Dan made it to his feet before I did, then reached down and offered his hand to help me up. If he'd been a few inches shorter, he would have broken my nose when our heads collided. As it was, he'd cracked me pretty good in the forehead. I reached up and touched the throbbing, tender welt that was forming there.
Little Pete was like a mountain in front of the door. Dan was a foot and a half shorter and gave up at least fifty pounds to the guy, but that didn't faze him. "Get the fuck out of the way," he demanded.
The bigger man glanced down. "What are you gonna do if I don't? Write me up? Put a letter in my personnel file?"
He sounded calm, bemused even, but the scar above his eye was fresh and angry. He'd just come in from a raging storm, and I found it very disturbing that he wasn't wearing a coat. All he had on was his winter uniform over a T-shirt. The long sleeves were rolled up, the better to display those club-like forearms. He wasn't shivering. I didn't see any goose bumps. Whatever was burning inside him tonight seemed to be keeping him plenty warm-but it was making me shiver.
Dan made a sudden move toward the door. Little Pete raised one arm, putting his fingers on Dan's chest and stopping him cold. "Take a step back," he warned with a quiet resolve that I would have expected from his father but not from him. "Take a step back," he said, more slowly this time, "and give me your radio."
"Go fuck yourself, Junior."
I felt a warning tremor inside as Little Pete moved out of the doorway, pushing Dan in front of him. As he did, he turned slightly and my tremors escalated to a full-blown temblor. He had a gun. It was black and flat and stuffed down into the back of his pants. The handle was smooth, and though it looked very large to me, the weapon seemed like a toy against the broad expanse of his back.
"He doesn't have a radio," I said quickly, shifting to auto-rational. "Take mine." I fumbled the heavy unit from my pocket and offered it to him.
Little Pete was still staring at Dan. "I know he had a radio. I heard him using it."
"It's lost in here somewhere. We don't know where it is." I pushed my radio toward him again. "Here's mine."
When he turned to face me squarely, I saw the dark stains on the front of his shirt-dark and wet. While I was staring at the blood, Angelo's blood, he took the radio from my hand and, with what seemed like a casual flick of the wrist, sent it rocketing across the room and exploding against the only cement wall that wasn't blocked by plastic. I stared at the ruined pieces on the ground, and then I was staring at the red stains on my own shoes. We both had Angelo's blood on us.
Dan's taunting broke the silence. "Big fucking man you are, you jerkoff. You killed a radio. Old men, women, and radios. What's next? Puppies and kittens?"
I watched one of Little Pete's big hands curl into a fist and flex. Curl and flex. I'd heard all about this guy's towering temper, and I wondered how it showed itself. Did he do a long, slow boil and then explode? Or did it come in a blinding flash, an uncontrollable, indiscriminate blast that leveled everything in its path? I wished I knew what to expect from him.
"Cell phone," he said to me, still flexing and curling.
He moved in close and leaned over me, close enough that I could smell his sweat, that I could feel his whispered breath like lighter fluid on my skin; it was worse than if he had touched me. "Don't make me say everything twice," he said, "I hate that."
I wanted to put both hands on his chest and shove him away. But I could feel something from him that was as strong as the stench of blood, tobacco, and alcohol. I looked again at the stains drying on his shirt. I looked into his eyes and saw the same dead-calm resolve that I had heard in his voice. This was a man who had nothing more to lose-and knew it.
I did what he asked.
"Good girl," he said as I handed over my flip phone. He admired the small device. "That's a nice one." Slipping it into his back pocket, he turned his attention to Dan. "Take off your jacket."
Dan, of course, didn't move, didn't even blink. Pete reached his hand up, and Dan slapped it away. I could feel drops of perspiration rolling down the underside of my arm as I watched the two men size each other up like a couple of junkyard dogs. Pete reached up again, quicker this time, and came away with one end of the muffler that was wrapped around Dan's neck.
It happened so fast.
"God, don't-" was all I could get out as I rushed toward Little Pete. He easily held me back with one arm as he used the other to jerk the muffler taut over Dan's head, lifting him almost completely off the ground. Dan's hands flew to his throat and he started to choke.
