The morning after was as quiet as the night ended before. Allen checked Crow T. Robot, Tom Servo, and Joel Robinson out of the Holly Lodge and paid in cash. Nice and fattened by their continental breakfast of Fruit Loops, Issac and Threll were quiet. Allen was quiet too as he started up the Porche and resumed the trip to Chicago.
Allen's face was a blank slate, a form of expressionlessness that neither Issac or Bob had seen on him before. It was almost frightening. What made it worse was that neither of them really wanted it to be like this. They didn't know how to reap this morning what last night they had sown.
It went on like this for almost an hour down the highway. Allen never even made an attempt to put a disc in the CD player as was his right as driver. Threll actually found himself wishing for Allen to pop in one of his DCI or Demento CD's to prove that something wasn't wrong. Issac wasn't that desperate, but he still didn't like Allen's silence.
Finally, Threll broke. "Allen," he started, unsure of how to say what he had to. "I'm...sorry about losing it last night."
Allen just drove.
"I..I didn't mean to hurt you. I just, like, needed to vent, you know?" Threll was becoming more and more worried. "Allen?"
"Come on, Allen!" Issac was beginning to worry too. "Bo-Threll just lost his cool. You know how things can just slip out."
"It was true, " Allen said in a monotone voice. "I've destroyed both of your lives."
"Allen, you were right in doing what you did," Threll tried to say cheerily. "In this crazy world of ours, I might just need some heavy weaponry to get by."
"And I came along willingly, " added Issac. "You can't blame yourself for my actions."
There was a pause of silence. "I was wondering when you two would come about," Allen said. A huge grin grew on his face. He began honking the horn at some cows in a field they were passing. "MOOOOO!"
Issac continued to stare at Allen. Threll plopped back from between the front seats into the back, exasperated. He muttered to himself, "Well, at least Allen's back..."
Javier Hugo thanked David Knolstien and headed back to the bus terminal. It was a long walk through downtown Columbus, but he wanted the time to think. This was the last friend of Covenant's on the list he had just spoken with and there was much yet to learn.
Knolstien basically repeated what Jerry Laner said. And Jerry Laner had repeated what John Meiler had said. Allen was a clown with a dark side. From speaking with the three of them, Javier understood how Covenant might act in a social situation, but what he might do while on the run from the law was still in question.
All three of Covenant's friends noted that he had a dark side that none of them were able to get near. It was this side that also convinced them that Covenant would be guilty of blowing up parts of a Dynamax lab complex. It was this side that concerned Javier and he knew almost nothing about it.
He did know that Covenant had a strong belief in the strength of the human spirit. A pity that a criminal like him would have such a correct view of life. A normal human being could overcome any opponent or obsticle by sheer spirit, ingenuity, and a bit of luck. That was why Javier, although one of the most powerful telepaths known, preferred more mundane techniques. He liked to keep in the practice of being human, so that being extra-human would make him all the more potent.
As he neared the bus terminal, he evaluated the three loose threads he had: Covenant's parents were nowhere to be found and Dan Cheng was presumed dead. Lori Ranik in Cincinnati was the best lead to follow, with Dan Cheng as a last resort. Reading the imprints of a man who's been dead for 18 years was tough, even for Javier.
He sat down, bought a paper, and waited for the bus to Cincinnati to arrive.
It was about ten in the evening and the trio were wizzing down the interstate. They had found a rock station on the radio that suited Threll's taste, much to Issac's discomfort. Some guy mumbling something about how things sucked "'round here," over and over. Issac couldn't wait for them to hit the next hotel so they could stop for the night.
Issac looked over at Allen in the passenger seat. He had dozed off, lucky bastard, and was sleeping like a baby. He hoped he didn't wake up from a nightmare again. It wasn't likely considering the peaceful state of affairs in the Porche of Love, as Allen like to refer to it. Threll had cheered up since this morning, also.
He could hear Threll singing along in the back to the new song, "Mr.Jooooones and me...," his voice popping into an out of tune falsetto. "We just...Hey, Issac?"
"How fast are you going?"
"About ninety. Why?"
"We just passed a cop."
"Shit!" Issac shouted. He could see the blue and red lights begin to flash behind him. He wasn't sure whether to pull over or run for it.
Allen stirred in his seat and asked groggily, "What's wrong?"
"We've got bacon behind us!" Threll chimed. He was secretly hoping he'd get to blow something up for the first time.
"Should I pull over?" Issac asked.
"Sure," said Allen. "I'll handle everything."
