by Bill Hafoc Rogers
©2009 Bill Hafoc Rogers
Get rid of that! Get rid of that now!
The big Clydesbank horse-man looked startled. Get rid of what, Mr. Fairweather?
Fairweather was livid; in the state he was in, his horns could easily be a danger to life and limb. Thatinhaler! If you ever bring that stuff to work again, Ill fire you, do you hear? Fire you!
Derrick looked at the Campho-Rub inhaler in his hand as if seeing it for the first time. He put the cap back on and dropped it into his pocket, his fingers flying away from it as if it were a snake. Right away, Mr. Fairweather. He looked startled, and there was a world of mournful hurt in his big, soft eyes.
He turned and disappeared into his office. As a combination of personal assistant, receptionist, and security officer, his office was right behind the reception desk.
Art Fairweather shook. He took a deep breath, raised his hand, and rubbed his head at the base of his horns. Sorry, he half-whispered to the other employees nearby. A few had sad understanding in their eyes. Sorry. Let me, ah, catch my breath. Ill explain it to him.
Ten minutes later, he tapped on the doorframe of Derricks office. Derrick? May I come in?
Of course, Mr. Fairweather.
The office was dark, and scented with tea and cedar incense? The desk lamp cast a pool of light on the green felt pad on Derrick Clydesbanks desk, but didnt let Art see the horses eyes clearly. They were just faint gleams in the murk. With a pang, Art thought that perhaps Derrick didnt want him to see tears there. It also reminded Art of something, somehow. Something with a strong emotional connection, but he didnt quite place it.
Look, Derrick, Im sorry about the inhaler. Im sorry.
I understand, sir. The medicine has an intense odor; its really too strong even for me. I didnt stop to think how powerful it might be to a goat such as yourself.
Art barked something between a laugh and a sob. He took the normal-sized chair in front of Derricks oversized desk. No, its not that simple. Its just that, ah, the odor of camphor brings back bad memories. But you dont need to worry about that. I was out of line, and I apologize.
I doubt you could help it. They say scent is the most powerful of our senses, that it goes straight to the center of our minds and awakens associations without our being able to control it. Im sorry to have awakened whatever ghosts haunt you.
In the shadows, Derrick turned and took something from the tabletop behind him. Art heard a clink and the sound of liquid pouring. The scent of tea intensified. Without asking, Derrick set a china cup, filled with tea and resting on its saucer, on the edge of the desk nearest Art. He set a much larger mug of tea in front of himself. Derrick always had wonderful tea; Art had no idea where he got it.
Thank you, Derrick. I can use this just now.
Perhaps you could tell me why the scent of camphor troubles you so. They do say confession is good for the soul
Art laughed. Thats it!
Thats what your office reminds me of. The darkness in here, the cedar incense. And I know youre there, and can hear you, but I cant really see you. Its like the confessional at church, back when I was a kid.
Derrick chuckled. Strange you should say that. I once considered joining the priesthood myself.
You do have a bit of a priestly manner about you, somehow. Yes, a lot of us raised in the Church have that idea when were younger.
I went so far as to enter a seminary. But I found something inside myself that was not appropriate for a man of the cloth.
Art chuckled. Ah. Lust.
No, sir. Priests feel that also; controlling it is part of their calling. For any worthy of calling themselves priests, anyway. No, what I felt was something else.
Something horrible for a priest to hide in his heart: I found I could not believe in the justice of God.
Ah. Art sipped his tea. Perhaps in that we can agree.
They sat in silence for a while.
Art set down his cup. Our mutual friend Sam said youd be a fine employee, and he was right. How much did you work with Sam before you came here? How much did he tell you about Nans kidnapping?
We hardly knew each other, sir. Sam had dealings with my former employer, Mr. Crane, and spoke with me when he visited our offices. Somehow I must have impressed him, I have no idea how. Perhaps it was the tea, perhaps it was the way I finished my work, how I answered all the calls of duty I owed my employer, even under unusual and distressing circumstances.
In any case, after Mr. Cranes tragic death, I needed a new position. Sam said hed put in a good word for me here. As for the kidnapping, Sam was most circumspect. He told me it had occurred, and nothing more.
And of course the kidnapping is public knowledge.
Of course, sir.
So our badger friend kept the rest to himself. I would have expected noting less from him.
He did seem most professional. Although, to be frank, I wasnt sure exactly what Sams profession might be.
Sam arranges things. The tone in Arts voice gave the bland words much significance. He arranged a money transfer to some people. I think he may also have impressed upon them that it would be best if Nan returned to me unharmed. Unharmed. He sighed deeply.
I believe you are trying to say she suffered no physical harm, at least.
I cant say that, either. At least she came back alive Art sighed. Let me explain about the Campho-Rub. The kidnappers kept her hoodwinked for the whole time they had her, and kept the hood well doped with that stinky stuff. That way she couldnt identify them by sight or scent. I suppose I should thank them for that, since if they hadnt been so careful, they might have thought theyd have to kill her to protect themselves. But ever since that day, just the slightest scent of Campho-Rub sets her off. Her, or me.
Im sorry, Mr. Fairweather. I didnt know.
Of course you didnt. Dont worry about it, Derrick.
And the police never caught the kidnappers?
No, and with the Statute of Limitations, now they wont even try. It might not be so bad if we knew the three of them werent still out there somewhere, or even if we knew who they were, so we could avoid them. But we dont. Nan sees them in any stranger. For her, they live in every shadow.
There were three of them?
Yes, Nan was fairly sure of that. Two of them raped her, a canine and a feline. She thinks there was a third, but has no idea what his or her bloodline might be.
Derrick nodded. Its a terrible thing, sir.
Shes married now, and mostly happy. I guess were both doing as well, things are going as well, as you could expect.
But things could be better.
Art paused. Yes. I suppose they could.
Did you suspect any of your employees might have been involved?
Of course not! I only hire good people. I take care of them and they take care of me. That wouldnt have saved anyone if Id had a hint they were involved, but no. None of my people were involved. Id stake my life on it.
Please, have some more tea. Its good that your people are always so trustworthy. I have to wonder whether any of them behaved strangely, though, or perhaps left your employ around that time. Surely the police would have asked that question, and would have checked into anyone you mentioned. Just as a matter of routine, of course.
Art let Derrick top up his teacup. He picked it up and sipped, looking off into the winters early darkness outside, not really seeing it. No, nobody. Well, as I told the police at the time, there was one fellow, a summer student intern. But he doesnt count.
Art set down his cup with a loud clink. His eyes were angry. Are you insinuating that Presley OBannon could have been involved in this?
Derrick leaned back in the darkness. Im afraid I really cannot say one way or another, since I have no idea who Presley OBannon is, or was.
