Read an ExcerptPotomac Fever
By Henry Horrock Sound Library
Copyright © 2000 Henry Horrock
All right reserved.
"This is a forty-nine-year-old male," said a voice. "He was admitted at three twenty-one. He has contusions in his midsection, two broken ribs on the left side, contusions and lacerations on his face. On his arm is a laceration caused by a gunshot. On his right leg is another laceration, quite deep, possible cartilage damage. The ambulance crew said he could not form words.
"An MRI disclosed a subdural hematoma on the left side of the skull, above his ear, that presses onto brain tissue. That is my problem, ladies and gentlemen. I want his head secured to prevent movement when he awakens. I want a five-minute visual watch and a constant monitor of vital signs. I don't like the continued growth of the hematoma, so let's keep alert."
Cal was lying under a very bright light. He could see it through his eyelids, but if he tried to open his eyes, the light was too bright.
"Did you see his back?" whispered a woman's voice. "The scars?"
Cal opened his eyes. The bright light was gone. He could see the ceiling and the tops of curtains on rods to his left and right. He could not move his head; he was held by something soft but firm. There was a bag of fluid hanging on his left, a clear liquid was dripping down a little tube.
He wondered where he was. A hospital, of course.
The phone rang. Cal knocked over the side tabletrying to answer it, throwing off the recorder and leaving the telephone dangling halfway between the bed and the floor. Vivian was not there, but he could feel the indent her body had left in the bed.
"Terrell," a strange mechanical voice broke the darkness. It was not a human voice, but a voice that sounded as though it were a record played at the wrong speed.
"Who is this?"
"Are you Terrell, the police officer?"
"How did you get my number?"
"Don't mind about that."
Cal had crawled off the bed and was trying to start the recorder on the floor.
"Do you really want to find who killed Mary Jeanne?"
There was silence on the line for a moment.
He knew this wasn't some crank, some crank who had found his number, listed C. Terrell, listed only in a rural phone book in a county fifty-five miles from Washington, D.C.
"If someone killed her, I want to find him."
"Don't be so quick. There may be things you don't want to know."
"Mr. Terrell, can you hear me?"
She was a gray-haired woman with a heavy face. She was right above him. Maybe five inches from his face. All he could see was her head.
He tried to speak. To say, "Yes. I hear you." But he couldn't hear his words. His tongue and lips didn't seem to work. He could hear a voice, but it sounded muffled, as though his mouth was full of marbles, the words coming out garbled.
"Just blink your eyes," said the woman.
The woman's face pulled away. He tried to follow it, but he couldn't move his head.
"You are in a hospital. You have been seriously injured," said a male voice. "One of your injuries was a blow to your left temple. A large blood clot has formed between your brain and the wall of your skull. It is pressing onto the brain where speech is formed; that's why you can't form words. Do you understand?"
"For the time being, this is of some concern. If the clot subsides in the next twenty-four hours on its own, it will reduce the pressure. If not ... we'll take more aggressive action." The voice did not elaborate. "Do not become frightened; we are watching you closely. If you understand, please blink your eyes."
The temperature had changed and there was a chilly breeze whipping in from the bay. Cal's sweatshirt and shorts were not enough. Cal shivered when he went outside. He had heard the horses as the mysterious caller hung up.
He saw the small white envelope long before he reached the truck. It was stuck under the windshield wiper on the driver's side. He hadn't noticed it before. Somebody had just left it, and yet Cal had not heard a car. The dogs were quiet too.
Cal stood for a long time near the truck, listening to the crickets and probing the dark with his eyes. Was the person who left the envelope watching him?
He opened the envelope in the stable, by the porch light.
There was Mary Jeanne in life. Dark glasses hid her eyes, but it was unmistakably her-the smile, the long dark blond hair, her full breasts obvious in a striped sailor shirt, and long legs, in white shorts, drawn up against the side of a reclining chair. Her image was a cut corner of what had been a group photograph. On a piece of paper someone had pasted cutout letters to form two words: my bonafides.
Suddenly the horses shifted in the stalls. A fox maybe? He stood listening. He still couldn't hear the dogs.
Instinctively he leaned forward and dipped his hands into the oats, pushing the picture and the envelope way down. The smell of the oats came up warm and fragrant. Now the horses were slamming the side boards.
He quietly closed the oat chest and ducked out the far door to the exercise rink. Maybe the person who delivered the picture had waited to be sure he got it?
There was no one. He could hear nothing. He went back inside. Bristol Boy was in the far corner of his stall now, turning his head from side to side. Comet was walking circles in his stall, the whites of his eyes showing.
Cal didn't turn on the lights but scanned the inside of the stable in the light from the porch lamp.
"Shush," he said to Comet. "Shush." He moved silently through the darkness to Bristol Boy's stall, reaching for the horse's neck through the rails.
The first blow, low and brutal, hit him in the kidneys.
He went to his knees. Then someone took his head from the back, twisted it sideways and smashed it into the floor. He saw the floor coming up as though it were moving to him, not he to the floor.
Someone pulled a feed bag over his head and shoulders. He smelled the grain, and the dust filled his nostrils.
They pulled him up to his knees with the bag. He could tell there were two. Sweat was one, stale and moldy. Underarm was the other, a sweet, cheap deodorant, the cream kind, not drying, just covering the body smell.
Sweat was the hitter. Underarm held the bag.
Blow one: stomach. Blow two: kidneys again. Blow three: face, through the bag. Blow four: stomach. Now face. Now stomach. Now two to the kidneys, quick and hard. The tequila and the food came up into the grain bag.
