106 to 120
“Agreed.” Larry Elderage nodded to his secretary. “It can’t be a coincidence.” He eyed the FBI notice. “Not when they name Pittsburgh.” Elderage had the feeling the center of universe was around the girl. “Potter?”
Sally shifted in her chair. “Not a word and he still doesn’t answer his cell.”
“God, I hate to send up a flare, but it’s been too long.”
“We can’t activate his tracer. Something brushed our system and we’re ten percent down.”
“I saw the flicker.” He squinted into the air. “A few minutes after this came over.” He waved the FBI notice. “This can’t be for real, yet here it is, right out of the FBI office.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Elderage.” A young assistant apologized, clearing the VCR and installing a tape. “You’re going to want to see this.” She pushed play.
“If I need salvation, I’ll go to the mountain,” he grumbled. “I don’t need Praise God, send money.”
She held a finger up, hit fast forward and froze the image.
Elderage leaned across the desk, squinting at the picture-in-picture.
“This.” She pointed with her pen. “Is our client, isn’t it?”
“Sonofabitch. Let’s hear the whole thing.”
She ejected the tape. “Nothing there to see.” She fed a second tape. “The wire hasn’t picked it up, other than a fluff piece, but the locals give us a little.”
“My head hurts. Why didn’t they just give her longitude and latitude? Maybe the nearest cross streets?” He looked as if he might throw up on the desk. “Get Potter’s tracer working! Now!” He lowered his head to the desk. “Sally?”
“Ever been to Pittsburgh?”
“Get us there as quick as you can. Charter a plane if you have to. If you can get Scottie to beam us there, even better.”
She snickered. “I’ll go pack your bag.”
Still talking into his desk: “No time, Sally. We’ll buy what we need. Get my gun out of the safe and dust it off.”
He looked up. “How much money do you have?”
“On me? Not a whole lot.”
“No, I mean altogether. What are you worth?”
“You’ve been good to me over these years and I’ve been lucky in the market. I’m comfortable. If I liked dog food, I could retire tomorrow, but another year or two, I won’t be starving.”
He eyed her top to bottom. “If we get back from Pittsburgh in one piece, marry me? Let’s get a cabin in the mountains and let the world go to hell without our help.”
She was going to joke back. “You’re serious?”
He wheeled his chair to face the window, putting his feet up on the sill. “Do you like to fish?”
“Yes, Larry, I like to fish.”
“Get us to Pittsburgh.”
A large man, stripped to his tee shirt, knocked Sally off her feet in the doorway, ignored her and slapped four-foot rolls of paper on Elderage’s desk. “Our trace won’t come up. Our board’s cooked like a Christmas goose.”
Sally waved I’m okay, pulling herself off the floor and hurried out.
“I called my college bud in California and he up-linked our codes to a satellite.” He unrolled the maps, flipped through, dropping most to the floor and pointed with a heavy finger. “Where’s that fax!” he screamed to the door. “Here. Doesn’t seem to be moving.”
Elderage narrowed his eyes at the map. “Here doesn’t seem to be anywhere. It’s a state forest.”
He was handed a fax. “Damn. Tell Ted to clean the fricking head!”
“It’s the resolution across the system, not our machine.”
“Get!” He turned to Elderage. “You’re going to have to fill it in. Look here.” He put his finger on the image. “You’d think with the billions we spent on these things, we’d get a better picture.”
“It’s good enough.” He punched out 911. They didn’t believe him. He called in a favor and sold his soul.
“Chopper doesn’t have that range,” he was told by the pilot.
“You fly it once and throw it away?”
“Well, no. We refuel.”
“Then, that’s what we’ll do.” He snapped his fingers at Sally. “Dream up a flight plan. Dig up where we can get fueled. File it in the next ten minutes.”
“How soon can we get in the air?”
“I gotta get OKs, clear it up the line for a trip like this.”
“Put Siegel back on.”
“Yes, Larry. You’re asking a lot here.”
Don’t I know it.
“Okay, this is beyond favors. How about I pay? You been watching the locals?”
She paused. She heard that line so many times before. “Okay, Larry. What do you have?”
“Did you hear the brain tumor story out of Pittsburgh?”
“Come on. We have a guy on it already. We sent a rookie. That’s what we think of that. Training, nothing more. Gotta do a lot of nonsense before you get a crack at real stories.”
He fumbled on his desk and waved a paper in the air. “Sally’s going to fax you something.”
Moments later, Siegel said: “In all these years, I’ve never known you to be a crackpot. I saw this picture on the wire. We even ran it. What’s a girl with butterflies have to do with anything?”
Larry chuckled. “Everything, Hayley. That girl you’re looking at there and the girl in the hospital are the same. And.” He paused for effect. “She’s my client.”
Sally handed him another paper. “Sonofabitch! I’m just getting this now!”
“Hayley, listen up. You did a puff piece in the paper today, I guess because you didn’t want to do any interviews.”
“I did a couple of them today. Which?”
“The child who got beat up by the crowd?”
“Oh, yeah. I don’t know where that picture came from, but no child got beat up by a crowd.”
Larry pushed papers around. “There was. Her name is Arianna Kaine – that’s with a k and an e. If you look back at that picture, the kid behind her is Larry Carleton.”
“There was no child. We checked and double-checked the hospitals.”
“Huh?” He looked at Sally. “Where is she?”
“Larry, there’s nothing here. Nothing that’ll get me to fly the helicopter across the state, anyway.”
Elderage’s mind raced. Arianna disappeared?
“Sorry. Here it is. The butterfly girl and the girl in the hospital today are the same.”
“I’ll give you first crack at the story.”
“I don’t see a story here, Larry. Nothing. The chief would laugh at me.”
He took a deep breath. “You at your terminal?”
“Never far from it.”
He dug through his papers again. “Punch in Alvin Percy.”
“Okay – yeah. The murder of the decade.”
“Hang on. I’m missing a file here.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Hang on.” Moments passed. “It’s not here.”
“What? No. It can’t be. Wait. There’s a recent letter to a local paper. Evil cult? Wait. Are you saying – ”
“And, she’s my client. Do I get a ride?”
Sheriff Randy Powers did his duty. He called the local FBI office and faxed a full report. “We don’t know how it happened, Sheriff,” he was told. “I know it came from our office, but it’s a hoax.”
I can see that. “I’m telling you. Check with the Fed judge who signed the writ. These guys took over my office. I filed the report then. I’m filing again now. I expect some kind of investigation.”
“You can trust there will be a full investigation. Our system was violated.”
Powers chuckled, tucking the newspaper under his arm. He’d enjoy reading the story to everyone at the Wilson’s. A country family dinner was planned with everyone invited, to talk about the special light passing through their lives. And, he couldn’t wait to share the FBI notice and a laugh at the joke. He knew Makaila somehow had a hand in it.
“Amazing how sometimes things can spiral out of control, ah?” Marks offered into a long silence.
“It’s all out of control.” Bixby let out a long sigh. “That’s the only reason we have a job.”
“You ever think, I mean really think about what we do?”
“That’s not what I meant. Like with this kid.”
“See, that’s a trap you’re walking right into. Harshaw showed me the file. I don’t believe in evil, but this kid’s about as close to it as you can get.”
“I believe in evil.”
“Then, you’re a fool. The kid’s just a cancer that’ll suck the life out of a free and peaceful society.”
“And, the guy we blew off the road?”
“There’s the trap. You have to draw the line. The kid’s the cancer and the guy feeds the cancer. The guy’s just as guilty as the kid. Follow? Same as that cop. In her own life, she may be as pure as Snow White. If she aids the Event Horizon in anyway, she becomes part of that Event. She may seem like an innocent victim, but it’s as if she grabbed a fork and joined the kid in heart tartare.”
“You didn’t see the file. She eats her victims.”
“And, you don’t believe in evil?”
“No, I don’t.” He punched at his cell phone, putting it to his ear. “System’s still out. This’s never happened before.”
“Doesn’t really matter.” Marks spoke almost to himself. “We have our Event Horizon defined. It doesn’t matter if we’re out of touch.”
Bixby watched the trees fly by. “I’m not sure. This whole Event has been weird. Like someone out there is over our shoulders and we’re always one step behind.”
Marks laughed. “Maybe she is the devil.”
“Then we send her back to hell.” He tried the telephone again with the same result. “Our luck she’s hiding at the carny. Lowest common denominator of humanity. They won’t give us a second look when we drag her out of there. Those people care for nothing but themselves. I wish this system would fire up.”
“I didn’t get that from the carnies I went to as a kid.”
“Think about it. Flush the society toilet hard, it all ends up at the carny. All the freaks that don’t belong with the rest of us. Not even subhuman – nonhuman.” He sneered. “If they won’t hand her over, all we have to do is buy her for ten bucks.”
“Don’t think it’ll even come to that. Big crowd, walk by and just drop her. Another senseless act of violence.”
