Midnight Page 16


So now he ate the ham, all two pounds of it, and he snatched other items out of the refrigerator and ate them as well, stuffing them into his mouth with both tine-fingered hands: a bowlful of cold, leftover rigatoni and one meatball; half of an apple pie that he'd bought yesterday at the bakery in town; a stick of butter, an entire quarter of a pound, greasy and cloying but good food, good fuel, just the thing to feed the fire; four raw eggs; and more, more. This was a fire that, when fed, did not burn brighter but cooled, subsided, for it was not a real fire at all but a physical symptom of the desperate need for fuel to keep the metabolic processes running smoothly. Now the fire began to lose some of its heat, shrinking from a roaring blaze to sputtering flames to little more than the glow of hot coals.


Sated, Mike Peyser collapsed to the floor in front of the open refrigerator, in a litter of broken dishes and food and Saran Wrap and eggshells and Tupperware containers. He culled up again and willed himself toward that form in which the word would recognize him, and once more he felt a shift taking place in his marrow and bones, in his blood and organs, in sinews and cartilage and muscles and skin, as tides of hormones and enzymes and other biological chemicals were produced by his body and washed through it, but as before the change was arrested with transformation woefully incomplete, and his body eased toward its more savage state, inevitably regressing though he strained with all his will, all his will, strained and struggled to seek the higher form.


The refrigerator door had swung shut. The kitchen was in the grasp of shadows again, and Mike Peyser felt as if that darkness was not merely all around him but also within him.


At last he screamed. As he had feared, once he began to scream, he could not stop.


28


Shortly before midnight Sam Booker left Cove Lodge. He wore a brown leather jacket, blue sweater, jeans, and blue running shoes—an outfit that allowed him to blend effectively with the night but that didn't look suspicious, though perhaps slightly too youthful for a man of his relentlessly melancholy demeanor. Ordinary as it looked, the jacket had several unusually deep and capacious inner pockets, in which he was carrying a few basic burglary and auto-theft tools. He descended the south stairs, went out the rear door at the bottom, and stood for a moment on the walkway behind the lodge.


Thick fog poured up the face of the bluff and through the open railing, driven by a sudden sea breeze that finally had disturbed the night's calm. In a few hours the breeze would harry the fog inland and leave the coast in relative clarity. By then Sam would have finished the task ahead of him and, no longer needing the cover that the mist provided, would be at last asleep—or more likely fighting insomnia—in his motel-room bed.


He was uneasy. He had not forgotten the pack of kids from whom he'd run on Iceberry Way, earlier in the evening. Because their true nature remained a mystery, he continued to think of them as punks, but he knew they were more than just juvenile delinquents. Strangely, he had the feeling that he did know what they were, but the knowledge stirred in him far below even a subconscious plain, in realms of primitive consciousness.


He rounded the south end of the building, walked past the back of the coffee shop, which was now closed, and ten minutes later, by a roundabout route, he arrived at the Moonlight Cove Municipal Building on Jacobi Street. It was exactly as the Bureau's San Francisco agents had described it a two-story structure—weathered brick on the lower floor, white siding on the upper—with a slate roof, forest-green storm shutters flanking the windows, and large iron carriage lamps at the main entrance. The municipal building and the property on which it stood occupied half a block on the north side of the street, but its anti-institutional architecture was in harmony with the otherwise residential neighborhood. Exterior and interior ground-floor lights were on even at that hour because in addition to the city-government offices and water authority, the municipal building housed the police department, which of course never closed.


From across the street, pretending to be out for a late-night constitutional, Sam studied the place as he passed it. He saw no unusual activity. The sidewalk in front of the main entrance was deserted. Through the glass doors he saw a brightly lighted foyer.


At the next corner he went north and into the alley in the middle of the block. That unlighted serviceway was bracketed by trees and shrubbery and fences that marked the rear property lines of the houses on Jacobi Street and Pacific Drive, by some garages and outbuildings, by groups of garbage cans, and by the large unfenced parking area behind the municipal building.


Sam stepped into a niche in an eight-foot-tall evergreen hedge at the corner of the yard that adjoined the public property. Though the alley was very dark, two sodium-vapor lamps cast a jaundiced glow over the city lot, revealing twelve vehicles: four late-model Fords of the stripped-down, puke-green variety that was produced for federal, state, and local government purchase; a pickup and van both bearing the seal of the city and the legend WATER AUTHORITY; a hulking street-sweeping machine; a large truck with wooden sides and tailgate; and four police cars, all Chevy sedans.


