I protested: “Orson, the kids—we don’t even know if they’re alive!”
“They’re alive,” Roosevelt said.
“We don’t know.”
I turned to Sasha for support. “Are you as crazy as the rest of them?”
She said nothing, but the pity in her eyes was so terrible that I had to look away from her. She knew that Bobby and I were as tight as friends can get, that we were brothers in all but blood, as close as identical twins. She knew that a part of me was going to die when Bobby died, leaving an emptiness even she would never fill. She saw my vulnerability; she would have done anything, anything, anything, if she could have saved Bobby, but she could do nothing. In her helplessness, I saw my own helplessness, which I couldn’t bear to contemplate.
I lowered my gaze to the cat. For an instant I wanted to stomp Mungojerrie, crush the life out of him, as if he were responsible for our being here. I had asked Sasha if she was as crazy as the rest of them; in truth, I was the one who was kooking out, shattered by even the prospect of losing Bobby.
With a lurch, the elevator started down.
I said, “Please, Bobby.”
“Kahuna,” he reminded me.
“You’re not Kahuna, you kak.”
His voice was thin, shaky: “Pia thinks I am.”
“Pia’s a dithering airhead.”
“Don’t dis my woman, bro.”
We stopped on the seventh and final level.
The doors opened on darkness. But it wasn’t that view of starry space, merely a lightless alcove.
With Roosevelt’s flashlight, I led the others out of the elevator, into a cold, dank vestibule.
Down here, the oscillating electronic hum was muffled, almost inaudible.
We put Bobby on his back, to the left of the elevator doors. We laid him on my jacket and Sasha’s, to insulate him from the concrete as much as possible.
Sasha fiddled in the control wiring and temporarily disabled the elevator, so it would be here when we returned. Of course, if time past phased completely out of time present, taking the elevator with it, we’d have to climb.
Bobby couldn’t climb. And we could never carry him up a service ladder, not in his condition.
Don’t think about it. Ghosts can’t hurt you if you don’t fear them, and bad things won’t happen if you don’t think them.
I was grasping at all the defenses of childhood.
Doogie emptied stuff out of the backpack. With Roosevelt’s help, he folded the empty bag and wedged it under Bobby’s hips, elevating his lower body at least slightly, though not enough.
When I put the flashlight at Bobby’s side, he said, “I’ll probably be way safer in the dark, bro. Light might draw attention.”
“Switch it off if you hear anything.”
“You switch it off before you leave,” he said. “I can’t.”
When I took his hand, I was shocked at the weakness of his grip. He literally didn’t have the strength to handle the flashlight.
There was no point leaving him a gun for self-defense.
I didn’t know what to say to him. I had never been seriously speechless with Bobby before. I seemed to have a mouth full of dirt, as if I were already lying in my own grave.
“Here,” Doogie said, handing me a pair of oversize goggles and an unusual flashlight. “Infrared goggles. Israeli military surplus. Infrared flashlight.”
“So they won’t see us coming.”
“Whoever’s got the kids and Orson.”
I stared at Doogie Sassman as if he were a Viking from Mars.
Bobby’s teeth chattered when he said, “The dude’s a ballroom dancer, too.”
A rumbling noise rose, like a freight train passing overhead, and the floor shook under us. Gradually, the sound diminished, and the shaking stopped.
“Better go,” Sasha said.
She, Doogie, and Roosevelt were wearing goggles, with the lenses against their foreheads rather than over their eyes.
Bobby had closed his eyes.
Frightened, I said, “Hey.”
“Hey,” he replied, looking at me again.
“Listen, if you die on me,” I said, “then you’re king of the as**oles.”
He smiled. “Don’t worry. Wouldn’t want to take the title away from you, bro.”
“We’ll be back fast.”
“I’ll be here,” he assured me, but his voice was a whisper. “You promised me a beer.”
His eyes were inexpressibly kind.
There was so much to be said. None of it could be spoken. Even if we’d had plenty of time, none of what was in my heart could have been spoken.
I switched off his flashlight but left it at his side.
Darkness was usually my friend, but I hated this hungry, cold, demanding blackness.
The fancy eyewear featured a Velcro strap. My hands were so unsteady that I needed a moment to adjust the goggles to my head, and then I lowered the lenses over my eyes.