“That’s what I’m hoping for. Damn phone. As soon as we’re off the pike, I’ll try a landline.”
Marks laughed. “I get this reoccurring dream that I show up at the office and it’s not there anymore, just empty rooms like it never existed.”
“Go on and laugh. That could happen.”
“Doubtful. The country would fall into ruin without us.”
Bixby looked hard at the younger man. “You really believe that, don’t you?”
“With what we do, I have to believe that.”
The landline was dead, too. As Bixby hung up the telephone, Marks asked: “Got any gum?”
“I didn’t think so.” He showed Bixby the newspaper.
“That’s not even my good side.”
“You don’t have a good side.”
The two men spent the next thirty minutes with the trunk open, transforming their appearances with stuffed shirts to add pounds, wigs and makeup. The two business-type men became farmers.
Seeing death close-up was new for Larry Carleton. He saw staged death in dramas on television and in the movies. He read of death in stories and in the newspaper. He passed auto accidents on the highway, learning later someone died. Since he was a child, he knew death comes to everyone. He knew death would come to him.
The closest he stood to death was watching his sister slip from the darkness of his room. Early one afternoon, Larry learned of death and of life in one sweeping moment. Personified in the faces of people, death dragged his best friend into the darkness lying beyond the temporal. He learned death hurts. He learned he was helpless in its face.
He also learned in the center of death, those bringing the death could see the light. It may have been guilt and it could be the shame, but no one told the story of the five men, surreal in perception, appearing and in the slip of minutes disappeared. When they were gone, so was Arianna.
The fibers of rational thought connecting events snapped in Larry’s brain. Unable to understand what he saw and with no witnesses confirming the images, Larry’s mind did the only thing it could do. His imagination recreated the moments in a way that made sense and fit the context of his beliefs.
Shaken to the core of the psyche, Larry’s followers, the young social outcasts, hung on every utterance of Larry’s recounting. Terri, in solemn passionate excitement, sat with a notebook in her lap, writing the words as she heard them.
“The darkness without gathered day after day, shook my faith and caused me fear. Yes, the fear you all felt that I have denied. The fear was not of them. The fear was that I lost my faith. Doubt grew within me.” He sat wide-eyed and staring, not seeing the twenty people crowded into the front room, freaks and newcomers.
“Saint Arianna didn’t fear. She never had a doubt. She did not shrink away from the darkness but rather stood tall to face it. The darkness rose up, thinking to take her down, but they didn’t take her down. In that moment of her death, as you all witnessed, five Angels sent by she-who-is-like-God came upon her and took her, up to the sky, to be with her.
“As you all saw.”
He looked into the faces until nods came from most. “The darkness thinks it’s won a victory today. We know this is not true. As she-who-is-like-God was taken from us and will return, when she does, she will bring Saint Arianna with her.” His eyes grew distant, dull. “Let’s see them kill that which is already dead.”
He sat back and spread his arms. “Saint Arianna died in the light. When you die in the light, with she-who-is-like-God, you are not dead, as she will prove when she returns. When you die in the darkness, dead is dead. This I know and everyone else will know it when she-who-is-like-God returns.
“This is not our place. I see this clearly now. When she comes, it will be to take us with her. Those that believe will follow. Those that don’t, can have their death.”
He straightened to look out the window. “I don’t know the plan, but I do know I will not be with you in that time. They will come and they will take me. You must not stand in their way. I know this is part of the plan. Standing together in her light when we are not together will be more proof.” He put his hand on Terri’s head. “Terri has the Gospel. Hold it close when I am gone.”
Terri sobbed, writing.
George McCarthy crossed the lawn of the old house. The walk and steps, stained with blood. With little effort, George found the person his niece spoke of, but didn’t know what she had in mind. George had a good practice and often spent time helping people in trouble.
He knew little about Larry Carleton, other than what Josephine said: He needs a lawyer. George heard the urgency in his niece’s voice and decided to get firsthand information. As his knuckle tapped lightly on the door, two vehicles rolled to a stop behind his car, an ambulance and a patrol car.
There are no coincidences. George tapped harder. Four men quickly hit the walk, Terri opened the door and George pushed his way in, closing the door behind him.
“Larry Carleton, please.” He presented his card to Terri.
“That’s me.” Larry stepped into the foyer.
“Don’t ask any questions right now and keep your mouth shut. For now, I’m your lawyer.”
A pounding on the door filled the foyer.
Larry’s eyes darted around. “I don’t understand.”
“I don’t either. You have to trust me.”
Terri took Larry’s hand. “They’re here.”
The pounding came again.
Larry closed his eyes and nodded.
George waved the two children back, opened the door, blocking the entrance. “Evening, gentlemen. What can I do for you?”
The foremost man, neatly dressed in a business suit, explained: “We have a temporary commitment order for Larry Carleton. Would you please step aside?”
George squared his shoulders. “May I see it?”
“George McCarthy. Lawyer for Larry Carleton.” The document was produced. Showing the papers to the police, George pointed. “The paperwork’s not complete. There’s no one requesting the order.”
“Doesn’t matter. The judge signed it. It’s a legal document.”
“Beg to differ.” He looked at the policemen. “If you wish to execute this order, you’ll have to get a supervisor down here. Until then, have a nice day.”
Before the door could close, George had a nightstick to his neck and was put against the wall. Terri screamed. Larry stood stoically with his arms across his chest.
With a deep breath and courage beyond his years, Larry raised his hand. “Release him, now. I am Larry Carleton. I will go with you.”
George was let to the floor.
One of the other children stepped out from the front room. “He lied. I’m Larry. I’ll go.”
“No.” An adult stepped in front of Larry. “I’m Larry Carleton.”
The invaders stepped forward, gathered up the real Larry Carleton and led him out the door. Terri ran toward the back of the house. Crumbled to the floor, George McCarthy fought to get air in his lungs.
George McCarthy tried to remember what Josephine said about a child disappearing in the system. After several telephone calls, he faced the same thing.
What have you gotten yourself in the middle of, Jo?
He hit dead end after dead end. Close to midnight, the telephone rang.
“Mr. McCarthy?” A young voice, panicked and out of breath.
Obviously in tears, she confessed: “I didn’t know who else to call.”
“Who is this?”
“Can you help? I know something real bad is going to happen. I don’t know what to do.”
“Who is this?”
“I followed them. They tied him up and I saw where they took him and it doesn’t look like a good place and I don’t know what to do and there’s no one else. Can you help me!”
George’s mind raced. “You’re the girl in the hall, right? You followed them, how?”
She sobbed, taking several deep breaths. “My moped. Can you help?”
“Of course, I can help.”
She erupted in a fit of crying. “Oh, thank you, thank you!”
George looked at his watch as she jumped in the car. “It’s after midnight. Aren’t your parents going to be worried?”
“That way.” She pointed. “Don’t have a father. Mom’s out turning tricks or something.”
George gulped at her frankness. “I’m sorry.”
“It don’t matter to me. Bang a left up here.”
In just over thirty minutes, they were in the middle of nowhere. She pointed to a road, barely paved, leading through the pine trees. “That goes right to it.”
George pulled to the side of the road and tried to place their location. “I don’t even know where we are. Are you sure?” He leaned in his open door.
He tried to see through the darkness, uneasy about driving down the back road if it were the only road. Headlights appeared in the distance, quickly turning into a moving van. The truck paused on the road. The passenger called: “Car trouble?”
George smiled the best he could, climbing back in his car. “Nature call, if you know what I mean.”
The man narrowed his eyes. “Yeah, I know what you mean. Shouldn’t stop out here. In this darkness, you could get run over.”
George forced a laugh. “You got that right. Thanks for stopping.” With a wave, he dropped the car in gear and sped away. In his rearview mirror, he saw the moving van turn onto the back road.
He recognized the man from the bomb squad at his niece’s apartment building.
Hayley Siegel was a local investigative reporter with a national reputation. The course and nature of her career often landed her in trouble. As luck would have it, she stumbled upon a lawyer with good gab and fast feet: Larry Elderage. When she said no to Larry, it was understood she wasn’t saying no. The powers-that-be made the rules. She needed something to put before the hierarchy to justify the use of the equipment.
Cults were old news. They were working on an in-depth series. The decision to run the proposed four-part series wasn’t firm. The board of editors did know, with the right spin and some good facts, the subject could get readers. “There might be a tie-back to the Percy murder,” was all she had to say. That got their attention, as it did hers.
“Can you hear me, Hayley?” Elderage asked, putting on the headset.
She nodded from the co-pilot’s seat. “Of course.”
“That’s too bad. Everything you hear is off the record and background. Most is just conjecture anyway.”
She nodded again. “Have you ever known me to confuse the issue with facts?”
“I can hear you.” She pulled the briefcase onto her lap and opened it as the helicopter lifted off. “You said he was the best and we never heard from him.”