Ohyesof course. Well, I know his family. His mother is one of my oldest friends from high school. Art took a deep breath. Presleys a good kid. As I said, he was a summer intern. Its my practice, you know? I hire young architecture students from Carillon College over the summer. They get a little practice in their chosen field of study, they earn a little pocket money. School costs are unbearable these days. Carillon is a private school, and its even worse than most. It always was expensive. Even back when I got my architecture degrees there.
Its most admirable that you help the youngsters that way.
Thank you. Presley was with us the summer after his first year in the program. He left at the end of the summer, as all interns do. There was nothing unusual about that.
Did he return after his sophomore year?
Art sipped his tea before replying. No, we never hired him again.
Thats not your usual practice, though, is it? Didnt someone say that one of your interns this summer, Thisbe, was in her third year with you?
Fairweather twitched an ear dismissively. Presley left architecture. Thats not unusual, either. You can have all the heart and talent in the world, but the hours you have to put in during the architecture program are brutal. He broke down from stress, lack of sleep, Id guess. Something like that.
Ah. A perfectly innocent explanation.
Of course. As I said, he and his family are fine people. He had nothing to do with Nan. I never suspected him for an instant.
"Of course not, sir."
Mr. Clydesbank is here to see you, Lieutenant.
Please send him in. Briley slid the list of shift assignments aside with a sigh of relief. He might not know what Art Fairweathers personal assistant wanted with the Fort Pitt Police Department, but anythinganythingwas better than administrivia.
As hed expected from the name, Derrick Clydesbank was an example of why ceilings in public buildings had to be so high. At that, the horse had to lower his head a little to get through the doorway without getting a concussion. Not for the first time, Briley thanked God that he himself was just a mutt dog, and not a large one at that.
Mr. Clydesbank? Im Lieutenant Briley. Please have a seat. Warned in advance by Clydesbank's name, hed moved furniture for this appointment. The little couch that was usually against the wall was on the far side of his desk, where he usually had a small guest chair. That had been a good move.
Thanks for meeting me.
Anything for Arthur Fairweather. But I dont know why you wanted this meeting..?
Please understand that I am not acting for Mr. Fairweather in any official capacity, sir. He is not aware that I am investigating the kidnapping of his daughter Ananda, several years ago. I presume you are familiar with the case?
A bit. I was afraid that might be what you wanted. Whats your interest? Its been so long that nothing could be done to bring the perps to justice now.
Aside from my other duties, I handle security at Fairweather and Company.
Me. Even a placid Clydesbank can be an adequate security officer when there are no threats at hand. But as security is part of my job, I want to look to it as best I can, however great my natural handicaps in that area. And it seems to me that the people who kidnapped young Ananda are the greatest proven security threat the Fairweathers face.
You may be right. Im sorry I cant help you.
Ah. You have an official policy against releasing criminal investigation records?
What? Oh, no, nothing like that, not for Art Fairweather. Or even his security officer. Not for a case thats as cold as this one.
The problem is, we dont have anything on the case any more. When you called for an appointment, I went to look up what we had on the case, and theres nothing. Maybe our files got thrown out when we moved to the new building nine years back; maybe somebody purged the files more recently. No matter how much file space we have, we never seem to have enough. Now, statute of limitations or no statute of limitations, we should have kept the notes and evidence. What there was of it. But its just not there.
Briley spread his hands wide and sighed. Look, Im sorry. Its terrible, but I cant do anything about it.
A true pity. But you, or other officers, must still remember something about the case. To begin, can you tell me who handled the investigation?
Detective Sergeant MacFaoil, as he then was.
Would that be the Kelly MacFaoil for whom this building is named?
It would. Briley sighed again. The surest way to get a building named after you is to die while its under construction. See how tall this desk is? It was ordered for him, not for me. He never got a chance to use it.
A big fellow with an Irish name. He was an Irish Hound, then? I wouldnt have dared bring up the stereotype of the big Irish cop, but there he is. And I saw another Irish Hound in uniform, on the street outside, as I came in. Theyre everywhere. I swear, its almost as if they were bred for police wo-
Brileys ears went back. His hackles rose. We dogs are not bred. Were people, damn it, not just dumb animals you can breed any way you want
He felt his ears drop, his eyes widen, and his face go cold all the way down to his fingertips when he realized what hed said, and to whom. Oh God, Im sorry. I didnt mean
Clydesbank smiled. There was no anger in his eyes. A little sorrow, perhaps, but no anger. No offense taken. My clan is proud of its heritage in war and afterward, to be sure. But we dont condone or forgive what the Highland Lairds did to us. Some of the things they did were beyond forgiveness. Does the term gelding mean anything to you?
Briley flinched. I know what it means.
The Lairds experiments in breeding were nothing less than criminal. But it wasnt your crime, or mine. It was finished, and the consequences were settled centuries ago.
Indeed. Just what bloodline were the Highland Lairds, anyway?
They were an especially huge breed of deer; their closest four-legged analog on this continent would be the elk that roam the Western Mountains, I believe. But their antlers were even more massive. Ive never seen it, but Im told that the Clydesbank Clan Hall preserves several examples of them, mounted here and there on the walls.
Briley shuddered. He decided not to pursue that line of conversation any further. About the kidnapping, then. I do remember a little Back then, I was just a rookie walking a beat. But I heard a few things.
The victim was of high school age. She was attending a private schoolI dont know, that prep school on the West Side where all the rich kids go. You know its name? Nobody talks about it, of course, but one of the big reasons, maybe the biggest reason to go there, is the security. He shrugged. I dont like to say it, but class and how much money you have make you a target, and that works both ways. Not to mention some of the meat-eater/leaf-eater problems that still crop up. Sorry to mention them.
Well, the old antagonisms do still exist. I must say it strikes me as only proper that an officer of the law should recognize that fact. Theres no need to worry about offending me by speaking the truth.
Thank you. People can be so touchy, and considering history, I cant say I blame them.
The big horse nodded. Mr. Fairweather should have felt Ananda was safe enough at a private school that is almost a fortress. I can see how shocked he would be when events proved she was vulnerable even there.
Yes. Stunned was more like it. I saw him come into the station once, when the case started. They led him in, steering him by his elbow so he didnt walk into doors and walls.
Horrible. Did they kidnap her from school?
No, just outside. Normally her fathers car came for her, but she loves to singshe used to love it, before, I mean. Thursdays shed go to singing practice in Symphony Hall. Shed ride there with a friend. Her friend usually parked her car on the street, about a block from the schools gates. The kidnappers grabbed her on her way there. They jumped out of a van, threw her in the back, and left, simple as that. Got clean away, too. Nobody else saw it happen.
