Saint Odd is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by Dean Koontz
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Bantam Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
Title page art from an original photograph by Luis Brito
A signed, limited edition has been privately printed by Charnel House.
BANTAM BOOKS and the HOUSE colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Koontz, Dean R. (Dean Ray)
Saint Odd : an Odd Thomas novel / Dean Koontz.
pages; cm.—(Odd Thomas)
ISBN 978-0-345-54587-9 (hardcover : acid-free paper)
ISBN 978-0-345-54588-6 (eBook)
1. Thomas, Odd (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Cooks—
Fiction. 3. Mediums—Fiction. I. Title.
Jacket design: Scott Biel
Jacket image (man): © Claudio Marinesco
Other Books by This Author
About the Author
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility.…
—T. S. Eliot, East Coker
Alone in the vastness of the Mojave, at two o’clock in the morning, racing along at seventy miles per hour, I felt safe and believed that whatever terror might await me was yet many miles ahead. This would not be the first time in my strange life that safety proved to be an illusion.
I have a tendency to hope always for the best, even when I’m being strangled with a little girl’s jump rope knotted around my neck by an angry, three-hundred-pound Samoan wrestler. In fact, I got out of that difficult situation alive, primarily by getting hold of his beloved porkpie hat, which he considered the source of his good luck. When I spun the hat like a Frisbee and he let go of the jump rope to try to snatch his chapeau from the air, I was able to pick up a croquet mallet and surprise him with a blow to the genitals, which was especially effective because he was wearing only a thong. Always hoping for the best has generally served me well.
Anyway, under a full moon, the desert was as eerie as a landscape on an alien planet. The great black serpent of highway undulated over a series of low rises and gentle downslopes, through sand flats that glowed faintly, as if radioactive, past sudden thrusting formations of rock threaded through in places with quartzite or something else that caught the Big Dog motorcycle’s headlights and flared like veins of fire.
In spite of the big moon and the bike’s three blazing eyes, the Mojave gathered darkness across its breadth. Half-revealed, gnarled shapes of mesquite and scatterings of other spiky plants bristled and seemed to leap forward as I flew past them, as if they were quick and hostile animals.
With its wide-swept fairing and saddlebags, the Big Dog Bulldog Bagger looked like it was made for suburban marrieds, but its fuel-injected, 111-cubic-inch V-twin motor offered all the speed anyone could want. When I had been on the interstate, before I had switched to this less-traveled state highway, a quick twist of the throttle shot me past whatever car or big rig was dawdling in front of me. Now I cruised at seventy, comfortable in the low deep-pocket seat, the rubber-mounted motor keeping the vibration to a minimum.
Although I wore goggles and a Head Trip carbon-fiber helmet that left my ears exposed, the shrieking wind and the Big Dog’s throaty exhaust roar masked the sound of the Cadillac Escalade that, running dark, came up behind me and announced itself with a blast of the horn. The driver switched on the headlights, which flashed in my mirrors, so that I had to glance over my shoulder to see that he was no more than fifty feet behind me. The SUV was a frightening behemoth at that distance, at that speed.
Repeated blasts of the horn suggested the driver might be drunk or high on drugs, and either gripped by road rage or in the mood for a sick little game of chicken. When he tooted shave-and-a-haircut-two-bits, he held the last note too long, and I assured myself that anyone who indulged in such a cliché and then even lacked the timing to pull it off could not be a dangerous adversary.
Earlier, I had learned that the Big Dog’s sweet spot was north of eighty miles an hour and that it was fully rideable at a hundred. I twisted the throttle, and the bike gobbled asphalt, leaving the Caddy behind. For the moment.
This wasn’t the height of bug season in the Mojave, so I didn’t have to eat any moths or hard-shelled beetles when I muttered unpleasantries. At that speed, however, because I sat tall and tense with my head above the low windshield, the warm night air chapped my lips and stung my cheeks as I bulleted into it.
Any responsible dermatologist would have chastised me for speeding barefaced through this arid wasteland. For many reasons, however, there was little chance that I would live to celebrate my twenty-third birthday, so looking prematurely aged two decades hence didn’t worry me.
This time I heard the Escalade coming, shrieking like some malevolent machine out of a Transformers movie, running dark once more. Sooner than I hoped, the driver switched on the headlights, which flared in my mirrors and washed the pavement around me.
Closer than fifty feet.
The SUV was obviously souped. This wasn’t an ordinary mama-takes-baby-to-the-playground Caddy. The engine sounded as if it had come out of General Motors by way of Boeing. If he intended to run me down and paste me to the Caddy’s grille—and evidently he did—I wouldn’t be able to outrace whatever customized engine made him king of the road.
nbsp; Having tricked up his vehicle with alternate, multi-tonal horns programmed with pieces of familiar tunes, he now taunted me with the high-volume song-title notes of Sonny and Cher’s “The Beat Goes On.”
