Seize the Night

Page 43



“The mapmakers actually showed the edge of the earth, the sea just cascading into an abyss, and sometimes they lettered a warning across the void: ‘Here there be monsters.’”


After a brief but deep group silence, Bobby said, “Bad choice of historical trivia, bro.”


“Yeah,” Sasha said, gradually slowing the Expedition as she peered into the dark fields north of Haddenbeck Road, evidently looking for Doogie Sassman. “Don’t you know any amusing anecdotes about Marie Antoinette at the guillotine?”


“That’s the stuff!” Bobby agreed.


Roosevelt darkened the mood by communicating what didn’t need to be communicated: “Mr. Mungojerrie says the crow flew off the rock.”


“With all due respect,” Bobby said, “Mr. Mungojerrie is just a fuckin’ cat.”


Roosevelt seemed to listen to a voice beyond our hearing. Then: “Mungojerrie says he may be just a fuckin’ cat, but that puts him two steps up the social ladder from a boardhead.”


Bobby laughed. “He didn’t say that.”


“No other cat here,” Roosevelt said.


“You said that,” Bobby accused.


“Not me,” Roosevelt said. “I don’t use that kind of language.”


“The cat?” Bobby said skeptically.


“The cat,” Roosevelt insisted.


“Bobby’s only a recent believer in all this smart-animal stuff,” I told Roosevelt.


“Hey, cat,” Bobby said.


Mungojerrie turned in my lap to look back at Bobby.


Bobby said, “You’re all right, dude.”


Mungojerrie raised one forepaw.


After a moment, Bobby caught on. His face bright with wonder, he extended his right hand across the back of my seat. He and the cat gave each other a gentle high five.


Good work, Mom, I thought. Very nice. Let’s just hope when all is said and done, we end up with more smart cats than crazed reptiles.


“Here we are,” Sasha said as we reached the bottom of the hill.


She shifted the Expedition into four-wheel drive and turned north off the highway, driving slowly because she had doused the headlights and was guided only by the much dimmer parking lights.


We crossed a lush meadow, wove through a stand of live oaks, approached the boundary fence surrounding Fort Wyvern, and stopped beside the largest sports utility vehicle I had ever seen. This black Hummer, the civilian version of the military’s Humvee, had undergone customization after being driven off the showroom floor. It featured oversize tires and sat even higher on them than did a standard model, and it had been stretched by the addition of a few feet to its cargo space.


Sasha switched off the lights and the engine, and we got out of the Expedition.


Mungojerrie clung to me as though he thought I might put him down on the ground. I understood his concern. The grass was knee-high. Even in daylight, you’d have difficulty spotting a snake before it struck, especially considering how fast a motivated serpent can move. When Roosevelt reached out, I handed the cat to him.


The driver’s door opened on the Hummer, and Doogie Sassman got out to greet us, like a steroid-hammered Santa Claus climbing out of a Pentagon-designed sleigh. He closed the door behind him to kill the cabin light.


At five feet eleven, Doogie Sassman is five inches shorter than Roosevelt Frost, but he is the only man I’ve ever known who can make Roosevelt appear to be petite. The sass man enjoys no more than a hundred-pound advantage on Roosevelt, but I’ve never seen a hundred pounds used to better effect. He seems to be not merely forty percent larger than Roosevelt, but twice as large, more than twice, and taller even though he isn’t, a true leviathan on land, a guy who might discuss the techniques of city destruction over lunch with Godzilla.


Doogie carries his massive weight with unearthly grace and does not appear to be fat. All right, Doogie does look big, très mondo, mondo maximo, but he’s not soft. You get the impression that he’s made of animate concrete, impervious to arteriosclerosis, bullets, and time. There’s something about Doogie that’s every bit as mystical as the stone crow at the top of Crow Hill.


Maybe his hair and beard contribute to the impression that he’s an incarnation of Thor, the god of thunder and rain once worshipped in ancient Scandinavia, where they now worship cheesy pop stars like everyone else. His untamed blond hair, so thick that it offends the sensibilities of Hare Krishnas, hangs to the middle of his back, and his beard is so lush and wavy that he couldn’t possibly shave it off with anything less than a lawn mower. Great hair can radically enhance a man’s aura of power—as witness those who have been elected to the presidency of the United States with no other qualifications—and I’m sure Doogie’s hair and beard have more than a little to do with the supernatural impression that he makes, though the real mystery of him cannot be explained by hair, size, the elaborate tattoos that cover his body, or his gas-flame blue eyes.


