Authors: Ray Garton
This book is forÂ
my friend, Dr. Evan K. ReasorÂ
who saved my lifeÂ
my wife, DawnÂ
who is my life.
I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to the following, who aided in the writing of the novel: My wife Dawn, who makes my work possible, and who, for more than eight years was my rock and carried on with everything when I could notâI will spend the rest of my life saying thank you, and it still won't be enough; Scott Sandin, my best friend and always my first editor, whose never ending friendship, support, and contributions to my work are invaluable; Brian Hodges, dearest and oldest of friends, whose quiet strength and support I cherish; Derek Sandin, a fountain of knowledge and information, and a great guy; Steven Spruill, a brilliant writer, and my long-lost brother
with whom I grew up in the smothering, frightening world of Sister White and the silent Friday nightsâbut in different places and times; my parents Ray and Pat Garton, whose love and support mean everything; the fun and fabulous Sarah Wood, a priceless friend; Randy Adams, whom I've know longer than anyone outside my family, and with whom I've had countless long, enjoyable, laugh-filled telephone conversations; Barbara Youngblood, who's come to mean so much to me; Jen Orosel, Bill Lindblad, Tom Piccirilli, Dave Yeske, Cathy Kortzeborn, Teresa Anderson, Stephanie Terrazas, the great Peter Straub, the 2006 World Horror Convention, the people at the Red Light District message board, and everyone I may be missing (please forgive me) whose support, patience, and friendship have helped get me through the last several years; my dear, late friends, Paul Meredith and Francis Feighan, whom I think of and miss every day; Steve Ericsson, a devoted lover of the genre; James Newman, the talented writer and good guy; the televised school where I received the beginning of my horror education, and where I saw my first werewolfâ
on KTVU Channel 2, gone now but far from forgotten, first hosted by Bob Wilkins, the man with the cigar, then by John Stanley, the master of horror films; my agent Richard Curtis, a great man from whom I've learned so much; my wonderful editor at Leisure, Don D'Auria, whose love and respect for the genre has done so much for all of us who share it; most of all, I would like to thank my precious readers, who keep my fingers typing.
Los Angeles - 18 months ago
It was a dump on Western Boulevard called the Vanguard Hotel. Daniel Fargo could tell by the entrance that it was barely a notch above a Depression-era flophouse. He pushed through the single-door entranceâa brown door with a portholeâand stepped inside.
Everything was a shitty brown and tan. It was as if the walls of the hotel's lobby had been painted with depression and despair themselves. Two tones of misery. Numerous tiles were missing from the tan floor. Fargo decided that spending much time at all in the lobby would put one in need of a Prozac. The place smelled of Lysolâno attempt was made to disguise it with a pine scent, it was plain old stinging Lysol, and the lobby reeked of it.
Ahead and to the right was an open area with a large kidney-shaped table in the center. There were magazines and paperbacks on the table. Along the walls were couches and chairs, none of which matched, a couple of lamp tables, a coffee table with more magazines. At this end of the room stood an old television set with a pair of aluminum-foil-wrapped rabbit ears on top. The furniture had been arranged so that no matter where you were seated, you were pointed at the television.
To the left was a cage with a counter across the bottom of the front, and on the counter, an open registry book. Fargo went to the counter and looked into the cage.
An enormously fat man sat leaning back in a chair, watching a game show on his cell phone, and reading a newspaper. He took up a lot of room in his small, cluttered cubicleâhe was so big, he made the space seem much smaller than it actually was. He wore a filthy, once-white T-shirt that was too small for him and clung to his rolls like a second skin. The bottom of his enormous belly, a half-moon of white, pasty flesh, stuck out from under the bottom of the shirt. His breasts rested in opposite directions and settled against his massive, cottage-cheesy upper arms as he leaned back. His skin resembled mashed potatoes, and his dark curly hair looked like it had not been washed in ages. Beneath his chin was a bulge of fat so large, it looked like a growthâit was simply excess fat around his face. A few stray hairs grew here and there on the otherwise hairless bulge beneath his face. It went from earlobe to earlobe. It was impossible to tell his age. He did not look up when Fargo approached the counter.
“Excuse me,” Fargo said.
The man didn't do or say anything for a long moment.
The man took in a deep breath, then let it out in a long, put-upon sigh as he lowered the newspaper, closed it, and set it aside. The chair he was sitting on had squeaky wheels, and he scooted forward with difficulty, until he was at the counter. He had to tilt his head back to see Fargo's face.
Fargo was a tall manâsix feet, four inchesâand had a striking face, a face that shocked people, made them look twice, then look away. It was covered with horrible scars. His nose was crooked, having been broken. He had a jutting chin, with high cheekbones beneath scarred flesh, cheekbones that rose up beneath piercing violet eyes that leaped out from his face. He had a well-trimmed mustache and shaggy hair that fell from beneath his charcoal fedora. Strands of shimmering steel were strung all through his black hair, which he did nothing to conceal. He wore a long, heavy black coat over a black suit, with black leather boots. The shadow of his fedora fell over his eyes, but it did not conceal them.
