A Repairman Jack Novel
By F. Paul Wilson, David G. Hartwell
Tom Doherty Associates Copyright © 2005 F. Paul Wilson
All rights reserved.
Jack checked his watch: 2:30. Dad's plane would be touching down in an hour.
"I should hit the road."
He and Gia sat in the antiquated kitchen of number eight Sutton Square, in one of the most select neighborhoods in Manhattan. The low December sun kept the room bright despite the dark cabinets and paneling.
Jack drained his Yuengling lager. He'd rediscovered the oldest working brewery in the country a few weeks ago. The name had triggered memories of summer afternoons in his backyard, his father sipping from a Yuengling between tossing him pop flies. So he'd tried it and liked it so much he'd made it his official house brew. And Gia's house brew as well, since he made sure to keep her fridge stocked with at least a six-pack.
Gia glanced at the Regulator clock from her seat across the round oak table where she sipped her tea.
"He's not due in for an hour. You've got a little time." She smiled at him. "Are you looking forward to seeing your father or not? You're hard to read on this."
He gazed at the love of his life, the mother of his unborn child. Gia seemed to thrive on her pregnancy. Jack had always thought the old saw about the "glow" of mothers-to-be was a sentimental fiction, but lately he'd had to revise that: No question, Gia glowed. Her short blond hair seemed glossier, her eyes brighter and bluer, her smiles more dazzling than ever. She was still in the warm-up she wore for her daily walks. Though nearing the end of her sixth month, she looked like other women do ending their third. The loose-fitting top hid the bulge of her abdomen, still barely noticeable even in more form-fitting outfits.
"I'm definitely looking forward to it. And to introducing him to you and Vicky."
Gia smiled. "I'm dying to meet him. You've talked so much about him since your Florida trip. Before that, it was as if you were an orphan."
Yeah, the Florida fiasco had changed things. He and Dad had been close during his childhood, but estranged — not completely, but mostly — during the past fifteen years. The goings-on in South Florida had forged a new bond between them. And Jack had learned that he wasn't the only one in the family with secrets.
"Glad as I'll be to see him, I'd prefer going to him instead of him coming to me. No lodging problems that way."
Wide-eyed, Gia said, "Did he think he was staying with you?"
Jack nodded. "Uh-huh."
She stifled a laugh. "How did you tell him that nobody stays with his son?"
"Nobody except you." And only when Vicky was sleeping over somewhere.
"How did you break it to him?"
"Told him my place is too small and too crowded." He shrugged. "Best I could come up with on such short notice."
His father's holiday jaunt had been sprung on Jack. Dad had planned to be moved back to the northeast by now. He'd found a buyer for his Florida house and had had a signed contract in hand. Then, a week before closing, the buyer dropped dead. Talk about inconsiderate.
So Dad had had to put the place back on the market. He found another buyer, but the new closing wasn't until mid-January.
He'd planned to be settled in time to spend Christmas with his sons and grandkids. Since that wasn't happening, he'd decided on the spur of the moment to come north just for the holidays. Spend a couple of weeks up here, then head back to finish packing for the move.
Great, Jack had thought, until Dad had announced that his first leg involved a stay in New York City.
"But didn't you tell me you think he has a pretty good idea of what you do?"
Jack nodded. "Yes. An idea. But he doesn't know. And I'd like to leave it like that. It's one thing for him to suspect what I hire out for; it's another entirely for him to get involved in the day-to-day workings of my life." He had to laugh. "He'll be giving me all sorts of advice and maybe even trying to set up a pension plan for me. He's very big on pension plans."
"Well, he's an accountant, isn't he?"
"Was. And once an accountant, always an accountant, I guess. But that's not the only reason I'm putting him up in a hotel. I —"
Gia shook her head. "I think that's awful. Here's this old man —"
"He's a very spry seventy-one."
"— coming here for the first time in ages to visit his son, and he gets stuck in a hotel. It's not right."
"Gia, we were together in his place down there maybe three or four days and he was making me crazy, always asking me where I was going or where I'd been, worrying about me if I was out late ... like I was a teenager again. I can't handle that."
"Even for a few days?"
He could hear Dad's voice in his head now. He'd meet Gia, his future daughter-in-law, and be enchanted by her and Vicky, but when they were alone he'd start in on how they did things differently in his day: First they got married, then started a family. Jack didn't want to hear it.
A tough old bird, Dad, and traditional to the core.
"You're making me sound like a Blue Meanie. I can't have him nosing around my place while I'm out. He might pull open the wrong drawer. You know how that is."
Gia nodded. She knew.
Jack remembered the time, early in their relationship, when she'd wanted to surprise him by cleaning his apartment. She'd happened upon a stash of guns and phony ID and he'd almost lost her.
"Well, did he buy your too-small story?"
