Your Heart Belongs to Me / Page 23

Page 23



The security system cycled through all the cameras, and then again, faster and still faster, until the images passed in such a frenzy that the action in the documentary could not be followed. The monitor went dark.


From the racked array of magnetic-disk recorders in the cabinet arose the distress cries of electronics in death throes. Then silence-and on every piece of equipment, the indicator lights went dark.


Ryan didn’t need to call in tech support to know that the system had crashed, that the standard thirty days of preserved recordings had been wiped, and that he no longer possessed evidence of security-video tampering.


FORTY-TWO


In the master retreat, Ryan pulled open a desk drawer, fingered through folders in a hanging file, and located the one containing the photo of Teresa Reach, which he had removed from the album in Spencer Barghest’s study.


Prior to the diagnosis of cardiomyopathy that he had received from Dr. Gupta almost sixteen months earlier, he had been convinced that in this photograph he would discover a clue that would lead him to an explanation of the strange events occurring at that time.


Ultimately his obsessive analysis of the photo revealed nothing useful. Eventually he decided there had been no conspiracy against him, no poisoning, only innocent coincidences that seemed mysterious and meaningful because of his suspicious nature and because ill health affected his clarity of mind.


Perhaps the time had come to look at Teresa again.


He no longer had the workstation that Mott had provided for the enhancement and analysis of the photograph. His unassisted eyes would have to be enough.


As he sat at the desk, the phone rang: his most private line. Caller ID provided no identity.


When he picked up the handset, the woman with the lilies said, “Review the activity in your checking account. You’ll discover you made a hundred-thousand-dollar wire transfer as a donation for cardiovascular research. I imagine a financial loss is to you more painful than a knife wound.”


Instead of playing her game, he said, “Who are you people?”


“There are not people. There is me.”


“Liar. You have institutional capabilities. Big backup.”


“Whoever I am, you’re dead.”


“Not yet,” he said, and hung up.


Be to do. Not: Be to be done to. Seize the moment. Act, don’t react. Catch the wave, shoot the curl, skeg it, nail it, don’t be nailed, exist to live, never exist to exist. Existence is an entrance, not an exit. To be or not to be is not the question.


Ryan toured the great house, turning lights on as he went, turning them off in his wake, seeing little of the rooms through which he roamed, seeing instead the place that he had come from: the roaches crawling and the roaches of another kind pinched in an ashtray, the posters of Katmandu and Khartoum, journeys never made because Dad’s daily head trips to more exotic realms take the travel money, take the rent money, so sometimes a trip to Vegas in the van, with Mom and the man, whatever man at the moment might be the man that her main man can never be, the high spirits on the eastward drive, the hard light of the vast desert and the light talk of big money, betting systems and card-counting schemes, bottles of Dos Equis to pass the miles, the groping in the front seat while in the back of the van you pretend deafness, pretend sleep, pretend death, pretend never to have been born; sometimes being left alone in casino parking lots at night, hiding in the back of the van because when you sit up front where you can be seen, strange people rap on the window and sweet-talk you-vampires, you figure-and try to get you to unlock the door, and then the cheap motel, always the same cheap motel, where you wait in the van while Mom and the man of the moment spend “quality time” together; a day later or two, the drive westward, the desperate talk about money, the bitter accusations, the rest stop where one of them hits her and she hits back, and you try to stop it, but you’re small and weak, and then he does something to her right there in the open, and you have to walk away, away into the hot dry land, walk toward home, you can’t watch, but you can’t walk hundreds of miles, so when they pull up beside you in the van, you have to get in the back, and they’re up front laughing, like nothing happened, and then it’s all the way home, the desert without beauty in this direction, the Mojave a vast dirty ashtray, Mom and the man talking about the next time, scoring big the next time, refine the system, practice the card counting, all the way home to Dad and Katmandu and Khartoum and the roaches and the roaches and the next man of the moment.


When he had walked the house twice, Ryan returned to the master suite, where he did not bother to lock the door.


Certain that he would be tormented considerably more before the next attack came, he did not put a knife under his pillow.


Dr. Hobb had advised him to drink only sparingly because alcohol might interfere with the absorption and diminish the effectiveness of some of his twenty-eight medications. He poured a third glass of Opus One.


