if you join us and share what your agency knows or suspects, tell us the reason you were sent here, and if you feed them false information, you can be a very rich man, too, living in a wonderful climate under a name no one will ever discover.
I don’t know the size of the contingency fund. And I would have to speak with a representative of our financiers, but I suspect they would consider you so valuable to this enterprise that they would find twenty-five million for you.
What about my partner? Annamaria?
Do you have a thing for her?
No. We just work together.
Then you tell us where she is, we kill her tonight. We put the body through a meat grinder, dump the sludge at sea, gone forever.
Let’s do it.
That was quick.
Well, I said, I don’t see an alternative, because I’m not giving her a piece of my cut.
No reason you should.
In the right part of the world, I said, twenty-five million is like a hundred million here.
Live like a king, the chief agreed, finishing his candy. So, my new rich friend, what’s your name?
Harry Lime, I said.
He held out his hand. I reached across the table and shook it.
I was not thrown back into the dream. Evidently, it happened only on first contact with one of these conspirators.
The chief said, I’ve got to go talk to the money man, close the deal. I’ll be back in five minutes. One thing he’ll want to know.
Whatever. We’re partners.
How the hell did you do that?
How did you pass the dream to Utgard and me? The dream, the vision, whatever you want to call it.
I don’t know exactly how. You triggered it, I think. Because you’re the people going to make it come true.
Wide-eyed, a third Hoss Shackett sat before me now, neither the hard-case sadist nor the charming politician. This chief possessed a capacity for wonder that neither the baby-killer nor the baby-kisser shared.
This chief might have had the ability to commit a selfless act or an uncalculated kindness, because wonder admits to the existence of mystery, and the recognition of mystery in the world allows the possibility of Truth. The other two wouldn’t let this chief surface often. I was surprised that they had not already drowned him forever.
He said, What are you, anyway? Some kind of psychic? I never believed in psychics, but what you put in my head, that was for damn sure real.
Recognizing that we live in a distressed culture where anything like a conspiracy theory will be embraced by more people than will the simple and obvious truth, I tried to make it easier for Hoss Shackett to accept my otherness:
The government has a drug that facilitates clairvoyance, I lied.
It doesn’t work with everyone, I said. You have to carry a certain combination of genes. There aren’t many of us.
You see the future?
Not really, not directly. Things come in dreams. And they’re never complete. Just pieces of a puzzle. I have to do police work, just like you, to fill in what’s missing.
So you saw Magic Beach in your dream, and the nukes.
Trying not to react to the word nukes, I said, Yeah. I suppose I had known all along.
But in the dream, you didn’t see me or Utgard?
What you put in my head, the sea all red and the sky—it seemed like the nukes were going off right here on the beach. That’s not how it’ll be.
The dreams are fragmentary, sometimes more symbolic than full of real details. Where will the bombs be detonated?
He said, Where it matters. In cities. In a few weeks. All on the same day. We’re just bringing them ashore and distributing. The major seaports and airports, they’re blanketed with radiation detectors.
In addition to lingering spirits of the dead, I once in a while see other supernatural entities, about which I have written in the past. Ink-black, with no facial features, fluid in shape, sometimes catlike, sometimes wolflike, they can pass through a keyhole or through the crack under a door.
I believe they are spiritual vampires and possess knowledge of the future. They swarm to places where extreme violence or a natural catastrophe will soon occur, as though they feed on human suffering, to which they react with frenzied ecstasy.
Now I realized why none of these creatures had appeared in Magic Beach. The suffering would occur elsewhere. Already, legions of those ghoulish entities must be swarming through the target cities, relishing the prospect of the death and misery to come.
As Shackett rose from the table, I said, Good thing for me that I had a price. Sounds like, a month from now, this’ll be a country nobody will want to live in.
He said, How do you feel about that?
I could not tell which of the three Hoss Shacketts regarded me at the moment.
Playing to the savagery of the sadist, to the megalomania of the politician, to the bitterness in both of them, I invented something that he would believe. Remembering my advice to Hutch, I strove not to let my performance become fulsome, to keep it subdued and real.
They lied to me about the effects of the drug. They said it facilitated clairvoyance for twelve to eighteen hours. But they knew. One dose is all you ever need. They knew it would change me forever. I rarely have a night of restful sleep anymore. Visions, nightmares, more vivid than reality. There’s a thousand kinds of hell on earth that could be coming. Sometimes I can’t wake from them. Hour after hour in those horrors. When at last I wake up, my bed is soaked with sweat, I’m swimming in it. Throat raw from screaming in my sleep.
