Somebody had broken the left front window of the Olds while hewas with Sybil. A glance at the front seat showed him why. The gas mask wasgone. Hecursed. The mask had cost him fifty dollars when he purchased ityesterday, andthere were no more to be had except in the black market. The maskswere sellingfor two hundred or more dollars, and it took time to locate a seller.
He had the time, but he did not have the cash in hand and hedoubted that his check would be accepted. The banks were closed, and the smogmight disappearso suddenly that he would not need the mask and would stop payment ofthe check. There was nothing to do except use a wet handkerchief and a pair ofgoggles hehad worn when he had a motorcycle. That meant he must return to hisapartment.
He made up a pile of handkerchiefs and filled a canteen withwater as soon as he was home. He dialed the LAPD to report the theft, but, aftertwo minutes, he gave up. The line was likely to be busy all day and all night andindefinitely into the future. He brushed his teeth and washed hisface. The wash rag looked yellow. Probably it was his imagination, but the yellowcould be the smog coming out. The yellow looked like the stuff that clouded hiswindshield in the morning after several days of heavy smog. The air of Los Angeleswas an ocean in which poisonous plankton drifted.
He ate a sandwich of cold sliced beef with a dill pickle anddrank a glassof milk, although he did not feel hungry. Visualizations of Sybilwith Al troubled him. He didn't know Al, but he could not bar shadowy imageswhose onlybright features--too bright--were a rigid monstrosity and a pair ofhairy, never-empty testicles. The pump-pump-pumping sound was also only ashadow, butit would not go away either. Shadows sometimes turned out to beindelible ink blots.
He forced himself to consider Matthew Colben and his murderers. At least, hethought they were murderers. There was no proof that Colben had beenkilled. He might be alive, though not well, somewhere in this area. Or someplaceelse.
Now that he was recovering from his shock, he could even thinkthat Colben might be untouched and the film faked.
He could think this, but he did not believe it.
The phone rang. Someone was getting through to him, even if hecould getthrough to no one. Suspecting that only the police could ram througha call, hepicked up the phone. Sergeant Bruin's voice, husky and growling likea bear justwaking up from hibernation, said, "Childe?"
"Yes." "We got proof that they mean business. That film wasn't faked." Childe was startled. He said, "I was just thinking about a fraud.
find out?" "We just opened a package mailed from Pasadena." Bruin paused. Childe said, "Yeah?" "Yeah.. Colben's prick was in it. The end of it, anyway.
anyway. It sure as hell had been bitten off." "No leads yet?" Childe said after some hesitation. "The package's being checked, but we don't expect anything,
naturally. And Igot bad news. I'm being taken off the case, well, almost entirelytaken off. We got too many other things just now, you know why. If there's going tobe anywork done on this, Childe, you'll have to do it. But don't go offhalf-cocked and don't do nothing if you get a definite lead, which I think youain't goingto get. You know what I mean. You been in the business."
"Yes, I know," Childe said. "I'm going to do what I can, which, as you said, probably won't be much. I have nothing else to do now, anyway,"
"You could come down here and swear in," Bruin said. "We need menright now! The traffic all over the city is a mess, like I never saw before. Everybody'strying to get out. This is going to be a ghost town. But it'll be amess, abloody mess, today and tomorrow. I'm telling you, I never seennothing like itbefore."
Bruin could be stolid about Colbert, but the prospect of thegreatesttraffic jam ever unfroze his bowels. He was really being moved.
"If I need help, or if I stumble--and I mean stumble--acrossanythingsignificant, should I call you?"
"You can leave a message. I'll call you back when--if--I get in. Good luck, Childe."
"Same to you, Bruin," Childe said and muttered as he hung up, "OUrsus Horribilis! Or whatever the vocative case is."
He became aware that he was sweating, that his eyes felt as ifthey'd beenfiled, his sinuses hurt, he had a headache, his throat felt raw, hislungs werewheezing for the first time in five years since he had quit smokingtobacco, and, not too far off, horns were blaring.
He could do something to ease the effects of the poisoned air, but he could do little about the cars out in the street. When he had left his wife's apartment; he had had a surprising amount of trouble getting acrossBurton Wayto San Vicente. There was no stop light at this point on Le Doux. Cars had to buck traffic coming down Burton Way on one side and going up on theother side of the divider. Coming down to the apartment, he had not seen a caror even a pair of headlights in the dimness. But, going back, he had had to becareful in crossing. The lights sprang out of the gray-greenness with startlingrapidity asthey rounded a nearby curve of Burton Way to the west. He had managedto find a break large enough to justify gunning across. Even so, a pair oflights and ablaring horn and squealing brakes and a shouted curse--subject to theDopplereffect--told him that a speeder had come close.
