Shelter in place, p.3
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       Shelter in Place, p.3
 

          

  She eased the door open, saw the girl crouched on the toilet seat, her hands pressed to her ears.

  “Simone.” Hunkering down, Essie laid a hand on Simone’s knee. “You’re all right now.”

  “They’re screaming. He’s killing them. Tish, Mi, my mom, my sister.”

  “Help’s here now. We’ll find them for you. Let’s get you out of here, okay? You were really smart. You saved lives tonight, Simone, by calling for help.”

  Simone looked up then, huge brown eyes drenched with tears and shock. “My phone died. I forgot to charge it, and it died. So I hid in here.”

  “That’s good, that’s fine. Come on with me now. I’m Officer McVee. This is Officer Simpson.”

  “The man, the man ran out, and fell. The blood. I saw—I saw—Tish and Mi are in the movie. My mom and sister are shopping.”

  “We’re going to find them for you.” She put an arm around Simone, helped her down, helped her out. “You’re going to go with Officer Simpson. And I’m going to go find your mom and your sister and your friends.”

  “Essie.”

  “You’re hurt, Barry. Take the kid. Get her checked out.”

  She led the girl down the corridor, past the theaters. The situation report on her radio claimed two more shooters were down. She hoped that was all of them, but she needed to be sure.

  But when Barry took over, steering Simone toward the glass doors and the flashing lights of cop cars and ambulances, Simone stopped, looked directly into Essie’s eyes.

  “Tulip and Natalie Knox. Mi-Hi Jung and Tish Olsen. You have to find them. Please. Please find them.”

  “Got it. On it.”

  Essie headed the opposite way. She didn’t hear gunfire anymore and somebody, thank Christ, had shut off the music. Her radio crackled about areas cleared, calls for medical assistance.

  She stopped, stared at the mall she’d shopped in, wandered in, grabbed her first meal in for as long as she could remember.

  It would take time, she thought, almost numb, to clear the dead, to treat and transport the wounded, to take statements from those who’d escaped injury—physical injury, she corrected. She doubted anyone who lived through this night would come through unscathed.

  Paramedics poured in now, but there were so many beyond their help.

  A woman with blood running down her arm cradled a man—beyond help—in her lap. A male in a Red Sox jersey lay facedown. She could see gray matter in his head wound. A female, early twenties, sat weeping in front of Starbucks, her apron spattered with blood.

  She saw a little pink sneaker, and though she prayed the girl who’d lost it found safety, it wrenched her heart.

  She saw a man—early twenties/late teens—stagger out of GameStop. His thick glasses sat askew over eyes as dazed as a dreamer’s.

  “Is it over?” he asked her. “Is it over?”

  “Are you injured?”

  “No. I banged my elbow. I…” Those dazed eyes skimmed over her, then over the bleeding, the dead. “Oh jeez, oh jeez. In the—in the back room. I got people in the back room. Like they said to do if … They’re in the back room.”

  “Just hold on a minute.” She turned away to use her radio, to ask if she could lead a group out, and to what checkpoint.

  “What’s your name?” she asked him.

  “I’m Chaz Bergman. I’m, like, the manager on duty tonight.”

  “Okay, Chaz, you did good. Let’s get your people out now. There are officers outside who’ll take your statements, but let’s get everybody outside.”

  “I’ve got a friend. Reed, Reed Quartermaine. He works at Mangia—the restaurant. Can you find him?”

  “I’ll find him.” Essie added him to her list.

  “Is it over?” Chaz asked again.

  “Yes,” she told him, knowing it for a lie.

  For everyone touched by the violence that day, it would never be over.

  * * *

  Reed had Brady on his hip when he spotted some of the Mangia crew. Some sat on a curb, holding each other. Rosie, still in her cook’s apron, covered her face with her hands.

  Eat that pasta, she always said to him. Fatten you up, skinny boy.

  “You’re okay, you’re okay.” Reed closed his eyes as he started to crouch down to her. She leaped up, wrapped her arms around him.

  “You’re not hurt.” Rosie cupped Reed’s face.

  He shook his head. “Is everybody okay?”

  Rosie let out a sound, like something tearing.

