Monday, January 28, 2008

Saturday, January 26, 2008


.....Some months later...

.....Doc Taylor snapped his fingers and the magic was back.
.....He dipped his smoke into the blue flame that danced on his thumb and the cherry crackled a welcome, the straight dope.
.....The V-10 rumbled under the hood of his new RV, the Fleetwood Tioga idling but impatient to hit the road.
.....Doc had gone and went and sold off his sister's house, traded in the Lexus. Over the weekend he had held a yard sale for road money. What crap didn't sell, he left on the yard overnight. Most of what was left was gone in the morning, and he paid to have the rest taken to the dump.
.....The Fleetwood had run him dear over at the dealership out by the Mall, damn near what he had got out of the house, but Doc had been in no mood to barter. He was getting the hell out of Dodge himself. Crawford had had the right idea, a man smart enough to see what was coming up on the road ahead.
.....Doc didn't much like what was going down. He was running out of future fast, and didn't want to waste what was left waiting around for something worse to happen.
.....He exhaled a burst of sweet-smelling smoke, turned his gaze to consider the officer manning the entry control gate of the new and improved high school.
.....The officer looked back at him with atavistic slits for eyes, an M4A1 cradled in his arms.
.....Doc didn't like the look.
.....He'd been around Dave McShane's entire life, and now here the boy was eyeballing him like something that had just crawled out from under a rock with sticks of dynamite strapped around his middle. Or worse. He'd been used to that look a long time ago, and wasn't in all that much of a hurry to get used to it again.

.....A nine-foot high line of reinforced cinderblock runs about Harding High School, rimmed with sullen-looking wrought iron spikes. The arch of the entry gate is embraced by the unadorned gray walls that surround the fortress.
.....Motion detectors monitor the off-limits green. The grass is perfect, untouched by anyone but the maintenance crew.
.....The former bell tower is now a guard tower. Bell removed and put into storage to wait until more secure times, the tower now houses a two-man team.
.....Kyle has finally found his calling, and he is very proficient at handling the tower's Barrett M107 .50 Caliber sniper rifle. His only abiding frustration is that he isn't allowed to take the armament out into the boonies to blow shit up.
.....He'd heard that the Barrett M107 blows shit up real good.

.....Doc wondered what ol' Roy Crawford was up to these days. Last he'd talked to Julia, she mentioned that she had received an e-mail from the former sheriff, and that he'd finally settled down on a isolated stretch of Mexican beach.
.....Maybe there had been more than a few e-mails exchanged, because Julia had just up and disappeared on Harding a few months back. Not so much as a good-bye or heads up to anyone.
.....Not that anyone but him had seemed to noticed.
.....It was getting to the point that there was no one left to talk to these days.

.....Inside the school more armed guards patrol the halls.
.....German Shepherds sniff at lockers, and students pass through a metal detector locked down in the main lobby.
.....For the students, it is the only entrance permitted. The only exit. They punch in when they enter, punch out when they leave. A GPS chip implanted in their student ID's track their whereabouts at any given time, their paths traced by a bank of monitors installed in a special office on the second floor.
.....It is an arrestable offense to not carry the ID at all times, or to tamper with same. Despite that, first offenses are usually only cited, the transgression noted on the offender's permanent record. A first offense citation carries a $1700 price tag for the parents of the offender, and the ubiquitous school permanent record is no longer something to be laughed about.
.....A second offense is exceedingly rare.

.....He didn't see much of Tanya these days. After she'd come down pregnant, she'd handed the Teacup over to Lolita to manage. Doc thought that Lolita was a swell kid, but he didn't feel comfortable talking to her the way he did Tanya.
.....Tanya still might have been only half his age, but Lolita was barely a scratch on the calendar. He liked the kid, but could never read what was going on in her head. Couldn't read any of the kids the way he used to. The new crop made him uneasy, with gazes as odd as blue eyes on a pitbull.
.....They seemed soft, like shaved puppies and just as goofy looking, but with a biting on tinfoil taste. These were the kids who were eleven and younger when the Twin Towers fell, the first ones finally on the verge of being set loose on their own after being hardwired in the aftermath.
.....Going from shellshocked preteen on the day of the world changed and getting buffeted with the sensory overload of propaganda over the next several years must make for some seriously stirred brain soup.
.....He would have liked to talk about it some more with Wolfe, now that he was spending every weekday down in the lion's den. But then, these days Wolfe didn't seem to have much to say. And even if he did, he wasn't saying it.

.....The in-house security detail is courtesy of a sweetheart deal set up through one of the local beneficiaries of the Homeland Security Department. The representative for Natrona County is now doing more than very well.
.....The company that handles security for the high school is now the largest employer in the county, with officers and technicians also driving in from Lumbeck to report for work. More often than not, at any given time there can be found more security employees than students in the cafeteria, now referred to as the Dining Hall. On the plus side, the food served is now noticeably better.
.....At lunchtime, the students are issued with their meals a red or blue half-pint milk container, the colors denoting Prozac or Ritalin. The daily requirement to be dispensed according to matching badge color, issued according to temperament. A Texas-based pharmaceutical company now handles the dispensing. As a side-benefit, studies are ran.
.....May we introduce Generation Big Pharma. Nothing matters and so what if it did.

.....Dan had taken on a teaching position at the school. But as the days following the shooting had led to months, Doc had found that their conversations had gradually become less than satisfying. And now that Dan and Tanya had a second one on the way, even more less.
.....Not that they didn't talk as much, but that what they talked about was less important. Big matters had been taken over by sports talk, television shows.
.....And he seriously didn't like the new look in Wolfe's eyes...

.....Occasionally, Chief of Security Clyde Kehoe makes an appearance in the hallways. More often than not, it is to make his way to his office, where he puts in his day surrounded by a bank of flickering monitors. Anything and everything that he needs to know about what's going on and down in the hallways and classrooms, even the bathroom stalls, is right there in front of him.
.....Sometimes, he even glances at them.
.....He's put the crystal meth habit long behind him, after seeing what the stuff had done to his buddy. Who would have thought that the shit would addle the man's mind like that, driving him on into becoming some suicide bomber?
.....Sometimes he wonders if the man had still been paid off in virgins in the afterlife, despite failing his mission.
.....To get them through the day, he and his big-titted Chief of Staff crack capsules of Ritalin and snort the rails off of a mirror. Just for old times sake. He likes the burn.
.....His medical covers all the Ritalin he and his friend can handle. On those rare occasions that they run dry, he has the master key to the dispensary.
.....The American flag still flies proudly from the pole standing tall on the green.

