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THIS TIME THERE'S something that isn't quite silence: a lovely white rushing he has heard once before. In the summer of 1997, Jack went up way north to Vacaville with an LAPD skydiving club called the P.F. Flyers. It was a dare, one of those stupid things you got yourself into as a result of too many beers too late at night and then couldn't get yourself out of again. Not with any grace. Which was to say, not without looking like a chickenshit. He expected to be frightened; instead, he was exalted. Yet he had never done it again, and now he knows why: he had come too close to remembering, and some frightened part of him must have known it. It was the sound before you pulled the ripcord ¡ª that lonely white rushing of the wind past your ears. Nothing else to hear but the soft, rapid beat of your heart and ¡ª maybe ¡ª the click in your ears as you swallowed saliva that was in free fall, just like the rest of you.
Pull the ripcord, Jack, he thinks. Time to pull the ripcord, or the landing's going to be awfully damn hard.
Now there's a new sound, low at first but quickly swelling to a tooth-rattling bray. Fire alarm, he thinks, and then: No, it's a symphony of fire alarms. At the same moment, Wendell Green's hand is snatched out of his grip. He hears a faint, squawking cry as his fellow sky diver is swept away, and then there's a smell ¡ª
No, it's her hair ¡ª
¡ª and Jack gasps against a weight on his chest and his diaphragm, a feeling that the wind has been knocked out of him. There are hands on him, one on his shoulder, the other at the small of his back. Hair tickling his cheek. The sound of alarms. The sound of people yelling in confusion. Running footfalls that clack and echo.
"jack jack jack are you all right"
"Ask a queen for a date, get knocked into the middle of next week," he mutters. Why is it so dark? Has he been blinded? Is he ready for that intellectually rewarding and financially remunerative job as an ump at Miller Park?
"Jack!" A palm smacks his cheek. Hard.
No, not blind. His eyes are just shut. He pops them open and Judy is bending over him, her face inches from his. Without thinking, he closes his left hand in the hair at the nape of her neck, brings her face down to his, and kisses her. She exhales into his mouth ¡ª a surprised reverse gasp that inflates his lungs with her electricity ¡ª and then kisses him back. He has never been kissed with such intensity in his entire life. His hand goes to the breast beneath her nightdress, and he feels the frenzied gallop of her heart ¡ª If she were to run faster, she'd catch her feet and fall, Jack thinks ¡ª beneath its firm rise. At the same moment her hand slips inside his shirt, which has somehow come unbuttoned, and tweaks his nipple. It's as hard and hot as the slap. As she does it, her tongue darts into his mouth in one quick plunge, there and gone, like a bee into a flower. He tightens his grip on the nape of her neck and God knows what would have happened next, but at that moment something falls over in the corridor with a huge crash of glass and someone screams. The voice is high and almost sexless with panic, but Jack believes it's Ethan Evans, the sullen young person from the hall. "Get back here! Stop running, goldarnit!" Of course it's Ethan; only a graduate of Mount Hebron Lutheran Sunday school would use goldarnit, even in extremis.
Jack pulls away from Judy. She pulls away from him. They are on the floor. Judy's nightdress is all the way up to her waist, exposing plain white nylon underwear. Jack's shirt is open, and so are his pants. His shoes are still on, but on the wrong feet, from the feel of them. Nearby, the glass-topped coffee table is overturned and the journals that were on it are scattered. Some seem to have been literally blown out of their bindings.
More screams from the corridor, plus a few cackles and mad ululations. Ethan Evans continues to yell at stampeding mental patients, and now a woman is yelling as well ¡ª Head Nurse Rack, perhaps. The alarms bray on and on.
All at once a door bursts open and Wendell Green gallops into the room. Behind him is a closet with clothes scattered everywhere, the spare items of Dr. Spiegleman's wardrobe all ahoo. In one hand Wendell's holding his Panasonic minicorder. In the other he has several gleaming tubular objects. Jack is willing to bet they're double-A Duracells.
