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DANNY TCHEDA and Pam Stevens already have their hands full with would-be gate-crashers when they hear the sound of motorcycles gunning toward them, and the arrival of the Thunder Five is all they need to make their day really complete. Getting rid of Teddy Runkleman and Freddy Saknessum had been easy enough, but not five minutes later the eastbound lanes of Highway 35 filled up with people who thought they had a perfect right to gawk at all the little corpses that were supposed to be stacked up in the wreckage of Ed's Eats. For every car they finally manage to send away, two more show up in its place. Everybody demands a long explanation of why they, as taxpayers and concerned citizens, should not be allowed to enter a crime scene, especially one so tragic, so poignant, so . . . well, so exciting. Most of them refuse to believe that the only body inside that tumbledown building is Irma Fre-neau's; three people in a row accuse Danny of abetting a cover-up, and one of them actually uses the word "Fishergate." Yikes. In a weird way, lots of these corpse hunters almost think that the local police are protecting the Fisherman!
Some of them finger rosaries while they chew him out. One lady waves a crucifix in his face and tells him he has a dirty soul and is bound for hell. At least half of the people he turns away are carrying cameras. What kind of person sets off on a Saturday morning to take pictures of dead children? What gets Danny is this: they all think they're perfectly normal. Who's the creep? He is.
The husband of an elderly couple from Maid Marian Way says, "Young man, apparently you are the only person in this county who does not understand that history is happening all around us. Madge and I feel we have the right to a keepsake."
Sweaty, out of sorts, and completely fed up, Danny loses his cool. "Buddy, I agree with you right down the line," he says. "If it was up to me, you and your lovely wife would be able to drive away with a bloodstained T-shirt, maybe even a severed finger or two, in your trunk. But what can I say? The chief is a very unreasonable guy."
Off zooms Maid Marian Way, too shocked to speak. The next guy in line starts yelling the moment Danny leans down to his window. He looks exactly like Danny's image of George Rathbun, but his voice is raspier and slightly higher in pitch. "Don't think I can't see what you're doing, buster!" Danny says good, because he's trying to protect a crime scene, and the George Rathbun guy, who is driving an old blue Dodge Caravan minus the front bumper and the right side-view mirror, shouts, "I been sitting here twenty minutes while you and that dame do doodly-squat! I hope you won't be surprised when you see some VIGILANTE ACTION around here!"
It is at this tender moment that Danny hears the unmistakable rumble of the Thunder Five charging toward him down the highway. He has not felt right since he found Tyler Marshall's bicycle in front of the old folks' home, and the thought of wrangling with Beezer St. Pierre fills his brain with dark oily smoke and whirling red sparks. He lowers his head and stares directly into the eyes of the red-faced George Rathbun look-alike. His voice emerges in a low, dead monotone. "Sir, if you continue on your present course, I will handcuff you, park you in the back of my car until I am free to leave, and then take you to the station and charge you with everything that comes to mind. That is a promise. Now do yourself a favor and get the hell out of here."
The man's mouth opens and closes, goldfishlike. Splotches of brighter red appear on his jowly, already flushed face. Danny keeps staring into his eyes, almost hoping for an excuse to truss him in handcuffs and roast him in the back seat of his car. The guy considers his options, and caution wins. He drops his eyes, moves the shift lever to R, and nearly backs into the Miata behind him.
"I don't believe this is happening," Pam says. "What dumb so-and-so spilled the beans?"
Like Danny, she is watching Beezer and his friends roar toward them past the row of waiting cars.
"I don't know, but I'd like to ram my nightstick down his throat. And after him, I'm looking for Wendell Green."
"You won't have to look very far. He's about six cars back in the line." Pam points to Wendell's traveling sneer.
"Good God," Danny says. "Actually, I'm sort of glad to see that miserable blowhard. Now I can tell him exactly what I think of him." Smiling, he bends down to speak to the teenaged boy at the wheel of the Miata. The boy leaves, and Danny waves off the driver behind him while watching the Thunder Five get closer and closer. He says to Pam, "At this point, if Beezer climbs up in my face and even looks like he wants to get physical, I'm pulling out my roscoe, honest to God."
"Paperwork, paperwork," Pam says.
"I really don't give a damn."
"Well, here we go," she says, telling him that if he pulls his gun, she will back him up.
Even the drivers trying to argue their way into the lane are taking time out to watch Beezer and the boys. In motion, hair and beards blowing, faces set, they look ready to commit as much mayhem as possible. Danny Tcheda's heart begins to speed, and he feels his sphincter tighten.
But the Thunder Five bikers race past without so much as turning their heads, one after another. Beezer, Mouse, Doc, Sonny, and the Kaiser ¡ª there they go, leaving the scene.
"Well, damn," Danny says, unable to decide if he feels relieved or disappointed. The abrupt jolt of dismay he registers when the bikers wheel around in a comprehensive, gravel-spraying U-turn thirty yards up ahead tells him that what he had felt was relief.
"Oh, please, no," Pam says.