Doogie, Roosevelt, and Sasha had switched on their infrared flashlights. Without the goggles, I had not been able to see that wavelength of light, but now the vestibule was revealed in various shades and intensities of green.
I clicked the button on my flashlight and played the beam over Bobby Halloway.
Supine on the floor, arms at his sides, glowing green, he might already have been a ghost.
“Your shirt really pops in this weird light,” I said.
The freight-train rumble rose again, louder than before. The steel and concrete bones of the structure were grinding together.
The cat, with no need for goggles, led us out of the vestibule. I followed Roosevelt, Doogie, and Sasha, who might have been three green spirits haunting a catacomb.
The hardest thing I’d ever had to do in my life—harder than attending my mother’s funeral, harder than sitting by my father’s deathbed—was to leave Bobby alone.
From the vestibule, a sloping tunnel, ten feet in diameter, descended fifty feet. After reaching the bottom, we followed an entirely horizontal but wildly serpentine course, and with every turn, the architecture and engineering progressed from curious to strange to markedly alien.
The first passageway featured concrete walls, but every tunnel thereafter, while formed of reinforced concrete, appeared to be lined with metal. Even in the inadequately revelatory infrared light, I detected sufficient differences in the appearances of these curved surfaces to be confident that the type of metal changed from time to time. If I’d lifted the goggles and switched on an ordinary UV flashlight, I suspect that I would have seen steel, copper, brass, and an array of alloys that I couldn’t have identified without a degree in metallurgy.
The largest of these metal-lined tunnels were about eight feet in diameter, but we traveled some that were half that size, through which we had to crawl. In the walls of these cylindrical causeways were uncounted smaller openings; some were two or three inches in diameter, others two feet; probing them with the infrared flashlight revealed nothing more than could have been seen by peering into a drainpipe or a gun barrel. We might have been inside an enormous, incomprehensibly elaborate set of refrigeration coils, or exploring the plumbing that served all the palaces of all the gods of ancient myths.
Unquestionably, something had once surged through this colossal maze: liquids or gases. We passed numerous tributaries, in which were anchored turbines with blades that must have been driven by whatever had been pumped through this system. At many junctions, various types of gigantic electrically controlled valves stood ready to cut off, restrict, or redirect the flow through these Stygian channels. All the valves were in open or half-open positions; but as we passed each block point, I worried that if they snapped shut, we would be imprisoned down here.
These tubes had not been stripped to the concrete, as had all the rooms and corridors in the first three floors under the hangar. Consequently, as there were no apparent lighting sources, I assumed that workmen servicing the system had always carried lamps.
Intermittently, a draft stirred along these strange highways, but for the most part the atmosphere was as still as that under a bell jar. Twice, I caught a whiff of smoldering charcoal, but otherwise the air carried only a faint astringent scent similar to iodine, though not iodine, which eventually left a bitter taste and caused a mild burning sensation in my nasal membranes.
The trainlike rumble came and went, lasting longer with each occurrence, and the silences between these assaults of sound grew shorter. With every eruption, I expected the ceiling to collapse, burying us as irrevocably as coal miners are occasionally entombed in veins of anthracite. Another and utterly chilling sound spiraled along the tunnel walls from time to time, a shrill keening that must have had its source in some machinery spinning itself to destruction, or else crawling these byways was a creature that I had never heard before and that I hoped never to encounter.
I fought off attacks of claustrophobia, then induced new bouts by wondering if I were in the sixth circle of Hell or the seventh. But wasn’t the seventh the Lake of Boiling Blood? Or did that come after the Fiery Desert? Neither the blood lake nor the great burning sands would be green, and everything here was relentlessly green. Anyway, Lower Hell couldn’t be far away, just past the luncheonette that serves only spiders and scorpions, around the corner from the men’s shop that offers bramble shirts and shoes with razor-blade in-cushions. Or maybe this wasn’t Hell at all; maybe it was just the belly of the whale.
I think I went a little nuts—and then recovered—before we reached our destination.
For sure, I lost all track of time, and I was convinced that we were ruled by the clock of Purgatory, on which the minute and hour hands turn without ever advancing. Days later, Sasha would claim we had spent less than fifteen minutes in those tunnels. She never lies. Yet, when eventually we prepared to return the way we had come, if she had tried to convince me that retracing our route would require only a quarter of an hour, I would have assumed we were in whatever circle of Hell was reserved for pathological liars.
