Read F Paul Wilson - Novel 03 Online

Authors: Virgin (as Mary Elizabeth Murphy) (v2.1)

F Paul Wilson - Novel 03 (10 page)

BOOK: F Paul Wilson - Novel 03
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"Hey, Father—"

           
 
"We've got plenty today. You won't miss
out."

           
 
"But I got places to go."

           
 
Dan said nothing further. He stared Dandy down
until he shrugged and headed for the end of the line.

           
 
Like dealing with eight-year-olds, he thought
as he headed back to the serving area.

           
 
But juvenile behavior was only one side of
them, and that was the least of their problems. A fair number of them were
mentally ill—paranoids, borderline personalities, and outright
schizophrenics—and many had drug and alcohol problems. Multiple substance abuse
was common. Some combined the problems: chronic brain syndromes from long-term
drug and/or alcohol abuse, or mental illness compounded by substance abuse.

           
 
For most of them it was a no-win situation.
And Senator Crenshaw's concentration camps would do nothing for them.

           
 
Dan had finished slicing the bread and the
ones who wanted seconds had passed through when he heard a chorus of voices
saying, "Hello, Sister Carrie," and "Good afternoon, Sister
Carrie," and "Thanks for the great meal, Sister Carrie."

           
He glanced up and there she was,
wiping her hands as she surveyed the diners. "Did everyone have
enough?" she said.

           
 
They answered almost as a group: "Oh,
yes, Sister Carrie."

           
 
Dan watched her walk out through the Big Room
and slip among her guests, an almost ethereal presence, speaking to them,
touching them: a hand on a shoulder here, a pat on a head there, a whispered
word for old friends, a handshake and a smile for the new faces. He envied her
ability to make everyone of them feel special, to know they mattered.

           
 
"Was it good?" she said when she
reached the far end of the Big Room. They cheered and applauded, and that made
her smile. And the light she shed on the room made the applause double in
volume.

           
 
Hilda was tsking and shaking her head.
"Look at them! They're ga-ga over her." But there was wonder rather
than disapproval in her voice. "What a politician she'd have made."

           
 
Dan could only nod, eternally amazed at
Carrie's talent for making people love her.

           
 
Still smiling, she curtsied and returned to
the kitchen. As the room's illumination seemed to dim by half, the guests began
to clear their places and shuffle out to the street or line up for the
bathroom.

           
 
Dan was wiping away the bread crumbs when he
heard cries of, "Word up, Doc" and "How's it go, Doctor
Joe?" He looked up and saw a short, white-coated Hispanic strolling toward
him.

           
 
"Things slow at the clinic?" Dan
said.

           
 
"I wish."

           
 
Dr. Joe Martinez's dark eyes twinkled as he
picked up a leftover piece of bread, tore it, and shoved the right-hand half
into his mouth. He had mocha skin, dark curly hair, and a body-builder's frame.

           
 
"Want some soup?" Dan asked.

           
 
"Carrie make it?"

           
 
"Of course."

           
 
"Then that's my answer."

           
 
"What?"

           
 
"Of course."

           
 
"Right." Dan got him a bowl and a
spoon and slid them across the table.

           
 
Joe stared down at the steaming green but
didn't reach for the spoon.

           
 
"Something wrong?" Dan said.

           
 
Joe continued staring at the soup. "Three
new HIV conversions this morning."

           
 
"Jesus!"

           
 
"Jesus had nothing to do with it."

           
 
"I know, but . . . anybody we know?"

           
 
Finally Joe looked up from the soup. "You
know I can't tell you that."

           
 
"Sure, sure, and I appreciate that, but
we've got close quarters here. Know what I'm saying?"

           
 
"Sure I do. But you can't catch AIDS
sitting next to someone. It doesn't jump plate to plate."

           
 
"No kidding. But it does jump vein to
needle and needle to vein, and not a few of our guests have been known to shoot
up when mood and opportunity permit."

           
 
Joe shook his head. "Can't tell you,
Fitz."

           
 
"I don't want names. Don't tell me
who,
just tell me
how many
HIV positives in and out of here."

