Did that chair just move?
I thought I saw it move.
If it moves—
Good-bye face. Yes, sir.
You’ve got a one-eyed paraplegic brother.
Yes, sir. With a learning disability.
Does he have a harelip, too?
The first thing you said was true.
Astonished, I said, It was?
You know it was.
And what first thing was that, sir?
That the drug facilitated psychic powers for twelve hours.
Twelve to eighteen. Yes, I remember saying that.
I thought you would.
That’s why you’re the chief of police.
Don’t try sucking up to me, Harry.
No, sir. That wouldn’t work with you.
I’d love to blow your face off.
I can feel your passion, sir.
You take a pill a day, he said.
Yes, sir, a multivitamin.
The psychic pill. The tele-what pill.
You take one a day.
I guess I have to admit it, sir.
Did that inkwell just move?
Where is my gun?
It’s in my face, sir.
If that inkwell moves.
Good-bye face. Yes, sir.
We had developed an intricate litany.
You would have thought we were in a Catholic rectory.
So you have to admit it, do you?
Yes, sir. I have to admit it.
So you have a supply of the pills.
Yes, sir. I have quite a supply.
I want those pills.
I should warn you, sir.
Warn me what?
Telekinesis isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
Look at my face, Harry.
I feel bad about that, sir.
Shut up, shithead.
I think it’s everything it’s cracked up to be.
One of the redheaded gunmen appeared in the doorway behind Hoss Shackett.
Oh, Lordy, I said.
Shackett grinned. Some of his teeth were broken.
Way to go, Mr. Sinatra.
I wished Mr. Sinatra would deal with the redhead.
But he had probably moved on to Paradise. Just my luck.
You’re in a corner now, aren’t you, Harry?
I can’t catch a break.
The new arrival was the redhead with the methamphetamine teeth.
Don’t try that trick with me, Harry.
What trick, sir?
Pretending someone’s behind me.
Someone is behind you, sir.
So I’ll turn and look, and you’ll go for me.
No, sir. He’s a friend of yours, and no friend of mine.
Where’s my gun, Harry?
It’s in my face, sir.
Give me your pills.
I don’t have them with me, sir.
Where are they?
In my pillbox.
Where’s your pillbox?
I’m gonna blow your face off, Harry.
Not without those pills, sir.
I’ll torture it out of you. Don’t think I won’t.
I haven’t mistaken you for a nun, sir.
Stop scamming me with the over-the-shoulder look.
No reason to scam you, sir. He’s really your buddy.
The redhead disproved my contention by shooting Hoss Shackett in the head.
I let out an expletive that seemed to have come from the people I had been associating with, not from me, and I staggered back from the dead and toppling chief. Staggering, I fell; and falling, I fell upon the minister’s dead wife.
I heard myself spewing exclamations of disgust and horror as I tried to get off the dead woman, but it seemed as though she grabbed at me, clutched me, and by the time I crawled away from her on my hands and knees, I was gibbering like someone who had barely escaped the House of Usher or any other place of Poe’s creation.
Get up, said the redhead.
What’s wrong with you? he asked.
What’s wrong with me?
Are you spastic?
Are you blind?
Don’t speak harshly to me, he said.
Do you see all these dead people?
Do they bother you—dead people?
You have no idea, I said.
They are just people, except dead.
What—then I’m just a corpse, except alive?
His smile was ghastly. Yes, precisely.
I had invented a neat organizational chart for these people. The redheads were bottom-feeders. Utgard was middle management. Shackett was at or near the top. If I ever hosted a dinner party, I assumed I knew exactly how they should be seated.
Instead, this redhead’s attitude suggested that he not only had the temerity to whack the chief but also the authority. His rotten teeth seemed not to be proof of low status, after all, but perhaps a fashion choice.
Do you have to point that gun at my head?
Would you prefer I point it at your chest?
Yes. In fact, yes.
You’ll be just as dead either way.
But I’ll be a prettier dead this way.
It’s loaded with door-busters.
If you’re going to kill me, just do it.
