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Holly's lovely face rose into his mind, and he said aloud, "God, please give me the strength and the wisdom to help her."

This was the first time in his life that he had spoken to God.

He made no promises of piety and charity. He didn't think it worked that way. You could not make deals with God.

With the most important day of his life soon to dawn, he didn't think that he could sleep, but he slept.

Chapter 45

The nail waits. Holly sits in the dark, listening to the wind, fingering the Saint Christopher medal.

She sets aside the can of Pepsi without drinking the last half of it. She does not want to have to use the bedpan again, at least not when the sonofabitch on duty is the sonofabitch with the white hairless hands.

The thought of him emptying her bedpan creeps her out. Just asking him to do it would create an intolerable intimacy.

As she fingers the medal in her left hand, her right hand drops to her belly. Her waist is narrow, her stomach flat. The child grows in her, a secret, as private as a dream.

They say that if you listen to classical music while pregnant, your child will have a higher IQ. As an infant, he or she will cry less and be more content.

This may be true. Life is complex and mysterious. Cause and effect are not always clear. Quantum physicists say that sometimes effect comes before cause. She had watched a one-hour

program about that on the Discovery Channel. She hadn't made much sense of it; and the scientists describing the various phenomena admitted they could not explain them, only observe them.

She moves her hand in slow circles over her belly, thinking how fine it would be, how sweet, if the baby gave a twitch that she could feel. Of course, it is only a ball of cells at this stage, not yet capable of giving a Hi, Mom kick.

Even now, however, its full potential is there, a tiny person in the shell of her body, like a pearl steadily accreting in an oyster, and everything she does will affect her little passenger. No more wine with dinner. Cut way back on the coffee. Perform faithful but sensible exercise. Avoid another kidnapping.

Saint Christopher, being the protector of children, has brought her to a reconsideration of the nail as she blindly traces his image with her fingertips.

She's probably being irrational, taking this babies-learn-in-the-womb business too far. Yet it seems that if, while pregnant, she thrusts a nail into some guy's carotid artery or through his eye into his brain, the incident will surely have an effect on the baby.

Extremely strong emotion—again, according to the Discovery Channel—causes the brain to order the release into the blood of veritable floods of hormones or other chemicals. A homicidal frenzy would seem to qualify as a strong emotion.

If too much caffeine in the blood can put the unborn child at risk, torrents of killer-mommy enzyme can't be desirable. She intends to use the nail on a bad guy, of course, a really bad guy, but the baby has no way of knowing the victim isn't a good guy.

The baby won't be born with homicidal tendencies because of a single incident of violent self-defense. Nevertheless, Holly broods about the nail.

Maybe this irrational worrying is a symptom of pregnancy, like morning sickness, which she hasn't experienced yet, or like a craving for chocolate ice cream with pickles.

Prudence also plays a role in her rethinking of the nail scheme. When you deal with people like those who had kidnapped her, you better not strike out against them unless you are certain that you can carry through with the assault successfully.

If you try to thrust a nail through someone's eye but instead stab him in the nose, you are going to have an angry nose-stabbed criminal psychopath on your case. Not good.

She is still fingering the Saint Christopher medal, pondering the pros and cons of fighting vicious gunmen with only a three-inch nail, when the representative of the New Mexico Tourist Board returns.

He comes behind a flashlight with a half-taped lens, as before, and still has the hands of a pianist from Hell. He kneels in front of her and puts the flashlight on the floor.

"You like the medallion," he says, sounding pleased to see her smoothing it between her fingers as if it is a worry bead.

Instinct encourages her to play to his weirdness. "It has an interesting...feel."

"The girl in the coffin wore a simple white dress with cheap lace tacked to the collar and cuffs. She looked so peaceful."

He has chewed all the shreds of loose skin from his chapped lips. They are mottled red and appear to be tender, swollen.

"She wore white gardenias in her hair. When we opened the lid, the pent-up perfume of the gardenias was intense."

Holly closes her eyes to avoid his.

