A/N: This is it, folks. Kind of wiped out here, so I'm just going to say thanks for your patience, thanks for reading, and thanks for putting up with this thing. It's been a long, strange trip...
Chapter Six: Tom and Anne
The rain sluiced, and then stopped, then sluiced again, as if catching its breath before spitting once more into the buffeting wind. The light continued to fail. It was just past four; it might have been after sunset, an eerie bruised twilight in which Tom found it difficult to focus.
Aboard the Fallen Angel, Dick Tulley quickly packed another of what now seemed an omnipresent collection of canvas rucksacks. The first-aid kit. A tool kit. Flashlights and stick matches. And two boxes of ammunition. A cardboard box of cartridges for the Browning, a box of shells from which he loaded the Winchester. "Tom, you check the light," he said, as he he and his passengers started up up the path to the keeper's house. "Mr. Mahoney, have a look at the outbuildings, if you'd be so kind."
Tom had the Browning in his hands; Mahoney cast half a hopeful look at the shotgun Tulley carried. Having lost his boat's radio to Mahoney's marksmanship— the miracle there, idiotic as it was, being the fact that Mahoney had managed to hit the transmitter without hitting Tulley himself— Tulley shook his head.
Tom glanced back at Matheson, who frowned him a Be careful, the contrast between the pallor of her face and the darkness of her eyes almost shocking in the weird light. He nodded, headed for the lighthouse. To his right, the door of the keeper's house stood open. The windows glistened an oblique liquid gray, as if the place were filled with mercury.
From inside, muffled and violent, came the sound of a dog barking.
Tom started. Book—
He looked back at the others, at Tulley. Tulley, his expression set and grim, waved Tom on.
She was nearly on her feet when they found her. Or she'd been on her feet, and had fallen again, and was only once more getting up. She'd lost track. Anne Cassidy passed Dick Tulley and Margaret Matheson and two others, a strange man and woman, at the juncture of the kitchen of the keeper's house and the living area. They might not have existed, or she might have been a ghost: she moved through them with singular, blind purpose and, while Tulley reached to steady her and Matheson and the others took in the wreckage of the communications alcove, opened the door of the washroom off the kitchen and freed Book.
He surged out of the bathroom, a slobbering tide of frantic muscle and hair. Cassidy sank to her knees, wrapped her arms around the dog's neck, pressed her face into the thick black fur of his shoulder. Tulley knelt beside her. "Annie—"
Matheson, switching on the light in the living area, finished his question: "— what happened here?"
Cassidy, for the moment, didn't reply. She breathed in Book's warm scent, held on to his solid dog bulk. Her head hurt. Tulley tentatively touched her skull. A sting, a sticky hitching between hair and skin, as his fingertips met her scalp.
"His name was Crosley," she heard herself say. "One of the wreckers. It was on his wetsuit—"
Tulley guided Cassidy to her feet. In the light from the corner lamp she saw what they'd seen already, Tulley and Matheson and the man and woman Cassidy didn't know, standing mute and worried off to the side: The shotgun was missing from the wall rack. The communications area had been torn apart. The parts locker had been hauled from the closet behind the PC desk and smashed open: pieces of the backup radio were strewn across the floor.
Matheson joined Cassidy and Tulley, her expression a mixture of shock and concern. "Miss Cassidy— Anne— did he— did he hurt you?"
"He hit me. That's all. He—" Cassidy stopped. She stared at the destruction in the communications alcove. A sick awful panic shook the coherence from her thoughts. "He wanted the launch— Oh, fuck. Did he do anything to the light—?"
She broke free of Tulley, propelled herself toward the door of the house. Before Tulley or Matheson could stop her, she was out into the darkness and the rain-spattered wind with Book at her heels. Stumbling, she ran for the lighthouse.
She reached the tower just as someone stepped out.
Tom had the Browning. As if he would have had the guts to use it, if push came to shove. As if it did him any good now, when he actually was shoved. In the narrow doorway of the lighthouse, Anne Cassidy bowled into him and hooked a right elbow into his jaw. As Tom stumbled back into the tower's lower-level staging area, she kneed him, knocked him down, and took the rifle away from him.
The stone floor punched the wind from Tom's lungs. With pain bursting like firecrackers in his groin, he tried to protect his head. Blindly, he threw out a hand. "Anne- Miss Cassidy— Don't. Please. It's me— It's me—"
He looked up at her desperately as lightning flashed outside the tower. He had a carbon-arc image-flash of her face, wide-eyed, her expression frozen between shock and horror, and then Cassidy switched on the staging-area worklamp. A naked bulb in a steel cage to the right of the door. Tom felt the light illuminate his face—
Cassidy stared down at him, and her shoulders slumped. She turned away, tipped the Browning against the tower's stone wall. She sank down beside it, put her hands over her face, and started to sob.
It was then that Tom realized why Matheson had looked at him strangely earlier that day, over breakfast the day before.
He hadn't shaved. Not today, not yesterday. He couldn't bring himself to look in a mirror, for fear of seeing Robert's face in his. He grew hair like a madman. After only two days, he would be sporting the coarse beginnings of a dark ginger beard.
Now, bedraggled and wet, wild-eyed from fear and stress, he had become his dead brother.
With the realization gyroscoping in his brain, Tom half-crawled to Cassidy, knelt beside her. "Miss Cassidy, it's me. It's—"
Cassidy didn't speak. She drew a ragged breath, threw her arms around him, clung to him. Held him so tightly that Tom could feel her fingers bruising his skin.
"Miss Cassidy," he said, struggling to keep his voice even, "it's Tom. I'm Tom. Tom Buckley."
A long moment of denial. A longer moment in which she simply held onto him and cried. Tom embraced her gently, feeling awful for upsetting her.
Margaret, why didn't you say something?
Not that he would ever ask Matheson to her face. He didn't need to. He knew the answer: She hadn't wanted to harp on him when he was down, hadn't wished to criticize when Tom was raw with grief. Of course she meant him no harm. And he knew— of course he did— that she had no way of knowing that Tom in Robert's skin would come face-to-face with Anne Cassidy, especially if that encounter were to be more or less predicated on an attack by sea monsters.
"I know who you are." Cassidy's voice was flat and soft. She drew away from Tom, seemed to have to force herself to look at him. She wouldn't— or couldn't— make eye contact. "I'm sorry I hit you. I was— I rescued one of the wreck divers. He attacked me. I think he stole the launch."
"It's missing. Tulley said so when we arrived."
Book nosed in between them. He snuffled Tom; Cassidy hooked her arm for a moment across the dog's massive neck. She got up, stood unsteadily.
"I have to check the light," she said. She started up the curving steps leading to the lamp room. Afraid for her equilibrium, mental as well as physical, Tom rose; he called after her: "Do you want me to come with you?"
She looked back at him. At the Browning, still tipped against the wall. "Keep watch. I'll be right down."
Her expression said something different: I don't want you near the light. Tom nodded, picked up the gun. While Cassidy ascended to the lamp room, he kept an eye on the rain-whipped darkness from the door of the lighthouse. Book waited with him.
Somehow, Randy Crosley reached the mainland without passing out, without an embolism trapping itself in the arteries of his brain and killing him. The pain was still with him, and worsening. With him, too, he knew— he just knew, could feel it like a dank shadow pressing against the skin of his neck— was the thing.
Not that the creature was the only entity pursuing him. The police would be waiting for him at the town docks. Mainly dark now they were, save for the end-lights shining red and white through the mounting darkness and the wind-driven pockets of rain, but that was a ruse: Hollister's wife and her trigger-happy hick minions would be there when Crosley tied up. The police, possibly the FBI, too. Waiting to grab Crosley, the harbinger of monsters.
So Crosley took himself and his monster elsewhere. Somewhere nearer his target. He headed north of town, past the beach cove, and steered the launch through the open doors of the boathouse at the base of the hill leading up to the Happer Institute.
A steel-hooded worklight illuminated the boathouse: no one was around. Crosley nudged the launch into a slip near the doors and cut the motor. He sat for a long moment while his skin tingled and his blood burned. He listened to the wood creaking in the building and the dock, felt himself rocking gently to the ghost of the launch's wake.
He thought how he didn't want to die in a wetsuit. Not on dry land, anyway.
