Hideaway Page 39


Hatch found it difficult to believe that just three days ago the problem of his repetitive nightmares had not seemed significant enough to delay a trial adoption. But Honell and Cooper had not been dead then, and supernatural forces seemed only the material of popcorn movies and National Enquirer stories.


Halfway through dinner he heard a noise in the kitchen. A click and scrape. Lindsey and Regina were engaged in an intense conversation about whether Nancy Drew, girl detective of countless books, was a “dorkette,” which was Regina's view, or whether she was a smart and savvy girl for her times but just old-fashioned when you looked at her from a more modern viewpoint. Either they were too engrossed in their debate to hear the noise in the kitchen—or there had been no noise, and he had imagined it.


“Excuse me,” he said, getting up from the table, “I'll be right back.”


He pushed through the swinging door into the large kitchen and looked around suspiciously. The only movement in the deserted room was a faint ribbon of steam still unraveling from the crack between the tilted lid and the pot of hot spaghetti sauce that stood on a ceramic pad on the counter beside the stove.


Something thumped softly in the L-shaped family room, which opened off the kitchen. He could see part of that room from where he stood but not all of it. He stepped silently across the kitchen and through the archway, taking the Browning 9mm off the top of the refrigerator as he went.


The family room was also deserted. But he was sure that he had not imagined that second noise. He stood for a moment, looking around in bafflement.


His skin prickled, and he whirled toward the short hallway that led from the family room to the foyer inside the front door. Nothing. He was alone. So why did he feel as if someone was holding an ice cube against the back of his neck?


He moved cautiously into the hallway until he came to the coat closet. The door was closed. Directly across the hall was the powder room. That door was also shut. He felt drawn toward the foyer, and his inclination was to trust his hunch and move on, but he didn't want to put either of those closed doors at his back.


When he jerked open the closet door, he saw at once that no one was in there. He felt stupid with the gun thrust out in front of him and pointing at nothing but a couple of coats on hangers, playing a movie cop or something. Better hope it wasn't the final reel. Sometimes, when the story required it, they killed off the good guy in the end.


He checked the powder room, found it also empty, and continued into the foyer. The uncanny feeling was still with him but not as strong as before. The foyer was deserted. He glanced at the stairs, but no one was on them.


He looked in the living room. No one. He could see a corner of the dining-room table through the archway at the end of the living room. Although he could hear Lindsey and Regina still discussing Nancy Drew, he couldn't see them.


He checked the den, which was also off the entrance foyer. And the closet in the den. And the kneehole space under the desk.


Back in the foyer, he tried the front door. It was locked, as it should have been.


No good. If he was this jumpy already, what in the name of God was he going to be like in another day or week? Lindsey would have to pry him off the ceiling just to give him his morning coffee each day.


Nevertheless, reversing the route he had just taken through the house, he stopped in the family room to try the sliding glass doors that served the patio and backyard. They were locked, with the burglar-foiling bar inserted properly in the floor track.


In the kitchen once more, he tried the door to the garage. It was unlocked, and again he felt as if spiders were crawling on his scalp.


He eased the door open. The garage was dark. He fumbled for the switch, clicked the lights on. Banks of big fluorescent tubes dropped a flood of harsh light straight down the width and breadth of the room, virtually eliminating shadows, revealing nothing out of the ordinary.


Stepping over the threshold, he let the door ease shut behind him. He cautiously walked the length of the room with the large roll-up sectional doors on his right, the backs of the two cars on his left. The middle stall was empty.


His rubber-soled Rockports made no sound. He expected to surprise someone crouched along the far side of one of the cars, but no one was sheltering behind either of them.


At the end of the garage, when he was past the Chevy, he abruptly dropped to the floor and looked under the car. He could see all the way across the room, beneath the Mitsubishi, as well. No one was hiding under either vehicle. As best as he could tell, considering that the tires provided blind spots, no one appeared to be circling the cars to keep out of his sight.


He got up and turned to a regular door in the end wall. It served the side yard and had a thumb-turn dead-bolt lock, which was engaged. No one could get in that way.


