Watchers Page 31

“As it did at the Keeshan place.”

“Yeah. But I bet it didn't go there to kill anyone. Just plain curiosity. It doesn't want to be caught before it accomplishes its main goal.”

“Which is?”

“Finding and killing the dog,” Lem said.

Walt was surprised. “Why would it care about the dog?”

“We don't really know,” Lem said. “But at Banodyne, it harbored a fierce hatred of the dog, worse than what it felt toward people. When Yarbeck worked with it, constructing a sign language with which to communicate complex ideas, The Outsider several times expressed a desire to kill and mutilate the dog, but it would never explain why. It was obsessed with the dog.”

“So you think now it's tracking the retriever?”

“Yes. Because evidence seems to indicate that the dog was the first to break out of the labs that night in May, and that its escape drove The Outsider mad. The Outsider was kept in a large enclosure inside Yarbeck's lab, and everything belonging to it-bedding, many educational devices, toys-was torn and smashed to pieces. Then, apparently realizing that the dog was going to be forever out of its reach if it didn't make good its own escape, The Outsider put its mind to the problem and, by God, found its own way out.”

“But if the dog got a good head start-”

“There's a link between the dog and The Outsider that no one understands. A mental link. Instinctual awareness. We don't know its extent, but we can't rule out the possibility that this link is strong enough for one of them to follow the other over considerable distances. It's apparently a sort of mild sixth sense that was somehow a bonus of the technique of intelligence enhancement used in both Weatherby's and Yarbeck's research. But we're only guessing. We don't really know for sure. There's so fu**ing much we don't know!”

Both men were silent for a while.

The humid closeness of the car was no longer entirely unpleasant, Given all the dangers loose in the modern world, these steamy confines seemed safe and comfortable, a haven.

Finally, not wanting to ask any more questions, afraid of the answers he might get, Walt nevertheless said, “Banodyne is a high-security building. It's designed to keep unauthorized people from getting in, but it must be hard to get out of the place, too. Yet both the dog and The Outsider escaped.”


“And obviously no one ever figured they could. Which means they're both smarter than anyone realized.”


Walt said, “In the case of the dog . . . well, if it's smarter than anyone figured, so what? The dog is friendly.”

Lem, who had been staring at the opaqued windshield, finally met Walt's eyes. “That's right. But if The Outsider is smarter than we thought . . . if it's very nearly as smart as a man, then catching it's going to be even harder.”

“Very nearly . . . or as smart as a man.”

“No. Impossible.”

“Or even smarter,” Walt said.

“No. That couldn't be.”


“Definitely couldn't?”

Lem sighed, wearily rubbed his eyes, and said nothing. He was not going to start lying to his best friend again.


Nora and Travis went through the photographs one by one, learning a little more about Einstein. By barking once or vigorously wagging his tail, the dog answered questions and was able to confirm that he had chosen the advertisements for computers because they reminded him of the computers in the lab where he had been kept. The photo of four young people playing with a striped beach ball appealed to him because one of the scientists in the lab had evidently used balls of various sizes in an intelligence test that Einstein had particularly enjoyed. They were unable to determine the reason for his interest in the parrot, the butterflies, Mickey Mouse, and many other things, but that was only because they could not hit upon the pertinent yes-or-no questions that would have led to explanations.

Even when a hundred questions failed to reveal the meaning of one of the photographs, the three of them remained excited and delighted by the process of discovery, for they met with success in enough cases to make the effort worthwhile. The only time the mood changed for the worse was when they queried Einstein about the magazine picture of the demon from an upcoming horror movie. He became extremely agitated. He tucked his tail between his legs, bared his teeth, growled deep in his throat. Several times, he padded away from the photograph, going behind the sofa or into another room, where he stayed for a minute or two before returning, reluctantly, to face additional questions, and he shivered almost continuously when being quizzed about the demon.

Finally, after trying for at least ten minutes to determine the reason for the dog's dread, Travis pointed to the slab-jawed, wickedly fanged, luminous-eyed movie monster and said, “Maybe you don't understand, Einstein. This isn't a picture of a real, living thing. This is a make-believe demon from a movie. Do you understand what I mean when I say make-believe?”

