Authors: Frank Peretti
But that notion soon faded.
They know I’m not. They have to know. They’ve lied to the paper, or the paper is lying.
She finally got the clasp of the chain open and hung it around her neck. Then she reached over to the night table and picked up . . . that ring. She threaded the neck chain through it, fastened the clasp, buttoned up her shirt, and the ring was hidden.
They know who that woman was. They don’t want anyone else to
And she knew she wasn’t hallucinating. The ring around her neck told her that. It was one solid piece of evidence that would help her hold on to reality, bizarre as it may be.
Sally reached for her jacket and pulled another solid piece of evidence from the pockets—many pieces, actually.
Cash. She’d already counted it. Ten thousand dollars, in three bundles: one of twenties, one of fifties, and one of hundreds. The assassin’s fee, most likely. Sally found it all in the woman’s coat pockets and grabbed it. Why the woman was carrying it all on her person was a mystery, unless she carried the money for the same reason she wore the gold ring.
But the question still remained: After all these years, what had Sally done? How had she gotten in their way?
It had to be what happened in the Post Office. It was the only thing Sally could think of, a frightening experience and now a horrible memory. It was just like being caught, found out, discovered by an old enemy . . . a
enemy! That little girl’s eyes! Those taunting, hideous eyes! She could never forget that short moment when every fear, every nightmare from all her previous years came back in a torturous, merciless wave of recollection.
She had looked into the eyes of a devil. She could recognize it; she’d seen that look before, felt the stinging, mocking hate, heard the same vicious lying.
Sally flopped on the bed. No, she couldn’t think about it. She was just too tired. She was frightened, her hair was black and looked strange, she couldn’t think, she was a hunted animal, and she was just too tired.
Your hope is lost, worthless creature,
said a voice in her head.
It’s only a matter of time; a very short time,
“Amber . . .” It sounded so much like her.
Now you can see how big we are, and how little you are!
You are dead, worthless creature! You are crazy!
Sally leaped from the bed and grabbed a pen from the table. She found some stationery in a drawer next to a Gideon Bible. She would write things down, that was it! Perhaps her mind wouldn’t get scrambled if she put it all down on paper. She could record her thoughts
before they melted away. She bent over the table, her pen poised over the paper.
But Despair was wounded, humiliated, indignant, and determined to redeem himself. He hung on her back like a coal-black leech, sucking out her will, whispering confusion to her mind. The other three spirits were with him, circling Sally, taunting her, jabbing her with their swords.
Insanity whipped his sword right through her brain.
Sally stared at the paper. Somehow she’d ended up on the floor. Nothing would come. What was that thought? She just had it, she was going to write it down, and now it was gone.
Give it up. Turn yourself in.
No one will ever believe you. You’re crazy.
Crazy. It was a word. She wrote it down.
Insanity, cackling his witchy laugh, grabbed her mind between his two hairy palms and dug in his talons. Death joined in the attack.
Sally’s mind went blank. The paper began to grow into a white screen that filled her eyes like a fog, a blizzard white-out. She was floating. She kept writing: “My name is Sally Roe . . . Sally Roe . . .”
She could hear voices in the room, taunting her, and could feel sharp claws tugging at her. They remained invisible, hiding from her, teasing, tormenting.
Then came Fear. Sally was overcome with a numbing, paralyzing fear. She was lost and falling, spinning, tumbling in space. She couldn’t stop.
She willed to think, to form the word in her mind: Sally. Sally. Sally.
Come on, write it. Take the blasted pen in your hand and write it!
We have you now. We will never let you go.
Sally. She could feel the pen moving.
The pen raced over the paper in circles, squiggles, jagged lines, crisscrosses.
It was gibberish. Nonsense.
She kept writing. She had to capture a thought, any thought.
Chimon and Scion had seen enough. It would have to be quick. Scion slipped outside to check the perimeter. Chimon crept like a shadow through the walls, moving in close.
All four spirits were clustered around Sally’s head, whipping her consciousness into a myriad of senseless fragments. Chimon got a nod from Scion—he would be able to shield out the spirits outside. Now for these insects inside. It had to be just the right moment, just that one instant of opportunity.
Now. They wouldn’t see it. Chimon whipped his sword in a quick, tight circle, a shining disk of light.
The flat of the blade smacked the demons senseless and shattered their tight little cluster. Despair went tumbling backward in a blurred spin and landed outside the motel; Fear, Death, and Insanity were interlocked and fell away together, their arms, legs, and wings a spinning, fuming, angry tangle.
The two warriors ducked back inside the walls.
Despair righted himself with a shriek and a huff, and only then realized where he was. With a flurry of wings, he shot back through the wall into the room. His three cohorts were just recovering. All four flung themselves at Sally’s mind again.
But it was too late. She’d slipped from their grip like a bird out of a trap. Her thoughts, though sluggish, were moving in an orderly sequence through her brain.
Sally was suddenly able to read the words on the page. There were only six legible words at the top, “Crazy my name is Sally Roe.” The rest of the page was filled with aimless, chaotic scribbles. She got up from the floor and sat at the table to try again. She had to keep writing, first one word, then a phrase, then another word—anything that would capture her racing, fragmented thoughts before they escaped her.
“Death and despair and fear and madness are back,” she wrote, and then another thought: “Why kill me? I died years ago.”
Sally kept moving that pen, whether her mind stayed on it or not. She was going to whip this madness. She had to. She was going to get her thoughts down on paper where they couldn’t get away. She was going to win.
