29

PARK DID NOT WATCH JASPER LEAVE WITH OMAHA. he couldn’t. If he had stood at the door and watched them drive away up the street he would have broken in two. Instead he kissed her forehead and tapped the tip of her nose with his pinkie while standing at Rose’s bedside, to remind himself that he could take care of only one of them.

It did not hollow him out to watch her sleeping in Jasper’s arms, carried from the bedroom. He felt full, pressure at every seam, in danger of exploding.

He attended to business first.

He came back to Rose. Still reciting, she shivered from time to time or clenched her teeth as if a sudden pain gripped her.

From the bedside table he picked up the plastic-wrapped bottle. Rose’s eyes were scanning back and forth across the far wall, as if monitoring the dangers of the game. He ripped open the plastic bag, and the bottle of pills dropped to the floor with a rattle. He picked it up, studied the instructions for opening the patented childproof cap, pressed down while pinching, twisted one way and then the other, and the cap popped off. He broke the foil seal, picked out the wadded cotton, and shook a light blue tablet into his palm.

“Rose.”

She didn’t answer.

“Rose.”

She didn’t answer.

“Rose. I love you more than life.”

He put the tablet at her lips, pushed it past her teeth, placed a water glass against her mouth, and tilted it up. She coughed and then swallowed.

She wiped water from her chin and looked around.

“Park?”

He shook another pill into his palm.

“Yes.”

Her eyes cleared.

“What the fuck, Park? Now I’m gonna have to start all over.”

He shook his head.

“No, you don’t, hon. You don’t have to start over. You finished it. I wish I’d been here to see.”

She smiled.

“It was so cool. So quiet. It was.”

He put another tablet at her lips.

“Here, take this.”

She took it between her fingers and looked at it.

“What is it?”

“It’ll make you feel better.”

She blew out her lips.

“Anything that can make me feel better. I mean, I feel like shit. What is this, cancer-flu or something? I’ve never been this sick. I mean, I never get sick at all.”

She put the tablet in her mouth, and he gave her the water glass, and she swallowed.

“Hey. Have I been asleep for a long time?”

Park nodded.

“Yeah.”

She rubbed her eyes.

“Because everything seems really weird. Like when you’re a kid and you dream you missed Christmas and you wake up and it’s August fifteenth, but you still feel like you missed it. I feel like that. And sick. Rub my neck, baby.”

She rolled onto her side, and Park rubbed her neck.

The muscles in her back had stopped twitching.

She opened her mouth wide and yawned.

“Okay, whatever those are, they’re great. Please tell me they’re not illegal.”

“Not illegal.”

“Can I have another?”

“Sure.”

He gave her another.

She smiled at him.

“I know it’s not your thing, babe, but you should take one of those.”

He shook his head.

She nodded.

“I know. Never lose control, Parker Haas, you never know who might be watching.”

She touched his face.

“I love you. I love you more than life.”

She closed her eyes.

He didn’t say anything.

She sighed and opened her eyes and saw him.

“How am I going to be able to look after you?”

He shook his head and told her he didn’t know, and she kind of sighed like she always did when she thought he wasn’t getting something.

“No, I mean, really, how am I gonna look the fuck after you?”

He told her that she didn’t have to look after him, that he was okay.

She was staring at the ceiling.

“You’re such a, God, I hate the word, but you’re such an innocent. I mean, how am I supposed to walk away from that?”

He didn’t say anything.

She shook her head, wondering at something.

“I’ve known you how long? Already I can see it. You’re destined to walk into traffic while reading a book. Or to get stabbed by a drunk asshole in a bar when you try to defend some tramp’s honor. Or do something even stupider like join the Marines and go get killed for oil because you think it’s the right thing to do.”

He knew the rest, every word, by heart, but he let her say it all.

“And how am I supposed to keep you from doing something like that if you’re up there and I’m down here? I mean, where did you come from? How did you drop into my life? You’re, God, you’re everything I don’t want. Hold me.”

He held her.

She yawned.

“I can only look after you all the time if we’re together.”

He held her.

She twisted partway around to see his face.

“Really together.”

He nodded.

“So let’s get married.”

She blinked slowly, smiled, nodded.

“Yeah, let’s get fucking married.”

Her eyes closed. She slept. Just as she had years before when they’d first had the conversation the morning after the first night they spent together.

Park stood, scooped her in his arms, walked down the hall, didn’t look at the blood-soaked towels on the floor, and carried her into the nursery.

Settling her into Omaha’s crib, curled and slight; she opened her eyes once more.

“Park?”

“Yes.”

“Where’s Omaha?”

“She’s with Jasper.”

Rose nodded, closed her eyes again, nuzzled her chin against his palm.

“Oh. That’s good. She’ll be safe with him.”

He spent five minutes slipping pills one by one into her mouth, offering her water, and making sure she did not choke in her sleep. Then he sat on the floor next to the crib and put his hand through the bars to hold hers.

