Black House - Chapter Twenty-seven



WHEN JACK AND Dale step into the air-conditioned cool, the Sand Bar is empty except for three people. Beezer and Doc are at the bar, with soft drinks in front of them ¡ª an End Times sign if there ever was one, Jack thinks. Far back in the shadows (any further and he'd be in the dive's primitive kitchen), Stinky Cheese is lurking. There is a vibe coming off the two bikers, a bad one, and Stinky wants no part of it. For one thing, he's never seen Beezer and Doc without Mouse, Sonny, and Kaiser Bill. For another . . . oh God, it's the California detective and the freakin' chief of police.

The jukebox is dark and dead, but the TV is on and Jack's not exactly surprised to see that today's Matinee Movie on AMC features his mother and Woody Strode. He fumbles for the name of the film, and after a moment it comes to him: Execution Express.

"You don't want to be in on this, Bea," Woody says ¡ª in this film Lily plays a Boston heiress named Beatrice Lodge, who comes west and turns outlaw, mostly to spite her straitlaced father. "This is looking like the gang's last ride."

"Good," Lily says. Her voice is stony, her eyes stonier. The picture is crap, but as always, she is dead on character. Jack has to smile a little.

"What?" Dale asks him. "The whole world's gone crazy, so what's to smile about?"

On TV, Woody Strode says: "What do you mean, good? The whole damn world's gone crazy."

Jack Sawyer says, very softly: "We're going to gun down as many as we can. Let them know we were here."

On the screen, Lily says the same thing to Woody. The two of them are about to step aboard the Execution Express, and heads will roll ¡ª the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Dale looks at his friend, dazed.

"I know most of her lines," Jack says, almost apologetically. "She was my mother, you see."

Before Dale can answer (supposing any answer came to mind), Jack joins Beezer and Doc at the bar. He looks up at the Kingsland Ale clock next to the television: 11:40. It should be high noon ¡ª in situations like this, it's always supposed to be high noon, isn't it?

"Jack," Beezer says, and gives him a nod. "How ya doin', buddy?"

"Not too bad. You boys carrying?"

Doc lifts his vest, disclosing the butt of a pistol. "It's a Colt 9. Beez has got one of the same. Good iron, all registered and proper." He glances at Dale. "You along for the ride, are you?"

"It's my town," Dale says, "and the Fisherman just murdered my uncle. I don't understand very much of what Jack's been telling me, but I know that much. And if he says there's a chance we can get Judy Marshall's boy back, I think we'd better try it." He glances at Jack. "I brought you a service revolver. One of the Ruger automatics. It's out in the car."

Jack nods absently. He doesn't care much about the guns, because once they're on the other side they'll almost certainly change into something else. Spears, possibly javelins. Maybe even slingshots. It's going to be the Execution Express, all right ¡ª the Sawyer Gang's last ride ¡ª but he doubts if it'll be much like the one in this old movie from the sixties. Although he'll take the Ruger. There might be work for it on this side. One never knows, does one?

"Ready to saddle up?" Beezer asks Jack. His eyes are deep-socketed, haunted. Jack guesses the Beez didn't get much sleep last night. He glances up at the clock again and decides ¡ª for no other reason than pure superstition ¡ª that he doesn't want to start for the Black House just yet, after all. They'll leave the Sand Bar when the hands on the Kingsland clock stand at straight-up noon, no sooner. The Gary Cooper witching hour.

"Almost," he says. "Have you got the map, Beez?"

"I got it, but I also got an idea you don't really need it, do you?"

"Maybe not," Jack allows, "but I'll take all the insurance I can get."

Beezer nods. "I'm down with that. I sent my old lady back to her ma's in Idaho. After what happened with poor old Mousie, I didn't have to argue too hard. Never sent her back before, man. Not even the time we had our bad rumble with the Pagans. But I got a terrible feeling about this." He hesitates, then comes right out with it. "Feel like none of us are coming back."

Jack puts a hand on Beezer's meaty forearm. "Not too late to back out. I won't think any less of you."

Beezer mulls it over, then shakes his head. "Amy comes to me in my dreams, sometimes. We talk. How am I gonna talk to her if I don't stand up for her? No, man, I'm in."

Jack looks at Doc.

"I'm with Beez," Doc says. "Sometimes you just gotta stand up. Besides, after what happened to Mouse . . ." He shrugs. "God knows what we might have caught from him. Or fucking around out there at that house. Future might be short after that, no matter what."

"How'd it turn out with Mouse?" Jack inquires.

Doc gives a short laugh. "Just like he said. Around three o'clock this morning, we just washed old Mousie down the tub drain. Nothing left but foam and hair." He grimaces as if his stomach is trying to revolt, then quickly downs his glass of Coke.

"If we're going to do something," Dale blurts, "let's just do it."

Jack glances up at the clock. It's 11:50 now. "Soon."

"I'm not afraid of dying," Beezer says abruptly. "I'm not even afraid of that devil dog. It can be hurt if you pour enough bullets into it, we found that out. It's how that fucking place makes you feel. The air gets thick. Your head aches and your muscles get weak." And then, with a surprisingly good British accent: "Hangovers ain't in it, old boy."

"My gut was the worst," Doc says. "That and . . ." But he falls silent. He doesn't ever talk about Daisy Temperly, the girl he killed with an errant scratch of ink on a prescription pad, but he can see her now as clearly as the make-believe cowboys on the Sand Bar's TV. Blond, she was. With brown eyes. Sometimes he'd made her smile (even in her pain) by singing that song to her, the Van Morrison song about the brown-eyed girl.

"I'm going for Mouse," Doc says. "I have to. But that place . . . it's a sick place. You don't know, man. You may think you understand, but you don't."

"I understand more than you think," Jack says. Now it's his turn to stop, to consider. Do Beezer and Doc remember the word Mouse spoke before he died? Do they remember d'yamba? They should, they were right there, they saw the books slide off their shelf and hang in the air when Jack spoke that word . . . but Jack is almost sure that if he asked them right now, they'd give him looks that are puzzled, or maybe just blank. Partly because d'yamba is hard to remember, like the precise location of the lane that leads from sane antislippage Highway 35 to Black House. Mostly, however, because the word was for him, for Jack Sawyer, the son of Phil and Lily. He is the leader of the Sawyer Gang because he is different. He has traveled, and travel is broadening.

