The Passage Page 27

Yes, hell was real, and Arnette knew where it was. She was in it, right now.

After that they'd sat together in the kitchen, none of them hungry but still needing to be somewhere-everyone except Lacey, whom Claire had taken straight upstairs to her room to rest. It was odd: of all of them, Lacey seemed the least shaken by the events of the afternoon. She'd barely uttered a word for hours, not to the sisters and not to Dupree, either, just sat with her hands in her lap, tears rolling down her cheeks. But then a funny thing had happened; the officers showed them the videotape from Mississippi, and when Dupree froze the image on the two men, Lacey stepped forward and looked, hard, at the monitor. Arnette had already told Dupree that that was them, she'd had a good look and there wasn't a single doubt in her mind that the men on the screen were the same two who had come to the house and taken the girl; but the expression on Lacey's face, which was something like surprise but not exactly-the word Arnette thought of was astonishment-made them all wait.

"I was wrong," Lacey said finally. "It isn't ... him. He is not the one."

"Which him, Sister?" Dupree asked gently.

She lifted a finger to the older of the two agents, the one who'd done all the talking-though it was the younger one, Arnette recalled, who'd actually taken Amy and put her in the car. In the image, he was looking straight up at the camera, holding a disposable cup in his hand. The time signature on the bottom right corner of the screen said that it was 06:01 on the same morning the two of them had come to the convent.

"Him," Lacey said, and touched the glass.

"He didn't take the girl?"

"He most assuredly did, Detective," Arnette declared. She turned and looked at Sister Louise and Sister Claire, who nodded their assent. "We're all agreed to that. Sister is just upset."

But Dupree was not deterred. "Sister Lacey? What do you mean he's not the one?"

Her face was shining with conviction. "That man," she said. "Do you see?" She turned and looked at all of them. She actually smiled. "Do you see? He loves her."

He loves her. What to make of that? But these were the only words Lacey had offered on the matter, as far as Arnette was aware. Did she mean to imply that Wolgast actually knew the girl? Could he have been Amy's father? Was that what all this was about? But it didn't explain what had occurred at the zoo, a terrible thing-a child had actually been trampled in the chaos and was in the hospital; two of the animals, a cat of some kind and one of the apes, had been shot-or the dead boy at the college, or any of the rest of it. And yet for the remainder of the afternoon at the station, in and out of various offices, telling their story, Lacey had sat quietly, smiling that strange smile, as if she knew something no one else did.

It all went back, Arnette believed, to what had happened to Lacey so long ago, as a little girl in Africa. Arnette had confessed the whole thing to the sisters, as they sat in the kitchen waiting for the hour when they could go to bed. She probably shouldn't have, but she'd had to tell Dupree; once they were back at the house, it had all just kind of come out. An experience like that didn't ever leave a person, the sisters agreed; it went inside them and stayed forever. Sister Claire-of course it was Sister Claire, who had gone to college and kept a nice dress and good shoes in her closet as if at any moment she'd get an invitation to a fancy party-knew a name for it: post-traumatic stress disorder. It made sense, Sister Claire said; it added up. It explained Lacey's protective feelings for the girl, and why she never went out of the house, and the way she seemed separate from all of them, living among them but also not, as if a part of her were always elsewhere. Poor Lacey, to carry such a memory inside her.

Arnette checked the clock: 12:05. Outside, the roar of the generators had ceased at last; the camera crews had all gone home. She drew back the covers and breathed a worried sigh. There was no denying it. All of this was Lacey's fault. Arnette would never have given the girl to those men if Lacey hadn't lied to them all in the first place, and yet now it was Lacey who was fast asleep, while she, Arnette, was lying in bed awake. The other sisters, couldn't they see that? But probably they were all sleeping, too. It was only she, Arnette, who was sentenced to a night of pacing the halls of her mind.

