Watchers Page 26

Sheriff's Deputies Teel Porter and Ken Dimes were in a patrol car-Teel driving, Ken riding shotgun-with a broken ventilation system: no air-conditioning, not even forced air coming out of the vents. The windows were open, but the sedan was an oven.

“You stink like a dead hog,” Teel Porter told his partner.

“Yeah?” Ken Dimes said. “Well, you not only stink like a dead hog, you look like a dead hog.”

“Yeah? Well, you date dead hogs.”

Ken smiled in spite of the heat. “That so? Well, I hear from your women that you make love like a dead hog.”

Their tired humor could not mask the fact that they were weary and uncomfortable. And they were answering a call that didn't promise much excitement: probably kids playing games; kids loved to play on construction sites. Both deputies were thirty-two, husky former high school football players. They weren't brothers-but, as partners for six years, they were brothers.

Teel turned off the county road onto a lightly oiled dirt lane that led into the Bordeaux Ridge development. About forty houses were in various stages of construction. Most were still being framed, but a few had already been stuccoed.

“Now there,” Ken said, “is the kind of shit I just can't believe people fall for. I mean, hell, what kind of name is 'Bordeaux' for a housing tract in Southern California? Are they trying to make you believe there's going to be vineyards here one day? And they call it 'Ridge,' but the whole tract's in this stretch of flatland between the hills. Their sign promises serenity. Maybe now. But what about when they pitch up another three thousand houses out here in the next five years?”

Teel said, “Yeah, but the part gets me is 'miniestates.' What the f*ck is a miniestate. Nobody in his right mind would think these are estates-except maybe Russians who've spent their lives living twelve to an apartment. These are tract homes.”

The concrete curbs and gutters had been poured along the streets of Bordeaux Ridge, but the pavement had not yet been put down. Teel drove slowly, trying not to raise a lot of dust, raising it anyway. He and Ken looked left and right at the skeletal forms of unfinished houses, searching for kids who were up to no good.

To the west, at the edge of the city of Yorba Linda and adjacent to Bordeaux Ridge, were finished tracts where people already lived. From those residents, the Yorba Linda Police had received calls about screaming somewhere in this embryonic development. Because the area had not yet been annexed into the city, the complaint fell into the jurisdiction of the Sheriff's Department.

At the end of the street, the deputies saw a white pickup that belonged to the company that owned Bordeaux: Tulemann Brothers. It was parked in front of three almost-completed display models.

“Looks like there's a foreman still here,” Ken said.

“Or maybe it's the night watchman on duty a little early,” Tee! said.

They parked behind the truck, got out of the stiflingly hot patrol car, and stood for a moment, listening. Silence.

Ken shouted, “Hello! Anybody here?”

His voice echoed back and forth through the deserted tract.

Ken said, “You want to look around?”

“Shit, no,” Teel said. “But let's do it.”

Ken still did not believe anything was wrong at Bordeaux Ridge. The pickup could have been left behind at the end of the day. After all, other equipment remained on the tract overnight: a couple of Bob-cats on a long-bed truck, a backhoe. And it was still likely that the reported screaming had been kids playing.

They grabbed flashlights from the car because, even if electric service to the tract had been connected, there were no lamps or ceiling lights in the unfinished structures.

Resettling their gunbelts on their h*ps more out of habit than out of any belief that they would need weapons, Ken and Teel walked through the nearest of the partially framed houses. They were not looking for anything in particular, just going through the motions, which was half of all police work.

A mild and inconstant breeze sprang up, the first of the day, and blew sawdust ghosts through the open sides of the house. The sun was falling rapidly westward, and the wall studs cast prison-bar shadows across the floor. The last light of the day, which was changing from gold to muddy red, imparted a soft glow to the air like that around the open door of a furnace. The concrete pad was littered with nails that winked in the fiery light and clinked underfoot.

“For a hundred and eighty thousand bucks,” Tee! said, probing into black corners with the beam of his flashlight, “I'd expect rooms a little bigger than these.”

Taking a deep breath of sawdust-scented air, Ken said, “Hell, I'd expect rooms as big as airport lounges.”