Issac pulled over to the soft shoulder and the police cruiser pulled up behind him. The State Trooper, complete with mirrored sunglasses, walked up to the Porche and looked in the window, shining a flashlight in.
"May I see your drivers license?"
Allen looked sternly at the officer. "There is nothing suspcious about us. We're harmless."
"Well, I'll be the judge of that," said the officer. "Now, can I see your drivers license?"
"We can go ahead."
"You ain't goin' nowhere buddy," the cop said. He directed himself back at Issac. "Now show me that license before I -"
Issac grabbed the officer by the ears and gave him a head butt. He want sprawling backwards and fell to the asphalt. Issac, taking the opportunity, hit the gas and sped off before the cop could do anything.
"Nice going, Obi-Wan," said Threll from the back.
Issac drove off onto a side road, effectively circling around the main highway for about an hour. It was about eleven thirty by the time they found a motel along the way.
"We'll need a new car, you know," said Issac as they got out of the Porche. "They'll track this one down."
Allen simply shrugged this off. "Don't worry. I'll take care of it. You two just wait here."
"Great," came the Issac/Threll chorus.
Around twelve thirty, Issac and Threll were both ready for bed when Allen finally came back. The fact that his normally mischivious grin was now too wide for comfort assured them that a new car had been acquired.
"OK," said Issac, "What did you do?"
"I made a fair trade."
"We are now the proud owner of an '78 white Volkswagon Bug. Farfenugen installed."
"My Porche..." moaned Issac. He slowly laid back and stared up at the ceiling as Allen went to get ready for bed.
Allen laid awake in bed. It always took an hour or two for him to fall asleep, especially in times of crisis like this. It wasn't that he wasn't tired, it was just that his mind wouldn't shut off.
As usual in times of trouble, Allen found himself thinking of Lori. He wouldn't exactly refer to her as his high school sweetheart since they had never really gone out, but she was still the only woman whom he would say that he loved in a romantic fashion.
He pictured her in his mind, barely shorter than him with chestnut brown hair flowing to her shoulder. Her face was just remarkable enough that she could be considered cute. Allen considered her beautiful.
There was something about her that made him forget all the darkness in his life. He never talked about the arcane books he found or archaic rituals he discovered with her. Simply thinking of her made him forget all his worries. There was just Lori, and that was all he needed.
For a while he day-dreamed. Day-dreamed about getting married, living a normal life, and raising children. Sex barely even crossed his mind in these fantasies. The thought of being with her forever satisfied him completely.
Then, as it always did, reality reared it's nasty head. Lori had spurned Allen's romantic advances, wanting to remain friends only. Allen complied, since just being with her as a friend was better than nothing at all.
And then the pain began. Faces of women Allen had spurned or ignored in of the hope that Lori would someday change her mind appeared. He was 36 years old and had been without female companionship all of those years. He knew it was hopeless. He knew he was being stupid. He had more or less resigned himself to being alone for the rest of his life in order to get something he could never have.
Allen quietly cried himself to sleep.
That night, Issac began to wander about the past in his dreams. It was Antioch, Ohio. 1985 floated back to him. Spring term.
Edlin Vincent was by Issac's side, his wicked grin looking even more impish than Issac had remembered. They were discussing Professor Covenant's notes on ritualism.
"I'm telling 'ya Issac," Edlin began, "this could really work!"
"I don't know, Edlin." Issac was nervous about the whole idea. Especially since it was one of Edlin's ideas, which were usually dangerous in the extreme.
"Don't be such a wimp, Issac. If we charged you with this thing you'd be more powerful than Overman! Just think what you could do in the pro wrestling world then!"
"I'd be barred from the pro wrestling world," Issac replied. "If steroid use is banned, I'm sure binding with demons us too."
"It's not a demon, Issac. It's a god, and old god. A god of war. Just think of the power!"
Time began to speed up and days passed in a matter of seconds. Issac was now standing in a magic circle, surrounded by Sumerian inscriptions and candles. He was naked, save for the paint that covered almost every inch of his body. Edlin was outside the circle chanting the summons.
Edlin had just finished summoning Nergal when Issac could feel the power coursing through him. It was a bigger high than any drug he had taken in his life. It flowed through him, beginning to take Issac as it's own.
But Edlin had stopped chanting. He was supposed to finish the ritual. Nergal had to be commanded to obey.
Issac looked at Edlin and cried, "Edlin! Finish the spell! Finish the sp-"
The last thing he remembered was the look of horror and fear on Edlin's face before Nergal took over completely.
