Last call, p.27
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       Last Call, p.27

           Tim Powers

  No, it was just a white sports car, a Porsche.

  A white Porsche.

  No, he thought even as his heart began pounding, no, you see white Porsches everywhere—hell, there was one parked in the slot next to ours at the motel.

  There was one parked in the slot next to ours at the motel.

  “Get down!” he yelled at the top of his lungs, ignoring the pain in his side. “Everybody get down on the ground! Oz! Get ’em down!”

  He shook off Mavranos’s arm and drew the .357 and tried to aim it at the white car, which had stopped on the far shoulder.

  Mavranos had pulled his own revolver out of his belt. “What?” he asked sharply. “That white car?”


  Can’t shoot, Crane thought. What if it’s just some Good Samaritan? And at this range with this two-inch barrel you’d be as likely to hit Ozzie or Diana.

  “Everybody get down!” he screamed again.

  Nobody was obeying him. Scat was still running down the sloping dirt road, and Diana was still running up to meet him, and Ozzie was hunching along at what must have been his top speed, far behind her. The fat kid had got out of the Suburban and was standing beside it.

  A hollow pop rang across the highway in the same instant that the Porsche’s driver’s side window flared with a wink of yellow light.

  Halfway down the hill road, Scat dived forward into the dirt and slid for a yard, face down. Then he didn’t move.

  Diana’s scream filled the desert, and almost seemed to drown the roars of Crane’s .357 and Mavranos’s .38 as they emptied their guns at the receding white car, which didn’t even wobble as it gathered speed.


  Alligator Blood

  Diana was the first to reach Scat—but when she got to where her son lay she paused, then just knelt beside him with her hands half raised.

  As Crane hopped and scrambled and sweated down the hill, Mavranos ran on ahead, and Crane saw him look down at the boy and reel back.

  When Crane finally made his way down to where the boy lay, he saw why.

  Scat’s head seemed to have been shot straight through. His right temple was toward the night sky, and it was an exploded bloody ruin—the right eye was far too exposed, and the ear seemed half torn off. The boy was breathing in gasps that sprayed blood out across the moonlit dirt.

  Diana looked up at Crane. “Hospital, quick—in the back of the truck. How are we going to carry him?”

  Crane’s heart was thumping hugely in his chest. “Arky, get a blanket—we can carry him in a blanket.”

  Mavranos’s face was stiff as he stared down at the boy, and Crane remembered that the man had children of his own.

  “Arky!” Crane said sharply. “A blanket!”

  Mavranos blinked and nodded, and then sprinted down the road toward his truck.

  Diana was panting and blinking around. “Who shot him?”

  Crane was dreading this. “A guy across the road, in a white Porsche. I think he—”

  “Jesus Christ, he was talking to me!” Diana was sobbing now, nearly hysterical. “The guy in the white car, when I was waiting down there! I told him to fuck off, and he came back and shot at me!”

  “Diana, he—”

  “He was aiming at me, this is my fault!” Her trembling hand hovered over the boy’s blood-glittering head, and then tentatively stroked his shoulder. “I did this.”

  The boy’s right arm began jerking, and Crane thought the harsh, wet breathing must be just about to stop forever.

  “No, Diana,” Crane said, knowing that he was buying her sanity at the high price of having her hate him forever. A minute ago, he thought bleakly, I was a hero. She loved me. She still does right now, and will for another second and a half. “Listen to me. No. The man was shooting at me. He shot at me in L.A. last Thursday. I…guess he…followed us out here.”

  When she looked up at him, her eyes were wide, with white showing all around the irises. “Yeah,” she said softly, “he knew our names, yours and mine.” She bared her teeth in a big smile. “Your friends don’t aim so good, do they?”

  Crane could think of nothing to say, and after a moment she looked back down at her son.

  Mavranos came puffing up with a blanket then, and they spread it out on the dirt and began the tense job of gently lifting the boy onto it.

  In the emergency room at Desert Springs Hospital on Flamingo Road, the doctors quickly got the boy onto a gurney and rolled him away into the surgery. Crane’s wound was bandaged and taped, and then he and Diana filled out forms on the counter of the glassed-in cashier’s office.

