Here came upon him one of those moments when he knew that he stood apart from humanity and ranked superior to it. He was a secret prince, indeed, and fate acknowledged his royalty by delivering unto him these unspent cartridges, proof that his quarry had gone to ground here.
He supposed it was even possible that these two dropped rounds might have been the bullets that, once Carrier expended all his other ammunition, would have wounded Krait or even killed him. Fate might not merely be pointing the way to the successful conclusion of this mission but might also be assuring him that, at least for this night, he was invulnerable and possibly even that, in the long run, he would prove to be immortal.
The lightning and thunder seemed to celebrate him.
He put the bullets in a pants pocket.
If everything went smoothly and he had sufficient time, he would make the woman swallow the bullets before he shoved the reproduction art down her throat.
He could not risk trying to take Carrier alive. The mason was too big, and dangerous in unexpected ways.
If he got lucky and severely disabled Carrier with a spine shot, however, he would enjoy forcing him to swallow something, as well. Perhaps a choice piece of the bricklayer’s anatomy, severed, could be served to him on a fork.
With little time and no sophisticated burglary tools, Carrier and the woman would have gone to the back of the house, out of sight of the street, to break a window or the glass in a door.
Once inside, they might have climbed to the second floor, expecting to defend the staircase from the superior position of the upper hallway.
Or they might be covering the window or door by which they had entered, hoping to shoot him down when he followed in their steps. As if he ever would be that direct.
At the side garage door, Krait quietly employed his beloved lock-release gun.
Inside, he switched on the lights. The garage could accommodate three vehicles, but none was present.
Quality laminate cabinetry made for an orderly space. He opened a few doors. All the shelves were bare.
Proof enough. No one lived here.
The door between the garage and the house probably opened into a laundry room or a service hall. Carrier and the woman were not likely to have taken shelter in either.
Krait used the LockAid. The snaps and clicks were lost in the drums of the storm. He returned the device to its holster.
The in-spill of light from the garage revealed a laundry room so generously proportioned that it included a sewing center and a gift-wrapping station with wall-mounted rolls of fancy wrapping papers.
The farther door was closed.
When he entered the laundry, he discovered a Crestron touch panel embedded in the wall. As befitted a property of this caliber, the house was computerized.
He touched the panel, and the screen brightened, offering him a choice of system controls that included SECURITY, LIGHTING, MUSIC….
He pressed LIGHTING, and the screen listed indoor rooms and outdoor zones. He could control the lights everywhere from this entry point or from any other Crestron panels in the house.
Among the last options were ALL INTERIOR ON and ALL EXTERIOR ON. His quarry would expect him to come in the dark, so they would have a plan to use darkness to their advantage, as well. Because Krait tried never to do what an adversary expected, he pressed ALL INTERIOR ON, at once bringing light to every room in the residence.
The inner laundry-room door opened to a service hall. With the Glock in both hands and his arms locked straight in front of him, he followed the hallway.
Krait entered an unfurnished family room where an immense plasma-screen TV had been crafted into a wall-wide entertainment center. The granite bar was handsome.
A pane had been broken out of one of the French doors. Fragments of glass littered the limestone floor.
Like Krait, Carrier and the woman had been soaked to the skin. They had shed considerable rain on the pale limestone, which had darkened where it absorbed the water.
Tense, sweeping left with the Glock, sweeping right, alert for peripheral movement, Krait proceeded into the big kitchen, which was open to the family room. More limestone, more water.
The dining room also lacked furniture, but it featured wall-to-wall white carpet. Dirt on the carpet drew his attention.
Apparently, two steps inside the dining room, the couple had vigorously wiped their feet on the pristine carpet, staining it. He wondered why they had so aggressively soiled such excellent wool.
By the time he passed through an archway and proceeded to the center of the likewise carpeted living room, he realized that they had cleaned their shoes in order to leave less of a trail. Water alone could not be easily seen on the textured white carpet; and it did not change the color of the fibers. He could no longer discern the route that they had taken through the house.
To the right of the living room, through another archway, lay the entry hall. Rooms waited beyond. Stairs led to the second floor.
Left, at the north end of the living room, double doors served another chamber.
