One Door Away from Heaven

Page 70

Time on her hands gave Micky time to think, and she realized that she hadn't phoned Aunt Gen. Having left Seattle at an ungodly hour, she would have awakened Geneva if she'd called from the motel. She'd intended to use a public phone in Nun's Lake, but as soon as she arrived, she'd plunged into the search for Maddoc and forgotten everything else. Gen would be worried. But if everything went well, maybe Micky could call Gen later today from some roadside restaurant in Washington State, with Leilani at her side waiting to say hello and to make some wise-ass remark about Alec Baldwin.

As dark as iron in places, the sky at last grew heavy enough to press an anxious breath from the still afternoon. The pleasantly warm day began to cool. All around Micky, trees shivered, and whispered to the wind.

Birds like black arrows, singly and in volleys, returned to their quivers in the pine branches, with flap and flutter, vanishing among the layered boughs: a reliable prediction that the storm would soon break.

Turning to follow a cry of sparrows, Micky discovered Preston Maddoc, and a club descending.

Then she was on the ground with no awareness of falling, with pine needles and dirt in her mouth, lacking sufficient energy to spit them out.

She watched a beetle crawling a few inches in front of her nose, busy on its journey, disinterested in her. The bug appeared huge from this perspective, and just beyond it loomed a pine cone as large as a mountain.

Her vision blurred. She blinked to clear it. The blink knocked loose a keystone in the arch of her skull, and great blocks of pain tumbled in upon her. And darkness.

Chapter 67

CURTIS HAMMOND SEES the girl first through his own eyes, and he doesn't perceive the previous radiance seen when she'd stood gazing out the windshield.

Then sister-become climbs the steps and pushes between his legs. Through the eyes of the innocent dog, eyes that also are peripherally aware at all times of the playful Presence, the girl is radiant indeed, softly aglow, lit from within.

The dog at once adores her but hangs back shyly, almost as she might hang back in awe if ever the playful Presence called her closer to smooth her fur or to scratch under her chin.

"You shine," Curtis declares.

"You don't win points with girls," she admonishes, "by telling them they're sweaty."

She speaks softly, and as she speaks, she glances toward the rear of the motor home.

Being a boy who has been engaged in clandestine operations on more than one world, Curtis is quick on the uptake with clues like this, and he lowers his voice further. "I didn't mean sweat."

"Then was it a rude reference to this?" she asks, patting her stainless-steel brace.

Oh, Lord, he's put his foot in a cow pie again, metaphorically speaking. Recently, he'd begun to think that he was getting pretty good at socializing, not as good as Gary Grant in virtually any Gary Gram movie, but better than, say, Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber or in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Now this.

Striving to recover from this misstep, he assures her: "I'm not really a Gump."

"I didn't think you were," she says, and smiles.

The smile warms him, and it all but melts sister-become, who would go closer to the radiant girl, roll on her back, and put all four paws in the air as an expression of complete submission if shyness did not restrain her.

When the girl's eyebrows lift and she looks past Curtis, he glances over his shoulder to see that Polly has come onto the steps behind him and, even though still one step below, is able to look over his head. She is no less formidable in appearance than she is lovely, even with her gun concealed. Her gas-flame eyes have gone ice-blue, and judging by the flintiness with which she surveys the interior of the motor home and then regards the girl, her time in Hollywood has either inspired in her a useful ruthlessness or has taught her how to act hard-assed with conviction.

In the lounge wall opposite the girl's bed is a window, to which movement draws her and Curtis's attention. Cass has found something to stand upon outside, perhaps an overturned trash barrel or a picnic table, which she has dragged near the motor home. Her head is framed in that window, and like her sister, she looks as redoubtable as Clint Eastwood in a full go-ahead-make-my-day squint.

"Wow," the girl exclaims softly, putting aside her journal and turning her attention to Curtis once more, "you travel with Amazons."

"Just two," he says.

"Who are you?"

Because he can see the girl shine when he looks through the eyes of the perceptive dog, and because he knows what this radiance means, he decides that he must be as immediately straightforward with this person as, ultimately, he was with the twins. And thus he answers: "I'm being Curtis Hammond."

