The girl lay in a sopping mound. The shiny braced leg stuck out at a severe angle from the shapeless rest of her. The runt hadn't fully regained consciousness. She muttered and sighed-and belched, which disgusted Preston no less than if she'd urinated on herself.
He could feel the microscopic filth of this useless little cripple crawling on his hands, squirming in the webs of his fingers.
Reluctantly, carrying her in from the Durango, he had reached the conclusion that he wasn't going to be able to spend the time with her that he had allotted. The women and the boy in the Fleetwood were a wild card. He could no longer assume that he would have a long period of privacy here in the Mad Kingdom of Teelroy.
Now he would have to kill the Slut Queen with less finesse than planned. He no longer had the leisure for exquisitely protracted violence. In front of the girl, he would finish her friend as quickly as he might crush the skull of a rat with a shovel.
The runt would try to avoid watching. Therefore, in addition to binding her to the armchair, he would have to fix her head immovable and tape open her eyes.
Preston could risk a few minutes, only a very few, to torment the girl. Then he would leave her bound and would set fire to the maze as he backed out of the hub where she would be left to die with the TV off. No episode of Touched by an Angel to buck her up in her last minutes.
As he left, he would tell her how her brother suffered. He'd ask her where her loving God was now when she needed Him, ask her whether God was maybe off playing golf with angels or taking a
snooze. Leave her to the smoke and the flames. Leave her screaming with no one to hear but cigar-store Indians.
Over the years, assisting unto death many who were suicidal and some who were not, he had discovered first that a brute in him took pleasure in extreme violence, and second that killing the young was more thrilling than dispatching the old. Nursing homes were drab playgrounds compared to nurseries. He didn't know why this should be so; he only knew that it was true. True for him, and thus as true as anything could be. Objective truths don't exist, after all, only personal ones. As most ethicists agree, no philosophy is superior to that of any other. Morality is not simply relative. Morality doesn't exist. Experience is relative, and you cannot judge the choice of experiences that others undertake if you have chosen a different path through life. You approve my pleasure in killing the young, and I'll politely grant you the validity of your peculiar passion for bowling.
He would not have the private hours with the Hand that he had so long anticipated, which was a grievous disappointment, although a disappointment that he could bear in light of the Hole's pregnancy and considering the likelihood that she was carrying two, three, or even additional brats more twisted than the Hand and the Gimp, all needing more from the world than they could ever hope to give back. For the coming year, his work had been secured, his entertainment brilliantly arranged; and bliss would be his.
The Hand blinked blearily, regaining consciousness. While the girl remained groggy and disoriented, Preston steeled himself for the unpleasant task of carrying her to the hub of the living-room maze. He touched the runt, shuddered, plucked her off the floor, and bore her into the labyrinth, through the lobes and the binding corpus callosum of the Teelroy family's group brain as modeled here in trash and mold and mouse droppings.
Where the TV stood and the armchair waited, the floor appeared to have been the site of a voodoo ceremony: bird bones scattered in what might have been a meaningful pattern before it had been kicked apart; distributions of human hair; fingernail and toenail clippings cast like bridal rice over all else.
The Slut Queen was gone.
Tied securely, left unconscious, alone for only the twenty minutes-twenty minutes-that Preston required to drive into Nun's Lake and return with the Hand, this vodka-sucking wad of human debris had nevertheless managed to screw things up. But then screwing things up was the only talent her useless kind possessed.
She couldn't have gone far. Her car still stood in the driveway, and the keys jingled softly in Preston's pocket. She probably lay nearby in the maze, still bound and unable to move fast.
He deposited the Hand in the armchair. Cringing with disgust, he uncoupled her brace and stripped it off her leg. If she regained her wits before he returned, she wouldn't be able to move any faster than the Slut Queen.
Preston took the brace away with him. It made a good club.
AN INDIAN in a red-and-white headdress, standing proud between towering stacks of The Saturday Evening Post, offered no cigars, but brandished a tomahawk.
Clutching at the Indian, Micky pulled herself to her feet. Her ankles were so tightly bound, with less than two inches of play in the cord between them, that she could shuffle each foot no more than a fraction of an inch at a time. But she didn't have far to go.
