Twilight Eyes Page 50

But I remained alert for unusual sounds.

Shifting his large, bony frame in the kitchen chair, Horton continued: “Anyway, a guy named MacFarland, deer hunting on mining-company land, was unlucky enough to fall through the roof of an old abandoned tunnel. Broke both his legs, they said later. Called for help, must’ve screamed his head off, but nobody heard him. By the time the search party found him, he was two or three days dead. Few months before that, two local boys, both about fourteen, went up there exploring, as boys’ll do, and the same damn thing happened to them. Fell through the roof of an old tunnel. One broke an arm, the other an ankle, and though they evidently tried hard to scrabble back up to the surface, they never made it, never even come close. Searchers found them dead. So then the hunter’s wife and the boys’ parents sued the mining company, and there was no question they was going to win and win big. The owners decided to make out-of-court settlements, which they did, though to come up with the money, they had to sell off their holdings.”

Rya said, “And they sold out to a partnership comprised of Jensen Orkenwold, Anson Corday—who owns the newspaper—and Mayor Spectorsky.”

“Well, he wasn’t mayor then, though that’s what he become, sure enough,” Horton said. “And all three of those you named have the goblin stink about them.”

“Which the original owners did not,” I ventured.

“Right you are,” Horton said. “The original owners—well, they was men, nothing else, neither worse nor better than most, certainly not the stinking kind. But my point is—that’s why the fence was put up. The new owners said they didn’t want to risk those kind of lawsuits. And though some think they went totally overboard on that fence, most folks see it as a welcome sign of social responsibility.”

Rya looked at me, and her blue eyes were shaded by both anger and pity. “The hunter . . . the two boys . . . not accidents.”

“Not likely,” I said.

“Murdered,” she continued. “Part of a scheme to break the owners of the mine and force them to sell, so the goblins could have it for . . . for whatever they’re planning.”

“Very likely,” I said.

Horton Bluett blinked at Rya, at me, at Growler, at the bottle of beer in his hands, and then he shuddered as if all that blinking had triggered a sympathetic shivering in his muscles and bones. “I never thought the boys, the hunter... Well, hell’s bells, the hunter was Frank Tyner, and I knew him, and it never occurred to me that maybe he was murdered. Not even later, after the out-of-court settlements, when I noticed that the people who took over the mines was all of the bad sort. Now that you lay it out, it makes perfect sense. Why didn’t I see it before? Am I getting dim-witted in my golden years?”

“No,” Rya assured him. “Not dim-witted in the least. You just didn’t see it because you’ve made yourself into an extremely cautious man, yet also a moral man, so if you’d suspected murder, you’d have felt obligated to do something about it. Actually you probably did suspect the truth, but on a deep subconscious level, and never allowed the thought to percolate into your conscious mind because then you’d have to act on it. And acting on it would have done nothing to help the dead—while insuring your own murder.”

I said, “Or maybe you didn’t suspect anything because, after all, Horton, you can’t see the evil of these creatures, as we can. Their alienness is apparent to you but less emphatic than it is to us. And without our special sight you couldn’t see how organized they are, how purposeful and relentless.”

“Still,” he said, “I think I should’ve suspected. Makes me jumpy-cat nervous that I didn’t.”

I got fresh beers from the refrigerator, popped the caps off, and put the bottles on the table. Although snow flurries softly brushed the windows, and although the fluting wind played a chilling medley, we were all grateful for the cold Pabst.

For a while no one spoke.

Each of us communed with his own thoughts.

Growler sneezed and shook himself, jangling the tags on his collar, and put his head down again.

I thought the dog had been dozing, but though resting, he was still alert.

In time Horton Bluett said, “You’re determined to have a close look at the mine.”

“Yes,” I said, and Rya said, “Yes.”

“Can’t be talked out of it?” Horton said.

“No,” Rya said, and I said, “No.”

“Can’t be taught caution at your age,” he said.

We agreed that we were infected with the foolishness of youth.

“Well, then,” Horton said, “I guess I can help a bit. Guess I should better, or otherwise they’ll just catch you blundering around inside the fence and have sport with you.”

“Help?” I said. “How?”

