"The west side."
"All right. The bomb squad had a call-out, and, um, I'm on my way there now. Carol, we lost Charlie Riggio. He was killed at the scene."
Starkey's fingers went cold. Her scalp tingled. It was called "going core." The body's way of protecting itself by drawing the blood inward to minimize bleeding. A response left over from our animal pasts when the threat would involve talons and fangs and something that wanted to rip you apart. In Starkey's world, the threat often still did.
She turned away and lowered her voice so that the woman couldn't hear.
"Sorry, Lieutenant. Was it a bomb? Was it a device that went off?"
"I don't know the details yet, but, yes, there was an explosion."
Sweat leaked from her skin, and her stomach clenched. Uncontrolled explosions were rare. A Bomb Squad officer dying on the job was even more rare. The last time it had happened was three years ago.
"Anyway, I'm on my way there now. Ah, Starkey, I could put someone else on this, if you'd rather I did that."
"I'm up in the rotation, Lieutenant. It's my case."
"All right. I wanted to offer."
He gave her the location, then broke the connection. The woman on the couch was watching her as if she could read Starkey's pain. Starkey saw herself in the waiting room mirror, abruptly white beneath her tan. She felt herself breathing. Shallow, fast breaths.
Starkey put her phone away, then went back to tell Dana that she would have to end their session early.
"We've got a call-out, so I have to go. Ah, listen, I don't want you to turn in any of this to the insurance, okay? I'll pay out of my own pocket, like before."
"No one can get access to your insurance records, Carol. Not without your permission. You truly don't need to spend the money."
"I'd rather pay."
As Starkey wrote the check, Dana said, "You didn't finish the story. Did you catch the man who made the firecrackers?"
"The little girl's mother took us to a garage two blocks away where we found him with eight hundred pounds of smokeless gunpowder. Eight hundred pounds, and the whole place is reeking of gasoline because you know what this guy does for a living? He's a gardener. If that place had gone up, it would've taken out the whole goddamned block."
Starkey handed over the check, then said her good-byes and started for the door. She stopped with her hand on the knob because she remembered something that she had intended to ask Dana.
"There's something about that guy I've been wondering about. Maybe you can shed some light."
"In what way?"
"This guy we arrested, he tells us he's been building fireworks his whole life. You know how we know it's true? He's only got three fingers on his left hand and two on his right. He's blown them off one by one."
"I've arrested a dozen guys like that. We call them chronics. Why do they do that, Dana? What do you say about people like that who keep going back to the bombs?"
Now Dana took out a cigarette of her own and struck it. She blew out a fog of smoke and stared at Starkey before answering.
"I think they want to destroy themselves."
"I'll call you to reschedule, Dana. Thanks."
Starkey went out to her car, keeping her head down as she passed the woman in the waiting room. She slid behind the wheel, but didn't start the engine. Instead, she opened her briefcase and took out a slim silver flask of gin. She took a long drink, then opened the door and threw up in the parking lot.
When she finished heaving, she put away the gin and ate a Tagamet.
Copyright Robert Crais, 2000. All rights reserved. Published by the permission of the publisher, Doubleday. No part of this book may be reproduced without permission from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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