The hitter grunted as he worked, as though he were in a gym, working on the bag.
When he came around, he was bent over a saddle in the tack room like a sack of wet feed, the grain bag hanging loosely and filled with vomit and blood. His hands were handcuffed behind him.
Cal tried to get the corner of the feed bag up by shaking his head. He did not know how long he had been unconscious.
He tried to wriggle out of it, but he could find no leverage, no place to brace. His wriggling caused him to roll sideways, and the bag dropped all the way off.
There was no one in the stable but the horses. He started to slither toward the feed door. There was a harsh laugh. He couldn't see, but he sensed that the two men had come in behind him.
One was moving toward him. Cal rolled over and kicked out one boot heel. It hit testicles. The man doubled over. The second man jumped back, but Cal swung his legs around like an alligator thrashing and hit the man, knocking him sideways.
Cal rolled left as hard as he could, avoided a kick, and made it to his knees by the stable wall. Bristol Boy was slamming into the side of his stall with terrible crashes. The men were dark figures framed by the porch light behind them. They seemed frozen by the rearing horse. Cal rolled. The stall gate crashed open and the big gelding was out, looking wildly at the humans around the floor. The horse's right foot came up, the one with the white ankle, and one man jumped back. His gun went off, deafening Cal. Bristol Boy screamed, crashing through the half-latched stable door with his shoulder, knocking it from the hinges. Cal struggled up the wall to his feet and went behind the horse as fast as he could.
Cal could hear the men's feet pounding across the wood of the stable floor. He ran wildly down the ink black path, the handcuffs holding his arms behind his back making him unbalanced.
"Are you awake?"
It was Vivian. She was wearing burgundy lipstick. Her full lips looked moist and inviting.
Cal tried to smile, but he felt as though his face didn't work.
"They say you can't talk."
"You never talked much anyway."
Vivian's head went up out of sight.
"Why is he blinking? Is there something in his eyes?"
"No," said a woman's voice. "That is a signal he understands you. If he rolls his eyes to the left and right, call us. It means he needs attention."
Vivian leaned back, and her lips closed over his. He could feel her tongue caress his teeth as she kissed him.
"They said I have only two seconds, but you won't be alone. I'll be just down the hall."
Cal was in the swamp, off the path, but not in the water. He could see the men up by the stable, framed by the light. Both had pistols, large automatics, which they held in both hands above their heads, pointed upward. They were looking the wrong way, watching for the car they'd heard.
The summer Cal turned fourteen, he and his father had built an egret habitat. God, how long ago? Thirty-five years? They had put the nests on four-by-fours, set in concrete, in a zigzag line, down through the marsh to where it widened to meet the bay. He could follow the nests in the darkness! Cal tried to recall their locations. His father had mapped and named them. Shangri-la, Capistrano, Majorca, Cozumel, Grand Tortuga, Little Dix, places his father had seen in travel magazines but had never been to.
The water was incredibly cold for September. The trees above never let the marsh warm in the sun the way the bay waters warmed. He was waist deep in a few moments. The darkness was complete. He felt something slither by his leg. Snake? Crab? Eel? He leaned against the wood pillar of the first nest. Capistrano?
Cal heard the crashing then. The noise of men unfamiliar with their terrain. They had one light and he could see it swinging back and forth.
He slipped down, his face next to the nesting box. The first nest still had straw and bits of twig. No eggs. There would be no eggs. It was months too late. Cal let himself down farther and crouched at almost water level and inched forward until he bumped into the second nest. Shangri-la! He fell against it.
The light passed from his left to his right and was disappearing. He knew that when they reached the bay, they'd know he was hiding behind them. They'll think I am in the woods to the left, he decided reassuringly. City people are afraid of marshes with crawly things.
He heard crashing brush and saw the light moving crazily through branches and trees like a drunken firefly. Boom! A shot was fired. No flash. The pistol must have had a muzzle depressant. But the light was swinging back and forth, looking for a target. Boom! A second shot was fired. He felt the pain in his arm. How could they even see him?
Cal went under the water; it was filled with algae and leaf particles, as thick as porridge. He crept along the bottom, finally coming up for air. Now there were three shots. They went wild, ripping through the trees.
Cal felt numb with cold, as though he had been in the water for an hour, but it was minutes. Hardly more. There was pain in his arm near his elbow, and he felt the warmth of blood in the cold water.
The light was back on the trail bobbing up and down.
"Shut up," a voice said. He could make nothing of the voice. No accent. No age. Nothing.
Boom! Another round.
Cal could hear them enter the water.
Cal pushed off from the nest and went instinctively to the deep water, scratching himself on the branches. He was near the bay and the water was deeper, up around his neck. There was sharp pain in his knee, like someone had driven a spike into it. He realized his knee had hit a nest pole. He pulled back and felt his knee tear.
The marsh and woods became silent. Slowly natural sounds resumed. Cal heard crickets and a bobwhite, in Montaigne's field. Then he heard a car motor starting, quite far away.
He waited what he guessed was twenty minutes before starting back to the house. He was shaking all over and strangely his left hand felt numb and tingled. When he tried to close it, the fingers didn't seem to work, as though his body was shutting down like a computer without power. He fell to his knees. He knew one thing. They wanted something. Otherwise, they'd have killed him and been done with it.
Excerpted from Potomac Fever by Henry Horrock Copyright © 2000 by Henry Horrock. Excerpted by permission.
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