The air in the car seemed worn and bluish, but he noted that he was filled with gratitude that he didn't have to drive her back to Bradly Beach. He was on Route 88 already so he turned the car around and drove back into Brick, past Laurelton and turned left into the trailer park. He tried to get as much speed as possible over the bumps and came to a fairly respectably screeching halt inches from Mr. Burns' collapsing trailer. He tucked his gun into the front of his belt for visuals, leaped out of his car and started pounding on the door like a storm-trooper. The door cracked open on the peep chain and the old man sputtered his protests through an arc of spittle.
"Who -- wha -- who . . ."
Loomis took the heel of his hand and gave the door a shot right by the chain. The door sprang open and the old man went tumbling backwards almost into the back wall. Loomis walked inside. He stood just inside the door and looked around. He listened. He suddenly realized he may have just made a rather large mistake and saved his license reviewers a lot of time. He almost turned around and walked out, but he decided to play it out to the end.
"Where is it, Mr. Burns?"
"Wha -- wha -- gha."
He walked over and picked the tiny man off the floor and sat him at a chair by the filty formica table. He went to the sink, found the cleanest glass, filled it with water and set it in front of Burns. He went to the other side of the table, started to sit, adjusted his gun, and sat. Burns sat there trembling for a minute then drank the water.
"I'm calling the cops," he said, but it sounded like a question.
"Fine," said Loomis. "But we have something to get settled first."
"What," said Burns, and his eyes slitted up and his head tilted back.
"Oh, no," said Loomis. "Don't get sly on me. You start those games again and its just going to get worse."
"What you want?"
Burns stood up and sat down. He looked toward the door and started to get up again. His breathing got shallow and panicky. He sat down and gnashed his teeth. He took a couple of deep breaths and the rest of his water.
"What duck?" he said.
As if in answer a nervous sounding quack came fluttering through the window over the sink. Loomis got up and looked out the window. Burns had built a little pen behind his trailer with six foot walls covered with canvas. The god-awful looking thing was standing in the center with his wings spread low, trembling. Loomis laughed and sat back down.
"You stole that duck, didn't you, Mr. Burns?"
"Just a duck."
"Oh, I think its more than just a duck to you. And I've been visiting his family in Ocean County Park. They miss him."
"Can you read, Mr. Burns?"
"Can I . . . sure. What the . . ."
"Then you know that you're liable for a $2,500 fine and eighteen months in jail. No, no liable, you're due. I promise you you'll get all of that."
"Just a duck."
"Its a protected duck, Mr. Burns. A federally protected duck. That duck has friends and you're going to jail."
Burns started to speak and then went limp. He believed Loomis, but he wasn't afraid of going to jail. He wasn't afraid of the fine because he didn't have the money. But he could picture being separated from his friend and it was about all he could stand. He bowed his head as if saying grace and then let it drop all the way to the table onto an egg stain. His arms hung limp at his sides.
"Unless," said Loomis.
Burns lifted his head enough to rest his chin on some crusted yolk.
"Unless you can be a little bit more helpful about what I was asking you last week."
"I saw a car," said Burns immediately.
"I see," said Loomis. He pulled out his notebook and a pen. "We're talking about the day all the cops were here."
"That's right. I saw it twice. Once in the morning and once maybe about an hour before the cops showed up."
"What can you tell me about the car?"
"I'm not gonna shit you, Mister. I won't tell you what I don't know."
"That's the best idea."
"I never had a car. I can't drive. I don't know nothing about them. It was a big car. It was blue. That's it."
"What about the driver?"
"Didn't see him. I looked out in the morning and saw the car, but I didn't think much about it. A few minutes later it was gone. Then later, like three or so I heard a bang and I looked out. Same car, taking off, hit the post over there is the only reason I remember the damn thing at all. That's all I can tell you, Mister, I swear to god."
Loomis gave him a long, hard look and folded his notebook and pocketed his pen.
"You like that duck, don't you Mr. Burns?"
"She's okay," he said, but tears were gathering along the red underrim of his eyes.
"Boy, I sure would like to help you. But you have to understand, I have a duty to perform."
Burns pounded the table with both hands.