Returning to the kitchen door, he stayed to the back of the garage. He tried only the two storage cabinets that had tall doors and were large enough to provide a hiding place for a grown man. Neither was occupied.


He checked the window latch he had repaired earlier in the day. It was secure, the bolt seated snugly in the vertically mounted hasp.


Again, he felt foolish. Like a grown man engaged in a boy's game, fancying himself a movie hero.


How fast would he have reacted if someone had been hiding in one of those tall cabinets and had flung himself outward when the door opened? Or what if he had dropped to the floor to look under the Chevy, and right there had been the man in black, face-to-face with him, inches away?


He was glad he hadn't been required to learn the answer to either of those unnerving questions. But at least, having asked them, he no longer felt foolish, because indeed the man in black might have been there.


Sooner or later the bastard would be there. Hatch was no less certain than ever about the inevitability of a confrontation. Call it a hunch, call it a premonition, call it Christmas turkey if you liked, but he knew that he could trust the small warning voice within him.


As he was passing the front of the Mitsubishi, he saw what appeared to be a dent on the hood. He stopped, sure that it must be a trick of light, the shadow of the pull-cord that hung from the ceiling trap. It was directly over the hood. He swatted the dangling cord, but the mark on the car didn't leap and dance as it would have done if it had been just the cord shadow.


Leaning over the grille, he touched the smooth sheet metal and felt the depression, shallow but as big as his hand. He sighed heavily. The car was still new, and already it needed a session in the body shop. Take a brand new car to the mall, and an hour after it's out of the showroom, some damn fool would park beside it and slam open his door into yours. It never failed.


He hadn't noticed the dent either when he had come home this afternoon from the gun shop or when he'd brought Regina back from school. Maybe it wasn't as visible from inside the car, behind the steering wheel; maybe you had to be out in front, looking at it from the right angle. It sure seemed big enough to be seen from anywhere.


He was trying to figure how it could have happened—somebody must have been passing by and dropped something on the car—when he saw the footprint. It was in a gossamer coating of beige dust on the red paint, the sole and part of the heel of a walking shoe probably not much different from the ones he was wearing. Someone had stood on or walked across the hood of the Mitsubishi.


It must have happened outside St. Thomas's School, because it was the kind of thing a kid might do, showing off to friends. Having allowed too much time for bad traffic, Hatch had arrived at St. Tom's twenty minutes before classes let out. Rather than wait in the car, he'd gone for a walk to work off some excess nervous energy. Probably, some wiseass and his buddies from the adjacent high school—the footprint was too big to belong to a smaller kid—sneaked out a little ahead of the final bell, and were showing off for each other as they raced away from the school, maybe leaping and clambering over obstacles instead of going around them, as if they'd escaped from a prison with the bloodhounds close on their—


“Hatch?”


Startled out of his train of thought just when it seemed to be * leading somewhere, he spun around toward the voice as if it did not sound familiar to him, which of course it did.


Lindsey stood in the doorway between the garage and kitchen. She looked at the gun in his hand, met his eyes. “What's wrong?”


“Thought I heard something.”


“And?”


“Nothing.” She had startled him so much that he had forgotten the footprint and dent on the car hood. As he followed her into the kitchen, he said, “This door was open. I locked it earlier.”


“Oh, Regina left one of her books in the car when she came home from school. She went out just before dinner to get it.”


“You should have made sure she locked up.”


“It's only the door to the garage,” Lindsey said, heading toward the dining room.


He put a hand on her shoulder to stop her, turned her around. “It's a point of vulnerability,” he said with perhaps more anxiety than such a minor breach of security warranted.


“Aren't the outer garage doors locked?”


“Yes, and this one should be locked, too.”


“But as many times as we go back and forth from the kitchen”—they had a second refrigerator in the garage—“it's just convenient to leave the door unlocked. We've always left it unlocked.”


“We don't any more,” he said firmly.


They were face-to-face, and she studied him worriedly. He knew she thought he was walking a fine line between prudent precautions and a sort of quiet hysteria, even treading the wrong way over that line sometimes. On the other hand, she hadn't had the benefit of his nightmares and visions.


Perhaps the same thought crossed Lindsey's mind, for she nodded and said, “Okay. I'm sorry. You're right.”