Because she was worried. Deeply worried. Something didn't add up, no matter what Sister Claire said. He's not the one. He loves her. That strange, knowing smile on Lacey's lips. Dupree had questioned Lacey closely, asking her what this meant, but all Lacey had done was smile and say these words again, as if they explained everything. And it flew straight in the face of the facts. Wolgast was the one: everyone was agreed on that point. Wolgast and the other man, the one who had taken the girl, whose name Arnette remembered now was Doyle, Phil Doyle. Where they had taken the girl and why-well, no one had told Arnette anything. She sensed Dupree was puzzled too, the way he kept posing the same questions over and over, clicking his pen, frowning incredulously and shaking his head, making phone calls, drinking cup after cup of coffee.

And then, despite all these concerns, Arnette felt her mind begin to loosen, the images of the day unwinding inside her like a spool of thread, pulling her down into sleep. Tell us again about the parking lot, Sister. Arnette in the little room with the mirror that wasn't a mirror-she knew that. Tell us about the men. Tell us about Lacey. Arnette was facing the glass; over Dupree's shoulder she could see her face reflected there, an old face, lined by time and exhaustion, its edges wrapped by the gray cloth of her veil so that it seemed disembodied somehow, floating in space; and behind it, on the other side of the glass, above and around her, she detected the presence of a dark form, watching her. Who was behind her face? She could hear Lacey's voice now, too, Lacey in the parking lot, crazy Lacey who seemed apart from all of them, sitting on the ground and clutching the girl fiercely; Arnette was standing above her, and Lacey and the girl were crying. Don't take her. Her mind followed the sound of Lacey's voice, down into a dark place.

Don't take me, don't take me, don't take me ...

A bolt of anxiety hit her chest; she sat upright, too fast. The air of the room seemed lighter, as if all the oxygen had leaked away. Her heart was hammering. Had she fallen asleep? Was she dreaming? What in the world?

And then she knew, knew it for a fact. They were in danger, terrible danger. Something was coming. She didn't know what. Some dark force had come loose in the world, and it was sweeping toward them, coming for them all.

But Lacey knew. Lacey, who'd lain in the field for hours, knew what evil was.

Arnette tore from the room, into the hall. To be sixty-eight, and consumed by such terror! To give your life to God, to His loving peace, and come to such a moment! To lie with it in the dark all alone! A dozen steps to Lacey's door: Arnette tried the handle but the door refused her; it was locked from the inside. She pounded the door with her fists.

"Sister Lacey! Sister Lacey, open this door!"

Then Claire was at her side. She was wearing a T-shirt that seemed to glow in the dark hall; her face was smeared with a penumbra of bluish cream. "What is it? What's wrong?"

"Sister Lacey, open this door this instant!" Silence, still, from the far side. Arnette seized the handle and shook it like a dog with a rag in his teeth. She pounded and pounded. "Do as I say right now!"

Lights coming on, the sounds of doors and voices, a great commotion all around her. The other sisters were in the hallway now too, their eyes wide with alarm, everyone talking at once.

"What's going on?"

"I don't know, I don't know-"

"Is Lacey all right?"

"Somebody call 911!"

"Lacey," Arnette was yelling, "open this door!"

A huge force gripped her, pulling her away. Sister Claire: it was Sister Claire who had grabbed Arnette from behind, seizing her by her arms. She felt her diminishment, how her strength, against Sister Claire's, was nothing.

"Look-Sister's hurt herself-"

"Dear Lord in heaven!"

"Look at her hands!"

"Please," Arnette sobbed. "Help me."

Sister Claire released her. A reverent hush had fallen over them all. Crimson ribbons were running down Arnette's wrists. Claire took one of Arnette's fists and gently unclenched it. The palm was filled with blood.

"Look, it's just her fingernails," Claire said, and showed them. "She dug into her palms with her fingernails."

"Please," Arnette begged, tears rolling down her cheeks. "Just open the door and see."

No one knew where the key was. It was Sister Tracy who thought to get the screwdriver from the toolbox under the kitchen sink and wedge it into the lock. But by the time this happened, Sister Arnette had already figured out what they'd find.

The bed that had never been slept in. The curtains of the open window shifting in the evening air.

The door swung open on an empty room. Sister Lacey Antoinette Kudoto was gone.

Two A.M. The night was moving at a crawl.

