The Good Guy Page 13

A simple spring latch did a good job of holding the door closed. As a lock, however, it would fail under moderate stress.

Rising from his crouch, turning to ask for Linda’s assistance, Tim discovered her standing behind him, watching.

He said, “You aren’t dead after all.”

“It’s a miracle. What’s going on?”

“I want to see if I can do this without waking anyone.”

“I’m wide awake. I’ve been wide awake. Remember?”

“Maybe you have a sleeping disorder.”

“I’m looking at it.”

“I mean, I want to see can I do this and not wake people in the next room. Will you lock me out on the balcony?”


Carrying the flashlight and the tool kit, Tim stepped outside. Less mild than it had been, the night wind nipped him, as though he annoyed it.

Linda slid the glass door shut, and the latch engaged. She stood in there, staring out at him.

He waved at her, and she waved back.

He loved that she waved back. A lot of women would have gestured for him to hurry or would have stood with their fists balled on their hips, glaring. He loved her deadpan expression when she waved.

Although he considered waving again, he restrained himself. Even a woman as exceptional as this one might have limits to her patience.

He decided to start with the fixed door. With luck, he wouldn’t have to deal with the latch in the other panel. Using the flashlight, he quickly located two anchoring screws in the header and two in the vertical frame.

From the tool kit, he chose one of three Phillips screwdrivers. He got the right fit on his first try.

The door-set was less than seven feet high. He could easily get enough torque even though he had to work above his head.

He expected the screws to be frozen by decades of corrosion, and he wasn’t disappointed. He persisted, and the head of the screw broke off. The shank dropped with a rattle into the hollow metal header.

The second screw snapped, as well, but the two in the vertical frame turned with rasping resistance. The noise he made extracting them wouldn’t have drawn the attention even of an insomniac princess troubled by a hard pea secreted under twenty mattresses.

All sliding doors are lifted into their tracks after the frame is set. Consequently, they can be easily removed. Because these doors had been manufactured in an age of innocence, they featured recessed finger grips in the stiles to facilitate an installer’s work.

If these had been six-foot-wide panels, he wouldn’t have been able to handle one himself. But they were only four feet, and he was a big disheveled bear.

He lifted the door straight up, and the top rail receded into the installation gap above it. Scraping softly, the bottom rail rose out of the track.

Had he tilted the bottom of the door toward himself and slowly lowered it, the top rail would have come out of the installation gap. He would have been able to lift the door entirely from the frame, to put it down on the balcony.

This had been only a test, however, to determine his ability to remove the door in relative silence. Muscles straining, he lifted it back into the track and left it in its frame where, no longer fixed, it could be slid aside as easily as its mate.

He gathered up his tools and the flashlight, and indicated to Linda that she should unlock and let him in.

As she was closing the door behind him, he glanced at his watch and said, “Took about four minutes.”

“Just imagine how much of the place you’ll be able to dismantle in an hour.”

“Suppose you’d been sleeping—”

“I can’t even imagine it anymore.”

“—I might have gotten in from the balcony without waking you. I certainly wouldn’t have awakened the people in the next room.”

“When Kravet comes up fifty feet from the beach and in through this door, we’ll know he’s Spider Man’s evil twin.”

Tim said, “If he finds us as quick as he found us at the coffee shop, I’d rather he came for us one way or the other instead of waiting for us in the parking garage. We’ll be most vulnerable going to the Explorer among all those cars, all those support columns.”

“He won’t find us tonight,” she said.

“I’m not so sure.”

“He’s not magical.”

“Yeah, but you heard Pete Santo. Kravet has connections.”

“We left him without wheels,” she said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he could fly. Anyway, I feel better. We won’t be in a box canyon now.”

“You’ve totally lost me, and I don’t care.” She yawned. “Come on, let’s go to bed.”

“Sounds good to me.”

“That’s not what I meant,” she said.

“It’s not what I mean, either,” he assured her.


The draperies were closed over the sliding glass doors. The lamp on the nightstand had been turned to its dimmest setting.

