73

At precisely 10:31 King realized he had a major problem, or at least another major problem to join all the others. He glanced at the elevator. If the present held to the past, something was going to happen with that elevator. The problem was, if those doors somehow opened and King didn’t look away to see what it was, he and Bruno might be attacked from that direction. Yet if he did look to see what it was, as he had eight years ago, that momentary distraction could spell doom for them both. He envisioned Sidney Morse watching him ponder this dilemma and laughing his butt off.

As the clock moved to the fateful minute, King reached back and grabbed hold of Bruno. “When I tell you to go down,” he whispered urgently, “you go down!”

It was as though King could see every sliver of the clock’s movement as the hand moved to 10:32. He readied his pistol. He thought about firing a round, to see if his ammo was live, but Morse could very well have only given him one real bullet, and he would have wasted it. Morse had probably figured that one too.

He made sweeping arcs with his gun, and his grip on Bruno’s coat grew tighter. The candidate’s breathing was accelerating so fast King was afraid he might just faint. He thought he could hear the smacks of Bruno’s heart and then realized they were his own. Okay, he was as ready as he was going to be.

The clock hit 10:32, and the arc of King’s gun became faster as he tried to cover every inch of the room. The lights went out, and they were plunged into total darkness. And then the room erupted in kaleidoscope lights that would have done any disco proud. They swept around the room like a flash fire, and the voices started up on high volume. It was deafening and blinding, and King had to shield his eyes. Then he remembered and reached in his pocket and put on his sunglasses. Score one for the guys in shades.

Then the ding of the elevator came.

“Damn you, Morse!” King called out.

The doors slid open, or was it just a trick? Indecision was tearing King apart. Should he look over or not?

“Hit the floor!” he told Bruno, and the man dropped instantly. King turned his head, determined only to look for a split second. He never made it that far.

Joan Dillinger was right in front of him. Hanging less than ten feet away, suspended from the ceiling, it appeared. It was as though she were on a cross, spread-eagle, her face pale and her eyes closed. King didn’t know if she was real or not. He took a couple steps forward and reached out his hand, and it went right through her. Stunned, he jerked his head in the direction of the elevator. There was Joan, trussed up and suspended by wire. Her image had been projected by some mechanical means. She appeared dead.

Looking at the woman, he felt an immense rage. And that was probably what Morse was counting on. That realization alone served to calm King down.

As he turned back, he stiffened. Standing directly in front of him, between two of the cardboard characters, was Kate Ramsey, her pistol pointed at his chest. “Put down the gun,” she ordered.

King hesitated, then laid down his gun. The lights returned to normal and the special effect sounds stopped.

“Get up,” she told Bruno. “Stand up, you bastard,” she screamed.

Bruno rose on shaky legs, but King kept between the candidate and his would-be assassin.

“Listen to me, Kate. You don’t want to do this.”

A voice boomed out from somewhere. It was Morse, playing the role of the director, calling out his next “shot.”

“Go ahead, Kate. I’ve delivered them both to you, just as I promised: the man who ruined your father’s career, and the man who took his life. Your bullets are steel-jacketed. One shot and you can kill them both. Do it. Do it for your poor father. These men destroyed him.”

Kate’s finger tightened on the trigger.

“Don’t listen to him, Kate,” said King. “He’s the one who set up your father. He was the one who got him to kill Ritter. Bruno had nothing to do with any of it.”

“You’re lying,” she said.

“The man you overheard talking to your father that night. It was Sidney Morse.”

“You’re wrong. The only name I heard was Thornton Jorst.”

“You didn’t hear his name, Kate, you only thought you did. What you heard wasn’t ‘Thornton Jorst.’ What you heard was Trojan horse.”

Kate didn’t look as confident now.

King pressed this small advantage. “I’m sure Morse told you everything to say to us. But that part you told us was true, only you didn’t realize its significance.” Kate’s expression became confused, and her finger relaxed ever so slightly against the trigger.

King continued, talking fast. “Morse was the Trojan horse, the inside man on the Ritter campaign. That’s how he explained it to your father. Morse knew Arnold hated what Ritter was doing to the country. But Morse didn’t care about Ritter’s politics. So why did he join the campaign? Because Morse loved your mother. She was his Broadway-star-to-be. With your father out of the way, she’d be his. And when that failed, he killed your mother. And now he’s using you just like he used your father.”

“That’s crazy. If what you say is true, why is he doing all of this now?”

“I don’t know. He’s insane. Who else would put something like this together?”

“He’s lying about all of it, Kate,” boomed out Morse. “I’m doing this all for you. To give you justice. Now shoot them!”

King held Kate’s gaze. “Your father killed, but he did so in what he believed was a noble cause. That man”—King pointed in the direction of Morse’s voice—“that man is a cold-blooded murderer, and he did it out of sheer jealousy.”

“You killed my father,” she said bluntly.

“I was doing my job. I had no choice. You didn’t see your father’s expression that day. But I did. You know what he looked like? Do you really want to know?”

She looked at him, tears in her eyes, and slowly nodded.

“He looked surprised, Kate. Surprised. At first I thought it was the shock of actually killing someone. But then I realized he was surprised because Morse hadn’t pulled his gun and fired. Morse was standing right near me. They’d made a pact. Your father was actually looking at him. It was right then he knew he’d been deceived.”

Morse called out, “Last chance, Kate. Either shoot them or I will.”

King looked at her with pleading eyes. “Kate, you can’t do it. You can’t. I’m telling you the truth. You know I am. Whatever lies he’s fed to you, you’re not a killer, and he can’t make you be one.”

“Now!” screamed Morse.

Instead, Kate started to lower her gun. Suddenly the door to the room crashed open. This distracted Kate for a moment, and King grabbed the velvet rope, swung it up and knocked the gun out of her hands. She screamed and fell back.

King shouted at Bruno, “Run! Out the door!”

Bruno turned and raced toward the exit where Michelle was just coming through.

The lights came fully on and blinded them all momentarily. Michelle saw it before anyone else did. She screamed and launched herself. “Bruno, down!” she yelled.

The gun fired. Michelle lunged in front of the candidate, and the slug hit her in the chest.

King pointed his pistol in the direction of the shot and fired. That’s when he discovered Morse had never intended on giving him a chance. His gun was loaded with blanks.

King screamed out, “Michelle!”

She wasn’t moving, even as Bruno fled out the door. And then the lights went out again, pitching them into darkness.

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