Read Drought Online

Authors: Graham Masterton

Drought (27 page)

‘You won't have failed to notice that a small but selfish minority have reacted to this rationing in a way that I can only describe as extremely negative. They have inflicted willful damage on your city center, setting fires and looting business premises and tying up the emergency services which are already stretched to the limit by the shortage of water.

‘I want you to stay as calm as you can. I want you to have courage, and I want you to show that deep sense of civic responsibility on which you the citizens of San Bernardino have always prided yourselves. We are doing everything within our power to share out water equally, but I won't try to conceal from you the fact that this is a very grave emergency, and that all of us will have to suffer.

‘In the interests of public safety, though, I must add this. We cannot and will not tolerate any citizens behaving in a threatening or violent manner, or causing wanton damage to public or private property. Some of you may feel that you have a legitimate grievance, and that you have a right to demonstrate, but you will be dealt with by the police and the security services to the utmost extent of the law. For that reason there will be a dusk-to-dawn curfew in the city center and every neighborhood in which the water supply has been temporarily withdrawn. That curfew will apply from tonight onward, until further notice. Anybody found out on the street in those localities after dark will be considered to have unlawful intent, and will be dealt with accordingly.'

He paused, staring at the camera with what he clearly imagined to be a serious, concerned expression, but he appeared to have forgotten what he was supposed to say next. Eventually he glanced to his left and said, ‘
What
?' and then ‘
Oh
. Remember,' he said, ‘we are all in this crisis together. You have my heartfelt good wishes, and my promise to be here for you through all of the difficult days and weeks that lie ahead of us. Let us be of good cheer, my friends, and pray to the Lord for rain.'

Julia Child reappeared, rolling out balls of dough.

The committee members stood looking at each other in disbelief.

‘A
curfew
?' said Bryan. ‘A dusk-to-dawn curfew? They might just as well lock us all up in the slammer! Maybe some people downtown have been rioting, but
we
haven't, and we don't intend to, either. I thought you were innocent until you were proven guilty.'

‘Did you see where he was speaking from?' asked Myron. ‘That was the conference room at Verdemont Country Club. No, I'm absolutely sure. That's where my company holds their annual stockholders' meetings.'

‘So what are we waiting for?' said Corben.

‘What do you mean, what are we waiting for?' Luis asked him.

‘I mean, Bryan believes that our association members have a right to know what's going on and we have a mandate to go to the authorities and demand they give us some answers. Our water's been cut off, for God's sake, and our water is our lifeblood! We need to know how long it's going to be cut off for, and whether they're going to be cutting us off on a regular basis. So – since we can't contact the authorities on the phone, let Mohammed go to the mountain.'

‘What the hell does Mohammed have to do with it?'

‘I mean let's all go to the Verdemont Country Club and beard Governor Smiley in his den.'

Bryan felt suddenly inspired, almost brave. This was what the neighborhood association was all about: action. ‘Great idea, Corben,' he said. ‘Let's darn well do it.'

He went through to the kitchen where Marjorie was sitting at the table watching their portable television. She was wearing pink latex gloves and polishing their silver cutlery. ‘We're going over to the Verdemont Country Club,' he told her. ‘Governor Smiley's there, and I'm going to ask him a few pertinent questions about our water supply.'

‘I saw him,' she said. ‘Do you really think you ought to?'

‘Of course. Why not? I'm the elected representative of the residents of Muscupiabe. I have a duty to ask him questions, and he has a duty to give me some answers.'

‘Well, I think you'd be wiser not to go. He didn't sound very amenable to me.'

‘Oh, come on. You heard him say that we're all in this together.'

‘Politicians always tell you that. They never mean it. Let me tell you, Bry, I was listening very carefully to what he was saying and that man is not in the mood for being challenged.'

‘I don't care what kind of a mood he's in. It's his
job
to be challenged, and I'm going to challenge him.'

Marjorie looked up at him over her the rim of her spectacles. ‘Bry,' she said.

‘What?'