Jack's clothes have been unbuttoned (or perhaps blown open), but Wendell has fared much worse. His shirt is in tatters. His belly hangs over a pair of white boxer shorts, severely pee-stained in front. He is dragging his brown gabardine slacks by one foot. They slide across the carpet like a shed snakeskin. And although his socks are on, the left one appears to have been turned inside out.
"What did you do?" Wendell blares. "Oh you Hollywood son of a bitch, WHAT DID YOU DO TO M ¡ª "
He stops. His mouth drops open. His eyes widen. Jack notes that the reporter's hair appears to be standing out like the quills on a porcupine.
Wendell, meanwhile, is noting Jack Sawyer and Judy Marshall, embracing on the glass- and paper-littered floor, with their clothes disarranged. They aren't quite in flagrante delicious, but if Wendell ever saw two people on the verge, dese are dem. His mind is whirling and filled with impossible memories, his balance is shot, his stomach is chugging like a washing machine that has been overloaded with clothes and suds; he desperately needs something to hold on to. He needs news. Even better, he needs scandal. And here, lying in front of him on the floor, are both.
"RAPE!" Wendell bellows at the top of his lungs. A mad, relieved grin twists up the corners of his mouth. "SAWYER BEAT ME UP AND NOW HE'S RAPING A MENTAL PATIENT!" It doesn't look much like rape to Wendell, in all truth, but who ever yelled CONSENSUAL SEX! at the top of his lungs and attracted any attention?
"Shut that idiot up," Judy says. She yanks down the hem of her nightgown and prepares to stand.
"Watch out," Jack says. "Broken glass everywhere."
"I'm okay," she snaps. Then, turning to Wendell with that perfect fearlessness Fred knew so well: "Shut up! I don't know who you are, but quit that bellowing! Nobody's being ¡ª "
Wendell backs away from Hollywood Sawyer, dragging his pants along with him. Why doesn't someone come? he thinks. Why doesn't someone come before he shoots me, or something? In his frenzy and near hysteria, Wendell has either not registered the alarms and general outcry or believes them to be going on inside his head, just a little more false information to go with his absurd "memories" of a black gunslinger, a beautiful woman in a robe, and Wendell Green himself crouching in the dust and eating a half-cooked bird like a caveman.
"Keep away from me, Sawyer," he says, backing up with his hands held out in front of him. "I have an extremely hungry lawyer. Caveet-emporer, you asshole, lay one finger on me and he and I will strip you of everything you ¡ª OW! OW!"
Wendell has stepped on a piece of broken glass, Jack sees ¡ª probably from one of the prints that formerly decorated the walls and are now decorating the floor. He takes one more off-balance lurch backward, this time steps on his own trailing slacks, and goes sprawling into the leather recliner where Dr. Spiegleman presumably sits while quizzing his patients on their troubled childhoods.
La Riviere's premier muckraker stares at the approaching Nean-derthal with wide, horrified eyes, then throws the minicorder at him. Jack sees that it's covered with scratches. He bats it away.
"RAPE!" Wendell squeals. "HE'S RAPING ONE OF THE LOONIES! HE'S ¡ª "
Jack pops him on the point of the chin, pulling the punch just a little at the last moment, delivering it with almost scientific force. Wendell flops back in Dr. Spiegleman's recliner, eyes rolling up, feet twitching as if to some tasty beat that only the semiconscious can truly appreciate.
"The Mad Hungarian couldn't have done better," Jack murmurs. It occurs to him that Wendell ought to treat himself to a complete neurological workup in the not too distant future. His head has put in a hard couple of days.
The door to the hall bursts open. Jack steps in front of the recliner to hide Wendell, stuffing his shirt into his pants (at some point he's zipped his fly, thank God). A candy striper pokes her fluffy head into Dr. Spiegleman's office. Although she's probably eighteen, her panic makes her look about twelve.