.....Now that he thought about it, he really didn't have all that much to say to Dan Wolfe, either. Didn't know why he'd even bothered to stop by the school before putting the town in his rearview mirror. The effort of navigating the security gauntlet didn't seem all that worth it for what would probably be a "Goodbye" and "Good luck" exchange.
.....He dropped the RV into gear and rolled for wherever the road led.
.....Maybe north. He'd always sort of felt like he was a Canadian trapped in a Yankee's body.

.....Officer Dave McShane watches the RV pull from the curb across the street and rumble off towards the town limits. He relaxes a little, but keeps the assault rifle cradled. The M4A1 is always to be held ready, never slung over the shoulder. It rests in his arms like a lethal baby.
.....The RV finally out of his line of sight, McShane turns his steely gaze back to the world in front of him.

.....Down the hallway of the school, a hand paused just above the green surface of the chalkboard, then continued to write:
.....Wolfe turned to face his class. Clean-shaven, hair neatly trimmed. Nicely pressed light blue shirt, sleeves rolled up to mid-forearm, tie. The beginnings of a paunch. A mustache.
.....Dometicus Americanus.
.....A framed portrait of Pierce looks down on the classroom:
.....Debbie still in black, although the outfit was nicely accessorized. She caught sight of the binder of a young man a few seats down, the glossy cover featuring a ramrod stiff plank-faced man/boy in Marine dress uniform, at attention. Ceremonial M-1 rifle over shoulder. Your tax dollars at work, providing a doodling pad for bored teens.
.....The Gold Stars began to gleam in her eyes again.
.....“Welcome back, everyone,” Wolfe addressed his new class. “As I’m sure you all should have assumed by now, I am your new science teacher, Mr. Wolfe...”
.....He paused, glanced out the window.
.....On the pathway running below the classroom window, Tanya was strolling by in a maternity sundress. She met his eye and waved. He waved back, gold wedding band glinting from a spare ray of Wyoming sun that streamed into the classroom.
.....She looked away to continue her conversation with Mrs. Prescott, and Wolfe turned back to his class.
.....“Please open your textbooks to Chapter One...”
.....Lolita caught his eye. After a moment, she offered her Mona Lisa smile.
.....Her thighs separated slightly beneath her desk.
.....“...Verse One.”
.....His eyes burn with a newly kindled flame.
.....He is finally back home.
.....For good.




.....The cry of a red-tailed hawk cut through the air.
.....Sheriff Roy Crawford sat on the hood on the Humvee and looked down on the only life he had ever known. He took a pull from the bottle of Rolling Rock in his hand and considered his realm, his domain.
.....Far below the bluff that he had parked the vehicle on, he could see the movement of people and vehicles making their way about the avenues of the town, on their way to something or away from something, big things that seemed so damned important from where they were looking.
.....Things that now seemed so utterly insignificant from where he perched. That’s it, that’s been my world for the last forty years? he wondered. He shook his head at the damned shame of it, the failure of forty years spent not doing one whole hell of a lot with the years.
.....Under the wide, Wyoming sky the town seemed to be nothing more than the patch it was on the rolling tapestry of indifferent landscape.
.....The hawk spiraled overhead in a widening gyre.
.....He finished off the beer and drew back, hurling the empty green bottle high towards the blue sky so that it arced and fell down towards the town.
.....The hawk appeared indifferent. To the bottle, to him, to the town.
.....It took a very long time before he heard the bottle shatter on the rocks below. He sighed and pulled another one from the half-empty six-pack parked beside him, and cracked it open with the key to the Humvee.
.....He was done.
.....All it came down to now was whether he drove back down into the town and set his affairs in order before he left, or just say fuck-all and keep driving.
.....His possessions were never really his and he wouldn’t miss them, toys bought on someone else’s dime. He’d unload the Humvee before anyone would even realize he was gone. He knew a guy in Cheyenne that would take it off his hands, no questions asked.

.....At this point, only the stragglers from the media were looking for him; everyone else, and even those that he had called friend, considered him a pariah.
.....He supposed he was.
.....Hell, even before he became one he was one. The good folk of Harding, Wyoming had smiled at him on the streets, but he was finally realizing just how much effort those smiles took. Of the hidden uneasiness of how much he and his crew knew about their hidden lives.
.....He knew even more than they were afraid to suspect, more damned dark secrets than he even wanted to know. The shit he knew that was behind the smiles he met on a day to day basis made him tired, weary of humanity in general.
.....Weltschmertz, the Germans called it, and he was in a world of it.
.....He was sick of being behind the cameras, seeing everything but missing what was important.
.....He still wanted that Ziegler boy dead, of course. But in a way that was struggling to his forebrain, he understood the why of what happened. Small shit that builds on up into big shit, like the experiment where they drop a little froggie in a pot of water, then slowly turn up the heat until the critter boils alive... never knowing what the hell was in the process of happening until it was too late.
.....Harding was in a world of shit, shit you would never notice until it was also too late.
.....He’d miss the damned town, of course. The comfort of seeming to know the who and the why of any given moment. He’d miss his friends, despite them being the bastards they were being now, and he’d miss Tanya. He’d miss Pierce, but he could take that ache with him anywhere in the world he went.
.....The only regret he held was that he didn’t tap Julia when he had a chance.
.....There was no need to go back. Eventually the friends would understand and everyone else could just go to hell.
.....There was nothing more he needed from Harding, Wyoming.
.....Of course, the $750,000 that he had skimmed from the Homeland Security annuities and squirreled away in the Grand Caymon bank account would do more than its share of soothing any homesickness that might arise.
.....He slid off of the hood, grabbed what was left of the six-pack and climbed into the Humvee. All roads led to the rest of the world.
.....He turned the key and the beast roared to life. Maybe his old man was on to something, bastard that he was.
.....The only thing you have to fear is fear itself...
........ and bad luck, of course.
.....He threw the former battlewagon into gear and set about putting that behind him.

