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McGettigan expected a dead body, not a panel truck. The unexpected isn't welcome, anxiety for my own safety making it harder to breathe.
Why would a killer linger?
A more significant consideration kicks instantly into my queue of thoughts: How can I prevent what must be happening beyond the reach of sight, beyond the penetration of civilized behavior?
Other than the building, nothing's concealed on a flat unchanging surface. Two choices remain. Whoever drove the truck is in the building--or my instinct is correct and they're underground in a void adequate for their nefarious purpose.
Wait and watch seems the prudent course.
There was a time when 'wait and watch' would have been my selection. The last two years changed all that.
She was more than half of me, the girl I'd married and loved without reserve. Mother of my children. Better in every way than me. Little more than a puddle of misery had remained, when I'd buried her. Worse was unrelenting guilt.
She'd grabbed onto the investigation I'd conducted, as cancer consumed her. Followed my moves with a passion never expressed in thirty earlier years. Held me responsible, when I'd failed.
Finding a way to go on had been hard work. Then there had come a different reckoning, an unwelcome opportunity to share firsthand, albeit belatedly, what she had felt--in the hollow of my stomach, in the defocusing of my vision, in the shortening of the horizon, when my own medical verdict had arrived in three plain-spoken words.
'Watch and wait' is gone forever. There is no time.
Between waterfront and building, a rectangular steel plate sits on the ground. It's corrugated and galvanized.Corrugations have been filled in with soil, leaving the appearance of a flat surface. I assume it prevents man or machine from collapsing into the chasm below, where labs and equipment were once located.
The building is empty of humans, but full of soil and water samples. A process of elimination leaves one choice. A stairway, identical to the earlier dead end, is filled with debris arranged in less than haphazard fashion--it takes me two stories underground. Rebuking myself for being slow takes the few seconds needed to fit the respirator over my nose and mouth.
I'm in a concrete hallway. No different than it ever was, except there's no building above the slab enclosing me. A slight breeze comes from in front of me. This is the first thing I've seen all morning that makes no sense of any kind. A dozen more steps and a mechanical buzzing explains--and confuses--all at once.
Buzzing is the acoustic signature of a portable generator. Breeze can only be caused by a circulating fan. Neither is needed to dump Joey Di Benedetto's body in this least attractive of catacombs.
If I retrace my steps, I can be gone from this forsaken place in thirty minutes. Finding assistance would not be a huge strain. Or I could quickly call the cops on the cellphone I don't possess.
My lack of a cellphone is not technophobia, just the opposite. Familiarity with modern hardware and software is assumed when you're an engineer in today's society. Skills with today's wizardry are no problem. Invasion of privacy is my complaint.
Turn the damn phone off when I don't want to be reached? Not practical. Clients will not accept that excuse. They more readily live with the idea Dr. McGettigan has no phone. They may think it odd, or quirky, or even quaint, but accept it they do.
Except, maybe, for Julie. She rants when she can't find her father.
There are moments when my anal refusal to be attached to an electronic leash conspires to my disadvantage. 'McGettigan the Foolish' is fully in charge of these aspects of my life.
Pressing on is another choice, in the hope no cretin awaits and will be ecstatic to interrupt torturing Joey for the pleasure of beating the shit out of me.
More from indolence than any other emotion, I start forward.
Seventy-five yards later, I'm under the hole crudely covered by corrugated steel. Sunlight streaks through cracks where rust has won out over resistant coatings applied too many years ago. A voice is audible, though not clear, some distance down the forgotten hallway. Contaminated soil is ever present. Concrete has cracked under the stresses of a demolition belonging to a distant past.
This abandoned recess is treacherous.
Breathing is an activity best accompanied by the respirator. Which will not protect me from structural collapse.
A ready-made grave would leave me eternally mocked by the mistakes I've made today. I don't belong in this place. If the worst happens, it will be the second time in two years James McGettigan has tempted fate in a major structural failure. I hear voices clucking. "Shouldn't he have had better sense?"
The hallway narrows to marginally impassable twenty steps in the direction of the shouting voice. The roof seems closer to my head, but has not fallen. Rather, the floor has risen with increasing depths of chemically impregnated soil. Moving, bent over at the waist, it stains my pants with ugly tacky residue. This passageway, no longer large enough to be termed a hallway, is a tunnel.
