Dark at the End: New Excerpt

Dark at the End by F. Paul Wilson
Dark at the End by F. Paul Wilson
Bound by his promise to Glaeken, Jack has refrained from making any direct moves against Rasalom. But things have changed so there’s nothing holding Jack in check any longer. Other changes are occurring as well.  Jack is healing at an accelerated rate—much like Glaeken did when he was immortal. This can only mean that Glaeken’s time is almost up and when he dies, Jack takes his place.

Rasalom continues to plot against the Lady. Twice she has died and returned; a third time and she will be gone, leaving a clear path for the Otherness to infiltrate this reality. But Ernst Drexler, formerly Rasalom’s go-to guy for logistical support, fears he will be left out in the cold when the Change comes. He forms an uneasy alliance with Jack, who is preparing to face their old enemy.

Meanwhile, Dawn Pickering is searching for her supposedly dead baby. The trail leads her to a mansion in a remote Long Island coastal town, where she discovers a truth she could have never imagined.

Now the stage is set for Jack’s massive assault on Rasalom. Jack knows he’s got just one shot.  But it’s not just a matter of taking out Rasalom: he also must safely retrieve Dawn’s child and minimize collateral damage. So he comes up with a foolproof plan.

But fools are always with us. . . .

 

Chapter 1

Wednesday

 

“Sir!” the cabbie said in heavily accented English as Jack slammed the taxi door shut behind him. “Those people were—”

“Drive!”

“They were there first and—”

Jack slammed the plastic partition between them and shot him his best glare. “Drive, goddammit!”

The guy hesitated, then his dark features registered the truth that he wasn’t going to win this one.

“Where?”

“There!” Jack pointed uptown, where the cab was facing. “Anywhere, just move!”

As the cab pulled into the bustling morning traffic on Central Park West, Jack twisted to peer through the rear window. The couple he’d shoved out of the way to commandeer the taxi stood at the curb, huddling against the March wind as they stared after him in openmouthed shock, but they seemed to be the only ones.

Good . . . as if anything about this could be called good.

He faced front again and checked his arm. His left deltoid hurt like hell. He noticed a bullet hole in the sleeve of his beloved beat-up bomber jacket. He reached inside, touched a reeeally tender spot. His fingers came out bloody.

Swell. Just swell. This was not how the day was supposed to go.

It had begun serenely enough: shower, coffee and kaisers with Gia, then a trip to Central Park West to drop in on the Lady. He knew certain forces wanted to rid the world of her, and had almost succeeded a couple of weeks ago. But he’d never expected an armed ambush.

After finding the Lady’s apartment empty, he’d taken the stairs one floor up to Veilleur’s floor.

Even though he could call him Glaeken now, he’d trained himself to think of him as Veilleur and Veilleur only for over a year, so shifting to his real name was going to take a little time.

He knocked on the steel door at the top step. “Hello?”

“Come in, Jack,” said a voice from somewhere on the other side. “It’s open.”

Inside he found Glaeken slumped in an easy chair in the apartment’s great room, sipping coffee as he stared out at the morning sky through the panoramic windows.

Jack slowed as he approached, struck by his appearance. He was as big as ever; his shoulders just as broad, his hair as gray, his eyes as blue. But he looked older today. Okay, the guy was old—he measured his age in millennia—but this morning, in this unguarded moment, he looked it. Jack hadn’t been by since the Internet mess. Could Glaeken have aged so much since then?

“You okay?”

He straightened and smiled, and some—but not all—of the extra years dropped away. “Fine, fine. Just tired. Magda had a bad night.”

His aged wife’s memory had been slipping away for years and was little more than vapor now. Glaeken radiated devotion to her, and Jack knew he’d hoped they’d grow old together. The old part had worked out, but not the together. Glaeken was alone. Someone named Magda might be in a bedroom down the hall, but the mind of the woman he’d fallen in love with had left the building.

“Didn’t the nurse—?”

“Yes, she did what she could, but sometimes I’m the only one who can calm her.”

Jack shook his head. Like the old guy needed more stress in his life.

“Have you seen the Lady? I stopped in to check on how she’s doing but her place is empty.”

She occupied the apartment just below. Couldn’t say she lived here, because the Lady wasn’t alive in the conventional sense.

“You just missed her.” Glaeken gestured to the window. “She went for her morning walk in the park.”

“Really? When did she start that?”

“Almost a week now.”