"Who's yelling in here?" she asks. "Who's hurt?"
Jack has no idea what to say, but Judy manages like a pro. "It was a patient," she says. "Mr. Lackley, I think. He came in, yelled that we were all going to be raped, and then ran out again."
"You have to leave at once," the candy striper tells them. "Don't listen to that idiot Ethan. And don't use the elevator. We think it was an earthquake."
"Right away," Jack says crisply, and although he doesn't move, it's good enough for the candy striper; she heads out. Judy crosses quickly to the door. It closes but won't latch. The frame has been subtly twisted out of true.
There was a clock on the wall. Jack looks toward it, but it's fallen face-down to the floor. He goes to Judy and takes her by the arms. "How long was I over there?"
"Not long," she says, "but what an exit you made! Ka-pow! Did you get anything?" Her eyes plead with him.
"Enough to know I have to go back to French Landing right away," he tells her. Enough to know that I love you ¡ª that I'll always love you, in this world or any other.
"Tyler . . . is he alive?" She reverses his grip so she is holding him. Sophie did exactly the same thing in Faraway, Jack remembers. "Is my son alive?"
"Yes. And I'm going to get him for you."
His eye happens on Spiegleman's desk, which has danced its way into the room and stands with all its drawers open. He sees something interesting in one of those drawers and hurries across the carpet, crunching on broken glass and kicking aside one of the prints.
In the top drawer to the left of the desk's kneehole is a tape recorder, considerably bigger than Wendell Green's trusty Panasonic, and a torn piece of brown wrapping paper. Jack snatches up the paper first. Scrawled across the front in draggling letters he's seen at both Ed's Eats and on his own front porch is this:
Deliver to JUDY MARSHALL
also known as SOPHIE
There are what appear to be stamps in the upper corner of the torn sheet. Jack doesn't need to examine them closely to know that they are really cut from sugar packets, and that they were affixed by a dangerous old dodderer named Charles Burnside. But the Fisherman's identity no longer matters much, and Speedy knew it. Neither does his location, because Jack has an idea Chummy Burnside can flip to a new one pretty much at will.
But he can't take the real doorway with him. The doorway to the furnace-lands, to Mr. Munshun, to Ty. If Beezer and his pals found that ¡ª
Jack drops the wrapping paper back into the drawer, hits the EJECT button on the tape recorder, and pops out the cassette tape inside. He sticks it in his pocket and heads for the door.
He looks back at her. Beyond them, fire alarms honk and blat, lunatics scream and laugh, staff runs to and fro. Their eyes meet. In the clear blue light of Judy's regard, Jack can almost touch that other world with its sweet smells and strange constellations.
"Is it wonderful over there? As wonderful as in my dreams?"
"It's wonderful," he tells her. "And you are, too. Hang in there, okay?"
Halfway down the hallway, Jack comes upon a nasty sight: Ethan Evans, the young man who once had Wanda Kinderling as his Sunday school teacher, has laid hold of a disoriented old woman by her fat upper arms and is shaking her back and forth. The old woman's frizzy hair flies around her head.
"Shut up!" young Mr. Evans is shouting at her. "Shut up, you crazy old cow! You're not going anywhere except back to your dadblame room!"
Something about his sneer makes it obvious that even now, with the world turned upside down, young Mr. Evans is enjoying both his power to command and his Christian duty to brutalize. This is only enough to make Jack angry. What infuriates him is the look of terrified incomprehension on the old woman's face. It makes him think of boys he once lived with long ago, in a place called the Sunlight Home.
It makes him think of Wolf.
Without pausing or so much as breaking stride (they have entered the endgame phase of the festivities now, and somehow he knows it), Jack drives his fist into young Mr. Evans's temple. That worthy lets go of his plump and squawking victim, strikes the wall, then slides down it, his eyes wide and dazed.
"Either you didn't listen in Sunday school or Kinderling's wife taught you the wrong lessons," Jack says.
