Authors: Ryne Douglas Pearson
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Police Procedurals, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Crime, #Murder, #Thrillers, #Suspense & Thrillers
Dooley snapped the cuffs over Chuck’s wrists, extra tight. Someone could loosen them later. He took a fistful of hair and made the junior man of action look sideways, away from his intended victim.
“You’re Miss Austin,” Dooley said loudly, and thought he saw a nod somewhere through the adrenalin inspired shivers and the spiderwebbed windshield. “Are you all right?”
A more defined nod this time, then the hands came up and covered the face, the interlude of composure gone as if never there.
“Oh dear God,” Veta Nelson said upon drawing close enough to see the debris and the young man in handcuffs, and through the shattered window the devastated form of Mary Austin. “Mary!”
“Would you check on her?” Dooley asked, and the fiftyish woman hustled to the car. Several more people followed and helped Mary out, taking her to a nearby Suburban to be away from her assailant.
“She’s dead!” Chuck repeated.
“Sooner or later we all are, Chuckie,” Dooley said, then asked a man in work blues running up fast, “Did someone call the cops?”
Mr. Carter eyed the man with the gun curiously. “What are you?”
“Did someone call a cop with a
? With lights and sirens and a cage for this.” Chuck stirred and Dooley mashed his cheek hard against the dented hood. “Stay the fuck down!”
* * *
Jeff and Joey both turned toward the police cars racing past them down Maple, strobes spinning blue and red, sirens howling. The trio of muddy-sided cruisers turned on Peyton Way and disappeared.
“I wonder what happened,” Joey said.
“An accident, I’ll bet,” Jeff guessed.
“You’re probably right,” Joey agreed halfheartedly. One week ago he probably would have chased after the wailing procession, at least to where they’d turned on Peyton to see where they might be headed, just like any eleven year old boy would. Well, any eleven year old boy with a natural curiosity to those things morbid and, possibly, bloody. A wreck could easily end up a red mess, as Joey remembered his dad describing one bad head-on he’d seen right in front of the Quik Stop market a few years back. Sure, one week ago the thought of seeing something like
would have pulled him along after the cruisers as if hooked to them with a stout tow cable. But one week ago was one week ago. He’d now seen a red mess, finally, and had had his fill. His fill for a lifetime.
“Probably up on Roman Boulevard,” Jeff theorized. “Cops will go code three if someone’s trapped or hurt bad. Code three means—”
. I know what code three is.”
They walked quietly up Maple as the sirens faded, passing clean and quiet houses, some with white picket fences and smoke rising from the chimneys. The kind of houses that grew like weeds on this side of town. The other side just had weeds.
When they came to the intersection with Wasatch Avenue, the point at which Jeff had expected the ‘See ya tomorrow’ split to occur, Joey kept on walking, eyes narrow and forward as if considering something of great importance in the distance, feet moving him like some slow speed guided missileboy.
“Hey. Uh, Joey. You live, uh,
“How far up is Elena’s street?” Joey asked.
“A couple blocks,” Jeff answered. He looked up that way, just like Joey was, and he understood.
* * *
The garage area at Jet Motors sat back from Roman Boulevard, a half acre of eighties vintage pickups and sedans between it and the busiest four lanes in Bartlett. Michael Prentiss jogged between the cars like a football player running drills and headed toward the sound of air wrenches whirring.
Jack Prentiss stood beneath a ‘72 Volvo, his hands reaching up into its guts. “Hey, Mikey.”
Michael dropped his bag just inside the three bay garage and joined his father under the car. He stared up past the hanging shop light into the greasy darkness. “Mrs. Beeman’s?”
“Yeah,” Mr. Prentiss sighed. “The old woman hears noises when it’s sitting in her garage.”
“What is it this time?”
Jack Prentiss tapped the oil pan with a wrench. “It’s this.” And the drive shaft. “Or this.” And the muffler. “Or this.”
“She’s old,” Michael said in Mrs. Beeman’s defense. She still gave out the best stuff on Halloween. And she paid pretty good to have her yard raked, or her gutters cleaned, or any other little thing that caught her eye and ‘needed attention.’ That’s how she’d say it, too, whenever she called his mom or dad and put in a request for Michael’s help. ‘The leaves in my driveway need attention’, or ‘The paint on my garage door is peeling and needs attention.’ And it was never that much work. A half hour, tops.