This night he wore a zippered black jumpsuit tucked into black boots, which should have made him look like a Brob-dingnagian baby in Dr. Denton pajamas. Instead, he had the presence of a guy who might be called down to Hell by Satan to unclog a furnace chimney choked with the gnarled and half-burnt contentious souls of ten serial killers.


Bobby greeted him: “Hey, sass man.”


“Bobster,” Doogie replied.


“Cool wheels,” I said admiringly.


“It kicks ass,” he acknowledged.


Roosevelt said, “Thought you were all Harleys.”


“Doogie,” Sasha said, “is a man of many conveyances.”


“I am a wheel-o-maniac,” he admitted. “What happened to your eye, Rosie?”


“In a fight with a priest.”


The eye was better, still swollen but not to such a tight slit. The ice had worked.


“We ought to get moving,” Sasha said. “It’s weird out here tonight, Doogie.”


He agreed. “I’ve been hearing coyotes like no coyotes I’ve ever heard before.”


Bobby, Sasha, and I looked at one another. I recalled Sasha’s prediction that we hadn’t seen the last of the pack that had come out of the canyon beyond Lilly Wing’s house.


The cathedral-quiet fields and hills lay under a shrouded sky, and the breeze from the west was as feeble as the breath of a dying nun. In the live oaks behind us, the leaves whispered only slightly louder than memory, and the tall grass barely stirred.


Doogie led us around to the back of the customized Hummer and opened the tailgate. The interior light was not as bright as usual, because half the fixture was masked with electrician’s black tape, but even the reduced illumination was a beacon in these star-denied, moon-starved grasslands.


Just inside the tailgate were two shotguns. They were pistol-grip, pump-action Remingtons even sweeter than the classic Mossberg that Manuel Ramirez had confiscated from Bobby’s Jeep.


Doogie said, “I don’t think either of you boardheads is likely to shoot a hole in a silver dollar with a handgun, so these suit you better. I know you’re shotgun-familiar. But you’ll be using magnum loads, so be prepared for the kick. With this punch and spread, you buckaroos don’t have to worry about aiming, and you’ll stop just about anything.”


He handed one shotgun to Bobby, the other to me, and also gave each of us a box of ammunition.


“Load up, then distribute the rest of the shells in your jacket pockets,” he said. “Don’t leave any in the box. The last shell can be the one that saves your ass.” He looked at Sasha, smiled, and said, “Like Colombia.”


“Colombia?” I asked.


“We did some business there once,” Sasha said.


Doogie had lived in Moonlight Bay six years, and Sasha had been here two. I wondered if this business trip had been recent or before either of them settled in the Jewel of the Central Coast. I had been under the impression that they had met at KBAY.


“Colombia, the country?” Bobby asked.


“Not the record company,” Doogie assured him.


“Tell me not drugs,” Bobby said.


Doogie shook his head. “Rescue operation.”


Sasha’s smile was enigmatic. “Interested in the past, after all, Snowman?”


“Right now, just the future.”


Turning to Roosevelt, Doogie said, “I didn’t realize you’d be coming, so I don’t have a weapon for you.”


“I’ve got the cat,” Roosevelt said.


“Killer.”


Mungojerrie hissed.


The hiss reminded me of the snakes. I looked around nervously, wondering if the loco reptiles we had seen earlier would give us the courtesy of a warning rattle.


Closing the tailgate, Doogie said, “Let’s rock.”


In addition to the cargo area just inside the tailgate—which contained a pair of five-gallon fuel cans, two cardboard boxes, and a well-stuffed backpack—the customized Hummer provided seating for eight. Behind the pair of bucket-style front seats were two bench seats, each capable of accommodating three grown men, although not three as well grown as Doogie.


Thor Incarnate drove, and Roosevelt rode shotgun, figuratively speaking, holding our long-tailed tracker in his lap. Immediately behind them, I sat with Bobby and Sasha on the first bench seat.


“Why aren’t we going into Wyvern by the river?” Bobby wondered.


“The only way to get down to the Santa Rosita,” Doogie said, “is on one of the levee ramps in town. But tonight the town’s crawling with a bad element.”


“Anchovies,” Bobby translated.


“We’d be spotted and stopped,” Sasha said.


With the way illuminated only by its parking lights, the Hummer passed through a huge hole in the fence, where the ragged edges of the flanking panels of chain-link were as snarled as masses of string left with a playful kitten.