Jack stepped to the glass and stared down at Central Park, far below. A little to the left, ringed by winter-bare trees, the grass of the Sheep Meadow showed brown through patches of leftover snow.

“I take it she’s recovering then?”

“Still weak but feeling a little stronger every day.”

“Well, I guess after being wheelchair-bound and damn near dead a couple of weeks ago, that’s not bad.”

“Would that I had a fraction of her resilience.”

Jack scanned the park but couldn’t pick her out. Even though the park was relatively empty due to the cold, the strollers looked too small from up here. All his uncles looked like ants, as the joke went.

“Can you spot her?”

Glaeken rose and stood beside him, leaning into the sunlight as he squinted below. “My eyes aren’t what they used to be.”

“What’s she wearing?”

“One of those house dresses she favors lately. It’s yellow today.”

“That’s all? It’s freezing—” He caught himself. “Never mind.”

Glaeken shot him a quick glance but said nothing.

Right. He knew. The Lady didn’t feel cold. Or heat. Or pain. And her clothes weren’t really clothes, simply part of whatever look she was presenting to the world. She’d worn the form of Mrs. Clevenger before her near-death experience and seemed to be stuck in that form ever since.

Glaeken said, “You know how she likes to be out among her ’children.’ ”

Jack spotted a bright yellow someone strolling in the near half of the meadow.

“Got her.” He turned away from the window. “I’ll catch up to her.”

“She’ll be back soon.”

Jack shook his head. “Got things to do. Today’s the day I start looking for the R-Man.”

“You can say his name now.”

“I know. But it’s geekier to have code names for him.”

Glaeken looked at him. “Geekier?”

“Don’t worry about it. Just me running at the mouth.”

“I hope it doesn’t indicate that you are in any way taking him lightly.”

“Believe me, I’m not. I’ve seen what he can do.”

Just my way of coping, he thought as he headed for the elevator.

Glaeken’s elevator had two buttons—one for the top floor and one for the lobby. One of the perks of owning the building.

At street level, Jack waved to the doorman and stepped out onto the sidewalk. Central Park loomed just across the street. He strode to the corner of Sixty-fourth and waited for the light.

He’d developed enormous respect, maybe even a sort of love for the city’s traffic signals after they’d gone down during the Internet crash. Days of pure hell followed. They were back in working order now, though not all in sync yet. The Internet, however, still had a ways to go before it could call itself cured. The virus that had brought it down—and the city’s traffic and transit systems along with it—was still replicating itself in unvaccinated regions of the Web. Cell phones were back up and running, much to everyone’s relief, though local outages were still a problem.

He adjusted the curved bill of his Mets cap lower over his face. Working lights meant working traffic cams. Designed to catch red-light runners, they recorded tons of pedestrians every minute. Couldn’t go anywhere these days without some goddamn camera sucking off a bit of your soul.

He crossed with the green and trotted a block uptown to one of the park entrances. He stopped at the edge of the fifteen-acre field known as the Sheep Meadow. In the old days it had lived up to its name, with a real shepherd and his flock housed in what was now Tavern on the Green. Nowadays, in warmer weather, hordes of sun worshippers littered the grass. None of those on this blustery March day, making the Lady’s yellow dress easy to pick out.

He spotted her ambling along the tree line at the northern end. Gray-haired Mrs. Clevenger had been a fixture in his hometown when he was a kid, but she’d always worn black. To see her in any other color, especially yellow, was jarring.

As he started toward her, he noticed the stares she was attracting. People had to think she was a little off in the head, strolling around in this temperature wearing only a thin, sleeveless house dress.

He was about fifty yards away, and readying to call out, when four men stepped out of the trees, raised semiautomatic pistols, and began firing at her.

Jack froze for a shocked instant, thinking he had to be hallucinating, but no mistaking the loud cracks and muzzle flashes. He yanked the Glock 19 from the holster at the small of his back and broke into a run.

The Lady had stopped and was staring at the men firing nearly point-blank at her head and torso as they moved in on her. She didn’t stagger, didn’t even flinch. They couldn’t be missing.

As he neared and got a better look, she seemed to be unharmed. No surprise. Her dress was undamaged as well. The bullets seemed to disappear before they reached her.

