Tim realized: “I was young then, but I remember the name.”
“Kids called me the monsters’ daughter. Some boys were obscene.”
“Is Angelina’s last name Paquette?”
“Yes. I took it legally. Changed schools. But that didn’t work.”
The hummingbird had gone. Now it returned.
“So I was home-schooled.”
“You seem to have thrived on that.”
“Because I wanted to know everything. To understand why.”
“But there is no why,” he said. “Just—evil is.”
“The second girl who’d been molested found me two years ago.”
“She began to shed the false memories?”
“She never had any. She lied about my dad, as she was led to.”
“Led by…the therapist? Afraid of him?”
“In blind terror of him. He molested her in their sessions.”
“The soft-tissue scarring.”
“She suffered. Shame. Fear. Guilt over the death of my dad.”
“What did you say to her?”
“That I loved her for making the effort to find me.”
“Has she accused him?”
“Yes. And he says he’ll sue her for defamation of character.”
“What about Chloe? Could she support the other girl?”
“When she was fourteen, Chloe committed suicide.”
The sun warm on the skin and all of Nature reaching up to it, the hummingbird and the crimson flowers, the tail-wagging dog and its whistling owner, the young man with roses and the laughing women: For all the beauty and joy of life, the world is nonetheless a war zone.
While the woman sang in the kitchen, Krait toured the living room.
The pale-yellow of the exterior walls had been repeated on the interior, and all the molding and built-in cabinets had been painted glossy white. The reddish Santos mahogany floor anchored the space, and on it floated a yellow-and-aubergine area rug with palmettes and feathery leaves, a cheaper modern version of a Persian carpet.
The furnishings were nothing special, but not hideous, either. The room had not been feminized with floral prints and ruffles and fringe; yet it felt warm and womanly.
Most people might think of this as a family-friendly style. Having had no experience of a family, Krait could not make that judgment himself.
The woman stopping singing.
Krait put the cloth satchel on an armchair, unzipped it, and removed from it an instrument with which he could instantly subdue her.
He listened for approaching footsteps, and he imagined that the woman was standing still, also listening, but after a while she began to sing again. The song was “Someone to Watch over Me.”
Above the fireplace hung a painting of children in swimsuits running on a beach. Sun made luminous a rising arc of surf. The children looked exuberant.
Krait had no use for children, of course, but he found this painting so repellent that, paradoxically, he was drawn to it.
The style of this work could not be criticized as precious, not even as sentimental. The artist had a realist’s eye not only for form and proportion and detail, but also for the subtleties of light.
The longer Krait studied the painting, the more he detested it. But study did not bring him any closer to an understanding of the reason for his antipathy.
Instinctively, he knew that this painting represented something against which he must always be in opposition, something that he must resist with every fiber of his being and to which he must respond with merciless violence.
In the kitchen, the woman segued from “Someone to Watch over Me” into “These Foolish Things,” and Krait moved on from the painting, counseling himself to smooth away the hostility that spiked his nerves and to recover his usual placidity, which was more befitting a person of his gifts and stature.
The family had a bookcase. Of the titles with which Krait was familiar, he approved of none.
In addition to books, some shelves held framed photographs of the family, both group shots and portraits.
Although the mother and father were in some group pictures, the most frequently featured faces were those of the children, Timothy and Zachary.
The boys were captured by the lens as young as three or four, as old perhaps as twenty. Some photos were posed, and others were candid shots.
Krait could not recall having seen so many smiles, so many faces alive with laughter in one collection of images. The Carrier family seemed always to be full of delight and merriment.
Well, that would soon change.
The Wrong Place
at the Wrong Time
Krait walked along the hallway to the kitchen and stood in the open doorway.
At the sink, the woman stood with her back to him, coring and peeling apples.
She was doing a nice job with “These Foolish Things,” singing it slow and easy, almost talking the lyrics, giving it a melancholy note like it ought to have.
The kitchen and family room flowed together. Between those two spaces, six captain’s chairs surrounded a big pine table.
