A couple of stray dogs circling around a prize from a garbage can stopped to growl uncertainly as Derek stepped into the narrow dead-end alley. Knowing they'd probably get a kick if they got too close, they retreated into a narrow passageway between two buildings, still growling. As the day wore on, the alley was once again shaded by the blank walls of the buildings on either side -- the shade felt almost cool after the sidewalk beyond. The smell of hot asphalt and well-cooked garbage was almost overpowering.
At the end of the alley, a door with the brown paint peeling off gave entrance into a prefab building. The sign over the door just said "Pool Hall." Inside, the old juke box was playing loud country music. Sitting beside it, an old blind man was fogging thick smoke from a pipe and taking an occasional pull from a bottle of whiskey. There were games going at a couple of the pool tables, each with a few onlookers.
Derek took a step back to get out of the cloud of smoke. That wasn't just tobacco. "Hey, Kell."
"Derek? Is that you, man?"
"Yeah, it's me. I need to talk to Sullivan, is he around?"
The blind man gestured towards the other end of the pool hall and took a long pull on the pipe.
That end of the room was dark except for a light directly over the pool table. Derek could see only silhouettes of the people back there, but he knew they could see him just fine. Some of these people needed to take those kind of precautions.
Frank Sullivan was seated on a stool where the establishment's small bar met the wall. A can of beer disappeared in his big meaty fist. Sullivan was the foreman of a construction crew that was working on a new building over on the strip. Derek had expected to find him in one of his favorite hangouts during the heat of the day when outdoor labor came to a halt. "Derek," he acknowledged.
At the older man's nod, Derek took the bar stool next to him. "What's up?"
"Some people want to talk to you."
"It's about the bombing."
"I don't know anything about the bombing," Sullivan replied.
"I think that's why these people want to talk to you -- they know that, and they want to get their hands on whoever did it."
"Who is it?"
"Military. Commodore Ross and McQueen."
"McQueen?" Sullivan scowled thoughtfully at the mention of that name. "Yeah, okay, I'll talk to them. Tell 'em to wait for me in the park at the corner of Sixth and Commerce Boulevard. I'll find them."
Derek stayed a few minutes longer and let Sullivan talk him into a friendly game of pool and a couple of beers, to let it cool off a little more outside before he started back. Even so, when he stepped out of the air-conditioned comfort of the pool hall, the unrelenting heat felt like walking into a brick wall. He punched Vansen's number into his cell-phone and told her where to meet Sullivan.
As he started down the alley, the absence of the stray dogs he'd seen before was the only indication he got that something was wrong. Instinct kicked into overdrive -- he was not alone in the alley. He drew a switchblade knife, opening it in the same graceful movement that left him with the wall at his back.
A large figure dropped from somewhere above him, Derek didn't have time to figure out where he came from. The only detail that really registered was the knife in the other man's hand. Derek was already moving, his weapon bit deep and his attacker staggered. Before Derek could retreat back to the pool hall for help, though, he found out there were two of them. An arm went around his neck and there was a sudden shock that didn't even have time to register as pain. He stabbed blindly behind him, never knew if he hit anything before the world went black.
A few minutes later, Sullivan followed. He saw Derek lying face down in the alley and leaned back inside. "Hey! Gimme a hand out here!"
Followed by several other patrons, Sullivan ran down the alley. He started cursing as soon as he saw the pool of blood around Derek. He knelt and rolled Derek over on his back, felt for a pulse that he knew he wouldn't find.
Sullivan put Derek's body back the way he had found it and stood. "Some of you guys call the law."
"What are you doing, Frank? Is he dead?"
"Yeah -- it had to happen real fast. I'm gonna find out who did this and teach 'em a lesson, what the hell do you think? And I know damn well where to start looking." Sullivan turned around at that and strode out of the alley without a backwards glance. The others looked at each other uncertainly for a few moments before one of them ran back to the pool hall to call 911.
Sederis finished going over everything he knew about Stan Giraldo's activities that day, for the third time. He suddenly remembered another detail. "Stan and I had plans to go down to Murphy's Pub and watch the game tonight. If anything unusual had come up, he would have let me know -- we had a bet on it."
Without warning, the reality sank in that he and Stan would never spend another evening at the pub, watching a game or competing to see who could get a date with some girl they both liked. When he looked up, he saw understanding in Matt Adams' eyes. It wasn't the first time the deputy had sat across this desk from some friend of a murder victim and watched the reality hit that their friend was gone forever.
"I think that will be all for now, Mr. Sederis. I have your number here, as soon as we come up with something."
"Thanks, Detective." Sederis started to get up and his eyes drifted across Adams' desk. One particular sheet of paper caught his eye. Keeping his sudden interest out of his voice, he asked, "Could I have one of your business cards, in case I need to get in touch with you?"