How much of this should he tell them? None of it, probably. But they must believe, and for that to happen he must use Mouse's word. He knows in his heart that he must be careful about using it ¡ª d'yamba is like a gun; you can only fire it so many times before it clicks empty ¡ª and he hates to use it here, so far from Black House, but he will. Because they must believe. If they don't, their brave quest to rescue Ty is apt to end with them all kneeling in Black House's front yard, noses bleeding, eyes bleeding, vomiting and spitting teeth into the poison air. Jack can tell them that most of the poison comes from their own minds, but talk is cheap. They must believe.

Besides, it's still only 11:53.

"Lester," he says.

The bartender has been lurking, forgotten, by the swing door into the kitchen. Not eavesdropping ¡ª he's too far away for that ¡ª but not wanting to move and attract attention. Now it seems that he's attracted some anyway.

"Have you got honey?" Jack asks.


"Bees make it, Lester. Mokes make money and bees make honey."

Something like comprehension dawns in Lester's eyes. "Yeah, sure. I keep it to make Kentucky Getaways. Also ¡ª "

"Set it on the bar," Jack tells him.

Dale stirs restively. "If time's as short as you think, Jack ¡ª "

"This is important." He watches Lester Moon put a small plastic squeeze bottle of honey on the bar and finds himself thinking of Henry. How Henry would have enjoyed the pocket miracle Jack is about to perform! But of course, he wouldn't have needed to perform such a trick for Henry. Wouldn't have needed to waste part of the precious word's power. Because Henry would have believed at once, just as he had believed he could drive from Trempealeau to French Landing ¡ª hell, to the fucking moon ¡ª if someone just dared to give him the chance and the car keys.

"I'll bring it to you," Lester says bravely. "I ain't afraid."

"Just set it down on the far end of the bar," Jack tells him. "That'll be fine."

He does as asked. The squeeze bottle is shaped like a bear. It sits there in a beam of six-minutes-to-noon sun. On the television, the gunplay has started. Jack ignores it. He ignores everything, focusing his mind as brightly as a point of light through a magnifying glass. For a moment he allows that tight focus to remain empty, and then he fills it with a single word:


At once he hears a low buzzing. It swells to a drone. Beezer, Doc, and Dale look around. For a moment nothing happens, and then the sunshiny doorway darkens. It's almost as if a very small rain cloud has floated into the Sand Bar ¡ª

Stinky Cheese lets out a strangled squawk and goes flailing backward. "Wasps!" he shouts. "Them are wasps! Get clear!"

But they are not wasps. Doc and Lester Moon might not recognize that, but both Beezer and Dale Gilbertson are country boys. They know bees when they see one. Jack, meanwhile, only looks at the swarm. Sweat has popped out on his forehead. He's concentrating with all his might on what he wants the bees to do.

They cloud around the squeeze bottle of honey so thickly it almost disappears. Then their humming deepens, and the bottle begins to rise, wobbling from side to side like a tiny missile with a really shitty guidance system. Then, slowly, it wavers its way toward the Sawyer Gang. The squeeze bottle is riding a cushion of bees six inches above the bar.

Jack holds his hand out and open. The squeeze bottle glides into it. Jack closes his fingers. Docking complete.

For a moment the bees rise around his head, their drone competing with Lily, who is shouting: "Save the tall bastard for me! He's the one who raped Stella!"

Then they stream out the door and are gone.

The Kingsland Ale clock stands at 11:57.

"Holy Mary, mothera God," Beezer whispers. His eyes are huge, almost popping out of their sockets.

"You've been hiding your light under a bushel, looks like to me," Dale says. His voice is unsteady.

From the end of the bar there comes a soft thud. Lester "Stinky Cheese" Moon has, for the first time in his life, fainted.

"We're going to go now," Jack says. "Beez, you and Doc lead. We'll be right behind you in Dale's car. When you get to the lane and the NO TRESPASSING sign, don't go in. Just park your scoots. We'll go the rest of the way in the car, but first we're going to put a little of this under our noses." Jack holds up the squeeze bottle. It's a plastic version of Winnie-the-Pooh, grimy around the middle where Lester seizes it and squeezes it. "We might even dab some in our nostrils. A little sticky, but better than projectile vomiting."

Confirmation and approval are dawning in Dale's eyes. "Like putting Vicks under your nose at a murder scene," he says.

It's nothing like that at all, but Jack nods. Because this is about believing.

"Will it work?" Doc asks doubtfully.

"Yes," Jack replies. "You'll still feel some discomfort, I don't doubt that a bit, but it'll be mild. Then we're going to cross over to . . . well, to someplace else. After that, all bets are off."

"I thought the kid was in the house," Beez says.

"I think he's probably been moved. And the house . . . it's a kind of wormhole. It opens on another . . ." World is the first word to come into Jack's mind, but somehow he doesn't think it is a world, not in the Territories sense. "On another place."

On the TV, Lily has just taken the first of about six bullets. She dies in this one, and as a kid Jack always hated that, but at least she goes down shooting. She takes quite a few of the bastards with her, including the tall one who raped her friend, and that is good. Jack hopes he can do the same. More than anything, however, he hopes he can bring Tyler Marshall back to his mother and father.

Beside the television, the clock flicks from 11:59 to 12:00.

"Come on, boys," Jack Sawyer says. "Let's saddle up and ride."

Beezer and Doc mount their iron horses. Jack and Dale stroll toward the chief of police's car, then stop as a Ford Explorer bolts into the Sand Bar's lot, skidding on the gravel and hurrying toward them, pulling a rooster tail of dust into the summer air.

"Oh Christ," Dale murmurs. Jack can tell from the too small baseball cap sitting ludicrously on the driver's head that it's Fred Marshall. But if Ty's father thinks he's going to join the rescue mission, he'd better think again.