He could picture Tim at that table. As a boy, Tim must have eaten a lot of meals there, putting some pressure on the family budget, big as he was.
Over the table hung a handsome copper chandelier. Stylized birds flew in a circle around eight candleform lights with copper shades patterned like feathers.
Having finished peeling an apple, the woman used a different knife to halve it and then to slice it into a metal bowl on the cutting board next to the sink.
She had long-fingered, nimble hands. He liked her hands.
When the woman finished the song, Krait said, “Mary?”
He expected her to be startled. Instead, she turned to him with no more reaction than a slight widening of the eyes.
In her mid-fifties, she was old enough to be Krait’s mother, if he’d ever had a mother, but she was nonetheless a trim and attractive woman.
“Do you know ‘As Time Goes By,’ from Casablanca?” he asked.
She did not say Who’re you or What’re you doing here, but only stared at him.
“I’ve seen that movie forty-two times,” Krait said. “I like watching the same movies. You always know what you’re going to get.”
He could see her thinking about the knife in her hand. She was calculating the distance to the back door, too, though she didn’t glance at it.
Before she complicated the situation, Krait shot her. The air gun that he had taken from the cloth satchel spoke pop-whoosh, not loud, and the hypodermic dart stung her in the right breast.
She wore a checkered blue-and-yellow blouse and most likely also a bra. That much clothing would not interfere with the delivery of the drug.
The bite of the dart pricked a hiss of pain from Mary. She plucked it out of her breast and dropped it on the floor, but the hyperfast-acting tranquilizer had been injected in an instant.
“Maybe later you can sing ‘As Time Goes By,’” he said. “I’m sure you know the words.”
She snatched the combination peeler-corer from the cutting board and threw it at him. Her aim was wide.
Holding the knife, she turned to the back door, but her ankles wobbled and her legs sagged under her. She grabbed at the counter for support.
Krait walked around the kitchen island, toward her.
As her head began to loll forward, she raised it with an effort. Her eyes glazed.
The knife slipped from her hand and clattered on the tile floor.
Krait kicked away the blade and, as Mary swooned, he caught her before she hit the floor.
He carried the unconscious woman to the large pine table. She was so limp that she wanted to slide out of the dining chair. Krait leaned her forward, folded her arms on the table, and rested her head on her arms. In that position, she seemed to be stable.
In the living room, he drew shut the draperies. He retrieved the cloth satchel.
After engaging the deadbolt on the front door, he returned to the kitchen. He put the satchel on the pine table.
In respect of the possibility that the Carriers had sitcom drop-in neighbors à la Bethany and Jim, Krait closed the blinds in the kitchen and draperies in the family room.
He withdrew two sets of police handcuffs from the cloth bag. He cuffed Mary’s left wrist to the left arm of her chair.
Head still on the table, she began to snore.
Using the second handcuff, he shackled one leg of the chair to a leg of the table.
He quickly toured the house, not to satisfy his curiosity about how these people lived, but to make sure that he and Mary were alone.
Except for himself in a few mirrors, he saw no one. He winked at one reflection of himself, gave another a thumbs-up sign.
Two vehicles were registered to the Carriers: a six-year-old Suburban and a newer Ford Expedition. Walter had taken the Suburban to work, but in the garage, the Expedition stood ready for Krait.
In the kitchen once more, he selected a slice of apple from the metal bowl on the cutting board. Crisp and delicious. He savored a second slice.
At the table, Mary made a choking sound and stopped snoring.
On rare occasion, an allergic reaction to the drug could result in anaphylactic shock and death.
When he checked, he found her still breathing. Her pulse was slow and steady.
He sat her up straight in her chair. This time she didn’t sag forward, though her head tipped to one side.
Sitting in the chair beside hers, he brushed the hair back from her face. She had clear skin, only a few lines at the corners of her eyes.
He peeled back both eyelids. She had gray eyes flecked with green. The lids stayed open a moment when he released them, but then slid slowly shut.
Her jaw still sagged. Her lips were parted. She had full lips.
Krait traced the shape of her mouth with his fingertips, but she did not respond.