The quartet of black-and-whites were what interested Sam because they were equipped with VDTs linking them to the police department's central computer. Moonlight Cove owned eight patrol cars, a large number for a sleepy coastal town, five more than other communities of similar size could afford and surely in excess of need.


But everything about this police department was bigger and better than necessary, which was one of the things that had triggered silent alarms in the minds of the Bureau agents who'd come to investigate the deaths of Sanchez and the Bustamantes.


Moonlight Cove had twelve full-time and three part-time officers, plus four full-time office support personnel. A lot of manpower. Furthermore, they were all receiving salaries competitive with law-enforcement pay scales in major West Coast cities, therefore excessive for a town as small as this. They had the finest uniforms, the finest office furniture, a small armory o' handguns and riot guns and tear gas, and—most astonishing of all—they were computerized to an extent that would have been the envy of the boys manning the end-of-the-world bunkers at the Strategic Air Command in Colorado.


From his bristly nook in the fragrant evergreen hedge, Sam studied the lot for a couple of minutes to be sure no one was sitting in any of the vehicles or standing in deep shadows along the back of the building. Levolor blinds were closed at the lighted windows on the ground floor, so no one inside had a view of the parking area.


He took a pair of soft, supple goatskin gloves from a jacket pocket and pulled them on.


He was ready to move when he heard something in the alley behind him. A scraping noise. Back the way he'd come.


Pressing deeper into the hedge, he turned his head to search for the source of the sound. A pale, crumpled cardboard box, twice the size of a shoebox, slid along the blacktop, propelled by the breeze that was increasingly rustling the leaves of the shrubs and trees. The carton met a garbage can, wedged against it, and fell silent.


Streaming across the alley, flowing eastward on the breeze, the fog now looked like smoke, as if the whole town were afire. Squinting back through that churning vapor, he satisfied himself that he was alone, then turned and sprinted to the nearest of the four patrol cars in the unfenced lot.


It was locked.


From an inner jacket pocket, he withdrew a Police automobile lock Release Gun, which could instantly open any lock without damaging the mechanism. He cracked the car, slipped in behind the steering wheel, and closed the door as quickly and quietly as possible.


Enough light from the sodium-vapor lamps penetrated the car for him to see what he was doing, though he was experienced enough to work virtually in the dark. He put the lock gun away and took an ignition-socket wrench from another pocket. In seconds he popped the ignition-switch cylinder from the steering column, exposing the wires.


He hated this part. To click on the video-display mounted on the car's console, he had to start the engine; the computer was more powerful than a lap-top model and communicated with its base data center by energy-intensive microwave transmissions, drawing too much power to run off the battery. The fog would cover the exhaust fumes but not the sound of the engine. The black-and-white was parked eighty feet from the building, so no one inside was likely to hear it. But if someone stepped out of the back door for some fresh air or to take one of the off-duty cruisers out on a call, the idling engine would not escape notice. Then Sam would be in a confrontation that—given the frequency of violent death in this town—he might not survive.


Sighing softly, lightly depressing the accelerator with his right foot, he separated the ignition wires with one gloved hand and twisted the bare contact points together. The engine turned over immediately, without any harsh grinding.


The computer screen blinked on.


The police department's elaborate computerization was provided free by New Wave Microtechnology because they were supposedly using Moonlight Cove as a sort of testing ground for their own systems and software. The source of the excess friends so evident in every other aspect of the department was not easy to pin down, but the suspicion was that it came from New Wave or from New Wave's majority stockholder and chief executive officer, Thomas Shaddack. Any citizen was free to support his local police or other arms of government in excess of his taxes, of course, but if that was what Shaddack was doing, why wasn't it a matter of public record? No innocent man gives large sums of money to a civic cause with complete self-effacement. If Shaddack was being secretive about supporting the local authorities with private funds, then the possibility of bought cops and in-the-pocket officials could not be discounted. And if the Moonlight Cove police were virtually soldiers in Thomas Shaddack's private army, it followed that the suspicious number of violent deaths in recent weeks could be related to that unholy alliance.


Now the VDT in the car displayed the New Wave logo in the bottom right hand corner, just as the IBM logo would have been featured if this had been one of their machines.