"Goddam it, that's all I saw. That's all I can tell you. Except the taxi. That's it."
"That don't count. That was the night before. There was all the time taxis pulling up and women getting out."
"Could you describe the woman?"
"Didn't see no woman. Not this time. I was out, uh, walking and I just got back and I heard the car and looked out and saw the taxi and thought I sure wish I got it as much as that little pissant."
"What time was this?"
"I don't know. It was late. Maybe midnight. I couldn't tell you for sure. Listen, I treat that duck good. That duck eats better'n me, probably you. I ain't doing no harm. Why can't you just . . ."
"Don't worry, Mr. Burns," said Loomis, standing. "Nobody cares about the duck." He pulled out a twenty and laid it on the table. "This is for your door. I'm sorry I broke your chain."
The next moment the twenty was gone, Burns was complaining of whiplash and making noises about calling the cops again.
"Shut up, Mr. Burns. Thanks for your help. You make any trouble for me and I'm gonna whip up some orange sauce. You follow me?"
Loomis sat in his car looking at Keever's trailer. It was a sad little thing that was held together only by Keever's threadbare life. Now, a little more than a week later it was sinking fast. He thought if came back in a month it would all be in a low pile. He pictured the taxi sitting in front of it in the darkness. Arlene come to give comfort, her ratty little car having finally died. Probably the last piece of ass Keever got in this world. Then another thought occured. Ciscone still owned a taxi fleet in Toms River. Maybe Arlene drove her Mazda over and the taxi was a visit from John delivering one of his famous messages. He might have decided to take a chance and catch him late at night at home. Why? Who knows, but they had had at least one run in recently and if there was any chance at all to tie Ciscone and Keever together the night before Keever disappeared he had to check it out. He also had to find out if Ciscone owned a big, blue car.
He drove home through a narrowing tunnel of dread. The Chevy seemed no more willing to proceed than he was. It seemed harder and harder to move forward and eventually the effort became self-evidently pointless. As he pulled off Route 35 into his crumby little mini-mall and parked in front of his office his relief was physical. Inside, he noticed he had one call on his machine. 'Martha' he thought immediately. He realized that it was unlikely but decided he didn't want to take a chance.
He watered the plants and even dusted the chairs. He cut a check for Gallagher and tucked it under his blotter. All the while, the little red dot on his telephone machine continued blinking placidly. He thought of a mechanical alligator. He cleaned his gun. He paid his bills. He stared at the little winking monster. Fuck it, he thought and he punched the 'play' button.
"Uh, this is Maria Me-la-reeny. Gimme a call." She left a number and hung up.
Loomis sat and could almost hear his brain slip cog after cog before it clicked. Zelbo's secretary. Great. More negotiations between the world's weirdest lawyer and drunkest widow. In a way, he felt almost uniquely equipped to deal with this.
He dialed the number, but it wasn't gum-snapping Maria who answered, but an adolescent male. Loomis asked for Maria and in response, the young man dropped the phone from a great height and bellowed 'It's for you!'. Loomis could hear him sauntering away. He was eating something. There was a long silence and then a gathering rumble and the phone was picked up.
"This is F.A. Loomis."
"Uh, you called me?"
"Yeah." She sighed deeply, but at least she wasn't chewing gum. "Yeah, I did. Listen, maybe this wasn't such a good idea. I don't know."
Loomis felt the stirring of blood on his face. He hadn't realized til that moment how numb he had actually gotten.
"Maria, I can't advise you on that. All I can tell you is that I have some things going on here and if your scumbag of a boss want me to know something I would rather you told me than have to talk to him. Okay?"
"Ha. That's just it."
Loomis' turn to sigh.
"What, Maria? If it's not too much trouble. What's just it?"
"The scumbag fired me."
"Ah," said Loomis and, after a long moment, "I'm sorry to hear that."
"For nothing. And I mean nothing. I came in yesterday and he goes 'We won't be needing you anymore' and I go 'What are you, firing me?' and he goes 'Yeah.' So I go 'What I do?' and he can't say nothing. Just a bunch of stuff, you know. So I go, 'Fuck you, Mr. Zelbo.' I said that. You know what he gave me?"