I didn’t say I was going to kill you.
You’re not going to kill me?
Most likely, yes. But one never knows.
What do you want from me? I demanded.
First, I want to talk to you.
This never works out well.
Have a seat.
On the sofa.
I can’t talk with dead people.
They will not interrupt.
I’m serious about this. I’m freaked out.
Don’t speak harshly to me, he said.
Well, you just don’t listen.
That is unfair. I listen. I’m a good listener.
You haven’t been listening to me.
You sound just like my wife.
This was interesting.
You have a wife?
I adore her.
What’s her name?
Do not laugh when I tell you.
I am in no mood to laugh, sir.
He watched me closely for signs of amusement.
The gun had a large bore. It probably would bust doors.
Her name is Freddie.
Why, that’s delightful.
Delightful like funny?
No, delightful like charming.
She is not a masculine woman.
The name implies no such thing, I assured him.
She is entirely feminine.
Freddie is a nickname for Frederica.
He stared at me, processing what I had said.
Are you sure about this? he asked.
Absolutely. Frederica, Freddie.
Frederica is a nice feminine name.
Exactly my point, I said.
But her parents only named her Freddie.
I shrugged. Parents. What’re you gonna do?
He stared at me for a long moment.
I tried not to study his teeth.
Finally he said, Perhaps we can talk in the kitchen.
Have you left any dead people in the kitchen?
I could find no one there to kill.
Then the kitchen will be fine, I said.
THE REDHEAD AND I SAT ACROSS FROM EACH other at the kitchen table. He still pointed the gun at me, but less aggressively.
He indicated the decorative magnets on the refrigerator door. What does that one mean—‘I complained I had no shoes, till I met a man with no feet.’
You’ve got me. I’m sure Reverend Moran had all the shoes he wanted.
Why would a man have no feet?
I guess someone cut them off.
That will happen, he said. Moran always annoyed me, I never saw him in this.
How did he fit? I asked. Minister. Church. Jesus. Nuclear terrorism. I don’t get it.
He was I-I-G-O, said the redhead.
He was igo?
International Interdenominational Goodwill Organization. He founded it.
Now I know less than I did.
He went all over the world furthering peace.
And look what a paradise he made for us.
You know, I think you’re a funny kid.
So I’ve been told. Usually with a gun pointed at me.
He negotiated with countries that persecuted Christians.
He wanted to see them persecuted more?
Moran had to negotiate with the persecutors, of course.
I’ll bet they have tough lawyers.
In the process, he made a great many valuable contacts.
You mean dictators, thugs, and mad mullahs.
Precisely. Special friendships. Somewhere along the way, he realized that he was engaged in a lost cause.
Promoting good will.
Yes. He became weary, disillusioned, depressed. Half a million to a million Christians are killed each year in these countries. He was saving five at a time. He was a man who had to have a cause, and a successful cause that made him proud, so he found a new one.
Let me guess—himself.
IIGO had an impeccable reputation as a charity. That made it a perfect conduit for laundering funds for rogue governments…then for terrorists. One thing led to another.
Which led to him shot in the head.
Did you kill him? he asked.
No, no. Shackett did it.
Did you kill Mrs. Moran?
No, no. Reverend Moran killed her.
Then you have killed no one here?
No one, I confirmed.
But aboard the tugboat, he said.
I crawled so he could walk. He walked so you could fly.
He frowned. What does that mean?
I have no idea. I just read it off the refrigerator.
He licked his black and crumbling teeth, wincing as he did so.
Harry—is your name in fact Harry?
Well, it’s not Todd.
Do you know why I haven’t killed you yet, Harry?
I’ve given you no reason to? I said hopefully.
For one thing, my brother and I have a responsibility here.
The resemblance is remarkable. Are you identical twins?
In this current operation, we represent the nation that produced the bombs.
You will absolutely be able to sell film rights.
To save our own skins, we will have to give them a perfect story believable in every detail.
Oh. Every detail. Well. Talk about a tall order.
If you cooperate fully with those details, I don’t have to kill you. But there’s another thing.
