Midnight Page 56


"This way," Chrissie said, pulling loose of Tessa and turning back into the darkness from which they'd come, forcing them either to follow or abandon her.


16


Shaddack figured they wouldn't have tried to break into Central on any side that faced a street, where they might be seen—and the Indian agreed—so he drove around to the back. He passed metal doors that would have provided too formidable a barrier, and studied the windows, trying to spot a broken pane.


The last rear door, the only one with glass in the top, was in an angled extension of the building. He was driving toward it for a moment, just before the service road swung to the left to go around that wing, and from a distance of only a few yards, with all the other panes reflecting the glare of his headlights, his attention was caught by the missing glass at the bottom right.


"There," he told Runningdeer.


"Yes, Little Chief."


He parked near the door and grabbed the loaded Remington 12-gauge semiautomatic pistol-grip shotgun from the van's floor behind him. The box of extra shells was on the passenger seat. He opened it, grabbed four or five, stuffed them in a coat pocket, grabbed four or five more, then got out of the van and headed toward the door with the broken window.


17


Four soft thuds reverberated through the house, even into the attic, and Harry thought he heard glass breaking far away.


Moose barked furiously. He sounded like the most vicious attack dog ever bred, not a sweet black Lab. Maybe he would prove willing to defend home and master in spite of his naturally good temperament.


Don't do it, boy, Harry thought. Don't try to be a hero. Just crawl away in a corner somewhere and let them pass, lick their hands if they offer them, and don't—


The dog squealed and fell silent.


No, Harry thought, and a pang of grief tore through him. He had lost not just a dog but his best friend.


Moose, too, had a sense of duty.


Silence settled over the house. They would be searching the ground floor now.


Harry's grief and fear receded as his anger grew. Moose. Dammit, poor harmless Moose. He could feel the flush of rage in his face. He wanted to kill them all.


He picked up the .38 pistol in his one good hand and held it on his lap. They wouldn't find him for a while, but he felt better with the gun in his hand.


In the service he had won competition medals for both rifle sharpshooting and performance with a handgun. That had been a long time ago. He had not fired a gun, even in practice, for more than twenty years, since that faraway and beautiful Asian land, where on a morning of exceptionally lovely blue skies, he had been crippled for life. He kept the .38 and the .45 cleaned and oiled, mostly out of habit; a soldier's lessons and routines were learned for life—and now he was glad of that.


A clank.


A rumble-purr of machinery.


The elevator.


18


Halfway down the correct hallway, holding the dimming flashlight in his left hand and the revolver in his other, just as he caught up with Chrissie, Sam heard a siren approaching outside. It was not on top of them, but it was too close. He couldn't tell if the patrol car was actually closing in on the back of the school, toward which they were headed, or coming to the front entrance.


Apparently Chrissie was uncertain too. She stopped running and said, "Where, Sam? Where?"


From behind them Tessa said, "Sam, the doorway!"


For an instant he didn't understand what she meant. Then he saw the door swinging open at the end of the hall, about thirty yards away, the same door by which they had entered. A man stepped inside. The siren was still wailing, drawing nearer, so there were more of them on the way, a whole platoon of them. The guy who'd come through the door was just the first—tall, six feet five if he was one inch, but otherwise only a shadow, minimally backlighted by the security lamp outside and to the right of the door.


Sam squeezed off a shot with his .38, not bothering to determine if this man was an enemy, because they were all enemies, every last one of them—their name was legion—and he knew the shot was wide. His marksmanship was lousy because of his injured wrist, which hurt like hell after their misadventures in the culvert. With the recoil, pain burst out of that joint and all the way back to his shoulder, then back again, Jesus, pain sloshing around like acid inside him, from shoulder to fingertips. Half the strength went out of his hand. He almost dropped the gun.


As the roar of Sam's shot slammed back to him from the walls of the corridor, the guy at the far end opened fire with a weapon of his own, but he had heavy artillery. A shotgun. Fortunately he was not good with it. He was aiming too high, not aware of how the kick would throw the muzzle up. Consequently the first blast went into the ceiling only ten yards ahead of him, tearing out one of the unlit fluorescent fixtures and a bunch of acoustic tiles. His reaction confirmed his lack of experience with guns; he overcompensated for the kick, swinging the muzzle too far down as he pulled the trigger a second time, so the follow-up round struck the floor far short of target.