Friday, January 25, 2008



.....Dogs barked and children played. Adults set out for work or went shopping. Harding fell comfortably back into the routine of being a living postcard.
.....Off to the side of the picture loomed the Elysian Fields Funeral Chapel. The gray lady had once been a grand Victorian mansion, built on the bones of being the only game in town. For over a hundred years the dead of Harding had been wheeled through the corridors of the chapel, but when a cruelly efficient Texas-based chain opened its embalming room just off of the Mall, tradition had slowly but inexorably been laid to rest.
.....It didn't help the bottom line any when Wal-Mart began selling a line of budget caskets, and the diminished returns began to eat away the once proud estate. The steady signs of budgetary decay peeled from the sunleeched exterior.
.....The interior was only slightly less seedy, dim and moth-eaten. Faded plush, purple velvet gone dull. Swirls of dust played in the spears of light that leaked in through the weary curtains.
.....Muzak played gently over the audio system. "Seasons in the Sun".
.....Only the cold tile of the embalming room continued on without distress. Cool and clinical, the room gleamed white and porcelain as bared teeth. The solitary slab bolted to the center of the floor was the center of focus for the three men crowded in the room. In one last dance with tradition, the Elysian Fields Funeral Chapel continued to serve as the official Coroner's Office.
.....Doc slid open the zipper of the dusty black body bag. Roy and Wolfe took a step back from the released funk of stale blood and excrement. The sheriff sighed as he snagged a handkerchief from a hip pocket and propped it under his nose.
.....Wolfe slapped a hand over his mouth, couching his nostrils. He had never been exposed to what a man smells like when his insides are opened up for all to see. It was all he could do from adding part of his own insides to the general stink of the occasion.
.....It took a minute, but finally he was able to step back to look down at the dead man. His stomach roiled a bit more just from looking: they hadn’t spared the ammo on this one.
.....The sheriff turned on the portable cassette player and held it towards Wolfe.
.....“Is this the person that you saw in the school?” he asked from behind the handkerchief.
.....Wolfe looked into the bag and blinked. “Why is there a towel around his head?”
.....The sheriff turned to the doctor. “Doc, why is there a towel around his head?”
.....Doc gave him a cold stare. “You told me to make him look like a—”
.....“It’s to keep his brains from spilling out,” the sheriff muttered, turning back to Wolfe. “Is this the shooter?”
.....They looked at each other, and Wolfe sighed.
.....He didn't recognize what was left of whoever it was in the bag. But then, the tweaker from the Kwickie-Stop hadn't been all that social since Wolfe had rolled back into town.
.....What with being dead and all that.
.....“Yeah.” Wolfe nodded. “That's him, alright.”
.....“Thanks.” Roy turned off his tape recorder, nodded to Doc.
.....“That'll be it.”
.....Doc zipped the bag back up.

.....Roy and Wolfe paused on the landing. From the look of things on the main drag, things were almost getting back to normal in Harding.
.....Cars drove by and pedestrians passed, but all went by without acknowledging the sheriff. Crawford ducked his head down as he lit up one of his Marlboros. He regarded the activity that flowed past their vantage point with an expression that Wolfe found hard to fathom. Hard lines set, but eyes that seemed... betrayed.
.....“So that’s it?” Wolfe finally asked the sheriff.
.....“Yeah, pretty much,” Roy confirmed. “It’s almost all over.”
.....“What about justice?” Wolfe demanded. “Putting away the real killer...”
.....“There was no real killer, just a big ol’ FUBAR.” Roy reminded him. As much as the truth of the matter was tearing him apart, there wasn't a whole hell of a lot Crawford could do about it. When what was done was done, sometimes all you could hope to do is spin it in a way that might set things right down the road.
.....He didn't have all that much faith in that, but added for Wolfe's benefit: “But justice will be served... my way. That’s the best I can do for this town.”
.....His mouth twitched. “For Pierce.”
.....Roy’s knuckles were white as he clenched the rail of the landing. He just wanted the man to shut up and go back to fucking... “With no two-year-fucking-trial, no media circus, no defense attorney pissing all over...”
.....He swallowed. “Pierce was a hero, remember that.”
.....“I know.”
.....“That’s what we all need right now. He was a good boy, and he didn’t deserve what happened to him...but at least we can give him what he deserves.”
.....An Army sedan rolled by, the recruiter behind the wheel. In the passenger seat, Mike stared straight ahead.
.....Roy’s eyes were cold as he watched the vehicle continue on down Main Street, heading out of town.
.....“And that little fucker... if he doesn’t come back in a body bag, I’m gonna have one waiting for him.”
.....He turned back to consider Wolfe. A long, steady look that made Wolfe's mouth go dry. Finally, the sheriff nodded. “Now that Pierce is gone, there’s no need for me to keep an eye out for Tanya.”
.....Wolfe glanced over, then looked back down Main Street.
.....“Don’t disappoint me.” Roy kept his gaze steady. “Understand?”
.....“Yeah,” Wolfe finally matched his gaze. “I understand.”
.....The sheriff nodded, then dismounted the stairs and headed to his Humvee, climbed in and merged with traffic.
.....Wolfe turned at the sound of the door of the funeral home closing behind him, as Doc stepped out to join him.
.....“They got ya’, huh?” Doc observed. “Part and parcel of the One True Official Story.”
.....“Yeah,” Wolfe nodded. “The truth was found to be sucking. You?”
.....“If America was a John Wayne movie being made today, the Duke would be sending in some punk teenager to meet the bad guys at High Noon.
.....“That was Gary Cooper, and what does that have to do with...”
.....“I’m a little too old to take up learning how to make license plates.” Doc grimaced, dragging out a pack of cigarettes.
.....“They don’t do that anymore. Now they have the cons doing phone sales or making jeans for some multinational...”
.....“Whatever, Dan. We both had a price.”
.....Wolfe sighed. “Mine was a lot lower than I thought it’d be.”
.....“No one ever gets their asking price.”
.....Doc offered him a smoke.
.....Wolfe eyed the deck dubiously. “Umm...”
.....“It’s a Marlboro Light.”
.....Doc batted one out and lit it for him with a kitchen match, then lit one of his own. He inhaled, then frowned, considering the cigarette. “Shit... this is like smoking a tampon.”
.....“For a doctor, you sure do have a lot of bad habits,” Wolfe observed.
.....“At my age, now’s the time to give ‘em a try.” Doc chuckled. “I’ve been thinking about finally giving heroin a run, see what all the fuss is about.”
.....They fell off into their own thoughts, watching but not seeing as the gentle townfolk scurried about beneath the blameless Wyoming sky.
.....Doc stubbed out the cigarette. He frowned his dissatisfaction of the smoking experience he found lacking, a look that spread to take in the whole town. “You remember that old fable ’bout Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby?”
.....“Yeah, well... sorta.” The storybook had been removed from the bookshelves of schools just a little before Wolfe’s tenure. He made a mental note to Google it when he had the time.
.....“This town is sorta like the Tar Baby... the more you fight against it, the more it sucks you in.”

