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What the Night Knows

What year these events transpired is of no consequence. Where
they occurred is not important. The time is always, and the place
is everywhere.

Suddenly at noon, six days after the murders, birds flew to
trees and sheltered roosts. As if their wings had lanced the sky,
the rain fell close behind their flight. The long afternoon was as
dim and drowned as twilight in Atlantis.

The state hospital stood on a hill, silhouetted against a gray
and sodden sky. The September light appeared to strop a
razor’s edge along each skein of rain.

A procession of eighty-foot purple beeches separated the inbound
and the outbound lanes of the approach road. Their limbs overhung
the car and collected the rain to redistribute it in thick drizzles
that rapped against the windshield.

The thump of the wipers matched the slow, heavy rhythm of John
Calvino’s heart. He did not play the radio. The only sounds
were the engine, the windshield wipers, the rain, the swish of
tires turning on wet pavement, and a memory of the screams of dying

Near the main entrance, he parked illegally under the portico.
He propped the police placard on the dashboard.

John was a homicide detective, but this car belonged to him, not
to the department. The use of the placard while off duty might be a
minor violation of the rules. But his conscience was encrusted with
worse transgressions than the abuse of police prerogatives.

At the reception desk in the lobby sat a lean woman with
close-cropped black hair. She smelled of the lunchtime cigarettes
that had curbed her appetite. Her mouth was as severe as that of an

After glancing at John’s police ID and listening to his
request, she used the intercom to call an escort for him. Pen
pinched in her thin fingers, white knuckles as sharp as chiseled
marble, she printed his name and badge number in the
visitors’ register.

Hoping for gossip, she wanted to talk about Billy Lucas.

Instead, John went to the nearest window. He stared at the rain
without seeing it.

A few minutes later, a massive orderly named Coleman Hanes
escorted him to the third—top—floor. Hanes so filled
the elevator that he seemed like a bull in a narrow stall, waiting
for the door to the rodeo ring to be opened. His mahogany skin had
a faint sheen, and by contrast his white uniform was radiant.

They talked about the unseasonable weather: the rain, the almost
wintry cold two weeks before summer officially ended. They
discussed neither murder nor insanity.

John did most of the talking. The orderly was self-possessed to
the point of being phlegmatic.

The elevator opened to a vestibule. A pink-faced guard sat at a
desk, reading a magazine.

“Are you armed?” he asked.

“My service pistol.”

“You’ll have to give it to me.”

John removed the weapon from his shoulder rig, surrendered

On the desk stood a Crestron touch-screen panel. When the guard
pressed an icon, the electronic lock released the door to his

Coleman Hanes led the way into what appeared to be an ordinary
hospital corridor: gray-vinyl tile underfoot, pale-blue walls,
white ceiling with fluorescent panels.

“Will he eventually be moved to an open floor or will he
be kept under this security permanently?” John asked.

“I’d keep him here forever. But it’s up to the

Hanes wore a utility belt in the pouches of which were a small
can of Mace, a Taser, plastic-strap handcuffs, and a

All the doors were closed. Each featured a lock-release keypad
and a porthole.

Seeing John’s interest, Hanes said, “Double-paned.
The inner pane is shatterproof. The outer is a two-way mirror. But
you’ll be seeing Billy in the consultation room.”

This proved to be a twenty-foot-square chamber divided by a
two-foot-high partition. From the top of this low wall to the
ceiling were panels of thick armored glass in steel frames.

In each panel, near the sill and just above head height, two
rectangular steel grilles allowed sound to pass clearly from one
side of the glass to the other.

The nearer portion of the room was the smaller: twenty feet
long, perhaps eight feet wide. Two armchairs were angled toward the
glass, a small table between them.

The farther portion of the room contained one armchair and a
long couch, allowing the patient either to sit or to lie down.

On this side of the glass, the chairs had wooden legs. The back
and seat cushions were button-tufted.

Beyond the glass, the furniture featured padded, upholstered
legs. The cushions were smooth-sewn, without buttons or upholstery

Ceiling-mounted cameras on the visitor’s side covered the
entire room. From the guard’s station, Coleman Hanes could
watch but not listen.

Before leaving, the orderly indicated an intercom panel in the
wall beside the door. “Call me when you’re

Alone, John stood beside an armchair, waiting.

The glass must have had a nonreflective coating. He could see
only the faintest ghost of himself haunting that polished

In the far wall, on the patient’s side of the room, two
barred windows provided a view of slashing rain and dark clouds
curdled like malignant flesh.