"Thank God I caught you!" Fred shouts as he all but tumbles from his truck. "Thank God!"

"Who next?" Dale asks softly. "Wendell Green? Tom Cruise? George W. Bush, arm in arm with Miss Fucking Universe?"

Jack barely hears him. Fred is wrestling a long package from the bed of his truck, and all at once Jack is interested. The thing in that package could be a rifle, but somehow he doesn't think that's what it is. Jack suddenly feels like a squeeze bottle being levitated by bees, not so much acting as acted upon. He starts forward.

"Hey bro, let's roll!" Beezer yells. Beneath him, his Harley explodes into life. "Let's ¡ª "

Then Beezer cries out. So does Doc, who jerks so hard he almost dumps the bike idling between his thighs. Jack feels something like a bolt of lightning go through his head and he reels forward into Fred, who is also shouting incoherently. For a moment the two of them appear to be either dancing with the long wrapped object Fred has brought them or wrestling over it.

Only Dale Gilbertson ¡ª who hasn't been to the Territories, hasn't been close to Black House, and who is not Ty Marshall's father ¡ª is unaffected. Yet even he feels something rise in his head, something like an interior shout. The world trembles. All at once there seems to be more color in it, more dimension.

"What was that?" he shouts. "Good or bad? Good or bad? What the hell is going on here?"

For a moment none of them answer. They are too dazed to answer.

While a swarm of bees is floating a squeeze bottle of honey along the top of a bar in another world, Burny is telling Ty Marshall to face the wall, goddamnit, just face the wall.

They are in a foul little shack. The sounds of clashing machinery are much closer. Ty can also hear screams and sobs and harsh yells and what can only be the whistling crack of whips. They are very near the Big Combination now. Ty has seen it, a great crisscrossing confusion of metal rising into the clouds from a smoking pit about half a mile east. It looks like a madman's conception of a skyscraper, a Rube Goldberg collection of chutes and cables and belts and platforms, everything run by the marching, staggering children who roll the belts and pull the great levers. Red-tinged smoke rises from it in stinking fumes.

Twice as the golf cart rolled slowly along, Ty at the wheel and Burny leaning askew in the passenger seat with the Taser pointed, squads of freakish green men passed them. Their features were scrambled, their skin plated and reptilian. They wore half-cured leather tunics from which tufts of fur still started in places. Most carried spears; several had whips.

Overseers, Burny said. They keep the wheels of progress turning. He began to laugh, but the laugh turned into a groan and the groan into a harsh and breathless shriek of pain.

Good, Ty thought coldly. And then, for the first time employing a favorite word of Ebbie Wexler's: Die soon, you motherfucker.

About two miles from the back of Black House, they came to a huge wooden platform on their left. A gantrylike thing jutted up from it. A long post projected out from the top, almost to the road. A number of frayed rope ends dangled from it, twitching in the hot and sulfurous breeze. Under the platform, on dead ground that never felt the sun, were litters of bones and ancient piles of white dust. To one side was a great mound of shoes. Why they'd take the clothes and leave the shoes was a question Ty probably couldn't have answered even had he not been wearing the cap (sbecial toyz for sbecial boyz), but a disjointed phrase popped into his head: custom of the country. He had an idea that was something his father sometimes said, but he couldn't be sure. He couldn't even remember his father's face, not clearly.

The gibbet was surrounded by crows. They jostled one another and turned to follow the humming progress of the E-Z-Go. None was the special crow, the one with the name Ty could no longer remember, but he knew why they were here. They were waiting for fresh flesh to pluck, that's what they were doing. Waiting for newly dead eyes to gobble. Not to mention the bare toesies of the shoe-deprived dead.

Beyond the pile of discarded, rotting footwear, a broken track led off to the north, over a fuming hill.

"Station House Road," Burny said. He seemed to be talking more to himself than to Ty at that point, was perhaps edging into delirium. Yet still the Taser pointed at Ty's neck, never wavering. "That's where I'm supposed to be taking the special boy." Taging the sbecial bouy. "That's where the special ones go. Mr. Munshun's gone to get the mono. The End-World mono. Once there were two others. Patricia . . . and Blaine. They're gone. Went crazy. Committed suicide."

Ty drove the cart and remained silent, but he had to believe old Burn-Burn was the one who had gone crazy (crazier, he reminded himself ). He knew about monorails, had even ridden one at Disney World in Orlando, but monorails named Blaine and Patricia? That was stupid.

Station House Road fell behind them. Ahead, the rusty red and iron gray of the Big Combination drew closer. Ty could see moving ants on cruelly inclined belts. Children. Some from other worlds, perhaps ¡ª worlds adjacent to this one ¡ª but many from his own. Kids whose faces appeared for a while on milk cartons and then disappeared forever. Kept a little longer in the hearts of their parents, of course, but eventually growing dusty even there, turning from vivid memories into old photographs. Kids presumed dead, buried somewhere in shallow graves by perverts who had used them and then discarded them. Instead, they were here. Some of them, anyway. Many of them. Struggling to yank the levers and turn the wheels and move the belts while the yellow-eyed, green-skinned overseers cracked their whips.

As Ty watched, one of the ant specks fell down the side of the convoluted, steam-wreathed building. He thought he could hear a faint scream. Or perhaps it was a cry of relief ?

"Beautiful day," Burny said faintly. "I'll enjoy it more when I get something to eat. Having something to eat always . . . always perks me up." His ancient eyes studied Ty, tightening a little at the corners with sudden warmth. "Baby butt's the best eatin', but yours won't be bad. Nope, won't be bad at all. He said to take you to the station, but I ain't sure he'd give me my share. My . . . commission. Maybe he's honest . . . maybe he's still my friend . . . but I think I'll just take my share first, and make sure. Most agents take their ten percent off the top." He reached out and poked Ty just below the belt-line. Even through his jeans, the boy could feel the tough, blunt edge of the old man's nail. "I think I'll take mine off the bottom." A wheezy, painful laugh, and Ty was not exactly displeased to see a bright bubble of blood appear between the old man's cracked lips. "Off the bottom, get it?" The nail poked the side of Ty's buttock again.