They stepped out of the back of the house, into a shallow rear yard, where they switched off their flashes. The bare, dry earth was not landscaped. It was littered with the detritus of construction': scraps of lumber, chunks of broken concrete, rumpled pieces of tarpaper, tangled loops of wire, more nails, useless lengths of PVC pipe, cedar shingles discarded by roofers, Styrofoam soft-drink cups and Big Mac containers, empty Coke cans, and less identifiable debris.

No fences had yet been constructed, so they had a view of all twelve backyards along this street. Purple shadows seeped across the sandy soil, but they could see that all the yards were deserted.

“No signs of mayhem,” Tee! said.

“No damsels in distress,” Ken said.

“Well, let's at least walk along here, look between buildings,” Teel said. “We ought to give the public something for their money.”

Two houses later, in the thirty-foot-wide pass-through between structures, they found the dead man.

“Damn,” Teel said.

The guy was lying on his back, mostly in shadow, with only the lower half of his body revealed in the dirty-red light, and at first Ken and Teel didn't realize what a horror they'd stumbled across. But when he knelt beside the corpse, Ken was shocked to see that the man's gut had been torn open.

“Jesus Christ, his eyes,” Teel said.

Ken looked up from the ravaged torso and saw empty sockets where the victim's eyes should have been.

Retreating into the littered yard, Tee! drew his revolver.

Ken also backed away from the mutilated corpse and slipped his own gun out of his holster. Though he had been perspiring all day, he felt suddenly damper, slick with a different kind of sweat, the cool, sour sweat of fear.

PCP, Ken thought. Only some as**ole stoned on PCP would be violent enough to do something like this.

Bordeaux Ridge was silent.

Nothing moved except the shadows, which seemed to grow longer by the second.

“Some angel-dust junkie did this,” Ken said, putting his fears about PCP into words.

“I was thinking the same thing,” Teel said. “You want to look any farther?”

“Not just the two of us, by God. Let's radio for assistance.”

They began to retrace their steps, warily keeping a watch on all sides as they moved, and they did not go far before they heard the noises. A crash. A clatter of metal. Glass breaking.

Ken had no doubt whatsoever where the sounds came from. The racket originated inside the closest of the three houses that were nearing completion and that would serve as sales models.

With no suspect in sight and no clue as to where to begin looking for one, they would have been justified in returning to the patrol car and calling for assistance. But now that they'd heard the disturbance in the model home, their training and instinct required them to act more boldly. They moved toward the back of the house.

A plyboard skin had been nailed over the studs, so the walls were not open to the elements, and chicken wire had been fixed to the tar-papered boards, and half the place was stuccoed. In fact, the stucco looked damp, as if the job had been started only today. Most of the windows were installed; only a few cutouts were still covered with tattered sheets of opaque plastic.

Another crash, louder than the first, was followed by the sound of more glass shattering inside.

Ken Dimes tried the sliding glass door that connected the rear yard and the family room. It was not locked.

From outside, Tee! studied the family room through the glass. Although some light still entered the house by way of undraped doors and windows, shadows ruled the interior. They could see that the family room was deserted, so Tee! eased through the half-open door with his flashlight in one hand and his Smith & Wesson clutched firmly in the other.

“You go around front,” Tee! whispered, “so the bastard doesn't get out that way.”

Bending down to stay below window level, Ken hurried around the corner, along the side of the house, around to the front, and every step of the way he half-expected someone to jump on him from the roof or leap out through one of the unfinished windows.

The interior had been Sheetrocked, the ceilings textured. The family room opened into a breakfast area adjoining the kitchen, all of it one large flowing space without partitions. Oak cabinets had been installed in the kitchen, but the tile floor had not yet been put down.

The air had the lime odor of drywaller's mud, with an underlying scent of wood stain.

Standing in the breakfast area, Tee! listened for more sounds of destruction, movement.


If this was like most California tract homes, he would find the dining room to the left, beyond the kitchen, then the living room, the entrance foyer, and a den. If he went into the hallway that led out of the breakfast area, he would probably find a laundry room, the downstairs bath, a coat closet, then the foyer. He could see no advantage of one route over another, so he went into the hall and checked the laundry first.

The dark room had no windows. The door was standing half-open, and the flashlight showed only yellow cabinets and the spaces where the washer and dryer would be placed. However, Teel wanted to look at the section behind the door, where he figured there was a sink and work area. He pushed the door all the way open and went in fast, swinging the flashlight and the gun in that direction. He found the stainless-steel sink and built-in table that he expected, but no killer.