On the floor beside the bed stood Linda’s carryall, fully packed and ready to go in case they had to make a quick getaway.

Having pulled the spread aside, she lay on her back, head raised on a pillow. She had not taken off her shoes.

Tim had settled into an armchair. He wanted to sleep sitting up.

He had moved the chair near the entrance door, so any unusual noise in the public corridor would be more likely to wake him. From where he sat, he could see the drapery-covered balcony sliders.

Rather than fall asleep with a loaded pistol in his hand, he pressed the weapon, muzzle down, between the plush seat cushion and the side of the chair, where he could draw it as quickly as from a holster.

The digital clock over there on the nightstand read 1:32.

At this distance, from this angle, he could not discern whether Linda’s eyes were open or closed.

He said, “Are you asleep?”


“What happened to all your anger?”

“When was I angry?”

“Not tonight. You said for years you were bitter, so angry.”

She was silent. Then: “They were going to make one of my books into a TV miniseries.”

“Who was?”

“The usual psychopaths.”

“Which book?”


“That’s a new one to me.”

“I was watching TV—”

“You don’t have a TV.”

“This was in a reception lounge at one of the networks. They run their own shows on a screen there, all day long.”

“How do they stand it?”

“I suspect the average receptionist doesn’t last long. I was there for a meeting. This daytime talk show was on.”

“And you couldn’t change channels.”

“Or throw anything at the screen. Everything in those reception lounges is soft, no hard objects. You can guess why.”

“I feel right inside the biz.”

“All the guests on the show were angry. Even the host, she was angry on their behalf.”

“Angry about what?”

“About being victims. People had been unfair to them. Their families, the system, the country, life had been so unfair to them.”

He said, “I tend to watch really old movies.”

“These people were furious about being victims, but they thrived on it. They wouldn’t know what to be if they couldn’t be victims.”

“‘I was born under a glass heel, and have always lived there,’” Tim quoted.

“Who said that?”

“Some poet, I can’t remember his name. This girl I dated, she said that was her motto.”

“You dated a girl who said things like that?”

“Not for long.”

“Was she good in bed?”

“I was afraid to find out. So you were watching these angry people on the talk show.”

“And suddenly I realized, under a lot of chronic anger is a sewer of self-pity.”

“Was there a sewer of self-pity under your anger?” he asked.

“I hadn’t thought so. But when I recognized it in those people on the talk show, I saw it in myself, and it sickened me.”

“Sounds like a moment.”

“It was a moment. Those people loved their anger, they were always going to be angry, and when they died, their last words would be some self-pitying drivel. I was suddenly scared shitless I might end up like them.”

“You could never end up like that.”

“Oh, yeah, I could’ve. I was on my way. But I gave up anger cold turkey.”

“You can do that?”

“Adults can do that. Perpetual adolescents can’t.”

“Did they make the miniseries?”

“No. I didn’t stay for the meeting.”

He watched her from across the room. She hadn’t moved whatsoever during their conversation. Her calm plumbed deeper than calm: It was the serenity of a woman who lived above all storm and shadow, or hoped to.

In a voice thick with weariness, she said, “Hear the wind.”

Ceaselessly the wind flew across the balcony, not loud and rancorous, but soft and lulling, like an infinite flock on an infinite journey.

In a murmur that he could barely hear, she said, “Sounds like wings that’ll carry you home.”

For a while he didn’t say anything. Then he whispered, “Are you asleep?”

She did not reply.

He wanted to cross the room and stand over her and look down on her, but he was too tired to get up from the chair.

“You’re something,” he said.

He would watch over her while she slept. He was too tense for sleep. Under one name or another, Richard Lee Kravet was out there. Kravet was coming.

Perhaps some drug explained the dilation of Kravet’s eyes. But how could he take in so much light and not be half blinded?

With the gun jammed between the seat cushion and the side of the chair, with silence unbroken in the corridor, with the wind carrying the whole world into darkness, Tim slept.

