The Passage Page 26

He didn't remember getting out of the pool, or what he'd said to the little girl. She was crying loudly and then stopped. Mrs. Wood was dead, her soul was nowhere around anymore, but her empty body slowly made its way to the surface, taking its place among the floating leaves he'd meant to clean. There was a kind of peacefulness to everything, a terrible brokenhearted peacefulness, like something that had gone on too long had finally found a way to finish. Like he'd begun to disappear again. It might have been hours or minutes before the neighbor lady came, and then the police, but by that time he knew he wouldn't tell a soul what had happened, the things he'd seen and heard. It was a secret she had given him, the final secret of who she was, and he was meant to keep it.

Carter decided it was all right, what was going to happen to him now. It felt inevitable. Maybe Wolgast had lied, or maybe he hadn't, but the work of Carter's life was over; he knew that now. Nobody was going to ask him again about Mrs. Wood. She was just a thing in his mind, like some part of her had passed straight into him, and he wouldn't have to tell nobody about it.

The air around him broke with a hissing sound, like air leaking from a tire, and a single green light appeared on the far wall where a red one used to be; a door swung open, bathing the room in a pale blue light. Carter saw he was lying on a gurney, wearing a gown. The tube was still threaded into his hand, and looking at the place where it pulled at his skin under the tape made it hurt fiercely again. The room was larger than he'd guessed, nothing but pure white surfaces except for the place where the door had opened and a few machines on the far wall that looked like nothing he knew.

A figure was standing in the doorway.

He closed his eyes and leaned back, thinking, All right now. All right. I'm ready. Let them come.

"We have a situation."

It was just past ten P.M. Sykes had appeared at the door of Richards's office.

"I know," Richards said. "I'm on it."

The situation was the girl, the Jane Doe. She wasn't a Jane Doe anymore. Richards had gotten the news off the law enforcement general feed a little after nine. The girl's mother was a suspect in a shooting, something at a fraternity house; the boy she'd shot was the son of a federal circuit judge. The gun, which she'd left at the scene, had led local police to a motel near Graceland, where the manager-a list of priors that filled two pages-had ID'd the girl from the photograph the cops had taken of her on Friday, at the convent where the mother had dumped her. The nuns had spilled their story, and something else that Richards didn't know what to make of-some kind of disturbance at the Memphis Zoo-before one of them had picked out Doyle and Wolgast from a surveillance video taken the night before at the I-55 checkpoint north of Baton Rouge. Local TV had gotten the story in time for the evening news, when the Amber Alert had gone out.

Just like that, the whole world was looking for two federal agents and a little girl named Amy Bellafonte.

"Where are they now?" Sykes asked.

On his terminal, Richards called up the satellite feed and pointed his viewer at the states between Tennessee and Colorado. The transmitter was in Wolgast's handheld. Richards counted eighteen hot points in the region, then found the one that matched the number of Wolgast's tracking tag.

"Western Oklahoma."

Sykes was standing behind him, looking over his shoulder. "Do you think he knows yet?"

Richards recalibrated the viewer, zooming in.

"I'd say so," he said, and showed Sykes the data stream.

Target velocity, 120 kph.

Then, a moment later:

Target velocity, 133 kph.

They were on the run now. Richards would have to go get them. Locals were involved, maybe state cops. It was going to be ugly, assuming he could even reach them in time. The chopper was already inbound from Fort Carson; Sykes had made the call.

They took the rear stairs to L1 and stepped outside to wait. The temperature had risen since sunset. A thick fog was ascending in loose coils under the lights of the parking circle, like dry ice at a rock concert. They stood together without talking; there was nothing to say. The situation was more or less a complete and total screwup. Richards thought of the photograph, the one that was all over the wires. Amy Bellafonte: beautiful fountain. Black hair falling straight to her shoulders-it looked damp, like she'd been walking in the rain-and a smooth, young face, still with some baby fat fluffing her cheeks; but beneath her brow, dark eyes with a knowing depth. She was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt zipped to her throat. In one hand she was clutching some kind of toy, a stuffed animal. It might have been a dog. But the eyes: the eyes were what Richards kept coming back to. She was looking straight at the camera as if to say, See? What did you think I was, Richards? You think nobody in the world loves me?

