the dead town - Page 3

Finally, Mr. Lyss said, “Peaches, you actually know anyone who has a snowmobile?”

“I know a couple.”

“Like who?”

“Like the Boze.”


“Officer Barry Bozeman. People call him the Boze. He races off-road all year ’round in one or another thing.”


“He’s a policeman. He laughs a lot. He makes you feel you’re as good as anyone.”

“He’s dead,” Mr. Lyss said bluntly. “If he’s a cop, they killed him and replaced him with one of their lookalikes.”

Nummy should have known the Boze was dead, because even the police chief, Rafael Jarmillo, was one of the aliens, so every cop was for sure one of them, too. All the real police were dead and eaten like happened that morning to all the people in the jail cells next to the one from which Nummy and Mr. Lyss escaped.

Grandmama always said no matter how sad something was, still you needed to keep in mind that you would be happy again someday, and you needed to go on. Going on was important, she said, going on and being happy and doing the right thing, because if you went on long enough and were happy enough and did the right thing often enough, you would get to go live with God. But God really didn’t like quitters.

“Is he married?” Mr. Lyss asked.

“Is who?”

“Tarnation, boy, there’s so much vacant space in your head, you should rent it out, there’s a whole damn warehouse full of empty racks between your ears. The Boze! Who else would I be asking about? Is the Boze married?”

“Kiku her head blowed up, she went to quiet, and it just buzzed away, so you never know.”

Mr. Lyss made a big bony fist, and Nummy flinched because he thought Mr. Lyss was going to hit him. But then the old man took a deep breath, opened the fist, patted Nummy’s shoulder, and said, “Maybe you could say that again but in English this time.”

Puzzled, Nummy said, “That there was English.”

“Tell it to me in different English.”

“I only know but one kind of English.”

Mr. Lyss’s knobby hand fisted again, but he still didn’t hit Nummy. He brought the fist to his mouth, and he chewed on a knuckle for a while, and then he said, “What is Kiku?”

“That’s Mrs. Bozeman, like I said. She was a nice Japanese lady.”

“What did you mean—her head blew up?”

“From the bee sting on her neck. She had the allergies but never knew till the sting. Her face they say it blowed up like a balloon.”

“What do you mean—‘she went to quiet’?”

“Quiet Meadows. The cemetery up on Brown Bear Road. The bee it stung and just buzzed away, but Kiku she died, so you never know.”

“They have any kids?”

“The Boze and Kiku? No. That’s good because now Boze is dead, too, the kids would be orphans, all sad and everything.”

“No, they’d be monster food, just like the Boze was. And since he’s a cop, now a monster cop,” Mr. Lyss continued, “we’ll be able to get at his snowmobile, because he won’t be home to stop us. All the cops will be out and busy, killing people and building those cocoons like we saw and doing whatever other filthy stuff their stinking alien kind does.”

“I didn’t notice they stink,” Nummy said.

“Oh, they stink. They stink big-time.”

“Must be something wrong with my nose.”

Chapter 4

Behind the wheel of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, squinting through the snow, Carson O’Connor-Maddison—with Michael Maddison—cruised Rainbow Falls on a monster hunt.

Earlier, Deucalion had told them about the large unmarked panel trucks with midnight-blue cabs and white cargo sections, which were essentially on an Auschwitz mission, collecting citizens who had been forcibly subdued and delivering them to an extermination facility in a warehouse. They had found one of the trucks and had tried to take the two-man crew captive for interrogation by pretending also to be Victor’s creations. But the driver quickly recognized the deception, said “You’re not Communitarians,” and then it was just kill or be killed.

From an earlier encounter, Carson had learned that these newest golems of Victor’s were harder to take down than an ordinary man or woman but were far less tough than his previous creatures in New Orleans. She didn’t know why he had stopped producing the nearly invincible specimens that he had called the New Race, unless perhaps his failure to be able to control them completely and at all times had instilled in him some fear of his own creations.

Because they couldn’t think of anything else to do, they were looking now for another blue-and-white truck with the hope of being able to wound rather than kill the crew. With the right techniques of enhanced interrogation, maybe the wounded could be persuaded to reveal Victor’s current center of operations.

The snow complicated the search, diminishing visibility and hampering mobility even for a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Carson was a need-for-speed driver, but these road conditions inhibited her. Snow sucked.

