The faraway voices shout. "No pulse!" "Clear!" The horrible electric spasm.
She reaches toward Sugar, but he is too far away. It is not fair that he is so far. Two hearts that beat as one should not be so far apart. The distance saddens her.
Two hearts that no longer beat.
The paramedics working on Sugar step away. He is gone.
Her body jolts again, but it does no good, and she is at peace with it.
She closes her eyes and feels herself rise through the branches into the sky, and all she knows is relief.
Starkey woke from the dream just after three that morning, knowing that sleep was beyond her. She lit a cigarette, then lay in the dark, smoking. She had finished at the crime scene just before midnight, but didn't get home until almost one. There, she showered, ate scrambled eggs, then drank a tumbler of Bombay Sapphire gin to knock herself out. Yet here she was, wide awake two hours later.
After another twenty minutes of blowing smoke at the ceiling, she got out of bed, then went through the house, turning on every light.
The bomb that took Starkey had been a package bomb delivered by a meth dealer to murder the family of an informant. It had been placed behind heavy bushes on the side of the informant's double-wide, which meant Sugar and Starkey couldn't use the robot to wheel in the X-ray or the de-armer. It was a dirty bomb, made of a paint can packed with smokeless powder and roofing tacks. Whoever had made the bomb was a mean sonofabitch who wanted to make sure he got the informant's three children.
Because of the bushes, Starkey and Sugar both had to work the bomb, Starkey holding aside the brush so that Sugar could get close with the Real Time. When two uniformed patrol officers had called in the suspicious package, they had reported that the package was ticking. It was such a clich that Starkey and Sugar had burst out laughing, though they weren't laughing now because the package had stopped ticking. The Real Time showed them that the timer had malfunctioned; the builder had used a hand-wound alarm clock as his timing device, but for some inexplicable reason, the minute hand had frozen at one minute before reaching the lead that would detonate the bomb. It had just stopped. Sugar made a joke of it.
"Guess he forgot to wind the damned thing."
She was grinning at his joke when the earthquake struck. An event every bomb tech working in Southern California feared. It would later be reported as 3.2 on the Richter scale, hardly noticeable to the average Angeleno, but the minute hand released, contact was made, and the bomb went off.
The old techs had always told Starkey that the suit would not save her from the frag, and they were right. Sugar saved her. He leaned in front of her just as the bomb went off, so his body caught most of the tacks. But the Real Time was blown out of his hands, and that's what got her. Two heavy, jagged pieces sliced through the suit, ripped along her right side, and dug a gaping furrow through her right breast. Sugar was knocked back into her, microseconds behind the Real Time. The force of him impacting into her felt as if she had been kicked by God. The shock was so enormous that her heart stopped.
For two minutes and forty seconds, Carol Starkey was dead.
Two teams of emergency medical personnel rushed forward even as pieces of the trailer and torn azalea bushes fell around them. The team that reached Starkey found her without a pulse, peeled away her suit, and injected epinephrine directly into her heart as they administered CPR. They worked for almost three minutes around the blood and gore that had been her chest and finally-heroically-restarted her heart.
Her heart had started again; Dave "Sugar" Boudreaux's had not.
Starkey sat at her dinette table, thinking about the dream, and Sugar, and smoking more cigarettes. Only three years, and the memories of Sugar were fading. It was harder to see his face, and harder still to hear his soft Cajun accent. More often than not, now, she returned to their pictures to refresh her memories and hated herself for having to do that. As if she was betraying him by forgetting. As if the permanence she had once felt about their passion and love had all been a lie told by someone else to a woman who no longer lived.
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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