He dreamed of a flowered meadow in which he had played as a boy, and of a twilit magical forest that he had never seen in life, and of Michelle with shards of something bright in her left eye, her left arm a bleeding stump.


At 3:16 A.M., Krait parked along the Pacific Coast Highway, half a block south of the hotel.

After sending a text message requesting data on recent credit-card use by Timothy Carrier, especially flagging the name of this hotel, Krait opened the attaché case that had been delivered with the fresh car.

Nestled in the molded-foam interior were a customized Glock 18 machine pistol and four fully loaded magazines. Also included were two state-of-the-art sound suppressors and a shoulder rig.

Krait admired this weapon. He had shot a few thousand practice rounds with one like it. For a 9-mm Parabellum cycling at 1300 rpm, the Glock 18 was exceptionally controllable.

The special magazines held thirty-three rounds. They maximized the weapon’s potential in full-auto mode. He inserted one.

Because the custom barrel had been extended and threaded, he was easily able to screw on one of the sound suppressors.

He felt a kind of kinship with the machine pistol. The gun had no memory of its manufacture, just as Krait had no memory of his mother or of his childhood. They were both clean, relentless, and in the service of death.

For the prince of Earth, the modified Glock 18 made a handsome Excalibur.

On the drive south, at a traffic light, Krait had slipped out of his sports coat. Now he took off his sidearm holster and slid it and the SIG P245 under the driver’s seat.

He put on the new shoulder rig, which was suitable for the silencer-fitted Glock with the extended magazine. After adjusting it, he got out of the Chevrolet, shrugged his shoulders, and satisfied himself that the rig fit properly.

From the car, he snared his coat and put it on. He holstered the Glock, and it hung comfortably along his left side.

At this late hour, even the Pacific Coast Highway was traveled only by the wind. He breathed deeply of the night air. Without the malodorous emissions of bustling vehicles, the wind smelled clean.

This was a moment when you could believe that one day no traffic would ever again ply the roads, that no human being would walk the coastal hills or any land, anywhere. When the fallen had failed beyond hope of any rise, wind and rain would in time lick away every trace of what the dumb machine of Nature had not built, and the earth would enfold all the wicked bones to hide them forever from the sun, the moon. Under cold stars would lie a solitude from which had been purged all desire, expectation, and hope. The silence would seem never to have been broken by song or by laughter. The stillness would not be that of prayer or even of contemplation, but of a void. And then the work would be done.

Sitting in the dark car, Krait waited for the information that he had requested. He received a coded text message at 3:37.

Timothy Carrier had used his Visa card twice in the past twelve hours, the first time to buy gasoline. More recently, less than three and a half hours ago, he presented it when registering at the hotel near which Krait was now parked.

Because the hotel belonged to a chain that had a computerized nationwide reservations system, Krait’s sources had been able to discover that Mr. and Mrs. Timothy Carrier were staying the night in Room 308.

The Mr. and Mrs. amused him. What a whirlwind romance.

Thinking of them together in a hotel room, Krait remembered that he had been asked to rape the woman.

He wanted to rape her. He had raped women less attractive than she was. He’d never had a problem with that if it was what his contributors asked for when they petitioned him.

He also wanted very much to insert in each of her primary orifices the reproduction art that he had removed from the frame in her bedroom.

Unfortunately, the dynamics of this mission had changed. In his experience, on those rare occasions when you lost the element of surprise, you could assure success only by the ruthless application of overwhelming force.

To get to the woman, he would most likely have to kill Carrier. In the assault, a stray shot might bring her down. And if she screamed, if she resisted, Krait would have no choice but to shoot her dead without raping her.

That was all right, too. Under these circumstances, that was as much as he might hope to achieve. Two more dead was progress toward a day of empty roads, toward the silence of a void.

Krait got out of the car and locked the doors. This was not an honest age.

Instead of directly approaching the hotel, he walked to the associated parking structure.

The Explorer stood where he expected to find it: in the southwest corner of the ground level.

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