  “He came in and…” Rosie broke off as she registered the boy Reed held. “We’ll talk about it later. Who is this handsome fellow?”

  “This is Brady.” Not everyone was okay, Reed thought. “We, ah, hung out together. I need to help him find his mom.”

  And call his own, Reed thought. He’d texted her from inside, told her he was okay, not to worry. But he needed to call home.

  “The good guys came. Reed said.”

  “Yes, they did.” Rosie worked up a smile with tears flowing over it.

  “I want Mommy.”

  “I’m going to ask one of the cops to help.”

  Reed straightened again, walked toward a cop—a girl cop, because he thought Brady might go with a woman. “Officer? Can you help me? This is Brady, and he can’t find his mom.”

  “Hey, Brady. What’s your mom’s name?”

  “Mommy.”

  “What’s your daddy call her?”

  “Honey.”

  Essie smiled. “I bet she has another name.”

  “Lisa Honey.”

  “Okay, and what’s your whole name?”

  “I’m Brady Michael Foster. I’m four years old. My daddy is a fireman and I have a dog named Mac.”

  “A fireman, and what’s his whole name?”

  “He’s Michael Honey.”

  “Okay. Hold on a minute.”

  Firefighters were among the first responders, so Essie tracked one down. “I need a Michael Foster. I’ve got his son.”

  “Foster’s one of mine. You’ve got Brady? Is he hurt?”

  “No.”

  “His mother’s en route to the hospital. Two shots in the back, fuck me. Foster’s looking for the boy now. He didn’t know they were here until our paramedics found Lisa.” He rubbed his hands over his face. “Can’t say if she’ll make it. Here he comes.”

  Essie saw the man rushing through the shell-shocked crowd. Compact build, brown, close-cropped hair. His body jerked, sagged, then shifted direction as he ran toward his son.

  In Reed’s arms, Brady let out a squeal. “Daddy!”

  Michael grabbed his son from Reed, folded him in, ran kisses over his head, his face. “Brady, thank God, thank God. Are you hurt? Did anybody hurt you?”

  “Mommy fell down, and I couldn’t find her. Reed found me and he said we had to be real quiet and wait for the good guys. I was real quiet like he said, even when he put me in the cupboard.”

  Michael’s eyes swirled with tears when they met Reed’s. “You’re Reed?”

  “Yes, sir.”

  Michael shot out a hand, gripped Reed’s. “I’m never going to be able to thank you. I’ve got things to say to you, but—” He broke off as his mind cleared enough to notice the blood on Reed’s pants and shoes. “You’re hurt.”

  “No. I don’t think … It’s not mine. It’s not…” Words dried up.

  “Okay. Okay, Reed. Listen, I’ve got to get Brady out of here. Do you need help?”

  “I have to find Chaz. I don’t know if he’s okay. I have to find him.”

  “Hold on.”

  Michael shifted Brady on his hip, pulled out his radio.

  “I want Mommy.”

  “Okay, pal, but we’re going to help Reed out.”

  While Michael talked into the radio, Reed looked around. So many lights, everything bright and blurring. So much noise. Talking, shouting, crying. He saw a man, moaning, bleeding, on a stretcher being loaded into an ambulance. A woman wearing one shoe and wi
th a slow trickle of blood sliding down the side of her face limped in circles, calling for Judy, until somebody in a uniform led her away.

  A girl with a long brown ponytail sat on a curb talking to a police officer. She just kept shaking her head, and her eyes—like a tiger color—glinted in the whirling, swirling lights.

  He saw television vans and more bright lights behind the yellow police tape. People were crowded behind the tape, some of them calling out names.

  It struck him, suddenly and hard: Some of the names they called would never answer again.

  He started to shake from the inside out. Gut, bowels, heart. His ears started to buzz, his vision blurred.

  “Hey, Reed, how about you sit down a minute? I’m going to find out about your friend.”

  “No, I need to—” He saw Chaz, coming out with a group of people, with cops moving them along. “Jesus. Jesus. Chaz!”

  He shouted it, like one of the people behind the police tape, and sprinted.

