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Authors: Tim Lees

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BOOK: The God Hunter
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CHAPTER 27

PREDATORS

“T
his is stupidness. We are stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.”

“Stupidity,” I said.

“Yes. Stupid city. And we are waiting for—­who? Him, or him, or her to die?” She jabbed her cigarette at passersby, as if she'd been at bayonet practice in some weird virtual academy. “Is that it? We let someone die, then what? Call NYPD? We find the killer? He is caught in action?”

“I don't know.”

“Where do we look for him? What place has ‘ambient emotion'? We do stakeout? Where?”

“Anywhere.” I watched the crowds, knowing she was right. “Everywhere . . .”

“You should tell me. You should tell Lieutenant Fantino. Already he is thinking you are crazy. And I am crazy, to be with you! Ah—­” She pushed her lower jaw out, shook her head. “You tell me this is not a man. You tell me this and, yes, I believe. I have seen his work; yes, I must believe. But you do not tell Fantino that this murderer looks like you. A thought who walks and talks and looks like you. But to Fantino, you say nothing. You are afraid that he will lock you up? Or he will not believe? I do not know, I do not care. But you hide information, and I, I hide it with you. I go along with this, because you ask. Now though, I am not so sure. Because we are too quiet, someone might die.”

Someone would die, I thought. In fact I'd very little doubt. Whether we talked or not. And as she'd said, once you were thinking of it, it became impossible not to imagine everyone you saw as a potential victim: the bagel seller with his cart, the lady with the dog, the vagrants with their cardboard sign:
JUST GIVE US $$$!!!
I couldn't save them. I told myself that. No matter what I said or did, I couldn't save them. So I'd kept quiet. I just wasn't sure how good my reasons were for doing so. I wasn't sure if they were good at all.

“The Registry,” I said, and trailed off.

“Yes?” She lit another cigarette, her lighter flaring angrily.

“OK,” I said. “This is a bad one, and probably you're right. Perhaps we ought to tell. I just don't think that it would make much difference, not at this point. But, well, my boss was here last night. Told me he'd flown in from Boston, but I don't think so. I think he came here specially. To give me—­well. A warning.

“The Registry are distancing themselves. From this, from anything to do with it. If things go wrong—­if things get out—­they can hold their hands up and go, ‘It's not us,' and the person nearest to it goes home carrying the can. He made that pretty clear to me.”

“ ‘Carry the can.' That is like ‘holding the baby,' yes?”

“Most definitely yes.”

“Then we are sailing in the same boat, worse luck. I tell you at home: this is a case that kills careers.” Ganz blew out, vanishing a moment under clouds of soft, gray smoke.

“We're shafted,” I said.

“Yes! And now we have decided that we must go on and do our job. Where do we search? Do we wander without maps? Or show your picture, ask, ‘Have you seen this man?' ”

“Well . . .” The smoke stung my nose. It made me want to sneeze. “We could try the zoo.”

“Why that?”

“Because . . . because it worked before. That's all.”

“All right. It worked before. And to be hoped, it works again.”

I
watched the polar bear. There's a thing about polar bears; in the wild, their territory is so vast that captive bears often go crazy with restrictions. It's very hard to keep them sane here. Yet increasingly, wild bears have been known to forsake the wilderness and hang around the edge of towns, looking for easy pickings in the garbage bins and Dumpsters, which they visit in the night. Adaptable, like all of us. I thought of this, then thought about our quarry, settled in the same place for who knows how many thousand years, then all at once, upping sticks and heading for the New World. Adaptable, perhaps. But why?

The bear reached up, stretching his long neck, his nose twitching for city smells, hints of a world beyond the park, beyond New York. He had an oddly doglike quality when he did that, and you could almost forget he weighed about a thousand pounds and could kill you with a single swipe of those big, black, sabre claws.

I stretched, too, and sniffed the air. Just like my double had, mimicking the animals, mimicking the predators.

“The killer,” I said. “He's learning from them.”

“What?”

“I have a theory. It kind of links with something I've been thinking for a while. Best I've got so far, at least.”

