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“Or Dick,” interjected Kearns. “Some people call me Dick for Richard. Or Jack for John.”
“He would never do such a thing,” said Warthrop. “Not the man I knew.”
“Then he wasn’t the man you knew,” Kearns said.
“I mean the reference to opening eyes,” corrected the constable. “In terms of what is right before ours. How they got here is not why we are here. We must decide, and decide quickly, how to exterminate them.”
“I thought that had been decided already,” Kearns said. “Or was there some other reason I was invited?”
“In the morning I am contacting the governor’s office to request the mobilization of the state militia,” pronounced Morgan. “And I am ordering a complete evacuation of the town-of the women and children, at least.”
“Completely unnecessary,” Kearns said with a wave of his hand. “How many did you say there were, Pellinore? Thirty to thirty-five? An average pod?”
Warthrop nodded. He still seemed shaken by Kearns ’s argument. “Yes,” he muttered weakly.
“I would say no more than five or six of your best marksmen, Morgan. Men who can be trusted to keep their mouths shut, preferably men with a military background, and best if two or three are handy with a hammer and saw. I’ve made a list of materials to be discreetly acquired; the rest I’ve brought with me. We can set to it at first light and be done by nightfall.”
“Five or six men, you say?” cried Morgan incredulously. “Have you seen what these creatures are capable of?”
“Yes,” said Kearns simply. “I have.”
“John has hunted them extensively in Africa,” Warthrop allowed with a sigh.
“Jack,” said Kearns. “I prefer Jack.”
“It cannot wait till morning. We must move against them tonight, before they can attack again,” insisted Morgan.
“They will not attack tonight,” said Kearns. The constable looked over to Warthrop, but the doctor refused to meet his gaze.
Turning back to Kearns, Morgan demanded, “How do you know?”
“Because they’ve just fed. In the wild, poppies gorge once a month and spend the rest of the time lolling about like indolent lotus-eaters. Satisfied, Constable?”
“No, I am not satisfied.”
“It hardly matters. Now, there are some conditions that first must be met before we can proceed.”
“Conditions for what?” asked Morgan.
“For my services. Surely Pellinore told you.”
“Pellinore chose not to tell me many things.”
“Ah. Well, you can hardly blame him, can you? He’s already pledged to cover my expenses, but there remains the small matter of my fee.”
“Five thousand dollars, in cash, payable upon the successful completion of our contract.”
Morgan’s mouth dropped open. He turned to the doctor and said, “You never said anything about paying this man.”
“I shall pay him out of my own pocket,” the doctor said wearily. He leaned against the table, his face pale and drawn. I feared he might faint. Without thinking I took a half step toward him.
“Seems only just,” said Kearns.
“Please, Jack,” the doctor entreated him. “Please.”
“Good! So that’s taken care of. The one other requirement is something only you can fulfill, Constable: Under no circumstances am I to be held accountable, within the law or outside of it, for any loss of life or limb in the prosecution of our hunt, including any laws I may break or bend in the execution of the same.”
“What do you mean, Cory or Kearns or whatever your blasted name is?” barked Morgan.
“It’s Cory; I thought I made that quite clear.”
“I don’t care if it’s John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt!”
“Oh, Jacob is my baptismal name.”
“No matter the arrangements you may have made with Warthrop, I am still an officer of the law-”
“No immunity, no extermination, Robert-or may I call you Bob?”
“I don’t care what you call me; I will make no such guarantee!”
“Very well, then. I think I shall call you Bobby. I dislike palindromes.”
Now it was Morgan who appeared ready to take a turn on Kearns ’s cheek. Warthrop intervened before the blow could fall, saying, “We’ve little choice in the matter, Robert. He is the best man for the job; I wouldn’t have brought him here otherwise.”
“Actually,” said Kearns, “I am the only man for the job.”
Their discussion lasted late into the night, with a withdrawn Warthrop sitting sullenly in a chair while Morgan and Kearns feinted and parried and circled warily round each other, looking for chinks in the other’s armor. Warthrop rarely intervened, and when he did shake himself from his stupor, it was in an attempt to bring the conversation back to the issue that most consumed him: not the how of their extermination but the how of their presence in New Jerusalem. In the main he was ignored.
Kearns was keen for the constable to grant him total command of the operation. “There can be only one general in any successful campaign,” he pointed out. “I cannot guarantee success without full and unquestioning fealty to my orders. Any confusion in this regard practically ensures failure.”
“Of course; I understand that,” snapped Morgan.
“Which part? The necessity of a clear chain of command or my being at the head of that chain?”
“I served in the army, Cory,” said Morgan, who had given up calling Kearns by any of the other names offered. “You don’t have to speak to me as if I were a bumpkin.”
