Hideaway Page 29


He enjoyed losing himself in the memory of that special night, eight years ago, when he had been twelve and had changed forever, but he was tired now and wanted to sleep. Maybe he would dream of the woman named Lindsey. Maybe he would have another vision that would lead him to someone connected with her, for somehow she seemed to be part of his destiny; he was being drawn toward her by forces he could not entirely understand but which he respected. Next time, he would not make the mistake he had made with Cooper. He would not let the need overwhelm him. He would ask questions first. When he had received all the answers, and only then, he would free the beautiful blood and, with it, another soul to join the infinite throngs beyond this hateful world.


4


Tuesday morning, Lindsey stayed home to get some work done in her studio while Hatch took Regina to school on his way to a meeting with an executor of an estate in North Tustin who was seeking bids on a collection of antique Wedgwood urns and vases. After lunch he had an appointment with Dr. Nyebern to learn the results of the tests he had undergone on Saturday. By the time he picked up Regina and returned home late in the afternoon, Lindsey figured to have finished the canvas she had been working on for the past month.


That was the plan, anyway, but all the fates and evil elves—and her own psychology—conspired to prevent the fulfillment of it. First of all the coffee maker went on the fritz. Lindsey had to tinker with the machine for an hour to find and fix the problem. She was a good tinkerer, and fortunately the brewer was fixable. She could not face the day without a blast of caffeine to jump-start her heart. She knew coffee was bad for her, but so was battery acid and cyanide, and she didn't drink either one of those, which showed she had more than her share of self-control when it came to destructive dietary habits; hell, she was an absolute rock!


By the time she got up to her second-floor studio with a mug and a full thermos besides, the light coming through the north-facing windows was perfect for her purposes. She had everything she needed. She had her paints, brushes, and palette knives. She had her supply cabinet. She had her adjustable stool and her easel and her stereo system with stacks of Garth Brooks, Glenn Miller, and Van Halen CDs, which somehow seemed the right mix of background music for a painter whose style was a combination of neoclassicism and surrealism. The only things she didn't have were an interest in the work at hand and the ability to concentrate.


She was repeatedly diverted by a glossy black spider that was exploring the upper right-hand corner of the window nearest to her. She didn't like spiders, but she was loath to kill them anyway. Later, she would have to capture it in a jar to release it outside. It crept upside down across the window header to the left-hand corner, immediately lost interest in that territory, and returned to the right-hand corner, where it quivered and flexed its long legs and seemed to be taking pleasure from some quality of that particular niche that was apprehensible only to spiders.


Lindsey turned to her painting again. Nearly complete, it was one of her best, lacking only a few refining touches.


But she hesitated to open paints and pick up a brush because she was every bit as devoted a worrier as she was an artist. She was anxious about Hatch's health, of course—both his physical and mental health. She was apprehensive, too, about the strange man who had killed the blonde, and about the eerie connection between that savage predator and her Hatch.


The spider crept down the side of the window frame to the right-hand corner of the sill. After using whatever arachnid senses it possessed, it rejected that nook, as well, and returned once more to the upper right-hand corner.


Like most people Lindsey considered psychics to be good subjects for spooky movies but charlatans in real life. Yet she had been quick to suggest clairvoyance as an explanation for what had been happening to Hatch. She had pressed the theory more insistently when he had declared that he was not psychic.


Now, turning away from the spider and staring frustratedly at the unfinished canvas before her, she realized why she had become such an earnest advocate of the reality of psychic power in the car on Friday, when they had followed the killer's trail to the head of Laguna Canyon Road. If Hatch had become psychic, eventually he would begin to receive impressions from all sorts of people, and his link to this murderer would not be unique. But if he was not psychic, if the bond between him and this monster was more profound and infinitely stranger than random clairvoyant reception, as he insisted that it was, then they were hip-deep into the unknown. And the unknown was a hell of a lot scarier than something you could describe and define.


Besides, if the link between them was more mysterious and intimate than psychic reception, the consequences for Hatch might be psychologically disastrous. What mental trauma might result from being even briefly inside the mind of a ruthless killer? Was the link between them a source of contamination, as any such intimate biological link would have been? If so, perhaps the virus of madness could creep across the ether and infect Hatch.