           
 
Dan wasn't looking to ostracize anyone, but it
certainly would be useful to know who was positive. A lot of St. Joe's guests
regularly fell or got into fights. It was a common occurrence for one of them
to stagger in hurt and bleeding— amazing how much blood could pour out of a
minor scalp cut—and either he or Carrie would clean them up. He wasn't so
worried about himself, but Carrie . . .

           
 
"I don't have to look at any faces to
tell you that you've got HIV positives here. The homeless population is loaded
with them."

           
 
Dan knew that. He just wished he knew
who.

           
 
"So when do I put on the rubber
gloves?"

           
 
"Whenever you see red." Joe took the
other half of his bread slice and dipped it into his soup. "By the way,
how's Sister Carrie?"

           
 
"You just missed her."

           
 
"Oh."

           
 
"She's in the back. Want me to get
her?"

           
 
"No. Don't bother her. Just wanted to say
hello if she happened to wander through."

           
 
Is that the only reason people come here? Dan
thought. To see Carrie?

           
 
First Hal asking about her, now Joe. They were
like puppies, panting for a glimpse of her. No lascivious ogling here—no curves
in those asexual, baggy clothes she wore— just a simple desire to bask in her
glow. He knew their love for her was the worship-from-afar kind, but still it
bothered him. He should be used to it by now, but he wasn't.

           
 
After all, Dan loved her too.

           
I
knew a place for her, a small cave set far back on the ledge above the tav
rock. Together we prepared a bier for her and place her upon it.

 

           
 
And
then we sealed her in, carrying rocks that one man could not lift alone, and
choking the mouth of the cave with them.

           
 
It will
take many men to reopen her
Resting
Place
. But they shall not touch
these stones. They shall have to deal with me first.

           
 
FROM THE GLASS SCROLL

           
 
ROCKEFELLER MUSEUM TRANSLATION

 

         
8

 

Paraiso

 

           
 
As Emilio wheeled the black Bentley limo
through the iron gates on the rim of his estate, Arthur Crenshaw sat alone in
the backseat and closed his eyes, praying for guidance in the coming
confrontation with his son.

           
 
Charlie,
Charlie, what are we going to do about you?

           
 
He'd been up all night praying over the
problem. And during the six hours alone in the passenger compartment of his
Gulf stream II,
four-and-a-half miles
over the country he prayed would elect him its president, he'd continued
praying for an answer.

           
 
Thank the Lord for prayer. He only wished he'd
discovered it sooner in his life. He'd never been much of a one for prayer in
his younger days. In fact he remembered secret sneers at the breast-beaters,
the bead-pushers, the doe-eyed heaven-gazers who couldn't solve their problems
on their own and had to beseech some Santa Claus in the sky to bail them out.
He'd always considered them fools and losers.

           
 
Until he ran up against a problem neither he
nor anyone else could solve: Olivia's cancer.

           
 
The tumor started in her left ovary, growing,
insidiously, worming its way out into her pelvis. By the time the first
symptoms appeared—subtle even then—it was seeded throughout her abdominal
cavity.

           
 
What a vicious, ruthless, perfidious disease,
a spreading army of militant cells causing no pain, no visible lumps, no
blockages, covertly infiltrating the abdomen until it had gained a foothold
upon every organ within reach.

           
 
Even now Arthur suppressed a moan as he
remembered the moment in the hospital room when they got the news. Too late,
the doctors said. They'd give it their best shot but the prognosis was bleak.

           
 
Still fresh in his mind was the look on
Olivia's face—the panic and terror that raced across her features before she
controlled them and donned the brave mask she wore to her grave. For the
timeless instant between the devastating realization that her lifespan was
numbered in months, and the determination that she would not surrender to the
tumor, her innermost fears had lain naked before him.