"Stay away," Pete barked at me, "or I'll break his neck."
I felt paralyzed. An image of Ellen flashed, Ellen hanging by the neck. It scared me so much, I stopped breathing, just as Dan must have. Little Pete was holding him up with one hand, flexing the long length of sinew and muscle that was his forearm. He was pumped up, turned on by his own physical dominance. But Dan looked as if he was dying. His face was blue, his eyes bulged, and he made a horrible, gasping sound.
"Let him down," I begged, "please, let him down."
He started to unwind the makeshift noose, one leisurely twist at a time. When Dan was free, he went to his knees, grabbing his throat with both hands.
Little Pete took the muffler and draped it around his own neck. "I can help you get that jacket off, too," he said, grinning, "but I might have to break your arms to do it."
I had no doubt that he would.
Dan was still bent and gasping, and I wondered if there was enough air in the room for both of us. I put my hand on his back. He looked up at me, his face red and eyes watering.
"Do what he says, Dan."
He struggled to his feet, and I helped him slip the jacket off. Little Pete stepped in, raised Dan's arms over his head, and gave him a thorough pat-down. Then he took the jacket from me.
"Where do you get one like that?" he asked as he searched the pockets. "You get it around here?"
"What?" I had no idea what he was asking about.
He shot me a warning glare. "I told you about making me ask twice about things."
"I'm sorry, I don't-"
"The phone. That little cell you got. Where'd you get it?"
"Denver," I said, struggling to stay in tune with whatever he was talking about. "I bought it in Denver before I came out here."
"What kind of range has it got?"
My jaw tightened. My legs were shaking so much, my knees were almost knocking. I didn't know the answer and I didn't know if that would upset him and I didn't know if I should make something up and-
"They don't let you have cell phones in prison, asshole." Dan had recovered his voice, just in time.
Having found nothing but a wallet, keys, and spare change in Dan's jacket, Little Pete dropped it on the floor, pulled a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket and, just as his father had last night, rolled a cigarette slowly between his thumb and forefinger before lighting up. He started to move as he smoked, brushing his shoulder along one of the tarps as he paced back and forth. I had a feeling he was trying to figure out what to do next. I wished Big Pete were here to tell him. God knows what he'd come up with on his own.
I unzipped my jacket. Had to. Even though it was cold in the bag room, I was so hot I was going to faint. Dan had both hands clamped against the back of his neck. With his head dropped back, I could see the long red striations beneath the collar of his shirt.
"Are you all right?" I asked him, keeping an eye on Little Pete.
He stared straight down at the floor, looking disgusted, ashamed even, and I remembered what his grandmother had drilled into him, that men were put on this earth to take care of women.
"Dan, he's bigger than both of us put together, he's been drinking, he has a gun, and I don't think he cares if he lives or dies tonight. Do you really think it's a good idea to provoke him?"
Still he didn't reply.
"The goal is to survive," I said. "If you don't care about yourself, do it for me. I don't want to be left alone with him." I looked into his eyes and didn't look away until he nodded.
Little Pete had his own radio clipped to his belt, and every once in a while it would report. He'd cock his ear and listen and check his watch. At one point I heard Kevin calling for me. We all did. It seemed to remind Little Pete that we weren't in a vacuum. After one last deep drag on the cigarette, he dropped it to the cement and stepped on it.
"You two quit your whispering over there," he said, checking his watch again. What was he waiting for?
"Go that way." He pointed toward the tarp-lined passageway, the one that led to the back where Angelo lay. I went first, then Dan. Pete followed. When I got to the opening around the bag belt, it was hard for me even to look at the corpse. Not Little Pete.
"Stand over there where I can watch the two of you, and don't do nothing stupid."
We moved to where he was pointing, to his left, and stood with our backs to the wall. We weren't far from the door to the terminal, the one he'd already blocked somehow.
He walked to the bag belt and bowed his head for a moment of reverential silence over the man he'd just murdered. "Fuckin' Angie," he said, his voice filled with moist emotion. Then he slipped one foot under Angelo's knee and, careful not to disturb anything, launched himself over the belt, over the body, and into the center of the racetrack. He went straight to the far side of the loop and came back with a box, one that rattled. He climbed back over and set the box on a painter's bucket. It was Myers's Rum, a whole case, probably up from the Caribbean duty free and most certainly swiped from some unsuspecting tourist. And it had already been opened. Just what this situation needed-booze.
