Watchers Page 58

“Who are you?” she demanded, trying to conceal her fear, sure that visible terror would excite him. He seemed to be balanced on a thin line. “What do you want with me?”

“I want the dog.”

She had thought: robber. She had thought: rapist. She had thought: psychopathic thrill killer. But she had not for a moment thought that he might be a government agent. Yet who else would be looking for Einstein? No one else even knew the dog existed.

“What're you talking about?” she said.

He pushed the muzzle of the revolver deeper into her side, until it hurt.

She thought of the baby growing within her. “All right, okay, obviously you know about the dog, so there's no point playing games.”

“No point.” He spoke so quietly that she could hardly hear him above the roar of the rain that drummed on the roof of the cab and snapped against the windshield.

He reached over and pulled down the hood of her jacket, opened the zipper, and slid his hand down her breasts, over her belly. For a moment she was terrified that he was, after all, intent on rape.

Instead, he said, “This Weingold is a gynecologist-obstetrician. So what's your problem? You have some damn social disease or are you pregnant?” He almost spit out the words “social disease,” as if merely pronouncing those syllables made him sick with disgust.

“You're no government agent.” She spoke entirely from instinct.

“I asked you a question, bitch,” he said in a voice barely louder than a whisper. He leaned close, digging the gun into her side again. The air in the truck was humid. The all-enveloping sound of rain combined with the stuffiness to create a claustrophobic atmosphere that was nearly intolerable. He said, “Which is it? You got herpes, syphilis, clap, some other crotch rot? Or are you pregnant?”

Thinking that pregnancy might gain her a dispensation from the violence of which he seemed so capable, she said, “I'm going to have a baby. I'm three months pregnant.”

Something happened in his eyes. A shifting. Like movement in a subtle kaleidoscopic pattern that was composed of bits of glass all the same shade of green.

Nora knew that admitting pregnancy was the worst thing she could have done, but she did not know why.

She thought about the .38 pistol in the glove compartment. She could not possibly open the glove box, grab the gun, and shoot him before he pulled the trigger of the revolver. Still, she'd have to remain constantly on the lookout for an opportunity, for a laxness on his part, that would give her a chance to go for her own weapon.

Suddenly he was climbing on top of her, and again she thought he was going to rape her in broad daylight, in the veiling curtains of rain but still daylight. Then she realized he was just changing places with her, urging her behind the wheel while he moved into the passenger's seat, keeping the muzzle of the revolver on her the whole time.

“Drive,” he said.


“Back to your place.”


“Keep your mouth shut and drive.”

Now she was at the opposite side of the cab from the glove box. To get to it, she would have to reach in front of him. He would never be that lax.

Determined to keep a rein on her galloping fear, she now found that she had to rein in despair as well.

She started the truck, drove out of the parking lot, and turned right in the street.

The windshield wipers thumped nearly as loud as her heart. She wasn't sure how much of the oppressive sound was made by the impacting rain and how much of it was the roar of her own blood in her ears.

Block by block, Nora searched for a cop-although she had no idea what she should do if she saw one. She never had to figure it out because no cops were anywhere to be seen.

Until they were out of Carmel and on the Pacific Coast Highway, the blustering wind not only drove rain against the windshield but also flung bristling bits of cypress and pine needles from the huge old trees that sheltered the town's streets. South along the coast, as they headed into steadily less populated areas, no trees overhung the road, but the wind off the ocean hit the pickup full force. Nora frequently felt it pulling at the wheel. And the rain, slashing straight at them from the sea, seemed to pummel the truck hard enough to leave dents in the sheet metal.

After at least five minutes of silence, which seemed like an hour, she could no longer obey his order to keep her mouth shut. “How did you find us?”

“Been watching your place for more than a day,” he said in that cool, quiet voice that matched his placid face. “When you left this morning, I followed you, hoping you'd give me an opening.”

“No, I mean, how did you know where we lived?”

He smiled. “Van Dyne.”

“That double-crossing creep.”

“Special circumstances,” he assured her. “The Big Man in San Francisco Owed me a favor, so he put pressure on Van Dyne.”

“Big man?”


