In the lingering darkness I became aware of a sound. At first it was very soft, a whispered hiss of what sounded like escaping air. Behind that soft hiss I could hear a second sound, a low, insistent 'beep'. I focused on those sounds and after a time the darkness began to brighten. I opened my eyes.
I was in a room, staring at the ceiling. The room was a pale white in color and lit by a single steri-field bulb over my bed. I tried to move, felt something catch inside of me. A moment later I crushed my eyes closed as pain, breath-taking, agonizing pain seemed to fill every atom of my body.
"Chandler?" The voice was female and off to one side of the bed.
I tried to speak, but my throat was dry and seemed to close up on the words.
The woman's voice sounded like Velma, but try as I might my own words wouldn't come.
"Would you like some water?" The woman was beside my bed, a look of concern on her face. I recognized her at last-Talia Pressler, Thom's wife.
I couldn't speak, managed a nod. Talia disappeared for a moment, then was back at my bed-side with a tall plastic cup and straw.
"Bed-raise four degrees," Talia said.
Under me, electric motors whirred into action and lifted me into a semi-reclining position. Talia steered the paper straw to my lips.
"Go slow. You drink too fast, you'll choke and that won't be pleasant," Talia advised.
I nodded, then took a sip. The cold water still sent a jolt through me and my body shivered involuntarily. I paused for a moment, then took a longer drink.
"That's good, Chandler. Take as much water as you need."
I drank until there was nothing left in the cup.
"More?" Talia asked.
"Not-right-now," my voice was back, but scarcely recognizable to my own ears.
Talia nodded. "Are you comfortable?"
"I feel-I feel like I've been run over by a train!"
She smiled. "You look like you have too!"
I started to laugh, but quickly cut it off when pain flooded through me again. "Ouch!! Please God, I won't laugh anymore if you make it stop!!"
"Is the bed comfortable for you in that position?"
"Yeah," I said. "Where am I?"
"The secure ward at County General," Talia answered.
"The secure ward? What am I doing in the secure ward?"
"You don't remember how you got here?"
I thought for a long moment. The images of everything that had happened suddenly flooded over me and the physical pain I felt was replaced by an agony of a different sort.
"Velma!! I want to see Velma!!"
"I remember, Talia! There was an-an explosion and-and Velma was at her door and going in. I-I could sense something was wrong and I-I wanted to warn her, but she only--she only smiled when I ran back towards her house!" I closed my eyes. "When I looked again, she was-gone! Where is she, Talia?! I want to see her! I want to see her now!"
"Chandler, you keep thrashing around the way you are, you're gonna' bust your stitches loose and re-injure those ribs of yours."
"Where is she?! I want to see her, Talia!"
"Calm down and I'll go get Thom."
"Is she-is she dead?" the thought hit me full force and nearly brought on the sudden silence of despair.
"I'll get Thom," Talia said again.
I thought I saw tears on her cheeks as she turned away from the bed and left the room. I stared at the ceiling for a moment, then steeled myself and pushed up into a sitting position. I gasped for breath, tried to steady my shaking hands.
The world swam crazily around me and hot little sparkles of light flashed and died as the pain threatened to send me back to the darkness I'd just escaped. Concentrating on the tasks at hand, I disconnected the medi-panel sensors and tossed them away. I winced as I pulled the IV needle from the catheter in my right arm. There was an initial gout of blood, but the inner seal closed and stopped any further flow.
I turned and put my feet on the floor. It took me a minute to force myself to a standing position and when I did, the room wavered unsteadily under me and a wave of nausea threatened to force me back to bed. I reached out and held the lowered bed rail for a moment until the pain eased. The door was less than ten feet away, but the walk to get to it seemed to take forever.
The corridor beyond was empty. Shuffling slowly, I made my way to the nurses station. It was empty too. I slid in behind the counter, rested against it.
"She's here and she's gotta' be alive," I said aloud. There was an old computer terminal on the counter top. I scrolled down the menu, stopped and clicked on "PATIENT INFORMATION". I typed in Velma's name and waited.
"C'mon you piece of junk!"
The machine beeped. I studied the screen, trying to read the somewhat fuzzy, bright red letters. "MARTINEZ, VELMA A.R. THIRD FLOOR I.C.U. NO FURTHER INFORMATION AVAILABLE. SECURITY HOLD-CONTACT POLICE OR HOSPITAL SECURITY IF INQUIRIES ARE MADE. WHAT IS YOUR ACCESS CODE?"
I stared blankly at the screen. The screen went to full red, then began to flash in one inch tall black letters-"WHAT IS YOUR ACCESS CODE NUMBER?"
I left the screen flashing at the nurses station and went to the bank of elevators. Inside the elevator car I pressed "3" and leaned against the rear wall as it started down. The door opened on the third floor. I peered out of the elevator and shook my head. The third floor was every bit as deserted as the floor I'd just been on.
I started walking. All the Intensive Care Unit beds were visible through glass partitions from the main nurses station on the floor. Velma's was the third on the left. I paused at the glass and stared in at her.
"You! What are you doing there?!!"
I turned to face a burly security officer who was buttoning his shirt as he ran towards me from the lounge room on the other end of the corridor.
"This is a secure area?" I asked.
"You damn right it is!" he answered.
"So why don't you tell me why I was able to walk in here completely unmolested and get within an arms reach of somebody who's under a supposed security watch?!" I retorted angrily.
"Well I'm here now!"
I offered him a cold smile as I saw a nurse exit the same room he'd just come from. "I hope it was good."
"What are you talking about?"
I pointed at the nurse. "I hope that little bit of tail you just got was really good, because I intend to see that it costs you your job!" I glanced at the nurse. "Yours too!"
The security man held my gaze. "Is that a threat?"
I smiled icily. "Don't let the way I look right now fool you, because I can still wipe the floor up with you. That woman in there is my friend! She may not mean shit to either one of you, but if anything happens to her because of negligence on the part of either of you, I promise you there's not a place in this world that I can't find you in! So yes, that is a threat. And a promise!"
"Chandler!" Thom Pressler exited the nearest elevator and ran to where I was standing. "What's going on here?"
"Why don't you ask them?" I said.
Thom gazed at the guard and the nurse. "That'll be all, Officer."
"Nobody threatens me," the guard said.
"I believe I just did!" I said.
"That will be ALL Officer!" Thom said a second time.
The hospital security man and the nurse both walked away.
"I can't even leave you in the goddamn hospital without you making trouble," Thom said to me.
"He and the night nurse were playing slap and tickle in the lounge when I came down just now. Somebody blew up her house Thom and this is supposed to be the security wing of the goddamn hospital. If anyone would've come in to finish the job while they were fooling around, they wouldn't have heard a fucking thing!!"
Thom nodded. "How the hell did you manage to get down here?"
"Talia wouldn't tell me anything, so I decided to come take a look for myself," I explained. I rested my right forearm against the cool glass and stared in at Velma. "H-how is she?"
"Honestly?" Thom leaned his back against the glass and met my eyes when I glanced at him.
"You've never lied to me before, Thom."
He nodded. "She's in a coma at the moment. The docs say it doesn't look good."
"But there is a chance she'll survive? Right?"
Thom stared at his feet for a long moment. "There's always a chance."
"Just not a very good one in her case."
"No, not a very good one," Thom confirmed. "She lost almost eighty percent of her blood volume and received a serious, open skull fracture. It took them almost thirty minutes to get her breathing on her own again, once they got her here."
"When Talia wouldn't tell me anything, I thought she might be-might be dead."
"She was lucky," Thom said. "The explosive charge was rigged to blow up when the door was opened. If the charge would've gone off when the door was fully open, it would've blown her to pieces. As it was, the charge triggered early and that heavy door she has on her place acted like a shield-it drove most of the blast out and around where she was standing, almost like a shaped charge in demolitions."
"Thank God for good craftsmanship I guess, hunh?"
Thom nodded again.
"I'd like to see her."
"I'll see what I can do," he said. "Her parents and sisters haven't been able to get in but once themselves."
I banged my head against the glass. "Any idea who? Any idea why?"
"We have every idea who," Thom answered.
"So you gonna' tell me?" I prompted.
"If I do, what are you gonna' do about it?"
"I'm gonna' find the bastard who did this to her and make sure they never do it to anyone else!"
"I won't have you running around my city, taking the law into your own hands, Chandler. We'll find them and they will pay for what they did to Velma! I promise you!" Thom said.
"Listen at you!" I managed a derisive laugh. "You and I both know that no one really pays for their crimes anymore! If you have money, power, or connections, you walk!! That's the way it's always been in this town and it's even worse now!!"
"So what do we do Chandler, abandon what remains of the system and let chaos rule the streets?! If I didn't believe in what I do out here, I wouldn't even bother to get out of bed in the morning! If you didn't believe in this completely fucked up system of ours, you wouldn't have helped Ted put Gino the Giant away for what he did to so many people!"
"For all the good it'll do us. There were probably six others waiting in line to take Gino's place once he was out of the goddamn way!"
"I'll buy that, but none of them have the strangle-hold on this city the way that Gino had."
I faced Thom. "You said 'them' when you mentioned the bomber."
"Yes. 'Them' is a figure of speech, Chandler."
I studied Thom for a moment. "'Figure of speech' my ass! What kind of explosive did they use?"
"I'm not at liberty to discuss ongoing investigations, you know that."
"Even when I'm a direct party to the investigation? Even when someone I care about more than I could ever tell her, is lying in there barely alive because of me?!"
"Because of you?"
"Why would anyone want to blow Velma up, Thom? You give me a good reason why someone-anyone-would want to do that to her and I'll back off and let you and the department handle the whole fucking mess!"
Thom turned to look through the glass. "Xentex."
I blinked. "The same stuff used on Joe Don Roberts' house?"
"The same Xentex that's only licensed to one construction company in all of New Los Angeles?"
"Who did it, Thom? Who did this to Velma?" I asked so only he could hear.
"Thaddeus and Henry."
I blinked. "That's impossible. They're third rate bureaucrats in a second rate government agency."
"I can show you the tape of them wiring the exact same kind of device to the door in your office if you want. If my men hadn't taken an explosives detector with them when they went to your office, the bomb would've taken out the entire floor," Thom said.
"There's a pre-school three doors down from my office."
"Where are they, Thom?"
"No one knows. They've vanished."
"Vanished? How the hell can they just vanish?! They have wives, families!"
"The children were pulled out of school five days ago and all their bank accounts were cleaned out. It's like Thaddeus, Henry, and their families never existed."
"Five days ago? How-how long have I been in this hospital?" I asked.
"Counting today, almost a week."
Thom nodded. "You were out for the first three days. The last couple you've been in and out a few times."
"Jesus! I need to make sure Sabina and Karyn are all right!"
"Believe me, they're fine. I don't think Sabina would let anything happen to them!"
"Thom, I need to get out of here."
"Ain't gonna' happen."
"Look, you can either lend me a hand or leave me to my own devices, but I AM leaving here today."
"Chandler, you've got a concussion. You've also got two broken ribs and a bruised liver. You walk outta' here, they're gonna' be bringing you right back-maybe in a box!"
"I'll take my chances."
Thom looked past me. "Here's the doctor now. Maybe he can talk some sense into that hard head of yours."
I turned to meet the doctor, an older Amerind.
"Doc, talk to this fool," Thom prodded.
The man's dark eyes met mine. "Mr. Harrison, I'm Doctor White-Fox. What are you doing out of bed?"
"I'm out of bed trying to find answers to questions no one will answer for me."
"Ask me your questions and I will attempt to answer them to your satisfaction," White-Fox said.
I nodded towards Velma's bed. "Will she live?"
"She's a very strong young woman. She's made it this far and the first two or three days are the most critical."
"Thom said she's in a coma."
White-Fox met my eyes. "She is in a comatose state. Tomorrow we will be running further tests to see if there was any permanent brain damage."
"What type of tests?"
"The type of severe head trauma she received and the coma afterwards are not that uncommon. The tests we'll be running will measure her synaptic out-put. It's basically like putting a car on an engine analyzer to see what's wrong with it. We have certain criteria that have to be met, criteria that tell us how she's recovering."
"And if these criteria aren't met?"