"Compliments of Angie," he said as he uncorked one of the distinctive, flask-shaped bottles. Then he raised a toast to his victim. "Here's to you, old man." He tipped his head back, closed his eyes, and took a long pull. When he finished, he wiped the back of his hand across his mouth and addressed the corpse again. "You shoulda kept your big, rat-bastard mouth shut."
Dan could contain himself no longer. "What," he sneered, "it's Angie's fault you had to smash his skull in?"
"No, it ain't his fault." Little Pete whipped around and pointed the flask at Dan, and I cringed to think that it could just as easily be a gun as a bottle of rum. "It's your fault."
"You're the one who called Theresa. You can't even handle the situation man to man. You gotta go and get his wife involved." Pete took another quick hit from the bottle. "He's laying there dead because of you."
"You are the biggest dumbfuck-"
"Hey," I said, mostly to Dan, "can we just calm down, please?"
Little Pete was smug. "He's just pissed off that I'm in charge tonight, that I'm the one calling the shots. Ain't that right, Danny boy?"
"The fact that you're still breathing pisses me off."
Little Pete laughed. "How about you?" he asked me. "Do you want to see me dead, too? Everybody else does."
"I don't want any of us to be dead, including you."
He nodded, smiling faintly. "She's smarter than you, Danny boy. She's smart enough to be scared of me. You should be scared of me, too."
"Why should I-"
"We're both scared of you," I said, cutting Dan off. "And you are in charge tonight. We both see that."
Little Pete narrowed his eyes, suspicious perhaps that someone actually agreed with him. "Let me ask you a question," he said, speaking to me now as if we were old friends. "Don't you think that a man's got a right to protect his name?"
"What name?" Dan snapped. "Dickhead?"
"I'm not talking to you." He turned back to me. "See, that's how I look at this whole thing. It's like self-defense. She knew what was going to happen if she didn't mind her own business. Once she was gonna do what she was gonna do, I didn't have any choice- but she did."
My jaw was trembling and my eyes were burning as I listened to him casually mention that he had killed Ellen. It was horrifying, and more so to hear his justification and to know that he believed it. This man was capable of anything.
"She made the choice herself," he said, "so she did kill herself. The bitch was warned."
It seemed important to him that I believe him, important that someone be on his side, and I'd decided that's what I would do. What I didn't count on was Dan's reaction. When he started toward Little Pete, I grabbed him. The muscle in his forearm was hard as bone.
"What do you think is going to happen here tonight, Pete?" I was talking just to talk, not saying anything, trying to stay in front of Dan and buy us some time.
"You think he even knows? Like this murdering bastard's got some kind of a plan. His pop's not around to do his thinking-"
"Shut the fuck up, asshole."
Yes, Dan, shut the fuck up. Little Pete was drinking more and thinking less. I could hear it in his loosening voice, see it in his dulled reactions, and every time he turned, the gun was there. Dan wasn't much better. His skin was drawn so tight, I thought I could see the muscles underneath, and he was literally vibrating with the effort to stand still. "You are such a worthless piece of crap," he yelled. "Nothing is ever your fault."
"Dan, stop." I was panicked because I knew he wouldn't. I knew exactly what was going to happen and I had no way to stop it.
"It's my fault you had to kill Angie. It's Ellen's fault you had to kill her. Let me ask you something. Whose fault was it that you killed those twenty-one people in the Beechcraft?"
I was almost afraid to look at Little Pete. He was standing perfectly still next to Angelo's body, about eight feet away from us. His long arms hung awkwardly at his sides. A quick lunge would have put him at Dan's throat in an instant. For a second I thought that's exactly what he would do, as he seemed to fight back the urge, squeezing the bottle in his hand instead. He squeezed it until it shook. I noticed that it was empty. When he noticed, he turned and walked to his rum stash, pretending he'd been headed over there anyway. He slipped the empty back in, pulled out another bottle, and uncorked it. "That was Dickie's fault," he said after slamming a third of the bottle back like Gatorade.
