Watchers Page 44

“There is no such name,” Nora said, taking the letters away.

Einstein tried again: LAMYOULL. Then again: LIMUUL.

“That's not a name, either,” Travis said.

A third time: LEMB YOU WILL.

Travis realized the dog was struggling to spell the name phonetically. He chose six lettered tiles of his own: LEMUEL.

“Lemuel Johnson,” Nora said.

Einstein leaned forward and nuzzled her neck. He was wiggling with pleasure at having gotten the name across to them, and the springs of the motel bed creaked.

Then he stopped nuzzling Nora and spelled DARK LEMUEL.

“Dark?” Travis said. “By 'dark' you mean Johnson is . . . evil?”


Nora restacked the letters and said, “Dangerous?”

Einstein snorted at her, then at Travis, as if to say they were sometimes unbearably thickheaded. NO. DARK.

For a moment they sat in silence, thinking, and at last Travis said, “Black! You mean Lemuel Johnson is a black man.”

Einstein chuffed softly, shook his head up and down, swept his tail back and forth on the bedspread. He indicated nineteen letters, his longest answer:


Nora laughed.

Travis said, “Wiseass.”

But he was exhilarated, filled with a joy that he would have been hard-pressed to describe if he had been required to put it into words. They had been communicating with the retriever for many weeks, but the Scrabble tiles provided a far greater dimension to their communication than they had enjoyed previously. More than ever, Einstein seemed to be their own child. But there was also an intoxicating feeling of breaking through the barriers of normal human experience, a feeling of transcendence. Einstein was no ordinary mutt, of course, and his high intelligence was more human than canine, but he was a dog-more than anything else, a dog-and his intelligence was still qualitatively different from that of a man, so there was inevitably a strong sense of mystery and great wonder in this interspecies dialogue. Staring at THERES HOPE FOR YOU YET, Travis thought a broader meaning could be read into the message, that it could be directed at all humankind.

For the next half an hour, they continued questioning Einstein, and Travis recorded the dog's answers. In time they discussed the yellow-eyed beast that had killed Ted Hockney.

“What is the damned thing?” Nora asked.


Travis said, “ 'The Outsider'? What do you mean?”


“The people in the lab?” Travis asked. “Why did they call it The Outsider?”


Nora said, “I don't understand.”


Travis said, “It's intelligent, too?”


“As intelligent as you?”


“Jesus,” Travis said, shaken.

Einstein made an unhappy sound and put his head on Nora's knee, seeking the reassurance that petting could provide him.

Travis said, “Why would they create a thing like that?”

Einstein returned to the stacks of letters: TO KILL FOR THEM.

A chill trickled down Travis's spine and seeped deep into him. “Who did they want it to kill?”


“What enemy?” Nora asked.


With understanding came revulsion bordering on nausea. Travis sagged back against the headboard. He remembered telling Nora that even a world

without want and with universal freedom would fall far short of paradise because of all the problems of the human heart and all the potential sicknesses of the human mind.

To Einstein, he said. “So you're telling us that The Outsider is a prototype of a genetically engineered soldier. Sort of. . . a very intelligent, deadly police dog designed for the battlefield.”


Reading the words as she laid out the tiles, Nora was appalled. “But this is crazy. How could such a thing ever be controlled? How could it be counted on not to turn against its masters?”

Travis leaned forward from the headboard. To Einstein, he said, “Why is The Outsider looking for you?”


“Why does it hate you?”


As Nora replaced the letters, Travis said, “Will it continue looking for you?”


“But how does something like that move unseen?”


"Nevertheless . .


Looking puzzled, Nora said. “But how does it track you?”


“Feels you? What do you mean?” she asked.

The retriever puzzled over that one for a long time, making several false starts on an answer, and finally said, CANT EXPLAIN.

“Can you feel it, too?” Travis asked.


“Do you feel it now?”


“Very far away,” Travis agreed. “Hundreds of miles. Can it really feel you and track you from that far away?”


“Is it tracking you flow?”


The chill in Travis grew icier. “When will it find you?”


The dog looked dejected, and he was shivering again.