For a second, just one, he thought it. It brushed him like a wing: the wish that he were a different kind of person, that the look in a child's eyes meant something to him.

Five minutes later they heard the chopper, a pulsing presence coasting in low over the wall of trees to the southeast. It made a single, searching turn, dragging a cone of light, then dropped toward the parking lot with balletic precision, shoving a wave of shuddering air under its blades. A UH-60 Blackhawk with a full armament rack, rigged for night reconnaissance. It seemed like a lot, for one little girl. But that was the situation in which they now found themselves. They held their hands over their brows against the wind and noise and swirling snow.

As the chopper touched down, Sykes seized Richards's elbow.

"She's a kid!" he said over the din. "Do this right!"

Whatever that meant, Richards thought, and stepped briskly away, toward the opening door.

Chapter TEN

They were moving quickly now, Wolgast at the wheel, Doyle beside him, thumbing away furiously on his handheld. Calling in to let Sykes know who was in charge.

"No goddamn signal." Doyle tossed his handheld onto the dash. They were fifteen miles outside of Homer, headed due west; the open fields slid endlessly away under a sky thick with stars.

"I could have told you that," Wolgast said. "It's the back side of the moon out here. And why don't you watch your language?"

Doyle ignored him. Wolgast lifted his eyes quickly to the rearview to find Amy looking back at him. He knew she felt it too: they were joined together now. From the moment they'd stepped off the carousel, he'd cast his lot with her.

"How much do you know?" Wolgast asked. "I don't suppose it matters now if you tell me."

"As much as you do." Doyle shrugged. "Maybe more. Richards thought you might have problems with this."

When had they spoken? Wolgast wondered. While he and Amy were on the rides? That night in Huntsville, when Wolgast had gone back to the motel to call Lila? Or was it before?

"You should be careful. I mean it, Phil. A guy like that. Private security contractor. He's little more than a mercenary."

Doyle sighed irritably. "You know what your problem is, Brad? You don't know who's on your side here. I gave you the benefit of the doubt back there. All you had to do was bring her back to the car when you said you would. You're not seeing the whole picture."

"I've seen enough."

A filling station appeared ahead of them, a glowing oasis in the gloom. As they approached, Wolgast eased off the gas.

"Christ. Don't stop," Doyle said. "Just drive."

"We're not going to get very far without gas. We're down to a quarter tank. This could be the last station for a while."

If Doyle wanted to be in charge, Wolgast thought, at least he would have to act like it.

"Fine. But just the gas. And both of you stay in the car."

They pulled up to the pump. After Wolgast shut off the engine, Doyle reached across and withdrew the keys from the ignition. Then he opened the glove box and removed Wolgast's weapon. He released the clip, buried it in the pocket of his jacket, and returned the empty gun to the glove box.

"Stay put."

"You might want to check the oil too."

Doyle exhaled sharply. "Jesus, anything else, Brad?"

"I'm just saying. We don't want to break down."

"Fine. I'll check it. Just stay in the car."

Doyle stepped around the back of the Tahoe and began to fill the tank. With Doyle out of the car, Wolgast had a moment to think, but unarmed and without the keys, there wasn't much he could do. Part of him had decided not to take Doyle completely seriously, but for the moment, the situation was what it was. He pulled the lever under the dash; Doyle moved to the front of the Tahoe and lifted the hood, momentarily shielding the cabin from view.

Wolgast twisted around to face Amy.

"Are you okay?"

The girl nodded. She was holding her knapsack in her lap; the well-stroked ear of her stuffed rabbit was peeking through the opening. In the light of the filling area, Wolgast could see a bit of powdered sugar still on her cheeks, like flecks of snow.

"Are we still going to the doctor?"

"I don't know. We'll see."

"He has a gun."

"I know, honey. It's all right."

"My mother had a gun."

Before Wolgast could assemble a response, the hood of the Tahoe slammed closed. Startled, he turned sharply in time to see three state police cruisers, lights on, tearing past the filling station in the opposite direction.