"Then we check them again in a few days. And a few days after that. Until her parents and sisters tell us to stop checking."
I turned to look at Velma, suddenly alarmed at the prospect of anyone telling the doctors to stop their treatment. "Are you saying until they tell you to cut off the machines?"
"Yes," White-Fox nodded. "We have already done far more than Miss Martinez wished in her legal documents. If she remains in a comatose or vegetative state, we have to honor her wishes."
"Doc, I don't care what it costs-you do not turn off those machines. Hear me!"
"That is not my choice Mr. Harrison."
I faced him again. I could feel despair threatening to overwhelm whatever hope I had remaining. "Realistically, what are her chances?"
"I am not a betting man, Mr. Harrison," White-Fox stated.
"It's difficult to say."
"Fifty-fifty? Sixty-forty? Seventy-thirty? What?"
White-fox sighed. "In cases such as this where there was so much physical trauma and probable brain injury, she may have a two in ten chance of recovering. Even if she sustained no severe brain damage, it will be a very long road back for her."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Miss Martinez lost her right leg and most of her right arm in the explosion. If she does manage to come out of the coma, she will have to be fitted for and trained to use prosthetic limbs."
"Jesus Christ!!" I closed my eyes. "She has such beautiful legs. A dancers legs. She always told me she wanted to be a dancer but none of the schools would take her because she wasn't tall and reed thin like they want. Now-Oh God!!"
"The newer styled prostheses are quite natural appearing. They can even be made to function like a 'normal' arm or leg with electrical implants. Most people hardly notice the difference."
I stared at Velma through the glass. I nodded. "You do whatever you have to do Doctor White-Fox. Whatever it costs, I'll get you the money!"
White-Fox gave a slight nod. "It would go against everything that I am, to stop trying."
"Can I go in and see her?"
White-Fox studied me for a long moment. "Under one condition."
"Afterwards, you go back to your room and you stay in that bed until I tell you it's okay for you to come out of it!"
"I want to get you in a cap and gown. The last thing we want is for her to get an infection from something you brought into her room."
I nodded. Inside the room, Velma looked so small, so fragile. For the first time in my life, I felt completely helpless and I hated it!
The room seemed cold, almost like a tomb or mausoleum. I forced my legs to carry me to Velma's bedside. I wanted to reach out and touch her, to hold her in my arms, but there were so many lines and hoses and bandages covering her body, she didn't look human. I stood at the side of her bed for a long time in silence, trying to put what I wanted to say into something she would understand.
Understand? You don't even know if she'll hear you. The doc said to talk to her though, give her verbal stimulation, give her something her injured mind can focus on. Give her a voice in the darkness, something to remind her of who and what she is and how much we (how much I) love her.
I reached out with my gloved right hand and took her left hand.
"What some people won't do to get out of filing!" I tried to be upbeat, tried to keep my raw emotions in check. "All you had to say was 'I'll get them later'. You didn't have to go and get yourself-yourself--"
I stopped talking and closed my eyes. "I'm so, so sorry about this Velma. You didn't deserve any of this-this-garbage. If it makes any difference, Thom and the cops know who did this to you and they're promising swift justice on it."
I squeezed her hand. I was babbling, trying to think of things to say, trying to keep from losing what little composure I had left.
"Dammit, you and I are of a kind, Velma. We always know what to say to everyone else, but never to one another. I've seen the care in your eyes when you look at me, the way you worry when I push myself too hard and barely get out of things with my hide intact. There have been so many times I've wanted to say things to you too. You even catch me from time to time, sneaking a look at you when you walk by. I wonder if you wonder how you and I would be together. I wonder if you hate being alone as much as I do sometimes. I wonder if I did take off to some south sea paradise, I wonder if you'd really come with me!"
I leaned in closer and lowered my voice. "Tell you what: you get outta' here and I will take you on a vacation like you've never had before! How about Spain? You always said you wanted to go to Spain and learn the flamenco!"
I felt my control ebbing away. "You-when you walked in my office that day looking for a job, I knew you and I would be a great team. You told me you had your doubts when you first started; I didn't! You and I are a team and-and if I lose you, I don't know what the hell I'm ever gonna' do!"
I pulled the glove off of my right hand and tossed it away. I took her hand in mine again and leaned forward until my masked mouth was practically on her ear. "You come back to me, okay? Please, come back to me, because I need you. I love you, Velma!"
Two very large orderlies hauled me by wheel-chair back to my room and made sure I was safely tucked in before leaving. I fixed my eyes on the window opposite my bed and watched the driving rain sheet down the old glass. The cold rain matched my mood and I fought the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness vying for my effections.
What do I do? What can I do, lying here in this goddamn bed watching the rain wash the filth from the streets?
I rubbed my eyes with the fingertips of both hands and things were suddenly crystal clear. I had a bag full of money in the Interceptor, a bag full of money that would go a long way towards finding Thaddeus and Henry. Nine times out of ten, people won't help you: bring money into the picture though and people are all ears. Greedy ears.
"Bed, up four degrees," I spoke the words I'd heard Talia say earlier and waited while the motors whirred me into position. I narrowed my gaze; if there was a voice command module to handle the temperature, lighting, and bed adjustment functions of the room then it was likely that it handled any outside communications as well.
I thought for a moment. "System-is there an outside vidi-phone or standard line available for this room?"
There was a long pause. "Standard line communications are available to all hospital guests." The voice was tinny, slightly hollow sounding.
"Great! Could I have an outside line please?"
"Please re-state your question in a more useable form."
I chewed my bottom lip thoughtfully. "May I have an outside communications line, please?"
"Line activated. Please state your name and address and the number you are calling for proper billing."
I said my name and my address then gave the computer Kenny Baltimore's number. Throughout the city, repeater stations transited the call. It took almost two minutes for the call to finally go through.
"Yeah?" Kenny sounded tired.
"I wake you up?"
"Damn boss, you're alive!" Kenny hooted.
"A little worse for wear, but yeah. How close are you to old County General?"
"I can be there in a half hour. Is-is okay?"
"Yeah. I need you to come pick me up."
"Are you sure that's wise, Chandler? I mean, you almost bought it yourself this time around."
"Which is exactly why I've got to get out of here," I said. "I need to find Thaddeus and Henry. These assholes almost killed her Kenny and I want them. I want them bad!"
"I'm not a violent person, but I could kill 'em myself right now."
"Good, 'cause I'm gonna' be needing every bit of expertise you have to find these pricks."
"I've got feelers out already, but nobody's saying shit."
"We'll change that," I answered. "I need you to go by my place and pick me up some clothes."
"Done. Your key in the same place?" Kenny asked.
"Yep," I nodded, even though he couldn't see me. "I also need you to try and find out what the LAPD did with the car I was driving."
"Hunh unh. It's a Mark III Interceptor, registered to Mike Lindstrom."
"Done. Anything else?"
"That's enough for now," I said. "I'm gonna' be needing your help on this Kenny, cause I ain't in the greatest shape right now. I won't lie to you and tell you it's not gonna' be dangerous, because it IS gonna' be dangerous. These people we're gonna' be lookin' for don't want to be found and would quite probably kill to keep from being found."
"I can take care of myself, Chandler."
"Good. Come get me!" I said. "I'm on one of the secure floors; you think you'll be able to get in?"
"Oh please!!" Kenny laughed. "As long as they ain't got guard dogs, I can get in anywhere!!"
Kenny disconnected just as the door opened and a nurse came in. She was carrying a covered tray and set it down on a table opposite the bed. After a moment she uncovered a rather large needle.
"You're not going to stick me with that thing are you?" I asked.
The nurse smiled and shook her head. She was pretty in that blonde haired, blue eyed, beach girl way they grow them out here. "Not at all! This gets injected into your IV."
"What is it?"
"Something to help you sleep."
"But I just woke up!"
"But you've also experienced rather severe trauma and need your rest. One shot of this and you'll be sleeping like a baby for the rest of the night."
"Someone told me you're a detective?"
"Yep. Chandler Harrison."
"Sounds like an interesting job Mr. Harrison."
"Chandler please, Miss--"
"Stacy. Stacy Bennett."
"I'd shake hands with you, but it'd hurt too much."
Stacy nodded. "Not after this stuff takes effect!"
I grinned. "You married?"
"Not yet," Stacy injected the loaded needle into the IV. As she did so, I reached under my left arm and pinched off the IV line, out of sight of her. "Are you?"
I shook my head. "No one'll have me!"
"Oh, I doubt that. Seriously doubt that!!"
I gave her my best, most disarming smile. "Maybe I can buy you a cup of coffee sometime. I know a guy who said he could hook me up with some real Colombian, not this soy crap they call coffee these days."
"Sounds good," Stacy agreed. "Tell me something Mr.-er, Chandler-do you take outside cases?"
"All the time. Why, do you have one for me?"
"I may," Stacy answered. "Maybe we'll talk about it when we have that coffee."
"Sounds good," I nodded. I'd pinched off the line as tightly as I could, but some of the new drug she'd injected into the IV was getting through and starting to make me light headed. "Boy, that's some fast acting stuff!"
"Feels pretty good, doesn't it?"
I yawned. "Yeah."
She checked all the readings on the medi-panel. "Get some rest."
I closed my eyes and kept them closed until I heard the door open and then close behind her. I quickly sat up and pulled the IV line loose again. The drug had taken the edge off the pain and I didn't feel all that bad. After a moment I reached over and turned the petcock on the drip dispenser off.
"Hurry up Kenny, before I'm tempted to put the IV back in!"
"Chandler? Chandler, you awake?" Someone was gently shaking my left shoulder.
I opened my eyes to find Kenny Baltimore standing over my bed. "It's about time you got here!"
"Yeah, well you coulda' told me half the damn police department's around the hospital while you're at it! It's much more difficult sneaking around while trying to do something than just walking up and knocking on the front door."
I smiled. "True!"
Kenny stared at me. "You're wasted!"
"Not entirely," I shook my head. "The nurse put some kind of pain killer in my IV and I tried to pinch it off but I didn't get it all. Maybe I did miss something while I was growing up!"
"Oh geez! As if my life isn't difficult enough; now I gotta' get myself and a stoned you out of a place with more guards in it than Placerville!"
"I didn't know you'd ever been in Placerville."
"It's a long, complicated, and very dull story which we won't get into at this point," Kenny said. I saw that he had a black leather bag over one shoulder and he began to unload stuff from it. "I got you jeans, a tee-shirt, a nylex jacket, and an old pair of athletic shoes."
Kenny pulled a black box with a half dozen or so lead wires dangling from it from the bottom of the bag.
"What's that?" I asked.
"I figure with all the guards around this place, if you go and un-hook all these sensor pads again, alarms will go off all over the hospital. This will make sure that doesn't happen. At least for a little while. By the time they discover our little deception, we'll be long gone!" Kenny matched lead to lead coming from the medi-panel and flipped a toggle switch on the black box. "Now then, just lie still and breathe slowly, like you're asleep."
I did as he said.
"Just a few more seconds," he said softly. "Just a few-there, that's got it!"
"Got what?" I asked.
"This little box here fools the medi-panel into thinking you're still hooked up to it. It records twenty seconds of readings and then plays them back on a continual loop, so the nurses monitoring the different patients out at the desk are none the wiser to your little escape."
"Where'd you ever come up with something like this?" I asked, indicating the box with it multi-hued leads.
Kenny smiled. "I've never tried using it before, actually. If it works this time, then I know I got the CPU correct."
"Now's a helluva time to tell me that it might not work!"
"I guess I really don't have a choice, do I?"
"Nope. Keep still while I hook it up."
One by one, Kenny squeezed the clips at the end of each lead into the matching colored wire coming from the medi-panel. Using a roll of electrical tape, he spun a length of tape around each clip and then squeezed the tape between his thumb and forefinger to make sure it had adequate contact.
"Let's see what we got," Kenny said.
I took a deep breath as he flipped the toggle on the front of the box. On the panel over the bed there was a momentary blink.
"Let's see what happens when I remove the EKG lead."
He did and the screen kept reading out a nice, steady, beep-beep of my beating heart.
"Holy shit! It works!"
I frowned at him. "Get me out of the rest of these wires."
