Midnight Page 57


He kicked the door open and looked into the hall, where the overhead fluorescents were lit.


It was deserted.


No blood on the floor.


Damn. His right hand was half numb. He could feel his wrist swelling tight under the bandage, which was now soaked with fresh blood. At the rate his shooting was deteriorating, he was going to have to walk right up to the bastard and ask him to bite on the muzzle in order to make the shot count.


The doors to the ten practice rooms, five on each side, were closed. The door at the far end, where the hall led into the band room, was open, and the lights were on there. The tall guy could be there or in any of the ten practice rooms. But wherever he was, he had probably slipped at least a couple of shells into that shotgun, so the moment to pursue him had passed.


Sam backed up, letting the door between the hall and the chorus room slip shut. Even as he let go of it, as it was swinging back into place, he glimpsed the tall man stepping through the open door of the band room about forty feet away.


It was Shaddack himself.


The shotgun boomed.


The soundproofed door, gliding shut at the crucial moment, was thick enough to stop the pellets.


Sam turned and ran across the chorus room, into the hall, and up the stairs, where he had sent Tessa and Chrissie.


When he reached the top flight, he found them waiting for him in the upper hall, in the soft red glow of another STAIRS sign.


Below, Shaddack entered the stairwell.


Sam turned, stepped back onto the landing and descended the first step. He leaned over the railing, looked down, glimpsed part of his pursuer, and squeezed off two shots.


Shaddack squealed like a boy again. He ducked back against the wall, away from the open center of the well, where he could not be seen.


Sam didn't know whether he'd scored a hit or not. Maybe. What he did know was that Shaddack wasn't mortally wounded; he was still coming, easing up step by step, staying against the outer wall. And when that geek reached the lower landing, he would take the turn suddenly, firing the shotgun repeatedly at whoever waited above.


Silently Sam retreated from the upper landing, into the hall once more. The scarlet light of the STAIRS sign fell on Chrissie's and Tessa's faces … an illusion of blood.


25


A clink. A scraping sound.


Clink-scrape. Clink-scrape.


Harry knew what he was hearing. Clothes hangers sliding on a metal rod.


How could they have known? Hell, maybe they had smelled him up here. He was sweating like a horse, after all. Maybe the conversion improved their senses.


The clinking and scraping stopped.


A moment later he heard them lifting the closet rod out of its braces so they could lower the trap.


26


The fading flashlight kept winking out, and Tessa had to shake it, jarring the batteries together, to get a few more seconds of weak and fluttery light from it.


They had stepped out of the hall, into what proved to be a chemistry lab with black marble lab tables and steel sinks and high wooden stools. Nowhere to hide.


They checked the windows, hoping there might be a roof just under them. No. A two-story drop to a concrete walk.


At the end of the chemistry lab was a door, through which they passed into a ten-foot-square storage room full of chemicals in sealed tins and bottles, some labeled with skulls and crossbones, some with DANGER in bright red letters. She supposed there were ways to use the contents of that closet as a weapon, but they didn't have time to inventory the contents, looking for interesting substances to mix together. Besides, she'd never been a great science student, recalled nothing whatsoever of her chemistry classes, and would probably blow herself up with the first bottle she opened. From the expression on Sam's face, she knew that he saw no more hope there than she did.


A rear door in the storage closet opened into a second lab that seemed to double as a biology classroom. Anatomy charts hung on one wall. The room offered no better place to hide than had the previous lab.


Holding Chrissie close against her side, Tessa looked at Sam and whispered, "Now what? Wait here and hope he can't find us … or keep moving?"


"I think it's safer to keep moving," Sam said. "Easier to be cornered if we sit still."


She nodded agreement.


He eased past her and Chrissie, leading the way between the lab benches, toward the door to the hall.


From behind them, either in the dark chemical-storage room or in the unlighted chemistry lab beyond it, came a soft but distinct clink.


Sam halted, motioned Tessa and Chrissie ahead of him, and turned to cover the exit from the storage room.


With Chrissie at her side, Tessa stepped to the hall door, turned the knob slowly, quietly, and eased the door outward.


Shaddack came from the darkness in the corridor, into the pale and inconstant pulse of light from her flash, and rammed the barrel of his shotgun into her stomach. "You're gonna be sorry now," he said excitedly.