"That's right. He paid me to the end of the week and that's it. Ask me, that sucks."
"It does," Loomis agreed, "that really blows."
"It does. It really does." Loomis could hear her unwrapping gum.
"I'm really sorry, Maria, but I don't know what I can do for you. You might call the state Labor Department to see . . ."
"When you were there, at the office, you gave me your card."
"I know. You threw it away."
"So I fished it out."
Perhaps the Loomis charm was not entirely wasted.
"So you fished it out."
"Yeah. So I was thinking, you know. You said something about how he was doing something to someone you were working for and, maybe I'm wrong, but it seemed to me that you might have been looking for some dirt on the dirtbag."
"I might have been at that."
"Well, I got the shovel."
"Yes, I guess you would. Would you hold on for just a second, Maria?"
He put her on hold and thought.
"Maria? Do you think it would be possible for you to copy some files?"
"Isn't that illegal?"
"Oh, no. Not until your, uh, discharge notice is filed. It takes a week or two."
"Well, I still got the key, but this could get tricky."
"I doubt it, but think about this, Maria. You could not only hurt him bad, you might make some change in the bargain."
"Well, that depends on the quality of the dirt. Do you remember any files on a person named Ciscone?"
"John Ciscone, Douglas Ciscone or Joseph Ciscone."
"I don't think so. I never heard the name."
"Oh." He couldn't imagine what else might be of value, but after recruiting her to commit a felony he hated to leave her empty handed.
"I'll give you twenty bucks for the Fishbein file."
"Mr. or Mrs.?"
After a moment of confusion a very large cog dropped into a very dusty slot and all his numbness dropped away.
"Do I understand you to mean that Mrs. Fishbein, Sandra Fishbein was a client of Zelbo's?"
"Not for long. She came in twice. I think she fired him. Her husband came in the next week."
"Was this concerning a divorce?"
"I don't know. It'd say in the files."
"Yes it would. It certainly would. Why don't we say twenty for each?"
"Why don't we say fifty?"
"Fifty for both."
"You're sure you can do this without getting caught?"
She gave him a breathy raspberry.
"Of course. They always take the brats up to Queens on Sunday to visit his mother."
"Good. It's a fine thing you've done, Maria. Call me on Monday."
This certainly explained why Zelbo was so willing to make a deal. He apparently had gotten himself into a little conflict of interest situation. No doubt Sandra had gone to him when she first decided on the divorce, spilled her guts and then, knowing a loose cannon when she saw one, fired him. Zelbo then called up the Cap'n with warnings of all the horrible things Sandra had planned for him and got himself signed on as counsel. He was the one who stirred up the pot. The Cap'n never realized what a nutball Zelbo was because by that time everyone was way out on the edge. Sandra still probably didn't know that Zelbo had been acting for the Cap'n since he died before any papers were filed. She probably only knows him as Arlene's lawyer. And now, to protect himself against the possibility of her ever finding out, he wants to make a deal and probably, in the process, sell out his present client, Arlene Babayev. Bent lawyers are a cliché, but this guy was in a class by himself. This guy was a beauty.
He dialed Sandra, but got the answering machine. He broke his promise to himself and reminded her of her appointment. He wanted to speak to her in person, though, and if he couldn't get ahold of her through the afternoon he'd just show up at Zelbo's office at six. This was a meeting he didn't want to miss. After all, it was only fair that she know how much leverage she had. After that, he would feel quits with Sandra.
Riding on this jolt he got into his car and headed for home. Almost immediately he began to feel the pull. His foot sought the break instead of the gas. The wheel seemed to turn on its own anywhere but north. He began slouching lower and lower in the seat and stopping at all the yellow lights. By the time he pulled onto Blank Street in Bradley Beach he had a row of cars behind him honking restively. He bitterly accepted a parking space directly in front of the apartment and trudged up the stairs. When he opened the door it was as if he was entering a museum dedicated to his own artifacts. His stuff. Piles, organized no further than clothes, books and records. Then a big pile of everything else. They took up most of the living room floor, but there were pathways winding in between and he wandered, dazed and heavy, between them with what little was left functioning in his brain idly speculating on what kind of a person these clues could assemble. But there just wasn't enough evidence.