“You wanna room?” the man said. Something white had gathered in the corners of his mouth.
“I do not,” Fargo said. “You have a man staying here named Arnold Lutz. What room is he in?”
“Look, man, I don't know if there's anybody here by that name. This look like the kinda place where people use their real names, huh?”
Ignoring him, Fargo spun the registry around and ran his finger down the list of names. Arnold Lutz was not listed, but Fargo recognized his handwriting. Lutz had written the name “Burl Ives” instead of his real name, but there was no mistaking that handwriting. Back at Yale, Fargo had been an English professor, and he'd had some students with lazy, almost childish handwriting like Lutz's, the kind of handwriting that Fargo believed revealed an inner laziness, a certain lack of pride in oneself, and usually a lack of curiosity and imagination.
“Burl Ives,” Fargo said, pointing at the name in the book. He turned it around so the fat man could see it. “He came hereâ” He looked at the upside-down book, found the date and time. “âlast night. Apparently with two other menâHoss Cartwright and Rod Serling.”
“Them names're fake,” the man said.
Something bubbled up from inside the morbidly obese man. Fargo realized it was a single laugh. “Yeah, I reckanize all them names.”
“What room is Ives in?”
A lazy smile rested on the man's wet lips.
“Tell me now,” Fargo said, leaning close to the cage, “or I will reach through this opening, pluck your eyeball from its socket, and stick it into your mouth before you have time to scream in pain.”
The fat man rolled his eyes, and that lazy smile grew a little at first. Then his rolling eyes found Fargo, and their gazes locked together. The smile fell away slowly when the fat man got a good look at Fargo's piercing eyes. They were eyes weary of seeing things that no one should ever have to see, but there was a glow of rage in them as well. The fat man looked at Fargo's hands on the counter, just on the other side of the long opening about eight inches high. They were big, strong hands with long fingers and tiny tufts of black hair growing above the two rows of knobby knuckles. The fat man looked up at Fargo's eyes again, and in that clear, gripping gaze, he saw that the man would do what he threatened to doâlooking into those eyes, he could imagine the big man reaching through that opening and plucking out his eyeball.
The fat man reached beneath the counter and produced a clipboard. He ran his finger down the clipboard, stopped, then said, “Room 204.”
Fargo turned away from the window and his coat whipped around his legs.
“Elevator's broken,” the fat man said as Fargo walked briskly away.
The stairs were next to the elevator. Fargo pushed yanked the door open and headed up to the second floor. The stairwell was dark and filthy and smelled of urine and vomit and semen. The gritty floor crunched under his black boots.
The second floor corridor was narrow, dark, and gloomyâlots of brown, and only pale, yellowish lights on the ceiling. Running down the center of the hardwood floor was a hideous carpet runner with a once-colorful jungle pattern. Now the carpet was dark with grime down the center, littered with cigarette butts, burnt in places, worn to the threads in others.
Fargo went straight to room 204. He stood there a moment, staring at the doorknob and listening.
The entire hotel was strangely silentâno voices, no music, no television or radio, nothing. This room was no different.
He put his right hand on the doorknob and tried it. It would not turn. Fargo straightened his back and reached under his suit coat, and wrapped his right hand around the grip of his Desert Eagle .50 caliber semi-automatic. He removed the gun from the shoulder holster, stepped back, and aimed the gun at the door. He looked left, then right. There was no one else in the corridor. He moved forward and was about to knock on the door when he heard a door open to his right. He turned his head and looked down the corridor.
A short, round man in shabby clothes stepped out of his room, carrying a worn old suitcase that had been patched in places. He turned, reached in to pull the door closed, then he saw Fargo. The man froze a moment, then dropped his arm at his side, stiffened his back, and gawked at Fargo with a slack jaw. He turned his head from side to side, then said, “I'm not surprised. He kept me up
, that son of a bitch. Know what they started doin' at one point?
'! Like a buncha fuckin' animals. Then they took it outside, heard âem howlin' out there. Like a buncha fuckin' animals.” Then he turned and headed down the hall to the stairs.
Fargo turned back to the paint-peeling door in front of him. He reached out his left hand and rapped his knuckles against the wood, then stepped back and held the gun in his right hand, which he rested in the palm of his left. The big gun was heavy, black, and mean-looking, and Fargo thought he would not like to open his door to find himself staring into that ominous bore, into that black tunnel of death. He did not plan to give Arnold Lutz the chance to register any fear when he saw the gun.
He knocked again.
“Who is it?” a thick, groggy voice called.
“Special ... for
Fargo thought irritably.
“I don't know who it's for, pal, I'm just delivering it to this room.”
There were thudding footsteps on the other side of the door. A lock clicked, another snapped. He pulled the door open and stared open-mouthed at the gun, butâ
âhe was not Arnold Lutz.
Fargo lowered the gun. His mouth hung open, too.
The heavy, bald man standing in the door in blue sweatpants and a blue sweatshirt said three wordsâ”What the
?”âbut as he said them, his voice thickened more and more with each syllable, and his eyes suddenly shimmered a bright silver, and two sharp fangs jutted up from behind his lower lip like miniature tusks.