Time passed again. Issac didn't remember what had happened in that space of time. He was glad, too. When he awoke, Issac was lying on the ground in the center of campus...himself and naked again. There were bodies of his fellow classmates strewn all about, slaughtered like sheep. Torn to bits by some monster.
Professor Covenant was nearby, giving Edlin all Hell.
"Jesus Christ, Edlin! What did you think you were doing?"
"I...I thought I could.."
"You thought!?" Allen was about as beet red as his olive complexion would allow. "You didn't THINK! You DID! Jumping Jesus on a pogo stick, no wonder your parents named you after a shitty DOS utility!"
"Sorry won't do it, Mr.Vincent. The blood of all you classmates are on your hands. And those hands will CONTINUE to accumulate blood until you learn to be more cautious!"
"What about Issac? He was involved too!"
"What ABOUT Issac? How much pressure did you put him under to do this? What did you promise him?"
Edlin was silent. Issac, his mind becoming clearer, knew why Edlin didn't answer him. Issac had been hypnotized. Edlin had preyed on Issac's inner desire for adventure and overrode his common sense.
Issac stood up and walked over to Allen and Edlin. He and Allen were now both facing Edlin and the landscape was becoming more dreamlike, blurring out.
"I never learned," Edlin said pathetically. "I nev-"
Four large mechanical arms crashed up through the ground, grabbing hold of Edlin. He began screaming, "Allen! Issac! Save me! Please..." as he was dragged down into the earth.
With a start, both Issac and Allen sat up in their beds. Issac looked over to Allen and said, "Edlin..."
Allen's face showed concern and fear. "He wasn't strong enough," he muttered. "Not strong enough for the power..."
That morning around 8:00 am, Issac and Threll loaded up the new car Allen had taken to calling Herbie while Allen himself signed them out and paid for the room.
They were both waiting when Allen returned with a squat man in a mechanic's jump suit. He was saying to Allen, "Been a pleasure! I'd always been awantin' a beaut like dat."
"Anytime, Keith," Allen said and shook his hand. "And remember to ditch that licence plate. Later!"
As the mechanic walked away, Allen ducked into the drivers seat.
"He's the one who took my Porche, huh?" asked Issac.
"Half of it," said Allen as he produced a set of keys.
"What do you mean 'half of it'...?"
Allen turned the ignition and the engine roared like a mean machine. The hum of the engine was a familiar one.
Issac and Threll were too stunned to speak as Allen patted the dashboard and said, "Lets go, Herbie!" He then floored the gas and they took off in a zip of dirty white.
"Oh, by the way," Allen said a few seconds later. "We're taking a detour to Cincinnati. Is that OK with you two?"
Issac was silent. Threll said, "Hey, it's not like we knew why we were going to Chicago or anything. Why not?"
"Great!" Allen said. "We'll be there by evening!"
Javier was waiting in the hallway of the History building outside of Lori Ranik's office. Her lunch break would begin in about five minutes according to her schedule. He hoped she'd be willing to talk.
From what he had gathered from the University's files, Lori Ranik was a professor of English History, specializing in Tudor England. She had a full doctorate and would probably end up head of the department in several years.
In addition to that she taught some flute lessons to high school students who wanted to enter the Conservatory. Having musical talents at UC was always a bonus it seemed.
On a final note, he had been told that she was a rather timid person. Javier didn't want to scare her away so he decided to change his interrogation tactics.
A few moments later, a short, brown haired woman left the office and nearly smashed her face into Javier's chest. She backed back into her doorway, "Oh! Uh...excuse me..."
"I'm afraid I'm the one who should be excusing myself, Ms.Ranik," Javier interjected. "Please, let me introduce myself. My name is Javier Hugo."
Lori was taken aback by his sudden appearance at her lunch time. "Uh, hello Mr.Hugo."
"Please, call me Javier. I believe we a have a friend in common... Lori?"
"Yes, Lori." She was feeling somewhat more comfortable now.
"His name is Allen Covenant. We both work for Dynamax. I've heard your name mentioned several times and since I was in the area, I decided that I simply had to meet you." Javier hated lying. This was as close as he ever allowed himself to get.
Lori's face brightened. "Oh! Allen? Funny, he never mentioned you in his letters. He always tells me all about his work."
Javier hadn't counted on this. "Well...we've just become... acquainted. I imagine his last letter was a while ago." Javier was truly hoping.
"Actually, it has been almost a month." She seemed a little concerned. "What has he been doing lately?"