After that, nothing much. The Feds came in, and they wanted to tap Fairweathers phone lines, but he wouldnt have it. We watched him and his people, and it wouldnt surprise me if the Feds had a tap on his line, permission or no. But somehow he managed to pay the ransom without our seeing who delivered the money for him, where the drop was, any of that.
The kidnappers released Ananda Fairweather alive. Usually they dont, ransom money or no ransom money. I knew that, so during the case I thought Mr. Fairweather was stupid to handle things the way he did. With the way things turned out, though, maybe he was right.
It didnt help us catch the perps, though. We had nothing on them. They got clean away, and that made me furiousstill does. Theres nothing worse than the kind of swingbacks who would kidnap and gang-rape a young girl. Theyre rabid four-leggers, not people. They should be hunted down and killed like the beasts they are.
Did you happen to hear anything about Sergeant MacFaoils progress in the case?
Nothing. He worked alone on this case. But let me assure you, if there were any evidence it would have led him to the criminals. He was good in those days. I think his failure weighed on him; I remember he seemed terribly depressed whenever Id see him. He slowed down a lot after that, and the quality of his work suffered. Of course he must have been very sick, too, although none of us knew it.
He was promoted to Lieutenant afterward, in spite of poor performance?
Well, MacFaoil had been an excellent officer. He was brilliant, in fact, a legend on the Force. It seemed to half-kill him that he couldnt solve the Fairweather case. Im not sure he ever did get over it Time heals all wounds, but for that you need the time, and he didnt have much. The heart attack that carried him off was only a few months later.
I thought hed get over it. And I remember thinking, even then, inexperienced as I was, that maybe hed seen too much of life on the street. As Lieutenant, I do a lot more administrative work. It isolates me from some of the things you see out there, things youd rather forget. Frankly, thats not all bad.
I think MacFaoils promotion was a good idea. I think he would have recovered and would have been fine, if hed lived. If he wasnt a big Irishman. So many of them die so young; theyre heartbreakers. So sweet, they seem so strong, and then they just keel over. Tragic.
Very sad. And thats all you know?
Not quite: I know what everyone else does. Ananda Fairweather said three people, at least two of whom were male, were involved in her kidnapping. One of the males was a canine and one was a feline. Also, the ransom was $180,000.
Clydesbank sat up taller, if that were possible. Thats a strange number, dont you think?
Moneys money. I was so mad about the case that I hadnt thought about it. What do you mean?
Im no expert on the ways of criminals, of course. But it seems to me that in setting a ransom, kidnappers might make either of two mistakes. They might set it too high, or too low. Correct?
Please excuse a poor, slow-minded drafthorse for thinking that such basic observations are startling. But let us ponder this. They set the ransom rather low, correct?
Um. Arthur Fairweather seems to have a lot of money, yes.
Yes. If I knew Mr. Fairweathers finances, circumspection would require me to forgo speaking of them. But it would not betray any confidence for me to observe that Mr. Fairweathers financial resources are considerable.
So, Lieutenant Briley, we have a paradox: You will no doubt have noticed that Miss Fairweather was kidnapped at the one point where she was most vulnerable. In order to know her movements that well, they would need to observe her daily routines in detail. That hints that the criminals were professionals. Yet they raped her. Having raped her, they let her live. And they set a ransom far lower than they could have. All those things say the criminals werent professional at all.
The amount of the ransom itself is strange, because it is not the sort of number that would naturally occur to someone. The sum of two hundred thousand bux, or even a million, would be something one might expect the criminals to demand. The number they chose instead seems oddly precise, oddly specific. It is as if they requested a specific amount, for some specific purpose.
Which begs the question, What purpose?
Clydesbank smiled. Yes, it does indeed raise that question, Lieutenant Briley. It seems to me that if one knew what costs exactly $180,000or, more precisely, what would cost three individuals exactly $60,000 eachone might be well on one's way to solving this case.
Karen bustled into the second floor break room. Wheres my carrot cake?
Dall laughed and poured a cup of coffee for her. It was special, a Java Island variety infused with cherry and chocolate. They always had something special for the Thursday Morning Flock Meet. I thought you werent going to make it. I thought Sally and I would have to eat your cake for you.
We wouldnt do that. And we have extra we could save for you anyway, Sal said. She looked worried. She was sweet, and always took things more seriously than she should.
Nobody gets my piece of carrot cake! I wouldnt miss the Flock Meet for anything. All the wolves and lions and bears and such around, we sheep gotta stick together. Whered you get the coffee, Dall?
The Beanery just got it in. Hows things in Admissions?
Karen struck a dramatic pose, back of her wrist against her wooly forehead, eyes heavenward, ears laid back in despair. Terrible. Its not enough dealing with my real work, oh no. The Alumni Associations riding my fuzzy butt for copies of the archives, updated to the new format, too. And what theyre doing is wrong. Carillon College is supposed to have standards! We shouldnt be supporting spam and junk mail campaigns. Blasted marketoid, thats what theyre making me, and to Hell with education, we gotta squeeze money out of anyone who ever set hoof in this place. And then my computer croaks, as always.
You should have them replace that thing.
They wont. They say the computer is fine, but it isnt. The Internet is broken again. You cant believe how long it takes me to read any of those old files! I cant get anything done.
Sally said I saw someone in maintenance working in that metal box, you know, the one on the outside wall near the west entrance? Bet the IT guys were trying to fix something and broke something else.
Karen grumbled into her coffee. I bet. You know what I call them? Itiots. Idiot with an I-T, get it? I called them and gave them a piece of my mind. They said theyd send someone over, but he couldnt get here until 10:00.
Ten oclock? Dall said, glancing at the clock on the wall above the sink. You mean now?
Yes. My, the cake is fine this week.
Sally asked Hows IT going to fix your machine if youre not there?
I left it on for them.
Dont you think you should think about security sometimes? Leaving your machine unattended and open like that?
Oh, posh, Sally. Obsolete files, who cares about them? Youre a darling, but sometimes youre almost as bad as the itiots. All this security crap is just their making themselves look important to preserve their jobs, if you ask me.
Sallys words did make Karen worry, when she had time to think about it, but she wasnt going to show that. She finished her cake and coffee. She took her time about it, and enjoyed the usual gossip. (The new secretary in the office of the Dean of Liberal Arts was a canine of the dingo line, and he insisted on wearing traditional native Australian scents that made him smell like hed rolled in a three-week-dead fish. Dreadful!)
When the twenty minutes were up, though, she hurried back down to Admissions. She almost ran.
Her office door was closed but unlocked. The lights were out. Inside, on her desk, surrounded by a mound of register books and miscellaneous papers, her computer was running some program she didnt recognize. She thumped down in her chair and squinted at the screen.
FILE STRUCTURE CHECK: DONE
Should she stop it? She didnt know what it was doingshe didnt dare interfere!