Sam did not remain an idle observer of the misdirected gunfire. He seized Chrissie and pushed her to the left, across the corridor and through a door into a dark room, even as the second flock of buckshot gouged chunks out of the vinyl flooring. Tessa was right behind them. She threw the door shut and leaned against it, as if she thought that she was Super-woman and that any pellets penetrating the door would bounce harmlessly from her back.


Sam shoved the woefully dim flashlight at her. "With my wrist, I'm going to need both hands to manage the gun."


Tessa swept the weak yellow beam around the chamber. They were in the band room. To the right of the door, tiered platforms—full of chairs and music stands—rose up to the back wall. To the left was a large open area, the band director's podium, a blond-wood and metal desk. And two doors. Both standing open, leading to adjoining rooms.


Chrissie needed no urging to follow Tessa toward the nearer of those doors, and Sam brought up the rear, moving backward, covering the hall door through which they had come.


Outside, the siren had died. Now there would be more than one man with a shotgun.


19


They had searched the first two floors. They were in the third-floor bedroom.


Harry could hear them talking. Their voices rose to him through their ceiling, his floor. But he couldn't quite make out what they were saying.


He almost hoped they would spot the attic trap in the closet and would decide to come up. He wanted a chance to blow a couple of them away. For Moose. After twenty long years of being a victim, he was sick to death of it; he wanted a chance to let them know that Harry Talbot was still a man to be reckoned with—and that although Moose was only a dog, his was nevertheless a life taken only with serious consequences.


20


In the eddying fog, Loman saw the single patrol car parked beside Shaddack's van. He braked next to it just as Paul Amberlay got out from behind the wheel. Amberlay was lean and sinewy and very bright, one of Loman's best young officers, but he looked like a high-school boy now, too small to be a cop—and scared.


When Loman got out of his car, Amberlay came to him, gun in hand, visibly shaking. "Only you and me? Where the hell's everybody else? This is a major alert."


"Where's everybody else?" Loman asked. "Just listen, Paul. Just listen."


From every part of town, scores of wild voices were lifted in eerie song, either calling to one another or challenging the unseen moon that floated above the wrung-out clouds.


Loman hurried to the back of the patrol car and opened the trunk. His unit, like every other, carried a 20-gauge riot gun for which he'd never had use in peaceable Moonlight Cove. But New Wave, which had generously equipped the force, did not stint on equipment even if it was perceived as unnecessary. He pulled the shotgun from its clip mounting on the back wall of the trunk.


Joining him, Amberlay said, "You telling me they've regressed, all of them, everyone on the force, except you and me?"


"Just listen," Loman repeated as he leaned the 20-gauge against the bumper.


"But that's crazy!" Amberlay insisted. "Jesus, God, you mean this whole thing is coming down on us, the whole damn thing?"


Loman grabbed a box of shells that was in the right wheel-well of the trunk, tore off the lid. "Don't you feel the yearning, Paul?"


"No!" Amberlay said too quickly. "No, I don't feel it, I don't feel anything."


"I feel it," Loman said, putting five rounds in the 20-gauge—one in the chamber, four in the magazine. "Oh, Paul, I sure as hell feel it. I want to tear off my clothes and change, change, and just run, be free, go with them, hunt and kill and run with them."


"Not me, no, never," Amberlay said.


"Liar," Loman said. He brought up the loaded gun and fired at Amberlay point-blank, blowing his head off.


He couldn't have trusted the young officer, couldn't have turned his back on him, not with the urge to regress so strong in him, and those voices in the night singing their siren songs.


As he stuffed more shells into his pockets, he heard a shotgun blast from inside the school.


He wondered if that gun was in the hands of Booker or Shaddack. Struggling to control his raging terror, fighting off the hideous and powerful urge to shed his human form, Loman went inside to find out.


21


Tommy Shaddack heard another shotgun, but he didn't think much about that because, after all, they were in a war now. You could hear what a war it was by just stepping out in the night and listening to the shrieks of the combatants echoing down through the hills to the sea. He was more focused on getting Booker, the woman, and the girl he'd seen in the hall, because he knew the woman must be the Lockland bitch and the girl must be Chrissie Foster, though he couldn't figure how they had joined up.


