Lost Souls Page 3

Surely he’d become aware of Carson and Michael by some stroke of luck, not because his perceptions were those of a highly trained operative. Somehow aware of their presence but not of their exact positions, he’d fired two rounds in their general direction, which was a waste of ammunition and a panicky response to having been caught in the act of murder.

This company hack, this amateur, was no match for two former New Orleans homicide cops who were now highly motivated private dicks with office overhead to pay and a growing family to support. Carson at first saw no need to retreat from a corporate bureaucrat even if he was homicidal.

Confident that the lightless parking lot behind her provided the shooter with no silhouette at which to aim, she raced toward him. Beyond her quarry, the security lamps on the warehouses backlit him, and even without the assistance of a night-vision camera, she could see him far better than he might be able to see her.

Carson’s initial boldness was vindicated when, instead of again firing blindly, Chang snared the shopping bag with which he’d arrived and the attaché case that Beckmann had dropped when shot. He sprinted toward the nearest warehouse.

Running, Carson was aware of Chang putting more ground between them in spite of his burdens, and of Michael off to her right. She remained aware as well of Scout, their seven-month-old daughter back at the house, not because she possessed the psychic power of remote viewing, which she did not, but because she was a mother now, with responsibilities that had not burdened her when she had been a kick-ass cop in the Big Easy.

She had often been called a mother before she was one, mostly by thugs and druggies and corrupt cops who didn’t relate well to the straight arrows on the force, but they hadn’t been praising her commitment to child-rearing.

In those days, she would never have imagined that she would want a child, let alone that she would get married and produce one. She’d had too much to prove, no time for romance, a husband, a family. She had been intent on discovering who killed her mom and dad execution-style, with bullets to the back of their heads.

The word mother, coupled with six other letters and issued with a vicious snarl and a spray of spittle, never offended her because the creeps who called her that were really using it as a synonym for incorruptible, dedicated, and relentless.

In pursuit of the elusive shadow that was Chang, as her slamming heart synchronized with the pounding of her feet on blacktop, she began to wonder if she was as dedicated and relentless now as she had been back in the day. Maybe her little Scout gave her pause, a reason to hesitate. Maybe Chang was putting ground between them not because he was younger and faster than Carson but because subconsciously she didn’t want to risk getting too close to him and leaving Scout motherless.

Although she yearned to deny it, the possibility existed that she didn’t have the right stuff to be both a mother and a private detective. Perhaps, having given birth to the prettiest baby on the planet, she was henceforth better suited to diapering a butt than to kicking one.

Still to her right, Michael moved out ahead of her, keeping pace with Chang. When they were partners in the NOPD homicide division, she’d always been faster than Michael, driving or running, confident that she could chase down any perp ever born.

Now she was a plodder, her heart racing faster than her feet, her legs heavy. A leaden weight in her abdomen and a constricting upward pressure on her lungs might have been not real symptoms but instead a memory of advanced pregnancy and a reminder of her maternal obligations.

She had become a baby-besotted wifey, a domestic by default, thinking less with her brain than with her heart, cautious whereas she’d once been fearless. She was made submissive by the realization that fate held her daughter hostage and always would, demanding a ransom of worry and prudence, payable in installments by the day, by the hour, forever. On the Highway of the Fainthearted, the ultimate destination might be cowardice.

“Screw that,” she said, and by the time Chang disappeared around the nearer warehouse, Carson sprinted ahead of Michael, to the building.

With her back against the corrugated-metal wall, pistol in both hands, muzzle skyward, Carson hesitated, not because of her baby girl but because—mother or not—she was averse to taking a bullet in the face at point-blank range. She could hear Michael approaching behind her, but she couldn’t hear Chang’s receding footsteps.

Carson no longer enjoyed the advantage of cloaking darkness. The security lamps spread bright fans across the blacktop immediately around the structure.

She lowered the muzzle from the overcast sky, arms out straight, wrists locked. Crouched low, she took the corner fast. In harmony, her eyes and the gun surveyed the scene, right to left, from open ground to warehouse wall.

About sixty feet ahead, Chang ran along a surfline of gray shadows, where the waves of light dissolved against the shore of night.

Carson couldn’t shoot him in the back. She had to catch him, club him—or chase him until he turned and fired and gave her a legal target.

