The Passage Page 23

Wolgast thought it then. The sentences were as clear in his mind as if written there.

Just go. Take Amy and go.

Doyle's lost track of time. He's distracted. Do it.

Save her.

Around and around they went. Amy's horse bobbed up and down like a piston. In just these few minutes, Wolgast felt his thoughts gather into a plan. When the ride was over, he would take her, glide into the darkness, the crowds, away from the beer tent and out the gate; by the time Doyle realized what had happened, they'd be nothing but an empty space in the lot. A thousand miles in every direction; they'd be swallowed whole into it. He was good, he knew what he was doing. He'd kept the Tahoe, he saw, for just this reason; even back then, standing in the parking lot in Little Rock, the germ of the idea had lain inside him, like a seed about to break open. He didn't know what he'd do about finding the girl's mother, but he'd figure that out later. He'd never felt anything like it, this blast of clarity. All his life seemed to gather behind this one thing, this singular purpose. The rest-the Bureau, Sykes, Carter, and the others, even Doyle-was a lie, a veil his true self had lived behind, waiting to step into the light. The moment had come; all he had to do was follow his instincts.

The ride began to slow. He didn't even look in Doyle's direction, not wanting to jinx this new feeling, to scare it away. When they reached a complete stop, he lifted Amy from her horse and knelt so they were eye to eye.

"Amy, I want you to do something for me. I need you to pay attention to what I'm saying."

The girl nodded.

"We're leaving now. Just the two of us. Stay close, don't say a word. We're going to be moving quickly, but don't run. Do just as I say and everything will be fine." He searched her face for comprehension. "Do you understand?"

"I shouldn't run."

"Exactly. Now let's go."

They stepped from the deck; they'd come to rest on the far side, away from the beer tent. Wolgast hoisted her quickly over the fence that surrounded the ride, then, bracing his hand on a metal post, vaulted over himself. No one seemed to notice-or maybe they did, but he didn't look back. With Amy's hand in his he strode briskly toward the rear of the fairgrounds, away from the lights. His plan was to circle around to the main gate or else find another exit. If they moved quickly, Doyle would never notice until it was too late.

They came to a tall chain-link fence; beyond it stood a dark line of trees and, farther still, the lights of a highway, hemming the high school's playing fields to the south. There was no way through; the only route was around the perimeter, following the fence back to the main entrance. They were moving through unmown grass, still wet from the storm, soaking their shoes and pants. They reemerged back near the food stands and the picnic table where they had eaten. From there, Wolgast could see the exit, just a hundred feet away. His heart was thumping in his chest. He paused to quickly scan the scene; Doyle was nowhere.

"Straight out the exit," he told Amy. "Don't even look up."

"Yo, chief!"

Wolgast froze. Doyle came jogging up behind them, pointing at his watch. "I thought we said an hour, boss."

Wolgast looked at him, his bland midwestern face. "Thought we'd lost you," he said. "We were just coming to look for you."

Doyle glanced quickly over his shoulder toward the beer tent. "Well, you know," he said. "Got caught up in a little conversation." He smiled, a little guiltily. "Nice folks around here. Real talkers." He gestured at Wolgast's water-stained slacks. "What happened to you? You're all wet."

For a moment, Wolgast said nothing. "Puddles." He did his best not to look away, to hold Doyle in his gaze. "The rain." There was one other chance, maybe, if he could somehow distract Doyle on the way to the Tahoe. But Doyle was younger and stronger, and Wolgast had left his weapon back in the car.

"The rain," Doyle repeated. He nodded, and Wolgast saw it in the younger man's face: he knew. He'd known all along. The beer tent was a test, a trap. He and Amy had never been out of sight, not for a second. "I see. Well, we have a job to do. Right, chief?"


"Don't." His voice was quiet-not menacing, merely stating the facts. "Don't even say the words. We're partners, Brad. It's time to go."

All Wolgast's hopefulness collapsed inside him. Amy's hand was still in his; he couldn't bear even to look at her. I'm sorry, he thought, sending her this message through his hand. I'm sorry. And together, Doyle following five paces behind them, they moved through the exit toward the parking lot.

