Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Don't Take Me Alive: 4


Frank was still carrying the phone when he reached the street. “Now which way?”

“Left three blocks to Harper and then two blocks up to Truman. I will call you again when you get there.” Evan Hand said.

“Got it,” Frank said and started walking, closing the phone. Time to think about all the mistakes he’d made: the fight with Bettie; the club blowing up. Now he was afraid of letting down two more people who were depending on him. Evan Hand couldn’t have been in the Well long, yet he obviously had a network of some kind and used it well. When did the fundamentalists creep in? How?

He made the turn onto Truman Avenue. Frank slowed a little and began looking around. Was it cameras, or would he be close? He hadn’t seen any floating Eyes around, so maybe it was more likely for Hand to be near. What else? Tracers? Bugs? If Evan Hand was ex-military he might have had the necessary training, the access to tech that would allow for all this. Too many questions, Frank thought. Keep focused on the immediate goal. The phone in his right hand rang. “Yes,” he said.

“2786 Truman. Third floor, go to the green door with an ‘M’ on it,” Hand said over the phone. “I’ll call you in ten minutes.” He closed the phone and Frank took the stairs in the building two at a time. He came to the third floor hall and stayed to the right, counting the letters on the doors as he slid along the wall carefully.

The door he was looking for was ajar, but Frank knocked on the doorjamb anyway. “Hello? Donovan? I’m Frank from Black Bettie’s.”

“Stay there!” Donovan called back. “How did you find me?” He was breathing heavily and knocked something over. “Father, of course. Is Tanya still alive?”

“Yes,” Frank said through the cracked door. “He’s holding her hostage, along with a good friend of mine. What’s this about?” He put a hand on the doorjamb. “Can I come in and we can talk face to face? Your dad’s got me on a clock here.”

More heavy breathing from inside.

“Donovan? You okay in there?”

“No, I’m hurt pretty bad. My head’s bleeding and won’t stop.”

“Let me help you. I used to be a cop Out There and I have some medical training. I can at least get you comfortable.” Frank pushed on the door until it creaked and he cringed.

There was a heavy thud and clatter. Frank burst through the door, his gun drawn and his old skills pushing him through the fog of eight years of atrophy. He found Donovan heaped on the floor of the apartment’s little kitchenette, blood pooling under his head, the man’s shirt soaked with ichor. Donovan’s pupils were enormous and unfocused, probably a heavy concussion. Along with the amount of blood already lost, it didn’t look good for the young man. “Donovan? Can you hear me?”

“Father,” Donovan said. “I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused. I only wanted you to listen.”

“I’m listening now, son,” Frank said wincing a little as he knelt down beside Donovan. “Where did you put the ---“ Frank didn’t know what the young man had stolen from Evan Hand. How could he put this?

The wounded man tried to speak. The words were slow, quiet, leaking out of him. “Storage. B - basement here,” Donovan said. “Cold, father. ‘M cold. Can’t --- feel my --- ”

“It’s okay,” Frank said and touched him on the cheek. “You’ve been a good boy. You relax now. It’s okay.” The younger man was dead and Frank wiped away tears. The beating Donovan had taken at the hands of his father was terrible. How Christian was it to beat your child to death?

“He’s gone to a better place,” Evan Hand said from behind Frank.

“Ah,” Hand said pointing a gun at Frank. “You can just stay on the floor for a few minutes. Put your gun on my side of the boy’s body. Carefully, if you please.”

“Is this where I get an explanation?”

“Do you really need one? Your reputation in this cesspool is you were smart enough to put it all together on your own,” Hand said. “Perhaps it’s overrated.”

“Maybe so,” Frank said, “but why kill him? Weren’t you two working together?”

“A difference of opinion, though our goal was the same. He believed you scum could be saved in this life. As if the Lord would want you anywhere near the Silver City in your current state. He did not believe in the cleansing power of fire. All the souls I have saved with my bombs are with the Lord now.” Evan Hand leveled the gun at Frank. “In this life, in here? Dogs, the lot of you. Rabid dogs. He failed to see that and only destroyed targets that were empty, gave the warning in Utah. He was weak.”

“He was your son, your own flesh and blood.”

“We were not related by blood,” Hand said. “None of your business any way. You are no fit vessel to judge me. Stand up. We are going to the basement.”

Frank stood in full surrender and stepped over Donovan Grasp’s body. He shuffled out of the apartment and down the four flights of stairs to the storage basement, his gun lying next to a still-warm body.