Crosley got out of the launch, tied the bow line. A row of steel lockers stood against the inner wall of the boathouse. Crosley opened them, found nothing useful in the ones that were unlocked. He began breaking the rest open with the butt of the shotgun he'd taken from the light-keeper's house on Crow Island. In the third locker he found a greasy gray pair of coveralls, a pair of brown leather work boots in roughly his size. Crosley changed out of his wetsuit. Blood oozed from the pores on his arms and torso and legs when he peeled away the neoprene; nauseated and dizzy, with cramps twisting his gut, he put on the coveralls and boots. He took the shotgun, left the boathouse, and headed up the dark trail to the building where Stephen Costas had his laboratory and office.
Got a special surprise for you, asshole.
No gunshots from the direction of the lighthouse. No screams or shouts. At the door of the keeper's house, Dick Tulley scowled toward the tower.
Matheson touched his arm. "Tom's up there, Dick. He'll look after Anne."
"It's how she might look after him that has me worried. Annie can be dangerous when she's upset."
"Dangerous—" Matheson looked at him questioningly. "How do you mean...?"
"Army reserve, a couple years back. This is what she told me. A young fella in her unit. He cornered her; he tried to force her to— to—" Tulley caught himself, glanced at Matheson, looked away. He left the doorway, went to join the Walfords, who were taking stock of the damage in the communications area.
"Two radios," Craig was saying. "A pile of parts. Almost enough to rig a working set—"
"Three—" Terry, on her knees on the floor, surrounded by bits of broken electronica, looked up at Tulley.
Tulley nodded. "The set from the Angel." He looked to Matheson, now standing beside him in the entryway of the living area. "Come on, Margaret."
Matheson followed him from the house. Tulley switched on a flashlight when they were away from the house, shone it along the stony path. They were maybe a hundred feet from the jetty, the dock area and the Fallen Angel how nearly black with shadow, Matheson only just opening her mouth to ask, not only as a psychologist but as a woman concerned for her friends, both old and new, what, exactly, Anne Cassidy had done to the young man who'd tried to attack her, when from the darkness ahead came a monstrous whump.
Another whump, immediately after the first. A violent splashing, a cracking as of wood or fiberglass against stone—
"What the hell—" Tulley broke into a run. Matheson ran after him.
They reached the shore just in time to see the monster that had overrun the Zodiac in a thrashing mass of tentacles— or a monster very much like it— sink the Fallen Angel.
"God damn it: no—!" Tulley, disbelieving, shocked and furious, bolted for the water as the thing heaved itself onto the boat, threaded its tentacles through the wheelhouse, in a shattering of glass and a splintering of wood, and heaved the horrible gray bulk of its body backwards. With a groan, the Fallen Angel tipped, broke loose of its mooring lines, turned turtle, and sank. Matheson grabbed Tulley's arm; inconguously she thought, at that very moment: My phone. She'd forgotten about it. Her Nokia, in her purse.
Locked in the trunk of the Bonneville, parked at the Macready's Point dock.
Tulley strained against her grip, trying to get to the jetty. Matheson held on to him. "Dick, don't—"
"Wait." Abruptly, Tulley stopped fighting her. His attention seemed to shift to a point slightly ahead of the Fallen Angel's former tie-up point. "What the hell is that...?"
Matheson followed his line of sight. Her breath hitched. A second creature was there in the water. This one appeared to be slightly smaller but bulkier than the boat-breaker, its tentacles seemingly less roped with muscle. As Matheson and Tully stared, it eased up to the jetty and opened a hideously wide mouth.
Something emerged from that mouth. Something glistening-black and crablike, with articulated claws. One something. Then another. And another. They swarmed out onto the dock.
And headed, as a group, right for Matheson and Tulley.
"Dick, let's go—!"
Matheson pulled Tulley back, toward the keeper's house. Tulley, trading curiosity and righteous fury for good sense, ran as she did. When they were just short of the door, they spotted Mahoney, moving midway between the station's outbuildings and the lighthouse. The things were a ways back, moving with purpose but unable to match the pace of running human legs on solid ground.
"Get Tom and Anne and get to the house," Tulley shouted at Mahoney. "Now!"
"What is it...?" Tom asked, Cassidy's kick to his crotch still translating into a limp, as he and she and Mahoney left the lighthouse. Mahoney had burst into the staging area when Cassidy was nearly back down from the lamp room; she'd frowned at him— yet another stranger invading her island— while Book growled; he'd said, "Tulley wants us in the keeper's house now...!", and led the way back out into the windy failing light. To Tom's query, as Cassidy shut the tower door behind them, he continued: "I don't know—"
And then he added, by way of expostulation: "Oh, no."
A pocket of shadow a deeper black than the rest was coming up the path from the jetty. Oily-dark, glistening and segmented, accompanied by a chitinous clicking—
The things from the lab on Devil's Island.
"Go," Tom said to Cassidy, before she could freeze in place and stare. Beside them, Book started to bark. And suddenly the pain in Tom's bruised scrotum seemed far more surmountable. "Go—!"
Randy Crosley found Stephen Costas in his closet-sized glass box of an office. The lab area was empty. No student helpers slopping the aquariums or cleaning up. No sign, either of the blonde scientist— Brand, her name was, if Crosley's sick brain recalled correctly— hovering either by the clam tanks or messing with her lab equipment. Costas was on the phone; he turned, motion in his peripherals hauling his head around instinctively, automatically. He saw Crosley and visibly started.
"Gotta go," he said, to whoever was on the other end of the phone. "I'll call you back." He placed the handset on its black base.
"Who was that?" Crosley asked.
"Hollister. Just checking in." Still in his office chair, Costas stared up at Crosley. "Good God. Is that blood?"
Crosley glanced at the phone. You're next, asshole. "Got something you need to see," he said to Costas.
Costas frowned, openly suspicious. "What the hell happened to you?"
"Minor problem with my breathing gear. Nothing serious." Crosley kept his voice steady, while his chest and guts felt like they were going to split from the inside out. "I've got something to show you, Steve." Even now, in the man's fishbowl of an office, he could sense the creature behind him. Paranoia tingled through his brainstem, crawled like a centipede through the hairs at the back of his neck.
He realized then, too, standing in the dim after-hours lighting outside Costas's office, the lack of light hiding the clammy sweat on his face, that he'd forgotten the shotgun back at the boathouse. Turned out he didn't even need it. Costas's own damn greed did Crosley's work for him.
He watched as excitement replaced the distrust in Costas's eyes. "You found it...?" Costas asked.
"Yeah. We found it. Got a sample waiting down in the boathouse. Thought that made more sense than people maybe spotting it on the public dock."
"Let me get my jacket," Costas said.
After that, once Costas followed Crosley down to the boathouse, the rest was easy.
"Over there," Crosley said, pointing along the dock to the slip where he'd tied up the launch from Crow Island.
"In that rowboat?" Costas asked, his suspicions reviving.
"Just a sample, man. Like I said." Crosley pulled the corners of his mouth into a smile. "Would've looked like a Navy parade, getting the dive boat in here."
Costas gave Crosley a bemused frown, then walked— a clomp-clomp-clomp, echoing off the water below the boathouse— along the boards of the dock to the launch. He looked down into the boat. Peered along its entire length, like he was trying to see under the seats.
Actually, the last thing Costas saw, down in the water next to the launch, was the creature's eye, big and black and deep as time. Then the thing snaked up a tentacle and caught Costas around the waist. He looked back at Crosley, his mouth open but not screaming, as the thing hauled him off the dock, and that was that.
Only not quite. It was kind of like the old story about the raccoon reaching into the oak tree to get the acorn, and not being able to get both its paw and the nut back out through the hole. The thing tried to drag Costas down between the launch and the edge of the dock, only there wasn't enough room. So it adjusted. Sent up two more tentacles to join the first, and proceeded to bend and break and snap and tear until Costas fit right down through that narrow space.
All of him save his head. The creature took the rest of him below the surface. The water around the pilings at the dock end roiled and bloomed with blood, then calmed. Costas's head stayed bobbing on the surface. Crosley watched it for a bit, until the water by the dock had gone just about as smooth as glass.
Then he called Dane Hollister.
There was a phone mounted on the wall near the light switch to the right of the boathouse door. Fucked up as he was, Randy Crosley still had a head for numbers. "We found it, Dane," he said, when Hollister picked up. How easy this was turning out to be. Crosley could feel the thing waiting in the water behind him. He smiled past the cramps in his gut and spat bloody sputum at the floor while Hollister asked a soon-to-be-dead idiot's What...? "The treasure. Shit, man, you have got to see this..."