It took a couple of minutes. Afterwards, he helped me to sit up on the edge of the bed.
I nodded. "My little bit of pain killer must be wearing off because I'm hurting all over again."
"Are you sure you want to do this Chandler?"
I looked up at him. "Thaddeus and Henry have gone underground. Thom and the LAPD are good guys, but they'll never find them. It's up to us."
"What are you gonna' do with 'em once you find 'em?" Kenny asked.
"They don't want to be found. I'll just make sure no one will ever find their bodies."
"Chandler, do you realize what you've just said?"
"Thom finds out about this, he'll lock you up for a million years."
"If Velma dies, Thom can put me into whatever jail he wants because I won't give a shit."
Kenny met my eyes. "I hear you, man."
"Keep an eye out while I get dressed."
Kenny went to the door. He turned to look at me. "I'd walk across half of Hell to help her too, Chandler."
"I know, Kenny. So does she."
It took Kenny and I almost thirty minutes to make our way from my room to the parking lot. Kenny's old Dodge van was parked perpendicular to the cooling towers for the hospital, back against the rear fence. He helped me up to the seat and I sat back and closed my eyes. The pain was the most intense pain I'd ever felt in my life, so intense every forced breath felt like a fire in my lungs.
Kenny was in the drivers seat, looking at me. "You gonna' make it?"
I could feel cold sweat soaking my shirt. "This might not have been such a good idea after all."
Kenny started the van. "I can get you something for the pain."
I thought for a moment, then nodded. "Nothing that'll knock me out though."
He shifted the van into drive. "Word has it a guy over on 4th and Spring just synthed a new batch of morphine derivative. It gives all the kick, but none of the side effects."
"I won't even ask how you know about that, but take me to him."
Kenny nodded. "He owes me, so I should be able to get you a shot or two."
I sat back in the seat and closed my eyes. At the moment I didn't particularly care if someone was selling synthesized morphine out of their apartment. I wanted Thaddeus and Henry and what I wanted to do to them was a helluva lot more serious than a couple of hits of morphine.
I sat in the van with my eyes closed for almost an hour. While I sat, the image of Velma lying in that hospital room filled my mind. Anger burned in me, an anger so intense it actually took the edge off the pain. I opened my eyes when the driver's side door opened and Kenny climbed in.
"How'd it go?" I asked.
"I managed to talk him out of two injectors."
"Give me one."
"You sure about this Chandler? I mean, I've never even seen you take an aspirin."
I held out my hand.
Kenny lay one of the injectors in my palm. "He said to inject it into something with a large muscle mass, like the inside of a thigh or something."
"Straight through my clothes?"
"Yeah, straight through."
I stared at the injector for a moment. "At least there isn't a needle."
"Yeah. He said a lot of the people who buy from him are squeamish about needles."
"Is this stuff safe?"
"The lab he uses to synthesize the stuff in is one of the best in the city."
I nodded. I pressed the injector against my left thigh and pushed the plunger. There was a loud hiss and a moment later the injector was empty. I could feel the effects of the pain-killer almost immediately.
"Boy, that works pretty fast!" I said.
"The man's one of the best chemists around."
"You realize of course after all this is over with, I'm gonna' turn him in to Thom," I told Kenny.
"I got no problem with that. I can't stand dealers."
"Any luck finding out where my car is?"
Kenny started the van. "Behind police headquarters. Thom had them tow it there after the explosion."
We were moving again and were soon back on 4th Street. "Good."
"Why is the car so important?"
"The car isn't. What's in the car is," I said.
Kenny glanced at me, puzzled.
"It's money," I answered his unasked question. "When I went out to get Danny Raines, he took a bag with him. When that helicopter came after us, he stuffed the bag under the front seat. Velma found it and opened it; it was full of money."
"How much money?"
I shrugged. "We never got a chance to count it. It was a lot though."
Kenny nodded and turned left onto 9th Street. "So is that how you're gonna' find Thaddeus and Henry?"
"It's their blood money; I may as well put it to good use."
"Kind of poetic justice I guess, hunh?"
Kenny took the next left and we were on Olive Street. He parked the van across the street from police headquarters. "Man, look at the heat!"
I smiled. "Want to come with me?"
I opened the van door. "I'll meet you one block north of here in ten minutes."
"How are you gonna' get the car?"
"Good people skills," I smiled. "See you in ten."
I heard Kenny's van pull away as I crossed the street. Once across I followed the side-walk around to the west side of the building. By the entrance to the lot was a small guard shack and inside was a very bored looking officer in uniform. I recognized him.
I walked up and knocked on the glass. Inside, Dave Cooper jumped and immediately smiled when he saw me.
"Dave! What are you doing sitting out here in the cold and the rain?!"
"Ask Captain Herrold. Prick put me out here after I wrecked my squad last week. Wasn't even my fault; if the goofy bitch that ran into me had been paying any attention to where she was going I wouldn't be in this mess!"
"How long did he shit-can you for?"
"Two weeks," Cooper said with a sigh. "I tell you Chandler, sitting out here is one of the most boring goddamn jobs I've ever had."
"Glad to hear Herrold's still such a dick!"
"Yeah. You give some people a little rank and they let it go to their heads," Copper said. "What are you up to? Somebody told me you'd gotten blown up."
"It'd take more than one bomb to kill me, Coop. Thom said I could pick up my car."
Copper nodded. "Which one is yours?"
"The black Mark III."
Cooper went through the paperwork in front of him and finally found the car. "Yeah, I remember this one now. Nice lookin' ride."
"Yep. You got the keys in there?"
He passed them to me through a sliding window. "Man, you look like hell!"
"I know. I don't feel all that bad though."
"Why don't you come by sometime? Allison's a great cook and would love to see you again."
"You still live at the same address?"
Cooper nodded. "It even belongs to us now. We just paid off the mortgage."
"Good for you, Coop. One of these days I'll buy myself a little place. Right now I'm still apartment living."
"Still haven't found the right girl yet, huh?"
"Maybe one day," I said. "Maybe one day soon."
Kenny followed me back to my apartment building and parked his van in the underground lot. He joined me in the Interceptor.
"Where are we headed?"
"I've got a couple of people I want to talk to before we get started."
"The money still here?"
"Behind the seat."
Kenny found the bag and unzipped it. He let out a low whistle. "There must be-I've never seen this much money in my life!"
"I owe you. Help yourself."
"It'd go a long way towards getting that new rolling electronics mart you're always talking about, on the road," I said.
Kenny stared at the money for a long moment, in silence. "Why do you think they tried to kill you and Velma?"
"The only thing I can think of is that Thaddeus and Henry must've figured we were getting too close to them. It's crazy! About the only thing I know is that the two of them are tied to Governor Taylor and the ACRP. Why try to kill Velma and I over a stupid boondoggle of a public works project, though?! Why kill anyone over it?!"
"I wish I knew."
"You ever get in to take a look at those spy satellite photos?"
Kenny nodded. "For all the good it did me. For a satellite that was supposed to be so state of the art, it sure took lousy pictures."
"What did the photos show?"
"Not very damn much!" Kenny answered. "The first series were of what looked to be preliminary excavations---"
"Yeah. While I was in, I did a little snooping around. There were five different series taken, all of them within five weeks of one another."
"And all of them were of the same piece of land?"
"You said the first series showed what appeared to be preliminary excavations: what type of preliminary excavations?"
"You know what a perk test is?"
"I think so. It's where you dig a certain sized hole, fill it with water and then measure how fast the water drains in a set amount of time."
"That's the one. Well anyway, that's what the first series showed. There were like a half dozen or so holes dug on this piece of land and they were filled with water. The interesting thing about the photos though, is that they didn't have any type of scale to them. Usually with a spy satellite photo you get a set of numbers with the lens magnification, the altitude, the time of day, and a one to ten scale so you know what you're looking at. None of these photos had any of that."
"So what's the problem?"
"The problem is, without any of that information, you don't know what you're looking at. Those holes I was telling you about? Depending on the scale, they could be six feet wide. Or six hundred!"
"Can't you use nearby landmarks as a scale?"
"You could, but are you looking at a boulder the size of an automobile or one small enough to fit in the tread of your shoe?"
"I see your point," I said. "So basically, the photos are useless."
"They're not completely useless: it's just gonna' take more time to get them into a useable format."
"A couple of Fez's people are working on them. They said if they break the photos down to a digital format and then reconfigure the pixel density, they might be able to give us a competent scale. It's a long shot though."
"I watched them work, Chandler. If anyone can do it, those guys can."
"They give you any kind of time frame when this might be done?"
"They said a week, so that would make it late this afternoon sometime."
"Good work Kenny," I said.
He shook his head. "I wish I coulda' done more."
At the next cross street I turned left and headed south.
Kenny sat forward in his seat, a slight frown on his face. "Please tell me we aren't going where I think we're going."
I managed a smile. "I could tell you that, but I'd be lying!"
"Shit Chandler, you know how much that guy freaks me out!" Kenny said. "Him and all those weirdo friends of his with their capes and fangs and shit. Anybody who says they like the taste of human blood needs some major help in my fucking book!!"
"I'll tell him you said so," I teased.
Kenny turned pale. "Can we stop someplace and get some garlic first, just to be on the safe side?"
I chuckled. "Blood's people would probably love garlic."
"Why do I always let you talk me into shit like this?"
"You said it yourself-look how boring your life would be without me in it!"
"Yeah, I'll remember that when one of Blood's hags puts the bite on me!"
The Blood Bank. I made my way through the door and immediately found my every sense assaulted. The place was jammed wall to wall with people dancing to the sound of screeching guitars and crashing drums. Garish red bulbs lit cages interspersed throughout the dance floor where nearly naked women flagellated themselves with cat-o-nine-tails that drew rivulets of dark colored blood. You could smell it in the air, over the reek of stale cigarette smoke and potent beer.
"Shit! What are we doing here Chandler?!"
"Just stay close!" I advised him, shouting to be heard over the thundering music.
"Consider me in your hip pocket!!"
I made my way across the crowded dance floor and up to the bar. Behind it, a stunningly beautiful woman in pale white make-up and onyx black hair, smiled. Her perfect, white fangs made Kenny stare wide eyed at her.
"Chandler!" She reached across the bar and pecked me on the cheek.
"How's things?" I asked.
"Pretty cool," she glanced past me. "Hello Kenny."
"You need to see him?" Louisa asked.
"For a couple of minutes. I need his help."
"This about what happened to Velma?"
I nodded. "How did you know about that?"
"It was all over the papers and the tri-d. She gonna' be all right?"
"They don't know," I shrugged.
Louisa met my eyes and gave a little nod. "I know how you feel about her. I hope she makes it."
"I'll go see if he's available."
Kenny watched her leave. "Is she-I mean does she-you know?"
"'Drink blood'? She didn't the last time I talked to her, but people change."
I turned and smiled at him. "This place really unnerves you, doesn't it?"
"Can we say DUH?!"
I shook my head. "Most of the people in here are like everybody else-they have good jobs and are reasonably well off financially. Blood makes a fortune from this place!"
"It's like a goddamn freak show in here, Chandler! You see those girls beating themselves silly with those whips? Hell, they were bleeding all over the goddamn place!!"
"The whip strands are rubber. The blood is all theatrical stuff made with corn syrup and food coloring. They load the stuff into the handles of the whips and press a button as they're flogging themselves. Add the eerie lighting and the atmosphere and you have this terrifying dungeon of pain and torment."
"I can have that at home for free and not have to pay a fifty buck cover charge!"
Louisa rejoined us. "Follow me!"
We did and I could feel Kenny less than six inches behind me. Louisa led us to a private room towards the back of the club and stood aside at the door.
She caught my arm as I started by her. "I want to thank you again for what you did for me."
Louisa nodded. "She's my perfect little girl!"
"You get the money I sent last month?"
"Sure did. You didn't have to send so much, though."
"It was a good month for me. This one's even better."
"Looks like the place is doing well," I nodded.
"It is. Thanks again, Chandler."
"I'm glad I could help."
Louisa suddenly leaned forward and kissed my cheek again. She turned to do the same to Kenny, but he hurriedly backed away and extended both hands in front of him.