  They were standing side by side, but they didn’t speak to each other. When the paper work was done, Diana went to a pay phone to call Hans, and Crane walked over to where Ozzie sat on one of the waiting-room couches.

  The old man looked up at him, his eyes hopeless. “The kid’s just the first of us,” Ozzie said softly. “There’s no way she can leave town now. By Easter all of us will be dead.”

  “S’pose you’re right,” Crane said numbly. He saw a coffeepot on a table below the muted flicker of a wall-mounted television. “Coffee in the meantime?”

  “Sure, black.”

  When Crane came back with two steaming Styrofoam cups, Diana was sitting beside Ozzie; a magazine lay open on her lap, and she was staring at an article on how to build a backyard barbecue. Crane noticed for the first time that she was still wearing her Smith’s uniform, red-striped black pants and a red and white shirt now redder with her son’s blood.

  “Coffee, Diana?” he ventured. She shook her head, and he sighed and put Ozzie’s down on the table.

  He had given up trying to talk to her.

  On the high-speed drive to the hospital Ozzie had told them how much to tell the police, and Crane, his eyes on the lanes ahead and the cars they were passing, had stammeringly tried to shout back an apology to Diana, who was crouched in the back over her son, but after only a few syllables Ozzie had interrupted: “Son, she doesn’t want to hear about it right now.”

  So now he just sat down and sipped his coffee and waited.

  Random chance, Crane thought. It was only the randomest chance that made the bullet hit the kid. I knew there were people after us, but why do God’s own luck-dictating dice seem determined to fuck us up? Susan’s fibrillation, Arky’s cancer—I’ll have to ask Arky about his precious statistics.

  Mavranos had taken Oliver away in the Mustang to wait for them by the carousel bar at the Circus Circus. Diana and Ozzie had agreed that nobody had better go back to her apartment. Crane wondered whether she had managed, in her brief phone call, to convince her “life-partner” to leave the place. Crane guessed not.

  A couple of other people sat in chairs closer to the hallway—a young man in a sleeveless T-shirt clutched a blood-blotted rag to his forearm, and a woman muttered softly to a crying child on her lap—but the only voices Crane heard were the occasional laconic, coded calls on the public address system.

  After a few minutes a police officer in a tan, short-sleeved uniform came in with the doctor who seemed to be in charge, and they stood talking by the cashier’s window. The officer was carrying a clipboard, and Crane got to his feet—feeling hot interior tuggings in his leg and his side—and walked closer to them, hoping to hear something reassuring about Scat’s condition.

  The officer was filling out a hospitalization gunshot report, and Crane heard the doctor tell him that the shot had been long-range, the caliber anywhere from .32 to 9-millimeter; it had shattered the right eye orbit, entered the skull, and then exited beside the ear, outside the temporal lobe; the temporal lobe was injured, it was too early to say how badly, though the “posturing,” the pulling in of the arms, was not a good sign; and no, the wound could not have been self-inflicted.

  Eventually the officer walked past Crane and spoke to Diana, and then she stood up and followed him away down the carpeted hallway.

  Crane walked back to where Ozzie sat. “
She’ll probably tell him it was some friend of mine that shot Scat.”

  Ozzie sighed and rubbed his brown-spotted forehead. “No, son. She understands that making it out to be an interstate thing would probably involve the FBI, and that that would just make for more delays in getting her and her kids away.”

  Crane sat down and sipped his coffee, holding the cup with both hands so that it wouldn’t shake. “I wish we could let the FBI take it.”

  “Sure,” Ozzie said. “Explain to them that this is all a battle to see who’ll become the magical Fisher King, and that the nut found her by consulting cards and maps of Poland. And they’d never agree to the kind of protective custody and witness relocation that she needs.”

  When Crane finished the coffee, he picked up Diana’s magazine and looked at the pictures of the do-it-yourself barbecue. He tried to imagine himself and Ozzie and Diana and the two boys cooking hamburgers, tossing a Frisbee around, ambling inside when it got dark to watch Big or something on the VCR—but it was like trying to imagine daily life in ancient Rome.