Tom, Cassidy, Mahoney, and Book reached the house less than twenty feet ahead of the creatures. Once inside, they shut the door, moved clear of it. Tulley had the Winchester; Matheson had the Browning. The house lights were off; someone had found two battery-powered lanterns, one for the kitchen and one for the living area, and had said lanterns set at their lowest illumination.
"The less light, the less movement, the better," Matheson murmured to Tom. "That's what we're thinking."
Tom nodded. He and Matheson and the others retreated to the living area and watched the door and waited for the clawing, the cracking, the breaking-through—
"What the hell are those things?" Mahoney asked, finally, his voice barely above a whisper.
"Sub-crackers," Tulley replied slowly. "That's my guess."
Matheson looked his way. "What...?"
"Submarine warfare, Margaret. An organic form of submarine warfare."
"That almost makes sense," Craig Walford frowned like a bulldog in the dim light. "The best thing— possibly the only good thing— about doing battle against submarines, and I imagine it applies as much now in the atomic age as it did when the things were running on diesel and batteries: if you can breach the hull— by whatever means necessary— the sea will do the rest."
"So you train monsters to open cans," Tulley said. "Squid-like creatures— something with intelligence and dexterity— to pop the tops, carnivorous swarming beasties to eat the tasty treats inside."
Mahoney looked as nauseated as the rest of Tulley's audience. "So what do we do? If we just sit tight, how soon could we expect someone to notice?"
"I filed an itinerary with the harbor master, but we won't be declared missing until twenty-four hours after our scheduled time-in." Tulley shrugged, his face thoughtful and grim. "It's a pretty informal system, actually, around Macready's. They might miss us, they might not."
Tom frowned, thinking. "Those crab things— they can't be very smart, or they'd've found a way in here already."
"Could be," Craig Walford interjected, "that they're trained to key off of metal—"
"— or flesh," Terry Walford added. "Things they can eat."
Tom spoke again: "So they might not be recognizing the house as either dinner or a submarine."
Tulley nodded. "In any event, first things first: we need them gone."
"What do we have for weapons?" Matheson asked.
"One shotgun, one rifle. Altogether, roughly two dozen rounds of ammunition. Assorted hand-tools." Tulley turned to Cassidy. "Annie, what do you have on-hand for fuel?"
"The station's on wind and solar, mostly. Twenty-four-volt storage batteries with propane backup—" Cassidy realized she was talking mostly to herself. She looked at the others, at Tulley. "About forty gallons of gas, minus the stroke oil. In the fuel shed, past the generator house."
"So we shoot them or burn them, and then—" Tulley stopped. "Then what?"
"The dive boat," Cassidy said. "I went on board to rescue Crosley. From what I saw, the radio was still intact."
"So we kill the crab-creatures and send someone down the cliff to call for help. Simple," Matheson deadpanned.
"Simple enough." Tulley's smile was slightly morbid. "First, though, I need a volunteer." He looked at Tom, Mahoney, and Craig Walford. "How would you lads like to help me test a theory?"
The things were there. The crab-things. Advancing on poor Mahoney, who, standing outside the half-closed door of the keeper's house, had to be fighting every instinct, every urge, to run.
Tulley's theory— and, right now, it seemed like madness (or just an extra serving of nuts on top of an insanity sundae of a day)— went thusly:
"Assuming these things were designed, trained, programmed, what have you, to create chaos aboard a submarine—" Tulley had expounded while all of them were still inside, as they mustered weapons. "— name three things you don't normally find on a sub."
"Women," Mahoney said, nervously glib, a little too quickly, earning a tripartite glower from Matheson, Cassidy, and Terry Walford.
"Firearms," Craig Walford gave Mahoney a pained look. "You don't want people shooting projectile weapons inside a pressurized steel can."
"Fire itself," Matheson added. "Assuming that these things— or their ancestors— were trained during World War Two, and given the potentially flammable concentrations of hydrogen from pre-nuclear battery banks."
"And maneuverability." Tulley spoke. "One long, narrow tube. Inherent crowding. Impossible for people to split up."
"You're thinking those things act as a unit," Terry Walford said. "Hive mentality. When they attack, they swarm a single target."
Tulley shrugged. "There's one way to find out."
Which led to Mahoney, outside in the pelting rain, looking not unlike a staked goat, as Tom and Craig Walford, leaving the house via the window at the north end of the laundry room, with Tom still carrying the Browning ("Just in case," Tulley had said. "Don't shoot unless you absolutely have to. At least not until we see how they behave."), circled out and got in behind the things.
The crab-creatures appeared, indeed, to be subject to a form of group tunnel-vision: they seemed to take no notice of Walford and Tom. From the kitchen window, Tulley shot one of the creatures with the Winchester. It took four rounds to put the thing down
"Not bulletproof," Tulley said, once Tom and Mahoney and Walford were back inside the house. "But not easy to kill. We'd be out of ammo well before the things were dead."
"And who's to say this is the only wave?" Tom asked. "There might have been hundreds of those things in the tunnels."
"I, for one, don't want to wait to see if that's true. Let's cook the ones we have. We can flank them and get the gas from the storage shed." Tulley looked around at the others. "Any protests from the science-types here present?"
"None from me," Matheson said.
Tom shook his head. "Me either."
"If you're asking if we want to keep one of those things as a sample," Craig Walford says, "I'll settle for one that's dead."
"And well-done," Terry added. "That's good enough for me."
Mahoney continued in the role of bait. One casualty: the blade of the snow shovel he carried for protection, after Tom and Craig got in behind the things and threw a gas-soaked sheet over the greater creeping mass and Tulley tossed a handful of knotted flaming rags on top: the rain was still sparse enough to make for decent burning conditions on the open patch of stony ground between the lighthouse and the outbuilidings, but several of the things broke free of the now-panicking swarm and tried to flee, and most of them headed straight for Mahoney. He swept two of them aside with the shovel, and Tom hit the first of that two with the fire axe from the keeper's house, embedding the blade between two thick segments of shell midway along its back; the thing flailed furiously, snapping at Tom with its claws, until he swung it bodily, still impaled on the axe blade, over his head and slammed it to the ground with force enough nearly to split it in two; practically bisected, the creature twitched and died.
The third one was nearly on Mahoney when Mahoney stuck the shovel blade between himself and the thing's claws. Said claws sheared through the steel blade as if it were paper.
Mahoney, his eyes going wide, veered toward panic: he stepped backwards, away from the thing, and stumbled—
And Matheson moved in with the Browning and shot the thing right between its black eyestalks. It dropped on the spot.
"Thank you," Mahoney stammered.
"You're welcome." Matheson called to Cassidy, who, on the opposite side of the melee, was wielding the Winchester: "Between the eyes, Annie. It's a weak spot."
"Right," Cassidy called back, picking off another of the things before it could take a piece out of Craig Walford's leg.
It was over, with weird and terrible efficiency, within minutes. The Walfords stood by with extra gasoline; Tulley handled the fire. For all the horror that had gone into their diet, the creatures didn't stink as they burned. Tom wondered if there were something wrong with him: the smell reminded him of fresh king crab. Though he had a plausible and innocent excuse— he hadn't eaten since before nine that morning— he felt perversely hungry. His stomach rumbled as the things died.
With the crab-creatures dead, the inhabitants of Crow Island faced part two of their plan for summoning assistance: getting down to the radio aboard the dive boat. The vessel was still where Anne Cassidy had left it, hours ago, hung up on the rocks below the north cliffs.
"Gonna make for a hell of a climb," Dick Tulley said. He and the others were gathered back in the living area of the keeper's house.
"The remains of the tramway. We might get some use out of that." Anne Cassidy continued before the others could ask: "A kind of scaffold-hoist-mining-car arrangement. Back when the lighthouse was being build, they used it to offload supplies from ships that drew too much water to dock at the jetty."
"Who's going to go?" Mahoney asked.
"Me." Tom spoke. "It's my fault that we're in this mess. If it weren't for me, none of you would be here."
"It's my job to be here, Doctor Buckley," Cassidy reminded him, coolly. "How good a swimmer are you?"