"Are you afraid of me, Kenny?"
"Should I be?" Kenny asked, defensively.
Louisa laughed, un-offended by his comments. "See you both later."
I watched her walk away.
"What did she mean by that?"Kenny demanded.
"She'll see us both later, I guess," I answered.
"Man, how could you let her get that close to your neck with those fangs she's got?!"
"You get a look at her?" I shrugged. "You want to stay here while I talk to Blood?"
I knocked on the door.
"Enter," someone called from inside.
I opened the door. "After you, Kenny."
"You go first."
I sighed. "You always been this much of a coward?"
"My old Pappy always used to say 'I'd rather be a live coward than a dead hero'. It's one of the few things I ever agreed with him on, the bastard!"
I let him follow me in.
"Chandler Harrison." The voice boomed from the semi-darkness of the private room.
A tall, sallow complected man stepped forward and extended his right hand to me. I took the offered hand and we shook.
"This is my colleague, Kenny Baltimore."
"Mr. Baltimore," Blood offered his hand to Kenny; Kenny kept his in his jeans pockets.
"Kenny!" I hissed.
Blood laughed. "It is quite all right, Chandler. Mr. Baltimore is simply being prudent while he sizes me up. Isn't that right Mr. Baltimore?"
"Count on it!" Kenny answered with a quick nod.
Blood laughed again. "I like a person who is unafraid to speak their mind."
"Just don't like me too much!" Kenny said.
Blood chuckled. "Louisa said you wanted to talk to me about something."
I nodded. "I need your help."
"Very well," he said. "Have a seat."
"I assume this has something to do with what happened several days ago," Blood took a seat behind a Louis XIV desk with a kerosene lamp guttering atop it.
"You'd be correct," I said. "I'm looking for two men and their families. They disappeared shortly after Velma's house was bombed."
Blood sat back and steepled his fingers. "Would one of them happen to have a daughter named Anita?"
I glanced up at him with surprise. The Henry's oldest daughter was named 'Anita'. "You know her?"
"She was one of my dancers. Tuesday she never showed up for work and her lover has not been able to reach her."
"I need-to find her father. And his partner."
Blood studied me for a long moment and met my eyes. "It will be difficult."
"That's why I came to you," I said. "You know the underside of this city better than even I do. There is a whole underground culture out there that routinely helps those with money to escape justice."
"Is it justice you want, or vengeance?"
"I want them to pay for what they did to Velma."
Blood nodded. "If I were in your place, I would seek the same."
"I'll give you all the particulars before I leave," I said. "I want everyone out there to know about them. I'll even sweeten the pot-fifty thousand nuyen to whomever gives them up, with no questions asked."
Blood steepled his fingers and tapped the tips of his two index fingers together as he stared at me. "The money should open a lot of doors. It will also bring out those who wish to trade nothing for something."
"Which is another reason I came to you," I answered. "I need someone who's able to winnow the wheat from the chaff and get me the real information. You're tapped into places that I could never get into."
"What's in it for me?" he asked.
"What do you want?"
He met my eyes again. "Nothing."
I guess there was a hint of surprise on my face, because he smiled. "I will do this for you-all I ask is that at some future time you help me, when I have a similar difficulty."
"A favor for a favor?"
"Yes. I have heard this is the way you often work and I like this kind of arrangement."
He nodded. "How is your secretary?"
"She may live-she may die. The doctors don't really seem to know yet."
"That is too bad. As I remember, she is a very beautiful and strong young woman."
"Yes. The doctors say that her strength is one of the things she has going for her. Without it she would've already been dead."
"Is there anything further I can do?"
"Not really. Find these bastards and give them to me."
"I will do my best."
"Thank you. That's all I can ask."
I was bone weary as we drove back to downtown. Kenny sat silently behind the wheel, staring out at the nearly empty streets as we drove along.
"You okay Kenny?" I asked, breaking the lingering silence.
"Are you really gonna' kill them, Chandler?"
"Not initially. I want answers first. Then I'm going to kill them."
"They have families."
"So does Velma."
"So what, you're going to destroy two more families just so you can walk through the center of town with their heads on a pike?"
"They brought it upon themselves," I said.
"Did their children? What are they going to say a few years from now when they can go either way? What are they going to do when mommy tells them violence ain't the answer, but they saw what you did to their fathers and the amount of satisfaction it gave you afterwards? You think they're gonna' believe mommy?"
"I don't give a shit what they believe, one way or the other."
"Think about this then-what's Velma gonna' say if she makes it, only to find you're spending the rest of your life in jail because of what you did to Thaddeus and Henry? You've got the greatest thing in the world going for you Chandler-Velma loves you. I'd give everything I own to have her look at me the way she does you. You think that won't break her heart when she comes back and finds you killed two men and destroyed two families for her!" Kenny berated me.
"She's got a two in ten chance of making it! If she doesn't, it's my goddamn fault for taking this case and getting her involved in the whole sorry mess in the first place!"
"Do you want to be called a murderer?"
I turned to face him. "Do you want out?"
"I'm trying to talk some sense into you. Blood will find them-when he does, turn the information over to Thom Pressler and let him and the cops do their jobs," Kenny said.
"I can't believe you're telling me to let the cops do it, Kenny! How many times in the past have you and I worked on something the cops couldn't even be bothered to take a look at?!"
"And none of those times were Thom Pressler's fault, Chandler! Thom can only do what the department tells him to do and he consistently risks his job to help you out! Think about that before you put him into the same category as those who don't give a rat's ass about the people of this city!"
"I don't want to talk about this anymore right now."
I glanced at him after a long moment's silence. "You feel that strongly about this?"
Kenny nodded. "You're my friend, as much as I hate to say it! When you busted me way back when, if anyone had told me I'd be working on this side of the law, I'd a laughed at them right to their face. For the first time in my life, I feel like I'm doing something that's needed and-and-I don't want to lose this gig, is what I guess I'm trying to say."
I smiled. "I think you're getting soft in your old age!"
"I got your old age right here!" Kenny chuckled. "And don't let anyone know about it either: it's bad for my anarchist image!"
"Did any of what I just said, make any sense to you?"
"I'll think about it."
"That's all I can ask."
"What time is it?"
Kenny folded the sleeve back from his watch. "3:40 a.m."
"Let's head back to my building."
"Yeah, you should get some rest."
"Huh uh. I need to talk to Sabina first."
Kenny frowned. "Sabina? She and the White's are fine."
"I'm not going to go see her about Karyn White," I said. "I want to pick her brain a little bit and see if she might not know more than she thinks she does."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Head down to Fez's and see if they've come up with anything on those satellite photos yet."
"Will do. You want to meet back up later?"
"I'll give you a number where I can be reached. Call me and let me know if Fez's people come up with anything."
"What do you hope to get out of Sabina?"
"There's something nagging at me about her, but I can't quite put a finger on it yet."
"What, you don't think she's telling you the whole story?"
"I don't know. Most of the time when somebody lies to me, I can feel it. With Sabina, she looked me directly in the eye in my office that day and I bought her story."
"Sociopaths are supposed to be able to do that," Kenny answered.
"You think she's a sociopath?"
"After working for the ISP?!"
I mulled the thought over in my mind for a moment. "She's so genuine with Karyn White and her daughters though."
"We all have parts of ourselves that we can turn on and off like a switch."
We were turning a corner one block west of my apartment building when Kenny suddenly braked hard and pulled to the curb.
"Uh-oh. Looks like my little ruse got found out!"
I peered through the windshield. Three black and whites and Thom Pressler's blue unmarked car were parked in front of the building with the emergency lights going.
"Damn!" I swore. "How did they find out so fast?"
"A nurse maybe. Could be I miscalculated the power supply and it ran out faster than I thought it would. Either way, the cops know you're gone and Thom probably knows exactly what you're up to."
"Which means that I'm pretty hot right now."
"Exactly!" Kenny said.
"Does Thom know what your van looks like?"
"I don't think so."
"Can you get to it?"
"I-get down!" Kenny grabbed me and pushed me forward as two more black and whites screamed by. After a moment, Kenny took a quick peek. "Uh-oh, we got major trouble!"
"What kind of major trouble?"
"Take a look."
I did. There were now a half dozen marked and unmarked cars out front. Thom Pressler was standing to one side with a man in a gray colored suit. The man turned under the street light and I recognized him as Jonathan Mathias from the ISP.
"Mathias," I said aloud.
"Chief of Special Operations for the Southern District."
I glanced at Kenny. "You know him?"
"Of him," Kenny answered. "He's the worst of the bunch. And very, very good at his job."
"He's also the man who had his goons grab me off the street that morning."
"It looks like he wants you pretty bad."
Mathias handed Thom a folded blue form. Thom opened the folded sheet, appeared to read it, then shook his head.
"That what I think it is?" I asked Kenny.
"Yes, it's a federal arrest warrant. Probably for you."
"From what I understand, the ISP doesn't have any power here."
"That's true. Unless the governor of the city signs the warrant for them. Then they can do pretty much what they want."
"Yep, you're screwed!"
"We need to get off the street."
"Tell me about it!"
"There's an alley between the next two buildings that cuts across to Grand Avenue. Go real slow Kenny, like you make the turn every night of your life."
Kenny pulled away from the curb and made the alley. Once out of sight of the gathered police cars, he wasted no time getting to Grand Avenue. On Grand he turned north and headed back towards downtown.
"Where are going?"
"I'll let my van sit for awhile and catch the mag-lev down to Watts."
"That's a great idea. You might want to sit tight for awhile too. I don't know how good a dossier they may have on me and I'd hate for them to bust you."
"I can take care of myself, Chandler."
I smiled and nodded.
"What about you?"
I thought for a moment. "I'll contact you at Fez's in a few hours and let you know when we can meet. Until then, I'm gonna' see if I can find myself someplace safe to hide out in until the heat dies down a little bit."
Someone answered the phone at Karyn White's house on the eleventh ring.
"I'm sorry, there's no one--"
"It's me, Chandler."
"Chandler! Are you okay? I mean I heard there was an explosion and Thom Pressler told me you were injured very badly and everything."
"Well, I'm not exactly a walking corpse, but--"
She chuckled. "Where are you?"
"I really shouldn't say. I'm kind of hot right now."
"What's going on?"
"I'll tell you later. Does Thom still have officers stationed outside the house?"
"Yeah, a car on each end of the street."
"How difficult would it be for you to get past them?" I asked.
"Not difficult at all," she started. "The girls have shown me a secret trail they have that runs between the two developments here. It comes out into one of the parking lots for the old Dodger Stadium."
"Can you meet me there in-oh-say-thirty minutes?"
"Sure. Is everything okay, Chandler? You sound funny."
"Come to the east gate-I'll leave a note on the fence with instructions on where to meet me."
The secret to setting up a meet is to get there with enough time to spare to make sure the person you're meeting with, hasn't set a trap for you. When I'd called Sabina, I'd been less than three minutes away from Dodger Stadium. While I was waiting for her to arrive, I checked to make sure the rifles that had belonged to Danny Raines were still in the trunk of the car where I'd left them (they were-thank you, Thom!) and loaded.
The other secret is that you always have at least three ways out of any meeting place and extra fire-arms hidden and available, just in case the person you're meeting with gets the drop on you and disarms you. I know it all sounds overly cautious-even paranoid-but having an extra weapon hidden nearby has saved my life at least once.
I hid the two rifles and pulled my extra pistol from under the spare tire. After making sure it was loaded, I set off across the weed-grown parking lot to the east gate. I hastily scribbled out a note to Sabina, then climbed the rusty chain-link fence. I landed hard on the other side and hissed air through clenched teeth as the pain came flooding back.
Eight minutes later I was standing behind one of the upper deck support posts and scanning the parking lot for any sign of movement or light. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I thought I detected the faint flicker of a flash-light moving through a grove of eucalyptus trees off to my left. I watched for another moment, then nodded.
The light exited the grove of trees and started towards the east gate. I stayed in my perch until Sabina found my note. She read it, seemed to think for a minute. Sabina shone the flash-light up and down the fence in front of her. She reached out with her free hand to make sure the fence was sturdy enough to support her weight and vigorously shook it.