Krait felt certain that his quarry had gone upstairs. Reluctant to leave an unexplored space behind him, however, he eased open one of the doors. He rushed through fast and low, behind the gun, into a library that contained neither books nor intruders.
He went to the entry hall. Drops of water shimmered on the wood floor. They were too widely distributed to indicate an obvious trail.
Another door opened into a home gym large enough to accept an array of exercise machines that would allow circuit training. No machines were present, but three entire walls had been paneled with floor-to-ceiling mirrors.
Such vast mirrored surfaces brought Krait to a halt.
By their subtle reversal of all images, mirrors seemed to be windows to another world in opposition to this one, a world where everything appeared familiar but was in fact profoundly different.
All that was considered evil on this side of the glass might be judged good on the other side. Truth here might be lies there, and the future might precede the past.
This panoramic mirror excited him more than any he had seen before, because the cross-reflections revealed not just one strange world but many, each contained in the others, each promising the absolute power that he yearned to have but could not quite acquire on this side of the looking glass.
He stood before numerous Kraits, each with his own Glock, and they seemed not like reflections but like replications, each as aware as he himself was, separate consciousness in other dimensions. He had become an army, and he felt the power of being many, the ferocity of the pack, the viciousness of the stinging swarm, and his heart was lifted, and his mind thrilled.
A sudden awareness of his appearance deflated him. Rain had washed all shape from his clothes. You couldn’t see that they had been garments of quality. His hair was plastered to his head.
Anyone might have mistaken him for a homeless person, adrift and penniless. He mortified himself, the way he looked.
This mortification turned his memory back to the embarrassment at the hotel, where he had been outfoxed by Carrier’s room switch.
Every Krait in every world within the mirrors spoke as one, but they could be heard only in their separate realms. The single voice of a single Krait spoke aloud the words that the others silently mouthed: “He’s done it again.”
Krait stepped out of the gym into the entry hall.
He didn’t go to the stairs. He didn’t care about the stairs. The bricklayer and the bitch weren’t on the second floor, ready to defend the staircase from the superior position of the upper hallway. They never had been.
They had left when the lights came on.
The front door was unlocked. No surprise. They didn’t have a key with which to lock it from the outside.
He opened the door, and rain blew in.
Leaving the house open behind him, he walked down the front path, into the street.
The Explorer was gone.
The wind drove the rain harder than before. It stung his face.
Although the sky had quieted, a sword of light ripped the night, and Krait flinched. He thought he was going to be struck.
He looked at the bicycle. The FOR SALE sign.
From a pants pocket, he withdrew the two 9-mm cartridges. This one extra detail had been too pat. The bullets had not been dropped. They had been placed on the sidewalk.
He returned them to his pocket. He had a use for them.
He went to the island in the center of the turnaround. The dark-blue Chevrolet waited where he had parked it.
After circling the vehicle and finding the tires intact, he got in the driver’s seat and shut out the storm.
With the first twist of the key, the engine turned over. He had not expected it to start.
The instrument panel brightened, but not as fully as before. Carrier had shot the electronic-map display.
Krait could send a coded text message explaining his situation, and his tech-support team would track the Explorer for him, allowing him a somewhat delayed pursuit.
Wasted effort. Carrier had used the SUV only to get out of the neighborhood. He would abandon it within minutes, and would switch to whatever vehicle he could find.
This did not mean that Krait had failed in his mission. He had only begun.
A lesser man might have become emotional, surrendering himself to rage or despair, or fear. Krait allowed himself none of that.
Already, he had overcome the twinge of mortification that he had felt when he’d realized what had happened. Anyway, mortification was not the correct word. He had felt nothing worse than mild chagrin.
He drove around the island and out of the cul-de-sac.
In truth, the word chagrin was too strong to describe what he felt at the moment of realization in the mirrored gym. Discomfiture was more accurate. He had been discomfited to think that he had been deceived by the two dropped cartridges.
A psychologically mature person looks for the positive in every situation, for no experience is entirely negative.
These recent events had given him time to reflect on the lessons of the past nine hours. Reflection was a positive thing.
Having turned right at the T intersection, descending now from the ridge line toward the lower hills and the coast, he decided that discomfiture was not the word that he needed, either.
