If a guard patrolled the garage, he was currently on another floor. More likely, the hotel relied on security cameras, of which Krait noticed several.
The cameras didn’t faze him. Electronic images could be lost; systems could crash.
In a world that daily disconnects further from truth, more and more people accept the virtual in place of the real, and all things virtual are also malleable.
Likewise, he never worried about fingerprints or DNA. They were merely patterns, the first left by skin oils, the second detailed in the structure of a macromolecule.
Experts must read the patterns and judge their usefulness as evidence. Under any of numerous pressures, an expert may wish to misread a pattern or even to alter it. Americans had a touching trust in “experts.”
Instead of exiting the parking structure on the sidewalk that paralleled the main vehicle entrance, he left by a second exit that led him to a lighted walkway along the south side of the hotel.
Wind-shaken red hibiscus bordered the path. The hibiscus was not a poisonous plant.
Occasionally, Krait had need of a poisonous plant to accomplish one of his missions. Jimsonweed, oleander, and lily of the valley had all served him well.
Hibiscus, however, was worthless.
He came to a door. The door opened on a stairwell. He climbed toward the third floor.
A sound woke Tim from troubling dreams.
He had long ago learned that survival could depend on throwing sleep off as if it were a blanket. Clear-headed in an instant, he sat up straight in the armchair, and he drew the pistol from the seat cushion.
Although he listened intently, he did not at once hear anything more. Sometimes the sound was in the dream, and it woke you because it was the same sound to which you had seen someone die in real life.
The digital clock presented the time in lighted green numbers—3:44. He had slept perhaps two hours.
He looked toward the balcony doors.
The draperies hung undisturbed.
Now he heard the rushing wind, neither hammering nor prying, but gruff and rhythmic and reassuring.
After a silence, Linda spoke, and Tim realized that her sleep-sodden voice had awakened him. “Molly,” she said. “Oh, Molly, no, no.”
Her words carried a heavy weight of despondency and longing.
In her sleep, she had turned onto her side. She lay in the fetal position, her arms embracing a pillow, which she held tight against her breast.
“No…no…oh, no,” she murmured, and then her words dissolved into a barely audible keening, a plaint of piercing distress that was not weeping, but worse.
Getting up from his chair, Tim sensed that the woman was not in the thrall of a meaningless dream, that instead sleep had conveyed her into the past, where someone named Molly had been real and, perhaps, had been lost.
Before her sleep talk could reveal some hidden truth about her, another sound disturbed the slumberous hotel, and this one came from the corridor.
At the door, Tim listened with one ear to the crack along the jamb. He thought that he had heard the thin squeal of the door at the south stairwell.
A cool influx of air teased along the turnings in his ear.
The pricked silence resettled itself along the corridor, though now it had a quality of expectation, reluctant to let its hackles smooth down.
If Tim had correctly identified the noise, someone must be on the landing, holding open the stairwell door, surveying the third-floor hallway.
Confirmation came with the signature squeal of the door as it was carefully closed rather than being allowed to fall shut.
Few late-returning guests would be that considerate of others, and, these days, even fewer hotel employees.
Tim put one eye to the security peephole. The wide-angle lens gave him a distorted view of the hallway.
This was not the moment of no return, for Tim had passed that moment earlier in the night. When he had walked out of the street and into her house, when he had seen that she possessed a poster of a TV instead of a TV, he had committed himself to a course as irreversible as the one that Columbus had taken when he weighed anchor in August of 1492.
Where he stood now was at that point in any dangerous enterprise when the mind either sharpens to meet the escalating challenge or proves too dull for the duel, when the heart either becomes a guiding compass or shrinks from the journey, when success becomes a possibility or not.
Into the funhouse-mirror panorama provided by the fisheye lens came a man, only the back of his head visible as he studied the doors on the east side of the corridor. Then he looked this way. Distorted by the convex lens, his face was nonetheless recognizable as that of the killer who embraced a legion of identities.
His smooth pink face. His perpetual smile. His eyes like open drains.
A more powerful weapon than the 9-mm pistol would have been needed to shoot Kravet through the door.
Besides, when this killer was dead, another surely would be hired. And Tim wouldn’t have the advantage of knowing what the new man looked like.