No. Ridiculous. Not her husband. He was reliable, levelheaded, mellow, as sane a human being as any who walked the earth.


The spider had taken possession of the upper right-hand corner of the window. It began to spin a web.


Lindsey remembered Hatch's anger last night when he had seen the story about Cooper in the newspaper. The hardness of rage in his face. The unsettling fevered look in his eyes. She had never seen Hatch like that. His father, yes, but never him. Though she knew he worried that he might have some of his father in him, she had never seen evidence of it before. And maybe she had not seen evidence of it last night, either. What she had seen might be some of the rage of the killer leaking back into Hatch along the link that existed between them—


No. She had nothing to fear from Hatch. He was a good man, the best she had ever met. He was such a deep well of goodness that all the madness of the blond girl's killer could be dropped into him, and he would dilute it until it was without effect.


A glistening, silky filament spewed from the spider's abdomen as the arachnid industriously claimed the corner of the window for its lair. Lindsey opened a drawer in her equipment cabinet and took out a small magnifying glass, which she used to observe the spinner more closely. Its spindly legs were prickled with hundreds of fine hairs that could not be seen without the assistance of the lens. Its horrid, multifaceted eyes looked everywhere at once, and its ragged maw worked continuously as if in anticipation of the first living fly to become stuck in the trap that it was weaving.


Although she understood that it was a part of nature as surely as she was, and therefore not evil, the thing nevertheless revolted Lindsey. It was a part of nature that she preferred not to dwell upon: the part that had to do with hunting and killing, with things that fed eagerly on the living. She put the magnifying glass on the windowsill and went downstairs to get a jar from the kitchen pantry. She wanted to capture the spider and get it out of her house before it was any more securely settled.


Reaching the foot of the stairs, she glanced at the window beside the front door and saw the postman's car. She collected the mail from the box at the curb: a few bills, the usual minimum of two mail-order catalogues, and the latest issue of Arts American.


She was in the mood to seize any excuse not to work, which was unusual for her, because she loved her work. Quite forgetting that she had come downstairs in the first place for a jar in which to transport the spider, she took the mail back up to her studio and settled down in the old armchair in the corner with a fresh mug of coffee and Arts American.


She spotted the article about herself as soon as she glanced at the table of contents. She was surprised. The magazine had covered her work before, but she had always known in advance that articles were forthcoming. Usually the writer had at least a few questions for her, even if he was not doing a straight interview.


Then she saw the byline and winced. S. Steven Honell. She knew before reading the first word that she was the target of a hatchet job.


Honell was a well-reviewed writer of fiction who, from time to time, also wrote about art. He was in his sixties and had never married. A phlegmatic fellow, he had decided as a young man to forego the comforts of a wife and family in the interest of his writing. To write well, he said, one ought to possess a monk's preference for solitude. In isolation, one was forced to confront oneself more directly and honestly than possible in the hustle-bustle of the peopled world, and through oneself also confront the nature of every human heart. He had lived in splendid isolation first in northern California, then in New Mexico. Most recently he had settled at the eastern edge of the developed part of Orange County at the end of Silverado Canyon, which was part of a series of brush-covered hills and ravines spotted with numerous California live oaks and less numerous rustic cabins.


In September of the previous year, Lindsey and Hatch had gone to a restaurant at the civilized end of Silverado Canyon, which served strong drinks and good steaks. They had eaten at one of the tables in the taproom, which was paneled in knotty pine with limestone columns supporting the roof. An inebriated white-haired man, sitting at the bar, was holding forth on literature, art, and politics. His opinions were strongly held and expressed in caustic language. From the affectionate tolerance the curmudgeon received from the bartender and patrons on the other bar stools, Lindsey guessed he was a regular customer and a local character who told only half as many tales as were told about him.