He had been disappointed. Indeed, that was the word. He had not been disappointed in himself so much as in the universe that still, from time to time, seemed to orchestrate its energies to thwart him.
In order to engage in some constructive reflection, he needed a place where he could relax, feel at ease. Taverns, coffeehouses, and cafés had never appealed to him.
He was a home-loving man, and pretty much any home would do, as long as it met his standards of cleanliness.
After speaking with Tim on the phone at half past midnight, to inform him about the call from Hitch Lombard, Pete Santo took a two-hour nap before continuing his on-line search for a clue to the hit man’s true identity.
Shy Zoey refused to jump on the bed and sleep at his feet. She curled up on her dog bed in the corner.
Her refusal to join him was a reliable predictor that he would have some heavy-duty dreams. Perhaps the capacity to enter a dream state might be preceded by a subtle change in body chemistry that a dog, with a sense of smell thousands of times more powerful than that of a human being, could detect. Or maybe she was psychic.
Half reclining against a pile of feather pillows, Pete said, “Come on. Come up.”
She raised her head. Her soulful brown eyes regarded him with what might have been disbelief. Or pity.
“No nightmares. I promise. Has your dad ever lied to you? I’m just taking a nap here.”
Zoey lowered her head, resting her chin between her fore-legs, and her pendulous upper lips—flews, they were called—bloomed over her paws, and she closed her eyes.
“My feet smell especially fine tonight,” he said. “You’d enjoy sleeping with your snout near my feet.”
She raised one eyebrow without opening her eyes. She licked her chops. She lowered the eyebrow. She yawned. She sighed. Invitation declined.
Familiar with rejection, Pete matched her sigh and then switched off the lamp.
He went instantly to sleep. He always did. Falling asleep was never a problem. Staying asleep was a bitch.
Of course, he dreamed. Dogs know.
Birds died in flight and fell, and the severed heads of babies sang a sweet and melancholy tune, while the woman pulled out her hair by the roots and made an offering of it because she had nothing else to give.
He woke at 2:48, gasping for light, and turned on the nightstand lamp.
From her bed, Zoey watched him with a sad expression.
He took a quick shower, dressed, and made a pot of coffee almost corrosive enough to test the brewer to destruction.
By 3:22, he had settled at his desk in the study, surfing the Web, drinking the ink-black blend, and eating his mother’s walnut brownies.
His mom was a bad cook. She was a worse baker. The brownies tasted all right, but they were hard enough to break teeth.
He ate them anyway. Proud of her imagined kitchen wizardry, she had given him a large plate heaped with the brownies. He couldn’t throw them away. She was his mother.
The danger of dreams having passed, Zoey squirmed into the knee space under the desk and slept on his feet. She didn’t beg for any of the brownies. A wise dog.
The call from Hitch Lombard had clearly been triggered by Pete’s attempt to match Kravet’s many aliases to the names of officers in various local, state, and national law-enforcement databases. This time he would stay away from such authorized-access-only resources, where evidently those names triggered embedded security alerts that tagged the inquirer as a potential troublemaker.
Googling each of the names and combing through the hits promised to be an arduous task. A lot of people had the name Robert Krane, for instance.
He needed to string each name to some search words. Considering that the Krane identity and most of the others were supported by a California driver’s license and address, even though bogus, Pete added California.
Tim had been miserly with information, as though paying out any facts about the woman would only buy her greater trouble than she already had. Parrot, mug, egg, custard, pie: They were not words that made a useful search string.
Whoever the many-named man might be, logic suggested that he had been involved with some police agency, on one side of the law or the other. Consequently, Pete added police to the list, and began the search.
A few names later, at 4:07 A.M., he made the connection to the brutal Cream Sugar killings. For forty-eight hours, the police had listed one Roy Kutter, of San Francisco, as a person of interest, which had become the politically correct, tone-deaf way of saying “suspect.”
The smiling man’s portfolio of identities included Roy Lee Kutter.
As Pete pored through all the news stories that he could find on the Cream Sugar investigation, his gumshoe intuition raised alarms. He didn’t need a dog’s superior sense of smell to know this case was rotten.