He stepped back from the door, turned, and hurried to the bed, where Linda had fallen silent in her sleep.
His plan suddenly seemed less like a strategy than like a roll of the dice.
When he put a hand on Linda’s shoulder, she came to full mental clarity in an instant, as if she had matriculated from a survival school equal to the one that he had attended.
She sat up, stood up, as Tim said, “He’s here.”
Krait in the quick of things felt godlike, with neither doubt nor reservations. He knew what he needed to do, and he knew what he liked, and moments such as this were the fulfillment of both need and desire.
After stepping out of the stairwell and easing the door shut behind him, he drew the Glock 18 from his new shoulder rig. He held it down at his side as he moved into the corridor.
Odd-numbered doors lay to his right, the even-numbered to his left, along the west wall. The fifth door from the stairwell was 308.
According to hotel records, Carrier and the woman had registered three and a half hours ago. Unlike Krait, they had not slept until four o’clock Monday afternoon in anticipation of what Monday night would bring. Weary, they would want to believe that they were safe for the time being.
Krait thrived on the fact that humankind could not bear much reality. When they retreated into wishful thinking, he approached, all but invisible because he was the reality that they refused to see.
On his way upstairs, he had stopped at the second floor to ascertain the nature of the door locks. The hotel had replaced the original hardware with electronic card-key locks.
His sweet little lock-release gun would be of no use to him in this instance. He had come prepared for this contingency.
In the stairwell again, he had paused to remove from his wallet what appeared to be a department-store credit card. In fact it was an analytic scanner that could read and repeat the current release code in any electronic lock.
Unlike the LockAid, this item was not for sale even to law-enforcement agencies. No one could buy it. You were presented with it, as a grace.
Now, at the door to 308, Krait at once inserted the card into the key slot. He did not remove it when the indicator light turned from red to green; leaving it in place would freeze the lock open.
The LockAid made little noise when used. The analytic scanner made none whatsoever.
A selector switch on the slide of the pistol allowed it to perform either as a semi-automatic or a full-automatic weapon. Although Krait usually preferred simple tactics and basic weapons, he set the Glock on full-auto fire.
With a two-hand grip on the pistol, assuming that the security chain would be in place, he stepped back and kicked the door as hard as he could, as high as he could.
The retainer plate tore out of the jamb, the door flew open, and Krait went into the room fast, half crouching, arms out straight, a little pressure on the trigger, sweeping the muzzle left, sweeping right, stepping out of the way of the door as it crashed against the wall-mounted stop and rebounded.
Two beds. One lightly mussed. One with the spread turned back. A lamp on a nightstand.
No sign of the Mr. and Mrs. Maybe they had been awake, heard the squeak of the stairwell door.
Only two refuges. The balcony. The bathroom.
Bathroom door half open. Dark in there.
Leaning well into the Glock, compensating for the downward-bearing forward weight of the sound suppressor, he squeezed off a short burst through the dark gap, shattering a mirror, probably some ceramic tiles, peppering the bathroom with ricochets and shrapnel, one round clipping the door.
Recoil mild. As if the silencer acted as a recoil compensator. Not enough sound to wake a sleeper, if there had been one. Zero muzzle flash.
No screams from the bathroom. No return fire. Nobody in there. Leave it for later.
Draperies shrouding the sliders. Carrier had a gun. So clear the balcony before sweeping the fabric back from the glass.
Regretting the mess he was about to make, Krait squeezed off another short burst, draperies leaped, glass doors dissolved, and something made a pock-twang sound. He pulled the draperies aside, stepped outside. A fractured glaze of tempered glass crunched underfoot.
Alone on the balcony, in a wind so fresh off the sea that it smelled faintly of salt, he stepped to the outer railing, looked down. Some rocks directly below, then the beach, the breaking surf. All of it fifty feet down. Too far for them to have jumped without injury.
He did not question the reliability of the information that he had received from his sources. Never over the years had he been given the slightest reason to doubt them.
Seeking another explanation for the disappearance of his quarry, Krait glanced left and right along the back of the hotel. Balconies. Nothing but identical railed balconies. Deserted balconies.
Less than three feet separated this balcony from the next. If you were not afraid of heights, you could cross quickly from one balcony to another.