And as she considered it, half in panic, her computer beeped and the screen went blank.
It flickered. The machine began to boot. Everything seemed normal. In fact, the computer booted faster than she expected.
Heart in throat, she checked the files shed been searching and editing. Everything was where it should be. All her latest edits were in place. And file access was very, very fast.
Her computer worked beautifully after that, to the point that she called IT to get the name of the tech who had fixed it. Whoever it was, she wanted them the next time the Internet broke. But they couldnt find any record of her trouble ticket.
Emily Redcloud braided the second feather into the fur behind her right ear, and then stopped for a moment. Outside, the winter drizzle was unrelenting. She sighed deeply.
Anna, the nurse, stopped trying to fit a stylish brown half-shoe around Emilys footpaw. Whats wrong, dear?
Nothing. Its just such a dreary day. I wish I could get out to the park or something.
Youre not thinking about that again, are you?
Emily was, but she wasnt going to admit it. No, not at all. I just wish the sun would shine. Am I presentable for my gentleman friend?
You look ravishing, Ms. Redcloud. A true princess of the plains, as always.
Liar. Im an old, old wolf. But Emily smiled anyway. My walker? No, not walker, my cane, please.
I think we should wheel you down in the chair.
I have my dignity, girl. Besides, Im never going to recover if I dont exercise. Nothing personal, but the last thing I want is to be stuck in a nursing home for the rest of my life.
But youre still so slow walking with the cane, and youll be tired by the time we get there. Lets do this: Get in the chair, Ill take you to the door and you can go in to meet Mr. Wouters under your own power. Deal?
Youre a saint, Anna. Thank you.
The Convalescent Center had what they called parlor rooms. They were quite homey, actually. Anna stopped the wheelchair just outside Parlor Number 2. Emily heaved herself to her feet. She planted her cane on the floor, took two tiny steps, planted her cane on the floor, took two tiny steps, into the parlor.
It was warm from the fire in the gas fireplace. The writers name was Stefan Wouters. A big horse, he was already in the parlor; he rose to his feet as she came in.
Hed eaten apples for breakfast. Otherwise he smelled of soap, hay, a spicy cologne that was far too powerful for a wolfs nose, and some chemicalleather polish, hoof polish, something like that, she wasnt sure quite what.
Like all the Belgian Blacks shed met, he had a luxurious mane, magnificent sweeping tail, and long feathers of hair at his wrists; at his ankles, too. They spilled from his jacket sleeves and from his trouser legs across the top of his impeccably polished black hooves. He was all black, except for a white star on his forehead. But he was much bigger than expected. Belgian Blacks were big horses, but this fellow was at least a hand or two taller than the standard.
He smiled. She didnt smell any threat in him, and his eyes were mild and friendly. He stepped forward to take her hand. His handshake, his entire body had the strength of granite, of some sort of force of nature. Somehow, effortlessly, subtly, his handshake became a grip to steady her.
Ms. Emily Redcloud?
Yes. And you would be Mr. Stefan Wouters, of The Church Today?
You got it. Boy, am I glad you agreed to meet me! You probly know why Im here but its getting toward noon. How bout I treat you to lunch? Theres a good place pretty close, and interviews go a lot smoother over good food.
Emily considered. This big horse smelled all right. He seemed as harmless and eager to please as a cubrather typical of the drafthorse breeds, thatand surely they would have checked his credentials when he came in. She shouldnt be in any danger.
Id be delighted, Mr. Wouters, if its not too much trouble or expense for you. Anything to get out of this place for a while.
Great! My vans just outside.
He took her arm, a polite gesture that let him unobtrusively support her on the side of her broken hip, and to hold a huge umbrella over their heads to protect them from the drizzle.
Mr. Wouterss van looked like a plain tradesmans model. It was silver-gray, clean, undistinguished and unmarked. The rear tires looked a bit wide; that and the way the windows were darkened were the only unusual features.
Wouters opened the door for her. Emily stopped for a moment, eyes widening. Then, with a hand-up from Wouters, she got into the passenger seat, sinking down into a horse-sized bucket seat that was more like an armchair than a bucket. It had some serious padding beneath what seemed to be best-quality leather.
Wouters closed the door for her, walked around, and got into the drivers seat. He stepped on pedals and turned the key. A powerful engine started, smooth, deep, and quiet. Fastening his seat belt, Wouters shifted the five-on-the-floor into gear and put them in motion. Turning onto the street, the boxy vehicle slid into traffic with the smooth assurance of a shark easing into a school of mackerel.
There was music. It was rather insipid music, provided by the local Top 40 station. Wouters kept the volume low, thankfully. But if the music was utterly unmemorable, the stereo was very special indeed. Emily had spent much time around college students back when music systems were the big thing, and she still knew her audio. The European stereo system, by itself, was worth as much as this whole van appeared to be from the outside.
They pulled into the lot of a decent-looking local restaurant; not one of those chain jobs. Wouters came around to offer her his arm again. They walked in. Someone, a graceful and happy feline who might be the owner, gave them a big smile and led them to their table.
The place smelled wonderful. She wanted a steak here, yes. She sniffed. The one with the swiss and bleu cheese, and the sautèed onions and mushrooms. Her nose told her they had other good dishes, but that onetheyd probably call it a smothered steakhad to be their best.
Wouters helped her with her chair, then sat down himself. He picked up his menu and glanced at it.
Mr. Wouters, Im more grateful than you can know for getting me out of that house of suffering. I do have to wonder why youd want to interview me for your article, though.
Wouters perked his ears up. Whats wrong with your place? Okay, its a nursing home, but I figgered the Church ran it pretty good.
Nothing. Its finefor a nursing home. She looked at the drizzle outside, which seemed to be turning into rain. Its just that I dont have long. I want to get out of there before my end comes.
Hold itend? He set down the menu and looked at her, all concern. Your nurse said you had a busted hip, but you were doing great on the healing
So they tell me. But Im of the Plains People, full-blooded. She touched the feathers braided into her fur and smiled, a little sadly. I follow the old ways, not the Churchs ways. And we of the Plains know things. I know that Ill meet Death soon. When I do, I want to meet him on the prairie, or in the woods, alone and face-to face, as is proper. Thats the way the Plains People should die, Mr. Wouters. Someplace peaceful and natural, where you can make your own peace with the end of a beautiful life. Not in some hospital with tubes running in and out where tubes have no business going.
