The Last Homecoming
by Bob Sojka
Curry scent lingered in the observatory lunchroom from yesterday’s Uzbek and Afghani visitors, pissing Eddy off. It only added to his agitation as the divorce papers shook in his hands. As he slammed down a fist, his old Navy SEAL ring gouged his desk. His fury also distracted his attention from the computer screen flashing the alert that a distant object had been detected, heading in the general direction of earth.
It was Eddy’s third day back in Chile from his California visit and his disastrous Thanksgiving Day argument with Gina. They’d always had a tempestuous marriage, full of heat, the good kind and the bad. But Divorce? His world would end without Gina.
The soft Beep Beep from his computer didn’t register. Since the Haji visit, Eddy had had so many computer burps that he’d started treating them as background buzz. Training Hajis to run a NEAT facility on the Uzbek-Afghani border-- what a crock.
“Clear skies, my ass,” he said aloud. “More like electronic eavesdropping and slipping the Hajis some hush money.”
He crinkled his nose; he hated lamb and couscous. Maybe the visit was necessary to bring them into the Near Earth Asteroid Tracking network. But he’d cringed watching them run their hands over his keyboards and instruments, gibbering in Pashto and Dari. He hovered nearby, trying to keep them from screwing anything up, but couldn’t monitor everyone at once. They flashed half-witted smiles and spoke polite broken English; who knows if they understood what he tried to teach them.
They no sooner left than the mainframe malfunctioned. He had to run a full system reboot-- two stressful hours of busy-work for nothing. A glitch. Nothing they’d fouled up apparently, but he still blamed them.
He put the divorce papers down to look at Gina’s picture on the desk. Gina, in her bikini, was sitting in Eddy’s lap, aboard their sailboat, Conspiracy. Eddy was just leaning toward it to sniff Gina’s Royal Secret perfume when he heard it.
No longer soft beeps, the computer now sounded “Hells Bells,” its deceptively genteel alarm chimes. The dish had sensed an earthbound object. He dropped the papers and sat up so abruptly that he whacked his skull on an open file drawer.
“Shit,” he touched his head and felt blood. He shuffled the papers across the desk, leaving crimson smudges.
The scroll spat out error probability, perigee, days to perigee, approach velocity and mass, calculating an index that triggered the event alarm. If the orbital models spewing across the screen indicated a close approach, the shift attendant alerted cooperating observatories to refine the prediction.
Hells Bells kept ringing. Eddy pulled up the keyboard, tapped in his security code, and accessed the data feed. Depending on the distance from which the raw data were sensed, the signal quality, and data volume, preliminary assessment could take from twenty minutes to an hour. Depending on the celestial coordinates and global weather it could be hours to days before cooperating observatories could verify the observation.
Signal strength was good; quality was crisp. The object was distant, but the initial data indicated an extraordinarily high approach velocity.
In the abstract, this was exhilarating. Like all astronomers, Eddy knew it had been a hundred years since Tunguska, and sixty five million since the dinosaur-killing cretaceous impact. A kind of probabilistic spirituality supported his faith in near misses. The real thrill was naming an object. As the assessment program chunked along, Eddy’s thoughts drifted to Gina. What if this thing is for real? What if it hits L.A.? Too many what ifs. His stomach twisted between two crises. No, wait. You don’t know if this thing is a crisis. Let the computer to do its job. He took a lorazepam.
The phone rang. It was Raymundo, Eddy’s relief, and the support team. Each week Pradesh and the IT specialist, Gert, performed routine maintenance. Pradesh also chauffeured shift changes and special visitors, like the Hajis. The crawler’s battery needed changing; they’d be a few minutes late.
“OK, OK, sure. See you.”
Hell’s Bells morphed to a claxon. A Red light pulsed and an icon appeared on-screen that Eddy had never seen before-- a bluish earth-swirl penetrated by a lightning bolt. Under it flashed the words Impact Highly Probable. Eddy’s gut tightened.
“Holy shit.” He started opening tabs.
Click: Mass. “Shit.”
Click: Velocity. “Shit.”
Click: Energy. “Jesus.”
Click: Impact Date. “Holy Mother of...”