Ryan sat in bed with Samantha’s book. He fell asleep while reading, and he dreamed of the events of her novel, relived vivid moments of the story.


These were strange dreams because he never appeared in the cast, and because all through the night he expected each scene to shimmer as if it were a reflection on water, to shimmer and to part as a previously hidden presence rose out of the depths of subtext and turned upon him a blank and pitiless stare.


At 8:14 he was awakened by a call from Dr. Dougal Hobb. The surgeon had already received from the family an e-mailed photograph of their daughter, whose heart now beat in Ryan’s breast.


“As I foresaw, they were willing to give you her first name, as well, but not the family name,” Hobb said. “And after I explained that you were anguished, having what you described as a spiritual crisis, they refused compensation.”


“That’s…unexpected,” Ryan said. “I’m grateful.”


“They’re good people, Ryan. Good, decent people. Which is why you have to swear to me you will not write or speak publicly about this poor girl, using either the photo or her name. As good as these people are, I would nevertheless not be surprised-and wouldn’t blame them-if they sued you for violation of their privacy.”


“The photo, her name-they’re just for me,” Ryan assured him.


“I am e-mailing everything to you as we speak.”


“And, Doctor…thank you for taking my request to heart and acting on it so quickly.”


Instead of going down to his study on the second floor, Ryan used the laptop and the compact printer in the master suite to open and print out the surgeon’s e-mail.


Except for a slightly different hair style, the heart donor proved to be a dead ringer for the woman with the switchblade.


Her name had been Lily.


FORTY-THREE


Her raised chin, her set mouth, her forthright gaze suggested more than mere confidence, perhaps defiance.


Sitting at the desk in the retreat, studying the photo of Lily, Ryan knew this must be the twin of the woman who assaulted him.


I am the voice of the lilies.


He put the photo of Lily X beside the picture of Teresa Reach. The black-haired Eurasian beauty, the golden-haired beauty, the first vibrantly alive in the photo but dead now, the second dead even when photographed, both victims of automobile accidents, both having been diagnosed as brain-dead, one assisted into death by Spencer Barghest, the other by Dr. Hobb when he harvested her heart, each with a twin who survived her.


The longer Ryan considered the two photos, the more uneasy he grew, because it seemed that before him lay a terrible truth that continued to elude him and that in time, when he least expected, would hit him with the power of a tsunami.


Not long after meeting Samantha, Ryan had read a great deal about identical twins. In particular, he recalled that the survivor, separated from an identical by tragedy, often felt unjustified guilt as well as grief.


He wondered if Lily’s twin had been driving the car in which she had suffered the catastrophic head trauma. Her guilt would then be to a degree justified, and her grief intensified.


The longer he compared the photos, the more clearly he recalled how certain he had been, sixteen months ago, that the image of Teresa held the answer to the mysteries then plaguing him. That intuition began to prickle his spine again, the apprehension that she was the key not only to what had happened to him sixteen months earlier but also to everything that was happening now.


Ryan had exhaustively analyzed Teresa’s photo and had found no detail that could be called a clue. Laboriously repeating that analysis was not likely to lead him to any eureka moment.


But perhaps the photo itself did not contain the revelation. Maybe the importance of the photo was who had taken it or where he had found it, or how she had been assisted out of life, by what means and under exactly what circumstances-details that might be contained in Barghest’s written accounts, if they could be found, of the suicides that he had made possible.


At 9:45, Ryan placed a call to Wilson Mott, who as always was pleased to hear from him.


“I’ll be flying to Las Vegas this afternoon,” Ryan said. “The people who worked with me there last year-George Zane and Cathy Sienna-are they available now?”


“Yes, they’re available. But neither of them is based in Nevada. They work out of our Los Angeles office.”


“They can fly with me,” Ryan said.


“I think it’s more appropriate if they don’t use your Learjet. We have our own transport. Besides, if they have to make appointments and preparations for you, they need to be there at least a few hours in advance.”


“Yes, more appropriate. All right. If you recall, the last time I had two appointments.”


“I’ve got the file in front of me,” said Mott. “You had business with two individuals at separate locations.”


“It’s the gentleman that I’ll need to repeat,” Ryan said. “And rather urgently.”


