“Die, David.” The voice on the phone was calm, almost gentle.
David’s face worked slowly. His eyebrows came down and his mouth pressed into a thin line. “No,” he said uncertainly.
“You have to, David,” said the voice. “I have your ring.”
“I … no. I won’t.” David’s voice slurred.
“Everybody dies, David. You will die too. You must.”
“Not … before … you.” David’s voice strained. His pulse was pounding and his eyes were shut. There was nothing in his world but the voice. The voice and him.
“David. You know you’re going to lose. You know it’s going to happen. Make it easy on yourself. You can die without any pain.”
David was curled up on his bed, clutching a shoe box that had been on his bedside table. His mouth opened and closed, drooling on the covers. “You … go … to … Hell,” he said.
“Silly boy. I’m already here. You’re coming to join me now.”
“No.” Hot salty tears trickled down David’s cheeks.
“You’re not this strong, David. You can’t hold out.” The voice on the phone was impatient, like a parent with a balky child.
“I … can. I … will.” But his hands were going numb. The phone slipped from his grasp and into his lap.
The voice laughed. “It’s too late. Your hands and feet have gone numb already, David. It starts at the extremities, and then goes in until you lose your heart and your lungs and then it’s over. See you in Hell.” There was a click as the caller hung up.
David’s ears began to roar. Convulsively, he brought up his hand to hit his own head. Anything, anything to keep the blood pumping. He thrashed and flailed, stupid hands like dead weights at the ends of his arms. But still, the tingling was shooting up his arms, and the numbness that had started with his hands was slowly moving upward.
The door to David’s room opened, and the IAD detective who’d been assigned to guard him ran in, eyes wildly darting around. His right hand held his service revolver and his left was on his shoulder mike. “This is Foxtrot Company!” he was yelling. “We got three men down and we’re under heavy sniper fire! Our map coordinates are Golf, Tango, Niner, Four, about forty miles out of Saigon on the ….” His eyes settled on David, but they seemed to be looking through him, at something far away. His left hand came off the mike. “I see Charlie!” he said. “Sniper is about two hundred yards out, on our three!”
The pistol came up as David’s vision began to dim.
“Put the gun down, Jenson,” Rose said from the doorway. “It’s 2004. You’re in America. You killed that sniper forty years ago.”
Jensen stood in momentary confusion, then called, “Twiller, Kanaday! Another sniper, on our six!” The pistol came up again, focusing on, or past, David.
Mitch barreled past Rose, shoving her aside. Jensen heard his footsteps and looked up, startled. “Ambush!” he yelled, reaching for his service knife. But there was no service knife on his belt, and he wound up tugging uselessly at his handcuff holster instead. Mitch’s shoulder connected with his thighs and they went down in a heap.
“Jensen, come out of it!” Rose was yelling. “Twiller and Kanaday got killed, but you played possum and made it back. You got a medal….” she trailed off. “You…ugh. Oh, Jeez, Jensen, what kind of sick…”
Wolf leaped past her, his right hand coming down on Jensen’s wrist to control the gun. “This ain’t Nam!” He yelled. “You’re in America now, it’s over!”
Jensen was having none of it. For him it was 1966, and he was in the nightmarish swamp where all his buddies were getting killed. He rammed his left elbow into the solar plexus of the gook that had pinned down his gun arm, then reversed his arm and stuck his stiffened fingers directly into the back of the other’s neck. Just like the drill instructor had taught him. Kanaday was down, sweet God, that meant only him and Twiller left out of their whole company…. two snipers, one on their three and one on their six. He was lining up another shot on the first one he’d spotted when he heard the crack of the rifle he’d been dreading. The bullet he’d always known was out there, the one with his name on it, came crashing through his head.
Wolf, doubled over and seeing stars from the blow to his gut, saw it happen. The old officer’s head snapped back and then rolled loosely on his neck, and the man went down like a sack of potatoes, one leg sprawled across the still form of Mitch. In the doorway, Rose looked like she’d been hit too; but she folded up slowly, like a marionette might if its strings got cut one at a time.
Wolf tried to say something, but failed. His gut was on fire from the elbow he’d taken under the ribs. He breathed in against the pain, then out again. In again, filling his lungs with air and his gut with agony. Out again, and the worst of the pain went with it. He had to do something. Had to protect the unconscious people. Turning, he grabbed the box of watches from David’s lap and put it down next to Mitch. Next, he knelt and looked for the bullet wound on the old man’s head, but couldn’t find anything except a trickle of blood from his nose where he’d hit the floor. He took the pistol from Jensen’s limp hand and flicked the safety back on, then he stood up and got a good look at David.
His turning and twisting had stopped, and now he stared into space. His breathing was fast, shallow, and irregular. Wolf stared for a moment… then he fished out his little neck chain of rings. “David Jackson,” he said. “This ring has your picture in it. Stay alive, David. Whatever anybody else told you, I have your ring and he doesn’t.” But David’s eyes didn’t see. Leaning close, Wolf stuck David’s ring into his own hand. “You want to live, David. You belong to you.”
Behind him, a groan followed by quiet sobbing told him that Rose had come to.