This was what Javier was hoping for. He smiled. "Well, according to your schedule you've got an hour for lunch. How about we talk over Arby's?"
Lori wasn't sure whether to be frightened or happy for the company. This Javier Hugo was handsome and seemed charming. She hadn't been out with anyone for some time either...
"Sure, Javier. Only you buy, though. I don't get much on a professor's pay."
Threll had actually convinced Allen and Issac to let him drive now that he had better control of his mechanical limb. He was racing the supercharged Bug along the highway at 90 mph. He was constantly looking up at the little jar Allen had set up on the dashboard.
"Tell me again, Allen," he asked, "what exactly is that thing?"
"Well, that crystal hanging from the string contains a mini-consciousness I created this morning. All that it's smart enough to do is look for police cars. When it senses one, it causes the crystal to emit a sugary-purple substance."
"So it's like a magic fuzz buster!" Threll exclaimed. "Cool!" He stopped for a second to think. "What do we do with the water once it's turned purple?"
"Stir it and drink it. Then it's magic Kool-Aide."
Threll laughed. "Grape even! You're gonna have to teach me this stuff some time."
Allen sobered up a little bit. "I don't think that'll be a good idea."
"Why?" Threll asked. "The whole magic thing sounds like a blast! Creating mosters, throwing fireballs, stuff like that."
"Well, it takes me five seconds to light a candle and fifteen minutes to throw an effective fire ball. And the last 'monster' I created has killed twenty people so far. I'd just suggest learning to use your own powers effectively. It's probably as much as any sorcerer can do."
Threll was silent for a few seconds. "You said the monster had killed twenty people so far. Is it still alive?"
"Yes," said Allen. "And he looks like he's going on the warpath again."
Lori was still eating her fries as Javier finished up his grilled chicken sandwich. He tried to eat foods with less fat nowadays in order to keep himself in good shape. How Lori managed to woof down all the red meat she did and still keep her petite frame amazed him.
She managed to finish her fries towards the end of Javier's joke.
"...and the guy at the bar said, 'Do you think I asked for a ten inch pianist?'"
Lori had just taken a gulp of Pepsi and it was threatening to come out her nose. Javier began making faces at her in order to help the process along.
Javier hadn't allowed himself to act this immature for a long time. There was something about Lori that brought the child out in him and he gladly went along. He was beginning to understand Covenant's attraction to her.
At the beginning of their meal, Lori had told Javier a few funny stories about Allen. About the way they decorated each other lawns in "bunny wars", how Allen had spiked her jell-o with vodka once, and the musical that they were going to write someday. She never mentioned Allen's dark side or Allen's magic. Somehow Javier wasn't surprised.
He had to bring it up though, as much as it might ruin things. He tried to seem more serious while Lori regained her composure.
"Lori," he began, "did Allen ever mention anything to you about his...magic?"
Lori stiffened up like a deer that hears a hunter approaching in the forest. She looked at Javier, suddenly unsure of the way she had spent her last half hour. "Is that what this is all about?"
"No! Oh, no." Javier didn't want to scare her off now. "I had just heard a few things about him and wondered if they were true."
Lori calmed down some. "He never brought it up around me. He knew I wasn't interested."
Javier didn't have to read her mind to know that she was telling the truth. He had obviously struck a chord though, because she became more mellow and continued to talk.
"A lot of people consider Allen a dark person who acts like a clown." She looked downward briefly, "He'd not like that." She then looked Javier right in the eyes and said, "Allen's a sweet man. Kind and loving. He just got mixed up with the wrong people when he was young. He kept up with a bad practice that he should have quit with the drugs."
Javier began to understand now. "Is that why you never married him?"
Lori blushed and looked down again. "Yes," she said weakly. "If he ever gave it up...I'd take him back."
There was a moment of silence. Lori then looked at her watch and said, "I've got to get back. I've got a class in fifteen minutes."
"Of course," Javier said as he stood up and took her tray. He thought for a second. "Perhaps you'd care to have dinner tonight?"
Lori smiled at him. "I'd love to. Call me around five thirty, OK?"
"Sure. See you tonight."
"Later," she said as she walked out the door.
Javier knew he shouldn't be doing this. There really wasn't any more information that he needed, but for some reason his capture of Allen Covenant didn't seem as pressing any more. In fact, he was beginning to question Covenant's guilt altogether. Perhaps he was just getting soft with age.
Javier left the Arby's, unsure of his position in the scheme of things.