  * * *

  On the curb, Simone waited to feel her legs again. To feel everything again. Her body had gone numb, like someone had given her a full-body shot of novocaine.

  “Your mom and sister are okay.”

  She heard Officer McVee’s words, tried to feel them. “Where are they? Where are they?”

  “They’re going to bring them out soon. Your mom has some minor injuries. Minor, Simone. She’s fine. They got inside one of the shops, got to safety. Your mom got some cuts from flying glass, and hit her head. But she’s fine, okay?”

  All Simone could do was shake her head. “Mom hit her head.”

  “But she’s going to be fine. They got to safety, and they’re coming out soon.”

  “Mi, Tish.”

  She knew, she knew by the way Officer McVee put an arm around her shoulders. She couldn’t feel it, not really, just the weight.

  The weight.

  “Mi’s on her way to the hospital. They’re going to take good care of her, do everything they can.”

  “Mi. He shot her?” Her voice spiked, stabbing her own ears. “He shot her?”

  “She’s going to the hospital, and they’re waiting to take care of her.”

  “I had to pee. I wasn’t there. I had to pee. Tish was there. Where’s Tish?”

  “We have to wait until everyone’s out, and everyone’s accounted for.”

  Simone kept shaking her head. “No, no, no. They were sitting together. I had to pee. He shot Mi. He shot her. Tish. Sitting together.”

  She looked at Essie, and knew. And knowing caused her to feel again. To feel everything.

  * * *

  Reed caught Chaz in a bear hug, felt at least some of the world was right again. They stood gripping each other in front of the girl with the long brown ponytail and tiger eyes.

  When she let out a wordless, keening wail, Reed dropped his head onto Chaz’s shoulder.

  Inside the wail, he knew, was a name that would never answer again.

  * * *

  They couldn’t make her go home. Everything was jumbled and tangled together, but she knew she sat in a hospital waiting room on a hard plastic chair. She had a Coke in her hands.

  Her sister and their father sat with her. Natalie curled against Dad, but Simone didn’t want to be held or touched.

  She didn’t know how long they’d waited. A long time? Five minutes?

  Other people waited, too.

  She heard numbers, different numbers.

  Three shooters. Eighty-six injured. Sometimes the number of injured went up, sometimes down.

  Thirty-six dead. Fifty-eight.

  Numbers changing, always changing.

  Tish was dead. That wouldn’t change.

  They had to wait in the hard chairs while somebody picked glass out of her mother’s head, and treated the cuts on her face.

  She had an image of that face in her head, all those little nicks, and the face pale, pale, pale under the makeup. Her mother’s blond hair—always perfect—bloody and tangled.

  They’d brought her out on one of those rolling stretcher things with Natalie clinging to her hand and crying.

  Natalie didn’t get hurt because Mom had shoved her into the shop, and Mom had fallen. Natalie pulled and dragged her inside, and behind a display counter of summer tanks and tees.

  Natalie was brave. Simone would tell her she was brave when she could speak again.

  But now they had to get the glass out of her mother’s head, and examine her because she’d hit her head, too, and it had knocked her out for a couple minutes.

  Concussion.

  She knew Natalie wanted to go home because Dad kept telling her that Mom was going to be fine, and she’d be coming out soon, and they’d go home.

  But Simone wouldn’t go, and they couldn’t make her.

  Tish was dead, Mi was in surgery, and they couldn’t make her.

  She kept the Coke can in both hands so her father wouldn’t take her hand again. She didn’t want anyone to hold her hand or cuddle her. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

  She just needed to wait on the hard plastic chair.

  The doctor came out first, and her father surged to his feet.

  Dad is so tall, Simone thought vaguely, so tall and handsome. He still wore his business suit and tie because he’d just come home from a business dinner, turned on the news.

  Then he’d rushed straight out to drive to the mall.

  The doctor gave her father some instructions. Minor concussion, some stitches.

  When her mother came out, Simone got shakily to her feet. Until that moment she hadn’t understood she’d been afraid her mother really wasn’t okay.

  Her mother would be like Mi, or worse, like Tish.

  But her mother came into the waiting room. She had those weird bandages in a couple places on her face, but she didn’t look pale, pale, pale the way she had. The way Simone imagined dead people looked.