* * *

The musty, dark storage area still showed signs of Donovan’s work in moving with footprints and scuffmarks in the dust. The large crate with its lid open was packed with dynamite and C4. On top were three two-foot long canisters emblazoned with a yellow and black three-bladed fan. “Good lord,” Frank said. “A dirty bomb?”

Evan Hand reached into the crate and pulled out a TV remote, put it in his pocket.

“You’ve done well, sinner,” Hand said. He pulled the hammer back on the pistol and Frank turned to face him. “I wish you peace, though I know you won’t have any in Hell.” Hand tightened his finger on the trigger.

Frank ducked and came up on Hand with a tight fist to the jaw, sending the zealot flying backward and the gun off to the left. Frank followed the punch with a kick to Hand’s solar plexus and another to his head. Huffing and puffing, Frank saw a trickle of blood at the corner of Hand’s mouth.

“Welcome to Hell yourself, you son of a bitch.”

* * *

They stood looking up at the evening sky. “Good reflexes, old man,” Marly Hansen said. “You got lucky.”

“It’s the training, boss, never quite goes away,” Frank said. “You might want to remember that for the future. Yes, I got lucky. He didn’t expect me to fight back.”

Evan Hand sat in the back seat of a police cruiser from Out There. There was a HazMat team removing the bomb materials and another detective coordinating the search for other bombs that Hand admitted were circling the center of the Well. “What’s going to happen to him?”

Hansen looked over her shoulder at the car. “Life in prison.” She looked back at Frank. “Things are changing. It’s better now: new president, new values. It’s not great, mind you, but it’s better than when you came here.” Hansen stepped very close to Frank, who didn’t shrink away from her. “If Bettie’s really gone, do you have anything keeping you here?”

Frank smiled. “Maybe I’ll see you Out There, Hansen. Thanks for your help here. It’s been good seeing you again.”

* * *

The duffel bag was borrowed, and it was light on his shoulder as he stood at the carnage that was once Black Bettie’s. The bricks and rubble were nothing to him now, and he had fond memories of the building that used to be. If things really were changing Out There, then maybe a place that catered to the sexual whims of the populace wouldn’t have to be hidden away and the patrons of such an establishment wouldn’t have to hide their faces in shame. Maybe it was finally time for adults to be adults.

“An excellent thought, Francis.”

“Thank you for coming to get me, Strangiato,” Frank said. “I guess that I should have known you read minds, too.”

“I cannot,” the large man with deep-set eyes said. “I read your body language and had inside information on your destination. It was not all that hard and I have, after all, years of experience in reading people.”

“We lost some good ones here.”

“Be that as it may, it’s no longer your concern.” Strangiato sighed. “Are you ready?”

Frank nodded.

“Good,” Strangiato said. “Your wife is eagerly anticipating your arrival and your new life. Come along, then.”

They walked a piece and found a train where it shouldn’t have been, on tracks that couldn’t exist. The passenger car was more a living room than anything else and Frank collapsed into a leather wingback chair. He finally closed his eyes and rested. The whistle blew.

Thanks for reading Don't Take Me Alive. Come back next Wednesday Click Here for a new story entitled Sender that is guaranteed to tie up any loose ends from The Receivers and The Insulated Man. Tell your friends won't you?

©2010 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

You can buy the whole story, and any story from this website for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Don't Take Me Alive: 3


He’d found her in the office shortly after midnight, stuffing papers and cash into a satchel. “I can’t believe you’d do that, Frank!” Each movement was savage, stabbing, trying to hurt him.

“What? I don’t understand. What’s this about?”

The safe was behind the desk and he stepped around, trying to get closer to her. She backed away. “Don’t,” she said. “You don’t get to touch me ever again. You miserable prick, how dare you? And with her?!” Bettie stabbed another pile of bills into the satchel then flew past Frank out onto the main floor. “Your blond whore.”

“Sascha?” Frank followed. “I didn’t have sex with her. I swear to you on whatever you want that I have not cheated on you! I’d never do that. I love you like crazy.” A former broadcaster for a national network Out There, Sascha Patterson had always had a thing for Frank. Bettie had seen Frank get in Sascha’s car earlier that evening, seen the guilty look on his face as the door closed, then watched the car drive away. She waited hoping it was just another drive and a pitch from the oversexed woman, but midnight came and went and Frank hadn’t returned.

