|Jorge Ryan, (Wiki.)|
He did up the bottom of the jacket. Taking the cat from Amy, he stuffed it into the top, sort of in front of his left shoulder and then hurriedly zipped it to the neck. With his left arm slung under the cat’s weight, he led off, holding the rail with his right hand. Amy was right at his back, one hand on his shoulder and one on the handrail.
Each floor was about ten feet in elevation and then he was poised on the brink. Ten or twelve feet to safety. There were people boiling out of the front doors and down the front steps. Mark wasn’t exactly sure how this particular fire-escape stair worked. It was probably sprung on torsion-bars. He put his foot on the swinging section and it pivoted downwards.
“Okay, just wait until I’m down.” Mark bent at the waist again, trying to keep the cat from falling out of the bottom of the jacket, but he wanted both hands to hold on. “Here we go.”
The stairs tilted more steeply, and he cursed, not sure if he should be going down backwards or what. But they had been designed for people in a panic, which he was trying not to do.
That sort of implied just running down frontwards…
Everyone was yelling, and there were sirens in the distance. Hopefully they were heading for this building but it was a big city and there was always a fire someplace, always sirens going somewhere. Sirens, always in the background noise, in some sort of horrid urban process of life, death, and renewal.
There were more people on the fire escape, crowding down from above. Their voices were high-pitched and Mark had better get on with it. They were going to cause problems for Amy, and the whole apparatus was shaking under his feet.
He stepped forwards as boldly as he could, and the thing leaned farther with a long, agonizing screech.
Wouldn’t that be just like a slum-lord like Olivetti? The fire escape wasn’t worth shit, and Mark found himself grabbing the cat through the coat again. He stomped, ultimately jumping up and down on the second and third steps, hunched over like Quasimodo, and finally the damned stairs let go with a lurch. The stairs fell the last eight or ten feet, Mark going weightless for a moment before the end hit the sidewalk with a crash.
The cat kicked, squirmed and clawed, and Mark hurriedly got down the last few steps and out of the way.
Amy didn’t hesitate, following him down and out onto the sidewalk where people were milling around, looking up and around, trying to see who was there and who wasn’t…women were screaming, children were crying and the males were cursing whole-heartedly.
Seeing all the commotion, the animal hesitated, and he tried to calm it. If the thing got away from him, they’d never catch it.
Amy grabbed his other arm.
Mark turned, looking back up at the building. He’d lived there a little over a week, ten days at most…
Lurid orange flames poured up and out of the top two floors. The windows glowed red below that, including his own unit. The roar and crack of the flames was horrific, a pillar of smoke lit and backlit by the lights of the city all around. Three people came down the fire escape, coughing and gasping, eyes watering. The smell of smoke, like burning garbage, was intense even in the clear air at ground level. People were congregating across the street and there was at least one cop, on the scene and stopping traffic in both directions.
He found himself crying, as Amy tugged and pulled at him.
His eyes searched the crowd.
“Mark. Mark. We have to go—”
“Fuck. Where’s Duke—”
He saw the black people from across the hall—there seemed to be a half a dozen of them, which accounted for about as many as he had seen. There was the guy from the laundry room, and the woman, and the child. There was the little old lady…the deaf guy from the second floor. There was the grey-faced fat guy with the backpack, Mark had never been sure if he lived there or what. There were a lot of people he didn’t recognize, passers-by most likely.
The sirens were getting louder and two police cars came around the corner a couple of blocks up.
Navigating the mess of stopped traffic, they slewed to a halt and men began jumping out.
They turned and tried to un-snarl the traffic. There were more sirens as the fire trucks became visible, red lights flashing from blocks away as they raced inbound.
Just at the curb was a familiar, scruffy blue sedan.
Mark’s jaw dropped. It couldn’t have been fifty feet away, and there was someone in there.
The dark silhouette of a head and shoulders was clearly moving around in there, probably on the radio.
His feet began to move and Amy wept, dragging him along. The cat’s head stuck out, as the thing began to wiggle and move again, if it had ever truly stopped.
Wailing sirens began to wind down at the first two fire units slowed to a crawl and then stopped.
The car door opened and O’Hara got out. He stood beside the vehicle, looking up at the building, the microphone on its curling extension cord up to his mouth. Turning to and fro, O’Hara’s eyes swept the crowd, both sides of the street and Mark’s guts froze as the deadly blue eyes swept over him and Amy.
Just then, the front door of the building opened and Duke came out, hood up and sweeping Maude along in front of him.
She hadn’t been out of the building in years—
She was hysterical, her crinkly blonde flower-child hair flailing around as she backed up, beating on Duke’s chest as she desperately tried to get back in. Maude was making a big thing out of it, a real scene and then O’Hara turned.
Mouth open, Mark pulled Amy into the mouth of the second alley.
Duke gave Maude a shove as O’Hara spied him. Duke was yelling at Maude, at people, and someone, someone from the building who must have known something about Maude, ran forward from a clump of people on this side, but a few yards on the other side of the building.
They grabbed Maude, hugging her close and fighting with her as she put her head down and then just slumped, falling halfway to the ground. More people grabbed arms and legs and tried to deal with her hysteria.
That white parka stuck out like a sore thumb.
O’Hara slammed the door. He was running past the front of the car, drawing his gun.
The noise was such that it was like a silent film.
O’Hara was shouting and Amy was crying and trying to drag Mark away.
Duke had a horn case in the other hand…it was that fucking horrible scuffed, matte-black colour and Mark hadn’t seen it at first. How the hell Duke had managed to manhandle Maude and hang onto the thing was a mystery, he really shouldn’t have been able…
O’Hara had the gun up. Duke was about to melt into the crowd as firemen raced past, pulling hoses and nozzles up the front steps, although it was already a foregone conclusion. O’Hara couldn’t shoot without hitting them.
