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THE SCREAMING ROOM
By THOMAS O'CALLAGHAN
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Thomas O'Callaghan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCassie turned her head on the pillow as a sudden flash of light woke her.
"What the hell are ya doing?" she hollered. "It's two o'clock in the morning!"
Her brother, Angus, who was sitting up in bed next to her, grinned, his attention riveted to the gleam coming off the three-quarter-inch ball bearing he was holding between his thumb and index finger. The narrow beam of a pencil-thin flashlight had reflected off the ball's chromelike finish and shone directly onto her eyelid.
"I liked you better when you got off pulling wings off flies," she said, hiding her head under the pillow.
Angus, flashlight still directed at the ball bearing, brought his face to within inches of the tiny sphere, watching the re- flection of his pupil get bigger and bigger, the closer he got. Hopelessly bored, and somewhat blind, he turned off the flashlight, slid his hand under the covers, and fondled his sister's rump.
"Not tonight, we ain't," she said through clenched teeth. "We got lots to do tomorrow. Get some sleep!"
Angus slid out of bed, slipped into a pair of boxers, and ambled toward the door, opening it. A blast of warm air caressed his body. The sensation aroused him. He glanced over his shoulder. His sister was snoring. He pushed open the screendoor, sat on the top step, and glanced upward. It was a cloudless night. The moon, just shy of full, cast shadows on the weeds and tall grass that surrounded home sweet home; a fitting salute, perhaps to what would begin at dawn. The thought of finally executing what they had planned brought on a surge of adrenaline. He wouldn't sleep. Unlike his sister, he'd stay up and wait out the darkness.
A slug, slithering toward him on the surface of the step, caught his attention.
"I can kill ya, little fella. But I won't."
He had the urge to pet the small mollusk but decided instead to dabble his finger in the slime that trailed behind it. He brought it to his lips, applying it as a woman would lipstick.
Women. They fascinated Angus. Every curve. Every smell. Every everything. In his next life, he planned on returning as one. He could feel what they feel. Think as they think. God! Even screw as they screw!
He heard a rustling. It was not the willow tree, which was as limp as he was. No, something was pushing through the grass. A deer perhaps. He hoped so. He liked the sound they made just before dying, after he stalked them and twisted their neck, snapping their cervical vertebrae.
There it was again!
Following the example of the snail, he slithered down the rickety steps and began his pursuit, certain his sister wouldn't start their big day without him.
Chapter TwoThe Greyhound's Michelins groaned over the roadway scarred with jagged potholes. But Angus and Cassie didn't let it interfere with their game. Despite the jostling, the plastic markers held firm, their bottoms magnetized to the shimmering surface of the game board. But the cards were a different story. Using an index finger, Angus pressed down on the Time of Your Life deck while Cassie did the same to the Pay the Piper pile, containing the cards tenaciously inside their holding trays.
Angus picked up the dice.
"C'mon ten," he whispered, releasing the cubes, which rolled across the board and settled as a six and a three.
"Close enough!" he said, counting off nine squares on his trek along the path that meandered around and about the game's playing field: a map of the city of New York, featuring its landmarks.
"That puts me on topa the town at the Empire Freakin' State Building!" He slammed down his blue marker on the prized square.
His action activated a tiny speaker embedded under the skyscraper's icon, and music sounded, replete with vocals: Frank Sinatra's rendition of "New York, New York."
He reached for a Time of Your Life card.
"Well, lookee here. I've just been awarded a three-hour shopping spree at Paragon Sports. And it entitles me to disregard the next Pay the Piper Card." He reached in his pocket and ran a finger across the blade.
Touching the weapon aroused him.
Cassie sneered. She palmed the dice and blew into her fist.
"Mama needs a new paira shoes," she said, letting loose the dice, which skittered across the board and settled as a one and a two. "Shit! I gotta pay the piper!"
Cassie counted off the three squares. Angus handed her the Pay the Piper card.
"Read it and weep," he said.
Cassie's lower lip jutted forward.
You've been caught shoplifting at Macy*s. Lose a turn.
"Hellhole of a city," she muttered.
"Lemme show ya how it's done." Angus reached for the dice for the first of his next two turns, his and the one she had lost.
The cubes clattered across the board. A five and a six.
He eyed the board and counted off eleven squares.
"I'm halfway through their beloved Kings County! C'mon twelve!" He rattled the cubes in his hand.
Cassie groaned as a double six rolled to a stop.
"Yes!" he cheered, reaching for his marker.
"Hold it!" she said, gesturing at the Greyhound's rain-slicked window. The bus had entered the terminal and was coming to a stop. "Remember what we said. Once the bus arrives, we set it all in motion at the tourist traps closest to our pieces."
Angus eyed the board and grinned.
"Well, then, Coney Island's my next stop."
"And me?" said Cassie. "I get to start settling the score at the American Museum of Natural History."
Chapter ThreeThe sun cast slivers of light through the glass cupola of the American Museum of Natural History. Below the rotunda, Jurassic skeletons welcomed the sunrise.
