I could have laughed, but that, of course, was impossible.
Angela came over to see for herself. "What killed him?"
"Hard to say. It's funny, but he looks better than when he was alive. He was sweating buckets and his color was all gone and now look at him."
"Okay, so he makes a handsome corpse; we've still got to get rid of him."
"Give him back to his English friend, then."
"Sure, and he'd have the cops out here tearing the place apart. There's tire tracks all over the place, holes in the ground from the grenades, and the mess Vic left of himself…"
"Okay, okay, I take it back. Do what you like."
Angela paced rapidly a few times, coming to an abrupt halt. "I've got it, but the boys will have to hurry if we're going to make it out to the dock in time. Lester, go find Mac and get some really sharp knives. I want you to cut up a couple of big sections of the hall carpet. The stuff's going to be ripped out anyway, we'll get a start on things. Make 'em long enough to hold-"
Lester interrupted, a grin in his voice. "Yeah, I know, that old rug bit."
"I want them long enough so that the ends can be tied off and roomy so we can load them with weights. You'll need plenty of rope or some heavy twine."
"Okay, I got it now. You wanta sink 'em both in the lake, huh?"
"No, I thought we could stick wings on 'em and drop 'em off the Wrigley building. Get moving."
Chuckling, Lester got out.
"Two down, one to go," said Angela.
"What one?" asked Doc.
"The English guy. I still expect him to raise a stink when we don't turn over his friend, so he'll have to be shut down, too."
"No lectures, Doc, I know what I'm doing. Anyway, go help Newton and I'll check on Lester. We're running out of time."
She whisked off one way, Doc ambled another, and I was left like so much luggage where I lay. None of it mattered to me. The idea of being rolled up in a hunk of rug like an overgrown hot dog caused no alarm. I was already comfortably wrapped in a sweet cottony cushion of well-being and couldn't care less about the things that happened beyond its limits. The people walking and talking around me were no more important than some radio left on to make noise in an otherwise empty house.
So I drifted and dreamed without sleep on Sheldon's poisoned blood while he was carried out and tended. Newton was then drafted to help with the carpet cutting. Their voices blended together in a pleasant, meaningless drone, occasionally punctuated by a laugh or Angela's urgings to hurry. They were all easily ignored as I floated in and out of the black and purple mists spinning lazily in my mind. No thoughts, no needs, no problems, no pleasures, no pains.
Angela and Newton returned and dropped something large on the floor near me. It made a mushy thump and I was treated to a puff of stale, dusty air. They took a moment to arrange it properly, then knelt next to me and rolled me over onto it. I didn't resist, couldn't resist, didn't care.
"He hasn't lightened any," Newton grumbled. "Gonna be hell getting him out to the truck."
"More than you think," said Angela. "Help me with these barbell weights."
"Easy, now, that one's too heavy for you."
"I'm just undoing the thing, you can carry it. How many will we need?"
"At least three of the fifty-pound ones for Vic. Maybe four for this guy. It's gotta be more than their own weight or they can float once they start to rot."
"Okay. Start taking 'em out to Mac and Lester, I'll roll these over to this one."
"But that's too-"
"No, it's not. I can handle fifty pounds if I have to. Get moving."
Newton got moving, puffing hard as he carried out Vic's share of iron. Angela worked to unlock the weights from their crossbars and rolled them over to me one at a time. With a small grunt and a heave, she got the first one placed high on my chest, just under my chin.
I didn't like it.
She placed the second one just below it. By the time she was ready with the third, Newton had come back and was able to take over.
I didn't like any of it. The discomfort was an unwelcome intrusion in my cobwebby dreams. I tried to push the things away, but nothing happened.
Angela lifted her side of the rug, flopping it over me. Dust and fibers smacked against my face. Newton did the same for his side, increasing the weight and discomfort.