Not that it had begun well for Grey. After his run-in with Paulson in the commissary, Grey had returned to his room in the barracks. He still had two hours to kill until his shift, more than enough time to think about what Paulson had said about Jack and Sam. The only upside was that it sort of took his mind off the other thing, that funny echo in his head, but still it was no good, just sitting around feeling worried, and at a quarter to ten, just about ready to jump out of his skin, he put on his parka and crossed the compound to the Chalet. Under the lights of the parking area he treated himself to one last Parliament, gulping down the smoke, while a couple of doctors and lab techs, wearing heavy winter coats over their scrubs, exited the building and got into their cars and drove away. Nobody so much as waved at him.

The floor by the front door was slick with melted snow. Grey banged his boots clean and stepped to the desk, where the sentry took his badge and ran it through the scanner and waved him to the elevator. Inside, he pushed the button for Level 3.

"Hold the elevator."

Grey's insides jumped: Richards. An instant later he stepped briskly into the car, a cloud of cold air from outside still clinging to his nylon jacket.

"Grey." He pushed the button for L2 and quickly checked his watch. "Where the f**k were you this morning?"

"I overslept."

The doors slid closed and the car began its slow descent.

"You think this is a vacation? You think you can just show up when you feel like it?"

Grey shook his head, his eyes cast down at the floor. Just the sound of the man's voice could make his backside clench like a fist. No way Grey was going to look at him.


"That's all you have to say?"

Grey could smell the nervous sweat coming off himself, a rancid stink, like onions left too long in a crisper drawer. Probably Richards could smell it too.

"I guess."

Richards sniffed and said nothing. Grey knew he was deciding what to do.

"I'm docking you for two shifts," Richards said finally, keeping his eyes forward. "Twelve hundred bucks."

The doors slid open on L2.

"Don't let it happen again," Richards warned.

He exited the elevator and strode away. As the doors closed behind him, Grey released the breath he realized he'd been holding in his chest. Twelve hundred bucks-that hurt. But Richards. He made Grey more than a little jumpy. Especially now, after the little speech Paulson had given in the mess. Grey had begun to think maybe something had happened to Jack and Sam, that they hadn't just flown the coop. Grey remembered that dancing red light in the field. It had to be true: something had happened, and Richards had put that light on Jack and Sam.

The doors opened on L3, giving a view of the security detail, two soldiers wearing the orange armband of the watch. He was well below ground now, which always made him feel a little claustrophobic at first. Above the desk was a big sign: AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY. BIOLOGICAL AND NUCLEAR HAZARDS PRESENT. NO EATING, DRINKING, SMOKING. REPORT ANY OF THE FOLLOWING SYMPTOMS TO THE OD. This was followed by a list of what sounded like a bad case of stomach flu, only worse: fever, vomiting, disorientation, seizures.

He gave his badge to the one he knew as Davis.

"Hey, Grey." Davis took his badge and ran it under the scanner without even looking at the screen. "I got a joke for you. How many kids with ADD does it take to screw in a lightbulb?"

"I don't know."

"Hey, you wanna go ride bikes?" Davis laughed and slapped his knee. The other soldier frowned; Grey didn't think he understood the joke, either. "Don't you get it?"

"'Cause he likes to ride bikes?"

"Yeah, 'cause he likes to ride bikes. He's got ADD. It means he can't pay attention."

"Oh. I get it now."

"It's a joke, Grey. You're supposed to laugh."

"It's funny," Grey managed. "But I gotta get to work."

Davis sighed heavily. "Okay, hold your horses."

Grey stepped back into the elevator with Davis. From around his neck Davis took a long, silver key and placed it in a slot beside the button for L4.

"Have fun down there," Davis said.

"I just clean," Grey said nervously.

Davis frowned and shook his head. "I don't want to know anything about it."

In the locker room on L4, Grey switched out his jumpsuit for scrubs. Two other men were there, sweeps like him, one named Jude and one named Ignacio. On the wall, a large whiteboard listed the duties of each worker for the shift. They dressed together without speaking and exited the room.

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