“You cut this open all by yourself?” I asked.


“Shaped charge,” Doogie said.


“Explosives?”


“Just a little boom plastic.”


“Didn’t that draw attention?”


“Shape the charge in a thin line, where you want the links to pop, and you’re using so little it’s like one really big beat on a bass drum.”


“Even if someone’s close enough to hear,” Sasha said, “it’s over so quick, he’d never get a fix on the direction.”


Bobby said, “Radio engineering requires way more cool skills than I thought.”


Doogie asked where we were headed, and I described the cluster of warehouses in the southwest quadrant of the base, where I had last seen Orson. He seemed familiar with the layout of Fort Wyvern, because he needed few directions.


We parked near the big roll-up door. The man-size door beside the larger entrance stood open, as I had left it the previous night.


I got out of the Hummer, carrying my shotgun. Roosevelt and Mungojerrie joined me, while the others waited in the vehicle in order not to distract the cat in his efforts to pick up the trail.


Pooled with shadows, smelling vaguely of oil and grease, home to weeds that sprouted from fissures in the blacktop, littered with empty oil cans and with assorted paper trash and leaves deposited by the previous night’s wind, surrounded by the corrugated-steel facades of the hulking warehouses, this serviceway had never been a festive place, not a prime venue for a royal wedding, but now the atmosphere was downright sinister.


Last night, the stocky abb with the close-cropped black hair, aware that Orson and I were close behind him in the Santa Rosita, must have used a cell phone to call for assistance—perhaps from the tall, blond, athletic guy with the puckered scar on his left cheek, who had snatched the Stuart twins only hours before. He had handed Jimmy off to someone, anyway, and then had led Orson and me into the warehouse, with the intention of killing me there.


From an inside jacket pocket, I withdrew the tightly wadded top of Jimmy Wing’s cotton pajamas, with which the abb had confused the scent trail. To be fair to Orson, who had been briefly baffled but never entirely misled, I was the one suckered into the warehouse by odd noises and a muffled voice.


The garment seemed so small, almost like doll’s clothing.


“I don’t know if this helps,” I said. “Cats aren’t bloodhounds, after all.”


“We’ll see,” Roosevelt said.


Mungojerrie sniffed the pajama top delicately but with interest. Then he took a tour of the immediate area, smelling the pavement, an empty oil can, which made him sneeze, and the tiny yellow flowers on a weed, which made him sneeze again and more vigorously. He returned for a brief inhalation of the garment, and then he tracked a scent along the pavement once more, moving in a widening spiral, from time to time lifting his head to savor the air, all the while appearing suitably quizzical. He padded to the warehouse, where he raised one leg and relieved himself against the concrete foundation, sniffed the deposit he had made, returned for another whiff of the pajama top, spent half a minute investigating an old rusted socket wrench lying on the pavement, paused to scratch behind his right ear with one paw, returned to the weed with the yellow flowers, sneezed, and had just risen to the top of my List of People or Animals I Most Want to Choke Senseless, when he suddenly went rigid, turned his green eyes toward our animal communicator, and hissed.


“He’s got it,” Roosevelt said.


Mungojerrie hurried along the serviceway, and we set out after him. Bobby joined us on foot, armed with his shotgun, while Doogie and Sasha followed in the Hummer.


Taking a different route from the one I’d chosen the previous night, we proceeded along a blacktop road, across an athletic field gone to weeds, across a dusty parade ground, between ranks of badly weathered barracks, through a residential neighborhood of Dead Town that I had never explored, where the cottages and bungalows were identical to those on other streets, and overland again, to another service area. After more than half an hour at a brisk pace, we arrived at the last place I wanted to go: the huge, seven-story, Quonset-roofed hangar, as large as a football field, that stands like an alien temple above the egg room.


As it became clear where we were headed, I decided it wouldn’t be wise to drive up to the entrance, because the Hummer’s engine was noticeably less quiet than the mechanism of a Swiss watch. I waved Doogie toward a passageway between two of the many smaller service buildings that surrounded the giant structure, about a hundred yards from our ultimate destination.


When Doogie killed the engine and the parking lights, the Hummer all but vanished in this nook.


As we gathered behind the vehicle to study the enormous hangar from a distance, the dead night began to breathe. A few miles to the west, the Pacific had exhaled a cool breeze, which now caused a loose sheet-metal panel to vibrate in a nearby roof.

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