The Object: a free serial novel
Episode Four: “Lights in the Sky”
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Sherman held the gun on Ted while Lillia climbed halfway up the staircase to tie the nylon rope to the rail.
“Make sure you pull it tight, honey. Put ol’ Ted on his tiptoes.”
“I’m a get you, just wait and see,” said Ted. He started to speak again but Lillia yanked on the rope, causing him to cry out. “That’s too tight,” he said. “This is inhumane.”
“Like comin’ after little children,” Sherman said. “You’re a grown man, Ted. You ought to know better.”
“Piss on you, blue gums.”
Another jerk of the rope came from above.
Sherman said, “Y’ain’t helpin’ your case none, talkin’ like that.”
With the rope secure, Ted was now tied at both wrists in a standing position against the side of the staircase, about halfway down the hall. Trips to the kitchen would have to be taken through the living room.
“What now?” Lillia asked, leaning over the rail.
“You go on up and keep the children company. I’ll see what I can do about–what’s your brother’s name, Ted?”
“Kiss my ass.”
“See what I can do about Kiss My Ass,” Sherman said.
Lillia nodded and jogged up the steps.
Sherman waited until she closed the bedroom door and then he stepped around to the foot of the stairs, where Ted’s brother lay moaning and bleeding. His breathing had grown shallow and the pool of blood had spread to both corners of the bottom step, running in a stream to the base of the coat rack. This presented the illusion that the coat rack itself was bleeding, until he turned back to Ted’s mangled brother. That bone sticking out of his arm churned Sherman’s stomach. Had he not already puked himself empty on the Tarc bus, he might just add to the mess right here.
He knew what he had to do, but he didn’t know how to do it. The gun was out of the question. It would scare the kids and only add to the blood he needed to mop up so the children wouldn’t see it.
“Hey,” Ted said. “How’s my brother doin’?”
“How you doin’ over there, Steve?”
Steve opened his mouth to respond and pink blood bubbled out.
“Your brother’s dyin’,” Sherman said. “Looks like he got a rib in his lung.”
“Call an ambulance!”
“We done tried that. Couldn’t get through. This city’s gone off its rocker–but I guess you know that already.”
“Well then help him, I don’t know. Do something.”
“I’m workin’ on it.”
“What are you gonna do?”
“Well, let’s see.” Sherman crossed his arms, coughed. “The plan, I suppose, is puttin’ him out of his misery. I just ain’t decided on my method.”
“He’s done mostly dead. Just needs that extra little push.”
“You son of a bitch, you better not kill my brother.”
Sherman stepped into the hall to face Ted. “Well then what do you think I should do? Believe me, I’m open to suggestions. Killin’ folks ain’t an every day thing for me.”
“Take him to the hospital.”
“My truck. It’s parked right up the street. White S-10. I got the keys right here in my pocket.”
“Nah, no good,” Sherman said. “Them kids don’t need to be out traipsin’ around in this craziness.”
“Leave ’em here.”
“I’m tied up.”
“Soon as I’m out the door you’ll be tryin’ to work free. Can’t risk it, no sir.”
“Then let me go. I’ll take him. I swear you’ll never see me again.”
“Can’t do it, brother.”
“Come on, damn it!”
“Keep your voice down.” Sherman raised the gun again. “I won’t have you scarin’ them kids. No more.”
“You gotta kill me or let me go,” Ted said.
“Let’s concentrate on your brother for now. We’ll get to you next.”
Sherman lowered the gun and walked through the living room, intending to find a good sharp knife. Stabbing Steve would only add to the blood, but at least it wouldn’t spray all over the walls. He didn’t have time to search for other options. He still had Ted to deal with, then securing the house from other intruders. He needed to find a television and see what they had to say about that big thing in the sky.
What he really needed was a pint of whiskey.
Before he reached the kitchen Sherman stopped at the couch, where his answer lay against the armrest. A throw pillow. Of course. If you want to kill someone quietly, what better way is there?