Danny and the others at the bar tried not to pay attention, but the gorillas came to back Bettie up. They only called more attention to a private matter and Frank hated others knowing his business, especially this kind of thing. Thank god the music was so loud, they could barely hear each other out here. “Can we please go back and talk about this? Away from here?” His arms were spread wide. “Please?”

She wavered a little, but then her face hardened, her mind was set. “Fuck you,” she said. The two gorillas followed her out the door.

The satchel was still sitting on a chair at the bar. He grabbed it and ran after the love of his life. “Bettie! Wait! Bettie!”

On the street where Bettie could hear him, she finally stopped. “What? I’m done Frank. This is it.” She looked tired.

“You forgot your bag,” he said and held it out. The gorillas flashed their teeth. “I love you, I always will.”

She reached out and took the strap of the satchel, brushed his hand with hers, then slung it over her shoulder. “I’ll miss you,” she said as she got into the black sedan and closed the door, looking straight ahead. The gorillas kept Frank from making a last ditch try and he backed away from them as the car drove away. That was two months ago.

All this came rushing back to Frank as he and others who’d been inside watched the fire consume what was left of Black Bettie’s. He’d seen everything he’d enjoyed about his life in the Well fly apart, everything that meant anything to him in this prison of imposed morality explode into shards and ash. The crowd of people behind him, Frank believed, constituted most of the population of the club and even some from the buildings around it but he knew that not everyone got out. There would be work to do, souls to mourn and talk of revenge. None of that mattered now.

* * *

Hours later, Marly Hansen and Frank were seated in a cafĂ© looking over a map of the Well, planning their search for Evan Hand and the young man, Dave Lamprey had identified as ‘Don’. “What if they’re the same person, Hansen? I couldn’t check the cameras before the place blew up. Danny didn’t get a name and Tanya’s gone.”

“Whatever’s going on, it’s probably going to be weird.”

“Why do you say that?”

“The powers that be wouldn’t give me an outside link or let me talk to anyone else but them. We’re on our own here.”

Hansen pushed away from the table and crossed her legs and her arms, then frowned at the floor in front of her. “Have you found Hans or Bobby or the other guy?”

“Terry Palance,” Frank said. “No, I haven’t.”

“Where do the newbies plop down when they get here?” Hansen was still staring at the floor. “Where would they be able to get settled right away?”

Frank’s eyes narrowed as he leaned over the table and pointed at her. “The old Ramada on Adams, Sixth and Adams. Efraim Yogai is nosy enough to know where someone like Hand would go from there.”

“Good,” she said.

* * *

Efraim Yogai was tending the flowers in a large planter in front of the old hotel. A fat man, Yogai was sweating in the morning sunlight. He smiled at Frank when the car pulled up. “Hello, my old friend. It has been far too long I have seen you. How is Bettie?”

Frank jammed his hands into his pants pockets. He shrugged and looked over Yogai’s shoulder. “She’s gone. She left.”

“Ah,” Yogai said leaving a long and heavy pause to grow in between them. He wrung his hands. “My apologies, my friend. Is this person new in your life? I am Efraim Yogai, hotelier of the Well.”

“Marly Hansen. Detective.” She showed her badge.

“From Out There?” Yogai pointed to his left. “I did not realize there was business to conduct here. Please, let us go inside.” Hansen and Frank fell in behind the hotelier and followed him into his office, a largish room with pictures of children smiling and at play on every wall. Hansen shivered and Frank looked around. “My grandchildren Detective. Drink?”

“I’m okay, Efraim, thanks,” Frank said. Hansen simply put up a hand and shook her head slightly. “We’re looking for a man named Evan Hand. Will you look at a picture and tell us what you can about him?”

Yogai sat, crossed his hands across his considerable gut, locked his fingers together. “I do not need a picture, I know the man you are looking for. He was rude and disrespectful of the rules of this house. He brought his religion with him and tried to force it on the others. I evicted him two nights ago.”

“Any idea where he went to?” Hansen leaned forward. “He’s likely responsible for the bombs here and in other Wells.”

“I know who to call,” Yogai said. “You are not the first to ask after him. There was a young man here yesterday, tall and blond, brooding eyes. I did not tell him what I’m telling you.”

“Why not?”