"I get it," Ty said.

"You'll be able to break just as well," Burny said. "It's just that when you fart, you'll have to do the old one-cheek sneak every time!" More wheezing laughter. Yes, he sounded delirious, all right ¡ª delirious or on the verge of it ¡ª yet still the tip of the Taser remained rock-steady. "Keep on going, boy. 'Nother half a mile up the Conger Road. You'll see a little shack with a tin roof, down in a draw. It's on the right. It's a special place. Special to me. Turn in there."

Ty, with no other choice, obeyed. And now ¡ª

"Do what I tell you! Face the fucking wall! Put your hands up and through those loops!"

Ty couldn't define the word euphemism on a bet, but he knows calling those metal circlets "loops" is bullshit. What's hanging from the rear wall are shackles.

Panic flutters in his brain like a flock of small birds, threatening to obscure his thoughts. Ty fights to hold on ¡ª fights with grim intensity. If he gives in to panic, starts to holler and scream, he's going to be finished. Either the old man will kill him in the act of carving him up, or the old man's friend will take him away to some awful place Burny calls Din-tah. In either case, Ty will never see his mother and father again. Or French Landing. But if he can keep his head . . . wait for his chance . . .

Ah, but it's hard. The cap he's wearing actually helps a little in this respect ¡ª it has a dulling effect that helps hold the panic at bay ¡ª but it's still hard. Because he's not the first kid the old man has brought here, no more than he was the first to spend long, slow hours in that cell back at the old man's house. There's a blackened, grease-caked barbecue set up in the left corner of the shed, underneath a tin-plated smoke hole. The grill is hooked up to a couple of gas bottles with LA RIVIERE PROPANE stenciled on the sides. Hung on the wall are oven mitts, spatulas, tongs, basting brushes, and meat forks. There are scissors and tenderizing hammers and at least four keen-bladed carving knives. One of the knives looks almost as long as a ceremonial sword.

Hanging beside that one is a filthy apron with YOU MAY KISS THE COOK printed on it.

The smell in the air reminds Ty of the VFW picnic his mom and dad took him to the previous Labor Day. Maui Wowie, it had been called, because the people who went were supposed to feel like they were spending the day in Hawaii. There had been a great big barbecue pit in the center of La Follette Park down by the river, tended by women in grass skirts and men wearing loud shirts covered with birds and tropical foliage. Whole pigs had been roasting over a glaring hole in the ground, and the odor had been like the one in this shed. Except the smell in here is stale . . . and old . . . and . . .

And not quite pork, Ty thinks. It's ¡ª

"I should stand here and jaw at you all day, you louse?"

The Taser gives off a crackling sizzle. Tingling, debilitating pain sinks into the side of Ty's neck. His bladder lets go and he wets his pants. He can't help it. Is hardly aware of it, in truth. Somewhere (in a galaxy far, far away) a hand that is trembling but still terribly strong thrusts Ty toward the back wall and the shackles that have been welded to steel plates about five and a half feet off the ground.

"There!" Burny cries, and gives a tired, hysterical laugh. "Knew you'd get one for good luck eventually! Smart boy, ain'tcha? Little wisenheimer! Now put your hands through them loops and let's have no more foolishness about it!"

Ty has put out his hands in order to keep himself from crashing face-first into the shed's rear wall. His eyes are less than a foot from the wood, and he is getting a very good look at the old layers of blood that coat it. That plate it. The blood has an ancient metallic reek. Beneath his feet, the ground feels spongy. Jellylike. Nasty. This may be an illusion in the physical sense, but Ty knows that what he's feeling is nonetheless quite real. This is corpse ground. The old man may not prepare his terrible meals here every time ¡ª may not have that luxury ¡ª but this is the place he likes. As he said, it's special to him.

If I let him lock both of my hands into those shackles, Ty thinks, I've had it. He'll cut me up. And once he starts cutting, he may not be able to stop himself ¡ª not for this Mr. Munching, not for anyone. So get ready.

That last is not like one of his own thoughts at all. It's like hearing his mother's voice in his head. His mother, or someone like her. Ty steadies. The flock of panic birds is suddenly gone, and he is as clearheaded as the cap will allow. He knows what he must do. Or try to do.

He feels the nozzle of the Taser slip between his legs and thinks of the snake wriggling across the overgrown driveway, carrying its mouthful of fangs. "Put your hands through those loops right now, or I'm going to fry your balls like oysters." Ersters, it sounds like.

"Okay," Ty says. He speaks in a high, whiny voice. He hopes he sounds scared out of his mind. God knows it shouldn't be hard to sound that way. "Okay, okay, just don't hurt me, I'm doing it now, see? See?"

He puts his hands through the loops. They are big and loose.

"Higher!" The growling voice is still in his ear, but the Taser is gone from between his legs, at least. "Shove 'em in as far as you can!"

Ty does as he is told. The shackles slide to a point just above his wrists. His hands are like starfish in the gloom. Behind him, he hears that soft clinking noise again as Burny rummages in his bag. Ty understands. The cap may be scrambling his thoughts a little, but this is too obvious to miss. The old bastard's got handcuffs in there. Handcuffs that have been used many, many times. He'll cuff Ty's wrists above the shackles, and here Ty will stand ¡ª or dangle, if he passes out ¡ª while the old monster carves him up.

"Now listen," Burny says. He sounds out of breath, but he also sounds lively again. The prospect of a meal has refreshed him, brought back a certain amount of his vitality. "I'm pointin' this shocker at you with one hand. I'm gonna slip a cuff around your left wrist with the other hand. If you move . . . if you so much as twitch, boy . . . you get the juice. Understand?"

Ty nods at the bloodstained wall. "I won't move," he gibbers. "Honest I won't."

