The Original Winifried Kraus Sequence
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Below you will find the climactic section of the Winifred Kraus subplot arc. Such a sweet little old lady, Winifred… Upon finishing this, we felt it to be a little—well—harsh. So we toned it down for the printed book. This is the original version.

Be aware that if you haven’t yet read the book, this will be a major spoiler.

Note: Contains profanity and violence.

Rheinbeck sat in the darkened parlor, rocking back and forth, back and forth in the old, straight-backed chair. He was almost glad the house was so dark because he felt ridiculous: sitting here in his blacked-out raid wear, kevlar vest, and bloused BDU pants, surrounded by lace antimacassars, crochet work, and frilly doilies. The big old house still groaned under the howling of the storm outside, but at least the shrieks of the old lady upstairs had subsided. Now there was just a steady crying, audible during lulls in the storm. He had double-locked the massive, Victorian door to her bedroom and had even considered handcuffing her, but he just couldn’t bring himself to do that to an old lady. Besides, he suspected it would just make her worse. Just his presence seemed to agitate her so much that, in the end, he’d decided it was better to leave her alone in the upstairs room. She’d cry herself out eventually.

He watched the feeble glow of the propane lantern, wondering what the hell was going on down in the cave. They had been in there close to two hours now. They probably had the guy trapped and were negotiating him out. Rheinbeck had seen a couple suicide negotiations in his time, and sometimes they went on forever. Communications were down; Deeper had been pounded by tornadoes; trees lay across most of the roads; and nobody had responded to his repeated calls for an ambulance and doctor for the old lady. This was a medical situation, not a law enforcement one; and a damned awkward situation, at that.

What a crappy assignment.

There was a fresh pounding noise, followed by a shriek and the sudden pop of glass. Rheinbeck sprang to his feet, chair tilting crazily behind him, before he realized it was just whipsawing tree branches and another window getting blown out by the wind. Just what the place needed: more ventilation. Now that the cold front had passed over, it was remarkable how chilly the air had grown. He righted the chair and sat back down. That goddamned Hazen. The boys back at HQ would never let him live this one down.

The propane lantern guttered and he looked over at it, scowling. It figured: some jackass hadn’t bothered to screw in a fresh canister, and now the thing was about to go out. He shook his head, rose, and went to the fireplace. A fire was laid and ready to go; above the hearth, on the stone mantlepiece, he noticed an old box of kitchen matches.

He stood for a minute, thinking. Hell with it, he decided. As long as he was stuck in this creepy old place, he might as well make himself comfortable.

He ducked his head into the fireplace and made sure the flue was open. Then he reached for the box, removed a match, struck it and lit the fire. The flames licked up the newspaper and immediately he felt better: there was something reassuring about the warm glow of a fire. As it took, it threw a nice yellow light into the parlor, reflecting off the framed embroidery, the glass and porcelain knick-knacks. Rheinbeck went and turned off the propane lantern. Might as well conserve its last few minutes of light.

The crying overhead was dying away by fits and starts; Miss Kraus must be getting tired at last. Rheinbeck felt sorry for the old lady; when he was a kid his grandmother had gone senile, and he remembered her raging sometimes in just the same way. Other times she would cry inconsolably, or carry on conversations with her long-dead husband. He settled back in the rocker. It couldn’t be easy for an old woman, having a bunch of strangers with guns and dogs descending on your property in the middle of the night, in a howling storm. It would be a shock for anybody, especially for a shut-in like old Miss Kraus.

He leaned back in the rocker, enjoying the warmth of the flickering firelight. He was reminded of the Sunday afternoons he and the wife occasionally spent visiting his mother. In the winter, she’d make a pot of tea and serve it by a fire just like this one. And with the tea would always come cookies: she had this old family recipe for ginger snaps she kept promising to give his wife, but somehow never did.

It occurred to him that the old lady had been up there a long time without any kind of nourishment. Now that she’d calmed down a little, he should bring her something. Nobody could accuse him later of having starved the old woman or allowed her to dehydrate.

He roused himself from the chair, turned on his flashlight, and went into the kitchen. For an old lady like Miss Kraus, the place was remarkably well-stocked. There were boxes of funny-looking dry goods stacked up along the walls: herbs and spices he’d never heard of, exotic vinegars, pickled vegetables in jars. On the counters were silver canisters covered with Japanese lettering, or maybe Chinese, he wasn’t sure which. Finally he found the teakettle, set near the stove between a pasta maker and some contraption like an oversized steel funnel with a crank. He rummaged in the cabinets, located some good old-fashioned tea bags. He hung the kettle on a hook above the fire, then returned to the kitchen. The refrigerator was well stocked, as well, and it was the work of a few minutes to arrange a little tray with cream and sugar, tea cakes, jam, marmalade, and bread. A lace doily and linen napkin with spoon and knife completed the refreshment. As soon as the tea was ready, and he put the kettle on the tray and started up the stairs.

The old lady, hearing his tread, fell silent, and Rheinbeck was encouraged. He should have thought of this earlier.

He paused at the door and, balancing the tea tray on one hand, tapped lightly. He heard a stir within.

“Miss Kraus?”

No sound.

“I have some tea and cakes here for you. It’ll do you good.”

He heard another rustle, and then she said: “Just a minute, please. I need to arrange my hair.”

He waited, relieved by how calm she sounded. It was amazing, the propriety of the older generation. A minute passed and then the old lady spoke again. “I’m ready for you now,” came the prim voice.