“I did not trust him. He claimed to be new in the Well, but did not stay one night here as Mr. Hand did. There was something of the same religion to him, in his eyes, how he carried himself.” Yogai’s face darkened. “These are not good men, not the Christians they pretend to be. They are perhaps not evil, but certainly misguided. If they are hurting people, they deserve to be hurt. Will you do this?”

* * *

Soon enough, Hansen and Frank found the building that Evan Hand was supposed to be in. They stood outside the apartment Yogai had given them with two easy phone calls and both had guns drawn. “Ready?” Frank mouthed to Hansen. She nodded and kicked the door in with a quick, smooth move and considerable force. Tanya, with her red silk robe, was tied to a chair in the center of the apartment and a cell phone was in her lap, too. It began to ring and when she jumped, knocking the phone to the floor, Frank signaled for her to be calm. Hansen moved through the apartment quickly, precisely and gave Frank a sign that the place was clear. Frank picked up the phone and opened it.

“This is Evan Hand, Agent of the Lord,” the voice on the phone said in Frank’s ear, “I’m surprised you escaped the bomb.”

“I’m fairly clever, Evan. What do you need to tell me?”

“You do not address me by name, sinner. The traitor from Out There will stay in the room with the whore and you will retrieve my son. When you return with him or the cache, I will release you all. If she tries to leave, I will blow them up. If she tries to call anyone, or if I cannot see her hands, I will blow them up. Explain it.” Frank held the phone out and gave Hansen the rundown so Hand could hear then put the phone back to his ear. “You see the camera over the door?”

Frank turned his head and so did Hansen. The little camera turned slightly to the right and then back. “Yes,” Frank said. “Where is your son, then?”

“When I took the whore from him, he was on his back in a filthy little room six blocks from where you are now,” Hand said. His voice was imperious, commanding and condescending. “You have one hour to bring me what’s mine.” Hand paused. “Or I blow it up anyway.”

Thanks for reading Don't Take Me Alive. Come back next Wednesday Click Here for the conclusion and tell your friends!!

©2010 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

You can buy the whole story, and any story from this website for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Don't Take Me Alive: 2


In the alley behind Black Bettie’s, the thump of the music bled through the brick walls only a little. “Quiet out here,” Hansen said, looking up. “I can see the stars.”

“Well, yeah,” Frank said. “We have fewer resources, so there’s less light pollution. Everything’s relative, Marly.” He sighed. “Tell me about our bomber. Whatever you’ve got. From the beginning.”

“His name is Evan Hand.” She winced at the look of incredulity on Frank’s face. “I know. It can’t be a real name, but it’s what we’ve got. Forensics say he’s got Army training in munitions. He’s thorough and doesn’t leave a lot behind. Gave a warning in Salt Lake before he blew up twelve city blocks, but no one believed he could do it so a thousand people died. In Fargo, he took out seven blocks but only a hundred and twenty-seven died. He targets women and children, families. The warning in Salt Lake was heavy with religious references to the immorality of those he wanted dead.

“He might be tall, blonde and looks about your age, Frank. We’ve got an artists rendition, but nothing else solid.”

“How do you know he’s here?”

“The Feds,” Hansen said. “They called my boss and here I am.”


She handed over a small piece of paper to Frank and looked at the ground. “Frank. About Bettie.”

“Don’t,” he said without taking his eyes off the document in hand. “Just don’t. There’s nothing you can do from Out There that I’m not already doing. You can’t help, and I don’t want you to. Leave it.”

Hansen stepped back and held out her hands defensively. “Sorry. They wanted me to ask. Sorry.”

“Have you considered he might be working for the Feds? It would be convenient for the Wells to be a point of crisis, given the economy.”

“It’s possible, but not my line. I’m here to stop him.”

“What’s the next step? What do they want me to do?”

“Find him. I’m at your disposal,” Hansen said.

“He’ll need resources,” Frank said. “We’ll need to move fast, though. Get me an outside link and some satellite access.”

* * *

Tanya was at the bar, sipping seltzer water and pushing some potato chips around the paper plate in front of her. Emma was solo on stage, dancing for a dozen tourists who weren’t drinking. Danny, the bartender, was leaning against the back of the bar. “What’s the matter with you?”

“Not really hungry,” she said. “If I don’t eat now, though, I won’t have a chance later. Probably busy, too.”

“You shake it good enough, help the rubes forget the fire? You’ll be just fine. I’ll feed you if you’re hungry after.” Danny wiped the bar top and walked away leaving Tanya to consider her chips.