Elderage eyed the report and handed it forward. “Ever heard of this guy?”
Hayley nodded. “He is the best, if you want something stolen. Your client?”
“Other way around. We hired him. Off the record now.”
“Off the record. What for?”
“I want to know what goes on in here.” He handed the initial report forward.
“What’s our next move?” Sally asked.
“We storm the place with Navy Seals.”
“Sign me up,” the pilot put in. “Been retired twenty years, but it might be fun.”
“Hush,” Hayley told him. “Larry, look up their charter. It’s a research facility. You’re slipping in your old age.”
“It has no filed charter, payroll tax records or even a telephone bill.” Sally defended Elderage.
Hayley nodded again. “I’d hire a door-cracker, too.”
“And, a good one,” Elderage added. “He never reported back and we can’t reach him.”
“You’re assuming it has something to do with the job?”
“I assume nothing.”
“What’s this have to do with anything?”
“It’s where Makaila Carleton was for eighteen months following the murder.”
Hayley shrugged. “There’s your answer, then. It’s a nut house for the violently insane. Of course, they’d want to keep a low profile. The neighbors wouldn’t want it next door.”
“There are no neighbors.” Sally leaned forward, not having to. “And, no matter what crime you commit, there has to be a court order to lock you away, even in a funny farm.”
“No court order?”
“Not a legal one,” Elderage said.
“Wait. Are you saying this child was tried and convicted without a trial?”
“No process, due or otherwise.”
“Now we’re getting a story. If she was in this institution, how’d she get to.” She flipped her notepad. “A Pittsburgh hospital.”
“You’ll have to wait for the book for all the details in-between. I got her released.”
“Why’d you get her released?”
“A client instructed me to.”
Sally leaned forward in anticipation, having wondered the same thing.
“That, I can’t say.”
Turning in her seat to face Elderage, Hayley narrowed her eyes. “You at least strongly implied you were going to give me the whole story. Should we turn this helicopter around?”
Elderage smirked. “If I knew, I might tell you. A child who lives in the woods. How’s that?”
“Fishing?” Sally asked.
“Hate to interrupt.” The pilot’s voice crackled in the headsets. “We’re on top.”
Elderage looked, not seeing anything in the darkness but for the headlights of the vehicles on the turnpike. “You gotta put us down somewhere close.”
“Is that a joke? That’s hard enough in the daytime.”
“I got a man down there dying. If he’s still alive.”
“We could all be down there dead.” He held up a map. “There’s a rest area about ten miles down.”
Hayley put a hand on his arm. “This is a big one. Choices?”
He looked at the map again. “Can any of you fly this thing?”
“Had my hand on the stick once when I was a child,” Sally offered. “I don’t think so.”
The pilot turned back, eyeing Sally then Elderage. “Military training? Workout? What kinda shape are you in? Can you swim?”
“What do you have in mind?” Elderage asked.
“God, I’m glad I didn’t wear heels.” Hayley moaned. “I’m your man, Joe.” She held her hand to Elderage. “Give me the damn box.” She pulled a knapsack from behind her seat, checked the flashlight and walky-talky.
“It’s short range.” Elderage passed the trace box.
“Simple bug-off, Siegel. I say go, you go.” He turned to Sally and Elderage. “Hang onto your stomachs. We’re going to drop fast. Ready?”
“Let’s do it before I change my mind,” Hayley said, removed her headset and undid her seatbelt. “What I do for a story.” She leaned out the open door as the helicopter dropped to the highway below.
The pilot watched for a break in traffic before he dropped, killing his lights. Twenty feet from the ground, he gave Hayley a shove and shot back upward. “If she doesn’t break a leg, she’ll be fine.” What he didn’t tell Elderage and Sally was he and Hayley spent many weekends skydiving, just for fun. Twenty feet was nothing.
Larry better be right. She hit the asphalt, crumbled to the ground and rolled to the shoulder of the highway.
“How’s the ankle?” crackled from the knapsack.
She fumbled for the walky-talky. “Not as bad as my head. I hit flat.”
Joe chuckled. “You should know better. You okay?”
“Yeah. Copy: Newscaster makes the jump, gets run over by a truck.” Standing, she tried to see into the darkness of the ravine. “The beeper’s not working.”
“Smack it on the right side,” Elderage suggested.
“There it goes. Buy some new equipment.” She left the highway and let her eyes get accustom to the darkness. Using the trees to control her descent, she worked her way in the direction the signal guided.
“Patch me through to the state police. Use the emergency band.”
His fingers danced over the controls.
“Emergency, emergency. Please stand by for information. You’re up, Siegel.”
“This is Hayley Siegel of the National News Syndicate. I need medical and rescue assistance ASAP. We have a male – how old Elderage?”
“Twenty eight,” Sally put in.
“– with multiple injuries. Head, neck and back seem okay. There’s a broken arm and leg. I’m doing what I can to control the bleeding. A lot of blood lost and he’s shocky. I’m going to start a fire and cover him up. Stand by for the exact location. Joe?”
Elderage undid his seatbelt. “Drop me down there.”
“I never thought it would turn out like this,” Cass said into the darkness.
“What?” her husband answered.
“Yeah, I know what you mean. It seemed like hell for years.”
This isn’t? “That’s not what I mean. I never thought I’d lose both our kids.”
“Huh? What about her?”
“She was a fruitcake. It’s in the genes. You can’t lose what you don’t have.”
Life moved quickly, like a blurred landscape. Cass tried to get beyond the image of her blood-soaked daughter behind glass and the Polaroid pictures telling the story but couldn’t. “That could have been us.”
“I don’t know why you do this to yourself. That’s all in the past, gone forever. We have a house, we make good money and we don’t have a problem in the world.”
She knew her husband lived in a bubble and rarely, if ever, listened to the real news programs. She couldn’t bring herself to tell him about the piece she glimpsed. She wasn’t sure it was her daughter. “Larry seemed so normal.”
“It’s the genes.”
Her children lost the contest. Ralph dreamed of the life he wanted and the children brought another life. Cass was caught in the middle, but when it came right down to it, she sided with her husband. He was there first, after all.
When she reflected, the guilt was so dark, thoughts of death filled her mind. How can a mother turn her back on her daughter? The image of the child behind the glass answered the question. Now Larry, her son, was lost to the insanity. “It’s Makaila’s fault – she drove him mad.”
Ralph leaned up on his elbow. “I don’t know why you do this to yourself. If you can’t sleep, put the TV on. Besides, it was the doctor’s fault, the drug manufacturer’s fault. We decided before we were married we were going to have one kid. She was a mistake.”
A big one.
She sighed. “Yeah, you’re right. The pill’s only ninety-six percent effective. They told me that.”
“Should have drowned her when she was a pup.”
She climbed from the bed and went to the window, staring into the darkness. “Are you on your way home?” she whispered, not getting an answer.
Ralph put a hand to his cheek. “What a strange feeling! Like someone kissed me!”
The voice wasn’t real and didn’t ask a question.
Cat giggled. “Oh, why what?” She twirled in the bright sunlight, bent over and plucked a flower, breathing deep its aroma. “Why a flower? Why the sun?” She danced more with her face to the sky. “Oh, why anything?”
It is the nature of creation.
“Beep! Wrong answer!” She laughed. “All these things because they amuse me!”
Why your actions?
“I have taken no actions.” She picked two more flowers and added them to the first. “I know what I can and can’t do. I have done nothing wrong.”
You walk close to the edge.
She laughed again. “It’s the nature of creation!”
I should bring you home.
She laughed louder. “Then who would care for your favored?”
I do not favor one over the other. You know that.
“I know nothing of the kind. Bring me home or don’t bring me home. However, as you, I will do as I wish.” She rolled her eyes to the clouds and listened in her head. I’m perfectly happy where I am, for now. She dropped to her knees next to a body concealed in the wildflowers.
“As the flowers have life and have given life, so does the body.” Her voice rained like a song. Holding her right hand high, butterflies danced in the air. “Silly little creatures come to my call and give me what you need.” She placed her butterfly hand to George Potter’s face. “Life will hold to your mortal foil a bit longer.”
George’s eyes fluttered. He saw little. The sun burned from behind Cat. “Sleep for now.” She placed a hand on his forehead. “It’s not your time.” George fell into a deep sleep and faded away. Cat smiled to herself, wondering how close to the edge that was.
“Hi, Arianna. Feeling better?”
“I need to get back.”
“Something wrong with my hosting?”
“No, my friend needs me, I’m sure.”
“Should’ve thought of that before you pulled that stunt. Makaila made me promise to keep you here.”
“I’m a prisoner?”
Cat giggled. “Not here, no.” She danced in a circle with her hands in the air. Butterflies swarmed from all directions. “Why don’t you just kick back, relax and accept that you’re going to hang around a while?”
Arianna was drawn to Cat. “How long?” She eyed the insects with amazement, using her one good eye.