Eddy’s mouth hung open. He rolled his chair back, smacking the filing cabinet again. He swabbed his head and jerked his gaze from the bloody handkerchief in his hand, to the incoming data on the screen, then back to Gina’s photo. Nausea overcame him; he ran to the toilet and puked.
He splashed water on his face and leaned on the sink, dizzy, watching his image in the mirror turn gray. The floor softened. His head throbbed. He thought he would faint, but held the sink with his crimson fingers and slowly regained his composure.
He staggered back to the computer grabbing the mouse to open the autodial window. He swung his blood-smeared hand so fast that the mouse flew off the desk. Groping for the mouse, his eye caught Gina’s picture again. He froze.
Eddy picked up the photo. They had bought Conspiracy to shrink their lives down to size. To live more intimately, and have more opportunity to do what they loved, sail. They inherited a two-bedroom cabin at Arrowhead from Gina’s mom, so they still had somewhere to stretch out occasionally. But the plan had been to find themselves again. Then Eddy got this take-it-or-leave-it offer from JPL. Work two years in Chile, or start looking for a new job.
Damn! Now all he had was twenty four days.
All anyone had was twenty four days.
Until December 21, 2012.
What the fuck good were twenty four days to anyone? This little surprise was the size of Key West, traveling 100,000 miles per hour; what’s known “in the business” as a PK-- a Planet Killer. As in end of the world. KT extinction do-over. The big barbeque in the sky.
Eddy checked the clock.
Gert, Raymundo and Pradesh would arrive soon. He picked up the mouse and clicked CANCEL. The autodial window closed. He deleted the event file from the computer system, then searched the directory for all files within five minutes of the alert and deleted them. He checked to be sure that, as the sweep resumed, instruments would track away from the object’s path. Next he checked the sweep schedules of cooperating observatories. The South Africans might spot the incoming in forty eight hours-- enough time to get home if no other observatory accidentally spotted it. Enough time if he left now.
Eddy knew, astronomer nerds being astronomer nerds, that once discovered, the lucky observatory would clamber to announce the find first, taking credit for the earth shattering discovery.
He laughed hysterically. Earth shattering. The laugh squeezed into a squeak, then a sob.
“Get a grip.”
Eddy was pretty sure the news would generate world panic. His mind’s eye filled with visions of failing infrastructure and transportation. Anarchy. He wanted to get to Gina. He had to go now. NOW.
The crawler rumbled onto the gravel pad outside. He grabbed his jacket and pulled its hood over his matted hair. He met Raymundo and Gert at the crawler, lunch buckets in hand. It was a little unusual not to walk the incoming attendant through the pass-off, but Raymundo cut corners when he had hot dates. So, Eddy just told them everything was cool. “Have a siesta, ‘Mundo. Nothing happening. I gotta meet a guy in town.” He fist-bumped Gert and climbed into the crawler. Once underway, Eddy thumbed his cell phone and called Gina. No answer, and voice mail was turned off.
It took a while to return to base camp. Eddy sulked the entire ride down.
“You OK, Eddy?” Pradesh asked.
Pradesh was cool. Not like the Haji clowns that stunk up the lunchroom. Pradesh was a newlywed too, and they often talked.
“Just a headache.”
“It’s looking like more than one headache,” said Pradesh. “Not more argumenting with, Gina? You sure that Sam fellow is really your friend? I am worrying you say he visits so much at the boat.”
“Pradesh, cool it. It’s just a headache. And Sam’s our best friend. I’ve told you before, we’re old Navy buddies. He skippered the last sub I was on. He introduced me and Gina and helped me get the JPL job.”
“Yes, Eddy, but also you told to me he was doing dates with Gina before...”
“I said Cool it, Pradesh. We’re adults. Sammy’s more than a friend. He’s patched us back together a dozen times when we were fighting. He’s like a brother.”
“If you say, so.”
“Let me rest, OK? What’s in my head is killing me.”
At base camp, Eddy jumped from the crawler. Pradesh would be a while parking it at the garage, refueling it, and walking back. Eddy didn’t want anyone asking him questions. He hurried so he could leave before Pradesh returned.
He jogged up the bunk house steps. He didn’t shower, just mopped crusted blood from his hair with a wet towel and popped a couple hydrocodone for the pain and a dextroamphetamine to keep awake until he boarded a plane.