“You look forlorn.”

Tanya turned to take in a young man smiling at her. “If that means sad, then yeah, maybe a little,” she said. “But it looks like my day just got a little brighter. Buy a girl a drink?”

“I need to get drinks for my friends over there,” the man said. “We just finished our shift cleaning up the fire scene. Will you be around long?”

“All night, handsome,” she said. She held out her hand. “Tanya.”

“Donovan,” he said. “Pleased to meet you.”

“Who’s the girl?” Hans asked a little sourly.

“Tanya. She seems very nice.” Donovan said, distributing shot glasses around the table. Hans and Bobby had brought along two others: Terry and Dave had been trucking debris in wheelbarrows to various pickup points. The men all raised their glasses. Bobby proposed a toast.

“To Donovan: a fine young man doing good work in a terrible place. Salud.” They drank the shots of whiskey all together and dropped the glasses hard, all then reached for their drinks. “So,” Bobby said. “How’d you end up in a Well, Don?”

Donovan slumped back a little in the booth and twirled the highball of vodka sour in front of him.

“Hey, you don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Dave said.

* * *

Frank was pacing the floor of his Spartan apartment, cordless phone to his ear. “Of course I understood you were going to be charging me with something, but murder? Where the hell did that come from, Noah? What about forty-eight hours?” He sat heavily on the couch, looking at the bare desk, the empty walls. He rolled his eyes at what was being said to him, the accusations and implications. Frank held the phone away from his ear and cursed under his breath.

“Jesus Christ. Noah. Noah. Where’s the body, Noah? When did your goons find a body? No, I don’t know where she is. Yes,” Frank said. He put a hand to his forehead. “Yes we had a fight in the club and that’s the last I saw of her. I don’t know where she went, who she’s with or when she’s coming back. Bettie is her own person and she’ll turn up in her own time. You’re way out of line on this one.” He listened to the voice of the chief of police for a long time before simply pushing the talk button and tossing the phone onto the couch.

The apartment wasn’t just empty because Bettie was gone, there was very little to suggest that Frank even still lived there. The fight between the two of them was now legendary among the denizens of the Well. Everyone had a story about it, especially those who couldn’t have been there. When he’d come home later that night, her things were gone.

All those years Out There, working a straight job being a good guy and defending the innocent and weak and he had to come to The Well to find True Love. “Funny old life,” he said out loud. His phone rang and he answered it.

“We can’t find Tanya,” Danny said to Frank. “She’s not in her room, she didn’t check out. No one’s seen her for an hour.” The bartender looked worried. “Cameras didn’t see her go out, either. She’s just gone, Frank. Gone.”

“She have any customers tonight? Anyone you saw with her?”

“There was a guy I’ve never seen in here before, but he was harmless. Sweet to her.”

“What’d he look like? Tall or short? Dark or fair? Young or old?”

“Young guy, kinda tall, sort of dirty blond hair.” Danny’s eyes got wide. “Thin sort of guy, wiry, I’d say. Bought a couple of rounds for his buddies. Hans and Bobby and Dave and Terry were here with him. I can probably find him on the cameras now.”

“Do that,” Frank said. “Any of the other guys still here? Dave’s been around a lot lately.”

“Yeah, he’s up with Caroline now.”

“Check the tape, Danny,” Frank said walking towards the stairs. “Get me a picture of the guy.”

Three quick knocks followed by two long raps announced Frank’s entry into Caroline’s room. He counted five before keying his administrator code into the door lock and entering the room. Dave was dressing frantically, a stark contrast to the languid, sanguine Caroline as she smoked a cigarette, barely covered by the sheets on the little bed. “Hey, Boss,” she said.

“Caroline,” he said. “Sorry to just burst in, but I need a word with Dave here.”

The man was stuffing his shirttail into the back of his pants and trying to slip on his work boots at the same time, embarrassed despite being confined to the Well for his own sexual proclivities. “What --- what can I --- what do you want?” he said. “I mean, sorry. I don’t know what business you and I would have, Frank. Bettie’s is great, Caroline was great. Great place.” His eyes darted toward the door.

“Who’s your new friend in here with you tonight, Dave? The young guy.”

“Don? Dunno,” Dave said. “Just met him on the cleanup at the Miller building. Seems like a nice kid.”

“Don what? What’s his name? Where would he have taken Tanya?”