He grabbed the pillow and stuck the gun in his back pocket. The weight of it made his loose pants sag so low they were nearly falling off by the time he reached Steve.
“You gonna prop his head up with that?” Ted asked.
Sherman knelt next to Steve and hitched his pants. He took the gun out and placed it on the floor at arm’s length. Then he tried to position his knees clear of the blood as he leaned over Steve, gripped both sides of the pillow, and pressed it firmly into Steve’s face.
Steve let out a muffled moan that sounded like an electric shaver. His uninjured arm lolled and flopped like the severed tail of a racing lizard, striking the corner of the bottom step, then landing in Sherman’s lap where it writhed about and grabbed at his shirt.
Sherman turned his head and closed his eyes. He began to count the seconds in his head. How long does it take? Ted must have heard the commotion because now he was calling out to his brother. “Steve, you okay? What’s that son of a bitch doin’ to you? Hey–hey, whatever your name is!”
Lillia must have heard, too, because the bedroom door opened and closed upstairs and he could hear her little footsteps, one after the other, slowly coming down the steps. When she stopped, he realized he was counting her footsteps and not the seconds.
“Hey!” said Ted.
Sherman opened his eyes and turned to Lillia, who stood about halfway up the stairs, her fingers lightly treading the rail. She stared at Steve–or rather the pillow on Steve’s face.
“I didn’t know what else to do,” Sherman said.
Lillia titled her head slightly. “Is he dead?”
Sherman slowly removed the pillow to reveal Steve’s face, his wide eyes and open mouth.
“You kill my brother?!” Ted screamed.
“Yeah, he’s . . . man, I don’t think I’ve ever been so close to a dead–”
Suddenly Steve’s body jerked and a mist of blood shot out of his mouth as he gasped for breath. Sherman shrieked and reared back as if being thrown from a horse and said, “Oh Holy Hell, Steve, damn, you ain’t dead! Sorry for cursin’, young lady.”
“What’s goin’ on over there?” Ted asked. “Somebody better answer me.”
“Just hang on,” Sherman said. He leaned over Steve again, and this time Steve made eye contact with him. “Sorry, Steve. Don’t mean to drag this thing out so long. I ain’t no good at killin’.”
“It . . . hurts,” Steve said. “Can’t breathe.”
“Well look, they ain’t no ambulance comin’. You know that, right?”
“I got a gun,” Sherman said, “but I don’t know if I can do it, Steve.”
This time Steve nodded aggressively, opening his eyes as wide as he could. Blood bubbled up at the corner of his mouth and streamed down his cheek.
“What’s he sayin’?” Ted said.
“He wants me to . . . to put an end to it.”
“Well do it then!”
“I’m tryin’ to Ted!” Sherman yelled.
“Please,” Steve murmured.
If Sherman hadn’t seen his lips moving he wouldn’t have caught it. He leaned far over and picked up the gun, righted himself, stood with one foot on either side of Steve’s legs. “Ted. You got anything you want to say to your brother?”
Ted didn’t respond. Sherman peered around the side of the railing, thinking Ted must have succumbed to tears. Instead he found Ted straining to peek up through the rails at Lillia, grinning.
“Might want to move over to the wall, honey,” Sherman said. “Ted’s got the angle on you.”
Lillia looked around herself for a moment, then realized what he meant and jumped away from the rail as though it were electrified.
“No last words to your own family, huh, Ted?”
Ted grumbled to himself for a moment and then said, “Catch ya later, Steve.”
Sherman pulled back the hammer.
“Wait,” Lillia said. She turned and bounded up the steps, calling back, “I have an idea.”
Barry double parked in front of a taxi cab around the corner from the police precinct. West Jefferson Street was barricaded by fire trucks, probably to make it easy for cops and city officials to get in and out without having to tear through the masses of belligerent fools wailing and pleading for assistance with their various problems. People crowded the front and back ends of the fire trucks blocking the street, and officers in riot gear held the barrier.