With no need to breathe, I couldn't suffocate, but no matter what changes the body has undergone, some instincts cannot be forgotten or suppressed. The pressure on my chest and the stiff carpet folded so tightly around me brought up old nightmares and even a few fresh ones of pain and death.
"Tie it up good," came Angela's muffled voice. "I don't want the weights slipping out when we drop him in."
Newton muttered something, busy with his work. They tied off the top end of the rug just above my head and wound the rope fast around my feet and legs. The latter made me think of my last, my very last, moments of life when Fred Sanderson had tied a weight to my ankles, just before Frank Paco had…
"You hear something?" asked Newton.
"I heard something… like a whimper or a moan."
"Coming from him? Doc may be a drunk, but he knows a stiff when he sees one. I've never seen him so cross-eyed that he-"
"But I was sure I heard… maybe this guy had some kind of fit. He could still be alive."
"And so what if he is?" she asked pointedly.
"Okay," he said after a moment. "I get you."
They finished the job without further talk.
Lester walked in. "We got Vic loaded into the truck, Angela."
"Good. Where's Mac?"
"On his way."
"Soon as he's here, the three of you get this one out and wait for me. I have to find my coat."
"What about Doc? Is he comin'?"
"Yes. He'll be looking after Daddy when we get him back. Your job will be to look after Doc. Keep him on his feet until this is over."
That got her a laugh as she dashed out.
Mac came in and the three of them puffed and cursed and carried me with all the barbell weights to the truck. Throughout, I said nothing, did nothing. I was totally helpless, a bundle of bone and muscle unable to respond to my chaotic brain. They dropped me onto the metal floor of the truck. The fifty-pound disks had each slipped a little out of place. The one on my chest bumped painfully under my chin. Much more shifting and I'd have a crushed windpipe.
A long wait and then a stream of voices as they climbed into the truck. Its big motor turned and coughed to life, and with a rough shift of gears lurched away. I caught the full effect of the uneven road and was unable to protect myself from unexpected dips and turns.
No orderly, reasoned thoughts came to me. I was operating strictly on emotion, the primary ones of fear and anger. Each added a certain strength to my unconscious internal fight, but neither was generating any workable ideas for escape. Had I been able to vanish, no doubt I would have done so. Had I been capable of movement, I would have struggled. But my body was quite separated from my brain and my brain was barely awake. Just enough of it worked to acknowledge danger, but that was all.
Newton's voice was pitched to be heard above the rumble of the truck. "So what about it, Doc? You sure this guy's really croaked?"
"You sure you haven't been into Frank's home brew? Course he's dead."
"But what about what I heard?"
"Probably just some air wheezing out of the lungs. When you move a body around that can happen. Spooky the first time, but you get used to it."
"Maybe you are. I thought that he might still be alive, but just had some kind of a fit."
"No, he didn't have those symptoms or he'd have been stiff as a board when you found him. No signs of epilepsy, either."
"Then why'd he die?"
"Still worried that it might be catching?"
"Yeah, why not?"
"Good question, my friend. Wish I had an answer for you. I don't know what killed him: catalepsy, concussion, or cussedness, and I'm not ready to ask Angela if I can perform a quick autopsy just to satisfy your curiosity. None of it really matters, he's still going into the lake and the fish can worry about him for you."
"But the way he just dropped dead…"
"Newton, sooner or later we all drop dead, 'specially in this business. My advice is not to think about it and drink enough of this stuff down so you don't give a damn when it finally does happen."
Newton growled a dissatisfied disagreement to that and subsided.
My fingers suddenly twitched. Since my mind wasn't up to coherent thinking, I didn't notice at first, and attached little importance to it when I did.
"Think he's gonna haunt you, Newton?" asked Lester with a laugh.
"Don't be a wise-ass."
"That it, Fleming? You gonna haunt him?" He nudged me with his foot.
The weight on my chest moved, settling more firmly against my windpipe. A gagging sound that only I could hear escaped. I tried to turn from it and succeeded in easing the pressure a little.
"I think Newton reads too much."