Besides, it wasn’t the work she was paying for. Michael had figured that out the first time she talked his ear off while the rake leaned useless against his shoulder.
“Good for her she’s got lots of money,” Mr. Prentiss said. “She brings this thing in every other week. Oh, which reminds me; when she dropped it off she said that something in her driveway—”
“Needs attention,” Michael said, nodding. “I know.”
“Friday after school, she said.”
Michael grimaced. The one day he did mind helping the old lady out. “On Fridays she has all those old crones are over there. She makes this stinky tea and feeds them these gross little cucumber sandwiches. She tried to get me to eat one once and I almost ralphed on her kitchen floor.”
Jack Prentiss grinned at his son’s protest. “Friday. Mikey.”
“All right, but I’m not eating any of those sandwiches if they’re there.”
Jack Prentiss tested the muffler mounts with his sturdy hands and then looked back to his son. “How was school?”
“It was okay.”
Michael’s father nodded, his jaw squaring, chin jutting. “Anybody give you a hard time?”
“Nothing I can’t hack.”
“Good for you.” The greasy hands moved from the muffler to the starter. “I thought you were going to the park after school to toss some balls.”
Michael’s nose scrunched up. “I decided not to.”
How ‘okay’ was okay? Jack Prentiss wondered as he heard his son tell him he had
not to do something involving a small white ball. “Well, you want help your pop change this Volvo’s oil?”
“Is that all it needs?”
Jack Prentiss chuckled. “Hell if I know. It can’t hurt.”
* * *
Cooper crossed Maple three blocks past Wasatch. Joey looked at Jeff as they turned and said, “It’s a two story house, right?”
“A big one,” Jeff confirmed. He remembered Elena talking about her room
. Not in a bragging sort of way, but, hey, if you had a second floor Jeff figured it was okay to mention it. He would if he had one. “Her dad’s loaded. Her mom doesn’t even have to work.”
“What does her dad do?”
Jeff shrugged and pointed. “Something so he can afford that.”
Across the street, behind a low hedge sculpted precisely square, a house that could have been plucked from the earliest part of the century sat gracious between gently swaying pines. A deep veranda crossed its front and reached down each side toward the back. The windows set into the front doors were leaded and glinted in the waning light.
Joey and Jeff stopped next to a tree directly across the street and admired the sight.
“Wow,” Joey commented softly.
“It’s a nice house,” Jeff said. Hell, it was a
nice house, he thought. He might have even called it pretty if saying so wouldn’t have sounded sissy or something. And if the outside looked this good, the inside must look... (searching for a non sissy word now)...unbelievable. But there was no way to know how true that might be, Jeff saw. “How come all the shades are down?”
“I don’t know,” Joey answered, then stepped behind the tree and pulled Jeff with him as the front door to the house opened.
Jeff peeked around the trunk, one palm prickling against the rough bark. “Who’s she?”
A lady had exited and was coming down the walk. She looked old enough to be a mother, but no more. Her hair flopped loose in a pony tail and a folder of some kind was clamped under one arm.
“She doesn’t look like Elena,” Joey said. People told him his mom and he had the same nose and eyes, and that he had his dad’s smile. “Have you ever seen her mother?”
“If I did I don’t remember.”
The mystery woman got into a clean gray four door parked at the curb and put her seatbelt on before driving back toward Maple.
“The car was awful plain looking,” Jeff said.
Joey didn’t notice. He was studying the upstairs windows. In the one farthest to the right he thought he saw the curtains sway. And maybe a shadow.
“What if that was a cop?” Jeff wondered. “Undercover cops drive cars like that.”
“I don’t know,” Joey said, and watched the window for a long time as Jeff chattered on about unmarked police cars and how they kept sawed-off shotguns under the dash. The curtain moved once more then hung still as a death shroud.
* * *
His thoughts spilled onto the screen, left to right, in letters that connected to become words, and sentences, and paragraphs. Soon it would be pages. A story.
Bryce pecked at the keyboard, eyes flitting every few words to the handwritten draft of
The Sun Beam by Bryce H. Hool.