The traffic going west toward Beverly Hills was light, but thatcomingacross Burton Way between the boulevards to cut southeast on SanVicente was heavy. There was panic among the drivers. The cars were two deep, then suddenlythree deep, and Childe had barely had room to squeeze through. He wasbeingforced out of his own lane and against the curb. Several times, heonly got byby rubbing his tires hard against the curb.
The light at San Vicente and Third was red for him, but the carscoming downSan Vicente were going through it. A car going east on Third, hornbellowing, tried to bull its way through: It collided lightly with another. Fromwhat Childe could see, the only damage was crumpled fenders. But the twodrivers, hopping out and swinging at each other, looked as if they might drawsome blood, inept as they were with their fists. He had caught a glimpse ofseveral frightened faces--children--looking through the windows of bothdamaged cars. Then he was gone.
Now he could hear the steady honking of horns. The great herd wasmigrating, and God help them.
The deadly stink and blinding smoke had been bad enough when mostcars suddenly ceased operating. But now that two million automobiles weresuddenly onthe march, the smog was going to be intensified. It was true that, intime, thecars would be gone, and then the atmosphere could be expected tostart cleaningitself. If it was going to do it. Childe had the feeling that thesmog wasn'tgoing to leave, although he knew that that was irrational.
Meanwhile, he, Childe, was staying. He had work to do. But wouldhe be able to do anything? He had to get around, and it looked as if he mightnot be able to do that.
He sat down on the sofa and looked across the room at the dark goldenbookcases. The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, the two great boxedvolumes, was histreasure, the culminating work of his collection unless you counted acopy ofThe White Company personally inscribed by A. Conan Doyle, once thepossession ofChilde's father. It was his father who had introduced him at an earlyage tointeresting and stimulating books, and his father who had managed topass on hisdevotion to the greatest detective to his son. But his father hadremained a professor of mathematics; he had felt no burning to emulate TheMaster.
Nor would any "normal" child. Most kids wanted to be airplanepilots orrailroad engineers or cowboys or astronauts when they grew up. Many, of course, wanted to be detectives, Sherlock Holmeses, Mark Tidds (what boynowadays knewof Mark Tidd?), even Nick Carters since he had been revived withmodern settingsand plots, but few stuck to that wish. Most of the policemen andprivateinvestigators whom he knew had not had these professions as boyhoodgoals. Manyhad never read Holmes or had done so without enthusiasm; he had nevermet a Holmes buff among them. But they did read true detective magazinesand devoured the countless paperbacks of murder mysteries and of private eyes. They made funof the books, but, like cowboys who also deride the genuineness ofWesterns, they were addicted.
Childe made no secret of his "vices." He loved them, even the badones, andgloried in the "good" ones.
And so why was he trying to justify being a detective? Was itsomething tobe ashamed of?
In one way, it was. There was in every American, even the judgeand the policeman, a more-or-less strong contempt for lawmen. This lived sideby sidewith an admiration for the lawman, but for the lawman who is a strongindividualist, who fights most of his battles by himself againstoverwhelmingevil, who fights often outside the law in order to bring aboutjustice. Inshort, the frontier marshal, the Mike Hammerish private eye. Thislawman is so close to the criminal that there is a certain sympathy between thelawman and the criminal.
Or so it seemed to Childe, who, as he told himself now, tended todo too much theorizing and also to project his own feelings as those ofothers.
Matthew Colbert. Where was he now? Dead or suffering? Who hadforcibly taken him to some dwelling somewhere in this area? Why was the film sent tothe LAPD? Why this gesture of mockery and defiance? What could the criminalshope to gainby it, except a perverse pleasure in frustrating the police?
There were no clues, no leads, except the vampire motif, whichwas nothingbut a suggestion of a direction to take. But it was the only handleto grasp, ectoplasmic though it was, and he would try to seize it. At least, itwould givehim something to do.