Smiling, he slipped the big iron key out of his pocket, inserted it in the lock, and eased open the door...




...Williams hobbled up out of the cut, his flashlight barely penetrating the howling murk, flashes of lightning illuminating the big grey house. It appeared to be dark inside. Williams wondered why Rheinbeck had turned off his lantern. Maybe he just couldn’t see it from this vantage point.

He toiled up the path, the bite smarting with each step. The corn in the fields along the road had been ripped to shreds, husks gone, ears scattered across the path, broken stalks rustling crazily against each other. He cursed extravagantly at the rain and the wind. He should’ve packed it in an hour ago. Now he was soaked and injured. Great combination for pneumonia.

He struggled up onto the porch, his feet crunching over broken glass from a window blown out by the wind. Now he could make out a faint glow from inside.

It was a fire in the fireplace. How nice and cozy. Rheinbeck, it seems, had been taking it easy up here while he and Shurte were down in the storm, guarding the cave entrance. Well, now Rheinbeck was going to take his turn.

Williams stopped, leaning on the door and catching his breath. He tried the handle, found it locked. The firelight flickered through the leaded panes, making warm kaleidoscopic patterns in the glass.

He gave the knocker a few raps. “Rheinbeck! It’s me, Williams!”

No response.

“Rheinbeck!”

Christ, Williams thought, he was probably in the bathroom. Or the kitchen, maybe. That was it. He was in the kitchen eating— or drinking, more likely —and couldn’t hear with all the wind.

He went around the flank of the house and found another broken window panel in the side door. He put his mouth to it and shouted: “Rheinbeck!”

The house seemed too silent. He pushed out the rest of the glass, reached inside to unlock the door, then eased it open, nosing his light ahead of him.

Inside, the whole house seemed to be alive with the creaking, groaning, and muttering of the storm. Williams looked around uneasily. It looked solid enough, but old places like this were sometimes full of dry rot. He hoped the whole structure didn’t come crashing down on him.

Rheinbeck!

Still no answer. Strange.

Williams limped forward. The door from the parlor to the dining room was half closed. He pushed through, shone his light around. All was in order, the dining table covered with a lace tablecloth, a vase of fresh flowers in the middle. He shone the light past and into the kitchen, but it was dark and there was no smell of cooking.

Williams returned to the parlor entrance and stood there, indecisively. Looked like Rheinbeck had left with the woman. Maybe an ambulance had finally come. But why didn’t they notify him and Shurte? It was only a five minute walk.

Then he heard a sound from upstairs: a distinct, despairing sigh. He froze for a moment before realizing that it must have been the wind, coming through another broken window. He stepped forward, angling his light up the old carpeted stairs. The carved wooden gargoyle at the top of the banister winked back at him.

He hesitated, then began to climb...




...Williams started painfully up the stairs, his injured leg retarding his progress. The treads protested under his weight, squeaking frightfully over the fury of the storm outside. Halfway up he paused, craned his neck upward.

“Rheinbeck!”

There was that sigh again. It seemed to be coming from the room at the top of the stairs.

He fetched a sigh of his own. Why was he bothering? It must be the wind. It was obvious that Rheinbeck and the woman were both long gone.

He shone his light up through the banister rails, aiming it at the room at the top of the stairs. The rails threw alternating bars of yellow and black against the pink paisley wallpaper of the second floor. The door of the room was half open. It seemed to be lightly splattered by some dark, viscous liquid.

“Rheinbeck?”

Another sigh. Now that he was closer, it didn’t really sound like wind coming in a broken window, after all. It sounded forced, sounded wet somehow.

He took another step up, and another, and then he was on the landing, beside the door, shining his light on the splatter. It was fresh, and it was blood.

Suddenly, he forgot all about the pain in his leg. Heart pounding, he lifted the toe of one boot and slowly— very slowly— pushed open the door.

Rheinbeck was sitting in a chair, head tilted back, hands hanging at his sides. His eyes were open and the pupils were jittering about wildly, in stark contrast to his motionless limbs. His jaw sagged in a wide yawn, the silver cavities gleaming in the light of William’s flashlight beam. Rheinbeck was wearing the same black high-risk entry gear as the other troopers, and it wasn’t until the beam dropped to the clothes that Williams realized they were drenched in blood. Now the eyes fixed on Williams and a fresh sighing of air came from the great cut in his throat.

The window was open, the wind and rain lashing in, curtains billowing and whipping. Lightning flashed and a great boom of thunder shook the house.

Williams could not move, could not think, could not even reach for his service piece. For some reason all he could do was stare in disbelief at the little tea table set up in front of Rheinbeck, with its pot, two steaming cups, tea cakes, and jam all neatly arranged. The old house seemed almost alive with the fury of the storm, groaning and swaying, and yet Williams could not pull his eyes away from the tea tray.

A loud creak on the floor behind him abruptly broke the spell. Williams turned violently, flashlight lashing wildly across the walls as he groped for his gun, and as he did so a closet door flew open at his side. He turned to see a figure rushing toward him, an old woman in white, her arms upraised, blood-spattered nightgown streaming behind her, bread knife dripping with blood in her upraised fists. Her mouth was open, a pink, toothless hole, and from it issued a demonic shriek:

Fiends!


Copyright 2003 by Lincoln Child and Splendide Mendax, Inc.


2018 Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child