  Diana and the officer came back in and crossed to the couch, and Diana sat down.

  The officer looked at Crane. “You’re Scott Crane, the other gunshot victim?” He was younger than Crane, with a mustache that might have been invisible in a harsher light, but he was as relaxed as if he talked to mothers of shot children every night.

  Crane started to point at his bandaged wound, conspicuous under his torn-open shirt, but his hand was trembling, and he let it fall into his lap. “Yes,” he said.

  “Could you come with me, please?”

  Crane got up again and followed the man to a small room down the hall. The officer pulled the door closed, and Crane looked around. The anonymity of the room—a couch, a couple of chairs, soft light from a lamp beside a telephone on a table—seemed incongruous in a hospital. It occurred to him that he’d be more comfortable talking in a corner of some white hallway, interrupted frequently by hurrying doctors and nurses pushing IV-hung gurneys.

  “Can I see some identification, please?”

  Crane dug out his wallet and handed the man his California driver’s license.

  “Do sit down,” the officer told him. Crane reluctantly lowered himself into one of the chairs. “This Santa Ana address is current?”

  “Yes,” Crane said.

  The officer wrote down the numbers and handed the card back. “I’m doing the drive-by shooting report,” he said. “Why don’t you tell me what happened out there?”

  Crane told the man exactly what had occurred, starting with Snayheever’s phone call—though, as Ozzie had insisted during the high-speed drive to the hospital, he implied that they had driven out from Los Angeles to visit Diana purely for social reasons, and he didn’t mention having been shot at in Los Angeles on Thursday, nor having met Snayheever in Baker. He said Snayheever had told him his name tonight. Halfway through the story the officer called in on his hand-held radio to have a police car sent out to where Crane had left Snayheever unconscious and probably shot.

  “I think the man who shot her son is staying at our motel,” Crane said. “The guy who was in the room next to ours drives a white Porsche, and my foster father called him a zombie the other day, and he seemed to get pissed—and then tonight, out where all this happened, a guy in a white Porsche, probably the same guy, tried to pick up on Diana and she told him to get lost. Rudely. He might have been shooting at her or at the old man.”

  “Okay.” The officer wrote on his clipboard. “The detectives will check that out.” He looked at Crane incuriously. “The revolver you shot at the kidnapper with—where is it?”

  “In the car, outside.”

  “Is it yours?”


  “Registered to you?”


  “Okay. Where will you be staying?”

  “God, I don’t know. The Circus Circus, I guess.”

  “Do that, and let us know your room number as soon as you’re checked in.”


  The man clicked his ball-point pen and tucked it away in his shirt pocket. “For the time being we’ll be considering this two possibly-related events. I’ve got the names and addresses of the other witnesses, and they say they’ll be staying at the Circus Circus, too; the detectives will probably be talking to all of you tomorrow.”

  Crane blinked at him. “That’s it?”

  “For tonight. Stay here; the doctor will be in soon with the other family members.” The officer tucked the clipboard under his arm and left the room, pulling the door shut.

  Crane leaned back in the chair and exhaled. That had been easy; he had been afraid that he’d automatically be jailed for shooting at somebody, or at least have the gun confiscated. I guess I look like an innocent person, he thought.

  But goddammit, I am an innocent person! The only thing I’ve ever done wrong was play Assumption twenty-one years ago!

  He thought of the bourbon and beer at Whiskey Pete’s on Saturday night, then thrust the thought away impatiently.

  The door opened again, and Ozzie and Diana shuffled in, followed by the young doctor. Crane found himself resenting the man’s perfectly combed black hair. Nobody sat down, so Crane stood up and leaned against the wall.

  “I’m Dr. Bandholtz,” the doctor said. “Of course you all know that the boy has been shot. The bullet broke the ring of bone around the eye, and the bone of the temple back to the ear. It bled a lot, the head is a very vascular area, but there was no serious loss of blood. I think we can save the eye and rebuild the orbit.”

  “Will there,” whispered Diana, “be any brain damage?”

  Bandholtz sighed and ran the fingers of one hand through his hair, mussing it up.