‘No … nothing,' she replied, and went back to cleaning the fish knives.

They arrived outside Verdemont Country Club in a convoy of five vehicles. The parking lot was almost empty except for three black Escalades and two Crown Victorias with ESS logos on their doors. The sky was hazy with heat, but cloudless.

Bryan climbed stiffly down from his Range Rover and looked around. Verdemont Country Club was an imposing Colonial-style building with a white-pillared portico, like a house from a Southern plantation. It was set in front of a green, gently rolling eighteen-hole golf course, with the mountains behind it. To the south, almost invisible through the heat, was the San Bernardino valley. Bryan could see palls of dark brown smoke still hanging over the city center, but he could hear no sirens and he could neither hear nor see any helicopters. Apart from the incessant chirruping of cicadas, the afternoon was almost completely silent. No airplanes in the sky, no noise of traffic on the freeways, not even the whinnying of golf carts.

He and his fellow committee members walked across the parking lot to the portico. The air was so hot that Bryan felt as if it were scorching his nostrils as he breathed it in.

As they approached the entrance, two security guards in dark blue uniforms stepped out of the shadows. They were both wearing mirror sunglasses, so that as they came up to him, all Bryan could see in their eyes was a distorted reflection of himself, with his committee standing behind him.

‘Help you?' asked one of the security guards. His cheeks were cratered with acne, like the moon.

‘Bryan Johnson, chairman of the Muscupiabe Neighborhood Association. These good people are my committee. We've come to see Governor Smiley.'

‘Governor Smiley is not here, sir.'

‘Yes, he is. We saw him on TV less than an hour ago, and he was here.'

‘Sorry, sir. I'm afraid that you're mistaken.'

Myron stepped forward in his blue golfing cap and his flappy blue shorts and said emphatically, ‘He's here, young man. Or he
was
here. I recognized the room he was in.'

‘Sorry, sir. I'm not at liberty to tell you whether he was here or not. The governor's movements are strictly confidential.'

Bryan said, ‘We're elected representatives. We have a right to see him.'

‘Sorry, sir. Security.'

It was then that Luis said, ‘
Bryan
… do you see what I see?'

He tugged Bryan's sleeve and pointed to the first green, which was just visible behind the left-hand side of the clubhouse. A sprinkler had suddenly started up, and water was glittering in the air, creating a rainbow.

‘They're watering the greens,' said Luis, and his voice was hollow with shock. ‘We don't have any water to drink, or to cook in, or to wash in, and
they're watering the
goddamned greens
.'

The other members of the committee stared at the sprinkler, too. Corben said, ‘That is outrageous. I mean that is
outrageous
!'

Bryan turned to the security guards and snapped, ‘Who's in charge here? Who's in charge of this club? I want to talk to the manager.'

‘The manager is not available, sir. I'm sorry.'

‘Then the deputy manager, or the deputy-deputy manager! Or whoever's in charge of the golf course! The greenkeeper, if I have to!'

‘I'm sorry, sir. There's nobody here you can talk to.' The security guard's tone was completely expressionless, as if he were prepared to say the same thing, over and over, for the rest of the day if necessary, until Bryan and his committee members went away.

‘I don't believe you for a moment,' said Bryan. ‘I'm going in there right now and I'm going to find who's in charge for myself.'

He started to head toward the entrance but the two security guards both took a sideways step and blocked his path.

‘I'm sorry, sir. Members only. Unauthorized access is not permitted.'

‘The media are going to hear about this.'

‘That's your prerogative, sir. But you and your party are trespassing on private property, and I have to request you to leave.'

Bryan turned around to Luis. ‘Luis! Go take a picture of that green being watered! I want some proof of this!'

He turned back to the two security men and said, ‘Let's see what Governor Smiley has to say when
this
appears on the news!'

But the second security man shouted after Luis, ‘
Sir
! Sir – you'll have to come back here! Taking unauthorized photographs on country club property is not permitted!'

Luis continued to cross the parking lot and didn't even turn around.