"Looks like you climb," I heard her say.
I hurried off to our rendezvous point and took a seat in the tumble-down, darkened stadium.
"To your right," I said. "Fifth seat from the aisle."
She kept the light on her feet and joined me. "It's spooky in here."
I nodded. "She's a grand old girl though."
Sabina sat in silence for a few moments. "What did you need to see me about?"
"The ISP has a warrant out for my arrest."
I could feel Sabina looking at me in the darkness. "Are you sure?"
"They were at my apartment tonight with Thom Pressler. I've been a cop long enough to know a Federal warrant when I see one."
"What are you going to do?"
"Well, I'm not gonna' turn myself in!"
"Are they after you because of me?" Sabina asked.
"I don't know. It could be that. It could also be because of my little fire-fight with Thaddeus and Henry's thugs out in the desert. It could also be because of something else entirely."
"I was hoping you could tell me."
"Tell you? Tell you what?"
I faced her. "Who are you working for Sabina?"
"'Working for'? I'm not 'working for' anybody."
"So what-the ISP just let you walk out of their headquarters with two suits of their highly classified metamorphic camouflage?"
"Is that what this is all about?"
"It just seems awfully convenient to me that up until those two shooters show up at Karyn's house you can barely function. Then, all of a sudden, you're going with me to Gino's and you just so happen to have something stored in an unmentioned storage locker that can get us into his place as smooth as silk. The whole thing's been bugging me and I didn't know why until a little while ago. I watched you kick Gino back into the pool; you enjoyed it. There was a look in your eyes, something I've seen a few times before-you wanted him dead."
"You're way off base here Chandler."
"Of course," Sabina answered. "You're right about one thing-I would've loved to have iced Gino. All my life I could never stand men like him, men who lived off of the pain and misery of others. You weren't at Karyn's the night his goons showed up and started shooting. Karyn and her daughters were terrified. Yes, I was angry! I wanted to take that radio from you and drop it into the pool and watch his ass fry! When I worked for the ISP, I loved putting guys away who worked for low-life's like Gino!"
"What about the suits?"
"I've been on the run for over a year, Chandler and keeping one step of the ISP takes a lot of money. To get that money I sometimes take jobs where the suits will come in handy. Both of them were taken from a high-jacked truck ten months ago, near Carmel. I was doing a job for somebody a few months back: it went sideways and the man I was with got killed. I barely got out of it alive and I figured if I had an extra suit, I might be able to sell it at some point for a little money. That's it; I've done some things since I ran from the ISP I'm not proud of, but I'm not lying to you!"
"So why not tell me all this in the first place?"
"Would you have helped me if I told you I helped rob a bank and smuggled hallucinogenic's from one of the border towns to Ojai?"
"That's where you got the money to try and buy the pass to one of the aboriginal lands?"
I could see her nod. "Yes. Only thing is he was a Border Patrol undercover and I shot him and now I'm in even more trouble! You can see why I-why I wouldn't want to say anything about what I've been up to. If you want, I can give you dates, times, the amounts of the various takes and you can have Kenny check them to make sure I'm telling you the truth!"
"That's all right, Sabina. I just-sorry."
"How is Velma?"
"She's in bad shape. The doctors at County are some of the best in the republic, but her injuries are so severe. She might live, but the doctors don't give her much hope," I said. The pain shot was starting to wear off and it was getting difficult for me to think clearly. "I'm grasping at straws here, Sabina. Thaddeus and Henry put the bomb in Velma's house. They also rigged one for my office that would've taken out a room full of kids just down the hall from me if it had gone off! I've got to find these assholes and make them pay for what they did to Velma!"
"Is there anything I can do?"
"I know I've asked you this before, but when you started pilfering files for Alicia, did you get a look at any of them?"
Sabina thought for a long moment. "Just the one that I gave you. I usually got what she asked for, then met with her and Joe Don Roberts right afterwards."
Sabina took my left hand. "Are you okay?"
"I'm running on adrenaline and pain killers right now!" I answered. "Why are guys the way they are? All my life I've waited for the right one to come along. I've waited and she was right there in front of me the whole time! Now, we may never get the chance and I'll never forgive myself if she doesn't make it."
"You're asking the wrong person, Chandler! At least Velma is genuine-Alicia used me to get what she wanted and left me to deal with the consequences!"
"But you still love her, don't you?"
"Idiot that I am!" Sabina confessed.
I smiled. "I need to sit down and try to figure out what to do next."
"You and I never did get up there to poke around the ACRP," Sabina said.
"That's true. The explosive used at Velma's house and at my office was Xentex and the only place using Xentex in the city is the construction company building the ACRP."
"That's our next step, Chandler: we go and talk to the construction-site manager."
"We could, but with that warrant hanging over my head, it may be a little difficult."
"Difficult but not impossible."
"What do you mean?"
"The licensing of explosives-even in the city-is handled federally. Governor Taylor signed a treaty with California back when he first took power; it's the only treaty that allows federal investigators into the city unmolested."
"And you're suggesting what, that we pass ourselves off as a couple of these feds?"
I could see Sabina smile. "Sure. We're both already wanted so impersonating a couple of feds shouldn't add but ten years or so to our sentences!"
I chuckled. "True! Are you sure you want to risk it, Sabina? You've done a good job up to now of staying one step ahead of the ISP; why throw it all away for some personal vendetta of mine?"
"Because you agreed to help me and I got you into this in the first place," Sabina answered. "Besides, there's no better feeling in the world for me than to take someone down who's abusing the position he has. Thaddeus and Henry are dirty and I want to see that they pay for their crimes."
"Even if that justice is at the barrel-end of my gun?"
"I've got no problem with that. No problem at all."
I nodded. "Kenny told me I'd be throwing my life away if I did this."
"Kenny's a smart man. He's also thinking with his head and not his heart."
I rubbed my eyes and sat forward in my seat. "I'm just so tired."
"Karyn would probably be glad to loan you her sofa for a few hours if you'd like to get some sleep," Sabina suggested.
"I'd normally take her up on it, but I don't want to get her any more involved in this than she already is," I shook my head. "Besides, Karyn's would be one of the first places Thom Pressler looks. That's the bad thing about having someone who's as close a friend as Thom is-he knows how I think, what I'd do in any given situation. I need a place to hide out in for a few days, until I can get back on my feet."
"Is there anyone you can go to, someone Thom Pressler doesn't know?"
I thought for a long moment, my mind fogged by the last vestiges of the pain killer I'd injected and near exhaustion. "Not that I-wait, there may be someone. I don't know if she'd be willing to do it or not though."
"It couldn't hurt to ask."
I pushed myself up from the seat. The ground seemed to lurch under my feet and Sabina caught me before I fell.
"Let-me-sit for a moment," I managed between clenched teeth. I was soaked by cold sweat again and a strong wave of nausea swept over me. "Oh shit!"
Sabina felt my forehead. "You're burning up!"
"I know, " I answered. "I'm afraid I might've-that I should've stayed in the hospital."
"Where's your car parked?"
"Near a copse of trees where you came in."
"Can you make it to the car with my help?"
I faced her. "I'll have to."
Sabina helped me to my feet again and let me lean on her. Most of the walk through the darkened stadium was hazy to me and I had no idea how long it took to get to the east gate.
"I'm never gonna make it over the fence," I said.
"Give me your keys."
I did. "I'm so cold!"
Sabina took off her jacket and wrapped it tightly around my shoulders. "You're gonna' be all right!"
"I'm sorry about this."
She squatted down and met my eyes. "I'll be back in a couple of minutes."
I was in and out for the next few minutes, until I heard the Interceptor pull to a stop outside the gate.
I realized I was lying on my right side and forced myself to sit up. "Yeah?"
"Watch yourself-I'm going to shoot the lock off the gate."
I leaned the other way and winced as she fired. The sound seemed to echo in the arroyo where the stadium was located, for hours.
"Can you get to your feet?"
"I think-I think so."
She managed to get me standing and to the car. I kind of fell into the seat and couldn't stop shivering.
"Let's get you out of here."
"You need to do something first. I-I hid two rifles inside the stadium. You need-you need to get them, because kids play here all the time."
"Where are they?"
I told her.
"I'll be back!"
Inside the car I set the heater controls for as high as they would go, then pulled the phone from the center console. It took me three tries to get the number right.
"Alf's,"the voice on the other end sounded as tired as I felt.
"M-Maria, this is Chandler. Is-is Alf around?"
"Chandler?! Where are you? Are you all right?"
"I-I need to talk to Alf."
I heard her hand the phone off and quickly explain to Alf who it was.
"I-I need your help."
"What's going on? Thom was by here earlier and was raising holy hell!"
"I'm sorry about that," I was fighting to un-fog my mind, but not getting very far. "I-know. I'm in a little bit of trouble."
"What can I do to help?"
"Your line still secure on that end?" I asked.
"Kenny checked it two days ago."
"Good. I need a place to stay for a few days. I'm hurting pretty good."
"I'll give you anything, you know that," Alf said.
"I need the number and address of one of your dancers. Gail."
"The elf girl?"
"Hold on a sec." It took Alf a couple of minutes to find it. While I waited for him I found a pen and scrap of paper. "Chandler?"
Alf read me the address and phone number and I read them back to him to make sure they were correct.
"That's the one," he said. "Anything else?"
"Yeah. Forget about this phone call."
"What phone call?"
I smiled. "I owe you one."
"Can you at least give me a hint as to what's going on? Like I said, Thom was by with a whole phalanx of uniforms and feds. Those same feds made it very clear to me that should I do anything to help you, they'd lock me up for a hundred years," Alf said.
"In that case, it's better that you not know."
"This have anything to do with Danny Raines?"
"Yeah, more than likely. Thom's also trying to keep me from finding the assholes who nearly killed Velma."
"Anything I can do to help find them?"
"Alf, I really don't want..."
"She's my friend too you know!"
"I know," I said. "Okay. Get the word out-quietly-that I'm looking for a couple of rogue BSS agents by the names of Thaddeus and Henry. Blood's already covering the underground end of things for me. Also let everybody know that I'm offering a bounty for the two of them-fifty grand."
Alf whistled. "You must really want them!"
"Got it. I'll contact you at Gail's if and when I hear anything."
"Take care of yourself."
"I'll do that."
He hung up. After a moment I dialed Gail's number.
She picked up on the third ring. "Hello?"
"Gail, this Is Chandler Harrison. I-I need your help."
Gail was quiet for a long moment. "Do you have my address?"
I told her I did.
"I will be here."
I nodded. "It'll take me about thirty minutes to get there."
"That is fine."
I remember very little of the trip to Gail's apartment. I know I blacked out at least twice and every foot of battered pavement seemed to send a jolt of agony through me. At one point I remember Sabina stopping the car and the feeling of hands pulling at me. Then things went black again and I slept.
There was no darkness. Around me things shone with an almost too bright whiteness. I realized after a time that I was standing, alone, in a vast, endless wasteland of retina burning emptiness. I looked down at my feet and saw they were bare and almost ankle deep in something that felt very nearly to be grass. I frowned. Grass wasn't white, grass was green and-
As I watched, a small splotch of color appeared in that white grass and grew and opened to the white sun over my head. I leaned down to take a look at the small splotch of color and found it to be a very fragile violet. I reached out and touched it with my right index finger-violets are Velma's favorite flower.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?"
The voice startled me and I whirled around to face the person who had spoken those words. Velma Martinez smiled back at me. "Velma!! God, look at you!!"
She slid into my arms and I held her for a long time without speaking. Someone was shaking and I realized after a few moments it was me.
"What's going on? Where are we?" My questions came out in a rush, so many and so quickly Velma touched my lips with her right index finger to stop them.
"Shh," she spoke.
I stood back from her. She was standing and had touched my lips with her right index finger. "You-you lost-I don't understand."
Velma stroked my cheek. "You always have to understand everything, don't you?"
"Old habits are hard to break, I guess."
Velma chuckled. "True."
"Where are we?"
Velma cocked her head to one side and raised an eyebrow. "Where do you think we are?"
I glanced past her. Around us, things began to take on color, form, texture. There was a warm, soft breeze in the air and I could smell honeysuckle and orange blossom. On the horizon the sky seemed to start at a line of blue, a line of blue that quickly filled the dome of whiteness over my head.