He stuffed his meds, and a change of clothes into his backpack, along with his passport, Blackberry, charger, and wallet.
He shrugged a sweater over his turtleneck, grabbed a cap and bolted out the door. He stopped abruptly on the steps, then went back to the locker room.
His bank account was nearly drained. He hated doing it, but he grabbed the fire axe off the wall and jimmied open Gert’s, Raymundo’s, and Pradesh’s lockers and stole what cash he found. He was about to run out the door when, again, he turned back. He jimmied his own locker. Then he pulled a yellow legal pad and Sharpie from the desk between the bunks and wrote. Pradesh, Someone broke in, I’m heading to the Policia in Cerro Mirador to report it. I’ll fill you in when I get back– Eddy.
He hailed the rusty dented blue taxi that hung around base camp at shift changes and asked Ignatio, the friendly old cabby, to drive him to the bank, pronto. Ignatio usually waited to see if other employees needed rides, but Eddy told him he’d already checked and was in a hurry for the bank before it closed.
Eddy withdrew his three hundred US dollars and added it to the wad of Chilean pesos in his wallet. Then he asked Ignatio to drive him to the airport in Punta Arenas. Ignatio was ecstatic. The airport trip was his best fare. The old man had been kind to Eddy for the past twenty months. Eddy pictured Ignatio and his boy Jaunito, who sometimes drove with him.
Twenty four days.
Eddy nearly cried. Ignacio ground the gears and bumped down the road. It was Wednesday evening and Eddy reserved flights using his Blackberry. He settled into his seat while his mind churned.
When Eddy was discharged, Sam introduced him to one of his old girlfriends, Gina. She was a real looker, like all Sam’s girls, but she was different. She had a brain, in fact a PhD in foreign relations with a minor in international finance.
When it was obvious that Eddy and Gina were serious, Sam told Eddy “She’s special, tough guy, you gotta prove there’s more to you than special ops and blowing things up. She won’t stay with someone who’s all testosterone and no grey matter.” So, Eddy finished his degree in physics and signed on at JPL.
Late in 2009 WISE, the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, was launched to help with NEAT’s asteroid-detecting mission and a monitoring station was erected in 2011 on the bluffs overlooking the Straights of Magellan, near the Reserva Nacional de Magallanes. It was supposed to be integrated with the NEAT station at Cerro Tololo. But their working Astronomers didn’t even know of the plan until the hand off. The whole thing had a slimy CIA feel to it, especially when Eddy learned that a similar station was being built in Hajistan.
As the car bumped along, Eddy called Gina again.
“Hello?” Gina’s Georgia accent was like honey to his ears.
“Eddy? Are you in Chile?”
“Yes, but we have to talk.”
“You got the papers.”
“I can’t believe this. I know we argued. We always go too far when we argue politics. But divorce?”
“Eddy, I don’t want to go over it all again. It wasn’t just politics. Whenever you can’t win arguments you start digging me about personal things, smoking pot, partying. You know I haven’t done that in years. Do I criticize you for reading “Guns & Ammo,” listening to talk radio and popping pills, when I’m not around?”
Eddy heard a muffled voice in the background. It sounded like Sam. Sam was on a shore rotation in Long Beach for a couple more weeks and often spent a day or two on Conspiracy when he was in port. Pradesh’s comments came back to him.
“Who’s that with you?” Eddy said, a little more agitated than he meant to sound.
“It’s Sam. Don’t tell me now you’re jealous of him on top of everything else.”
“No, it’s not that. Look, I need to tell you something important. It’s driving me nuts. You have to listen to me, something big is happening. The world is in danger. We’re all in danger.”
“Eddie, not now. Don’t you understand? I’ve had it with all your conspiracy theories and war mongering. Don’t you get it? The reason the world is in such a mess is all this military paranoia and hate.”
“No, no. It’s not that, I...”
“Bin Laden tossed a bug in the creek and the generals bit like a big mouth bass in black water at springtime. Asymmetrical warfare, Bubba,” she taunted, “Weren’t you paying attention at that lecture, sailor? Your enemy helps you defeat yourself.”
“Gina, you know it isn’t that simple. It’s almost 2013 and the troops still aren’t home...”
The line clicked. Gina hung up.
