Rusty glanced back at the street. Deserted. For now.
He didn’t strip off his boots, but instead reached for her hand, crossed the threshold, closed the door, and locked it. He switched off the porch lamp, the overhead foyer fixture. “Turn out the lights. Every room. They might think no one’s here, they might not come in.”
Bewildered, she said, “Who?”
He went into the living room, extinguishing lamps. “First the lights, then I’ll explain.”
“Rusty, you’re scaring me.”
“Damn it, I mean to. Hurry!”
He never raised his voice to her. She knew him too well to take offense, and she hurried off to do as he wanted.
Rusty clicked off the CD player and made his way through the gloom to stand beside an open panel of drapery, to one side of a living-room window. He had an angled view of the street, looking south, the direction from which he had come.
Nothing out there. No vehicles. No women who weren’t women. No fleeing dogs.
Corrina returned through the dark house, into the living room. “Where are you?”
“Here,” he said and guided her to stand on the opposite side of the window from him, so they faced each other with the width of it between them, neither of them directly in front of glass.
He could see her as a shadow and a pale face barely illuminated by the weak influx of the street lighting.
“I tried to call 911,” she said. “The phone doesn’t work.”
“Keep a watch north on the street. I can see south all right.”
“You’ve given me goose pimples. What am I watching for?”
“Anything. Tell me the moment you see anything. There was this woman, standing in the street, just standing there, like in a trance. She asked for help. That’s what she said—‘Help me’—and I started toward her. These people drove up in a Trailblazer, rolled down a window to ask her if something was wrong, and she killed them all.”
“Oh, my God.”
“If I’d been closer, she would have killed me.”
“Shot them?” Corrina asked. “What? She just shot them?”
Rusty’s mind was spinning, thinking what else he ought to do. “My footprints in the snow. Up the walkway and onto the porch. Maybe they won’t come right away, maybe there’ll be enough time for wind and snow to erase the prints on the walkway.”
“They? You said a woman.”
“Keep a watch on the street. Don’t look away from the street. There’s more than one. They’re killing people all over town. Outside, you can hear it. Screams. Gunshots. Something’s on fire way over to the east. But no sirens, no one seems to care, maybe because there aren’t any firemen to respond.”
“Rusty, you don’t joke like this.”
“No, I don’t.” The aroma of pot roast and parsley potatoes alerted him to another danger. “If they come in here, dinner nearly on the table, they’ll know we’re in the house. No matter where we hide, they’ll keep looking until they find us. Listen, we can’t hole up here. Our best chance might be to stay on the move, like the dogs, till we can find help.”
“I’ve never seen dogs so terrified.”
She said, “Here come some people, walking right up the middle of the street.”
Rusty couldn’t see them from his angle, but he had no illusions that the cavalry had arrived. This was moving as fast as a firefight, except this enemy didn’t need guns, and Rusty didn’t have one. “How many?”
“Eight. They’re strange.”
“Walking two by two, just staring ahead, walking but it’s almost as if they’re marching. Five women, three men. None of them dressed for the weather.”
Leaning forward, Rusty dared to expose his face at the window and peer north.
Corrina said, “What’re they, performers or something, the way they look?”
He leaned away from the window again, his heart hammering as hard as when he’d been running in the street. “They aren’t human. They … change. I don’t know what the hell they are.”
Something she saw in the behavior of the eight so disconcerted Corrina that she didn’t question his bizarre assertion.
“Come on,” he said, “quick, we gotta get out of here, back door.”
Entering the foyer behind him, jerking open the closet door, Corrina said, “I need a coat, boots.”
“Grab a coat. No time for boots.”
She shrugged into the coat as they followed the hall toward the back of the house.
Rusty led the way. As he crossed the threshold into the dark kitchen, he saw a figure looming on the back porch, a half-seen face at a window. He retreated into the hallway, pulling her with him. “One already out there.”
As they followed the hallway toward the foyer, the door chimes sounded. One of the things must be on the front porch.
“Upstairs,” he whispered, holding her hand to prevent her from falling if she lost her footing on the un-lighted staircase.