David’s eyes opened, finally.
“Jackson,” Wolf said quietly. “You with us now?”
“Uh… You’re Wolf Scudder, right?” Jackson asked.
“Yeah. I brought the box. And the ring. I’m here with Mitch.”
“The killer, he’s… he’s close, isn’t he?”
“Yeah,” Wolf said. “Close, but we don’t know where. We gotta get out of here.”
Unsteadily, Jackson got out of bed and walked over to where Mitch was starting to stir. He stooped and got a shoulder under Mitch. “Come on, Mitch,” he said. “Scudder had what sounds like a good idea.”
“Uhhh…” said Jensen. Wolf grabbed his right arm and hauled him upright, then continued to pull and twist until Jensen’s wrist was between his shoulder blades. Wolf heard a sharp, pained intake of breath from Jensen and Rose together.
“We’re getting out of here,” said Wolf. “And you’re going to walk with us quietly, right?”
“Right,” said Rose, her voice cold. “Let go of his arm, Wolf.”
Wolf gave her a long look. Rose’s mouth was set in a thin grim line and her lips were white. And she smelled angry. Angrier than he’d ever known her. He let go of Jensen’s arm.
“Where was he, David?” Mitch asked.
“He was on the phone,” David said. “He told me to die.”
Mitch hung up the phone, picked it up, and punched a code. He listened to it ring six times but nobody was picking up. Wolf touched his elbow. “Come on, Mitch,” He said. “He’s close and he’s not gonna hang around the phone he used.”
They walked out of the hospital in silence. The woman at the front counter looked up, but Jensen waved at her and smiled woodenly, and she looked down again.
Outside, they stuck Jensen in the middle of the back seat and Wolf and David took the window seats. Mitch took the wheel and Rose sat in the passenger seat with her box of watches in her lap. “Everybody cozy?” Mitch asked as they pulled out of the parking lot.
“Okay, where are we going?” Wolf asked. “We don’t have time to get back to the museum again before it closes.”
“I figure we’re going to head back to Sonia’s place,” said Mitch. “It’s closer, and it’s shelter.”
“This guy doesn’t get anywhere near Sonia’s place,” said Rose, with a sharp gesture at Jensen. “We’re going to drop him off at the St. Ignatius Catholic Church.”
“Will he be safe there?” Wolf asked.
Rose seemed about to say something, but instead she just clamped her lips together and jerked her head up and down in a nod.
“I know the place,” said Mitch. “Jesuits run it. Corner of Fulton and Parker. We can just take highway one up, catch nineteenth avenue, and hang a right on the other side of Golden Gate Park.”
She didn’t screw with traffic at all on the way north. She sat fuming on one end of the back seat, and Jensen sat as still as a piece of wood on the other.
Forty minutes later they pulled up in front of the St. Ignatius Church. Rose’s head snapped around, sending her red hair flying, and she fixed a green-eyed glare on Jensen. “You,” she said, “are going to go in there right now, find a confessional, and wait until there’s a priest to hear your confession. And then you’re going to tell him exactly what happened the day all your buddies got killed in Viet Nam and you’re going to tell him what happened the day before.”
Jensen got out of the car without a word, and turned to go into the church. Rose watched him from the car until the doors closed behind him.
“Um, Rose?” Mitch inquired. “You’re, uh, not Catholic, are you?”
Rose shook her head. “No,” she said. “No, I’m not. But that’s the church where Jensen’s been going every Sunday.”
“Okay, Rose,” Mitch said. “out with it. What’s up with Detective Jensen?”
Rose scowled out the window for a few seconds, then her mouth twitched. “He was a ready-made tool,” she said. “When Jensen was in Viet Nam, his company was operating in a free-fire zone. They were supposed to shoot anything that moved. They got stuck and they needed to camp out the night. They’d just blown away everybody on this little rice paddy and they’d put up their cots in the little grass shack. And then this farm girl… I dunno, sixteen, seventeen years old, came back home from a trip to the market. Nobody was ever gonna know what had happened to her before she got shot in a free-fire zone, so they ….”
“Oh.” Mitch looked sick. “Ugh. I’m sorry I asked.”
“You gonna be all right, Rose?” Wolf leaned forward to put a hand on her shoulder.
“I … I don’t know,” she choked. “I’m getting tired. And back there in the hospital room, when he was back in ‘Nam, I was with him. All my … his … buddies were getting killed, and he was thinking about how he was the one who deserved to die because he was the one who’d put the bullet in her head … after.” She broke off with a choked sob. “He’s had nightmares ever since but he never told anybody.”
She paused, choking. “God Damnit, I’m only twenty-two. I wasn’t there and I didn’t do it and I shouldn’t have to remember this stuff!”
“You think him confessing is going to help?” Mitch asked.
She was crying quietly and didn’t answer.
“Maybe it’s a start,” said Wolf, gripping her shoulder. “Not as good as deciding to confess, but it’s something. Better’n he did for himself in about forty years. C’mon, let’s get out of here.”
This is one chapter of The Hook, a novel which is being published serially on this site. This page links to all chapters so far serialized.
The complete novel is available from Amazon.