A chime alerted the night watchman that his shift was over. It also prompted the electric illumination of all halls and galleries throughout the vast labyrinth. Light from halogen lamps flooded the museum, revealing the "Star of India", the world's largest blue sapphire; the fossilized skeleton of the "Turkana Boy," a one-point-six-million-year-old specimen of Homo erectus, along with countless other natural and cultural treasures.
At 10:00 A.M., a second chime sounded and the watchman unlocked the massive entrance door. Within minutes, a swarm of seven-year-olds, chaperoned by the field-trip coordinator, Harriet Robbins, poured into the marble-floored lobby, shattering the repository's silent solemnity with giggles and laughter.
"Boys and girls, first we are going to visit Triassic Hall. Who can tell me what marked the Triassic period?" asked Miss Robbins.
"Me! Me! Me!" echoed a chorus of young voices.
"Okay, Elizabeth, tell the class."
"It comes before the Jurassic period. It's when the first dinosaurs were born."
"Very good," said Miss Robbins. She led the pack inside the enormous exhibit hall.
The children, with wide-open eyes, approached a pair of teratosaurus skeletons.
"Our first meat eaters," Miss Robbins said.
Matthew, the know-it-all, strayed from the group, hoping to find a critter he had not yet encountered on his dinosaur CD-ROM. He drew near a towering assemblage of bones he knew to be the plateosaurus, but what he saw between its legs didn't fit. Maybe Miss Robbins could explain. He rejoined his classmates and tugged on the teacher's skirt.
"Matthew, do you need to go to the boys' room?"
"No, Miss Robbins."
"Then what is it?"
"Isn't the plateosaurus a plant eater?"
"Of course it is."
The boy pointed his finger at the assemblage of bones.
"Then how come that one's got a dead lady coming out of its butt?"
Chapter FourFor Marian Dougherty, Wednesday, June 4, was a special day. Not only was it her fifteenth birthday but also it was the day she had promised she would try the hot new street drug with her main squeeze, Manuel Ortiz, the leader of a gang known as the Tiburones.
It was ten o'clock in the morning. Marian and her two friends, Donna and Carmelita, were standing on Coney Island's boardwalk, clustered outside the Wonder Wheel's ticket booth waiting for the ride to open. It appeared that Manny was a no-show. Could it be he was all talk and no go?
"Marian, you got dissed," said Carmelita, hands on hips.
"Dissed ... dissed ... dissed," Donna echoed.
"No, I didn't," the birthday girl gloated as she watched her young Romeo in Nike T-shirt and Hilfiger jeans climb the steps of the boardwalk and strut toward them.
Marian shuddered in anticipation, having looked forward to this monumental step just as much as she feared it. But all her friends had already done the drug and she didn't want to feel like a wimp.
"Yo! I'm a walkin' birthday present," Manuel boasted, sidling up next to the girls.
"Your little honey's afraida heights, Manuel. You gonna cure her?"
"She's in for a double dose of magic, Carmelita. She's with the head of the Tiburones."
The teens watched as the machinist opened the gates, allowing entrance to the giant Ferris wheel.
"We're in the red one!" Marian hollered, rushing toward the empty cage, hoping her excitement didn't make her look like a kid.
"Yo, man! Today she learns how to fly," said Manuel to the ride's engineer. "This here's a twenty. That should cover us all. And here's an extra ten-spot, just for you. Make sure that red cage stays on top for a while."
"You got it," the handler said, sliding the cash into his jeans.
"Marian, we'll be right behind you. If you freeze and you wanna spit it out, don't let him see ya do it." Carmelita smiled and mouthed a "Happy Birthday" before joining Donna inside their own painted cage.
"Yo! Let's get this thing off the ground!" hollered Manuel, climbing in next to his darling.
Gears engaged and metal whined as the giant Ferris wheel lifted the fun-seekers into the air.
"So? You ready or what?" asked Manuel.
Marian looked around. Her friends were in the cage behind them. "Ready!" she said.
"Here it comes with a gift," said Manuel.
"Wow!" she said, putting on the earrings.
"They ain't no real diamonds. But they're real crystal. Just like this." He produced the packet of meth capsules.
"Bein' way up top's gonna add to the rush."
Marian clenched the mini-ziplock in her fist.
"Being on top with you is rush enough."
Howling like a wolf, Manuel wrapped his arm around his birthday girl and stared skyward.
"Ready or not, here we come!" Marian hollered, then wished she hadn't. I'm not a kid! Not no more! I'm gonna fly! I'm gonna fly! she heard an unconvincing internal voice cry out.
The cage stopped, having reached its zenith. No one had come for the view.
Marian turned her head. Panic seized her. "Let's go back down," she whimpered
"Why? We just got here!"
"There's someone looking at us in the next cage!"
"Whaddya-take somethin' before we got on? That's Carmelita and Donna!" pointing to the two wide-eyed teens in the cage behind them.
"No!" Marian shouted. "The next car!"
In the cage behind their friends a man sat like a propped-up marionette. There was a large gash on the side of his ashen face and red stains on his T-shirt.
"Hey, you! Get us down!" screamed Manuel.
"What's he doing?" stammered Marian, her eyes fixed on the unexpected visitor.
"He ain't doin' nothin'. I think he's dead."