The Big Dog boasted a six-speed transmission. The extra gear and the right-side drive pulley allowed better balance and greater control than would the average touring bike. The fat 250-millimeter rear tire gave me a sense of stability and the thirty-four-degree neck rake inspired the confidence to stunt a little even though I was approaching triple-digit speeds.
My one advantage might be maneuverability. I slid lower in the seat, so that the arc of the windshield sent the wind over my helmet, and I made more aggressive use of the three-lane highway, executing wide serpentine movements from shoulder to shoulder. I was low to the ground, and the Escalade had a much higher center of gravity than the Big Dog; if the driver tried to stay on my tail, he might roll the SUV.
Supposing he was smart, he should realize that by not mimicking me, by continuing arrow-straight, he could rapidly gain ground as I serpentined. And with easy calculation, he could intersect me as I swooped from side to side of the road.
The third blast of “Louie Louie” assured me that either he wasn’t smart or he was so wasted that he might follow me into a pit of fire before he realized what he had done. Yet another programmed horn blared several notes, but I didn’t recognize the tune, though into my mind came the image of that all-but-forgotten rocker Boy George.
When brakes caterwauled, I glanced back to see the Escalade listing, its tires smoking, as the driver pulled the wheel hard to the right to avoid going off the north side of the pavement. Carving one S after another down the straightaway, I cornered out of the current curve, grateful for the Big Dog’s justly praised Balance Drive, and swooped into the next. With another squeal, the Caddy’s tires laid a skin of hot rubber on the blacktop as the driver pulled hard to the left. The vehicle nearly skidded off the south shoulder of the roadway, listing again but, as previously, righting itself well before it tipped over.
Resorting to his basic horn, the driver made no attempt at a tune this time, but let out blast after blast as if he thought he could sweep me off the bike with sound waves.
Recounting this, I might convey the impression that I remained calm and collected throughout the pursuit, but in fact I feared that, at any moment, I would regret not having worn an adult diaper.
In spite of whatever drugs or beverages had pushed the SUV driver’s CRAZY button and filled him with murderous rage, he retained just enough reason to realize that if he continued to follow my lead, he would roll the SUV. Arrowing down the center of the three lanes, he regained the ground that he’d lost, intending to intersect my bike between connecting curves of my flatland slalom.
The Big Dog Bulldog Bagger wasn’t meant to be a dirt bike. The diet that made it happy consisted of concrete and blacktop, and it wanted to be admired for its sleek aerodynamic lines and custom paint job and abundant chrome, not for its ruggedness and ability to slam through wild landscapes with aplomb.
Nevertheless, I went off-road. They say that necessity is the mother of invention, but it is also the grandmother of desperation. The highway was raised about two feet above the land through which it passed, and I left the shoulder at such speed that the bike was airborne for a moment before returning to the earth with a jolt that briefly lifted my butt off the seat and made my feet dance on the floorboards.
Hereabouts, the desert wasn’t a softscape of sand dunes and dead lakes of powdery silt, which was a good thing, because crossing ground like that, the Big Dog would have wallowed to a halt within a hundred yards. The land was mostly hard-packed by thousands of years of fierce sun and scouring winds, the igneous rocks rich with feldspar, treeless but in some places hospitable to purple sage and mesquite and scraggly plants less easily identified.
Jacked up on oversize tires, more suited to going overland than was my bike, the four-wheel-drive Escalade came off the highway in my wake. I intended to find a break in the land or an overhanging escarpment deep enough to conceal me, or a sudden spine of rock, anything I could use to get out of sight of my lunatic pursuer. After that, I would switch off my headlights, slow down significantly, travel by moonlight, and try as quickly as possible to put one turn in the land after another between me and him. Eventually I might find a place in which to shelter, shut off the bike, listen, and wait.
Suddenly a greater light flooded across the land, and when I looked back, I saw that the Escalade sported a roof rack of powerful spotlights that the driver had just now employed. The desert before me resembled a scene out of an early Steven Spielberg movie: a remote landing strip where excited and glamorous scientists from a secret government agency prepared to welcome a contingent of benign extraterrestrials and their mother ship. Instead of scientists and aliens, however, there was some inbred banjo player from Deliverance chasing me with bad intentions.
In those harsh and far-reaching streams of light, each humble twist of vegetation cast a long, inky shadow. The pale land was revealed as less irregular than I’d hoped, an apparent plain where I was no more likely to find a hiding place than I would a McDonald’s franchise complete with a playground for the tots.
