Authors: Graham Masterton
âDad, you couldn't have known. I wanted to stop them, but I couldn't. There were too many of them. And if the cops hadn't showed up when they did, I think they would have shot Maria and me, too.'
Martin put his arm around Tyler's shoulders and gave him a reassuring squeeze. Just then, Corporal Evander came along the corridor, accompanied by Martin's lawyer, David Lemos.
David Lemos was rotund and round-shouldered, with a shiny gray comb-over and wobbly cheeks and dark rings under his eyes. He was wearing a double-breasted suit in pale-green linen that flapped as he walked.
The guard unlocked the cell for him and he stepped inside and shook Martin's hand. Then he turned to Tyler and said, âSo â you're Tyler.'
âYes, sir,' said Tyler.
âI won't beat around any bushes, Tyler. You are in very deep shit.'
Martin spent an hour with Tyler and David Lemos, going over every detail of what had happened in Dan's Food & Liquor again and again.
David Lemos made Tyler give him exact descriptions of as many of the gang members as he could â what they said, what they were wearing, what kind of vehicles they used to make their getaway. He recorded it all on his iPad, but when he had finished he said, âKeep on thinking about it, Tyler. I know how disturbing it is, to go over it again and again. But each time you recreate it in your mind's eye, you'll think of something that you thought you'd forgotten, and that may be the one clue that saves your life.' He paused, and then he said, âYou
realize that felony murder potentially carries the death penalty, don't you, or a minimum of twenty-five years in jail?'
Martin took hold of Tyler's hand and gripped it tight. âDon't you worry, Tyler. It won't come to that. I'll find this Big Puppet character, I swear to you, and the rest of those animals, and I'll make damn sure that they pay for what they did.'
Tyler, teary-eyed, gave him a nod; although he didn't look convinced.
He almost had to fight his way out of the police headquarters because the crowd had grown so large and so angry. He guessed that there were at least four hundred people gathered here in North D Street, most of them blue-collar or poor by the look of them. Some of them were now waving improvised cardboard signs that said WATER! and WE'RE THIRSTY! and U R KILING US!
The street was blocked now and Martin could see more vehicles arriving in the parking lot opposite. Obviously the protesters had called for more people to join them.
As he crossed the street back to his own car, he saw that the police officers who had been standing at the top of the steps were now disappearing inside the front doors. They were being replaced almost immediately by fresh officers in full black riot gear, carrying plastic shields. The crowd roared their disapproval, and started to throw an even more furious blizzard of coins and rocks. A group of them started to use car jack handles to break away the red-painted curbstones that had EXCEPT FOR POLICE VEHICLES stenciled on them.
Only a half mile further south on North D Street, Martin heard another roar, almost as loud. An even larger crowd was gathered outside the Civic Plaza, where the Water Department building was located. He could see bricks and debris flying in the air there, too, and a billow of black smoke. It looked as if a white panel van had been set on fire.
He climbed into his Eldorado and pulled out of the parking lot with his tires squittering on the molten tarmac. He headed west on 4th Street to Carousel Mall, back to the office. The streets downtown were unusually deserted, with hardly any traffic and only a few people on the sidewalks, and most of those seemed to be hurrying in the direction of D Street. He could almost have believed that a UFO had landed, and abducted everybody except a last few stragglers.
When he had parked in the basement and gone up in the elevator, he found that the office, too, was oddly quiet. There was no Brenda behind the reception desk, scowling at him; and when he knocked on Arlene Kaiser's door and opened it, there was no sign of Arlene, either. A cold cup of coffee stood on her aircraft-carrier desk, next to a half-eaten donut.
In the large open-plan office at the back, he found Shirelle Jackson, sitting at her desk and squinting at her laptop as if she were trying to decipher a message in Egyptian hieroglyphs. Shirelle was skinny and black with upswept spectacles and beaded dreadlocks and teeth like a horse.