In the waiting automobiles, every head turns as the motorcycles flash by again, returning the way they came. For a couple of seconds, the only sound to be heard is the receding furor of five Harley-Davidson cycles. Danny Tcheda takes off his uniform hat and wipes his forehead. Pam Stevens arches her back and exhales. Then someone blasts his horn, and two other horns join in, and a guy with a graying walrus mustache and a denim shirt is holding up a three-quarter-sized badge in a leather case and explaining that he is the cousin of a county-circuit judge and an honorary member of the La Riviere police force, which basically means he never gets speeding or parking tickets and can go wherever he likes. The mustache spreads out in a big grin. "So just let me get by, and you can go back to your business, Officer."
Not letting him get by is his business, Danny says, and he is forced to repeat this message several times before he can get on to the next case. After sending away a few more disgruntled citizens, he checks to see how long he must wait before he can tell off Wendell Green. Surely the reporter cannot be more than two or three cars back. As soon as Danny raises his head, horns blast and people start shouting at him. Let us in! Hey, bud, I pay your salary, remember? I wanna talk to Dale, I wanna talk to Dale!
A few men have gotten out of their cars. Their fingers are pointing at Danny, their mouths are working, but he cannot make out what they are yelling. A band of pain runs like a red-hot iron bar from behind his left eye to the middle of his brain. Something is wrong; he cannot see Green's ugly red car. Where the hell is it? Damn damn and double damn, Green must have eased out of the line and driven into the field alongside Ed's. Danny snaps around and inspects the field. Angry voices and car horns boil up at his back. No beat-up red Toyota, no Wendell Green. What do you know, the windbag gave up!
A few minutes later the traffic thins out, and Danny and Pam think their job is pretty much over. All four lanes of Highway 35 are empty, their usual condition on a Saturday morning. The one truck that rolls along keeps on rolling, on its way to Centralia.
"Think we ought to go up there?" Pam asks, nodding toward the remains of the store.
"Maybe, in a couple minutes." Danny is not eager to get within range of that smell. He would be perfectly happy to stay down here until the M.E. and the evidence wagon come along. What gets into people, anyhow? He would happily surrender two days' pay to be spared the sight of Irma Freneau's poor body.
Then he and Pam hear two distinct sounds at once, and neither one makes them comfortable. The first is that of a fresh wave of vehicles racing down the highway to their position; the second, the rumble of motorcycles descending upon the scene from somewhere behind the old store.
"Is there a back road to this place?" he asks, incredulous.
Pam shrugs. "Sounds like it. But look ¡ª Dale'll have to deal with Beezer's goons, because we're gonna have our hands full down here."
"Aw, cripes," Danny says. Maybe thirty cars and pickups are converging on the end of the little lane, and both he and Pam can see that these people are angrier and more determined than the first bunch. At the far end of the crowd, some men and women are leaving their vehicles on the shoulder and walking toward the two officers. The drivers at the front of the pack are waving their fists and shouting even before they try to turn in. Incredibly, a woman and two teenage kids are holding up a long banner that reads WE WANT THE FISHERMAN! A man in a dusty old Caddy thrusts his arm through the window and displays a handmade placard: GILBERTSON MUST GO.
Danny looks over his shoulder and sees that the Thunder Five must have found a back road, because four of them are standing out in front of Ed's, looking oddly like Secret Service agents, while Beezer St. Pierre is deep in discussion with the chief. And what they look like, it occurs to Danny, is two heads of state working out a trade agreement. This makes no sense at all, and Danny turns back to the cars, the lunatics with signs, and the men and women working their way toward him and Pam.
A barrel-chested, seventy-one-year-old man with a white goatee, Hoover Dalrymple, plants himself in front of Pam and starts demanding his inalienable rights. Danny remembers his name because Dalrymple initiated a brawl in the bar of the Nelson Hotel about six months earlier, and now here he is all over again, getting his revenge. "I will not speak to your partner," he yells, "and I will not listen to anything he says, because your partner has no interest in the rights of the people of this community."
Danny sends away an orange Subaru driven by a sullen teenage boy in a Black Sabbath T-shirt, then a black Corvette with La Riviere dealer's plates and a strikingly pretty, strikingly foulmouthed young woman. Where do these people come from? He does not recognize anyone except Hoover Dalrymple. Most of the people in front of him now, Danny supposes, were hailed in from out of town.
He has set out to help Pam when a hand closes on his shoulder, and he looks behind him to see Dale Gilbertson side by side with Beezer St. Pierre. The four other bikers hover a few feet away. The one called Mouse, who is of course roughly the size of a haystack, catches Dale's eye and grins.
"What are you doing?" Danny asks.
"Calm down," Dale says. "Mr. St. Pierre's friends have volunteered to assist our crowd-control efforts, and I think we can use all the help they can give us."
Out of the side of his eye, Danny glimpses the Neary twins breaking out of the front of the crowd, and he holds up a hand to stop them. "What do they get out of this?"
"Simple information," the chief says. "Okay, boys, get to work."
Beezer's friends move apart and approach the crowd. The chief moves beside Pam, who first looks at him in amazement, then nods. Mouse snarls at Hoover Dalrymple and says, "By the power invested in me, I order you to get the fuck out of here, Hoover." The old man vanishes so quickly he seems to have dematerialized.