One of her assailants looked Jack’s way. As their eyes locked the man shouted something in a foreign language and angled his pistol toward him. Jack swiveled his torso to reduce his exposure and veered left, popping three quick rounds at the gunman’s center of mass. Two hit, staggering him, felling him. He landed on his back in a patch of old snow. The third bullet missed but winged his buddy behind him. Another of the attackers shouted something and fired just as Jack changed direction. He felt an impact and a stinging pain in his left upper arm. He dropped to a knee and began pulling the trigger, firing two-to-three rounds per second in a one-handed grip. This was going to run his mag in no time, but he had only one man down and couldn’t allow any of the three still standing to get a bead on him.

Relief flooded him as they grabbed their wounded pal and ran back into the trees. He stopped firing and didn’t follow. He’d counted thirteen rounds fired. That left two in his magazine and he wasn’t carrying a spare—a fire-fight had not been on the morning’s agenda. He did have his Kel-Tec backup in an ankle holster, but that was useful only at close range.

The Lady was staring at him. “They tried to kill me.”

“Ya think?”

Jack looked at the downed attacker. His face matched the shade of the dirty snow cushioning his head. Ragged breaths bubbled the blood in his mouth. His pistol lay by his side. A Tokarev. Jack had seen a lot of Tokarevs lately—too many—and its presence pretty much nailed who’d sent him and his buddies.

The Order.

Drexler had sent out a hit team on the Lady. What was he thinking? Nothing of this Earth could harm her, and lead slugs were of this Earth. Drexler knew that. So why would he try? Unless he thought he’d come into some special super bullets.

As Jack holstered his Glock, he grabbed the Tokarev and felt a jab of pain in his left upper arm. Yeah, he’d been hit. Worry about that later. People were pointing their way, some already on cell phones. Too much to hope for one of the random phone outages here and now, he supposed. And even if they couldn’t get their calls through, they could use the phones as cameras. None of the callers was too close but that could change. Cops would be here soon.

He shoved the Tokarev into his jacket and grabbed the Lady’s arm.

“We’ve got to get you out of here.”

In the good old days—as in, before last summer—she could simply change into someone else or disappear and reappear somewhere else. But nowadays she was stuck in old-woman mode and had to travel like a human.

She wasn’t very spry but Jack moved her along as fast as she could go. He pulled his cap even lower and kept his head down, not exactly sure of where he was taking her—out of the park, definitely, but after that? Couldn’t take her straight back to her apartment. Her damn yellow dress made her stick out like a canary at a crow convention. Needed to get her off the street, then figure out what to do.

As they reached the sidewalk he saw a taxi pull to a stop before a late-middle-aged couple—he wore an Intrepid cap and she carried a Hard Rock shopping bag. Tourists. They stood a few feet ahead. He knew his next step . . .

The Lady sat beside him in the rear of the cab and stared at the blood on his hand.

“You’re hurt.”

“Yeah. Looks that way.”

Jack wiped his fingers on his jeans and moved his left arm. Pain shot up and down when he flexed the elbow. He checked the sleeve and found the exit hole in the leather. He wondered how bad it was but wasn’t about to re­move the jacket here in the cab to find out.

The Lady gently touched his sleeve over the wound, her expression sad.

“Not so long ago I could have healed you.”

“I know.” What he hadn’t known was that she no longer could. “You’ve lost that too?”

She nodded. “I have lost so much. But at least I am still here.”

“Yeah, that’s the important part. But there is something you could do that would help things.”

“Tell me.”

“Can you change into someone else?”

She shook her head. “I am not able. I am still fixed as Mrs. Clevenger.”

“Well, how about switching that dress to something less noticeable?”

“That I can do.” Suddenly she was wearing a drab cloth coat. “Better?”

“Much.”

He marveled at how he’d come to take these things as a matter of course. The workaday world remained blissfully unaware of the secret lives and secret histories playing out around them. As he once had been. As no doubt their cabbie was.

He checked their driver. The Lady was seated directly behind him and he gave no sign that he’d witnessed the transformation. If and when he did notice the coat, he’d assume she’d carried it in with her.

Jack spotted Seventy-second Street approaching. The light was green. He rapped on the plastic partition.

“Take a right up here—into the park.”

The cab turned into the traverse and headed across Central Park. Where to now? Couldn’t head straight back to Glaeken’s. He’d left a dead guy behind in the park. NYPD would be all over the area, collecting witness accounts, checking the traffic cams. They might end up talking to . . . he checked the operator license taped on the other side of the partition: Abhra Rahman . . . they might track down Abhra and want to know where he’d dropped them. Jack needed a diversionary stop.

