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The minister, the Reverend Dan Dupree-' 'Please call me Reverend Dan"- was a florid-faced, potbellied fellow, a strenuous smiler and glad-hander who looked like a stereotypical used-car salesman. He was flanked by two paid witnesses-his wife and her sister-who were wearing bright summery dresses for the occasion.

Travis took his place at the front of the chapel.

The woman organist struck up “The Wedding March.”

Nora had expressed a deep desire to actually walk down the aisle and meet Travis rather than just beginning the ceremony at the altar railing. Furthermore, she wanted to be “given away,” as other brides were. That should have been her father's singular honor, of course, but she had no father. Nor was anyone else at hand who would be a likely candidate for the job, and at first it seemed that she would have to make the walk alone or on the arm of a stranger. But in the pickup, on their way to the ceremony, she had realized that Einstein was available, and she had decided that no one in the world was more suited to accompany her down the aisle than the dog.

Now, as the organist played, Nora entered the back of the nave with the dog at her side. Einstein was acutely aware of the great honor of escorting her, and he walked with all the pride and dignity he could muster, his head held high, his slow steps timed to hers.

No one seemed disturbed-or even surprised-that a dog was giving Nora away. This was, after all, Las Vegas.

“She's one of the loveliest brides I've ever seen,” Reverend Dan's wife whispered to Travis, and he sensed that she was sincere, that she did not routinely bestow that compliment.

The photographer's flash blinked repeatedly, but Travis was too involved with the sight of Nora to be bothered by the strobe.

Vases full of roses and carnations filled the small nave with their perfume, and a hundred candles flickered softly, some in clear glass votive cups and others on brass candelabras. By the time Nora arrived at his side, Travis was oblivious of the tacky decor. His love was an architect that entirely remade the reality of the chapel, transforming it into a cathedral as grand as any in the world.

The ceremony was brief and unexpectedly dignified. Travis and Nora exchanged vows, then rings. Tears full of reflected candlelight shimmered in her eyes, and Travis wondered for a moment why her tears should blur his vision, then realized that he, too, was on the verge of tears. A burst of dramatic organ music accompanied their first kiss as man and wife, and it was the sweetest kiss he had ever known.

Reverend Dan popped the Dom Perignon and, at Travis's direction, poured a glass for everyone, the organist included. A saucer was found for Einstein. Slurping noisily, the retriever joined in their toast to life, happiness, and love eternal.

Einstein spent the afternoon in the forward end of the trailer, in the living room, reading.

Travis and Nora spent the afternoon at the other end of the trailer, in bed. After closing the bedroom door, Travis put a second bottle of Dom Perignon in an ice bucket and loaded a compact-disk player with four albums of George Winston's most mellow piano music.

Nora drew down the blind at the only window and switched on a small lamp with a gold cloth shade. The soft amber light lent the room an aura rather like that of a place in a dream.

For a while they lay on the bed, talking, laughing, touching, kissing, then talking less and kissing more.

Gradually, Travis undressed her. He'd never before seen her unclothed, and he found her even more lovely and more exquisitely proportioned than he had imagined. Her slender throat, the delicacy of her shoulders, the fullness of her breasts, the concavity of her belly, the flair of her hips, the round sauciness of her buttocks, the long smooth supple sleekness of her legs-every line and angle and curve excited him but also filled him with great tenderness.

After he undressed himself, he patiently and gently introduced her to the art of love. With a profound desire to please and with full awareness that everything was new to her, he showed Nora-sometimes not without delicious teasing all the sensations that his tongue, fingers, and manhood could engender in her.

He was prepared to find her hesitant, embarrassed, even fearful, because her first thirty years of life had not prepared her for this degree of intimacy. But she harbored no trace of frigidity and was eager to engage in any act that 'flight pleasure either or both of them. Her soft cries and breathless murmurs of excitement delighted him. Each time that she sighed climactically and surrendered to a shudder of ecstasy, Travis became more aroused, until he was of a size and firmness that he had never attained before, until his need was almost painful.

When at last he let his warm seed flower within her, he buried his face in her throat and called her name and told her that he loved her, told her again and again, and the moment of release seemed so long that he half-thought time had stopped or that he had tapped an inexplicable well that could never be exhausted.