The rest of the bikers have the same effect on the angry sightseers. Danny hopes they can maintain their cool in the face of steady abuse: a three-hundred-pound man who looks like a Hells Angel on a knife edge between self-control and mounting fury works wonders on a rebellious crowd. The biker nearest Danny sends Floyd and Frank Neary away just by raising his fist at them. As they melt back to their car, the biker winks at Danny and introduces himself as Kaiser Bill. Beezer's friend enjoys the process of controlling a crowd, and an immense grin threatens to break through his scowl, yet molten anger bubbles underneath, just the same.
"Who are the other guys?" Danny asks.
Kaiser Bill identifies Doc and Sonny, who are dispersing the crowd to Danny's right.
"Why are you guys doing this?"
The Kaiser lowers his head so that his face hangs two inches from Danny's. It is like confronting a bull. Heat and rage pour from the broad features and hairy skin. Danny almost expects to see steam puffing from the man's wide nostrils. One of the pupils is smaller than the other; explosive red wires tangle through the whites. "Why? We're doing it for Amy. Isn't that clear to you, Officer Tcheda?"
"Sorry," Danny mutters. Of course. He hopes Dale will be able to keep a lid on these monsters. Watching Kaiser Bill rock an ancient Mustang belonging to a fool kid who failed to back up in time, he is extremely happy that the bikers don't have any blunt instruments.
Through the vacant space formerly occupied by the kid's Mustang, a police car rolls toward Danny and the Kaiser. As it makes its way through the crowd, a woman wearing a sleeveless T-shirt and Capri pants bangs her hand against the passenger windows. When the car reaches Danny the two part-timers, Bob Holtz and Paul Nestler, jump out, gape at the Kaiser, and ask if he and Pam need help. "Go up and talk to the chief," Danny says, though he should not have to. Holtz and Nestler are nice guys, but they have a lot to learn about chain of command, along with everything else.
About a minute and a half later, Bobby Dulac and Dit Jesperson show up. Danny and Pam wave them through as the bikers charge into the fray and drag chanting citizens off the sides and hoods of their vehicles. Sounds of struggle reach Danny over angry shouts coming from the mob before him. It seems that he has been out here for hours. Thrusting people out of the way with great backswings of his arms, Sonny emerges to stand beside Pam, who is doing her best. Mouse and Doc wade into the clear. A trail of blood leaking from his nose, a red smear darkening his beard at the corner of his mouth, the Kaiser strides up beside Danny.
Just as the crowd begins chanting, "HELL NO, WE WON'T GO! HELL NO, WE WON'T GO!" Holtz and Nestler return to bolster the line. Hell no, we won't go? Danny wonders. Isn't that supposed to be about Vietnam?
Only dimly aware of the sound of a police siren, Danny sees Mouse wade into the crowd and knock out the first three people he can reach. Doc settles his hands on the open window of an all-too-familiar Oldsmobile and asks the small, balding driver what the hell he thinks he is doing. "Doc, leave him alone," Danny says, but the siren whoops again and drowns out his words.
Although the little man at the wheel of the Olds looks like an ineffectual math teacher or a low-level civic functionary, he possesses the determination of a gladiator. He is the Reverend Lance Hovdahl, Danny's old Sunday school teacher.
"I thought I could help," the reverend says.
"What with all this racket, I can't really hear you too good. Let me help you get closer," Doc says. He reaches in through the window as the siren whoops again and a State Police car slides by on the other side.
"Hold it, Doc, STOP!" Danny shouts, seeing the two men in the state car, Brown and Black, craning their necks to stare at the spectacle of a bearded man built like a grizzly bear dragging a Lutheran minister out through the window of his car. Creeping along behind them, another surprise, is Arnold Hrabowski, the Mad Hungarian, goggling through the windshield of his DAREmobile as if terrified by the chaos around him.
The end of the lane is like a war zone now. Danny strides into the screaming mob and shoves a few people aside on his way to Doc and his old Sunday school teacher, who looks shaken but not at all injured. "Well, Danny, my goodness," the minister says. "I'm certainly glad to see you here."
Doc glares at the two of them. "You know each other?"
"Reverend Hovdahl, this is Doc," Danny says. "Doc, this is Reverend Hovdahl, the pastor at Mount Hebron Lutheran."
"Holy moly," says Doc, and immediately begins to pat the little man's lapels and tug at the hem of his jacket, as if to pull him into shape. "Sorry, Reverend, I hope I didn't hurt you none."
The state cops and the Mad Hungarian manage at last to squeeze out of the crowd. The sound level decreases to a mild hubbub ¡ª one way or another, Doc's friends have silenced the loudest members of the opposition.
"Fortunately, the window is wider than I am," the reverend says.
"Say, maybe I could come over and talk to you someday," says Doc. "I've been doing a lot of reading about first-century Christianity lately. You know, G¨¦za Verm¨¨s, John Dominic Crossan, Paula Fredriksen, stuff like that. I'd like to bounce some ideas off you."
Whatever Reverend Hovdahl intends to say is obliterated by the sudden explosion of noise from the other end of the lane. A woman's voice rises like a banshee's, in an inhuman screeching that shivers the hairs on the nape of Danny's neck. It sounds to him as though escaped lunatics a thousand times more dangerous than the Thunder Five are raving through the landscape. What the devil could have happened up there?
" 'Hello boys'?" Unable to contain his indignation, Bobby Dulac turns to stare first at Dale, then at Jack. His voice rises, hardens. "Is this shit for real? 'Hello boys'?"
