Supervolcano: Things Fall Apart

Harry Turtledove - Author

Hardcover | $26.95 | add to cart | view cart
ISBN 9780451465689 | 400 pages | 03 Dec 2013 | Roc | 9.01 x 5.98in | 18 - AND UP
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An explosion of incalculable magnitude in Yellowstone Park propelled lava and ash across the landscape and into the atmosphere, forever altering the climate of the entire continent. Nothing grows from the tainted soil. Stalled and stilled machines function only as statuary.
People have been scraping by on the excess food and goods produced before the eruption. But supplies are running low. Natural resources are dwindling. And former police officer Colin Ferguson knows that time is running out for his family—and for humanity....

The windup alarm clock on Colin Ferguson’s nightstand ticked like a bomb. A silent digital clock sat there with it, but too often was silent when it needed to make noise. Power in San Atanasio—power in the whole L.A. basin—had got too erratic to trust since the supervolcano eruption going on five years ago now. And Colin had always been a suspenders- and-belt man: a good way for a cop to be.

When the windup clock clattered, he jerked as if it really were a bomb. He groped at it till it shut up. Wan predawn light leaked between the slats of the venetian blinds.

“Did I—” Colin didn’t finish asking his wife whether he’d bothered her too much to let her go back to sleep. Kelly wasn’t in bed with him. He chuckled under his breath. Her alarm clock had gone off, and he hadn’t even noticed. When Deborah woke up hungry, she wanted her mother’s breast. Colin could do all kinds of things, but he wasn’t built to nurse.

He got out of bed, opened the blinds, and went downstairs. He held on to the iron rail and stepped carefully. Even with the blinds open, not all that much light was getting in.

Kelly sat in a rocking chair in the front room. The baby was asleep on her lap, so she’d been there a while. She fluttered her fingers at him. “You didn’t move when she started crying,” she said. “I’m impressed.”

He shrugged. “Yeah, well . . .” he said vaguely, and then, “I’m gonna make coffee. Want some?”

“Oh, God, yes!” Kelly said. He felt the same way himself.

They still had natural gas. Since the power was out, the fancy electronic ignition on the stove wasn’t worth squat. When Colin turned a valve and lit a match at the burner, though, he got blue flames. He and Kelly both liked cream and sugar. He spooned in Coffee- mate instead. The refrigerator was an icebox more often than not. Sometimes the power stayed out so long, it wasn’t even much of an icebox. They steered clear of milk products most of the time.

“Thanks,” Kelly said when he brought her the cup. “Don’t know what I’d do without this stuff.”

“Tell me about it.” Colin sipped hot caffeine. He looked out through the French doors at the back yard and made a small, unhappy noise. “Starting to rain.”

His wife clucked in sympathy. “Just what you need.”

“Yeah, right,” Colin said. “I’d sooner stay in bed today anyhow. Heck, I’d sooner visit your old man than go in this morning.” Kelly’s father, Dr. Stan Birnbaum, bragged that he was the best dentist in the South Bay. He might well have been, too. That didn’t make calling on him any more fun.

“Maybe the press conference won’t be too horrible.” By the way Kelly said it, she didn’t believe it.

Neither did Colin. “And maybe—” He clamped down hard on that. Someone who tried not to swear in front of women shouldn’t come out with And maybe monkeys’ll fly out of my ass when talking with his beloved. But that was what he’d been thinking, all right.

By Kelly’s soft snort, she knew it, too. She was almost fifteen years younger than he was, and took cussing for granted whether he did or not. She cautiously rose from the rocker, holding Deborah in the crook of her left arm and levering herself up with her right. The baby didn’t stir or fuss. Kelly headed for the stairs. “I’ll get her down. Then I’ll figure out whether to go back to bed myself or just stay up.”

“Okay.” Colin finished his coffee, then cut a bagel in half and slathered Nutella on it. Nutella was great stuff when you could get it. Anything that tasted good and didn’t need refrigeration counted as great stuff these days.

