By the Light of the Moon Page 34


Ahead of Dylan, a burly bearded man in a tank-top shirt sported enough colorful tattoos just on his exposed arms and neck, and on his bald head, to qualify as an attraction in a sideshow. He went into the men's room.


As they gathered in the hallway, still in the line of sight of some of the diners in the restaurant, Dylan said to Jilly, 'Check the women's room.'


She stepped into the lavatory and returned before the door had time to fall shut behind her. 'Nobody's in here.'


Dylan urged his brother to step into the women's restroom with Jilly, and followed close behind him.


The doors stood open on each of two stalls. The outer door between the lav and the hallway could not be locked. Someone might walk in on them at any moment.


The only window appeared to be painted shut, and in any event, it was too small to provide escape.


Dylan said, 'Buddy, I need you to do something for me.'


'Cake.'


'Shep, I need you to fold us out of here and back to our room in the motel.'


'But they'll be going to our room,' Jilly objected.


'They won't be there yet. We left the computer running, with the Proctor interview. We don't want them to see that. I don't know where we'll be going from here, but wherever it is, they'll have a better chance of staying on our heels if they realize how much we know and can try to anticipate our moves.'


'Toasted-coconut cake.'


'Besides,' Dylan added, 'there's an envelope of cash in my shaving kit, almost five hundred bucks, and right now all we have is what's in my wallet.' He put one hand under Shep's chin, raised his head. 'Shep, you've got to do this for me.'


Shep closed his eyes. 'Don't pee in public.'


'I'm not asking you to pee, Shep. Just fold us back to our room. Now. Right now, Shep.'


'No Goldfish, no pee, no fold.'


'This is different, Shep.'


'No Goldfish, no pee, no fold.'


'That rule doesn't apply, buddy. We're not in public now.'


Shepherd wasn't buying that line of argument. After all, this was called a public restroom, and he knew it. 'No Goldfish, no pee, no fold.'


'Listen, buddy, you've seen a lot of movies, you know what bad guys are.'


'Pee in public.'


'Worse bad guys than that. Bad guys with guns. Killers like in the movies. We've got some bad guys looking for us, Shep.'


'Hannibal Lecter.'


'I don't know. Maybe they're that bad. I don't know. But if you don't help me here, if you don't fold us when I ask you to, then for sure things are going to get gooey-bloody.'


The kid's eyes were active behind his lids, an indication of the degree of his agitation. 'Gooey-bloody is bad.'


'Gooey-bloody is very bad. And it's going to get very gooey and very bloody if we don't fold back to our room right now.'


'Shep is scared.'


'Don't be scared.'


'Shep is scared.'


Dylan admonished himself not to lose his temper as he had lost it on the hilltop in California. He must never speak to Shep that way again, never, no matter how desperate the situation became. But he was left with no tactic but to plead. 'Buddy, for God's sake, please.'


'Sh-shep is s-s-scared.'


When Dylan checked his Timex, the sweep-motion second hand seemed to be spinning around the watch face.


Moving to Shepherd's side, Jilly said, 'Sweetie, last night when I was in my bed and you were in your bed, and Dylan was asleep and snoring, do you remember the little conversation we had?'


Dylan had no idea what she was talking about. She hadn't told him about a conversation with Shep. And he was certain that he didn't snore.


'Sweetie, I woke up and heard you whispering, remember? You said you were scared. And what did I say?'


Shepherd's hyperactive eyes stopped moving behind his closed lids, but he didn't respond to her.


'Do you remember, honey?' When she put an arm around Shepherd's shoulders, he didn't cringe from contact or even flinch. 'Sweetie, remember, you said, "Shep is scared," and I said, "Shep is brave."'


Dylan heard noises in the hallway, glanced at the door. No one came in, but the coffee shop had a big lunch crowd; this privacy wouldn't last much longer.


Jilly said, 'And you are brave, Shep. You're one of the bravest people I've ever known. The world is a scary place. And I know it's scarier for you than it is for us. So much noise, so much brightness and color, so many people, strangers, always talking at you, and then germs everywhere, nothing neat like it ought to be, nothing simple like you want it so much to be, everything shapey, and so much that's disgusting. You can put a puzzle together and make it right, and you can read Great Expectations like twenty times, a hundred times, and every time it'll be exactly like you expect it to be, exactly right. But you can't make life come together like a puzzle, and you can't make it be the same every day – and yet you get up every morning, and you try. That's very brave, sweetie. If I were you, if I were the way you are, I don't think I could be as brave as you, Shepherd. I know I couldn't. Every day, trying so hard – that is as brave as anything any hero ever did in any movie.'


