Translation-Chapter 5

Thursday, May 6, 2010 8:23 PM By crosswaysnet , In

Chapter 5 (Saturday, 12:30PM - Canyon West, TX):

It was time to take a long, deep breath.
Mitch sat back hard on the ground and attempted that very thing. His lungs ached and his throat felt raw. He hadn't noticed either of these things till that moment. He lifted his head enough to see the devastation around him. It was black for a hundred yards around a crater that hadn't been there an hour ago. Two fire engines had doused all the flames. Only a few patches of smoldering grass suggested there had been fire. That and the charred smell which filled Mitch's nostrils. It wasn't a natural, campfire smell. It was oily; noxious; carbon.
All that beautiful Spring cover gone... Mitch thought. He was still numb. He noticed a huge ringing was growing in his ears. Or maybe he just hadn't noticed it before. Someone was putting a blanket around his shoulders. Mitch looked up. He couldn’t figure out why he was being draped in wool on a hot Spring morning.
"Are you OK, Mitch? You were shivering so I got you this." It was Sylvia Colpoys, a patrol officer from Canyon West and all-around department glue for the small police force. Another face from that little home fellowship he hadn't seen in five months.
"Oh, I hadn't noticed..." Mitch mumbled, looking at his hands. "Uh, thanks," he said looking back up at her. "But I've got to get moving. Someone needs to tell Connie what happened." Mitch awkwardly got to his feet, holding onto the blanket Sylvia had offered him. He started to break free of the gift that was already overheating him.
"It's all taken care of. Connie's meeting the ambulance at the hospital in New Kassel. You really out to go in and get checked out. That was one unbelievable blast. I imagine your ears are still ringing."
Mitch rubbed at his left ear unconsciously. He had to admit it sounded pretty fuzzy.
"Do you know what happened? Was there a leak? Fuel trucks are supposed to be extremely spark resistant. And how did you two make it out alive? I know you found Jim way over there in the rubble, but where were you when it happened?"
Mitch turned around and pointed at his little car, hood now dented but otherwise intact.
"I just barely got the car out of the way in time. And that was no fuel truck, Sylvia, it was a water truck someone filled with gas. I really just want to get to the hospital and be there for Connie."
"What do you mean?" Sylvia asked her eyes growing wide.
"I mean what I said - Connie's going to need someone with her when she sees Jim."
"No, about the fuel truck."
Mitch shook his head. "It wasn't a fuel truck. Jim was supposed to deliver it back to the Fredericksburg fire department topped off with water. I found it was full of gas instead. Then I found the bomb."
"The what??"
"Just what I said, Sylvia, a..."
They were interrupted by one of the Canyon West VFD. He pointed out two non-descript government issue sedans pulling up to them.
"Mitch Blackman?" asked the first G-man sporting the close-cropped hair and sunglasses of a federal investigator. He was still thirty feet off when he called out to Mitch. He nodded. Apparently, this guy was in a rush. "I'm Special Agent Jeffrey Haskel of Homeland Security," said the stranger, drawing to a quick stop. He flipped up an identification card in plastic with a holographic badge printed on it.
The second man approached, similarly equipped. They both wore full business suits and conservative ties. Completely inappropriate for south-central Texas eleven months out of the year. This was not the twelfth. Beads of sweat were already appearing on G-man #1's brow.
"What can I do for you both?" asked Mitch.
"As you might imagine, we've got a few questions for you," Agent Haskel replied. Mitch couldn't imagine that at all. Neither could Officer Colpoys who stepped in to introduce herself. She had a few questions of her own.
"I would think this would be an ATF investigation, if anything, Agent Haskel. Why would this be of interest to Homeland Security? And how did you get here so fast?"
Mitch was now looking back and forth between them. Agent Haskel's neck stiffened to match his collar.
"Homeland Security is interested in a great many things, Miss Colpoys, and this bombing is among them. We'll be heading the investigation with the assistance and expertise of the ATF, as you say, and the complete cooperation of local law enforcement, I'm sure."
G-man's sunglasses didn't show his eyes, but Mitch was convinced they were now boring into Sylvia Colpoys. He doesn't know what he's up against, thought Mitch. G-man #2 hadn't so much as flinched during this exchange.
