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Authors: John Farris

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BOOK: The Fury and the Terror
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The Mamba ops half dragged Frank Romanzo to the pond. He addressed them all in smutty Spanish. They dropped him a few feet from Kelane Cheng. His head was down. He had the shudders and was drooling. He looked longingly at Cheng, agony in his eyes. Then he wiped his bearded chin and glared at Zephyr.

"Frank, why don't you crawl over there and give Key a good-bye kiss? May be a while before you guys get together again."

"
Madre de putas
," Romanzo said to Zephyr. He looked at Kelane Cheng again, pleadingly.

"Don't worry," she murmured. "I'll be all right."

"Kiss her, you big galoot," Zephyr chided Romanzo.

Romanzo pulled himself to the side of his lover. Zephyr motioned for Darkfeather to move out of the way. Darkfeather got up reluctantly. When Zephyr was in her default mode, then usually it was time to worry.

Romanzo, his face inches from Kelane Cheng's, spoke to her in low tones. She wanted to embrace him, but her motor reflexes, like his, were nearly out of commission. Her hand brushed his cheek and fell limply on his shoulder.

"A www," Zephyr said. She took the cocked .45 caliber Sig Sauer from Darkfeather's hand, steadied it in her hands, right arm extended, ball of her index finger on the trigger.

"Frank!" Kelane Cheng said, no strength in her to push him aside. The warning came too late. From five feet away Zephyr fired twice, quickly, blowing the back of Frank Romanzo's head off.

Zephyr was momentarily shocked. Forty-fives make a lot of noise. There was far more blood than she could have expected, and other stuff, flying everywhere. Sticking to her clothing. But she'd always handled blood okay, depending on the volume.

Romanzo had slumped across Cheng's limp body. Her teeth were bared, eyes with a pinpoint luster as she stared up at Zephyr.

Zephyr shrugged to hide a tremor. She'd shot animals before, including a favorite horse. This was different, and it wasn't. There was always satisfaction to be gained from eliminating part of the competition, however she achieved it. End of story, no tears.

"He called me the mother of whores. So, listen, Key, grow from it, you know?" Zephyr ruined a thumbnail handing the Sig Sauer back to Portia Darkfeather. "See you in a few days," she said casually, and walked away, taking a couple of deep breaths only when her back was turned. Keeping her head up, making an effort not to stumble. Two of Portia's Praetorians fell into step behind her.

Darkfeather watched Zephyr for a few moments, angry but inscrutable.

Then she pulled Frank Romanzo's body off Kelane Cheng, who looked at her, and beyond her, the fires of that remarkable mind cooled to ash.

For now
, Darkfeather thought, rejecting pity. Her own mind hardened protectively. She knew too much about Kelane Cheng to lower her guard for even a few moments.

The medical team had arrived. They inserted an IV and began dripping fluids that contained more tranquilizer drugs. Then they wiped the Avatar's face clean, shaved some of the hair from her scalp, dabbed ointment between her breasts and on her temples. They attached the electrodes that would monitor brain-wave activity, her heart and respiration rates.

The helicopter that was taking Cheng back to Hickam Field, and to the jet waiting for her there, circled the clearing and hovered overhead.

Darkfeather decided that, in spite of Zephyr's impulsive—okay, call it sadistic—kill of Frank Romanzo, it had been a good night's work. Designated Hitter would complete the dispersal of the other psychics who had been flushed from the cloister. They would be removed to isolation cells in locations around the U.S. With their powers unlinked from the Avatar, they might be of some future interest to MORG's psi research facility. But Kelane Cheng was the top banana.

Darkfeather should have been in a better mood. But even in twilight sleep the Avatar seemed to be at work, casting a spell that had settled dismally in the marrow of Darkfeather's bones. It was her heritage to believe in the supernatural, in ill omens and premonitions.

