Page 23

The small lavatory had no porthole. The room would admit no thread of light around the door frame.

I thought of the mirror in Sam Whittle’s bathroom, which had reached out to claim his lingering spirit.

The lavatory featured a spotted mirror above the sink. I could not see what might be forming in its dark reflective surface.

My usually fevered imagination could do nothing with this rich material.

Real violence had come. More was pending.

The door to ruthlessness that I had opened in my mind had not been closed. More than darkness and mirrors, I feared what could come out of that inner door.

Heavier vibrations translating through the sea into the tugboat hull were proof that the transfer had been completed and that Junie’s Moonbeam was getting under way once more. We began to roll in the wake of the departing yacht.

I left the lavatory and went to the aft companionway, moving counter to the deck to keep my balance.

At the top of the stairs stood the door through which I had originally come below. A porthole provided a view of the long fog-swept afterdeck, which was still brightened by the halogen work lamp.

Two crates, neither of which had been there when we had motored out of the harbor, lay toward the starboard quarter of the deck. The size of coffins, wrapped in fog as they were, these twin containers suggested that we had not taken aboard anything as fantastic and grotesque as weapons that could destroy whole cities, but instead merely the less unnatural cargo of Count Dracula and his bride, who were sleeping now on beds of Transylvanian soil inside sunproof caskets where soon they would wake.

Utgard Rolf—dressed in black nylon pants with elastic cuffs tight at the ankles and a matching jacket—and a man I had not seen before were conferring near the small crane.

Two other men were at work on the port side, stowing tools in a secured deck box.

Pulling pistols as they moved, Utgard and the man to whom he had been talking, no doubt Buddy, crossed the deck behind the other two men and shot them in the back. Both sprawled facedown, and their executioners bent to administer a final shot to each at the base of the skull.


HESITATING BEHIND THE COMPANIONWAY DOOR, I thought that they would weight the dead men with chains before tossing them overboard.

Evidently, they were confident that from this distance the sea would not bring the bodies to shore for days—if ever—and that by then they would have vanished into their new lives in far corners of the world. They put away their guns, grabbed the cadavers by collars and belts, and began to drag them toward the portside deck wall.

Their backs were to me, but they would remain vulnerable only briefly. Bull strong, Utgard did not long drag his victim, but soon lifted him clear of the deck and carried him.

I dared not think about what was required of me here, but had to focus my mind on why I must not fail to act: the possibility of children seared to the bone by blast heat, of women crushed and torn by the detonation wave, of men atomized, buildings hammered to dust, museums in rubble, churches obliterated, blacktop streets boiling like rivers of lava, and square miles of ashes soaked with the blood of millions.

With no awareness of having pushed through the stairhead door, I found myself on the open deck, in motion.

The immediate fog was silver with halogen reflections, white overhead, and gray beyond the limits of the boat, the yacht lights already having been swallowed as completely as Jonah and his lantern.

The chill wet air on my face was not as cold as the pit of my stomach, and the plume of my breath across my lips seemed cold as well.

With his burden, Utgard reached the port wall. He heaved the body overboard, but the dead man’s feet hooked on the gunwale. For a macabre moment, he hung that way, until Utgard gave him a final push into the sea.

Fearing a fall, I nonetheless negotiated the wet and gently rolling deck as though born on a ship. In a two-hand grip, I brought the gun to bear.

The other man wrestled the second corpse halfway over the gunwale. Utgard grabbed one of the cadaver’s arms to assist.

Seeing the difficulty of this disposal, I waited for them to finish the job.

A hero does not shoot his adversaries in the back. But hero is a title others have wrongly given to me, which I have never claimed for myself.

As the second corpse vanished into the night and fog, I shot Utgard twice in the back from a distance of less than eight feet. He fell forward against the gunwale, but did not tumble overboard.

The other man recoiled in shock but in the same instant went for the weapon in the paddle holster at his hip.

I squeezed off two rounds, trying for abdomen and chest, but I allowed the pistol to pull too high. The first round took him in the face, and the second only parted his hair.

The head shot was enough, and he went down dead.

In bad shape, supporting himself against the gunwale, Utgard turned toward me. Filled with halogen reflections, his demented coyote eyes were lanterns burning unholy oil.

