Thursday, January 22, 2009

SHUFFLE, Chapter Eighteen

Déjà vu is when you feel you’ve been in the same situation before. I don’t know what you call it when you feel you’ve been there three times in a little over twenty-four hours.

There was only one car in the lot now. Tom must have gone home like Runt suggested. All the better. Our plan was solid. Or plain stupid. At this point, it was a toss-up. I slid the big brute of a vehicle next to the remaining car and turned off the motor.

A deep nervous breath filled my lungs and I let it out slowly. I was a little scared our plan wouldn’t work. On second thought, I was very scared. My nerves were shot and I could barely maintain control of my bladder.

I wasn’t scared for me. I was scared for Casey and her part in all this.

“We’ve got to go inside the building for the plan to work,” Casey prodded.

“Yeah, I know.” I turned to Casey. “But I think you should stay here in the Hummer.”

“We’ve been over this twice now, T.R. Once at my house and once on the way over here. I’m going in there with you. You need my help just like you did in second grade when Frankie Williams pushed you into the deep end of the swimming pool. I was by your side then and I’m by your side now. Let’s go.”

Casey held up her little finger.

Slowly, I wrapped my finger around hers and we did our childhood pinkie shake, minus Weeba’s little finger.

“All for one and ice cream for all,” we said together.

I got to the big front door first and pulled the handle. Someone, no doubt Tom, had relocked it after I’d left. I’d love to have seen his face when he realized somebody had unlocked it after he and Runt had entered the building. Of course, with his brain power he might not have even noticed.

Digging into my pocket for the keys, I turned to Casey. She was standing there with a landscaping rock in her hands.

“What are going to do with that?” I whispered.

“I’m going to break the glass so we can get in!”

“I’ve got a better way,” I said, jingling Aunt Lois’ keys in front of her. I unlocked the door and quietly entered the lobby ─ again. Casey hid behind a sofa while I continued down the hall to the now familiar Sirlo office.

I didn’t like being back. And I really didn’t like Casey here. We had to carry out our plan, then get the hell out of Sirlos before anybody found us and blocked the exits. I hated the fact Casey was waiting back in the lobby. If trouble came her way, I wasn’t there to help her.

Halfway down the hall I called Runt’s name.

“Tana?” he called back. I ran into the office, pretending I hadn’t been there earlier.

“OhmygodRunt! Are you alone? Let’s get out of here.” I acted agitated and fearful.

“Tana, how’d you get here?”

“I was kidnapped but I got away and tracked you down here. We’ve got to get out of this building! Now!”

“Uh, Tana, I’m afraid to leave. Tom is somewhere in the building and he has a gun!”

“No, I saw him leave. Come on! Hurry!”

Footsteps echoed in the hall and we both stopped and held our breath, our eyes wide. The steps were faster now. Getting louder. Running towards us.

I turned to face the doorway and pulled the pistol out of my waistband, aiming it with both hands at the hallway. “You’ve got a gun?” Runt asked, astonished, but I ignored him and concentrated on who was racing towards us.

My hands were shaking so hard the gun bobbed up and down. Whoever it was could be tall or short. I had both ranges covered.

But the size turned out to be medium and as luck would have it, that’s where the gun was pointing when my nerves pulled the trigger. The explosion was enormous in the small office.

“JESUSCHRIST,” Runt shouted.

Ohmygod. What had I done?

I looked down at the gun in my hands. Damn! I’d pulled the trigger way too soon! I hadn’t even seen who was coming through the doorway! First rule of hunting: Know what or who you’re shooting.

I forced myself to look up. Casey was standing in the doorway holding her chest with both hands. Blood gushed from under her fingers and oozed down the front of her blouse.

She fell backwards into the hall.

“T.R., IT’S CASEY!” Runt yelled.

“OHMYGOD!CASEY!” I screamed at the same time.

We both ran to her side. I squatted down beside her. Tears rolled down my cheeks and dripped on her face.

Her eyelids fluttered. “Oh, Casey. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I thought you were Tom. I didn’t mean to do it. I didn’t mean to shoot you. Don’t die,” I pleaded with her. “Please don’t die. Your babies need you. Ralph needs you. I need you! YOU’RE MY BEST FRIEND!”

She was trying to say something. I leaned closer.

“My babies. My babies. Tell Ralph I’m sorry,” she whispered, her voice getting weaker and weaker. “Tell him I love him.”

I looked up into Runt’s eyes, then back at Casey. “I’ve got to stop the bleeding, Casey,” I said. “I’m going to push hard on your chest. Don’t be scared.”

I placed the heel of my right hand on her breastbone and leaned into her but the move only made the blood seep up between my fingers. Horrified, I watched it run under my fake fingernails and settle into the wrinkles of my knuckles. I’d never seen so much blood at one time in all my life.