At Punta Arenas Eddy gave Ignatio a big tip and a warm abrazo. He was lucky. He’d make the connecting flight to Santiago, and paid for the complete passage to LAX on his credit card. He had to buy pricey first class tickets, but as he laid down the plastic he smirked. It was past the November billing cutoff. By the time the bill came due it would amount to a free ride. He entered the passenger lounge and called Gina again.
Things went smoothly on the flight to Santiago. Eddy took a sponge bath in the cramped lavatory. Having the stink of work off of him helped.
On deplaning in Santiago his conscience became pilot-light to a furnace of paranoia. Every armed guard seemed to be looking at him. He imagined being stopped at Chilean emigration, or at US customs, and getting extradited back to Chile for robbery. He pulled out the lorazepam from his back pack and popped two tablets.
The US flight wasn’t for three hours. He decided to clear emigration and browse the duty-free shops, maybe buy a peace offering for Gina. He found an elegant choker of Chilean gold and lapis lazuli. It was nearly a thousand dollars, but VISA accepted the transaction.
As he waited for the gift wrapping, the TV behind the jeweler caught his interest. CNN International was reporting an Al Jazeera news release by The Islamic Jihadist Front, touting a new revelation to the world of Islam.
...video predicted that Allah will very soon destroy the entire infidel civilization in a single day. He promised that prayerful Muslims who obey their mullahs will be spared to enjoy an earthly preview of Paradise. The tape was delivered to the Al Jazeera office of...
Eddy smiled grimly as the jeweler gave him the day’s second freebie, stuffing the gem-studded choker into his backpack. As the dark-haired woman reporter concluded her account of the cryptic Muslim pronouncement he shook his head.
“Great. Crazy Iranians are going to nuke the world. A year-end two-fer for good old Mother Earth.”
Midnight came and went in the passenger lounge. Eddy struggled to keep alert. He took more dextroamphetamine. His eyes blurred. He swore the clock’s top number now read “23 days.” He performed addle-brained math with the flight schedule, trying to figure how much extra life he’d gain traveling west to L.A., then laughed at himself for forgetting the artificiality of time zones.
They called his flight. People queued up. He phoned Gina again, no answer. He texted her that he was coming.
Eddy boarded the plane and sunk into his first class seat. Drinks are always free in first class. You pay for them, after all, so they ought to be, right? He couldn’t decide if since they were free, in more ways than one, whether that meant they were even a better bargain than ever. If that was true should he knock down a few extras just to make the point? The whole concept of money and credit cards was beginning to curdle his brain. He ordered a double Scotch for the takeoff and had the little Australian flight attendant bring him another as soon as she unbuckled her harness when the plane leveled off. He decided he’d always fly first class from now on.
As the plane reached cruising altitude, Sam’s upcoming deployment flashed through Eddy’s mind. If he could reach Sam maybe the three of them could survive. He sheltered his phone from onlookers and tried texting, but the plane was already too far from shore. No bars.
Clutching this nugget of hope he drained his second drink and fell mercifully to sleep.
Clearing customs in L.A. went smoothly. He paid duty on the jewelry, but they accepted his credit card. He didn’t have any luggage, which drew a few questions, but altogether he spent less time clearing than the family of four in line ahead of him.
Outside the terminal he boarded the Hertz shuttle and called Gina again, still no answer. When the Hertz lady ran his VISA card the computer flagged his account. She kept his card, smiling, and told him to wait. She stepped into an office behind a glass partition.
While she was gone he tilted her screen trying find out what was going on. Paranoia pushed the limit of his fright/flight threshold. He couldn’t make heads or tales of the account codes. He watched her talking behind the window as she read information from his card into the phone. Shit. He started to perspire. He popped another lorazepam. She kept smiling as she talked. If that smile turned flat he was ready to run.
The young woman hung up, still smiling, and returned to the counter. “I called VISA and asked if your account had been reviewed lately.” She smiled at Eddy, pausing for him to take the card she was handing back. Then she brightly said “It’s OK. They took care of your account, Mr. Parcel, and increased your credit limit another $8,000. It seems you have an excellent record. Your rental contract is printing out.”
Eddy smiled appreciation and slipped the gal a twenty with his signed contract. He grabbed the Mustang’s keys and sprinted for the parking lot.