"We took the medallion and the figurine of Cinderella to a place near Angel Fire, New Mexico, where there's a vortex."

Evidently he thought she knew what he meant by vortex.

His gentle voice becomes gentler, and almost sad, when he adds, "I killed them both in their sleep."

For a moment, she thinks this statement relates to the vortex in Angel Fire, New Mexico, and she tries to make sense of it in that context. When she realizes what he means, she opens her eyes.

"They pretended they didn't know what happened to John Knox, but at least one of them had to know, all right, and probably both."

In a room nearby are two dead men. She didn't hear gunfire. Maybe he slit their throats.

She can picture his pale hairless hands wielding a straight razor with the grace of a magician rolling coins across his knuckles.

Holly has grown accustomed to the manacle on her ankle, to the chain that connects her to a ringbolt in the floor. Suddenly she is again acutely aware that she is not only imprisoned in a room with no windows but also is limited to the portion of the room that the chain permits her to reach.

He says, "I would have been next, and they would have done a two-way split."

Five people had planned her kidnapping. Only one remains.

If he touches her, there is no one to respond to her scream. They are alone together.

"What happens now?" she asks, and at once wishes that she hadn't.

"I'll speak to your husband at noon, as scheduled. Anson will have fronted him the money. Then it's up to you."

She parses his third sentence, but it's a dry lemon from which she can't squeeze any juice. "What do you mean?"

Instead of answering her question, he says, "As part of a church festival, a small carnival comes to Penasco, New Mexico, in August."

She has the crazy feeling that if she snatches off his knitted ski mask, there will be no features to his face other than the beryl-blue eyes and the mouth with yellow teeth and sore lips. No eyebrows, no nose, no ears, the skin as smooth and featureless as white vinyl.

"Just a Ferris wheel and a few other rides, a few games—and last year a fortuneteller."

His hands swoop up to describe the shape of the Ferris wheel but then come to roost on his thighs.

"The fortuneteller calls herself Madame Tiresias, but of course that is not her real name."

Holly is squeezing the medallion so tightly in one hand that her knuckles ache and the raised image of the saint is no doubt impressed in her palm.

"Madame Tiresias is a fraud, but the funny thing is, she has powers of which she's unaware."

He pauses between each statement as if what he has said is so profound that he wants her to have time to absorb it.

"She would not have to be a fraud if she could recognize what she really is, and I intend to show her this year."

Speaking without a tremor in her voice requires self-control, but Holly brings him back to the question he would not answer: "What did you mean—then it will be up to me?"

When he smiles, part of his mouth disappears from the horizontal slit in the mask. This makes his smile seem sly and knowing, as if no one's secrets are safe from him.

"You know what I mean," he says. "You're not Madame Tiresias. You have full knowledge of yourself."

She senses that if she denies his assertion, she will test his patience and perhaps make him angry. His soft voice and his gentle manner are sheep's clothing, and Holly does not want to poke the wolf beneath the fleece.

"You've given me so much to think about," she says.

"I am aware of that. You've been living behind a curtain, and now you know there's not just a window under it, but a whole new world beyond."

Afraid that one wrong word will shatter the spell that the killer has cast over himself, Holly says only, "Yes."

He rises to his feet. "You have some hours yet to decide. Do you need anything?"

A shotgun, she thinks, but she says, "No."

"I know what your decision will be, but you need to reach it on your own. Have you ever been to Guadalupita, New Mexico?"


His smile curves up behind the slit in the black mask. "You will go there, and you will be amazed."

He follows his flashlight, leaving her alone in darkness.

Gradually Holly realizes that the wind is still blowing hard. From the moment he'd told her that he killed the other kidnappers, the wind had vanished from her consciousness.

For a while she has heard only his voice. His sinuous, insidious voice.

She has not even heard her heart, but she hears it now and feels it, too, shaking the cage of ribs against which it pounds.

The baby, tiny ball of cells, is now bathed in the fight-or-flight chemicals that her brain has ordered released into her blood. Maybe that isn't so bad. Maybe it's even good. Maybe being marinated in that flood will make Baby Rafferty, him or her, tougher than would otherwise be the case.