“As long as it takes. Couple of days? Maybe longer.” Cat put her hands to either side of Arianna’s face.
Arianna’s eye got big, she nodded, giggled then fell to her knees crying.
“Life is good, Arianna. Life is good.” Cat sang a song with no words.
With her elbows on the raised platform, Makaila nodded. “Good turnout tonight.”
“Best we’ve seen in a long time.” Jill agreed. “Megan must be giving something away. Look at the crowd.”
Makaila lifted herself up on the stage to see over the mulling people. “Poor Madam Dandelion. They’re looking to get healed or something.”
“I thought she stopped doing that. Just the spiritual guidance stuff.”
“I’m glad she’s got something to give them.”
“Mike says you’re leaving in the morning.”
“Yep. Going back east.”
“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea.”
“Never said it was a good idea. It’s just what I’m going to do.” She sighed. “After that show I did in the hospital today, I’m sure there’s no hiding anymore, anyway. Besides, hiding is the same as being back in Hell. I’d rather be dead.”
“We all hide something.” She stroked Makaila’s hair. “What hospital?”
“Yeah, that’s different though.” She narrowed her eyes at Jill. “You’ll hear about the hospital soon enough, I’m sure. What did Megan tell you that has you so, what’s the word I want. Upset, bothered?”
“Can’t help that.”
“She said I’m pregnant.”
“Why’s that bother you? Don’t you think Mike’ll make a good father. I think he will.”
“I can’t be pregnant.”
“Of course not. Send Mike to the drug store.”
“You think I am, too?”
“I don’t think anything. I gotta go bail out the witch.”
The draw to Megan’s tent was not overpowering but hungry. “They don’t know what they’re hungry for,” Makaila told Judy as Judy came beside her.
“Yeah. They got like this hole and want it filled up.”
“Do you mean like a spiritual wanting or something?”
“There’s no hole. They just can’t see that.”
“I don’t follow you at all.”
I don’t think you can.
“They only know they want what they don’t have. I can open my subtle body and they’ll think it’s me they want, but it’s not. It’s like they’re thirsty and they’ll drink sand if I tell them that’s what they need.”
Judy pulled Makaila to a stop. “Are you saying my feelings for you are somehow not real?”
“No. I’m not saying that at all. Your love is real because you at least know me.” She waved her hand in an arch. “These people can’t love what they don’t know just as they can’t really hate what they don’t know.”
Makaila stopped among the people around Megan’s tent. She winked at Judy. “Watch this.” She spread her feet and raised her hands to the night sky. In a few moments, two-dozen moths danced around her head. The din of the group quickened into an awed silence. In the hush, they lowered to their knees.
“Life is good,” Makaila sang in an angel-like voice. “Life is very good!” She swirled her hands and moved the swarm of insects around like a cloth in the wind. “Be healed.” She sang repeatedly, briefly touching each head.
They cried out and then quietly sobbed. She turned to Judy, who knelt, too. Makaila pulled her to her feet. “Never kneel to me!”
Makaila brought the shroud over her subtle body again and released the moths. Addressing the people, she said, her arms raised to the stars: “Now, go forth and carry the word. Life is good!”
A murmur rose as people looked at each other, climbing to their feet.
“Life is good. Is that so hard to understand?”
Nods on blank faces mocked agreement. “Life is good,” someone finally said.
Makaila pointed. “Yes, it is! Now go! Tell everyone you see!”
Smiles crossed the faces as each witness experienced a personal epiphany. Makaila winked at Judy again. “Sand for thirsty people.” With Judy by the hand, she slipped into Megan’s tent. Megan at her table, stared into space with a dark expression the likes Makaila had never seen before.
Megan’s eyes moved in confrontation.
“What?” Makaila repeated with arms open.
“It’s not for me to say.”
She stamped her foot. “Dammit, say anyway!”
Judy moved to Megan, putting an arm around her. “I think you can be free to express yourself. We’re all friends, after all.”
“You know not what you do.”
Makaila laughed. “Like, no kidding! Is that all?” She fell heavily on a chair and took Megan’s hands. “Not too many weeks ago, Pops had to teach me how to use a fork! I got like no idea what habits I’m supposed to have and I got no idea what it really, really means to be a human being!” She shook her friend’s hands. “To say, You know not what you do, is like the biggest understatement I’ve ever heard.”
Megan smiled meekly putting a hand to Makaila cheek. “You really don’t know who you are, do you?”
Makaila closed her eyes. “That’s a trick question, isn’t it? Like you don’t mean who but what, don’t you?”
“Makaila’s a what?” Judy asked. “Megan, our friend is a child who has been through experiences that would kill most people. She’s a child just the same.”
Megan examined Makaila and Judy with worried eyes. “A child, yes, but I’m not sure you’re a human child.”
Makaila opened her mouth, nodding slowly.
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Judy crossed her arms over her chest. “All that spiritual nonsense is nonsense just the same. I’ve lived long enough and seen enough to know human beings are human beings. There’s no other, what do we call it? Spirits, ghosts, imps –”
“Or gods masquerading as people.”
“Just because you have not had the experiences, does not mean they are not so.”
“It’s not just my experience. It’s the experience of our culture and our society.”
Makaila put a hand on Judy’s arm. “Sit, relax. I would like to hear what Megan the witch knows. There’s lots of stuff in my experience I can’t explain by the science we know.”
Judy wanted to argue. She sat next to her two friends at the small, circular table. She sighed. “I’m grounded in science and always have been. Yet, as a scientist, I do not dismiss anything easily or out of hand. I’ll listen to what you say as long as I can maintain my own opinion.”
“Of course.” Megan nodded.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Makaila returned the nod.
“First, there are many things which we cannot see and cannot explain in the world around us.” Megan raised her ivory white hand, one finger up. With her eyes closed, she shuddered, her finger twitching. “We shall need light to find our way.” She moaned as the candle on the window wall hanging shook and floated in the air toward the table.
Judy gasped, Makaila giggled.
“Cool trick.” Makaila showed the back of her hand to the candle. The candle fell to the ground.
“Oh!” Megan responded with a start.
Makaila stretched to reach the candle and placed it in the center of the table. She squinted to remember exactly what Cat did in the church, duplicating the action over the wick. The flame sprang to life.
Judy pulled hard for air.
“How?” Megan blinked.
“How did I knock it out of the air or how did I light it?”
“You tell me. You’re the witch.”
“You disturbed my retrieving spell. I don’t know how you lit the candle. I’ve worked hard but have never been able to do it.”
Megan looked at her with stern eyes. “You really don’t know, do you?”
“No, I told you. I don’t.”
Judy found her voice. “Why did you do that? Make the candle float?” Judy wasn’t sure how the trick was done. She assumed it was a trick. However, if it were a trick, she didn’t see how Makaila could have disrupted it. The mechanics were not her interest.
“I stated the reason. We shall need light to find our way.”
“That wasn’t my question. Why didn’t you get up and get the candle? What was your reason for making it float?”
“Proof of your statement?” Makaila asked and changed the question into a statement, nodding hard. “Proof of your statement: there’s stuff we’re not going to understand.”
“You wanted to establish your authority?” Judy asked. “With a side show?”
Megan took a deep breath. “Yes. So I would be believed.”
Makaila giggled. “Save it for the tourists. If you make sense, I’ll believe you. If you want to match trick for trick, I’ll start with a brain tumor.”
“Or a miracle pregnancy?” Megan raised an eyebrow.
“Or that. But, I didn’t do that. Jill did.”
“Pregnancy?” Judy asked.
“Jill’s knocked up.”
“Miracle pregnancy.” Megan insisted.
“Aw, people have babies all the time.” Makaila waved it off. “Jill just had stuff blocking her.”
“She has no uterus.”
“Huh?” Judy’s eyes went big.
Makaila held her hands up. “We don’t have lots of time. Megan, please, give me your counsel.”
“Don’t have time?” Judy put her hand on Makaila’s.
Megan nodded, ignoring Judy. “I must first say, what you did to the people just now was not right. Healing is a process that takes time and effort, a bringing back into balance what is out of balance.”
Makaila sat back, squinted and gave Megan a grin. “Healing? I didn’t do any healing. I just told them life is good. They were looking for something and I gave them something.”
Megan bit her lip. “They all have their trials and challenges to work through. You cannot take this away simply by misleading them with a statement.”
Makaila tilted her head. “You think I lied? You think I just made that up? Life is good. I didn’t mislead nobody. I just told them the way it is in a way they’d get it.” She rolled her eyes. “I told the story in a way they’d understand it, just like you do.”
“There is a difference. I tell a story, you force a thought on them.”
Makaila closed her eyes, shaking her head slowly. “No, there is no difference. Even if I told them something that’s not true, there’s no saying what they’re thinking is true, either. Besides, I forced nothing on them. I made a statement.”
“When you revealed your Spirit, you gave them no choice but to believe whatever you said.”