"I always dreamed of a place like this. Is that what this is Velma, a dream? Is it some kind of trauma induced catatonia that I'm imagining?"
"No, it is real, Chandler. You can feel the breeze, smell and nearly taste the scents in the air. You can feel the warmth of my hand where I touched your cheek just now."
I frowned again. "Is this-heaven?"
"It can be."
I met her eyes. "But I-I don't believe in God. Not since he let my parents be killed and their murderers go free all those years ago."
Velma smiled. "Apparently God seems to think otherwise."
"That's why they sent me out to see you."
"'They'? 'They' who?"
"You don't belong here. At least not yet."
I shook my head. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm supposed to tell you, it's not your time. I'm supposed to send you back."
"I'm-you're gone?" I couldn't say the word.
"Part of me remains, but only for a short time."
I vigorously shook my head. "No! As long as there is a chance for life you don't walk away from it!"
"What remains Chandler is a shell. I want to be here. This is what I've believed in since I was five years old, the place I've wanted to go to since I was five years old."
She nodded, reached out and took my hand. "I know what's in your heart. I heard what you told me at my bedside. You were correct; we are of a kind. For so long now I've felt something in here for you,"she touched her chest, "but I was always afraid to tell you. You are my friend and I was afraid if I told you how I really feel about you..."
"You're in love with me?"
"Originally I just wanted to boff you, but it became more than that after awhile!"
I laughed. "Boff?"
"You're allowed to say 'boff' up here?"
Velma smiled. "We just did, so it looks like we can."
"So what happens now?"
"That's why I'm here. You have to go back."
I shook my head. "I'm not going anywhere, unless you come back with me."
"I can't, Chandler. This is my place now. This is where I belong."
"If this is where you're gonna' be, then this is where I'm staying."
Velma offered me the smile of a parent dealing with a recalcitrant child. "You have too many other things to do yet. One day you'll be here, but not today."
"Why the hell not?!"
"It's-difficult to explain," Velma said. "I'm here because-how can I put this so you'll understand it-I'm here because life is like a parking meter..."
"'A parking meter'?"
"Yeah. With a parking meter you put money into it so you can park on the street. When that money runs out you get a ticket or your car towed."
I frowned again. "So what, God's a big traffic cop or something?"
"God's the ultimate traffic cop! Only thing is, when the meter runs out the impound yard ain't that bad!"
The grass under my feet was green and off in the distance I could see taller shoots billowing with the wind. "If it's not that bad a place to be, then I want to stay."
Velma shook her head. "Using the same analogy, you can't because your meter hasn't expired yet. That's why you have to go back."
"If I have to go back, why bring me here in the first place?"
"It happens sometimes. In someone's despair and loneliness they give up and manage to slip through. When that happens they get sent back."
"Even though I don't want to go?"
"Especially then," Velma said. "There are so many others depending on you, Chandler. You haven't even begun to do all the good you can."
"If that's true, why send the one person they know I love, to tell me about all this?! It seems to be a particularly cruel and heartless thing to do to someone!"
"Would you understand what I'm trying to say, if it were from anyone else?"
"I don't 'understand' it from you!" I said. "I can't stay, but you can't go back with me?!"
"I don't want to go back with you Chandler. I know what happened to me, the lost leg, the blown off arm, the piece of my skull that'll be permanently missing. The Velma Martinez you knew is gone. The one in that hospital bed is different-she doesn't even know who you are Chandler. She would be a little girl in a big girl's body. An incomplete little girl."
I took both of her hands in mine. "I don't care about that Velma. I love you and I want you back, no matter the form or shape you're in."
She smiled. "This is where I belong. This is where I want to stay."
"Goddammit, will you stop saying that! You don't belong here; you belong down there with me!!"
"I do want you to know something, Chandler. For the first time in my life I feel like I was doing some good. All those people you and I have helped; if there had been no one like you there to help them, the world would have been a much worse place."
"Velma, I need you. You're the one who's always there for me, the one I can turn to when things don't go the way they're supposed to. How many-how many times have we sat and talked deep into the night, talked about cases and dreams and what if's? I can't lose that. I can't!!"
Velma met my eyes and a moment later her lips were on mine. I held her and kissed her and didn't want to let go and all too briefly the kiss was over. She stared deep into my eyes. There were tears in hers. "We don't have long. I need you to tell my mother and my sisters that I'm at peace."
I shook my head. "You tell them yourself!"
"I can't," the tears spread down her cheeks. "There is also something more, a darkness in your heart. You want to kill the people who did this to me, make them pay for their crimes with their lives. Please, I don't want that. I don't want you to throw away all the good things you've done, throw away your life for something so senseless."
"Without you I don't have a life!" I said. "Please, I don't want to beg, but if I have to I will. Come back with me!"
Velma kissed me again. "Please baby. Please accept this, for me. Please say you won't take a life because of me."
I couldn't say no; I couldn't say yes. I was getting lost in her dark eyes and the taste of her lips. A small breeze stirred her hair and suddenly she was pulling away. In a moment's time I was in darkness again, falling away from the beautiful place I'd just been in.
"No, dammit! I want to stay!!"
"I love you Chandler!"
"I want to stay!!" A sob wracked my body. "I love you too, Velma."
I continued to fall into the darkness and....
...awoke into a small room, smelling of spices and candle wax. I lay there for a long time, listening to the sound of rain splashing against the windows and the traffic on the street beyond. I forced my eyes open. Gail was sitting on the edge of the bed, a wet cloth in her left hand.
I looked at her. "Where-am I?"
"You don't remember?"
I thought for a minute. "I remember meeting someone at a stadium. Sabina!! I remember meeting Sabina to try and find out something, at the old Dodger Stadium and-everything else is a blank. Everything but this one dream. It was so calm, so beautiful; I didn't want to leave."
"Your friend was there."
"How do you know that?"
Gail smiled. "You wished to see her as she once was; I made it possible for you to do so."
"You don't exactly look the way I imagined God would look!"
"That's because I am not God," Gail said.
I stared at her for a long moment. "Can you send me back?"
She shook her head. "Once in a great while a portal is opened and it's possible for me to send someone across. Those portals are usually discovered and closed, rather quickly."
"So, it was real?"
"As real as you wanted it to be."
I frowned. "I don't understand. I mean you're a-a stripper and you can open doorways to heaven."
"Sometimes. Not always."
I sat up and noticed the pain I'd been feeling was gone. I took a deep breath, let it out, and took another. "I feel-great!!"
"You needed a doctor when Sabina brought you here. I know someone; she's not a doctor, but she took care of you."
I ran my hands down my chest. "There is no pain. Not even a bruise that I can see."
"She is very good at what she does."
"I've heard of-of healers before but I always thought of them as being myths."
"And I have heard of good human beings before but believed them to be a myth."
"Point taken," I smiled. "My sense of time is totally screwed up. What day of the week is this?"
"It's a little past nine on a Saturday night."
"Saturday? I've been here for three days?"
"For most of that time, yes."
"I was supposed to meet with a colleague of mine..."
"Sabina has told him what's going on."
I met her violet eyes. "I owe you a debt of gratitude for what you've done for me."
Gail waved it away. "I consider the debt repaid."
"But I haven't done anything. Have I?"
"You've made me see that not all humans are inherently evil. That is enough."
I lay back and stared at the ceiling for a moment. "Gail, can you answer some questions for me?"
"If I can, I would be glad to."
"You went to the city archives."
"The man who runs the place said you were almost ashen when you left. He told us you'd looked at the files for the Angeles Crest Reservoir Project and left in such a hurry you didn't put the files away. What happened?"
"I don't really know, Mr. Harrison. I was looking at this photograph and all of a sudden it was like I was there."
"Like you were in that photo?"
"Yes," Gail answered.
"What was happening?"
She took a deep breath. "There were trucks, the sounds of engines running. There was also rain, cold, winter rain. The last thing I remember were screams all around me and I was in this very cold, dark place. The thoughts so unnerved me, so overwhelmed me I couldn't stay and look at those pictures anymore. I ran and it wasn't until hours later that I was finally able to come to my senses again."
"Velma Martinez said something to me the night you came to my apartment. She said when she was a little girl her mother told her there had once been a race of elfen beings called 'empaths'. She said her mother had told her these 'empaths' had all died," I said.
"Killed, Mr. Harrison. They were killed. By humans."
I sat up and met her eyes again. "Why were they killed?"
"They were killed for the same reasons your-humankind kills anything. Humans were afraid. Humans didn't understand. Humans felt they were threatened."
"How were they killed?"
"The empaths were a peaceful race. All they wanted was to live a life of freedom and solitude. Most of our kind are vegetarian; the empaths had settled in a small agriculturally rich valley a couple of hours drive north of here. They'd been there for a number of years when an insect infestation hit the local human farms that bordered around their one little valley. Humans sprayed pesticides to kill off the insect, with little care for how the winds would carry their poisons. The poison 'drifted' into their valley and the empaths started to die, a few here, a few there. The initial kill took about fifty lives out of their total population of two hundred, but the poison used was far more insidious than that. It seemed to attach itself directly to the empaths DNA. Children born afterwards were deformed and soon died. Still births went up five thousand percent. Eventually they were not able to breed at all. This destroyed them," Gail explained. "To all of our elfen races, children are our reason for being here. Take away that reason and we may as well not even exist."
"The insecticide blowing into their valley sounds accidental. Are you saying it wasn't?"
Gail seemed lost in thought. "At the time it was thought to be an accident by most of the empathic race. There were those few however who felt that the 'insecticide' finding it's way over tall mountain peaks, against the prevailing winds was no accident. Those few-human and elf--took blood and tissue samples from the dead and dying and had them analyzed. I'd heard there was something more than just a man-made poison to kill insects that damaged crops being sprayed from the sky. There was a virus, something unknown to all those who did the tests."
"What kind of virus?"
Gail faced me. "The tests were never completed. The laboratory doing them burned in a fire and all the slides and notes were destroyed in the blaze. Most of the scientists working on trying to figure out what it was, also died, either in the fire or under mysterious circumstances. Without the ability to have and raise children and the sicknesses caused by the poisons being sprayed in the air, the empathic race died out in less than ten years and the large agri-businesses bordering the empaths valley, soon had the land back under their control."
"Where was this located, Gail? Was it near Fresno?"
"Yes. The empaths valley was west of the Fresno Control District."
"'It was a research station all right, but they wasn't growing corn'!" Danny Raines' words suddenly struck me like a blow. I looked away and closed my eyes.
"Is there something wrong?" Gail asked.
"How much has Sabina told you?"
"Quite a lot."
I thought for a long moment. "One of the crimes Alicia Denniston stands accused of is the fire-bombing of the main agricultural research station up in Fresno. One of the things Danny Raines mentioned to me was something about a research station in Fresno that wasn't doing agricultural research. I wanted to get more information from him, but Thaddeus and Henry showed up with muscle and Raines got iced before I can find out more information from him."
"I had-I had always suspected something like this, but this is-this is monstrous!" Gail exclaimed.
"Being monstrous is a human specialty," I said. "Gail, I need to ask you this next question: I know you're at least a level three, telepathically. Were your parents part of the empathic enclave?"
"I-yes, Mr. Harrison."
"Were both of your parents elfen?"
"My father was; my mother was human. They were accepted as part of the community with no thought to the purity of my blood."
"And were you there when the spraying was done?"
"Yes. I was a newborn then. We age much slower than human-kind does, which is why I look younger than I actually am."
"You didn't die with the rest of your race because whatever the virus was that was in that insecticide, didn't effect humans."
Gail closed her eyes and bowed her head. "Why would anyone do something like this?"
"The oldest reason in the book: money."
"I don't understand."
"You said it yourself. Your people's farm land was some of the richest and most fertile in California. There are a lot of hungry mouths to feed in the Fresno Control District. Extra farm land would go a long way towards feeding some of those mouths."
"But to kill an entire race, just for their...it doesn't seem possible. "
"Nothing human beings do, surprises me," I said.
Gail nodded. "How does this tie into the Angeles Crest Reservoir Project?"
