Watchers Page 27

Behind Ken, something thumped.

He cried out and turned to face the threat.

But the hall to the right and the breakfast area to the left were both deserted.

The sound had come from the front of the house. Even as the echo of it died away, he knew what he'd heard: the front door being closed.

Another sound broke the stillness, not as loud as the first but more unnerving: the clack of the door's dead bolt being engaged.

Had the killer departed and locked the door from the outside, with a key? But where would he get a key? Off the foreman that he had murdered? And Why would he pause to lock up?

More likely, he had locked the door from inside, not merely to delay Ken's escape but to let him know the hunt was still under way.

Ken considered dousing the flashlight because it pinpointed him for the enemy, but by now the twilight glow at the windows was purple-gray and did not reach into the house at all. Without the flashlight, he would be blind.

How the hell was the killer finding his way in this steadily deepening darkness? Was it possible that a PCP junkie's night vision improved when he was high, just as his strength increased to that of ten men as a side effect of the angel dust?

The house was quiet.

He stood with his back to the hallway wall.

He could smell Teel's blood. A vaguely metallic odor.

Click, click, click.

Ken stiffened and listened intently, but he heard nothing more after those three quick noises. They had sounded like swift footsteps crossing the concrete floor, taken by someone wearing boots with hard leather heels-or shoes with cleats.

The noises had begun and ended so abruptly that he had not been able to tell where they were coming from. Then he heard them again-click, click, click, click-four steps this time, and they were in the foyer, moving in this direction, toward the hall in which he stood.

He immediately pushed away from the wall, turning to face the adversary, dropping into a crouch and thrusting both the flashlight and the revolver toward where he had heard the steps. But the hallway was deserted.

Breathing through his open mouth to reduce the noise of his own rapid respiration, which he feared would mask the movements of the enemy, Ken eased along the hall, into the foyer. Nothing. The front door was closed all right, but the den and the living room and the staircase and the gallery above were deserted.

Click, click, click, click.

The noises arose from an entirely different direction now, from the back of the house, in the breakfast area. The killer had fled silently out of the foyer, across the living room and dining room, into the kitchen, into the breakfast area, circling through the house, coming around behind Ken. Now the bastard was entering the hall that Ken had just left. And though the guy had been silent while flitting through the other rooms, he was making those noises again, obviously not because he had to make them, not because his shoes clicked with every step the way Ken's shoes squeaked, but because he wanted to make the noises again, wanted to taunt Ken, wanted to say: Hey, I'm behind you now, and here I come, ready or not, here I come.

Click, click, click.

Ken Dimes was no coward. He was a good cop who had never walked away from trouble. He had received two citations for bravery in only seven years on the force. But this faceless, insanely violent son of a bitch, scurrying through the house in total darkness, silent when he wanted to be and making

taunting sounds when it suited him-he baffled and scared Ken. And although Ken was as courageous as any cop, he was no fool, and only a fool would walk boldly into a situation that he did not understand.

Instead of returning to the hall and confronting the killer, be went to the front door and reached for the lever-action brass handle, intending to get the hell out. Then he noticed the door hadn't merely been closed and dead-bolted. A length of scrap wire had been wound around the handle on the fixed door and around that on the active door, linking them, fastening them together. He would have to unwind the wire before he could get out, which might take half a minute.

Click, click, click.

He fired once toward the hallway without even looking and ran in the opposite direction, crossing the empty living room. He heard the killer behind him. Clicking. Coming fast in the darkness. Yet when Ken reached the dining room and was almost to the doorway that led into the kitchen, intending to make a break for the family room and the patio door by which Tee! had entered, he heard the clicking coming from in front of him. He was sure the killer had pursued him into the living room, but now the guy had gone back into the lightless hallway and was coming at him from the other direction, making a crazy game of this. From the sounds the bastard was making, he seemed just about to enter the breakfast area, which would put only the width of the kitchen between him and Ken, so Ken decided to make a stand right there, decided to blow away this psycho the moment the guy appeared in the beam of the light- Then the killer shrieked.