“Who's he?”

“You don't know anything, do you?” he said. “Except how to make babies, huh? You know about that, huh?”

The hard taunting note in his voice was not merely sexually suggestive: it Was darker, stranger, and more terrifying than that. She was so frightened

of the fierce tension that she sensed in him each time he approached the subject of sex that she did not dare reply to him.

She turned on the headlights as they encountered thin fog. She kept her attention on the rain-washed highway, squinting through the smeary windshield.

He said, “You're very pretty. If I was going to stick it into anyone, I'd stick it into you.”

Nora bit her lip.

“But even as pretty as you are,” he said, "you're like all the others, I'll bet. If I stuck it into you, then it'd rot and fall off because you're diseased like all the others-aren't you? Yeah. You are. Sex is death. I'm one of the few who seem to know it, even though proof is everywhere. Sex is death. But you're very pretty . .

As she listened to him, her throat got tight. She was having difficulty drawing a deep breath.

Suddenly his taciturnity was gone. He talked fast, still soft-voiced and unnervingly calm, considering the crazy things he was saying, but very fast:

“I'm going to be bigger than Tetragna, more important. I've got scores of lives in me. I've absorbed energies from more than you'd believe, experienced The Moment, felt The Snap. It's my Gift. When Tetragna's dead and gone, I'll be here. When everyone now alive is dead, I'll be here because I'm immortal.”

She didn't know what to say. He had come out of nowhere, somehow knowing about Einstein, and he was a lunatic, and there seemed to be nothing she could do. She was as angry about the unfairness of it as she was afraid. They had made careful preparations for The Outsider, and they had taken elaborate steps to elude the government-but how were they supposed to have prepared for this? It wasn't fair.

Silent again, he stared at her intently for a minute or more, another eternity. She could feel his icy green gaze on her as surely as she would have felt a cold, fondling hand.

“You don't know what I'm talking about, do you?” he said.


Perhaps because he found her pretty, he chose to explain. “I've only ever told one person before, and he made fun of me. His name was Danny Slowicz, and we both worked for the Carramazza Family in New York, biggest of the five Mafia Families. Little muscle work, once in a while killing people who needed killed.”

Nora felt sick because he was not merely crazy and not merely a killer but a crazy professional killer.

Unaware of her reaction, switching his gaze from the rain-swept road to her face, he continued. “See, we were having dinner in this restaurant, Danny and me, washing down clams with Valpolicella, and I explained to him that I was destined to lead a long life because of my ability to acquire the vital energies of people I wasted. I told him, 'See, Danny, people are like batteries, walking batteries, filled with this mysterious energy we call life. When I off someone, his energy becomes my energy, and I get stronger. I'm a bull, Danny,' I says. 'Look at me-am I a bull or what? And I got to be a bull 'cause I have this Gift of being able to take the energy from a guy.' And you know what Danny says?”

“What?” she asked numbly.

“Well, Danny was a serious eater, so he kept his attention on his plate, face in his food, until he scarfs a few more clams. Then he looks up, his lips and chin dripping clam sauce, and he says, 'Yeah, Vince, so where'd you learn this trick, huh? Where'd you learn how to absorb these life energies?' I said, 'Well, it's my Gift,' and he said, 'You mean like from God?' So I had to think about that, and I said, 'Who knows where from? It's my Gift like Mantle's hitting was a gift, like Sinatra's voice was a gift.' And Danny says, 'Tell me this-suppose you waste a guy who's an electrician. After you absorb his energy, would you all of a sudden know how to rewire a house?' I didn't realize he was putting me on. I thought it was a serious question, so I explained how I absorb life energy, not personality, not all the stuff the guy knows, just his energy. And then Danny says, 'So if you blew away a carnival geek, you wouldn't all of a sudden get the urge to bite the heads off chickens.' Right then I knew Danny thought I was either drunk or nuts, so I ate clams and didn't say any more about my Gift, and that's the last time I told anyone until I'm here telling you.”

He had called himself Vince, so now she knew his name. She did not see what good it would do her to know it.

He had told his story without any indication that he was aware of the insane black humor in it. He was a deadly serious man. Unless Travis could deal with him, this guy was not going to let them live.

