“She lost it in a car accident years ago.”
“Did you go to see her? Is that where you’ve been tonight?”
“Where’d you go?”
“Burrito stand. What did you do, break in?”
“Door was unlocked. I had reason to think you had been the victim of a violent crime so I let myself in.”
“I’m pretty sure you can’t do that, detective.”
“I’ll give you a phone number where you can call to complain. I have my own entry on the voice mail tree. Your friend had some concern that maybe Franky Burgess had come after you. You know, the guy who attacked twenty people at the hospital yesterday. Then I asked the local cops if anybody had talked to you yet, and was surprised to find that nobody had. In fact, around the police station any mention of your name just yields awkward silence.”
“Well, as you can see, I’m fine. That door you came in works as an exit, too.”
“A moment of your time, please. You understand we’re in the middle of the biggest manhunt this state has ever seen. I don’t see a whole lot of chance Franky is still drawing breath but you can imagine why we’d like to find him and put everybody’s fears to rest.”
“Why aren’t you out helping then?”
“I had to make sure he wasn’t here, didn’t I?”
“Well, you’re free to have a look around.”
“Thank you, I did. He was here, wasn’t he? Yesterday?”
“Right before he started shooting and biting people at the hospital. Just minutes before, in fact.”
“And was he acting strange at all?”
I could feel my face getting hot, the heat radiating up from my jawbone. Starting to feel cornered.
Maybe you should have said Franky was never here …
“No, he wasn’t ranting or anything. He didn’t say much.”
“He was responding to a call from a neighbor saying you were making lots of noise and screaming.”
“Yeah. I mean, it wasn’t all that. There was a thing in my house, it woke me up. Bit me.”
“I think it was a squirrel or a raccoon or something.”
“When officer Burgess left here, he seemed normal?”
“Yeah, yeah, like I said. Just told me to be careful. He was more worried about me than anything.”
“And you and your friend John didn’t drive Franky to the hospital? Because eight witnesses saw you. And they got you on a security camera. And your friend talked to a member of the staff, saying Franky had some kind of seizure. And he talked to a news crew, on camera, and said that Franky was infected with a tiny alien parasite.”
“Oh, right. John is … weird. You know. Drug problem.”
“But you say Franky seemed normal when he left.”
“I mean … he was normal when he walked out. It was out by his car, he started having problems. We loaded him in his car and drove him to the hospital.”
“Nothing led up to the seizure? No strange behavior? No tics or spasms or words not making sense?”
“No, no. He seemed fine. You know, he didn’t seem like he was on drugs or anything.”
“What was in his throat?”
I was taken aback. I had been looking around the room, avoiding the detective’s eyes. But when he said that, my attention snapped right to him. He noticed.
“What do you mean?”
“Your friend, John, he told the staff to check Frank’s throat.”
“Oh, yeah. Yeah. I don’t know, when he started having his seizure or whatever it was, he started grabbing at his throat. Like he was choking.”
“Had he been eating something?”
“Smoking a big cigar, maybe? Got surprised and swallowed it? Maybe he had a wad of chewing tobacco?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know. We were just trying to help.”
“What are you hiding?”
I almost screamed it.
I gathered myself and said, “I’m just—I’m just freaked out about this thing, like everybody. And now you’re here accusing me and I had nothing to do with it—”
“Have you heard of the Leonard Farmhand case?”
“No. Wait … was that the guy that was kidnapping women and performing surgery on them in his basement? Up in Chicago?”
“That’s right. Well, I caught Farmhand. He had an IQ of 175 but I caught him. And do you know why? Because I got in the same room with him. That’s all it took. See, I have an internal bullshit sensor that has yet to be beaten. And every time you open your mouth, Wong, all the lights start blinking read and smoke starts whistling out.”
Falconer rose from the chair. He was a good four inches taller than me, though part of that was cowboy boot. He continued, “Here’s my theory, as it stands right now. I think you knew Franky somehow, before all this. You and your friend. And I think you had something to do with his going apeshit.”