He pictured the city. They were heading east. What was landmarky in this area of the East Side? Of course—Bloomie’s down on Fifty-ninth and Lexington. Get out there, then downstairs to the subway station, hop a downtown N, R, or Q two stops to West Fifty-seventh, then cab back to Glaeken’s.

Yeah. That would work.

He rapped gently on the partition. “Drop us at Bloomingdale’s, please.”

He’d make sure to give Mr. Rahman a good tip.

 

Chapter 2

“Who the hell are you?” Jack said as he spotted the guy sitting in the Lady’s front room.

He already had the Glock half out of its holster when the Lady touched his arm.

“A friend of Glaeken’s.”

The guy rose and extended his hand. “You must be Jack. Glaeken sent me down. I was visiting him. He’s told me a lot about you. I’m Bill.”

“Told me a little about you,” Jack said as they shook. “Very little.”

Jack had seen him from a distance before. This was the ?rst time close up. Long hair pulled back into a ponytail and a full beard, both generously salted with gray, a scarred forehead and bent nose, eyes almost as blue as Glaeken’s. The face put him in his sixties, but his lean, muscular six-foot frame seemed younger. Jack felt thick calluses on his shake hand.

Bill shrugged. “Not a whole lot to tell.”

“You were in North Carolina with him. Heard things went sour down there.”

Till that moment, Bill’s eyes had been closed off, showing nothing. The shutters opened for an instant, releasing an almost palpable flash of pain and anguish. This guy had been through hell—a number of hells. Then they snapped shut again.

“You could say that.” He cleared his throat. “Glaeken said you might need help with an injury.”

Jack checked his jacket sleeve. Blood had soaked his arm and begun to drip during their trip back from the park. He’d kept his arm inside the jacket and phoned ahead to see if Glaeken had any bandages. He knew the Lady sure as hell didn’t. Glaeken kept that nurse around for Magda, but Jack didn’t want her involved. She might recognize it as a bullet wound and get all good-citizeny and report it.

“You a doctor or something?”

He smiled. “I’ve been a lot of things, but not a doctor. I used to take care of a bunch of boys who tended to hurt themselves or each other on a regular basis.” Another, briefer flash of pain.

“Sleep-away camp?”

“Nope. Orphanage. Here . . . let’s take a look at that arm.”

Jack laid the Tokarev on the table and shrugged out of his jacket. The lining of the left sleeve was soaked. Same with the long-sleeved tee he was wearing beneath it. The tee he could throw away, but the bomber jacket was an old friend. Maybe he’d take it downtown to Tram’s place and see if he knew a way to clean it up. Couldn’t bring a bloody jacket just anywhere.

Bill was staring at the gun. “Do you carry that everywhere?”

“Not mine. But one just like it did this.”

Bill stared a moment longer, then pulled a pair of scissors from a paper bag on the Lady’s table. He pointed them toward the torn sleeve of Jack’s T-shirt.

“That’s got to go.”

“Do it.”

He cut over Jack’s shoulder and around and under his armpit, then rolled the bloody fabric down and off. He shook his head as he inspected the wound.

“That’s going to need stitches, which I can’t help you with.”

Jack took a look and winced at the sight of the open, two-inch-long gash running across the skin at the lower end of his deltoid. The bleeding was down to an ooze.

“I know someone who can.”

He hoped Doc Hargus was around and available.

“I can butterfly it until you get to him.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

The Lady helped Jack wash the blood off his arm in her shower. The barest woman’s bathroom he’d ever seen. Not one cream or lotion, not even a toothbrush or toothpaste.

“Where do you keep the towels?” he said after the blood had swirled down the drain.

“I’m afraid I don’t have any. I don’t bathe.”

Of course she didn’t. She didn’t need to. He made do with the rest of his T-shirt.

As Bill was cutting strips of adhesive tape, Glaeken walked in with Weezy. After calling Glaeken, Jack had let Weezy know about the attack on the Lady. He wanted her input.

Glaeken dropped into a chair next to Jack and glanced at the wound. He didn’t seem impressed, or even sympathetic. After all the wounds he’d no doubt collected over his thousands of years, this probably qualified as a scratch in his book.

Weezy was another story. Concern tightened her features as she went down on one knee next to him and closely inspected his arm.

