The Passage Page 30

"That's right."

"Ain't this a can of peas." He turned to Kirk. "Whatcha got the girl in the cell for?"

"She said she wanted to."

"Jesus, Kirk. You can't put a little kid in there. Did you book the other two?"

"I wanted to wait for you to get here."

Price sighed with exasperation. "You know," he said, and rolled his eyes, "you really got to work on your confidence, Kirk. We've talked about this. You let Luanne and all them others bust on you too much." When Kirk said nothing, he continued. "Well, might as well get on the horn. I know they're looking all over hell and earth for this one." He looked at Amy. "You okay, girl?"

Amy, who was sitting on the concrete bench next to Wolgast, gave a little nod.

"She said she wanted to," Kirk repeated.

"I don't care what she said." Price took a key from a compartment on his belt and unlocked the cell. "Come on, girly," he said, and extended a hand. "Jail cell's no place for you. Let's get you a pop or something. And Kirk, get Mavis on the phone, will you? Tell her we need her over here pronto."

When they were alone again, Doyle, who was slouched on the concrete bench, tipped his head back, closing his eyes. "For Christsakes," he moaned. "It's like an episode of Green Acres."

About half an hour passed; Wolgast could hear Kirk and Price talking in the other room, deciding what to do, whom to call first. The state police? The DA's office? So far, they hadn't even booked them yet. But it was all right; this would happen in due course. Wolgast heard the door open and then a woman's voice, talking to Amy, telling her what a pretty girl she was and asking her what her rabbit's name was, and would she maybe like an ice cream, the store around the corner was opening in just a few minutes, she'd be glad to go and get her one. All of it just as Wolgast had foreseen when, sitting in the Tahoe in the darkened car wash, he'd decided to turn himself in. He was glad he'd done it, so glad it surprised him, and the cell, which he guessed was the first of many in his life, didn't seem so bad. He wondered if that was how Anthony Carter had felt, if he had said to himself, This is my life from now on.

Price stepped up to the cell, holding the key. "Staties on the way," he said, rocking on his heels. "You all must have stirred up some real hornet's nest from the sound of it." He tossed a pair of cuffs through the bars. "I'm thinking you all know how to use these."

Doyle and Wolgast cuffed themselves; Price opened the cell and led them back to the office. Amy was sitting in a folding metal chair by the reception desk, her backpack on her lap, eating an ice cream sandwich. A grandmotherly woman in a green pantsuit was sitting beside her, showing her a coloring book.

"He's my daddy," Amy told the woman.

"This one here?" the woman said, turning her head. She had dark, drawn-on eyebrows and a rigid helmet of raven-black hair-a wig. She looked at Wolgast quizzically, then back at Amy. "This man here's your daddy?"

"It's all right," Wolgast said.

"That's my daddy," Amy repeated. Her voice was stern, correcting. "Daddy, we have to go right now."

Price had taken out a fingerprinting kit; behind them, Kirk was setting up a screen and camera, to take their mug shots.

"What's that about?" Price asked him.

"It's a long story," Wolgast managed.

"Daddy, now."

Wolgast heard the door to the office open behind him. The woman lifted her face. "Help you?"

"Hey, good morning," said a man's voice. There was something familiar about it. Price was holding Wolgast's right hand by the wrist, to roll his fingers in the ink. Then Wolgast saw the expression on Doyle's face, and he knew.

"This the sheriff's office?" Richards was saying. "Hey, everyone. Whoa, are those things real? That's a lot of guns. Here, I've got something to show you."

Wolgast swiveled in time to see Richards shoot the woman in the forehead. One shot, close range, muffled to a clap by the long bore of the suppressor. She rocked back in her chair, her eyes startled open, her wig askew on her head. A delicate frond of blood wet the floor behind her. Her arms lifted and then fell again, into stillness.

"Sorry," Richards said, wincing a little. He stepped around the desk. The room was filled with the acrid odor of gunpowder smoke. Price and Kirk were frozen with fear where they stood, their jaws hanging open. Or perhaps it wasn't fear they were feeling, but mute incomprehension. As if they'd stepped into a movie, a movie that made no sense.

