Velocity Page 35

After locking the house, he returned the spare key to the hole in the tree stump.

With the advantage of daylight, he opened the tailgate of the Explorer and checked the floor of the cargo space for Valis’s blood. None had soaked through the moving blankets, and the blankets had gone into the lava pipe with the corpse.

He drove away from the Olsen house with relief, with a cautious optimism, with a growing sense of triumph.

The site of the Valis project looked like an auto dealership that sold only police vehicles.

Lots of uniforms milled around the motor home, the tent, the mural. Sheriff John Palmer would be one of them because there were also TV-NEWS

vans standing bumper-to-bumper along the shoulder of the highway. Billy realized that he was still wearing latex gloves. All right. No problem. No one could see and wonder why.

Not a single available space remained in the parking lot at the tavern. The news of Valis and his grisly collection would bring out all the regulars as well as new customers, with something more to talk about than pigs with human brains. Good for Jackie.

When Billy’s house came into view, the sight of it warmed him. Home. With the artist dead, the locks would not have to be rekeyed. Security was his again, and privacy.

In the garage, he cleaned out the Explorer, bagged the trash, put away the power screwdriver and other tools.

Somewhere on this property were incriminating souvenirs, a last bit of cleanup to be done.

When he stepped across the kitchen threshold, he allowed his instinct to guide him. Valis wouldn’t have brought Giselle Winslow’s hand here in a jar full of formaldehyde. Such a container would have been too awkward and fragile to allow quick work on the sly. Instinct suggested the simplest solution. He went to the refrigerator and opened the freezer drawer at the bottom. Among the containers of ice cream and packages of leftovers were two foilwrapped objects that he did not recognize. He opened them on the floor. Two hands, each from a different woman. One of them had probably belonged to the redhead.

Valis had used the new non-stick foil. The manufacturer would be pleased to hear that it worked as advertised.

Billy couldn’t stop trembling as he rewrapped the hands. For a while, he had thought that he had become inured to horror. He had not. Before the day was done, he would have to throw out all the contents of the freezer. No contamination could have occurred, but the thought of contamination sickened him. He might have to trash the refrigerator itself. He wanted the hands out of the house. He didn’t expect the police to knock on the door with a search warrant, but he wanted the hands gone, anyway. Burying them somewhere on the property seemed like a bad idea. At the very least, he would have dreams about them clawing out of their small graves and creeping into the house at night.

Until he could decide what to do with them, he put the frozen hands in a small picnic cooler.

From his wallet, he thought to extract the folded snapshot of Ralph Cottle as a young man, Cottle’s membership card in the American Society of Skeptics, and the photo of the redhead. He had kept these with the vague idea of turning the tables on the freak and planting bits of evidence on him. He tossed them in the cooler with the hands.

He had Lanny’s cell phone, which he hesitated to add to the cooler. As if the hands would strip off their foil shrouds and call 911. He put the cell phone on the kitchen table.

To get the hands out of the house, he took the cooler to the garage and put it in the Explorer, on the floor in front of the passenger’s seat. He locked the garage after himself.

The hot afternoon had waned. Six-thirty-six.

High overhead, a hawk conducted its last hunt of the day.

Billy stood watching as the bird described a widening gyre.

Then he went inside, eager to take a long shower as hot as he could tolerate.

The business with the women’s hands had suppressed his appetite. He didn’t think he would feel comfortable eating at home.

Maybe he would return to the truck stop for dinner. He felt as if he owed the waitress, Jasmine, even a bigger tip than the one he had previously left her. In the hallway, heading for the bathroom, Billy saw a light in his office. When he looked through the doorway, he found the shades drawn, as he had left them.

He didn’t remember leaving the desk lamp on, but he had split in a hurry, eager to dispose of Cottle. Without going around the desk, he switched off the lamp.

Although Cottle was no longer sitting on the toilet, Billy could too easily remember him there. This was his only bathroom, however, and his desire for a shower proved greater than his squeamishness.

The hot water gradually melted the aches from his muscles. The soap smelled glorious.

A couple of times, he grew claustrophobic behind the shower curtain and became half convinced that he had been cast in the Janet Leigh role in a gender-reversal version of Psycho.

Happily, he managed not to embarrass himself by whipping the curtain open. He concluded his shower without being knifed.