He was not aware of hurt or anger or any large emotion. There was a small, tight thrumming in his chest that was emotional, probably, or would be if it were given room. The only sensation that was available for his inspection was a sudden, machine-like tightening of all his senses. Like a camera shutter squeezing instantly closed it protected him from too much light. No messages arrived except from the air that actually touched him.
Martha came in from the bedroom carrying his globe, an old paper covered wooden one with little bumps for the major mountain ranges. It was a good one, but the map was drawn just after World War II. She placed it carefully on the top of the everything else pile and held it for a moment to make sure it wouldn't roll off. More evidence. This person was interested in geography.
"I'd just as soon you got this stuff out while I'm gone."
"I'm going to my sister's for a few days."
"Don't take it so hard, F.A."
"No, I didn't mean . . ."
"I don't care what you mean. If this stuff is here Monday it goes on the street."
She turned, went into the bedroom, shut the door and, after a few seconds, locked it.
He stared at the door listening to his ears hum. He might tell her that someone was mad at him and had threatened her and he was glad she would be out of town because he cared about her and whatever else came into his mind once he began to speak, but the utter lack of information about what else he might say kept him silent. He turned and looked out the window at the street and the bare boardwalk and the beach and the ocean. He wished for a traffic pile up or a ship running aground or an airplane to fall into the ocean. Nothing happened so he went down to his car and started driving. He thought about the back room of his office, what had been a stock room when the space had been something else. Maybe Ciscone's pet store. Whatever, there was room for a cot and, if stacked floor to ceiling, all his stuff. It might not even be that bad. He drove down to Brielle and talked to Jackie, his mechanic, and reserved an eight-foot U-Haul hitch for Saturday morning and told him he would bring the Chevy in for the repairs they had talked about later Saturday afternoon. Jackie didn't believe him, at least about the repairs. He called Sandra again and got no answer. It was only a little after three. What to do now? He was starting to get jumpy with the effort of not thinking about things. He needed to build up some momentum. Point Pleasant was just over the bridge so he decided to go down to Brigit's Cabs to see what he could find out about Keever's last mercy hump.
Brigit ran her cabs out of a storefront on Arnold avenue tricked out to look like a tea shop. If you liked women to be very big you probably would have found her very attractive. A real blond with nice teeth and the 'zooms of death' as Gallagher put it, she wasn't fat, just very, very big. She was Loomis' height and out-weighed him by at least twenty-five pounds. At some point she had misinterpreted some friendly wordplay on Loomis' part as a come-on and when she came on he went flying in the other direction. Things had been a little tender between them ever since.
"Brigit! How are you?"
She pursed her enormous lips and sighed, trying to fashion an appropriate responce. The phone rang. She picked it up and barked 'Cab,' into it. She took the information and told the customer to hold. She grabbed the microphone from the desk and pushed the button on the base.
"Seventeen call home, come on."
"Brigit, come on," answered the cab.
"Bobby you got the train going to 50 Hoover in Brick. That's one zone, come on."
"Okay, train. I'm just leaving the OB, two minutes, over."
"Two minutes, out." She took the phone off hold. "Two minutes, lady. You're welcome." She hung up.
"What do you want?" she asked Loomis.
He had told himself to play this very straight, but as he stood there working on a look of steadfast contrition he felt something give. A loosening, a quickening, almost as if the ground had given a few inches under him and he now stood facing a slight downgrade. He felt flushed and angry and he took a few deep breaths and struggled for his composure.
"Information," he said.
"You can dial the operator, but I'll charge you a quarter."
"She doesn't have what I need and I'll pay a lot more than that."
"Oh, dear," she groaned, as if regretting the unnecessary complications in her life.
"Look, Brigit, I'm real sorry we had that misunderstanding. I swear to you I didn't mean anything by what I said and I know I acted badly, but I didn't know what to do. I just panicked. I was a moron and I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I really am."
She laughed uneasily and patted the chair next to her. He nodded his thanks but went to the water cooler and started filling and draining Dixiecup after Dixiecup.