The final passage—which would lead us to the kidnappers and their hostages—was one of the larger tunnels, and when we entered it, we discovered that the abbs we were seeking—or at least one of them, anyway—had posted a neatly arranged gallery of perverse achievement. Newspaper articles and a few other items were taped to the curved metal wall; the text was not easily readable by the infrared flashlights, but the headlines, subheads, and some of the pictures were clear enough.
We played our lights over the various items, quickly absorbing the exhibition, trying to understand why it was here.
The first clipping was from the Moonlight Bay Gazette, dated July 18, forty-four years earlier. Bobby’s grandfather had been the publisher in those days, before the paper had passed to Bobby’s mother and father. The headline screamed, BOY ADMITS TO KILLING PARENTS, and the subhead read, 12-YEAR-OLD CAN’T BE TRIED FOR MURDER.
The headlines on several additional clippings from the Gazette, dating to that same summer and the following autumn, described the aftermath of these murders, which apparently had been committed by a disturbed boy named John Joseph Randolph. Ultimately, he had been remanded to a juvenile detention center in the northern part of the state, until he achieved the age of eighteen, by which time he would have been psychologically evaluated; if declared criminally insane, he would subsequently be hospitalized for long-term psychiatric care.
The three pictures of young John showed a towheaded boy, tall for his age, with pale eyes, slim but athletic-looking. In all the shots, which appeared to be family photographs taken prior to the homicides, he had a winning smile.
That July night, he’d shot his father in the head. Five times. Then he hacked his mother to death with an ax.
The name John Joseph Randolph was unnervingly familiar, though I couldn’t think why.
On one of the clippings, I spotted a subhead that referred to the arresting police officer: Deputy Louis Wing. Lilly’s father-in-law. Jimmy’s grandfather. Lying now in a coma in a nursing home, after suffering three strokes.
Louis Wing will be my servant in Hell.
Evidently, Jimmy had not been abducted because his blood sample, given at preschool, had revealed an immune factor protecting him from the retrovirus. Instead, old-fashioned vengeance was the motivation.
“Here,” Sasha said. She pointed to another clipping, where the subhead revealed the name of the presiding judge: George Dulcinea. Great-grandfather to Wendy. Fifteen years in the grave.
George Dulcinea will be my servant in Hell.
No doubt, Del Stuart or someone in his family had crossed John Joseph Randolph somewhere, sometime. If we knew the connection, it would expose a motive for vengeance.
John Joseph Randolph. The strangely familiar name continued to worry me. As I followed Sasha and the others along the gallery, I seined my memory but came up with an empty net.
The next clipping dated back thirty-seven years and dealt with the murder-dismemberment of a sixteen-year-old girl in a San Francisco suburb. Police, according to the subhead, had no leads.
The newspaper had published the dead girl’s high-school photo. Across her face, someone had used a felt-tip marker to print four slashing letters: MINE.
It occurred to me that if he hadn’t been diagnosed criminally insane prior to turning eighteen, John Joseph Randolph might have been released from juvenile detention that year—with a handshake, an expunged record, pocket money, and a prayer.
The following thirty-five years were chronicled by thirty-five clippings concerning thirty-five apparently unsolved, savage murders. Two-thirds had been committed in California, from San Diego and La Jolla to Sacramento and Yucaipa; the rest were spread over Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado.
The victims—each photo defaced with the word MINE—presented no easily discernible pattern. Men and women. Young and old. Black, white, Asian, Hispanic. Straight and gay. If all these were the work of the same man, and if that man was John Joseph Randolph, then our Johnny was an equal-opportunity killer.
From a cursory examination of the clippings, I could see only two details linking these numerous murders. First: the horrendous degree of violence with which they had been committed, whether with blunt or sharp instruments. The headlines used words like BRUTAL, VICIOUS, SAVAGE, and SHOCKING. Second: None of the victims was sexually molested; Johnny’s only passions were bashing and slashing.
But only one event per calendar year. When Johnny indulged in his annual murder, he really let himself go, burnt off all his excess energy, poured out every drop of pent-up bile. Nonetheless, for a lifelong serial killer with such a prodigious career, his three hundred and sixty-four days of self-restraint for every single day of maniacal butchery were surely without precedent in the annals of sociopathic homicide. What had he been doing during those days of restraint? Into what had all that violent energy been directed?
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