27


They pulled the trapdoor down. A shaft of light from the closet shot up to the rafters, but it didn't illuminate the far corner in which Harry sat with his useless legs splayed out in front of him.


His bad hand was curled in his lap, while his good hand fiercely clasped the pistol.


His heart was hammering harder and faster than it had in twenty years, since the battlefields of Southeast Asia. His stomach was churning. His throat was so tight he could barely breathe. He was dizzy with fear. But, God in heaven, he sure felt alive.


With a squeak and clatter, they unfolded the ladder.


28


Tommy Shaddack shoved the muzzle into her belly and almost blew her guts out, almost wasted her, before he realized how pretty she was, and then he didn't want to kill her any more, at least not right away, not until he'd made her do some things with him, do some things to him. She'd have to do whatever he wanted, anything, whatever he told her to do, or he could just smear her across the wall, yeah, she was his, and she better realize that, or she'd be sorry, he'd make her sorry.


Then he saw the girl beside her, a pretty little girl, only ten or twelve, and she excited him even more. He could have her first, and then the older one, have them any which way he wanted them, make them do things, all sorts of things, and then hurt them, that was his right, they couldn't deny him, not him, because all the power was in his hands now, he had seen the moonhawk three times.


He pushed through the open door, into the room, keeping the gun in the woman's belly, and she backed up to accommodate him, pulling the girl with her. Booker was behind them, a startled expression on his face. Tommy Shaddack said, "Drop your gun and back away from it, or I'll make raspberry jelly out of this bitch, I swear I will, you can't move fast enough to stop me."


Booker hesitated.


"Drop it!" Tommy Shaddack insisted.


The agent let go of the revolver and sidestepped away from it.


Keeping the muzzle of the Remington hard against the woman's belly, he made her edge around until she could reach the light switch and click on the fluorescents. The room leaped out of shadows.


"Okay, now, all of you," Tommy Shaddack said, "sit down on those three stools, by that lab bench, yeah, there, and don't do anything funny."


He stepped back from the woman and covered them all with the shotgun. They looked scared, and that made him laugh.


Tommy was getting excited now, really excited, because he had decided he would kill Booker in front of the woman and the girl, not swift and clean but slowly, the first shot in the legs, let him lie on the floor and wriggle a while, the second shot in the gut but not from such a close range that it finished him instantly, make him hurt, make the woman and the girl watch, show them what a customer they had in Tommy Shaddack, what a damned tough customer, make them grateful for being spared, so grateful they'd get on their knees and let him do things to them, do all the things he had wanted to do for thirty years but which he had denied himself, let off thirty years of steam right here, right now, tonight… .


29


Beyond the house, filtering into the attic through vents in the eaves, came eerie howling, point and counterpoint, first solo and then chorus. It sounded as if the gates of hell had been thrown open, letting denizens of the pit pour forth into Moonlight Cove.


Harry worried about Sam, Tessa, and Chrissie.


Below him, the unseen conversion team locked the collapsible ladder in place. One of them began to climb into the attic.


Harry wondered what they would look like. Would they be just ordinary men—old Doc Fitz with a syringe and a couple of deputies to assist him? Or would they be Boogeymen? Or some of the machine-men Sam had talked about?


The first one ascended through the open trap. It was Dr. Worthy, the town's youngest physician.


Harry considered shooting him while he was still on the ladder. But he hadn't fired a gun in twenty years, and he didn't want to waste his limited ammunition. Better to wait for a closer shot.


Worthy didn't have a flashlight. Didn't seem to need one. He looked straight toward the darkest corner, where Harry was propped, and said, "How did you know we were coming, Harry?"


"Cripple's intuition," Harry said sarcastically.


Along the center of the attic, there was plenty of headroom to allow Worthy to walk upright. He rose from a crouch as he came out from under the sloping rafters near the trap, and when he had taken four steps forward, Harry fired twice at him.


The first shot missed, but the second hit low in the chest.


Worthy was flung backward, went down hard on the bare boards of the attic floor. He lay there for a moment, twitching, then sat up, coughed once, and got to his feet.


Blood glistened all over the front of his torn white shirt. He had been hit hard, yet he had recovered in seconds.


Harry remembered what Sam had said about how the Coltranes had refused to stay dead. Go for the data processor.


