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«Dark Hollow», John Connolly

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The second book in the Charlie Parker series, 2000

For my father

 

I

"Alone, alone, about a dreadful wood

Of conscious evil runs a lost mankind,

Dreading to find its Father."

– W. H. Auden, For the Time Being

 

PROLOGUE

I dream dark dreams.

I dream of a figure moving through the forest, of children flying from his path, of young women crying at his coming. I dream of snow and ice, of bare branches and moon-cast shadows. I dream of dancers floating in the air, stepping lightly even in death, and my own pain is but a faint echo of their suffering as I run. My blood is black on the snow, and the edges of the world are silvered with moonlight. I run into the darkness, and he is waiting.

I dream in black and white, and I dream of him.

I dream of Caleb, who does not exist, and I am afraid.

The Dodge Intrepid stood beneath a stand of firs, its windshield facing out to sea, the lights off, the key in the ignition to keep the heater running. No snow had fallen this far south, not yet, but there was frost on the ground. From nearby came the sound of the waves breaking on Ferry Beach, the only noise to disturb the stillness of this Maine winter night. A floating jetty bobbed close to the shore, lobster pots piled high upon it. Four boats lay shrouded in tarpaulin behind the red wooden boathouse, and a catamaran was tied down close to the public access boat ramp. Otherwise, the parking lot was empty.

The passenger door opened and Chester Nash climbed quickly into the car, his teeth chattering and his long brown coat drawn tightly around him. Chester was small and wiry, with long dark hair and a sliver of a mustache on his upper lip that stretched down beyond the corners of his mouth. He thought the mustache made him look dashing. Everyone else thought it made him look mournful, thus the nickname "Cheerful Chester." If there was one thing guaranteed to make Chester Nash mad, it was people calling him Cheerful Chester. He had once stuck his gun in Paulie Block's mouth for calling him Cheerful Chester. Paulie Block had almost ripped his arm off for doing it, although, as he explained to Cheerful Chester while he slapped him repeatedly across the head with hands as big as shovels, he understood the reason why Chester had done it. Reasons just didn't excuse everything, that was all.

"I hope you washed your hands," said Paulie Block, who sat in the driver's seat of the Dodge, maybe wondering why Chester couldn't have taken a leak earlier like any normal individual instead of insisting on pissing against a tree in the woods by the shore and letting all of the heat out of the car while he did it.

"Man, it's cold," said Chester. "This is the coldest goddamn place I have ever been in my whole goddamn life. My meat nearly froze out there. Any colder, I'da pissed ice cubes."

Paulie Block took a long drag on his cigarette and watched as the tip flared briefly red before returning to gray ash. Paulie Block was aptly named. He was six-three, weighed two-eighty and had a face that looked like it had been used to shunt trains. He made the interior of the car look cramped just by being there. All things considered, Paulie Block could have made Giants Stadium look cramped just by being there.

Chester glanced at the digital clock on the dash, the green numerals seeming to hang suspended in the dark.

"They're late," he said.

"They'll be here," said Paulie. "They'll be here."

He returned to his cigarette and stared out to sea. He probably didn't look too hard. There was nothing to be seen, just blackness and the lights of Old Orchard Beach beyond. Beside him, Chester Nash began playing with a Game Boy.

Outside, the wind blew and the waves washed rhythmically on the beach, and the sound of their voices carried over the cold ground to where others were watching, and listening.

"…Subject Two is back in vehicle. Man, it's cold," said FBI Special Agent Dale Nutley, unconsciously repeating the words that he had just heard Chester Nash speak. A parabolic microphone stood beside him, positioned close to a small gap in the wall of the boathouse. Next to it, a voice-activated Nagra tape recorder whirred softly and a Badger Mk II low-light camera kept a vigil on the Dodge.

Nutley wore two pairs of socks, long johns, denims, a T-shirt, a cotton shirt, a wool sweater, a Lowe ski jacket, thermal gloves and a gray alpaca hat with two little flaps that hung down over the headphones and kept his ears warm. Special Agent Rob Briscoe, who sat beside him on a tall stool, thought the alpaca hat made Nutley look like a llama herder, or the lead singer with the Spin Doctors. Either way, Nutley looked like a clown in his alpaca hat, with its damn flaps to keep his ears warm. Agent Briscoe, whose ears were very cold, wanted that alpaca hat. If it got any colder, he figured he might just have to kill Dale Nutley and take the hat from his dead head.

The boathouse stood to the right of the Ferry Beach parking lot, giving its occupants a clear view of the Dodge. Behind it, a private road followed the shore, leading to one of the summer houses below the Neck. From the lot, Ferry Road snaked back to Black Point Road, leading ultimately to Oak Hill and U.S.1 to the north and the Neck to the southeast. The boathouse windows had received a reflective coating barely two hours before, in order to prevent anyone from seeing the agents inside. There had been a brief moment of apprehension when Chester Nash had peered in the window and tested the locks on the doors before running quickly back to the Dodge.


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