Neither of them noticed the man-the off-duty Oklahoma state trooper who, two hours before, had seen the wire report on a girl kidnapped by two Caucasian males at the Memphis Zoo, before clocking out and heading off to the high school to meet his wife and watch his kids ride the bumper cars-following them with his eyes.

Chapter NINE

I was called ... Fanning.

All that day the words sat on his lips: when he awoke at eight, as he bathed and dressed and ate his breakfast and sat on the bed in his room, flipping through the channels and smoking Parliaments, waiting for the night to come. All day long, this was what he heard:

Fanning. I was called Fanning.

The words meant nothing to Grey. The name wasn't one he knew. He'd never met anybody named Fanning, or anything like Fanning, not that he could remember. Yet somehow, while he'd slept, the name had taken up residence in his head, as if he'd gone to sleep listening to a song played over and over, the lyrics digging a rut into his brain like a plow, and now part of his mind was still in that rut and couldn't get out. Fanning? What the hell? It made him think of the prison shrink, Dr. Wilder, and the way he'd led Grey down into a state deeper than sleep, the room he called forgiveness, with the slow tap-tap-tap of his pen on the table, the sound snaking inside him. Now Grey couldn't pick up the channel changer or scratch his head or light a smoke without hearing the words, their syncopating rhythm building a backbeat to every little thing he did.

I(flick) ... was(light) ... called(draw) ... Fanning(exhale).

He sat and smoked and waited and smoked some more. What the hell was wrong with him? He felt different, and the change was no good. Antsy, out of sync with himself. Usually he could just sit still and do virtually nothing while he let the hours pass-he'd learned to do that well enough in Beeville, letting whole days slip by in a kind of thoughtless trance-but not today. Today he was jumpy as a bug in a pan. He tried to watch TV, but the words and the images didn't even seem related to each other. Outside, beyond the windows of the barracks, the afternoon sky looked like old plastic, a washed-out gray. Gray like Grey. A perfect day to snooze away the hours. Yet here he was, sitting on the edge of his unmade bed, waiting for the afternoon to be over, his insides buzzing like a paper harmonica.

He felt like he hadn't slept a wink, too, though he'd somehow snoozed straight through his alarm at 05:00 and missed his morning shift. It was OT, so he could make up some excuse-that it was all a mix-up or he'd simply forgotten-but he was going to hear about it either way. He was on again at 22:00. He really needed to nap, to store up some shut-eye for another eight hours of watching Zero watching him.

At 18:00 he pulled on his parka to walk across the compound to the commissary. Sunset was an hour off but the clouds were hanging low, sponging up the last of the light. A damp wind cut through him as he trudged across the open field between the barracks and the dining hall, a cinder-block building that looked like it had been built in a hurry. He couldn't see the mountains at all, and on days like this it sometimes felt to Grey as if the compound were actually an island-that the world came to a stop, tipping into a black sea of nothingness, somewhere beyond the end of the long drive. Vehicles came and went, delivery trucks and step vans and Army five-tons loaded with supplies, but the place they came from and then went back to, wherever that was, might have been the moon for all Grey knew. Even his memory of the world was beginning to fade. He hadn't been past the fence line in six months.

The commissary should have been busy at this hour, fifty or more bodies filling the room with heat and noise, but as he stepped through the door, unzipping his parka and stamping the snow off the soles of his shoes, Grey surveyed the space and saw just a few people scattered at the tables, alone and in small groups, not more than a dozen all told. You could tell who did what by what they wore-the med staff in their scrubs and rubber clogs; the soldiers in their winter camos, hunched over their trays and scooping the food into their mouths like farmhands; the sweeps in their UPS-brown jumpsuits. Behind the dining hall there was a lounge with a ping-pong table and air hockey, but nobody was playing or watching the big-screen television either, and the room was quiet, just a few murmuring voices and the clink of glass and flatware. For a while the lounge had held some tables with computers, sleek new vMacs for email and whatnot, but one morning in the summer, a tech crew had wheeled them all out on a dolly, right in the middle of breakfast. Some of the soldiers had complained, but it hadn't done any good; the computers never returned, and all that remained to say they'd been there were a bunch of wires dangling from the wall. Taking them away had been some kind of a punishment, Grey figured, but he didn't know what for. He'd never bothered with the computers himself.