Through all of that, I had met his stare, daring him to see any lie in my eyes. Evil men are often easy to mislead, because they have spent so long deceiving that they no longer recognize the truth and mistake deception for it.
Now I gazed at the ceiling, as if seeing beyond it a nation that had betrayed me. Line by line, my voice grew quieter, less emotional, even as my words grew more accusatory.
They lied to me. Now they say that after I’ve served them for five years, they’ll give me the antidote. I don’t believe there is one. They lie not just for advantage but for sport. Five years will become ten. They can all go to hell.
I met his eyes again.
He was silent, not because he suspected deception but because he was impressed.
He was, after all, a man who would sell out his country to terrorists, who could conspire to murder millions of innocents in a nuclear holocaust and to condemn millions more to death in the chaos that would follow the day of detonations. A man who could believe in the rightness of such a scenario was one who could believe anything, even my little exercise in science-fiction paranoia.
At last he said, You’re a good hater, kid. That’ll take you a long way in life.
I go talk to the man, get our deal confirmed. Like I said—five minutes, ten at most.
My leg is half numb. How about unshackling me from the table so I can walk around while I wait.
As soon as Utgard and I get back with the polygraph, he said. We’ll have to unshackle you for that.
As if I had anticipated that they would want to confirm the sincerity of my conversion by any means available to them, I did not react to the word polygraph. Lie detector.
You have a problem with that? the chief asked.
No. If our situations were reversed, I’d play it the same way you are.
He left the room and closed the half-ton door behind him.
The silence of tranquility lies light upon a room, but this was the silence of apprehension, heavy enough to press me down on the chair in paralytic stillness.
So saturated was the air with the stink of pine disinfectant that I could taste the astringent chemical when I opened my mouth, and the underlying scent of other prisoners’ vomit was not conducive to a calm stomach.
The concrete walls were not mortared blocks, but solid, poured in place, reinforced with rebar, as was the ceiling.
One vent, high in a wall, brought air to the room and carried it away. No doubt any sound that passed through the vent would diminish as it followed a long insulated duct, and would be stifled entirely in whatever machine exchanged the air.
When I turned to look at Mr. Sinatra, he was sitting in the third chair, bent forward at the waist, elbows on his thighs, his face buried in his hands.
I said, Sir, I’m in a real pickle here.
BECAUSE MY FETTERED ANKLE WOULD NOT allow me to go easily to Mr. Sinatra, he came to me. He sat in the chair that Chief Hoss Shackett had occupied, across the table from me.
In the ceiling, the light fixture was recessed behind a flush-mounted sheet of plastic. That panel was frosted, a blind eye.
The only place in the room where a camera could have been concealed was in the duct that provided fresh air. Through the slots in the vent grille, I could not see any telltale gleam of a lens.
Considering the brutal interrogations that the chief had surely conducted in this room and that he would soon conduct again, I did not believe he would have installed a camera. He would be concerned that it would accidentally—or by the intention of a whistle-blower—record crimes that might lead to his imprisonment.
For the same reason, I doubted that the room was fitted with listening devices. Besides, as far as the chief knew, I had no one to whom I could talk.
Mr. Sinatra had lost his cocky air. He appeared distraught.
Throughout his life, he had been a patriot, in love with America both for what she was and for her potential. The plot that he had heard described in this room had clearly devastated him.
In December 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Voice had been drafted. But at his physical, he was rejected and classified 4-F because of a punctured eardrum that he had suffered during birth. Subsequently, he tried four times to enlist. He used every person of influence he knew—they were numerous—to get the army to reclassify him and to accept him for service, but he never succeeded.
Although he weighed 135 pounds in those days, he had been a scrapper from childhood, quick to defend himself or a friend, making up in heart and temper for what he lacked in size. He never walked away from a fight and would have made a good soldier, though he might have been a discipline problem from time to time.
I said, When you were born in your parents’ Hoboken tenement, you weighed thirteen and a half pounds. Your grandma Rose was an experienced midwife, but she’d never seen a baby as big as you.
He looked puzzled, as though he wondered if I was in denial of what I had heard from Hoss Shackett.
The physician in attendance had never seen a baby so big, either. Your mother, Dolly, was under five feet tall, petite, and because of your size, the doctor had trouble delivering you.