Carson had been born on the Bayou. She was a Louisiana girl who loved Cajun food and danced to zydeco. As a New Orleans homicide detective, she had chased down Victor Helios, aka Frankenstein, and once he and all his creations in the Big Easy were dead, she had been able to look back on the case as an exhilarating adventure. In fact, even at the height of the terror, she and her partner, Michael, now her husband, had been having fun. Police work was always fun. Taking down bad guys was the best fun there was. Guns were fun. Even being shot at was fun as long as the shooters kept missing.

They were no longer cops, they were private investigators, and they lived in San Francisco. Here in Montana, they were out of their element and without authority, though not without big guns, including Urban Sniper shotguns that fired slugs capable of dropping a grizzly bear. A weapon of this power was its own kind of authority. In spite of the guns and even though they were decked out in ultracool black Gore-Tex/Thermolite storm suits, the situation in Rainbow Falls was so desperate that they hadn’t had a laugh since before sundown, and the prospects for fun seemed bleak.

“Snow sucks,” Carson said.

“That’s like the tenth time you’ve made that observation,” Michael noted.

“Am I boring you? Is our marriage over? Do you want some woman who has nothing but good things to say about snow?”

“Actually, boring turns me on. I’ve had enough excitement for a lifetime. The more boring you are, the hotter I get.”

“You’re just barely walking the line, Johnny Cash. Better watch your ass.”

In this residential neighborhood on the south side of town, the properties were half acres or larger. The evergreens soared so high that their upper branches seemed to weave into the substance of the sky, and the houses under them appeared, by contrast, to be smaller than they were. There was a Black Forest feeling here, the atmosphere of a fairy tale but one in which a troll with sinister appetites might appear at any moment. Seen through the tremulous curtain of densely falling snow, the lights of every home seemed to twinkle with a promise of mystery and magic.

One house, set farther back from the street than many of the others, on at least an acre, was the locus of considerable activity. Several pickups and SUVs were on the driveway, near the house, parked at different angles from one another, engines running and headlights set high. Exhaust vapors smoked up through the snow and pairs of bright beams tunneled the dark, pierced the storm, and revealed at various distances the fissured trunks of trees.

As there were no sidewalks or streetlamps in this neighborhood, Carson pulled onto the shoulder of the roadway and stopped to better assess the activity. A few people were standing around the cars, and a man—a mere silhouette from this distance—stood at the head of the front-porch steps as if guarding entrance to the house. The rooms were bright behind every window, and bustling figures could be glimpsed beyond those panes.

“Us or them?” Michael wondered.

Looking past him at the house, Carson said, “Hard to tell.”

A sharp tap on the window in the driver’s door redirected her attention. A man with a walrus mustache, wearing a Stetson and a greatcoat, had rapped the glass with the muzzle of a shotgun, which was aimed at Carson’s face.

Chapter 5

Transport #1 had not yet arrived when Deucalion stepped out of distant Russell Street and into the KBOW parking lot. Four vehicles were in a row to the left of the building, and a Ford Explorer stood in a no-parking zone near the front door. Judging by the steam rising from the falling snow that melted on the hood of the Ford, the engine of the SUV had been switched off only a moment earlier.

A single-story brick building housed the radio station. The open-girder transmission tower rose behind it, topped by an array of red lights blinking high in the snowy night.

Two men, evidently from the Explorer, approached the front door. They had their backs to Deucalion, and they were unaware of him as he approached. Most likely they were Victor’s people, the advance team leading the assault on the station’s night staff. But he could not attack them without some evidence of their intent.

In a single step, Deucalion transitioned from the parking lot to the reception lounge beyond the front door. The lights were low, and no one manned the desk.

When he heard a key in the front door, Deucalion turned on his heel and, in the same instant, pivoted out of the lounge and into a hallway beyond a closed door. He was following the men by preceding them, which required that he guess correctly where they would go next.

At low volume, ceiling speakers carried the voice of the current on-air personality. Judging by his words and by his slight Montana accent, he must be a local talk-show host in these lower-rated hours when a nationally syndicated program would be an unwise use of prime programming.

The first door on the left was labeled MEN. Deucalion stepped into the small restroom, which smelled of pine-scented urinal cakes. He didn’t switch on the light but held the door ajar an inch to watch the corridor.