During the San Francisco office's investigation of the Sanchez Bustamante case, one of the Bureau's better agents, Morrie Stein, had been in a patrol car with one of Watkins's officers, Reese Dorn, when Dorn accessed the central computer for information in departmental files. By then Morrie had suspected that the computer was even more sophisticated than Watkins or his men had revealed, serving them in some way that exceeded the legal limits of police authority and that they were not willing to discuss, so he had memorized the code number with which Reese had tapped into the system. When he had flown to the Los Angeles office to brief Sam, Morrie had said, "I think every cop in that twisted little town has his own computer-access number, but Dorn's ought to work as well as any. Sam, you've got to get into their computer and let it throw some menus at you, see what it offers, play around with it when Watkins and his men aren't looking over your shoulder. Yeah, I sound paranoid, but there's too much high-tech for their size and needs, unless they're up to something dirty. At first it seems like any town, even more pleasant than most, rather pretty … but, dammit, after a while you get the feeling the whole burg is wired, that you're watched everywhere you go, that Big Brother is looking over your shoulder every damn minute. Honest to God, after a few days you're gut-sure you're in a miniature police state, where the control is so subtle you can hardly see it but still complete, iron-fisted. Those cops are bent, Sam; they're deep into something—maybe drug traffic, who knows—and the computer is part of it."


Reese Dorn's number was 262699, and Sam tapped it out on the VDT keyboard. The New Wave logo disappeared. The screen was blank for a second. Then a menu appeared.


CHOOSE ONE


A. DISPATCHER


B. CENTRAL FILES


C. BULLETIN BOARD


D. OUTSYSTEM MODEM


To Sam, the first item on the menu indicated that a cruising officer could communicate with the dispatcher at headquarters not only by means of the police-band radio with which the car was equipped but also through the computer link. But why would he want to go to all the trouble of typing in questions to the dispatcher and reading the transmitted replies off the VDT when the information could be gotten so much easier and quicker on the radio? Unless … there were some things that these cops did not want to talk about on radio frequencies that could be monitored by anyone with a police-band receiver.


He did not open the link to the dispatcher because then he would have to begin a dialogue, posing as Reese Dorn, and that would be like shouting, Hey, I'm out here in one of your cruisers, poking my nose in just where you don't want, so why don't you come and chop it off.


Instead, he tapped B and entered it. Another menu appeared.


CHOOSE ONE


A. STATUS - CURRENT ARRESTEES


B. STATUS - CURRENT COURT CASES


C. STATUS - RENDING COURT CASES


D. PAST ARREST RECORDS - COUNTY


E. PAST ARREST RECORDS - CITY


F. CONVICTED CRIMINALS LIVING IN COUNTY


G. CONVICTED CRIMINALS LIVING IN CITY


Just to satisfy himself that the offerings on the menu were what they appeared to be and not code for other information, he punched in selection F, to obtain data on convicted criminals living in the county. Another menu appeared, offering him ten choices: MURDER, MANSLAUGHTER, RAPE, SEX OFFENSES, ASSAULT AND BATTERY, ARMED ROBBERY, BURGLARY, BREAKING AND ENTERING, OTHER THEFT, MISCELLANEOUS LESSER OFFENSES.


He called forth the file on murder and discovered three convicted killers—all guilty of murder in either the first or second degree—were now living as free men in the county after having served anywhere from twelve to forty years for their crimes before being released on parole. Their names, addresses, and telephone numbers appeared on the screen with the names of their victims, economically summarized details of their crimes, and the dates of their imprisonment; none lived in the city limits of Moonlight Cove.


Sam looked up from the screen and scanned the parking lot. It remained deserted. The omnipresent mist was filled with thicker veins of fog that rippled banner-like as they flowed past the car, and he felt almost as if he were under the sea in a bathyscaphe, peering out at long ribbons of kelp fluttering in marine currents.


He returned to the main menu and asked for item C. BULLETIN BOARD. That proved to be a collection of messages that Watkins and his officers had left for one another regarding matters that seemed sometimes related to police work and sometimes private. Most were in such cryptic shorthand that Sam didn't feel he could puzzle them out or that they would be worth the effort to decipher.


He tried item D on the main menu, OUTSYSTEM MODEM, and was shown a list of computers nationwide with which he could link through the telephone modem in the nearby municipal building. The department's possible connections were astonishing LOS ANGELES PD (for police department), SAN FRANCISCO PD, SAN DIEGO PD, DENVER PD, HOUSTON PD, DALLAS PD, PHOENIX PD, CHICAGO PD, MIAMI PD, NEW YORK CITY PD, and a score of other major cities; CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES, DEPARTMENT OF PRISONS, HIGHWAY PATROL, and many other state agencies with less obvious connections to police work; U.S. ARMY PERSONNEL FILES, NAVY PERSONNEL FILES, AIR FORCE; FBI CRIMINAL RECORDS, FBI FILES (Local Law-Enforcement Assistance System, a relatively new Bureau program); even INTERPOL's New York office, through which the international organization could access its central files in Europe.

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