"Sure." When they had come in, Adams had hung his suit jacket up on a coat tree in the corner. As Sederis had hoped, the detective's business cards were in his jacket pocket. The moment Adams' back was turned was long enough for Sederis to scan the paper. It was a preliminary list of suspects, and one of the names on it jumped right off the page at him.
Sederis took advantage of the privacy of a restroom stall to copy the other names onto his pocket computer, then he walked out of the sheriff's office without even pausing to wince at the heat. One of those names had given him a place to start. It turned out that Joe Bealle had old connections to the underground -- and knowing that made Sederis think twice about eliminating Eleanor's husband as a suspect. A mine owner would have all the access to explosives that the bomber had needed.
Vansen got off the phone with Derek, and called McQueen. "It's at a city park at the corner of Sixth and Commerce. I think Commerce is that main street that goes down the middle of the Strip, isn't it?"
"Yeah. Where are you?"
"Nowhere right now, a diner. Do you want us along?"
McQueen thought about it, he wouldn't have minded the back-up. He had tried to convince Ross to let him go alone, but the Commodore had refused to hear of it.
"No, we don't want to scare them off. Head over to the hospital and see what's going on there."
"Roger. Be careful."
They found Ali in the surgery waiting area, while the doctors were working on Heather, and sat beside her. Jessa put her hand on her friend's arm. "What did they say?"
Ali shook her head. "They don't know yet how bad the damage is."
Jessa felt a sympathetic twinge from her bad leg. "Ali, she won't end up like me."
"I could have lost her. I could have lost her and Glen both."
Jessa put her arms around Ali and held her. "We are going to get whoever did this, Ali, I promise you."
There was a lot of activity around the hospital. Sederis heard more than a few angry comments from the In Vitros he passed -- the rumor about Stan's culpability was starting to spread. Sederis scowled. It wouldn't take much to blow the lid off this. The hospital had always been considered common ground, everyone was expected to check their grievances at the door. Sederis knew angry words were as far as it was likely to go here and now ... anywhere else might be a different story by the time this day ended.
He stopped at the information desk and asked, "Where is Eleanor Bealle? Was she admitted?"
The volunteer behind the desk checked her computer screen. "She's in surgery. The waiting area is down the hall to your left."
Sederis found the waiting room full of people. He winced as he realized most of them were mothers of the children who had been hurt in the blast. He nodded to Ali. Preoccupied with concern for her daughter, she barely acknowledged his presence.
Joe Bealle was seated in a straight chair by the windows, nearest the surgery area, a couple of meters away from Ali and Jessa.
"Joe, how's Eleanor?"
"They had to take her in for a C-section," Bealle replied.
Suspicions momentarily set aside, Marc asked, "Is the baby okay?"
"Was a minute ago. We knew Ellie was probably gonna need the Caesarian, but the bomb goin' off scared her so bad she went into labor early." Joe stood up stiffly, pacing the short length of carpet in front of the row of waiting room chairs, the traditional new fathers' dance of anticipation.
A couple of people had been outside smoking cigarettes on a little concrete patio. They let in a swirl of hot air as they opened the door. It caught the curtains at either end of the windows across the remainder of the outside wall... just as the glass shattered inward.
Joe Bealle felt something whiz past his ear like an angry hornet. He smacked at it and then caught a glimpse of the hole in the wall behind him. "GUN!"
Pandemonium erupted as people already in shock from the bombing reacted to this new crisis. Those with their wits about them hit the floor and dragged anyone nearby down with them, but more than a few stood screaming or frozen with indecision. They were easy targets for the sniper's next shot.
Vansen dived for the curtain pull nearest the door. "Ali! Get the other side, hurry!"
Alison was a couple of seconds behind Vansen. She shoved a magazine rack out of her way to get to the curtain pull in the corner, and saw movement on the roof across the street. "There he goes!" She yelled.
"Shut the freakin' curtain!" Shane shouted back. "Everybody, down on the floor, get DOWN!"
Sederis kept low behind chairs, pulling one person and then a couple more down to safety. Several hospital security guards came running up, he realized their path was going to take them right in front of the door that was the sniper's only remaining view into the waiting area with the curtains shut. "Stop there! There's some nut with a gun on top of the building across the street!"
Alison grabbed Vansen's shirt sleeve. "Third floor sky walk!"
"That's the hospital medical building. There's a sky walk that connects the third stories of the two buildings. We can get across after that idiot without running across the street."
Right on Ali's heels, Vansen followed her around a corner and into a fire escape, up three flights of stairs.
The doors into the fire escape only opened into the stairwell. Ali pounded on the door. "Let us in!"