Once in the car he called Sam. Voice mail. “Sam,” he said, “Call me. Gina and I need twin dolphins. This is urgent. Call me.”
Mid-morning traffic was light. He pushed the limit all the way to the Newport Beach marina where Conspiracy was berthed. As he parked, the radio made his heart skip.
...officials at NEAT, however, say experts retrieved the data. Evidence of possible foul play prompted an investigation. Mr. Parcel’s status isn’t certain. While he remains a person of interest, there is concern he may be a victim of some deeper plot. The real news, again, however, is concern that a near earth object...
Eddy didn’t wait for the rest of the story. He ran to the wharf and swiped his membership card, opening the chain-link gate, then ran the maze of boat slips toward Conspiracy. The security guard waved as Eddy leapt aboard and punched the cabin door’s key code.
“Gina? Gina, are you home?”
The below decks were ship shape, all but the bed, which was rumpled. Strewn on it was one of Gina’s outfits-- a basic black number. Heels, hose, everything-- the full accessorization that made Gina the goddess of late night dining. At the corner of the bed lay her cell phone, displaying the list of recent incoming calls-- his and a couple from Sam. He grabbed it and checked the recently called numbers. The last one was Henry Harrison, the handy man who tended the Arrowhead cabin. She must have called ahead to turn the water on.
He called Henry’s number. Answering machine. Eddy hung up. He called Sam’s number and heard a buzzing in the galley. Sam’s cell phone and car keys were lying inside his Angel’s ball cap next to the sink. Eddy looked out the galley window. Sure enough, he saw Sam’s Corvette at the far end of the parking lot. No time to look for Sam now. He’d drive to Arrowhead to get Gina.
He grabbed the pad of Post-it Notes by the softly babbling Bose radio and started writing. I’m in L.A. Call me. Eddy. He taped one to the exterior door, stuck one on the Mayan calendar-mirror above the bar, one on the door to the head, and one in Sam’s hat.
The radio went to a bulletin covering the PK story.
...of Homeland Security, assured reporters that the object’s status would be shared once confirmed. He noted that, so far, the new Afghani facility is the only other observatory to verify the sighting and denied an Al Jazeera journalist’s assertion that he was downplaying the gravity to prevent panic. “The United States,” he said “does not...”
Eddy’s first reaction was surprise that the Kiwis or Afrikaners hadn’t been first to track the PK. Then a vision of road raging urban cowboys fleeing to the desert on clogged freeways filled his consciousness. Getting to Arrowhead was going to be a lot harder than it would’ve a couple hours earlier. He walked to the safe, spun the combination, Gina’s birthday, and extracted the Kimber .45, a box of ammo, and two clips.
Eddy ran back down the wharf. He chirped the shiny black Mustang’s locks from the edge of the parking lot and yanked the door open like an East L.A. car-jacker.
He tossed the clips and ammo onto the passenger seat; then pulled the Kimber from his belt, adding it to the pile. As he roared to the parking lot exit, he saw two men arguing at the marina’s gas pump. The bigger man yelled fuck you to the smaller one and cold cocked him with a sudden upper cut.
“It’s started,” Eddy said to himself.
He raced east to the mountains as fast as traffic would allow. CHP weren’t stopping speeders; they were dealing with criminals and militia types. Traffic soon turned start-and-stop. Hours piled on hours. Eddy struggled to keep his wits sharp to avoid hitting anything or pissing anyone off with his driving. The hardest part came after clearing Riverside and Redlands as he wound his way up Rim-of-the-World Highway. Until then he’d been racing with the traffic jamming its way out of the basin. Now he was a salmon swimming against the chrome and plastic current. The city slickers were convinced the country was safer, and the rubes wanted into the city.
“You don’t get it, do you?” he yelled out the window. “You’re all dead already. Relax!” You’re all dead, he thought as the mustang’s carbs gulped air to climb the grade. But if Gina and I can get onto Sam’s sub, maybe we aren’t.
The sun was low in the west now. The somber rays creeping over the coastal range left little light for the weaving canyons along the Rim road. Vehicles started using their headlights-- for intimidation as much as illumination, blinking from low to high beam. Light shafts were turbo boosted ahead by loud blasts from the ugly symphony of blaring horns.
