The City of Mirrors Page 111

Eustace took the podium and got to it. “Well, we don’t know much more at this point than everybody else. About seventy folks have gone missing over the last couple of nights. Mind, these are the ones we know about. Deputy Fry and I haven’t gotten out to all the farms yet.”

“So why aren’t you out looking for them?” a voice yelled.

Eustace parsed the man’s face from the crowd. “Because I’m standing here talking to you, Gar. Now just button it so I can get through this.”

A voice barked from the other side of the room: “Yeah, shut your mouth and let the man talk!”

More yelling, anxious voices volleying back and forth. Eustace let it run its course.

“Like I was saying,” he continued, “we don’t know where these folks have gone off to. What seemed to have happened is that, for whatever reason, these individuals got up in the middle of the night, went outside, and didn’t come back.”

“Maybe somebody’s taking them!” Gar yelled. “Maybe that person is right here in this room!”

The effect was instantaneous; everybody started looking at everybody else. A low murmuring rippled through the room. Could it be…?

“We’re not ruling anything out at this point,” Eustace said, aware of how weak this sounded, “but that doesn’t seem so likely. We’re talking about a lot of people.”

“Maybe it’s more than one person doing this!”

“Gar, you want to come up here and run this meeting?”

“I’m just saying—”

“What you’re doing is scaring people. I’m not having you start a panic, people looking sideways at each other. For all we know, these folks have gone off on their own. Now, pipe down before I lock you up.”

A woman in the front row rose to her feet. “Are you saying my boys ran away? They’re six and seven!”

“No, I’m not saying that, Lena. We just don’t have any more information than what I’m telling you. The best thing people can do is stay in their homes till we sort this out.”

“And what about my wife?” Eustace couldn’t see who was talking. “Are you saying she just up and left me?”

The mayor, stepping forward to retake the podium, held up both hands. “I think what the sheriff is trying to express—”

“He’s not ‘expressing’ anything! You heard him! He doesn’t know!”

Everybody started shouting again. There was no taking this thing back; it was spiraling out of control. Eustace glanced across the stage at Fry, who tipped his head toward the wings. As the mayor resumed banging his gavel, Eustace slipped backstage and met Fry at the door. The two men stepped outside.

“Well, that was sure productive,” Fry said. “Glad to get out before the shooting started.”

“I wouldn’t joke about that. We’re going to be on the top of everybody’s list if we don’t figure this thing out.”

“Think they’re still alive?”

“Not really.”

“What do you want to do?”

The day was bright and warm, the sun midpoint in a cloudless sky. Eustace remembered a day like this one: spring on the cusp of summer, the earth unclenching its fist, thick green leaves, rich with fragrance, fattening the trees. A walk by the river, Simon balanced on his shoulders, Nina beside him; the day like a marvelous gift, and then the moment, unmistakable, when the boy had had his fill; returning to the house and putting him down for his nap, Nina beckoning to him from the doorway with her special smile, the one only for him, and the two of them tiptoeing to their room to make quiet, lazy love on a sunny afternoon. Always the joke: How can you kiss this damn ugly face of mine? But she could; she did. The last such day; for Eustace, there would never come another.

“Let’s find those missing people.”

* * *

42

Apgar found Peter where he always was: at his desk, wading through a mass of paperwork. Just two days without Chase’s organizing presence, and Peter felt completely swamped.

“Got a minute?”

“Make it fast.”

Apgar took the chair across from him. “Chase really sandbagged you. You shouldn’t have let him off the hook so easily.”

“What can I say? I’m too nice.”

Apgar cleared his throat. “We’ve got a problem.”

He was filling out a form. “Are you quitting, too?”

“Probably not the moment for that. I got a message from Rosenberg this morning. A lot of tankers moving through there in the last few days, but none of it is showing up here.”

Peter raised his head.

“You heard me.”

“What does the refinery say?”

“Everything on schedule, blah blah blah. Then, as of this morning, not a peep, and we can’t raise them.”

Peter leaned back in his chair. Good God.

“I’ve got men on the way to the refinery to check it out,” Apgar continued, “but I think I know what we’ll find. You’ve got to hand it to the guy for balls, anyway.”

“What the hell would Dunk need our oil for?”

“My bet is, he doesn’t. It’s a play. He wants something.”

“Such as?”

“You’ve got me there. It isn’t going to be small, though. Light and Power says we have enough gas on hand for ten days, a few more if we ration. Even if we can secure the refinery, no way we can get enough slick back into the system to keep the lights burning. In less than two weeks, this city goes dark.”

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