"Hey," Richards said, taking aim, "stand still. Just like that. Superduper." And Richards shot them too.

No one moved. It had all happened with a curious, dreamlike slowness but was over in an instant. Wolgast looked at the woman, then at the two bodies on the floor, Kirk and Price. How surprising death was, how irrevocable and complete, how much itself. At the reception desk, Amy's eyes were locked on the dead woman's face. The girl had been sitting just a few feet away when Richards had shot her. Her mouth was open, as if she were about to speak; blood was running down her forehead, seeking out the deep creases of her face, fanning across it like a river delta. Clutched in Amy's hand were the melting remains of her half-eaten ice cream sandwich; probably some of it was actually in her mouth at that moment, coating her tongue with its sweetness. A strange thing, but Wolgast thought it: for the rest of her life, the taste of ice cream would recall this image.

"What the f**k!" Doyle said. "You f**king shot them!"

Price had hit the floor face-down behind his desk. Richards knelt by his body and patted his pockets until he found the key to the handcuffs, which he tossed to Wolgast. He waved his gun listlessly at Doyle, who was eyeing the glass case of shotguns.

"I wouldn't," Richards cautioned, and Doyle sat down.

"You're not going to shoot us," Wolgast said, freeing his hands.

"Not just now," Richards said.

Amy had begun to cry, her breath hiccuping in her chest. Wolgast gave the key to Doyle and picked her up and held her tightly to his chest. Her body went limp against his own. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry." It was all he could think to say.

"This is very touching," Richards said, handing Doyle the little backpack of Amy's belongings, "but if we don't leave now, I'm going to be shooting a lot more people, and I feel like I've had a very full morning already."

Wolgast thought of the coffee shop. It was possible everybody there was dead too. Amy hiccuped against his chest; he could feel her tears soaking his shirt. "Goddamnit, she's a kid."

Richards frowned. "Why does everybody keep saying that?" He motioned with his weapon toward the door. "Let's go."

The Tahoe was waiting outside in the morning light, parked beside Price's cruiser. Richards told Doyle to drive and sat in the backseat with Amy. Wolgast felt completely helpless; after all he'd done, the hundreds of decisions he'd made, there was nothing left to do but obey. Richards directed them out of town, to an open field where an unmarked helicopter with a lean black body was waiting. At their approach its wide blades began to turn. Wolgast heard the wail of sirens in the distance, coming closer.

"Let's be quick now," Richards said, motioning with his weapon.

They climbed into the helicopter and were airborne almost instantly. Wolgast held Amy tight. He felt as if he were in a trance, a dream-a terrible, unspeakable dream in which everything he'd ever wanted in his life was being taken away from him, while all he could do was watch. He'd had this dream before; it was a dream in which he wanted to die but couldn't. The copter banked steeply, opening a view of the sodden field and beyond, at its edge, a line of police cars, moving fast. Wolgast counted nine. In the cockpit Richards pointed out the windshield and said something to the pilot that made him bank the other way, then guide the chopper into a hovering position. The cruisers were coming closer now, within just a few hundred yards of the Tahoe. Richards motioned for Wolgast to pick up a headset.

"Watch this," he told him.

Before Wolgast could answer there was blinding flash of light, like a gigantic camera going off; a concussive thump rocked the chopper. Wolgast gripped Amy by the waist and held on. When he looked out the window again, all that remained of the Tahoe was a smoking hole in the earth, big enough to fit a house in. He heard Richards laughing through the headset. Then the helicopter banked once more, the force of its acceleration pressing them into their seats, and took them all away.

Chapter TWELVE

That he was dead was a fact. Wolgast accepted it, as he accepted any fact of nature. When everything was over-in whatever manner this occurred-Richards would take him to a room somewhere, give him the same cool, final look he'd given Price and Kirk-like a man performing some simple test of accuracy, lining up a cue ball or tossing a piece of wadded paper into the trash-and that would be the end of it.

It was possible Richards would take him outside to do it. Wolgast hoped he would, someplace he could see trees and feel the touch of sunlight on his skin, before Richards put a bullet in his head. Maybe he'd even ask. Would you mind? he'd say. If it's not too much trouble. I'd like to be looking at the trees.