This is a world that increasingly requires toughness of good people.

With the Saint Christopher medal, Holly sets diligently to work on the stubborn nail.

Part Three

Until Death Us Do Part

Chapter 46

The alarm woke Mitch at eight-thirty, and the wind that had worried his dreams still churned the real world.

He sat on the edge of the bed for a minute, yawning, looking at the backs of his hands, at the palms. After what those hands had done the previous night, they ought to have looked different from the way they had always looked before, but he could discern no change.

Passing the mirrored closet doors, he saw that his clothes were not unusually wrinkled. He had awakened in the same position in which he had fallen asleep; and he must not have moved in four hours.

In the bathroom, searching drawers, he found several unopened toothbrushes. He unwrapped one and used it, then shaved with Anson's electric razor.

Carrying the pistol and the Taser, he went downstairs to the kitchen.

The chair was still braced under the laundry-room doorknob. No sound came from in there.

He cracked three eggs, spiced them with Tabasco sauce, scrambled them, sprinkled Parmesan on them, and ate them with two slices of buttered toast and a glass of orange juice.

By habit, he began to gather the dishes to wash them, but then realized the absurdity of being a thoughtful guest under these circumstances. He left the dirty dishes on the table.

When he opened the laundry and switched on the lights, he found Anson cuffed as before, soaked in sweat. The room wasn't

unusually warm.

"Have you thought about who I am?" Mitch asked.

Anson didn't appear angry anymore. He slumped in the chair and hung his burly head. He did not look physically smaller; but in some way he had been diminished.

When his brother didn't answer, Mitch repeated the question: "Have you thought about who I am?"

Anson raised his head. His eyes were bloodshot, but his lips were pale. Jewels of sweat glittered in his beard stubble.

"I'm in a bad way here," he complained in a voice that he had never used before, one with a whine and with the particular note of offense that suggested he felt victimized.

"One more time. Have you thought about who I am?"

"You're Mitch, but you're not the Mitch I know."

"That's a start."

"There's some part of you now...I don't know what you are.

"I'm a husband. I cultivate. Preserve."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"I don't expect you to understand."

"I've got to go to the bathroom."

"Go ahead."

"I'm bursting. I really have to piss."

"You won't offend me."

"You mean here?"

"It's messy but it's convenient."

"Don't do this to me, bro."

"Don't call me bro."

Anson said, "You're still my brother."


"Man, this isn't right."

"No, it isn't."

The legs of the chair had scraped a lot more glaze off the floor tiles. Two tiles were cracked.

"Where do you keep the cash?" Mitch asked.

"I wouldn't take your dignity like this."

"You handed me over to killers."

"I didn't humiliate you first."

"You said you'd rape my wife and kill her."

"Are you stuck on that? I explained that."

He had struggled so fiercely to free the chair from the washer that the thick orange extension cord had dimpled the metal of the machine at one corner.

"Where do you keep the cash, Anson?"

"I've got, I don't know, a few hundred in my wallet."

"I'm not stupid. Don't handle me."

Anson's voice cracked. "This hurts like a sonofabitch."

"What hurts?"

"My arms. My shoulders are on fire. Let me change position. Cuff my hands in front of me. This is torture."

Almost pouting, Anson looked like a big little boy. A boy with a coldly calculating reptilian brain.

"Let's talk about the cash first," Mitch said. "You think there's cash, like a lot of cash? There's not."

"If I wire-transfer the money, I'll never see Holly again."

"You might. They don't want you crying to the cops."

"They won't risk her identifying them in court."

"Campbell could persuade them to drop this."

"By beating their mothers, raping their sisters?"

"You want Holly back or not?"

"I killed two of his men. He'd help me now?"

"Maybe. There'd be a respect thing now."

"It wouldn't be a two-way respect thing."

"Man, you've got to stay flexible about people."

"I'm going to tell the kidnappers it has to be a cash trade in person."

"Then it's not going to happen."