"And you don't read at all."
"Yeah, that's why I ain't gonna be haunted like you. What's the point wasting your time on something that ain't real? You won't catch me noodling around with that kid stuff."
"Knock it off, Lester," ordered Doc. "Everyone knows what you noodle around with."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"What do you think? And if you keep it up you'll go blind. Did you know that?"
"You drunken lush. I oughta-"
"Lay off, all of ya," complained Mac. "My head's killin' me."
"Then have a drink," said Doc. They passed the flask around, which helped restore peace.
My hands had progressed from spastic twitching to controlled clenching. As far as was possible within the mummylike wrappings of carpet and rope, I formed fists and flexed muscles. Some of the wordless fears spinning in my brain ebbed away.
"You see that?" asked Newton.
"More haunting, huh?"
"Can it, Les. I saw his feet move."
I went very still, which was a conscious decision, the first real one I'd made in what seemed like hours.
"It was just the truck bouncing," said Doc.
"But did you see it?"
"Yeah, and it was the truck and this lousy light playing around."
"You wanna really be spooked, you shoulda helped me and Mac with Vic.
What a mess. Had to line his rug up with old newspapers to keep the blood from soaking straight through."
"Les, will you shut the hell up about it!"
"Sorry, Mac," he snickered.
The gears ground and we slowed and turned. The road got worse, distracting them from their conversation. I took the opportunity and chanced a limited stretch.
No one noticed.
"This is it," said Newton. "Everyone check your hardware."
The truck rolled to a stop, the brakes squealing crankily. The motor cut off and the front doors opened and slammed.
"Douse the light."
The back doors were also opened and the men filed out. Their voices became fainter and less identifiable.
"Yeah, he's already here. There's the running lights of the yacht."
"For what we are about to receive…"
"They're putting out a boat."
"… may we be truly thankful."
Their attention elsewhere, I flexed and stretched again, reveling in the return of feeling. Because of the weights and rug, it wasn't at all pleasant, but I knew I was still alive.
"Wish they'd hurry."
"Spread out and check the place for anybody who don't belong."
Then their voices faded altogether. I was alone in the stuffiest, most claustrophobic darkness that I'd ever known. Oddly enough, I no longer minded.
The imminent alternative was Angela's completion of the job her father began last summer-dropping me to the bottom of Lake Michigan.
Without Newton and the others bickering around me, it was easy to lose track of time. I lay quietly and waited for more of my mind to clear. It was like struggling awake from a thick and restless sleep, the illusion compounded by the stuff I was wrapped in.
"Sez you, I want to see for myself." Chaven's voice, coming up fast. My muscles tightened.
"And I want to see my father," said Angela, equally demanding.
"Don't worry, he's in good hands."
"He better be or I'll-"
"First things first." He climbed up into the truck. "Which one is he?"
He began tugging at the ropes. Then I heard the snick of a knife and a snap as he sawed through one.
"You're messing it up," Angela complained. "We had him all ready to-"
"Save it, babe. If this is him, I'll do you a favor and take him off your hands."
He cut quickly and forced apart the top half of the folded-up rug. I wisely remained as still as possible. Orange stains flickered over my eyelids as he checked my face with a flashlight. The cold, damp air coming in from the lake felt absolutely wonderful.
"It's him, all right." He slapped my face once, then removed a glove and checked my neck for a pulse. Nothing there, of course.
"Satisfied?" she asked.
"More than you think. Ever since I laid eyes on this s.o.b. he's been nothing but trouble. How'd you get him?"
"I didn't. We found him like that."
"Dead, lame brain."
"Just like that?"
"You mean he just waltzed into your house and dropped dead?"
"That's how it looked to Doc."
"That quack. Listen, Angela, nobody just drops dead. It's too convenient."
"Come on, you plugged him and just don't want to say."
"I didn't and if I had, I wouldn't need to hide it from you. He looked god-awful for a while, said he had a bad stomach, and then he must have keeled over."