The passenger door of the Tahoe opened to a gust of damp air. "Shit." Doyle handed Wolgast the keys and swiveled in his seat to look at the cruisers as they passed. "You think that's about us?"

Wolgast angled his head to watch the cruisers through the side-view mirror. They were doing at least eighty, maybe more. It could have been something ordinary, a wreck or a fire. But his gut told him it wasn't. He counted off the seconds, watching the lights recede into the distance. He had reached twenty by the time he was certain they were turning around.

He turned the key, felt the engine roar to life.

"That's us all right."

Ten o'clock, and Sister Arnette couldn't sleep. She couldn't even close her eyes.

Oh, it was awful, just awful, everything that had happened-first the men coming for Amy, how they had deceived her, deceived everyone, though Sister Arnette still didn't understand how they could be both FBI and also kidnappers; and then that terrible thing at the zoo, the shouts and screams and everyone running, and Lacey holding on to Amy the way she had, refusing to let go; and the hours they'd spent at the police station, the whole rest of the day, not treated like criminals exactly but certainly not spoken to in a way that Sister Arnette was accustomed to, all of it vaguely accusing, the detective asking them the same questions over and over again; and then the reporters and camera trucks lined up on the street outside the house, huge spotlights filling the front windows as the evening wore on, the phone ringing nonstop until finally Sister Claire had thought to unplug it.

The girl's mother had killed someone, a boy. That's what the detective had told her. The detective's name was Dupree, a young fellow with a prickly little beard, and he spoke to her courteously, a bit of old New Orleans in his voice, which meant he was probably Catholic, calling her dawlin' and cher; but wasn't that what Sister Arnette had thought of the other two when they'd appeared at the door? Wolgast and the younger, good-looking one? Whose faces she had seen again on the grainy video Dupree showed her, from someplace in Mississippi, taken when-she guessed-they thought no one was looking? That they were nice men because they looked nice? And the mother, Detective Dupree told her, the mother was a prostitute. "A prostitute is a deep pit; she hides and waits like a robber, looking for another victim who will be unfaithful to his wife." Proverbs, chapter 23. "For the lips of an immoral woman drip honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death, her steps lay hold of hell."

Hold of hell. The very words made Sister Arnette shudder in her bed. Because hell was real, that was a fact; it was a real place, where souls in torment writhed in agony forever and ever. That's the kind of woman Lacey had let into their kitchen, who had stood in their very house not more than thirty-six hours ago: a woman who had hold of hell. The woman had ensnared this boy somehow-Arnette didn't want to imagine that part-and then shot him, shot him with a gun in the head, and then given her girl to Lacey while she made her escape, a girl who had who-knew-what inside her. For it was true: there had been something ... unearthly about her. It wasn't nice to think it, but there it was. How else to explain what had happened at the zoo, all the animals running and making a ruckus?

The whole situation was awful. Awful awful awful.

Arnette tried to make herself sleep, but this accomplished nothing. She could still hear the thrum of the vans' generators, could see, through the veil of her closed eyes, the ravenous glow of their spotlights. If she turned on the TV she knew what she'd find: reporters with their microphones, speaking in earnest tones and gesturing behind them toward the house where Arnette and the other sisters now attempted to sleep. The scene of the crime, they'd call it, of the latest development in this breaking story of murder and kidnapping, and federal agents somehow involved-though Dupree had forbidden, absolutely forbidden the sisters from talking about this part to anyone. When the sisters had returned home in the police van that had carried them back from the station, all of them wordless with exhaustion, to find the TV trucks, at least a dozen, lined up at the curb in front of the house like a circus train, it was Sister Claire who'd noticed that they weren't just the local Memphis network affiliates but came from as far away as Nashville and Paducah and Little Rock, even St. Louis. As soon as they'd turned into the driveway the reporters had swarmed the van, pointing their lights and cameras and microphones and barking their furious, incomprehensible questions. These people had no decency. Sister Arnette was so frightened she began to shake. It had taken two police officers to move the reporters off the property-Can't you see they're nuns? Whaddaya wanna go bothering a buncha nuns for? All of you just back it up, right now-so the sisters could walk safely into the house.

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