“Revealed my Spirit? Oh, you mean not hiding my subtle body. Nope. If you want to look at it that way, it’s no different than you making a candle come to you before you speak. How am I wrong and you right?”
“Your responsibility is greater.”
“You are special, unlike other people.”
“I know I’m not like other people. I get that. So what?”
“You do show the Mark.”
“We tried this before. Try it again. What do you mean?”
Megan closed her eyes. “I have the Mark, but different from yours. My Mark points to a separation, which puts me in a lineage of people with knowledge beyond the veil of the temporal.”
Makaila nodded. “That’s the witch thing.”
“Yes, the witch thing. My task in this lifetime is to guide people to an understanding of life. There are many of us, working quietly to make the whole of the universe better. We, collectively, hold the knowledge of the universe and at certain times of history, times of great trouble, step forward and do what needs to be done so that humanity can continue. This, Makaila, is a cycle that repeats again and again. We prepare always for the End Time that we can create the New Earth in its rebirth. When I first saw you, I thought you were one of us, and this still may be true. Now, my understanding is different.”
“I’m not a witch.” Makaila rolled her eyes.
“How can you be so sure?”
“By your own rules. I haven’t joined the club.”
Megan agreed with a nod. “There are stories, rich in our history, that speak of others. The gods come to our realm and guide us with counsel, protection and favor. I believe you are one of these.”
“People hearing voices, seeing visions. What’s it called? Divine inspiration? I’d chalk it up to a misfiring brain before I give the credit to the gods.”
“I will not argue details with you, Makaila. I have secret knowledge and I do show the Mark. I know what I see when I look at you.”
Makaila nodded. “Fine. You got these stories from forever ago and these stories make you believe I’m like some kinda god or something. This afternoon, I read some stories in the newspaper that are so far from the truth, they might as well be on another planet.” She rolled her eyes. “Audrey said something about a flaming sword. There was no flaming sword, yet you put it in the story. I got like no reason to believe these old stories have anything to do with reality, truth or whatever.
“I just can’t base any choices on the ramblings of history guys who would have been better off in a rubber room than sitting around making up wild stories.”
“Sometimes you must weigh what you see and hear against what your heart feels. There, you will understand the truth. The difference between me and you is my task this lifetime is to guide people spiritually. Your task is to change the world.”
Makaila squinted. “Beep! Wrong answer. We all change the world. Don’t you get that?”
“My world has transformed.” Judy smiled. “Just by meeting all of you.”
“There’s this guy out there dogging my heels, who’s like changed my world big time. Is he a god, too? And, how about Mr. Elderage? Roger?”
“But, you do show the Mark. And, you can heal at will, a sure sign of divinity.”
“It’s a trick. It’s just a trick. I got like this thing where I don’t experience pain.” She put her hand into the candle flame. “My best guess is practice. I can kinda disconnect my mind from my body to such a point, my body doesn’t even get damaged.” She showed her hand to Megan. “It’s not being a god. It’s just a lot of practice.”
“Same as fire walkers.” Judy jumped in. “My father and I actually did that once on vacation.”
“Our bodies, by their nature, repair themselves. I do not speak of this. I speak of healing others,” Megan argued.
Makaila rolled her eyes again. “I kinda see it as the same thing, kinda sorta. I don’t think I can explain it, but it has nothing to do with being a god. Just ‘cause you call it a miracle, doesn’t make it one.” Her mouth dropped open. “Sure! Yeah! That’s the deal. It’s the same as the wisdom deal. You come in faith. You make the change you want, the healing. The candle don’t burn my hand because I got faith it won’t.” She sighed. “Just like you, Megan. The people come thinking they want something, but they don’t know what they want. I gave them what they needed. I made the choice for them.”
Makaila smiled her coy smile. “If I’m a god, then so are you.”
“You aren’t getting my point.”
“You’re not making a point that makes any sense! You want to tell me I’m special and different, yet the more we do this, the more everyone else is just like me.”
“Your father’s not your father,” Megan said.
“No duh. I’ve been thinking about that. I think I look more like the mailman.”
“Then you know your father’s not your father?”
“Thinking back, yeah. I think a blind guy driving by fast could see it.” Makaila tilted her head, listening. “Judy, could you please get us some coffee?”
Judy blinked at Makaila and nodded. “Of course. Would you like something to eat, too?”
As soon as Judy disappeared from the tent, Makaila stood. “I’m going to take a quick walk around.”
Megan looked toward the table. “Goodbye, my friend. May you find the peace you seek.”
Makaila wasn’t surprised she hadn’t fooled the witch. “It’s the only way.”
“There are always other ways, Makaila.”
Makaila bit her lip. “I will not pay that price.”
“Have you considered the cost of your choice?”
“No, just the cost to others.”
“Judy loves you. She would die for you.”
“I got like this damn idea everyone here would die for me. I just can’t risk it.”
“We would. Isn’t that our choice?”
“I gotta go.”
A rare tear showed in Megan’s eye. “Go, Makaila, she-who-is-like-God.”
“We’ll see.” Makaila quickly kissed Megan on the lips. She turned back at the entrance. “Please tell Judy I love her?”
“I will say the words she already knows.”
Makaila moved quickly within the crowd, taking in the overall subtle body, figuring combinations and permutations, searching choices. She found first what she knew was there, a deep focused intent and objective. Quickly isolating it, she found Marks and Bixby in the crowd, methodically searching. She realized why the carnies hadn’t spotted them.
Reading their subtle bodies, she confirmed what she thought. Anything placed in their path was at risk. She closed her eyes and reaffirmed: No one will die because of me. Running the combinations and permutations, she knew she couldn’t take the two men.
Mapping their location in her mind, she plotted an exit from the carnival grounds. With almost a radar screen overlaying her vision, she slipped quickly and quietly toward the safety of the surrounding woods. Near her goal, the unexpected happened.
“Makaila Carleton!” sang out from behind her.
Damn! I wasn’t looking at everything!
Makaila turned in the open space halfway between the carny and the trees. The two men heard, moving in her direction.
“Makaila Carleton?” Josephine McCarthy asked catching up. “I need to ask you some questions.”
Her mind raced over the new variables. The subtle body told her Josephine was a secondary target.
Mike heard her name and was on the move.
Makaila found Judy, standing with coffee in each hand, staring helplessly from the other side of the carny grounds. Megan came beside Judy. Batman had left his cage, bat in hand. Old Willy was trying to catch up to Mike.
Makaila grabbed Josephine by the shoulders and looked at her hard. “Lots of people could die here in the next few seconds!”
Josephine spun on her heel, Harshaw’s gun drawn. Marks and Bixby already had their weapons out as they breached the edge of the carnival. Makaila ran the combinations and knew Josephine was no match.
“I have no choice.” Makaila placed a hand to the back of Josephine’s head, sending her to the ground in a heap.
She spread her arms to the sky, facing her assailants and released control of her subtle body.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Makaila heard Judy’s scream over the fourteen explosions.
She felt Judy’s anguish as Judy fell into Megan’s arms. The pain of her friend was worse than the pain of fourteen bits of lead ripping her flesh from her bones. The special light, the glow that filled the space between the carny and the trees flickered, faded and was gone as Makaila’s body crumbled to the ground.
Marks shook his head, having lost his vision for less than a second. “No evil, huh?” They slipped through the darkness and into the cover of the trees.
“Not anymore. Score one for the good guys here.”
Joe gauged a long break in traffic and in deference to Elderage’s age, with the certain knowledge a man lay in trouble below, did a touch and go. Elderage hit the pavement hard and ignored the discomfort, searching for the glow of a fire in the ravine. He found Siegel and Potter.
“Bad?” He dropped to his knees.
“Give me your jacket.”
“I’m not an EMT, but I tell you, I don’t know why he’s alive.”
“Good stock, I guess.” Elderage slapped Potter’s face. “Potter! Potter! Can you hear me?”
Potter’s eyes flickered. He moaned. “Mr. Elderage? What are you doing in heaven?”
“Little chance of that. There’s been an accident –”
“Yeah, right.” Siegel bit at her words. “Shotgun went off while he was cleaning it speeding down the highway.”
“Help’s here. You’re going to be okay. You hear me?”
Potter tired to open his eyes and couldn’t. “I’m not in heaven? Makaila. Gotta –”
“You gotta just relax. You’re out of this game for now.”
Three state patrol cars wheeled into place blocking the westbound lanes. Even before the flares were set, lights raced from the western horizon.
“Damn,” Joe said into the earphones. “Hey Siegel. You got your ears on?”
“Yeah. What’s up?”
“You’re in the right place as a humanitarian, but as a reporter, you’re missing the show.”
A sleek, dark figure lighted gracefully on the highway like a giant grasshopper.
“They got the heavy guns out here. The MD-900 Explorer. It’s beautiful.”