The bear sank to his haunches. He was in there, we were out here; only a big pit in between, nothing but air keeping us separate.

I had told her, finally, the full and exact story of what happened all those years ago, with Shailer, and the thing that stepped out of the mirror; told her, in fact, everything that Seddon would deny if it should ever become public knowledge.

Anna only grunted her acknowledgement, said nothing.

“I shocked it,” I said. “The full force of the mains, right through it. And it vanished. Gone. These things—­sometimes they dissipate, just disappear. In this case . . . evidently not.”

“Evident. Yes.”

“So, here's my point. It's not the full thing, right? It's not the full god, or entity, or energy, whatever you want to call it. Most of it, we bottled. We got it. So what's left . . . it's weak. Before that, it was strong, and powerful. But now it's not. It needs more power, that's why it kills. It's trying to grow, get back its strength. Or maybe just maintain itself.”

“The bear,” she said. “The bear is mad.”

“They don't like captivity.”

He was standing there, throwing his head from side to side like someone hefting a bowling ball.

“I sympathize,” I said. “Place is much too small for it.”

She ignored this. “And the killer. You say he is at the zoo, too, with you. The leopard. Why?”

“To learn,” I said. “To learn to be a predator. He was—­like this.”

I tried to snarl, to show my teeth, the way my counterpart had done.

“He's an apprentice. Every time he kills, he's stronger. But he's still not used to it. That isn't how he feeds, or how he used to. So he needs to learn. Every kill, he's stronger, smarter. Longer it goes on, worse it's going to get.”

“A question then, Chris Copeland. How much of him is you?”

“He looks like me. It's mimicry, I think. He—­it—­it's some kind of energy; I think it rode the light in my reflection. Piggybacked on it, somehow. It's not unknown, though it's unusual, I'll grant you that.”

“So. Looks like you. And talks like you.”

“Yeah. He'd got my voice, he said my name, he—­”

He said my name. I stopped myself.

“Your name,” she said. “And talked to you. Not in Hungarian. In English. How does he learn this? You can explain that?”

“No.”

“No.” She hooked her arm in mine. “He looks like you. Perhaps he thinks like you. Perhaps he has your interests, your tastes. Perhaps through this we track him down.”

“You're not still thinking that he is me, then?”

“I think nothing, know nothing.” But she looked at me and smiled. “Now I am teasing. No, he is not you. But he is like you. In some way. Yes.”

“You were pretty good yourself, you know, keeping the truth from Fantino. Second thoughts since, though, eh?”

“Perhaps.”

“The fingerprint thing. Snappy answer. Very smart. Do ­people really do that? Latex fingertips?”

“Maybe,” she said.

“You've heard about it, though?”

“Oh, I have seen it. Oh yes. Truly.” She took her cigarettes out of her purse and, slowly and deliberately, lit up. “I have seen it in a James Bond movie. Very clever plan, I think. Would really do the trick.”

 

CHAPTER 28

CAFÉ TALK

W
e found a café on the west side of the park, over towards Broadway. I ordered a bagel, lox, and cream cheese—­going native—­while Anna had a burger. We drank good, black coffee. And we sat right at the back, away from all the other patrons, speaking like spies, our voices low, heads down, eyes watchful all the time.

“They're a rarity, incarnates. Rare, but not unknown. The Registry admits the possibility, it just doesn't like to talk about them. It's,
oh, well, yes, in theory
. But in practice . . .
never heard of 'em. Sorry, don't know what you mean. Never happens. . .

“On the other hand, they'll give you lots of chat about the
pre
-­incarnates. There's a prodromal phase that sensitives and schizophrenics are alert to. They get the first taste of what we might call paranormal activity. Well, the pre-­incarnate phase quadruples that. It's got a real nuisance value: poltergeist phenomena, voices, visions, sometimes a wind or sudden shift in air pressure—­you tend to notice if it's in a building. Some places, they think it's all part of the usual religious stuff, you know? Depending on the country and the culture. Tricky, that one. Very touchy. I mean, there are shrines we're dying to wire up. If we could get permission—­or find some way that we didn't need it. What's at Lourdes, for instance? If we could just soak up the power in that. There've been pilgrims going there for centuries, full of expectation, full of hope, all kinds of energy. Or Mecca. No chance, obviously. But think of it. Those places are charged. They're hot.”