“We’ll do our best,” Mott said.


Ryan hung up.


He put the photos of the two dead women in the manila envelope.


Unbidden, an image came into his mind’s eye: the hospital room in which he had stayed the night before the transplant, the floor and walls and furniture polished not by anyone’s hand but by the effect of the sedative he had been given, even the shadows glossy, Wally Dunnaman at the window, the chrome-yellow night of the city beyond, and the air shivering with the crash of bells.


Standing in the warm master retreat, beside the elegant amboina desk, Ryan Perry began to tremble, then to shake, and dread overtook him. He asked himself what he dreaded, and he did not know, although he suspected that soon he would be provided with the answer.


A dirge for her the doubly dead in that she died so young.


-Edgar Allan Poe, “Lenore”


FORTY-FOUR


Late Sunday afternoon in Las Vegas, the low sky looked as gray as the face of a degenerate gambler standing up from a baccarat table after being busted to bankruptcy.


The high Mojave lay in the grip of a chill. Down from the bald faces of the mountains, down from the abandoned iron and lead mines long forgotten, off the broken slopes of pyrite canyons and feldspar ravines, across desiccated desert flats, through the bright barrens of the casinos came a damp wind, not yet strong enough to whip clouds of dust off sere and empty lots or to shake nesting rats out of the lush crowns of phoenix palms, but sure to swell stronger as the day waned.


At the private-plane terminal, George Zane waited with a twelve-cylinder black Mercedes sedan. The man looked even more powerful than the muscle car.


As he opened the rear door for Ryan, he said, “Good afternoon, Mr. Perry.”


“Good to see you again, George. Got some bad weather coming.”


“Whether we need it or not,” the big man replied.


In the car, as they turned onto the airport-exit road, Ryan said, “Do you know if Barghest is going to be out tonight? Will we be able to get into his place?”


“We’re headed straight there,” Zane said. “Turns out he drove to Reno for some kook conference, won’t be back until Wednesday.”


“Kook conference?”


“That’s what I call it. Bunch of our best and brightest getting together to talk about the benefits of reducing human population to five hundred million.”


“What’s that-six billion people gone? How do they figure to make that happen?”


“Oh,” Zane said, “from what I read, they’ve got a slew of ways figured out to get the job done. Their problem is selling the program to the rest of us.”


At an intersection, a few sheets of a newspaper were airborne on the breeze, billowing to full spreads, gliding slowly in a wide spiral, their flight as ponderous as that of albatrosses circling in search of doomed ships.


“Shouldn’t we wait a couple hours, until after dark?” Ryan wondered.


“Always looks less suspicious to go in during daylight if you can,” Zane said. “Straight on and bold is better.”


The neighborhood appeared even more conventional in daylight than it had been at night: simple ranch houses, gliders and swings on the porches, well-kept yards, basketball hoops above garage doors, an American flag here and there.


Dr. Death’s house looked as ordinary as any residence on the street-which made Ryan wonder what might be in some of the other houses.


As Zane swung the Mercedes into the driveway, the garage door rose. He drove inside, where earlier he had dropped off Cathy Sienna and where now she stood at the connecting door to the house.


As the garage door rolled down, she greeted Ryan with a professional smile and a handshake. He had forgotten how direct her stare was: granite-gray eyes so steady that she seemed to challenge the world to show her anything that could make her flinch.


She said, “I didn’t realize you enjoyed yourself so much the last time.”


“It wasn’t as much fun as Disneyland, but it was memorable.”


“This Barghest,” George Zane said, “gives crazy a bad name.”


In the kitchen, Ryan explained that he wanted them to look for places in which Dr. Death might have taken special pains to hide his files of assisted suicides. Trapdoors under carpets, false backs in cabinets, that sort of thing.


Meanwhile, he would be once more reviewing the ring binders full of photographs of dead faces.


Judging by the portion of the house that Ryan passed through, the connoisseur had not added to his macabre collection; it was a relief to discover the home office still contained no cadaver art.


Evidently, even Barghest needed a refuge where dead eyes were not fixed upon him.


A third ring binder stood on the bookshelf beside the two that had been there sixteen months earlier. Ryan took it down first and stood paging quickly through it, half expecting to be startled by a familiar face.


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