Clicking along the hallway, still out of sight but coming toward Ken, the attacker let out a shrill inhuman cry that was the essence of primal rage and hatred, the strangest sound that Ken had ever heard, not the sound a man would make, not even a lunatic. He gave up all thought of confrontation, pitched his flashlight into the kitchen to create a diversion, turned away from the approaching enemy, and fled again, though not back into the living room, not toward any part of the house in which this game of cat and mouse could be extended, but straight across the dining room toward a window that glimmered vaguely with the last dim glow of twilight. He tucked his head down, brought his arms up against his chest, and turned sideways as he slammed into the glass. The window exploded, and he fell out into the rear yard, rolling through construction debris. Splintery scraps of two-by-fours and chunks of concrete poked painfully into his legs and ribs. He scrambled to his feet, spun toward the house, and emptied his revolver at the broken window in case the killer was in pursuit of him.

In the settling night, he saw no sign of the enemy.

Figuring he had not scored a hit, he wasted no time cursing his luck. He sprinted around the house, along the side of it, and out to the street. He had to get to the patrol car, where there was a radio-and a pump-action riot gun.


On Wednesday and Thursday, the second and third of June, Travis and Nora and Einstein searched diligently for a way to improve human-canine communications, and in the process man and dog had almost begun to chew up furniture in frustration. However, Nora proved to have enough patience and confidence for all of them. When the breakthrough came near sunset on Friday evening, the fourth of June, she was less surprised than either Travis or Einstein.

They had purchased forty magazines-everything from Time and Life to McCall's and Redbook-and fifty books of art and photography, and had brought them to the living room of Travis's rental house, where there was space to spread everything out on the floor. They had put pillows on the floor as well, so they could work at the dog's level and be comfortable.

Einstein had watched their preparations with interest.

Sitting on the floor with her back against the vinyl sofa, Nora took the retriever's head in both hands and, with her face close to his, their noses almost touching, she said, “Okay, now you listen to me, Einstein. We want to know all sorts of things about you: where you came from, why you're smarter than an ordinary dog, what you were afraid of in the woods that day Travis found you, why you sometimes stare out the window at night as if you're frightened of something. Lots more. But you can't talk, can you? No. And so far as we know, you can't read. And even if you can read, you can't write. So we've got to do this with pictures, I think.”

From where he sat near Nora, Travis could see that the dog's eyes never wavered from hers as she spoke. Einstein was rigid. His tail hung down, motionless. He not only seemed to understand what she was telling him, but he appeared to be electrified by the experiment.

How much does the mutt really perceive, Travis wondered, and how many of his reactions am I imagining because of pure wishful thinking?

People have a natural tendency to anthropomorphize their pets, to ascribe human perceptions and intentions to the animals where none exist. In Einstein's case, where there really was an exceptional intelligence at work, the temptation to see profound meaning in every meaningless doggy twitch was even greater than usual.

“We're going to study all these pictures, looking for things that interest you, for things that'll help us understand where you came from and how you got to be what you are. Every time you see something that'll help us put the puzzle together, you've got somehow to bring it to our attention. Bark at it or put a paw on it or wag your tail.”

“This is nuts,” Travis said.

“Do you understand me, Einstein?” Nora asked.

The retriever issued a soft woof.

“This will never work,” Travis said.

“Yes, it will,” Nora insisted. “He can't talk, can't write, but he can show us things. If he points out a dozen pictures, we might not immediately understand what meaning they have for him, how they refer to his origins, but in time we'll find a way to relate them to one another and to him, and we'll know what he's trying to tell us.”

The dog, his head still trapped firmly in Nora's hands, rolled his eyes toward Travis and woofed again.

“We ready?” Nora asked Einstein.

His gaze flicked back to her, and he wagged his tail.

“All right,” she said, letting go of his head. “Let's start.”

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, for hours at a time, they leafed through scores of publications, showing Einstein pictures of all kinds of things- people, trees, flowers, dogs, other animals, machines, city streets, country lanes, cars, ships, planes, food, advertisements for a thousand products- hoping he would see something that would excite him. The problem was that he saw many things that excited him, too many. He barked at, pawed at, woofed at, put his nose to, or wagged his tail at perhaps a hundred out of the thousands of pictures, and his choices were of such variety that Travis could see no pattern to them, no way to link them and divine meaning from their association to one another.