Hospital employees who had just heard a security alert about shots fired were not about to do any such thing, Marc realized. "Give me some room, Ali!" He stepped back and kicked the door as hard as he could. The lock broke but didn't give all the way. He put his shoulder into it and Alison added her strength to his. It finally gave, spilling all three of them out into the corridor.
Ali told a frightened nurse, "There's someone with a gun on top of the medical building! Get everyone away from the windows on that side of the floor!"
Vansen looked around. "Where's the sky walk?"
The three of them pelted around the corridor, dodging patients and nurses alike. All of them skidded to a halt at the threshold of the sky walk. Nobody wanted to find out the hard way if the sniper had a shot in there.
Vansen's hand went to her belt to the pouch where her mirror should have been. She swore and fumbled with the little fanny pack purse she was wearing, pulled out the mirror and poked it around the door frame.
Only the far corner of the roof had a clear shot at the sky walk, and no one was up there. "Clear! But I don't know how long it's gonna stay that way! Haul ass!"
Sederis took a deep breath, checking the safety on his pistol. "Cover me."
"Rather have you watching my back," Sederis replied. "You've had a lot more target practise than I have."
Vansen nodded and stepped around the corner where she would have a clear shot if the gunman suspected they were using the sky walk. Sederis ran across to the other side and checked the vestibule on the other side. "Clear!" He called. Vansen and Ali wasted no time joining him.
"We don't want to get stuck in another fire escape!" Vansen said.
"There's a public stairs by the elevator," Ali replied. "Over here!"
"Careful!" Marc warned her.
Shane explained, "Yeah, he's gotta get down from there somehow. Don't run right into him on the stairs. You stay behind Marc and me."
They cleared the stairwell by the numbers, covering each other from landing to landing until they reached the roof.
Sederis whispered, "This is how he got up here all right. Lock's been forced from the inside."
"Did he bypass the security?"
Sederis pointed to a couple of cut wires. Vansen was surprised at the meager security on a secluded entrance to a public building.... but then, most of Ganelon's people hadn't lived through the AI war. They were thinking of making things difficult for common trespassers and thieves, not terrorists.
His weapon ready, Sederis opened the door a crack and held out his hand for Shane's mirror. No one was on the roof, anywhere that he could see from the door anyway.
"Watch yourselves, there's a bunch of air conditioners and stuff out there."
They moved out carefully onto the roof and searched for the gunman. He wasn't hiding behind any of the air conditioner units -- or on the stairwell roof for that matter. Sederis said, "He must have already headed down the stairwell while we were wasting our time up here."
Vansen said, "I got some brass over here. Doesn't look like he took the time to pick up his shell casings."
"Leave it for the cops," Sederis said, turning the words into an oath.
"I don't think he went down the stairwell...." On the side of the roof facing the alley, she had found a rope tied around a sturdy pipe and thrown over the side.
Vansen looked around. "There he goes!" She barely took the time to point out their quarry before she grabbed the rope and went over the side. Sederis gulped at the height, but followed. They made it look easy, but Alison figured anything was easy if you knew how to do it. She punched 911 into her comm and reported that Vansen and Sederis were chasing the possible sniper down the alley.
Vansen saw where he had dropped his rifle to scramble over a board fence into the back lot of some business or other. All the same her sidearm was the first thing over the fence. The back door was open -- it was a restaurant kitchen -- and they could hear angry yelling from inside.
It was the kitchen of a deli. The cook was wearing a pot of spaghetti and swearing at the top of his lungs, he pointed with his spoon to the other doorway. There were several people in there, a girl behind the counter who almost brained Marc with a skillet, and half a dozen customers. All they could agree on was that the guy had been white and blond, he'd been wearing jeans, and he'd gone out onto the sidewalk.
Once outside, he had nearly got himself run over by a bus as he darted across the street, but that was the last they heard of him. Now that the worst of the midday heat had passed, people were venturing out to do their evening shopping, and there was quite a crowd.
Sederis rested his hands on his knees as he caught his breath. "That SOB must be half rabbit," he complained. "I'd better hit the pavement more often!"
Vansen took a last look around the street. There was no shortage of white guys with light-colored hair, and the farm folk lived in denim. "I can recommend a hell of a personal trainer if you ever find yourself at Loxley..."
Sederis made a rude noise, then stood up straight.
Vansen took a last look around the crowd for their quarry, but had to admit that he had got clean away. "Call the cops, I'll go out back and keep an eye on that rifle until they can pick it up."
Sederis reached inside his jacket for his cell phone. "Get the cook to watch it. I want to get back to the hospital and see why the hell that sniper targeted Joe Bealle when he had half a dozen easier targets right in front of the window."
|Fanfic||Part One||Part Two||Part Three||Part Four||Part Five||Part Six|