War. So he handled it the way soldiers did in the good movies, kicking the door open, firing a round into the room before entering. No one screamed. He guessed he hadn't hit anyone, so he fired again, and still no one screamed, so he figured they were already gone from there. He crossed the threshold, fumbled for the light switch, found it, and discovered he was in the deserted band room.


Evidently they had left by one of the two other doors, and when he saw that, he was angry, really angry. The only time in his life that he had fired a gun was in Phoenix, when he had shot the Indian with his father's revolver, and that had been close-up, where he could not miss. But still he had expected that he would be good with a gun. After all, Jeez, he had watched a lot of war movies, cowboy movies, cop shows on television, and it didn't look hard, not hard at all, you just pointed the muzzle and pulled the trigger. But it hadn't been that easy, after all, and Tommy was angry, furious, because they shouldn't make it look so easy in the movies and on the boob tube when, in fact, the gun jumped in your hands as if it was alive.


He knew better now, and he was going to brace himself when he fired, spread his legs and brace himself, so his shots wouldn't be blowing holes in the ceiling or bouncing off the floor any more. He would nail them cold the next time he got a whack at them, and they'd be sorry for making him chase them, for not just lying down and being dead when he wanted them to be dead.


22


The door out of the band room had led into a hall that served ten soundproofed practice rooms, where student musicians could mutilate fine music for hours at a time without disturbing anyone. At the end of that narrow corridor, Tessa pushed through another door and coaxed just enough out of the flashlight to see that they were in a chamber as large as the band room. It also featured tiered platforms rising to the back. A student-drawn sign on one wall, complete with winged angels singing, proclaimed this the home of The World's Best Chorus.


As Chrissie and Sam followed her into the room, a shotgun roared in the distance. It sounded as if it was outside. But even as the door to the corridor of practice rooms swung shut behind them, another shotgun discharged, closer than the first, probably back at the door to the band room. Then a second blast from the same location.


Just like in the band room, two more doors led out of the choral chamber, but the first one she tried was a dead end; it went into the chorus director's office.


They dashed to the other exit, beyond which they found a corridor illuminated only by a red, twenty-four-hour-a-day emergency sign—STAIRS—immediately to their right. Not EXIT, just STAIRS, which meant this was an interior well with no access to the outside. "Take her up," Sam urged Tessa.


"But—"


"Up! They're probably coming in the ground floor by every entrance, anyway."


"What're you—"


"Gonna make a little stand here," he said.


A door crashed open and a shotgun exploded back in the chorus room.


"Go!" Sam whispered.


23


Harry heard the closet door open in the bedroom below.


The attic was cold, but he was streaming sweat as if in a sauna. Maybe he hadn't needed the second sweater.


Go away, he thought. Go away.


Then he thought, Hell, no, come on, come and get it. You think I want to live forever?


24


Sam went down on one knee in the hall outside the chorus room, taking a stable position to compensate somewhat for his weak right wrist. He held the swinging door open six inches, both arms thrust through the gap, the .38 gripped in his right hand, his left hand clamped around his right wrist.


He could see the guy across the room, silhouetted in the lights of the band-room corridor behind him. Tall. Couldn't see his face. But something about him struck a chord of familiarity.


The gunman didn't see Sam. He was only being cautious, laying down a spray of pellets before he entered. He pulled the trigger. The click was loud in the silent room. He pumped the shotgun. Clackety-dack. No ammo.


That meant a change in Sam's plans. He surged to his feet and through the swinging door, back into the chorus room, no longer able to wait for the guy to switch on the overhead lights or step farther across the threshold, because now was the time to take him, before he reloaded. Firing as he went, Sam squeezed off the four remaining rounds in the .38, trying his damnedest to make every slug count. On the second or third shot, the guy in the doorway squealed, God, he squealed like a kid, his voice high-pitched and quaverous, as he threw himself back into the practice-room corridor, out of sight.


Sam kept moving, fumbling in his jacket pocket with his left hand, grabbing at the spare cartridges, while with his right hand he snapped open the revolver's cylinder and shook out the expended brass casings. When he reached the closed door to the narrow hall that connected chorus room to band room, the door through which the tall man had vanished, he pressed his back to the wall and jammed fresh rounds into the Smith & Wesson, snapped the cylinder shut.

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