In less than a minute, following a few turns that felt right, she brought me to a stop. She let go of my left hand and touched my right, in which I held the flashlight.
Switching it on, I saw that we had gone through the gallery of shops and that we were at the end of a hallway, at the door to the north stairs. My guide, indeed, was Maryann, appropriately dressed as an Indian princess.
Seconds were important, but I could not leave her without an attempt to right Datura’s wrongs.
“The darkness loose in this world damaged your sisters. The fault isn’t yours. Eventually when they leave here, don’t you want to be there for them on…the other side?”
She met my gaze. Her gray eyes were lovely.
“Go home, Maryann Morris. There’s love waiting for you, if only you’ll go to it.”
She glanced back the way that we had come, then looked at me worriedly.
“When you get there, ask for my Stormy. You won’t be sorry you did. If Stormy’s right and the next life is service, there’s nobody better to have great adventures with than her.”
She backed away from me.
“Go home,” I whispered.
She turned and walked away.
“Let go. Go home. Leave life—and live.”
As she faded, she looked over her shoulder, and smiled, and then she was not in the hallway anymore.
This time, I believe, she passed through the veil.
I tore open the staircase door, plunged through, and climbed like a sonofabitch.
CLEO-MAY CANDLES, COMPELLING ME TO love and obey the charming young woman who consorted with Gestapo ghosts, splashed the walls red, splashed them yellow.
Nevertheless, in the storm-swallowed day, Room 1203 swarmed with as much darkness as light. A draft with the disposition of a nervous little dog had gotten in from somewhere, chasing its tail this way and that, so each ripple of radiance spawned an undulant shadow; a dark billow chased each tremulous bright wave.
The shotgun lay on the floor by the window, where Andre had left it. The weapon was heavier than I expected. As soon as I picked it up, I almost put it down.
This was not one of the long shotguns you might use for hunting wild turkeys or wildebeest, or whatever you hunt with long shotguns. This was a short-barreled, pistol-grip model good for home defense or for holding up a liquor store.
Police use weapons like this, as well. Two years ago, Wyatt Porter and I had been in a tight situation involving three operators of an illegal crystal-meth lab and their pet crocodile, during which I might have wound up with one less leg, and possibly no testicles, if the chief hadn’t made good use of a pistol-grip 12-gauge pretty much like this one.
Although I had never fired such a gun—in fact had only once previously in my life used any kind of firearm at all—I had seen the chief use one. Of course this is no different from saying that watching all of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry movies will make you a master marksman and an expert in ethical police procedure.
If I left the gun here, the needy boys would use it on me. If I was backed into a corner by those behemoths and didn’t at least try to use the shotgun on them, I would be committing suicide, considering that what they ate for breakfast probably weighed more than I did.
So I burst into the room, ran to the shotgun, snatched it off the floor, grimaced at the lethal feel of it, warned myself that I was too young for adult diapers, and stood by the window, quickly examining it in the twitchy dazzle of a series of lightning bolts. Pump action. Three-round magazine tube. Another round in the breech. Yes, it had a trigger.
I felt I could use it in a crisis, though I must admit much of my confidence came from the fact that I had recently paid my health-insurance premium.
I scanned the floor, the table, the window sill, but didn’t see any additional ammunition.
From the table, I grabbed the remote control, careful not to press the black button.
Figuring that the Buzz-cut brouhaha might be winding down about now, I had just a few minutes before Datura and her boys got through the post-poltergeist confusion and back on their game.
I blew precious seconds stepping into the bathroom to see if she had done a thorough job on Terri’s satellite phone. I found it dented but not in pieces, so I shoved it in a pocket.
Beside the sink was a box of shotgun ammo. I jammed four shells into my pockets.
Out of the room, into the hall, I glanced in the direction of the north stairs, then sprinted the other way, to Room 1242.
Probably because Datura didn’t want Danny to have any victory or money, she hadn’t provided him with any candles in red and yellow glass holders. Now that armies of black clouds had stormed the entire sky, his room was a sooty-smelling pit brightened only fitfully by nature’s war light, filled with a rapid patter that brought to mind an image of a horde of running rats.
“Odd,” he whispered when I came through the door, “thank God. I was sure you were dead.”
Switching on the flashlight, handing it to him to hold, matching his whisper, I said, “Why didn’t you tell me what a lunatic she is.”
“Do you ever listen to me? I told you she was crazier than a syphilitic suicide bomber with mad-cow disease!”
“Yeah. Which is as much of an understatement as saying Hitler was a painter who dabbled in politics.”
The running-rat patter proved to be rain slanting into the room through one of the three window panes that were broken, rattling against a jumble of furniture.
I leaned the shotgun against the wall and showed him the remote control, which he recognized.
“Is she dead?” he asked.
“I wouldn’t count on it.”
“What about Doom and Gloom?”
I didn’t have to ask who they might be. “One of them took a hit, but I don’t think it did him serious damage.”
“So they’ll be coming?”
“As sure as taxes.”
“We gotta split.”
“Splitting,” I assured him, and almost pressed the white button on the remote.
At the penultimate instant, thumb poised, I asked myself who had told me that the black button would detonate the explosives and the white would disarm them.
DATURA, WHO HOBNOBBED WITH THE GRAY Pigs of Haiti and observed seamstresses being sacrificed and cannibalized, had told me that the black button detonated, that the white disarmed.
In my experience, she had not proved herself to be a reliable source of dependable fact and unvarnished truth.
More to the point, the ever-helpful madwoman had volunteered this information when I had asked if the remote on the table might be the one that controlled the bomb. I couldn’t think of any reason why she would have done so.
Wait. Correction. I could after all think of one reason, which was Machiavellian and cruel.
If by some wild chance I ever got my hands on the remote, she wanted to program me to blow up Danny instead of save him.
“What?” he asked.
“Gimme the flashlight.”
I went around behind his chair, crouched, and studied the bomb. In the time since I had first seen this device, my subconscious had been able to mull over the tangle of colorful wiring—and had come up with zip.
This does not necessarily reflect badly on my subconscious. At the same time, it had been presented with other important tasks—such as listing all the diseases I might have contracted when Datura spat wine in my face.
As previously, I tried to jump-start my sixth sense by tracing the wires with one fingertip. After 3.75 seconds I admitted this was a desperation tactic with no hope of getting me anything but killed.
“Still here. Hey, Danny, let’s play a word-association game.”
“We could be dead later, then when would we play it? Humor me. It’ll help me think this through. I’ll say something, and you tell me the first thing that
comes into your mind.”
“This is nuts.”
“Here we go: black and white.”
“Try again. Black and white.”
“Night and day.”
“Black and white.”
“Salt and pepper.”
“Black and white.”
“Good and evil.”
I said, “Good.”
“No. That’s the next word for association: good.”
“Good,” I repeated.
I said, “Evil.”
“Datura,” he said at once.