Einstein was fascinated by an automobile ad in which the car, being compared to a powerful tiger, was shown locked in an iron cage. Whether it was the car or the tiger that seized his interest was not clear. He also responded to several computer advertisements, Alpo and Purina Dog Chow ads, an ad for a portable stereo cassette player, and pictures of books, butterflies, a parrot, a forlorn man in a prison cell, four young people playing with a striped beach ball, Mickey Mouse, a violin, a man on an exercise treadmill, and many other things. He was tantalized by a photograph of a golden retriever like himself, and was downright excited by a picture of a cocker spaniel, but curiously he showed little or no interest in other breeds of dogs.

His strongest-and most puzzling-response was to a photo in a magazine article about an upcoming movie from 20th Century-Fox. The film's story involved the supernatural-ghosts, poltergeists, demons risen from Hell- and the photo that agitated him was of a slab-jawed, wickedly fanged, lantern-eyed demonic apparition. The creature was no more hideous than others in the film, less hideous than several of them, yet Einstein was affected by only that one demon.

The retriever barked at the photograph. He scurried behind the sofa and peeked around the end of it as if he thought the creature in the picture might rise off the page and come after him. He barked again, whined, and had to be coaxed back to the magazine. Upon seeing the demon a second time, Einstein growled menacingly. Frantically, he pawed at the magazine, turning its pages until, somewhat tattered, it was completely closed.

“What's so special about that picture?” Nora asked the dog.

Einstein just stared at her-and shivered slightly.

Patiently, Nora reopened the magazine to the same page.

Einstein closed it again.

Nora opened it.

Einstein closed it a third time, snatched it up in his jaws, and carried it out of the room.

Travis and Nora followed the retriever into the kitchen, where they watched him go straight to the trash can. The can was one of those with a foot pedal that opened a hinged lid. Einstein put a paw on the pedal, watched the lid open, dropped the magazine into the can, and released the pedal.

“What's that all about?” Nora wondered.

“I guess that's one movie he definitely doesn't want to see.”

“Our own four-footed, furry critic.”

That incident occurred Thursday afternoon. By early Friday evening, Travis's frustration-and that of the dog-were nearing critical mass.

Sometimes Einstein exhibited uncanny intelligence, but sometimes he behaved like an ordinary dog, and these oscillations between canine genius and dopey mutt were enervating for anyone trying to understand how he could be so bright. Travis began to think that the best way to deal with the retriever was to just accept him for what he was: be prepared for his amazing feats now and then, but don't expect him to deliver all the time. Most likely the mystery of Einstein's unusual intelligence would never be solved.

However, Nora remained patient. She frequently reminded them that Rome wasn't built in a day and that any worthwhile achievement required determination, persistence, tenacity, and time.

When she launched into these lectures about steadfastness and endurance, Travis sighed wearily-and Einstein yawned.

Nora was unperturbed. After they had examined the pictures in all of the books and magazines, she collected those to which Einstein had responded, spread them out across the floor, and encouraged him to make connections between one image and another.

“All of these are pictures of things that played important roles in his past,” Nora said.

“I don't think we can be certain of that,” Travis said.

“Well, that's what we've asked him to do,” she said. “We've asked him to indicate pictures that might tell us something about where he's come from.”

“But does he understand the game?”

“Yes,” she said with conviction.

The dog woofed.

Nora lifted Einstein's paw and put it on the photograph of the violin. “Okay, pooch. You remember a violin from somewhere, and it was important to you somehow.”

“Maybe he performed at Carnegie Hall,” Travis said.

“Shut up.” To the dog Nora said, “All right. Now is the violin related to any of these other pictures? Is there a link to another image that would help us understand what the violin means to you?”

Einstein stared at her intently for a moment, as if pondering her question. Then he crossed the room, walking carefully in the narrow aisles between the rows of photographs, sniffing, his gaze flicking left and right, until he found the ad for the Sony portable stereo cassette player. He put one paw on it and looked back at Nora.

Prev Next