"A bad stomach? Who dies of a bad stomach?"
"Who gives a damn?" she said, her voice rising. "We're here to make a trade, so let's get on with it."
But he was still digesting the news and tapped me again for assurance. "Don't know how you did this, Angela, but I owe you one."
"Then get my father."
"You got him and welcome to him. Who's the other stiff?"
"Never mind him."
"I'll just bet it's Vic. Ah, don't worry, I never trusted the creep, anyway. Here, you have your boys load these two up on the boat and I'll save you the trouble of dumping them."
"Why are you so anxious to help?"
"Because it's something the boss wants to have done. I'm all set up for it and I think it's about time things got a little nicer between us-your bunch and mine, that is."
Angela had a smile in her tone. "Don't you mean my bunch and Kyler?"
"Yeah, that's what I meant. What d'ya say?"
"I'll talk it over with my father when he gets back."
"You got a one-track mind, but that's okay. I'll get things started. Deiter, give these guys a hand, just to show we're all friends."
First Vic was dragged away, then came my turn. Bumpier and less secure than traveling in the trunk, they carried me to the dock. The top barbell weight finally slipped, coming out the top end of my rug. I was nearly dropped as the guy lugging my shoulders got his feet out of the way with a sharp curse. Somewhat out of breath, they agreed to keep going and come back for it later. My eyes were shut tight, but I knew when we'd moved out over the water. Right then and there I attempted to vanish and damn the consequences, but I hadn't quite recovered enough for it to work.
At least it was faceup, but the shock of impact against the wood was pretty bad when I landed, especially with the remaining weights on top. It was an effort holding in the grunts and groans resulting from their carelessness; now was not the time to effect a miraculous resurrection.
When it seemed safe, I cracked an eye for a peek at things. No one was in view, so I opened both and drew in a full breath of sweet, damp air. The clouds had broken up; I could see the stars I'd missed before, a thousand tiny suns to dispel the last shadows in my mind. I wasn't free yet, but they gave me hope.
Crowded next to me was Vic, anonymous and shapeless in his improvised shroud. If nothing else, I knew him by his bloodsmell. Despite the inner lining of newspapers, the stuff was seeping through, creating huge red patches on the outer side of the rug. Rest in pieces, I thought, and promptly had to stifle my own sudden gagging.
"What's that?" came Newton's sharp voice.
"Lay off, or I'll bust you one. I heard something."
"Yeah, the water gurgled, is all. Keep your eyes open, we ain't exactly home free with these guys."
"Ah, don't tell me my job."
Bad reaction on my part. Black humor and some stinking memories of the war that I thought I'd forgotten. Damn Angela and her grenades. Damn my own imagination for telling me what Vic must look like. Damn the Kaiser, too, and the joker who shot Archduke Ferdinand. Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn. Unable to vanish, I wrestled around to get my arms free of the rug.
Newton was pacing around on the shore and I had to watch out for him in case he decided to check on the gurgling water for himself. He and Angela had done a good job with the ropes, though, and Chaven hadn't cut away nearly enough to make much of a difference. I'd made no progress by the time he'd marched onto the dock with Opal, Angela, and the others.
Chaven clapped his hands together for warmth. "Okay, let's get things started.
First trip, I take Opal back, next, I bring in your father, the last, I clean up your garbage."
Angela agreed, but only up to a point. "Two of my men go with Opal, you stay here."
"We're all going to be friends, aren't we, Chaven? Doc and Newton go along to help with my father. Deiter goes with them to keep things smooth."
"They leave their gats here, then."
"No, they don't, or I'll have you leave yours, too. Let's keep things even."
"All right, but no trouble or everyone goes in the drink."
I made another attempt to vanish, a futile one. It should have been easier than this, especially since I was over water, but nothing happened. I was as solid as ever. I damned myself for a total idiot for taking in Sheldon's polluted blood, but there'd been little else I could have done. Was it permanent or did I just need more recovery time? The way they were pushing things, I wouldn't have very long to speculate.