"I'm not sure," I said. "Alicia Denniston is the key, dammit! If I could only find her, most of these questions would have an answer in about two seconds flat!"
"Chandler," Gail said. "I was there when the insecticide was sprayed. Wouldn't it-if it had attached itself to my empathic DNA like I surmised-still be present at a molecular level in my blood?"
I thought for a moment. "It would, if your human antigens haven't killed it off."
"Is there any way to check and find out for sure?"
"Sure. It would require a complete blood work-up and DNA/RNA scan, though."
"I would be willing to do whatever it takes to prove that my people did not die from an accident."
I nodded. "I know someone. She's a chemist and owes me a favor. Maybe I can get her to take a look."
Gail glanced down at the cloth in her hands; she'd nearly wrung it dry from twisting it as she spoke. "Those pictures I looked at-what I was seeing was almost as though I'd been there."
"How long have you had these visions?"
"They started when I was approximately 14 human years old. Since then they have gotten more realistic. They were fuzzy at first, almost like a dream. As I've gotten older I started to feel, even taste things in them."
"Feel and taste what?"
"Fear. Total, complete, un-abiding fear."
"And you have no idea where this place of un-abiding fear is located?"
"As I told you at your apartment that night, I know it is tied to what you're working on for Sabina. The place looks familiar, but I can never get enough detail in my mind to tell you exactly where it is."
"The ACRP maybe?"
Gail met my eyes, puzzled.
"You said it yourself-when you were looking at the aerial photographs of the land in and around the ACRP, you felt terror. You said you felt like you were almost in one of those photographs and that those feelings of terror were so strong you ran from the archives and left them lying on the table."
"I am almost certain I have never been to that site, Chandler."
"Would you be interested in taking a ride up there tomorrow? It might jog your memory a little bit."
Gail nodded after a few seconds. "Okay."
I stretched and realized with a start as the blanket slid off of me that my clothes were gone. I quickly covered myself and looked up to find Gail watching me with a bemused look in her eyes. "Uh-sorry."
"It is not anything I haven't seen before."
I managed a smile. "I guess not, since you've been taking care of me these last few days."
"I haven't been the only one. Sabina has been watching over you while I"m at work."
"I'll have to thank her too, then," I said, a small blush touching my features.
Gail chuckled. "Do women unnerve you?"
"Of course not!!" I shook my head.
She stood up, a slightly mischievous grin coloring her pretty face. "Just ones you're sexually attracted to."
"Umm-I can call this person I know if you're up to that blood testing tonight."
"The phone is on the night stand to your left."
I nodded. She started away. "Gail?"
"We will find out. I promise you."
"Thank you. For all of us."
The comment puzzled me slightly but Gail was gone before I could inquire further. I shook my head, sat up on the edge of the bed and pulled the phone to me. I dialed the number I'd memorized so long ago.
The call was answered on the second ring. "Bainbridge Clinic."
"Yes, I'd like to speak to Doctor Elaine Ford please."
"One moment please."
The extension rang a half dozen times before someone answered. "Dr. Ford."
"What did you do Elaine, get lost in your testing again?"
"Chandler!" she nearly shouted. "How are you?!"
"I'm doing better. Not completely well yet, but better."
"I heard about what happened to you and Velma."
"Yeah. She's a lot worse off than I am at the moment."
"There was also something on the tri-d the last few evenings about you being wanted for questioning."
"I'm kinda' in a sticky situation right now, Elaine. I've got a young woman here-a human/elf hybrid- who's told me a very interesting story about some farmers spraying an insecticide that was supposedly laced with some type of virus deadly to her people..."
"And you need my help to try and nail it down."
"How long ago did this supposedly take place?"
"Maybe twenty, twenty five years ago."
Elaine was silent for almost a minute. "When would you like me to do the tests?"
"Would it be possible for me to bring her by tonight?"
"You still remember where my office is?"
"I'll leave the rear entrance door open for you. When can you be here?"
"It'll take me at least an hour."
"What would you like me to do, Chandler?"
"You're the chemist. I want to know if the virus or whatever it is, is still in her blood. I also want to know what it is and if possible, who made it."
"Get her down here and I'll do my best."
"I've been needing a little excitement in my life and every time you come around I get it in spades!"
I chuckled. "See you soon."
She hung up. After a long moment I dialed another number.
"You able to talk?"
I heard him close his office door. "Where the hell are you? The goddamn feds and the brass are crawling up my ass about you!!"
"Sorry about all the trouble."
"Sorry hell!! You're in a shit-load of trouble and you've gotten me in it too. Assistant Chief Downey is about two ticks away from suspending me because he thinks I know where you are!!"
"Thom, I am sorry. I never wanted to get you involved in all this, but you're the one who kept asking me questions about what I was working on."
Thom calmed after a moment. "I know."
"Why are the feds after me?"
He took a deep breath. "Where do I begin? It starts with assaulting two federal officers in the Federal Building. They also want to talk to you about the Joe Don Roberts killing and the disappearance of Danny Raines. They also aren't real happy about the little fire fight you had with that helicopter out at El Toro. The two pilots were killed in the crash and there is a BSS agent lying in the hospital with most of his guts blown out by a land-mine. That enough for you?"
"That ought to take care of the next three hundred years or so!"
"This isn't funny, damn you!! The Feds can string you up from the end of a rope for killing one of their agents!!"
"Thom, I didn't kill anybody. Roberts was already dead when I got there. As for the helicopter, yes I shot it down-after they tried to kill me!"
"Do you know where Danny Raines is?"
It was my turn to take a deep breath. "He's dead. A bullet from one of the helicopter machine guns took him out."
"I know. It doesn't look too good, does it?"
"You might be able to save yourself if you come on in."
"Can't do it."
"What do you mean, you 'can't do it'? You don't understand old buddy: every cop in this city is looking for you! The feds are itching to grab hold of you and there's been some talk about payback for what happened to those two pilots. You don't have too many options here, pal!"
"I have one big one. I can find Thaddeus and Henry."
"And do what, kill them too?!"
"I haven't killed anyone who didn't try to do the same thing to me first!"
"Shit, I may as well be talking to a brick wall for all the good this will do me," Thom finally said. "I'll try to cover for you as much as I can, but my neck only goes out so far."
"I wouldn't expect otherwise. Can you do me one, small favor?"
He laughed. "You ought to be glad I'm not running a trace on this line! Or has Kenny made that impossible to do?"
"I don't know."
"What is it?"
"See what you can find out about a firebombing of the Fresno Control District Agricultural Station a month or so ago."
"This have anything to do with what you're working on?"
"No questions Thom-the less you know at this point, the better."
"I'll do what I can. Where do you want me to leave the information when I get it?"
"I don't have to tell you to be careful, do I?"
"No, but the sentiment's nice!"
Thom cursed me and I hung up. I thought for several moments, then picked up and dialed the phone again.
"Hello?" Soledad Martinez answered.
"Did I wake you?"
"Chandler? Are you okay?" Velma's mother asked.
"Are any of us?"
"No, not really," she said after a long silence. "The doctors and Thom Pressler said you escaped from the hospital. I'm worried about you because I know how badly you were hurt."
"I've seen someone and she's made me better."
"Chandler, what's going on? Why did they do this to my child?"
"I don't-it's because of a case I'm working on. I got too close to some bad cops and they decided to take me out..."
"...and because Velma works for you, she became a target too."
"I'm so, so sorry, Soledad."
"Velma knew the risks," she said. "We all did. I tried to get her to be more careful, but she believed in what she was doing. And in you."
I closed my eyes. "She wanted me to tell you something."
"Tell me something?"
"She said to tell you, she's in-she's where-she's in the place she's imagined since she was five years old."
I heard Soledad take a deep breath. "You've been there with her?"
"I didn't want to believe it, but it felt so real. I-I wanted her to come back with me, but she wouldn't."
"She told me of a meadow once, with violets and wild flowers dotting the landscape and grasses blowing in the warm winds."
"It was even more beautiful than she described."
"How did you..."
"I'm not completely sure. All I know is that I didn't want to leave but she said I couldn't stay and I got sent back."
"It wasn't your time."
"She said the same thing."
"Is she-happy Chandler?" Soledad's voice broke the tiniest bit.
"I've never seen her more happy than she was then."
"And you? Are you still blaming yourself for what happened to her?"
"Yes. It's all my fault. This whole thing had gotten too dangerous and I wanted her to leave and spend time with her sisters until it blew over."
"It's not her way of doing things."
I had to smile. "No, it's not her way of doing things!"
"She wants us to let her go, doesn't she?"
"And if we do this, will you be able to accept it, Chandler?"
"No. It's my fault she got put into this situation, my fault she'll die for it. I will carry that around with me for the rest of my life," I said.
"Chandler, I never had sons," Soledad said. "All of my children were daughters and all of them strong willed. Velma was the strongest willed of all. She was doing something she felt was right. She believed that with her every waking breath and to hear you talk of it being your fault would've angered and disappointed her. She accepted the risks, just as you've accepted them."
"I know, but the-pain..."
"I know sweetheart."
"Soledad, I'm so very sorry," I said again.
"She told me once that since I never had sons, maybe one day..."
"I consider you and her sisters family. I have since the first time I met you," I answered.
"And I consider you my son."
"The doctors have one more series of tests scheduled for day after tomorrow. If there is no improvement, I will let her go."
I nodded, unable to speak.
"Do not despair so. You will see her again."
"I hope so."
"You be careful and I want you to make me a promise."
"I know what you're doing, why you left the hospital. I do not want revenge. I do not want to lose another one of my children."
"I hear and understand your words."
"Are you safe?"
"For the moment. There are a lot of people looking for me though."
"Thom was by earlier. He warned me some federal agents will likely ask me a lot of questions about you."
"What will you tell them?"
"I will tell them to remove their asses from my front porch!" Soledad laughed.
I laughed with her. "Very nicely of course!"
"Of course!" she said.
"Soledad, I should..."
"I know. When you get out of the trouble you're in, don't be a stranger. Our door is always open to you."
"Go with God."
I put the phone back in it's cradle and got up. I went to the window and peered out. The streets were awash in brightly colored, flashing neon and a few cars slid along in the still pouring rain. I watched for a time, lost in the beauty of that view, trying to think out my next move. The door opening startled me from my reverie.
"Well somebody looks like they're doing a lot better!" Sabina Griffith offered, cheerfully.
I managed a smile as I faced her. "How are Karyn and the kids?"
"Fine," Sabina answered. "Thom has that well under control so he suggested I might want to get lost for a little while, now that the ISP is involved in this thing."
"Good idea. Gail told me you've been spelling her from time to time. Thanks."
"She's an interesting young woman. Cute too!"
I smiled. "Careful, she's a level three telepath."
Sabina smiled. "I know."
I chuckled. "So what's going on out there?" I indicated the window and the city beyond it.
"LAPD and the ISP are turning the city upside down looking for you. They're not having much luck though."
"Let's hope that luck holds for awhile. How's Kenny coming with those satellite photos?" I asked.
"He's running some new algorithm through Fez's machinery to try and clear them up some more. He said call him later tomorrow."
"Sounds like Kenny."
Sabina studied me for a moment. "Is everything all right? You look-different."
"The fire is back in your eyes."
I nodded. "You up for a little trip?"
"Where to?" Sabina asked.
"Gail's told me something very interesting and I want to go check it out."
"Oh, speaking of something interesting," Sabina dug into her rain coat pocket and pulled a bullet out of it. "I paid the maintenance man at your building a few bucks to let me in so I could pick up a few things. I grabbed you some clothes and your Smith-Wesson. I checked to make sure it was loaded and something didn't feel right so I unloaded the clip and found this little cutey."
I took the offered bullet and frowned. "A tracking device?"
Sabina nodded. "A GX-2270. It's small, light weight, and hard as hell to detect."
"How did you find it?"
"The clip didn't feel heavy enough. This one was the last shell in the clip. If you'd fired it, it would've acted like a jam, you'd ejected the shell and wouldn't have known the difference. There were three or four others in every box of ammunition at your place," Sabina explained.
"I don't suppose you any idea who'd use these things?"
"It's a standard tracking and surveillance item used by the ISP."