He took a deep breath, and his clear, dark eyes appeared to grow even clearer with his resolution. “You don’t have to bother trying to get a peek at the mine entrance or at the equipment—forget that stuff. Probably wouldn’t see anything worthwhile, anyway. I figure the important things—whatever they’re hiding up there—are deep inside the mines, underground.”

“I figure too,” I said, “but—”

Raising one hand to cut me off, he said, “I can show you a way to sneak into the place, through all their security, into the heart of the Lightning Company’s main working shafts. You can see firsthand, up close, what they’re doing. I don’t advise it any more than I’d advise putting your bare hands against a buzz saw. I think you’re both too damn spunky for your own good, too caught up in the romance of what you believe to be a noble cause, too quick to decide you can’t live with yourselves if you back off, too crazy-eager to override those little engines of self-preservation ticking over inside you.

Rya and I started to speak at once.

Again he silenced us by raising one of his big, leathery hands. “Don’t get me wrong. I admire you for it. Sort of the way you might admire a damn fool who goes over Niagara Falls in a barrel. You know he’s going to have no effect whatsoever on the Falls, while it’s real likely to have a drastic effect on him, but he does it ’cause he sees a challenge. Which is one of the things that makes us different from the lower animals: our interest in meeting challenges, beating the odds, even if the odds are so high we can’t beat ’em, and even if beating them don’t accomplish anything. It’s like raising a fist and shaking it at the sky and threatening God if He doesn’t soon make some changes in creation and give us a better break. Stupid maybe, and maybe pointless—but brave and somehow satisfying.”

While we finished our second beers, Horton refused to tell us how he would get us into the Lightning Coal Company. He said it was a waste of time to lay it all out for us now because in the morning he would have to show us, anyway. He would only say that we should be ready to move out at dawn, when he would return for us.

“Listen,” I said, “we don’t want to get you involved so deep that you’re sucked down with us.”

“Sounds like you’re positive of being sucked down.”

“Well, if we are, I don’t want to be responsible for getting you caught in the whirlpool.”

“Don’t worry, Slim,” he said. “How often I got to tell you? I wear caution like a suit of clothes.”

At nine-forty he left, declining our repeated offer of a ride home. He had walked to our rented house so he would not have a car to hide when he arrived. Now he’d walk home. And he steadfastly insisted that he was looking forward to that “little stroll.”

“It’s more than a stroll,” I said. “It’s a fair piece to go, and at night, in this cold—”

“But Growler’s looking forward to it,” Horton said, “and I just wouldn’t want to disappoint him.”

Indeed the dog seemed eager to get out into the cold night. He had gotten up and hurried to the door as soon as Horton had risen from the chair. He wagged his tail and growled with pleasure. Perhaps it was not the brisk night or the walk that he anticipated with so much delight; perhaps, after sharing his beloved master with us for an evening, he was pleased by the prospect of having Horton to himself.

Standing in the open door, pulling on his gloves while Rya and I huddled together in the chilly draft that swept in past him. Horton peered out at the lazily swirling snowflakes and said, “Sky’s like a boil straining to bust itself. You can feel the pressure in the air. When it lets go, there’ll be a true blizzard, sure enough. Late in the year, last snow of the season—but a doozy.”

“When?” I asked.

He hesitated as if consulting his aged joints for their best meteorological opinion. “Soon but not real soon. It’ll flurry off and on all night and not put down half an inch by daybreak. After that . . . it’ll come, a big storm, sometime before noon tomorrow.”

He thanked us for dinner and for the beer, as if we’d had an ordinary neighborly evening together. Then he took Growler with him into the prestorm darkness. In seconds he was gone from sight.

As I closed the door, Rya said, “He’s something, huh?”

“Something,” I agreed.

Later, in bed with the lights off, she said, “It’s coming true, you know. The dream.”


“We’re going into the mines tomorrow.”

“You want to cancel?” I asked. “We can just go home to Gibtown.”

“Is that what you want?” she asked.

I hesitated. Then: “No.”

“Me neither.”

“You sure?”

“I’m sure. Just . . . hold me,” she said.

I held her.

She held me.

Destiny held us both. Its grip was firm.

Chapter twenty-seven


In the morning, just before dawn, snow flurries still fell in fits and starts, and the pending storm seemed to be clogged in the lowering sky.