.....The high school parking lot was still packed with news vans and RVs crowded together, side by side, bumper to bumper. It was a slow news week and there hadn’t been a school shooting in a couple of cycles.
.....The stragglers were still cooling their heels, waiting impatiently for the story behind the big explosion. Although all indications pointed to a failed suicide bomber, they still needed confirmation of the driver's nationality to confidently state it as such over the air. Until then, they had to settle for allusions.
.....After the fire had burned itself down, not much had been left of the lead vehicle. Just a swaybacked chassis and forlorn engine block smoking in a cradle of melted asphalt. Crumpled steel skin seared clean of paint. Although welded to the rear bumper, the Metro had still weathered the mayhem slightly better, enough that the rear license could be traced back to the owner of the Watergate Motel.
.....There wasn't much left of the driver, but in his absence it was assumed that Omkar Singh had been behind the wheel. Since Singh had apparently left no next of kin, Delores the cleaning lady was beginning to think that if she played her common law cards right, she just might have inherited a motel.
.....As for the other driver, there wasn't much left at all to be retrieved from the ruins of the Econoline. At the last press briefing, liaison Clyde Kehoe had reported that the identity of the driver was at that point unknown, as the vehicle had went unregistered since passing through more than a few hands over the past year.
.....All they had to work with to trace the driver's identity was a platinum HHS school ring, Class of 1986.

.....The FOX reporter had her Asian face back on and had assumed her turn in the prime spot, facing the nomadic encampment. She was framed by the camera so that the high school appeared over her right shoulder, American flag snapping proudly.
.....“... the shooter has been identified as a Twyla Wayne Gomez of...”

.....Several miles away, one Twyla W. Gomez of Lumbeck, Wyoming was in the process of realizing just how much damage can be done with a stolen MasterCard. Especially if one fails to report it stolen because it was their brother behind the filching and it was already pretty much maxed out. But as Ms. Gomez was finding out, there is no credit limit on a squad of Homeland Security troopers kicking down the door just before sunrise.
.....Waking up naked with a circle of lock-and-loaded assault weapons pointed in your face: Priceless.

.....Back at the motel, Wolfe had finally managed to bat the remote control into submission. His bag still packed beside him, he sat on the edge of the bed facing the television. He pointed the remote and clicked, a flash of snow as the channel changed. Grainy footage of the Mexican students being led from the jail by uniformed FBI agents to a waiting van.
.....“...a suspected sleeper cell of Islamic terrorists...”
.....CLICK. He changed the channel again.
.....“...this is Paris Hilton on scene reporting Live for E!...”
.....A high school portrait of Pierce Crawford came up on the screen behind the talking head as the anchor conveyed stoic empathy, a gleam in the eye that could also be read as a tear welling up.
.....“... out of the sketchy reports coming in at this point, the portrait of one true hero is emerging...”
.....There was a knock at the door. Wolfe stood to get it as the news nattered on behind him.
.....“... of a young man who gave his life so that others might live...”
.....He opened the door and Tanya stood outside, eyes wide, lip trembling.
.....“... who while receiving mortal injuries still managed to grapple with the terrorist in order to give his friends time to flee...”
.....With a sob, Tanya threw herself into his arms.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


The media circus wound down as the sun settled behind the Teapot Dome, shadows lengthening and the stone faces of the bluffs turning blood red before they faded off into the darkness.
.....The circus may have wound down, but it sure stayed in town. Night fell on everywhere else for miles, but in Harding the lights of the town blazed for one night like a supernova in post-event activity. And like a dying star, the brightness would be short-lived.
.....Although the grounds surrounding the high school were now dark and silent, the rest of the town was a-crackle with activity. The phone lines hummed with speculation and innuendo. Televisions were for the first time in five years locked in all day on the cable news networks, with TiVOs armed and VCRs set on pause/record as channels were surfed, residents looking for mementos of their fifteen seconds of fame as they were interviewed LIVE for their views on the tragedy, or looking for familiar faces in the crowds on the other side of the police lines.
.....With the sole exception of the Teapot Cafe, every business in town stayed open into the late of the night. The rhubarb surrounding the events of the day an unexpected boon to the merchants of the community.
.....Even the chain restaurants went briefly from being a corporate write-off to providing a short-lived burst of revenue to be funneled out of town. Quarter Pounders and McNuggets and trans fat-saturated fries flew across competing counters before they could even be spared a moment to wilt beneath the heat lamps. No quarter was given, no breaks were taken.
.....The employees made the same amount of money as they would have on any other sleepy night, but were tortured for their efforts.
Bambi burned off an easy five pounds before she was cut loose at ten.
.....Overtime wasn't for part-timers, and there were no full-timers at the chain eateries. It didn't help that you don’t get tipped at McDonald’s no matter how much you bust your ass.

.....Colby Elkhart didn’t have to care about minimum wage any more.
.....Springing him from his cell, Sheriff Crawford had taken him up to his office and set him down. A deal was reached. The sheriff guided him through the paperwork, explaining that POST was an acronym for Police Officer’s Standards and Training, and that while he didn’t really need the certificate to become a Harding police officer, it would still look good on his resume if he ever decided to move on to other bluer pastures.
.....The department was more than happy to foot the bill for the training, the sheriff explained, and Elkhart was more than happy to accept the $35,000-a-year position that waited for him on the department after completing the training. He signed off on the paperwork. Part of the papers he signed included a vetted statement of the events involving the terrorist plot that had begun at the Kwickie-Stop before being ultimately foiled by the savvy groundwork of the Harding Police Department, ably thwarted with the cooperation of the observant teen.
.....Crawford also filled him in on the police code of silence, and that there was nothing lower than a cop that ratted out on other cops. Colby didn’t see anything he needed to be a rat about, so he was all good. He’d be even more than good when he was finally allowed to slap on his rod and begin to extract a little payback from that asshole Dave McShane, who had been fucking with him religiously since ninth grade...

