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12


It was a broad, low-ceilinged, white-tiled room, lit brightly by overhead fluorescent lights. Six stainless-steel tables were set out in a row, each emptying into a sink at one end of the room. Five of the tables were empty; the body of Angela Black lay on the sixth. Two police pathologists and Morris were bent over the body as the autopsy proceeded. Morris had seen a lot of autopsies in his day, but the autopsies he attended as a surgeon were usually different. In this one, the pathologists spent nearly half an hour examining the exterior appearance of the body and taking photographs before they made the initial incision. They paid a lot of attention to the external appearance of the stab wounds, and what they called a "stretch laceration" appearance to the wounds.

One of the pathologists explained that this means the wounds were caused by a blunt object. It didn't cut the skin; it pulled it and caused a split in the taut portion. Then the instrument went in, but the initial split was always slightly ahead of the deeper penetration track. They also pointed out that skin hair had been forced down into the wounds in several places - further evidence of a blunt object producing the cuts.

"What kind of blunt object?" Morris had asked.

They shook their heads. "No way to know yet. We'll have to take a look at the penetration."

Penetration meant the depth that the weapon had entered the body. Determining penetration was difficult; skin was elastic and tended to snap back into shape; underlying tissues moved around before and after death. It was a slow business. Morris was tired. His eyes hurt. After a time, he left the autopsy room and went next door to the police lab, where the girl's purse contents were spread out on a large table.

Three men went through it: one identifying the objects, one recording them, and the third tagging them. Morris watched in silence. Most of the objects seemed commonplace: lipstick, compact, car keys, wallet, Kleenex, chewing gum, birth control pills, address book, ball-point pen, eye shadow, hair clip. And two packs of matches.

"Two packs of matches," one of the cops intoned. "Both marked Airport Marina Hotel."

Morris sighed. They were going through this so slowly, so patiently. It was no better than the autopsy. Did they really think they'd find anything this way? He found the plodding routine intolerable. Janet Ross called that the surgeon's disease, this urge to take decisive action, the inability to wait patiently. Once in an early NPS conference where they were considering a stage-three candidate - a woman named Worley - Morris had argued strongly for taking her as a surgical candidate, even though she had several other problems. Ross had laughed; "poor impulse control," she had said. In that moment, he could cheerfully have killed her, and his murderous feelings were not relieved when Ellis then said, in a clinical, quiet tone, that he agreed that Mrs. Worley was an inappropriate surgical candidate. Morris felt let down in the worst way, even though McPherson said that he thought the candidate had some worth, and probably should be listed as a "possible" and held for a while.

Poor impulse control, he thought. The hell with her.

"Airport Marina, huh?" one of the cops said. "Isn't that where all the stewardesses stay?"

"I dunno," the other cop said.

Morris hardly listened. He rubbed his eyes and decided to get more coffee. He'd been awake for thirty-six hours straight, and he wasn't going to last much longer.

He left the room and went upstairs looking for a coffee machine. There must be coffee someplace in the building. Even cops drank coffee; everybody drank coffee. And then he stopped, shivering.

He knew something about the Airport Marina.

The Airport Marina was where Benson had first been arrested, on suspicion of beating up a mechanic. There was a bar in the hotel; it had happened there. Morris was sure of it.

He glanced at his watch and then went out to the parking lot. If he hurried, he'd beat rush-hour traffic to the airport.

A jet screamed overhead and descended toward the runway as Morris took the airport offramp from the freeway and drove down Airport Boulevard. He passed bars and motels and car-rental offices. On the radio, he heard the announcer drone: "And on the San Diego Freeway, there is an accident involving a truck blocking three northbound lanes. Computer projection of flow is twelve miles an hour. On the San Bernadino Freeway, a stalled car in the left lane south of the Exeter off-ramp. Computer projection of traffic flow is thirty-one miles an hour…"

Morris thought of Benson again. Perhaps computers really were taking over. He remembered a funny little Englishman who had lectured at the hospital and told the surgeons that soon operations would be done with the surgeon on another continent - he would work using robot hands, the signals being transmitted via satellite. The idea had seemed crazy, but his surgical colleagues had squirmed at the thought.