She groaned weakly. Her eyes closed and her head gently rolled to the side.

“CASEY!” I screamed. “CASEY! CASEY!”

For a full minute I was quiet. “I think she’s dead,” I said. “On my God. I think she’s dead. I killed my best friend.”

“She can’t be dead,” Runt said. “She can’t be dead. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Oh, jeez, T.R. You killed her! You’re a murderer!”

Vaguely I heard more footsteps. Someone else was coming our way. Let it be Tom. I didn’t care anymore.

I looked up to see Doc hurrying towards us. “I heard a gun shot,” he said. Pushing Runt out of the way, Doc dropped down beside Casey. “I’m a doctor. Let me look at her.” He felt for a pulse, then slowly shook his head no.

“I’m sorry.” he said. I fell on Casey’s chest and cried out her name in grief.

I heard another voice. “My name’s Grey. I’m a lawyer. What happened here?”

I looked up at Runt. He had a dazed look on his face and seemed oblivious to Doc and Grey. More people were walking down the hallway towards us.

I looked up at Runt.

“What do I do, Runt?” I asked.

He didn’t say anything.

“Runt! What do I do?” I stood up and grabbed at him for help. Blood from my hands stained his shirt.

“Don’t touch him!” Grey commanded. “You’ll contaminate the crime scene!”

I let go of Runt’s shirt. Tears still traveled down my face, dropping off my chin. “Call Ralph, Runt. Then dial 9-1-1.”

“Damn, I can’t call Ralph.” Runt blank features stirred as he turned his eyes to my face again. “I can’t tell Ralph C-C-Casey’s dead.” He could barely say her name. “Jesuschrist, his wife is dead. I can’t tell a man that.”

“Somebody has to. I want to stay with Casey.”

“No. NO. Not me. Let him call,” he said, looking at Doc. “Or you,” Runt said, turning to Grey. “I’m…I’m….”

“…going to run away?” I asked.

“Yes. NO. Oh, jeez, this wasn’t supposed to happen. It’s all your fault, T.R. Why’d you bring a gun?”

“Bring a gun? I’d been kidnapped, for God’s sake! This is their gun. I had to shoot my way out of there!”

“Shoot them? Did you kill them too? Jeez, T.R., you’ll be locked away forever!”

No, I didn’t kill them. I killed Casey! “They needed to be killed! They kidnapped me! THEY KIDNAPPED ME! Casey was just an accident...I…I didn’t mean to kill Casey.” My voice dropped to a whisper.

“But you did. You’re a murderer. My sister’s a murderer. She did it,” Runt said to the gathering crowd. “She did it,” he repeated loudly.

“And what about you, Runt?” I asked. “I’m all in here. The rest of the game is played cards up. How do you fit into this?” My nose was running and I gave it a quick wipe on my sleeve. “What are you doing here? What are you doing at Sirlo’s?”

“Hey, I’m just a computer geek doing a little job on the side here. I’ve done nothing wrong.”

“What about all that stuff you said at the roping arena? All that stuff the other night about the anti-virus program?”

“Hey, you guys just got it all wrong. I don’t know what you thought was happening. It was just a misunderstanding.”

“We need the coroner here,” Doc said.

“And the police,” Grey said. I heard Polly flap her wings behind me. Mother was making a tsk-tsk noise with her tongue.

A woman spoke up but it wasn’t Mother. Sonja? “Javi’s already called’em. He’s a cop.”

Javi a cop?

“Shut up, Sonja,” Javi said. “Murder’s a little out of my league ─ I’m DEA ─ but I put a call in. Detectives will be here in a minute.”

Dante took off his jacket and laid it over Casey’s head and chest. Blood instantly started seeping through the fabric. I hadn’t even seen Dante walk down the hall. I looked from the jacket to Dante, then to Runt.

“Get out, Runt,” I said. “Just get out! Run like you usually do. I’m the murderer, not you. I’ll take care of Casey and clean up your mess as well. Walk away now and leave this town forever. And don’t come back. If you do, I’ll drag you into every piece of trouble I’m in. I’ll lie through my teeth about you and so will Whitey and Shade. You’ll be in so deep you’ll never get out. You thought you had trouble before? Think again.”

Runt looked around at the small group of people gathered in the hall. He didn’t seem surprised to see them there. He looked back at Casey lying on the floor. Blood was pooling by her body, seeping out from under Dante’s jacket. Squatted at her side, holding her bloody hand, I watched Runt step over her and walk down the hall. He hesitated at the front door but didn’t look back.

“Bloody bad boy! Bloody bad boy!” the parrot cried out but no one else said a word. None of us moved. Everyone but me was staring down at Dante’s bloodstained jacket. I looked at the parrot to see if he was looking at Casey too but Polly was staring down the hall after Runt. “Bloody bad boy!” she said again.

To be continued.

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