"Are you all right, honey? Are you sick?"
"Maybe," he said and he smiled. "I could be or maybe I just hate apologizing."
"Well, you did just fine I will accept it even though it comes a couple of months late and only because you need something from me."
"Well, that may be the reason its coming now, but its the truth."
"I assume you want to look at the log."
"October __, 1990."
"The first question will cost you $20. Anything more cost you $20. Each."
"Teach you a lesson."
"Alright. But I want you to know I'm not on expenses on this." He sat next to her and took a couple of tissues from the box on her desk to wipe his face.
He gave her the money, which left him twenty-seven dollars and change, and she pulled the appropriate log sheets from the file behind her.
"Did you have any drops at Beyer's Trailer Park after, say eleven p.m.?"
She ran her finger down one of the columns and stopped near the bottom of the page.
"Yup," she said. "We had one."
"Great. Where was the pick-up?"
She kept her finger in place and stared at Loomis with evident pleasure.
"Oh, come on. That's the same question."
She just smiled.
"Oh, Christ. All right." He gave her his last twenty.
"Pickup at Cianilli's, right up the street there."
Loomis started to open his mouth and shut it. He clenched his teeth and growled. Brigit had to laugh.
"All right. It was eleven fifteen. That's for free."
"Who was the driver?"
"I'm sorry, but I got a business to run here."
Loomis was trying very hard to be a good sport about all this, but it was, after all, his own money.
"Sixty bucks for one cab run? Don't you think that's a little steep?"
She just shrugged.
"Okay, Brigit, you win. I've learned my lesson. I'll see you around."
"So long, Loomis, don't be a stranger."
He grunted and and walked out. He turned left toward the Chevy. A cop was ticketing him for the expired meter. He stood there silently until the ticket was tucked under his wiper and the cop had ridden off in his little three-wheeler. He pulled the ticket out and folded it into his jacket pocket and turned to his left. There was a bank with an ATM two steps away. He inserted his card, collected a hundred dollars, walked back into the cab shop and sat down, laying another twenty on the desk.
"Bobby Weiksner," said Brigit.
"How much to talk to him?" he said, showing his fistful of bills.
She laughed at his pouty expression and pushed her microphone button.
"Seventeen, call home, come on."
"Seventeen, come on."
"Bobby, after you drop come by the shop for a minute, over."
"Got it, out."
They had about a half hour to talk and it did him good. He had always liked her tough good humor and strait ahead style. He let her insult him and fill the room with her energy. He arranged himself as casually as he could, but he felt crouched and tense, like a runner before the starter's gun. When a few calls came in on top of each other he found another extension and tried to get Sandra, but there was still no answer.
It was when he hung up the phone that he remembered. Cianilli's was where Sandra had had Elroy drop her off the night of the boom-snap. He became breathless and disoriented as all the thousands of little facts he'd been carrying around for weeks started scurrying for new locations. She had told Loomis she took a cab home. Things started jumping in Loomis' head and he told them to sit down and shut up. He closed his eyes and noticed his hands shaking. He remembered Sandra arriving at the Mayflower in a cab, a fact that would be reflected in the log. He remembered Elroy's pickup zooming out of the parking lot and tried to imagine how they must have been feeling in the hot, angry minutes that followed Gallagher's flash bulbs. Maybe she suggested they finish their business at his trailer. Keever probably resisted. They wrangled and she said 'Fuck it, drop me at a bar.' He went home and called Arlene. She got tanked at Cianilli's. Arlene arrived while Burns was out 'walking'. After a few mood equalizers Sandra decides to pay a surprise visit to Elroy. Burns gets home in time to see Sandra's cab pull up.
"Hello? Earth to Loomis."
Brigit was standing in front of him with the logsheet in her hand and Bobby Weiksner by her side. Loomis' shakes were gone and his head was clear, if a little light. He wanted to get going, somewhere. He needed to move.
"Oh. Hi, Bobby."
"Loomis. What's on your mind?"
Brigit handed Bobby the logsheet.
"He's got some questions. Make your own deal."
Loomis handed him a twenty and Bobby said 'Done.'