“I don’t know, Frank. I just met him today.”

Frank growled, waved his hand in futility and left, heading towards Tanya’s room. “She’s been using Selma’s, Frank,” another dancer said as she passed him in the hall. “She wanted to be on the first floor and was waiting for you to decide.”

“Shit, right,” Frank said. “Thanks, Emma.” He went into the room anyway. Inside it was neat but the furniture was dusty. Obvious that it hadn’t been occupied in a couple of weeks. Frank began surveying, his not-yet decrepit detective skills stretching like a lazy cat. Around the far side of the bed, the beige carpet was slightly disturbed, as though something heavy had been slid over it. Frank got down to one knee.

Lifting the bed skirt he smelled almonds. “Please don’t let it be a bomb.” Then he saw wires, lights and the off-white, rectangular blocks of C-4. More than he’d ever seen in his life.

Thanks for reading Don't Take Me Alive. Come back next Wednesday Click Here for part three and tell your friends!!

©2010 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

You can buy the whole story, and any story from this website for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Don't Take Me Alive: 1


“Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m being handed a bulletin as we’re coming near the end here tonight.”

Through an open window the radio crackled and popped with static from the pirate station coming over the speakers of the parked car. The driver sat with his eyes closed and his hands folded across his lap. “From the American Press Association: It appears that yet another terrorist bomb attack has claimed thirty-seven lives in the Well located in Omaha, Nebraska, including toddlers and single mothers. The governor in Lincoln is denying survivors food, water, shelter and medical attention.

“We here all need to be on the lookout for these crazies,” the voice went on, not reading any more but the man in the car paid no attention. “This is the fifth attack on a Well in three weeks, and they keep getting closer to us. We may be prisoners because of an imposed, outmoded morality but we do have rights.

“However, It’s time for us to break camp so that we can move our operation for tomorrow’s broadcast.” The pirate radio DJ’s signoff was heard elsewhere but the car and the alley it was parked in disappeared in a thunderclap of exploding fire.

* * *

Black Bettie’s, the pre-eminent entertainment hotspot in the Well, was only three blocks from the explosion. At four in the afternoon, it was busier than its competitors at their peak times. Patrons enthralled by the dancers on stage barely noticed the frantic man rushing in followed closely by the two gorillas he’d slipped at the door. He shouted at the bartender over the music, repeated himself slowly and then ran out. The bartender turned down the music.

“What the hell, Danny?” Tanya shouted from the stage.

* * *

“Boss,” Danny said from the open door to the manager’s office. “There’s a fire on Jameson. All hands on deck.”

On the phone, Frank waved at the bartender and stood up. “I’ve got to go. There’s a fire, all hands on deck.” He walked around to the front of the desk. “I’ll call you as soon as I can.” Frank replaced the handset in its cradle and ran out of the room.

The gorillas were back on the door and Frank stopped, signed to them that the place was closed until he could come back. They nodded. He went out into the fall chill that seemed more pervasive in the Well than it had when he was a free man.

* * *

The fire threatened to spread and there were teams working in the alley to keep the damage contained. Trucks were pumping water into hoses and a heavy spray fought the fire. There were hundreds of people ready to help the inhabitants who narrowly escaped. The Miller building and its neighbor the Anderson building were total losses.

Frank cornered the fire chief. “Bill. What happened? Any idea?”

“Witnesses say there was an explosion, Frank ---“ Chief Burleigh said but was interrupted. “GET BACK! EVERYONE GET! BACK!” His crew were trying to move onlookers across the street. “THESE BUILDINGS ARE GOING TO COLLAPSE! GET BACK! BACK!”

Frank ran over and helped work crowd control. It took a lot to scare the prisoners of the Well, and they took pride in that but they did what they were asked. Old and young, male and female, they were all in it together.

The Miller building went down in a fiery heap: spewing ash, dust and debris, lighting up the afternoon sky like a terrible firework. The crowd only a block away gasped and moved as one further backward from the carnage. There were sobs and shouts and words of comfort for the now homeless families. Frank did what he could for those around him and watched the fire crew work.

“Burleigh!” Frank said as the fire chief walked by. “Did everyone get out?”

The fireman, his face smeared with ash, shook his head.

* * *

Several hours into the night and thousands of gallons of water later, the fire was under control and the gorillas were lining patrons up to re-enter Black Bettie’s. “Danny,” Frank said as walked in. “Can you get me a ham sandwich sent back?” The bartender nodded and Frank made his way back to his office. Three of the Well’s notable citizens were waiting for him.

