Page 34 of Night Chills

“I’ll bet Phil does everything to you,” be said.


She said nothing. Shuffled her feet.


“Doesn’t he? Doesn’t he do everything to you, Lolah? Admit it. Say it. I want to hear you say it.”


“He does—everything.”


He put his hand under her chin, lifted her head.


She gazed at him. Timid. Frightened.


“I’m going to do everything to you,” he said.


“Don’t hurt me.”


“Lovely, lovely little bitch,” he said. He was excited as he had never been in his life. Breathing hard. Yet everything so clear. So in control. Firmly in control. Her absolute master. Everyone’s absolute master. That was Howard Parker’s phrase, flashing back to him across the decades, much as a bizarre hallucination erupting in an acidhead’s mind years after his last tab of LSD: absolute master. “That’s exactly what I’m going to do to you,” he told Lolah Tayback. “I’m going to hurt you, just like I hurt the others. Make you pay. Make you bleed. I’m your absolute master. You’re going to take everything I dish out to you. Everything. Maybe even like it. Learn to like it. Maybe.. .“


His hands curled into fists at his sides.


The pilot flew the helicopter in a wide circle around the logging camp, searching for the best place to set down between the scattered lights from the buildings.


In the passenger cabin, Dawson broke an extended silence. “Ogden has to be eliminated.”


Klinger had no difficulty accepting that judgment. “Of course. He’s untrustworthy.”


“Unstable.”


“But if we eliminate him,” the general said, “can we continue with the plan?”


“Everything that Ogden has learned is in the Greenwich computer,” Dawson said. “The research was beyond us. But we can use the finished product well enough.”


“Hasn’t he encoded his data?”


“Naturally. But the day after the computer was installed, long before Ogden began to use it, I had my people program it to decode and print out any data that I requested—regardless of how the request was phrased, regardless of passwords or number keys or other security devices that he might use to limit my access to the information.”


The helicopter hovered, descended.


“When do we deal with him?”


“You deal with him,” Dawson said.


“Me—or do I program someone to do it?”


“Do it yourself. He can deprogram anyone else.” Dawson smiled. “You do have a handgun with you?”


“Oh, yes.”


“In the small of your back?”


“Strapped to my right ankle.”


“Marvelous.”


“Back to the original question,” Klinger said. “When do I eliminate him?”


“Tonight. Within the hour, if possible.”


“Why not back in Greenwich?”


“I don’t want to bury him on the estate. That’s taking too great a chance.”


“What will we do with the body?” “Bury it here. In the woods.” The helicopter touched ground. The pilot shut off the engines.


Overhead, the rotors coughed and slowed down. A welcome silence gradually replaced the racket they had made.


Klinger said, “You intend for him to just—disappear off the face of the earth?”


“That’s correct.”


“His vacation ends on the fifth of next month. That’s when he’s due back at the Brockert Institute. He’s a punctual man. The morning of the fifth, when he doesn’t show up, there’s going to be some commotion. They’ll come looking for him.”


“They won’t come looking in Black River. There’s nothing at all to connect Ogden with this place. He’s supposed to be vacationing in Miami.”


“There’s going to be a very quiet and very big manhunt,” Klinger said. “Pentagon security people, the FBI . . .“


Unbuckling his seat belt, Dawson said, “And there’s nothing to connect him with you or with me. Eventually they’ll decide that he went over to the other side, defected.”


Maybe.


“Definitely.”


Dawson opened his door.


“Do I take the chopper back to town?” Klinger asked.


“No. He might hear you coming and suspect what you’re there for. Take a car or a jeep from here. And you’d better walk the last few hundred yards.”


“All right.”


“And Ernst?”


“Yes?”


In the amber cabin light, Dawson’s five-hundred-dollars-apiece capped teeth gleamed in a broad and dangerous smile. There seemed to be light behind his eyes. His nostrils were flared: a wolf on the trail of a blood scent. “Ernst, don’t worry so much.”


“Can’t help but.”


“We’re destined to survive this night, to win this battle and all of those battles that will come after it,” Dawson said with solemn conviction.


“I wish I could be as confident of that as you are.”


