CHAPTER 48

She was riding a black horse across a desolate plain under a low and churning sky.

Cataclysmic blasts of lightning ripped the heavens. Where each bright sword stabbed to earth, a giant rose, half handsome and half deformed, tattooed.

Each giant grabbed at her, trying to pull her from her mount. Each grabbed at the horse, too, at its flashing hooves, at its legs, at its silky mane.

The terrified horse screamed, kicked, faltered, broke loose, plunged forward.

Without a saddle, she clamped the mount with her knees, clutched fistfuls of its mane, held on, endured. There were more giants in the earth than the horse could outrun. Lightning, the crash of thunder, yet another golem rising, a huge hand closing around her wrist-Carson woke in unrelieved darkness, not thrown from sleep by the nightmare but pricked from it by a sound.

Piercing the soft thrum and shush of the air conditioner came the sharp creak of a floorboard. Another floorboard groaned. Someone moved stealthily through the bedroom.

She had awakened on her back, in a sweat, atop the bedclothes, in the exact position in which she’d fallen into bed. She sensed someone looming over her.

For a moment she couldn’t remember where she’d left her service pistol. Then she realized that she still wore her street clothes, her shoes, even her shoulder holster. For the first time in her life, she had fallen asleep while armed.

She slid a hand under her jacket, withdrew the gun.

Although Arnie had never previously entered her room in the dark and though his behavior was predictable, this might be him.

When she slowly sat up and with her left hand groped toward the nightstand lamp, the bedsprings sang softly.

Floorboards creaked, perhaps because the intruder had reacted to the noise she made. Creaked again.

Her fingers found the lamp, the switch. Light.

She saw no one in the first flush of light. At once, however, she sensed more than saw movement from the corner of her eye.

Turning her head, bringing the pistol to bear, she found no one.

At one window, draperies billowed. For a moment she attributed that movement to the air conditioner. Then the billows subsided. The draperies hung limp and still. As if someone, leaving, had brushed against them.

Carson got out of bed and crossed the room. When she pulled the draperies aside, she found the window closed. And locked.

Maybe she hadn’t awakened as instantly as she’d thought. Maybe sleep had clung to her, and the dream. Maybe.

Carson showered, changed clothes, and felt fresh but slightly disoriented. Having slept away the afternoon, she rose to the night, inner clock confused, lacking purpose.

In the kitchen, she scooped a serving of curried chicken salad from a bowl. With her dish and a fork, eating on the move, she went to Arnie’s room.

The castle glorious, fit for King Arthur, seemed to have grown higher towers.

For once, Arnie was not at work upon this citadel. Instead he sat staring at a penny balanced on his right thumbnail, against his forefinger.

“What’s up, sweetie?” she asked, though she expected no reply.

He met her expectation, but flipped the penny into the air. The copper winked brightly as it turned.

With quicker reflexes than he usually exhibited, the boy snatched the coin from the air, held it tightly in his right fist.

Carson had never seen him engaged in this behavior before. She watched, wondering.

Half a minute passed while Arnie stared at his clenched fist. Then he opened it and frowned as if with disappointment when he saw the penny gleaming on his palm.

As the boy flipped it and caught it in midair once more, Carson noticed a stack of bright pennies on the drawbridge to the castle.

Arnie had neither an understanding of money nor any need for it.

“Honey, where did you get the pennies?”

Opening his hand, Arnie saw the penny and frowned as before. He flipped it again. He seemed to have a new obsession.

At the open door, Vicky Chou peered in from the hallway “How’s the chicken salad?”

“Fabulous. Every day, you make me feel inadequate in a new way.”

Vicky made a de nada gesture. “We all have our special talents. I couldn’t shoot anyone the way you do.”

“Anytime you need it done, you know where to find me.”

“Where did Arnie get the pennies?” Vicky asked.

“That’s what I was gonna ask you.”

Having flipped the penny again, having found it in his palm after snatching it from the air, the boy looked puzzled.

?Arnie, where did you get the pennies?”

From his shirt pocket, Arnie withdrew a card. He sat staring at it in silence.

Aware that her brother might study the card for an hour before offering it to her, Carson gently plucked it from his fingers.

“What?” Vicky asked.

“It’s a pass to someplace called the Luxe Theater. One free movie. Where would he have gotten this?”

Arnie flipped the penny again, and as he snatched it out of the air, he said, “Every city has secrets-“

Carson knew she had heard those words somewhere-

“— but none as terrible as this.”

— and her blood chilled as she saw in her mind’s eye the tattooed man standing at the window in Bobby Allwine’s apartment.

Contents