Dale coughs into his fist and shrugs. "He wanted us to find her."
"Well, of course," Jack says. "He told us to come here."
"Why would he do that, though?" Bobby asks.
"He's proud of his work." From some dim crossroads in Jack's memory, an ugly voice says, Stay out of it. You mess with me and I'll strew your guts from Racine to La Riviere. Whose voice had that been? With no more evidence than his conviction, Jack understands that if he could place that voice, he would put a name to the Fisherman. He cannot; all Jack Sawyer can do at this moment is remember a stink worse than the foul cloud that fills this crumbling building ¡ª a hideous smell that came from the southwest of another world. That was the Fisherman, too, or whatever the Fisherman was in that world.
A thought worthy of the former rising star of the LAPD's Homicide Division awakens in his mind, and he says, "Dale, I think you should let Henry hear that 911 tape."
"I don't get it. What for?"
"Henry's tuned in to stuff even bats can't hear. Even if he doesn't recognize the voice, he'll learn a hundred times more than what we know now."
"Well, Uncle Henry never forgets a voice, that's true. Okay, let's get out of here. The M.E. and the evidence wagon should show up in a couple of minutes."
Trailing behind the other two men, Jack thinks of Tyler Marshall's Brewers cap and where he found it ¡ª that world he has spent more than half his life denying, and his return to which this morning continues to send shocks through his system. The Fisherman left the cap for him in the Territories, the land he had first heard of when Jacky was six ¡ª when Jacky was six, and Daddy played the horn. It is all coming back to him, that immense adventure, not because he wishes it, but because it has to come back: forces outside himself are picking him up by the scruff of his neck and carrying him forward. Forward into his own past! The Fisherman is proud of his handiwork, yes, the Fisherman is deliberately taunting them ¡ª a truth so obvious none of the three men had to speak it aloud ¡ª but really the Fisherman is baiting only Jack Sawyer, who alone has seen the Territories. And if that's true, as it has to be, then ¡ª
¡ª then the Territories and all they contain are involved somehow in these wretched crimes, and he has been thrust into a drama of enormous consequence he cannot possibly grasp right now. The Tower. The Beam. He had seen this in his mother's handwriting, something about the Tower falling and the Beams breaking: these things are parts of the puzzle, whatever they mean, as is Jack's gut conviction that Tyler Marshall is still alive, tucked away in some pocket of the other world. The recognition that he can never speak of all this to anyone else, not even Henry Leyden, makes him feel intensely alone.
Jack's thoughts blow away in the noisy chaos that erupts alongside and in front of the shack. It sounds like an Indian attack in a cowboy movie, whooping and yelling and the sound of running feet. A woman sends up a shrill scream eerily like the blip-blips of the police siren he had half-noted a few moments ago. Dale mutters "Jeez," and breaks into a run, followed by Bobby and Jack.
Outside, what appears to be a half dozen crazy people are racing around in the weedy gravel in front of Ed's. Dit Jesperson and Beezer, still too stunned to react, watch them caper back and forth. The crazy people make an amazing amount of noise. One man yells, "KILL THE FISHERMAN! KILL THE DIRTY BASTARD!" Another is shouting "LAW 'N' ORDER 'N' FREE BEER!" A scrawny character in bib overalls picks up "FREE BEER! WE WANT FREE BEER!" A harpy too old for her tank top and blue jeans skitters around waving her arms and screeching at the top of her lungs. The grins on their faces indicate that these people are engaged in some dimwitted prank. They are having the time of their lives.
Up from the end of the lane comes a State Police car, with the Mad Hungarian's DARE Pontiac right behind it. In the middle of the chaos, Henry Leyden tilts his head and smiles to himself.
When he sees his chief take off after one of the men, fat Dit Jesperson lurches into action and spots Doodles Sanger, against whom he has borne a grudge ever since she turned him down late one night in the Nelson Hotel. Dit recognizes Teddy Runkleman, the tall galoot with the broken nose Dale is chasing; and he knows Freddy Saknessum, but Freddy is undoubtedly too fast for him and, besides, Dit has the feeling that if he put his hands on Freddy Saknessum, about eight hours later he would probably come down with something really nasty. Bobby Dulac is on the skinny guy's case, so Doodles is Dit's target, and he looks forward to pulling her down into the weeds and making her pay for calling him what she did, six years ago in the Nelson's filthy bar. (In front of maybe a dozen of French Landing's most raffish characters, Doodles had compared him to the then chief's smelly, waddling old mongrel, Tubby.)
Dit looks her in the eye, and for a second she stops jumping around to stand flat-footed on the ground and give him a little come-hither gesture with the fingers of both hands. He launches himself at her, but when he gets to where she was, she is six feet off to the right, shifting on her feet like a basketball player. "Tubby-Tubby," she says. "Come and get it, Tub-Tub." Furious, Dit reaches, misses, and nearly loses his balance. Doodles prances away laughing and mouths the hateful expression. Dit doesn't get it ¡ª why doesn't Doodles just break away and take off ? It's like she almost wants to get caught, but first she has to run out the clock.