Chapter FiveThe weatherman on CNN had predicted a late spring shower the afternoon of June 4, 2006. But his prediction had not intimidated New York City Police Lieutenant John W. Driscoll, Detective Cedric Thomlinson, Sergeant Margaret Aligante, and the brass of One Police Plaza. They had gathered under threatening skies and were listening to Monsignor Norris's final oration at the burial site of Driscoll's wife, Colette, at Pinelawn Cemetery in New York's Nassau County.
The late Mrs. Driscoll had been comatose for six years, but the Lieutenant, nevertheless, had dreaded the reality that one day the electronic monitors would signal her death. The end came at 6:07 A.M. on Saturday, May 31, when for the first time in a long time, Colette experienced tranquility. She expired without fear or rattle, surrendering the spirit that had governed her body for the past forty-four years.
Her parting brought a sense of finality to Driscoll, who had stayed married and loyal to his wife throughout the six long years of her unconsciousness. But her passing left an enormous void. And the unsought freedom riddled him with guilt and shame.
A hand grabbed hold of Driscoll's arm as the coffin was lowered into its freshly dug grave, where it would find its resting place alongside the couple's predeceased daughter, Nicole. The hand was that of Detective Thomlinson, Driscoll's long-term friend and confidant.
"She's finally at peace," he said.
As Colette's coffin settled on moist clay, a gust of wind ravaged the funerary wreaths, scattering lilies and gentians across the finely trimmed lawn of the cemetery. Above the burial site, angry clouds continued their threat. A second gust accosted Monsignor Norris's cassock, shuffling the pages of his leather-bound Bible. Within seconds, the sky ruptured, pelting the graveyard with wind-driven rain.
"John ... it's time to go," Thomlinson urged, nudging the Lieutenant.
"Gimme a minute," said Driscoll.
Thomlinson nodded and hurried for the cover of his waiting automobile, leaving Driscoll behind.
Alone, before the flooding grave, Driscoll stared down at the mahogany coffin that sealed his past.
"Au revoir, ma cherie," he whispered, his tears mixing with the rain. "I will miss you dearly."
As he turned and headed toward the line of gleaming automobiles, he thought he heard a whisper amid the clatter of rain pelting the monumental maples that surrounded the grave site:
Chapter SixOutside Porgie's Place, a New Orleans-style jazz band welcomed the caravan of mourners with a fanfare of brass and conga drums.
Inside, a sumptuous buffet offered specialties of the islands, while an adjoining table flaunted a variety of rums from the four corners of the Caribbean Sea.
It was Trinidadian-born Thomlinson's idea of a funerary feast. The only thing missing was a bevy of dancers in straw skirts. John Driscoll, an Irishman, was more accustomed to the somber reflection that followed the grim and mournful wakes he had attended during time spent as an altar server at Saint Saviour's Roman Catholic Church in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He felt the gathering was irreverent but didn't wish to offend his benefactor.
"John, you gotta check this out," Thomlinson said, approaching Driscoll, crystal tumbler in hand.
"What is it?"
"The cognac of rums. Bermudez! From the Dominican Republic. One taste of this and you'll think you're royalty."
Driscoll gave Thomlinson a sympathetic smile, for he knew his friend, a recovering alcoholic, would like very much to indulge. The Lieutenant took the glass, lifted it, and took a sip. The rum was suave, rich, and silky on his palate.
"Damn! That's good stuff!" he said.
John Driscoll was the commanding officer of the NYPD's Manhattan homicide squad. He carried his six-foot-two stature formidably, often intimidating adversaries without so much as a word. There was a swagger to his walk, not unlike Gary Cooper's stride in High Noon. Precinct women found him irresistible, especially when they gazed into his enigmatic eyes. Colette, though, had found the key that unlocked their mystery. But after the automobile accident that sent her into a six-year coma, all agreed his eyes had become gray and lifeless.
The other notable feature of Driscoll's face were his lips, which were expressive, even when he was silent. In them, Colette discovered Driscoll's tenderness. They did not belong to his Celtic jawline. They were more Mediterranean, almost Middle Eastern, and responded to his emotional states: expanding when contented, contracting under stress, and vibrating when anxious. Colette had learned to read his heart and transcribe his thoughts by observing the tremors.
The Lieutenant was a snazzy dresser, often clad in a well-tailored jacket by Hickey Freeman or Hart Schaffner & Marx, with a pair of slacks by Joseph Abboud, a tie by Richell, and shoes by either Johnston and Murphy or Kenneth Cole. Halston 14, his wife's favorite fragrance for men, had become his favorite as well. His fondness for upscale cologne and fine English tailoring had earned him the moniker Dapper John.
And with Dapper John before him now, Thomlinson said, "It's time to get it on with the cuisine of Jamaica, Lieutenant. This here is roti. It's goat meat cooked with potatoes in a sauce of turmeric, coriander, allspice, and saffron. It really hits the spot! Here, try some." Thomlinson handed Driscoll a bowl and filled it.
Excerpted from THE SCREAMING ROOM by THOMAS O'CALLAGHAN Copyright © 2007 by Thomas O'Callaghan. Excerpted by permission.
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