She’d been a skinny, goth type during their childhood together, but on the chunky side and living in sweatsuits when she rocketed back into his life last year. These days she’d slimmed some and dressed in fitted jeans and sweaters. Her dark hair was longer and tied back in a simple ponytail. No trace of the heavy eyeliner she’d worn as a teen.

“Does it hurt?” she said, and chewed her upper lip.

“Not as much as you’d expect.”

Bill dabbed it with something that foamed the blood and made it feel like a nest of hornets was attacking it.

Jack squeezed the chair’s armrest with his free hand and said, “Okay. Make a liar out of me. Now it hurts.”

“Sorry,” Bill said. He dabbed again. “Needs to be done.”

Weezy bounced up and stepped around to the other side of the table where the Lady stood watching in silence.

“Are you all right?”

The Lady nodded. “Not the slightest harm done.”

Weezy turned to Glaeken and Jack. “I don’t get it. What happened?”

Jack didn’t get it either. He hadn’t wanted to get into the details over the phone, so he gave them a quick run-through now.

When he was done Weezy turned to the Lady and said, “It sounds as if they knew just where you’d be.”

“No question,” Jack said. “They jumped out directly in her path and began firing.” He looked up at the Lady. “Do you take the same route every day?”

She nodded. “Since I began walking again.”

Weezy turned to Jack. “You’re sure they were from the Order?”

“Sure as I can be without seeing a sigil brand.” He pointed to the Tokarev. “They used that and spoke a foreign language. Drexler seems to favor Eastern Europeans for the rough stuff and Eastern Bloc types favor Tokarevs and Makarovs.”

Glaeken frowned. “But the Order wouldn’t attempt such a thing without clearance from the One. And Rasalom knows very well that bullets can’t hurt the Lady.”

Jack grabbed the pistol and ejected the magazine, then popped out the 9mm rounds one by one.

“I thought he might be using some supersecret Lady-killing ammo, but these are standard jacketed hollowpoints.”

“If they are of this Earth,” the Lady said, “they cannot harm me.”

“Maybe he was making sure that was still true,” Weezy said. “You’ve been damaged, you’ve been weakened, you can’t change your looks, you can’t hop around the globe like you used to. If you lost those abilities, he had to wonder if maybe you’d lost the invulnerability as well. Even you weren’t sure right after you survived the Internet outage.”

Jack remembered that. To test herself, she’d thrust a knife blade into her hand. To everyone’s relief, the wound had closed instantly.

Glaeken was nodding. “Yes, that makes sense.”

“You know what this means, don’t you?” Weezy said, looking around at them. “Rasalom has been watching us, clocking and tracking our movements.”

Something tightened in Jack’s chest. He didn’t like the idea of anyone tracking him, especially Rasalom.

“Maybe not yours or mine,” he said. “But obviously the Lady’s—especially the Lady—and probably Glaeken’s too.”

Weezy turned back to the Lady. “Is there a way we can hide you?”

“I cannot hide. The purpose of my existence is to proclaim this world’s sentience.”

“Hide you from Rasalom, not the Ally.”

“I don’t think there’s a way to do that,” Glaeken said.

The Lady thought a moment. “There might be. I am not always aware of what the One and the Otherness are doing. Perhaps there is a way to keep them unaware of what I am doing. I shall consult the noosphere.”

“Consult?” Weezy said. “But you’re a part of it.”

“Not anymore. I am still its creation, but no longer its appendage, no longer directly fed by it. I must reconnect regularly now.”

She closed her eyes and stood still and silent. Utterly. She didn’t need to breathe and did so only to speak.

Bill stared at her, then at the three of them. “At the request of my new friend here,” he said, gesturing to Glaeken, “who’s some fifteen thousand years old, I’m patching up a man with no identity who got wounded protecting a woman who’s not really a woman, or at least not a human woman, and is even older than my friend, and for whom the Internet was crashed in an attempt to kill her. What happened to the world I used to know—or thought I knew? I’ve gone through bizarre, life-changing experiences, but they take a backseat to what I’ve seen and heard the past couple of weeks.”

Jack knew how he felt. Weezy had always known there was a Secret History. Jack had learned gradually, piecemeal, over a period of years, and was still adjusting. He gathered Bill had been thrown headfirst into the Secret History. And the cosmic shadow war that fueled it.

