I navigated through the debris on the floor to get to the telephone. When I heard a dial tone I began punching in a number. While it was ringing I whispered to Susan, "After this call, we have to get out of here."
"Are you calling the police?" she asked rubbing away the tears from her cheeks. She had calmed down but was still visibly distraught.
"No. I have to first talk to my editor, Stu Jankowski," I replied. "I have to make sure he is all right." To my chagrin his cell number kept ringing until the voice mail kicked in. "Stu? Ben. This is important. Meet me in the attic at 3:00 this afternoon." I disconnected the call and looked up at the ceiling. "Shit!" I exclaimed.
"What's wrong, Mr. Bering?" Susan asked.
"It's probably nothing, but Stu never lets his calls go to voice mail. I don't like it." I forced a weak smile and said to her, "It's Ben. Please call me Ben."
I walked over to an end table which lie tipped on its side by the sofa and picked up the police scanner that once resided upon it. From the small bookcase I grabbed a small leather bound tome bearing the title I Am, Therefore I'm Not. I looked about the main living area of my apartment; it was a sea of carnage. It would take me weeks to clean up the mess, but that would have to wait.
After plugging in the police scanner in the closest outlet to the door, I threw a few articles of clothing into a duffel bag and gathered some toiletries from the bathroom. I noticed that Susan was standing by the door to my bedroom. Her face was ashen and her mouth was covered by her trembling hand.
I called to her, "Susan?" She didn't answer, her eyes locked onto something behind the slightly ajar door. I moved to her side and peered inside my bedroom. I froze. There, just beyond the door was an unmoving human hand, a prominent U.S. Marines ring on the ring finger.
"My God!" I cried. "Jim. Jim?"
For reasons obvious to me I knew there would be no response. I attempted to push the door aside but it wouldn't budge. There was something against it on the other side. In desperation, despite using my shoulder I was still unable to force it open. Finally I managed to move the door just enough to allow me to see the dresser mirror against the far wall. From the reflection I could see that Jim's electric wheel chair was wedged against the door.
I knelt down and extended my arm into the room. I recoiled slightly when my fingers came in contact with the cold flesh of his hand. I glanced back at Susan. She hadn't moved, her eyes still wide, her hand still across her mouth. I then repositioned myself until I was sitting with my feet planted against the door and my back against the wall. With all the strength I could muster I pushed with my feet until I could feel the faint pangs of an old hernia condition.
There was the sudden snap of wood as the door began to yield to the force I was exerting upon it. The screws holding the bottom hinge in place tore from the door frame. I surveyed the damaged door, in particular the lower third of its surface. I made a mental note that when I had a chance I needed to compose a letter to my landlord. It seems that the solid wood doors described in my lease agreement were instead hollow and covered with an oaken veneer.
I crawled inside and pulled myself onto my feet. I gazed down upon the prone figure before me. I could see the blood-soaked side of the man's head where he had been struck with something. I shook my head, made the sign of the cross, and uttered a silent prayer of respect for my neighbor. For a moment my eyes rested upon the terminus of his two legs, the lower half of which had been lost serving his country in the jungles of Vietnam. I knelt once more and began patting his pockets until I found and removed his set of keys.
I crawled out the bedroom and stood before Susan who seemed to be gaining control of herself as well as her senses. I placed my hands on her shoulders and gently shook her. "Susan. Are you with me?"
She nodded and turned away from the bedroom door. "Is he ... Is he dead?" she queried. "You knew him?"
I grabbed her hand and pulled her after me. "Yes and yes. He was my neighbor from across the hall."
I picked up the duffel bag and handed it to her. "Take this. I'll take the book and the scanner."
"Shouldn't we call 911? This ... needs to be reported." she said to me.
I didn't respond to her right away because my attention was drawn to the voices coming from the police scanner. I removed its plug from the wall and said, "We don't have to. It seems someone has already called it in."
I placed the leather book atop the scanner and cradled them in my arms. I could hear the sirens approaching outside, probably only two or three blocks distant. We had to get away from there. I grabbed her arm again and forcibly dragged her from the apartment.
At first she struggled. "...But the police are going to want to get statements from us, Mr. Bering," she protested.