"On the Ventura Freeway west of Haskell, a two-car collision has slowed traffic. Computer projection is eighteen miles an hour."

He found himself listening to the traffic report intently. Computers or not, the traffic report was vital to anyone who lived in Los Angeles. You learned to pay attention to any traffic report automatically, the way people in other parts of the country automatically paid attention to weather reports.

Morris had come to California from Michigan. For the first few weeks after his arrival, he had asked people what the weather was going to be like later in the day, or on the following day. It seemed to him a natural question for a newcomer to ask, and a natural ice breaker. But he got very strange, puzzled looks from people. Later he realized that he had come to one of the few places in the world where the weather was of no interest to anyone - it was always more or less the same, and rarely discussed.

But automobiles! Now there was a subject of almost compulsive fascination. People were always interested in what kind of car you drove, how you liked it, whether it was reliable, what troubles you had had with it. In the same vein, driving experiences, bad traffic, short-cuts you had found, accidents you had experienced, were always welcome conversation topics. In Los Angeles, anything relating to cars was a serious matter, worthy of as much time and attention as you could devote to it.

He remembered, as a kind of final proof of the idiocy of it all, that an astronomer had once said that if Martians looked at Los Angeles, they would probably conclude that the automobile was the dominant life form of the area. And, in a sense, they would be right.

He parked in the lot of the Airport Marina Hotel and entered the lobby. The building was as incongruous as its name, with that California quality of bizarre mixtures - in this case, a sort of plastic-and-neon Japanese inn. He went directly to the bar, which was dark and nearly deserted at 5 p.m. There were two stewardesses in a far corner, talking over drinks; one or two businessmen seated at the bar; and the bartender himself, staring off vacantly into space.

Morris sat at the bar. When the bartender came over, he pushed Benson's picture across the counter. "You ever seen this man?"

"What'll it be?" the bartender said.

Morris tapped the picture.

"This is a bar. We serve liquor."

Morris was beginning to feel strange. It was the kind of feeling he sometimes had when he began an operation and felt like a surgeon in a movie. Something very theatrical. Now he was a private eye.

"His name is Benson," Morris said. "I'm his doctor. He's very ill."

"What's he got?"

Morris sighed. "Have you seen him before?"

"Sure, lots of times. Harry, right?"

"That's right. Harry Benson. When was the last time you saw him?"

"An hour ago." The man shrugged. "What's he got?"

"Epilepsy. It's important to find him. Do you know where he went?"

"Epilepsy? No shit." The bartender picked up the picture and examined it closely in the light of a glowing Schlitz sign behind the bar. "That's him, all right. But he dyed his hair black."

"Do you know where he went?"

"He didn't look sick to me. Are you sure you're- "

"Do you know where he went?"

There was a long silence. The bartender looked grim. Morris instantly regretted his tone. "You're no fucking doctor," the bartender said. "Now beat it."

"I need your help," Morris said. "Time is very important." As he spoke, he opened his wallet, took out his identification cards, credit cards, everything with an M.D. on it. He spread them across the counter.

The bartender didn't even glance at them.

"He is also wanted by the police," Morris said.

"I knew it," the bartender said. "I knew it."

"And I can get some policeman down here to help question you. You may be an accessory to murder." Morris thought that sounded good. At least it sounded dramatic.

The bartender picked up one of the cards, peered at it, dropped it. "I don't know nothing," he said. "He comes in sometimes, that's all."

"Where did he go today?"

"I don't know. He left with Joe."

"Who's Joe?"

"Mechanic. Works the late shift at United."

"United Air Lines?"

"That's right," the bartender said; "Listen, what about this- "

But Morris was already gone.

In the hotel lobby, he called the NPS and got through the switchboard to Captain Anders.

"Anders here."