Two nameless, unimaginable forces in a tug-of-war for control of the sentient realities across the multiverse. Earth occupied one of those universes, and was one of the prizes. Not the gold medal, just another piece of the sentient mosaic the forces were assembling. Without sentience, a world had no value, and had no place in the mosaic.

That was why the Lady was so important. As the avatar of humanity’s collective consciousness, a product of the noosphere, she was the beacon that announced this world’s sentience to the multiverse. Extinguish that beacon and this world, this corner of reality would appear worthless.

Earth was currently the possession of a force known to those aware of the Secret History as the Ally—a misnomer. It didn’t have humanity’s back, cared nothing for it, and valued it only for its sentience. Indifferent was the best description, but considering the alternative, indifference seemed downright benign. The alternative was the other half of the cosmic yin and yang, the Otherness—unquestionably inimical, and determined for countless millennia to add Earth to its own mosaic. But the Otherness’s mosaic was toxic to humanity, and life here would be hell under its in? uence.

An immortal named Rasalom—or the One—led the Otherness’s forces here. Glaeken had once led the Ally’s, had once been immortal, but had been released and allowed to age. He was now as mortal as Jack. Rasalom’s lifelong mission was to clear the path for the Otherness. All that stood between him and that goal now was the Lady. Extinguish her and this world would no longer appear sentient. The Ally would discard it and the Otherness could grab it for its own.

“Welcome to the Secret History of the World,” Jack said.

“Thanks. But in this case, knowledge isn’t power.” He positioned himself closer to Jack’s arm. “Hold still. Time for the butterflies.”

Jack put a whine in his voice. “Please don’t hurt me.”

Bill gave him a concerned look, then smiled. “For a moment there you almost had me.”

“You’d be amazed how many times that has come in handy.”

“I can’t imagine how, and I’m not going to try.”

He began applying the homemade butterflies, using them to bridge the wound edges and hold them together.

Glaeken said, “So now that the One has established that the Lady still cannot be harmed by anything of this Earth, including him, what does he do with that information?”

“He looks for another way to make an end run,” Weezy said. “The Fhinntmanchca failed, so did the Internet meltdown. He’ll need to find something else.”

Glaeken frowned. “Is there anything left to find?”

Jack shrugged. “I’m sure there is. Maybe Dawn’s baby.”

“Dawn’s baby,” Weezy said, shaking her head. “She’s out looking for him as we speak.”

“Any way you can help her find him?”

“I can try, but I’m still working on the Compendium.”

The ancient Compendium of Srem . . . Weezy had been collating its uncollated data since last year and still wasn’t finished. Its pages could be photographed, but the language would no longer be English. And so, with her faultless memory, she was probably one of the few people in the world who could wrestle it to coherence.

Jack felt like standing and pacing, but had to sit still for the butterflies. “Maybe it’s not the baby. Maybe that’s a red herring to distract us while he’s looking for something else. Whatever, we need to bring the battle to Rasalom before he finds something. But I’ve got to find him first.”

Glaeken’s intense blue eyes bored into him. “And should you find him, then what?”

“He goes down.”

“Don’t be so sure. At the risk of being a bore, I must remind you once again that he will not ‘go down,’ as you put it, easily. As the One, he has been gifted with extraordinary recuperative powers. As once was I.”

Glaeken had become kind of a broken record on that.

“How extraordinary?” Bill said.

“Wounds heal much more quickly than you’d imagine.” He pointed to Jack’s arm. “A scratch like that would heal almost immediately.”

“Scratch?” Bill said. “This is no scratch.”

Glaeken shrugged but said nothing.

Jack checked out the scars on the backs of the old guy’s gnarled hands. “But the wounds still left scars?”

He nodded. “Oh, yes.”

“What about penetrating wounds?”

“They take a little longer; they take a toll, but they heal.”

“Even the heart?”

“Even the heart. My body spat out a dozen or so bullets shortly before the Ally cut me loose to join you mortals.”

“Spat them out?”

Glaeken nodded. “More of a slow extrusion, I would say, but I hope you’re getting the picture.”

He was, and not liking it.

“How about amputations?”

“The bleeding will stop quickly, the stump will scar over, but what’s gone is gone.”

“No regeneration?”

“He remains human, and humans do not regenerate limbs.”

Bill was shaking his head. “How did I get myself into this?”

“You know very well how,” Glaeken said. “Your virtue nearly killed the One.”

Jack looked at the gentle, ponytailed, hippie-type guy patching up his arm. Almost killed Rasalom?