Although my nature was to be optimistic, even cheerful, in the face of threat and gloom, there were times, like this, when I felt as though the entire world was death row and that my most recent meal had been my last one.
I continued north into the wilderness rather than angle back toward the highway, assuring myself that it wasn’t my destiny to die in this place, that I would find refuge ahead. My destiny was to die thirty miles or so from here, in the town of Pico Mundo, not tonight but tomorrow or the day after, or the day after that. Furthermore, I wouldn’t die by Cadillac Escalade; my end would be nothing as easy as that, nothing so quick and clean. Having argued myself into a fragile optimism, I sat up straight in my seat and smiled into the teeth of the warm night air.
As the SUV gained on me, the psycho driver resorted to one of his custom horns again. This time I recognized the title notes of “Karma Chameleon” by Culture Club, which had been fronted by Boy George. The song seemed so apt that I laughed; and my laughter would have buoyed me if it hadn’t sounded just a little insane.
The nitrogen-gas-charged shocks, the rubber-isolated floorboards, and the rubber handgrips all contributed to a smoother off-road ride than I had anticipated, but I expected that I was headed for one kind of mechanical failure or another, or for a collision with an unseen thrust of rock that would dismount me, or a community of rattlesnakes that, flung into the air in the midst of copulation, would rain down upon me, hissing.
I was suffering a brief remission in my characteristic optimism.
Ahead, a long but slight slope led to a narrow band of blackness before the Escalade’s lights revealed a swath of somewhat higher land that shimmered like a mirage. I couldn’t be sure what I was seeing; the sight was no less baffling than an abstract painting composed of geometric forms in pale beige and black, but in case it might be what I needed, I accelerated.
I had to weave among bushy clumps—a colony of pampas grass—that were half dead from too little water, their narrow five-foot recurved blades perhaps sharp enough to cut me, the numerous tall feathery panicles waving like white flags of surrender.
Evidently the nutcase pursuing me did not belong to the Sierra Club, because the Escalade barreled through the pampas grass without hesitation, leaving a path of crushed and shredded vegetation, gaining fast on me.
The ceaselessly repeated signature notes of “Karma Chameleon” and the roar of the SUV’s pumped-up engine were so loud, I knew that it must be close, maybe ten feet behind me. I didn’t dare glance back.
With but three or four seconds to make the right move, I saw that my suspicion about the terrain ahead was correct. I hung a hard right just before th
The Big Dog fishtailed, the rear tire chewing away the lip of the abyss for a moment before it got traction.
Whether the driver’s attention suddenly shifted to the land ahead, whether he remained intently focused on me, in either case the Escalade had too much mass and momentum to come to a stop in time, and it was far less maneuverable than my bike. The wind of its passage swirled dust and dry bits of desert vegetation over me, and the big SUV launched off the rim of the ravine, still blaring “Karma Chameleon” as it briefly took flight.
With its four-piston billet calipers, the Big Dog could stop on a dollar if not a dime. I propped it with the kickstand and swung off and stood at the brink as the spotlight-equipped Caddy, now dropping nose-down like a bomb, illuminated its terminal destination.
Carved by millennia of flash floods and Mojave winds and seismic activity, the crevasse appeared to be about thirty feet wide at the top, less than ten at the bottom, about fifty feet deep. The plunging SUV tested the bedrock at the bottom, and the bedrock won. The last title note of the Culture Club tune came an instant before the crash of impact, the vehicle lights went out, and in the sudden darkness, the SUV shed pieces of itself, which rattled and clattered across the rocks.
I said, “Wow,” which isn’t witty enough for movie dialogue, but it’s what I said. I’m no Tom Cruise.
After a few seconds of darkness, the fire bloomed. It wasn’t an explosion, only low capering flames that quickly danced higher, brighter. The ravine proved to be a trap for tumbleweed that mounded along its bottom, and the spherical masses burst into flame faster to the west of the wreckage, apparently the direction in which gasoline spilled from the ruptured tank.
The walls of the ravine were steep but navigable on foot. The stone shaled away treacherously as I quickly sidled down with all the grace of—I don’t know why this unlikely image occurred to me at the time—a penguin on stilts. Too many years of watching old Warner Bros. cartoons by Chuck Jones can instill in you a silliness gene by proxy.
Perhaps equally silly—I was in my Good Samaritan mode. The driver had tried to kill me, sure, but his homicidal rage might have been the consequence of inebriation, and he might have been a peach of a guy when he was sober. I couldn’t let him bleed or burn to death just because of his idiocy behind the wheel of the SUV. Sometimes I am hampered by having a moral code, but I have it nonetheless, like a burr under the brain, with no way to pluck it out.