A German shepherd moaned, then growled. She turned and there was the Avatar's doppelganger, standing just behind her but spectral now, losing definition as Cheng recalled it. In the pouch on Darkfeather's ballistics vest her pure-white Persian cat squawled and clawed as the doppelganger vanished in a flash of light that came right at Darkfeather and made her flinch. Cold traveling point of light through her flesh, leaving its mark like an' indelible scratch on the soul as the dpg merged with its homebody. Definitely not an illusion. She knew she would continue to feel it for a while.

She let Warhol out of the mesh-front pouch and snuggled him against her cheek, relishing the furry warmth. Glanced again at Kelane Cheng as Cheng was loaded onto a stretcher. Her head lolled, but there seemed to be a smile on her face that made Darkfeather's mood even worse.

It was a long way to Plenty Coups, Montana. And now she sensed that in spite of the precautions they were taking with the Avatar, the odds were against any of them getting there.

CHAPTER 2
 

INNISFALL, CALIFORNIA • MAY 28

 

G
raduation day. Eden Waring was up at a quarter past five after a nervous night of dozing and, perhaps, forty-five minutes of solid dream-producing sleep. Only one dream, but it had been a chiller. She was still trembling when she finished recording the details in her dreambook, which was always at her bedside. Dreambook number seven, like the previous six a spiral school notebook. She had been keeping the dreambooks, at Betts's suggestion, since learning to write. Age four, two years before most of her classmates. But she'd always been ahead of the others in school, proof of which was her valedictory address. She listened to it once again while she pressed the last wrinkles out of her graduation gown.

Betts knocked at the bedroom door and came in yawning, coffee mug in one hand. She wore a faded Eddie Bauer shirt and baggy cargo pants, old moccasins with popped stitches. Her usual costume away from the office.

"Thought I heard you talking to yourself. How about breakfast?"

"Couldn't eat a bite," Eden said, grimacing. She stopped the tape, rewound briefly, listened intently to herself, mouthed the words.

"That sound preachy to you?" she asked Betts.

Betts's hairstyle, anytime, could best be described as "blowsy." She ran a hand through it, thinking. "Don't you say 'forbidding times' someplace else?"

"Now that you mention it." Eden sorted through her prompt cards and found the passage, picked up a ballpoint pen with a mangled cap, and chewed on it for a few seconds. "
Challenging
," she decided. She made the change. Left-handed. Her hand trembled. "I need coffee."

"And how about some kava-kava with your java?" Betts liked wordplay. "Babble-Scrabble," she called it, a game she played with some of her more difficult-to-reach patients, those functioning at the low end of the range of human possibilities. It often opened them up. She always had been able to coax Eden out of a foul mood with some unexpected bit of foolery. If her daughter had a fault, Betts liked to say, it was high seriousness.

"Yeah, okay. Dad up?"

"Up and gone. Two of Beau Cloud's stallions got into it over that brood mare he brought from Sacramento. Lot of stitching up to do."

Another grimace from Eden. "You know Dad can't keep track of time. And graduation is—"

"Promptly at eleven. People like Riley are the reason why pagers and cell phones were invented."

Eden tried a few lines of her revised address and bobbled a phrase. "Oh, no. I just can't get that straight! Betts, help, I'm gonna blow it, in front of six thousand—"

"How many games did you win with last-second free throws? The odds against you making a muff are about equal to the odds you'll cut a third set of teeth. Have a little confidence. What time is Martine doing your hair?"

"Nine." Eden looked into the bureau mirror, eyes narrowing. The left eye was turning in this morning, which sometimes happened when she was overly tired or stressed. She wore her hair, colored a streaky strawberry and mahogany red, in what she hoped was an artfully casual style. Cut as short as she could get away with, so it wasn't a nuisance on the playing fields and courts. Eden had been a second-team All-State point guard in high school and on scholarship at the major-college level while earning her degree in biochemistry at Cal Shasta. "I'm just getting a wash and trim," she said to Betts. "Do you think I need some color and extra body?"

Betts squinted critically. "Limp as old string. But the luster passes muster. Coffee's hot. I'm making bacon-crumble waffles, and you know what an ordeal it is for me to cook. So you'd better choke down a couple." Betts glanced at the notebook that Eden had left open on the counterpane of her unmade bed. "Anything new in the dreambook?" she asked.