Dan threw up his arms. "Of course, it was Dickie's fault."
Little Pete turned. "The tape's going to show that. It's going to show that I didn't do it."
"How do you figure that?" I asked him, trying to keep him engaged.
"I gave Dickie the right load." Again he was trying hard to convince me-or himself. "He had the right numbers. He fucked it up when he gave them to the captain. It's all on the tape, which is why he had to hide it." Bottle in hand, he paced in a circle around his makeshift bar. "We never get what we need around here. Never enough manpower, equipment that's for shit, and then when something goes wrong, blame… blame the union." He was ticking off the points, but in a mechanical way, groping for something he used to know, was supposed to know. "Blame the union. I had… I had to try three tugs that night before I found one that worked. That's right. It took me an hour to find wands, I never did find a goddamn radio, and the tug that I did find was out of gas."
"Yeah, that's a good excuse. The simplest goddamn job in the world and you screw it up. You have to be the stupidest fucking moron on the face of the earth."
"I gave him the right numbers, and he never radioed them to the captain."
Dan pressed him. "How did you give him the numbers? You just said you couldn't find a radio that night. And you never went into Operations."
Little Pete turned away and stood with his back to us, sucking down rum. The gun never looked more menacing. "You management fucks," he said quietly. "It was Dickie. It was Dickie, it was Dickie, it was fuckin' Dickie Flynn." He lowered his head and took a few deep breaths, and when he turned to face us, his eyes were dead. He seemed to have come to a decision. He never looked at Dan, and I had the terrifying feeling that Dan did not exist for him anymore. He touched the radio and checked his watch again. "Fuck this shit," he said as he reached around for the gun. "Let's go."
"Wait." I blurted it out, then just kept talking. "You never saw the tape, did you, Pete? You never would have. And you can't remember, right? All you know is what your father told you to say." I looked at him, at his face, and tried to understand what he was thinking. "You're waiting for Lenny. That's the plan. Lenny's supposed to find the tape and bring it to you. That's why you keep checking your watch, right?"
"It's all going to come out," he said, "after all these years."
"Listen to me. The tape will not vindicate you. And the other stuff that's with it will prove that Lenny was part of it. If he finds that package, he will destroy it."
He shook his head.
"He has to," I said. "Think this through, Pete. Lenny's not going to incriminate himself."
He rubbed his forehead with a hand that was shaking, the same hand that had reached for the gun and never made it.
"We can take you to it. The tape," I said. "We found it tonight and we hid it, and if you hurry up you can get to it before Lenny does."
He stared at me and I tried to look trustworthy, so sincere he couldn't question my motives. I felt that he wanted to believe me, that he wanted to believe that someone was telling him the truth. He began to nod, and for the moment I could breathe again. Barely. At least if we could get outside, we had a chance. We could lose him in the storm, maybe, or the troopers might show up. We had a chance.
Dan was behind me. I turned to look at him, and he looked back in a way that gave me a sliver of confidence that he would calm down, too.
"Do you drink?" Pete asked, rummaging through the box of rum.
Neither one of us responded until he turned to look at me.
"Do I drink?" I was stunned by the question, but more so by the fact that he was about to uncork his third bottle. I figured he was going to offer me some, which I took as a good sign. "Yes, I drink."
"I hate a woman who drinks. She was drunk that night," he said, bleary-eyed and talking almost to himself. "She smelled like alcohol. I hate a bitch who drinks." He took the bottle out and stuffed it into his pocket. When he looked at Dan, he was not so bleary-eyed, and when I saw the smile I knew before he said anything that it was all over. "How did she smell when you found her?"
Dan was past me before I had any chance of stopping him. I saw Little Pete's arm swing around toward the gun.
"Nooooo!" I lunged for his arm, but he whipped around and smashed me in the head with his elbow. Everything flashed white and the bag room tipped like a big, rolling ship. I went all the way to the floor. I saw Dan rush Little Pete-he seemed to be moving very slowly. He went for his knees and Little Pete went down, they both did, falling backward into the open box of rum. The entire case crashed to the ground, rum spilled out onto the floor, and some of the bottles that didn't break shot across the concrete like hockey pucks.