"It's Mrs. Colpoys, my husband will be glad to make clear to you, and the 's' is silent." Sylvia was glaring right back. "And what makes you so sure this was a bombing? We've heard nothing of the sort yet." She didn't even flinch while covering for Mitch. She obviously wanted to know a lot more before sharing it with anyone else, especially these party-crashers.
"Oh, it was a bomb all right," said Agent Haskell. He was reaching for Mitch's arm to escort him back to the non-descript sedans wearing the glaringly obvious government license plates. "If you'll come with us, Mr. Blackman? We can find someplace a bit cooler to do our interview."
"Oh, no you don't," said Officer Colpoys without-an-s. "Whatever you expect to get from Mr. Blackman can wait for a doctor. He needs to get to the hospital right away. You can follow the ambulance in. In the meantime, you can get out of our crime scene and wait down there," she said, pointing to the cemetery entrance, down the hill. They didn't budge. "I'm sorry, did I forget to ask whether you have a federal warrant with a fancy judge's signature on it? You don't? Well then you can just wait down there." She pointed to their cars more firmly and held her finger there until they shuffled off.
Sylvia whistled over one of the county EMTs still left on scene. "Mitch has been showing some signs of shock, Brad. Can you make sure he gets to General in New Kassel?" Mitch wondered why she was speaking so loudly. She was speaking in the direction of the suits.
"Sure thing, Sylvia." The young man walked over to where Mitch was standing, checked his pulse and his pupils, which seemed about normal. Sylvia followed the G-men, making sure they reached the far side of the crime scene tape now going up at the far side of the blast. There another two agents stood waiting. Mitch could hear Sylvia assuring them that they could have Mitch as soon as the doctor cleared him. The young EMT got in front of the scene to inspect Mitch's pupils again. He was shaking his head a little.
"I don't see it, Mr. Blackman. You look pretty normal. Any dizziness? Shortness of breath? Cold sweats?"
"No, but I've been pretty jittery." Mitch lowered his voice a little. "I suspect she's just getting those guys off my back for a while. I could use a drink of water, though," Mitch said, pointing at Brad's sport bottle clipped to his utility belt.
"Ahhh, I see." The medic put down his stethoscope and pulled at the velcro strap at his waist. He motioned for Mitch to sit back down carefully and handed him the water bottle. Mitch took three long swallows.
"Look sick," Brad whispered. "Officer Colpoys," he called out. "We'll need to transport and it will take about ten minutes to get another ambulance up here. You want to call it in?"
"No it's all right, Brad." Sylvia hollered up the hill, turning her back on the federal agents. "You can handle it." It looked like she winked at him.
Sylvia had finished up her polite bouncing of the Feds and made her way back to the two men she knew.
"I don't like it, Mitch. Something's fishy. They know more than they're letting on. What's really going on here? What are they looking for? Are you involved in something?"
Mitch was beginning to feel such was the case, but couldn't imagine what it might be. And he didn't feel like trying to explain how the last twenty four hours had gone. He just shook his head slowly. Sylvia was always getting her nose into something and this was apparently going to be one of those things. Mitch was glad she was on his side. Whatever side that was...
"I'd really like to get to Jim and Connie now. How long till that ambulance gets here?"
"Oh, don't worry about that, Mitch. Does your car still work? You can just make a break for it out the back way. I'm sure the Feds will be escorting the ambulance all the way to the hospital. We'll make sure it takes its time."
"I'm not afraid to talk with them, Sylvia, but I have no idea what they might be after."
"I don't either," said Sylvia, "but the longer they're out of your hair, the better it'll be. You've had a rough morning." She looked Mitch up and down. "Come to think of it, you might want to swing by your place and take a quick shower."
Mitch looked down at his now torn and stained shirt. He shook some dirt loose from his hair. A shower would be nice, but he didn't want to keep his friends waiting. Sylvia continued planning things for him.
"I'll get C.R. over here right away. He'll want to see this place before the Feds take over. I'll have him meet you at your house and brief you before you go to the hospital... Brad! When the ambulance gets here make like we're loading it up - and take your time."