Her eyes moved back and forth under her lids; she sighed once, breathing deeply all the while, until her breathing shallowed. Slowed. And stopped.

Leaving the room, he looked at the gun on the floor, next to puddled blood seeping. He was feeling what his father had demonstrated with his shotgun. But he was not tempted to pick up the pistol. He had something he had to do.

At the back of the closet he found his uniform wrapped in a dry cleaner’s plastic. It had been over a year since he had worn it. In that time he’d become less disciplined in his workouts. The extra fifteen pounds he’d built up for the street through daily weight training and nonstop calorie cramming had fallen off. He had to snug his belt an extra notch, and his shirt hung loose at the shoulders and neck. He couldn’t find his pepper spray. His baton was buried under a pile of shoes. His hat, on a top closet shelf, carried a thick layer of dust. He had only one pair of navy socks to wear, holes worn in both heels. The Walther did not fit the holster as well as his old nine-millimeter had, but it would serve the same task if needed.

Uniformed, Park drove north.

He was still stopped at checkpoints but was never asked to exit his vehicle. He’d thought about digging his red magnetic roof strobe from the garage and trying to use the emergency center lane on the 405, but feared getting pinned in traffic amid uncleared wreckage. As it turned out, the surface streets were nearly as barren as the night before.

He saw few people on the sidewalks, and those rarely farther than several steps from their own yards or the doors to the occasional businesses that were open. A knot of them congregated around a storefront that had been pushed in and looted. He saw a man with an unmounted hunting scope scanning the eastern horizon, apparently trying to find the source of a smoke plume rising from the cluster of downtown towers. A hot wind was breaking up that plume and the others that were newly sprouted in Hollywood and south of the Santa Monica, a Santa Ana smearing the smoke over the basin all the way to the sea.

At the Pico check he overheard two Guards talking about a siege at the Scientology compound on Sunset. Three Super Hornets streaked overhead in tight formation, and they paused to watch them scream eastward.

One of them pointed.

“Navy.”

The other nodded.

“Looks like the Reagan just hit town.”

The first slapped his sidearm.

“About fucking time we got some righteous air support. See what the NAJis think of car bombs with a fucking carrier group offshore.”

The second shook his head.

“Fuck the NAJi. Those L. Ron Hubbard motherfuckers got more money than Jesus. Half the assholes in Hollywood are members. Don’t even want to know what they’ve been spending it on. Hear they got an armory in there, all the stuff Saddam was supposed to have, they really got. Say fuck the NAJis, drop some ordnance on that crowd before they have a chance to go Dianetics on all our asses.”

The Guard scanning Park’s badge waved him through.

There was a protest on Olympic, hundreds of sleepless shuffling down the street, silent except for occasional moans or a scream. A single banner poking from the middle of the crowd: DREAM.

At the Bellagio gate he was politely asked if he had an appointment. The Thousand Storks man asking the question wore nearly seventy thousand dollars’ worth of body armor, communications and computing equipment, and weaponry. Park told him his business was official. The Storks man looked at Park’s ill-fitting uniform and beaten-up Subaru. He looked at the badge he’d already scanned. It was valid. He nodded and told Park he’d have to be escorted to his destination.

The Afronzo estate was tucked at the end of the curl of Madrono Lane. Surrounded by the grounds of thirteen other homes, it lacked any views to speak of but was almost perfectly sequestered. Anyone caring to approach could either take the road or risk crossing the property of one of the neighbors before trying the security on the Afronzo grounds itself.

Driving in on the road, followed by two Storks in an open fast attack vehicle, Park pulled into the cutout before the road circled to the back of the house. There, with the Storks waiting, he sat in the car and wrote in his journal. Finished, he left it on the passenger seat and got out of the car.

Going up the steps, he straightened his clip-on tie. Unlike some of his fellow cadets, he’d been smart enough when he bought his first uniform not to ask why a clip-on. Those who asked were never answered, receiving a grunt of disgust at most. Rose had giggled at the tie, clipped it to her T-shirt collar. He’d laughed with her. Never explaining that it was worn because a normal tie might be grabbed by a perp during a scuffle and used to choke the wearer.

The door was opened as he stepped in front of it, held aside for him by Parsifal K. Afronzo Junior.

“Park.”

He waved to the Thousand Storks men, and they cut a tight U-turn and buzzed back down the road.

“Thousand Storks. I always get the feeling they’re in a constant state of sexual arousal under those uniforms. They’re nearly as fetishistic as Imelda and Magda.”

He looked at Park.

“Your uniform doesn’t fit.”

Park placed a hand on his holstered weapon.

“Parsifal K. Afronzo Junior, you are under arrest.”

Cager turned and walked into the dark interior of the house.

“Come inside, Park.”

Park took a step inside, hand still on his weapon.

“You are under arrest for the murders of Hydo Chang and his associates.”

Cager stopped walking and looked back at him.

“For what?”

Park pointed.