I tried to get up. Everything was going too fast. The two men stayed down for what seemed like a matter of seconds. Dan had landed on top, but then he was on the ground on his back. Little Pete had tossed him aside like a newspaper. Dan came back. Little Pete shoved him again, and this time he bounced off the wall and cracked his shoulder.
Little Pete was reaching to his back, and the thought that any second the gun was going to come out broke through the cotton in my head. But then he fell to his hands and knees, crawling around on the floor. He'd lost it. He'd lost his gun.
My hand found one of the bottles on the floor and I grabbed it. Little Pete was still scrambling for the gun, not paying attention to me.
When he saw me coming, he ducked his head and put his shoulder down. It took both hands to hook him around the neck and keep from flipping over his back. I had to drop the bottle. He reared back like a grizzly bear trying to throw me off, but I held on and found the muffler that was still draped around his neck. I grabbed it, closed my eyes, and squeezed as tight as I could. He gripped my hands and tried to pry me loose. My face was pressed against the back of his head, and the smell of him was in my nose, in my mouth, my head-the sweat and the rum and whatever he put on his hair to make it spike. And blood. He smelled like the blood that was on his shirt. I held on. He tried to shake me off and couldn't. He reached back and tried to pull me forward over his head, and I felt his big, grubby hands groping my back, trying to grab hold. I wrapped my legs around his waist. Then he tried to stand up. I knew once he was up on those powerful legs, he would win.
I heard an ear-splitting yell, felt a brutal jolt, and then all three of us were tumbling through one of the tarps and into a wall. The tarp came down over us like some kind of a jungle trap. In the dark, arms and legs went flying everywhere, nobody landing any punches, nobody having any room.
The tarp came off and we broke apart.
I was on my butt, palms flat to the floor, my back against the wall. My jacket was gone and everything in my body felt broken or ripped. Dan was doubled over holding his gut, coughing up blood and trying to breathe. Little Pete was disappearing behind one of the tarps on his hands and knees, and I knew he would find the gun. I looked up at the wall over my head, then pushed myself up, crawling up by my shoulder blades. My legs didn't want to hold me, and when I made it to the fuse box I couldn't see the switches- something was in my eyes-but I could feel them. I flipped every one. If it was on, I turned it off; if it was off, I turned it on. The lights went out and the room went totally, blessedly dark. I wanted to sink back down to the floor and curl up into a ball on my side.
And then the alarm sounded-three long blasts like the dive signal on a submarine. Yellow-tinted warning lights in the ceiling flashed, making a weird strobe-like effect. A familiar rumble started, stopped, then started again as the bag belt tried to engage, then turned into a train wreck of calamitous noises-high-pitched whining and grinding gears and screeching metal. Angelo's body was mucking up the bag belt works.
I wiped my eyes and looked for Dan. When I got to where he'd been, he was gone.
Under the clanking and grinding, I heard them. The sound of their scuffling was disorienting, suffocating under the flashing lights, and I felt as if something was about to fall on me or into me and I'd never see it coming. I ripped down the tarp that was in my way. As I stumbled toward the two men, I ripped them all down, leaving a trail of plastic dunes in my wake. When I pulled down the last one, I saw Little Pete straightening up and stepping back. It looked like an old black-and-white movie, herky-jerky in the flickering light. Even the grinding belt went silent as he raised his arm and pointed the gun at Dan. But Dan was looking at me.
The shot was so loud, like an explosion. I drove into Little Pete from behind, buckling his knees. He fell over backward on top of me, and some part of me saw Dan go down.