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“What’d you find?”
Jason was running through the contacts list on Wally’s cell phone, looking for any names that might be Wally’s supplier or employer.
“I don’t know. It’s a bunch of chicks. Kate. Keisha. Natty. Momz. Pizza Place. T. White girl. My only guess would be T.”
Barry scanned the sidewalks, studying individual faces, each frowning, cheeks wet with tears, noses clogged with snot. “Too stupid to run,” he mumbled. “Resigned to whatever fate it brings them.”
“What?” Jason said. He pulled the phone away from his ear. “Signal’s weak. Wait. Okay it’s ringing. Shit. Disconnected.”
“Call it again.”
“No I mean the number’s been disconnected.”
“Give me that.” Barry snatched the phone from Jason’s hand and opened the door. “Wait in the car.”
“Gladly,” Jason said.
Barry stood outside the car for a moment and checked his clothes for blood spatter. Then he removed his handgun from its holster and inspected it, in case he had to check it in before entering the precinct.
He approached the crowd at the back of the fire truck and pushed his way through to the front of the barricade. The tallest in the crowd, he scanned the faces behind the riot glass and helmets until he spotted one he recognized. Bodies pressed into him on both sides, reeking of sweat, dampening the sleeves of his suit jacket.
“Tyler! Hey!” He whistled loud enough to soften the noise of the crowd for a moment. Everyone turned to watch him.
“Barry!” Tyler called back. Then he patted the arm of the officer next to him and said, “Hey, the tall guy–let him through.”
Barry fought his way over to Tyler and slid through a narrow crevice he and the other officer made with their riot glass. He jogged down the street around police cars parked at random and finally came to the swinging doors of the precinct, where a young female officer leaned against the wall crying, soaked in blood. He stopped and looked at her for a moment. Then he continued on into the bright fluorescent-lit lobby, where he spotted his brother, Derek, huddled with two other detectives near a row of water coolers.
As though sensing his presence, Derek lifted a finger without turning, then crossed his arms and continued with his hushed conversation.
Barry sat on a bench near the exit and waited–his brother liked to make him wait. Even for the money they had smuggled from evidence and robbed from small-time drug dealers: Derek took it for a “safe waiting period,” and when Barry’s half came back it always turned up light by twenty percent. “Handling fees and such. You understand,” he had explained the first time it happened.
The young bloody officer wandered through the door just as Derek finally broke from his secret meeting and approached. Barry passed her close enough to catch a salty whiff of the blood. When he reached Derek he glanced back and noticed the girl had taken his place on the bench.
“Madhouse, Barry, I don’t have much time. What is it?”
Barry spoke low. “I need a name run.”
“Jesus, Barry, haven’t you noticed the fuckin’ Martian spaceship in the sky?”
“It’s important,” Barry said. He moved in a little and gave Derek his signature grin, the one that meant money. “Could be big, Derek.”
Derek sighed and said, “Okay, fine, pick a uniform and tell them I said to help you.”
“I don’t know–that one.” Daniel snapped his fingers twice in the girl’s direction. “Hey, you, Meredith. Come here.”
Meredith stood and approached briskly, head down. “Yes sir.”
Derek looked her over. “What happened to you?”
“I shot someone.”
“With a bazooka? How’d you get blood all over you? Anyway, that doesn’t matter. This is my brother, Attorney Barry Schafer. You’re gonna go upstairs with him and run a name for him, okay? Give him whatever he wants.”
Barry and Derek exchanged a brief smirk, and then Derek smacked Barry on the arm with the manila folder he was holding and headed for the door.
Danny barreled out the front door of Cafe 360 yelling and cackling at the top of his lungs. He held a fifth of Blue Label Johnny Walker in one hand and a grill lighter he’d swiped from the kitchen in the other.