.....The Greyhound bus pulled out of the Harding depot as just plain ol' Scott Aaron Greenway eased himself down into a travel-worn seat among a handful of unfamiliar faces.
.....He was down with that.
.....Scott had left his superfluous T and his wigger gear behind in his bedroom. His travelin' threads were a pair of jeans, a plain white shirt and a fading denim jacket that was two summers past too small. He packed lightly and withdrew a handful of bills from the family rainy stash.
The family was over at the Pentecostal church that evening, praying with that fruity reverend for Pierce’s immortal soul.
.....The empty jar went back the top shelf of the kitchen cupboard, light nearly three hundred bucks.
.....The first bus departing Harding was bound for San Francisco, and forty-five minutes later Scott was leaving his shame behind him. He left no note, and didn’t feel one was needed.
.....No one in Harding ever heard from him again.

.....The television remained off in the Ziegler house as the family gathered about the dining room table. Takeout from KFC remained uneaten, serving only as something to toy with. Even under the best of circumstances, the KFC Famous Bowl would be an intimidating concoction of instant mashed potatoes, corn, cheese-like goo and battered bits of chicken too suspicious to be served by themselves, but now the bowls stewed dangerously in pools of congealed grease.
.....Uneasy glances were spared towards the young man, his wrist set in a fresh-looking cast.
.....When the boy had been set loose from the police station, the looks thrown his way as the Zieglers had led him past the cops didn’t set well, narrowed eyes and barely concealed emotion. They felt as if they were part of a perp walk, not leading a victim off to the familial bosom. Mike had remained closed-mouthed through it all.
.....The shock of the events, perhaps. But still...
.....Headlights flashed through the open space in the curtains as the sound of a vehicle pulled up and parked. The engine was cut off and a door opened. Slammed shut. Footsteps approached the house and the unease in the dining room took on an almost primal weight.
.....They waited for the knock.

.....Sgt. Gary Hutchins stepped up onto the welcome mat and paused, hand poised to knock. He indulged in a quick smile, then sheathed it. In his other hand, he carried a video tape.
.....Surprisingly, the receptionist had been good for more than only one thing. The VHS had been in a deck separate from the regular feed that led back to the police station, and she had relieved the tape from behind the Main Desk at the high school.
.....And unlike all the data that had been pulled from the department’s state of the art digital equipment that had still failed to deliver a usable image of the face of the intruder, the old school video tape had captured a more than satisfactory moment of the boy in the hallway looking straight up into the camera, rifle cradled in his arms.
.....Sgt. Hutchins knocked on the door.

.....Three blocks away Sheriff Crawford sat on Pierce’s bed, a cigarette in one hand and a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels in the other. The bed was still made and would remain in his mind that way forever. You could bounce a quarter off of it, a trick of the trade that Bryce had passed on to his son during his last and unknowingly final leave. Photos of two dead men looked back at him from where he placed them on the night table.
.....He drank deep and chased it with another drag from the Marlboro.

.....On the other side of town, the lights were out in Tanya’s cottage. The phone was unplugged and occasional knocks went unanswered.

.....At 2:45 The Larkspur kicked out the last remaining straggler, who checked his bevnap with bleary eyes and climbed behind the wheel of his patrol vehicle. The driver made a short detour by the station before heading down the road to The Watergate Motel. The afterhours party was in full swing.
.....The parking lot of the motel was packed. Vehicles filled every slot and more vehicles blocked them in. It was going to be a long night. The news agencies couldn’t be bothered to provide RVs for the folks that made the broadcasts possible, and so every window of the Watergate was ablaze.
.....At his knock, the door opened wide. The townies partying it up with the familiar faces of their nightly news and their support teams roared his name.
.....Whipping off his mirrored aviator shades with a wide grin, Clyde held up and waggled a small baggy containing about seventeen-hundred bucks worth of the finest crystal meth that he could score from the department’s evidence locker on short notice.
.....Three-time loser Roger Santoro had been given twenty-to-life for holding the same bag three months back, but tonight the media was more than appreciative for his sacrifice.
.....The crowd roared their pleasure and the FOX reporter slithered up to make his acquaintance. Odd, Clyde noted...with her camera face wiped off, the reporter looked more Black Irish than Asian.
.....She was finally over her sniffles from the teargas. The recovery didn’t last long.

.....Four doors down, in what Clyde would have considered one of the motel’s two Room 2s, Daniel Wolfe lay fully clothed on the uncomfortable bed, staring up at the ceiling. Even if every room of the motel wasn't rocking with the activity of the off-duty media blowing it up, he still couldn’t have slept.
.....He had the nagging feeling that despite everything seeming to be over, he was still in a world of shit. His calls to Tanya went unanswered, and when he drove by her house the windows were dark. There was no response to his knocks, no sign of movement within. The Teapot had closed when Tanya had left. No one had the slightest idea where she was.
.....His bag was still unpacked, parked by the door.
.....But he couldn’t leave. Earlier, before being sequestered by newly-arrived members from the alphabet soup of federal agencies, the sheriff taken a moment to pass on that he wanted... needed one more thing from him.
.....There had been the implied promise of a trade-off.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Tanya didn’t take her time dressing. She pulled up her jeans quietly, buttoned her blouse with efficiency.
.....She paused by the door, looking back to where Crawford lay on the bed. The sheet was pulled up to his bare chest and he stared up at the ceiling.
.....“This was an only time, Roy,” she murmured. “We have to live in this town together, you, me... and Dan, and we don’t need the complications.”
.....She waited, and finally he nodded. The door closed quietly behind her. The scent of Sand and Sable remained.
.....He could hear the faint sounds of her retrieving her bicycle from the side of the house, and the faint purr of the chain as she pedaled away.
.....He rolled over and grabbed the cigarettes and lit one up, eyeing the answering machine idly as he did so.
.....No messages.
.....He paused in mid drag, looking at the machine. There was never no messages. Every time he walked through the door and keyed the machine, he would have to sit through minutes of trivial bullshit, from asinine complications at the station to even more asinine complaints from the citizenry.
.....He vaguely remembered fumbling to turn the ringer of the telephone off, but...
.....He grabbed the cord from the machine and it trailed up easily, the mount hanging loose as he pulled it free.
.....“Fuck me.”
.....He turned on the ringer to the telephone and it immediately began to scream at him.