"I'm being Leilani Klonk," she replies, swinging her braced leg like a counterweight that pulls her to a seated position on the edge of the sofabed. "How did you turn off the alarm and unlock the door, Curtis?"

He shrugs. "Willpower over matter, on the micro level where will can prevail."

"That's exactly how I'm growing breasts."

"It's not working," he replies.

"I think maybe it is. I was positively concave before. At least now I'm just flat. Why'd you come here?"

"To change the world," Curtis says.

Polly lays a warning hand upon his shoulder.

"It's all right," he tells his royal guard.

"To change the world," Leilani repeats, glancing again toward the back of the motor home before pushing off the bed to a standing position. "Have you had any luck so far?"

"Well, I'm just starting, and it's a long job."

With a rather different-looking hand, Leilani points to a happy face painted on the ceiling and then to hula dolls swiveling their h*ps on nearby tables. "You're changing the world starting here?"

"According to my mother, all the truths of life and all the answers to its mysteries are present to be seen and understood in every incident in our lives, in every place, regardless of how grand or humble it may be."

Again indicating the ceiling and the swiveling dolls, Leilani says, "And regardless of how tacky?"

"My mother has wisdom to sustain us through any situation, crisis, or loss. But she never said anything about tackiness, pro or con."

"Is this your mother?" Leilani asks, referring to Polly.

"No. This is Polly, and never ask her if she wants a cracker. I've agreed to eat them for her. Looking in the window there is Cass. As for my mother . . . well, have you ever been to Utah?"

"These past four years, I've been everywhere but Mars."

"You wouldn't like Mars. It's airless, cold, and boring. But in Utah, at a truck stop, did you ever meet a waitress named Donella?"

"Not that I recall."

"Oh, you'd recall, all right. Donella doesn't look anything like my mother, since they're not the same species, although Mother could have looked exactly like her if she were being Donella."

"Of course," says Leilani.

"As far as that goes, I could look like Donella, too, except that I don't have enough mass."

"Mass." Leilani nods sympathetically. "It's always a problem, isn't it?"

"Not always. But what I'm trying to say is that in her way, Donella reminds me of my mother. The fine hulking shoulders, a neck made to burst restraining collars, the proud chins of a fattened bull . Majestic. Magnificent."

"Already I like your mom better than mine," says Leilani.

"I'd be honored to meet your mother."

"Trust me," the radiant girl advises, "you wouldn't. That's why we're all but whispering. She's a terror."

"I realized we were having a clandestine conversation," Curtis replies, "but how sad to think your mother is the reason. You know, I don't believe I've told you I'm an extraterrestrial."

"That is news," Leilani agrees. "Tell me something else. . . ."

"Anything," he promises, because she shines.

"Are you related to a woman named Geneva Davis?"

"Not if she's of this planet."

"Well, she is more than not, I guess. But I'd swear you were at least a nephew."

"Should I be honored to meet her?" Curtis asks.

"Yes, you should. And if you ever do, I sure would like to be a fly on the wall."

They are socializing so well, and suddenly this last statement of hers confuses him. "Fly on the wall? Are you a shapechanger, too?"

Chapter 68

CIRCLING FROM the Teelroy place to the Slut Queen's car in the woods, Preston had time to think and to modify his initial plan.

For one thing, when he first headed east through the field of weeds and scattered corn plants behind the farmhouse, he'd begun to think of her as the Drunk. But that didn't resonate satisfactorily. Lady Liver Rot and Miss Shitfaced were both more fun, but still not right. He couldn't call her the Tits, even though it was applicable, because he'd already used that one for Aunt Janice, the mother of his first kill, Cousin Dirtbag. Over the years, he had employed all the most interesting parts of female anatomy as his private names for other women. While he was willing to reuse a name if he could couple it with a fresh and pleasing adjective, he had also exhausted most of those in conjunction with anatomical terms. Finally he had settled on the Slut Queen, based on what little but telling details he knew about her weakness for men who used her and about the likelihood: that she had been used against her will at a young age: Queens, after all, are born to their station in life.

The importance of selecting the right name couldn't be exaggerated. It must be amusing, of course, but yet it must also be an accurately descriptive sobriquet and must diminish the person sufficiently to dehumanize him or, in this case, her. These last two requirements were a matter of good ethics. To fulfill his obligation to thin the human herd and thereby preserve the world, a utilitarian bioethicist must cease to think about most of the herd as being

people like he himself. In Preston's inner world, only useful people, people with something of substance to offer humanity and with a high quality of life, had the same names as they did in the outer world.