He knew something about vampires. He had seen the early Draculamovies and the later movies on TV. Ten years ago, he had read the novel Dracula, and found it surprisingly powerful and vivid and convincing. It was far betterthan the best Dracula movie, the first; the makers of the movie should havefollowed the book more closely. He had also read Montague Summers and had been anavid reader of the now-dead Weird Tales magazine. But a little knowledge was notdangerous; it was just useless.
There was one man he knew who was deeply interested in the occultand the supernatural. He looked up the number in his record book because itwas unlisted and he had not called enough to memorize it. There was no response. He hung upand turned on the radio. There was some news about the international and national situations, but most of the broadcast was about the exodus. A number of stalled cars on the freeways and highways had backed up traffic for atotal of several thousand miles. The police were trying to restrict passage onthe freeways to a certain number of lanes to permit the police cars, ambulances, andtow trucks to pass through. But all lanes were being used, and thepolice werehaving a hell of a time clearing them out. A number of fires hadstarted in homes and buildings, and some of them were burning down with noassistance from the firemen because the trucks could not get through. There werecollisions all over the area with no help available, not only because of the trafficbut because there just was not enough hospital and police personnelavailable.
Childe thought, to hell with the case! I'll help!
He called the LAPD and hung on for fifteen minutes. No luck. Hethen called the Beverly Hills Police Department and got the same result. He hadno more luck with, the Mount Sinai Hospital on Beverly Boulevard, which was withinwalkingdistance. He put drops in his eyes and snuffed up nose drops. He weta handkerchief to place over his nose and put his goggles on top of hishead. He stuck a pencil flashlight in one pocket and a switch-blade knife inanother. Then he left the apartment building and walked down San Vicente toBeverlyBoulevard.
In the half hour that he had been home, the situation hadchanged. The carsthat had been bumper-to-bumper curb-to-curb were gone. They werewithin earshot; he could hear the horns blaring off somewhere around BeverlyBoulevard and La Cienega, but there was not a car in sight.
Then he came across one. It was lying on its side. He looked downinto the windows, dreading what he might see. It was empty. He could notunderstand how the vehicle had been overturned, because no one could have gone fastenough inthe jam to hit anything and be overturned. Besides, he would haveheard the crash. Somebody--somebodies--had rocked it back and forth and thenpushed itover. Why? He would never know.
The signal lights at the intersection were out. He could see wellenoughacross the street to make out the thin dark shape of the pole. Whenhe got tothe foot of the light pole on his comer, he saw broken plastic, whichwould have been green, red, and yellow under more lightened circumstances, scattered about.
He stood for a while on the curb and peered into the sickly gray. If a car were to speed down the street without lights, it could be on himbefore he could get across the street. Nobody but a damned fool would go fast orwithout lights, but there were many damned fools driving the streets of Los Angeles.
The wailing of a siren became stronger, a flashing red lightbecame visible, and an ambulance whizzed by. He looked up and down the street anddashed across, hoping that the light and noise would have made even the damnedest offools cautious and that anybody following the ambulance would be blowinghis horn. He got across with only a slight burning of the lungs. The smog wasslowly rustingoff their lining. His eyes ran as if they were infected.
The sound of bedlam came to him before the hospital buildingloomed out of the mists. He was stopped by a white-haired man in the uniform of asecurityguard. Perhaps the old man had worked at an aircraft plant or at abank as a guard and had been deputized by the police to serve at the hospital. He flashed his light into Childe's face and asked him if he could help him. Thesmog wasnot dark enough to make the light brilliant, but it did annoy Childe.
He said, "Take that damned light away! I'm here to offer myservices in whatever capacity I'm peered."
He opened his wallet and showed his I.D.
The guard said, "You better go in the front way. The emergencyroom entrance is jammed, and they're all too busy to talk to you."
"Who do I see?" Childe said.
The guard hurriedly gave the supervisor's name and directions forgetting tohis office. Childe entered the lobby and saw at once that his helpmight beneeded, but he was going to have to force it on the hospital. Thelobby wasjammed and a sprawl with people who had been shunted out of theemergency roomafter more or less complete treatment, relatives of the wounded, peopleinquiring after lost or injured friends or relatives, and a numberwho, likeChilde, had come to offer their services. The hall outside thesupervisor'soffice was crowded too thickly for him to ram his way through even ifhe had felt like doing so. He asked a man on the fringes how long he hadbeen trying toget into the office.
"An hour and ten minutes, Mister," the man said disgustedly.