At the Snyder house, Chief Rafael Jarmillo and his Communitarian equal, Deputy Kurt Nevis, found Warren Snyder, general manager of KBOW radio, in an armchair in his living room. The wife, Judy Snyder, and their nineteen-year-old son, Andrew, sat on the sofa. They were still because they had been told to remain so, though their eyes jittered with terror. Much earlier, they should have been picked up and taken away to be rendered by a Builder at one of the warehouses. But here they were. The son appeared to have urinated on the sofa.
Judy Snyder’s replicant had been left here to oversee these three, but she was not with them. Jarmillo and Nevis found her nude in the kitchen.
The unclothed replicant was on her hands and knees beside a bucket of pine-scented cleaning solution, scrubbing the floor with a brush and various sponges. She did not look up at them but remained focused on the floor tiles.
“What’re you doing?” Jarmillo asked.
She said, “There was no neatness in this house. Where there is no neatness, there can be no order. They have a cat. It sheds enough for a dozen cats. Hair, hair, hair everywhere. I’m glad we’re killing all the cats, too. I swept and I swept, and finally there wasn’t any more hair, though I haven’t looked on the upper floor yet. I’m sure it’s a mess. I threw the litter box in the trash, it was disgusting. But cat hair and kitty litter isn’t the half of it. These kitchen counters needed to be scrubbed. Especially the grout. The grout was filthy. And the refrigerator, and now these floors. I’m going to be hours on these floors. Especially the grout.”
“Why are you nude?” Jarmillo asked.
“I noticed my clothes were wrinkled. It really bothered me. I couldn’t get my mind off my wrinkled clothes. I couldn’t think, so I stripped out of them and ironed them, made them perfect, and put them back on. But you know what happened then? I hardly did anything, just a little more sweeping, and I could see a few wrinkles in them again. I had to take them off and iron them, and then they were wrinkled again, so I took them off and ironed them and didn’t put them on, just hung them so they’ll stay wrinkle-free.”
“Does Warren have spare keys to the radio station? Where does he keep them?”
Vigorously scrubbing the soiled grout between the floor tiles, Communitarian Judy said, “I don’t know. I didn’t download the stupid bitch’s memories. I didn’t need to because I didn’t have to pass for the stupid bitch except to set her idiot son up to be nailed by his replicant.”
Jarmillo returned to the living room while Deputy Nevis remained to watch Judy scrub the floor.
“Warren,” the chief said to the KBOW general manager, “do you have spare keys to the radio station?”
Warren Snyder’s mouth trembled, but he didn’t reply.
“You can’t avoid answering me,” Jarmillo said. “You have no will to resist.”
Haltingly, Warren told him where to find the keys. They were in a utility drawer in the kitchen.
When Chief Jarmillo returned to the kitchen, Deputy Nevis was on his hands and knees, using a sponge to help Judy clean the floors.
“What’re you doing?” Jarmillo asked.
“The only virtue is efficiency,” Nevis said. “The only sin is inefficiency. You can’t have efficiency in a disordered environment.”
“Yes, but this isn’t your environment. Get up and come with me.”
The utility drawer contained numerous keys. Fortunately they were labeled, although not in a consistent fashion. In forty-nine seconds, the chief found the KBOW keys. In an organized drawer, he would have snatched them up in one second, two at most. He was tempted to put things right here, but then he closed the drawer.
Deputy Kurt Nevis, being Chief Jarmillo’s equal in all ways as a Communitarian, decided not to accompany him to the radio station but instead to remain at the Snyder residence to scrub the baseboards. He had noticed they were in urgent need of attention.
When Deucalion drove out of the parking lot at St. Bartholomew’s Abbey and immediately into the driveway at the Samples house, Carson O’Connor was waiting. She stopped him from getting out of the truck and spoke to him through the open door.
“Only three new kids here. Michael’s keeping them entertained. Big news is the radio station. There was a failed attack against the place. They’ve got an FBI agent on air with Mason Morrell, some guy named Frost. And they say they’ve got one of Victor’s new people, he’s come over to our side.”
Deucalion’s eyes pulsed with the light of another place, another time.