"Listen, this is Morris. I'm at the airport. I have a lead on Benson. About an hour ago, he was seen in the bar of the Airport Marina Hotel. He left with a mechanic named Joe who works for United. Works the evening shift."

There was a moment of silence. Morris heard the scribbling sound of a pencil. "Got it," Anders said. "Anything else?"

"No."

"We'll get some cars out right away. You think he went to the United hangars?"

"Probably."

"We'll get some cars out right away."

"What about- "

Morris stopped, and stared at the receiver. It was dead in his hand. He took a deep breath and tried to decide what to do next. From now on, it was police business. Benson was dangerous. He should let the police handle it.

On the other hand, how long would it take them to get here? Where was the nearest police station? Inglewood? Culver City? In rush hour traffic, even with their sirens it might take twenty minutes. It might take half an hour.

That was too much time. Benson might leave in half an hour. Meanwhile, he ought to keep track of him. Just locate

Benson, and keep track of him.

Not interfere. But not let him get away, either.

The large sign said UNITED AIR LINES - MAINTENANCE PERSONNEL ONLY. There was a guardhouse beneath the sign.

Morris pulled up, leaned out of his car.

"I'm Dr. Morris. I'm looking for Joe."

Morris was prepared for a lengthy explanation. But the guard didn't seem to care. "Joe came on about ten minutes ago. Signed in to hangar seven."

Ahead of him, Morris saw three very large airplane hangars, with parking lots behind. "Which one is seven?"

"Far left," the guard said. "Don't know why he went there, except maybe the guest."

"What guest?"

"He signed in a guest…" The guard consulted his clipboard. "A Mr. Benson. Took him to seven."

"What's in seven?"

"A DC-10 that's in for major overhaul. Nothing doing there - they're waiting for a new engine. It'll be another week in there. Guess he wanted to show it to him."

"Thanks," Morris said. He drove past the gates, onto the parking lot, and parked close to hangar seven. He got out of the car, then paused. The fact was, he really didn't know whether Benson was in the hangar or not. He ought to check that. Otherwise, when the police arrived he might appear a fool. He might sit here in this parking lot while Benson escaped.

He thought he'd better check. He was not afraid. He was young and in good physical condition. He was also fully aware that Benson was dangerous. That foreknowledge would protect him. Benson was most dangerous to those who didn't recognize the lethal nature of his illness.

He decided to take a quick look inside the hangar to make sure Benson was inside. The hangar was an enormous structure but didn't seem to have any doors, except for the giant doors to admit the airplane. They were now closed. How did you get in?

He scanned the exterior of the building, which was mostly corrugated steel. Then he saw a normal-sized door to the far left. He got back in his car and drove up to it, parked, and entered the hangar.

It was pitch black inside. And totally silent. He stood by the door for a moment, then heard a low groan. He ran his hands along the walls, feeling for a light switch. He touched a steel box, felt it carefully. There were several large heavy-duty switches.

He threw them.

One by one, the overhead lights came on, very bright and very high. He saw in the center of the hangar a giant plane, glinting with reflections from the overhead bulbs. It was odd how much more enormous it seemed inside a building. He walked toward it, away from the door.

He heard another groan.

At first he could not determine where it was coming from. There was no one in sight; the floor was bare. But there was a ladder near the far wing. He walked beneath the high sleek tail assembly toward the ladder. The hangar smelled of gasoline and grease, sharp smells. It was warm.

Another groan.

He walked faster, his footsteps echoing in the cavernous hangar space. The groan seemed to be coming from somewhere inside the airplane. How did you get inside? It was an odd thought: he'd made dozens of airplane trips. You always got on by a ramp near the cockpit. But here, in the hangar… the plane was so damned enormous, how could you possibly get inside?

He passed the two jet engines of the near wing. They were giant cylinders, black turbine blades inside. Funny the engines had never seemed so big before. Probably never noticed.

There was still another groan.