"I'm a good swimmer," Tom replied. Cassidy was keeping her eyes focused directly on his. Practically daring him to look away. He kept his gaze even with hers. "And I know something about radio repair, if it comes to that."
"I should go." Mahoney hunched forward, his expression troubled. "That was our charter. Crosley Dives—"
"No," Cassidy said.
"Why not?" Mahoney asked.
"Book doesn't like you," Cassidy replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. Mahoney looked disbelievingly from her to the dog. On cue, Book growled at him.
"If we need him," Cassidy said, "he'd help Tom before he'd help you."
Mahoney looked hurt. "How...?"
"Your scent. He knows you're one of the wreckers."
"But we never came within a quarter-mile of the island," Mahoney said, with sad wonder in his voice.
Cassidy shrugged. "Makes no difference to him, Mr. Mahoney."
Matheson spoke: "Why couldn't we just wait out the storm and signal for help in the morning?" She looked at the others. All of them except for Tom. "We should be safe in here. We have proof that the crab-things won't attack the house; the larger creatures can't leave the water."
"We think they can't leave the water," Tulley countered. "Makes me uncomfortable, giving them time to reformulate their strategy."
"If we're going to go, we should do it while there's still light," Cassidy said. "The sun will be setting in less than two hours. And chances are more than good that the dive boat will lift clear of the rocks at high tide."
"So she sinks right around eleven p.m.," Tulley says.
Cassidy nodded. "If the waves don't swamp her before then."
Tom could still feel Matheson not looking at him. He glanced out at the darkness beyond the living-area windows. What light...?
Tulley slapped his hands together. "Let's get going, then."
"Right." Terry Walford turned to Tom and Mahoney. "You two: I need your clothes." While they hesitated, she asked Cassidy: "Clean rags, terry cloth: where—?"
Cassidy took one of the battery-powered lanterns and disappeared off into the laundry room. She emerged a moment later with a pile of rags.
"Do you have any men's clothing on hand, Anne?" Terry asked her.
Terry took the rags from her, handed half to Tom and half to Mahoney. "Get undressed. Wipe yourselves down with the rags."
"What if it's washed off?" Mahoney asked. "The marker dye, the lure, whatever it is. Wouldn't it have—"
"It's waterproof, Mr. Mahoney," Terry replied. "That's the point of it. Whatever you got doused with in that cavern under Devil's was meant to adhere to enemy ships at sea. That means it won't just wash off. We can worry about de-skunking you later—"
A dry chuckle from Tulley: "Time to bust out the tomato juice, eh...?"
"— for now," Terry continued, "we'll need what we can get off of you and out of your clothes."
"Bait," Craig intoned, when Mahoney and Tom continued to look blankly at his wife. "We're going to make some kind of chum. A distraction for those things in the water."
"Okay," Tom said.
By lantern-light, he and Mahoney followed Cassidy upstairs. In the closet in the main bedroom, she found clothes for them. A green t-shirt and denim work pants, probably belonging to one of the other-season keepers, for Mahoney, another t-shirt and a pair of khakis, worn by someone obviously less burly, for Tom.
Cassidy hesitated as she handed the clothing to Tom. Her fingertips lingered on the soft gray-heather cotton of the shirt—
It's Robert's, Tom realized.
He kept his eyes from Cassidy's. By flashlight, he changed in the bathroom, while Mahoney, leaving the door open just enough to see by the glow of Cassidy's lamp, swapped out his clothing in the keeper's room.
Margaret Matheson's New York-licensed Bonneville was still parked at the Macready's Point docks. Not that there were parking restrictions in effect, or any town impound lot to tow the Pontiac to if there were, but the car's still being there meant that Matheson and Tom Buckley were still out on the ocean with Dick Tulley, with night coming and another damned storm blowing in.
Tulley would have the sense to call in if anything happened. Frances Hollister told herself that as she looked at the Bonneville through her rain-splattered windshield and the glow from the cruiser's headlights. Likely he had the Fallen Angel tied up at Crow Island: a quick stop to check in on Anne Cassidy before Tulley and his passengers headed back to Macready's Point.
Which self-reassurance didn't expel Hollister's unease in the least. For now, she focused it elsewhere: Dane was missing, too. Or he'd left a cryptic message for Hollister on the cell phone she could only half figure out—
Gotta go check on something, Fran. Might be late getting home. You don't have to wait up. Bye.
If he hadn't left a message, she wouldn't have worried. She would have finished her shift, checked in at the station, and gone home to leftover chicken soup and an hour or so of Mystery! (she had a thing for David Suchet's Hercule Poirot and that silly little mustache of his) before bed without ever wondering where Dane had got himself off to. Would've assumed he was finalizing the details of a real-estate scheme at his office, or down with clients or friends at The Shallows, or off to some poker night she'd forgotten he'd told her about, and that would have been it. But he'd gone and taken the time to leave her a voice mail, and something in his tone didn't seem right.
So here she was, in the failing light and the trying-to-rain, down at the docks, looking at the big back end of Margaret Matheson's Bonneville while she put out a call on the radio to her people in the field:
"Chief Hollister here. Anyone seen Dane or his truck within the last hour or so?"
She got three "Nopes," one a given from Dan Shellberg back at the station, the other two from Roy McAllister midtown and Carol Willis to the east, on speed patrol on the county highway. The third callback came from Ted Kingston:
Kingston here, Chief. I'm on the north end of town, just south of County Road double-E. Think that was Dane's Escalade I saw heading toward the Happer campus.
"When was that, Ted?"
About ten minutes ago. Want me to meet you there?
Hollister hesitated. There were things that made you seem paranoid, things that might weaken you in the eyes of those you were supposed to be leading, and things that made you look like a class-A stooge of a police state, where cops could show up any- and everywhere unannounced and unwarranted. And then there were things that you did on instinct, never minding the badge and the gun and all the social-political hoo-haw that stood behind it, on a blind animal feeling that something was wrong. Very, very wrong.
"I'd be obliged if you would, Ted," Hollister replied. "See you there in five. Hollister out."
At the cliffs at the north end of Crow Island, about to attempt a free-climb down a cliff in the dark, in the ratty lashings of a mounting storm, Tom Buckley felt a sort of of dizzying bravado. Really, he thought, what could be easier? Or smarter?
The idea of using the ruins of the tramway for any sort of footing or handgrips had been a kind lie on Tulley's and Anne Cassidy's part: he could see that. They had a hundred feet of rope. Old rope, at that. A fresh nylon coil had been in the launch that Randy Crosley had stolen. They had nowhere to tie the line off, so Tulley would be playing it out, wrapped across his broad back, while Craig Walford acted as his anchor and backup.
Not that Tom and Cassidy would be relying on them. The rope was meant for emergencies and guidance only: the climb itself was to be free-form and untethered. Cassidy and Tom would be relying on their own strength and agility.
"From here," she said, joining him at the edge, "we're no more than sixty feet off the water."
Or off the rocks, Tom thought, looking down. But he could hear the attempted reassurance in Cassidy's voice; he smiled for her. "Almost close enough to jump for it."
"Almost." She smiled back at him. "Just don't look down once we start the climb. Don't look at the water. The motion can make you dizzy."
Matheson would be providing what sniper cover she could. Which, she and Tom and all the rest of them knew, was just one more fiction: those on the cliff top wouldn't be able to see anything of what was happening down below.
Seemingly gauging angles and distance, Matheson was looking down at the boat. Tom could read doubt through the stoicism of her expression.
"Margaret, I—" he began.
"Be careful, Tom."
Before Tom could say anything else, Matheson took the Browning and made way for Mahoney. "You might need this," he said, handing Tom a sheathed, fixed-blade diving knife. "A good knife can come in handy."
Tom took it, looped the sheath to the belt at his waist. He glanced toward Matheson, but she'd refocused her attention on the base of the cliff.
"Thanks, Tim," he said.
Anne Cassidy's last words before she and Tom Buckley started down the cliff. Book looked at her doubtfully; Cassidy met Margaret Matheson's eyes, nodded toward the dog.
"Here, Book," Matheson said, firmly. Book went and sat down beside her on the cliff top.
Look after him for me, Margaret, Cassidy thought. She broke eye contact with Matheson, looked down, checked her path. With Tom Buckley following her, she eased down into the space between the rocks and the skeletal remnants of the tramway at the top of the cliff and started to descend.