He was more on edge that he had been in years. He could not keep the Image of the dead man from flickering repeatedly through his mind: those empty eye sockets.

Not just on edge, he thought. Face it, you're scared shitless.

Out front, Ken jumped across a narrow ditch and headed for the house's double entrance doors, which were still closed. He surveyed the surrounding area and saw no one trying to escape. As twilight descended, Bordeaux Ridge looked less like a tract under development than like a bombed-out neighborhood. Shadows and dust created the illusion of rubble.

In the laundry room, Teel Porter turned, intending to step into the hail, and on his right, in the group of yellow cabinets, the two-foot-wide, six-foot-high door of a broom closet flew open, and this thing came at him as if it were a jack-in-the-box, Jesus, for a split second he was sure it must be a kid in a rubber fright mask. He could not see clearly in the backsplash of the flashlight, which was pointed away from the attacker, but then he knew it was real because those eyes, like circles of smoky lamplight, were not just plastic or glass, no way.

He fired the revolver, but it was aimed ahead, into the hall, and the slug plowed harmlessly into the wall out there, so he tried to turn, but the thing was all over him, hissing like a snake. He fired again, into the floor this time-the sound was deafening in that enclosed space- then he was driven backward against the sink, and the gun was torn out of his hand. He also lost the flashlight, which spun off into the corner. He threw a punch, but before his fist was halfway though its arc, he felt a terrible pain in his belly, as if several stilettos had been thrust into him all at once, and he knew instantly what was happening to him. He screamed, screamed, and in the gloom the misshapen face of the jack-in-the-box loomed over him, its eyes radiantly yellow, and Teel screamed again, flailed, and more stilettos sank through the soft tissue of his throat- Ken Dimes was four steps from the front doors when he heard Tee! scream.

A cry of surprise, fear, pain.


They were double doors, stained oak. The one on the right was secured to the sill and header by sliding bolts, while the one on the left was the active door-and unlocked. Ken rushed inside, caution briefly forgotten, then halted in the gloomy foyer.

Already, the screaming had stopped.

He switched on his flashlight. Empty living room to the right. Empty den to the left. A staircase leading up to the second floor. No one anywhere in sight.

Silence. Perfect silence. As in a vacuum.

For a moment Ken hesitated to call out to Teel, for fear he would be revealing his position to the killer. Then he realized that the flashlight, without which he could not proceed, was enough to give him away; it did not matter if he made noise.


The name echoed through the vacant rooms.

“Teel, where are you?”

No reply.

Teel must be dead. Jesus. He would respond if he was alive.

Or he might just be injured and unconscious, wounded and dying. In that case, perhaps it would be best to go back to the patrol car and call for an ambulance.

No. No, if his partner was in desperate shape, Ken had to find him fast and administer first aid. Tee! might die in the time it took to call an ambulance. Delaying that long was too great a risk.

Besides, the killer had to be dealt with.

Only the vaguest smoky-red light penetrated the windows now, for the day was being swallowed by the night. Ken had to rely entirely on the flashlight, which was not ideal because, each time the beam moved, shadows leaped and swooped, creating illusory assailants. Those false attackers might distract him from real danger.

Leaving the front door wide open, he crept along the narrow hall that led to the back of the house. He stayed close to the wall. The sole of one of his shoes squeaked with nearly every step he took. He held the gun out in front of him, not aimed at the floor or ceiling, because for the moment, at least, he didn't give a damn about safe weapons procedure.

On the right, a door stood open. A closet. Empty.

The stink of his own perspiration grew greater than the lime and wood-stain odors of the house.

He came to a powder room on his left. A quick sweep of the light revealed nothing out of the ordinary, though his own frightened face, reflected in the mirror, startled him.

The rear of the house-family room, breakfast area, kitchen-was directly ahead, and on his left was another door, standing open. In the beam of the flashlight, which suddenly began to quiver violently in his hand, Ken saw Teel's body on the floor of a laundry room, and so much blood that there could be no doubt he was dead.

Beneath the waves of fear that washed across the surface of his mind, there were undercurrents of grief, rage, hatred, and a fierce desire for vengeance.

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