On the left, a door opened, and Billy Lucas entered the
patient’s side of the room. He wore slippers, gray cotton
pants with an elastic waistband, and a long-sleeved gray

His face, as smooth as cream in a saucer, seemed to be as open
and guileless as it was handsome. With pale skin and thick black
hair, dressed all in gray, he resembled an Edward Steichen glamour
portrait from the 1920s or ’30s.

The only color he offered, the only color on his side of the
glass, was the brilliant, limpid, burning blue of his eyes.

Neither agitated nor lethargic from drugs, Billy crossed the
room unhurriedly, with straight-shouldered confidence and an almost
eerie grace. He looked at John, only at John, from the moment he
entered the room until he stood before him, on the farther side of
the glass partition.

“You’re not a psychiatrist,” Billy said. His
voice was clear, measured, and mellifluous. He had sung in his
church choir. “You’re a detective, aren’t

“Calvino. Homicide.”

“I confessed days ago.”

“Yes, I know.”

“The evidence proves I did it.”

“Yes, it does.”

“Then what do you want?”

“To understand.”

Less than a full smile, a suggestion of amusement shaped the
boy’s expression. He was fourteen, the unrepentant murderer
of his family, capable of unspeakable cruelty, yet the half-smile
made him look neither smug nor evil, but instead wistful and
appealing, as though he were recalling a trip to an amusement park
or a fine day at the shore.

“Understand?” Billy said. “You mean --- what
was my motive?”

“You haven’t said why.”

“The why is easy.”

“Then why?”

The boy said, “Ruin.”

The windless day abruptly became turbulent and rattled raindrops
like volleys of buckshot against the armored glass of the barred

That cold sound seemed to warm the boy's blue gaze, and his eyes
shone now as bright as pilot lights.

"'Ruin,'" John said. "What does that mean?"

For a moment, Billy Lucas seemed to want to explain, but then he
merely shrugged.

"Will you talk to me?" John asked.

"Did you bring me something?"

"You mean a gift? No. Nothing."

"Next time, bring me something."

"What would you like?"

"They won't let me have anything sharp or anything hard and
heavy. Paperback books would be okay."

The boy had been an honor student, in his junior year of high
school, having skipped two grades.

"What kind of books?" John asked.

"Whatever. I read everything and rewrite it in my mind to make
it what I want. In my version, every book ends with everyone

Previously silent, the storm sky found its voice. Billy looked
at the ceiling and smiled, as if the thunder spoke specifically to
him. Head tilted back, he closed his eyes and stood that way even
after the rumble faded.

"Did you plan the murders or was it on impulse?"

Rolling his head from side to side as though he were a blind
musician enraptured by music, the boy said, "Oh, Johnny, I planned
to kill them long, long ago."

"How long ago?"

"Longer than you would believe, Johnny. Long, long ago."

"Which of them did you kill first?"

"What does it matter if they're all dead?"

"It matters to me," John Calvino said.

Pulses of lightning brightened the windows, and fat beads of
rain quivered down the panes, leaving a tracery of arteries that
throbbed on the glass with each bright palpitation.

"I killed my mother first, in her wheelchair in the kitchen. She
was getting a carton of milk from the refrigerator. She dropped it
when the knife went in."

Billy stopped rolling his head, but he continued to face the
ceiling, eyes still closed. His mouth hung open. He raised his
hands to his chest and slid them slowly down his torso.

He appeared to be in the grip of a quiet ecstasy.

When his hands reached his loins, they lingered, and then slid
upward, drawing the T-shirt with them.

"Dad was in the study, at his desk. I clubbed him from behind,
twice on the head, then used the claw end of the hammer. It went
through his skull and hooked so deep I couldn't pull it loose."

Now Billy slipped the T-shirt over his head and down his arms,
and he dropped it on the floor.

His eyes remained closed, head tipped back. His hands languidly
explored his bare abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms. He seemed
enraptured by the texture of his skin, by the contours of his

"Grandma was upstairs in her room, watching TV. Her dentures
flew out when I punched her in the face. That made me laugh. I
waited till she regained consciousness before I strangled her with
a scarf."

He lowered his head, opened his eyes, and held his pale hands
before his face to study them, as if reading the past, rather than
the future, in the lines of his palms.

"I went to the kitchen then. I was thirsty. I drank a beer and
took the knife out of my mother."

John Calvino sat on the arm of a chair.

He knew everything the boy told him, except the order of the
killings, which Billy had not revealed to the case detectives. The
medical examiner had provided a best-guess scenario based on
crime-scene evidence, but John needed to know for sure how it had

Still studying his hands, Billy Lucas said, "My sister, Celine,
was in her room, listening to bad music. I did her before I killed
her. Did you know I did her?"