After another serious lunge that misses the target by only an inch or two, Dit Jesperson wipes the sweat off his face and checks out the scene. Bobby Dulac is snapping cuffs on the skinny guy, but Dale and Hollywood Sawyer are faring only a little better than he is. Teddy Runkleman and Freddy Saknessum dodge and bob away from their pursuers, both of them cackling like idiots and shouting their halfwit slogans. Why is low-life scum always so agile? Dit supposes that rodents like Runkleman and Saknessum get more practice in being light on their feet than regular people.
He charges Doodles, who slips past him and goes into a chuckling, high-stepping diddley-bop. Over her shoulder, Dit sees Hollywood finally fake out Saknessum, wrap an arm around his waist, and throw him to the ground.
"You didn't have to get all physical on my ass," Saknessum says. His eyes shift, and he gives a brief nod. "Hey, Runks."
Teddy Runkleman glances at him, and his eyes shift, too. He stops moving. The chief says, "What, you run out of gas?"
"Party's over," Runkleman says. "Hey, we were just funnin', you know?"
"Aw, Runksie, I wanna play some more," Doodles says, throwing a few hip wiggles into the diddley-bop. In a flash, Beezer St. Pierre thrusts his mountainous self between her and Dit. He steps forward, rumbling like a semi going up a steep grade. Doodles tries to dance backward, but Beezer envelops her and carries her toward the chief.
"Beezie, don'cha love me no more?" Doodles asks.
Beezer grunts in disgust and deposits her in front of the chief. The two state cops, Perry Brown and Jeff Black, are hanging back, looking even more disgusted than the biker. If Dit's mental processes were to be transcribed from their shorthand into standard English, the result would be, He's gotta have something on the ball if he brews that Kingsland Ale, because that is some fine, fine beer. And look at the chief! He's so ready to bust a gut, he can't even see that we're about to lose this case.
"You were FUNNIN'?" the chief roars. "What's the MATTER with you idiots? Don't you have any respect for that poor girl in there?"
As the state cops step forward to take charge, Dit sees Beezer go rigid with shock for a moment, then move as inconspicuously as possible away from the group. No one but Dit Jesperson pays any attention to him ¡ª the enormous biker has done his bit, and now his part is over. Arnold Hrabowski, who had been more or less concealed behind Brown and Black, shoves his hands in his pockets, hunches his shoulders, and gives Dit a glance of shamefaced apology. Dit doesn't get it: What does the Mad Hungarian have to feel so guilty about? Hell, he just got here. Dit looks back at Beezer, who is advancing ponderously toward the side of the shack and ¡ª surprise, surprise! ¡ª everybody's best pal and favorite reporter, Mr. Wendell Green, now appearing a little alarmed. Guess more than one kind of scum just rose to the surface, Dit thinks.
Beezer likes women who are smart and levelheaded, like Bear Girl; brainless skanks like Doodles drive him crazy. He reaches out, grabs two handfuls of pasty, rayon-covered flesh, and scoops wriggling Doodles under his arm.
Doodles says, "Beezie, don'cha love me no more?"
He lowers the dumb mutt to the ground in front of Dale Gilbertson. When Dale finally explodes at these four grown-up juvenile delinquents, Beezer remembers the signal Freddy had given Runksie, and looks over the chief's shoulder at the front of the old store. To the left of the rotting gray entrance, Wendell Green is aiming his camera at the group before him, getting fancy, bending and leaning, stepping to one side and another as he snaps pictures. When he sees Beezer looking at him through his lens, Wendell straightens up and lowers his camera. He has an awkward little smile on his face.
Green must have slithered in through the back way, Beezer imagines, because there's no way the cops down front would give him a pass. Come to think of it, Doodles and the Dodos must have come the same way. He hopes all of them did not learn of the back road by following him, but that's a possibility.
The reporter lets his camera hang from its strap and, keeping his eyes on Beezer, sidles away from the old shanty. The guilty, frightened way he moves reminds Beezer of a hyena's slink toward its carrion. Wendell Green does fear Beezer, and Beezer cannot blame him. Green is lucky that Beezer did not actually rip off his head, instead of merely talking about it. Yet . . . Green's hyenalike crawl strikes Beezer as pretty strange, under the circumstances. He can't be afraid of getting beaten up in front of all these cops, can he?
Green's uneasiness forms a link in Beezer's mind to the communication he had seen pass between Runkleman and Freddy. When their eyes shifted, when they looked away, they were looking at the reporter! He had set the whole thing up in advance. Green was using the Dodos as a distraction from whatever he was doing with his camera, of course. Such total sleaziness, such moral ugliness, infuriates Beezer. Galvanized by loathing, he moves quietly away from Dale and the other policemen and walks toward Wendell Green, keeping his eyes locked on the reporter's.
He sees Wendell consider making a break for it, then reject the idea, most likely because he knows he doesn't have a chance of getting away.
When Beezer comes to within ten feet of him, Green says, "We don't need any trouble here, Mr. St. Pierre. I'm just doing my job. Surely you can understand that."
"I understand a lot of things," Beezer says. "How much did you pay those clowns?"
"Who? What clowns?" Wendell pretends to notice Doodles and the others for the first time. "Oh, them? Are they the ones who were making all that ruckus?"
"And why would they go do a thing like that?"
"Because they're animals, I guess." The expression on Wendell's face communicates a great desire to align himself with Beezer on the side of human beings, as opposed to animals like Runkleman and Saknessum.