“But you should be. We’re blessed, my friend. This entire enterprise is blessed, you see. Don’t you ever forget that, Ernst.” He smiled again.


“I won’t forget,” Klinger said.


But he was reassured more by the weight of the revolver at his ankle than by Dawson’s words.


Straining to hear any sound other than their own footsteps, Paul and Sam left the church by the rear door and crossed the open fields to the riverbank.


The high grass was heavy with rain. Within twenty yards, Paul’s shoes and socks were wet through to his skin. The legs of his jeans were soaked almost to the knees.


Sam located a footpath that traversed the bank of the river at a forty-five-degree angle. Every groove and depression in the earth had been transformed into a puddle. The way was exceedingly muddy and slick. They slipped and slid and waved their arms to keep their balance.


At the bottom of the path, they came onto a two-foot-wide


rocky shelf. On the right the river rolled and gurgled, filling the darkness with syrupy sound: a wide ebony strip which, at this hour of the night, looked like crude oil rather than water. On their left the bank of the river rose up eight or nine feet; and in some places the exposed roots of willow trees and oaks and maples overlaid the earthen wall.


Without benefit of a flashlight, Sam led Paul westward, toward the mountains. His snowy hair was a ghostly, luminescent sign for Paul to follow. The older man stumbled occasionally; but he was for the most part sure-footed, and he never cursed when he misstepped. He was surprisingly quiet, as if the skills and talents of an experienced warrior suddenly had come back to him after all these years.


This is war, Paul reminded himself. We’re on our way to kill a man. The enemy. Several men


The warm, heavy air was redolent with the odor of damp moss and with the stale fumes of the plants that were decomposing in the muck at the water’s edge.


Eventually, Sam found a series of wind- and water-chiseled ledges, steps that took them up from the river again. They came out in an apple orchard on the slopes at the extreme west end of town.


Thunder roared down from the peaks, disturbing the birds in the apple trees.


They went north. They were taking the safest—and also the most roundabout—route to the back of the municipal building. Soon they came to a waist-high white picket fence that marked the end of the orchard and the verge of Main Street, where it became known to the locals as the mill road.


After he had looked both ways and had carefully studied the land to which he was running, when he was certain that there was no one to see him, Sam slipped over the fence. He was as agile as a young man. He sprinted silently across the lane and quickly disappeared into a dense stand of scrub pines, scraggly birches, and brush on the other side.


Paul tucked his revolver into his belt, put both hands on the fence, looked up and down the street as Sam had done—but was


suddenly arrested by a severe spell of uncontrollable shivering. His stomach twisted, and he was short of breath.


He tried to tell himself that the shakes were caused by his wet feet, but he knew that wasn’t true. The night was warm. His feet were wet but not cold.


He was shivering for only one reason: because he was going to kill a man.


Or be killed .


That was a possibility.


He felt sick.


Dizzy.


He followed Sam.


10:30 P.M.


Lolah Tayback stood before him, naked.


“I’m the absolute master,” he said.


“Yes, sir.”


“Look at me, Lolab.” She stared at the floor. “Lolah?”


“Let me go.” Soft voice. Tears.


“What’s the matter?” “I’m scared.” “Don’t you like me?” She didn’t respond. “Do you like me, Lolah?” “Yes, sir.”


“Tell the truth, Lolab.” “I . . . don’t. . . like you.” He slapped her face. She fell against the desk. “Bitch.”


“Don’t hurt me.” “Animal.”


“Don’t hurt me. Please.”


“I’ll kill you.”


“Don’t—”


He struck her with his fist. Then he struck her again.


Twin arc lamps on ribbed aluminum poles bracketed the parking lot behind the municipal building. In the stark blue-white light the needles of nearby pine trees resembled feathers. The lamps made the wet macadam shine like molten tar and transformed the puddles into broken mirrors. It glinted coldly on the windshields of several automobiles, including the town ambulance and the spare police cruiser.


When Sam opened the rear door of the building and Paul stepped into the first-floor corridor, two men looked up in surprise. Bob Thorp reached for the revolver in the holster at his hip. The other man, a uniformed deputy, raised his shotgun.


“I am the key,” Paul said quickly. They both said, “I am the lock.”