The only other person in the office was Kevin Maynard, a plump and officious CFS employee who was always ready to take children away from their dysfunctional parents, no matter how much their children loved them. He was talking on the phone in a nasal, repetitive tone to somebody who obviously didn't agree with him.
âYes, you can, Vera. You can. I promise you, you can.'
âShirelle, hi, where is everybody?' Martin asked her.
Shirelle blinked at him as if she didn't recognize him, and then she flapped her hands as if she were drying her nail polish. âOh â
â it's all gone
! We've had so many emergency calls! Everybody's had to go out! Well, except for me! It's like Armageddon out there! You've had a whole bunch of messages, too! I did try to contact you, I promise!'
Martin took his cellphone out of his pocket. He had been requested to switch it off while he was at police headquarters and afterward he had deliberately kept it switched off, because he knew that he would have to field countless calls from anxious and beleaguered families.
Shirelle flicked through her notepad. âHere â this one came from Tanisha Belling â she's that woman on North Lugo with seven kids in one bedroom, isn't she? She says they have no water and she's run out of diapers and she can't cook the kids anything to eat. Not that she ever did. But now her microwave's busted, too, because her little boy tried to broil his Batmobile.
âAnd â here â Madeleine Kusnick called you. She doesn't have water, either, and her two cats look like they're in a coma because of the heat and because of
her two kids won't stop howling. She's worried they're going to be permanently traumatized. The kids, I mean, not the cats.
âOh â and somebody called Jesus left a message? He said he wouldn't forget today, ever, so don't go thinking that he ever would. Do you know what he meant by that?'
âYes,' said Martin. âI know exactly what he meant.'
e didn't return any of his calls. He had something more important to do first. He went to the office kitchen, opened up the storeroom, and lifted out two five-gallon containers of water. He grunted with effort, because they weighed over forty pounds each.
He knew that it was wrong for him to take them. But he left three containers where they were, and he reckoned fifteen gallons would be enough water to keep the CFS office in coffee for a day or two, if their supply was shut off, and even to wash their hands now and again. Before Shirelle or Kevin could come out and discover what he was doing, he lugged the containers out through reception, out through the front doors and down in the elevator to the basement. He stowed them in the trunk of his car, looking around to make sure that nobody was watching him, and that he was obscured by one of the concrete pillars from the CCTV.
He drove north out of the city center to Fullerton Drive, and again he was aware how empty the streets were. Even after he had joined the freeway, he passed only three or four semis, a clapped-out Winnebago, and a small V-shaped formation of Hell's Angels, who looked more glum than menacing. Around Lionel E. Hudson Park the neighborhood was deserted. No children were playing on the slides or the swings. The trees were turning yellow already and the grass was scattered with fallen leaves. He slowed down and all he could hear was a distant airplane. It was almost eerily peaceful. When he pulled up outside Peta's house, however, and looked back toward the downtown area, he saw more black smoke rising into the hazy late-afternoon sky.
He came up the driveway with a five-gallon water container swinging from each hand. As he did so Peta opened the front door and said, âThank God.'
She was wearing a pink strapless top and white shorts. She was small and skinny, but very pretty in a Scandinavian way, with denim-blue eyes and little ski-jump nose with freckles across it. Every time Martin saw her he wished that they could get back together again, or try to, at least; but he still wasn't sure that he had exorcized his djinns, and that he wouldn't end up hurting her. It wasn't that Peta didn't trust him. He didn't trust himself.
âWater, thank God,' she repeated, as he stepped inside the house. âElla's no better at all.'
âDid you call Doctor Lucas?'
âThe line's always busy and I can't get through. I tried the medical center's website but that seems to be frozen. You press to make an appointment but nothing happens.'
Martin carried the water containers into the kitchen and lifted them on to the table. âOK if I go in and see her?'
âOf course, yes. Did you see Tyler? Is he all right? What's happening? They said they were going to send him to the West Valley Detention Center. I mean, who is he supposed to have killed?'