“Well, that’s your opinion,” I said, lamely. “Seriously, Franky and I didn’t know each other. I hadn’t seen him in six or seven years, probably since high school. And how exactly do you think I went about driving Franky crazy? Mind control?”
That’s right, have fun connecting these dots, asshole. Stick your hand in this hole and you’ll draw back a bloody stump.
“Maybe he wasn’t a friend. Maybe he was a fan.”
“I don’t have fans, detective. I work at a video store. John does, he has a band. Ask him.”
“I did. I’ve been asking him things for a couple of hours now. So, you guys believe this town is haunted?”
“Really? You and John don’t talk about this? Because he’s full of crazy stories.”
“We’re not crazy. I’m not, anyway.”
“You have it in your medicine cabinet.”
“Oh. Yeah. That was … that was nothing. Just … stress. I’m seeing somebody about it.”
“And that guy you shot with a bow and arrow because you thought he was a monster?”
“A crossbow. It was a misunderstanding.”
“The guys down at the station, hearing them talk about you and your friend, they think you’re in some kind of a cult. They say three neighbors moved away in the last year alone, because they were scared of you. You were the last guy to see Franky before his episode and everybody had some bullshit excuse for why you hadn’t been interviewed yet. Like they’re scared of you.”
“People are … stupid.”
“You know, at the hospital Franky tore out an old woman’s throat with his teeth.”
I felt myself take an unconscious step back toward the door. This guy was breathing all my air.
“Is that right? That’s terrible.”
“He was also heard speaking another language.”
I didn’t answer.
“So here’s my theory, Wong. My theory is that last night wasn’t Franky’s first visit out here. I think he’s a part of your little cult following. I think you and your friend scrambled his brain, probably slipped him a drug and told him it’d give him magic powers or whatever it is you’re into. And I think he hurt a whole bunch of people because of it.”
“You claim to have a top-notch bullshit detector and you let that theory come out of your mouth? That a couple of local dumbasses have mind control powers? I kind of want you to charge me with that. The trial would be hilarious.”
He showed me the most unsettling smile I’ve ever seen and said, “I’ve enjoyed this conversation. I mean that. You’ve given me what I love most. A puzzle. See, I get bored, real easy. Most cases put me to sleep. Everybody knows who it is, the rest is just a grind, trying to fill a file cabinet with evidence for the prosecutor to take to trial. But now? I’m like a kid a week before Christmas, rattling gifts under the tree to find out what’s inside. I just rattled yours and, boy, there’s something cool in here.”
He opened the front door. A business card appeared in his hand.
“Call me if you decide you want to talk more about this and save us both some time. Otherwise, I’ll be seeing you around.”
When I heard the Porsche growl past the house ten minutes later, I was still standing in my living room, staring at the door the detective had passed through. I was sweating like a bottle of beer at the beach.
I dug out my phone. Dialed John.
2 Hours Prior to Outbreak
It wasn’t the longest night of my life, but it was way up there. I’ve had my share of terrified, sleepless nights and I’ve developed a pretty good survival system involving nothing more than mental alertness exercises, positive thinking and amphetamines. Don’t worry, I have a prescription. Or at least the guy who sold them to me did.
I was in for a brutal crash later, but that was Day David’s problem. Night David was trying to stay alive. And, it worked. I was out on my porch when shafts of light started burning through the trees in my front yard, and I almost cried at the sight of it. It was the first time I could remember that I had seen two consecutive sunrises.
Ironically, at that point I was too jacked up to sleep. And not just from the orange capsules that were dissolving in my system. I had come up with a plan of action during my long wait. First, get the shit out of my toolshed and dump it somewhere. Maybe in the river. Then, get out of town for a while. Let all this blow over. Where would I go? Didn’t matter. I could do anything. Hitchhike to San Francisco and live on the beach. Join the circus. The where wasn’t important. I had been in a rut, that’s what I realized. I needed to shake things up. Lose this weight. Learn karate. Wait, did I accidentally take four of those pills instead of two? Wow.