“Soon? Will it feel its way to you soon?”


Travis saw that Nora was pale. He put a hand on her knee and said, “We won't run from it the rest of our lives. Damned if we will. We'll find a place to settle down and wait, a place where we'll be able to prepare a defense and where we'll have the privacy to deal with The Outsider when it arrives.”

Shivering, Einstein indicated more letters with his nose, and Travis laid out the tiles: I SHOULD GO.

“What do you mean?” Travis asked, replacing the tiles.


Nora threw her arms around the retriever and hugged him. “Don't you even think such a thing. You're part of us. You're family, damn you, we're all family, we're all in this together, and we stick it out together because that's what families do.” She stopped hugging the dog and took his head in both hands, met him nose to nose, peered deep into his eyes. “If I woke up some morning and found you'd left us, it'd break my heart.” Tears shimmered in her eyes, a tremor in her voice. “Do you understand me, fur face? It would break my heart if you went off on your own.”

The dog pulled away from her and began to choose lettered tiles again: I


“You would die if you left us?” Travis asked.

The dog chose more letters, waited for them to study the words, then looked solemnly at each of them to be sure they understood what he meant:


PART TWO - Guardian

Love alone is capable of uniting living beings in such a way as to complete and fulfill them, for it alone takes them and joins them by what is deepest in themselves.

-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Greater love hath no man than this:

that he lay down his life

for his friends.

-The Gospel According to Saint John



On the Thursday that Nora drove to Dr. Weingold's office, Travis and Einstein went for a walk across the grassy hills and through the woods behind the house they had bought in the beautiful California coastal region called Big Sur.

On the treeless hills, the autumn sun warmed the stones and cast scattered cloud shadows. The breeze off the Pacific drew a whisper from the dry golden grass. In the sun, the air was mild, neither hot nor cool. Travis was comfortable in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt.

He carried a Mossberg short-barreled pistol-grip pump-action 12-gauge shotgun. He always carried it on his walks. If he ever encountered someone who asked about it, he intended to tell them he was hunting rattlesnakes.

Where the trees grew most vigorously, the bright morning seemed like late afternoon, and the air was cool enough to make Travis glad that his shirt was flannel. Massive pines, a few small groves of giant redwoods, and a variety of foothill hardwoods filtered the sun and left much of the forest floor in perpetual twilight. The undergrowth was dense in places: the vegetation included those low, impenetrable thickets of evergreen oaks sometimes called “chaparral,” plus lots of ferns that flourished because of the frequent fog and the constant humidity of the seacoast air.

Einstein repeatedly sniffed out cougar spoor and insisted on showing Travis the tracks of the big cats in the damp forest soil. Fortunately, he fully understood the danger of stalking a mountain lion, and was able to repress his natural urge to prowl after them.

The dog contented himself with merely observing local fauna. Timid deer could often be seen ascending or descending their trails. Raccoons were plentiful and fun to watch, and although some were quite friendly, Einstein knew they could turn nasty if he accidentally frightened them; he chose to keep a respectful distance.

On other walks, the retriever had been dismayed to discover the squirrels, Which he could approach safely, were terrified of him. They froze with fear, Stared wild-eyed, small hearts pounding visibly.

WHY SQUIRRELS AFRAID? he had asked Travis one evening.

“Instinct,” Travis had explained. “You're a dog, and they know instinctively that dogs will attack and kill them.”


“No, not you,” Travis agreed, ruffling the dog's coat. “You wouldn't hurt them. But the squirrels don't know you're different, do they? To them, you look like a dog, and you smell like a dog, so you've got to be feared like a dog.”


“I know. Unfortunately, they're not smart enough to realize it.”

Consequently, Einstein kept his distance from the squirrels and tried hard not to terrify them, often sauntering past with his head turned the other way as if unaware of them.

This special day, their interest in squirrels and deer and birds and raccoons and unusual forest flora was minimal. Even views of the Pacific did not intrigue them. Today, unlike other days, they were walking only to pass the time and to keep their minds off Nora.

Travis repeatedly looked at his watch, and he chose a circular route that would bring them back to the house at one o'clock, when Nora was expected to return.