He went back upstairs after he ate. Shaving with cold water wasn’t his idea of fun, either, but he methodically took care of it. A cold shower . . . He shook his head. Nobody bathed as often as people had before the eruption, not when hot water was one more thing that was hard to come by. A soapy washcloth here and there would have to do for now.

Somber blue suit. Blue shirt. Somber maroon tie. “Okay?” he asked Kelly. Yes, he would much rather have faced Stan Birnbaum’s drill than the gentlemen and ladies of the Fourth Estate. Stan at least gave you novocaine before he got to work. There wouldn’t be any painkillers this morning.

“Okay.” Kelly nodded. For good measure, she came over and kissed him. She felt nice in his arms. He wished he could stay. Wishing did as much good as it always did.

“Off to throw the wolves raw meat,” he said. Kelly laughed, for all the world as if he were joking.

He put on a rain slicker with a hood and slipped galoshes over his shoes. His bike sat in the foyer along with Kelly’s and Marshall’s. Deborah’s squawks hadn’t rousted his grown son from his first marriage. But then, from everything Colin had seen, Marshall was better than even money to sleep through the crack of doom.

One more sigh. Then out the door, up onto the bike, on with the helmet, and away. Hi- yo, Silver! Colin thought sourly. His bifocals sat in an inside jacket pocket. Hood or no hood, riding in the rain with them on was a losing proposition. He pedaled south to 154th, dutifully stopped at the stop sign, stuck his left arm straight out to signal a left turn, and went east on 154th to Hesperus.

Another stop sign there. A right turn this time: left arm out with forearm and hand pointing up. Hesperus was one of San Atanasio’s major north–south streets. There’d probably be a few cars on it, even if gas was hard to come by and over fifteen bucks a gallon when you could get any.

Mostly bikes, though, bikes and skateboards and the occasional grownup–sized tricycle. Quite a few people rode with iPod earbuds to shut out the world. Colin didn’t; he wanted to know what might be gaining on him. Traffic lights were out along with the rest of the power. If something came barreling down Reynoso Drive toward Hesperus, for instance, maybe he’d hear it and be able to take evasive action.

But nothing did—nothing more dangerous than other bicycles, anyhow. (Not that bike-on- bike crashes couldn’t get messy. You could rack yourself up but good. You could even kill yourself, especially if you didn’t bother with a helmet—at least as dumb as riding in a car without a seat belt.) He pedaled on. This was an old part of San Atanasio, with shops and offices dating back to not long after the war, some to before it.

The police station was near the corner of Hesperus and San Atanasio Boulevard, in the government center with the jail, the city hall, and the county library. They’d all gone up in the 1960s, when the town was flush. That was a while ago now. When San Atanasio got in the news these days, the people who didn’t call it gritty invariably did call it working- class.

San Atanasio would be in the news today. Colin wished like hell that weren’t so. One more wish he wouldn’t get.

He chained his bike to the steel rack that had gone into place by the station’s front door after the eruption. A lot of black-and-whites sat in the parking lot. They were in working order, but so expensive to put on the street that most of them sat most of the time.

Several news vans sat in the lot, too. Colin’s mouth tightened when he saw one from CNN along with the local stations’ machines. The only thing he wanted less than going on L.A. TV was going on national—to say nothing of international—TV. Well, a lot of what life was all about was the difference between what you wanted and what you got.

He walked into the cop shop. “Hello, Lieutenant,” said the sergeant at the desk.

“Morning, Neil,” Colin answered. A phone call from Neil Schneider at twenty-five past three in the bloody morning had got this nightmare rolling—or, if you looked at things a different way, the nightmare had been rolling for years and crashed to a stop with that call.

“Uh, Lieutenant, the mayor wants to talk to you before the press conference,” Schneider said. “He’s waiting in”—he looked very unhappy for a few seconds—“in the chief’s office.”

“Is he?” Colin said tonelessly. “Okay, I guess I’d better find out what’s on his mind.”

