Friday, July 4, 2014

First Shot (17)

Gadzooks is a word Blow never spoke aloud. He said it a lot, though, to himself, silently, without moving his lips. Had no idea how he'd picked it up or where, but suspected the source might have been some comic strip he read as a youngster. Were that the case, the odd quasi-expletive remained dormant in the back of his mind until well beyond adolescence, and then one day just popped up to lurk near the surface of his consciousness thenceforth.
It blurted to him now, soon as he'd flipped his cellphone shut after speaking with Mel Watterman. He sat in his truck outside the Sheriff's Office, head roiling with questions and half-baked implications. His first impulse was to call Callahan, who must not yet have gotten the word of the fake Himmler's murder or surely he'd have mentioned it moments earlier in his office. Then again he was a cop, and cops loved to keep as many cards face down as they could get away with. So, no, no call to Carl just yet.

He owed Nancy Gunther a return call. Instead he pressed the stored number to Mary Lloyd's cellphone. She answered, had not heard about Himmler, and cursed when Blow told her he'd just then gotten the news from her chief competitor. She'd drop what she was doing and head to Yorktown. She invited him along, but he declined.
C'mon, Joe. Watterman's an asshole. He always hits on me. Come along and be my protector.”
I admire your self-discipline, Mary. Mel's a good-looking guy. How do you resist his charms?”
By reminding him of his wife and six kids. Plus, I don't know what you mean by good-looking, unless you think pigs are cute.”
Ah, yes, the family man. As to his looks, I was quoting him.”
Creep. Him, not you.”
Whew.”
So will you come with me? I'll buy lunch.”
That's tempting, Mary, but I've got some crap to do, trying to earn a living. Later?”
Thanks for the tip.”
Next he played the voice mail message from Nancy Gunther.
Mr. Stone, you've got to help me! I'm going nuts here. Somebody has Newt's keys. The stable says the sheriff has them but the sheriff says he doesn't. I'm trying to get ready for a funeral for whenever I get Newt's body back. I didn't kill him. You've got to believe me! Please be my lawyer! A woman from the county is here to check the house for something. Radon, I think she said. I don't even know what the hell that is. I told her to wait until I talked to you. PLEASE call me back!
SHIT! Blow shouted this full-fledged epithet, with no one to hear him but the tiny spider that had surprised him that morning when it skittered down from his windshield out of sight, probably under the dash now. In October? What kind of spider hangs around this late in the year, he wondered. What could it possibly find to eat? He pressed reply. Got her voice mail.
This is Joe Stone. Get out of the house! Take your boys and run! That woman is not from the county! She's dangerous! Get out of there, now! I'm on my way!”
He knew he was too late. If Snow/Moriarty was already in the house—and she undoubtedly was when Nancy had called—the Gunther family was either dead or unconscious. Hopefully the latter, as it was likely Snow/Moriarty presented the stolen ray gun prototype as the “radon detector”, but anything was possible with this nut. She'd already killed Gunther. Why hadn't she used the ray gun on him, instead of blowing his head off? Jeezuz, she was moving fast, too. Himmler and the rest of the Gunthers the same day? What in hell was she after? What was the fake Himmler after? What? What? What?
Blow considered calling Callahan now before he started out for the Gunthers. But it occurred to him his speculation that the woman “from the county” was just that. Speculation. What if she really was from the county? He wasn't aware of any radon-detection program, but if there was it might be just for certain neighborhoods, depending on the geography. Helluva note to call 911 and have his overactive imagination blow up in his face, give people a new excuse to use his nickname. Bad enough he already freaked out in his callback to Nancy. Shit. He flipped his phone shut and peeled out for the Gunthers.
He was about halfway there when strobing blue lights startled him in his rearview mirrors. He immediately lifted his foot off the accelerator and checked his speedometer. Damn, he was ten over the limit. He pulled onto the shoulder, shifted into park and was reaching for the ignition when two marked sheriff's units sped past. He waited a moment to clear his head. As he shifted back into drive he saw strobing red lights in his mirror, and paused until the fire department's boxy red emergency unit screamed by. After another moment, ascertaining the coast was finally clear, he eased back onto the roadway and rejoined his mission.
Blow's arrival at the Gunthers was anticlimactic so far as the conclusion his reason had reached while still in the parking lot at the sheriff's office, and as his gut affirmed on the road when the strobes and sirens whizzed past.
He was too late.

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