.....The milling mass of the news crews turned as the black-and-white Humvee roared across the football field, emergency lights flashing and siren wailing. Sod flew, rudely uprooted from the lovingly tended green and flung from the tires in its wake. Cameras swung around to capture the department brand on the side as it careened by to slide to a halt near the ambulance.
.....The sheriff swung out of the vehicle and bolted towards the crime scene, leaving the door open behind him and lights still spinning.
.....Cops moved in to meet him.
.....The news jackals grabbed their equipment and followed.
.....Clyde met him first. “Jesus, Roy! Where the fuck have...”
.....Crawford’s gaze was locked on the school. “Where’s Pierce?”
.....“ been?”
.....“Is Pierce okay?” Crawford demanded as Clyde fell in beside him, matching the sheriff’s pace towards the rear of the building.
.....“He’s not here.”
.....Crawford stopped and swung around on the deputy. “Not here? Are you sure?”
.....Clyde’s brow furrowed as he concentrated. “Yeah. He was here, but after we did a body count...”
.....“Body count?” Crawford held up a palm, eyes closed. “How many?”
.....“Just one... the shooter.” Clyde smiled. He was on the ball again, or rather, on the eightball that he had managed to sneak in just before the sheriff arrived. “We nailed the son-a-bitch just as he was gettin’ ready to shoot the Ziegler boy.”
.....Crawford sighed in relief, then eyed the school. “Was Pierce here at all?”
.....“Yeah,” the deputy nodded. “But he must have got out once the shooting started. He got his girlfriend out and then he just disappeared.”
.....“Disappeared? What...”
.....That was all he managed before the media fell on him.

.....“How many are dead?”
.....“Did the shooter have a history of violence?”
.....“Were any of the victims sexually molested?”
.....“Is there anything that could have been done to prevent this?”

.....A chopper emblazoned with a FOX News logo roared past overhead, swinging around to get another shot of the high school as the bustle of the hectic Crime Scene continued below. Another wave of dust blew across any evidence that might have been found.
.....Parked behind the school, the rear doors of the ambulance hung open. The two EMTs gripped the gurney on either side as they rattled it down the stair leading from the exit. No delicacy was needed and none given as they rolled it up to the vehicle. A zipper was slid shut over a blood-stained sheet, and the gurney was manhandled in. The doors slammed shut and the paramedics rounded the vehicle and climbed in.
.....The ambulance took off, the sirens left untouched.
.....There was no rush.
.....As Roy watched the vehicle pull away, he turned at the sound of his name. Kyle was moving hurriedly towards him with a plastic bag in hand. Despite the exertion, the man seemed pleased about his delivery.
.....“Sheriff?” he gasped. “We got the shooter’s wallet.”
.....Roy nodded and took the package from the deputy. He snapped on a pair of rubber gloves, opened the baggie and pulled out the wallet.
.....He slid out the driver’s license.
.....He looked at it and took a breath, held it, and then exhaled. The corner of his mouth twitched, but otherwise his face revealed nothing.
.....He slid the ID back in its slot and tucked the wallet inside his jacket.
.....“Uh, Sheriff? That’s...”
.....Roy slugged him and Kyle’s ass hit the dirt for the second time in as many days. As the cop sat up again, rubbing his chin and regarding Roy with kicked puppy dog eyes, the sheriff stared off at nothing in particular, the wheels turning...
........and turning...
.....He didn't notice the brief wash of breeze from the shockwave that ruffled his hair, snapped at his clothes...
........ but the dull WHUP of the explosion that followed a millisecond later caught his attention. Every car alarm in a five block radius began to wail, a cacophony of various electronic cries that someone was trying to steal goodies, each trying to drown the others out.
.....Kyle's puppy eyes went wider as he looked across the football field and Crawford followed his gaze.
.....A small mushroom cloud was uncurling up into the air, roots concealed by the buckled cyclone fence that ran along Pine Street on the other side of the field. The plastic slats that had been wove between the links in school colors fluttered in the backwash of the freshly stoked furnace.
.....Kyle was already off his feet and bolting towards the new source of aggravation, making good time for a man packing fifty pounds excess weight. His waddling sprint would have looked pretty silly if the situation wasn't so damned dire.
.....Whatever he'd done wrong in the sheriff's eyes, the man was full on intent in rectifying it.
.....All Sheriff Roy Crawford had left to summon up was a tired sigh. Now what?

.....Straw Hat had slowed the white Econoline down as he cruised Pine Street, eyeing the avenue for Clyde's Humvee.
.....Whatever kind of hell was going down in the high school, at least he was making some amount of bank out of it. Clyde was already down for almost a grand in crystal meth for the day, and the day was nowhere near over.
.....Five minutes before, his "Achy Breaky Heart" ringtone had alerted him that Clyde was up for another bindle. Maybe two or three. Business was good. Maybe he'd get one of those new plasma screens out of the day. That'd be nice... football was just around the corner.
.....Just around the corner on Second Street, Omkar Singh paused his Metro at the stop sign, glanced both ways and hung a left onto Pine.
.....After the swarm of media had locked up every free room at the Watergate, he'd been idling in frustration up until Room 22 had dropped by to let him know that he'd be checking out the next morning. The man hadn't met his gaze and he had walked funny as he exited the lobby.
.....Singh was piqued. A assistant producer for MSNBC had just left the lobby, leaving behind a standing offer for a bed, any bed. With 22 staying on until 11am the next day, that was $480.01 out of his pocket.
.....He sighed. That was that, then. Done with handling the money for the day, he posted his cleaning girl at the desk to handle any complaints about television reception or lack of towels and headed out to the school for a look-see himself.
.....He took the back way to avoid traffic.
.....Singh glanced at the radio dial as he twisted the knob in search of better coverage. The speakers hissed and spat at him, the reception no better in the Metro than it had been at the motel.
.....Parked at the intersection of Fifth and Pine, Clyde dropped the Humvee in gear as he saw the Econoline near, slow down for the hand-off.
.....As he pulled onto Pine, the thought crossed his mind that with the chaotic events of the day distracting everyone from the small stuff, he might use the window to do something about his accomplice in the matter of that asshole from the night before. Not that he didn't trust the man to keep his lips shut, but on the quiet ride back he'd dropped a hint that for services rendered, his own services might be running a little dearer from then on.
.....Asshole. It wasn't as if it were all that hard to find another source—
.....Singh looked up from the radio to see the ass-end of the suddenly parked Econoline rushing up at him through the windshield. The first thing that went through his mind was a signal to his foot to hit the brakes. His knuckles whitened on the steering wheel, but the signal didn't make it the rest of the way.
.....At twenty miles an hour, the impact wasn't much of a jolt. But it was enough to set the rolling meth lab off like a small blockbuster bomb.
.....The last thing that went through Singh's mind was a million tiny beads of white hot glass as the windshield of the Metro vaporized in the fireball.
.....Three blocks from the epicenter, the blast knocked the Humvee sideways and dropped a rear wheel in the gutter. There was shattered safety glass in Clyde's lap and his ears were ringing. Mouth dry, he watched the fireball eat itself and then settle back down into the remains of the van. The mushroom cloud belched up from what was left of the vehicle, sides flayed out and down like a scorched banana peel. The roof fluttering off to settle onto the playing field.
.....The only thing on Clyde's mind was the question of where he was going to get more lines to get him through the rest of the day.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Mike turns a corner...
..... ... the beat pounds louder...