BEN WAS BEGINNING
to wonder about his gift for timing. He’d been out on patrol and just happened to stop in at the station to pick up some more highway flares. As soon as he stepped through the back door, he could hear Mulligan in his office, talking to someone on the
phone, and using a hushed tone of voice that immediately roused Ben’s suspicion. Since when did Mulligan ever get that quiet?
Ben got his flares from the supply room. The quicker he got out of there, the better.
Oh-oh! There went Mulligan’s chair again, rolling back and hitting the wall. Ben ducked into the supply room, expecting Mulligan to come bursting through his door.
But Mulligan must have jumped up in anger. He stayed in his office, hollering at whoever was on the phone.
“No, Parnell, I’m telling you, there was nothing on either hand! That’s what I said, nothing!”
Hmm. Parnell. That was the coroner.
Mulligan gave Parnell time to say something, and then dove into him again. “No, I didn’t find anything in her pockets either! What kind of a jerk do you take me for?” Parnell got another two bits in, and then Mulligan answered, “Well, you just go back and check around again! I’m doing my job, now you do yours!” Another pause. “Hey, you’re the one who got the body, not me. I delivered it just like I found it. Why not ask the medics, if you’ve got a problem? Yeah, Parnell, it’s
problem, and I can make it a bigger problem if you just say the word!”
He slammed the phone down and cursed.
Ben ducked back outside as quickly as he could. Even as he closed the door behind him, he could hear the sergeant still hissing and cursing under his breath.
JAMES BARDINE WAS
a young, handsome lawyer with black, wavy hair left long in the back and a voice with a lingering adolescent quack. Normally, he was tough and decisive—his associates used words like
behind his back—and in control of his situation. He was ambitious, a real goal-grabber, and flaunted his red Porsche at every opportunity. His suits were specially tailored to project an image of power. He’d perfected his own walk for use whenever he went to court: a quick, intimidating clip, chin high, spine straight, and lots of extra yellow legal pads under his arm. He knew he’d go far. He had the grit for this work. He was good at it.
Right now, he was scared to death. He was sitting in an overly soft couch in the outer office of his boss, Mr. Santinelli, waiting to be called in for a conference. The room had high, twelve-foot walls, dark-stained mahogany trim around, over, and under everything, and a thick carpet your feet sank into. It was deathly quiet except for the secretary’s steady tapping on the typewriter and an occasional electronic warbling of a telephone. Bardine needed a cigarette, but Mr. Santinelli forbade smoking in his office. The magazines on the coffee table were either old or boring, but it didn’t matter. There was no way he’d be able to read right now.
He was trying to compose a defense in his mind, something persuasive. Surely Mr. Santinelli knew when he had a good man; surely he
wouldn’t make a big thing out of such a little incident. Surely he would consider the fine record Bardine had accumulated in the past five years.
The big mahogany door opened like the seal of a crypt, and Mr. Anthony stepped out. Anthony was Mr. Santinelli’s aide and right-hand man, a tall, thin, ghosty character, something like a cross between a butler and a hangman. Bardine rose quickly.
“We’re ready,” said Anthony. “Won’t you come in?”
Such a nice invitation to an inquisition
, Bardine thought. He stepped forward.
“Are those yours?” Anthony asked, pointing to some yellow legal pads on the coffee table.
“Oh, yes, thank you.”
Bardine grabbed them up and followed Anthony through the big door. It closed after them with a thud of finality.
This was the inner conference room adjacent to Mr. Santinelli’s office. The ornate light fixtures were at full brightness, but the room still seemed gloomy. The dark woodwork and furniture seemed to absorb the light; the heavy, floor-to-ceiling, velvet curtains were drawn over the windows.
Mr. Santinelli sat at the other end of the oval conference table, looking over some papers before him and seeming not to notice when Bardine came in. He was an impressive figure, intimidating by his very presence. He was expensively dressed, gray, grouchy, and
He was flanked by two of his closest and most powerful associates, Mr. Evans, a tight-faced, iron-fisted attorney who hadn’t smiled in years, and Mr. McCutcheon, a man who had so much money the subject bored him. Near this end of the table sat Mr. Mahoney, Bardine’s immediate superior, and not an impressive figure at all. One other man was present at the table, but unknown.
“Be seated, Mr. Bardine,” said Santinelli, still not looking up.
Anthony showed Bardine to the chair at the nearest end of the table, the one directly opposite from Mr. Santinelli. This was going to be a real eye-to-eye meeting.
Bardine took his seat and arranged his legal pads neatly in front of him. “Good day, gentlemen.”
Some of them muttered good day back. Some only nodded. None of them smiled.
Mr. Santinelli finally finished perusing his papers and looked up. “Mr. Bardine, let me introduce you to the gentlemen seated with us. Mr. Evans and Mr. McCutcheon I’m sure you know already.”
Bardine nodded at the two men, and they nodded back.
“Mr. Mahoney is here as well, and we acknowledge his attendance. The other gentleman is Mr. Goring, from Summit, here to lend his assistance and expertise.”
Bardine nodded at them, and they didn’t nod back.
Mr. Santinelli leafed through the papers in front of him. “To quickly review our present situation, we find that a . . . complication . . . has developed, which at first seemed not so grievous as it now appears. Ehmmmm . . . and with each passing moment, the gravity of the complication increases . . .” Then Santinelli looked straight at Bardine and asked, “Mr. Bardine, are you familiar with the name Sally Beth Roe?”