Brad nodded; Sylvia got on her cell phone. Her husband, Custer Randolf Colpoys answered on the second ring. She filled him in on what she'd just learned from Mitch and hung up quickly. She turned and stepped back his way.
"C.R. was mighty interested. He'll be right over. Now we've got to get you outta here before the suits get antsy and march back up the hill."
"Wait a minute," Mitch replied. "Why are you having C.R. come up? He's not police is he? I thought he was a consultant, or something."
Sylvia smiled. "That he is. And a mighty good one. He'll be consulting us on this one. He's a private insurance investigator."
Mitch scrunched up his forehead a little. He'd never heard of a 'private insurance investigator.' Something between Matlock and CSI? C.R. was more like a cross between MacGyver and a RadioShack clerk, if that could exist. He was a quiet, lanky, fairly average looking Texan with a long family history in the Lone Star state. Mitch had always imagined him as an accountant or utilities executive retired early to do whatever 'consulting' he did.
"I never would've guessed..." was all Mitch said in reply.
Sylvia was looking past him. "Looks like the coast is clear. Let's get you to your car." She put a strong grip to the back of Mitch's arm as they walked toward the Mini. "Say, do you have a lawyer? You might want to have one with you when you meet Haskel later."
Mitch stopped. "You think I'll need one?"
Sylvia looked him square in the eye. She had always been no-nonsense but she seemed even more earnest now.
"Mitch, I'm telling you, something's up. There's no reason for those Feds to be here if they didn't already know you and Jim were riding a bomb. That concerns me, and it ought to concern you. Whatever it is you're involved in, you're gonna need some friends covering your back. Let's get you moving."
They approached the car. It was still running. In the rush to reach Jim after the explosion, Mitch hadn't bothered to shut it off. He checked the fuel gauge - still a quarter tank left.
"Actually, I don't know any lawyers other than Mac Snyder. He did the estate work for Sonja. I don't think he does any criminal law."
"I'm sure C.R. will know someone," Sylvia replied. "I'll see if we can get someone over to the hospital to meet you. Call me if you need anything. You know my number? No? It's the usual cell prefix plus 8898. Take care, Mitch." Sylvia shut the car door for him and flipped her cell phone open again.
Sliding into the driver's seat, Mitch suddenly realized how sore he was. The firm, sporty bolsters were pushing into a collection of bruises and the ache of fading adrenaline. He put the car in gear and crept toward the back entrance to the cemetery. He felt his way around a couple of old bumpy blacktop ranch roads till he found the main route back into town. He took it at a steady pace. He wanted to get to Jim and Connie right away, but his entire body was now refusing to rush.
By the time Mitch pulled into his driveway, he had only a hot shower and another cold drink on his mind, not necessarily in that order. He fumbled for his keys and grabbed the door knob to insert the key. He didn't need it - the door pushed open. Mitch had a sinking feeling.
Stepping into the entryway, Mitch could already see the destruction. The sidetable drawer was on the floor upside down, bills, notes, pens and change scattered all over the tile. To the right, the sitting room furniture was ripped apart, the nice leather armchair flipped over into the big limestone fireplace. Even the piano was opened up and pulled away from the wall. The light curtains were pulled closed so the neighbors wouldn't have noticed anything out of the ordinary.
On the other side of the entryway, the larger family room was an ever bigger mess. Pictures ripped out of frames; DVDs scattered apart from their cases; Sonja's home office/wardrobe a total loss. The filing cabinet was tumped forward, a trail of now empty folders cascading all the way to the kitchen. Mitch stumbled his way to the kitchen counter to find the phone, the one he'd had to replace after Sonja's death. This phone was in no better shape.
You really should have just gotten yourself a cell phone like the rest of the world, Mitch. But he knew he probably wouldn't. There would be no solitude in his life if he did. A lot of fun solitude is now, huh? Mitch frowned. You gave into the kids, though, didn't you? He'd given two picture phones to them at Christmas, and they'd been remarkably responsible with them. Fortunately most of their friends were on the same provider so Mitch didn't have to worry about their minutes spiraling out of control.