“You and your toys, Joe.” She held a flaming branch from the fire over her head. “Do they see us?”
“Yeah. These people are good. Moves like a SWAT team. They’ll be on you in less than a minute. I suggest you and Elderage just step out of the way. I’m setting down so we can bug out.”
As Joe promised, the team arrived, working methodically. “Who knows the personal information?”
“Where do you want it?” Elderage answered the question with a question. “Transmission codes.”
“Eh, Metro General.” She gave Elderage the codes, which he repeated into the walky-talky. Joe linked Sally in and she relayed the information from Potter’s file.
Siegel and Elderage took their seats.
“They said we can’t use their pad.”
“There’s nothing we can do at the hospital anyway,” Elderage pointed out. Sally put the map on Elderage’s lap. He held it forward with a finger on a spot. “Get us here.”
Joe looked at Siegel. Siegel nodded. The helicopter lit into the air.
Siegel patched back to her office. “Pull all the background you can on helicopter rescue, Metro General Hospital, George Potter, Larry Elderage, that cult nonsense, Makaila Carleton and her brother Larry, get a full family profile.” She looked at her notepad. “And, see what you can dig up on a private facility called F-36. I want to know everything, even what they serve for lunch.”
The voice in the radio read the list back. “Is that it?”
“For now. Yeah. Get a hold of the rookie we sent to Pittsburgh. Tell him to go under the Lori Hanson story. And, tell him to follow the George Potter story. Potter is being choppered in as we speak. I have the facts on the rescue.” She dictated the basic story. “Run that by the seniors and see whether they want to go with that now or wait for the rest.”
Elderage leaned forward, even though he didn’t have to with his headset on. “Bantering my name around in the newspaper connecting me with all this puts a bull’s-eye on my forehead, you know.”
“The price of being one of the good guys. I’ve had your obit in my files for years. How’s this for a lead-in: Bumbling lawyer gets his due way in over his head.”
“It’ll sell papers and maybe even get you a fan club, but –”
“I have a fan club.”
“A real fan club. But, it won’t make my clients very happy.”
“Or me,” Sally put in.
“Here’s your story, Hayley. Lead-in: Vastly successful and popular lawyer walks away from it to marry secretary and live in the woods like a hermit.”
Sally’s face reddened, Siegel laughed. “I’m a journalist, not a fiction writer.”
“Not that kind of fiction, anyway.”
Harshaw bounced his heavy finger on the key, again. The room wasn’t small, but as the space filled up, he felt cramped. He wanted a room with a picture window. There were none. The pale green cinderblock walls stood cold and harsh. He had the door removed to steal a sense of openness. It didn’t help much.
He tapped the key again. The computer sprang to life. His system was completely lost. It could never be recovered. The system would have to be rebuilt. For now, they backdoor-ed into a fed system or two and piggybacked their hardware. He hated the idea of having to trust the technical end to others. He never bothered to learn.
An Event Horizon had never been so much trouble. While he waited for the system to come back on line, he had time to review.
Who was Larry Elderage?
He missed the wild card factor. Out of frustration and the urgent need to get something, anything done, he sent a team to the library. Makaila Marie Carleton had committed a crime fitting the usual profile. Obviously and apparent to the casual and even untrained observer, the child was a danger to society and not redeemable. The system and the laws had no recourse with such people. With the profile, an Event Horizon was defined and the recourse developed. All contingencies were accounted for and the problem was solved permanently.
In the case of Makaila Marie Carleton, permanent isolation from the society she threatened was prescribed. Harshaw double-checked the actions. The plan was perfect. Until Elderage surfaced. Elderage circumvented the system as deeply and thoroughly as Harshaw had. The hard file from the library research offered more questions than answers. Harshaw saw no connection between the child and Elderage.
“If you don’t see the answer in the current information, you must be looking in the wrong place.” Harshaw thought the connection must go back before Carleton’s release.
He called his team in the library. “I want to see everything you can find on this Alvin Percy. Everything. I want to know what his shoe size was when he was ten years old!” He held up Makaila’s picture and for the first time since the file hit his desk, asked: “Why did you kill Alvin Percy?” Harshaw knew the question would be the answer to Elderage’s involvement. The why had never been as important as the what.
He took a deep breath and reread the information on the three murdered men in Ohio. Under his hardened face, he shivered at the idea of a child murdering three grown men. Still looking for the Elderage connection, he thoroughly reviewed the files on the three men. He laughed bitterly at the irony.
“These three should have been on my desk!”
Thumbing over the pictures of the dead Alvin Percy, Harshaw entertained the idea of recruiting the child but dismissed it. “You enjoy this too much.” Still, she was young and seemed talented, committing murder without remorse.
His computer beeped twice. He downloaded the Percy files. He called the library again. “Why did he take a leave of absence the first week of every November?”
“Not in the records, sir. Other than personal family.”
Harshaw scratched his chin scanning the hierarchy. “He’s got no family?”
“No, he didn’t.”
“Everyone’s got family.”
“Let me see. Only child. His parents were only children. No, not everyone has family.”
“He was murdered when he was thirty-four? Yes. Thirty-four. So he had parents.”
“Hang on. I saw that somewhere. Here it is. Page fifteen of the file I sent.” After a pause, she went on. “Last year of college. He was very close to his parents. They were killed in an auto accident. Let me see. I hacked into his medical file. It’s here somewhere. Right. He took a year off from college, came back and finished. Depression disorder. He continued with a therapist for a bit after that. A New Age guru type. Here it is. Dr. Charles Zogg. He’s got a couple published articles on Percy.”
“Zogg. Charles Zogg.”
Harshaw closed his eyes. “What’s he write?”
“Bunch of mystic nonsense, if you ask my opinion.”
“Okay. Making some kinda sense out of this jargon, Zogg writes that Percy had difficultly in interpersonal relationships, triggered from the loss of his parents. The treatment is kinda vague and doesn’t make too much sense, having something to do with imagining a good relationship. I guess they’ll publish anything. These articles really don’t say anything.”
“Send them along anyway, and get a hold of this Zogg.”
“One step ahead of you. Zogg’s dead.”
“Yeah. How’d you guess? Says there was a break-in. Never caught the assailant or assailants.”
Harshaw nodded slowly. “When?”
Harshaw did the math. “Carleton was out of circulation.”
“That’s a stretch, Mr. Harshaw, thinking she was involved.”
“She was involved. Zogg was her therapist.” Harshaw had his connection and sent out the order to Blink Larry Carleton. Makaila did not act alone. Harshaw closed his eyes and tried to imagine the big picture. His fingers danced through the hard files.
“It’s not here,” he said into the telephone.
“Something a few days ago on an op/ed page. Some Pastor or something. Steve or something. Something about a death cult.”
After a long pause: “Stevens?”
“That’s the one. Got it? Fax it over.”
“Here it is. There was speculation that Percy was some sort of cult murder. You think Zogg, too?”
“Maybe. I want you to pull down all the unsolved murders in the past decade and see how many fit. This might be bigger than we ever imagined.”
I can’t believe I missed this!
Terri held the worn notebook to her chest. She thought of her hands holding the book and she thought of Larry Carleton, the man she loved with all her heart, holding the book. Terri, in all the months, never told Larry she was in love.
Her love didn’t matter.
She demanded nothing of him and at the age of eleven, knew she had nothing in the way of adult, romantic love to offer him. Yet, her soul burned with a fire brighter than any star in the night sky. From the core of her love, Terri planned to follow his last instructions, no matter what.
She rocked on the floor in the shallow light of a single candle. “He has not abandoned us. He said so himself and we must believe him. I feel him here, now.” She fought back the tears. “He has not abandoned us!
“She says there’s hope and that hope is a promise.” Terri held the book forward. “In her own words by Larry’s hand she says this. It is true like nothing else is.”
Their numbers fell from over forty to just a handful, Terri by far the youngest. She was happy to sit in the shadows, allowing herself to belong to a group she knew much greater than herself. She was not comfortable using her voice, a voice squelched repeatedly by her family.
She grew up an unwanted child, her mother in name only. When she found the freaks, or the freaks found her, she learned her life not unique, shared in common with many.
This was now home and this was now family. She wasn’t sure, in her immature feelings, whether she saw Larry as the father she never had or the lover she always dreamed of. To her, it didn’t matter. She found the love she always wanted. She found a pure love, demanding nothing and offering nothing, yet in the core of her feelings, she found the love that sustained her.
“She-who-is-like-God took flesh October 13 1986. She did this for you and for me and all others who see her light. In her actions and her life, she pointed a finger at the darkness. As Saint Arianna showed us, this darkness is within everybody.” Terri wiped tears on her sleeve. “This darkness is inside me and you. We must now stand in her light, Saint Arianna’s light and Larry’s light. You see: they are not gone at all but here.” She put the flat of her palm on her chest. “Within us all. I saw this when they killed Saint Arianna. I saw clearly what she-who-is-like-God meant us to see. I heard her voice. The darkness is us, and the light is us. It is up to us to choose which one of these we are going to bring forth.”