"First one hand, then the other. That's how I do it." There is a revolting complacency in his voice. The Taser presses between Ty's shoulder blades hard enough to hurt. Grunting with effort, the old man leans over Ty's left shoulder. Ty can smell sweat and blood and age. It is like "Hansel and Gretel," he thinks, only he has no oven to push his tormentor into.

You know what to do, Judy tells him coldly. He may not give you a chance, and if he doesn't, he doesn't. But if he does . . .

A handcuff slips around his left wrist. Burny is grunting softly, repulsively, in Ty's ear. The old man reaches . . . the Taser shifts . . . but not quite far enough. Ty holds still as Burny snaps the handcuff shut and tightens it down. Now Ty's left hand is secured to the shed wall. Dangling down from his left wrist by its steel chain is the cuff Burny intends to put on his right wrist.

The old man, still panting effortfully, moves to the right. He reaches around Ty's front, groping for the dangling cuff. The Taser is once more digging into Ty's back. If the old man gets hold of the cuff, Ty's goose is probably cooked (in more ways than one). And he almost does. But the cuff slips out of his grip, and instead of waiting for it to pendulum back to where he can grab it, Burny leans farther forward. The bony side of his face is planted against Ty's right shoulder.

And when he leans to get the dangling handcuff, Ty feels the touch of the Taser first lighten, then disappear.

Now! Judy screams inside Ty's head. Or perhaps it is Sophie. Or maybe it's both of them together. Now, Ty! It's your chance, there won't be another!

Ty pistons his right arm downward, pulling free of the shackle. It would do him no good to try to shove Burny away from him ¡ª the old monster outweighs him by sixty pounds or more ¡ª and Ty doesn't try. He pulls away to his left instead, putting excruciating pressure on his shoulder and on his left wrist, which has been locked into the shackle holding it.

"What ¡ª " Burny begins, and then Ty's groping right hand has what it wants: the loose, dangling sac of the old man's balls. He squeezes with all the force in his body. He feels the monster's testicles squash toward each other; feels one of them rupture and deflate. Ty shouts, a sound of dismay and horror and savage triumph all mingled together.

Burny, caught entirely by surprise, howls. He tries to pull backward, but Ty has him in a harpy's grip. His hand ¡ª so small, so incapable (or so you would think) of any serious defense ¡ª has turned into a claw. If ever there was a time to use the Taser, this is it . . . but in his surprise, Burny's hand has sprung open. The Taser lies on the ancient, blood-impacted earth of the shed floor.

"Let go of me! That HURTS! That hurr  ¡ª "

Before he can finish, Ty yanks forward on the spongy and deflating bag inside the old cotton pants; he yanks with all the force of panic, and something in there rips. Burny's words dissolve in a liquid howl of agony. This is more pain than he has ever imagined . . . certainly never in connection with himself.

But it is not enough. Judy's voice says it's not, and Ty might know it, anyway. He has hurt the old man ¡ª has given him what Ebbie Wexler would undoubtedly call "a fuckin' rupture" ¡ª but it's not enough.

He lets go and turns to his left, pivoting on his shackled hand. He sees the old man swaying before him in the shadows. Beyond him, the golf cart stands in the open door, outlined against a sky filled with clouds and burning smoke. The old monster's eyes are huge and disbelieving, bulging with tears. He gapes at the little boy who has done this.

Soon comprehension will return. When it does, Burny is apt to seize one of the knives from the wall ¡ª or perhaps one of the meat forks ¡ª and stab his chained prisoner to death, screaming curses and oaths at him as he does so, calling him a monkey, a bastard, a fucking asswipe. Any thought of Ty's great talent will be gone. Any fear of what may happen to Burny himself if Mr. Munshun ¡ª and the abbalah ¡ª is robbed of his prize will also be gone. In truth, Burny is nothing but a psychotic animal, and in another moment his essential nature will break loose and vent itself on this tethered child.

Tyler Marshall, son of Fred and the formidable Judy, does not give Burny this chance. During the last part of the drive he has thought repeatedly of what the old man said about Mr. Munshun ¡ª he hurt me, he pulled my guts ¡ª and hoped he might get his own opportunity to do some pulling. Now it's come. Hanging from the shackle with his left arm pulled cruelly up, he shoots his right hand forward. Through the hole in Burny's shirt. Through the hole Henry has made with his switchblade knife. Suddenly Ty has hold of something ropy and wet. He seizes it and pulls a roll of Charles Burnside's intestines out through the rip in his shirt.

Burny's head turns up toward the shed's ceiling. His jaw snaps convulsively, the cords on his wrinkled old neck stand out, and he voices a great, agonized bray. He tries to pull away, which may be the worst thing a man can do when someone has him by the liver and lights. A blue-gray fold of gut, as plump as a sausage and perhaps still trying to digest Burny's last Maxton cafeteria meal, comes out with the audible pop of a champagne cork leaving the neck of its bottle.

Charles "Chummy" Burnside's last words: "LET GO, YOU LITTLE PIIIIG!"

Tyler does not let go. Instead he shakes the loop of intestine furiously from side to side like a terrier with a rat in its jaws. Blood and yellowish fluid spray out of the hole in Burny's midsection. "Die!" Tyler hears himself screaming. "Die, you old fuck, GO ON AND DIE!"

Burny staggers back another step. His mouth drops open, and part of an upper plate tumbles out and onto the dirt. He is staring down at two loops of his own innards, stretching like gristle from the gaping red-black front of his shirt to the awful child's right hand. And he sees an even more terrible thing: a kind of white glow has surrounded the boy. It is feeding him more strength than he otherwise would have had. Feeding him the strength to pull Burny's living guts right out of his body and how it hurt, how it hurt, how it dud dud dud hurrrrr ¡ª

"Die!" the boy screams in a shrill and breaking voice. "Oh please, WON'T YOU EVER DIE?"

And at last ¡ª at long, long last ¡ª Burny collapses to his knees. His dimming gaze fixes on the Taser and he reaches one trembling hand toward it. Before it can get far, the light of consciousness leaves Burny's eyes. He hasn't endured enough pain to equal even the hundredth part of the suffering he has inflicted, but it's all his ancient body can take. He makes a harsh cawing sound deep in his throat, then tumbles over backward, more intestines pulling out of his lower abdomen as he does so. He is unaware of this or of anything else.