As Tom and Cassidy began their climb, Mahoney went to join Terry Walford at the jetty. Given the fact that Craig Walford was assisting Dick Tulley on rope duty, and fact that Mahoney was already doused with the marker dye from the laboratory caverns on Devil's Island, it only made— sick, twisted, and likely very dangerous— sense that he should be the one to assist Terry on monster-distraction duty.
They each had an old-fashioned red-and-white life ring tied to fifty feet of cord, all of which they'd found in the station's boat shed; the rings were wrapped and bound with Mahoney's and Tom Buckley's dye-contaminated clothing and with the rags with which Mahoney and Tom had wiped themselves down. Standing on the jetty south of where the monster had sunk the Fallen Angel, Terry hauled back, cast her ring as far as she could into the waves, and towed it along the shore. Mahoney trotted about fifty feet ahead of her, making his way among the rocks strewing the ground past the jetty's end, and pitched his own ring out onto the water.
One cast, and nothing. He hauled the ring back in as the waves brought it too near the shore and prepared to toss it back out again. Not wanting to get rope-burn, he looped the end of the line around his wrist.
Terry Walford saw. "Wouldn't do that, if I were you," she called.
"Why?" Mahoney pitched the ring back. It bobbed away in the waves running atop the current off-shore. "There's nothing—"
Mahoney's line suddenly went taut. He was yanked off his feet and dragged, belly-flopped and flailing, across the ground. Terry Walford dropped her own line and sprinted his way, unsheathing her dive knife as she ran. She tackled the line, cut it mere seconds before Mahoney was dragged into the water.
The end of the rope hissed across the rocky ground and disappeared into the waves. Terry and Mahoney scrambled back from the water's edge. In less than five seconds he'd traded potential rope-burn for very real bruises and full-torso abrasions.
"What did I tell you?" Terry said.
"Thank you," Mahoney panted in reply.
Terry Walford nodded. She straightened, dusted herself off, and turned to face northward, where her husband and Dick Tulley and Margaret Matheson were stationed at the top of the island's cliffs. She took a flashlight from the cargo pocket of her khakis and shone two quick bursts of light there way.
A signal, pre-arranged. The things are here, it said.
When Frances Hollister reached the Happer Institute, Ted Kingston was waiting in the parking lot out back. Kingston with his short but wiry-tough build, red hair, and gray eyes. He wore glasses with black plastic frames of the type that would go through either basic training in the USMC or a dozen bar fights without getting broken. He had them off, wiping rainwater from the square lenses, as Hollister got out of her cruiser.
Everything seemed pretty much locked up for the night. No one in reception, as far as Hollister could tell. What looked to be only utility lights coming from the windows of the lab building. But, sure enough, there was Dane's Escalade in the parking lot, sitting next to a late-model green Subaru Forester.
"Well, he's here somewhere, Ted," Hollister said to Kingston, there in the still-sputtering rain. "You take the residence cabins; I'll check the—"
And then: muffled shouts from the direction of the ocean, down below the institute's main building. Shouts and a sort of unearthly screaming, too. Kind of like gulls, only not.
And absolutely bloodchilling.
A half-paved path made its way, broken by runs of log-fronted steps and lit by metal-hooded lights set on a handful of poles, from the main building down to the institute's docks. Hollister and Kingston ran for the path and made their way down to the shore. The ruckus— the shouting, that horrible screaming— was coming from the boathouse midway along the docks.
Hollister burst in just in time to prevent a sea monster from eating her husband.
Granted, she didn't pause to take in the details. The thing was huge and gray and looked like some kind of squid. It was half reared up out of the water by the farthermost of the boathouse slips, and it was reaching for Dane with tentacles like boa constrictors while a big guy in coveralls herded Dane toward the thing with a damn shotgun.
And it had a pitch-black eye— or eyes, but Hollister, from where she was standing, could see only one— the size of a serving platter.
Had she been partial to Dane's taste in movies, those big dumb actioners where things were always blowing up and guys with biceps like bowling balls and forearms the diameter of telephone poles were never getting carpal tunnel from firing mule-kick guns nonstop, Hollister might have yelled something along the lines of "Here's what you get for having an eye the size of a plate, you a-hole monster!" As it happened, she planted her feet the way she was supposed to, took aim with both hands, one shooting, one supporting, and emptied all but one round from her full clip into that big dumb eye.
The one round that didn't go into the monster went into the guy who was trying to feed Dane to the monster at shotgun-point. Hollister asked herself in her head, even when it was happening, Now, who in the hell does something like that—?
Then the guy— he was beefy and tall, and black-haired, and Hollister was sure she'd seen him around town— one of those wreckers (maybe, yeah)— was turning toward her, and he still had the shotgun leveled, and that was good enough for Hollister. She shot him. The shotgun flew out of his hands as he went over. He landed on his back and didn't move.
Which left just the monster to take care of. The thing was slowing down by the time Hollister reloaded. She started firing again just as Kingston was reaching for a fresh clip for his Glock. All told, they emptied maybe sixty rounds into the thing before it had the good sense to lie down and die. It made one last rearing-up out of the water, while its horrible spiked mouth opened wide and its tentacles flailed, and then it fell over. At that moment, Dane did the one thing that he'd done for himself since Hollister and Kingston burst into the boathouse, and got the hell out of the way before the thing could land on him, there on the dock.
"Hell," said Kingston, reholstering his sidearm. "That's something you don't see every day."
"No, Ted, you don't," Hollister replied. "Check on Dane, would you, please?"
While Kingston did that, and Dane stood there like a scared puppy, shaking and in shock but otherwise unharmed, Hollister went and knelt beside the guy who'd had the shotgun. He was still alive. He was flat on his back, panting raggedly, and the eyes he had fixed on the ceiling rafters of the boathouse were bloodshot through and through. Blood was trickling from his nose. From his ears, too.
Hollister reached for her shoulder transmitter. "Dispatch."
Dan here, Chief.
"Requesting EMTs ASAP at the boathouse below the Happer Institute. Got a male here, approximately thirty-five to forty years of age, with a gunshot wound to his upper torso and what could be decompression sickness."
Roger that, Fran. You okay?
"I'm okay, Dan. Thanks for askin'. Hollister out." She stood back up, winced as her right knee half-tried to lock. She turned toward her husband, still standing goggle-eyed on the dock. "Dane, I think you've got some explaining to do."
"Fran—" Dane only just seemed to be recognizing her. He came toward her, his hands out and palm-forward. Almost like he wanted her to see he wasn't armed. Almost, then, like he was afraid that she'd shoot him if he was. Truth to tell, Hollister thought, the jury was presently out on that second one. "I thought they were talking treasure. Relics. Something like this— oh, my God— I never thought—"
That's the problem, isn't it, Dane? Hollister thought. Always has been. That "thinking" thing. "Thought who were talking, Dane?" she asked him. "Who are we talkin' about here—?"
Before Dane could answer, Kingston said: "Chief, you need to have a look at this."
Kingston had made his way carefully around where that sea-beast lay flopped like a dead rhinoceros on the dock. Hollister went to join him. An old white open launch was tied up in one of the slips. Not one of the institute's new-buy Zodiacs. Hollister felt her heart hitch when she read what was painted in red on the bow:
CROW ISLAND L.S.
There was something else, too. Of course, there had to be. Something else that Kingston wanted her to see. Bobbing in the murky water beside the launch:
A human head. Male, adult, dark-haired. Roughly forty-five years of age.
It was floating face-up, and its eyes were closed. Kingston said, his voice hushed, like he was afraid he might wake it up: "I think it's Doctor Costas."
"Doctor Costas from the institute: I think you're right, Ted." Hollister felt weirdly calm. Shock could be a very useful thing. It beat fainting or vomiting, anyway, every time. She called back to Dispatch: "Dan—"
"We've got a body here at the boathouse, too. And a large unidentified zoo specimen. We'll be needing forensics. Page Emil Sazerac, would you? And Dan—?"
"Radio Crow Island, make sure everything's okay. Looks like someone stole the light-station boat."
Roger that, Shellberg said.
The ambulance siren was howling in the distance. "Go meet the EMTs, Ted," Hollister told Kingston. "Show 'em where we are."
Kingston nodded and went. Dane was still where Hollister had left him, keeping his distance from the dead monster on the dock and from the water and whatever might be in it and, Hollister imagined, from Hollister, too.