Martin walked down the corridor to the door of Ella's bedroom. Before he opened it, he said, quietly, âTyler is charged with shooting Mr Alvarez at Dan's Food and Liquor while he was robbing his store. He's also charged with raping his daughter Maria.'
Peta pressed her hand against her mouth in shock. Then, âHe
Maria Alvarez?' she said. âHe
her? The police told me that they were charging him with killing a man but I thought it was maybe some kind of an accident. But Tyler wouldn't
âHe says he was forced to. He says a gang broke into the store and shot Mr Alvarez and then they all took it in turns to rape Maria and they forced him to do it, too, otherwise they threatened to shoot her, too.'
âOh my God. Oh, Martin.'
Martin put his arms around her and held her close. âListen,' he said, âTyler swears that he didn't shoot Mr Alvarez and my lawyer thinks he can get him off of that charge. The CSIs tested his hands for gunpowder residue and if he didn't fire it then they'll be able to tell for sure. As for rape, he only did it because he feared for Maria's life and his own life, too. Maria's not talking yet, but when she does, you'll see, he'll get off that, too.'
Peta shook her head. âIt's still like a nightmare. I just can't believe that it's true.'
Martin gave her another hug, and then he pointed his finger at Ella's door and said, âOK to go in?'
âSure. Of course. I'll bring her a drink of water.'
He tapped lightly on the door but when there was no answer he opened it and went inside. The cream cotton blinds were pulled right down but even so the bedroom was still glowing with sunlight. Martin saw Ella's reflection first in her dressing-table mirror, so that she looked like a framed picture of herself. Her eyes were closed and she was lying in bed propped up on pillows, covered by only a single sheet. Her cheeks were flushed, and her long mousy-brown hair was bedraggled and damp. She looked so much like her mother had looked when he had first met her that it was hard for him to believe that she didn't remember all the things that he and Peta had done together: walking in the mountains, dancing and playing pool in the downtown nightclubs, or simply sitting together by the pool, staring at each other, and each one of them thinking how lucky they were.
Martin sat down on the chair next to Ella's bed and took hold of her hand. It was chilly and moist, even though she looked so hot. He leaned over and kissed her forehead and said, gently, âHallo, baby. It's your Daddy.'
Ella opened her eyes and blinked at him, and then she smiled. âDaddy. You came.'
âI brought some water for you. Here â Mommy has it now.'
Peta came in with a large glass of water and sat down on the bed to help Ella drink it. Martin propped her head up while she gulped it down. Occasionally she stopped and gasped for breath, but she managed to finish all of it.
âCould I have some more?' she asked.
Martin lowered her head back on the pillow and grinned at her. âWhat are you, a camel?'
âI'm just so thirsty, Daddy. I feel like my throat is full of dust.'
Peta gave Ella some more water to drink and plumped up her pillows and then she and Martin went back into the kitchen.
âI really think we need to get her to a doctor,' said Peta. âShe doesn't have a rash, and she's not vomiting or anything, but then all she's eaten all day is a piece of dry toast and half a cup of chicken soup.'
âMaybe you should try calling the medical center again.'
âI can try,' said Peta. She took the phone off the wall and punched out the number but before she even handed it to him, Martin could hear the busy signal.
âI'll drive down there myself,' he said. âIf they're really so busy I don't want to take Ella with me. Maybe I can persuade one of the doctors to make a house call.'
He went to the door. Peta caught his sleeve and said, âWhat about Tyler? He must be so frightened!'
âWe have a good lawyer for him, sweetheart, that's all we can do for now. The detective who's in charge of his case promised to call me when they're ready to send him over to Rancho Cucamonga.'
He turned to go but she still kept hold of his sleeve.
âMartinâ' she said.
He waited, but she simply said, âNothing. But call me, won't you, when you've found out what's happening at the medical center?'
Highland Medical Center was ten minutes' drive south-east, through quiet, wide, well-kept streets, and each street that Martin passed was even more affluent than the street before, with larger houses and more expensive vehicles parked in their driveways.