She remembered when first she’d seen those eyes in New Orleans, in Bobby Allwine’s apartment, where everything was black—floor, walls, ceiling, furniture. She was wary of Deucalion back then but not afraid, because she would never give anyone the satisfaction of controlling her with fear. Into her suspicion, he had said, “I’m not the monster anymore. I’m your best hope.” He was right about that, and it was still true.
Looking down at her from the driver’s seat of the truck, he said, “This is the moment, Carson. We’ll finish it now, finish him. I’ve been given … reasons to believe this is his last day. And in case he finishes me or you and Michael—or all of us—as we take him out … it’s been an honor knowing the two of you, being your friend and ally.”
She reached up and took one of his enormous hands in both of hers. At first she could not speak, only hold fast to him. But then she said, “You will not die.”
“I’m long overdue for death. Every human being is born with the dead, but I was born from the dead and don’t fear my end. I love this world, its beauty, but there could be nothing better than to die in its defense.”
“Even if you die,” she said, “you will not die forever.”
He smiled, and the light pulsed in his eyes, and he said, “Give Scout a kiss for me.”
As she stepped back, he pulled shut the door. She watched the truck turn through a half circle—and vanish.
Arriving from the Samples driveway, the truck ran over dead men lying in the KBOW parking lot. They were not men, of course, but Victor’s newest race, who encountered a far better armed resistance than they could ever have anticipated.
Getting out of the truck, Deucalion realized that these foiled attackers hadn’t been dead for a long time, only minutes. Those over whom he had not driven were covered by just a thin dusting of fresh snow.
He stepped around a corpse and into the engineer’s nest in the building. “You’ve captured one of them?”
Ralph Nettles looked up from the control board not in surprise but with a what’s-taken-you-so-long expression. “Not me. Some cranky old guy. He’s in Sammy’s office with a replicant of a cop named Barry Bozeman.”
As Rusty Billingham reached the top of the dark staircase with Corrina, the door chimes sounded again. This carillon was pleasant in ordinary circumstances, two bars of something classic, perhaps a piece of Beethoven, but now each note was icy and sinister, vibrating through him as if his spinal column were a tubular bell. Pressing the bell push twice in rapid succession, at a dark house, seemed to be a taunt if not mockery. They were saying, We know you’re in there. If you won’t come out to play, we’ll bring the game to you.
Windows opened onto the back- and front-porch roofs. But one of these killers, whatever they might be, was on each porch. No way out, only farther up.
“You’ve got an attic?” Rusty asked.
“Where’s the entrance to it?”
“The master-bedroom closet.”
Glass shattered. The sound seemed to come from the back of the house.
“Show me the way,” Rusty said. “Quick.”
He had been on the second floor of her house only once, on a tour before dinner, each of them with a glass of good red wine, the evening thoroughly pleasant, the world so normal then. She knew the house better than he did, and even in the dark with only the ambient light of the night pressing at the windows, Corrina led him along a hallway, through a door, across the bedroom, and into the walk-in closet.
As more glass shattered downstairs, Rusty closed the door behind them and fumbled for the light switch. A cord hung from a ceiling trapdoor. He pulled, and the trap swung down on heavy-duty springs, revealing a folded ladder attached to it.
Corrina said, “But there’s no way out of the attic. We’ll be cornered up there.”
Unfolding the ladder, he whispered, “I’m not going up. Just you.” He loosened the simple knot that fixed the pull cord to a ring on the lower face of the trap. “Then I’ll distract them. As far as they know, I might be the only one in the house. They get me, they stop searching as hard.”
“No. I can’t let you.”
He whispered, “Stupid for both of us to die.” He grabbed her by both shoulders, kissed her as he had never kissed her before in their determinedly platonic romance, and said, “Go. Go!”
She climbed into the darkness.
As she reached the top, he called after her, “Stay quiet.”
She turned to look down, face as wan as a wafer of unleavened bread. “Until … when?”
“Until I come back for you.”
She didn’t ask what she should do if he never returned. If she had asked, he would have had no answer.
When Rusty folded up the ladder, the counter-weighted trap swung shut with a soft thump that made him wince, closing Corrina in the attic. He tucked the detached pull cord onto a shelf above her hanging clothes.