"I doubt it — not completely. It was awkward, and it's going to remain awkward the whole time he's here."
"It's going to be really awkward when he sees your place and notices the daybed in the TV room."
"I'll think of something."
"You don't have to. He'll stay here."
Not this again.
"Gia, we've been through —"
She held up her hand. "Too late. I've taken it into my own hands. It's a fait accompli."
"As much as I love when you speak French, what are you talking about?"
"I canceled your father's hotel reservation."
"I'm the one who made it, remember? So I figure I have a right to cancel it."
"Do you know how hard it is to find a hotel room this time of year?"
She smiled. "Virtually impossible. Which means he'll have to stay here." She reached across the table and took his hand. "Come on, Jack. Lighten up. He's going to be Vicky's adoptive grandfather. Shouldn't she get to know him, and he her?"
Jack couldn't argue. It would take his father ten minutes — probably less — to fall in love with Vicky.
"I just don't like the burden it'll put on you, being pregnant and all. The extra work —"
"What extra work? I'll bet he makes his own bed. That leaves me with the burden of putting out an extra coffee cup and toasting extra bread in the morning." She gave a dramatic sigh and pressed the back of her wrist against her forehead. "It's going to be rough but I think I'll be able to muddle through."
"Okay, okay. He stays here." He stared at her. "Have I told you lately that you're wonderful?"
She smiled that smile. "No. At least not in recent memory."
He gently squeezed her fingers. "You're wonderful."
Tom quelled a ripple of anxiety as he started down to the baggage claim area. The flight had been perfect, the attendants beautiful, the food ... edible. If this were Miami International he'd feel fine; he could make his way through there blindfolded. But he'd never been to La Guardia.
He supposed it was part of aging: You come to depend on things being comfortable and familiar, and get rattled by the new and different. But a big part was Jack's damned secretiveness. He'd said he'd meet him in the baggage area, but what if he forgot? Or what if he got tied up in traffic or delayed by something? Tom wasn't averse to taking a cab, but to where? He didn't know Jack's address. Oh, he had a mailing address, but Jack didn't live there.
Relax, he told himself. You're borrowing trouble. You have a cell phone and you know his number.
A gaggle of bearded men in black hats or yarmulkes and women in wigs and long-sleeved dresses descended ahead of him. These fifty or so Orthodox Jews — he'd heard someone mention that they were Hasidic — had occupied the rear half of the plane. Tom wondered what they'd all been doing in Miami. Not one of them looked tan.
He reached the bottom of the stairs and followed the crowd along a short corridor that opened into the baggage claim. He found a lake of expectant faces spread out in a thick semicircle. Dozens of black-suited, white-shirted limo drivers milled about, some holding up handwritten signs with the names of their fares, others simply killing time until a given plane arrived. Behind them stood relatives and friends waiting for loved ones. Jack would — should — be somewhere in the throng.
He scanned the faces, looking for his son's familiar features. There — a brown-haired man waving at him. Jack. Good thing he was waving or Tom would have missed him. He could have been anybody in his hooded blue sweatshirt, plaid flannel shirt, jeans, and sneakers. Virtually invisible.
Tom felt a flood of love tinged with relief. He didn't understand his younger son — didn't much understand the older one either, for that matter — but his time with Jack back in September had been an eye-opener. The affable, laid-back man he'd come to think of as rudderless, perhaps even something of a loser, had metamorphosed into a grim warrior, intensely focused, who'd wrought a terrible vengeance on a murderous crew.
Tom had participated in the killing and afterward had expected fits of guilt and remorse. They never came. Strangely, the killing didn't bother him: The dead in this case deserved it. And taking the long view, hell, he'd killed more and probably better men during his tour in Korea.
But though he'd learned to respect Jack that night, he still didn't understand him. Which was why he'd decided to come here. He wanted time with his son in his own environment.
Jack's excuse about his apartment being too small ... it didn't ring true. He'd been disappointed and even tempted to call him on it, but decided to go along. Just more of his number-two son's obsessive secretiveness. He guessed he'd have to accept that as part of the package.
Tom locked on to Jack's deceptively mild brown eyes as they worked toward each other through the crowd. Jack waited as the line of Hasidim passed, and then he was reaching for Tom's hand. What started as a shake turned into a brief embrace.
"Hey, Dad, you made it."
For a reason he could not explain, Tom filled up. His throat constricted and it took him a few seconds to find his voice.
"Hi, Jack. Damn, it's good to see you again."
They broke apart and Jack grabbed Tom's carry-on.
"I can handle that," Tom said.
"What a coincidence. So can I." He nodded toward the small horde of Hasidim. "What'd you do, come in on El Al?"
"I remember reading about some gathering in Miami."
On the way to the baggage carousel Jack pinched a fold of fabric on Tom's green-and-white jacket.