"You had an eleven fifteen at Cianilli's. Just give me whatever you remember."
Bobby was a little, skinny guy in his fifties. He had once been a big drinker and when he stopped he found himself a mood he liked and had stuck with it ever since -- a kind of a take-it-or-leave-it friendliness. He was never depressed, never excited. He looked at the sheet for only a second.
"Oh yeah. That one."
"Really? You remember?"
"Just a few weeks ago. You remember the nut cases."
"Was this nut a woman in her fifties? Kind of heavy with a big round face? Loud voice?"
"Tell me about it."
Bobby sat and Brigit handed him some coffee.
"So. You can see it was a pretty slow night. I get the call, I pick her up at the bar. She's pretty stewed but she's in control. I get a lot worse. She's not going to hurl in the back seat or anything. But she's talking to herself, that's the first thing I notice. Muttering. I hate that more than anything, almost. I mean, you got your hands full and your back to them. You never know what they're going to do, you know. We get to the drop, she pays me, gets out. Takes a couple of steps and she has this spell, kind of. Yells out and staggers back into the cab. Hits the fender. I get out, ask if anythings wrong, can I help. Like that."
"You think she saw something she didn't like?" asked Loomis.
"That was my first thought, yeah."
"Any other cars parked there?"
"Were the lights on in the trailer?"
"I don't know. No, I don't think so. Finally she comes to, like, but now she wants to go to Asbury. I felt funny about it, but she's got the money and this would be a very nice fare. So I pile her in the back."
"And take her to Blank Avenue?"
Bobby checked the sheet.
"You got it. She's wants me to pull in round back. She bangs on the door and goes in. She's there five minutes and comes out like an angry bull. She's so pissed she doesn't know where she is, hardly, but she gives me an address in Point. Swearing and crying and carrying on all the way back, but she tips me ten on twenty-five. Best fare I've had in months, but I was glad to see the back of her."
"Final drop at Buena Vista and Aspen?"
"Says so right here."
"Bobby, thank you very much," said Loomis and he resisted the impulse to hand him another twenty.
"No problem. I'm going to grab a bite, if its okay with you," he said to Brigit.
She had no problem with that. Loomis shook hands with her and stood.
"Are you sure you're all right?"
"Sandra," he said, "I'm fucking great." He went outside, started his car and pointed it north on Route 35.
Moments that had been hidden away, buried like murder weapons, were as clear to him as if they were happening right in front of him. After the ugly humiliation of being photographed in bed with her lover, after finding out just how far her mild husband would go, how angry he was, how far they had gone from each other she turned to her lover and found him with another woman -- his husband's lover. Her first thought probably was that they were all in it together, against her. That was one moment. With a sudden lurch she was free of whatever was holding her back. The restraints that held her behavior in place burst like exploding bolts and, without needing to even think about it she reached for the first weapon at hand -- Zelbo. The loose canon, the attack lawyer. He had probably urged all out war from the first and that was why she fired him. Now she just wanted to load him up and point him at her husband. But he wouldn't take her. He might even have told her why. That was another moment. The moment she realized everyone was fucking her over. Bang. No more restraints. All of them, Sandra, Larry, Arlene and Elroy, had talked about that week as a sort of temporary madness, had almost mythologized it into the Crazy Week. They had pooled their emotional extremeties and put the result under as much pressure as they could fashion. Zelbo took this volatile mix and set a match to it. Everything blew apart and while all of them had been damaged, Sandra had been broken. It was a simple matter of physics except that in the emotions its matter that can be created, people that are destroyed.
He almost stopped at a diner to call Zelbo's office, but he kept on driving. Moments later he had an impulse to call Schneider, or the Asbury cops, but the urge floated by him and was instantly without substance. Speed seemed to be the issue, and movement. Not to utilize in getting where he was going, but just the act of putting things behind him, even if it were only miles. It was pleasant, and the faster he went the less anxiety he felt. Confusion could be outdistanced and regret escaped. What a tiny world it was without pain, and getting smaller by the minute. His feeling was that ahead there might be an opening, a gap. If he could streak through it before it slammed shut he could open his eyes and let loose everything he held so tightly. He was ignorant of the stop lights and utterly unconcerned with lanes and cars and traffic circles. It was so easy, going fast. He had never felt less in danger, more in effortless control. Once he actually started to laugh with pleasure, but what stopped him was the very clear awareness that his straps were loose and he was less going forward than he was falling. He even breathed the words 'lunatic ride' and smiled. He was coming loose, but he felt he had to maintain a certain decorum before himself or he might just ride this wave into the next abutment. There was a framework, a structure that he had to respect even in breaking down.