It took Dan Shellberg less than a minute to validate the fear that had taken root in Hollister's gut the moment she saw the Crow Island launch: I can't raise the light station, Chief. Annie Cassidy's not picking up.
Could be she's up the tower, Hollister thought. That damned antique lamp that the State didn't see fit to replace.
A man half-dead of the bends. A decapitated scientist. A stolen boat. Margaret Matheson's Pontiac still parked at the docks with night falling and a storm revving up. Dan Tulley taking Matheson and her creepy-but-sweet-enough Doctor Buckley on a damned fool trip out to Devil's Island, and Tulley's boat not yet back in port. Said Doctor Buckley's brother dead of causes more readily labeled "unknown" than "drowning."
And a sea monster lying in a heap not six feet from where Hollister was standing.
"Oh, hell," she whispered. She pressed the button of her transmitter and said, at volume, "Dan, you still there?"
Ever and always, Fran.
"Raise the Coast Guard and the shore patrol. See who can get out to Crow Island the quickest. Think we've got an emergency on our hands."
As Tom and Cassidy reached the foot of the cliff, the setting sun cut underneath the clouds. For a moment, the air all around glowed a misty gold, and the water was topped with a blood-red sheen.
And then: darkness.
They were some fifty feet from the dive boat, and they still clung like spiders to the rocks. There was footing, but it was weed-strewn and slimy.
"My fingers are cramping," Tom said.
"Mine, too," Cassidy replied, tightly. "Relax, Tom. Keep breathing."
Again, he did as she instructed. Didn't question the obviousness of it— Of course he would keep breathing as long as he was able. Why the hell would he stop—?— but found in the process a simple, practical focal-point. One that kept him moving while keeping fear from monopolizing his mind.
They were thirty feet from the boat— and it was still there, tipped at a sharp angle against the rocks— when Tom heard a rumbling behind them.
"Hold on," Cassidy said. "Hold on tight—"
A wall of water broke across their backs. It was as if the ocean drew a deep breath and blew out hard. Tom gasped at the cold, the shocking force with which the water mashed him against the rocks. It surged around his waist; he was nearly sucked free of the cliff when it receded.
"Fuck—" he choked.
"It's going to get worse," Cassidy panted. "Come on."
She kept moving toward the boat. It was then, following her, feeling his way in the dark and half-blind with salt water besides, that Tom realized what Cassidy had to have been thinking even before they started their descent: the danger of falling aside, sea monsters or no, this was apt to be a one-way trip for both of them.
Still, they weathered another two surges in addition to the first, and the boat remained hung up on the rocks long enough, anyway, for Tom and Cassidy to reach it and haul themselves aboard. The deck was leaning at an ugly, shifting angle; Tom, slipping once and banging his right knee, found the footing slick not only with water but with—
"— blood. Jesus Christ," he said, having to hold his hand nearly to his nose to see the gore on his fingers.
"I know, Tom; I know. I think those things killed Crosley's crew." Cassidy paused long enough to squeeze his shoulder. "There were no bodies that I could see. Come on: we'll turn on our flashlights when we get below."
They entered the wheelhouse; they went below, half-staggering on steps pitched like a staircase in a funhouse; they unpocketed and switched on waterproof flashlights.
"Over here, Tom." Cassidy shone her light into the communications alcove, to their left. To their right and behind them, the bow of the boat was half-filled with water. It came up to Tom's calves where he and Cassidy stood.
Cassidy reached to switch on the radio; Tom caught her wrist. "Wait, Anne."
He met her puzzled eyes. "Go and stand on the steps," he said. She opened her mouth to protest; he repeated, patiently: "Go. Stand clear of the water."
He continued, with the calm of a man possibly to electrocute himself in the next five seconds or so, as Cassidy waded back and stepped onto the stairs: "If need be, we can dry the board. Should be too soon for corrosion—"
He flipped the switch. He wasn't electrocuted. A soft hum, and the face of the set glowed to life.
Tom released the breath he'd been holding. "— to be a factor," he finished, quietly.
Cassidy rejoined him. Tom stood back while she made their distress call, both to the Coast Guard and to the Macready's Point shore patrol:
"This is Keeper Anne Cassidy of the Maine Light Service, stationed on Crow Island, in need of assistance. Seven adults stranded and requesting evacuation by air. Repeat: evacuation by air. At present, there is extreme danger to small craft in the water adjacent to the island. Boat pickup not advised. Repeat: we are requesting evacuation by air—"
Cassidy stopped speaking, took her thumb from the transmitter button on the handset. Nothing but hiss from the speaker above the radio. She and Tom waited.
Annie, Dan Shellberg here.
"Copy, Dan." Cassidy grinned with relief. "God, it's good to hear you."
Good to hear you, too. We've been worried. We'll get a chopper out to Crow as soon as we're able. Can you find a place to sit tight?
"We can do that. Thanks, Dan."
See you soon, Annie. Macready's Point out.
Cassidy hung up the transmitter and stood for a moment, head down, simply breathing. Water lapped; the boat creaked against the rocks. Tom reached out, gently rubbed the space between her shoulder blades.
"Can we make it back?" he asked softly.
"Of course we can." Cassidy gave him a weary smile. "Only— let's not race to the top, okay?"
"Okay." Tom reached for her hand, to lead the way back up onto the sloping deck. His fingers were bleeding; Cassidy's were, too. Tom only just realized it as they touched—
— and then Cassidy was yanked from her feet.
She shouted with shock and anger. She didn't scream. The tentacle wrapped itself around her ankles and dragged her into the darkness of the flooded bow, and Tom—
For a second, he froze, there on the steps. But for a second only. His mind ran the facts as they had to be, his scientist's mind, coolly and quickly: the boat was flooding at the bow. A hole there, a gash, through which the tentacle had come, and toward which Cassidy was being pulled—
The main body of the creature— there was no room for it in here— was outside the boat. Up top.
Tom hauled himself back up on deck, and it was there in the water between the dive boat and the rocks, something from a nightmare, massive and awful: the creature that had followed them from Devil's Island, the monster that had destroyed the Zodiac.
Tom unsheathed Mahoney's dive knife and flung himself at it.
And it caught him. The thing snatched him in mid-leap. A tentacle shot out and wrapped with sinuous crushing strength around his waist and hauled him in—
— but that, Tom realized, was what he wanted: it allowed him to target the thing's awful eye. The eye, huge and round and dead-black from before, when he swam to help the Walfords at Devil's: he slashed at it now. Punched and stabbed. Cold black blood erupted from it, covered him in a discharge like crude oil. Tom, shouting now with raw animal fury— This fucking thing killed Robert. It's killing Anne.— kept stabbing. The knife handle, slick with gore, twisted out of his hand; he clawed, then, at the eye, tore into it with his fingers, until he was inside the thing's head practically to his elbows.
The tentacle around his waist loosened. The creature spasmed violently against him. An unearthly horrid shrieking erupted from it—
And a tentacle swatted Tom clear of the dive boat.
He had an impression— time slowing, an ethereal peace, sudden, strange, and sustained, filling his body and mind— of flying through the air. The breath had been knocked from his lungs. He hit the waves and went under.
But not that far. Not that deep. The cold of the water was still shocking enough to revive him. Tom pulled himself to the surface.
He blinked the salt water from his eyes just in time to see the dive boat, toppled by the weight of the creature, roll clear of the rocks and sink.
Tom shook his head, tried to focus. Somehow, miraculously, he'd managed to keep his airway clear; he wasn't choking. Below, through the water, in a slow, nightmarish spiraling-away, he could see the light from Cassidy's flashlight shining from the windows of the sinking boat.
He took a deep breath and dove.
He reached the boat twenty feet down, maybe more. He had no idea how far down the bottom was. He followed Cassidy's light. He swam through the boat's lower cabin, past the communications alcove, into the bow. Cassidy was conscious, her face pale in the light, her expression desperate and unbelieving and oddly calm, too. The creature, in dying— or so Tom assumed— had released her, but her jeans leg was snagged on the jagged hole in the boat's hull. Together, they pulled and kicked at the catching-point until, in a tearing of denim, a splintering of wood, Cassidy was free.
Tom's lungs were burning. Black spots were swimming past his eyes. He pulled Cassidy out of the dive-boat; together, they swam for the surface.
Where they traded one death for another.