.....BAM... BAM... BAM...
........spies the bathroom door at the end of the corridor...
........ jacks another round through the chamber, just for effect....

.....A classroom door slams open behind him.
........Mike rolls to the side and swings the Mini-14 around...
.....Wild-eyed jocks spill from the room capping even wilder rounds.
.....Bullets ricochet about, unzipping the air.
........Mike lays down return fire and backs down the hall...
Fucking jocks.

.....The gathering mob in the parking lot scattered at the eruption of gunfire. Whitenoise light strobed from the windows with each shot. Stray rounds snapped like bullwhips over their heads as the thin yellow ribbons that announced POLICE LINE were ignored.
.....A windshield of a news van coughed and rear window exploded in a blizard of safety glass, showering the hawks and vultures alike as they flew to safety. Everyone but a fool ducked for cover.
.....The one fool stood like Patton at parade rest, jutting his chin for the camera. Deputy Clyde Kehoe couldn’t be bothered to look around and notice that all cameras were focused on the school instead of him.
.....From a safe position, of course.

.....BAM! BAM! BAM!
.....Bullets scream and zip through the air like metallic hornets around Mike as he ducks and barrels the other direction... the door to the ESL lab slams open and a bunch of Mexican guys spill out and start throwing firepower the other way.
.....Mike throws himself down another hall and leaves the firefight behind.

.....Clyde grabbed up a bullhorn, and began to pace about bellowing.
....."Alright, you guys... start lobbing in the tear gas."
.....The team stumbled about awkwardly, suffering a stagefright of sorts under the unblinking gaze of the news cameras that had swung around at the response from the SWAT team. Finally, the troopers got their act together and knelt, raising their M-16s with teargas cannons into firing positions...
.....The cannons barked and canisters arced across the yard to punch holes in the windows. Gas began to swirl out.
.....Clyde stood back and watched happily, although he realized that he sure could use a nice frosty soft drink. His cottonmouth was killing him. He started making an odd clicking sound, tongue snapping against the roof of his mouth, the back of his teeth.
.....The windshield of one of the students cars made a popping noise beside him, a bullethole abruptly appearing in the center of the glass. The dark eye looked up at him threateningly. As wired as he was, Clyde finally realized that taking cover was most likely a good idea.

.....The smell of cordite seared noses and the haze of burnt gunpowder began to cloud the cramped corridors of the high school. The Anglos and Mexicans continued to pop rounds at each other, but the gunfire began to taper off as the hall filled with teargas.
.....Handkerchief over his mouth and coughing, Dave McShane eyed a canister rolling across the floor, gas streaming in its wake.
.....One of the girls ran by, hunched over and gagging. He wasn’t sure which one she was but he was sure he had already done her, soooo...
.....His hand shot out, darted down the back of her sweater and grabbed the back of her bra and yanked. The sweater came off with the bra as he pulled it over her head and past her arms.
.....Eyes the size of saucers, she shrieked, covered her breasts and scurried to her friends, gas forgotten. It was Molly, and he realized that he hadn’t already tapped that well.
.....Oh, well.
.....He turned, bra dangling in his hand.
....."A hand here?" he called out to the other teens scurrying around him. "As in now?"
.....Differences forgotten, Javier stepped up as Dave demonstrated; a fist over each clamp, a makeshift double-barreled slingshot. As Javier knelt into position, Dave swept up the rolling canister with his handkerchief and dropped it into one off the cups...
........ drew it back and aimed...
........ and let fly.

.....All eyes turned back to the school at the sound of shattering of glass. The gas canister arced towards them, hit the pavement and rolled, vapor trailing behind.
.....The shell landed near the FOX News Team and rolled up to them hissing. They scattered, indulging in a fair and balanced amount of coughing and gagging.
.....One of the troopers looked perplexed as he watched a familiar talking head scurry by, her TV face falling off in a spill of mascara as she vomited up her morning latte. Later, with her face firmly back in place, she’d smile inscrutably as she signed an autograph for him.
.....He eyed the canister and then swiveled around to yelp at Clyde incredulously. "Can they do that?"
.....The SWAT leader drew himself up as much as his cover would allow.
....."Oh, they wanna play rough, do they?" Clyde snarled. He turned to his men. "Get your ass over here, Carlssen!"
.....The ranks pulled aside as Carlssen staggered up under the weight of the M-60 he was lugging, a seriously gone-to-pot Rambo with bands of .50 rounds wrapped about his frame.
.....He drew up, sweating. The M-60 isn’t a lightweight piece of armament, especially for someone whose only exercise was twelve-ounce curls. The cameras were watching though, so he did his best.
....."Okay, Carlssen." Clyde jerked his head back at the high school. "Show ’em who’s the boss."
.....Carlssen smiled. Striking a Soldier of Fortune coverboy pose, he allowed another member of his team to be his wingman and feed the belt. He jacked back the handle and slapped it forward. The show went live as he braced himself and pulled the trigger, unleashing some hellaciously superior firepower on the dinks.
.....Empty shells arced smoking from the bucking machinegun as it threw a stream of rounds, each the size of a child’s finger, towards the school with a throaty roar. One-hundred-rounds-per-minute’s worth. The concrete facade of the school began to crack and emit small farts of vaporized building material as the stream of fire swept across before locking in on the windows.