His face was bruised, one eye swollen half shut, one ear crusted with blood—the consequence of events in the interrogation room.

As I stepped closer, he reached, and I shot him twice again.

He slid down the gunwale and toppled onto his side. His head knocked the deck hard enough to bounce.

For a while I took great deep breaths and blew them out, trying to exhale the tension that had suddenly begun to make my hands shake like those of a palsied old man.

Having watched them wrestle the corpses overboard, I changed my mind about eliminating these two in the same way. Disposing of them would make no sense if I left Joey dead in the radio room, and I did not believe that I could also manage to drag him topside for burial at sea.

A way might present itself in which I could get the tugboat and the nukes into the hands of responsible authorities without making the delivery personally. If I remained anonymous, never coming face to face with them, I would not have to explain the killing that I had done.

I turned my back on the dead and crossed the deck toward the coffinlike crates that were stored on the starboard quarter.

Movies condition us to expect that a villain shot repeatedly, appearing to be dead, will reliably rise once more at the penultimate moment, with shrieking violins as background. But reality has no symphonic soundtrack, and the dead stay dead. Only the spirit rises.

I was alone aboard the tugboat, and I doubted that the collector holding the contract on Utgard’s spirit would allow him to linger as a poltergeist.

With killing on my mind, I had crossed the deck in surefooted haste, but with the killing done, my balance seemed more precarious. As I moved and as my feet tripped on obstacles that did not exist, I reached out to grab supports that were not at hand.

A vastness of fog above and all around, an immensity of sea to every quarter of the compass, and a watery abyss below imposed upon me a loneliness almost unbearable because of its intensity and also because of what shared the boat with me. I mean the dead men, yes, but not only the dead; I mean primarily the bombs, four cities’ worth of death condensed and packed into containers that were symbolic urns full of the ashes of all humanity.

The crates transshipped from Junie’s Moonbeam were built not of plyboard but of steel. The hinged lids were held down by four evenly spaced bolt latches.

I slid open the four bolts on the first crate. After a brief hesitation, I lifted the lid.

The halogen light reached far enough to show me two compartments with a large device in each. They appeared to be of cast and machined steel, of formidable weight, bending the light seductively, liquidly, at every curve, each mysterious detail and each fitting ominous in design. In its entirety, the thing was not merely a weapon, but the quintessence of evil.

The crate had been welded together around an armature that kept the bomb immobile. Special tools would have been needed to free it from the shipping case.

At what might have been the core of each device, a four-inch-diameter hole appeared to have been crafted to receive a mated plug.

I stared at the hole for a while before realizing that also bolted to the armature was a box separate from the bomb. This had a hinged lid held shut by a single bolt.

Inside I discovered a double-walled felt bag that filled the space. I lifted out the bag and found within it the plug to match the hole, which weighed four or five pounds.

From the look of it, I guessed that once inserted into the core, it would lock in place with a twist. One end featured an LED readout currently blank and a keypad for data input.

The trigger.

Returning the plug to the soft bag, I put it on the deck. I collected the other three.

After closing the two crates, I carried all four detonators, in their sacks, up the open stairs to the foredeck, which consisted of a narrow walkway around a central structure. I went through a door into a compartment that served as a combination dining space and lounge.

In a closet, I found rain slickers and other foul-weather gear, as well as a well-worn leather satchel, which was empty.

All four triggers snugged in the satchel without distorting it. I was able to close the zipper.

As I pulled the zipper shut, the hand holding the bag and the hand gripping the tab looked like the hands of a stranger, as if I had just awakened in a body that was not mine.

Since the day on which Stormy had died, I had been called upon to do terrible things with these hands. When she had been taken from me, a portion of my innocence had been stolen, as well. But now it seemed to me that these hands had actively thrown away what innocence had not been robbed from me.

I knew that what I had done was right, but what is right is not always clean, and does not always feel good. In even a clear heart, some righteous acts of the harder kind can stir up a sediment of guilt, but that is not a bad thing. If allowed to be, the heart is self-policing, and a reasonable measure of guilt guards against corruption.

To dispel the apprehension that I had become someone different from the person I had once been, I turned my right hand palm up. My birthmark is a half-inch-wide crescent, an inch and a half from point to point, milk-white against the pink flesh of my hand.

