City of Endless Night Page 1

Author: Douglas Preston

Series: Pendergast #17

Genres: Mystery , Thriller


JACOB WALKED FAST, ahead of his little brother, hands stuffed into his pockets, breath flaring in the frosty December air. His brother, Ryan, was carrying the carton of eggs they’d just purchased at the nearby deli with money Jacob had stolen from his mom’s purse.

“First, because the old man is a total asshole,” Jacob said to his brother. “Second, because he’s a racist asshole. He yelled at the Nguyens and called them ‘slopes’—remember?”

“Yeah, but—”

“Third, because he cut in front of me at the C-Town checkout line and cussed me out when I said it wasn’t fair. You remember that, right?”

“Sure I do. But—”

“Fourth, he puts all those stupid political signs on his yard. And remember when he sprayed Foster with a watering hose just ’cause he cut across his yard?”

“Yeah, but—”

“But what?” Jacob turned around in the street and faced his younger brother.

“What if he has a gun?”

“He’s not going to shoot two kids! Anyway, we’ll be long gone before the crazy old turd even knows what’s happened.”

“He might be Mafia.”

“Mafia? With a name like Bascombe? Yeah, right! If he was Garguglio or Tartaglia we wouldn’t be doing this. He’s just some old fart-biter who needs to be taught a lesson.” He stared at Ryan with sudden suspicion. “You’re not gonna wimp out on me, are you?”

“No, no.”

“Okay then. Let’s go.”

Jacob turned and walked down Eighty-Fourth Avenue, then turned right onto 122nd Street. Now he slowed and went onto the sidewalk, moving along easily, as if out for an evening stroll. The street was mostly single-family homes and duplexes, typical of the residential Queens neighborhood, and it was festooned with Christmas lights.

He slowed further. “Look at the old guy’s house,” he said to his brother. “Dark as a tomb. The only one with no lights. What a Grinch.”

The house was at the far end of the street. The streetlights shining through the leafless trees cast a spiderweb of shadows across the frozen ground.

“Okay, we stroll along like nothing’s happening. You open the carton, we unload a bunch of eggs on his car, then we beat it around the corner and just keep going.”

“He’ll know it was us.”

“Are you kidding? At night? Besides, all the kids in the neighborhood hate him. Most of the grown-ups, too. Everyone hates him.”

“What if he chases us?”

“That old geezer? He’d have a heart attack in seven seconds.” Jacob sniggered. “When those eggs hit his car, they are going to freeze, like, right away. He’ll have to wash it ten times, I’ll bet, just to get them off.”

Jacob approached the house along the sidewalk, moving cautiously now. He could see the blue glow in the picture window of the split-level ranch; Bascombe was watching TV.

“Car coming!” he said, in a whisper. They ducked behind some bushes as a vehicle turned the corner and came down the street, headlights sweeping along, illuminating everything. After it had passed, Jacob felt his heart pounding.

Ryan said, “Maybe we shouldn’t…”

“Shut up.” He emerged from behind the bushes. There was more light in the street than he would have liked, cast not only by the streetlamps but also by the Christmas decorations—illuminated Santas, reindeers, and crèche displays on the front lawns. At least Bascombe’s place was a little darker.

Now they approached very slowly, keeping to the shadows of the parked cars along the street. Bascombe’s car, a green ’71 Plymouth Fury that he waxed every Sunday, sat in the driveway, pulled up as far as possible. As Jacob moved along, he could see the faint figure of the old man sitting in a wing chair, looking at a giant-screen TV.

“Hold up. He’s right there. Pull your hat down. Put your hood up. And the scarf.”

They adjusted their outerwear until they were well covered, and waited in the darkness between the car and a large bush. The seconds ticked past.

“I’m cold,” Ryan complained.

“Shut up.”

Still they waited. Jacob didn’t want to do it while the old man was sitting in the chair; all he had to do was stand up and turn and he’d see them. They would have to wait for him to get up.