Colin tramped down the hall: a broad-shouldered, blunt-featured man in his mid-fifties. His hair was more salt than pepper, but he had all of it. Riding the bike and walking where he usually would have driven before the eruption had slimmed him some, but he’d never be svelte. He wasn’t built for the role.

Mike Pitcavage, the plaque on the door said. Chief. No one had pried it off yet. Maybe no one had had the heart. More likely, Colin judged, it had fallen through the cracks. It wasn’t as if nothing else was going on. He went inside.

Eugene Cervus was sitting behind the chief’s big desk. The mayor of San Atanasio stood up and held out his hand. “Thanks for stopping in, Lieutenant,” he said. He had a pol’s practiced grip. And why not? Along with managing a successful career running up apartment buildings, his father had sat in the mayor’s chair before him. His younger brother was on the city council. All in the family. Uh-huh.

“What can I do for you, Mr. Mayor?” Colin asked.

Cervus studied him. The mayor was about ten years younger. He had an elegant haircut and wore a grayish brown suit of Italian cut. Mike Pitcavage had liked Italian suits, too. Probably not all the time, though. Not when he was out at night.

“Try not to make us look . . . too bad, anyway, all right?” Cervus said.

“It doesn’t have much to do with the city, sir,” Colin answered. “More with the police department.” And with all the other departments in the South Bay, he thought. But the pigeons had come home to roost here. Oh, hadn’t they just?

“I wouldn’t say that.” Eugene Cervus rolled his eyes. “What will you say when they ask you, ‘How did it happen that San Atanasio not only had the South Bay Strangler on the police force but promoted him to chief?’”

Colin had never been long on diplomacy. That, no doubt, was why Mayor Cervus called him in here. But he actually chuckled. “That’s simple. I’ll tell ’em, ‘Hey, they could’ve done worse. They could have promoted me instead.’”

He was kidding on the square. He’d applied for the job when Pitcavage got it. He’d been embittered for a long time at losing out, too. After a while, though, he’d realized the chief had to be almost as much a politician as the mayor. He wouldn’t have been right behind this desk.

Of course, he wouldn’t have raped and strangled a couple of dozen little old ladies, either, the way Mike Pitcavage had. No matter how good Pitcavage had been in this office, that wasn’t part of the job description.

The mayor sighed. Then he said, “We’ll have to fill the slot again, you know. If the man who ran down the Strangler were to apply, I’d think we’d have a hard time choosing anyone else. Wouldn’t you?”

“I don’t know,” Colin said slowly. “Hadn’t worried about it, to tell you the truth. Don’t forget, I’m also the guy who couldn’t catch him for all those years. And when I did, I didn’t even know I’d done it.”

“Mm,” Cervus said. “I’ve heard—unofficially, of course—it was a friend of your son’s who first reported that Darren Pitcavage was dealing drugs.”

“Let’s hope that stays unofficial,” Colin said. Marshall’s friend Tim hadn’t exactly reported it. He’d just thought it was funny as hell, and figured his buds would, too. Things went on, and downhill, from there.

“Well, we’ll see what the reporters know,” the mayor said.

“See if they know anything.” No, Colin wasn’t diplomatic. He was distracted. He didn’t want to be chief any more. But if Cervus told him the post was his for the asking . . . Maybe I could try it for a little while—caretaker, like, he thought, and then, immediately afterwards, Kelly’d kill me. Another thought followed hard on the heels of that one—More likely, I’d want to kill myself first. No, he didn’t want it.

“One thing we’ll show them is that California’s policy of collecting DNA after felony arrests really pays dividends,” Mayor Cervus said.

“Yeah.” It wasn’t that Colin disagreed with the mayor; he didn’t. Mike Pitcavage had freaked at the idea of their taking a DNA sample from his son. He knew too well that it would point back to him. And so, instead of shooting himself the way so many cops did, he’d swallowed pills and put a plastic bag over his head to make sure things were final. Colin said, “Lucy’ll be there, too, won’t she? She’s the one who really knows that stuff.”

“She’ll be there, yes,” Cervus answered in a frozen voice. He explained why he sounded that way: “She did not want to consult with me.”