So, kill the Slut Queen. That was his mission when he left the farmhouse, and that remained his mission when he crept up behind her through the trees. Along the way from there to here, however, he had changed his mind about how the killing should be done.

Finished with the serpent-head cane, Preston tossed it on the backseat of the Camaro.

The Slut Queen's keys were in the ignition. He used them to open the trunk of the Camaro.

He dragged her across the woodland carpet of pine needles and dead vegetation, to the back of the car.

Overlooking these deeds, the sky darkened further. A dam's breast of stacked thunderheads seemed about to crack and tumble.

Wind, a clever mimic, stampeded an invisible herd of snorting bulls through the trees, and then chased them with phantom packs of panting hounds in heat.

All the bluster and the smell of an impending storm excited Preston. The Slut Queen-so attractive and limp and still warm- tempted him.

The wildwood offered a savage bed. And the hooting wind spoke to a cruel brute in his heart.

With an honesty in which he took pride, he fully acknowledged that he harbored this brute. Like everyone born of man and woman, he couldn't claim perfection. This admission was part of the penetrating self-analysis that each ethicist must undergo to have the credibility and the authority to establish rules for others to live by.

Seldom did he have the opportunity to deal in violence without restraint. Mostly, to avoid imprisonment, he had been limited in his killing to massive injections of Digitoxin, genteel smothering, the administration of air-bubble embolisms. . . .

These recent exertions with the Toad and with the Slut Queen had been hugely revitalizing, invigorating. Indeed, Preston Maddoc was aroused.

Unfortunately, he didn't have time for passion. He had left his SUV in front of the farmhouse. A cane-clubbed body sprawled in that hat-lined bedroom, awaiting discovery. Although only the mentally impaired and carnival freaks were likely to visit the Toad for Sunday supper, Preston had to eliminate all incriminating evidence as soon as possible.

The Slut Queen qualified as yet more evidence. He lifted her and tumbled her into the trunk of the Camaro.

Some wet blood stained his hands. He scooped a wad of dry pine needles from the ground. He rolled them gently back and forth between palms and fingers, to remove the worst of the stains and to dry what would not easily wipe off.

Then behind the steering wheel, out of the woods, onto the road, to the driveway, and past the old canted tractor.

He parked beside the Durango, in front of the farmhouse.

Hauling the Slut Queen out of the trunk proved much harder than dumping her into it.

Blood glistened on the carpet where she'd rested. For an instant the sight of those stains paralyzed Preston.

He had intended to stage things to make it appear as though the woman had burned to death in the farmhouse with the Toad. Packed wall to wall with stacked paper and wooden Indians and other dry tinder, accelerated with a gallon of judiciously placed gasoline, the blaze would be so intense that not much would remain of the bodies; even bones might be largely consumed, leaving little or no evidence that it hadn't been the fire that had killed them. Jerkwater towns like Nun's Lake didn't possess the police and forensics capabilities to detect murders this thoroughly concealed.

He would have to deal with the bloodstains in the trunk. Later. He would also need to wipe down portions of the car to eliminate his fingerprints. In time.

Now, as the wind whipped up dust devils that capered in advance of him, he carried the Slut Queen in his arms: across the lawn, onto the porch, through the front door, into the lower hall, where Indians stood sentinel and offered cigars, past the wooden chiefs, smiling at the one that gave him the okay sign, and onward into the labyrinth.

In these catacombs, he chose the place. He made the necessary preparations.

Within a few minutes, he sat once more behind the wheel of the Durango.

On his return trip to Nun's Lake, wind buffeted the SUV as though urging it along, huffed and hooted at the window beside him as though offering its enthusiastic approval of the deeds that he had done and its counsel regarding what remained to be accomplished.

Considering these developments, he could no longer wait for the Hand's tenth birthday to deal with her. He couldn't even delay until they returned to the site of the Gimp's grave in Montana, though the moldering boy lay less than half a day away.

Back to Table of content

Copyright © novelfull All Rights Reserved.