‘Sir! You have to come back here!'

Luis waved one hand to acknowledge that he had heard him, but kept on going.

‘Sir! This is the last time I'm going to warn you!' the security guard shouted, and unholstered his automatic. The security guard with the acne took out his gun, too.

‘Luis!' Bryan called out, in sudden panic. ‘Luis! Do as he says! Luis, they're going to shoot you if you don't come back!'

Luis stopped, and raised both hands, although he still didn't turn around. In his right hand, Bryan could see that he was holding up his cellphone, and he guessed that he was taking pictures of the green, which was now less than twenty yards right in front of him.

‘Drop the cell, sir, and come back here!' the security guard shouted at him.

Luis hesitated three seconds too long. Bryan thought:
forget the darn pictures, Luis,
just do as he says
! But maybe this was the first time in his life that Luis had done something overtly courageous, and he was intoxicated with it.

The security guard's gun went off with a deafening bang. Luis clapped his hands above his head and then fell face-down on to the ground, his cellphone clattering on to the ground beside him.

Bryan heard himself crying out, ‘
Noooooooo
!!' as if somebody else were shouting in his ears. He launched himself toward Luis, although he felt that he was running in slow motion, and that the air had turned to syrup.

A slurred voice shouted, ‘
Sirrrr … staaaay heeeere
!' but he didn't associate it with himself. All he knew was that Luis had been shot and he needed to reach him as soon as he could.

‘Stop!' the voice demanded, but this time it was sharp, and quite clear. Bryan stopped, but stumbled, and as he tried to regain his balance he was punched in the back so hard that he was thrown forward on to the tarmac, cracking his left cheekbone and dislocating his left shoulder.

He lay there, with his face against the ground. He could see Luis' feet, and he could see a window in the side of the golf club with two or three people staring out of it. He could hear the sprinklers going
pishety-pishety-pishety,
over and over, as if they were trying to soothe him to sleep.

Myron was the last to leave. The two security guards had been joined outside the portico by Joseph Wrack himself, as well as three more security guards from ESS. After Myron had opened the door of his Honda Accord he turned around and gave them all a look of absolute hatred, but he didn't speak. Like his fellow committee members, he was too shocked and too frightened to disobey their order to leave the country club immediately.

He sat behind the wheel and closed the door. Before he could drive off, however, Joseph Wrack walked over and tapped on his window with his knuckle.

He tapped again, and Myron reluctantly put the window down.

‘Before you go, sir,' said Joseph Wrack, ‘please remind your friends what I said about trying to contact the media or mentioning what happened here on Facebook or Twitter.'

‘I'm pretty sure they heard you,' said Myron.

‘Well, good. Because we will very quickly find out if you do. We know who you are and believe me we will take any and all appropriate action.'

‘Appropriate action?' said Myron. ‘Does that mean
shooting
us, like our friends here?'

‘Sir – this is a state of emergency and in order to maintain public safety we have the authority to use deadly force. So let's keep those lips zippered, shall we? Have a safe journey home.'

A white ambulance from American Medical Response was turning into the country club driveway, without siren or red-and-orange lights. One of the security guards directed it to park close to the two men lying on the tarmac. Neither of them had moved since they had been shot, and it was obvious that they were both dead. A long dark runnel of blood ran all the way from Bryan's body to the drainage grid in the center of the parking lot.

Joseph Wrack raised both eyebrows as if to say, ‘
You won't forget now, will you, my
friend?
' Myron closed his window, started his engine and drove away.

‘
Paskudnyak
,' he said, under his breath, as he went out through the country club gates. ‘
Vi tsu derleb ikh im shoyn tsu bagrobn
.' It was what his grandfather always used to say about people he disliked. ‘May I live long enough to bury him.'

Two paramedics knelt down beside Luis, checking for any vital signs. A few moments later, Governor Smiley came out of the country club entrance, still wearing the white shirt in which he had appeared on TV, but now with a salmon-pink linen coat and raspberry-colored chinos.

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