Authors: F. Paul Wilson
Tags: #Fiction, #Detective, #General
"How tall was he?"
"I'd say average height. Shorter than me, anyway."
Sandy kept moving, taking a circuitous route back to Beth, and along the way he kept hearing his fellow survivors trying and failing to describe this man they were calling 'the Savior.' He understood their problem: a guy so unremarkable seemed virtually invisible. Sandy had tagged him GPM for that very reason: he was a paradigm of the generic pale male.
He found Beth again but now she wasn't alone. A plainclothesman was seated next to her, his notebook held at the ready. Beth had her hands stuffed stiff-armed between her knees and was still shaking. Sandy knelt beside her. She jumped when he laid a hand on her shoulder.
"Oh, it's you," she said with a nervous flicker of a smile.
"And you are…?" said the detective.
"Sandy Palmer. I was on the train with Beth."
"Have you given a statement yet?"
was approaching his lips when a subliminal warning from somewhere in his subconscious made him pull it back.
"Who's that policewoman back there?" he said, trying to avoid getting caught in a lie later. "I forget her name."
The detective nodded. "Were you able to get a look at the second shooter?"
"You mean the Savior?" Sandy replied.
To avoid a direct answer Sandy turned to Beth. "You saw him, didn't you, Beth?"
She shook her head.
"But you were right there, just a couple of feet from him."
"But I wasn't looking at him. I barely looked at you, if you remember."
Sandy smiled. "I remember."
"I mean, I saw his back when he went after the killer—wait! He had a name on the back of his shirt!"
The detective leaned forward, his pencil poised over his pad. "What did it say?"
Beth squeezed her eyes shut. "It was all such a blur, but I think it said 'Sherbert' or something like that that."
"Sherbert?" the detective said, scribbling. "You're sure?"
Sandy rubbed a hand over his mouth to hide a smile. "Chrebet," he offered. "I remember now. He was wearing a green-on-white Jets jersey. Number eighty."
"Christ," the detective muttered, shaking his head as he scratched out a line on his pad with hard, annoyed strokes. "I think we can figure it wasn't Wayne Chrebet."
"You know him?" Beth said.
"Wide receiver for the Jets," Sandy replied, then added, "That's a football team."
"Oh." She seemed to shrink a little. "I hate football."
"You didn't see his face?" the detective said.
"No. He had it covered when he turned around." She turned to Sandy. "You didn't see him either?"
Sandy wet his lips. An idea was forming. Its boldness tied his gut into knots but its potential made him giddy. It meant going out on a limb—far out on a very slim limb. But then, nothing ventured, nothing gained…
"I saw what you saw," he said.
"Shit," the detective muttered and slapped his notebook against his thigh. "What was this guy—invisible?"
"When can we leave?" Beth said. "I want to go home."
"Soon, miss," the detective said, softening. "Soon as we get names and addresses and statements from all you witnesses, we'll see that you all get home safely."
As the cop moved off, Sandy leaned close to Beth and whispered, "I'm getting stir crazy. I've got to move around. You'll be okay for a few minutes?" He didn't know why but somehow he felt responsible for her.
"Sure," she said. "Not like there aren't any cops around."
He left her and edged back toward the death car where flashes from the forensic team's cameras kept lighting the interior like welders' arcs. He noticed a cluster of three plainclothesmen and one uniform gathered outside one of the open sets of doors. Farther on, a man wearing latex gloves—from the forensics team, no doubt—examined the killer where he'd fallen through the doorway.
Sandy needed to be over there, needed to hear what these cops were saying, but he couldn't get his feet to move. One step past that tape and he'd be sent scurrying back with his tail between his legs to stay put with the rest of the survivors. But he wasn't just a survivor, he was the press too, damn it—the people's right to know and all that.
He tried to remember techniques from that assertiveness training course he'd taken last year but came up blank except for the old bromide about how the worst that could happen was that someone simply would say
But fearing rejection, of all things, seemed more than silly after what he'd just been through.
Sandy pulled his press card from his wallet and palmed it. A quick glance around showed no one looking his way. He noticed that one of the plainclothes cops was pretty big. Huge, in fact. Choosing an angle of approach that used the big guy's bulk as a shield, Sandy ducked under the yellow tape and sidled up to the foursome, listening, taking mental notes.
"… like the second shooter knew what he was doing."
"How you mean?"
"According to what we're hearing he got the crazy in the shoulders first, then blew him away."
"Fucking executed him's more like it. But what was he carrying? Nobody can tell us anything about his gun except it was real small."
"And holds at least four rounds."
"Not a .22, I can tell you that. Not a .32 either from the size of the crazy's wounds. Guy took his brass with him so we can't use that."
"The whole thing's weird—including the way he blew away the crazy. I mean, why not just do the head shot and have it done with?"
"'Cause if you miss that first head shot—and if we're talking about a tiny little barrel, there's a damn good chance you will—you're a goner because this Colin Ferguson wannabe's got a pair of nines and he's going to blow you away. So if you're smart you do what our guy does: you go for an arm and—"
"Seems low percentage to me. I'd go for center of mass."
"Fine—unless he's wearing a vest. And witnesses say the crazy was turned sideways when he took the first hit. An arm's bigger than a head, and even a miss has got a good chance at the torso, vested or not. So our guy goes for an arm and makes the shot. Now there's one less gun to deal with, and he's also a few steps closer. So now it's easier to take out the other arm."