Directly across the passageway from the chief, a bay in the maze wall featured a two-foot-diameter round table on which stood a lamp with a bell-shaped yellow glass shade. An ornate bronze finial in the form of a smiling cherub's head fixed the shade to the lamp rod. Being not merely shackled and fettered, but also hogtied, Micky initially intended to set the lamp carefully on the floor, where she could more easily work with it. On second thought, she knocked it off the table with a sweep of her arm.
The shade smashed, and the bulb, as well, casting this length of the labyrinth into deeper gloom. Shards of glass clinked and rattled as they spun across the floor.
For a moment, Micky froze, listening intently. The breaking lamp had been unnervingly loud in the tomb-still house. She half expected to hear heavy and ominous footsteps, to be set upon by a mazekeeper straight out of Tales from the Crypt, a livid-eyed undead bureaucrat dressed in ragged gravecloth and displeased about being interrupted in its dinner of dead beetles. But if a mazekeeper arrived, he would exceed in grisliness the darkest imaginative efforts of those writers who created the Crypt, for he would be Preston Maddoc, not shudder-evoking in appearance, but harboring the father of all monsters under his skin.
She stooped in the shadows, cautiously explored the floor, found a few large shards, gingerly tested them against her thumb, and found one sharp enough. When she sat on the table, it held her weight.
Sawing with the glass edge, Micky worked first on the length of cord that connected her wrist restraints to those that bound her ankles. The plastic cut easily, and because copper was a soft metal, the twist of wires at the heart of the cord offered only slightly little more resistance than did the coating.
Thankful that she had remained limber by faithfully adhering to an exercise regimen while in prison, she pulled her feet up onto the small table and set to work on the loops of cord that trammeled her. In a few minutes, her feet were free.
As she puzzled over how to hold the cutting edge of the glass to best apply it to her shackles without slicing her wrists, she heard faint noises elsewhere in the house. Then a loud thud was followed by a slamming door.
Maddoc had returned.
SLUMPED in a grungy armchair, Leilani didn't know where she was or how she had gotten here, but though her thought processes remained frayed at the edges, she had no illusions that a maid would appear at any moment with a pot of Earl Grey and a tray of tea cakes.
Wherever she might be, the place reeked more nauseatingly than the worst of old Sinsemilla's toxin-purging baths. In fact, the stink was so offensive that perhaps this was where the years and years of dear Mater's extracted toxins had been shipped for disposal
. Maybe this foul miasma was what the wizard-baby breeder would smell like if she hadn't soaked away her sins on a regular basis.
Leilani slid to the edge of the chair, stood up-and fell down. The stench at floor level motivated her to get a grip on herself and concentrate to expel the haze that clouded her thoughts.
Her brace had been taken. She'd been mere steps from freedom, from a Fleetwood full of aliens. Boy, dog, Amazons, and the prospect of great adventures without evil pigmen. Now this. The work of the doom doctor was evident. Tiny bird skulls staring with empty sockets.
THE HAND'S USELESS nature, her pathetic dependency, her deep genetic corruption squirmed across every plane and curve and crook of the steel brace as surely as bacteria swarmed the surfaces of a public toilet.
A highly educated man, Preston knew that her uselessness and her dependency were abstract qualities that left no residue on things she touched, and he knew that her genetic corruption could not be passed along like a viral disease. Nevertheless, his right hand, in which he held the brace, grew sticky with sweat, and as he roamed the maze in search of the Slut Queen, he became convinced that the girl's hideous residues were dissolving in his perspiration and that they would seep deep into him through his traitorous pores. In the best of times, his sweat distressed him no less than did the urine and the mucus and the other offensive products of his metabolism, but in this instance, as his hand grew slimier, his antipathy to the girl swelled into a ripe disgust, disgust into a bile-black hatred that should have been beneath an ethical man like him. With each step that he took into the stinking bowels of the labyrinth, however, what he knew became less important than what he felt.
HANDS STILL BOUND, holding the wicked shard of glass in front of her as though it were a halberd, Micky eased to an intersection of passageways, keeping her back against one wall of the maze, her head raised to detect faint telltale sounds. She moved as silently as fog, practicing a stealth that she had learned in childhood, when preventing further assaults on her dignity meant avoiding one of her mother's bad boys by making of herself a living ghost, silent and unseen.
She didn't pause to saw at the wrist bindings, because that tricky task would take time, at least a few minutes, and would inevitably distract her. She was St. George in the lair, and the awakened dragon prowled.