"Look at you — puffy starter coat. Very cool. Eagles colors, no less."
Tom nodded. He'd been a lifelong Eagles fan.
"Bought it last week. Figured I'd need something to protect me from the cold."
As they joined the passengers and waited for their luggage, he studied his son. Hard to believe that this regular-looking Joe had led them into a firefight in the Everglades and saved him from being sucked into a tornado.
He owed Jack his life.
"Well, Dad, anything special you want to do while you're here?"
"Spend time with you."
Jack blinked. The remark — the bold-faced truth as far as Tom was concerned — seemed to take him by surprise.
"That's a given. I'm just putting the finishing touches on a job, and after that, I've cleared the deck."
"What sort of job?"
A shrug. "Just fixing something for somebody."
... fixing something for somebody ... not big with the details, his son.
"But other than hanging out," Jack went on, "is there any play you want to see, restaurant you want to try?"
"I'd like to go to the top of the Empire State Building."
Jack grinned. "Really?"
"I've never been. Lived less than two hours outside this city most of my life and never once made it there. So, before I die —"
Jack rolled his eyes. "Oh man!"
"No, seriously. I've decided to make a list of certain things I've always wanted to do, and the Empire State Building is one of them. Have you ever been to the top, Mr. New Yorker?"
"Lots of times. I always bring flowers and leave them there."
"What? I'd never take you for a fan of An Affair to Remember."
He laughed. "No, I bring them for Kong."
"King Kong. That's where he was killed."
Tom stared. "You were always a weird kid, Jack. Now you're a weird adult."
He shook his head. "Uh-uh. Still a kid."
But not acting like one now, Tom thought as he noticed the way Jack's eyes darted back and forth, constantly on the move. Watching for what? Terrorists?
No ... his gaze seemed to linger more on the security personnel than on the Arabic-looking members of the crowd. Why? What about them concerned him?
He realized Jack looked edgy. He suspected that whatever it was Jack did for a living, it probably wasn't on the right side of the law. Tom hoped that was only a sometime thing.
After what Tom had seen of Jack's capabilities back in Florida, he'd make one formidable foe, no matter which side of the law he was on.
But from what Tom had seen during Jack's visit he knew that his son was involved in something else, something beyond legal systems. Perhaps even beyond normal reality.
A girl who could control swamp creatures ... a hole in the earth that went God knew where ... a man who could walk on water, who Jack had called by name. They seemed to be enemies.
And that was all Tom knew. He hadn't been able to squeeze much explanation from Jack beyond cryptic statements about having had a "peek behind the curtain."
His stated purpose now was to spend the holidays with his sons and grandchildren, and that was true to an extent. But Tom was determined to use the time to learn more about the man his son had become. Which wouldn't be easy. He knew Jack saw him as a bedrock traditionalist, and to some extent he was. He made no excuses about hewing to traditional values. He sensed Jack had no quarrel with those, but held to a looser, more flexible view as to how to uphold them.
Still, no way to deny that Jack was on guard here. Not that he had to worry about the two blue-uniformed security people in sight — a skinny guy and a big-butted woman standing together near the exit. They seemed more interested in each other than in what was going on around them.
Still, Tom looked for a way to ease Jack's discomfort.
"Where's the car?"
Jack jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "In the big garage across the way."
"Much of a trip?"
"Not bad. We go upstairs, take the skywalk across. That'll put us on level four. I'm parked on level two, so we take an elevator down and go from there."
That seemed like too much time. If being here bothered Jack, this could be a way to get him out more quickly.
"Why don't you go get the car? By the time you come back, I'll be waiting at the curb with my luggage."
"How many bags?"
"One big one. And don't give me that can-the-old-guy-handle-it? look. I handled it in Miami and I can handle it here. It's got wheels."
Jack hesitated, then said, "Not a bad idea. The sooner we get on and off the BQE, the better. Rush hour starts early around here. Meet you outside."
His relief at getting out of the terminal was obvious.
As Tom watched Jack thread the crowd toward the stairs, trailing his carry-on, someone opened an exit door. A gust of cold December air sneaked through and wrapped around him. He shivered. Now he knew why he'd moved to Florida.
He returned his attention to the still and empty baggage carousel. A moment or two later a Klaxon sounded as an orange light began blinking; the carousel shuddered into motion.
As luggage started to slide down a chute to the revolving surface Tom edged forward with everyone else, looking for his bag. It was black, like ninety percent of the rest, but he'd wrapped the handle in Day-Glo orange tape to make it easier to spot.
One of the Hasidic women stood in front of him, carrying a one-year-old. A little girl, bundled head to toe against winter. Her large brown eyes fixed on Tom and he gave her a little wave. She smiled and covered her face. A shy one. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Infernal by F. Paul Wilson, David G. Hartwell. Copyright © 2005 F. Paul Wilson. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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