Opal was guided forward. She was short on complaints, perhaps preoccupied by her new employment and making plans on how to leave her old job when the time came. She was helped down into the boat, followed by Doc, Newton, and Deiter, which thinned down the crowd. I'd been concerned about getting stepped on, but everyone managed to avoid it. The oars creaked and water splashed as they shoved off.
Chaven heaved a sigh that verged on the theatrical. "I'm glad this is working out so well for all of us, Angela."
Since it was a rather obvious conversational gambit, she spared him a return comment.
Chaven bulled ahead without her cooperation. "Look, I need to talk with you."
"In private, not with a lot of others around. Since you don't trust me, we can stay out here and your boys can watch us from the land. We'll be in plain sight the whole time."
She thought it over. "All right."
"Angela…" said Lester, warningly.
"I'll be fine. Besides, I've got my chaperon with me. If Chaven tries anything I don't like, I plug him. Got that, Chaven?"
"I never argue with a lady."
Lester grumbled, but he and Mac retired to the land end of the dock.
"Okay," she said brightly. "What is it?"
"This whole deal about kidnapping your father… I just wanted you to know that it wasn't my idea, that I didn't want any part of it."
"I mean that. It was all Kyler's doing. I told him not to, but he wouldn't listen."
"And now he's come to his senses with this trade?"
"You could say that. The truth is that there's a lot of changes going on right now that you don't know about."
"Really? What changes?" She sounded interested, but wary, playing it just right.
"I wanta give it to you straight about Kyler-just between us." Chaven lowered his voice slightly. "He's on the way out."
Angela took her time before saying, "Uh-huh."
"That's the straight stuff. He's… well, he's going nuts."
"Not funny, Chaven."
"I don't mean it to be. If you'd seen him tonight, you'd know. That Fleming guy got him so jumpy that-"
Chaven bumped his toe against me. "Well, Kyler got the idea that this mug could turn himself invisible. Now you can figure what the other guys thought."
"I can also figure what I think."
"Hey, I said he was crazy, not me. I never said I believed him."
Liar, I thought, and had half a mind to tell him so, but was too interested in finding out his game to interrupt.
"Anyway, there's some big changes coming and you need to know about it."
He hesitated. "With Kyler going out, someone else has to come in."
"And you're it?" She was unimpressed.
"I know how you feel, how things were after your father's… accident. They really shoulda put you in charge of things, but the big boys said no, thinking that a broa-girl couldn't cut it. I know that Frank had it planned for you to take it over a few years down the line."
"Which didn't pan out."
"Yeah, but that don't mean it couldn't now."
"What's your game?"
"With Kyler out of the way, I move into the top spot, but I need more than just Deiter and Opal to hold things together. A lot of the boys di-don't like Kyler, but they don't dare quit."
"So what's that to me?"
"It means this is your chance to come in on the deal. We can work together on this."
"Oooh, what's next? A box of candy and a ring?"
"I'm serious, Angela. I want to cut you in on the business."
"Why do you need me?"
"For what I just told you. To hold things together."
She was quiet for a long time, probably thinking it all through very seriously, indeed. I could tell because she wasn't pacing.
"So what d'ya say?" he asked.
"Call me when Kyler's out of the way, then we'll really talk."
"Why not now?"
"You already said it: I can't trust you and I know you don't trust me."
"Of course I do, or I wouldn't be giving you this stuff."
"You don't or you would have told me right out that Kyler's dead and on that boat."
Despite the constant lap of water masking over the more subtle sounds around us, I could have sworn that I heard his heart jump. It took him a while to settle down and find his voice. "How did… ?"
"Your 'invisible' friend here mentioned it. I got the whole story of how you killed Kyler and put the blame on him. I like the way you tied it up, but I don't like being lied to and I'm not going to forget it if and when we do cut a deal. Are you sure you want to work with me?"