Crossing his arms, slowly caressing his biceps, the boy met
John's eyes again.

"Then I stabbed her precisely nine times, though I think the
fourth one killed her. I just didn't want to stop that soon."

Thunder rolled, torrents of rain beat upon the roof, and faint
concussion waves seemed to flutter the air. John felt them shiver
through the microscopic cochlear hairs deep in his ears, and he
wondered if perhaps they had nothing to do with the storm.

He saw challenge and mockery in the boy's intense blue eyes.
"Why did you say 'precisely?'"

"Because, Johnny, I didn't stab her eight times, and I didn't
stab her ten. Precisely nine."

Billy moved so close to the glass partition that his nose almost
touched it. His eyes were pools of threat and hatred, but they
seemed at the same time to be desolate wells in the lonely depths
of which something had drowned.

The detective and the boy regarded each other for a long time
before John said, "Didn't you ever love them?"

"How could I love them when I hardly knew them?"

"But you've known them all your life."

"I know you better than I knew them."

A dull but persistent disquiet had compelled John to come to the
state hospital. This encounter had sharpened it.

He rose from the arm of the chair.

"You're not going already?" Billy asked.

"Do you have something more to tell me?"

The boy chewed his lower lip.

John waited until waiting seemed pointless, and then he started
toward the door.

"Wait. Please," the boy said, his quivering voice
different from what it had been before.

Turning, John saw a face transformed by anguish and eyes bright
with desperation.

"Help me," the boy said. "Only you can."

Returning to the glass partition, John said, "Even if I wanted
to, I couldn't do anything for you now. No one can."

"But you know. You know."

"What do you think I know?"

For a moment more, Billy Lucas appeared to be a frightened
child, unsettled and uncertain. But then triumph glittered in his

His right hand slid down his flat abdomen and under the elastic
waist of his gray cotton pants. He jerked down the pants with his
left hand, and with his right directed his urine at the lower
grille in the glass panel.

As the stinking stream spattered through the steel grid, John
danced backward, out of range. Never had urine smelled so rank or
looked so dark, as yellow-brown as the juice of spoiled fruit.

Aware that his target had safely retreated, Billy Lucas aimed
higher, hosing the glass left to right, right to left. Seen through
the foul and rippling flux, the boy's facial features melted, and
he seemed about to dematerialize, as if he had been only an

John Calvino pressed the button on the intercom panel beside the
door and said to Coleman Hanes, "I'm finished here."

To escape the sulfurous odor of the urine, he didn't wait for
the orderly but instead stepped into the hallway.

Behind John, the boy called out, "You should have brought me
something. You should have made an offering."

The detective closed the door and looked down at his shoes in
the fluorescent glare of the corridor. Not one drop of foulness
marred their shine.

As the door to the guard's vestibule opened, John walked toward
it, toward Coleman Hanes, whose size and presence gave him the
almost mythological aura of one who battled giants and dragons.

On the second floor, one down from Billy Lucas, the
hospital-staff lounge featured an array of vending machines, a
bulletin board, blue molded-plastic chairs, and Formica tables the
color of flesh.

John Calvino and Coleman Hanes sat at one of the tables and
drank coffee from paper cups. In the detective's coffee floated a
blind white eye, a reflection of a can light overhead.

"The stench and the darkness of the urine are related to his
regimen of medications," Hanes explained. "But he's never done
anything like that before."

"Maybe you better hope it's not his new preferred form of

"We don't take chances with bodily fluids since HIV. If he does
that again, we'll restrain and catheterize him for a few days and
let him decide whether he'd rather have a little freedom of

"Won't that bring lawyers down on you?"

"Sure. But once he's pissed on them, they won't see it
as a civil right anymore."

John glimpsed something on the orderly's right palm that he had
not noticed previously: a red, blue, and black tattoo, the
eagle-globe-and-anchor emblem of the United States Marine

"You serve over there?"

"Two tours."

"Hard duty."

Hanes shrugged. "That whole country's a mental hospital, just a
lot bigger than this place."

"In your view, does Billy Lucas belong in a mental

The orderly's smile was as thin as a filleting knife. "You think
he should be in an orphanage?"

"I'm just trying to understand him. He's too young for adult
prison, too dangerous for any youth-correctional facility. So maybe
he's here because there was nowhere else to put him. Do you think
he's insane...?"

Hanes finished his coffee. He crushed the paper cup in his fist.
"If he's not insane, what is he?"