Daybreak came with reluctance too. A feeble thread of wan gray light appeared along the irregularly crenelated mountains that formed high ramparts to the east. Slowly other dull threads were added by the loom of dawn, barely brighter than the blackness across which they were being woven. By the time Horton Bluett arrived in his four-wheel-drive Dodge pickup, the fragile fabric of the new day was still so delicate that it seemed as if it might tear apart and blow away in the wind, leaving the world in perpetual darkness.

He did not bring Growler with him. I missed the dog. So did Horton. Without Growler the old man seemed somehow . . . incomplete.

All three of us fit comfortably in the cab of the truck, Rya between Horton and me. We had room at our feet for the two backpacks that were crammed full of gear, including forty of the eighty kilos of plastic explosives. There was room, as well, for our guns.

I did not know if we would actually gain entrance to the mines, as Horton assured us we would. And even if we did get inside, we would most likely find things in there that would require a secret exit, stealthy withdrawal to give us time to assimilate discoveries and plan our next step. The chances of our needing the explosives today did not seem great. However, based on past experience with the goblins, I intended to be prepared for the worst.

The pickup’s headlights tunneled through the coal-black flesh of the recalcitrant night. We followed one county route, then another, up into narrow mountain valleys, where the equivocating dawn had not yet reached even one dim, glimmering finger.

Snowflakes as big as half-dollars spun through the headlights. Only flurries. Modest treasures of them stirred across the pavement like coins sliding across a table.

“Man and boy and baby,” Horton said as he drove, “I’ve lived here all my life, birthed by a midwife in my folks’ little house right up here in these hills. That was back in 1890, which probably seems so long ago to you that you’re wondering if there was still dinosaurs in them days. Anyway, I grew up here, learned this land, got to know the hills, fields, woods, ridges, and ravines as well as I’ve ever known my own face in a mirror. They been mining these mountains since back in the 1830s, and there’s abandoned shafts, some sealed up and some not, all over the place. Fact is, some mines connect up with others, and underground there’s something of a maze. As a boy, I was a great spelunker. Loved caves, old mines. Intrepid, I was. Maybe I was intrepid about exploring caves because I’d already smelled out all the bad people—the goblins—around about, had already learned that I had to be cautious out in the wide world, cautious in the rest of my life, so I was more or less forced to satisfy the usual boyish urge for adventure in solitary pursuits, where I didn’t have to trust anybody but myself. Now of course it’s downright dumb to go cave haunting alone. Too much can go wrong. It’s a buddy sport if there ever was one. But I never laid a claim to genius, and as a kid I didn’t even have my full share of common sense, so I went underground all the time, became a regular mine rat. Now maybe it all comes in handy. I can point you a way into the mountain through abandoned mines dug in the 1840s, which connect up with mines from the early part of this century, which in turn eventually snake all the way into some of the narrower side tunnels of the Lightning digs. Dangerous as hell, you understand. Reckless. Nothing I’d recommend for sane folks, but then, you’re mad. Mad for revenge, mad for justice, mad just to do something.”

Horton swung the truck off the second county road, onto a dirt lane that was plowed although occasionally obstructed by new drifts. From there we turned onto a less well cleared but still passable lane, then drove overland across an up-sloping field that would not have been negotiable even to a four-wheel-drive vehicle if the wind had not conspired to sweep most of the snow away and pile it up at the line of trees.

He parked at the top of the hill, as close to the trees as he could get. “We go on foot from here.”

I took the heaviest backpack, and Rya took the other, which was not exactly light. We each carried a loaded revolver and a silencer-equipped pistol; the former were worn in shoulder holsters under our ski jackets, while the latter were kept in deep, open pockets in our white, quilted, insulated pants. I also carried the shotgun, and Rya carried the automatic rifle.

Though decidedly well armed, I still felt like David carrying a pathetic little slingshot and scurrying nervously forward into Goliath’s shadow.

Night had finally relented, and dawn had found the courage to exert itself. Shadows were everywhere still deep, lingering, and the storm-choked sky of day was not dramatically brighter than it had been at night; nevertheless, Sunday was fully upon us at last.

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