"Same old same-old," Eden hedged, fussing with her hair, giving quick tugs with her fingertips and letting it flop while she studied the results in her dressing-table mirror.

"Hot and sexy?"

"Mommmm."

Betts picked up the dreambook, then turned her head to listen as Winky, their elderly golden retriever, began barking outside.

"Speaking of hot and sexy, that may be he who just turned into our driveway."

"Oh, God! I need to get dressed! Keep Geoff in the kitchen,
please
."

"I'll stuff him full of bacon-crumble waffles. But you better not leave me alone with him for too long. I may decide to cast Riley aside after all these years and take up with Geoff McTyer."

"Oh, Mom. And leave the dreambook here? I don't want—you know—Geoff to know too much about—"

"Hey, the dreambook is just between us. Always has been." Betts tossed the dreambook casually on top of Eden's study table, looked at it for a few moments.

"Was the Good Lady with you last night?"

"Can we talk about her later?" Eden put a hand to her brow, requesting a private moment. They both heard Geoff McTyer outside, whistling on his way to the kitchen door.

"Sure," Betts said cheerfully, and started out of Eden's bedroom. "Mom?"

"Yes?"

"It's going to happen again. Like Portland, but worse this time." Betts turned in the doorway. Her eyes gray, direct, astute. Eden was breathing too fast. Onset of an episode? Couldn't be a worse day for it.

"Why don't we wait?"

"It's in the dream—the city. I didn't recognize it. I wrote down everything I saw." She pressed hard against her forehead, biting her lower lip. "Sailboats," Eden said, distantly. Betts waited, on edge. Nothing more.

"We'll talk later. At my office, after graduation."

Eden dropped her hand from her face. Her head was down. "I have such a bad taste. That bitter, bad taste at the back of my mouth. That's how I've always known—you didn't
believe
me, last time."

"No, I—You know how terrible I've felt—Eden, do you want some Depakote?"

"It's passing. I'll be all right." Her breathing slowed. She looked up. "But what are we going to
do
?"

"Not now. There's time."

"I suppose. It wasn't complete. The dream. They always come back to me, two or three times before—"

"Geoff's waiting for you," Betts said, smiling a little desperately, but Eden wasn't looking at anything, only a corner of the room. "It's a
happy
day, Eden. Just think about that. And the proudest day of our lives, Riley and me. We are so proud, and we love you so much."

"I know. Whoever my real parents were, they could never have meant as much to me. Thank you. I'm sorry."

"About things beyond your control? Don't be. It's in the dreambook where it belongs. You don't have to think about it now."

 

I
n spite of her banter with Eden, Betts wasn't sure how much she liked Geoff McTyer, even as she greeted him at the door to the kitchen with a kiss on his cheek.

Geoff had come to Innisfall three years ago. He was an easterner, with a degree in math from Boston U., where he also had played some basketball as a walk-on. After graduation he had knocked around the country for a couple of years before driving into town in his '66 Mustang with one hundred seventy thousand miles on it. Geoff liked what he saw, and within a few days he had applied for a position with the Innisfall police department. The life of a cop in a university town of sixty thousand people wasn't too demanding. He admitted that he was overqualified, but the job paid his bills and he had plenty of free time to enjoy the recreational advantages of northern California. Skiing, water sports, wilderness hiking. The college girls had been another recreational advantage for Geoff. He had bright blue eyes, a ready smile, and, apparently, an untroubled psyche.

With her hectic schedule Eden hadn't devoted much time to guys in either high school or college. No lack of opportunity, but little time for romance. Geoff had met Eden when he volunteered for the all-male scout team that practiced with the women's varsity at Shasta. They were about the same height, five-nine. Both were quick and had thieving hands. Geoff wasn't shy about dumping Eden on her butt when she pressed him too hard. Eden came home from practice one winter afternoon with a split lower lip from an inadvertent elbow and said to Betts, "There's this guy on the scout team I kind of like. From 'down-east,' he says. Has that funny accent,
Bahston
, you know? But I could get used to it."

BOOK: The Fury and the Terror
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