On impulse, I dropped down across the passenger seat, tucking one arm underneath me and covering my head with the other. Debris slammed against the windshield, and it shattered, cracking into a million pieces. It looked like an intricate spiral mosaic. Smoke so thick you could slice it settled on top of me. And while the windshield hadn’t collapsed, it had spit tiny shards like mist across the interior of the car. I wanted to cough, but I was afraid to move.
Then I remembered Jeff.
I tried not to lean on any glass, but it was impossible. Shards that were practically invisible slit my skin like thin paper cuts as I rose and looked out the window.
The force of the explosion had thrown Jeff several feet. He lay still, faceup on the pavement between his car and mine.
I forgot about the glass and pushed the door open, finding purchase on the soot that covered the ground. Jeff’s eyes were closed, and I stooped down and touched his cheek.
“Jeff?” I asked softly. “Jeff?”
His eyelids flipped open, and it took a second for him to focus. Then, “Kavanaugh? That wasn’t supposed to happen for another ten minutes.”
A siren pierced the air.
Jeff tried to raise himself on his elbows, but I touched his shoulder. “You might just want to lie there for a few minutes.” The siren was getting closer. “You need to get checked out before you get up. Make sure everything’s okay.”
He snorted and sat up, cocking his head at the building behind me. The whole back had been blown away. I shuddered as I thought about how I’d wandered around the building, trying to get in. If I’d been a few minutes later… I didn’t want to think about it.
“How did Rusty Abbott know about this?” I asked.
“Beats me. But he sounded frantic enough, so I believed him.”
“Where is he now?”
Jeff rolled his eyes at me. “How am I supposed to know?”
“We have to tell the police.”
“No kidding, Nancy Drew.”
It seemed Jeff was perfectly fine, despite getting thrown. I thought about his time in the Gulf War. Maybe he had some experience with this sort of thing. Wasn’t that what they taught the Marines? How to survive explosions? In between how to kill someone. Right.
Jeff got to his feet just as three police cruisers, two fire trucks, and an ambulance careened into the parking lot. He studied me for a second, his expression worried.
“You’re covered in blood, Kavanaugh. What happened?”
I hadn’t felt it at all until he mentioned it, and it wasn’t the same as when Mickey inked my sleeve. Then, it was concentrated in one place at a time. This was all over, and there were no endorphins kicking in. I just felt the pain.
Jeff pulled his T-shirt over his head to reveal elaborate tattoos covering his arms and chest. He caught me staring and grinned.
“Want a tour, Kavanaugh?”
I felt my face flush, and I stammered, “No,” although I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the skeleton with the oversized skull stuck in a sombrero. It was curled around his abdomen, a Mexican blanket draped over one bony shoulder, a guitar clutched in bony fingers, flames licking skin. Even though it had faded somewhat with time, the colors were spectacular. “That’s not flash,” I said, more to myself than to Jeff.
“I designed it. Day of the Dead.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Really?”
“When I got home from the Gulf. Surprised, aren’t you, Kavanaugh?” He didn’t wait for me to respond, since he already knew the answer, and held out his shirt to me. I wasn’t quite sure what he wanted me to do with it, so he moved closer and began to wipe my arm carefully, and when he stopped, it was covered with blood.
It was the arm that didn’t have any ink.
“You might have some scars,” he said so softly I almost didn’t hear him because of the truck engines and the firefighters yelling back and forth to one another and the cops. Flames were leaping out of the hole in the building.
An unmarked police car parked behind one of the fire trucks, and when the door opened, I saw a flash of red.
He saw me as soon as he got out of the car and ran toward me. But before he could pull me into a hug, Jeff held out his arm to stop him.
“She’s hurt,” he said, showing him the bloodstained shirt.
Tim’s eyes were wide with worry.
“I’m not that hurt,” I said, shooting Jeff a dirty look. “I’m just a little cut up.” I told Tim how I’d been in the car when Chez Tango exploded and the windshield spit all over me.
“Why are you here?” he asked.
I explained how Kyle had called me about Charlotte. “He said she was sick, that she was here and wanted to see me.”
“Why didn’t you call me?” He was trying to be angry, but he was too concerned about me to be successful.
Tears filled my eyes. “I’m sorry. I should have. But I wanted to see if she was really sick, and then I was going to call.” I didn’t know why I was still trying to protect the girl, considering, but I wanted to think that my initial instincts about her weren’t totally wrong.
“Was she in there?” Tim stared at the building.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I tried to get in, but all the doors were locked. I called, but just got a recording.” I indicated the CRV. “That’s Kyle’s car.”
I didn’t want to think that Kyle and Charlotte were in the building.
Tim was calling over the paramedics.
Oh, no, not again.
And an even stronger “oh, no” when I saw Frank DeBurra coming toward us. A firefighter stopped him just a couple feet away, and I heard DeBurra shout over the din, “Look for two bodies. A man and a woman.”
The firefighter’s face fell slightly; then he regained his composure and headed back to his crew.
Frank DeBurra wore no such compassion in his expression. It made me like him even less, if that were possible.
“I need you to tell me everything,” he demanded of me, not even looking at Tim or Jeff. As if I were responsible for the explosion.
“She needs help,” Tim said, indicating my arm, which was still bleeding.
DeBurra shot him a nasty look. “Last time she was in the emergency room, she disappeared and didn’t tell anyone where she was going. I’m not falling for that again.”
His words reminded me that Colin Bixby was still nowhere to be seen. What had happened to him?
Fingers were snapping in front of my face. I swatted at them and frowned at DeBurra, who didn’t seem to realize that he was socially inept.
“I need to get your statement,” he ordered.
“What about him?” I asked, indicating Jeff Coleman, who had wadded up his shirt and was standing with his feet slightly apart, his arms stiffly at his sides, like a cat about to pounce.
DeBurra gave a wave of his hand. “You’re the one I need to talk to.”
He grabbed my arm, the one that had all the cuts on it, and I winced.
He didn’t seem to notice and didn’t let go.
Tim, however, shot out his hand, and it landed on DeBurra’s shoulder. “She needs to go to the hospital, Frank,” he said in a low voice, a voice that meant business.
“She can go after I’m finished with her,” DeBurra said gruffly, shaking off Tim’s hand.
Something in Tim snapped. Like when I was a kid and Robby Murphy grabbed me way too hard while we were playing Red Rover. Robby had wrestled me to the ground and kicked me in the side. Just once. Tim was hanging with his friends on the back porch and saw it. Robby didn’t see what hit him.
Neither did DeBurra.