It was the twenty-first of October, eight weeks after they had acquired new identities in San Francisco. After considerable thought, they had decided to come south, substantially reducing the distance that The Outsider would have to travel in order to put its hands on Einstein. They would not be able to get on with their new lives until the beast found them, until they killed it; therefore, they wanted to hasten rather than delay that confrontation.

On the other hand, they did not want to risk returning too far south toward Santa Barbara, for The Outsider might cover the distance between them faster than it had traveled from Orange County to Santa Barbara last summer. They could not be certain that it would continue to make only three or four miles a day. If it moved faster this time, it might come upon them before they were ready for it. The Big Sur area, because of its sparse population and because it was a hundred ninety air miles from Santa Barbara, seemed ideal. If The Outsider got a fix on Einstein and tracked him down as slowly as before, the thing would not arrive for almost five months. If it doubled its speed somehow, swiftly crossing the open farmland and the wild hills between there and here, quickly skirting populated areas, it would still not reach them until the second week of November.

That day was drawing near, but Travis was satisfied that he had made every preparation possible, and he almost welcomed The Outsider's arrival. Thus far, however, Einstein said that he did not feel his adversary was dangerously close. Evidently, they still had plenty of time to test their patience before the showdown.

By twelve-fifty, they reached the end of their circular route through the hills and canyons, returning to the yard behind their new house. It was a two-story structure with bleached-wood walls, a cedar-shingled roof, and massive stone chimneys on both the north and south sides. It boasted front and rear porches on the east and west, and either vantage point offered a view of wooded slopes.

Because no snow ever fell here, the roof was only gently pitched, making it possible to walk all over it, and that was where Travis made one of his first defensive modifications to the house. He looked up now, as he came out of the trees, and saw the herringbone pattern of two-by-fours that he had fixed across the roof. They would make it safer and easier to move quickly across those sloped surfaces.

If The Outsider crept up on the house at night, it would not be able to enter by the downstairs windows because, at sundown, those were barricaded with interior locking shutters that Travis had installed himself and that would foil any would-be intruder except, perhaps, a maniacally determined man with an ax. The Outsider would then most likely climb the porch posts onto the front or rear porch roof to have a look at the second-floor windows, which it would find also protected by interior shutters. Meanwhile, warned of the enemy's approach by an infrared alarm system that be had installed around the house three weeks ago, Travis would go onto the roof by way of an attic trap door. Up there, making use of the two-by-four handholds, he would be able to creep to the edge of the main roof, look down on the porch roof or on any portion of the surrounding yard, and open fire on The Outsider from a position where it could not reach him.

Twenty yards behind and east of the house was a small rust-red barn that backed up to the trees. Their property included no tillable land, and the original owner apparently erected the barn to house a couple of horses and some chickens. Travis and Nora used it as a garage because the dirt driveway led two hundred yards in from the highway, past the house, directly to the double doors on the barn.

Travis suspected that, when The Outsider arrived, it would scout the house from the woods and then from the cover of the barn. It might even wait in there, hoping to catch them by surprise when they came out for the Dodge pickup or the Toyota. Therefore, he had rigged the barn with a few surprises.

Their nearest neighbors-whom they had met only once-were over a quarter-mile to the north, out of sight beyond trees and chaparral. The highway, which was closer, was not much traveled at night, when The Outsider was most likely to strike. If the confrontation involved a great deal of gunfire, the shots would echo and reecho through the woods and across the bare hills, so the few people in the area-neighbors or passing motorists-would have trouble determining where the noise originated. He ought to be able to kill the creature and bury it before someone came nosing around.

Now, more worried about Nora than about The Outsider, Travis climbed the back-porch steps, unlocked the two dead bolts on the rear door, and went Into the house, with Einstein close behind him. The kitchen was large enough to serve also as the dining room, yet it was cozy: oak walls, a Mexican-tile floor, beige-tile counters, oak cabinets, a hand-textured plaster ceiling, the best appliances. The big plank table with four comfortable padded chairs and a stone fireplace helped make this the center of the house.

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