“We could be here all night.”

“Just shut up.”

And then the old geezer stood up. His bearded face and skinny figure were illuminated by the blue light as he walked past the TV and into the kitchen.


Jacob ran up to the car, Ryan following.

“Open that up!”

Ryan flipped open the carton of eggs and Jacob took one. Ryan took another, hesitating. Jacob threw his egg, which made a satisfying splat on the windshield, then another, and another. Ryan finally threw his. Six, seven, eight—they unloaded the carton on the windshield, the hood, the roof, the side, dropping a couple in their hurry—

“What the hell!” came a roar and Bascombe burst out of the side door, wielding a baseball bat, coming at them fast.

Jacob’s heart turned over in his chest. “Run!” he yelled.

Dropping the carton, Ryan turned and immediately slipped and fell on some ice.

“Shit!” Jacob turned, grabbed Ryan’s coat, and hauled him to his feet, but by now Bascombe was almost on top of them, the bat cocked.

They ran like hell down the driveway and into the street. Bascombe pursued, and to Jacob’s surprise he didn’t drop dead of a heart attack. He was unexpectedly fast, and he might even be gaining on them. Ryan began to whimper.

“You goddamn kids, I’ll bust your heads open!” Bascombe yelled behind them.

Jacob flew around the corner onto Hillside, past a couple of shuttered stores and a baseball diamond, Ryan following. Still the old bastard chased, screeching, with that baseball bat held high. But it seemed he was finally getting winded, dropping back a little. They turned onto another street. Up ahead Jacob could see the old shuttered automart, surrounded by a chain-link fence, where they were going to build apartments next spring. A while back, some kids had cut an opening in the fence. He dove for the opening, then crawled through, Ryan still following. Now Bascombe was really falling behind, still screeching threats.

Behind the automart was an industrial area with some dilapidated buildings. Jacob spied a nearby garage, with a peeling wooden door, and a broken window beside it. Bascombe was now out of sight. Maybe he gave up at the fence, but Jacob had a feeling the old fart was still following. They had to find a place to hide.

He tried the garage door; locked. Gingerly, he stuck his arm through the broken window, felt for the knob, turned it from the inside—and the door creaked open.

He went in, Ryan following, and carefully and quietly he shut the door and turned the bolt.

They stood there in the blackness, breathing hard, Jacob feeling like his lungs might burst, trying to stay silent.

“Dumb kids!” they heard shrilly, in the distance. “I’ll bust your balls!”

It was dark in the garage, which seemed empty except for some glass on the floor. Jacob crept forward, taking Ryan’s hand. They needed a place to hide, just in case old man Bascombe somehow thought of looking for them in here. It seemed the crazy old coot really would clobber them with that bat. As Jacob’s eyes adjusted to the dimness, he saw a pile of leaves in the back—a large pile.

He pulled Ryan in that direction and he dug into the leaves, lying down on the soft surface and sweeping his hands around, piling the leaves over himself and his brother.

A minute passed. Another. No more shouting from Bascombe—all was silent. Gradually Jacob recovered both his breath and his confidence. After another few minutes he began to giggle. “The drooling old bastard, we got him good.”

Ryan said nothing.

“You see him? He was, like, chasing us in his pajamas. Maybe his dick froze and broke off.”

“You think he saw our faces?” Ryan asked in a quavering voice.

“With the hats, scarves, hoods? No way.” He sniggered again. “I’ll bet those eggs are frozen hard as a rock already.”

Finally Ryan allowed himself a little laugh. “Dumb kids, I’ll bust your balls!” he said, imitating the old man’s high, whistling voice and heavy Queens accent.

They both laughed as they began rising from the leaves, brushing them away. Then Jacob sniffed loudly. “You farted!”

“Did not!”

“Did so!”

“Did not! He who smelt it, dealt it!”

Jacob paused, still sniffing. “What is that?”

“That’s no fart. That’s…that’s gross.”