Chapter Ten

Posted: November 3, 2013 in Chapters, Love in the ZA
Tags: , ,

     The city police were far more efficient than the others Maddie had dealt with.

     One look at the destruction, and they’d readily accepted Vinnie’s claim of self-defense. They’d ventured next door, to Webber’s apartment, and there made the gruesome discovery of another body. Webber’s daughter, it seemed, had come to visit.

     Maddie sat numb through their initial questioning; numb when they came back, to ask about the woman they’d found. She hadn’t heard anything. She’d never met the daughter. She’d never known Webber to be anything but kind. “He was a nice guy.” Caleb’s confusion was now her own.

     Neither she nor Vinnie made mention of the photographer. Caleb – miserable, contrite, afraid of the cops – also said nothing.

     The bodies were cleared out so quickly that Maddie, had she been in her right mind, would have found the haste unseemly, perhaps a bit off. Part of her thought that; the rest was relieved. They could do nothing about the mess. She avoided looking at it, stared at the wall and, occasionally, Vinnie. She marveled at his calm, the way he handled the police. It came to her again that he was a cop, but he didn’t say so, and neither did they.

     Finally, the last officer prepared to leave. He ascertained that Maddie had somewhere to stay, until the door was fixed, and then he was gone. The squawking of his radio faded slowly; the call to other people, other scenes of danger.

     When he was gone, the three of them sat, eyeing each other. Maddie waited and waited for one of them to speak, but the silence between them stretched on.

     “Why are you here?” she finally asked, cringing immediately at her strident tone.

     Vinnie rose slowly, from his place at the table, and came to where she sat on the sofa. He glanced at Caleb briefly, then held her gaze.

     “Chrissy,” he said quietly. “Your mother asked me to come.”

     She closed her eyes.

     “I thought,” she said, speaking more to herself than to him, “I thought, since she hadn’t…since Jack…”

     Vinnie said nothing.

     “Who’s Chrissy?” Caleb asked.

     Maddie ignored him. She kept her eyes closed, picturing her friend. Chrissy at 12, teaching her how to apply eye shadow. Chrissy at 17, her hair blowing back, riding shot-gun in Maddie’s new car. Chrissy, laughing at Jessie’s dress.

     When she opened them again, her eyes were dry.

     “Why didn’t she call me? Why’d she send you?” She was suddenly angry at her mother, furious that she would send this stranger in her stead.

     “She asked me to bring you home,” Vinnie said. “You and your sister.”

     “I can get home myself,” Maddie argued. “I took the train in.”

     Vinnie shook his head. “The train isn’t running.”

     “What?” Maddie frowned. “The train always runs.”

     “The buses aren’t either.” Caleb sat forward. “I tried this morning. I had to take a cab here. Wasn’t cheap.” He blushed under their glares. “I was just saying.”

     Maddie gave him another nasty look before turning back to Vinnie. “The buses and trains – is there a strike?”

     Vinnie looked at her oddly, almost contemptuous, or so she thought. “Haven’t you been watching the news?” When she shook her head, he grabbed the remote. The TV came alive.

     “-cials say the best thing to do is stay home if you’re sick, drink plenty of fluids and see your doctor immediately if you have a fever. Wearing a mask in public places isn’t mandatory yet, but strongly recommended. The CDC and Public Health Department are making flu shots available for low or no cost.”

     The camera cut away from the reporter and footage of an emergency room filled the screen. People packed the chairs, stood against walls and slumped on the floor. Mothers held two and even three children in their laps.

     Everyone was coughing.

     Vinnie turned the TV back off.

     “What in the hell?” Maddie sat, dumbfounded. “What is it, like, H1N1? Some kind of flu?”

     “Nobody knows. Mass transit is down because everybody is sick.” He gestured toward Caleb. “You’re lucky you got a cab; those will go next.”

     “I don’t understand.” She rubbed her forehead, willing the pain to go away, or dull a bit at least. Her ears hurt. Her wrist hurt. She felt tired. “All those people…”

     “We have to leave,” Vinnie said. “Before we get sick.”

     Maddie nodded. The children. She couldn’t stop seeing the children, clinging to their mothers. Coughing.

     “Take me with you,” Caleb begged, his voice high with fear.

     “Why,” Vinnie asked coldly, “Would we do that?”

     “I have nowhere to go! Ask her, I told her. I can’t go back home! There’s nowhere else!”

     Realizing, perhaps, that he wasn’t going to get any sympathy from the stone-faced man, Caleb turned to Maddie.

     “Please,” he said desperately. “I’m sorry I screwed you. Please don’t leave me here. I don’t want to get sick.”

     Maddie looked from one to the other, weighing her options. The kid was a coward, but then, so was she. She hadn’t been hurt, Vinnie had seen to that, and if he hadn’t shown up, well, how long would it have taken for the other doors to give too? Would she have unlocked it for him, if she’d been “safe” and he wasn’t? She thought so, but couldn’t say for sure.

     I didn’t help Chrissy, when she needed it. I didn’t help Jack.

     “How old are you?” she asked him.

     “What?” He looked confused. “Uh, seventeen. Seventeen. Why?”

     “Where are your parents?”

     The kid looked away. “Gone. Long gone. Dave was my dad. He was….he was my dad.”

     She nodded. “Give me a few.”

     Going into the bedroom, she drew out a bag and threw some things in, enough to stay with her mom for a few days.

     “Madelyn.” Vinnie followed her in, watching her pack. “We can’t bring this guy.”

     “He’s just a kid,” Maddie said.

     “He’s an ass! He would have let you get hurt!”

     “He’s a kid,” she repeated, zipping the bag closed and slinging it over her shoulder. “He has no one else.”

     “He’s a stranger! You don’t know this guy, you can’t just-”

     “Why did you shoot him in the head?” she asked, catching him off-guard.

     “What? What do you mean?”

     “You’re a cop or something, right? I thought you were supposed to shoot for the knees or, like, an arm.”

     He laughed, sounding bitter. “I’m not a cop. I was in the Army.”

     “Oh. Oh yeah.” She remembered that now, that Grace had said he was back from a tour overseas. At the wedding, which seemed, in this moment, like a lifetime ago. “But still. You killed him. You didn’t…you didn’t have to do that.”

     He looked at her, and this time she saw it, saw it for sure: contempt. “You haven’t been watching the news.”

     “No!” she said, exasperated. “I already told you, no. What’s that got to do with it?”

     He seemed to think, to weigh his words before he said them, then finally shook his head. “We should go.”

     “Aren’t you going to answer my question?”

     He took her arm and steered her out of the room, toward the front door. Together, he and Caleb lifted aside the plywood that had been propped in the entrance, a makeshift barrier the cops had constructed until her landlord could replace what was broken. She wasn’t too worried about someone coming in; the building was safe.

     Or rather, it had been.

     As the kid headed off down the hall, Vinnie held her back. He waited until Caleb was out of range before bending down to murmur in her ear.

     “If you think about it,” he said, slowly, carefully, “If you really think, you’ll know why I had to. You’ll see that I had no choice.”

     Brow furrowed, Maddie stared at him. Is this guy insane?

     “Think about it,” he repeated. “Let’s go find Jessie.”

     Mulling it over, still somewhat wary, Maddie followed.

  1. mxcoot says:

    Way to leave us hanging.

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