He wondered how much time would have to pass before he got over the heebie-jeebies. Most likely, the rest of his life.

After toweling off and dressing, he applied a fresh bandage to the hook wounds in his forehead.

He went into the kitchen, opened an Elephant beer, and used it to chase a pair of Motrin. The inflammation in his left hand worried him a little. At the table with the beer, and with a few first-aid items, he tried to introduce iodine into the nail wound, then applied a fresh liquid bandage. Beyond the windows, twilight approached.

He intended to go to Whispering Pines and spend a few hours. He had arranged to stay throughout the night in a prayer vigil; but in spite of his tenhour sleep, he didn’t think he would be able to stay that long. With Valis dead, midnight had no meaning.

When Billy had tended to the nail wound, as he sat at the table finishing the beer, his attention fell on the microwave. The security video. All this while, he’d been recording himself at the table. Then he realized that he had caught himself taking the hands out of the freezer. The camera had a wide-angle lens, but he didn’t believe that it could have captured his gruesome work well enough to serve as evidence.


He got the stepladder from the pantry. He climbed it and opened the cabinet above the microwave.

Using the reverse-scan mode, he studied the small review screen, watching himself walk backward around the kitchen. The angle had not revealed the severed hands.

Suddenly wondering whether Valis might have visited the house for some purpose between the time Billy had left the previous day and their meeting in the motor home before dawn, he continued the reverse scan beyond his entrance shortly after six o’clock.

He didn’t have to go all the way to the previous day. At 3:07 this same day, while Billy had still been asleep at the Olsen place, a man walked backward out of the living room, across the kitchen to the door, and reversed out of the house.

The intruder was not Valis, of course, because Valis was dead.

Chapter 75

Billy couldn’t remember the number. Using Lanny’s cell phone, he called directory assistance in Denver, and they put him through to Detective Ramsey Ozgard.

Billy paced while the phone rang out there in the shadow of the Rockies. Maybe Valis had been confident of Billy’s conversion because he had previously bent someone else instead of destroying him. None of the sixteen members of his crew was like him, but that didn’t mean the artist was a lone hunter.

Ramsey Ozgard answered on the fifth ring, and Billy identified himself as Lanny Olsen, and Ozgard said, “I hear blood in your voice, Deputy. Tell me you’ve got your man.”

“I think I will have shortly,” Billy said. “I’ve got an urgent situation here. I need to know—the year Judith Kesselman vanished, was there a professor at the university, calling himself Valis?”

“Not a professor,” Ozgard said. “He was the artist in residence for six months. At the end of his time, he did this ridiculous thing he called performance art, wrapped two campus buildings in thousands of yards of blue silk and hung them with—”

Billy interrupted. “Steve Zillis had a perfect alibi.”

“It was watertight,” Ozgard assured him. “I can walk you through it if you have ten minutes.”

“I don’t. But tell me—do you remember—at the university, what was Zillis’s major?”

“He was an art major.”


No wonder Zillis hadn’t wanted to talk about the mannequins. They weren’t just expressions of the sick dreams of a sociopathic killer—they were his art.

At that point, Billy hadn’t yet discovered the key words that would reveal the identity of the freak-performance art. He’d had only performance, and Zillis instinctively hadn’t wanted to give him the rest of it, not when he was doing so well playing a harmless, put-upon pervert.

“The son of a bitch deserves an Oscar,” Billy said. “I left his place feeling like the world’s worst shit, the way I treated him.”


“The famous and respected Valis vouched for Steve Zillis—didn’t he?—

said that Steve was with him on a retreat or something on the day Judith Kesselman disappeared.”

“You’re right. But you’d only jump to that if—”

“Turn on your evening news, Detective Ozgard. By the time Judi Kesselman vanished, Steve and Valis were working together. They were each other’s alibi. Gotta go.”

Billy remembered to press END before dropping Lanny’s phone. He still had Lanny’s pistol and Taser. He threaded the Wilson Combat holster onto his belt.

From the closet in his bedroom, he snared a sport coat, shrugged into it to conceal the pistol as best he could.

He slipped the Taser in an inner coat pocket.

What had Steve been doing here in the afternoon? By then he would have known that his mentor had been outed, the collection of hands and faces discovered. He might even suspect that Valis was dead.