In spite of everything, Colin had to hide a smile. Lucy Chen, the DNA tech who’d done the analysis that pointed to the late Chief Pitcavage, put him in mind of his own wife. She’d say what she’d say, what the facts told her to say, and the devil with anything else.

No wonder I get on with her, Colin thought. No wonder I get on with Kelly, too. He was talking with the mayor now, but they both knew it wouldn’t do diddly to change what he told the news vultures.

Cervus checked his watch (a Rolex, of course). He sighed again. “Almost time. I suppose you’d better head for the press room.”

“Happy day.” Colin sounded like a man walking the last mile. He felt that way, too.

The press room was fuller than he ever remembered seeing it. As soon as he got inside, people started screaming questions. “Wait, please!” the San Atanasio PD public information officer said. She had a mike and the newsies didn’t, but there were lots of them and only one of her. “Wait, please! Wait till Ms. Chen and Dr. Ishikawa come, too.”

They didn’t want to wait, even though Colin was a couple of minutes early. They always wanted answers immediately, if not sooner. They reminded him of spoiled three-year-olds. No matter how little diplomacy he owned, he knew better than to tell them so.

Lucy Chen and Dr. Maxwell Ishikawa came in together at nine on the dot. The DNA tech and the San Atanasio coroner both looked very scientific in their white coats. Dr. Ishikawa had plenty of practice meeting the press—much of it occasioned by the South Bay Strangler. Lucy Chen didn’t. She seemed nervous. Well, it wasn’t as if she hadn’t earned the right.

Once they settled into their seats, the PIO said, “Shall we start?”

“Sure.” Colin did his best not to show his lack of enthusiasm. The coroner and the DNA technician both nodded. The public information officer waved to the reporters. She wasn’t really throwing wolves raw meat, as Colin’d said to Kelly before he left home. It only seemed that way.

“Why didn’t you catch the Strangler sooner?” a newsie shouted. Colin would have bet that would be the first question. The reporter added, “How many years were you going to work with him every day?”

“Believe me, we’ve been beating ourselves up about that, too,” Colin answered, which was nothing less than the truth. Lucy and Dr. Ishikawa nodded again. Colin went on, “But why didn’t we? Because he was a smart crook, and a careful crook. We never got fingerprints or anything at the crime scenes. And I hate to tell you, but people like that don’t wear I Did It! signs on their backs. They look like anybody else. They act like anybody else, too, at least when they aren’t killing little old ladies. Before the eruption, there was that guy in the Midwest who was a pillar of his church for years and years—except when he was murdering children. It can happen. I wish it couldn’t. My life would be a lot easier. It can, though.”

“But you had his DNA!” Two men and a woman bawled the same words at the same time.

Colin glanced over to Dr. Ishikawa. “We had the perpetrator’s DNA, yes,” the coroner said. “We did not know whose DNA that was, however. Unfortunately, samples do not come with name tags. We can say, Yes, this matches that, but when unknown matches unknown. . . .” He spread his hands.

“Then you arrested his son,” the woman said.

It wasn’t a question. She never would have got away with it on Jeopardy. Colin figured he needed to answer it anyhow. “That’s right. We did, on felony drug-dealing charges,” he said. “In California, anyone arrested on a felony charge has to give a DNA sample. So we took one from Darren Pitcavage.”

“What was his father’s reaction to that? The chief’s reaction?” a reporter asked.

“Mike Pitcavage was upset. He wasn’t just upset because his son had been arrested on a felony charge. He was upset because they were going to take a DNA sample. He told me so, more than once,” Colin said.

“Did he put unusual stress on that?” the reporter asked.

“Looking back, I think he did. At the time, I have to say I didn’t make that much of it. I just figured he’d come a little unhinged because of what Darren had done,” Colin answered. “Then he killed himself that night. At first, we assumed it was because of his son’s arrest and disgrace.” Colin found himself making a small, unhappy noise down deep in his chest. Much the bigger part of the San Atanasio PD had blamed him for busting darling Darren. That was a very bad time. He made himself continue, “Then we found out he had other reasons.”