Childe turned to walk away. He would return to his apartment anddo whatever he could to pass the time. Then he would return after a reasonableamount of time (if there were such a thing in this situation), with the hopethat some order would have been established. He stopped. There, standing nearthe front door of the hospital, his head wrapped in a white cloth, was HamletJeremiah.
The cloth could have been a turban, because the last time Childehad seen Jeremiah he was sporting a turban with a spangled hexagram. But thecloth was a bandage with a three-pointed scarlet badge, almost a triskelion. TheMephistophelean moustaches and beard were gone, and he was wearing agrease-smeared T-shirt with the motto: NOLI ME TANGERE SIN AMOR. Hispants werewhite duck, and brown sandals were on his feet.
"Herald Childe!" he called, smiling, and then his face twistedmomentarilyas if the smile had hurt.
Childe held out his hand. Jeremiah said, "You touch me with love?" "I'm very fond of you, Ham," Childe said, "although I can't
really say why.
Do we have to go through that at this time?" "Any time and all time," Jeremiah said. "Especially this time." "OK. It's love then," and Childe shook his hand. "What in hell
happened? What're you doing down here? Listen, did you know I tried to phone you a little while ago and I was thinking about driving up to see you. Then..."
Jeremiah held up his hand and laughed and said, "One thing at atime! I'm out of my Sunset pad because my wives insisted we get out of town. Itold them we ought to wait a day or so until the roads were cleared. By then, the smog'dbe gone, anyway, or on its way out. But they wouldn't listen. They cried and carried on something awful, unreeled my entrails and tromped on them. One goodthing about tears; they wash out the smog, keep the acids from eatingup yourcorneas. But they're also acid on the nerves, so I said, finally, OK, I love youboth, so we'll take off. But if we get screwed up or anything badhappens, don'tblame me. Stick it up your own lovely asses. So they smiled and wipedaway thetears and packed up and we took off down Doheny. Sheila had a littlehand-operated prayer wheel spinning and Lupe was getting threeroaches out so we could enjoy what would otherwise be a real drag, or so we at leastcould enjoy afacsimile of joy. We came to Melrose, and the light changed to red, so I stopped, being a law-abiding citizen when the law is for the benefitof all and well-founded. Besides, I didn't want to get run into. But the son ofAdam behind me got mad; he thought I ought to run the light. His soul was reallyrued, Herald, he was in a cold-sweat panic. He honked his horn and when Ididn't jumplike a dog through a hoop and go through the light, he jumped out ofhis car and opened my door--dumb bastard, I didn't have it locked--and he jerkedme out and whirled me around and shoved my head against the handle. It cut myhead open andknocked me half-silly. Naturally, I didn't resist; I really believethis turn-the-other-cheek dictum.
"I was half in the next lane, and the other cars weren't going tostop, soSheila jumped out and shoved the man in the path of one and pulled meinto the car. That Sheila has a temper, you got to forgive her. The man washit; hebounced off one car and into ours. So Sheila drove the car then while Lupe wastrying to heave the man out. He was lying on the back seat with hislegsdragging on the street. I stopped her and told Sheila to take us tothe hospital.
"So she did, though reluctantly, I mean reluctant to take theman, too, andwe got here, and my head finally got bandaged, and Sheila and Lupeare helpingthe nurses up on the second floor. I'll help as soon as I get tofeelingbetter."
"What happened to the man?" Childe said.
"He's on a mattress on the floor of the second level. He's unconscious, breathing a few bubbles of blood, poor unhappy soul, but Sheila'staking care ofhim, too. She feels bad about shoving him; she's got a hasty temperbut underneath it all she truly loves."
"I was going to offer to help," Childe said, "but I can't see standing around for hours. Besides..."
Jeremiah asked him what the besides meant. Childe told him about Colben and the film. Jeremiah was shocked. He said that he had heard a little about it over the radio. He had not received a paper for two days, so he had nochance to read anything about it. So Childe wanted somebody with, a big library onvampires andon other things that bump in the unlit halls of the mind?
Well, he knew just the man. And he lived not more than six blocksaway, justsouth of Wilshire. If anybody would have the research material, itwould be Woolston Heepish.
"Isn't he likely to be trying to get out of town?"
