Rune had walked past the movie theater and was three blocks away when the bomb went off.
No way was it construction-site dynamiteshe knew That from living for several years in urban-renewing Manhattan. The noise was way louda huge, painful bang like a falling boiler. The turbulent black smoke and distant screams left no doubt.
Then sirens, shouts, running crowds. She looked but couldn't see much from where she stood.
Rune started toward it but then stopped, glanced at a watchof the three on her wrist, it was the only one that worked. She was already late getting back to the studiowas due a half hour ago. Thinking: Hell, if I'm going to get yelled at anyway why not come back with a good story to take the sting out of it.
Go for it. She walked south to see the carnage.
The blast itself wasn't all that big. It didn't crater the floor and the only windows it took out were the theater's and the plate glass in the bar one address up. No, it was the fire was the nasty part. Wads of flaming upholstery had apparently arced like those tracer bullets in war movies and had ignited wallpaper and carpeting and patrons' hair and all the recesses of the theater the owner'd probably been meaning to get up to code for ten years but just hadn't. By the time Rune got there the flames had done their job and the Velvet Venus Theater (XXX Only, The Best Projection In Town) was no more.
Eighth Avenue was in chaos, closed off completely between Forty-second and Forty-sixth Streets. Diminutive Rune, thin and just over five feet, easily worked her way to the front of the spectators. The homeless people and hookers and three-card monte players and kids were having a great time watching the slick choreography of the men and women from the dozen or so fire trucks on the scene. When the roof of the theater went and sparks cascaded over the street the crowd exhaled approval as if they were watching the Macy's fireworks over the East River.
The NYFD crews were good and after twenty minutes the fires were "knocked down," as she heard one fireman say, and the dramatic stuff was over. The theater, a bar, a deli and peep show had been destroyed.
Then the crowd's murmuring disappeared and everyone watched in solemn quiet when the medics brought out the bodies. Or what was left of them.
Rune felt her heart slamming as the thick green bags were wheeled or carried past. Even the Emergency Medical Service guys, who she guessed were pretty used to this sort of thing, looked edgy and green at the gills. Their
lips were squeezed tight and their eyes were fixed ahead of them.
She eased closer to where one of the medics was talking to a fireman. And though the young man tried to sound cool, slinging out the words with a grin, his voice was shaky. "Four dead, but two are mystery stiffsnot even enough left for a dental."
She swallowed; nausea and an urge to cry were balanced within her for a moment.
The queasiness returned when she realized something else: Three or four tons of smoldering concrete and plaster now rested on the same sidewalk squares where she'd been strolling just minutes before. Walking and skipping like a schoolgirl, careful to miss the cracks to save her mother's back, glancing at the movie poster and admiring the long blonde hair of the star of Lusty Cousins.
The very spot! A few minutes earlier and . . .
"What happened?" Rune asked a pock-faced young woman in a tight red T-shirt. Her voice cracked and she had to repeat the question.
"A bomb, a gas line." The woman shrugged. "Maybe propane. I don't know."
Rune nodded slowly.
The cops were hostile and bored. Authoritative voices droned, "Move along, come on, everybody. Move along."
Rune stayed put.
"Excuse me, miss." A man's polite voice was speaking to her. Rune turned and saw a cowboy. "Can I get by?" He'd walked out of the burnt-out theater and was heading for a cluster of officers in the middle of the street.
He was about six two. Wearing blue jeans, a work shirt and a soldier's vest stiff with plates of armor. Boots. He had thinning hair, swept back, and a mustache. His face was reserved and somber. He wore battered canvas gloves. Rune glanced at his badge, pinned to his thick, stained belt, and stepped aside.
He ducked under the yellow police tape and walked into the street. She edged after him. He stopped at a blue-and-white station wagon stenciled with
bomb squad and leaned on the hood. Rune, slipping into eavesdropping range, heard:
"What've we got?" a fat man in a brown suit asked Cowboy.
"Plastic, looks like. A half ki." He looked up from under salt-and-pepper brows. "I can't figure it. No I.R.A. targets here. The bar was Greek." He nodded. "And the Syndicate only blows things up after hours. Anyway, their M.O. is, if you want to scare folks, they miss protection payments, you use Tovex from a construction site or maybe a concussion grenade. Something that makes a big noise. But military plastic? Sitting right next to the gas line? I don't get it."
"We got something here." A patrolman came up and handed Cowboy a plastic envelope. Inside was a scorched piece of paper. "We're going fishing
for latents so if you could be careful, sir."
Cowboy nodded and read.
Rune tried to get a glimpse of it. Saw careful handwriting. And dark stains. She wondered if they were blood.
Cowboy glanced up. "Are you someone?"
"My mother thinks so." She tried a fast smile. He didn't respond, studied her critically. Maybe trying to decide if she was a witness. Or the bomber. She decided not to be cute. "I just wondered what it said."
"You're not supposed to be here."
"I'm a reporter. I'm just curious what happened."
Brown Suit offered, "Why don't you be curious someplace else."
Which ticked her off and she was about to tell him that as a taxpayerwhich she wasn'tshe paid his salary but just then Brown Suit finished reading the note and tapped Cowboy's arm. "What's this Sword?"
Forgetting about Rune, Cowboy said, "Never heard of them but they want credit, they can have it till somebody better shows up." Then he noticed something, stepped forward, away from the station wagon. Brown Suit was looking elsewhere and Rune glanced at the message on the burned paper.