Einstein wagged his tail: Yes.

“Well, this is a make-believe monster.” One bark: No.

“Make-believe, phony, not real, just a man in a rubber suit,” Nora said.


“Yes,” Travis said.


Einstein tried to run off behind the sofa again, but Travis grabbed him by the collar and held him. “Are you claiming to have seen such a thing?”

The dog raised his gaze from the picture, looked into Travis's eyes, shuddered, and whimpered.

The pitiful note of profound fear in Einstein's soft whine and an indescribably disturbing quality in his dark eyes combined to affect Travis to an extent that surprised him. Holding the collar with one hand, his other hand on Einstein's back, Travis felt the shivers that quaked through the dog-and suddenly he was shivering, too. The dog's stark fear was transmitted to him, and he thought, crazily, By God, he really has seen something like this.

Sensing the change in Travis, Nora said, “What's wrong?”

Instead of answering her, he repeated the question that Einstein had not yet answered: “Are you claiming to have seen such a thing?”


“Something that looks exactly like this demon?”

A bark and a wag: Yes and no.

“Something that looks at least a little bit like it?”


Letting go of the collar, Travis stroked the dog's back, trying to soothe him, but Einstein continued to shiver. “Is this why you keep a watch at the Window some nights?”


Clearly puzzled and alarmed by the dog's distress, Nora began to pet him, too. “I thought you were worried that people from the lab would find you.”

Einstein barked once.

“You're not afraid people from the lab will find you?”

Yes and no.

Travis said, “But you're more afraid that . . . this other thing will find you.”

Yes, yes, yes.

“Is this the same thing that was in the woods that day, the thing that chased us, the thing I shot at?” Travis asked.

Yes, yes, yes.

Travis looked at Nora. She was frowning. “But it's only a movie monster. Nothing in the real world looks even a little bit like it.”

Padding across the room, sniffing at the assorted photographs, Einstein paused again at the Blue Cross ad that featured the doctor, mother, and baby in a hospital room. He brought the magazine to them and dropped it on the floor. He put his nose to the doctor in the picture, then looked at Nora, at Travis, put his nose to the doctor again, and looked up expectantly.

“Before,” Nora said, “you told us the doctor represented one of the scientists in that lab.”


Travis said, “So are you telling me the scientist who worked on you would know what this thing in the woods was?”


Einstein went looking through the photographs again, and this time he returned with the ad that showed a car in a cage. He touched his nose to the cage; then, hesitantly, he touched his nose to the picture of the demon.

“Are you saying the thing in the woods belongs in a cage?” Nora asked.


“More than that,” Travis said, “I think he's telling us that it was in a cage at one time, that he saw it in a cage.”


“In the same lab where you were in a cage?”

Yes, yes, yes.

“Another experimental lab animal?” Nora asked.


Travis stared hard at the photograph of the demon, at its thick brow and deeply set yellow eyes, at its deformed snoutlike nose and mouth bristling with teeth. At last he said, “Was it an experiment . . . that went wrong?”

Yes and no, Einstein said.

Now at a peak of agitation, the dog crossed the living room to the front window, jumped up and braced his forepaws on the sill, and peered out at the Santa Barbara evening.

Nora and Travis sat on the floor among the opened magazines and books, happy with the progress they had made, beginning to feel the exhaustion that their excitement had masked-and frowning at each other in puzzlement.

She spoke softly. “Do you think Einstein's capable of lying, making up wild stories like children do?”

“I don't know. Can dogs lie, or is that just a human skill?” He laughed at the absurdity of his own question. “Can dogs lie? Can a moose be elected to the presidency? Can cows sing?”

Nora laughed, too, and very prettily. “Can ducks tap-dance?”

In a fit of silliness that was a reaction to the difficulty of dealing intellectually and emotionally with the whole idea of a dog as smart as Einstein, Travis said, “I once saw a duck tap-dancing.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah. In Vegas.”