Why am I thinking about this? His mind was hyperactive again, Mitch admitted to himself. All around him was surreal. Someone or someones had dealt their fury on this thing that used to be his house. His home. His life. Someone was out to get him, or something he had. Would they want to hurt the kids? Were Mitchell and Shelby safe? What do these people want with me?
As fast as his mind was working he really didn't feel much of anything. He just walked slowly around surveying the damage. I really should call the police and only the kids have phones, which they've got with them. Wait a minute, they don't. I made them leave the things behind for vacation. He knew Shelby probably had it with her anyway, since she was never without it. 'Easier to ask forgiveness than permission' seemed to be her motto. Mitch bounded up the stairs to Mitchell's bedroom. If either of the phones was left it would be his.
Mitchell's bed was too big to push over, made out of old, square timbers and joined with giant pegs, like an Amish barn. It was something Mitchell had dreamed up when he was thirteen and became a reality with the help of a bored and overly-creative grandfather. There was a notch in the top of one of the posts. His son kept his more valuable things in there. Mitch felt around and pulled out the little blue, see-through contraption that opened like a clam shell. He spent ten minutes trying to figure out how to unlock the keypad. Another good reason to never get a cell phone, Mitch reassured himself. You could drown or watch the house burn before getting through to 911. Mitch punched those very numbers as he thought them. Or at least tried to - the buttons were so small. '981' followed '991' followed '9912' before he got it right. When the screen finally read the right thing, he stared at it for a full minute while it did nothing. Then he remembered that he had to punch the little green button to make it dial.
After two burbling chirps from the little blue jellyfish/clamshell, the tinny voice of the 911 operator came on the line. "911 - is this an emergency?"
Mitch didn't know what to say.
"Hello? Can you state your problem, please?"
Mitch shut the clamshell and sat down on his son's bed with a sigh. It was as much of a mess as the rest of the house, but Mitch couldn't decide who was responsible. Mitchell's handiwork was awfully similar to the mystery home-wreckers that had recently paid a visit.
Can you state your problem, Mitch? Fair question... What is going on? Who's after you? Why? Who do you need to go to? Who should you call? Are those thugs watching you now? What about the Feds?'
Mitch flipped open the phone again and dialed Sylvia's number from memory.
"Oh, hi, Mitch. I didn't recognize this number. Are you OK?"
Mitch filled her in on what he'd found and requested that a couple of locals might want to discreetly check it out.
"Good Lord, Mitch! What have you gotten yourself into?! I'll get some folks over there right away. C.R.'s here now. I'll see how fast he can break free. And please be careful. If you see anything else out of place, call me immediately!"
Mitch looked around at the endless mess and rolled his eyes.
"OK, Sylvia. Just don't have them blasting their sirens up here, all right? I don't want the neighbors all shaken up. I'm going to get in the shower now, so tell them to let themselves in. And thank you."
He snapped the clamshell shut after another pleading caution from Sylvia. Mitch's thirst reminded him that it hadn't gone away, so he stepped over the up-ended laundry basket to the kids' bathroom. He cupped his hands for a few long drinks from the tap. This room seemed to be a lot less traumatized than the others. Finding his own bathroom shredded, Mitch decided to shower here. He brought back a pair of khakis and a t-shirt from the pile in the middle of his bedroom, and some fresh shorts and socks he found in the hallway.
The hot water stung like needles. Mitch lowered the temperature. Either he had a honest sunburn or that fiery blast had done the work. Either way, his skin felt raw like his throat. He eventually fumbled around for some shampoo. None of his son's adolescent sports smelly stuff was appealing, so he settled on a river/mist/mossy/rock/sunrise/juniper/morning rain something-or-other from one of those body and bath stores. Understated bottle - overstated price. It was one of the scents that would come out of that bathroom each morning, trailing behind Shelby. Mitch suddenly, and deeply, missed his children.
Thank God they're not here right now, though. They're safer where they are. I don't want them anywhere near until this mess is sorted out. And he wasn't thinking about the house.
The first knock came as Mitch was stepping out of the shower. He hollered down and pulled his clothes on quickly. He looked over the balcony rail to see two officers with guns drawn, in quick-fire position between both hands.