He bumped me with his toe again. "Dead and he's still making trouble. Okay, Angela, you caught me out on Kyler and I'm sorry, but it was pretty important news and I had to know which way you were pointed before I could-"
"Uh-huh. You want to talk or give excuses all night?"
"Talk," he blurted, then shut up. I could almost sympathize with him on how she'd jerked the rug right out from under his generous offer and put him on the defensive. If they did manage to work something out, I had a good idea on who would be the senior partner.
The boat came back just then and Angela's attention instantly switched to it and its passengers.
"Daddy? Are you all right?"
"Doc, what's with him? What's the matter?"
"Nothing, he's just a little tired and boozy. They were giving him some of the hard stuff to keep him quiet. Let him sleep it off and he'll be fine."
She wasn't too reassured and fretted until he was safely out of the rowboat and up on the dock. With Doc and Mac's help she was quick to get him away into the truck. Newton and Lester remained behind.
"Last trip and then we can call it a night," said Chaven. Deiter held the boat steady while the other three struggled to lower Vic into it. "Jeez, why did you have to pack the weights inside with the stiff? You coulda tied them on afterward."
No one bothered to answer. My turn came up. They refolded the carpet over my face and hefted and heaved. I was dropped on top of Vic without ceremony or much respect for the dead. The only reason they weren't rougher was worry over tearing up the boat. The barbell weight that had slipped out was handed, not dumped in, then Chaven climbed down and we were pushed away.
The oars scraped in their locks, then Deiter got down to rhythmic rowing. The nasty, corkscrewing motion of the boat abated a bit, but my stomach still wanted to turn itself inside out in reaction.
"What's the holdup?" asked Chaven.
"Nothing, just a heavy load. I'm getting tired and these stiffs must weigh a ton.
How'd Angela take your pitch?"
"She's got more brains than what's good for her, but I think we can swing something after she cools down. Give her some time with her dear old dad, then I can start sending her posies, though if that broad's anything like Frankie, money would work better."
"You're going to give her money?"
"No, but I'll make sure she knows the stuff is there and waiting if she wants to work with me."
"Still can't figure why you want to risk it. I'd rather sleep with a tarantula than trust her, especially after what she did to Red and the boys."
"I'm not sleeping with her and I'm not trusting her, but she is necessary. She may not have much pull yet, but she does know how to work with people and knows what people to work with. Kyler played it too close to the chest for me to get enough of a handle on things."
"But what about Red? And Vic here? You wanta end up like them?"
"No, and as long as I keep my eyes open, that won't happen. The nice part is that Angela knows she needs me, too."
"And when she don't need you no more?"
"Then she can go on a nice cruise of this beautiful lake."
"'Less she bumps you first."
Deiter applied his full attention to rowing and was quite out of breath by the time one of the Elvira's crew hailed us. Ropes were thrown and instructions passed. Deiter and Chaven gratefully turned the problem of unloading us over to them. After some discussion, a rope net was thrown down and wrapped around us and we were hoisted up with the help of one of their loading cranes. So I deduced from their talk and the complete discomfort and sick-making swinging around that I was subjected to before they were finished.
The steadier deck of the yacht was an improvement over the rowboat, but my back hairs were still on end and the effect of all the acrobatics on my already sensitive stomach was predictable. Vic and I were rolled from the net like so much fish and a protective tarp thrown over us. He didn't mind, but I did and began fighting to get free, not caring who saw; this was pure survival.
At least my strength had returned. After enough wriggling to tear up a straitjacket, I got one arm free. This created some space for the other to come out, and I clawed at the carpet, pushing it from my face. The tarp hadn't been tied down and fresh cold air came up under it to ease the revolution in my gut. Such frantic activity had dislodged the barbells, which was something to celebrate.
