Shelter in place, p.6
Shelter in Place,
* * *
Once or twice in the past Reed had had very interesting dreams about getting Angie naked. Now, after recurring nightmares of hiding beside her dead body, he sat in the back row of the Methodist church for her funeral.
He’d nearly talked himself out of coming. They hadn’t really been friends. He hadn’t really known her. Like, he hadn’t known her parents were divorced or that she’d played the flute or had a brother in the Marine Corps.
Maybe he’d have learned those things if they’d gone to the movies or grabbed a pizza or taken a walk on the beach. But they hadn’t.
Now he felt lost and guilty and stupid, sitting there while people who had known her, loved her, cried.
But he’d had to come. He’d probably been the last person—who was not a customer—to have an actual conversation with her. He’d spent those terrifying minutes hiding a little boy in her kiosk with her body right … there.
He’d had her blood on his shoes, his pants.
So he sat through the prayers, the weeping, the heartbreaking eulogies in a suit too tight in the shoulders. His mother had told him when he’d come home for the summer to get a new suit, and he’d ignored the idea as a waste of money.
As usual, his mother was right.
Thinking about his suit made him feel disrespectful. So he thought about the three faces he’d seen again and again on the news.
Younger than he was, all of them, and one of them had killed Angie.
Not Hobart, he remembered. He’d been in the theater, and the cop—Officer McVee—killed him. The reports said Hobart had worked in the theater. They said he’d been the ringleader.
But either Whitehall or Paulson had killed Angie.
They looked normal in the pictures on TV and in the papers, on the Internet.
But they hadn’t been normal.
The one he’d seen—still saw in nightmares—all geared up in Kevlar, laughing as he shot a man in the head, hadn’t been normal.
He knew more about them now, the three who’d killed a girl he’d liked during their eight-minute slaughter. Hobart had lived with his father after an ugly divorce. His younger sister lived with the mother. The father, an avid gun collector, taught his children to hunt, to shoot.
Whitehall had lived with his mother, stepfather, half brother, and stepsister. His father, currently unemployed, had a couple of arrests: drunk and disorderly, driving under the influence. Whitehall—the neighbors said—kept to himself and had some drug issues.
Paulson appeared to be a model student. Good grades, no trouble, solid home life, only child. He’d been a Boy Scout—and had a sports shooting merit badge. He’d been a junior member of the USA Shooting organization, with an eye toward the Olympics.
His father had competed for the USA in Sydney in 2000, and Athens in 2004.
People who knew Paulson said they’d noticed a change (hindsight) maybe six months ago when he’d seemed to become more closed in.
That would be about the time the girl he liked decided she liked someone else better, and he’d hooked up with Hobart.
About the time the three who’d become mass murderers began to feed each other’s internal rage.
They’d documented it, so the reports claimed, on computer files the authorities were still studying. Reed, in turn, studied the reports, dug into speculation on the Internet, watched news broadcasts, talked endlessly with Chaz and others.
As much as he wanted to know, just know why, he expected it would take forever for it all to come out. If then.
As he saw it, from the pieces he put together from the reports, the gossip, the conversations, Hobart hated everybody. His mother, his teachers, his coworkers. He hated blacks and Jews and gays, but mostly just hated. And he liked to kill things.
Whitehall hated his life, wanted to be somebody, and believed everything and everyone worked against him. He’d gotten a summer job—at the mall—and had been fired within two weeks. For showing up high, a former coworker claimed, when he showed up at all.
Paulson hated his luck. He’d concluded he’d done everything right all his life, but still lost his girl, and wasn’t quite as good as his father at anything. He’d decided it was time to be bad.
They’d targeted the mall for impact, and Hobart took the theater because he wanted to destroy the place that expected him to work for a living.
Rumors claimed they’d done three dry runs, timing them, refining them. They’d planned to regroup at Abercrombie & Fitch, barricade themselves inside, taking hostages as bargaining chips, and taking out as many cops as possible.
Whitehall and Paulson nearly made it, but they’d taken an oath. If one of them fell, they all fell.
When Hobart didn’t show, and with the cops closing in, Whitehall and Paulson—according to witnesses—bumped fists, shouted, “Fuck yeah!” and turned their weapons on each other.
Maybe some of it was true. Maybe even most. But Reed expected more and more would come out. They’d do a book, probably a freaking TV movie.
He wished to hell they wouldn’t.
He came back to the moment when people started to stand, and felt a wave of shame that he’d been inside his own head instead of paying attention.
He got to his feet, waiting while the pallbearers carried Angie out. He couldn’t imagine her inside that box, didn’t want to imagine her there. Her family filed out, grouped tight together as if holding each other up.
He saw a couple people he knew now—Angie’s friend Misty, some others who worked at the mall. It shouldn’t have surprised him to see Rosie. He’d sat with her the day before at Justin the busboy’s funeral.
He knew Rosie had spent the last few days at funerals or in hospital rooms.
He hung back, let her go on her way. Probably to another memorial, or to visit one of the injured, maybe to take food to someone who’d suffered a loss or was recovering at home.
That was Rosie.