Taking care to fix Green's eyes, instead of his camera, with his own, Beezer moves in closer and says, "Wendy, you're a real piece of work, you know that?"
Wendell holds up his hands to ward off Beezer. "Hey, we may have had our differences in the past, but ¡ª "
Still looking him in the eye, Beezer folds his right hand around the camera and plants his left on Wendell Green's chest. He jerks the right hand back and gives Green a massive shove with the left. One of two things is going to break, Green's neck or the camera strap, and he does not much care which it is to be.
To a sound like the crack of a whip, the reporter flails backward, barely managing to remain upright. Beezer is pulling the camera out of the case, from which dangle two strips of severed leather. He drops the case and rotates the camera in his big hands.
"Hey, don't do that!" Wendell says, his voice louder than speech but softer than a shout.
"What is it, an old F2A?"
"If you know that, you know it's a classic. Give it back to me."
"I'm not going to hurt it, I'm going to clean it out." Beezer snaps open the back of the camera, gets one thick finger under the exposed length of film, and rips out the entire roll. He smiles at the reporter and tosses the film into the weeds. "See how much better it feels without all that crap in there? This is a nice little machine ¡ª you shouldn't fill it with garbage."
Wendell does not dare show how furious he is. Rubbing the sore spot on the back of his neck, he growls, "That so-called garbage is my livelihood, you oaf, you moron. Now give me back my camera."
Beezer casually holds it out before him. "I didn't quite catch all of that. What did you say?"
His only response a bleak glance, Wendell snatches the camera from Beezer's hand.
When the two state cops finally step forward, Jack feels a mixture of disappointment and relief. What they are going to do is obvious, so let them do it. Perry Brown and Jeff Black will take the Fisherman case away from Dale and run their own investigation. From now on, Dale will be lucky to get random scraps from the state's table. Jack's greatest regret is that Brown and Black should have walked into this madhouse, this circus. They have been waiting for their moment all along ¡ª in a sense, waiting for the local guy to prove his incompetence ¡ª but what is going on now is a public humiliation for Dale, and Jack wishes it weren't happening. He could not have imagined feeling grateful for the arrival of a biker gang at a crime scene, but that's how bad it is. Beezer St. Pierre and his companions kept the crowd away more efficiently than Dale's officers. The question is, how did all those people find out?
Apart from the damage to Dale's reputation and self-esteem, however, Jack has few regrets about the case passing to another jurisdiction. Let Brown and Black scour every basement in French County: Jack has the feeling they won't get any further than the Fisherman permits. To go further, he thinks, you'd have to travel in directions Brown and Black could never understand, visit places they are certain do not exist. Going further means making friends with opopanax, and men like Brown and Black distrust anything that even smells like opopanax. Which means that, in spite of everything Jack has said to himself since the murder of Amy St. Pierre, he will have to catch the Fisherman by himself. Or maybe not entirely by himself. Dale is going to have a lot more time on his hands, after all, and no matter what the State Police do to him, Dale is too wrapped up in this case to walk away from it.
"Chief Gilbertson," says Perry Brown, "I believe we have seen enough here. Is this what you call securing an area?"
Dale gives up on Teddy Runkleman and turns in frustration to the state cops, who stand side by side, like storm troopers. In his expression, Jack can see that he knows exactly what is going to happen, and that he hopes it will not be humiliatingly brutal. "I did everything in my power to make this area secure," Dale says. "After the 911 call came in, I talked to my men face to face and ordered them to come out in pairs at reasonable intervals, to keep from arousing any curiosity."
"Chief, you must have used your radio," says Jeff Black. "Because for sure somebody was tuned in."
"I did not use the radio," Dale says. "And my people knew better than to spread the news. But you know what, Officer Black? If the Fisherman called us on 911, maybe he also made a couple of anonymous calls to the citizens."
Teddy Runkleman has been attending to this discussion like a spectator at a tennis final. Perry Brown says, "Let's handle first things first. What do you intend to do with this man and his friends? Are you going to charge them? The sight of his face is getting on my nerves."
Dale thinks for a moment, then says, "I'm not going to charge them. Get out of here, Runkleman." Teddy moves backward, and Dale says, "Hold it for a second. How did you get here?"
"The back road," Teddy says. "Comes straight down from behind Goltz's. Thunder Five came the same way. So did that big-shot reporter, Mr. Green."
"Wendell Green is here?"
Teddy points to the side of the ruin. Dale glances over his shoulder, and Jack looks in the same direction and witnesses Beezer St. Pierre ripping film from the back of a camera while Wendell Green watches in dismay.
"One more question," Dale says. "How did you learn that the Fre-neau girl's body was out here?"
"They was five or six bodies up at Ed's, is what I heard. My brother Erland called up and told me. He heard it from his girlfriend."
"Go on, get out of here," Dale says, and Teddy Runkleman ambles away as if he has been awarded a medal for good citizenship.
"All right," Perry Brown says. "Chief Gilbertson, you have reached the end of your leash. As of now, this investigation is to be conducted by Lieutenant Black and myself. I'll want a copy of the 911 tape and copies of all notes and statements taken by you and your officers. Your role is to be entirely subordinate to the state's investigation, and to cooperate fully when called upon. You will be given updates at the discretion of Lieutenant Black and myself.