Carl Bierstone, also known as Charles Burnside, also known as "Chummy" Burnside, is dead.

For over thirty seconds, nothing moves. Tyler Marshall is alive but at first only hangs from the axis of his shackled left arm, still clutching a loop of Burny's intestine in his right hand. Clutching it in a death grip. At last some sense of awareness informs his features. He gets his feet under him and scrambles upright, easing the all but intolerable pressure on the socket of his left shoulder. He suddenly becomes aware that his right arm is splashed with gore all the way to the biceps, and that he's got a handful of dead man's insides. He lets go of them and bolts for the door, not remembering that he's still chained to the wall until he is yanked back, the socket of his shoulder once more bellowing with pain.

You've done well, the voice of Judy-Sophie whispers. But you have to get out of here, and quick.

Tears start to roll down his dirty, pallid face again, and Ty begins to scream at the top of his voice.

"Help me! Somebody help me! I'm in the shed! I'M IN THE SHED!"

Out in front of the Sand Bar, Doc stays where he is, with his scoot rumbling between his legs, but Beezer turns his off, levers the stand into place with one booted heel, and walks over to Jack, Dale, and Fred. Jack has taken charge of the wrapped object Ty's father has brought them. Fred, meanwhile, has gotten hold of Jack's shirt. Dale tries to restrain the man, but as far as Fred Marshall's concerned, there are now only two people in the world: him and Hollywood Jack Sawyer.

"It was him, wasn't it? It was Ty. That was my boy, I heard him!"

"Yes," Jack says. "It certainly was and you certainly did." He's gone rather pale, Beezer sees, but is otherwise calm. It's absolutely not bothering him that the missing boy's father has yanked his shirt out of his pants. No, all Jack's attention is on the wrapped package.

"What in God's name is going on here?" Dale asks plaintively. He looks at Beezer. "Do you know?"

"The kid's in a shed somewhere," Beezer says. "Am I right about that?"

"Yes," Jack says. Fred abruptly lets go of Jack's shirt and staggers backward, sobbing. Jack pays no attention to him and makes no effort to tuck in the tail of his crumpled shirt. He's still looking at the package. He half-expects sugar-packet stamps, but no, this is just a case of plain old metered mail. Whatever it is, it's been mailed Priority to Mr. Tyler Marshall, 16 Robin Hood Lane, French Landing. The return address has been stamped in red: Mr. George Rathbun, KDCU, 4 Peninsula Drive, French Landing. Below this, stamped in large black letters:



"Henry, you never quit, do you?" Jack murmurs. Tears sting his eyes. The idea of life without his old friend hits him all over again, leaves him feeling helpless and lost and stupid and hurt.

"What about Uncle Henry?" Dale asks. "Jack, Uncle Henry's dead."

Jack's no longer so sure of that, somehow.

"Let's go," Beezer says. "We got to get that kid. He's alive, but he ain't safe. I got that clear as a bell. Let's go for it. We can figure the rest out later."

But Jack ¡ª who has not just heard Tyler's shout but has, for a moment, seen through Tyler's eyes ¡ª doesn't have much to figure out. In fact, figuring out now comes down to only one thing. Ignoring both Beezer and Dale, he steps toward Ty's weeping father.


Fred goes on sobbing.

"Fred, if you ever want to see your boy again, you get hold of yourself right now and listen to me."

Fred looks up, red eyes streaming. The ridiculously small baseball cap still perches on his head.

"What's in this, Fred?"

"It must be a prize in that contest George Rathbun runs every summer ¡ª the Brewer Bash. But I don't know how Ty could have won something in the first place. A couple of weeks ago he was pissing and moaning about how he forgot to enter. He even asked if maybe I'd entered the contest for him, and I kind of . . . well, I snapped at him." Fresh tears begin running down Fred's stubbly cheeks at the memory. "That was around the time Judy was getting . . . strange . . . I was worried about her and I just kind of . . . snapped at him. You know?" Fred's chest heaves. He makes a watery hitching sound and his Adam's apple bobs up and down. He wipes an arm across his eyes. "And Ty . . . all he said was, ¡®That's all right, Dad.' He didn't get mad at me, didn't sulk or anything. Because that's just the kind of boy he was. That he is."

"How did you know to bring it to me?"

"Your friend called," Fred says. "He told me the postman had brought something and I had to bring it to you here, right away. Before you left. He called you ¡ª "

"He called me Travelin' Jack."

Fred Marshall looks at him wonderingly. "That's right."

"All right." Jack speaks gently, almost absently. "We're going to get your boy now."

"I'll come. I've got my deer rifle in the truck ¡ª "

"And that's where it's going to stay. Go home. Make a place for him. Make a place for your wife. And let us do what we have to do." Jack looks first at Dale, then at Beezer. "Come on," he says. "Let's roll."

Five minutes later, the FLPD chief's car is speeding west on Highway 35. Directly ahead, like an honor guard, Beezer and Doc are riding side by side, the sun gleaming on the chrome of their bikes. Trees in full summer leaf crowd close to the road on either side.

Jack can feel the buzzing that is Black House's signature starting to ramp up in his head. He has discovered he can wall that noise off if he has to, keep it from spreading and blanketing his entire thought process with static, but it's still damned unpleasant. Dale has given him one of the Ruger .357s that are the police department's service weapons; it's now stuck in the waistband of his blue jeans. He was surprised at how good the weight of it felt in his hand, almost like a homecoming. Guns may not be of much use in the world behind Black House, but they have to get there first, don't they? And according to Beezer and Doc, the approach is not exactly undefended.

"Dale, do you have a pocketknife?"

"Glove compartment," Dale says. He glances at the long package on Jack's lap. "I presume you want to open that."

"You presume right."

