Night Chills Page 37


Confront them here and now? Shoot them both as they came out of the stairwell?


No. The light was much too poor for gunplay. He couldn’t target them with any accuracy. Under these conditions he would never bring down both of them—and perhaps not either of them.


He thought of searching quickly for a light switch. He could flip it on as they entered the nave and open fire on them in the same instant. But if there was a switch nearby, he would never find it in time. And if he did find it in time, he would be every bit as surprised and blinded by the light as they would be.


Even if, by the grace of one of the saints depicted in these stained-glass windows, he did somehow kill both of them, then he would have alerted the woman in the tower. She might be armed; she almost certainly was. And if that was the case, the belfry would be virtually impregnable. With any sort of weapon at all—rifle or shotgun or handgun—and a supply of ammunition, she would be able to hold him off indefinitely.


He wished to God that he were properly equipped. He should have at least those few essentials of behind-the-lines combat:


a pretty damned good machine pistol, preferably German-made or Belgian, and several fully loaded magazines for it; an automatic rifle with a bandolier of ammo; and a few grenades, three or four. Especially the grenades. After all, this was no ladies’ tea party. This was a classic commando operation, a classic clandestine raid, deep in hostile territory.


Behind him, Edison and Annendale were unsettlingly close, on the last twenty steps and coming fast.


He dashed along the side aisle to the fourth or fifth row of pews where he intended to hide between the high-backed seats. He tripped over a kneeler that some thoughtless member of the congregation had forgotten to put up after saying a prayer, and he fell with a loud crash. His heart hammering, he scrambled farther along the row toward the center aisle, then stretched out on the bench of the pew, flat on his back, the Webley at his side.


As they came into the dark church, Paul put one hand on Sam’s shoulder.


Sam stopped. “Yeah?” he said softly.


“Sssshhh,” Paul said.


They listened to the storm wind and to the distant thunder and to the settling sounds that the building made.


Finally Sam said, “Is something wrong?”


“Yeah. What was that?”


“What was what?”


“That noise.”


"I didn’t hear anything.”


Paul studied the darkness that seemed to pulse around them. He squinted as if that would help him penetrate the inky pools in the corners and the purple-black shadows elsewhere. The atmosphere was Lovecraftian, a dank seed bed of paranoia. He rubbed the back of his neck which was suddenly cold.


“How could you have heard anything with all that racket we were making on the stairs?” Sam asked.


“I heard it. Something. . .“


“Probably the wind.”


“No. It was too loud for that. Sharp. It sounded as if—as if someone knocked over a chair.”


They waited.


Half a minute. A minute.


Nothing.


“Come on,” Sam said. “Let’s go.”


“Give it another minute.”


As Paul spoke a particularly violent gust of wind battered the east side of the church; and one of the ten-foot-high windows fluttered noisily in its frame.


“There you are,” Sam said. “You see? That’s what you heard. It was just the window.”


Relieved, Paul said, “Yeah.”


“We’ve got work to do,” Sam said.


They left the church by the front door. They went east on Main Street to Paul’s station wagon, which was parked in front of the general store.


As the station wagon reached the mill road and its taillights dwindled to tiny red dots beyond the west end of town, Klinger left the church and ran half a block to the telephone booth beside Ultman’s Cafe. He paged through the slim directory until he found the numbers for the Big Union Supply Company: twenty of them, eight at the logging camp and twelve at the mill complex. There wasn’t time to try all of them. In what part of the mill would Dawson establish his HQ? Klinger wondered. He thought about it, painfully aware of the precious seconds ticking by. Finally he decided that the main office was the location most consistent with Dawson’s personality, and he dialed that number.


After it had rung fifteen times, just as Klinger was about to give up, Dawson answered it warily. “Big Union Supply Company.”


“Klinger here.”


“Have you finished?”


“He’s dead, but I didn’t kill him. Edison and Annendale got to him first.”


“They’re in town?”


“That’s right. Or they were. Right now they’re coming for you. And for me. They think we’re both at the mill.” As best he could in less than a minute, the general summed up the


Situation


“Why didn’t you eliminate them when you had the chance, in the Church?” Dawson asked.