With consummation achieved, they held each other for a long time, silent, not needing to talk. They listened to music, and in a while they finally spoke of what they felt, both physically and emotionally. They drank some champagne, and in time they made love again. And again.

Although the constant shadow of certain death looms over every day, the pleasures and joys of life can be so fine and deeply affecting that the heart is nearly stilled by astonishment.

From Vegas, they hauled the Airstream north on Route 95, across the immense Nevada barrens. Two days later, on Friday, August 13, they reached Lake Tahoe and connected the trailer to the electric and water lines at an RV campsite on the California side of the border.

Nora was not quite as easily overwhelmed by each new scenic vista and novel experience as she had been. However, Lake Tahoe was so stunningly beautiful that it filled her with childlike wonder again. Twenty-two miles long and twelve miles wide, with the Sierra Nevadas on its western flank and the Carson Range on the east, Tahoe was said to be the clearest body of water in the world, a shimmering jewel in a hundred amazingly iridescent shades of blue and green.

For six days, Nora and Travis and Einstein hiked in the Eldorado, Tahoe, and Toiyabe National Forests, vast primeval tracts of pine, spruce, and fir. They rented a boat and went on the lake, exploring paradisiacal coves and graceful bays. They went sunning and swimming, and Einstein took to the water with the enthusiasm indigenous to his breed.

Sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the late afternoon, more often at night, Nora and Travis made love. She was surprised by her carnal appetite. She could not get enough of him.

“I love your mind and your heart,” she told him, “but, God help me, I love your body almost as much! Am I depraved?”

“Good heavens, no. You're just a young, healthy woman. In fact, given the life you've led, you're emotionally healthier than you've any right to be. Really, Nora, you stagger me.”

“I'd like to straddle you instead.”

“Maybe you are depraved,” he said, and laughed.

Early on the serenely blue morning of Friday the twentieth, they left Tahoe and drove across the state to the Monterey Peninsula. There, where the continental shelf met the sea, the natural beauty was, if possible, even greater than that at Tahoe, and they stayed four days, leaving for home on the afternoon of Wednesday, August 25.

Throughout their trip, the joy of matrimony was so all-consuming that the miracle of Einstein's humanlike intelligence did not occupy their thoughts as much as previously. But Einstein reminded them of his unique nature when they drew near to Santa Barbara late that afternoon. Forty or fifty miles from home, he grew restless. He shifted repeatedly on the seat between Nora and Travis, sat up for a minute, then laid his head on Nora's lap, then sat up again. He began to whimper strangely. By the time they were ten miles from home, he was shivering.

“What's wrong with you, fur face?” she asked.

With his expressive brown eyes, Einstein tried hard to convey a complex and important message, but she could not understand him.

Half an hour before dusk, when they reached the city and departed the freeway for surface streets, Einstein began alternately to whine and growl low in his throat.

“What's wrong with him?” Nora asked.

Frowning, Travis said, “I don't know.”

As they pulled into the driveway of Travis's rented house and parked in the shade of the date palm, the retriever began to bark. He had never barked in the truck, not once on their long journey. It was ear-splitting in that confined space, but he would not stop.

When they got out of the truck, Einstein bolted past them, positioned himself between them and the house, and continued barking.

Nora moved along the walkway toward the front door, and Einstein darted at her, snarling. He seized one leg of her jeans and tried to pull her off balance. She managed to stay. on her feet and, when she retreated to the birdbath, he let go of her.

“What's gotten into him?” she asked Travis.

Staring thoughtfully at the house, Travis said, “He was like this in the woods that first day . . . when he didn't want me to follow the dark trail.”

Nora tried to coax the dog closer in order to pet him.

But Einstein would not be coaxed. When Travis tested the dog by approaching the house, Einstein snarled and forced him to retreat.

“Wait here,” Travis told Nora. He walked to the Airstream in the driveway and went inside.

Einstein trotted back and forth in front of the house, looking up at the door and windows, growling and whining.

As the sun rolled down the western sky and kissed the surface of the sea, the residential street was quiet, peaceful, ordinary in every respect-yet Nora felt a wrongness in the air. A warm wind off the Pacific elicited whispers from the palm and eucalyptus and ficus trees, sounds that might have been pleasant any other day but which now seemed sinister. In the lengthening shadows, in the last orange and purple light of the day, she also perceived an indefinable menace. Except for the dog's behavior, she had no reason to think that danger was near at hand; her uneasiness was not intellectual but instinctual.