He and Cassidy had accomplished what they'd set out, directly and indirectly, to do. She'd made the call for help, for herself and those who depended on her. Tom had had his revenge on the thing that killed Robert.
But they were battered and exhausted, and they were caught, now, in the rising tide. They could only stay afloat for so long. Tom felt the ocean surge beneath him and wondered if it might not be better to facilitate the process— his physicist's mind having one final go at analyzing the situation at hand— and breathe in a solid lungful of water before the waves smashed them against the cliff. He caught Cassidy's eye— he could barely see her, though she was no more than an arm's length away; he thought he saw her reach for him—
Something caught him by his trailing arm. Snuffled along his shoulder until it had him by the collar of his t-shirt. Something that smelled of wet dog.
Tom saw Cassidy's teeth flash as she smiled in the dark. "Hello, Book—!" she panted.
It would have been wiser for him to help only one of them back to the jetty, and that one being Cassidy. But Book was more loyal than smart, and he was patient and strong in the bargain. He assisted Cassidy and Tom in turn, one by one, both of them. He hauled them clear of the cliffs and the draw of the tide, and then he acted as both life-buoy and motivator, hauling, nudging, occasionally nipping— nipping Tom, at least— until they were in sight of the jetty. He wouldn't abandon either of them. In Book's eyes, Tom realized, Tom had become one of the ones the dog loved.
Tom had replaced the loved one who had died.
Book waited until they were safe at the top of the stone steps before he followed Tom and Cassidy onto the jetty. There, as they dropped onto their knees and then their backs and lay, panting, side by side, he shook a massive arc of spray from his thick coat, before settling on his belly next to Cassidy with a grunt that as much as said Kind of a dumb night for a swim, don't you think?
Cassidy reached to scratch Book's head. "How did you find me?"
"Are you asking me or him?" Tom asked.
"Don't be a smartass, Doctor Buckley."
Tom smiled. "I followed your light."
"The light from your flashlight. I could see it through the water."
"But—" Cassidy raised up on an elbow, looked down at him in wonder. From the direction of the north cliffs, Tom could hear Tulley and Matheson approaching— "Tom! Anne! Are you there—?"
"It was pitch dark in the hull," Cassidy said. "My flashlight went out when that thing grabbed me."
And so: rescue. But with restrictions. The personnel aboard the red Coast Guard helicopter that came for the keeper of the Crow Island light and her fellow evacuees refused to take Book.
"It's in the regulations, miss; I'm sorry," the co-pilot shouted from the open side door, above the roar of the engines. "No dogs."
"That's alright," Cassidy shouted back. "I have to stay anyway."
"Annie—" Tulley leaned forward from his seat aboard the helicopter. "He'll be fine for the night. Come on!"
She shook her head. It was, Tom realized, her mantra at this point, practically a creed: She wouldn't leave the station. She wouldn't leave her dog.
He unbuckled his seatbelt, went to climb down out of the helicopter. Matheson touched his arm. "Tom—"
Tom, standing in the downdraft from the chopper blades, turned to her and smiled reassuringly. "See you in the morning, Margaret."
They didn't have to turn on the fog horn, thank God. It was what Cassidy called a "clean storm." Rain, wind. No hail, no snow, no waterspouts. No mist or fog. No other surprises, either zoological or meteorological. She gave Tom more clean, dry clothing and made them something to eat while he took first crack at the shower. At the kitchen table, while Book enjoyed an extra helping of kibble from his bowl near the door, they ate tinned baked beans, toast, and black coffee. Tom wolfed it all down. He hadn't eaten since that morning, since before Devil's Island, and, now that his body had had a chance to come down from the day's adrenaline high, he was starving.
They took turns minding the light and watching the grounds; they took turns sleeping. Cassidy took first watch, with Book and Tulley's Browning, while Tom stretched out on the sofa in the living area. When Cassidy woke him ninety minutes later, he was covered in a rough green blanket, and he had a sense memory, as if from a dream, of lips pressed gently to his forehead.
In the morning, all was calm. The storm had cleared by five a.m., leaving nothing but a whisper of fog between the ocean and the stars.
Just after eight, Tulley and Matheson, aboard a boat— the No Regrets— borrowed from Tulley's cousin, docked at Crow Island. Through the mist, Tom came down to meet them. Book was at his side.
There was something different about him, Matheson thought. He didn't quite seem like himself, but she couldn't quite say how. He looked very tired, but his face was calm. He seemed more at peace than she'd had seen him in days.
"We've been taking turns keeping watch," he told her, as Tulley tied up. "It's Anne's turn to sleep."
"Any more sign of the things?" Tulley asked. "Any of them?"
"No," Tom replied, as he led the way up to the keeper's house. "Odd how quiet it's been, with no radio, no computer, no phone."
He glanced out to sea.
Just the water and the wind, Matheson thought. And, maybe, a ghost or two.
The government descended like mayflies. Not-there one second, then overrunning Devil's Island, Crow Island, and Macready's Point the next. Jumbled-up, dumb, and underfoot. Good for business if not for tourism, Frances Hollister thought, all of them needing places to stay and food to eat and at least some of 'em being smarter than the average weekend sailor with a twelve-pack of Bud revving up to get befouled in the bay or hung up on the rocks. But the folks sent by the EPA, the FBI, the DOD, and all the other acronyms proved to be as inexorable as bugs and just as mute. Hollister asked as many questions of the assorted Mulders and Scullys who set up shop in town as she needed to, to serve the formal requirements of the reports she had to file. She heard all the "That's classified, Chief; we're sorry.", "We'll let you know when we have more information.", and "Your town is not at immediate risk." as she needed to hear.
Then she turned to the real experts. Emil Sazerac and Dan Shellberg, with their respective knacks for forensics and history, offered scientific background and a theoretical framework. Dick Tulley and the others who'd been out to the islands provided observational evidence, empirical data. Together, they sussed out the mystery while the government played dumb.
From the descriptions provided by those who'd been aboard the Fallen Angel and below the cliffs on Crow Island during that last storm two days back, Hollister believed, there'd been three creatures. All, Sazerac said— and those marine biologists, the Walfords (the Happer Institute suffering a temporary shortage of senior science staff) concurred— variations on the giant squid, an animal from a genus with a name like a hard sneeze— Architeuthis, or something to that effect— that Hollister hadn't a prayer of pronouncing. The first, the largest and most-aggressive one, the one that Tom Buckley had killed aboard the wrecked dive boat, they'd dubbed the captain: this monster had attacked the dive boat and the Fallen Angel and, likely, Robert Buckley's Zodiac, too, killing Buckley in the process. The second beast, the one appearing broader through the body and acting less aggressive, that had brought the crab creatures to Crow Island, Hollister's brain-trust referred to as the warrant officer. And the third monster, smaller than the first but just as ruthless and possibly even more clever, the one that had scouted out to Macready's Point after Randy Crosley, had become the lieutenant.
The black crab-creatures— Dick Tulley was insisting on referring to the things as ensigns or foot-soldiers, were, at best guess, growth-accelerated members of the lobster family programmed with a love of "surface feed": newly killed meat, not carrion. Not decomposing bottom-fall and the odd minnow. Some seventy years ago, someone had taught these creatures, or their forebears, to crave fresh blood.
Making monsters to kill monsters. That had likely been the goal of the scientists that had worked on Project Croatoan in the early forties. Save the men of the merchant marine, save the brave sailors and ships of the United States Navy, save the nation itself from the seagoing predations of Nazi Germany. And, as so often happened when you mixed ambition, science, and the best of misguided intentions, the whole damn thing had gotten out of hand. By the time realization set in, it was too late: the monsters out-monstered their makers and survived.
Which left only about a thousand unanswered questions, and Frances Hollister left many of said questions to the experts. (Why, for instance, weren't there more of the squid-monsters? Asexual reproduction: that was Terry Walford's theory. Just as some sharks were capable of perpetuating themselves through something called parthenogenesis rather than laying eggs: the captain and the other squid-beasts might have come about the same way.) She settled, mainly, for pursuing answers to what she figured, for purposes of the case at hand (which was, so to say, at its core, the death of Robert Buckley), were the most relevant two.
One: Why had the captain and its followers— and the things, by the Walfords' estimation, had to be at least fourth-generation descendants of their originals— chosen now to become active?