Laughing, she said, “What hotel was he performing at?”

“Caesar's Palace. He could sing, too.”

“The duck?”

“Yeah. Ask me his name.”

“What was his name?”

“Sammy Davis Duck, Jr.,” Travis said, and they laughed again. “He was such a big star they didn't even have to put his entire name on the marquee for people to know who was performing there.”

“They just put 'Sammy,' huh?”

"No. Just 'Jr.'

Einstein returned from the window and stood watching them, his head cocked, trying to figure out why they were acting so peculiar.

The puzzled expression on the retriever's face struck both Travis and Nora as the most comical thing they had ever seen. They leaned on each other, held each other, and laughed like fools.

With a snort of derision, the retriever went back to the window.

As they gradually regained control of themselves and as their laughter subsided, Travis became aware that he was holding Nora, that her head was on his shoulder, that the physical contact between them was greater than any they had allowed themselves before. Her hair smelled clean, fresh. He could feel the body heat pouring off her. Suddenly, he wanted her desperately, and he knew he was going to kiss her when she raised her head from his shoulder. A moment later she looked up, and he did what he knew he'd do-he kissed her-and she kissed him. For a second or two, she did not seem to realize what was happening, what it meant; briefly, it was without significance, sweet and utterly innocent, not a kiss of passion but of friendship and great affection.

Then the kiss changed, and her mouth softened. She began to breathe faster, and her hand tightened on his arm, and she tried to pull him closer. A low murmur of need escaped her-and the sound of her own voice brought her to her senses. Abruptly, she stiffened with complete awareness of him as a man, and her beautiful eyes were wide with wonder-and fear-at what had almost happened. Travis instantly drew back because he knew instinctively that the time was not right, not yet perfect. When at last they did make love, it must be exactly right, without hesitation or distraction, because for the rest of their lives they would always remember their first time, and the memory Should be all bright and joyous, worth taking out and examining a thousand times as they grew old together. Although it was not quite time to put their future into words and confirm it with vows, Travis had no doubt that he and Nora Devon would be spending their lives with each other, and he realized that, subconsciously, he'd been aware of this inevitability for at least the past few days.

After a moment of awkwardness, as they drew apart and tried to decide whether to comment on the sudden change in their relationship, Nora finally said, “He's still at the window.”

Einstein pressed his nose to the glass, staring out at the night.

“Could he be telling the truth?” Nora wondered. “Could there have been something else that escaped from the lab, something that bizarre?”

“If they had a dog as smart as him, I guess they might have had other things even more peculiar. And there was something in the woods that day.”

“But there's no danger of it finding him, surely. Not after you brought him this far north.”

“No danger,” Travis agreed. “I don't think Einstein understands how far we came from where I found him. Whatever was in the woods couldn't track him down now. But I'll bet the people from that lab have mounted one hell of a search. It's them I'm worried about. And so is Einstein, which is why he usually plays at being a dumb dog in public and reveals his intelligence only in private to me and now you. He doesn't want to go back.”

Nora said, "If they find him . .

“They won't.”

“But if they do, what then?”

“I'll never give him up,” Travis said. “Never.”


By eleven o'clock that night, Deputy Porter's headless corpse and the mutilated body of the construction foreman had been removed from Bordeaux Ridge by the coroner's men. A cover story had been concocted and delivered to the reporters at the police barricades, and the press had seemed to buy it; they had asked their questions, had taken a couple of hundred photographs, and had filled a few thousand feet of videotape with images that would be edited down to a hundred seconds on tomorrow's TV newscast. (In this age of mass murder and terrorism, two victims rated no more than two minutes' airtime: ten seconds for lead-in, a hundred seconds for film, ten seconds for the well-coiffed anchorpersons to look respectfully grim and saddened-then on to a story about a bikini contest, a convention of Edsel owners, or a man who claimed to have seen an alien spacecraft shaped like a Twinkie.) The reporters were gone now, as were the lab men, the uniformed deputies, and all of Lemuel Johnson's agents except Cliff Soames.

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