This was one of the proofs that Stormy and I were destined to be together forever, because she’d had a mark that matched it.

Birthmarks and memories of the blue lake of abiding hope: They confirm that I remain Odd Thomas—perhaps different from what I once was, yet paradoxically the same.

I carried the bag out to the foredeck, where the fog was as thick as ever and the night colder than I remembered.

Here on the starboard side, a steep flight of narrow stairs led up to the top deck, where the bridge was located.

Entering the bridge, I looked up as the woman at the helm turned to stare at me, her hands remaining on the wheel.

I should have realized that with no one at the helm, the tugboat would have been subject to the actions of tides and currents, which would tend to turn it in a lazy vortex. While I had killed Utgard and Buddy, while I had opened the shipping crates, while I had gathered the bomb triggers, the boat had mostly held steady.

I knew at once who she must be.


OVER WHITE SLACKS AND AN EXQUISITE BEADED sweater, she wore a gray coat of supple leather with fox fur at the collar, along the front panels, and at the cuffs.

Setting the satchel on the floor, I said, No doctor is going to believe you’ve been suffering from a bad shellfish reaction.

No older than twenty-five, she was beautiful not in the way that women in Joey’s copy of Maxim might have seemed beautiful to him, but as women in a Neiman Marcus catalog might be regarded as beautiful: sensuous but not common, elegant, a generous mouth, fine facial bones, large limpid blue eyes, and not a hard edge to her.

Taking one hand from the wheel, she patted a pocket of her coat. I’ve got a little bottle of nasty brew to drink before we dock. It fakes some of the classic symptoms.

Because the Coast Guard had been told that we had put to sea to retrieve a yacht passenger suffering a serious allergic reaction to shellfish, they might follow through with the local hospital to see if in fact such a patient had been admitted.

The dialed-down ping of the radar drew my eyes to the screen. A few pips were revealed at the outermost azimuth rings. The only nearer pip, moving away, must be Junie’s Moonbeam.

Who’re you? she asked.

Harry, I replied.

The Harry. I didn’t know there was one.

My mother would like to hear it put that way. She thinks I’m the only Harry there is or ever was.

It must be nice to have a mother who’s not a bitch.

What’s your name? I asked.


I’ve never heard that one before.

It’s from the Latin for acorn. I guess my mother thought I would grow into a great hulking tree. Where’s Utgard?

From the bridge, she had no view of the afterdeck.

I said, He’s finishing with…things.

She smiled. I’m not a fragile flower.

I shrugged. Well.

He told me that he would be winnowing the crew.

Winnowing. Is that what he called it?

You don’t approve of his word choice?

I approve that I’m not one of the winnowed.

I suppose it matters more to you.

Why should it?

You knew them, they’re your mates, Valonia said. I didn’t know them.

You didn’t miss much.

She liked the ruthlessness. She regarded me with greater interest than before.

What role do you play in the cast, Harry?

I’m a Guildenstern, I guess.

She frowned. A Jew?

It’s a reference to Shakespeare.

The frown sweetened into a delicious pout. You don’t seem like a boy who would live in dusty old books.

You don’t seem like a girl who would blow up cities.

Because you don’t know me well.

Is there a chance I might get to?

Right now, I’d say fifty-fifty.

I’ll take those odds.

Because I could not sense whether she was suspicious of me to any extent, I had not ventured closer to Valonia. The more relaxed she became with me, the easier I would be able to subdue her without breaking any pretty thing. She would be a trove of information for the authorities.

Leaning against the doorjamb, I said, What’s your last name, Valonia?

Fontenelle. Remember it.

That’s no problem.

I’ll be famous one day.

I’ve no doubt you will be.

What’s your last name, Harry?


Tart, she said.

Actually, I’m pretty much monogamous.

Her laugh was nicer than I had expected, girlish yet robust, and genuine.

I didn’t want to like her laugh. I dreaded hearing in it this trace of merriment that suggested a once-innocent child.

Now I could see that she was even younger than I first thought, no older than twenty or twenty-one.

Valonia’s long hair had been tucked under the fox-fur collar. With one hand behind her neck, she pulled it free. She shook her head, and a wealth of spun gold cascaded around her face.