Listening to Jilly, Dylan eventually stopped glancing worriedly at the door, stopped consulting his wristwatch, and discovered that this woman's face and melodious voice were more compelling even than the thought of professional killers closing in from all sides.


'Honey, you have to be as brave as I know you can be. You have to not worry about bad guys, not worry about gooey-bloody, just do what needs to be done, like you get up every morning and shower and do what needs to be done to make the world as neat and as simple as you can make it. Sweetie, you have to be brave and fold us back to our room.'


'Shep is brave?'


'Yes. Shep is brave.'


'No Goldfish, no pee, no fold,' said Shep, but his eyes remained still behind his closed lids, which suggested that even the issue of the impropriety of public folding did not trouble him as much as it had a minute ago.


Jilly said, 'Actually, folding in public isn't quite like peeing in public, sweetie. It's more like spitting in public. It's still not something that polite people do. But while you never pee in public, no matter what, sometimes you just have to spit in public, like when a bug flies in your mouth, and that's okay. These bad guys are like a bug that flies in your mouth, and folding away from them is no worse than spitting out a bug, Shep. Do it now, sweetie. Do it quickly.'


Shepherd reached up and pinched a scrap of nothing between his thumb and forefinger.


Beside him, Jilly put the palm of her left hand against the back of Shepherd's right.


Shep opened his eyes, turned his head to meet Jilly's gaze. 'You feel how it is?'


'Do it, sweetie. Hurry. Now.'


Dylan stepped in closer, afraid of being left behind. He saw the air crimp where Shepherd's fingers met, and he watched in wonder as wrinkles formed outward from the crimp.


Shep plucked the fabric of reality. The women's restroom folded away, and a new place folded toward them.


31


As he himself folded or as the women's restroom folded around him, whichever in fact was happening, Dylan panicked, convinced that Shep would kink-and-pleat them to someplace other than their room in the motel, that they might arrive instead in another motel where they had stayed two nights ago or three, or ten, that when they unfolded they might find themselves helplessly flailing in midair, a thousand feet above the ground, and plummet to their deaths, that they might travel from the lavatory to the lightless bottom of an oceanic abyss, where they would be crushed instantly by the hideous pressure of the miles of sea above them, even before they sucked in a first drowning breath of water. The Shepherd whom Dylan knew from twenty years of brotherhood and from ten years of daily caregiving was childlike, perhaps with all his faculties intact, but lacking the competency to apply them in any consistent fashion. Although they had folded back alive from the hilltop in California and had traveled safely from their motel room to the front doors of the coffee shop, Dylan could not trust in this new Shepherd O'Conner, this overnight genius of physics, this maven of applied quantum mechanics – or whatever he was applying – this sudden sorcerer who still reasoned like a young child, who could manipulate time and space, but who would not eat 'shapey' food, referred to himself in the third person, and avoided direct eye contact. If he had been foolish enough to give Shepherd a loaded gun, he would not have expected anything other than darkest tragedy; and surely the potential for disastrous consequences in this herethere folding must be immeasurably greater than the damage that could be wrought even by a submachine gun. Though transit time proved all but instantaneous, Dylan considered enough dire possibilities to keep fans of gooey-bloody cinema supplied with trashy films full of pukey moments for at least a generation, and then the last of the lavatory folded away and a new place entirely unfolded into existence around them.


The metaphorical loaded gun had not gone off. They were in their motel bedroom: drapes closed, light provided for the most part by a single lamp, standing in front of the desk, the laptop.


Behind them, Shep had closed the gateway to the women's lavatory as they came through it. Good. They couldn't safely go back, anyway. And they didn't need a freaked-out visitor to the restroom shrieking for witnesses.


They were safe. Or so it seemed for an instant.


In fact, they were whole, physically and mentally intact, but they were not safe. In the breathless moment of arrival, before any of them inhaled or exhaled, Dylan heard the click of a passkey in a lock and then the scrape of the deadbolt being disengaged in a slow and cautious fashion meant to make as little noise as feasible.