“How do we do that?”
Terri placed an index finger to her head. “We keep she-who-is-like-God, Larry and Saint Arianna here.” She repeated a palm to her chest. “And here. We think about it every moment of every day and we hold them close. We keep them in this world and through us, the light will shine.”
“You. You are a saint, too.” Nods circled the group like a wave at a baseball game.
Terri looked to the floor. “If it were only so.”
“It is. We can see what you can’t.”
“Don’t do that. I keep the book and I’ll share what I see and understand.” She shook her head. “I can’t stand with Larry and Arianna.”
“You do, already.”
“Just like you.” She held her hands out. They stood around the candle, hands joined. “Let’s pray.
“By my power, by Larry’s name, by Saint Arianna’s and in the light of she-who-is-like-God, I ask that we all find the light that is in us all, that we bring this light into the world and make the world the place we wanna live in. I ask that our light be so powerful that it casts the darkness from all who look at us. I ask that the truth be known.
“I call you, she-who-is-like-God now, that you hear my voice and plea that you hurry back.” Tears streamed down her cheeks. “That we can see and hold and feel and taste your love and your light. You see, I feel so alone I could die! Hurry back!”
The circle of children fell on each other in a mournful hug and cried together finally sitting again.
“Saint Terri. What of the people that don’t see the light, don’t believe?”
Terri rolled her eyes. “Don’t call me saint, please.” She held the book to her chest again. “The way I get it, they don’t matter. There’s like contradictions in the book. Brother Larry says that it’s us against them, but Saint Arianna was always correcting him. The way I kinda see it is like Larry is her brother, but Arianna’s touched by her like no other. That’s what makes her a saint in the first place. So we gotta like see what Brother Larry says and Saint Arianna says and we gotta look back at what we learned from she-who-is-like-God.”
Terri rocked on the floor almost in a trance. “She-who-is-like-God was like what she was, you know. It’s not like she acted against. People would make fun of her and she just ignored them and went about her business. Remember? This is like the real message, I think. It’s about our light not the darkness of others. You follow me?”
“Well, sure. I can see what you’re saying, but you’re ignoring the Act.”
“This is where Larry and Arianna disagreed. They saw the Act differently. Larry saw it as a battle between the light and the dark and she-who-is-like-God won. Arianna saw the Act as a lesson to us, not a way to do things. You follow?”
“Okay. She-who-is-like-God lived as she was, ignoring those who spoke against her ‘cause it was about her light and not the dark. She writes in the Gospel: Staying alive, staying free and taking care of each other are the only things that are important.” Terri gathered her thoughts. “If we go ‘round killing people all the time, we’re going to get locked up and not be able to care for each other, so she can’t have meant us to do that. By her words, we can only see it to mean to care for the laws of man as they are, don’t break them so we don’t get locked up.”
“Yeah. Okay. Makes sense.” The others nodded at Terri’s theology. “So why do you think she did the Act?”
“I think the obvious answer to that is in her own words. Take care of each other. We can’t know the mind of she-who-is-like-God, but I think we gotta know that She did it for us. She did it to protect us.”
“Like you and me?”
Terri smiled. “No. I mean like all of us.”
“She gave herself for us.”
“She did. That’s why I know we can do the work. We can bring the light. She-who-is-like-God thought we could.”
“It’s up to us?”
Terri nodded. “It is, by Brother Larry, Saint Arianna and the light of she-who-is-like-God, up to us.” Terri took another deep breath and let it out slowly. “Saint Arianna said that we only have to wait and she-who-is-like-God will return to give us all of life’s gifts. I believe those gifts are here, now and it is up to us, as she-who-is-like-God showed us by her life, to bring them out. I believe when she does return, it will be to take her place with us, not create the place for us.”
“How do you get off contradicting Saint Arianna?”
“I’ve been thinking ‘bout this lots.” She didn’t hesitate. “The reason is right in her life. She-who-is-like-God did not fear to leave us, trusting that we could do the work. Saint Arianna did the same, and by Brother Larry’s last words to me, he did the same. If she-who-is-like-God trusted in Brother Larry, then we should. If Saint Arianna trusted in Brother Larry, then we should. They left us, trusting in us.”
She leaned back on her hands. “If she-who-is-like-God, Brother Larry and Saint Arianna trust in us, and me, then I’m not going to question that. Let me tell you, I wanted to! I wanted to run home and hide under my bed ‘cause I’m scared!”
Her face grew hard. “But, what is my fear compared to having these three trust in you? How can I say: No! I don’t trust in me like you trust in me! How can I say such a thing to God? How dare I?”
“Saint Terri.” Muttered, followed with another: “Saint Terri,” and then again. The small group of misfits, lost in the dim light of a single candle, chanted, anointing their new saint, clearing the way for a trip to Heaven.
Terri’s own words reverberated in her mind and she accepted, finally, what was obvious. After all, no one knew the Law better than her. Larry gave himself up, much as she-who-is-like-God. Terri knew he did this to protect the others, in keeping with the Law. Now, with the Law on her shoulders, she felt compelled to free Larry, in any way she could.
The most important thing is to stay alive but following that, is to stay free.
In her panic, Terri turned to an adult. Upon reflection, she realized that was futile. Mr. McCarthy was a lawyer and may or may not be able to do anything, or even care to do anything. Terri knew her actions would be what mattered and she had she-who-is-like-God on her side.
Terri knew the walls would come tumbling down and she would be sounding the trumpet to make them fall.
Stealth in the dark of night, mind and intent, Pastor Stevens crept in long lanky strides, keeping to the shadows. In his heart, he knew his actions just and righteous. In his mind, he knew society would not understand. Society, corrupt in its being, passing laws to protect the murder of the innocent unborn, permitting profane sex and allowing the practice of ungodly religions, corrupt laws of an immoral society.
He knew society would not understand the call of God, a call compelling him to face Satan himself. Pastor Stevens felt guilt for his cowardly acts. First, not having the courage to join the others in dragging the possessed child down where she belonged and second, denying his convictions in the aftermath.
“God is outnumbered here.” He entered the yard of the evil cult, looking over his shoulder.
In the boxwoods by the porch, he examined the window, ensuring the glass would break easily. Crouching, he pulled the rag halfway from the gallon bottle, a bottle two-thirds gasoline and one-third petroleum jelly: poor man’s napalm the Internet web page called it. The house sat quiet for a long time. Stevens was sure no one home. He prayed his message from God would be heard.
He envisioned his escape route as he fumbled with the wick and flint lighter.
“What ya doing?” The soft voice came from behind and above.
Surprised, he spun around, hoping to hide the articles of his intent. A child sat on the porch step. He wondered how long she’d been there. “Nothing much. What is someone as young as you doing up so late at night?”
The child gazed at the stars for a moment. “It’s been a time lately. Couldn’t really sleep so I thought I’d sit out here, watch the stars and think about God. You see, I do that lots: watch the stars and think about God. Do you think about God much?” She opened a notebook and scribbled a bit, looked at what she wrote while biting her pen and closed the book.
Stevens pushed the instrument of the child’s death into the bushes with his foot and sat on the lower steps, looking up at the child. “I do, think about God a lot.”
The child smiled softly and met his eyes. “Do you think God thinks about us much. Like right now?”
“God loves us. Don’t you think about those you love all the time?”
“I guess.” Terri stared off into the night. “Maybe not as much as I should. Like, I trust Larry to do the right thing so, no, I don’t like hawk on him. God trusts us to do the right thing, right?”
“God did give us freewill.”
“Certainly. God allows us the freedom to choose. Do you know the story of Adam and Eve?”
Terri looked at him sideways. “You must think I’m a little kid! Of course, I know the story of Adam and Eve!”
“Well then. You see, God allowed Adam and Eve to do anything they wished, even if it was against His will.”
“Oh. Actually, I was thinking ‘bout that story the other day. It’s bogus.”
Steven’s narrowed his eyes. “Bogus?”
“Yeah. Like fake. Like it makes no sense.”
“I know what bogus means! What do you mean, it’s bogus?”
Terri blinked at the Pastor’s reaction and explained anyway. “Like say I’m your daughter and you got like this box.” She held her hands up. “About this big.” She waited for a nod. “Now, say you’re going to cut out for the day and leave me alone in the house. You put the box on the table and you say: whatever you do, don’t look in this box! then you go away. Like, I’m going to be in that box before your tires clear the driveway! If I know this and you know this, then are we like that much smarter than God?”
“The lesson is that we are to obey God.”
“That story just doesn’t make sense. It’s bogus. I’m going to ask her about it when she gets back. I really don’t think that book applies.”
“The Bible, silly. Isn’t that what we’re talking about?”
“We’re talking about God.”