Billy remembered finding the light on in the study. He went in there, all the way behind the desk this time, and found the computer in sleep mode. He hadn’t left it on.

When he moved the mouse, a document appeared. Can torture wake the comatose? Her blood, her mutilation will be your third wound. Billy flew through the house. He leaped off the back-porch steps, stumbled when he landed, and ran.

Night had fallen. An owl hooted. Wings against the stars.

Chapter 76

At 9:06 the guest parking lot in front of Whispering Pines contained only one car. Visiting hours ended at nine.

They hadn’t locked the front door yet. Billy pushed inside, crossed to the main nurses’ station.

Two nurses were behind the counter. He knew them both. He said, “I made arrangements to stay—”

The overhead lights went out. The parking-lot lights died, too. The main hall was almost as black as a lava pipe.

He left the nurses in confusion and followed the corridor toward the west wing.

At first he hurried, but within a dozen steps, in the dark, he collided with a wheelchair, grabbed at it, felt the shape of it.

From the chair, a frightened old woman said, “What’s happening, what’re you doing?”

“It’s all right, you’ll be okay,” he assured her, and went on. He didn’t move as fast now, arms in front of him like a blind man feeling for obstructions.

Wall-mounted emergency lights flickered on, then off, pulsed again and died.

An authoritative male voice calmly called out, “Please stay in your rooms. We will come to you. Please stay in your rooms.”

The emergency sconces tried to function again. But they pulsed at onethird brightness, and erratically.

These flares and leaping shadows were disorienting, but Billy could see well enough to avoid the people in the halls. Another nurse, an orderly, an elderly man in pajamas, looking bewildered…

A fire alarm issued an electronic ululation. A recorded voice began to give evacuation instructions.

A woman in a walker intercepted Billy as he approached her, plucked at his sleeve, seeking information.

“They’ve got it under control,” he assured her as he hurried past. He turned the corner into the west wing. Just ahead, on the right. The door stood open.

The room was dark. No auxiliary sconce in here. His own body blocked what little light pulsed in from the west hall.

Slamming doors, a cacophony of slamming doors, which weren’t doors at all, but his heart.

He felt his way toward the bed. He should have reached it. He went two steps farther. The bed wasn’t here.

He pirouetted blindly, sweeping his arms through the air. All he found was the barstool.

Her bed was on wheels. Someone had moved her.

In the hallway again, he looked left, looked right. A few of the ambulatory patients had come out of their rooms. A nurse was marshaling them for an orderly exit.

Through the dance of light and shadow, Billy saw a man pushing a bed at the far end of the hall, moving fast toward a flashing red EXIT sign. Dodging patients, nurses, phantoms of shadow, Billy ran.

The door at the end of the hall banged open as the man slammed the bed through it.

A nurse grabbed Billy by the arm, halting him. He tried to pull loose, but she had a grip.

“Help me roll some of the bedridden out of here,” she said.

“There’s no fire.”

“There must be. We’ve got to evacuate them.”

“My wife,” he declared, though he and Barbara had never married, “my wife needs help.”

He tore loose of the nurse, nearly knocking her off her feet, and hurried toward the flashing exit sign.

He shoved through the door, into the night. Dumpsters, cars and SUV’s in a staff parking lot.

For a moment, he didn’t see the man, the bed. There. An ambulance waited thirty feet away, to the left, its engine running. The wide rear door stood open. The guy with the bed had almost reached it.

Billy drew the 9-mm pistol but didn’t dare use it. He might hit Barbara. Crossing the blacktop, he holstered the pistol, fumbled the Taser out of an inner coat pocket.

At the last instant, Steve heard Billy coming. The freak had a pistol. He fired twice as he turned.

Billy was already coming in under Steve’s arm. The gun boomed over his head.

He jammed the business end of the Taser into Steve’s abdomen and clicked the trigger. He knew it would work through thin clothing, a shirt, but he had never checked to be sure that it contained fresh batteries. Zillis spasmed as the electric charge cried havoc along the wires of his nervous system. He didn’t merely drop his gun but flung it away. His knees buckled. He rapped his head on the bumper of the ambulance as he fell. Billy kicked him. He tried to kick him in the head. He kicked him again. The fire department would be coming. The police. Sheriff John Palmer, sooner or later.

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