“When you did Darren Pitcavage’s DNA.” Again, it wasn’t a question. Again, it still needed answering.

Lucy Chen’s turn. “That’s right,” she said. “You need to understand, I am very familiar with the South Bay Strangler’s pattern. When I analyzed Darren Pitcavage’s DNA, I saw at once how close to the Strangler’s it was.”

“Police departments in California have already solved several cases when the DNA from a criminal’s relative led them to the actual perpetrator,” Dr. Ishikawa added.

“But chief Pitcavage was already dead before you tested his son’s DNA?” the reporter from CNN asked.

“Yes. He committed suicide the night after his son was arrested. He must have known Darren’s DNA would point toward him,” Colin said. “He didn’t wait around to see what came of that.”

“Hadn’t Darren Pitcavage been arrested before?” the CNN guy asked.

“Yes, but never on a felony. We don’t take DNA samples after misdemeanor arrests,” Colin answered.

The reporter looked down at his notes. He’d probably carried an iPad before the eruption, but the Net was pretty threadbare these days. Scribbles on paper might not be cool or sexy, but they always worked. “Some of the things he was accused of seem pretty strong for misdemeanors. Did his father have anything to do with the light charges?”

Of course he did, Colin thought. That had pissed him off for years, though he’d chalked it up to nothing more than a prominent man protecting his only son. Mike Pitcavage had had other things on his mind, though—yeah, just a few. Aloud, Colin said, “I know the police recommended felony charges once or twice. The district attorney chose not to file them till this last time. You’d have to ask him about his reasons.” He didn’t usually pass the buck. Today, he did it without the slightest hesitation.

“He’s not here.” The CNN guy stated the obvious. Several reporters asked, “Where do we find him?”

“His office is in the city hall, around the corner from this building,” Colin said helpfully. If the DA didn’t like it, too damn bad.

“How do you feel about this, Lieutenant Ferguson?” one of the locals called.

Colin pursed his lips and blew out a long breath. He’d hoped they wouldn’t ask him that. Talking about what happened wasn’t easy, but he could do it. All he knew about feelings was that he didn’t know much about them. If he hadn’t known that, his ex-wife could have instructed him in great detail on his ignorance.

“You think you know somebody,” he said slowly. “And you do know him. You know him as another cop, and you know him as a guy who puts on a nice barbecue in his back yard, a guy who it’s pretty good to drink a beer with when you’re off duty. But you never imagine the . . . the monster in the cave down underneath, the monster that only comes out at night.”

Back in the day, he supposed, somebody could have got that kind of shock by suddenly discovering an old friend was gay. People now were harder to stun that way, which was bound to be a good thing. But there were still secrets, dark secrets. Colin was sure there always would be.

“May I speak to that?” Lucy said. Since nobody told her no, she went on, “When I recognized that Darren Pitcavage’s DNA was close to the Strangler’s, I didn’t want to believe it. When I tested the chief’s and saw that it matched the Strangler’s, I felt like the world had come to an end.”

“It felt that way to me, too, when Ms. Chen brought me the results,” Dr. Ishikawa said. “I am a coroner. I work with many things most people do not want to think about. I did not want to think about this. But what choice did I have? What choice do any of us have?”

Colin hoped that would make the reporters shut up and go away. No such luck, of course. One of them asked, “Lieutenant Ferguson, what tipped you off to the fact that Darren Pitcavage was engaging in drug-dealing activities?”

Not drug dealing, mind you. Drug-dealing activities. Didn’t anybody speak English any more? It seemed unlikely. Did the fellow with the sprayed hair know about Marshall? Colin took refuge in officialese of his own: “I’m afraid I can’t comment on that right now. Darren Pitcavage hasn’t gone to trial yet.”

“Let me ask you a different question, then,” the reporter said. “How difficult was it to implement the investigation when the person you were investigating was your police chief’s son?”

“It was awkward,” Colin answered truthfully.

“Chief Pitcavage wasn’t aware of the investigation until his son was actually arrested?”