“Then we are agreed? You will make clear to your men who is in charge?”
“And instruct them to do exactly as I tell them, no matter how bizarre or seemingly absurd the request?”
Morgan wet his lips nervously, and glanced Warthrop’s way. The doctor nodded. The constable did not seem comforted. “I feel a bit like Faust at the moment but, yes, I will tell them.”
“Ah, a literary man! I knew it. When this is done, Bobby, I would love to spend an evening, just you and me, a snifter of brandy and a cozy fire. We can discuss Goethe and Shakespeare. Tell me, have you ever read Nietzsche?”
“No, I have not.”
“Oh, you simply must. He’s a genius and, not entirely incidentally, a good friend of mine. Borrowed-I shan’t say ‘stole’ - one or two of my pet ideas, but that’s a genius for you.”
“I’ve never heard of the man.”
“I shall lend you my copy of Jenseits von Gut und Böse. You can read German, yes?”
“What is the point of this?” Morgan had finally lost his temper. “Warthrop, what sort of man have you brought here?”
“He told you earlier,” Kearns countered, losing in an instant his cheerful facade. The sparkle in his gray eyes extinguished itself, and suddenly his eyes seemed very dark, black in fact, as black and expressionless as a shark’s. The face, at all times previous so lively-winking, smirking, alight with jollity-now blank like the eyes, as immobile as a mask, though the impression was the opposite, of a mask falling away to reveal the true character beneath. That personage possessed no personality, neither cheerful nor dour; like the predator whose eyes his now resembled, no emotion moved him, no compunction restricted him. For a telling moment John Kearns allowed the mask to slip, and what lay underneath sent a shiver down my spine.
“I-I mean no offense,” stuttered Morgan, for he too must have glimpsed the not-human in the other’s eyes. “I simply don’t wish to entrust my life and the lives of my men to a mental defective.”
“I assure you, Constable Morgan, I am quite sane, as I understand the word, perhaps the sanest person in this room, for I suffer from no illusions. I have freed myself, you see, from the pretense that burdens most men. Much like our prey, I do not impose order where there is none; I do not pretend there is any more than what there is, or that you and I are anything more than what we are. That is the essence of their beauty, Morgan, the aboriginal purity of their being, and why I admire them.”
“Admire them! And you claim you aren’t defective!”
“There is much we can learn from the Anthropophagi. I am their student as much as I am their enemy.”
“Are we finished here?” Morgan demanded of Warthrop. “Is that all, or is there more of this drivel to endure before we’re done?”
“Robert is right; it’s very late,” said the monstrumologist. “Unless you have more of your drivel, John.”
“Of course, but it can wait.”
At the front door Morgan turned to Warthrop. “I almost forgot-Malachi…”
“Will Henry.” The doctor motioned toward the stairs.
Morgan reconsidered, and said, “No. He’s probably asleep. Don’t wake him. I’ll send someone over for him in the morning.” His eye wandered to the wound on the doctor’s forehead. “Unless you think-”
“That’s quite all right,” Warthrop interrupted. He seemed past all caring. “Let him stay the night.”
Morgan nodded, and breathed deep the cool night air. “What an odd man this Brit, Warthrop.”
“Yes. Exceedingly odd. But particularly suited for the task.”
“I pray you’re right. For all our sakes.”
We bade the constable good night, and I followed the doctor back into the library, where Kearns, having helped himself to Warthrop’s chair, sat sipping his cold tea. Kearns smiled broadly and lifted his cup. The mask was back on.
“Insufferable little marplot, isn’t he?” he asked, meaning the constable.
“He’s frightened,” answered Warthrop.
“He should be.”
“You’re wrong, you know. About my father.”
“Why, Pellinore? Because I cannot prove you wrong?”
“Setting aside the issue of his character for a moment, your theory is hardly more satisfying than mine. How did he manage to conceal them for such a long period of time? Or sustain them with their gruesome diet? Even granting you the outrageous assumption that Alistair was capable of such gross inhumanity, where did he find victims? How could he, for twenty years, without getting caught or even raising the least bit of suspicion, supply them with human fodder?”
“You overestimate the value of human life, Pellinore. You always have. Up and down the eastern seaboard the cities are seething with trash, the refuge washed up from Europe ’s slums. It would be no Herculean task to lure scores of them here with promises of employment or other incentives, or, failing that, to simply snatch them from the ghetto with the help of certain men who do not suffer from your quaint romantic idealism. Believe me the world is full of such men! Of course, it is entirely possible-though not, I would say, probable-that he persuaded his pets to adapt their diet to a lower form of life, assuming that was, as you propose, his goal. It is possible they have acquired a partiality to chicken. Possible, though not very probable.”