Despite the nervous feeling in his body, the smell of warm food made him hungry-the Depo gave him such a voracious appetite it was a wonder he wasn't heavier than he was-and he filled his tray as he moved down the line, his mind savoring the thought of the meal to come: a bowl of minestrone, salad with croutons and cheese, mashies and pickled beets, a slab of ham with a ring of dried-out pineapple sitting on it like a citrus tiara. He topped it all off with a wedge of lemon pie and a tall glass of ice water and carried everything back to the corner to an empty table. Most of the sweeps ate alone like he did; there wasn't much you were allowed to actually talk about. Sometimes a whole week would pass without Grey saying so much as boo to anyone except the sentry on L3 who clocked him in and out of Containment. There had been a time, not that many months ago in fact, when the techs and medical staff would ask him questions, things about Zero and the rabbits and the teeth. They'd listen to his answers, nodding, maybe jot something down on their handhelds. But now they just picked up the reports without a word, as if the whole matter of Zero had been settled and there was nothing new to learn.

Grey moved through his meal methodically, course by course. The Fanning thing was still running through his mind like a news crawl, but eating seemed to calm it some; for a few minutes he almost forgot it was there. He was finishing the last of the pie when someone stepped up to his table: one of the soldiers. Grey thought his name was Paulson. Grey had seen him around, though the soldiers had a way of all looking the same in their camos and Tshirts and shiny boots, their hair so short their ears stuck out like somebody had pasted them to the sides of their heads as a joke. Paulson's cut was so tight Grey couldn't have said what color his hair really was. He took a chair at right angles to Grey and spun it around to straddle it, smiling at him in a way that Grey wouldn't have described as friendly.

"You fellows sure like to eat, don'tcha?"

Grey shrugged.

"You're Grey, right?" The soldier narrowed his eyes. "I've seen you."

Grey put down his fork and swallowed a bite of pie. "Yeah."

Paulson nodded thoughtfully, like he was deciding if this was a good name or not. His face wore an outward expression of calm, but there was something effortful about this. For a moment his eyes darted to the security camera hanging in the corner over their heads, then found Grey's face again.

"You know, you fellas don't say much," Paulson said. "It's a little spooky, you don't mind my saying so."

Spooky. Paulson didn't know the half of it. Grey said nothing.

"Mind if I ask you a question?" Paulson lifted his chin toward Grey's plate. "Don't let me interrupt. You can go on and finish while we talk."

"I'm done," Grey said. "I have to go to work."

"How's the pie?"

"You want to ask me about the pie?"

"The pie? No." Paulson shook his head. "I was just being polite. That would be an example of what's called small talk."

Grey wondered what he wanted. The soldiers never said word one to him, and here was this guy, Paulson, giving him etiquette lessons like the cameras weren't looking straight at them.

"It's good," Grey managed. "I like the lemon."

"Enough with the pie. I couldn't give two shits about the pie."

Grey gripped the sides of his tray. "I gotta go," he said, but as he started to rise, Paulson dropped a hand on his wrist. Grey could feel, in just that one touch, how strong the man was, as if the muscles of his arms were hung on bars of iron.

"Sit. The f**k. Down."

Grey sat. The room suddenly felt empty to him. He glanced past Paulson and saw that this was so, or nearly: most of the tables were empty. Just a couple of techs on the far side of the room, sipping coffee from throw-away cups. Where had everybody gone?

"You see, we know who you fellas are, Grey," Paulson said with a quiet firmness. He was leaning over the table, his hand still on Grey's wrist. "We know what you all did, is what I'm saying. Little boys, or whatever. I say God bless, each to his own gifts. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. You follow me?"

Grey said nothing.

"Not everybody feels the way I do, but that's my opinion. Last time I checked it was still a free country." He shifted in his chair, bringing his face even closer. "I knew a guy, in high school? Used to put cookie dough on his joint and let the dog lick it off. So you want to nail some little kid, you go right ahead. Personally I don't get it, but your business is your business."

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