He leaned back into the garage and turned off the lights. He closed the door, engaged the deadbolt—and felt no safer, really.


She had started toward the dining room again. She glanced back as he followed her, indicating the pistol in his hand. “Going to bring that to the table?”


Deciding he had come down a little heavy on her, he shook his head and bugged his eyes out, trying to make a Christopher Lloyd face and lighten the moment: “I think some of my rigatoni are still alive. I don't like to eat them till they're dead.”


“Well, you've got the shotgun behind the Coromandel screen for that,” she reminded him.


“You're right!” He put the pistol on top of the refrigerator again. “And if that doesn't work, I can always take them out in the driveway and run them over with the car!”


She pushed open the swinging door, and Hatch followed her into the dining room.


Regina looked up and said, “Your food's getting cold.”


Still making like Christopher Lloyd, Hatch said, “Then we'll get some sweaters and mittens for them!”


Regina giggled. Hatch adored the way she giggled.


After the dinner dishes were done, Regina went to her room to study. “Big history test tomorrow,” she said.


Lindsey returned to her studio to try to get some work done. When she sat down at her drawing board, she saw the second Browning 9mm. It was still atop the low art-supply cabinet, where Hatch had put it earlier in the day.


She scowled at it. She didn't necessarily disapprove of guns themselves, but this one was more than merely a handgun. It was a symbol of their powerlessness in the face of the amorphous threat that hung over them. Keeping a gun ever within reach seemed an admission that they were desperate and couldn't control their own destiny. The sight of a snake coiled on the cabinet could not have carved a deeper scowl on her face.


She didn't want Regina walking in and seeing it.


She pulled open the first drawer of the cabinet and shoved aside some gum erasers and pencils to make room for the weapon. The Browning barely fit in that shallow space. Closing the drawer, she felt better.


During the long morning and afternoon, she had accomplished nothing. She had made lots of false starts with sketches that went nowhere. She was not even close to being ready to prepare a canvas.


Masonite, actually. She worked on Masonite, as did most artists these days, but she still thought of each rectangle as a canvas, as though she were the reincarnation of an artist from another age and could not shake her old way of thinking. Also, she painted in acrylics rather than oils. Masonite did not deteriorate over time the way canvas did, and acrylics retained their true colors far better than oil-based paints.


Of course if she didn't do something soon, it wouldn't matter if she used acrylics or cat's piss. She couldn't call herself an artist in the first place if she couldn't come up with an idea that excited her and a composition that did the idea justice. Picking up a thick charcoal pencil, she leaned over the sketch pad that was open on the drawing board in front of her. She tried to knock inspiration off its perch and get its lazy butt flying again.


After no more than a minute, her gaze floated off the page, up and up, until she was staring at the window. No interesting sight waited to distract her tonight, no treetops gracefully swaying in a breeze or even a patch of cerulean sky. The night beyond the pane was featureless.


The black backdrop transformed the window glass into a mirror in which she saw herself looking over the top of the drawing board. Because it was not a true mirror, her reflection was transparent, ghostly, as if she had died and come back to haunt the last place she had ever known on earth.


That was an unsettling thought, so she returned her attention to the blank page of the drawing tablet in front of her.


After Lindsey and Regina went upstairs, Hatch walked from room to room on the ground floor, checking windows and doors to be sure they were secured. He had inspected the locks before. Doing it again was pointless. He did it anyway.


When he reached the pair of sliding glass doors in the family room, he switched on the outdoor patio lights to augment the low landscape lighting. The backyard was now bright enough for him to see most of it—although someone could have been crouched among the shrubs along the rear fence. He stood at the doors, waiting for one of the shadows along the perimeter of the property to shift.


Maybe he was wrong. Maybe the guy would never come after them. In which case, in a month or two or three, Hatch would most likely be certifiably mad from the tension of waiting. He almost thought it would be better if the creep came now and got it over with.


He moved on to the breakfast nook and examined those windows. They were still locked.


Regina returned to her bedroom and prepared her corner desk for homework. She put her books to one side of the blotter, pens and felt-tip Hi-Liter to the other side, and her notebook in the middle, everything squared-up and neat.

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