There’s always another thing.
He favored me with a sly, calculating look. You might think that was the only look he had, but in fact I had seen one other.
I was listening outside the study door long before you saw me, he said.
Your employers get their money’s worth.
I heard something that intrigued me. The pills, Harry.
I am always looking for a new experience.
Not me. I’ve had too many just tonight.
I half expected a coyote with a gun to appear behind the redhead and shoot him dead. Then we’d see how long I could keep myself alive with conversation.
My brother won’t touch drugs, he said.
There’s got to be one in every family.
For a while I had a minor problem with methamphetamine.
I’m sorry to hear that.
But I’m cured now.
I’m glad to hear that.
I do some heroin, but I don’t overdo it.
That’s the key. Moderation.
He leaned toward me over the dinette table. I waited for his breath to peel up the Formica.
He whispered, Is it true? Pills that, as Shackett said, facilitate psychic powers?
It’s a secret government project.
Isn’t America amazing?
I’ve got a bottle in my car. They’re disguised as aspirin.
You know another reason I haven’t killed you yet, Harry?
I am clueless.
I never caught you once looking at my teeth.
Your teeth? What about your teeth?
He grinned broadly at me.
So what? I said. Some people don’t even have teeth.
You’re a very considerate guy, you know that?
No, Harry, you are. People can be cruel.
Tell me about it. I’ve had my own experiences.
You? You’re a pretty good-lookin’ guy.
Well, I compete okay, I said. But I don’t mean me. I have a brother, too. Maybe you heard me telling Shackett about him.
No, I must’ve come in after that.
My brother, he’s paraplegic.
Oh, man, that’s a tough one.
And blind in one eye.
See, that’s where you learned compassion.
It’s learning the hard way.
Know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna have all my teeth pulled, replace ’em with implants.
It’s for Freddie.
Love makes the world go ’round. But still…ouch.
Oh, they put you in twilight sleep. It’s painless.
I said, For your sake, I hope that’s true.
If the doctor’s lyin’, I’ll kill him after.
He laughed, and I laughed, and with Mrs. Moran’s pistol, I shot him under the table.
Reflexively, the redhead squeezed off a round that whistled past my head, and I brought Mrs. Moran’s gun above the table and shot him twice.
He almost rocked his chair over backward, but then he dropped forward on the table, as dead as Lincoln but not as great a man, and his gun fell out of his hand.
For a while I sat there shaking. I could not get up. I was so cold that my breath should have been pluming from me in a frost.
When the redhead had shot the chief, I had stumbled backward and had managed to fall facedown atop the minister’s dead wife.
Reverend Moran had been correct: His wife had been carrying a pistol in a holster under her blazer.
Finally I got up from the kitchen table. I went to the sink and put the pistol on the cutting board.
I turned on the hot water and splashed my face. I couldn’t get warm. I was freezing.
After a while, I realized that I was washing my hands. Evidently, I had washed them several times. The water was so hot that my hands were bright red.
ALTHOUGH I DID NOT WANT TO TOUCH MELANIE Moran’s pistol again, I could hear Fate shouting at me to learn, for heaven’s sake, from experience. The current lesson, which I had absorbed well, was never to visit a clergyman’s house without a firearm.
In the living room, which presently contained no dead bodies, I used Reverend Moran’s telephone to call the Homeland Security field-office number in Santa Cruz that the operator had provided to me earlier at the convenience-store pay phone.
My call was handed off to a bored junior agent who stopped yawning when I told him that I was the guy who had beached the tugboat carrying four thermonuclear weapons in the cove at Hecate’s Canyon. They had recently heard about that, and they had agents on the way from Los Angeles; and he hoped that I had no intention of talking to the news media.
I assured him I would not, that in fact I didn’t even want to talk to him, that all I had done lately was talk, talk, talk, and I was talked out. I told him the triggers for four bombs would be in a leather satchel in the Salvation Army used-clothing collection bin at the corner of Memorial Park Avenue and Highcliff Drive.