He aimed for Worthy's head and fired twice again, but at that distance—


about twenty-five feet—and at that angle, shooting up from the floor, he couldn't hit anything. He hesitated with only four rounds left in the pistol's clip.


Another man was climbing through the trap.


Harry shot at him, trying to drive him back down.


He came on, unperturbed.


Three rounds in the pistol.


Keeping his distance, Dr. Worthy said, "Harry, we're not here to harm you. I don't know what you've heard or how you've heard about the project, but it isn't a bad thing. …"


His voice trailed off, and he cocked his head as if to listen to the un-human cries that filled the night outside. A peculiar look of longing, visible even in the dim wash of light from the open trap, crossed Worthy's face.


He shook himself, blinked, and remembered that he had been trying to sell his elixir to a reluctant customer. "Not a bad thing at all, Harry. Especially for you. You'll walk again, Harry, walk as well as anyone. You'll be whole again. Because after the Change, you'll be able to heal yourself. You'll be free of paralysis."


"No, thanks. Not at that price."


"What price, Harry?" Worthy asked, spreading his arms, palms up. "Look at me. What price have I paid?"


"Your soul?" Harry said.


A third man was coming up the ladder.


The second man was listening to the ululant cries that came in through the attic vents. He gritted his teeth, ground them together forcefully, and blinked very fast. He raised his hands and covered his face with them, as if he were suddenly anguished.


Worthy noticed his companion's situation. "Vanner, are you all right?"


Vanner's hands … changed. His wrists swelled and grew gnarly with bone, and his fingers lengthened, all in a couple of seconds. When he took his hands from his face, his jaw was thrusting forward like that of a werewolf in midtransformation. His shirt tore at the seams as his body reconfigured itself. He snarled, and teeth flashed.


"… need," Vanner said, "… need, need, want, need …"


"No!" Worthy shouted.


The third man, who had just come out of the trap, rolled onto the floor, changing as he did so, flowing into a vaguely insectile but thoroughly repulsive form.


Before he quite knew what he was doing, Harry emptied the .38 at the insect-thing, pitched it away, snatched the .45 revolver off the board floor beside him, also fired three rounds from that, evidently striking the thing's brain at least once. It kicked, twitched, fell back down through the trap, and did not clamber upward again.


Vanner had undergone a complete lupine metamorphosis and seemed to have patterned himself after something that he had seen in a movie, because he looked familiar to Harry, as if Harry had seen that same movie, though he could not quite remember it. Vanner shrieked in answer to the creatures whose cries pealed through the night outside.


Tearing frantically at his clothes, as if the pressure of them against his skin was driving him mad, Worthy was changing into a beast quite different from either Vanner or the third man. Some grotesque physical incarnation of his own mad desires.


Harry had only three rounds left, and he had to save the last one for himself.


30


Earlier, after surviving the ordeal in the culvert, Sam had promised himself that he would learn to accept failure, which had been all well and good until now, when failure was again at hand.


He could not fail, not with both Chrissie and Tessa depending on him. If no other opportunity presented itself, he would at least leap at Shaddack the moment before he believed the man was ready to pull the trigger.


Judging that moment might be difficult. Shaddack looked and sounded insane. The way his mind was short-circuiting, he might pull the trigger in the middle of one of those high, quick, nervous, boyish laughs, without any indication that the moment had come.


"Get off your stool," he said to Sam.


"What?"


"You heard me, dammit, get off your stool. Lay on the floor, over there, or I'll make you sorry, I sure will, I'll make you very sorry." He gestured with the muzzle of the shotgun. "Get off your stool and lay on the floor now."


Sam didn't want to do it because he knew Shaddack was separating him from Chrissie and Tessa only to shoot him.


He hesitated, then slid off the stool because there was nothing else he could do. He moved between two lab benches, to the open area that Shaddack had indicated.


"Down," Shaddack said. "I want to see you down there on the floor, groveling."


Dropping to one knee, Sam slipped a hand into an inner pocket of his leather jack, fished out the metal loid that he had used to pop the lock at the Coltranes' house, and flicked it away from himself, with the same snap of his wrist that he would have used to toss a playing card at a hat.


The loid sailed low across the floor, toward the windows, until it clattered through the rungs of a stool and clinked off the base of a marble lab bench.

Prev Next