"Woolie? By Dracula's moustache, no! Nothing, except maybe anatomic attack threat, would get him to desert his collection. Don't worry; he'll behome. There is one problem. He doesn't like unexpected visitors, you got tophone himahead of time and ask if you can come, even his best friends--exceptmaybe for
D. Nimming Rodder--are no exceptions. Everybody phones and askspermission, andif he isn't expecting you, he usually won't answer the doorbell. Buthe knows myvoice; I'll holler through the door at him." "Rodder? Where have...? Oh, yes! The book and TV writer! Vampires, werewolves, a lovely young girl trapped in a hideous old mansion highon a hill, that sort of thing. He produced and wrote the Shadow Land series, right?"
"Please, Herald, don't say anything at all about him if you can'tsaysomething good. Woolie worships D. Nimming Rodder. He won't hit youif you sayanything disparaging about him, but you sure as Shiva won't get anycooperationand you'll find yourself frozen out."
Childe shifted from one foot to another and coughed.
The cough was only partly from the burning air. It indicated thathe was having a struggle with his conscience. He wanted to stay here andhelp--part ofhim did--but the other part, the more powerful, wanted to get out andaway andon the trail. Actually, he couldn't be much use here, not for sometime, anyway. And he had a feeling, only a feeling but one which had ended insomethingobjectively profitable in the past, that something down there in thedark deepswas nibbling at his hook.
He put his hand on Jeremiah's bony shoulder and said, "I'll tryto phonehim, but if..."
"No use, Herald. He has an answering service, and it's not likelythat'll be working now."
"Give me a note of introduction, so I can get my foot in the door."
Jeremiah smiled and said, "I'll do better than that. I'll walkwith you toWoolie's. I'm just in the way here, and I'd like to get away from thesight ofso much suffering."
"I don't know," Childe said. "You could have a concussion. Maybeyou..."
Jeremiah shrugged and said, "I'm going with you. Just a minutewhile I find the women and tell them where I'm going."
Childe, waiting for him, and having nothing to do but watch andlisten, understood why Jeremiah wanted to get away. The blood and the groansand weepingwere bad enough, but the many chopping coughs and loud, longpumping-up-snot-or-blood coughs irritated, perhaps even angered him, althoughthe anger was rammed far down. He did not know why coughs set him onedge somuch, but he knew that Sybil's nicotine cough and burbling lungs, occurring atany time of day or night and especially distressing when he waseating or makinglove, had caused their split as much as anything. Or had made himbelieve so.
Jeremiah seemed to skate through the crowd. He took Childe's handand led him out the front door. It was three minutes after 12:00. The sun was a distorted yellow-greenish lobe. A man about a hundred feet east ofthem was a wavering shadowy figure. There seemed to be thick and thin bands ofsmog slidingpast each other and thus darkening and lightening, squeezing andelongatingobjects and people. This must have been an illusion or some otherphenomenon, because the smog was not moving. There was not a rumor of a breeze. The heat seemed to filter down through the green-grayishness, to slide downthe filaments of smog like acrobats with fevers and sprawl outwards and wrapthemselves around people.
Childe's armpits and back and face were wet but the perspirationonly cooledhim a little. His crotch and his feet were also sweating, and hewished that he could wear swimming trunks or a towel. It was better outside than inthe hospital, however. The stench of sweaty frightened people had beenpowerful, butthe noise and the sight of the misery and pain had made it lessoffensive. Now he was aware that Jeremiah, who was, despite being a "hippie," alover of baths, a true "water brother" as he liked to say, stank. The odor was apeculiarcombination of pipe tobacco, marijuana, a pungent heavyunidentifiable somethingsuggestive of spermatic fluid, incense, a soupcon of rosewater oncunt, frightened sweat, extrusion of excited shit, and, perhaps, inhaled smog beingsweat out.
Jeremiah looked at Childe, coughed, smiled, and said, "You smelllike something washed up out of the Pacific deeps and two weeks deadyourself, ifyou'll forgive my saying so."
Childe, although startled, did not comment. Jeremiah had giventoo manyevidences of telepathy or mindreading. However, there were otherexplanationswhich Childe did not really believe. Childe's expression could havetold Jeremiah what he was thinking, although Childe would have said thathis face was unreadable.
He walked along with Jeremiah. They seemed to be in a tunnel thatgrew outof the pavement before them and fell flat onto the pavement behindthem. Childe felt unaccountably happy for a moment despite the sinus ache, throatand eyeburn, insidious crisping of lungs, and stabbing in his testicles. Hehad not really wanted to be a good servant in the hospital; he wanted tosniff out the tracks of criminals.