"You . . . hit . . . me . . ." young Mr. Evans whispers. He finishes his slow dive splay-legged on the hallway floor halfway between the Records Annex and Ambulatory Ophthalmology.
"Abuse another patient ¡ª this one, the one I was just talking to, any of them ¡ª and I'll do a lot more than that," Jack promises young Mr. Evans. Then he's down the stairs, taking them two at a time, not noticing a handful of johnny-clad patients who stare at him with expressions of puzzled, half-fearful wonder. They look at him as if at a vision who passes them in an envelope of light, some wonder as brilliant as it is mysterious.
Ten minutes later (long after Judy Marshall has walked composedly back to her room without professional help of any kind), the alarms cut off. An amplified voice ¡ª perhaps even Dr. Spiegleman's own mother wouldn't have recognized it as her boy's ¡ª begins to blare from the overhead speakers. At this unexpected roar, patients who had pretty much calmed down begin to shriek and cry all over again. The old woman whose mistreatment so angered Jack Sawyer is crouched below the admissions counter with her hands over her head, muttering something about the Russians and Civil Defense.
"THE EMERGENCY IS OVER!" Spiegleman assures his cast and crew. "THERE IS NO FIRE! PLEASE REPORT TO THE COMMON ROOMS ON EACH FLOOR! THIS IS DR. SPIEGLEMAN, AND I REPEAT THAT THE EMERGENCY IS OVER!"
Here comes Wendell Green, weaving his way slowly toward the stairwell, rubbing his chin gently with one hand. He sees young Mr. Evans and offers him a helping hand. For a moment it looks as though Wendell may be pulled over himself, but then young Mr. Evans gets his buttocks against the wall and manages to gain his feet.
"THE EMERGENCY IS OVER! I REPEAT, THE EMERGENCY IS OVER! NURSES, ORDERLIES, AND DOCTORS, PLEASE ESCORT ALL PATIENTS TO THE COMMON ROOMS ON EACH FLOOR!"
Young Mr. Evans eyes the purple bruise rising on Wendell's chin.
Wendell eyes the purple bruise rising on the temple of young Mr. Evans.
"Sawyer?" young Mr. Evans asks.
"Sawyer," Wendell confirms.
"Bastard sucker punched me," young Mr. Evans confides.
"Son of a bitch came up behind me," Wendell says. "The Marshall woman. He had her down." He lowers his voice. "He was getting ready to rape her."
Young Mr. Evans's whole manner says he is sorrowful but not surprised.
"Something ought to be done," Wendell says.
"You got that right."
"People ought to be told." Gradually, the old fire returns to Wendell's eyes. People will be told. By him! Because that is what he does, by God! He tells people!
"Yeah," young Mr. Evans says. He doesn't care as much as Wendell does ¡ª he lacks Wendell's burning commitment ¡ª but there's one person he will tell. One person who deserves to be comforted in her lonely hours, who has been left on her own Mount of Olives. One person who will drink up the knowledge of Jack Sawyer's evil like the very waters of life.
"This kind of behavior cannot just be swept under the rug," Wendell says.
"No way," young Mr. Evans agrees. "No way, Jos¨¦."
Jack has barely cleared the gates of French County Lutheran when his cell phone tweets. He thinks of pulling over to take the call, hears the sound of approaching fire engines, and decides for once to risk driving and talking at the same time. He wants to be out of the area before the local fire brigade shows up and slows him down.
He flips the little Nokia open. "Sawyer."
"Where the fuck are you?" Beezer St. Pierre bellows. "Man, I been hittin' redial so hard I damn near punched it off the phone!"
"I've been . . ." But there's no way he can finish that, not and stay within shouting distance of the truth, that is. Or maybe there is. "I guess I got into one of those dead zones where the cell phone just doesn't pick up ¡ª "
"Never mind the science lesson, chum. Get your ass over here right now. The actual address is 1 Nailhouse Row ¡ª it's County Road Double-O just south of Chase. It's the babyshit brown two-story on the corner."