“That’s correct,” Colin said, and not another word.

The reporter kept prodding: “That was because you didn’t trust him not to inform his son that he was being investigated?”

“Yes.” Colin hoped he could get away with leaving it there, but the way the reporters all stirred showed him he couldn’t. With a mental sigh, he went on, “You have to remember, at that time I had no idea Chief Pitcavage was the South Bay Strangler. I didn’t know he would do anything he could to keep Darren from having to give a DNA sample on account of that. But I did know he was Darren’s father, and fathers are liable to do anything to protect their sons.”

“Suppose the chief hadn’t been the Strangler. How much hot water would you be in now for busting his son behind his back, if you know what I mean?”

That was an honest-to-God shrewd question. With his jaundiced view of the press, Colin hadn’t thought the man capable of such a thing. Fortunately, it was also a question he didn’t have to answer. “I don’t want to deal in hypotheticals,” he said. “Haven’t we got enough real troubles to worry about?”

To his relief, another man asked Lucy Chen, “You had access to Chief Pitcavage’s DNA because of the autopsy after his suicide?”

“That’s correct,” she said. “I didn’t know if Darren Pitcavage had other close male relatives, but I did know his DNA was highly similar to the South Bay Strangler’s. I checked the sample I could get, and I found that it matched the Strangler’s pattern.”

“There’s no possibility of a mistake?” the reporter asked.

That was a mistake. Lucy bristled. “I don’t think so,” she snapped. “And this is not just my judgment, not any more. Because the issue is so important, several other analyses have been made independent of mine. They all show exactly the same result. Without any doubt, Chief Pitcavage was the South Bay Strangler.” And you can go fuck yourself, pal. She didn’t say it, but her attitude did.

“That he killed himself as soon as he knew his son would have to give a DNA sample argues pretty strongly for a guilty conscience,” Colin added.

“Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen,” the San Atanasio PIO said, which meant Enough, already. Now get lost.

They streamed away. Their trucks would send chunks of the press conference up to the satellites. People who had power would watch the chunks and decide they knew all about what had happened. Colin Ferguson knew only too well that he didn’t. Only one man ever had, and Mike Pitcavage wasn’t answering questions from any earthly authority.

“Boy, that was fun,” Lucy Chen said.

“Not,” Colin agreed.

“You all did a good job,” the PIO said.

“Thank you,” Dr. Ishikawa said.

“I hope I never have to do another job like that as long as I live,” Colin said. The coroner’s head bobbed up and down. So did Lucy’s.

And so did the public information officer’s. “I believe you,” she said. “But you did it well anyhow. You made San Atanasio look . . .” She paused, perhaps wondering how to finish that.

Colin took a shot at it for her: “Just bad instead of really awful.”

“That isn’t what I was going to say.” But the PIO didn’t tell him what would have come out of her mouth. Colin didn’t try to push her. Sometimes not explaining was better.

Colin stood up and stretched. Something in his back crunched. The city chair hadn’t been what anyone would call comfortable. He hadn’t been exactly loose while he was sitting in it, either.

“Back to work,” he said. “If I don’t have to mess with anything but punks and drunks and lunks for a while, I’ll be the happiest man in the world, and you can take that to the bank.”

For years, he’d walked to his desk in the big communal office in the cop shop without anybody paying attention to him unless someone needed to talk about the latest robbery or stabbing or whatever the hell. He’d taken that anonymity for granted. It was part of fitting in at your job.

Or it had been. He’d lost that immunity from notice when Mike Pitcavage killed himself. Most of the people in the San Atanasio PD had decided he’d driven Pitcavage to it by arresting Darren. The rest figured Darren had it coming, and that his father overreacted to the humiliation. Everybody on both sides stared at every move Colin made.

Now people knew the chief had had other reasons for committing suicide. They still stared at Colin. He wished like hell they’d cut it out. Chances were the world would warm up after the supervolcano eruption finally wore off before he got his wish—and the poor old world probably wouldn’t warm up again till long after he was dead and gone.