He’d used his middle initial because he thought it made him sound more writer-like. Like Arthur C. Clarke or that F. Scott Fitzsomebody that his mom liked to read, though he would not have gone with the initial up front. B. Homer Hool just sounded way too lame.
As he copied
The Sun Beam
from the lined white paper on which he’d written it to the computer, he wondered if Arthur C. or F. Scott got as excited as he did when writing. Sure, this was technically just copying, but things were changing from somewhere between his eyeball, as his inky thoughts were read, and the computer screen, where they were appearing...changed. Somewhere about his fingertips the metamorphosis was taking place, his brain taking what he’d already put on paper and...doing things with it. This
writing, an intense process that was driving Commander Zaxar to do things Bryce H. Hool had never intended him to do. The brave Commander had already fired off half his laser bursts (in longhand he’d wisely kept plenty in reserve) at the Death Knight, and he still had to, somehow, get to the power generator before earth was driven out of its orbit by the tractor beam and sent on a collision course with the sun.
But there were other obstacles besides dwindling ammunition for Commander Zaxar’s blaster, Bryce knew. He could hear those plainly behind.
“You’re it!” Bryce’s four year old sister, Connie, said with a giggle, her spritely hand drawing back against her tummy.
“You’re it!” Bryce’s other four year old sister, Bonnie, said right back, tapping her twin on the knee as they bounced together on the couch.
“Mom,” Bryce said with annoyance, his head tilted toward the kitchen. “Connie and Bonnie are playing on the furniture.”
“Are not!” Connie said.
“Are not!” Bonnie concurred.
Caroline Hool leaned into the archway between the kitchen and the family room and said, “If your father sees you girls doing that he’ll have a hand to butt discussion with you. And he’ll be home soon.”
The girls quieted and their mother went back to the stove.
“Bryce won’t let us on the computer,” Bonnie whined.
“We want to play Turtle Squad,” Connie explained, with no less fuss in her tone. Sometimes it was like a contest, each one seeing who could
“Bryce is doing homework,” Caroline Hool said. Hamburgers sizzled in a pan as she spoke.
“He’s making up a stupid story,” Bonnie said. She leaned over the back of the couch and made faces at her brother. Connie joined in without prompting.
“It’s creative writing,” Caroline Hool said calmly. “Bryce is going to be a—”
The phone ringing cut his mother off, and Bryce looked back at his sisters. His pain in the rear sisters. Their faces twisted and goofed, tongues wagging. He shook his head and said, “Grow up.”
“It’s for you.”
Bryce kept typing with one finger and lifted the phone next to the computer. “Got it.” He heard the extension click off. “Hello?”
“Bryce? It’s PJ.”
The letters stopped spilling onto the screen. “Hi.”
Mrs. Hool peeked in at her son, smiled, and disappeared again.
“Hi,” PJ said back.
“You said that.”
Bryce swallowed hard and turned completely away from his sisters. “Why are you calling?”
“Uh, do you have Joey Travers’ phone number?”
? You mean Joey?”
“Yeah,” PJ said. “Joey. Do you have it?”
“Yeah. You want it?”
“No,” PJ answered sharply. “No. I...need it. I mean, I have to call him. About the conference at One Wing.”
“Oh. Sure. Okay.” Bryce gave her the number, hung up, and sat back at the computer. The reflections of his sisters mugging vexed him on the screen.
On the phone, or in person, girls could be pretty weird.
* * *
PJ tore the top sheet from the notepad and folded it in half as her mother chased her little brother Bobby through the kitchen.
“Mama’s gonna get her Bobby-boo,” Vicky Allenton said, playfully snapping her uniform apron at her five year old son.
Bobby chortled and followed the racetrack path out of the kitchen and through the living room, rounded the sofa, scooted by the rack of TV trays, and passed his big sister again between the stove and the dinette table.
“Gonna get you,” Vicky Allenton teased again, staying just far enough behind her youngest to keep him running and giggling.
“He’s not a baby, mom,” PJ complained.
baby,” came the giddy adult reply from the living room.
PJ rolled her eyes and said, “Mom, can I talk to you?”
Vicky Allenton slowed when she crossed from carpet to linoleum, and stopped just past her daughter and leaned, out of breath, on the table. Bobby kept on running and did a superman dive onto the couch, his attention grabbed immediately by the
rerun on the tube; he liked the big yellow boats.