The Dead Bin
by Gary Clifton
Chapter 29: Explosion
Cop work: The hazardous perils of the business are often overstated. But occasionally things do go to hell in a handbasket
At around daybreak, about the time I was finishing coffee at Slim’s Finest Diner, Janet rolled out of bed early to get Tim ready for baseball camp. She loaded Tim, armed with a sandwich and baseball gear into another sleepy mom’s SUV for transport to the pavilion. Janet’s part of the deal was to drive out to Collin County late in the day and stuff her Honda van full of sweaty kids for the return home.
At mid-afternoon, the rain had stopped and the blazing Texas sun was breaking through the overcast. She came down the stairs, radiant and shapely in her shorts and her “show way too much skin” top. She tossed her purse onto the front seat of her Honda, then hesitated.
A hooded figure had lingered a block away all afternoon, watching through binoculars through the windshield of his dark car. He had probably seen me leave that morning. In the odd world of metropolitan life, no one thought to call the cops on the occupant of a car wearing a fully hooded sweatshirt on a hot day.
The figure pulled soft drinks from a cooler on the back seat from time to time... waiting.
Just as Janet walked around her car, a garbage truck pulled between the hooded stranger and the Honda. He lost sight of her.
The figure panicked, bailed out of the car, and knelt, trying to see her beneath the truck. The garbage truck driver stepped down and walked between the Honda and his rig. The hooded figure held a small black box aloft, frantically punching a button on the side.
After a few seconds, a tremendous explosion blew the Honda upward through the roof of the carport. The garbage truck careened onto its side in a massive fireball. The hooded figure jumped back into the car and fled as neighbors ran to the blast scene. In a minute, the sound of a siren wafted in.
* * *
I had checked the Cutlass back into the motor pool and was starting home in my pickup in the late Saturday afternoon heat. When rain stopped, it typically left behind 100-percent humidity, nearly impossible to breathe. The sun had made the steering wheel nearly too hot to touch.
Central Expressway traffic was Saturday-forgiving, and I was halfway home when Harper buzzed my cellular. “Dispatch just called me to a car bombing, a Honda. I think it’s your address.”
I gunned the pickup onto the shoulder, through bus stops, and across lawns. When I screeched into the apartment parking lot, firefighters had knocked down the flames. Janet’s smashed Honda was wedged against her building. The garbage truck, on its side, and several other vehicles parked nearby had been devastated.
I badged the first firefighter I saw. “The driver, what happened to the driver?” I gestured.
“We got one dead. Wagon just transported one still alive.”
I left the pickup in the Parkland Hospital emergency drive and bulled into the trauma center. “Where are the bodies?!” I shouted at an astonished physician. He recoiled, face alarmed.
“Car bombing. Where are the bodies?” I repeated.
I flashed my badge. The doctor pointed to a curtained emergency cubicle. I yanked back the curtain. The mangled, burned body of a man lay on the gurney. Turning back to the frightened doctor, I demanded, louder than necessary, “Dammit, a woman and kid. Where?”
“No kid brought in here, officer. The female vic is in that cubicle,” he pointed.
Vic? The victim was a female? I plunged through the curtain, then froze, horrified.
Janet’s cold, gray body lay on a gurney, her eyes closed, features serenely passive in apparent death. Impulsively, I yanked back the sheet. Her lovely, naked body was unmarked. “Oh my God, baby,” I sobbed.
“Put the damned sheet back, pervert.” Her eyes popped open. “It’s cold in here.”
“My God, I thought you were...”
She gathered the sheet around her, closed her eyes. Dazed and obviously confused, she said, “My ears are ringing. Gotta get a new car.”
“Tim. Where...?” I shouted.
“Baseball camp. On the way to get gas. Forgot the damned keys. Went back and a garbage truck or something blew up.”
“How bad are you hurt?”
“What? Hurt? No, my ears are ringing.”
“Don’t answer them.” I hugged her at length.
“I need a new car,” she repeated absently. She’d been close enough to get her head dinged.
Maggs and Harper hurried in together. “How bad?” Maggs asked.
“They missed her. But it’s gonna be somebody’s ass.”
Maggs found her way to the baseball camp and retrieved Tim and a glut of other kids. I spent the night in a chair by Janet’s bed, Tim sleeping on a hospital cot. I reviewed, then re-reviewed notes and files. Somebody needed to be making funeral plans.
Sunday afternoon, they released her, and we drove in my pickup to the apartment complex. Damage to her apartment around the corner from the blast was restricted to broken windows and could be repaired in a few days. Meanwhile, we bunked in my apartment across the courtyard.
By bedtime, she seemed fully recovered. As a precaution, I turned down her amorous overtures, a decision which took all my strength.
Across town in the shadow of the Cotton Bowl, another twist in this rodeo rope-knot of violence was would come to fruition first thing the next morning.
Copyright © 2017 by Gary Clifton