  “There is probably some brain damage,” he said, “but eighty-five percent of the brain is ordinarily never used, and the functions of damaged areas are often assumed by other areas. The problem we’ll have is swelling of the brain; that’s bad because there’s no room for it to swell, without cutting off the blood supply. We’ve got him on steroids to fight that, thirty milligrams of IV Decadron tonight and then four milligrams every six hours after that. Also we’re giving him Mannitol, that’s a diuretic, to shrink the tissues. Some doctors would use barbiturates to forcibly shut down the brain function during this, but I feel that’s still an experimental procedure, and I’m not going to do it.”

  “When will he regain consciousness?” Diana asked.

  “That’s difficult to say. In effect, the computer has been turned off while it tries to heal itself. The brain is—is sort of like an ice-cream sundae. The cherry on top is the cortex, the part that makes us human, with thinking and consciousness and all. Under it are the peanuts and chocolate and so on, that govern other functions, and, below that, the ice-cream itself is the maintenance level, the part that handles breathing and heartbeat and so on. The cherry is the first to shut down in a trauma like this—and so far it’s the only part that has shut down.”

  Crane dully supposed that the man had chosen a trivial, happy metaphor to allay some of their shock and worry. He looked at Ozzie and Diana, and considered his own feelings, and decided that it had only made everything even more disorienting.

  Diana glanced blankly at Ozzie, then back at the doctor. “Is he in a coma?”

  “That is a word that describes this, yes,” Bandholtz said, “but he’s young, and getting state-of-the-art care. Listen, he won’t regain consciousness tonight. You’ll want to be alert when you see him tomorrow, so go home now. I can give you a sedative, if you think—”

  “No,” she said. “I’ll be fine. Before we go, I’d like to see him.” She glanced toward Crane. “Alone.”

  “Okay,” the doctor said, “very briefly. You understand he’s on life support systems—there’s what’s called a triple lumen catheter inserted under his collar bone to make sure the blood pressure in the lungs doesn’t rise, and—”

  “I just want to see him.”
  “Right, I’ll take you to him. You two gentlemen can go back to the waiting room.”

  Ozzie sat next to Crane in the truck, Diana in the seat behind them. Whenever traffic let him, Crane angled his head to see her in the rearview mirror; she was squinting steadily out the side window, the passing lights alternately lighting and shading her profile.

  She finally spoke when he had made the right-hand turn onto the Strip under the red and gold lights of the Barbary Coast.

  “Even if they’d somehow agree to fly Scat to an out-of-town hospital,” she said thoughtfully, “he’d be easily traceable—and I’d go with him, and the bad guys would know I would.”

  Ozzie took a breath as if to argue, then just exhaled and nodded. “True.”

  The Flamingo was a rippling glare of fire-colored light on their right, but suddenly real orange flames and luminously billowing smoke flared beyond the traffic ahead of them, and Crane swore and lifted his foot from the gas pedal.

  “It’s the volcano out in front of the Mirage,” Diana said. “Every twenty minutes it goes off. The locals are getting used to it, not that many of these people are locals.” She yawned. Crane knew that kind of yawn—a sign of long-sustained tension, not of boredom. “I have to stay in town,” she said, “and I won’t be too hard for them to find, even if I visit the hospital in disguise. I need an edge. I need some…power here, some weaponry.”

  “We’ve got guns,” said Crane, “we can help—”

  “Maybe I’ll want your help, and maybe I won’t,” she told him. “And I’ll take a gun. But what I mean, what I need is—is this kind of power.” In the rearview mirror Crane saw her wave at the gigantic casinos around them. “Certain people want me killed because I’m some kind of a threat to them, I’m the Queen of Hearts, right? I’m the flesh-and-blood daughter of my mother, who was somebody they felt they had to kill.”

  Ozzie started to speak, but she silenced him by tapping his shoulder with the backs of her fingers. “I want to learn how to be an active threat,” she said, “not just a passive one. I want to be the target that comes alive and starts shooting back. I want to become this Isis—with whatever powers Isis has, whatever it is they’re afraid of.”


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