He nodded and smiled. Oh. Well, Death, everybody meets that guy some time, huh? Y know, back in the real old daysbefore the Awakening, I meananyway, the horses back then, a lot of em had whatcha might call a suicide thing. Theyre gettin old, cant run so fast, aint so tough or strong any more so they do one last thing for the herd: They split off by themselves. Give the wolves an easy target. Theyre dead no matter what, but this way, them dyin helps out the entire rest o the herd. So those old-time horses an wolves, I guess its kinda like a contract between em; mutual assistance, in a weird way.When they were old and their end was near, their last gift was to turn aside to lead the wolves away, as far as they could, before they were pulled down. They gave meaning to their deaths by sacrifice, and gave meaning to the sacrifice by removing a threat from the herd. We of the herd share those memories with you of the pack. I suppose it makes us colleagues, in some strange way.
In a very weird way. Yet for those who are still in touch with nature, the link is strong.
The waiter came; they put in their orders. She ordered the smothered steak. Wouters ordered a sirloin salad. That was odd: Every sapient creature had at least some ability to handle an omnivores diet, but she hadnt known many horses with a taste for rare meat.
He must have heard her chuckle; he looked up. What?
Youre not what you seem. A horse eating a steak salad, thats odd enough. But the bill here wont be small. Your clothing is plain, but I recognize fine British cloth when I see it. As well, your van is not exactly a standard model. You have a lot more money than the average churchman, Mr. Wouters. More polish, too, if I may say so.
Who said Im clergy? Sure, I write for a church magazine, but I aint never gonna be ordainednot my calling.
My argument stands. If theres anybody that has less money than churchmen, its writers.
Damn, youre sharp! He laughed. Okay, the writings kind of a hobby for me. I like it and Im good at it, but if I had to live on it, Id probly starve. The reason I dont is, I got lucky with some real estate back in the Troubles.
Hm. Well, then: Why do you want to talk to me about Father Presley OBannon?
Cause Pres and me went to Carillon College back in the druggie days. We both had the same temptations; I know how I dealt with it, but I wanna find out how he ended up.
I see. Fascinating. The waiter slid her steak in front of her; it looked almost as good as it smelled.
So you was Press landlady?
Yes, the one and a half years he was at Carillon, including the summer between school years. He was a dear kid, always polite, always kept himself smelling nice. Of course, like most of the kids who took rooms along State Street, he didnt have two brasses to rub together.
What sort of friends did he have? Was there anybody he hung out with in particular?
Emily sniffed. She smiled. She might be old, but her teeth were still very good; they gleamed. Why do you want to know?
Wouters laid his ears back; only a fraction, but they did go back. Well, Im writing about the guy
Mr. Wouters, dont try to fool one of the Plains People. I broke my hip, not my nose. I can smell deception, I can smell that your casual question means way more to you than your story can explain.
He sighed. He looked away, then looked back at her again. Okay. I was kind of a mess back then, right? If it was something you could smoke, snort, or drink, I was there, suckin it down by the quart. An Pres was a buddy.
So, one night, I hit this huge party with himhim and two other guys, another dog and a cat. Dont remember anything else about em; as stoned as I was, thats no surprise, huh? An somewhere along the way, things got real fuzzy; I got a few bits and pieces stuck in my mind, an thats it. What I remember Im pretty sure somebody grabbed all the cash I had on me. I heard the door crash open, an somebody screamed about the Drug Squad. Pres and some other guy, they dragged my tail outta there; they made me puke and cleaned me up.
The next morning, I woke up in my own dorm room. I felt like a pack o wolvesd ripped me apart, chewed on the pieces, and put the leftovers back together, but I was alive! An Ive been stone-cold sober ever since.
I may not know who saved my ass that night, but Im damn sure somebody didand Ive never had a chance to thank em.
Emily chewed a piece of steak, savoring it. She swallowed, set her fork down, smiled. You never had a chance to thank whoever took your money, either. I bet it was that bobcat. I never did like him. The restaurants owner flicked an ear in her direction. Emily vowed to lower her voice a bit more from here on.
Now Wouter quoted Scripture: Gratitude is mine, but vengeance is the Lords.
So they say. Im glad you believe that.
Yeah, I do.
Well, then: Since youve been such a nice young man I called them the Cat Pack. Its not right for two canines to follow a felines lead like that, you know. Presley broke free eventually, luckily for him.
Id guess it was Colin who helped Presley drag you out of there. I dont know his last name, but he was one of Father OBannons two closest friends.
What was he like?
Big dog, really big. He could smile like the sun, and some days it felt like hed do anything for you. But on other days hed get moody, slow, and surly. I think he had a good heart, all in all. He struck me as a bit lazy. That was his real problem; he let the bobcat tell him what to do, because it was easier than thinking for himself.
And the bobcat? What about him?
Trevor something-or-other. Trevor. She snorted. I never liked him. Oh, the few times we talked, he was all right. Kind of quiet, very polite, very polished. And he was reserved. There was always something going on inside that head that he wasnt saying. Like you.
Wouters blinked. Should I be insulted?
If you likebut at least I dont smell any malice in you. Trevor, now, he didnt smell right. Hed wear scents strong enough to gag you, trying to hide what was going on in his heart, but they werent enough to fool me. Thats why I never trusted him.
Um how do you mean..?
Sorry, but I fear I cannot explain. Not even to most other canines. A bloodhound, or another member of the Plains People, yes; but otherwise, forget about it. I can say he smelled sour. That little bit of tension, as if he had that little bit of fear that someone might figure out what he was up to.
And then, I was always afraid I might catch some disease from him.
Thats weird. Did he, I dunno, cough a lot or something?
No, no come to think of it, he didnt. I think he struck me as ill because he smelled like medicine.
Maybe. Something sharp, something like medicine anyway.
Wouters nodded. Was Pres involved in church youth groups back then? And so the interview continued.
As he had when they left the convalescent center, Wouters gave her his arm and held an umbrella for her as they walked back inside.
Goodbye. Thank you for a wonderful lunch and an interesting conversation, she said.
Hey, it was my pleasure.
Mr. Wouters, I am of the Plains People. We get feelings about things. And more and more, something tells me you arent what you seem to be.
Is anybody, Ms. Redcloud? He smiled, bowed slightly, and walked back out into the drizzle.
She used her cane to go on into the lobby. Her favorite nurse was waiting for her with the wheelchair. Good afternoon, Anna, she said. She nearly sang it out.
My, you seem happy. Was Mr. Wouters such a wonderful host?
He was all right. But Im happy because Im not worried about that any more.
Annas eyes brightened. I told you that you had a lot of good years in you yet! So you decided your premonition was wrong?
She turned and looked back out into the drizzle. The nondescript silver van was at the end of the driveway. Mr. Wouters was just a darker blot behind the darkened windows.
The van turned right, out of the driveway. It accelerated to traffic speed. It went behind a line of trees and was gone.
No, I was rightjust in a different way than I thought. You see, theres more than one way to meet Death
Somewhere down the flagstone corridor, somebody was running. Father OBannon heard rapid footsteps. Then a skidding sound. A door thumped closed, somewhere off toward the church office.