"I can find it," Jack says, and steps down a little harder on the Ram's gas pedal. "I'm on my way now."
"What's your twenty, man?"
"Still Arden, but I'm rolling. I can be there in maybe half an hour."
"Fuck!" There is an alarming crash-rattle in Jack's ear as somewhere on Nailhouse Row Beezer slams his fist against something. Probably the nearest wall. "The fuck's wrong with you, man? Mouse is goin' down, I mean fast. We're doin' our best ¡ª those of us who're still here ¡ª but he is goin' down." Beezer is panting, and Jack thinks he's trying not to cry. The thought of Armand St. Pierre in that particular state is alarming. Jack looks at the Ram's speedometer, sees it's touching seventy, and eases off a tad. He won't help anybody by getting himself greased in a road wreck between Arden and Centralia.
"What do you mean ¡®those of us who are still here'?"
"Never mind, just get your butt down here, if you want to talk to Mouse. And he sure wants to talk to you, because he keeps sayin' your name." Beezer lowers his voice. "When he ain't just ravin' his ass off, that is. Doc's doing his best ¡ª me and Bear Girl, too ¡ª but we're shovelin' shit against the tide here."
"Tell him to hold on," Jack says.
"Fuck that, man ¡ª tell him yourself."
There's a rattling sound in Jack's ear, the faint murmuring of voices. Then another voice, one which hardly sounds human, speaks in his ear. "Got to hurry . . . got to get over here, man. Thing . . . bit me. I can feel it in there. Like acid."
"Hold on, Mouse," Jack says. His fingers are dead white on the telephone. He wonders that the case doesn't simply crack in his grip. "I'll be there fast as I can."
"Better be. Others . . . already forgot. Not me." Mouse chuckles. The sound is ghastly beyond belief, a whiff straight out of an open grave. "I got . . . the memory serum, you know? It's eatin' me up . . . eatin' me alive . . . but I got it."
There's the rustling sound of the phone changing hands again, then a new voice. A woman's. Jack assumes it's Bear Girl.
"You got them moving," she says. "You brought it to this. Don't let it be for nothing."
There is a click in his ear. Jack tosses the cell phone onto the seat and decides that maybe seventy isn't too fast, after all.
A few minutes later (they seem like very long minutes to Jack), he's squinting against the glare of the sun on Tamarack Creek. From here he can almost see his house, and Henry's.
Jack thumps the side of his thumb lightly against his breast pocket and hears the rattle of the cassette tape he took from the machine in Spiegle-man's office. There's not much reason to turn it over to Henry now; given what Potter told him last night and what Mouse is holding on to tell him today, this tape and the 911 tape have been rendered more or less redundant. Besides, he's got to hurry to Nailhouse Row. There's a train getting ready to leave the station, and Mouse Baumann is very likely going to be on it.
And yet . . .
"I'm worried about him," Jack says softly. "Even a blind man could see I'm worried about Henry."
The brilliant summer sun, now sliding down the afternoon side of the sky, reflects off the creek and sends shimmers of light dancing across his face. Each time this light crosses his eyes, they seem to burn.
Henry isn't the only one Jack's worried about, either. He's got a bad feeling about all of his new French Landing friends and acquaintances, from Dale Gilbertson and Fred Marshall right down to such bit players as old Steamy McKay, an elderly gent who makes his living shining shoes outside the public library, and Ardis Walker, who runs the ramshackle bait shop down by the river. In his imagination, all these people now seem made of glass. If the Fisherman decides to sing high C, they'll vibrate and then shatter to powder. Only it's not really the Fisherman he's worried about anymore.
This is a case, he reminds himself. Even with all the Territories weirdness thrown in, it's still a case, and it's not the first one you've ever been on where everything suddenly started to seem too big. Where all the shadows seemed to be too long.