           
 
Olivia, God bless her, never gave up. Together
they tried everything. When traditional therapies failed, she volunteered for
experimental protocols. When the cancer resisted those, Arthur took her around
the world, to the sincere quacks and out-and-out charlatans who offered hope to
the hopeless. Arthur spent a fortune—perhaps two fortunes— but it was only
money. What was money? He could always make more of it. But there was only one
Olivia. And brave Olivia, she withstood the endless array of tests and scans
and pills and needles and baths and rubs until she could stand no more.

           
 
Because none of it was working.

           
 
And then, for the first time in his adult
life, Arthur Crenshaw began to pray. Not for himself—he swore he'd never stoop
to praying for himself—but for Olivia. He resented the need to pray. He knew
now it was pride. He'd always been the problem solver, always the one who
managed to find the needed answer. But he'd already done everything humanly
possible; now the only place left to seek help was beyond the human.

           
 
He went to a church and spoke to a young
minister who told him to put Olivia's problem in God's hands and pray to Him to
save her.

           
 
Arthur did just that. He prayed and he forced
himself to let go, to step back and trust in the Lord. To his dismay, despite
his prayers, his agonized cries to heaven, Olivia continued her downward
course.

           
 
Only one person appeared to benefit from his
prayers: Arthur Crenshaw. It left him feeling buoyed, lighter than air, filled
with an inner glow that could only be the Peace of the Lord.

           
He could imagine the facile
rationalizations the unbelievers in his circle would offer to explain his
sudden inner tranquility: Giving over responsibility for Olivia to God had
relieved him of an awesome psychological burden. What he interpreted as Divine
Grace was merely his psyche rebounding after being released from the crushing
weight of accountability for Olivia's cure.

           
Nonsense. God had willed him to be
tranquil so he could fully concentrate on being with Olivia. Which was exactly
what he did.

           
 
And when Olivia died in his arms in their
bedroom in Paraiso, they were both at peace.

           
 
But Arthur hadn't stopped praying then. Prayer
had become a habit during Olivia's illness and so he'd continued a ritual of
starting and finishing each day by talking with the Lord. And when he'd been
troubled by problems with the company, when a solution eluded him, he'd pray.
And, praise the Lord, not long after he prayed the answer would come to him.

           
 
He was well aware of the nonbeliever's
rational explanation for that, as well: When you gave a problem over to God you
stopped gnawing at it; you relaxed your stranglehold on the elements of the
problem, allowing them to reassemble into new and different configurations. The
fresh perspectives afforded by those new configurations, the different light in
which you saw the problem, allowed you to arrive at a solution. Nothing divine
about it. The same thing happened with Transcendental Meditation. With self-hypnosis.
With standard mental relaxation techniques.

           
 
Again, nonsense. Arthur came to realize that
the Lord had become an integral part of his life and was working through him.
To bind himself closer to Him, he went to Bible study groups, prayer meetings, healing
sessions, immersing himself in the new Christian Fundamentalism and becoming
one of its more visible members. And when he sold his company and decided to
run for the Senate, he discovered that his new beliefs guaranteed him a huge,
ready-made constituency eager to work for him and propel him to the Capitol.

           
 
Surely anyone with half a brain could see the
hand of God at work in all this.

           
 
He opened his eyes as he heard the rattle of
the bridge timbers under the wheels. He leaned against the window and stared
down over the edge of the narrow, one-car span. Afternoon sunlight dazzled and
danced on the cascading surface of the brook one hundred feet below.

           
Emilio guided the Bentley from the
bridge onto a path that wound through the pines for half a mile, then they
broke from the shade into the light. Before them stretched a lush garden of
flowering fruit trees surrounded by sprays of forsythia and rhododendrons and
azaleas. Wild flowers bloomed in the interstices. No grass. Just ground cover
and natural mulch. Arthur spent tens of thousands of dollars a year to keep the
garden looking wild and untended and yet perfect. Beyond the garden stretched
the western sky. And two hundred feet straight down—the
Pacific Ocean
.

           
 
Emilio pulled into the bower that served as a
carport. Arthur opened his own door—he disliked being waited upon—and stepped
out. The fresh, salt tang of the on-shore breeze felt marvelous after the fumes
of
New
York
.