"Can you explain a few things while you do it? Like whether or not, once we get inside Black House, we can expect Charles Burnside to jump out of a secret door with an axe and start ¡ª "

"Chummy Burnside's days of jumping out at folks are all over," Jack says. "He's dead. Ty Marshall killed him. That's what hit us outside the Sand Bar."

The chief's car swerves so extravagantly ¡ª all the way across to the left side of the road ¡ª that Beezer looks back for a moment, startled at what he's just seen in his rearview. Jack gives him a hard, quick wave ¡ª Go on, don't worry about us ¡ª and Beez faces forward again.

"What?" Dale gasps.

"The old bastard was hurt, but I have an idea that Ty still did one hell of a brave thing. Brave and crafty both." Jack is thinking that Henry softened Burnside up and Ty finished him up. What George Rathbun would undoubtedly have called a honey of a double play.

"How ¡ª "

"Disemboweled him. With his bare hands. Hand. I'm pretty sure the other one's chained up somehow."

Dale is silent for a moment, watching the motorcyclists ahead of him as they lean into a curve with their hair streaming out from beneath their token gestures at obeying Wisconsin's helmet law. Jack, meanwhile, is slitting open brown wrapping paper and revealing a long white carton beneath. Something rolls back and forth inside.

"You're telling me that a ten-year-old boy disemboweled a serial killer. A serial cannibal. You somehow know this."


"I find that extremely difficult to believe."

"Based on the father, I guess I can understand that. Fred's . . ." A wimp is what comes to mind, but that is both unfair and untrue. "Fred's tenderhearted," Jack says. "Judy, though . . ."

"Backbone," Dale says. "She does have that, I'm told."

Jack gives his friend a humorless grin. He's got the buzzing confined to a small portion of his brain, but in that one small portion it's shrieking like a fire alarm. They're almost there. "She certainly does," he tells Dale. "And so does the boy. He's . . . brave." What Jack has almost said is He's a prince.

"And he's alive."


"Chained in a shed somewhere."


"Behind Burnside's house."


"If I've got the geography right, that places him somewhere in the woods near Schubert and Gale."

Jack smiles and says nothing.

"All right," Dale says heavily. "What have I got wrong?"

"It doesn't matter. Which is good, because it's impossible to explain." Jack just hopes Dale's mind is screwed down tightly, because it's apt to take one hell of a pounding in the next hour or so.

His fingernail slits the tape holding the box closed. He opens it. There's bubble wrap beneath. Jack pulls it out, tosses it into the footwell, and looks at Ty Marshall's Brewer Bash prize ¡ª a prize he won even though he apparently never entered the contest.

Jack lets out a little sigh of awe. There's enough kid left in him to react to the object that he sees, even though he never played the game once he was too old for Little League. Because there's something about a bat, isn't there? Something that speaks to our primitive beliefs about the purity of struggle and the strength of our team. The home team. Of the right and the white. Surely Bernard Malamud knew it; Jack has read The Natural a score of times, always hoping for a different ending (and when the movie offered him one, he hated it), always loving the fact that Roy Hobbs named his cudgel Wonderboy. And never mind the critics with all their stuffy talk about the Arthurian legend and phallic symbols; sometimes a cigar is just a smoke and sometimes a bat is just a bat. A big stick. Something to hit home runs with.

"Holy wow," Dale says, glancing over. And he looks younger. Boyish. Eyes wide. So Jack isn't the only one, it seems. "Whose bat?" Jack lifts it carefully from the box. Written up the barrel in black Magic Marker is this message:

To Tyler Marshall Keep Slugging! Your pal, Richie Sexson

"Richie Sexson," Jack says. "Who's Richie Sexson?"

"Big slugger for the Brewers," Dale says.

"Is he as good as Roy Hobbs?"

"Roy ¡ª " Then Dale grins. "Oh, in that movie! Robert Redford, right? No I don't think ¡ª . Hey, what are you doing?"

Still holding the bat (in fact he almost bashes Dale in the right cheekbone with the end of it), Jack reaches over and honks the horn. "Pull over," he says. "This is it. Those dopes were out here only yesterday and they're going right past it."

Dale pulls over on the shoulder, brings the cruiser to a jerky stop, and puts it in park. When he looks over at Jack, his face has gone remarkably pale. "Oh man, Jack ¡ª I don't feel so good. Maybe it was breakfast. Christ, I hope I'm not going to start puking."

"That buzzing you hear in your head, is that from breakfast?" Jack inquires.

Dale's eyes go wide. "How do you ¡ª "

"Because I hear it, too. And feel it in my stomach. It's not your breakfast. It's Black House." Jack holds out the squeeze bottle. "Go on. Dab some more around your nostrils. Get some right up in. You'll feel better." Projecting absolute confidence. Because it's not about secret weapons or secret formulas; it's certainly not about honey. It's about belief. They have left the realm of the rational and have entered the realm of slippage. Jack knows it for certain as soon as he opens the car door.

Ahead of him, the bikes swerve and come back. Beezer, an impatient look on his face, is shaking his head: No, no, not here.

Dale joins Jack at the front of the car. His face is still pale, but the skin around and below his nose is shiny with honey, and he looks steady enough on his feet. "Thanks, Jack. This is so much better. I don't know how putting honey around my nose could affect my ears, but the buzzing's better, too. It's nothing but a low drone."

"Wrong place!" Beezer bawls as he pulls his Harley up to the front of the cruiser.

"Nope," Jack says calmly, looking at the unbroken woods. Sunlight on green leaves contrasting with crazy black zigzags of shadow. Everything trembling and unsteady, making mock of perspective. "This is it. The hideout of Mr. Munshun and the Black House Gang, as the Duke never said."

Now Doc's bike adds to the din as he pulls up next to Beezer. "Beez is right! We were just out here yesterday, y'damn fool! Don't you think you know what we're talking about?"

"This is just scrap woods on both sides," Dale chimes in. He points across the road where, fifty yards or so southeast of their position, yellow police tape flutters from a pair of trees. "That's the lane to Ed's Eats, there. The place we want is probably beyond it ¡ª "

Even though you know it's here, Jack thinks. Marvels, really. Why else have you gone and smeared yourself with honey like Pooh-bear on a lucky day?