Michael reached her, but she was no longer in a mood to serve only as his backup.

Although encumbered by the shopping bag—which was most likely full of money—and the attaché case containing the trade secrets that Beckmann had been selling, Chang was getting away. Carson couldn’t allow that. He had shot at them. Shot at them. Twice. He had tried to make an orphan of Scout. The sonofabitch.

With the confidence of a panther in the wake of a fatigued gazelle, Carson pursued him.

Chapter 6

Rafael Jesus Jarmillo, the elected and popular police chief of Rainbow Falls, had not been assigned to the graveyard shift since he was a rookie on the force more than twenty years earlier. He came to work that October morning prior to dawn, with much to accomplish before noon.

Although no crisis had arisen, the watch officer, Sergeant Seth Rapp, and the dispatcher, Valerie Corsair, were not surprised to see the chief. Without a word, Rapp left his post at the front desk and followed Jarmillo through the deserted bullpen, along the hallway that served various now dark offices, and out to the garage, where six black-and-whites not currently in use were ready for the day-shift patrol teams.

A paneled truck stood in the space reserved for the four cars currently cruising the town. Neither the midnight-blue cab nor the white cargo compartment bore the name of a business or any other identification.

The truck had just arrived. Its driver stood watching the big segmented garage door roll down between his vehicle and the dark alleyway behind the police station.

At the back of the truck, as the driver’s partner opened the cargo doors, he said to Rafael Jarmillo and Seth Rapp, “For the Community.”

“For the Community,” the chief and the sergeant replied.

To the nineteen people inside the truck, the man said, “Get out.”

Among those who exited the vehicle were Mayor Erskine Potter and his family. The last four were the real Rafael Jarmillo, his wife, and his two sons.

Awakened from sleep, the nineteen wore pajamas or robes, or just underwear. And every one of them was accessorized with a bright silvery nailhead in his or her left temple.

Jessica Wanhaus, the town librarian, wore only pale-blue panties. She was thirty-two, pretty by the standards of her kind, with full breasts.

Neither the chief nor the sergeant—nor the two men in charge of the truck—let his gaze linger over her physical charms. Members of the Community had no need for sex and therefore no interest whatsoever in it.

“Come this way, all of you,” said Jarmillo, and he returned to the door between the garage and the office hallway.

Their eyes were wild with terror and their faces were bleak, but the nineteen obeyed the chief without hesitation.

One of the doors off the hall opened onto stairs that descended to the basement. Although the prisoners wore no cuffs or shackles, the chief turned his back on them without fear and led them down to the last place they would ever see.

A wide corridor divided the windowless subterranean realm. To the left were storerooms, the furnace room, and a lavatory. To the right lay three large cells with bars for front walls, each with a recommended capacity of ten.

On the main floor were six small cells, each able to house two prisoners. They were rarely all in use at the same time.

These lower pens were for overflow, specifically designed for use in the event of civil unrest.

Rainbow Falls and the surrounding county were not hotbeds of political activism or home to utopian movements with the usual violent proclivities of those who believed they had a better plan for the ordering of society. Bar fights, assaults on spouses, and incidents of drunk driving were the primary crimes with which Rafael Jarmillo and his officers had to deal.

Because a U.S. government grant had paid for more than half the construction of the police station, however, the building included the additional cells to satisfy a federal mandate. The real Chief Jarmillo had sometimes wondered why the feds were insistent that even small-town America overbuild its jails: as if those officials were not being merely prudent but were preparing for an event of their own design.

The new Chief Jarmillo didn’t worry about federal intentions. The days of the human race—and therefore of the federal government—were numbered. The plans of politicians would soon mean nothing.

The nineteen from the truck were herded into two of the large basement cells. As instructed, they sat on the wall-hung bunks and on the floor, terrified and anguished yet docile.

Locking the cell doors was unnecessary. Sergeant Rapp locked them anyway.

After returning to the main floor, the chief and the sergeant visited the wing that contained the six small cells. Two prisoners were currently housed there, and the chief woke them.

The first, a vagrant named Conway Lyss, had ridden into town in a railroad boxcar and had stayed to burglarize houses. He was caught during his third break-in.