Then I was moving, slipping, stumbling toward the ramp, toward help. It was a straight shot to the door with the tarps down. Just as my hand hit the knob, he was right there. He grabbed my ankle and I fell through the door, onto the ramp and into the storm. My chin hit the hardpacked ice and snow, jarring every tooth in my head. The door had slammed open, bounced against the wall, and slapped back against my elbow, but I couldn't feel it. All I could feel was his grip, like an iron manacle as he tried to pull me back in. I clamped onto the doorjamb with both hands as he gave my leg a vicious yank, lifting me off the ground and nearly ripping both shoulders from their sockets. It was harder and harder to hold on with fingers that were cold and numb. I was slipping, gasping, the door was flapping, and right in front of my nose was the brick … the brick. The doorstop brick was there. Rough and hard and heavy and within my reach. But I had to let go of the doorjamb… only one chance to do it right… try to pull myself forward… aching arms, then let go…
He pulled me inside, but when I rolled onto my back, I had the brick in my hands. I aimed for the top of his skull, but it was so heavy I couldn't wield it fast enough and he had time to flinch. I got him on the side of the head, yet it was enough that he let go and stumbled back and I was up and running. Cold air and wet snow blasted me. I was slipping, barely staying on my feet, moving across the ramp. I turned to look and he was coming, goddamn him, he was coming with the gun in his hand, mouth open, screaming. But I couldn't hear above the roaring.
The Beechcraft was still there. When he raised the gun, I ran to the far side, putting the aircraft between us. I stayed behind the wing, well back of the engines because-because they were running. This airplane was going to move. I leaned down to peer under the belly, to find where he was. He was crouched on the other side, one hand down on the ramp for balance, staring back at me. For a split second we watched each other. The wind was still blowing, the snow was coming down, the noise was deafening, and he was just staring at me.
Then I saw a light, two headlamps and flashing lights coming toward us. I broke forward toward the nose but slipped and fell. From the ground, I saw that he was standing, saw his legs as he circled toward the front of the aircraft. I tried to get up and fell again- this time, I thought, for good because he was rounding the nose cone, coming straight at me.
Behind me the engines revved. The aircraft was about to roll. Every instinct pushed me away, out of its path, but I made myself go backward, crawl on sore elbows, back toward the engine and under the wing. Just as Little Pete cleared the nose cone, the faint whine of a siren began to break through. He heard it, too, because as he came toward me, he smiled and shook his head as if to say, "Too late." He stopped. He raised the gun. The aircraft began to move, and all I could think was that it was so loud I wasn't even going to hear the sound of the shot that would kill me.
I rolled into a ball on my side and covered my ears as the captain made a sharp right turn to taxi out. I saw Little Pete's boots as he tried to step aside. He had no time to scream. As the right wing passed over me, I closed my eyes, but even with my hands over my ears, I could still hear the sickening thump of a propeller interrupted.
And then it was quiet. Everything stopped except the falling snow. It had stopped blowing. The captain killed the engines, and the noise vacuum was filled by the sound of the sirens. For the longest time I didn't move. I just lay there listening. When I opened my eyes, they wouldn't focus. And they hurt. My elbows hurt, and my legs and my back and the side of my head.
I squinted down past my knees and saw a fireman leaning over something, reaching down to something toward the nose of the Beech. The second fireman to arrive looked down and turned away, gloved hand at his mouth. I turned on my back as someone arrived with a blanket and helped me sit up. The captain appeared, hatless in the snow. He bent over the body, looking where they were looking, put both hands on his head.
A fireman was asking me questions. Was I hurt? Could I walk? Did I need help? What happened? I watched his hand coming toward me and mumbled something that might not have been coherent. He helped me to my feet and wrapped the blanket around me. I was shivering and I couldn't stop. My chin stung, and blood was running down the outside of my throat and maybe the inside because I could taste it. I smelled like rum. He tried to help me over to his rig, but I pulled him instead toward the bag room, dragging him with me and yelling for someone to call the EMTs. The whole jagged scene began to replay in my mind, especially the part where the lights went out and the gun went off and I remembered, didn't want to remember, but I remembered seeing Dan fall. I put my hands over my eyes. I was trying to sort it out, and when I looked up, he was there. He was standing in the doorway, gripping the doorjamb, one arm limp at his side.
The fireman went for a stretcher. When I got close enough, Dan tilted his head back and looked at me through the blood running into his eyes. "Did you kill that cocksucker?"
"The Beechcraft killed him."
I put his arm around my neck, but I wasn't too stable myself. "Did he shoot you?"
"I don't think so."
"Your shoulder is bleeding. Let's wait for a stretcher."