The barbarians had arrived at the gate, and no cauldrons of boiling oil had been set upon the parapets to drive them back with a rain of terror.


Beneath the deadbolt was a simpler lock to which the passkey would next be applied. The security chain remained engaged, but it would not hold against even one good kick from a brute who knew just where to place his boot.


Even as the deadbolt retracted, Dylan grabbed one of the three straight-backed chairs that still stood before the desk. He crossed the room in long strides, tipped the chair backward under the knob, and braced the door shut as the passkey turned the second lock.


As short of time as he was of money, he dared not wait to see if the bracing chair kept the door tightly shut or instead allowed a dangerous degree of play. Forced to trust the makeshift barricade as he had needed to trust Shep's wizardry at folding, Dylan raced into the bathroom, snatched the envelope of cash from his shaving kit, and shoved it into a pants pocket.


Returning to the bedroom, he saw that the door was indeed closed tight, the chair wedged firmly in place, as the knob worked back and forth and wood creaked under steady pressure.


For precious seconds, the men outside might believe that the resistance they encountered could be attributed to a problem with one of the locks. He couldn't count on them being stupid, however, or even gullible, and considering how aggressively they drove their black Suburbans, he couldn't expect them to be patient, either.


Already, Jilly had unplugged, closed, and secured the laptop. She slung her purse over one shoulder, turned to Dylan as he approached, and pointed at the ceiling, for some reason reminding him of Mary Poppins, but a Mary Poppins who had never been rinsed pale by England's bad weather, clearly intending by her gesture to say Up and away!


A cessation of the creaking-wood sounds and the resumption of the stealthy clicking of a key in the lock suggested that the pumped-up golfers were still bamboozled.


Shep stood in the classic Shep pose, a portrait of defeat at the hands of cruel Nature, looking nothing whatsoever like a wizard.


'Okay, buddy,' Dylan whispered, 'do your thing and fold us out of here.'


Arms hanging slack at his sides, Shepherd made no move to tweak the three of them to safety.


'Now, kiddo. Now. Let’s go.'


'It's no more wrong than spitting out a bug,' Jilly reminded Shepherd.


The faint click-click of key in keyhole gave way again to the protest of hinge screws biting in the jamb and to the quiet creaking of the straight-backed chair responding to a relentless pressure on the door.


'No fold, no cake,' Dylan whispered urgently, for cake and Road Runner cartoons were more motivating to Shep than fame and fortune would have been to most men.


At the mention of cake, Jilly gasped and said, 'Don't take us back to the coffee shop, Shep!'


Her admonition drew from Shepherd a question that explained his hesitation: 'Where?'


Outside, the killers lost patience with the stealthy approach and resorted to the lust for drama that seemed to be their most reliable characteristic. A shoulder or a boot heel struck the door, which shuddered, and the bracing chair shrieked like a tramped cat.


'Where?' Jilly demanded of Dylan. 'Where?'


Battered again, the door boomed a timpani note, and something in the structure of the chair cracked, but held.


In transit from the women's restroom, he had imagined numerous unintended destinations that would have proved disastrous, but now he could not think of a single place in this world where they might wisely seek sanctuary.


The crash of determined meat against resistant wood came again, and the meat grunted not with pain or anger, but as if a perverse pleasure had been taken from this punishment.


Immediately following the grunt came another crash, but this time it was the brittle percussion of shattering glass. The closed drapes stirred at one of the windows as fragments of the broken pane rapped off the back of the fabric.


'Home,' Dylan told Shepherd. 'Take us home, Shep. Take us home real quick.'


'Home,' Shepherd echoed, but he seemed unsure of precisely the place to which the word referred.


Whoever had broken the window raked with some instrument at the remaining sharp shards in the frame, clearing the way for entrance.


'Our house in California,' Dylan said, 'California – one hundred something thousand square miles—'


Shep raised his right hand as if to swear fealty to the state of California.


'—population thirty something million something thousand—'


Whatever genetic cousin to a bull was charging the door charged it again, and the chair cracked, sagged.


Frowning as though still unsure of himself, Shepherd pinched the air between the thumb and forefinger of his raised hand.


'—state tree,' Dylan said, but then fumbled for the species.

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