He crossed the street staggering and came to the entrance of a vintage clothing store. The door was locked so he searched about for something blunt and heavy. In the alleyway next to the building he found a chuck of rock the size of his head. The weight of it made him top-heavy and he dropped his scotch on the way back to the door, but that was okay. The streets were empty, alll the hippies and hipsters and proprietors of shops and restaurants had fled. Only Danny remained. Danny and about two dozen bars up and down Bardstown Road.
The rock smashed through the glass door easily, triggering a security alarm. Danny kicked at the remaining shards of glass and then stepped inside.
A few minutes later he reemerged from the store dressed in a yellow 70s-style leisure suit with bellbottom pants and a large pair of sunglasses. His pointy-toed boots crunched on shattered glass and tendrils of smoke trailed him out the door.
Lillia came down the stairs this time carrying a large bag that rattled as if filled with Legos. She also carried a plastic cup filled with water.
Sherman had gone to the kitchen to avoid further conversation with Ted, who fluctuated between aggressive retort and crude perversions, often mentioning the girl, Lillia. Enough was enough. Ted was just asking for a bullet.
He found a mop and bucket and was filling the bucket in the sink when he heard a door open upstairs. He shut the water off and returned to the foyer as Lillia was coming down.
She sat on the steps above Steve’s head and started fishing through the bag, coming out with a prescription pill bottle. She inspected the label closely, dropped it back in, and pulled out another. She did this several times before finally tossing the bag from her lap and twisting the cap on a bottle. Then she picked up the plastic cup and scooted down a step, closer to Steve.
“Mrs. Wilkins’s pain pills,” she said, looking at Sherman. “She has a whole pharmacy in her bedroom.”
She fished two pills from the bottle and hovered them over Steve’s mouth. Steve looked at her and then he stuck out his bloody tongue. Lillia dropped them and then poured a small stream of water in his mouth, most of which he coughed back up.
“More,” he choked.
This time Lillia gave him three pills, more water.
Sherman watched, mesmerized, as the little girl fed the entire bottle of pills to a man with a hole in his head the size of a small banana. She looked peaceful, contemplative, as though instead of delivering someone his death she were merely watering a garden.
When the pills were gone, she hopped over Steve’s body and came to stand by Sherman, and there they waited together for Steve’s chest to stop heaving.
“Will you stay with us?” she whispered.
Sherman nodded. “If you’ll have me, young lady, I’d certainly appreciate it. I don’t have any place else to go.”
“No, no, thank you,” Sherman said.
“He came at me, so I shot him. I couldn’t get a response from dispatch and I didn’t know what else to do, so I put him in my car and drove him to the hospital. No one would help me drag him inside. I couldn’t do it by myself. So I left him there. On the sidewalk.”
“Scumbag deserves to die,” Barry said.
Meredith’s fingers trembled as she typed on the keyboard. “Wally Hinkley, you said?”
“Try Walter. I’m looking for known criminal associates.”
“I’ll just print out his sheet.”
She made a few clicks with her computer mouse and then he followed her across the room to the printer, which had already spat out two sheets of paper. She handed them over and then stood there, still shaking.
“You need to toughen up a bit,” Barry said, “if you want to be a police officer.”
She sniffled sharply and then breathed through her open mouth.
“You don’t know what it’s like. To kill somebody.”
Barry snickered. Then the lights went out.
Out on the street the crowds erupted in earsplitting screams and quickly dispersed from the barricades. Derek Schafer was the last of his small entourage to notice the ground and the buildings light up in a stark orange-golden glow. He walked several steps ahead of the other detectives, too busy scrutinizing the contents of his manila folder, when finally he heard the crackle and sizzle of electricity above him and looked up to see a giant creature passing just overtop the buildings. It looked like a squid, only with thousands of tentacles of varying sizes, some so small his eyes could barely detect them, and they waved as though the beast were swimming through the sky. Bolts of lightning sizzled in the air all around it, and the creature emitted a thick and piercing glow that left spots in Derek’s eyes long after it floated on past the taller buildings to the west and disappeared.
To be continued . . .
Read Episode Five