CHAPTER 69

Turning away from the front door of Fullbright’s Funeral Home, Michael wanted to sprint to the car and climb in behind the wheel. He would have done it, too, would have seized control-if he’d had a key.

Mere possession of the driver’s seat would mean nothing to Carson. She wouldn’t give him her key. Unless she chose to ride shotgun, she’d walk before she’d give up the wheel.

The plainwrap came with two sets of keys. Carson had both.

Michael had frequently considered requisitioning another set from the motor pool. He knew she’d consider that betrayal.

So she drove again. Clearly, there were no safety engineers in her family.

At least he was distracted from consideration of their speed by the need to get his mind around the cockamamie story she wanted him to believe. “Man-made men? Science just isn’t that far along yet.”

“Maybe most scientists aren’t, but Victor is.”

“Mary Shelley was a novelist.”

“She must’ve based the book on a true story she heard that summer. Michael, you heard what Jack Rogers told us. Not a freak. Bobby Allwine was designed.”

“Why would he be creating monsters to be security guards like Bobby Allwine? Doesn’t that seem goofy?”

“Maybe he creates them to be all kinds of things-cops, like Harker. Mechanics. Pilots. Bureaucrats. Maybe they’re all around us.”

“Why?”

“Deucalion says-to take our place, to destroy God’s work and replace it with his own.”

“I’m not Austin Powers, and neither are you, and it’s hard to swallow that Helios is Dr. Evil.”

Impatiently, she said, “What happened to your imagination? Have you watched so many movies, you can’t imagine for yourself anymore, you have to have Hollywood do it for you?”

“Harker, huh? From homicide cop to homicidal robot?”

“Not robot. Engineered or cloned or grown in a vat-I don’t know how. It’s no longer parts of corpses animated by lightning.”

“One man, even a genius, couldn’t-“

She interrupted him: “Helios is an obsessed, demented visionary at work for two centuries, with a huge family fortune.”

Preoccupied with a new thought, she let their speed fall.

After a silence, Michael said, “What?”

“We’re dead.”

“I don’t feel dead.”

“I mean, if Helios is who Deucalion says, if he has achieved all of this, if his creations are seeded through the city, we don’t have much of a chance against him. He’s a genius, a billionaire, a man of enormous power-and we’re squat.”

She was scared. He could hear fear in her voice. He had never known her to be afraid. Not like this. Not without a gun in her face and some dirtbag’s finger on the trigger.

“I just don’t buy this,” he said, though he half did. “I don’t understand why you buy it.”

With an edge, she said, “If I buy it, homey, isn’t that good enough for you?”

When he hesitated to reply, she braked hard and pulled to the curb. Pissed, she switched off the light and got out of the car.

In the movies, when they saw a body with two hearts and organs of unknown purpose, they knew right away it was aliens or something.

Even though he hadn’t met Deucalion, Michael didn’t know why he was resisting the usual movie conclusion to be made from what Jack Rogers had found inside Bobby Allwine. Besides, someone had stolen Allwine’s corpse and the autopsy records, which seemed to indicate a vast conspiracy of some kind.

He got out of the car.

They were in a residential neighborhood, under a canopy of live oaks. The night was hot. The moon seemed to be melting down through the branches of the trees.

Michael and Carson regarded each other across the roof of the sedan. Her lips were tight. Usually they looked kissable. They didn’t look kissable now.

“Michael, I told you what I saw.”

“I’ve jumped off cliffs with you before-but this one’s pretty damn high.”

She said nothing at first. What might have been a wistful look came over her face. Then: “Some mornings it’s hard to get up knowing Arnie will still be? Arnie.”

Michael moved toward the front of the car. ?All of us want things we maybe aren’t ever going to get.”

Carson remained at the driver’s door, not giving an inch. “I want meaning. Purpose. Higher stakes. I want things to matter more than they do.”

He stopped in front of the sedan.

Staring up through the oaks at the creamy moon, she said, “This is real, Michael. I know it. Our lives will never be the same.”

He recognized in her a yearning for change so strong that even this-a trading of the world they knew for another that had even more terror in it-was preferable to the status quo.

“Okay, okay,” he said. “So where’s Deucalion? If any of this is real, then it’s his fight more than ours.”

She lowered her gaze from the moon to Michael. She moved toward the front of the car.

“Deucalion is incapable of violence against his maker,” she said. “It’s like the proscription against suicide. He tried two hundred years ago, and Victor nearly finished him. Half his face? so damaged.”

They stood face to face.

He wanted to touch her, to place a hand on her shoulder. He restrained himself because he didn’t know what a touch might lead to, and this was not a moment for even more change.

Instead, he said, “Man-made men, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re sure?”

“Honestly? I don’t know. Maybe I just want to be sure.”

Heat, humidity, moonlight, the fragrance of jasmine: New Orleans sometimes seemed like a fever dream, but never more than now.

“Frankenstein alive,” he said. “It’s just a National Enquirer wet dream.”

A harder expression pinched her eyes.

Hastily Michael said, “I like the National Enquirer. Who in his right mind would believe the New York Times anymore? Not me.”

“Harker’s out there,” she reminded him.

He nodded. “Let’s get him.”

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