           
 
Every time he returned from a trip he
appreciated anew Olivia's wisdom in naming their home Paraiso.

           
 
Then he thought of his son and his mood
darkened. Yes, their home looked like a paradise. If only it could
be
a paradise.

           
 
"Where's Charlie?"

           
 
"He was still asleep when I left,"
Emilio said. Arthur nodded. Time for the showdown. He didn't want this. And
when he'd left
New York
he hadn't known what to do. But during the flight he'd prayed and
placed the problem in God's hands.

           
 
And praise the Lord, by the time the
Gulfstream
had landed he had the
solution.

           
 
He strode toward the low dome that was the
only part of the house visible from the garden. He tapped the entry code into
the keypad and the door swung inward. He passed the door of the waiting
elevator, preferring the extra time the spiral staircase would afford him. As he
descended to the top floor, the endless grandeur of the Pacific opened before
him.

           
 
Arthur had built the house downward instead of
up, carving it into the rocky face of the oceanfront cliffs. It hadn't been
easy. When he finally found a suitable coastal cliff south of
Carmel
that was an extrusion of bedrock instead of
the soft clay that dominated the area, strong enough to support his dream
house, he ran up against the California Coastal Commission. Many were the times
during his epic battles with those arrogant bureaucrats that he'd wished he'd
never started the project. But he was determined to see it through. After all,
he'd promised Olivia. It took threats, bribes, and in one case, plain,
old-fashioned blackmail to get all the permits. It was during that period that
he learned the power of the government, and decided that the only way to
protect himself from it was to join the club and wield some of that power
himself.

           
 
But Paraiso was finally built, exactly to his
own specs. The entire front was a dazzling array of floor-to-ceiling windows,
enticing the sky and the sea indoors, making them part of the interior. From
the sea, Paraiso appeared as a massive mosaic of steel and crystal—a
three-story bay window. At night it glowed like a jewel set into the cliff
side. On sunny weekends the waves below were acrawl with a bobbing horde of
boats, private and chartered, filled with sightseers pointing and gazing up in
open-mouthed awe.

           
 
Within, the ceilings were high, the rooms open
and airy. The dining room, the kitchen, Arthur's office, and the bedrooms made
up the two lower levels.

           
 
Arthur paused on the first landing and
surveyed the sprawling expanse of his favorite place in the world, the pride of
Paraiso—the great room that occupied the entire top floor.

           
 
The afternoon sun beat through the glass
ceiling; he adjusted a switch on the wall to his left, rotating the fine
louvers above to reduce the glare. He gazed outward through the convex expanse
of glass before him and watched the whitecaps flecking the surface of the
Pacific. Carved into the living rock of the room's rear wall was a huge
fireplace, dark and cold. He and Olivia had planned to spend the rest of their
days entertaining friends and family in this room. Since her death he'd
converted it to a chapel of sorts. No pews or crosses or stained-glass windows,
just a quiet place to pray and contemplate the wonder of this majestic corner
of Creation. It was here that he felt closest to God. ,

           
 
Be with me, Lord, he thought as he tore
himself away from the view and continued toward the lower levels.

           
 
He found Charlie in his bedroom, its walls
still decked with the
Berkeley
pennants and paraphernalia left over from his undergraduate days. He
was sipping coffee from the lunch tray Juanita had prepared for him. He looked
up and slammed his cup on the tray. His eyes blazed.

           
"Damn you," he said
softly. "Damn you to hell."

           
 
Arthur stood in the doorway, unable to move,
unable to speak, staring at the son he hadn't seen in nearly two years.

           
 
Charlie looked awful. The old gray sweatsuit
he'd worn to bed hung around him in loose folds. He looked a decade older than
his twenty-five years. So thin. Cheeks sunken, face pale, his black,
sleep-tangled hair, usually so thick and shiny, now thin and brittle looking.
His eyes were bright in their deep sockets. The dark stubble on his cheeks
accentuated his pallor.

           
 
"Charlie," he said when he finally
found his voice. "What's happened?"

BOOK: F Paul Wilson - Novel 03
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