Forty-five, Lyss looked sixty—if seventy was the new sixty. Lean to the point of emaciation, brittle gray hair, skin like time-crackled leather, large ears as misshapen and stiff as rawhide dog treats, gray teeth, fissured yellow fingernails: He looked like a construct of gristle and horn and jerky, parched to the point of desiccation. But his eyes were ocean-blue and watery, and in them swam cunning and calculation, the never-sleeping shark of deception.

The second prisoner was Norman O’Bannon, whom locals called Nummy for reasons lost in time. Nummy was thirty years old, with an IQ below eighty. Slightly pudgy, with a round freckled face and a cheerful manner, he was being held overnight not as a consequence of any crime that he had committed but instead for his protection.

The new Chief Jarmillo had no affection for Nummy O’Bannon and no intention of protecting him from anything. Quite the contrary.

Sergeant Rapp opened both cells, and with the chief, he escorted the two prisoners to the basement.

Conway Lyss quarreled his way to the lower floor, grumbling one question after another. Neither the chief nor the sergeant replied to anything he asked them.

Throughout the short journey, Nummy smiled and said nothing. To him, every change was potentially the start of an adventure. And he trusted Chief Jarmillo.

Lyss wore an orange jail-issue jumpsuit. Nummy wore jeans and a sweatshirt. Both men shuffled, one because he was a burnt-out case who used his limited energy to scheme and complain, the other because poor coordination was a consequence of his simple intellect.

On the way to the third subterranean cell, Lyss was little interested in the occupants of the first two cages. He remained focused intently on the chief, whose refusal to answer questions enraged him.

Besides, the chief knew the vagrant’s type: a misanthrope, a people-hater, interested in other human beings only when he hoped to get something from them. Lyss could spend a day in a bustling city and really see only five or six people, those who were the easiest marks, the most vulnerable prey, the saps who would give him twenty bucks when he tried to panhandle just one dollar, the clueless from whom he could extract a wallet even with his second-rate talent as a pickpocket.

Nummy was interested in the quiet nineteen until he glimpsed the topless librarian, whereupon his face reddened as though a web of capillaries had burst from ear to ear. Thereafter, he kept his gaze on the floor.

As the sergeant locked the vagrant and Nummy in the third cell, Conway Lyss gripped two bars with his hands and raised his voice. “I demand to see an attorney.”

“You’re not going to get one,” said Chief Jarmillo.

“I have a right to an attorney!” Lyss declared. “I’m an American citizen!”

“Not anymore.”

“What? What do you mean—not anymore?”

“All you are now,” said Jarmillo, “is livestock.”

Chapter 7

Beyond the warehouses was a stone quay that butted to a wooden wharf from which a series of industrial docks projected into San Francisco Bay. Dating to the first half of the previous century, no longer as well-maintained as the city’s other shipping facilities, inadequate to serve newer generations of container ships, these docks were marked for demolition if the current economic downturn ever gave way to a prosperity that justified the expense of new facilities. And in fact, at the moment, they appeared derelict, with no cargo vessels tied up at any slip.

Rusting lampposts with cracked and dirty lenses poured out a cold bluish incandescence that the night challenged everywhere across the wharf, and the one moving shadow, slipping from pool to pool of light, was Chang with his money and his secrets.

Carson O’Connor closed to within twenty feet of her quarry and saw him stumble, stagger, winded and vulnerable. He turned off the wharf, away from the seawall, and followed one of the docks into the bay and into a sudden mist.

The cool night on shore must have been no warmer than the chill on the water. In the dead-calm hours before dawn, fog wasn’t drawn inland by a temperature differential, but remained confined to the bay, a cloak with many cowls and folds and sleeves. Chang vanished into one of its pockets.

The widely spaced lamps were not extinguished by these dense and fallen clouds, but their glow was substantially diminished. The mist refracted the light in strange ways that further bewildered the intuitional compass on which Carson relied.

Visibility abruptly declined to ten feet, then less. The dock was perhaps thirty feet wide.

If Carson stayed close to either the right-hand or left-hand railing, Chang might turn back toward shore, following the railing opposite hers, twenty feet beyond her range of vision.

She could try to stay to the middle of the dock and hope to glimpse a moving figure along either railing. But the thick fog was disorienting, and she had nothing to guide her on a straight course.

Anyway, almost certainly, Chang had hurried away from shore along this particular dock because he had arrived—and intended to depart—by boat. He wouldn’t double back any more than he would climb a railing and leap into the drink.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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