.....The windows exploded inwards in a blizzard of flying glass as the teens forgot their squabbling and hit the floor, trying to disappear into their own crotches as the hallway was torn apart above them. Plaster and pulverized sheet rock showered down around them, the dust creating a haze of its own.

....."Yee-fucking-haw!" Carlssen grinned like a foolish boy as he chewed the front of the school apart. Finally out of ammo, he spun around, shaking the machine gun at the heavens. The barrel of the weapon was fucked. Eighteen hundred bucks worth of taxpayer money burned up in less than two minutes.
.....It made for good television, though. The news crews were as excited as a little girl getting a pony on her birthday. And they wanted more.
.....A white handkerchief was waved through a shattered window. There was a quiet hiss of disappointment from the crowd. Hands were withdrawn from ears. The media exchanged worried glances: not yet, already?
.....The students began to stagger out through the shattered front doors. Dave McShane in the lead still waving his handkerchief.
.....Tear gas billowed out after them as they spilled down the stairs, gagging and trying not to puke as they made their way towards the parking lot, hands clasped behind their necks just the way they had learned they were supposed to do it on C*O*P*S.

.....As more feet landed around him, moved along, Scot T figured it was safe enough to finally stand. None of the other students paid him any mind. Their suddenly fucked up world was already too much to deal with.
.....The SWAT leader turned to one of his men, who was scanning the exiting students with a pair of binoculars.
....."Any of them wearing a school jacket?"
.....The trooper watched as the last student exited, puking on her shoes and the stairs as she stumbled down them.
.....He shook his head. "Nope."

.....Media ears perked up.
....."Alrighty, then. We’re goin’ in after that bastard."
.....The cameras leaned in.

.....The school has fallen silent again, save for the echoes of smashing down the hall. Mike resumes his hunt...

.....The reinforced window crumpled and fell free, leaving open window space and the cool breeze sigh wafting in of sanctuary beyond.
.....Pierce grabbed Debbie and lifted her up to the sink, feeding her through the open gap. With a kick of her shapely legs and a flash of cotton panties, she was through. Pierce looked down through the window as Debbie stood up on a sea of welcome green, brushed grass stains off of her ass.

.....She looked back up at him and hissed, "C’mon, you asshole."
.....As he moved to follow, he froze. He turned his head listening, as the sound of footsteps neared the door and paused...

.....He pauses by the bathroom door, reaches to push it open...
........and the door slams open, heavy mass smashing into his reaching hand...
........wrist SNAP! and he grunts...
.....He loses some serious Health Points.

.....Pierce rolled in low and leapt up, swinging a wild right-handed haymaker that nonetheless connected solidly with Mike’s face. Eyes gone glassy, the boy crumpled to his knees. The Mini-14 fell from his grasp and clattered across the tile.
.....Pierce snarled in recognition. In recognition of his gun, and of his nemesis. "You motherfucking faggot..."
.....He grabbed the collar of the jacket to yank Mike up, but the boy went limp, the jacket slipping over his head as arms slipped through...

........his broken wrist snags in the jacket.

.....A white-hot pulse of pain and he vomits a moan, falls the rest of the way to the floor.
.....He loses a few more Health Points...
........GAME OVER...

.....Pierce threw the jacket aside, knelt and picked up the rifle. Breathing heavily, he aimed it as Mike struggled up onto his elbows...
........chambered a round... the door behind him exploded inwards and SWAT members charged through, their gas masks sparking with the reflected fluorescent lights.
....."Drop the weapon!" a voice barked, muffled by the gas mask.
.....Pierce swung around, the rifle inadvertently following.
....."Don’t..." Pierce started to-
.....The SWAT members cut loose. Clips emptied as scores of .223 rounds were unleashed.
.....Mike fell back to the floor, the pain of his broken wrist forgotten as he clasped himself into a tight ball.
.....Most of the rounds snapped past their target and pocked the wall behind Pierce, but a handful found their mark. They slammed into him and punched on through; blood, chucks of flesh and a loop of small intestine erupting from Pierce’s back as a couple of the rounds took him low, the rifle flying from his grip.
.....As he was spun by the barrage, another round caught him in the jaw; the lower half of his face disintegrated into a mist of fleshy shrapnel. The impact flipped him back and another round took off a sizely chunk of his brain pan on its way through his skull. He slammed the floor, the heels of his boots drumming against the tile.
.....Gray matter is actually light pink when spattered liberally across a beige wall. Blood spread across the floor in a widening pool.
.....The team moved in to cover the downed target, who drew up huddled in a fetal position as he tried to hold his entrails in. A long loop extended from the exit wound in his back to lay uncoiled in the dust. It doesn’t take much brains to die, and Pierce wasn’t left with much. He was still taking his long, painful time going about it, though.
.....The blood found purchase in a drainage grate, and began to trickle off. Ears still ringing from the burst of gunfire, the cops pulled back their gas masks and eyed the area suspiciously. There had been reports of only one shooter, but they still remained wary.
.....One of the team helped Mike to his feet as others moved in to cover the perp with their M-16s, smoke still curling from the barrels.
....."You okay?" the cop asked Mike.
.....The boy pointed at Pierce unsteadily, his eyes wide. "He was gonna kill me..."
....."It’s over now." Kyle nodded reassuringly as he led the boy away. "Get outside, have yourself checked out by an EMT."
.....Mike paused as they moved to pass Pierce.
...I didn’t mean... just wanted to fuck with them... show ‘em how it felt...
.....Kyle shook his head. "Don’t look at that..."
.....He put his arm over Mike’s shoulders and eased him from the crime scene. The smell of shit and ruptured organs began to fill the hallway, and the cops eased their gas masks back on.
.....Eyes wide, a keening wail gargled from the wreckage of Pierce’s mouth.
.....The pool of blood stilled as the source ran out. His eyes blinked one final time. It would be almost an hour until a paramedic would close them for eternity.
.....A fly began to buzz over the blood, and then another.