True enough, but usually that funhouse sense of false perspective fades away once he starts to get a handle on things. This time it's worse, and worse by far. He knows why, too. The Fisherman's long shadow is a thing called Mr. Munshun, an immortal talent scout from some other plane of existence. Nor is even that the end, because Mr. Munshun also casts a shadow. A red one.
"Abbalah," Jack mutters. "Abbalah-doon and Mr. Munshun and the Crow Gorg, just three old pals walking together on night's Plutonian shore." For some reason this makes him think of the Walrus and the Carpenter from Alice. What was it they took for a walk in the moonlight? Clams? Mussels? Jack's damned if he can remember, although one line surfaces and resonates in his mind, spoken in his mother's voice: "The time has come," the Walrus said, "to talk of many things."
The abbalah is presumably hanging out in his court (the part of him that isn't imprisoned in Speedy's Dark Tower, that is), but the Fisherman and Mr. Munshun could be anywhere. Do they know Jack Sawyer has been meddling? Of course they do. By today, that is common knowledge. Might they try to slow him down by doing something nasty to one of his friends? A certain blind sportscaster-headbanger-bebopper, for instance?
Yes indeed. And now, perhaps because he's been sensitized to it, he can once more feel that nasty pulse coming out of the southwestern landscape, the one he sensed when he flipped over for the first time in his adult life. When the road curves southeast, he almost loses it. Then, when the Ram points its nose southwest again, the poisonous throb regains strength, beating into his head like the onset of a migraine headache.
That's Black House you feel, only it's not a house, not really. It's a worm-hole in the apple of existence, leading all the way down into the furnace-lands. It's a door. Maybe it was only standing ajar before today, before Beezer and his pals turned up there, but now it's wide open and letting in one hell of a draft. Ty needs to be brought back, yes . . . but that door needs to be shut, as well. Before God knows what awful things come snarling through.
Jack abruptly swings the Ram onto Tamarack Road. The tires scream. His seat belt locks, and for a moment he thinks the truck may overturn. It stays up, though, and he goes flying toward Norway Valley Road. Mouse will just have to hang on a little bit longer; he's not going to leave Henry way out here on his own. His pal doesn't know it, but he's going on a little field trip to Nailhouse Row. Until this situation stabilizes, it seems to Jack that the buddy system is very much in order.
Which would have been all well and good if Henry had been at home, but he's not. Elvena Morton, dust mop in hand, comes in response to Jack's repeated jabbing at the doorbell.
"He's been over at KDCU, doing commercials," Elvena says. "Dropped him off myself. I don't know why he doesn't just do them in his studio here, something about the sound effects, I think he might have said. I'm surprised he didn't tell you that."
The bitch of it is, Henry did. Cousin Buddy's Rib Crib. The old ball and chain. Beautiful downtown La Riviere. All that. He even told Jack that Elvena Morton was going to drive him. A few things have happened to Jack since that conversation ¡ª he's reencountered his old childhood friend, he's fallen in love with Judy Marshall's Twinner, and just by the way he's been filled in on your basic Secret of All Existence ¡ª but none of that keeps him from turning his left hand into a fist and then slamming himself directly between the eyes with it. Given how fast things are now moving, making this needless detour strikes him as an almost unforgivable lapse.
Mrs. Morton is regarding him with wide-eyed alarm.
"Are you going to be picking him up, Mrs. Morton?"
"No, he's going for a drink with someone from ESPN. Henry said the fellow would bring him back afterward." She lowers her voice to the timbre of confidentiality at which secrets are somehow best communicated. "Henry didn't come right out and say so, but I think there may be big things ahead for George Rathbun. Ver-ry big things."
Badger Barrage going national? Jack wouldn't be entirely surprised, but he has no time to be delighted for Henry now. He hands Mrs. Morton the cassette tape, mostly so he won't feel this was an entirely wasted trip. "Leave this for him where . . ."