"I haven't found anyone here, guys, and they would have had plenty of time to get me by now. But, knock yourselves out."
The first policeman nodded and holstered his weapon slowly. His eyes kept looking around warily. Mitch met him at the bottom of the stairs, still holding his shoes. They shook hands. The second officer who's badge read "Williams" stepped around the piles, heading for the kitchen and beyond.
"Ted Mueller, sir. Sargeant Colpoys asked us to come over right away and wait for the investigator. Are you OK?"
"Well, it doesn't feel much like home anymore, but I'm doing alright." He explained what he'd found and how, answering the few questions officer Mueller put to him. After a few minutes of looking around, they all retreated to the kitchen. Mitch cleared off a section of counter and stood up two bar stools.
The latest round of adrenaline had finally worn off and Mitch was now dragging. It was time for some coffee. With the freezer violently explored, he found the bag of beans sitting on the floor by the pantry. He was pouring a cup for his visitors when Mitchell's phone blinked to life and played some shredding guitar riff from a band his father had never heard of.
Officer Mueller was nodding his head with the music. "Great tune," he said, tipping his coffee mug Mitch's way slightly. He'd always liked the Power Magnets.
"You know the song?" Mitch asked as he flipped it open.
"Yeah, it's 'Praying for the Day' - big hit last year." Officer Ted Mueller suddenly looked about twenty in Mitch's eyes. He wasn't far off.
"Hello?" Mitch said, holding the phone with his left hand and pouring for himself with the right.
"Howdy, Mitch. C.R. Colpoys here. Sounds like you've had a hell-fried kinda day."
"You could say that, C.R." Mitch lightly rubbed the burn on the back of his neck. The images of an exploding minivan and water truck flashed across his brain. Which of those was real? he asked himself. He looked at his hand. It really was red. A couple of blisters had formed on his palm.
"Well, would you mind if I came over for a look? If you're up to it, I'd like to hear what you can tell me 'bout all this." C.R. was sounding as laid back and droll as ever, but Mitch could tell he was concerned. Maybe even eager. "I cleared it with Sylvia," C.R. continued, reassuring him.
"Come on over, friend. But I should warn you, the housekeeper let me down this week." Mitch realized it was a pathetic attempt to lighten the mood.
"I'll help you file a report with the Better Business Bureau," C.R. answered, as dry as ever. Mitch shut up the clam and returned to the counter. The three men made small talk for a few minutes till C.R. pulled up. He entered quietly without knocking and had taken a survey of much of the house before anyone noticed him. Silence was one of his many talents. He startled Mitch with a quiet greeting from the wrong direction. Mitch almost jumped as he spun around. The lanky man leaned back a little when he realized he'd been too stealthy.
"Sorry, pardner. Didn't mean to sneak up like that." C.R. had the start of a wry smile as he slowly put his hands in his front pockets. Dressed in Wranglers, clean Justin ropers and a short-sleeve madras shirt, he was the picture of an honest Texan on nobody's clock but his own. Heading for a neighbor's barbeque, maybe - not a crime scene investigation. The two officers gave him a slight wave. They all knew each other well enough, and C.R. was impossible to dislike. Everything just fine and casual around Canyon West law enforcement.
Mitch handed him the fresh mug of coffee he'd poured for himself. Always black for C.R. "Thanks for coming, C.R. Sylvia said you'd want to come over. Did you want to have a look around the place?"
C.R. accepted the the mug, took a sip and shook Mitch's hand at the same time. "Upstairs in a minute, I suppose. The three of them only went upstairs once, but they've been around downstairs at least three times. Whatever they were looking for they expected to find down here, starting with your wife's office area."
Officer Ted cocked an eyebrow at C.R. in mild surprise. Mitch just stared at him. "How?..." he began to ask. C.R. just raised his palm to him politely.
"Sonja's papers are at the bottom of the mess in both the entryway and right there in the family room." He pointed past the counter to the scattered papers covered in couch cushions and soil from the potted ficus. The other men spun around on their stools to look.
"You boys bring along your fingerprint kits? Good. I doubt we'll find anything. It looks like they were wearing gloves, but at least one pair was powdered. Collect some of that, and see if you can print the left stair railing and the sides of the piano."