"Sounds like he's been trained."
"Damn straight. Taking his brass with him says he's a pro. But trained by who? With both arms messed up, the crazy wasn't going to do any more shooting. Could've left him like that. But he finished him off."
"Probably didn't want to hear about 'yellow rage' for the next two years."
"Like I said—a fucking execution."
"You got complaints about that, McCann?"
"Maybe. Maybe I don't like executioners running around loose."
"Which is probably just why he took off. He—"
The black plainclothesman speaking caught sight of Sandy over the big guy's shoulder and pointed at him. "
are in a restricted area."
"Press," Sandy forced himself to exclaim, holding up his card.
Suddenly he found himself the object of an array of outraged expressions.
"How the hell—?"
"And an eyewitness," he quickly added.
That mollified them somewhat, until the big detective, the one they'd called McCann, florid faced with thinning gray brush-cut hair, looking a little like Brian Dennehy, stepped in for a closer look at his press card. His breath reeked of a recent cigar.
? Christ, he's from the fucking
Aliens and pierced eyeballs! Oh, shit, are you guys gonna have a ball with this!"
"That was the old days. We're different now."
It was true. The new owner had moved
away from the shock-schlock format that had made it notorious decades ago—every issue with an eye injury on page three, with photo if possible, and an alien story on page five—into a kinder, gentler scandal sheet, concentrating on celebrity foibles.
"Yeah? I wouldn't know."
"Of course not," Sandy said, feeling braver now. "Nobody but nobody reads
. Yet somehow the issues keep disappearing from the newsstands."
"Probably those aliens," McCann said. "Tell me, did your journalist's powers of observation happen to register a description of the second shooter's face?"
Sandy had already settled on how to play this. He shook his head. "No. But I know someone who did."
He was suddenly the center of attention, all four of the cops
ing like a chorus of owls.
Sandy pointed to the killer. "Him."
"A wise-ass," McCann said. "Just what we need." He gave Sandy a dismissive wave. "Get back on the other side of the tape with the other useless witnesses."
Sandy managed not to move. He couldn't let this happen. What could he say? One of his therapist's remarks about every relationship being a negotiation of sorts filtered back to him. Negotiate… what did he have to offer?
The gun. They'd been talking about the gun, wondering what kind, and Sandy'd had the best look at it.
"Okay," Sandy said, turning and staring to move away. "I came over here because I got a good look at his gun. But if you're not interested—"
"Hold it," said McCann. "You better not be playing any games here, newsboy, or you're gonna find your ass in a sling."
Again he had their attention. Now he had to play this just right. Negotiate. Give them something they needed, something real, and in return get to hang here where the action was. But he sensed that a direct quid-pro-quo offer would only land him in hot water. Damn, he wished he had more experience at this.
Okay, just wing it and hope they're grateful.
"He pulled it out of an ankle holster."
The detectives glanced at each other. The black one nodded. "Go on. You know the difference between a revolver and an automatic?"
"It looked like an automatic. I saw him pull back the slide before he started toward the killer, but…"
"Maybe it wasn't working right because he pulled the slide back before every shot."
"I'll be damned!" said the lone uniform. "Could be a Semmerling."
"A what?" McCann said.
"Semmerling LM-4. Supposedly the world's smallest .45. Saw one at a gun show once. Would have picked it up if I'd had the dough. Looks like a semi-auto—has the slide and all—but it's really just a repeater."
"How small?" McCann wanted to know. He was looking Sandy's way.
Sandy tried to remember. "Everything happened so fast… but I think"—he straightened his fingers and placed his palm against his hip—"I think I could cover it with my hand."
McCann looked back to the uniform. "That about right?"
A nod. "I'd say so."
"Sounds like a stupid piece to me," the black detective said.
"Not if you want maximum stopping power in a little package."
"C'mere," McCann said to Sandy, motioning him to follow.
Sandy stayed right on the big detective's heels. Oh, yes. This was
what he'd been hoping for.
But when they came upon the killer's corpse he wasn't so sure. Close up like this he could see that the man's shoulder wounds were worse than he'd thought. And his face… the right eye socket was a bloody hole and the remaining eye was bulging half out of its socket… his face was all swollen… in fact his head seemed half again its normal size.
Be careful what you wish for, Sandy thought, averting his gaze as stomach acid pushed to the back of his throat.
He swallowed and looked again at the corpse. What a photo that would make. He felt in his pocket for the mini-Olympus he always carried. Did he dare?
"Hey, Kastner," McCann said to the gloved man leaning over the killer. "Your best guess on the caliber—and I won't hold you to it."
"Don't have to guess. If these wounds aren't from a .45, I'm in the wrong biz."
McCann nodded. "Okay. So our second shooter wanders around with something called a Semmerling LM-4 strapped to his ankle."
"Not exactly government issue," the black detective grunted. "And hey, if the crazy was hit with a .45, how come his brains aren't splattered all over the car?"
"Because the second shooter was using frangibles," Kastner the forensics man said.
"Whoa!" said the uniform.
"Frangibles?" Sandy asked. "What's a frangible?"
"A bullet that breaks up into pieces after it hits."
of pieces that bounce all over," Kastner commented. "They're going to find puree du brain when they crack this guy's cranium."