“Place your hands against the wall and spread your legs.”

Cager stayed where he was.

“For the murder of Hydo Chang. That’s. Not what I expected. My dad made it sound like you suspected much more. Much worse.”

He began to comb his hair.

“It was kind of flattering. Being thought a mastermind.”

Park walked to him, took him by the left wrist, swept it behind his back and pushed it up toward his neck while putting a knee in the back of his right leg. Cager went to the floor and Park finished the takedown, pushing his face flat against the marble while unclipping the cuffs from his belt.

Cager grunted.

“What are you doing, Park?”

Park snapped the first bracelet over his wrist.

“I’m arresting you.”

“Why?”

Park snapped on the second bracelet.

“Get up.”

Cager let himself be pulled to his feet.

“You don’t understand even a little about me. You don’t understand what I was trying to do. What Hydo did to ruin it.”

Park stopped walking him toward the door.

“What? What did he do? What does a person do to get murdered? What does that take in this world?”

Cager wrenched free.

“It takes being greedy and stupid!”

He looked at the floor.

“I’d like to comb my hair.”

Park didn’t move.

Cager turned around.

“Will you comb my hair for me, please. It’s out of place. I can feel it.

Park took the comb from Cager’s back pocket and combed his hair back into place.

Cager relaxed slightly.

“Thank you. Can you put the comb back, please.”

Park put the comb back.

Cager nodded.

“Thank you. I’m sorry I lost my temper. But thinking about Hydo upsets me. And I’m not used to being upset. That’s probably why I reacted the way I did. But I gave him so much. I gave him the Dreamer. I’d tried so hard to make something physical with it. I thought it would be a way to push people into a quest mentality. Increase the investment in their lives. Get them thinking and feeling with the same level of commitment as they do in Chasm. But they didn’t want to be that aware. They said, Give me the Dreamer. Here’s my money, give me the Dreamer. Like you. I was trying to open eyes to the possibility that there was room left, time left for magic in this world, and they just want to score. If that’s all people want, they can score off Hydo. I didn’t even take anything up front. It was credits in my account at the farm. And he couldn’t even get me the codex I needed. But I told him, one rule only. I told him, ‘no selling to my gamers.’ No selling to my sleepless. My sleepless, they are living at the absolute verge of human evolution, pushing barriers back. Not just living but creating. They’re planting seeds. Because after we’re all sleepless, Park, after we all die, something will persist. Information, energy coded as information, that will last when we are dust. When the last generator runs out of fuel, when the last windmill rusts and falls over, when the last solar panel cracks, the Web will stop, but the information will persist. After 9/11, they recovered hard drives in the ruins. They could still be read. Flesh turned to paste and mist, but data survived. When our society is excavated, our data will be our relics. And the characters, the personas the sleepless are creating, those will be the most unique, the most durable, the most diverse, the most cherished artifacts. They’re what we’re going to leave behind. And Hydo, he was killing that. Selling Dreamer to my sleepless, he was killing the future. Our future. So arrest me for murdering Hydo and the others. I did it.”

Park was thinking again about the gun he’d used earlier to kill the man who’d come out of his daughter’s room. The room where he’d left his wife. He thought of how it had looked, lying on the floor next to blood. He was glad it wasn’t in his hand.

He took Cager by the arm and pulled him toward the door.

“You’re under arrest.”

“Officer Haas.”

He stopped and looked back down the foyer.

Senior stood there, still in his pajamas and robe, Imelda and Magda just behind him.

“I’m sorry to see you again, Officer Haas.”

Park nodded.

“I’m arresting your son for murder.”

Imelda and Magda moved away from each other, creating firing lines.

Park put his hand back on his weapon.

“I’m arresting your son.”

Senior’s hands were buried in his pockets.

“It’s not that I don’t understand, Haas. I just can’t allow it. You take those handcuffs off now, and you go home.”

Park saw that Imelda and Magda had their weapons in hand already. Not the submachine guns that would spray indiscriminately, but high-accuracy SIG 1911s.

He shook his head.

“Your men already came to my home, sir. They’re dead.”

Cager shook his head.

“Dad.”

“Be quiet, Junior.”

“Dad, I can’t believe you did that.”

Senior took his hands from his pockets and plucked at a loose thread.

“That was something I had to do. I don’t take any pride or enjoyment from it. And it’s my own fault for talking at such length with you, Haas. But everything is at stake now. The whole world. Blood relations aside, arresting my son would cause too many questions to be asked. There’d be chaos. Too soon for that. Too much left to do.”

Park opened his mouth, but he had no more to say. Instead he turned and pushed Cager toward the door. He’d never drawn his weapon. He never did.

Walking, he thought about what it had been like when he first felt himself made vulnerable by his love for Rose. The fear. How that had been compounded to terror when Omaha was born. How willingly he had embraced the horror that he might lose them one day, in exchange for their miraculous presence in his life.

He said something then, but it was lost in a sudden noise.

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