Emerging from darkness, the scene greeting my constricting pupils is lit by portable work lights. My flashlight's contribution is pathetic. The drone of a fan driving air towards the entryway and the demanding hostile throatiness of the generator, drown out all but shouted conversation. The noisy fan's presence is oxymoronic. We're too far from the entrance to exhaust anything. Its single effect is to mix a potent cocktail for four sets of lungs.
Joey Di Benedetto is in no danger. I recognize him from photographs held tight to his mother's breast.
He's the antagonist, along with one other, yelling at a man sitting in the dirt weeping uncontrollably. Joey's accomplice faces away from me. No weapons are in sight. Racks of soil and water samples, like those in the building upstairs, fill the abandoned basement. Joey's smoking gun, I presume?
I can't decide whether to laugh or cry.
Terrified parents should never see an educated son exhibit such crass stupidity. Video of this escapade would serve as evidence that good ole lack of common sense can easily be taken too far. Kidnapping this man, and the craziness playing out in front of me, must have seemed a good idea once upon a time.
No one in this room can want their actions to cross a line beyond reclamation.
A small colored blossom erupts inside my head. It makes me as loony as Joey.
I step into the room, respirator helping to recreate Darth Vader. Pointing at Joey, counting on shock and bravado, I scream, "Shut up! Get out! Wait in the fresh air for me."
He is about to refuse. Refusal skewers any hope of a future for him.
I see his mother's expression pleading with me to save what mothers everywhere care for above all else.
Stepping forward I slap him with every ounce of strength in my left hand, the hand that delivered ninety-nine-mile-per-hour fastballs when the earth was flat.
Looking up at me, one knee on the ground, young twenties shrink to young teens. He's stuck with what he's done. And he knows it. His mother was right. He's inherently not a bad person, but is confused by, and afraid of, his own intentions.
I repeat at slightly less volume, "Move. I'll be along."
Pavlov would be proud. My parenting skills have not dulled appreciably and I am obeyed. Perhaps because Joey thinks I'm a cop. Perhaps. He has no idea who I am, other than I'm tall and in command.
Joey's accomplice has said not a word, and as he moves to follow the leader, it's my turn to be astonished. I know this kid. I've known him all his life, though not intimately.
Anthony Spazutta is the nephew of Phillip Spazutta, arguably the most powerful political attorney in the state. Phil is, I bet, up to his charming neck in this miserable project. He will be a candidate for an infarct if his nephew turns up under arrest for eco-terrorism and kidnapping.
Joey stops a few steps away. Waiting for Anthony.
"Who has the truck keys?" I hold my hand out to Tony. I can't let him see I know him--more for the sake of the guy on the floor than his own.
There's a finite possibility Crying Man has not identified his kidnappers. Given I've no clue how this person got here, hoping he hasn't recognized his hijackers is misplaced fantasy more than realistic probability. If he identifies young Di Benedetto and Spazutta, nothing can be done for them. Except that Phil Spazutta will move heaven and earth to make the criminal weight fall on Joey. He'll show no mercy to Joey and will portray his nephew as an unwitting and unwilling participant--not an accomplice.
Except with me on the scene, that can't happen.
Tony's reaction is everything I hope for. It's too satisfying to see his eyes dart around the compass looking for a way to escape. Then, passively, he hands me the keys. Keeping these two frightened is my best chance to make this episode disappear--no harm, no foul.
Where's their camera? With high-intensity lighting, I expect a camera. Were they going to extract a confession of some sort? No camera's in sight. What were these two hoping to achieve?
Crashing noises come from behind me.
Turning fast reveals a thick shower of dirt cascading onto corrugated steel that's no longer a makeshift roof, but lies twisted between the stairway exit and me. Two young men have vanished in the cloud of dust, although muffled screams suggest one, or both, of them were caught by the waterfall of debris.
I run to this new pile of gravelly, oily soil. The sidewalls of the corridor are intact. It's clear this was no natural event. Looking up, I see the tail end of a loader disappear from sight.
He's going to fill another bucket.
One more bucket of poisoned shit will seal McGettigan, Crying Man and the two boys in our Forever After--the obvious goal of the man on the machine.