I was freezing. My fingers could do little more than fumble at the knots, which I could barely feel. All this was by touch, with me folded in two to get to the ropes on my ankles. It was the kind of work designed to teach a person patience in the most exasperating way possible. I was a lousy student and went on another silent cursing streak. Finally, one of the less likely loops came loose, but it led to another that was a dead end.
With an idea of turning up something sharp, like a convenient knife, I took a cautious look from under the tarp. No one around. Lucky them. I was in a pretty foul mood by now and more than ready to work it off on anyone handy.
They'd left us piled on the aft section. Beyond the rail was a vast line of the city's lights floating above silver and black ribbons of water-not far away, but too far for me. All I wanted was to cut loose, get to the rowboat, and get to shore and to hell with everybody else.
Except that it didn't work out like that. I'd forgotten that Chaven had more to throw overboard than me and Vic. He still had Kyler on his hands and wasn't about to waste time getting rid of him. Just before ducking back under the tarp, I saw one of the crew and Deiter struggling along with a blanket-wrapped bundle of unmistakable weight and shape. Chaven was right behind them.
"Get the rail off," he ordered.
"I still think we're too close to the shore," Deiter complained.
"Opal's starting to bitch about going home soon. I have to stay on her good side until I can get her to hand over the code for the books. So let's move it."
"A punch in the kisser would work just as good."
"Come on, give us a hand."
They yanked away the tarp. I played possum once more. With my feet still tied up, I couldn't get to them, they'd have to come to me. Deiter grabbed my ankles and hauled me almost to the edge of the deck. The water was much too close. I flinched involuntarily against the uneasy movement of the yacht.
"Hey, what the hell?" He let go as if I were a hot brick.
"What is it?"
"Chaven, look at this. He's… come loose… or something."
"Who're you kidding? He's dead."
"Maybe not so dead as you think. See?" Deiter shuffled nervously back.
"Douse that light, you jerk." His voice was thinner, harsher. "The ropes didn't hold, is all."
"Don't be a stoop. Look at him! He had to have done it. Who else?"
Chaven looked. "This is crazy. He's dead. I know he's dead."
"Angela put one over on you, is what it is. You gotta do something about him."
"Oh, hell, get outta the way."
It was dark enough for me to risk cracking my eyes. Chaven crowded in close, right where I wanted him, but he drew his gun-Escott's stolen Webley-which I could have done without.
As I suddenly sat up and reached for him like some long-dreaded retribution, he let out an honest-to-God shriek that I didn't think could come from a human throat. Deiter and the other guy also joined the chorus, stumbling all over one another in their hurry to get away. It might have been funny if I hadn't truly been fighting for my life.
I got both hands on his arm and shoved the gun to my right. Chaven tried to pull himself away. The damn thing went off, again and again and…
Chaven threw himself backward. I didn't dare let go of his arm. I was dragged along.
The bullets flew wide.
Couldn't use my legs for leverage, they were still caught up in the rug.
Concentrated on the gun. Another shot.
Then I got one hand over his. The thing bucked and roared as I twisted it up.
This time the bullet struck. The side of his throat exploded. Blood burst from the wound, spraying me. The gun's sharp recoil took it out of his grip; it dropped on the deck with a thud. Then there was a horrible weightless second with both of us screaming as we crashed headfirst into the lake.
Headfirst into hell.
Chaven pushed away, the last thing he ever did. In four seconds all the life went out of him, flooding the shifting shadows around us with the black cloud of his blood.
I was upside down, my legs tied fast in the rug and the thing spreading above me, buoyant in the water. Arms out as though flying, Chaven's body drifted past in a slow downward spiral, a thick trail streaming from his throat. The darkness took him… and reached out for me.
It bubbled and burned like fire, tearing right through the top of my skull.
It seared and clawed and ripped at my frail flesh like a starved monster.
It smashed and smothered, crushing my final wailing hope of escape.
Ears stuffed with it, eyes blurred from it, mouth gagging on it, bones shrinking from its freezing touch.
I kicked and writhed and fought and howled and strangled against it.