Anne Cassidy had a thought. "The bloom," she'd said a day ago, as Hollister and Dick Tulley and their new friends from points south had helped to clean up the keeper's house on Crow Island. "The warming water. What Robert was here to—" She paused; Hollister saw her exchange a look with Tom Buckley. "What Robert was here to research: the luminescent algae. The color: that green-yellow—"
"Like the color of the marker dye in the caverns," Tom said.
"They were keying off it." Margaret Matheson paused in her dust-panning to join in. "They'd been waiting for years for a green light. And finally they got one."
Which led, indirectly but relevantly, to Hollister's question the second: Why hadn't the captain or the crab-creatures eaten Robert Buckley when they had the chance?
The final report that Emil Sazerac received from the state pathology lab regarding the black substance he'd found smeared on Robert provided the answer to that one: it was a repellent. More specifically, if the stuff, the yellow dye, filling the hundreds of ampules in the caverns on Devil's Island was meant to act as a targeting marker for enemy vessels, the black substance was intended to identify Allied or American ships as "part of the hive." After all, the squid-monsters and the crabs wouldn't be expected to attack one another.
"We might assume," Sazerac had told Hollister, and Matheson and Tom Buckley, too, yesterday morning in Hollister's office, "that the captain's killing of Robert was at least partly a mistake on its part. It attacked him and tore his arm off before it realized that he was 'one of them.'"
Tom Buckley said that his brother would have wanted his ashes scattered over the ocean, and that's what happened. Not that it was legal, maybe, not exactly, but on the day Robert Buckley went to his final resting-place, Frances Hollister wasn't acting as the chief of police of Macready's Point: instead, while the members of the ashes-scattering expedition headed out to sea, with Anne Cassidy and her dog Book among them, temporarily appointed assistant lighthouse keeper Hollister kept an eye on things at the Crow Island light station. Tulley was conducting the voyage aboard a boat on loan from his cousin, Pete; though Tulley's Fallen Angel had been raised, patched sufficiently to keep her afloat, and towed back to Macready's Point, she still had to be dried out, retuned, and refitted. For the time being, too, the State of Maine had agreed to let the federal government have run of Crow Island, at least until those federal mayflies had had a chance to spirit away whatever was lying on the bottom near the dive boat that had sunk off the island's northern cliffs. And whatever might still be lurking in the caves beneath Devil's Island. Not to mention the rotting pile of leviathan currently stinking up the boathouse at the Happer Institute. And, maybe, while they were at it, the government's experts would be kind enough to shoot or harpoon the one sea-beast still, by the count of Tulley and his people, swimming amok in the waters off Macready's Point.
Speaking of harpooning, and those creatures who might be deserving of it: as for Dane—
All people are worth saving, her grandma used to say. Not all of them are worth keeping.
Hollister sighed, looking eastward from the cleanup site below the cliffs to the dark spot that was Dick Tulley's cousin's boat, well out to sea. Big dumb toys like the Escalade were one thing. Chasing the occasional piece of tail: that was another. Messing with things that got people killed (and not only killed, but killed and eaten), things that endangered Macready's Point: that was something else entirely.
I'm sorry, honey, Hollister thought, feeling a phantom weight where her wedding ring had circled her finger all those years. Don't mean to be a bitch here. But I think I'm gonna have to draw the line at sea monsters.
And, after all that had gone on, Anne Cassidy would be sticking around. Didn't want those government goons making a mess of the light station. Once the season was up, and the fall-to-winter keeper came to take her place, she'd head back down south, to Boston or New York, where she'd finish her schooling and get her degree. For now, she was set to lend a hand helping figure out what the Navy had unleashed into the ocean hereabouts, seventy years ago. The what that had killed her boyfriend, too. With knowing comes closure: Hollister had heard words to that effect at a grief-counseling seminar for law enforcement personnel some years back. She imagined it was true.
They held a small wake for Robert at the keeper's house on Crow Island. A couple of the Coast Guard personnel temporarily stationed on the island drifted in, and a few of the government science and security goons, too; they mumbled shy respects to Tom, and to Cassidy, before stealing away with sandwich halves and coffee, or with slices of the marble sheet cake and twinberry pie that Nancy and Kris Patterson provided for the gathering. Tom found himself smiling slightly, surreptitiously, at Book. The dog stationed himself near the food table that they'd set up in the living area: while he let each of the Coast Guard officers pass without notice, or with a thumping wag of his tail when one of them offered him a piece of sandwich, he greeted every single one of the government agents with a quiet, rumbling growl.
The morning was long gone; the afternoon was slipping by. As the sun slid toward the hills west of Macready's Point, Anne Cassidy led Tom up the spiral stairs of the Crow Island lighthouse. He'd never been up to the lamp room. They stood side by side and looked out through the clean thick glass at the whitecaps dotting the ocean, at Devil's Island, and at Gull Island, too. At the point on the horizon where sky and water met, blue on blue. Where Robert Buckley made his home.
"It's okay, Anne," Tom heard himself say. "I'm in the light."
His voice sounded different in his own ears: it was his voice, only it wasn't. Something gentler in the cadence, a softening of the New York accent he'd picked up.
Cassidy stared at him. Tom looked back at her, and suddenly his eyes weren't his own, either. He embraced her and, for a long moment, held her close, knowing what it felt like to want her, to want to comfort her. Knowing what it felt like to love her. He let his cheek come to rest against her soft dark hair, and her scent was sunshine and citrus, sandalwood and hope. Something he could carry away with him to eternity."Goodbye, sweetheart," he whispered.
Cassidy held on to him desperately, almost fiercely; a sob shook quietly through her. When she finally pulled back and looked at Tom, her eyes and his filled with tears, for a second she didn't see him.
But she didn't quite believe. She couldn't. Tom saw the doubt in her eyes and knew, for the first time, how it felt to be the one being debunked. It's alright, he wanted to tell her. Whoever he might have been, at that very moment. I'm someplace good. But silence descended on him, engulfed him, bringing with it a helplessness as encompassing and cold as the waves below the north cliffs—
I love you, Anne. I'll always love you.
Tom might have been drowning. His mouth opened, but he couldn't speak. As if the wanting and his body were the property of two different entities. He could do nothing but stand and gaze at Anne Cassidy as if from a great and uncrossable distance and pray she could see the love in his eyes—
In the end, he realized, he would never know.
Cassidy's brows drew together; Tom saw her swallow. Saw her trying not to look away. "Thank you, Tom," she said. She smiled for him. Bravely, he thought. "But you got one thing wrong." Her right hand reached out; her fingertips traced the line of his left cheek. Her dark eyes calmly studied the path of the tracing. "He wouldn't have said goodbye."
Just before four o' clock, Tom and Matheson left Crow Island.
Tulley had his cousin's boat nearly a mile out when Tom finally turned to look back. But Cassidy had left the jetty, and Tom couldn't see her on the path leading the long way around, up past the island's spare but stalwart stand of firs, to the northern cliffs. She and Book had gone either back to the keeper's house or to the lighthouse, the lamp ever in need of tending.
Tom Buckley was sleeping, his head resting between his shoulder and the passenger window of the Bonneville. The waning sunlight caught in his long eyelashes; even just glancing over, Matheson could see. They'd be back in New York well after nightfall. But, really, for all the grief she normally gave Tom regarding who she preferred to be at the wheel of her car, she didn't mind driving in the dark. The Moody Blues were playing softly on the stereo; in his eternally romantic baritone, Justin Hayward was singing of love long lost. Matheson smiled, reliving, in her mind, her parting from Dick Tulley: at the docks, he'd done the old-fashioned thing, the best of boldest things, too, and hauled her in and kissed her, leaving Matheson, gloriously weak in the knees, with her arms wrapped around his neck. "Been meaning to do that since the minute we met," he'd said. "I've been wishing you would," Matheson had replied, completely unashamed of the blush on her cheeks or the stammer in her voice.
She'd had final words with Anne Cassidy, too, before Tulley brought her and Tom back to Macready's Point. Anne might finish her degree at Stony Brook; she might finish it elsewhere. Matheson imagined the final fact of the matter was one to which she'd never be privy: after all, a fourth-year oceanography student wasn't apt to need credits in psychology. Or, for that matter, in physics. Matheson glanced again, affectionately, at Tom, the ethereal peace in his freshly cleanshaven face, and steered the Bonneville toward home.