From the cloth satchel, he took a flexible rubber tube and a blue plastic case. The case held two hypodermic syringes and ampules containing an amber solution.
He stripped the sheath off one of the hypodermics and pierced the cap of the ampule and drew a measured dose of the solution and squirted some of it on the floor to be sure no air remained in the needle.
He turned her right arm palm-up and used the flexible tubing as a tourniquet to make a vein clarify in her flesh. He stuck the vein and slowly pressed the plunger and slipped loose the tourniquet and watched as the amber solution receded from the clear barrel of the hypodermic.
He had not swabbed the injection site with alcohol. If a blood infection developed, Mary’s crisis wouldn’t come for a couple of days at least, and he would be done with her by then, anyway.
Her arms were quite feminine, shapely, but not soft. She had good muscle tone.
When he withdrew the needle, a bead of blood appeared. He stared at it, intrigued.
This was blood from the mother of the most formidable adversary whom Krait had ever encountered or was ever likely to encounter.
Breathing in the scent of her skin, he bent to the crook of her arm and licked the blood away.
Reason could not explain why he felt compelled to taste this crimson essence, but he was convinced that he had done the right thing.
The amber fluid was a counteractive drug to the tranquilizer that she had received in the air-gun dart. She would wake not only faster with this chemical assistance but also with immediate clarity of mind.
Krait leaned back in his chair and watched her eyes begin to twitch beneath her lids.
She worked her mouth as if grimacing at a bad taste. Her tongue appeared and licked her lips.
When her eyes opened the first time, they were unfocused, and she closed them. She opened them again, and again closed them.
“Don’t pretend,” he said. “I know you’re with me now.”
Mary sat up straighter in her chair and looked at the handcuff that shackled her left wrist to the arm of the chair and looked at her right arm where he had injected it and stared at the used syringe that lay on the table.
When finally she met Krait’s eyes, he expected her to ask what he had done to her, but she said nothing. She stared at him, waiting for what he might have to say.
Impressed, he favored Mary with a smile. “Girl, I gotta say, you’re a different kind of animal.”
“I am not an animal,” she said.
Breaking waves flung spray across the tortoise-shell rocks. The rhythmic crashes and intervening susurrations sounded like multitudes whispering in different languages at once, as though all the ancient dead claimed by the sea spoke forever in its voice.
The park extended for several blocks along the bluff. Workers on break opened their bagged lunches at the picnic tables under the palm trees, and dedicated joggers followed the pathways, wincing and grim.
Tim and Linda strolled from viewing point to viewing point, and leaned against the railing, watching the shore receive the sea and the sea surmount the shore.
They were metabolizing nerve-tightening quantities of caffeine, and he was assimilating everything she had told him, while she was adapting to the fact that she’d spoken about her family’s destruction for the first time in more than fifteen years.
“Funny,” she said, “how just when I feel like I’m ready to live, really live, someone is coming to kill me.”
“He may be coming, but he’s not going to kill you.”
“Where do you get your confidence?” she asked.
He held up a bag containing the last of the chocolate-pistachio cookies, which they had brought with them and which they had eaten while they walked.
“Sugar,” he said.
“I’m serious, Tim.”
He watched the waves, and she did not press him, but at last he said, “More than seven years now, I’ve known there’s a thing coming I’ve got to deal with.”
“It sounds too grand to call it destiny.”
“We all have a destiny.”
“This is more like—what’s in the blood.”
“So what’s in your blood?” she asked.
“It’s nothing I take pride in. I didn’t earn it. It’s just a thing that’s there.”
“It scared me some when I discovered it,” he said. “It scares me still. And then there’s the way people react to it, which can be embarrassing.”
With sudden shrieks, gulls kited through the sky. One dived, and the sea took him.
“I told myself being a mason is a good and honest trade, and being a mason is the best thing for me, and I do believe it is.”
The bird broke from the water or from the shelter between two waves, and soared with its fish.
“But sooner or later, the part of yourself you try to keep down, it won’t be held down any longer. It’s in the blood, and blood will have its way, I guess.”