Duke dropped the case, flinging it aside from his left hand as he spun, dropping into the gun-fighter’s crouch as known to every kid in the whole wide world from comic books, film and television…
Duke’s gun spat flame but O’Hara was already firing.
They were in the train station, completely numb.
Grand Central was never quiet, but at this time of night, shortly before dawn, they could at least talk and hear themselves think.
Mark was sick at the stomach, nauseous at what had transpired. Amy, shocked herself and sympathetic, struggled to control the cat, who had been constrained long enough.
“We’ve got to do something about this creature.”
Mark nodded, wondering if they should just let the thing go. But to do that was irresponsible, and would probably doom the animal to a short, brutal and nasty life on the streets or in the train yards or in the tunnels under the city.
“Extra! Extra! Read all about it!”
Mark raised an arm.
“Yeah. I’ll take one.” For a dime, Mark’s arms sagged under the weight of all the news that was fit to print.
Number Ninety-Nine Easy Street was plastered all over the front page, probably because a photographer had gotten to the fire at just the right moment and they had some good pictures…
Amy had the cat inside her sweater, grateful it wasn’t very big. The thing had simmered down under her gentle administration, scratching it under the chin and cooing and murmuring in reassuring tones. The real problem was the harsh, loud announcements over the loudspeakers.
These were increasing in frequency as the day began and they would have to make a move soon.
“What does it say?”
Mark’s eyes raced across the page, and then he rapidly turned the pages, trying to find where the continued story picked up in an inner section.
“Okay. No one injured in the fire—that’s good.” Tears sprang to his eyes, at the thought of his friend, risking his ass, trying to get the people out when he could have gotten clean away himself.
The significance of Duke borrowing his coat was also deeply troubling.
“Go on, go on.” Amy’s own stomach was rumbling.
They hadn’t slept in what seemed like days, and the fact was that they had to do something—
Mark’s heart began to race when he spotted O’Hara’s name.
Slowing down, he read it aloud for her benefit.
“…New York Police Detective Ed O’Hara was dead at the scene of a shooting that occurred in front of the building at the time of the fire…”
It was like he just couldn’t get any air.
“…Detective O’Hara, according to witnesses, was shouting incoherently, with his weapon drawn, running around at the scene. The detective was observed to discharge his weapon at a second victim. Elmer Barrett, of Ninety-Nine Easy Street, returned fire and killed the detective with several shots. He is presently in hospital with injuries that are described as critical…”
Duke was alive.
Mark lowered the paper, staring off into the infinite distance, shiny stone walls notwithstanding.
O’Hara dead and Duke alive.
With Amy peering over his shoulder in the garishly bad light, he read on.
“According to unnamed sources, Detective O’Hara had been struggling with depression and alcoholism as a result of divorce and separation from his wife and children. The detective had taken a number of sick days over the past few months and was seeking help for medical problems. As for the motive in the shooting, police are not speculating, and information is being withheld pending the outcome of a full investigation.”
Even so, there must be more to it than that—O’Hara might have been nuts, but that was rarely enough to make a man kill. He just had too much to lose, and in the story they said he had been seeking help.
Mark quickly read to the bottom of the story, disappointed that there wasn’t much more.
“Shit.” He folded up the paper after dumping a lot of supplements and inserts that he wasn’t going to read in a nearby trashcan.
“Shit. Amy. What in the hell are we going to do now?”
It was Thursday night, and Mark had made it in to work.
He had a half-decent used trumpet and a sax that wasn’t quite such a nice instrument as the one lost in the apartment, but it was in much better shape. Mark had picked them up in a pawn shop.
He’d bought some clothes, doing his best. Benny would have read the papers and would accept things at face value, when it came right down to that.
Mona and Benny were at their table with a few guests. While he was pretty sure Mona wasn’t a predator, her eyes came back to him often enough…
There was a reasonable crowd in the club for a Thursday night. The low murmur of people’s voices rose and fell, following some unknown but mass social logic of its own as the waiters plied their trade in a slow ebb and flow.
Amy had agreed to stay away, badly as she wanted to be there to witness this moment. Mark had stayed with her and Sandy for a couple of nights while they tried to figure out what to do.
The answer had eventually made itself obvious—to do nothing.
Nothing at all.
Duke would live. With his injuries, he was safe enough from the draft board. With a bit of luck, he might never have to serve at all. Still in intensive care, Mark would be visiting Duke (or Elmer) the minute the doctors allowed it. In the meantime, they just had to wait—and to worry, and to try and get on with their lives.
There was a smattering off applause from the more aware.
It was seven o’clock and Doc was beaming and waving at the crowd.
Doc leaned into the nearest microphone.
“Ladies and gentlemen. Mister Dale Cromwell…” Some of the more female members of the audience definitely sat up a little straighter upon hearing it.
He heaved a deep sigh, purging his lungs of CO2, nodding at Dale as the fellow came onstage.
Mark was standing six feet behind him, just off his right elbow.
Dale was impeccable in the clothing, his hair perfect and looking very pink and scrubbed in the slight jowls he was developing.
Having Amy there would have added to the pressure. More than anything, Mark just wanted to get used to it.
Doc tapped his stick and they were ready.
The house lights came down as Dale put the horn up to his lips and began to blow.
This was it.
This was real.
This was now, baby.
Wow, that was scary, eh, kids? Thanks for reading. I don't know about you guys, but I had a wonderful time.
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