It seemed only moments and he was already past the old post office in Asbury. He braked abruptly and made a lovely arcing left turn in front of a Frito-Lay truck and then floored the accelerator. A moment later he thrilled himself with a skidding stop in front of Zelbo's office.
Before the car had returned from its forward inertia he was out of the door and up Zelbo's ridiculous front walk. The door to the office was locked and he made himself stand there for half a minute ringing the bell before he broke for the back way. Mrs. Zelbo was hanging the wash as he came around the corner and her hand was in the little cloth clothes pin bag that hung from the line from a piece of bent wire. She got her hand caught in the bag which enabled Loomis to beat her to the porch and block her from the door.
"Is your husband in his office, Mrs. Zelbo?"
"The office is . . ."
"Is closed, I know, it's after business hours. But is he in there?"
Her eyes were all over the place, but not simply from fright, from having a crazy man between her and her home. This was a woman used to having to tell stories to people; clients, creditors, police. Her version of the truth was her husband's demands, edited by circumstances. She was trying to throw something together and Loomis waived his hands with impatience. Already he had stood still too long.
"Is there another way into his office besides the front door?"
Her eyes snapped into focus long enough for an anxious peek over Loomis' shoulder before sweeping foolishly away.
"Thank you, Mrs. Zelbo," said Loomis and he dove into the house. It was dark and messy but if you avoided the children crawling here and there you were alright. The tiny woman was already so far behind him, so swept into the past that he could bearly hear here screaming about the police, but as soon as it registered he stopped and turned. She barrelled into him and he grabbed her by the shoulders.
"Yes! Call the Asbury Police first and then call the State Police. Ask them to send Schneider. You got that? My name is Loomis, tell them that. Do it!"
He didn't have any more time to make sure she followed through. He felt everything catching up. He turned and rushed through the house opening doors. A bathroom, two closets, junk and then finally he broke through and felt truly free.
He flew into Zelbos office like a runner breasting the tape. He wished now that time would just stop and let him enjoy this. Zelbo's pop-eyed indignation, Sandra's dead, level stare, the quietness, the peace. Zelbo was shouting from his desk chair, Loomis could almost feel heat coming off him, but he was far away and barely noisesom. Only Sandra was really in the room, she was the only one, the only thing he could touch or hear or sensibly speak to. It almost broke his heart to see her disappointment.
"Please don't kill him, Sandra."
"Why would I do that?"
"I don't know. Why would you?"
She sighed and her chin started to crumple, but she caught herself. Loomis would always believe that she went into her purse for a hankie, but she came out with a gun.
The gun, a magnum, had a remarkable effect on the entire room. It dominated like no person ever could and everyone, in their way, acknowledged the fact and accomodated it. Zelbo sat down and shut up and his eyes became large damp circles. Everything Loomis had been running from caught up to him in a moment -- he heard everything and saw everthing and he felt all the fear a normal person would be entitled to. He could only think about his gun, the one he had taken in to see harmless, frail Mr. Burns, but left in the car to face a killer. Sandra seemed to get a little smaller; not shrunk, but concentrated, compacted of purpose. She stood and started walking to her left to keep them both in front of her and to get the open door behind her. She shut it and turned to them and appeared, to Loomis, to be more rational than at any time since he'd met her. She looked worried and tired, a person with a problem, but someone with confidence that it will work out. Loomis felt drained and he wondered if it was because he might die now or because he had just had some kind of psychotic episode, or whether he was still having one.
"You don't want to kill me, do you?" he said.
"No," she said, after a moment. "I really don't. I thought I did kill you, the last time, and I was so relieved to hear you were going to be alright."