"That's what I'm asking."

"I thought you had the answer. I thought I heard an implied
or at the end of the question."

"Nothing implied," John assured him.

"If he's not insane, his actions are. If he's something other
than insane, it's a distinction without a difference." He tossed
the crumpled cup at a wastebasket, and scored. "I thought the case
was closed. What did they send you here for?"

John didn't intend to reveal that he had never been assigned to
the case. "Was the boy given my name before he met me?"

Hanes shook his head slowly, and John thought of a tank turret
coming to bear on a target. "No. I told him he had a visitor he was
required to see. I once had a sister, John. She was raped,
murdered. I don't give Billy's kind any more than I have to."

"Your sister --- how long ago?"

"Twenty-two years. But it's like yesterday."

"It always is," John said.

The orderly fished his wallet from a hip pocket and flipped
directly to the cellophane sleeve in which he kept a photo of his
lost sister. "Angela Denise."

"She was lovely. How old is she there?"

"Seventeen. Same age as when she was killed."

"Did they convict someone?"

"He's in one of the new prisons. Private cell. Has his own TV.
They can get their own TV these days. And conjugal visits. Who
knows what else they get."

Hanes put away his wallet, but he would never be able to put
away the memory of his sister. Now that John Calvino knew about the
sister, he read Hanes's demeanor as less phlegmatic than

"I told Billy I was Detective Calvino. I never mentioned my
first name. But the kid called me Johnny. Made a point of it."

"Karen Eisler at the reception desk --- she saw your ID. But she
couldn't have told Lucas. There's no phone in his room."

"Is there any other explanation?"

"Maybe I lied to you."

"That's one possibility I won't waste time considering." John
hesitated. Then: "Coleman, I'm not sure how to ask this."

Hanes waited, as still as sculpture. He never fidgeted. He never
made a sweeping gesture when a raised eyebrow would do as well.

John said, "I know he was transferred here only four days ago.
But is there anything you've noticed he does that's...strange?"

"Besides trying to pee on you?"

"Not that it happens to me all the time, but that isn't what I
mean by strange. I expect him to be aggressive one way or another.
What I'm looking for is...anything quirky."

Hanes considered, then said, "Sometimes he talks to

"Most of us do, a little."

"Not in the third person."

John leaned forward in his chair. "Tell me."

"Well, I guess it's usually a question. He'll say, "'Isn't it a
nice day, Billy?' Or 'This is so warm and cozy, Billy. Isn't it
warm and cozy?' The thing he most often asks is if he's having

"Fun? What does he say, exactly?"

"'Isn't this fun, Billy? Are you having fun, Billy? Could this
be any more fun, Billy?'"

John's coffee had gone cold. He pushed the cup aside. "Does he
ever answer his own questions aloud?"

Coleman Hanes thought for a moment. "No, I don't think so."

"He doesn't take two sides of a conversation?"

"No. Mostly just asks himself questions. Rhetorical questions.
They don't really need an answer. It doesn't sound all that
strange, I guess, until you've heard him do it."

John found himself turning his wedding band around and around on
his finger. Finally he said, "He told me that he likes books."

"He's allowed paperbacks. We have a little hospital

"What kind of thing does he read?"

"I haven't paid attention."

"True-crime stories? True murder?"

Hanes shook his head. "We don't have any of those. Not a good
idea. Patients like Billy find books like that...too exciting."

"Has he asked for true-crime books?"

"He's never asked me. Maybe someone else."

From a compartment in his ID wallet, John extracted a business
card and slid it across the table. "Office number's on the front. I
wrote my home and cell numbers on the back. Call me if anything

"Like what?"

"Anything unusual. Anything that makes you think of me. Hell, I
don't know."

Tucking the card in his shirt pocket, Hanes said, "How long you
been married?"

"It'll be fifteen years this December. Why?"

"The whole time we've been sitting here, you've been turning the
ring on your finger, like reassuring yourself it's there. Like you
wouldn't know what to do without it."

"Not the whole time," John said, because he had only a moment
earlier become aware of playing with the wedding band.

"Pretty much the whole time," the orderly insisted.

"Maybe you should be the detective."

As they rose to their feet, John felt as if he wore an iron
yoke. Coleman had a burden, too. John flattered himself to think he
carried his weight with a grace that matched that of the

Excerpted from WHAT THE NIGHT KNOWS © Copyright 2011 by
Dean Koontz. Reprinted with permission by Bantam. All rights

What the Night Knows
by by Dean Koontz

  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam
  • ISBN-10: 0553807722
  • ISBN-13: 9780553807721