A yellow Hummer on glistening oversized wheels, with shiny Armor-Alled nubby tires, pulled out from oncoming traffic and geared down. Engine huffing mightily, it charged straight for Eddy’s black Mustang. Maybe he doesn’t see me, Eddy thought. He pulled the smart stick with the fingers of his left hand for brights then toggled on the halogen road lights.
The Hummer ate the distance between them with the same appetite it had hogged down gas its entire life.
Eddy grabbed the Kimber, transferred it to his left hand and fired three rounds out the driver’s window-- right at the Hummer.
His South paw aim wasn’t great. The first shot glanced off the door of a Toyota Corolla on the inside of the Hummer’s path. The second hit the pavement a hundred feet in front of the Hummer. But the third blew out the Hummer’s front right tire, causing it to lurch sharply to its right, tapping the rear bumper of the Corolla as the Hummer took an Olympic dive at the rock face edging the road.
Eddy dropped the Mustang into low gear and accelerated into the opening provided by the Hummer’s change of course. He held the Kimber aimed directly at the driver of the Hummer as he went by, just in case. As he passed, he saw an assault rifle pointing at him from the Corolla’s rear window.
The tension was palpable, but no one else seemed inclined to invade Eddy’s side of the road. His heart quieted enough to hear again. The radio was saturated with PK coverage. Looping snippets of actual information were interlaced with commentator opinions and desperate calls for calm from governors, mayors and sheriffs.
Mysteriously, there was no word from the President or the President-elect. Reporters speculated they had been spirited away to some deep bunker or the International Space Station. Overseas reports confirmed that the Islamic Crescent remained relatively calm. Apparently the mullah’s exhortation to pray was being observed.
One report indicated that small-arms warfare had broken out in major cities around the globe. Several news hubs had become incommunicado. Officials estimated tens of thousands of casualties already. Most airlines had halted flying after a rash of hijackings. Eddy clicked off the radio. He couldn’t handle it anymore. He popped some cymbalta.
In Arrowhead, the cars thinned out, but the artillery was evident in the doors and windows of storefronts and houses. Near the old ice skating rink he turned up the lane leading to the cabin, driving sedately. The moonlit lake shimmered silver flakes over a dusky aquamarine of deep water. The cabin crept up out of the trees as Eddy topped the last hill.
One dim light glowed from the west bedroom overlooking the lake. Pine scented the air. The curtains were drawn. Gina’s 4Runner was tucked-in close to the porch. He pulled the Mustang along side, cut the ignition and took a deep breath. It was dark now, but Eddy knew his way around. He felt self-conscious, but stuck the Kimber in his belt, then walked quietly to the porch. He opened the door gently and whispered into the semi-dark.
“Gina? Honey? Are you here?”
Acid rock clanged weakly from the bedroom. Light leaked from the mostly closed bathroom door. He took another step inside. Ganja hung heavily in the air. In the living area a smoldering roach on a paper clip lay in an ashtray, next to a couple of flickering mood candles.
Eddy’s posture stiffened. They hadn’t done dope since they were married and only barely tolerated it when Sam’s various bimbos toked during outings on Conspiracy.
He heard noises in the bathroom so he took a few steps closer. With the change in angle he could also see into the west bedroom. There, in the soft light, was Gina’s form lying under a sheet with her back to the door. The smooth curve of her waist, hips and exquisite ass under the sheet gave Eddy a rush.
He stepped toward the bedroom when the door to the bathroom swung open. Oblivious to Eddy’s presence, out strutted a naked Sam. He was air-guitaring on a bottle of bourbon and making exaggerated rocker facial contortions and pelvic thrusts, and singing a 70s hard rock tune.
“What the fuck is this?” blurted Eddy.
“Huh?” said a startled Sam.
“You heard me! I said what the fuck is this?”
Eddy’s fogged brain rewound back to his foray on Conspiracy. He saw the rumpled bed. Gina’s dress and hose. Sam’s hat.
Sam stood momentarily speechless, squinting, trying to make out the shadowy form in front of him. A whimpering groan slowly broke his silence. “Oh, man. It’s just a little of my girlfriend’s weed. You got a warrant? Are we really your biggest problem tonight, man?”