He stops. Mrs. Morton is looking at him with knowing amusement. Where he'll be sure to see it is what Jack almost said. Another mental miscue. Big-city detective, indeed.
"I'll leave it by the soundboard in his studio," she says. "He'll find it there. Jack, maybe it's none of my business, but you don't look all right. You're very pale, and I'd swear you've lost ten pounds since last week. Also . . ." She looks a bit embarrassed. "Your shoes are on the wrong feet."
So they are. He makes the necessary change, standing first on one foot and then the other. "It's been a tough forty-eight hours, but I'm hanging in there, Mrs. M."
"It's the Fisherman business, isn't it?"
He nods. "And I have to go. The fat, as they say, is in the fire." He turns, reconsiders, turns back. "Leave him a message on the kitchen tape recorder, would you? Tell him to call me on my cell. Just as soon as he gets in." Then, one thought leading to another, he points to the unmarked cassette tape in her hand. "Don't play that, all right?"
Mrs. Morton looks shocked. "I'd never do such a thing! It would be like opening someone else's mail!"
Jack nods and gives her a scrap of a smile. "Good."
"Is it . . . him on the tape? Is it the Fisherman?"
"Yes," Jack says. "It's him." And there are worse things waiting, he thinks but doesn't say. Worse things by far.
He hurries back to his truck, not quite running.
Twenty minutes later Jack parks in front of the babyshit brown two-story at 1 Nailhouse Row. Nailhouse Row and the dirty snarl of streets around it strike him as unnaturally silent under the sun of this hot summer afternoon. A mongrel dog (it is, in fact, the old fellow we saw in the doorway of the Nelson Hotel just last night) goes limping across the intersection of Ames and County Road Oo, but that's about the extent of the traffic. Jack has an unpleasant vision of the Walrus and the Carpenter toddling along the east bank of the Mississippi with the hypnotized residents of Nailhouse Row following along behind them. Toddling along toward the fire. And the cooking pot.
He takes two or three deep breaths, trying to steady himself. Not far out of town ¡ª close to the road leading to Ed's Eats, in fact ¡ª that nasty buzzing in his head peaked, turning into something like a dark scream. For a few moments there it was so strong Jack wondered if he was perhaps going to drive right off the road, and he slowed the Ram to forty. Then, blessedly, it began to move around toward the back of his head and fade. He didn't see the NO TRESPASSING sign that marks the overgrown road leading to Black House, didn't even look for it, but he knew it was there. The question is whether or not he'll be able to approach it when the time comes without simply exploding.
"Come on," he tells himself. "No time for this shit."
He gets out of the truck and starts up the cracked cement walk. There's a fading hopscotch diagram there, and Jack swerves to avoid it without even thinking, knowing it's one of the few remaining artifacts which testify that a little person named Amy St. Pierre once briefly trod the boards of existence. The porch steps are dry and splintery. He's vilely thirsty and thinks, Man, I'd kill for a glass of water, or a nice cold ¡ª
The door flies open, cracking against the side of the house like a pistol shot in the sunny silence, and Beezer comes running out.
"Christ almighty, I didn't think you were ever gonna get here!"
Looking into Beezer's alarmed, agonized eyes, Jack realizes that he will never tell this guy that he might be able to find Black House without Mouse's help, that thanks to his time in the Territories he has a kind of range finder in his head. No, not even if they live the rest of their lives as close friends, the kind who usually tell each other everything. The Beez has suffered like Job, and he doesn't need to find out that his friend's agony may have been in vain.
"Is he still alive, Beezer?"
"By an inch. Maybe an inch and a quarter. It's just me and Doc and Bear Girl now. Sonny and Kaiser Bill got scared, ran off like a couple of whipped dogs. March your boots in here, sunshine." Not that Beezer gives Jack any choice; he grabs him by the shoulder and hauls him into the little two-story on Nailhouse Row like luggage.