"Why not the other railing?" asked Officer Ted.
"Wiped down twice," explained C.R. and turned to Mitch. "Now tell me everything, from the moment you pulled up in the driveway. How it all looked from the outside, etc. And when you figured out something was wrong."
Mitch explained what he could remember about approaching the house, but it wasn't much since he wasn't paying attention. Then he tried to explain all the details of the door handle and finding it unlocked.
"OK, so the door was unlocked? That surprises me. You opened it and walked in - then what?"
"Actually, I just pushed it open. The door was already ajar."
C.R. stopped scratching on his notepad and looked up. He stared at Mitch for a moment then looked around the kitchen and family room again like he was trying to find something he'd missed.
"What?" Mitch asked. C.R. held up his index finger to his lips, closed his eyes and mouthed like he was counting. He circled that same index finger around in a slow circle and back a couple of times.
"What's on the other side of this wall, Mitch?" C.R. asked in almost a whisper. He pointed at the fridge opposite the sink, along the interior wall of the kitchen.
"Hallway and... laundry I guess. Why?"
C.R. was shaking his head. "Between the hallway and here - locked door."
"You mean under the stairs? Half of it's pantry and and then there a storage closet, why?"
C.R. held up his palm in the 'stay' motion and very quietly made his way to the two officers dusting the stair railing. Mitch leaned around to see C.R. leading Officer Ted back down the last couple of steps in a creep. Mitch could see that the gun was drawn again. The policeman stayed very still at the bottom of the steps, facing the hallway. C.R. was quickly - and silently - back in the kitchen whispering in Mitch's ear.
"Walk with me around the back side to the hallway. Explain out loud what's behind those doors, but move cautiously and don't touch anything. When I motion you back, get out of the way completely."
Mitch's heart rate was going up again. He followed to the mud room. C.R. motioned for him to start talking and pointed at the hall.
"Uh, yeah... Well, on the left is the laundry room..." Mitch looked over his shoulder to see C.R. jerking his thumb toward the other wall.
"And over here is the back of the pantry..." Mitch knocked on the wall. "And this is the storage closet," said Mitch, forgetting C.R.'s instructions and grabbing the knob.
The door exploded, almost coming off the hinges. Mitch saw a spray of splinters near his hand as the latch ripped out of the jamb. A split-second later the door met Mitch's head with full force. It was hollow-core and his brow went right through the weak wall of plywood, cutting his forehead. Mitch felt another sharp pain as his hand twisted backward with the doorknob. A dark silhouette flew past the door as Mitch landed square on his back, knocking the wind out of him. He saw C.R.'s legs fly past, following the dark figure into the laundry room. Officer Ted yelled "Freeze!" but too late. There was a crash of glass.
Mitch tried to sit up but his solar plexus was locked. A moment later he heard another shout from outside followed by a strange zipping sound and a scream. A moment later was a loud pop and the sound of one set of running feet.
Mitch tried to sit up again. Still nothing. He collapsed back to the tile floor in frustration waiting for his breathing muscles to remember their job. It got pretty black while he waited.
After what seemed an eternity, Mitch felt a hand grasp his and pull him up. It was C.R. His face was pained and serious.
"Come on! I've got to get you out of here NOW!"
Mitch stumbled to his feet and followed C.R. out the back door, around to the left and to C.R.'s car. He screamed out of the driveway in reverse, slammed into a bootlegger 180, and sped out of the cul de sac. Mitch could hear sirens approaching from the other direction.
"Keep down!" C.R. ordered. Mitch didn't argue and slumped down. "I mean all the way down." Mitch laid his head on the front bench next to C.R.'s thigh. He felt stupid but too pained to argue. He could hear the engine scream and the road sway hard underneath for a number of minutes. Finally C.R. let up on the gas.
"You can sit up now, Mitch."


Dinah Bee Menil said...

Nice site, very informative. I like to read this.,it is very helpful in my part for my criminal law studies.

May 6, 2010 at 10:54 PM
crosswaysnet said...

That was funny, Dinah. If I end up in a paper for your classes, let me know.

May 7, 2010 at 8:37 AM

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