The opposite of the three who’d killed.
When he stepped out of the church, he walked into a perfect summer afternoon. The sun shined out of a blue, blue sky dotted with soft white clouds. Grass grew summer green. A squirrel darted up a tree.
It didn’t seem real.
He saw reporters across the street, shooting video or taking photographs. He wanted to despise them for it, but wasn’t he clinging to every word they reported, every photo they published?
Still, he angled away from them, started for the car he’d parked nearly two blocks away. When he heard his name called, he hunched his shoulders rather than turn. But a hand dropped lightly on his arm.
“Reed. It’s Officer McVee.”
He gave her a blank look. Her hair fell down her back in a bouncy honey-blond ponytail. She wore a plain white T-shirt and khakis. She looked younger.
“Sorry, I didn’t recognize you. No uniform. Were you at the funeral?”
“No. I waited out here. I called your house. Your mom told me where you were.”
“I gave my statement and all. A couple times.”
“I’m off duty. I’m just, well, trying to do my own personal follow-up with anybody I connected with that night. For myself. Are you going to the cemetery?”
“No, I don’t feel right about it. Her family and all that. I didn’t know Angie all that well. I just … I was trying to get her to go out with me. We were maybe going to that same movie, the last show, and … Jesus.”
He fumbled on sunglasses with shaking hands.
“You want to go over to the park? Sit and look at the water for a while? It always helps me level out.”
“I don’t know. Maybe. Yeah, I guess.”
“How about you ride with me, and I’ll bring you back for your car after?”
When he thought of it later, he wondered why he’d gone with her. He didn’t know her. She’d been a blurred face and a uniform inside the madness and shock.
But she’d been there. She’d been in it, like he had.
“You shot Hobart.”
“Man, they didn’t fire you or anything for it, did they?”
“No. I’m cleared. Back on the job tomorrow. How are your parents dealing?”
“They’re pretty messed up, but they’re handling it.”
“And the people at the restaurant?”
“I think it’s harder. We were there, and we saw … You can’t stop seeing it. But we’re doing okay. Like Rosie—head cook? She’s doing a lot of stuff. The funerals, hospital visits, taking food to people. It helps, I think. I don’t know.”
“What’s helping you, Reed?”
“I don’t know.”
He felt the air on his face, through the open window—breeze off the water. That was real. Cars zipped by, a woman pushed a kid in a stroller down the sidewalk. All real.
Life just kept going. And he was in it. Lucky to be in it.
“I talk to Chaz a lot. My friend at GameStop.”
“I remember. He saved lives. So did you.”
“The kid? Brady? His dad called me. He wants to bring Brady to see me maybe next week. He said his wife’s getting better.”
Essie said nothing for a moment, but, like CiCi, she believed in truth and trust.
“She’s going to make it, but she’s paralyzed. She won’t walk again. He probably didn’t want to lay that on you, but you’d find out.”
“Goddamn it. Goddamn it.”
He put his head back on the seat until he could breathe clear again. “I try to listen to music, or shoot hoops in the backyard, but I can’t stop reading about it, or listening to the news. I can’t stop.”
“You were part of it.”
“My parents want me to see somebody. You know, a shrink or something.”
“It’s a good idea. I have to see one. Department rules, and for a reason.”
He opened his eyes again, frowned at her. “You have to talk to a shrink?”
“Already have. I’m cleared—it was a good shoot—for desk duty. And I’m talking to the department shrink. I’ll be back on full active in a while. I don’t mind working through it. I killed somebody.”
She parked, turned off the engine. “I did it to save lives, including my own and my partner’s. But I killed a seventeen-year-old boy. If I could just shrug that off without a single regret, I shouldn’t be a cop.”
She got out of the car, waited for him.
They walked for a while, past a playground, along a promenade, then sat on a bench where gulls swooped and cried, and the bay rolled blue as the sky.
Boats glided on the bay, and Reed heard kids laughing. A woman with a killer body inside spandex shorts and a tank jogged by. A couple who looked a thousand years old to his eyes strolled, holding hands.
“Is it true, what the papers and TV are saying, that he—that Hobart—was the main guy?”
“I’m going to say it’s likely he was the strongest-willed, pushed for the plan. But the three of them? It seems to me they were like pieces of a sick, sad puzzle that fit together, and at the worst time. A few months sooner, a few months later, Paulson probably wouldn’t have fit.”
Reed knew what the papers and TV said about Paulson, what neighbors and teachers said. How shocked they were, how he’d never been violent. Always bright and helpful.
Fucking Boy Scout.
They were putting Angie in the ground now. They’d put a kid on his first summer job in the ground yesterday. How many others?
“I don’t think you can kill like that, just kill people the way they did, if it’s not in you. I mean, maybe—probably—everybody’s capable of killing, but like you did. To save lives, to protect people. In self-defense or like a soldier, that’s different. But what they did, for that something else has to be inside.”
“You’re not wrong. I think with Paulson’s background, his family, they’d have gotten him help. But he linked with the others at a dark time, and those pieces came together.”
He listened to the soft lap of the water, the call of birds, somebody’s radio. Realized the world seemed more real as he sat there, talking to her.