"If you ask me, Chief Gilbertson, you are getting far more than you deserve. I have never seen a more disorganized crime scene. You violated the security of this site to an unbelievable degree. How many of you walked into the . . . the structure?"
"Three," Dale says. "Myself, Officer Dulac, and Lieutenant Sawyer."
"Lieutenant Sawyer," Brown says. "Excuse me, has Lieutenant Sawyer rejoined the LAPD? Has he become an official member of your department? And if not, why did you give him access to that structure? In fact, what is Mr. Sawyer doing here in the first place?"
"He's cleared more homicide cases than you and me ever will, no matter how long we live."
Brown gives Jack an evil glance, and Jeff Black stares straight ahead. Beyond the two state cops, Arnold Hrabowski also glances at Jack Sawyer, though not at all the way Perry Brown did. Arnold's expression is that of a man who deeply wishes to be invisible, and when he finds Jack's eye on him, he quickly glances sideways and shifts on his feet.
Oh, Jack thinks. Of course, the Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad Hungarian, there you go.
Perry Brown asks Dale what Mr. St. Pierre and his friends are doing on the scene, and Dale replies that they are assisting with crowd control. Did Dale advise Mr. St. Pierre that in exchange for this service he would be kept up-to-date on the investigation? It was something like that, yes.
Jack steps back and begins to move sideways along a gentle arc that will bring him to Arnold Hrabowski.
"Incredible," says Brown. "Tell me, Chief Gilbertson, did you decide to delay a little bit before passing the news on to Lieutenant Black and myself ?"
"I did everything according to procedure," Dale says. In answer to the next question he says that yes, he has called for the medical examiner and the evidence wagon, which, by the way, he can see coming up the lane right now.
The Mad Hungarian's efforts at self-control succeed only in making him look as though he urgently needs to urinate. When Jack places a hand on his shoulder, he stiffens like a cigar-store Indian.
"Calm down, Arnold," Jack says, then raises his voice. "Lieutenant Black, if you're taking over this case, there's some information you should have."
Brown and Black turn their attention to him.
"The man who made the 911 call used the pay phone at the 7-Eleven store on Highway 35 in French Landing. Dale had the phone taped off, and the owner knows to keep people from handling it. You might get some useful prints from that phone."
Black scribbles something in his notebook, and Brown says, "Gentlemen, I think your role is finished here. Chief, use your people to disperse those individuals at the bottom of the lane. By the time the M.E. and I come out of that structure, I don't want to see a single person down there, including you and your officers. You'll get a call later in the week, if I have any new information."
Wordlessly, Dale turns away and points Bobby Dulac down the path, where the crowd has dwindled to a few stubborn souls leaning against their cars. Brown and Black shake hands with the medical examiner and confer with the specialists in charge of the evidence wagon.
"Now, Arnold," Jack says, "you like being a cop, don't you?"
"Me? I love being a cop." Arnold cannot quite force himself to meet Jack's eyes. "And I could be a good one, I know I could, but the chief doesn't have enough faith in me." He thrusts his trembling hands into his pants pockets.
Jack is torn between feeling pity for this pathetic wanna-be and the impulse to kick him all the way down to the end of the lane. A good cop? Arnold couldn't even be a good scoutmaster. Thanks to him, Dale Gilbertson got a public dressing-down that probably made him feel as though he'd been put in the stocks. "But you didn't follow orders, did you, Arnold?"
Arnold quivers like a tree struck by lightning. "What? I didn't do anything."
"You told someone. Maybe you told a couple of people."
"No!" Arnold shakes his head violently. "I just called my wife, that's all." He looks imploringly at Jack. "The Fisherman talked to me, he told me where he put the girl's body, and I wanted Paula to know. Honest, Holl ¡ª Lieutenant Sawyer, I didn't think she'd call anybody, I just wanted to tell her."
"Bad move, Arnold," Jack says. "You are going to tell the chief what you did, and you're going to do it right now. Because Dale deserves to know what went wrong, and he shouldn't have to blame himself. You like Dale, don't you?"
"The chief ?" Arnold's voice wobbles with respect for his chief. "Sure I do. He's, he's . . . he's great. But isn't he going to fire me?"
"That's up to him, Arnold," Jack says. "If you ask me, you deserve it, but maybe you'll get lucky."
The Mad Hungarian shuffles off toward Dale. Jack watches their conversation for a second, then walks past them to the side of the old store, where Beezer St. Pierre and Wendell Green face each other in unhappy silence.
"Hello, Mr. St. Pierre," he says. "And hello to you, Wendell."
"I'm lodging a complaint," Green says. "I'm covering the biggest story of my life, and this lout spoils a whole roll of film. You can't treat the press that way; we have a right to photograph whatever the hell we like."
"I guess you woulda said you had a right to photograph my daughter's dead body, too." Beezer glares at Jack. "This piece of shit paid Teddy and the other lunkheads to go nuts so nobody would notice him sneaking inside there. He took pictures of the girl."
Wendell jabs a finger at Jack's chest. "He has no proof of that. But I'll tell you something, Sawyer. I did get pictures of you. You were concealing evidence in the back of your truck, and I got you dead to rights. So think twice before you try to mess with me, because I'll hang you out to dry."