“Oh, good,” Frank said. “I was wondering when you all were going to show up again. Get you a drink? Something to eat?”

Noah Barnes jumped right in. “Where’ve you been, Frank?”

“Helping with the fire, Noah, where were you? As a matter of fact, I didn’t see any of you there.” Frank sat behind the desk. “Aren’t we all supposed to pull together when these sorts of things happen? Sharon? Sonny?”

Sonny Mason was the most diplomatic of the group. “Where’s Bettie, Frank? We’re worried. Ever since that thing last year ---“

“I don’t know where she is Mr. Mayor. I wish I did.”

“The boards are full of conspiracies and accusations.” Sharon Haney owned the news feeds in the Well. “Can you just tell us if she’s even alive?”

“Last I knew. I haven’t heard from her in months. You can quote me if that helps.” There was a knock on the door and Tanya came in wearing a red silk robe and carrying a plate with a sandwich and chips. “Nothing’s changed since you were here last week or the week before that. Something does, I promise I will notify you three personally.” He took the plate from Tanya, who smiled at him.

“As the nominal law enforcer in the Well, Frank,” Noah Barnes stood, “I’ll have to pursue charges if Bettie isn’t heard from or doesn’t reappear in forty-eight hours. People need to know they’re safe here.”

“You do what you have to, Noah,” Frank said. “I’ll be right here when you need to feel good about doing your job. You know the way out?”

Sharon lingered after the two men left. “Frank,” she said. “We’re just concerned. She’s been gone… It’s just that we’re concerned. She was a friend to us all.”

“And you think I’m not,” Frank said. He dismissed her with a wave and picked up his sandwich in silence.

* * *

The cleanup from the fire was going slowly. Bricks were being piled, ash was being swept; salvage efforts were in full force despite some heat and some smoke. The hole in the block where three buildings used to stand was enormous to the residents, a pit that sat heavy in their minds in the midday sun.

“Bad enough they’ve got us in prison,” Hans said, throwing burnt chair legs into a pile. “Now some bastard wants to blow up our homes. You hear the radio yesterday?”

Another man was sifting through the rubble. “Yeah,” Bobby said.

“They take advantage of us, that we’re all in one place ---“ Hans said.

“Excuse me.”

A young man was on the edge of the rubble of the Miller building. “Sorry to interrupt, but I wondered what I could do to help.”

Hans stood up, brushed off his hands and put them on his hips. “All this has to be moved. Salvage what’s usable for re-building, pile the other stuff over here.”

Bobby picked up a shovel and held it out. “Street sweepers’ll pick up all the ash if we move it over there. That’ll help us a lot if you’ll do that.”

The young man smiled and took the shovel. “Be glad to,” he said. “I’m Donovan Grasp.”

“Hans Dirksen. You new here?”

“Here, yes,” Donovan said. “But I’m from the Well in Portland. Got bombed out there and transferred.” The young man shifted from one foot to another.

“You’ll be welcome here, Don,” Bobby said. “We all do our parts.”

* * *

“Are you living here now, Frank?”

“Only on days that end in ‘y’, Hansen,” Frank said from behind the desk and smiled. “It’s been a while.”

Marly Hansen put her hand out to Frank. “I’m all right. Heard Bettie went missing. Need any help with that?”

“That the only reason you showed up?” Frank came out from behind the desk, offered Hansen a chair, and sat next to her when she took it.

“Actually, no,” she said. “I’m working the bombing. I came here first because I know you’re not reactionary like Barnes or Mason. I wanted to touch base with you first.”

“Because I was police?”


Frank sighed. “All right, then. What’ve you got?”

“You’ve heard about the attacks on the other Wells? Portland, Salt Lake, Fargo, Omaha? The bombs?”

Frank nodded.

“FBI says it’s all the same guy. He’s got skills, training, and he’s out to hurt people. Uses remotes, probably so he can watch the explosions from a safe distance. Could be some kind of crusader given all the rhetoric out there.” Hansen waved her hands wide. “Could be some kind of nutjob, too. No one knows. The pattern’s simply eastward movement, but beyond that there’s really nothing to grab on to.”

Frank sat impassive and unimpressed.

“He’s here, Frank. He’s in the Well.”

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©2010 By Jason Arnett.
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