“Because J didn’t have the chance,” Klinger said impatiently.


“I didn’t have time to set it up right. But you can set it up just perfectly. They’ll probably park half a mile from the mill and walk in to you. They expect to surprise you. But now you can surprise them.”


“Look, why don’t you get in a car and come up here right away?” Dawson asked. “Come in behind them. Trap them between us.”


“Under the circumstances,” Klinger said, “that makes no military sense, Leonard. As a group of four, three of them armed, they’d be too formidable for us. Now that they’re split into pairs and puffed up with self-confidence, the advantage is ours.”


“But if Edison and Annendale know the key-lock phrases, I can’t keep guards posted. I can’t use any of these people up here. I’m alone.”


“You can handle it.”


“Ernst, my training is in business, finance. This is more your line of work.”


“And I’ve got work down here in town.”


“I don’t eliminate people.”


“Oh?”


“Not like this.”


“What do you mean?”


“Not personally.”


“You brought guns back from the camp?”


“A few of them. I’ve posted guards.”


“With a rifle or shotgun, you can do what’s necessary. I know you can. I’ve seen you shoot skeet both ways.”


“You don’t understand. It’s against my beliefs. My religious beliefs.”


“You’ll have to set those aside for now,” Klinger said. “This is a matter of survival.”


“You can’t just set aside morality, Ernst, whether or not it’s a matter of survival. Anyway, I don’t like being here alone. Handling this alone. It’s no good.”


Trying to think of some way to convince the man that be could and should do what had to be done so that he would get


off the phone, the general hit upon an approach that he recognized at once as custom-tailored for Dawson. “Leonard, there’s one thing that every soldier learns his first day on the battlefield, when the enemy is firing at him and grenades are exploding around him and it seems like he’ll never get through to the next day alive. If he’s fighting for the right cause, for the just cause, be learns that he’s never alone. God’s always with him.”


“You’re right,” Dawson said.


“You do believe ours is a just cause?”


“Of course. I’m doing all of this for Him.”


“Then you’ll come out just fine.”


“You’re right,” Dawson said. “I shouldn’t have hesitated to do what He so obviously wishes me to do. Thank you, Ernst.”


“Don’t mention it,” Klinger said. “You better get moving. They’re probably leaving the station wagon about now. You’ll have ten minutes at most to prepare for them.”


“And you?”


“I’ll go back to the church.”


“God be with you.”


“Good luck.”


They both hung up.


10


Saturday, August 27, 1977


12:10 A.M.


THE WIND RAISED a steady, haunting whooooo! in the highest reaches of the trees. Thunder rumbled frequently, each peal louder and more unsettling than the one that had come before it. Above the forest, the sky periodically blazed with lightning; the electric glow pulsed down through the canopy of interlaced branches and left in its wake a series of stroboscopic images that dazzled the eye.


In the dense underbrush, small animals scampered this way and that, busily searching for food or water or companionship or safety. Or perhaps, Paul thought as one of them dashed across the path and startled him, they were frightened of the oncoming storm.


Paul and Sam had expected to find armed guards rather than animals at the edge of the woods that surrounded the mill, but there were none. Although all of the lights were on in the main building, the structure seemed—as did the land around it— deserted.


They circled through the woods. Eventually they came to the employee parking lot and studied the scene from behind a thick clump of laurel.


The helicopter was there, on the macadam, thirty feet away. A man stood beside it in the darkness, smoking a cigarette, watching the lightning and the fast-moving clouds.


Paul whispered: “Dawson or Klinger?”


“I don’t think so,” Sam said.


“Neither do I.”


“Then he’s the pilot.”


“You see a gun?” “No. Nothing.”


“Move in now?" “Wait.”


“For what?”


“The right moment.”


They watched.


A few seconds later the pilot dropped his cigarette and crushed it under the sole of his shoe. He put his hands in his pockets and began to walk aimlessly about, just killing time. At first he came toward the trees, wandered within ten or twelve feet of them, then turned and went back the way he’d come.