He gritted his teeth, not sure whether to be more amused or annoyed. Kidsat least they werent afraid to come into the church, as so many seemed to be these days! But he really should check into it.
There was nobody there. He opened the office door and poked his head inside. Mrs. Kranz wasnt in, but perhaps she had been; there was a warm, sweet electrical smell, as if the computer had been running.
He shrugged and headed back toward the sanctuary. It was quiet there. He really should stop wasting his time with Wednesday evening confession. Some people had come in when hed first started it, but even busy people seemed to prefer Saturdays. Oh, well; maybe the idea of convenient contrition was a little bit silly.
But no, there was somebody in here after all! He was sure of it. The door to the confessionals left-hand compartment clicked closed just as he returned to the sanctuary.
He hurried to the confessional and got into the priests compartment, the one in the center. He sat down and turned out the light. He couldnt see who was on the other side of the screen, nor could he smell them; the cedar incense prevented that. Good. God knew who they were, and only God mattered.
Blessed be the Blood of the Martyr, who took away our sins. And blessed be the Creator and the Messenger, who with the Martyr are worthy of all praise and glory. Amen.
Nothing. No sound, no movement on the other side of the screen. Could he have been wrong? Was there anybody in the confessional at all? But no, there was. Somehow he could feel it, a presence in the dark, sacred silence. Someone listening, waiting.
Finally a voice came. It was deep, but soft. Not a whisper, but a low mutter almost too faint for him to hear. Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been ten years. Ten years since my last confession.
Why so long, my son?
Because of a great sin. One that weighs on me so heavily that I couldnt bear to speak of it, even to the Creator who knows all. But I cant be silent any more, Father. To save my soul, I must confess that one great sin, compared to which nothing else I have done, good or evil, seems to matter.
Thank you, Father. The penitent took a deep breath. He said nothing more for what seemed a long time.
Ten years ago, he said, finally, I needed some money. I thought it was for a good purpose. My parents and my aunt were scrimping for every brass they could save, to put me through the Community College. And yet there was never enough.
I was going to do great things, things that would help so many people. If there wasnt more money, that wouldnt happen. All the work of my family, all the good I could have done in this life, would be lost. Gone forever, just because I didnt have a little bit of money.
Father OBannon swallowed hard. He tried to speak. Go on, my son. Go on.
I had three friends who were in the same boat. We talked about it. One of them, the guy who was usually our leader, said he had a solution.
What what species was he?
Does it matter?
I worked for the owner of the student bookstore. She was nice enough, and she did pay me. A few brasses, a few crumbs off her table. But she had so much money, and what had she ever done to deserve it? While all I needed was a little bit of what she had. Id use it wisely, for tuition, room, and board. She wouldnt miss it, right?
So Trevor told me
That was his name, Trevor. He said Just let us know how to get in and give us the safes combination. Well do the rest. Maybe you can watch the door and tell us if anyone elses coming, but other than that, keep yourself clean. The cops will never know you were involved, and if they dont get you, they wont get us either.
Father OBannon could hardly breathe. Go on.
But my boss was in the store that night. They tied her up, they beat her, they broke her arm. Maybe they did worse things to her. I was across the street, watching the door. I told myself I didnt know what was going on, but I did know. I knew, but I just didnt want to. Thats the truth of it.
I took the money. I finished my degree, and Ive tried, Father, Ive tried so hard to live a good life. To do things to help people, to do whats right. But its all based on that old crime. Oh, Father, what should I do? What can I do, after all these years?
Father OBannon couldnt speak.
Its all right, my son. One moment. He took a deep breath. You have to make it right.
But how? I cant unbreak an arm. I cant unbetray a person who trusted me.
You can confess to them. You can tell them how sorry you are, and you can ask their forgiveness. Perhaps they cant forgive you. My your crime is so great that forgiveness may be more than any mortal can give. But God can forgive all.
So I should
Confess to her. That is your penance.
A gasp, a long breath. Its too late for anyone to send me to jail for it, but who can trust me once this truth gets out? I may lose my job. I may lose my family. Those who respected me will scorn me.
What you say may be true, the priest agreed, yet you must make it right. All that you gained by your silence is built upon a foundation of lies. He tried not to sob. He had almost forgotten, he had tried to forget, but God God never forgot. If your life isnt built upon the truth, then its not your life.
Butmy friends! People might be able to figure out who else was involved. What if I ruin their lives too?
Your sin is yours, and your penance is yours. You dont have to mention anyone elses names. But you owe it to them to give them a chance to cleanse their own souls, as you are cleansing yours.
It will be hard, Father.
I know, my son. But there is no other way.
I will The penitent sobbed. I will do as you say. But one other thing, Father. I have spoken with people about this crime, and I have lied about my involvement in it. What is my penance for that?
For that? Oh, thats a venial offensesay five Blood of the Martyrs. Making the crime right again, as best you can, that is your true penance.
Thank you, Father.
God forgives you, my son. Hail to the Creator, the Messenger, and to the Martyr whose blood took away our sins. Go in peace.
The confessional shook. Father OBannon heard the penitents door open. He heard heavy footsteps walking away. He heard the sanctuary door hiss open and thump closed again.
He sat there for a long time, alone in the darkness.
He had tried to fool himself for years, but deep in his soul hed always known what he had to do about his greatest sin. It was time to face the truth.
Well, hello again, Mr. Clydesbank! Come in, sit down. What brings you here today? Did you find anything about the Fairweather case?
No, Lieutenant. Not that I should have expected to, when the professionals have had such little success. But I did have one new idea, silly as it may be. Its definitely clutching at straws.
What is it?
When I was here last week, I thought I saw another Irish police officer. A large fellowtheyre about as hard to mistake as I am myself. Someone told me that you have an Officer MacFaoil on the force. Would MacFaoil be the Irish officer? And if so, would he be related to the late Lieutenant Kelly MacFaoil?
Him? Yeah. Thats Colin, the Lieutenants son.
You sound as if you disapprove of him, somehow. Its only natural that, having lost his father, youd want to give the son a chance on the Force.
Briley barked a laugh. Were professionals here, Mr. Clydesbank. Wed never let someone onto the force just because we felt sorry for him. Colin may not be what his father was, but he earned his place on the Force. He met all the qualifications.
I see. That includes a degree in criminal justice these days, does it not?
Yes. Colin has his degree. From Carillon College, too. Theyre good.
They are indeed. Rather expensive, though. The younger Officer MacFaoil must be very glad that his father left enough life insurance to pay his way through Carillon. Even back then, it would have cost fifteen thousand a year. But I didnt come here to ask about Officer Colin MacFaoil. I came to ask him questions. After all, he was very close to his father. Perhaps he overheard something that might be of use to us.
