12

There was no power shortage at the Police Department—at least not yet. A green-tiled corridor ran the length of the basement beneath fluorescents that cast a depressingly changeless light. Dawn or midnight, it was always the blare of noon down here. Chief Randolph and Freddy Denton escorted (if such a word could be used, considering the fists clamped on his upper arms) Barbie down the steps. The two women officers, guns still drawn, followed behind.

To the left was the file room. To the right were five cells, two on each side and one at the very end. The last was the smallest, with a narrow bunk all but overhanging the seatless steel toilet, and this was the one toward which they frog-marched him.

On orders from Pete Randolph—who had gotten his from Big Jim—even the worst actors in the supermarket riot had been released on their own recognizance (where were they going to go?), and all the cells were supposed to be empty. So it was a surprise when Melvin Searles came bolting from number 4, where he had been lurking. The bandage wound around his head had slipped down and he was wearing sunglasses to mask two gaudily blackening eyes. In one hand he was carrying an athletic sock with something weighting the toe: a homemade blackjack. Barbie’s first, blurred impression was that he was about to be attacked by the Invisible Man.

“Bastard!” Mel shouted, and swung his cosh. Barbie ducked. It whizzed over his head, striking Freddy Denton on the shoulder. Freddy bellowed and let go of Barbie. Behind them, the women were shouting.

“Fuckin murderer! Who’d you pay to bust my head? Huh?” Mel swung again, and this time connected with the bicep of Barbie’s left arm. That arm seemed to fall dead. Not sand in the sock, but a paperweight of some kind. Glass or metal, probably, but at least it was round. If it had had an angle, he would be bleeding.

“You fuckin fucked-up fuck!” Mel roared, and swung the loaded sock again. Chief Randolph ducked backward, also letting go of Barbie. Barbie grabbed the top of the sock, wincing as the weight inside wound the bottom around his wrist. He pulled back hard, and managed to yank Mel Searles’s homemade weapon free. At the same time Mel’s bandage fell down over his dark glasses like a blindfold.

“Hold it, hold it!” Jackie Wettington cried. “Stop what you’re doing, prisoner, this is your only warning!”

Barbie felt a small cold circle form between his shoulder blades. He couldn’t see it, but knew without looking that Jackie had drawn her sidearm. If she shoots me, that’s where the bullet will go. And she might, because in a small town where big trouble’s almost a complete stranger, even the professionals are amateurs.

He dropped the sock. Whatever was in it clunked on the lino. Then he raised his hands. “Ma’am I have dropped it!” he called. “Ma’am, I am unarmed, please lower your weapon!”

Mel brushed the slipping bandage aside. It unrolled down his back like the tail of a swami’s turban. He hit Barbie twice, once in the solar plexus and once in the pit of the stomach. This time Barbie wasn’t prepared, and the air exploded out of his lungs with a harsh PAH sound. He doubled over, then went to his knees. Mel hammered a fist down on the nape of his neck—or maybe it was Freddy; for all Barbie knew, it could have been the Fearless Leader himself—and he went sprawling, the world growing thin and indistinct. Except for a chip in the linoleum. That he could see very well. With breathtaking clarity, in fact, and why not? It was less than an inch from his eyes.

“Stop it, stop it, stop hitting him!” The voice was coming from a great distance, but Barbie was pretty sure it belonged to Rusty’s wife. “He’s down, don’t you see he’s down?”

Feet shuffled around him in a complicated dance. Someone stepped on his ass, stumbled, cried “Oh fuck!” and then he was kicked in the hip. It was all happening far away. It might hurt later, but right now it wasn’t too bad.

Hands grabbed him and hauled him upright. Barbie tried to raise his head, but it was easier, on the whole, just to let it hang. He was propelled down the hall toward the final cell, the green lino sliding between his feet. What had Denton said upstairs? Your suite awaits.

But I doubt if there’s pillow mints or turndown service, Barbie thought. Nor did he care. All he wanted was to be left alone to lick his wounds.

Outside the cell someone put a shoe in his ass to hurry him along even more. He flew forward, raising his right arm to stop himself from crashing face-first into the green cinderblock wall. He tried to raise his left arm as well, but it was still dead from the elbow down. He managed to protect his head, though, and that was good. He rebounded, staggered, then went to his knees again, this time beside the cot, as if about to say a prayer prior to turning in. Behind him, the cell door rumbled shut along its track.

Barbie braced his hands on the bunk and pushed himself up, the left arm working a little now. He turned around just in time to see Randolph walking away in a pugnacious strut—fists clenched, head lowered. Beyond him, Denton was unwinding what remained of Searles’s bandage while Searles glared (the power of the glare somewhat vitiated by the sunglasses, now sitting askew on his nose). Beyond the male officers, at the foot of the stairs, were the women. They wore identical expressions of dismay and confusion. Linda Everett’s face was paler than ever, and Barbie thought he saw the gleam of tears in her lashes.

Barbie summoned all his will and called out to her. “Officer Everett!”

She jumped a little, startled. Had anyone ever called her Officer Everett before? Perhaps schoolchildren, when she pulled crossing-guard duty, which had probably been her heaviest responsibility as a part-time cop. Up until this week.

“Officer Everett! Ma’am! Please, ma’am!”

“Shut up!” Freddy Denton said.

Barbie paid him no mind. He thought he was going to pass out, or at least gray out, but for the time being he held on grimly.

“Tell your husband to examine the bodies! Mrs. Perkins’s in particular! Ma’am, he must examine the bodies! They won’t be at the hospital! Rennie won’t allow them to—”

Peter Randolph strode forward. Barbie saw what he had taken off Freddy Denton’s belt and tried to raise his arms across his face, but they were just too heavy.

“That’s enough out of you, son,” Randolph said. He shoved the Mace dispenser between the bars and squeezed the pistol grip.

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