With the crunch of glass marking each step, Krait felt as if the sliding door had been a mirror, as if he had crossed into that place where only Alice had gone before.
In Room 308 once more, he registered an important detail that had eluded him previously: the absence of any personal belongings.
When he pushed open the door to the bathroom, he found no dead or wounded. Some towels had been used; but no toiletries stood on the counter surrounding the sink.
Carrier and the woman had not left when the stairwell door had squeaked. Much earlier in the night, they had identified a vacant room and had moved into it without informing the management.
Krait returned to the third-floor corridor, snatching his analytic scanner from the key-card slot and pocketing it.
The kicking-in of the door and the shattering of the glass had awakened guests. Two men—one in his underwear, the other in pajamas—had ventured into the hallway.
Smiling, Krait pointed the Glock at them.
They retreated into their rooms, closed their doors.
By now somebody would have called the front desk to report a disturbance. And one or both of the men whom he had threatened would be dialing 911.
Krait’s heartbeat was barely elevated above his usual sixty-four-per-minute resting rate. He appeared calm, and he was calm.
Which had come first in his life, the appearance of calm or the fact, would be no easier to deduce than whether the chicken preceded the egg. The origins of his personality were lost in time, and he had no interest in them.
Like most of California, this town was inadequately policed. Unless a patrol car happened to be in the immediate area, response time would be at least five minutes.
Anyway, there would be only two officers, four at most. With a structure this large as his game board, he could cat-and-mouse his way to the car that he had parked along the highway.
If the cops showed up early, Krait would kill his way out of the hotel. He had no problem with that.
Along the west side of the corridor were eleven rooms. Of the six to the north of 308, DO NOT DISTURB hangers were displayed at four.
He had no reason to believe that the two rooms without signs were vacant or that his quarry had hidden in one of them. Carrier was just as likely to have put out the privacy requests or to have taken them off doors where other guests had earlier hung them, just to further confuse Krait.
To the south of 308 were four rooms, and in front of the last, Room 300, the DO NOT DISTURB hanger lay on the floor. Krait stared down at it. Then he considered the closed door.
He was all but certain that the sign had not been on the floor when he had first arrived here a few minutes ago. Perhaps someone had brushed against it when making a hurried exit.
Room 300 lay only three steps from the south-stairwell door.
Sensing that the clever couple had already descended two flights and had fled the building, choosing not to delay long enough to card open Room 300 and have a quick look inside, Krait departed the third floor.
They would be racing for the Explorer in the parking structure. Maybe they had already reached it.
Krait did not plunge down the steps, for panic was not in his nature, but he did descend with measured haste.
Seconds after the door to Room 308 crashed open, Tim and Linda were out of 300, down the stairs, gone.
Wind scattered red hibiscus at their feet, their footsteps echoed off the low ceiling of the cavernous garage, the Explorer flashed its lights and chirruped when Tim used the remote key, he climbed into the driver’s seat, and she accepted the pistol from him as she boarded with her carryall.
Room 300 had indeed been vacant when, earlier in the night, he removed a sliding door and entered from the balcony. He had let Linda into their new quarters through the front door and had hung a DO NOT DISTURB sign on the knob.
Thereafter, he had slept for two hours, although sleep had been a dark road crowded with rough dreams.
Now he started the engine, switched on the headlights, drove out of the parking structure, and went south on the Pacific Coast Highway. At the intersection, he turned left, heading inland.
“All right,” she said. “Now I’m freaked.”
“You don’t seem that freaked.”
Turning to look through the rear window, she said, “Trust me. I’m Richard Dreyfuss on the back of the boat and the shark just jumped in my face. How did that guy find us?”
“I’m thinking it was the credit card.”
“Just because he’s a cop, he wouldn’t have people at MasterCard by the cojones.”
“It was a Visa card.” Tim turned right on a residential street. “He’s way more than a cop.”
“No matter who you are, don’t you have to get a court order for that kind of tracking, a warrant, something?”
He said, “Don’t thirteen-year-old hackers go into just about any system they want, and nobody gives ’em permission?”
“So this is some supercop with a nerdy nephew who can hack Visa for him twenty-four/seven?”