I dont think they were really that close.
Is something wrong, Lieutenant Briley? You look troubled.
Nothing at all, Briley said. Mary MacFaoils mobile home was decent, but it didnt look like Kelly had left her very much money. It was confusing. Its nothing. Nothing at all.
I am. Briley sniffed the air. Colin MacFaoils been around the building some time today. Hes on his beat now. I suppose I could call him in if you want to question him.
Clydesbank coughed. He pulled a Campho-Rub inhaler out of his pocket, inhaled the fumes into each nostril, made a face, fumbled the cap onto the inhaler, and tossed it in the wastebasket. Briley could smell the sharp stink of the camphor. Foul stuff, that, Clydesbank said. I dont think Ill ever buy it again. No, thats all right, Lieutenant. Maybe Ill come by and ask him about it, with your permission, some time in the future.
But I cant think of any other leads to pursue. I consider my investigation of the case to be closed. Its a pity nobody was able to find and punish the guilty parties.
Yes. A true pity.
Seven lousy years walking a beat
At least he had enough seniority to work days, now. But it made him sick, thinking about how much of his life hed wasted out here.
A trio of youngstersprobably ferrets, although it was hard to tell with the loose clothing they woresaw him and ran away from the car theyd been trying to steal. He pretended he hadnt seen them. He was almost back to the station, and he didnt want to work late filling out paperwork on a theft arrest.
Seven years. And how many more until
He stopped and blinked at the mutt who stood before him, wearing a clerical collar. Presley? What are you doing here? You crazy, man?
Colin, I cant live with my part in what happened. I must confess. It will be my ruin, but I have to speak anyway. Im sorry.
Colin reached for his revolver. Butshooting a priest? How could he justify that? He hustled Presley OBannon aside, into the shadows of a doorway, instead. It will be my ruin, too, mine and Trevors. Were your friends, the best friends you ever had. We trusted you! Do you ever think of that?
Every day. You dont need to worry about me; Ill never betray you or Trevor. But you should confess, too, Colin. You and Trevor both, for the good of your souls.
Colin almost laughed in the priests face. But Trevor wouldnt like that. He forced the laugh down. He put on a serious look. Shouldnt we meet and talk things over, before you do anything rash?
I have to do whats right. Finally, after all these years, I know that.
But I dont know what I should do! Im confused. Let me think, and lets talk again before you say anything. Please? We could meet at the old coffee shop where we used to go. Say, 11:00 tonight?
All right. All right, Colin. Ill pray for you.
Thank you, Father.
He walked the rest of the way to the station in a daze. He walked up the steps and into the lobby, then around and back toward his locker. He tried to greet the people he met as he always did, but he was sure they could smell the guilt on him.
Briley had gone home for the evening, thank God! There was something in the air he couldnt identify; a medicinal sharpness that filled him with guilt, somehow.
Thank God he didnt have to talk to Briley, thank God that
There was a message slip in his slot. With a trembling hand, he picked it out. He unfolded it and read:
MacFaoilWant to discuss w/ you anything you know & can remember re: Fairweather kidnapping case. Pls meet, my office start of shift tomorrow.A. E. Briley
Somehow he got into his street clothes. He wobbled out of the station house, hardly smelling or seeing anything around him. Someone called out to him, but he kept going, out into the early darkness.
Alderman Trevor Goodwill had found it was often useful to have a few prepaid cell phones he'd purchased with cash. When the pager number came in, he pulled one of them out. At the right time, he dialed MacFaoils own disposable phone.
Hello, Bey. This is Al. Whats the story?
Its its the janitor. He got sloppy drunk. Presley OBannon has told somebody the story.
Man, he told me he was going to. And then somebody left me a note asking about it.
The Head Usher. A cop of high rank. That was bad, very bad.
I see. Well, if they didnt escort you out, they must not know anything yet. Its time to clean up the mess. Theres no need to worry too much, though.
Are you sure? What if hes already
Ill have Jerry get you a ride home. I will have a friend get a stolen vehicle for you. You can find it at Jerrys Garage. Use it as we discussed. Hell be driving a blue pickup. Hell leave you a present in the glove box, something to calm your nerves.
You know I dont I never would have gotten into this trouble in the first place, you wouldnt have talked me into if it werent for my nerves.
You need some medicine just this once. Calm down, Bey, it will be all right.
If you say so. I bloody hope youre right.
I am right. Just dont lose your head. Dont leave any spots in the carpet. The Head Usher isnt any relative of yours, this time. He wont clean up after you.
Why does everybody always have to bring up my fatherall right, all right, Al. No errors.
And dont forget your nerves.
On his way home that day, Trevor Goodwill tossed the cell phone into the river. It was always best to dispose of the evidence as quickly as possible. He hadnt known that when he was back at good old Carillon College, wondering where hed find next terms tuition. But a life spent climbing the slippery slope of politics had taught him a thing or two since then.
In the old days he hadnt always known to dispose of the evidence. But better late than never.
Lieutenant Briley drank the last of his coffee. He set the mug down on his desk with a grumble. Where was MacFaoil?
Maybe he hadnt seen the note? If so, it wouldnt be the worst mistake that lug had ever made on the Force. When he thought about what a great cop the elder MacFaoil had been
He walked out into the main office. Anybody seen MacFaoil today?
Boss? Officer Stanson, a cute little female who usually worked the riverfront, looked worried and confused. Her whiskers twitched, her deep brown eyes were all seriousness and concern. We have something on that hit-and-run last night.
Father OBannon has come out of it. Hes a mess. They dont know how bad the head injuries are, or if hell walk again. But hes conscious, sort of.
Great. Whats the description on the vehicle that hit him? Did he see the driver?
He isnt talking about that, Lieutenant. He says he wants to confess, says it over and over and over.
Get him another priest, then.
No. He wants to confess to you, and She held up a card in her webbed hand and squinted at it. And to some people named Ananda and Arthur Fairweather.
Briley froze. His mouth dropped open. Damn me, he whispered.
Once, when theyd met him on the street, Father OBannon had addressed Colin MacFaoil by name.
They had both gone to Carillon College, at the same time.
Presley OBannon had worked for Arthur Fairweather, and would have known almost everything about Anandas movements.
Sixty thousand dollars would have paid for three years at Carillon, maybe even four.
Kelly MacFaoilthe officer everyone on the Fort Pitt Police nearly worshipedhadnt been able to find suspects in the Fairweather kidnapping. But he had found them. He hadnt found any evidence. But he had found evidence; found it and destroyed it. Hed worried himself into an early grave because he couldnt solve the case. But he had solved it. What killed him was that he knew exactly who had done the crime, and he couldnt tell. Because
Where the Hell is McFaoil?