"So what now?"
She shook her head, almost sadly.
"I don't know. You'll have to give me a moment. You two stand over there." She indicated with the pistol the wall to the left of her, the Zelbo Cosmetics sign. Loomis and Zelbo moved toward the sign very slowly, softly, as if trying not to wake the baby.
"How did you follow me, Sandra?"
"What? Oh, you mean Elroy. It wasn't hard. You stopped at the toll booth and I drove through, pulled into the rest stop a mile down and picked you up when you went past. Then after you got off the Parkway I could see you checking the mirror so I had to drive on after you turned left and then circle back. I thought I'd lost you. I did, actually, but I saw Elroy's pickup pull out of the pines so I slowed up and went down that little road til I saw the shack."
She enjoyed talking about this while she tried to work through her next move. She had been clever and she was proud of it.
"You see, I really didn't want to hurt you, Mr. Loomis. You'd never done anything to me. I paid you to find Elroy for me and you did. It wouldn't be right to kill you for doing your job. I figured Elroy would be coming back before long, but it never occurred to me that he might bring you. All in all, it worked out well. Up to now."
"What are you going to do, Sandra?"
"Oh dear," she shook her head. "I really don't know. I could shoot you both. I could shoot us three. I could just kill Mr. Zelbo. No. Whatever I do this isn't going to work out. You called the police, didn't you?"
"So I'm not going to sail away from this one."
"I'm sorry, Sandra. I really am. But it's got to be that way."
Zelbo tried to speak several times and failed before he got it going.
"We could work out some kind of story before the police get here. No one has to get hurt."
Sandra stared and him and then smiled slightly and shook her head.
"You see? That's how stupid everyone thought I was. And the hell of it was that they were right. I had no idea what was going on all around me. Just a big, ugly, stupid woman getting fucked by everyone."
Loomis almost told her he believed the Cap'n had loved her in his way and meant to do right by her, but he realized how foolish that would be.
"You didn't intend to kill Zelbo at first, did you?" he said.
"No. He never literally fucked me. I was so hurt by Elroy and Larry that it took me awhile to realize just what this pig had done. If he had let me alone it might not have occurred to me." She turned to Zelbo. "You want a deal, shithead? I got a great deal for you."
She started to lift the gun towards Zelbo and Loomis, without thinking, moved between them.
"You knew he was your husbands lawyer, didn't you, Sandra?"
She just stared at him the way she had stared down Zelbo's contribution.
"I'm sorry, Sandra. I don't think you're stupid, I just don't want anyone else to get hurt."
"Why not?" she asked, and she looked truly puzzled.
He searched for an answer and in that quiet space they all heard the police siren. It was still three or four blocks away. They stood frozen until Sandra broke it.
"Maybe you're right," she said and she raised the gun again. Loomis felt impossibly weary, like lying down right where he was and accepting whatever her decision was. Her hand continued upward until she had the gun tucked up under her chin. Loomis started moving slowly toward her. He told himself to stop, but it was as if there were a firm, gentle hand behind him.
"Please don't. Please don't. There's been enough. Sandra . . ."
The gun lowered until it was pointed directly at his nose, only three feet away. The police were pulling up in front but they would never get through the door in time.
"Back to the wall, Mr. Loomis. Now," she said and her hand tightened on the grip. Loomis showed her his palms and started to back away. She started to swing the gun up towards her head again and Loomis threw himself at her. She tried to get the gun leveled on him but his hands were in front of him. For a moment he had it, not a good grip, too far towards the heel of his palms, but he forgot how strong she was. He tried to shift his feet closer toward her and the gun slippled from between his hands and across his face, smashing his nose. He lost all contact with her and tried to spin to his right but immediately the gun went off. He felt a searing pain in front of him. It had to have hit him because he had never felt pain that was even close to this intense. He kept spinning to his right, but lower and lower, screwing himself into the floor. There was a roaring in his ears that was getting further and further away and when he opened his eyes they were shuttering into blackness, like the end of a Loony Toons. Around he spun and the pain spun with him, and the sound was going away and the screen was black and he felt like he was sailing away, far away into the night.