He'd been at the compound for twenty-seven days. By his count it was the third week of April. He didn't know where Amy was, or Doyle. They'd been separated the minute they landed, Amy hustled away by Richards and a group of armed soldiers, Wolgast and Doyle with a coterie of their own-but then they'd been split up, too. Nobody had debriefed him, which at first struck him as strange, but when enough time had passed, Wolgast understood the reason. None of it had officially happened. Nobody was going to debrief him because his story was just that, a story. The only remaining question for him to puzzle over was why Richards hadn't just shot him in the first place.

The room they'd locked him in was like something in a cheap motel, though plainer: no carpet on the floor, no drapes on the lone window, heavy institutional furniture, bolted down. A tiny closet of a bathroom with a floor as cold as ice. A tangle of wires on the wall where a TV had once been. The door to the hall was thick and opened with a buzz from the outside. His only visitors were the men who brought him his meals: silent, hulking figures wearing unmarked brown jumpsuits who left his trays of food on the small table where Wolgast passed most of each day, sitting and waiting. Probably Doyle was doing the same thing, assuming Richards hadn't shot him already.

The view wasn't anything, just empty pine forest, but sometimes Wolgast would stand and look out there for hours, too. Spring was coming. The woods were sodden with melting snow, and from everywhere came the sound of running water-dripping from the roofs and branches, running down the gutters. If he stood on his toes, Wolgast could just make out a fence line through the trees, and figures moving along it. One night at the beginning of the fourth week of his imprisonment, a heavy rainstorm blew through. The force of it was practically biblical; thunder rocked over the mountains all night long, and in the morning he looked out his window and saw that winter was over, rinsed away by the rain.

For a while he'd tried to talk to the men who brought him his meals and, every other day, a clean set of surgical scrubs and slippers for him to wear, even just to ask them their names. But none had offered so much as one word in reply. They moved heavily, their movements clumsy and imprecise, their expressions benumbed and incurious, like the living dead in some old movie. Corpses gathering outside a farmhouse, moaning and tripping over their feet, wearing the tattered uniforms of their forgotten lives: he'd loved such films when he was a boy, not understanding how true they really were. What were the living dead, Wolgast thought, but a metaphor for the misbegotten march of middle age?

It was possible, he understood, for a person's life to become just a long series of mistakes, and that the end, when it came, was just one more instance in a chain of bad choices. The thing was, most of these mistakes were actually borrowed from other people. You took their bad ideas and, for whatever reason, made them your own. That was the truth he'd learned on the carousel with Amy, though the thought had been building in him for a while, most of a year, in fact. Wolgast had more than enough time now to think this over. You couldn't look into the eyes of a man like Anthony Carter and fail to see how this worked. It was as if, that night in Oklahoma, he'd had his first real idea in years. His first since Lila, since Eva. But Eva had died, three weeks short of her first birthday, and since that day he'd walked the earth like the living dead, or a man holding a ghost, the empty space in his arms where Eva had been. That's why he'd been so good with Carter and the others: he was just like them.

He wondered where Amy was, what was happening to her. He hoped she wasn't lonely and afraid. More than hoped: he held the idea with the fierceness of a prayer, trying to make it so with his mind. He wondered if he'd ever see her again, and the thought made him rise from his chair and go to the window, as if he might find her out there, in the shifting shadows of the trees. And more hours would somehow go by, the passage of time marked only by the changing light from the window and the comings and goings of the men with his meals, most of which he barely touched. All night long he slept a dreamless sleep that left him dazed in the morning, his arms and legs heavy as iron. He wondered how much longer he had.

Then, on the morning of the thirty-fourth day, someone came to see him. It was Sykes, but he was different. The man he'd met a year ago was all spit and polish. This man, though he was wearing the same uniform, looked like he'd slept under a highway overpass. His uniform was wrinkled and stained; his cheeks and chin were glazed with gray stubble; his eyes were as bloodshot as a boxer's after a few rounds of a badly mismatched fight. He sat heavily at the table where Wolgast was. He folded his hands, cleared his throat, and spoke.

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