At the corner, she paused. The next passageway, meeting this one at right angles, continued both to the left and the right. She didn't want to stick her head out there and find Maddoc watching, listening. She remembered how furtively, how fox-smooth, and with what boldness he had invaded Geneva's home only a few nights ago, and she did not underestimate him.
Her assessment of him immediately proved accurate when suddenly he cursed, his voice arising no more than a few feet from her, around the corner to the left, where he had been standing without so much as a revealing inhalation. But then, in an apparent fit of uncontrolled anger, he threw down something that hit the wood floor with a hard clatter, tumbled, and came to rest in front of the termination point of the passage in which Micky sheltered, only inches from her feet: Leilani's leg brace.
If he followed the steel contraption, they would be at once face-to-face, and her survival would hinge on her ability to thrust the shard of glass into one of his eyes in the instant of his surprise. Miss, cut only his cheek or his brow, and he would take advantage of her shackled hands to finish her with brutal dispatch.
Micky held her breath. Waited. Shifted her body without moving her feet, turning to face the intersection more directly, glass at the ready.
She wore a cheap and classic Timex. No digital components. Old-fashioned watchworks in the case. She swore she could hear the tick-tick-tick of gear teeth biting time between them. She'd never heard them before, but she detected them now, so acutely heightened were her senses.
Nothing followed the clatter of the tossed leg brace. No sound of Maddoc approaching or departing. Just the expectant silence of a coiled snake, sans rattle.
Loud, her rampant heart stampeded. Her body resonated just as hard ground would vibrate with the thunder of a herd of drumming hooves.
Yet somehow she heard through the tumult of her heart, filtered it, and filtered out also the regiments of rain tramping across the roof, so she could still perceive the silence that otherwise ruled, and would perceive any sound that, however faintly, disturbed it.
Wait here another minute? Two minutes? Can't wait forever. When you stand still too long, they find you. Ghosts, living and not, must be elusive, in constant drift.
She leaned forward, exposing as little as possible, just the side of her head, one wary eye.
Maddoc had moved on. The next passageway, to the left and right, was deserted.
The brace meant Leilani had been brought here. And she must not be dead yet, because Maddoc wouldn't have removed the brace from her corpse, only from the living girl with the cold intention of further incapacitating her.
A tough choice here. Leave the brace or try to take it? Getting Leilani out alive would be easier if the girl had two legs to stand on. But the contraption might make noise when Micky tried to gather it off the floor. Besides, with her hands tied, she couldn't easily carry the brace and also effectively wield the shard of glass as a weapon.
Micky stooped and gripped the appliance anyway, because Leilani would be not only faster and more surefooted with the brace, but also less afraid. She lifted it slowly, carefully. A faint clink and a tick. She held the brace against her body, cushioning it to prevent further noise, and rose to her feet.
Because Maddoc was rain-soaked, Micky could see which way he had gone and where he'd come from. The bare wood floor, its finish long worn away, left no water standing on the surface, but sopped up each of the man's wet steps, resulting in dark footprints.
She was sure that he must have left the girl in the space with the television, where he had bound Micky herself earlier. Indeed, the trail led to that very place, but Leilani wasn't there.
BOTTLES, BOTTLES everywhere, and not one genie in them, nor any message meant to be tossed overboard at sea. They contained only the dried residue of soft drinks and beer, which in spite of its age lent a nose-wrinkling scent to the enclosed back porch.
Stabbed but not disabled, Noah had hurried around the house with Cass and found the porch door unlocked. Guns drawn, they entered.
The three-mile drive from Nun's Lake had not provided sufficient time for Noah to get a grip on the complete background of the twins. Although he knew that they were ex-showgirls fascinated with UFOs, he remained more mystified than not by their game attitude and by their armaments.
He hadn't seen either of them fire a weapon, but from the wholly professional way they handled guns, Noah felt as comfortable having Cass for a partner as he'd ever felt about any cop with whom he had partnered during his years in uniform.
The floor of the porch groaned under the weight of a bottle collection that would, redeemed at a nickel apiece, purchase a fine automobile for the owners to put up on blocks in the front yard. When Noah led the way through a narrow walk space, the bottles made fairy music.
The door between the porch and the kitchen was double-locked. One lock could easily be loided with a credit card, but the other was a deadbolt that would not succumb to a slip of plastic.