He shifts his gaze to Beezer and Doc, who are also looking remarkably unwell. Jack opens his mouth to speak to them . . . and something flutters at the upper edge of his vision. He restrains his natural impulse to look up and define the source of that movement. Something ¡ª probably the old Travelin' Jack part of him ¡ª thinks it would be a very bad idea to do that. Something is watching them already. Better if it doesn't know it's been spotted.

He puts the Richie Sexson bat down, leaning it against the side of the idling cruiser. He takes the honey from Dale and holds it out to the Beez. "Here you go," he says, "lather up."

"There's no point in it, you goddamn fool!" Beezer cries in exasperation. "This . . . ain't . . . the place!"

"Your nose is bleeding," Jack says mildly. "Just a little. Yours too, Doc."

Doc wipes a finger under his nose and looks at the red smear, startled.  He starts, "But I know this isn't ¡ª "

That flutter again, at the top of Jack's vision. He ignores it and points straight ahead. Beezer, Doc, and Dale all look, and Dale's the first one to see it. "I'll be damned," he says softly. "A NO TRESPASSING sign. Was it there before?"

"Yep," Jack says. "Been there for thirty years or more, I'd guess."

"Fuck," Beez says, and begins rubbing honey around his nose. He pokes generous wads of the stuff up his nostrils; resinous drops gleam in his red-brown Viking's beard. "We woulda gone right on, Doctor. All the way to town. Hell, maybe all the way to Rapid City, South Dakota." He hands the honey to Doc and grimaces at Jack. "I'm sorry, man. We should have known. No excuses."

"Where's the driveway?" Dale's asking, and then: "Oh. There it is. I could have sworn ¡ª "

"That there was nothing there, I know," Jack says. He's smiling. Looking at his friends. At the Sawyer Gang. He is certainly not looking at the black rags fluttering restively at the upper periphery of his vision, nor down at his waist, where his hand is slowly drawing the Ruger .357 from his waistband. He was always one of the best out there. He'd only won badges a couple of times when it was shooting from a stand, but when it came to the draw-and-fire competition, he did quite well. Top five, usually. Jack has no idea if this is a skill he's retained, but he thinks he's going to find out right now.

Smiling at them, watching Doc swab his schnozz with honey, Jack says in a conversational voice: "Something's watching us. Don't look up. I'm going to try and shoot it."

"What is it?" Dale asks, smiling back. He doesn't look up, only straight ahead. Now he can quite clearly see the shadowy lane that must lead to Burnside's house. It wasn't there, he could have sworn it wasn't, but now it is.

"It's a pain in the ass," Jack says, and suddenly swings the Ruger up, locking both hands around the stock. He's firing almost before he sees with his eyes, and he catches the great dark crow crouched on the overhanging branch of an oak tree entirely by surprise. It gives one loud, shocked cry ¡ª "AWWWWK!" ¡ª and then it is torn apart on its roost. Blood flies against the faded blue summer sky. Feathers flutter down in clumps as dark as midnight shadows. And a body. It hits the shoulder in front of the lane with a heavy thud. One dark, glazing eye peers at Jack Sawyer with an expression of surprise.

"Did you fire five or six?" Beezer asks in a tone of deep awe. "It was so fast I couldn't tell."

"All of them," Jack says. He guesses he's still not too bad at draw-and-fire after all.

"That's one big fucking crow," Doc says.

"It's not just any crow," Jack tells him. "It's Gorg." He advances to the blasted body lying on the dirt. "How you doin', fella? How do you feel?" He spits on Gorg, a luscious thick lunger. "That's for luring the kids," he says. Then, suddenly, he boots the crow's corpse into the underbrush. It flies in a limp arc, the wings wrapping around the body like a shroud. "And that's for fucking with Irma's mother."

They are looking at him, all three of them, with identical expressions of stunned awe. Almost of fear. It's a look that makes Jack tired, although he supposes he must accept it. He can remember his old friend Richard Sloat looking at him the same way, once Richard realized that what he called "Seabrook Island stuff " wasn't confined to Seabrook Island.

"Come on," Jack says. "Everybody in the car. Let's get it done." Yes, and they must move quickly because a certain one-eyed gent will shortly be looking for Ty, too. Mr. Munshun. Eye of the King, Jack thinks. Eye of the abbalah. That's what Judy meant ¡ª Mr. Munshun. Whoever or whatever he really is.

"Don't like leaving the bikes out here by the side of the road, man." Beezer says. "Anybody could come along and ¡ª "

"Nobody will see them," Jack tells him. "Three or four cars have gone by since we parked, and no one's so much as looked over at us. And you know why."

"We've already started to cross over, haven't we?" Doc asks. "This is the edge of it. The border."

"Opopanax," Jack says. The word simply pops out.


Jack picks up Ty's Richie Sexson bat and gets in on the passenger side of the cruiser. "It means let's go," he says. "Let's get it done."

And so the Sawyer Gang takes its last ride ¡ª up the wooded, poisonous lane that leads to Black House. The strong afternoon light quickly fades to the sullen glow of an overcast November evening. In the close-pressing trees on either side, dark shapes twine and crawl and sometimes fly. They don't matter, much, Jack reckons; they are only phantoms.

"You gonna reload that Roogalator?" Beezer asks from the back seat.

"Nope," Jack says, looking at the Ruger without much interest. "Think it's done its job."

"What should we be ready for?" Dale asks in a thin voice.

"Anything," Jack replies. He favors Dale Gilbertson with a humorless grin. Ahead of them is a house that won't keep its shape but whirls and wavers in the most distressing way. Sometimes it seems no bigger than a humble ranch house; a blink, and it seems to be a ragged monolith that blots out the entire sky; another blink and it appears to be a low, uneven construction stretching back under the forest canopy for what could be miles. It gives off a low hum that sounds like voices.

"Be ready for anything at all."

Discover This Games

Discover This Apps

Related Novels

Follow Me