“Really? How—?”

“That’s for another time,” Glaeken said. “How do you plan to put him ’down,’ as you say?”

Jack considered this a moment, then said, “Sounds like beheading will work.”

“It will, but you’ll never get that close.”

Jack knew that. “I guess that leaves kablooie.”

Glaeken frowned. “Kablooie?”

“Blow him to pieces.”

Glaeken’s expression became grim. “Yes, that will work. But it had better work the ?rst time. You won’t get a second chance.”

“There won’t be a first time if I don’t find him.”

“How do you plan to do that?”

“Start at the last known sighting.”

“The Osala apartment?” Weezy said.

Jack nodded. “I’ll see what the doorman can tell me and go from there.”

“Be careful.”

“You sound like Gia.”

“Neither of us wants to see you hurt. Or worse.”

That makes three of us, Jack thought.

Bill had finished his butterflying and bandaging.

“That oughta hold you until you find a real doctor.”

Jack rose and extended his hand. “Thanks. Nice meeting you. We’ll have to talk about your set-to with Rasalom sometime.”

Bill gathered up his tape and bandages. “It won’t help you.”

“Don’t be so sure.”

“I’m pretty sure. He wasn’t born yet.”

Before Jack could ask for an explanation, Glaeken rose.

“I must get back upstairs.”

They would have said good-bye to the Lady but she was still in her trance, communing with the noosphere, so they all followed Glaeken out into the hallway. Bill started for the stairway, but Glaeken didn’t follow.

“Coming?” he said, stopping and turning.

Glaeken shook his head as he pressed the elevator button. “I don’t feel up to the stairs today.”

Weezy put a hand on his arm. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Just a little tired.”

Jack looked at Weezy and read the concern in her eyes—not much different from his own, he imagined. Was Glaeken failing? He seemed as solid and steady as ever, but this was a new twist. He’d been shuttling back and forth to the Lady’s apartment via the stairs since he’d moved her in. Why couldn’t he manage them now? His heart? His knees?

He was an old man, had been aging since his mortality was restored on the eve of World War II. His chronological age was mind-boggling. But what was his body age? That was what mattered. One day his body would give out, just like everybody else’s.

And then Jack would step into his shoes—or so he’d been told.

Hang in there, Glaeken, Jack thought. You keep on being the Defender, and I’ll stay perfectly happy being the Heir.

Bill too looked concerned. “Okay. See you upstairs.”

The elevator arrived and Glaeken pressed the Lobby button once the three of them were aboard.

“Kind of a roundabout way to go,” Jack said for lack of anything better.

Glaeken sighed. “I don’t have my key.”

The building had two elevators: Glaeken’s private express to his penthouse, and the local that required a key to reach his floor.

He turned to Weezy. “How is Dawn searching for her baby?”

“She tracked down one of the doctors at her delivery—a pediatrician— and she’s haunting him in the hope the baby will show up at his office. I’m worried about her. She’s become obsessed with finding that baby. It’s all she talks about anymore.”

Motherly concern infused the descending cab. Still in her teens, Dawn had awakened Weezy’s maternal instincts. Not surprising. The girl was young enough to be her daughter—Weezy would have had to deliver her as a teen herself, but it was biologically possible. She’d never said so, but Jack suspected Weezy’s subconscious saw Dawn as the child she’d never had and most likely never would.

Glaeken turned to Jack. “Perhaps, when you’re not in active pursuit of the One, you might help her.”

Jack had been thinking about that.

Rasalom, posing as a Mr. Osala, had hidden Dawn away during her pregnancy under the guise of protecting her from the baby’s father. He arranged for prenatal care and for a skilled delivery team . . . which promptly whisked the newborn away to parts unknown.

Obviously the child—which according to Dawn had some pretty scary deformities—meant something to Rasalom. And if it meant something to Rasalom, maybe it could be used as a lure.

“Yeah. Not a bad idea.”

The elevator arrived at the lobby. Weezy said good-bye and walked toward the entrance, but Glaeken grabbed Jack’s arm and held him back.

“What do you plan for the baby if you find it?” he whispered.

Jack shrugged. “Not sure.”

“I know what you should do.”

Glaeken put his fists together and gave them a sharp twist. The meaning was clear and it shocked Jack. So unlike Glaeken . . .

“What?”

“Too much is at stake—humanity is at stake. Nothing good can come of that creature. Only evil.”