"Fuck no. I want to make sure that motherfucker is dead."
"He's very dead, Dan. Take my word for it."
The EMTs arrived and took us both to the truck. They were from the firehouse on the field, and Dan knew all of them, called them by name. He refused to go to the hospital, not unless they insisted, which they did.
Someone was pushing through the circle of firefighters and EMTs orbiting around the body. I heard the noise and looked out. They tried to block him, but nothing was going to stop Big Pete from getting to his son. He sank to his knees, leaned over, and tried to pull Little Pete into his arms. When they wouldn't let him, he dropped his head back, opened his mouth, and let out a long, terrible scream that in the snow and dying wind sounded otherworldly, not even human. He did it again. And again. Then he was silent, motionless, bent over the body. Someone put a hand on his shoulder. He reached down to touch his son one last time, then stood on shaky legs. He searched the crowd that had formed, searched and searched. When he found me, he didn't move and neither did I as we stared at each other. I didn't hear the people yelling, machinery moving, and sirens blasting. I felt the snow on my face as he wiped the tears from his. I pulled the blanket around me, trying to stop shaking and watched as they led him away. He looked small and old and not so scary anymore. Not at all in control.
I couldn't stop the shaking. I smelled like rum and I couldn't stop shaking.
The coarse blanket scratched the back of my neck as I adjusted it around my shoulders. I had passed the first hours of the morning in the company of Massachusetts state troopers-and this blanket, the one the firefighter had given me on the ramp. Without thinking, I'd walked out wearing it, which turned out to be a good thing since it was now covering the blood stains on my shirt. Last night's events had thrown the operation out of whack, to say the least, and our concourse had the feel of leftovers, of all the ugly business left unfinished. It was still dark in the predawn hours, and the overhead fluorescents seemed to throw an unusually harsh light. Dunkin' Donuts napkins and pieces of the Boston Herald were everywhere. A few passengers with no place better to go were sacked out on the floor. Some were stuffed into the unyielding chairs in the departure lounges, chairs that weren't comfortable for sitting, never mind sleeping. One of our gate agents must have taken pity on these poor souls. Some of them were draped with those deep purple swatches of polyester that passed for blankets onboard our aircraft.
I still had lingering shivers, violent aftershocks that came over me, mostly when I thought about how things could have turned out last night. And my nose wouldn't stop running. Reaching into my pocket for a tissue, I felt something flat and hard. The instant I touched it, I remembered what it was-the tiny cassette that had fallen from the ceiling of my office. I stood in the middle of the concourse cradling it in the palm of my hand, the missing tape from Ellen's answering machine. I stared at it. A clear plastic case with two miniature reels and a length of skinny black tape. That's all it was. It could wait. I started to stuff it back into my pocket. True, there would be no way to listen to it at my hotel-no answering machine- and if I left now it might have to wait for a while. Even if I wanted to listen to it, I'd have to go back to my office yet again, and I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to have to stare again at the gaping hole in the ceiling through which Lenny had apparently pulled Dickie Flynn's package of evidence. I looked at the tape. It was such a little tape. How important could it be? What more could we possibly need to know about the dirty business that Ellen had involved herself-and me-in? Could I even stand another revelation?
I closed my hand around the cassette and started walking, slowly at first, then faster, and the faster I walked the angrier I felt. Pretty soon I was fuming, cursing the name of everyone who had made my recent life such a hell on earth. As far as I was concerned, being sliced up by a propeller was too good a fate for Little Pete Dwyer. And Big Pete, he deserved to lose his son that way for being such a cold, arrogant prick. And goddamned Lenny, the sleazy bastard, I hoped he rotted in jail for everything he'd done and maybe some stuff he hadn't. Even the thought of Dan made me simmer, just the idea that he had almost gotten himself killed right in front of me. All I wanted was a hot shower, hot food, and cool sheets. Every last cell in my body was screaming for it. But no. I had to reach into my pocket and pull out the last detail. The world's biggest question mark. The mother of all loose ends. God damn Ellen, too, for making this mess to begin with, and for leaving it here for me to deal with. I stood in the doorway of my office and wondered why couldn't she just leave me alone.