A dangerous red mist seems to fill Jack's head. "Were you going to sell photographs of that girl's body?"
"What's it to you?" An ugly smirk widens Wendell Green's mouth. "You're not exactly lily-white either, are you? Maybe we can do each other some good, huh?"
The red mist darkens and fills Jack's eyes. "We can do each other some good?"
Standing beside Jack, Beezer St. Pierre clenches and unclenches his enormous fists. Beezer, Jack knows, catches his tone perfectly, but the vision of dollar signs has so gripped Wendell Green that he hears Jack's threat as a straightforward question.
"You let me reload my camera and get the pictures I need, and I keep quiet about you."
Beezer lowers his head and balls his hands again.
"Tell you what. I'm a generous guy ¡ª maybe I could even cut you in, say ten percent of my total."
Jack would prefer to break his nose, but he contents himself with a hard punch to the reporter's stomach. Green clutches his gut and folds in half, then falls to the ground. His face has turned a hectic pink, and he struggles for breath. His eyes register shock and disbelief.
"See, I'm a generous guy, too, Wendell. I probably saved you thousands of dollars in dental work, plus a broken jaw."
"Don't forget the plastic surgery," says Beezer, grinding a fist into the palm of the other hand. He looks as if someone just stole his favorite dessert off the dinner table.
Wendell's face has become a reddish shade of purple.
"For your information, Wendell, no matter what you think you saw, I am not concealing evidence. If anything I am revealing it, though I hardly expect you to understand."
Green manages to wheeze in something like a cubic inch of air.
"When your wind starts to come back, get out of here. Crawl, if you have to. Go back to your car and drive away. And for God's sake, make it snappy, or our friend here is likely to put you in a wheelchair for the rest of your life."
Slowly, Wendell Green gets to his knees, takes another noisy sip of oxygen, and levers himself semi-upright. He waggles one open hand at them, but his meaning is unclear. He could be telling Beezer and Jack to stay away from him, or that he will trouble them no further, or both. His trunk tilted over his belt, his hands pressed to his stomach, Green stumbles around the side of the building.
"I guess I oughta thank you," Beezer says. "You let me keep my promise to my old lady. But I have to say, Wendell Green is one guy I'd really like to deconstruct."
"Man," Jack says, "I wasn't sure if I could get in before you did."
"It's true, my restraint was crumbling."
Both men smile. "Beezer St. Pierre," Beezer says, and sticks out a hand.
"Jack Sawyer." Jack takes his hand and experiences no more than a second of pain.
"Are you gonna let the state guys do all the work, or will you keep going on your own?"
"What do you think?" Jack says.
"If you ever need any help, or you want reinforcements, all you have to do is ask. Because I do want to get this son of a bitch, and I figure you have a better chance of finding him than anyone else."
On the drive back to Norway Valley, Henry says, "Oh, Wendell took a picture of the body, all right. When you came out of the building and went to your truck, I heard someone take a couple of pictures, but I thought it might have been Dale. Then I heard it again when you and Dale were inside with Bobby Dulac, and I realized someone was taking a picture of me! Well, now, I say to myself, this must be Mr. Wendell Green, and I told him to come out from behind the wall. That's when those people charged out, yelling and screaming. As soon as that happened, I heard Mr. Green trot around from the side, go into the building, and shoot a few pictures. Then he sneaked out and stood by the side of the building, which is where your friend Beezer caught up with him and took care of things. Beezer is a remarkable fellow, isn't he?"
"Henry, were you going to tell me about this?"
"Of course, but you were running around all over the place, and I knew Wendell Green wasn't going to leave until he was thrown out. I'll never read another word he writes. Never."
"Same here," Jack says.
"But you're not giving up on the Fisherman, are you? In spite of what that pompous state cop said."
"I can't give up now. To tell you the truth, I think those waking dreams I mentioned yesterday were connected to this case."
"Ivey-divey. Now, let's get back to Beezer. Didn't I hear him say he wanted to 'deconstruct' Wendell?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"He must be a fascinating man. I gather from my nephew that the Thunder Five spends Saturday afternoons and evenings in the Sand Bar. Next week, maybe I'll start up Rhoda's old car and drive to Centralia, have a few beers and a nice gab with Mr. St. Pierre. I'm sure he has interesting taste in music."
"You want to drive to Centralia?" Jack stares at Henry, whose only concession to the absurdity of this suggestion is a little smile.
"Blind people can drive perfectly well," Henry says. "Probably, they can drive better than most sighted people. Ray Charles can, anyhow."
"Come on, Henry. Why would you think Ray Charles can drive a car?"
"Why, you ask? Because one night in Seattle, this was, oh, forty years ago, back when I had a gig at KIRO, Ray took me out for a spin. Smooth as Lady Godiva's backside. No trouble at all. We stuck to the side roads, of course, but Ray got up to fifty-five, I'm pretty sure."
"Assuming this really happened, weren't you scared?"
"Scared? Of course not. I was his navigator. I certainly don't think I'd have a problem navigating to Centralia along this sleepy stretch of back-country highway. The only reason blind people don't drive is that other people won't let them. It's a power issue. They want us to stay marginalized. Beezer St. Pierre would understand perfectly."
"And here I was, thinking I was going to visit the madhouse this afternoon," Jack says.