“Speak softly.” They nodded.


“Bob, leave your gun in the holster.”


“All right.”


“And you. Put down that shotgun.” The deputy obeyed.


Opening these men, using them, pushing buttons deep within their minds, Paul felt neither triumph nor the exhilaration of command. Instead, aware that their lives and sanity and dignity were in his hands, he had an almost overpowering sense of solemn responsibility; and for a moment he was paralyzed by it.


Sam opened the first door on the right, switched on the overhead fluorescent lights, and ushered everyone into a file room.


10:36 P.M.


Salsbury’s knuckles were skinned. His hands were covered with thin gloves of blood: his blood and hers.


He took a Smith & Wesson .38 Police Special from the firearms cabinet behind Thorp’s desk. He located a box of shells on the top shelf and loaded the handgun.


He returned to Lolah Tayback.


She was on the floor in the center of the room, lying on her side with her knees drawn up. Both of her eyes were bruised and swollen. Her lower lip was split. Her septum was broken, and blood trickled from her delicate nostrils. Although she was barely conscious, she groaned miserably when she saw him.


“Poor Lolah,” he said mock sympathetically.


Through the thin slits of her swollen eyelids, she watched him apprehensively.


He held the gun to her face.


She closed her eyes.


With the barrel of the .38, he drew circles around her br**sts and prodded her nipples.


She shuddered.


He liked that.


The file room was a cold, impersonal place. The fluorescent strip lighting, institutional-green walls, yellowed Venetian blinds, rank on rank of gray metal cabinets, and brown tile floor made it a perfect place for an interrogation.


Sam said, “Bob, is there anyone in your office right now?”


“Yes. A couple of people.” “Who?”


“Lolah Tayback—and him.” “Who is ‘him’?”


“I . . . don’t know.”


“You don’t know his name?” “Gee, I guess not.”


“Is it Salsbury?” Thorp shrugged.


“Is he a somewhat chubby man?”


“About forty pounds too heavy,” Thorp said. “And he wears very thick glasses?”


“Yeah. That’s him.”


“And he’s alone with Lolah?”


“Like I said.”


“You’re certain of that?”


“Sure.”


Paul said, “And his friends?”


“What friends?” Thorp asked.


“In the helicopter.”


“They aren’t here.” “Neither of them?” “Neither of them.” “Where are they?” “I don’t know.”


“Aren’t they at the mill?”


“I don’t know.”


“Will they be back?”


“I don’t know that either.” “Who are they?”


“I’m sorry. I don’t know.”


Sam said, “That’s it, then.”


“We go after him?” Paul asked.


“Right now.”


“I’ll hit the door first.”


“I’m older,” Sam said. “I’ve got less to lose.” “I’m younger—and faster,” Paul said.


“Speed won’t matter. He won’t be expecting us.”


“And maybe he will,” Paul said.


Reluctantly, Sam said, “All right. You first. But I’ll be damned close behind.”


Salsbury forced her to lie on her back. He parted her legs with one hand and put the cool steel barrel of the .38 between her silken thighs. He shivered and licked his lips. With his left hand he slid his glasses up on his nose. “Do you want it?” he asked eagerly. “Do you want it? Well, I’m going to give it to you. All of it. Every last inch of it. Do you hear me, you little bitch? Little animal. Bust you wide open. Wide open. Going to truly and really give it to you. . .“


* * *


Paul hesitated outside of the closed door to the police chief’s office. When he heard Salsbury talking inside and knew that the man was unaware of their presence in the building, he threw open the door and went inside fast, crouching, the big .357 Magnum shoved out in front of him.


At first he couldn’t believe what he saw, didn’t want to believe what he saw. There was a badly beaten, na*ed young woman lying on the floor, spread-eagled, conscious but dazed. And Salsbury: face flushed, sweat-filmed, spotted with blood, eyes wild, savage-looking. He was kneeling over the woman, and he seemed like a troll, an evil and disgusting bug-eyed troll. He was pressing a revolver between her pale thighs in a vile, grotesque imitation of the sex act. Paul was so mesmerized by the scene, so riveted by revulsion and outrage, that for a few seconds he forgot altogether that he was in terrible danger.

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