When Travis returned from the trailer, he was carrying a large revolver. It had been in a bedroom drawer, unloaded, throughout their honeymoon trip. Now, Travis finished inserting cartridges into the chambers and snapped the cylinder shut.

'Is that necessary?" she asked worriedly.

'Something was in the woods that day,“ Travis said, ”and though I never actually saw it . . . well, it put the hair up on the back of my neck. Yeah, I think the gun might be necessary."

Her own reaction to the whispering trees and afternoon shadows gave her a hint of what Travis must have felt in the woods, and she had to admit that the gun made her feel at least slightly better.

Einstein had stopped pacing and had taken up his guard position on the walkway again, barring their approach to the house.

To the retriever, Travis said, “Is someone inside?” A quick wag of the tail. Yes.

“Men from the lab?” One bark. No.

“The other experimental animal you told us about?” Yes.

“The thing that was in the woods?”


“All right, I'm going in there.”


“Yes,” Travis insisted. “It's my house, and we're not going to run from this, whatever the hell it is.”

Nora remembered the magazine photograph of the movie monster to which Einstein had reacted so strongly. She did not believe anything even remotely like that creature could actually exist. She believed that Einstein was exaggerating or that they had misunderstood what he had been trying to tell them about the photo. Nevertheless, she suddenly wished they had not only the revolver but a shotgun.

“This is a .357 Magnum,” Travis told the dog, “and one shot, even if it hits an arm or a leg, will knock down the biggest, meanest man and keep him down. He'll feel as if he's been hit by a cannonball. I've taken firearms training from the best, and I've done regular target practice over the years to keep my edge. I really know what I'm doing, and I'll be able to handle myself in there. Besides, we can't just call the cops, can we? Because whatever they find in there is going to raise eyebrows, lead to a lot of questions, and sooner or later they'll have you back in that damn lab again.”

Einstein was clearly unhappy with Travis's determination, but the dog padded up the front steps to the stoop and looked back as if to say, All right, okay, but I'm not letting you go in there alone.

Nora wanted to go in with them, but Travis was adamant that she remain in the front yard. She reluctantly admitted that-since she lacked both a weapon and the skill to use it-there was nothing she could do to help and that she would most likely only get in the way.

Holding the revolver at his side, Travis joined Einstein on the stoop and inserted his key in the door.


Travis disengaged the lock, pocketed the key, and pushed the door inward, covering the room beyond with the .357. Warily, he stepped across the threshold, and Einstein entered at his side.

The house was silent, as it should have been, but the air reeked of a bad smell that did not belong.

Einstein growled softly.

Little of the fast-fading sunlight entered the house through the windows, many of which were partly or entirely covered with drapes. But it was bright enough for Travis to see that the sofa's upholstery was slashed. Shredded foam padding spilled onto the floor. A wooden magazine rack had been hammered to pieces against the wall, gouging holes in the plasterboard. The TV screen had been smashed in with a floor lamp, which still protruded from the set. Books had been taken off the shelves, torn apart, and scattered across the living room.

In spite of the breeze blowing in through the door, the stench seemed to be getting worse.

Travis flicked the wall switch. A corner lamp came on. It did not shed much light, just enough to reveal more details of the rubble.

Looks like somebody went through here with a chainsaw and then a power mower, he thought.

The house remained silent.

Leaving the door open behind him, he took a couple of steps into the room, and the crumpled pages of the ruined books crunched crisply underfoot. He noticed dark, rusty stains on some of the paper and on the bone-white foam padding, and suddenly he stopped, realizing the stains were blood.

A moment later, he spotted the corpse. It was that of a big man, lying on his side on the floor near the sofa, half-covered by gore-smeared book pages, book boards, and dust jackets.

Einstein's growling grew louder, meaner.

Moving closer to the body, which was just a few feet from the dining-room archway, Travis saw that it was his landlord, Ted Hockney. Beside him was his Craftsman toolbox. Ted had a key to the house and Travis had no objections to his entering at any time to make repairs. Lately there had been a number of repairs required, including a leaky faucet and broken dishwasher. Evidently, Ted had walked down the block from his own house and entered With the intention of fixing something. Now Ted was broken, too, and beyond repair.

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