Then Lindsey recognized him. S. Steven Honell. She had read and liked some of his writing. She'd admired his selfless devotion to his art; for she could not have sacrificed love, marriage, and children for her painting, even though the exploration of her creative talent was as important to her as having enough food to eat and water to drink. Listening to Honell, she wished that she and Hatch had gone somewhere else for dinner because she would never again be able to read the author's work without remembering some of the vicious statements he made about the writings and personalities of his contemporaries in letters. With each drink, he grew more bitter, more scathing, more indulgent of his own darkest instincts, and markedly more garrulous. Liquor revealed the gabby fool hidden inside the legend of taciturnity; anyone wanting to shut him up would have needed a horse veterinarian's hypodermic full of Demerol or a .357 Magnum. Lindsey ate faster, deciding to skip dessert and depart Honell's company as swiftly as possible.


Then he recognized her. He kept glancing over his shoulder at her, blinking his rheumy eyes. Finally he unsteadily approached their table. “Excuse me, are you Lindsey Sparling, the artist?” She had known that he sometimes wrote about American art, but she had not imagined he would know her work or her face. “Yes, I am,” she said, hoping he would not say that he liked her work and that he would not tell her who he was. “I like your work very much,” he said. “I won't bother you to say more.” But just as she relaxed and thanked him, he told her his name, and she was obligated to say that she liked his work, too, which she did, though now she saw it in a light different from that in which it had previously appeared to her. He seemed less like a man who had sacrificed family love for his art than like a man incapable of giving that love. In isolation he might have found a greater power to create; but he had also found more time to admire himself and contemplate the infinite number of ways in which he was superior to the ruck of his fellow men. She tried not to let her distaste show, spoke only glowingly of his novels, but he seemed to sense her disapproval. He quickly terminated the encounter and returned to the bar.


He never looked her way again during the night. And he no longer held forth to the assembled drinkers about anything, his attention directed largely at the contents of his glass.


Now, sitting in the armchair in her studio, holding the copy of Arts American, and staring at Honell's byline, she felt her stomach curdle. She had seen the great man in his cups, when he had uncloaked more of his true self than it was his nature to reveal. Worse, she was a person of some accomplishment, who moved in circles that might bring her into contact with people Honell also knew. He saw her as a threat. One way of neutralizing her was to undertake a well-written, if unfair, article criticizing her body of work; thereafter, he could claim that any tales she told about him were motivated by spite, of questionable truthfulness. She knew what to expect from him in the Arts American piece, and Honell did not surprise her. Never before had she read criticism so vicious yet so cunningly crafted to spare the critic accusations of personal animosity.


When she finished, she closed the magazine and put it down gently on the small table beside her chair. She didn't want to pitch it across the room because she knew that reaction would have pleased Honell if he had been present to see it.


Then she said, “To hell with it,” picked up the magazine, and threw it across the room with all the force she could muster. It slapped hard against the wall and clattered to the floor.


Her work was important to her. Intellect, emotion, talent, and craft went into it, and even on those occasions when a painting did not turn out as well as she had hoped, no creation ever came easily. Anguish always was a part of it. And more self-revelation than seemed prudent. Exhilaration and despair in equal measure. A critic had every right to dislike an artist if his judgment was based on thoughtful consideration and an understanding of what the artist was trying to achieve. But this was not genuine criticism. This was sick invective. Bile. Her work was important to her, and he had shit on it.


Filled with the energy of anger, she got up and paced. She knew that by surrendering to anger she was letting Honell win; this was the response he had hoped to extract from her with his dental-pliers criticism. But she couldn't help it.


She wished Hatch was there, so she could share her fury with him. He had a calming effect greater than a fifth of bourbon.


Her angry pacing brought her eventually to the window where by now the fat black spider had constructed an elaborate web in the upper right-hand corner. Realizing that she had forgotten to get a jar from the pantry, Lindsey picked up the magnifying glass and examined the silken filigree of the eight-legged fisherman's net, which glimmered with a pastel mother-of-pearl iridescence. The trap was so delicate, so alluring. But the living loom that spun it was the very essence of all predators, strong for its size and sleek and quick. Its bulbous body glistened like a drop of thick black blood, and its rending mandibles worked the air in anticipation of the flesh of prey not yet snared.


The spider and Steven Honell were of a kind, utterly alien to her and beyond understanding regardless of how long she observed them. Both spun their webs in silence and isolation. Both had brought their viciousness into her house uninvited, one through words in a magazine and the other through a tiny crack in a window frame or door jamb. Both were poisonous, vile.

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