“So,” Vince said, “I couldn't risk Danny going around telling anyone what I'd told him, because he'd color it up, make it sound funny, and people would think I was nuts. The big bosses don't hire crazy hit men; they want cool, logical, balanced guys who can do the work clean. Which is what I am, cool and balanced, but Danny would have had them thinking the other way. So that night I slit his throat, took him to this deserted factory I knew, cut him into pieces, put him in a vat, and poured a lot of sulfuric acid over him. He was a favorite nephew of the don's, so I couldn't take a chance of anyone finding a body that might be traced back to me. Now, I got Danny's energy in me, along with a lot of others.”

The gun was in the glove box.

Some small hope could be taken from the knowledge that the gun was in the glove box.

While Nora was visiting Dr. Weingold, Travis whipped up and baked a double batch of chocolate cookies with peanut-butter chips. Living alone, he had learned to cook, but he had never taken pleasure in it. During the past few months, however, Nora had improved his culinary skills to such an extent that he enjoyed cooking, especially baking.

Einstein, who usually hung around dutifully throughout a baking session, in the anticipation of receiving a sweet morsel, deserted him before he had finished mixing the batter. The dog was agitated and moved around the house from window to window, staring out at the rain.

After a while, Travis got edgy about the dog's behavior and asked if something was wrong.

In the pantry, Einstein made his reply.


“Sick?” Travis asked, worried about a relapse. The retriever was recovering well, but still recovering. His immune system was not in condition for a major new challenge.


“Then what? You sense . . . The Outsider?”


“But you sense something?”


“Maybe it's the rain.”


Relieved but still edgy, Travis returned to his baking.

The highway was silver with rain.

The daytime fog grew slightly thicker as they drove south along the coast, forcing Nora to slow to forty miles an hour, thirty in some places.

Using the fog as an excuse, could she slow the truck enough to risk throwing open her door and leaping out? No. Probably not. She would have to let their speed drop below five miles an hour in order not to hurt herself or her unborn child, and the fog simply was not dense enough to justify reducing speed that far. Besides, Vince kept the revolver pointed at her while he talked, and he would shoot her in the back as she turned to make her exit.

The pickup's headlamps and those of the few oncoming cars were refracted by the mist. Halos of light and scintillate rainbows bounced off the shifting curtains of fog, briefly seen, then gone.

She considered running the truck off the road, over the edge in one of the few places where she knew the embankment to be gentle and the drop endurable. But she was afraid she would misjudge where she was and, by mistake, drive off the brink into a two-hundred-foot emptiness, crashing with terrible force into the rocky coastline below. Even if she went over at the right point, a calculated and survivable crash might knock her unconscious or induce a miscarriage, and if possible she wanted to get out of this with her life and the life of the child within her.

Once Vince started talking to her, he could not stop. For years he had husbanded his great secrets, had hidden his dreams of power and immortality from the world, but his desire to speak of his supposed greatness evidently had never diminished after the fiasco with Danny Slowicz. It was as if he had stored up all the words he had wanted to say to people, had put them on reels and reels of mental recording tape, and now he was playing them back at high speed, spewing out all this craziness that made Nora sick with dread.

He told her how he had learned of Einstein-the killing of the research scientists in charge of various programs under the Francis Project at Banodyne. He knew of The Outsider, too, but was not afraid of it. He was, he said, on the brink of immortality, and gaining ownership of the dog was one of the final tasks he had to complete in order to achieve his Destiny. He and the dog were destined to be together because each of them was unique in this world, one of a kind. Once Vince had achieved his Destiny, he said, nothing could stop him, not even The Outsider.

Half the time, Nora didn't understand what he was saying. She supposed that if she did understand it, she would be as insane as he clearly was.

But though she did not always grasp his meaning, she knew what he intended to do to her and to Travis once he had the retriever. At first, she was afraid of speaking about her fate, as if putting it into words would somehow make it irrevocable. At last, however, when they were no more than five miles from the dirt lane that turned off the highway and led up to the bleached-wood house, she said, “You won't let us go when you've got the dog, will you?”

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