He heard them enter from the reception lounge, and a moment later they passed him without glancing in his direction. They looked solemn and determined.

Farther back in the building, they opened a door, and someone in that other room said, “Warren? Didn’t you go home?”

Because the lavatory door had operated soundlessly when he entered, Deucalion boldly opened it now and stepped into the hallway behind Warren and the other man. They had already disappeared into a room farther along the corridor, where the door stood wide.

The same voice that greeted Warren became suddenly alarmed—“Hey, hey, what the hell?”—and there were sounds of a struggle.

Crossing the threshold, Deucalion saw two men dressed in snow gear—the pair from the Explorer—and a third who wore jeans and a sweatshirt. The guy in jeans sat in a chair at an L-shaped control board covered with indicator lights, gauges, and switches. One of his assailants pinned him down, pressing the right side of his face hard into the board as the other man withdrew a small pistol-like instrument from a pocket of his ski jacket. That device would no doubt fire one of those silvery, round-headed needles that robbed people of their free will and that perhaps had other functions no less horrifying.

Shadow-silent, Deucalion moved, surprising this drone from Victor’s hive. He seized the wrist of the hand that held the brain probe, broke fingers as if they were breadsticks, twisted the weapon out of the other’s grip, jammed the muzzle to the replicant’s temple, and pulled the trigger.

Face-to-face, Deucalion saw the drone’s pupils briefly widen, then shrink to pinpoints, as if the room lights had first dimmed and then flared brighter than the sun. He collapsed to the floor no less emphatically than if the glimmering bead on his temple had possessed the mass of a boulder, bearing him down.

Reacting perhaps more quickly than would the average human being but as a tortoise to a hare when compared to Deucalion, the second drone released the engineer whose face he’d slammed into the control board. He reached into a pocket of his ski jacket. His confidence came from his programmed identity, which declared members of Victor’s newest race to be superior to anyone they would ever meet. But like any ideology based upon a lie, it would fail to sustain him in a confrontation with hard reality. The hardest reality this creature would ever face was the speed and power that Deucalion had received from the strange thunderbolt that had brought him life—and far more than life—out of the storm.

Deucalion’s fists were the size of sledgehammers. Blow by brutal blow, the startled drone reeled backward. A flurry of punches to the throat crushed his airway. He gasped for breath, drew none. Without breath, he had no strength to escape a choke hold. In that vise grip, his cervical spine shattered, and he collapsed in his executioner’s embrace and then out of it to the floor, as loose and limp and inanimate as a knotted mass of rags.

The first drone was not affected by the brain probe in the same way as were real people. He remained alive, twitching on the floor like a beetle with a broken shell, clawing at the carpet with his hands. Tremors rattled his teeth together. His eyes rolled wildly in their sockets. Plumes of pale blue vapor issued from his nose, not in rhythmic exhalations but in continuous streams.

Deucalion pressed one boot against the creature’s neck, pinning it in place. He bore down harder, with all his weight, until a snap and crunch of vertebrae, like the click of a switch, put an end to the spastic movements and to the plumes of vapor.

When he looked up from the dead drone, he found the engineer regarding him with terror. Deucalion’s size was not the only thing about him that could inspire crippling fear in even the most fearless men.

With one exception, his wounds healed rapidly, and he was never ill, but the ruined half of his face, ravaged in a confrontation with his maker centuries earlier, served as a constant reminder that he, too, was ultimately mortal. Perhaps only Victor, in all the world, had the power to destroy him, but that was a theory for which he avoided seeking proofs. The broken planes and grotesque concavities of that half of his countenance were partly concealed by an intricate tattoo in many colors, administered by a monk in a Tibetan monastery. The design was genius, distracting the eye from the grievous scars and the hideous contours over which the bright inks seemed to be in constant motion. Yet still Deucalion lived mostly in the night and shadows, because anyone could see through the tattoo to the truth if they stared long enough—just as this radio engineer saw through it.

Periodically, as well, subtle pulses of light throbbed through his eyes, as if the lightning that had brought him to life remained within him, endlessly traveling the circuits of his nerves. He had seen this phenomenon in numerous mirrors over the centuries; and even he could be disturbed by it, although not for the same reason that it spooked others.