“Fuck yes, I’m your biggest problem, you son of a bitch!”
“Oh, Jesus, Eddy. It’s you. I thought the cops...”
Eddy wasn’t having any of it. The beast was in him. He pulled the automatic from his belt and punched it into Sam’s chest. “I trusted you, you son of a bitch. I thought you were on our side. Our friend. My friend. That you could save us.”
“Eddy! What the hell are you talking...”
The sound was more a dull thud at that range than a bang. The shower curtain behind Sam became a red Rorschach image of rage. Sam’s eyes briefly looked like archery targets as he melted backwards into the bathroom. Falling, his foot caught the door, swinging it nearly closed again. Eddy was hyperventilating when he heard Gina’s soft voice in the bedroom.
“Sam? Sammy? Is that you? Are you OK?”
Eddy turned, gun still in his hand. He paced slowly to the bedroom and stood silently at the foot of the bed. Gina was up on her elbow under the sheet, but still facing away from the door. Her long red hair fanned out behind her on the pillow. Her bare arm was extended, about to adjust the volume knob on the radio.
Eddy slammed his eyes shut at the site of her milky skin. The thought of Sam’s hands running down that train of hair pierced his soul like a scimitar. All he had wanted was to be with her again. Be in her arms when the world ended, if that was the best they could do. He looked at her again. The sleek curve of her torso, hips and legs were accentuated by her reach for the radio.
Bap. Bap. Bap.
Eddy fired a line of slugs into Gina’s back and head. As she slumped face-first into the pillows her hand slapped the radio, knocking it to the floor. Its volume jumped to a painful level as a new piece burst from the speaker-- Iron Maiden’s “Number of the Beast” assaulted his ears.
A screech like all hell’s demons erupted from behind Eddy.
Helen, Sam’s latest girlfriend, stood scantily clad, holding a freshly rolled joint in one hand and a Bic lighter in the other. Her eyes were dilated like onyx buttons, holding her face onto her brain.
“What the fuck? What the fuck!” Eddy whirled around and ran into the bedroom. He tugged at Gina’s shoulder, regretting it instantly as her pulverized face pulled away in bloody strings from the pillow. He dropped her instantly, and, as he fell into a crouch on the bed, his hand slid over the sheet.
He felt something.
He yanked the sheet and blanket away revealing Gina’s lycra jogging togs. Adrenalin ratcheted his brain like the autofocus on a camera. The scene came clear to him.
Heavy metal blasted at Eddy’s consciousness. Helen screamed relentlessly.
“Oh God!” said Eddy again.
The radio still blared. Eddy watched Helen back slowly away from the bedroom-- away from him. Then, like a fast forwarded scene from a 1970s B movie, she grabbed the baggy of dope from the pocket of her short silk robe, and flushed it down the toilet. As Eddy sat dazed, she scurried in the dim light, snatching up the ashtray, rinsing the roach down the kitchen drain. Keeping her eye on Eddy, Helen grabbed her cell phone and barefooted out the front door. Eddy could hear her screaming to the police as she broke into a run beyond the porch.
Eddy stepped to the bedroom window, still clutching the Kimber. His head throbbed savagely. He grabbed some pills from his pocket and crunched them down.
The night had deepened. Across the lake he could see a cabin on fire. As time passed and he watched out the window, the smoke eventually made its way over the water to him. It was being pushed westward by hot Santa Anna winds. The smell of destruction had the ironically pleasant scent of cedar. The silhouetted peaks of the San Gorgonio Mountains were just visible against the inky sky.
The screeching of heavy metal from the radio stopped abruptly...
We interrupt this broadcast for important news. The White House just confirmed that the planet killing asteroid is an elaborate hoax. I’d like to repeat that: The asteroid scare is a hoax. According to the President, Afghani operatives of the Islamic Jihadist Front planted a computer virus in an observatory in Chile that resulted...
Eddy yanked the radio’s cord from the wall. The blue, red, and white glare of a police cruiser’s flashing lights began to illuminate the trees outside the bedroom windows.
The corners of his mouth rose weakly. Tears welled slowly in his half-closed eyes. As he raised his hand the Kimber whispered, “Asymetrical warfare, Bubba.”