35

Sam could not have slipped out of the patrol car without drawing Danberry’s attention. Four cruisers awaited the cop’s use, so there was a seventy-five-percent chance that Sam would be undetected if he stayed in the car. He slid down in the driver’s seat as far as he could and leaned to his right, across the computer keyboard on the console.

Danberry went to the next car in line.

With his head on the console, his neck twisted so he could look up through the window on the passenger’s side, Sam watched as Danberry unlocked the door of that other cruiser. He prayed that the cop would keep his back turned, because the interior of the car in which Sam slouched was revealed by the sulfurous glow of the parking-lot lights. If Danberry even glanced his way, Sam would be seen.

The cop got into the other black-and-white and slammed the door, and Sam sighed with relief. The engine turned over. Danberry pulled out of the municipal lot. When he hit the alley he gunned the engine, and his tires spun and squealed for a moment before they bit in, and then he was gone.

Though Sam wanted to hot-wire the car and switch on the computer again to find out whether Watkins and Shaddack were still conversing, he knew he dared not stay any longer. As the manhunt escalated, the police department’s offices in the municipal building were sure to become busy.

Because he didn’t want them to know that he had been probing in their computer or that he had eavesdropped on their VDT conversation — the greater they assumed his ignorance to be, the less effective they would be in their search for him — Sam used his tools to replace the ignition core in the steering column. He got out, pushed the lock button down, and closed the door.

He didn’t want to leave the area by the alleyway because a patrol car might turn in from one end or the other, capturing him in its headlights. Instead he dashed straight across that narrow back street from the parking lot and opened a gate in a simple wrought-iron fence. He entered the rear yard of a slightly decrepit Victorian-style house whose owners had let the shrubbery run so wild that it looked as if a macabre cartoon family from the pen of Gahan Wilson might live in the place. He walked quietly past the side of the house, across the front lawn, to Pacific Drive, one block south of Ocean Avenue.

The night calm was not split by sirens. He heard no shouts, no running footsteps, no cries of alarm. But he knew he had awakened a many-headed beast and that this singularly dangerous Hydra was looking for him all over town.

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