He reached the ladder and climbed up. Six feet in the air, he came to the wing, a gleaming expanse of flat silver, nubbled with rivets. A sign said STEP HERE. There were drops of blood by the sign. He looked across the wing and saw a man covered with blood lying on his back. Morris moved closer and saw that the man's face was horribly mangled, and his arm was twisted back at a grotesquely unnatural angle.

He heard a noise behind him. He spun.

And then, suddenly, all the lights in the hangar went out.

Morris froze. He had a sense of total disorientation, of being suspended in air in vast and limitless blackness. He did not move. He held his breath. He waited.

The injured man groaned again. There was no other sound. Morris knelt down, not really knowing why. Somehow he felt safer being close to the metal surface of the wing. He was not conscious of being afraid, just badly confused.

Then he heard a soft laugh. And he began to be afraid.

"Benson?"

There was no reply.

"Benson, are you there?"

No reply. But footsteps, moving across the concrete floor. Steady, quietly echoing footsteps.

"Harry, it's Dr. Morris."

Morris blinked his eyes, trying to adjust to the darkness.

It was no good. He couldn't see anything. He couldn't see the edges of the wing; he couldn't see the outline of the fuselage. He couldn't see a fucking thing.

The footsteps came closer.

"Harry, I want to help you." His voice cracked as he spoke. That certainly conveyed his fear to Benson. He decided to shut up. His heart was pounding, and he was breathing hard, gasping for breath.

"Harry…"

No reply. But the footsteps stopped. Perhaps Benson was giving up. Perhaps he had had a stimulation. Perhaps he was changing his mind.

A new sound: a metallic creak. Quite close.

Another creak.

He was climbing the ladder.

Morris was drenched with cold sweat. He still could see nothing, nothing at all. He was so disoriented he no longer remembered where he was on the wing. Was the ladder in front of him or behind?

Another creak.

He tried to fix the sound. It was coming somewhere in front of him. That meant he was facing the tail, the rear of the wing. Facing the ladder.

Another creak.

How many steps were there? Roughly six feet, six steps. Benson would be standing on the wing soon. What could he use for a weapon? Morris patted his pockets. His clothes were soaked and clinging with sweat. He had a momentary thought that this was all ridiculous, that Benson was the patient and he was the doctor. Benson would listen to reason. Benson would do as he was told.

Another creak.

A shoe! Quickly, he slipped off his shoe, and cursed the fact that it had a rubber sole. But it was better than nothing. He gripped the shoe tightly, held it above his head, ready to swing. He had a mental image of the beaten mechanic, the disfigured, bloody face. And he suddenly realized that he was going to have to hit Benson very hard, with all the strength he had.

He was going to have to try to kill Benson.

There were no more creaking sounds, but he could hear breathing. And then, distant at first but growing rapidly louder, he heard sirens. The police were coming. Benson would hear them, too, and would give up.

Another creak.

Benson was going back down the ladder. Morris breathed a sigh of relief.

Then he heard a peculiar scratching sound and felt the wing beneath his feet shake. Benson had not climbed down. He had continued to climb up, and was now standing on the wing.

"Dr. Morris?"

Morris almost answered, but didn't. He knew then that Benson couldn't really see, either. Benson needed a voice fix. Morris said nothing.

"Dr. Morris? I want you to help me."

The sirens were louder each moment. Morris had a momentary elation at the thought that Benson was going to be caught. This whole nightmare would soon be over.

"Please help me, Dr. Morris."

Perhaps he was sincere, Morris thought. Perhaps he really meant it. If that were so, then as his doctor he had a duty to help him.

"Please?"

Morris stood. "I'm over here, Harry," he said. "Now, just take it easy and- "

Something hissed in the air. He felt it coming before it hit. Then he felt agonizing pain in his mouth and jaw, and he was knocked backward, rolling across the wing. The pain was awful, worse than anything he had ever felt.

And then he fell into blackness. It was not far to fall from the wing to the ground. But it seemed to be taking a long time. It seemed to take forever.



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