Terri laughed subtly. “I’m talking about God. You’re talking about the Bible.” Terri pointed to the sky. “There’s the Big Dipper. That’s too cool! I think she like knows what we’re doing, but isn’t watching us. If that makes sense. She trusts us to do the right thing, or she wouldn’t have gone away.”
“I’m afraid you have been terribly misled, child. I think I’d better have a talk with your parents. Are they here?”
Terri sensed his hostility but trusted in her godly protection. “I’m like sitting here, watching the stars and thinking about God. I’ve been nothing but polite and pleasant to you. You’re creeping around my bushes with a large jug of something I don’t believe is too good and you get mad at me? I think maybe you’d better come sit beside me, watch the stars a while and really, really think about God.”
Stevens’ mouth worked, no words came out.
“Or, do you think I should just call the cops? Answer it this way: if you were my dad and I was sitting here and some guy was creeping ‘round the house in the middle of the night, what would you have me do?”
Stevens climbed the steps and sat next to the child. He raised his eyes to the sky. “Where was that Big Dipper?”
Terri pointed as she sniffed the air. The faint odor of gasoline told her all she needed to know. She thought back over all she learned in words and observations. She knew her faith was being tested. “Don’t go ‘way. I got something I need to show you.”
She returned and stood on the step facing Stevens, working between his knees, her head just above his. “Hold your hands up.”
Too quickly for him to respond, she ripped her shirt open, put her hands in his along with the eight-inch sacred knife Arianna used. She locked eyes with the pastor and leaned on the blade, sending a trickle of blood down her chest and a soft moan from her lips.
“If you feel you must murder me, do it now, looking in my eyes.”
Stevens couldn’t move as Terri pulled the knife deeper.
“Just tell me your name so I can tell God who sent me.”
Stevens shook uncontrollably. He couldn’t pull away. His religious conviction collided head-on with his humanity. Terri pulled sharply and yelped. Blood trickled in a steady stream. She did not withdraw nor did she break eye contact.
“You can murder hiding in the bushes, but you can’t do the same looking me in my eyes? Is that it? How ‘bout I turn my back and you can cut my throat from behind?” She yanked hard again. “Or should I just do it for you?”
Stevens closed his eyes, unable to pull away.
Terri released her grip. The knife danced on the steps. She wiped her hands on her chest and put her palms to the pastor’s face, fingers dabbing in his mouth. With her eyes narrowed and head tilted back, she told him: “The taste of my blood. Is this what you really want? Know this: whatever your thoughts were, whatever your intention was, I forgive you.”
Stevens shattered inside like a rubber ball at absolute zero crashing against a brick wall. He put his face in his hands and cried. She patted his head like someone might a puppy. “There, there. She forgives you, too. Everything will be okay if only we let it. If you like, I’ll tell you all about she-who-is-like-God and share more of her light with you.”
“Terri, come quick! You gotta see this!” The voice came from the doorway. Working her now button-less shirt over her naked chest, she hurried inside and followed to the back room where they kept the television. The small black and white unit didn’t receive well and only got three and a half channels. Terri caught the middle of the news story.
A tear ran down her cheek. “I gotta get there.”
The answer came from the doorway when Pastor Stevens said: “I’ll take you.”
Terri nodded without turning from the television. “Of course. We’ll leave right away. While I’m gone, you pray and hold the light. May she be with you.” She turned to the almost incoherent pastor. “On the ride, I can tell you all ‘bout she-who-is-like-God.”
Terri exchanged hugs with her friends, found the notebook and took Stevens’ hand. She looked up. “I’m Terri.”
Stevens’ title caught in is throat. “Steve. Steve Stevens.” As they reached the front steps, Stevens began: “I want to explain –”
Terri broke him off curtly. “Mr. Stevens, you don’t have to explain nothing to me. I know all I need to know. You came to kill me and couldn’t when you got a hard look at what you were about to do. If you gotta confess or something like that, go to church. In our way, you’re forgiven already.”
Once in the car, Terri fished in her pocket and came out with two wrinkled bills. “It’d be cool if you stop at a stop-and-rob. I really, really need a soda or something.”
This saint work is thirsty business.
Stevens tried to get his mind around the past hour and couldn’t. Never since he hit the age of reason had he doubted himself, his thoughtful actions or his beliefs. His faith always stood a steady, unchanging rock in a sea of life in flux. He could see his feet but couldn’t seem to get them on the ground. Never, in all his fifty-two years, had he felt anything as pure and complete as this child. He was compelled to serve.
He found a twenty-four hour store, bought sandwiches, coffee for himself and soda for Terri, then settled into the night rushing past the windows and the flashing white lines of the highway. As his temporal form traveled the road to a place over the next hill, he began an inward journey.
“Terri, please, now tell me.”
Terri quickened from her meditation and sat on her leg to face the pastor. “There was, not that long ago, a girl born that was like no other –”
Marks rubbed his right palm hard on his pants. “I have a bad feeling. I’ve got this overwhelming desire to wash my hands.”
“We’ve passed the main Event Horizon,” Bixby said into the cell phone and then to Marks: “Happens sometimes. I felt just like that the first time I killed someone.”
“You’re hot.” Harshaw’s voice crackled in the telephone.
“We got that. Some jokester, huh? Where you been?”
“Dropped out of service. We relocated to F-36.”
Bixby grinned. That must be some story. Bixby listened as Harshaw ran down Josephine McCarthy’s location. “I think we can take care of that within the hour. There’s a lot of confusion and no one will be expecting it.”
“You’re positive about the kid?” Harshaw asked for the third time.
“Take care of the rest of it, then, and get back. Check in when it’s done.”
As Bixby hung up, Marks continued. “It’s not that at all.”
“What isn’t what?”
Marks rubbed his hands together and then back to his pant leg. “The bad feeling. It’s not about killing someone. What was that light?”
Bixby gave him a hard look. “Until now, I thought it was my imagination. I was focused in on her. Someone must have hit her with a flood or something.”
Marks shook his head. “It came from her.”
“Too many days away from the drug cabinet? I think you’re letting this event get the best of you. What are you trying to say?”
“I don’t know.” Marks closed his eyes. “She knew what was going to happen. What did she do? A Vulcan grip on the woman? I’ve never seen anything like that. Then, she started to glow?”
“Yeah. Just like you say. She did a Vulcan grip and then glowed with the love light. Get your own grip, Marks. The cop tripped over her own feet and someone hit them with a flood. If she didn’t trip, I’d have had her, too. She was in my sights.”
“I think the girl did that to protect her.”
“Don’t be ridiculous! She didn’t even know we were there!”
Marks’ eyes popped open. “She did. She offered herself up.”
“You need a vacation.” Bixby knew he couldn’t count on his partner. “I think we’d better head straight in.”
“Oh no. I’m all right. I’m just thinking out loud. Really.” Marks backed off and swallowed his feelings. He didn’t want his every word to end up in an official report. “I know how the imagination can play tricks, particularly when everything’s moving so fast.”
Bixby took in the words, not letting go of his doubt. “We’ll get some coffee and stakeout the motel. Harshaw gave me the cop’s location. We’ll take care of her there. I’d suggest we rig her door, but she’s slipped away once already.”
Marks nodded, his mind far away, the face of a child burned into his brain. The child raised her arms to the dark sky and smiled in resolve and certainty of death. Marks could feel his finger pulling the trigger, the moment releasing the bit of lead, which took her life.
He knew he had seven bullets in or through her body before she hit the ground.
As he remembered, replaying the event in his mind, he watched the body fall lifeless, but the face remained, arms spread to the stars. Her placid blue eyes sparkled with an inner light as she looked directly at him and smiled. I forgive you, she said in his imagination. Marks surged in his seat next to Bixby. “We have to go back!”
“She’s not dead. Somehow. Think about it. She’s not dead.”
Bixby chuckled. “Oh, she’s dead. I’ve been around the block enough times to know where my bullets impact. Believe me, she’s dead.”
Marks turned and grabbed Bixby’s arm. “You don’t understand. She’s not dead!”
Bixby took a deep breath. He assumed his partner had a breakdown of some sort and acted accordingly. “Okay. Our Event Horizon wasn’t handled. With the posters all over town, we really shouldn’t take the chance of acting again. Protocol dictates we head in and redesign the Event Horizon.”
“No! We have to go back!”
“We can’t. It’s too risky.”
“We have to! We have no choice!”
Bixby grew uncomfortable. He knew not to forward a rational argument. “It seems this event can wait. Why do you think we need to go back this minute?”
Marks was quiet for a long time. “I don’t know. I just don’t know. I just know I have to go back. Don’t you feel it, too?”
Bixby looked at his options. “Yeah, I see it now. We do have to go back.” He pulled to the side of the road. “But, we’d better change first.” At the back of the car, Bixby hit Marks sharply on the back of the neck, cuffed him and dumped him carelessly in the trunk.
He called Harshaw.