“Quickly,” Sam said.


Paul stood up. He eased through the laurel and ran after the pilot.


The man heard him and turned. His face was a black mask, but his eyes seemed phosphorescent. “Who—”


“I am the key,” Paul said.


“I am the lock.” “Speak softly.”


“Yes, sir.”


Paul looked beyond the helicopter. He could see the windows


—most of them with light behind them—on the second and third floors of the main building at the end of the storage yard. If he could see the windows, anyone who happened to glance Out might be able to see him, in turn, despite the darkness. He hustled the pilot closer to the helicopter, where they were pretty much hidden from the main building.


Sam joined them and said, “What’s your name?”


“Malcolm Spencer.”


“You are the pilot?”


“Yes. I am.”


“Where’s Leonard Dawson?”


“In the mill,” Spencer said.


“Which building?”


“The biggest one.”


“Which floor? First, second, or third?”


“First floor. There’s a sort of public sales area with—.”


“And Ernst Klinger,” Sam said. “Where’s he?”


“He’s in Black River,” Spencer said.


“That can’t be right.”


“Sir?”


“You mean he’s in town?” Paul asked.


“That’s right.”


Paul and Sam glanced at each other.


“Something wrong?” the pilot asked. He seemed to be concerned about them.


“You’re lying,” Paul said.


Surprised, Spencer said, “No, sir.”


“I am the lock,” Paul said.


“I am the key,” Spencer said.


“Where’s Klinger?”


“He’s in Black River.”


Paul stared at Sam. “Christ!”


To the pilot, Sam said, “You took Klinger and Dawson to the logging camp, didn’t you? And then brought them to the mill?”


“No. Just Mr. Dawson. General Klinger went to town from the camp.”


“When?”


“A couple of minutes after we got there,” Spencer said. He smiled uncertainly. His teeth seemed even more radiant than his eyes.


“How did he go? Not in the chopper?”


“No, sir. He took a car.”


“Why-”


Before he could get out more than one word of the question, Sam screamed and stumbled forward against the helicopter.


In the same instant, the night silence was split open by a single rifle shot.


Instinctively, Paul dropped to the ground and rolled.


A bullet cracked into the pavement where he’d just been, ricocheted into the darkness.


A second bullet smashed the macadam on the other side of him, bracketing him.


He rolled onto his back and sat up. He saw the rifleman at once: down on one knee in a sportsman’s pose, thirty feet away at the edge of the woods. On the drive from town, Paul had reloaded the Combat Magnum; now he held it with both hands and squeezed off five quick shots.


All of them missed the mark.


However, the sharp barking of the revolver and the deadly whine of all those bullets skipping across the pavement apparently unnerved the man with the rifle. Instead of trying to finish what he had begun, he stood and ran.


Paul scrambled to his feet, took a few steps after him and fired once more.


Untouched, the rifleman headed away in a big loop that would take him back to the mill complex.


“Sam?”


“Here.”


He could barely see Sam—dark clothes against the macadam


—and was thankful for the older man’s telltale white hair and beard. “You were hit.”


“In the leg.”


Paul started toward him. “How bad?”


“Flesh wound,” Sam said. “That was Dawson. Get after him, for God’s sake.”


“But if you’re hurt—”


“I’ll be fine. Malcolm can make a tourniquet. Now get after him, dammit!”


Paul ran. At the end of the parking area he passed the rifle: it was on the ground; Dawson had either dropped it by accident and had been too frightened to stop and retrieve it—or he bad discarded it in panic. Still running, Paul fished in his pocket with one hand for the extra bullets he was carrying.


12:15 A.M.


The wooden tower stairs creaked under Klinger’s weight. He paused and counted slowly to thirty before going up three more steps and pausing again. If he climbed too fast, the woman and the girl would know that he was coming. And if they were ready and waiting for him—well, he would be committing suicide when he walked onto the belfry platform. He hoped that, by waiting for thirty seconds or as much as a minute between brief advances, he could make them think that the creaking stairs were only settling noises or a product of the wind.

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