He felt himself slide more inside it as he sat with her.
“What was it like? When you shot him?”
“I’d never fired my weapon off the range before last Friday night. I was scared shitless,” she told him, “but that mostly came before and after. In the moment? I guess it came down to training and instinct. He shot my partner. I could see people, dead and dying. He shot at me, and I just did what I’d trained to do. Take out the threat. Then I had to do what came next. My partner—down, but not seriously injured. There was the kid in the bathroom. The first nine-one-one caller.”
“That’s, ah … Simone Knox.”
“Right. You know her?”
“No, I just … can’t stop reading and watching. I remember her name.”
“She’s in your club. She saved lives. She kept her head, hid, contacted the police. Barry and I—my partner—were right outside in the parking lot.”
“I read that, too. You were right there.”
“It’s playing out that Simone’s call came in about a minute, maybe two, after Hobart pushed in the exit door he’d left unlocked. She lost a friend that night, and another’s still in the hospital, recovering. She’s coping, but it’s rough.”
“You talked to her, too.”
“To her, to her friend Mi, to Brady and his dad.” With a sigh, Essie lifted her face to the sun. “It helps me, and I like to think maybe it helps them.”
“Why’d you become a cop?”
“Seemed like a good idea at the time.” She smiled, then sighed again as she looked out over the water. “I like order. I believe in law, but it’s the combination that works for me. It’s a good fit for me. Rules and procedure, and trying to help people. I never saw myself in a situation like Friday, but now I know I can get through it. I can do the job.”
“How do you get to be a cop?”
She turned her head, gave him a raised eyebrow. “Interested?”
“Maybe. No. Yeah,” he realized. “I am. I never thought much about what I was going to do. Just get a job eventually. I like college. My grades are okay, but I just like being there, so I haven’t been thinking too hard about what happens when I’m out. I told Brady we were waiting for the good guys, because we were. So yeah, I’d like to know how to become a cop.”
By the time she took him to his car, Reed had, for the first time, a life plan. It had forged itself out of death, but it was his life he could see rising from it.
* * *
Seleena McMullen had ambitions and a smoking habit. Her ambition to rise to fame as an Internet blogger put her outside the church during the funeral. As a reporter for Hot Scoops, with its somewhat questionable reputation, she didn’t get much respect from the print and on-air reporters gathered outside.
It didn’t bother her. One day, she’d be bigger than any of them.
She’d developed both the attitude and the ambition during high school and college. There’d been no question in her mind that she was smarter than any of her peers—so she didn’t have a problem letting them know it.
If that meant she had no real friends, so what? She had clients. She credited Jimmy Rodgers in eighth grade for helping her forge a clear path. By pretending to like her, telling her she was pretty—all so she’d gullibly do his homework while he laughed behind her back—he’d provided her with the impetus to start her own business.
Sure, she’d do homework assignments, for a fee.
By the time she’d graduated high school she’d had a considerable nest egg, and had grown it throughout college.
Fresh out of college, her journalism degree hot in her hand, she’d snagged a job on the Portland Press. It hadn’t lasted long. She had considered her editor and her coworkers idiots, and didn’t trouble with tact
Still, she’d seen the Internet as the future, and at twenty-four hitched her wagon to Hot Scoops. She worked primarily out of her own apartment, and since she saw her current position as no more than a stepping-stone toward her own site, her own successful blog, she tolerated editorial interference and crap assignments.
Then the DownEast Mall Massacre fell into her lap.
She’d actually walked into the mall, on a quest for new running shoes, seconds before the first shots were fired. She’d seen one of the shooters—identified as Devon Lawrence Paulson—cutting his bloody swath, and had hunkered behind a mall map as she’d pulled out her camera, her recorder.
She had scooped every paper, network, site, and reporter.
As follow-ups she’d dogged victims, family members, hospital staff. She’d bribed an orderly and gained access long enough to get a few pictures of patients, even slipped into one of the rooms after one had been transferred down from ICU.
The recorder in her pocket had caught some of the conversation between Mi-Hi Jung and—bonus—Simone Knox for her to flesh out another story.
By her calculation, she only needed a few more to take that leap off her current stepping-stone. She’d already had offers.
And now her smoking habit tossed another into her lap.
She’d stepped away from the other reporters to have a smoke, moving a half block down to lean on a tree, smoke, and think. She could head to the cemetery when the church portion ended, but how many clicks would yet more pictures of people in black generate?
Maybe someone would faint—like the dead kid’s mother had the day before. But, well, been there, done that.
Time for more dish on the shooters, she decided, and had nearly started for her car when she spotted the cop.
Officer McVee, she thought, edging around the tree. She’d tried to pigeonhole McVee a couple of times—the young female officer who’d shot and killed John Jefferson Hobart equaled pure clickbait. McVee wasn’t the cooperative sort, but right now said cop was hanging back, avoiding the gaggle of reporters and cameras.
Interesting, Seleena thought, settling down to wait herself.
Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts / Romance & Love / History & Fiction / Thrillers & Crime / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.7 out of 5 / Based on33 votes