“But not incarnate.”

“Oh no. No way. Dormant, I'd say. But not always. Places tend to get a rep because at some stage, something's happened there. There's been some kind of manifest. That's what we try to tap and siphon off. That's our job.”

“Cruel.”

“Why?”

“People go, expect good luck or healing. But you have come in, stolen all the power. Stolen it and sold it and for what? To light a house, to run a food-­mixer, to warm a room? For what?”

“Well, those are all important things, I think. And, honestly, it's not like that. Sometimes we get called to a site where there's some real unwholesome stuff. I've seen things. In fact, anywhere it starts to manifest, it's usually disruptive. Destructive, too, most times. Nobody can deal with it. We're just creaming off the top. Before it hits that stage. You know? We're actually pretty sensitive about local beliefs, stuff like that. We've got to be. We want cooperation, after all. Local priest gets credit for settling things down, we make a contribution to a charity or the church roof fund . . . you know. And we cream off the excess. That's all.”

“Man makes God.”

“Sort of.”

“And if you do not cream. What then? It grows and grows, and it becomes a man? Like Jesus Christ?”

“No. But good point.”

“I have career built on good points. I am good points up to here, see?” She levelled her hand in front of her nose.

“OK. Well, first thing is, some of these places, they don't develop. There's power there, but it never shows. Perhaps in time, but not so far.” I pushed a straying shred of fish back into my sandwich. “Official line, the power's built up by the act of worship. By the sheer impress of
feelings
on the place. Question is—­and for a field op, no matter how you toe the party line, this will always be the sticking point, you know—­question is, why worship there to start with? Why's a shrine become a shrine? A church become a church? Why that place, nowhere else?”

She sniffed. “Most days in church,” she said, “nobody dies.”

“True. But—­I dunno. There's a lot of
thinking
about death. There's a guy on a cross, for one thing. And a lot of talk about eternal life, and the end of the world, all that. But—­well, think back further. Most older churches are on sites already sacred. Pagan shrines, and so forth. Now, you could see that as the new religion cunningly and willfully absorbing and supplanting the old. Or maybe these are real places of power; maybe the place itself draws ­people to it. And in the old days—­before Chris­tian­ity—­who's to say what kind of sacrifice was made there? Or what went on?”

“Pagans. Ah yes. Pagans, human sacrifice. That, also, I think is fairy tale.”

“Doesn't have to be human. Dead hen, dead cow . . . I've wondered about slaughterhouses, sometimes. What we'd get from them.”

“This is disgusting.”

“This is how it is. And then you've got to ask yourself why one place gets associated with this function, another place with that . . . Lourdes with healing, say. There are traditions about churches. Go back, you find out they were first sacred to—­oh, Woden, or Baal, or Venus. Why? The churches mask that, as they're meant to do, but some of it clings on.”

“You tell me God is real. And for so long, we have been told that God is dead.”

“The gods are real. Whatever they may be. They're in the ground like seeds. That's my view. This place, that place . . . been there thousands, maybe millions of years. Till they can even imitate us, when they want to. And we worship them, and they get stronger, bit by bit . . .”

“They feed on us.”

“In a sense. Yeah. Suppose they do.”

“We are cattle. Take away technology—­take away your meter and your flask—­and they are dominant. For hundreds of years. They lure us and devour us. They feed on us.”

“We've coexisted. For a long time.”

“Our killer does not coexist. He kills.”

“He eats.”

“Like shark in human shape.”

“He's shifting gear. He's got to build his power. No—­maintain his power. I bet it's fading all the time. Same as you, and me.” I gestured to my bagel. “There's no one coming by to sing a few hymns anymore, is there? He's incarnate, and he's mobile. And I'd say a human body takes a lot more energy to keep it going than just lying in the ground, unconscious.”

“Father, forgive him, for he knows not what he does.”

“No. We don't forgive him. We find him, and we wipe him out. We don't need to forgive. We need to understand.”

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