He didnt show up this morning, Boss.
Stansonwith me! Scramble three squad cars, have one pick us up at the front door! MacFaoils apartment, fast!
It took ten minutes to get there, lights flashing but the siren off. They parked at the curb. Three officers, revolvers drawn, took the elevator. Briley, Stanson, and the rest pelted up the stairs.
Briley knocked on the door. MacFaoil? Open up. There was no answer. He stepped back to kick the door in. Stanson reached forward and turned the knob before he could. The door was unlocked.
They rushed into the apartment. They didnt have to go far. MacFaoil was on the couch, a half-full bottle of Bourbon on the end table. He looked peaceful.
Stanson holstered her revolver and touched MacFaoils throat. No pulse. Calling the EMTs. She keyed the microphone on her shoulder.
Damn, somebody said. The Big Irish. They all seem to die so young.
Briley growled. He sniffed the bottle of Bourbon, careful not to touch it. No. This is too convenient. Just too convenient. And his fathers death, too was that convenient for somebody?
MacFaoil didnt drink a single drop of booze all the time I knew him. And all of a sudden now, with everything thats happening, he gets drunk and conveniently drops dead? It stinks to high heaven! Nobody touches anythinganything. I want a tox screen. I want MacFaoil and this bottle tested for every poison known and unknown, strychnine, wolfsbane, eye of newt, everything. I want all the detectives in the world up here and why the Hell are you all still standing there? Get moving! Get me the lab, get the detectives, go go go! Damn me!
Stanson said EMTs are on the way. It was too late for an ambulance, she knew that as well as anybody, but the forms had to be followed. This is a murder scene, sir?
Sure as Hells a mantrap. Check everything. Check his mail. Check his computer and his email. We have a cop killer on the loose, people. He might not have been much of a cop, but he was still a cop. We will find this killer. We will bring him to justice, if all of Hell stands in the way.
Its only after the tooth has been pulled that you know how bad the toothache was. Thats how Alderman Trevor Goodwill felt when he woke up the next morning.
Hed spent the night alone, which was unusual for him. But it was all good. The sun was bright, there wasnt a cloud in the sky, and a threat that had hung over his future for a decade was gone. The evidence would be gone by now. There was no way they could trace the ancient crime back to him.
What did it matter, anyway? Its not like theyd hurt that rich little bitch, not really. And if a crooked cop and a sniveling weakling of a priest had to be put aside to make Trevors career safe well, no great loss.
He hummed to himself as he made coffee. A flash of orange outside caught his eye. He lived in a gated community; nothing unusual was ever supposed to show up on his street. But this was just a telephone repair van, or something like that. Theyd set up a traffic barrier and a little shelter around a manhole. That was all right, then.
Still humming, he decided to sit down and check his email before getting ready for work.
It was just the usual junk. News from some mailing lists he followed, a bit of spam that had slipped through his filters; notably something from dear old Carillon College. He deleted it. And then
A and BI will never betray you. But the guilt is too great. I must speak, for my own good. I pray for you and urge you to do the same. God can still forgive you.
His jaw dropped open. That idiot. That idiot!
OBannon had changed the header on his email to hide its origin or hed thought he had, but the idiot priest didnt know the first thing about email systems. With a sinking heart, Trevor checked the raw data: Yes, damn, damn, damn, the original message routing information was still all there! So was Colin MacFaoils email address, and Colin should be dead by now. The email linked them all; OBannon, MacFaoil, and poor Trevor Goodwill, who until this morning had had such a promising career in politics.
For an instant, he thought he might be all right anyway. The statute of limitations meant they could never get him for the kidnapping and the fun hed had back then. He was free and clear of any prosecution. His career would be over, maybe, but he could talk his way out of it. A setback, only a setback
Except hed killed a cop. His heart sank.
Cop-killers somehow always seemed to die resisting arrest. Assuming they survived that, things didnt go well for them once they got to prison. The cons might appreciate a cop-killer, but when a knife in the cop killer's back, or breaking his spine, or cutting off his less immediately vital body parts could buy a few privileges or a few cigarettes from the guards business was business, after all. Trevors career in politics had taught him that, too.
Maybe there was still time to get out..? He opened the blinds a bit and looked out into the street.
The telephone repair van was still there. There were three large males, mostly hidden by the shelter around the manhole. They didnt seem to be doing much work. He caught a glint of sunlight on glass, perhaps a lens, from a chink in the shelter. There were two more gentlemen in the front seat of the van, staring resolutely anywhere except toward Trevors house. One was a lion, one was a bear. They looked like weightlifters.
Something moved in the corner of his eye. He looked down the street. Cops, revolvers out, were moving from another van toward him. They wore protective vests. Three ran aside, toward the back of the house; three came on along the sidewalk. He looked the other way. Maybe something was moving toward his house from that direction too; he couldnt really see, but hed thought something moved.
He rushed to his front door. It was a design usually found on drug houses, and had three locks. He locked them all and walked upstairs to his safe.
Hed kept some ancestors big .44 hinge-frame revolver, because Old West antiques were worth a lot. Most of the bluing had worn off decades before, but the revolver itself seemed solid.
Pounding at his door. Mr. Goodwill? Police! Open up! More pounding, then a much louder BOOM. And another, and another. Even his reinforced door wouldn't stop a battering ram for long.
He fumbled two or three cartridges into the revolvers chambers. The pasteboard cartridge box had almost disintegrated into dust. The cartridges themselves were corroded; the brass was a dark olive-brown with a few flecks of green, the lead had a coating of white powder.
He put the barrel of the revolver in his mouth. He had a moment, as his finger tightened on the trigger, to wonder whether such an ancient cartridge would still work.
Derrick, somebody named Briley from the police department called, andif Ananda calls, tell her Ive already gone to the hospital, will you?
Mr. Fairweather? Whats happening? Whats wrong?
Nothings wrong. Well, I dont know. What will I do? What will I say?
Mr. Fairweather, sir! Whatever has happened, I know you can face it. I know things will be all right. Please, calm yourself, sir.
Art took a deep breath. Then another. He straightened, and let go of the frame of Derricks door; he stood taller when he stood straight on his own hooves. Yes. Yes, youre right. He even managed to smile. It was shaky, but a smile nonetheless. We can handle it. Everythings going to be fine now.
Do you wish to talk to me about it, sir?
No. Well, maybe later. Not now. I have to if Ananda calls, tell her.
Of course, sir.
Art hurried out of the office. Hed forgotten his overcoat, but that was all right; the clouds, snow, and drizzle had finally cleared. The police had sent a car for him. It was already at the curb, its passenger door open.
Derrick smiled quietly to himself. He picked up the pot and poured himself another mug of tea.