  Natalie leaped up, flung her arms around their mother.

  “There’s my brave girl,” Tulip murmured. “My brave girls,” she said, reaching out for Simone.

  And finally Simone wanted to be touched, wanted to hold and to be held. She wrapped her arms around her mother with Natalie between.

  “I’m okay, a bump on the head. Let’s take our girls home, Ward.”

  Simone heard the tears in her mother’s voice, clung tighter for one more moment. And closed her eyes when her father wrapped his arms around the three of them.

  “I’ll go get the car.”

  Simone pulled back. “I’m not going. I’m not going home now.”

  “Sweetheart—”

  But Simone shook her head fiercely, moved another step away from her mother’s tired face with its nicks and bandages. “I’m not going. Mi— They’re operating on Mi. I’m not going.”

  “Sweetheart,” Tulip tried again, “there’s nothing you can do here, and—”

  “I can be here.”

  “Nat, do you remember where we parked the car?”

  “Yeah, Dad, but—”

  “Take your mom out.” He passed Natalie the key. “You two go out to the car, and give me and Simone a minute.”

  “Ward, the girls need to be home. They need to be away from here.”

  “Go on out to the car,” he repeated, even as Simone sat again, her arms folded in a picture of defiant misery. He pressed his lips to his wife’s cheek, murmured something, then sat beside Simone.

  “I know you’re scared. We all are.”

  “You weren’t there.”

  “I know that, too.” She heard the misery in his voice now, but shook it off. Pushed it away. “Simone, I’m sick and sorry about Tish. I’m sick and sorry about Mi. I promise you we’ll check on Mi from home, and I’ll bring you to see her tomorrow. But your mother needs to go home, so does Natalie.”

  “Take them home.”

  “I can’t leave you here.”

  “I have to stay. I left them. I left them.”

  He pulled her to h
im. She resisted, tried to yank free, but he was stronger and held her until she broke.

  “I’m sick and sorry about Tish and Mi,” he repeated. “And I’ll be grateful for the rest of my life you weren’t in the theater. I need to take care of your mom and your sister now. I need to take care of you.”

  “I can’t leave Mi. I can’t, I can’t. Please don’t try to make me.”

  He might have, and Simone worried he would have, but as she pulled back from him, CiCi rushed in.

  Long, flying red hair, a half-dozen strings of beads and crystals around her neck, a swirling blue skirt and Doc Martens sandals.

  She scooped Simone up, enfolded her in yoga-fit arms and a cloud of peachy perfume with just the faintest hint of marijuana.

  “Thank God! Oh, baby! Oh thank every god and goddess. Tulip?” she demanded of Ward. “Natalie?”

  “They just went out to the car. Tulip got a couple of bumps and scrapes, that’s all. Nat’s fine.”

  “CiCi will stay with me.” Simone turned her lips to her grandmother’s ear. “Please, please.”

  “Sure I will. Are you hurt? Are you—”

  “He killed Tish. Mi—they’re operating.”

  “Oh no.” CiCi rocked her, swayed her, wept with her. “Those sweet girls, those sweet young girls.”

  “Dad has to take Mom and Natalie home. I have to wait here. I have to wait for Mi. Please.”

  “Of course you do. I’ve got her, Ward. I’ll stay with her. I’ll bring her home when Mi’s out of surgery. I’ve got her.”

  Simone heard the snap of steel in CiCi’s words and knew her father had been about to object.

  “All right. Simone.” He cupped her face, kissed her forehead. “You call if you need me. We’ll pray for Mi.”

  She watched him go, slipped her hand into CiCi’s. “I don’t know where she is. Can you find out?”

  CiCi Lennon had a way of getting people to tell her what she wanted to know, of doing what she thought they should do. It didn’t take long for her to lead Simone up to another waiting room.

  This one had chairs with pads, sofas and benches, even vending machines.

  She saw Mi’s parents, her older sister, her younger brother, her grandparents. Mi’s father saw her first. He looked a thousand years older than he had when they’d picked up Mi for the movies.

 
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admin 22 September 2018 10:55
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new Nora Roberts book
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