"Susan," I said, "I have nothing but the highest regard for the law. But right now, I don't particularly relish a ride downtown wearing co-joined bracelets."
I could hear some of Boston's finest in the lobby below. I motioned to the girl, "We'd better take the back stairway. This way."
I was hoping that since the police were responding to a 911 call that they would not have deemed it necessary to cover the back entrance to the building. When we reached the door I grabbed Susan's arm and yanked her behind a concrete pillar.
"Damn it," I muttered. A lone police officer was approaching the door. I acted without thinking and thrust my shoulder against the door the same moment he was pulling it open. The door smashed into his face and he fell backward over the railing onto a pile of trash bags.
"Jesus Christ!" Susan exclaimed when she saw him lying there unmoving. "I think you hurt him bad!"
While herding her down the three concrete steps I cast a furtive glance at the fallen officer and quipped, "Yeah, I believe I broke his nose." I gently pushed her ahead and added, "He'll live. The others will see to him."
My mind was racing at light speed as I led us into a back alley four blocks from the apartment building. I needed to sit and think. I needed a safe place to hide out for an hour or so. I watched as Susan slumped to the ground against the stucco surface of a building. She was scared and rightfully so.
She finally spoke, "Ben, what in the hell is going on? Why did we run from the cops?"
I knelt down beside her and wanting to measure my words into a subtle response, I rubbed my neck and realized it was best that I lay it on the line. "Some government agency, which by the way officially doesn't exist, is after the work Michael Black and Michelle Gray were conducting. Apparently there are military applications for their findings." I paused and I could see that the gravity of our situation was not registering with her. "Look, these men are ruthless and they will stop at nothing - nothing - to achieve their goal."
She gasped and turned her face away from my gaze, "Even killing innocent people?" She ran a finger against her cheek. "Why Billy? What did he do to deserve to die? He never met them ... neither Michelle nor Michael." She stood up and brushed her hair from her face. "...And what about your neighbor? Why was he killed?"
I eased myself to my feet and sighed heavily. "Jim must have heard the commotion in my apartment when it was being turned upside down." My chin resting on my shoulder, some movement at the end of the alley caught my attention. I reached for her hand as I continued speaking, "He must have gone to my door while they were in there ... He must have thought he was looking out for me."
She must have sensed that it was time to move on. She fell in step with me as soon as I started walking. "Where are we going now?" she asked.
"To the Globe Building. One, to check on my boss Stu, and two, to retrieve my car from the parking lot. We aren't going far on foot," I replied.
"But won't the police be looking for you there?" she asked.
"It'll be the first place they look," I answered. "I'm hoping that they'll be tied up at my apartment before they put out an APB on me ... and you!"
She stopped dead in her tracks and shrieked, "Me? Why would they be looking for me, for God's sake?"
I faced her and said coldly, "If they knew about Billy, they know about you. Yes, they are after you too!" The fear returned to her face and her breathing was becoming heavy. "Think about it, Susan. Someone is following us ... watching us. Who do you suppose called the police to my apartment ... to the scene of a murder?"
She remained silent until I stopped by a tall stockade fence. The parking lot where my car was parked was just beyond the fence. I placed an eye over a knot hole in the wooden structure. I turned away and raised a finger to my lips. There was a lot of activity on the lot. There were four police cruisers, their lights flashing, surrounding and effectively blocking access to my car. Several officers were milling about it.
"Damn it!" I growled. "The place is crawling with police."
She heard it before me and remarked, "That's an ambulance siren. Is it going there, to your building?"
I peered through the knothole again. As the wail of the siren grew closer two of the officers were running the yellow barrier tape across the building entrances. My heart sank and I sat down on the grass by the fence. I was drained both mentally and physically. The loss of sleep was overtaking me. Susan knelt by my side and placed a hand on my arm.
"It's your boss, isn't it?" she asked. "The ambulance ... it's for him?"
I nodded, for I had reached the same conclusion. I got up and picked up the scanner and the book. I took a deep breath and exhaled long. "We are not safe out here on the streets. I know a place where we can go," I pointed at the fence with a thumb over my shoulder. "It'll take longer to get there without my car, but at least we can rest ... I can get a little shuteye."
(To be continued on Monday 12/22, part 8, Meeting of the Minds.)