"Get my clothes. We've got some work to do tonight."
Sabina went to a nearby closet and opened the door. "What did Gail tell you?"
"If what she's told me is true, it may very well blow this case wide open."
The Bainbridge Clinic is located hard against the Pacific Ocean outside the city limits of Oxnard. The drive seemed to take forever, but Danny Raines' Cross Zonal Pass got us through the various checkpoints with little notice. One of the good things about Los Angeles being so fragmented is that most police departments don't communicate with each other. For once, that lack of communication worked for me, instead of against me.
The rear entrance was unlocked as Elaine Ford had said it would be and I guided Sabina and Gail through the building up to her fourth floor office. Elaine answered the soft knock and ushered us in.
"Hello, Chandler!" Elaine embraced me and hung on for a moment.
"Elaine," I greeted her.
Elaine stood back from me. She'd changed little in the few years since I'd met her-she still wore her dark brown hair in too severe a style, still wore glasses that were too large for her face. Elaine wasn't a stunner, but she was very pretty and could make any man notice her, even in a crowded room.
"Elaine, this is Sabina Griffith..." I said.
She shook hands with Sabina.
"...and this is Gail."
"Gail," Elaine took her offered right hand and held it with a slightly puzzled look on her face. "You're a psi?"
"Yes," Gail confirmed.
"I thought so," Elaine said. "I'd be willing to bet you're much higher than a level three too, aren't you?"
"How do you know that?" Sabina asked.
"I'm a doctor."
Elaine seemed to suddenly realize she was clutching Gail's right hand and quickly let go. "Sorry."
"It's okay. I get that reaction a lot," Gail dead-panned.
I chuckled. "I want to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do this for us, Elaine."
"What busy? Besides, you know I can never resist you."
I saw Sabina turn away with a smile on her face. "They won't have any problem with you using the lab?"
"It's my lab," Elaine answered. "I have free reign over what research projects I undertake. And this is one I wish to undertake."
"What's going to happen?" Gail asked.
Elaine faced her. "First thing I'll do is run a physical on you to make sure you're strong enough for me to do this. After that, I'll be taking some blood, saliva, and spinal fluid."
"Why spinal fluid?" Sabina wanted to know.
"Spinal fluid is usually the best indicator of exposure to something. I've found that if I can't delineate something in the blood or saliva, I can usually find traces of it in either the spinal fluid or bone marrow."
Sabina nodded. "Doesn't that hurt? A spinal tap I mean."
"There is some pain and discomfort associated with the procedure. If Gail does not want me to do a spinal tap, all she has to do is say so."
"Gail?" I glanced at her.
"Do whatever is necessary," Gail said.
Elaine nodded. "In that case, why don't we get started. There are white lab coats and visitor identity badges for the three of you on the sofa. If anyone stops us, you are scientists from France who are looking to start a similar lab of your own there and are over here taking a look at new laboratory protocols."
"My French is a little rusty, Elaine," I said.
"But mine isn't," Sabina said. She said something to Elaine in effortless French and Elaine answered back. Both women laughed and from the few words I'd caught, I knew they'd talked about me.
"Shall we get to it?" Elaine asked.
Gail nodded. "I'm very anxious to find out for certain."
Elaine met her eyes and smiled. "If there is any trace of toxin or some man-made virus in your bloodstream, we will find it."
It was almost two in the morning and it had finally stopped raining when Elaine re-appeared with Gail. Sabina and I had waited in the lab while Elaine ran Gail through the routine physical.
"How is she, Doctor Ford?" Sabina asked.
"She has a slight B vitamin deficiency that's normal for her people, but is in very good shape otherwise."
"Nothing out of the ordinary?"
Elaine shrugged. "No more so than what the psi-onic control drugs usually do to people."
"You don't approve of them?" Sabina asked.
"No, I don't approve of them. I've heard all the arguments about having to control their abilities for the safety of the rest of us and I don't buy a damned one of them. I haven't, to this day, heard of any psi going on a mass murder spree with their minds."
"But that doesn't mean it can't happen," Sabina offered.
"I'd rather walk into a room full of uncontrolled psi's than into a room with one man holding a loaded gun in his hand," Elaine said. "Sorry Chandler."
"Hey, I agree with you!" I said.
"What happens next?" Gail asked.
"Well, I need to give you a shot."
"What will it do?"
"The shot will act a clotting agent. There are a number of elfen races who's blood will not clot if they're injured. I don't know if you're a member of one of those races, but I don't want to take any chances. When I take blood it'll be from one of the large veins in your arm-if your blood doesn't clot after I take the sample, you could bleed to death from that one little pin-prick in your arm."
Gail nodded. "I would not want that."
Elaine grinned. "Neither would I. Too much paperwork to fill out."
Gail seemed to think the comment over for a moment or two, then laughed. It was the first time I'd heard her laugh and it was an altogether pleasant sound.
"Anything we can do?"
Elaine shook her head. "Not really. The initial tests are gonna' take a few hours so you may as well have a seat and relax."
"You don't happen to have any coffee around here, do you?" Sabina inquired.
"In the lounge next door," Elaine answered. "Help yourself. This floor of the building is deserted on Sundays, so it shouldn't be a problem."
"Thanks," Sabina said. "Care to join me for a cup, Chandler?"
We left the lab and went to the lounge. The pot was empty and needed a good cleaning.
"What's her story?" Sabina asked as she ran water and soap into the sink and began to scrub the glass coffee pot.
"Yeah. She said she owed you a favor. Why?"
I scooped out several spoons of coffee into the paper filter basket. "Several years ago Elaine hired me to find out who was trying to smear her reputation in the medical research field."
"It turned out to be one of her closest colleagues. They'd published a paper together and because Elaine was the senior researcher, her name was listed first in the published results. Because of this, her colleague felt slighted and decided to get even with her, even though she didn't have anything to do with it in the first place."
"I found this colleague of hers after he'd tried to kill Elaine. He's now doing his research in one of the finer prison system labs."
Sabina glanced at me. "So how close did the two of you get?"
"What do you mean?"
"There's a lot more than just friendship between the two of you," Sabina supplied.
"I never sleep with clients. It's bad for business."
"You've got an awfully suspicious mind, you know that?"
"Comes from all my years with the ISP. Their first rule is don't trust anybody. Their second rule is don't believe anything said to you."
"It must be tough going through life like that."
Sabina smiled. "Yeah, but at least I don't get fooled by phony stories quite so easily. Or often!"
"Ouch!" I said.
Sabina laughed. "I'm just wondering about something. You have all this passion inside you to find out answers for people. Are you human? I look at women like Karyn White and Doctor Ford in there and babe, they want you!"
"I've already got a mistress-this job."
"Spoken like a true man!"
I smiled. "Why are you so interested in who or what I do outside of work?"
"I'm just trying to puzzle you out. Most men tend to think with one part of their anatomy."
"I'm not most men."
"True. Still, you must get lonely or something."
"From time to time. Do you?"
"Sure. I don't treat myself like I'm in a cloister or anything though."
"We go with what works I guess."
"Haven't you ever been tempted by any of your clients?"
"From time to time. I was even tempted by you when I first saw you, up until you told me you didn't go that way," I grinned.
Sabina chuckled. "That doesn't bother you?"
"Why should it? The world's so full of hate and dishonesty, it's actually kind of refreshing to find someone who's completely sure of themselves."
"Well, I wouldn't say I'm completely sure of myself. If my last lover was any indication, I'd be better off in that cloister I was talking about!"
"We'll see when we find Alicia."
"You think she's alive?"
"Until I know otherwise, that's the assumption we operate under."
"An optimist to the last."
"In this line of work you have to be."
Two and half hours later, the preliminary test results came back: nothing out of the ordinary. Elaine kept our hopes alive by saying that the first batch of tests were the least complicated of the battery she was about to perform and that during the next few hours the telling results should be known. Most of the other things Elaine said to me were way over my head, but Sabina seemed to grasp what she was saying and was genuinely interested.
I joined Gail by the large windows looking out over the ocean. Where ocean met sand, the water phosphoresced from the tens of millions of tiny organisms in the sea water and for a too brief moment in time, a pale green glow was visible. Things change, people die, but the sea lives on.
"You doing okay?" I asked Gail, breaking the silence.
Gail nodded. "You know, this is only the second time in my life that I've seen the ocean."
"It's so vast and can make a solitary person feel very small."
"That it can."
Gail glanced at me. "What happens if we do find something deadly to my people in my blood? What do we do about it?"
"If those responsible are still out there, we do what's necessary to bring them to justice so they'll have to answer for their crimes."
"And will they? No one cares about us. In fact, most of my race of people are hated by yours. With so much hate against us, how can I ever hope for the justice my people demand?" Gail asked.
"You said it yourself, earlier today. Back when your people first started dying, there were some humans who believed what your leaders were telling them. They jumped in and helped."
"And they're all dead."
"All it takes is one person who cares, Gail. You couldn't be in better hands than you are with Elaine Ford. She's one of those good people. So is Sabina."
Gail frowned, then glanced at me. "Sabina is-an interesting human."
I smiled. "I'll grant you that."
"There is a dancer at the club who feels the same way about other females that Sabina does. It is something I do not understand."
"But it's fascinating nevertheless."
Gail smiled. "Yes. She obviously finds me attractive, but I do not know how to respond to her."
"Do you find her attractive?"
"I have never been with a human before. The concept does interest me." She met my eyes and for some reason I felt unnerved again.
I quickly changed the subject. "Are you hungry?"
"Yes. Dr. Ford gave me several cookies and orange juice earlier, but I find myself hungry again."
"Yeah, I feel like I haven't eaten in days. Let's see what I can do about that."
I walked over to where Sabina and Elaine were talking.
"Yeah, now that you mention it," Sabina answered.
"If I go out to get food, will I be able to get back in the building?"
"The cards have magnetic lock strips on the back and you're listed as being my guests."
"Good. I'll be back shortly."
I was pulling off the lab coat as I started for the door.
"May I go with you?" Gail asked.
I turned back to Elaine. "You need Gail for anything else?"
"Nope," Elaine answered. "There's a sandwich shop just off the PCH a couple of miles from here. They make a very good, early breakfast."
"Got it," I said to her. I turned to Gail. "Let's go. Remember to bring your ident card along."
We took the elevator down to the ground floor and went out. We were still a couple of hours from daybreak. The air was slightly chilly and salt spray from the ocean gave it a faint metallic scent and taste. Gail and I walked to the Interceptor.
I opened the door for her and walked around to the drivers side. Once inside, I started the engine and flipped the windshield wipers on.
"What is it?" Gail asked.
"I hope we can find a refueling center. The car's tank is nearly empty."
I put the car into gear to back out of the parking space. As I did so I heard the squeal of tires on the pavement behind me.
"Chandler!" Gail warned.
There was a long, black car blocking me in. I hastily reached for the pistol in the holster under my arm and saw movement outside the window. When I looked up, the silenced end of a forty five caliber pistol was staring me in the face.
"Open the door!"
I saw the hammer get thumbed back to make the point. I opened the door.
"Give me the gun. Real slow!!"
"Shit!!" I handed it to him through the open door.
"Get out of the car!"
I did. The gun stayed at the back of my head while the man searched me.
"What do you want?"
"Mr. Nakamura would like to see you," the man with the gun said.
"Tell Mr. Nakamura he can make an appointment like everybody else," I said.
The man turned me with his free hand and pushed me towards the car, gun-barrel end first. "Consider this an appointment made."
"Leave the girl here. She's got nothing to do with what Tony wants."
"She comes with us. As long as you both behave, you won't get hurt."
"I'll hold you to that because if she so much as gets a broken nail from you clowns..."
"Get in the car!" the man ordered. "Sato, bring their car with us and park it down the road out of sight."
Gail and I were bundled unceremoniously into the back seat of the limousine. A moment later we were leaving the parking lot of the Bainbridge Clinic and I wished I had my thirty eight with it's devastator rounds strapped to my ankle.
"What does Nakamura want?" I asked the man who'd pulled the gun on me.
"You'll find out soon enough. For now, sit back and keep your mouth shut, or I'll shut it for you."
Copyright 2000 - M.S. Costello