With that he turned away and pressed the button on his private elevator. Jack stared a moment, then slipped back into his bloody jacket.

“What did he say?” Weezy said as he joined her on the sidewalk.

“He wants the baby found too.”

“I’m glad he’s on board with that. Maybe then Dawn can find some peace.”

Don’t count on that, Jack thought.

 

Chapter 3

“Doctor Heinze?” Dawn Pickering said as he approached her stalking spot.

That was what she called this stretch of hallway in the McCready building where she’d set up watch on Kenneth Heinze, MD. She’d totally memorized his office hours and had made a point of being in the building whenever he was. Sooner or later Mr. Osala or Gilda or Georges would appear with the baby, bringing him in for a checkup.

Or so she hoped. He’d been present at the delivery. Didn’t it stand to reason that whoever had the baby would follow up with Dr. Heinze? At the time she’d been impressed at how Mr. Osala had totally thought of everything, even going so far as to have a pediatrician on hand to check out her newborn.

She’d had no idea what they had in mind. She’d been whisked in and out of a surgicenter she could not identify. She’d tried contacting Dr. Landsman, the obstetrician, but he said he’d never heard of her and had left instructions with his office building’s security that she was not to be allowed in. During her pregnancy he’d examined her in his office during off-hours and done his own ultrasounds. She’d thought she was getting VIP treatment but now she realized no one on his staff would remember her. And Mr. Osala and his entire household had vanished.

Her only link was Dr. Heinze. She remembered thinking of “fifty-seven varieties” when she’d first heard his name. But when she looked she found only one pediatrician named Heinze in the five boroughs. She’d thought she was on the wrong track when she learned he was a pediatric surgeon. Why had they thought they needed a surgeon? But one look at this tall, fair-haired man with the round, apple-cheeked face totally dispelled all doubts. He was the one.

But still . . . why had they wanted a surgeon who specialized in children on hand?

Maybe they’d expected problems. After the quick glimpse she got of her child she wasn’t surprised. The black body hair, almost like fur, the clawlike hands—nobody had prepared her for that. But the most horrifying of all was the tentacle springing from each of his armpits, writhing in the air like little snakes.

And then they’d said he’d stopped breathing and they whisked him away. The next day they told her he hadn’t survived. She’d been so not ready for that. And since she’d already signed him away for adoption, they never let her see him.

But she didn’t believe he was dead. Neither did Jack. And so she was totally determined to find him. She’d let her baby down before—tried to abort him, signed him away to be raised by strangers—but things had changed. She was so not going to let him down again.

Dr. Heinze walked past. He either hadn’t heard her or was ignoring her. She had a chance to back off. And maybe she should. Confronting him was dumb. She needed to hang back and keep lurking. She’d made a point of dressing in business casual and staying on the move so she looked like she belonged here. The research wing of the McCready Foundation’s headquarters had restricted access, but the outpatient areas were open to the public.

Patience, she told herself. Sooner or later the baby would show.

But her patience had thinned, and now it tore. Totally.

“Doctor Heinze?” she repeated.

He stopped and gave her a pleasant smile. “Yes?”

“Remember me?”

He stared at her with no hint of recognition. “Should I? Were you once a patient?”

“My name’s Dawn Pickering and you stole my baby.”

His eyes widened and the apple in his cheeks faded. Now he recognized her.

“I-I did no such thing.”

“Then you helped. Where’s my baby, Doctor Heinze? Where’s my baby?”

He pushed open his office door. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Please leave.”

She followed him inside.

“Where’s my baby, Doctor Heinze?” She felt herself losing it. No turning back now. “Where’s-my-baby-where’s-my-baby?” Startled looks from parents and little patients in the waiting area as her voice rose in pitch and volume. “Where’s-my- baby- where’s-my- baby?” The receptionist grabbing the phone and calling someone, had to be security, but Dawn was screaming now and it felt so good to scream. “WHERE’S-MY-BABY-WHERE’S-MY-BABY­WHERE’S-MY- BABEEEEE?”

 

Copyright © 2011 by F. Paul Wilson


F. Paul Wilson is the New York Times bestselling author of horror, adventure, medical thrillers, science fiction, and virtually everything in between. Wilson has won the Prometheus Award, the Bram Stoker Award, the Inkpot Award from the San Diego ComiCon, and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Horror Writers of America, among other honors. He lives in Wall, New Jersey.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *