Night Chills Page 35


Salsbury took advantage of Paul’s and Sam’s inability to act. He stood up as if he had had an electric shock, pointed his revolver, and fired at Paul’s head.


The shot was a bit too high, an inch or two, no more than that. The bullet slammed into the wall beside the door. Chips of plaster rained down on Paul’s shoulders.


Still crouching, he pulled off two quick shots of his own. The first was wide of the mark; it smashed through the Venetian blinds and shattered one of the windows. The second struck Salsbury in the left shoulder, approximately four inches above the nipple. It caused him to drop his gun, almost lifted him off his feet, pitched him backward as if he were a sack full of rags.


He was thrown to the floor by the impact of the bullet, and he slumped against the wall beneath the windows. He clutched his left shoulder with his right hand, but for all the pressure he applied, blood still streamed between his fingers. Pain pulsed rhythmically within him, deep within him exactly as the power bad once done: tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat.


A man came toward him. Blue-eyed. Curly-haired.


He couldn’t see very well. His vision was blurred. But the sight of those bright blue eyes was sufficient to catapult him


back in time, back to the memory of another pair of blue eyes, and he said, “Parker.”


The blue-eyed man said, "Who’s Parker?”


“Don’t tease me,” Salsbury said. “Please don’t tease me.”


“I’m not teasing.” “Don’t touch me.” “Who’s Parker?” “Please don’t touch me, Parker.” “Me? That’s not my name.” Salsbury began to cry.


The blue-eyed man took him by the chin and forced his head up. “Look at me, damn you. Look at me closely.”


“You hurt me bad, Parker.”


“I. Am. Not. Parker.”


For a moment the blazing pain subsided. Salsbury said, “Not Parker?”


“My name’s Annendale.”


The pain blossomed again, but the past receded to its proper place. He blinked and said, “Oh. Oh, yes. Annendale.”


“I’m going to ask you a lot of questions.”


“I’m in terrible pain,” Salsbury said. “You shot me. You hurt me. That isn’t right.”


“You’re going to answer my questions.”


“No,” Salsbury said adamantly. “None of them.”


“All of them. You’ll answer all of them, or I’ll blow your damned head off,” the blue-eyed man said.


“Okay. Do it. Blow my head off. That’s better than losing all of it. That’s better than losing the power.”


“Who were those men in the helicopter?”


“None of your business.” “Were they government men?” “Co away.”


“You’re going to die sooner or later, Salsbury.”


“Oh, is that so? Like hell I am.”


“You are. So save yourself some pain.” Salsbury said nothing.


“Were they government men?”


“Fuck off.”


The blue-eyed man reversed the revolver in his right hand, and he used the butt to rap hard on Salsbury’s right hand. The blow seemed to send jagged shards of glass through his skinned knuckles. But that was the least of the pain. The shock was transmitted through his hand, to and into the tender, bloody wound in his shoulder.


He gasped. He bent over and almost vomited.


“Do you see what I mean?”


“Bastard.”


“Were they government men?”


“I . . . told you . . . to . . . f*ck off.”


Klinger parked the car on West Main Street, two blocks from the town square.


He slid out from behind the wheel, closed the door—and heard gunfire. Three shots. One right after the other. Inside, muffled by walls. Not far away. Toward town. The municipal building? He stood very still and listened for at least a minute, but there was nothing more.


He took the snub-nosed .32 Webley from the ankle holster and flicked off the safety.


He hurried into the alleyway beside the Union Theater, taking a safe if circuitous route to the back door of the municipal building.


9


10:55 P.M.


IN THE AMBULANCE LoIah Tayback lay on a cot, strapped down at chest and thighs. A crisp white sheet was drawn


up to her neck. Her head had been elevated with two pillows to prevent her from choking on her own blood during the trip to the hospital in Bexford. Although her breathing was regular, it was labored; and she moaned softly as she exhaled.


Behind the ambulance, at the open bay doors, Sam stood with Anson Crowell, Thorp’s night deputy. “All right. Let’s go through it one more time. ‘What happened to her?”


“She was attacked by a rapist,” the deputy said, as Sam had programmed him to say.


“Where did it happen?”


“In her apartment.” “Who found her?” “I did.”


“Who called the police?” “Her neighbors.” “Why?”


“They heard screaming.” “Did you catch her assailant?” “I’m afraid not.”


“Do you know who he is?” “No. But we’re working on it.”


“Have any leads?”


“A couple.”


“What are they?”


“I’d prefer not to say at this time.” “Why not?”


“I might prejudice the case.”


“By talking to other policemen?”


“We’re real careful in Black River.” “That’s being too careful, isn’t it?”


“No offense. That’s just how we operate.”.


“Do you have a description of the man?”


The deputy recited a list of physical characteristics that Sam had made up off the top of his head. The fictitious assailant did not remotely resemble the real one, Ogden Salsbury.


“What if the state police or the Bexford police offer assistance in the case?”


“I tell them thanks but no thanks,” the deputy said. “We’ll handle it ourselves. We prefer it that way. Besides, I don’t have the authority to allow them to come in on it. That would be up to the chief.”


“Good enough,” Sam said. “Get in.”


The deputy clambered into the passenger bay of the ambulance and sat on the padded bench beside Lolah Tayback’s cot.


“You’ll be stopping at the end of Main Street to pick up her boyfriend,” Sam said. He had already talked to Phil Karkov on the telephone, had primed him to play the role of the anxiety-stricken lover at the hospital—just as he had primed Lolah to play a bewildered rape victim who had been attacked in her apartment. “Phil will be staying at the hospital with her, but you’ll come back as soon as you’ve learned she’s going to be okay.”


“I understand,” Crowell said.


Sam closed the doors. He went around to the driver’s window to reinforce the story that he had planted in the mind of the night duty volunteer fireman who was behind the wheel.


At first it seemed that there was no way to break through Salsbury’s iron resolve, no way to open him up and make him


talk. He was in great pain—shaking, sweating, dizzy—but he refused to make things easier for himself. He sat in Thorp’s office chair with an air of authority that simply did not make sense under the circumstances. He leaned back and gripped his shoulder wound and kept his eyes shut. Most of the time he ignored Paul’s questions. Occasionally he responded with a string of profanities and sex words that sounded as if they had been arranged to convey the minimum of meaning.


Furthermore, Paul wasn’t a born inquisitor. He supposed that if he knew the proper way to torture Salsbury, if he knew how he could cause the man mind-shattering pain without actually destroying him—and if he had the stomach for it—he could get the truth in short order. When Salsbury’s stubbornness became particularly infuriating, Paul used the butt of his revolver to jar the man’s shoulder wound. That left Salsbury gasping. But it wasn’t enough to make him talk. And Paul was incapable of any more effective cruelties.


“Who were the men in the helicopter?” Salsbury didn’t answer.


“Were they government people?” Silence.


“Is this a government project?” “Go to hell.”


If he knew what most terrified Salsbury, he could use that to crack him. Every man had one or two deeply ingrained fears— some of them quite rational and some utterly irrational—that shaped him. And with a man like this, a man so apparently in the borderlands of sanity, there should be more than the usual number of terrors to play upon. If Salsbury were afraid of heights, he could take the bastard up to the church bell tower and threaten to throw him off if he didn’t talk. If Salsbury were severely afflicted with agoraphobia, he could take him to the flattest and biggest open space in town—perhaps to the baseball field—and stake him down in the very center of it. If, like the protagonist in i 984, he were brought near to madness merely by the thought of being placed in a cage with rats— Suddenly Paul remembered how Salsbury had reacted to him


when he had first come into the room. The man had been


shocked, damned scared, devastated. But not just because Paul had surprised him. He had been terrified because, for some reason known only to himself, he had thought that Paul was a man named Parker.


What did this Parker do to him? Paul wondered. What could he possibly have done to leave such a deep and indelible scar?


“Salsbury?”


Silence.


“V/ho were the men in the helicopter?” “You’re a fu**ing bore.”


“Were they government people?”


“A regular broken record.”


“You know what I’m going to do to you, Salsbury?” He didn’t deign to answer.


“You know what I’m going to do?” Paul asked again. “Doesn’t matter. Nothing will work.”


“I’ll do—what Parker did.”


Salsbury didn’t respond. He didn’t open his eyes. However, he grew stiff in the chair, tense, every muscle knotted tight.


“Exactly what Parker did,” Paul said.


‘When Salsbury finally opened his eyes there was a monstrous horror in them, a trapped and haunted look that Paul had never seen anywhere but in the eyes of cornered, panic-stricken wild animals.


This is it, Paul thought. This is the key, the pressure point, the knife with which I’ll open him. But how should I react if he calls my bluff?


He was close to getting the truth, so close—but he hadn’t the vaguest idea what Parker had done.


“How do you. . . How do you know Parker?” Salsbury asked. His voice was a thin, pathetic whine.


Paul’s spirits lifted even further. If Salsbury didn’t recall that it was he who had first mentioned this Parker, then the use of the name carried a great deal of weight.


“Never mind how I know him,” Paul said shortly. “But I do. I know him well. And I know what he did to you.”


“I . . . was only . . . eleven. You wouldn’t.”


“I would. And enjoy it”


“But you aren’t the type,” Salsbury said desperately. He had been shiny with sweat; now he was dripping with it “You just aren’t the type!”


“What type is that?”


“Queer!” he blurted. “You aren’t a damned queer!” Still bluffing but with more good cards on the table to back


his hand, Paul said, “We don’t all look like what we are, you know. Most of us don’t advertise it.”


“You were married.”


“Doesn’t matter.”


“You had children!” Paul shrugged.


“You’re sniffing around that Edison bitch!”


“Have you ever heard of AC-DC?” Paul asked. He grinned. Salsbury closed his eyes.


“Ogden?”


He said nothing.


“Get up, Ogden.”


“Don’t touch me.”


“Lean against the desk.”


“I won’t get up.” “Come on. You’ll love it.”


“No. I won’t.” “You loved it from Parker.”


“That’s not true!” “You’re the type.” “I’m not.” “Admit it.” He didn’t move. “A talent for Greek.” Salsbury winced. “No.” “Lean on the desk.” “It hurts . .


“Of course. Now get up and lean on the desk and drop your pants. Come on.”


Salsbury shuddered. His face was drawn and ashen.


“If you don’t get up, Ogden, I’ll have to throw you out of that chair. You can’t refuse me. You can’t get away from me. You can’t fight me off, not when I’ve got the gun, not when your arm’s all torn up like that.”


“Oh, Jesus God,” Salsbury said miserably.


“You’ll love it. You’ll love the pain. Parker told me how much you love the pain.”


Salsbury began to cry. He didn’t weep gently or quietly, but let go with great, wracking sobs. Tears seemed to spurt from his eyes. He shook and gagged.


“Are you scared, Ogden?” “S-Scared. Yes.”


“You can save yourself.” “From . . . from . . .“


“From being raped.”


“H-How?”


“Answer my questions.” “Don’t want to.”


“Get up then.”


“Please . .


Ashamed of himself, sick of this violent game but determined to carry on with it, Paul took hold of the front of Salsbury’s shirt. He shook him and tried to lift him out of the chair. “When I’m done with you, I’ll let Bob Thorp have you. I’ll tape your mouth so you can’t talk to him, and I’ll program him to put it to you.” He was incapable of doing that, of course. But Salsbury obviously believed he would. “And not just Thorp. Others. Half a dozen others.”


With that, Salsbury’s resistance dissolved. “Anything. I’ll tell you anything,” he said, his voice distorted by the wretched sobbing that he couldn’t control. “Anything you want. Just don’t touch me. Oh, Jesus. Oh, don’t touch me. Don’t make me undress. Don’t touch. Don’t.”


Still twisting Salsbury’s shirt in his left hand, leaning toward the man, nearly shouting in his face, Paul said, “Who were those men in the helicopter? Unless you want to be used until you’re raw, you better tell me who they were.”


“Dawson and Klinger.”

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