He wasn’t sorry to see Gabe Sanchez nod at him. “How’d it go, Colin?” Gabe asked. They’d worked together a long time.

“Well, it could have been worse,” Colin allowed.

The detective scratched at the corner of his graying mustache. “Can’t ask for too much more than that,” he said. Like Colin, he had a limited sense of possibility—except for the ways things could go wrong. He stood up and headed for the door. “Gotta get my fix. They’d string me up by the short hairs if I lit one in here.”

They would, too. Not many places had stricter rules against smoking indoors than San Atanasio’s.. Colin was glad he’d escaped one bad habit, anyway. His eyes followed Gabe to the exit. As far as he could tell, they were the only ones that did. He was jealous of his friend because of that.

He sat down at his desk. Yes, the eyes were on him. No, he couldn’t do anything about it. All he could do was go on. People didn’t stop robbing and fighting and shooting just because Mike Pitcavage grabbed some of the headlines for a little while.

He was checking to see if they’d found a match for the prints in a robbery at the Popeye’s Chicken on Braxton Bragg Boulevard when the phone rang. He picked it up. “Ferguson.”

“Hello, Colin.” A woman’s voice: familiar, familiar with him and familiar to him. For a split second, he thought it was Louise. But it wasn’t his ex. He’d just realized as much when the voice—the woman—went on, “This is Caroline Pitcavage.”

“Oh,” he said, more an exhalation than a word. It was an exhalation of more than a little pain, as if someone had punched him in the stomach. After a moment, he managed, “I’m sorry, Caroline. I’m sorry for everything.”

“Funny,” Mike Pitcavage’s widow said, though she didn’t sound amused. “I was calling to tell you the same thing. After Darren got arrested, after Mike . . . did what he did, I thought some horrible things about you. I said some horrible things about you, too. I blamed you, is what I did. But now I know why Mike . . . swallowed the pills and put the bag over his head. I owe you an apology, a big one. I am sorry, Colin—God knows I am.”

“It’s okay,” Colin said. “Before we knew, uh, what was up, I was kicking myself pretty hard, too.” Before they knew what was up, he’d wondered whether Caroline would come after him with a shotgun. He’d also wondered whether a San Atanasio jury would convict her if she did. Not that he would have been in any position to appreciate the verdict either way.

“I believe you,” she said. “Now I believe you, anyway. Now I just wish he would have done that years ago, the first time he got the urge to do . . . what he did. I lived with a monster all those years. I lived with a monster, and I had no idea. Not a clue. Not one single, solitary goddamn clue.”

“I know you didn’t, Caroline,” Colin replied. As he’d said at the press conference, some people who did things like that were normal—at least on the outside—except when the compulsion grabbed them. It didn’t happen often, thank heaven, but it happened.

Caroline Pitcavage went on as if he hadn’t spoken: “Everything I had, everything we had together, it was all nothing. No, it was worse than nothing. It was a lie. How do you go on when most of your adult life all of a sudden turns out to be a lie?”

“It’s not easy,” Colin said slowly. He’d thought he’d had a fairly happy first marriage. And he had, at least from his point of view, till Louise decided she wasn’t happy and decided to try her luck with her aerobics instructor instead. Colin had reacted to the ordinary tragedy the way an ordinary man would have. He’d drunk too damn much and he’d gone on vacation to Yellowstone National Park to run away from his troubles. And he’d met Kelly there, and his life had started to turn itself around.

But that was an ordinary tragedy. Ones just like it happened every day in towns from Nome to Key West. Caroline’s was piled a lot higher and deeper. No sooner than that thought crossed his mind, she said, “You know what the real kick in the head is?”

“Tell me,” Colin urged.

He was sorry immediately afterwards, because she answered, “If the son we raised hadn’t turned out to be a stupid little shit, I’d still be glad I was married to a mass murderer. How about that?”

“Caroline . . .” Colin said helplessly.

“He didn’t take all the pills. He knew just how many he needed. I’m sure I could find another plastic bag somewhere, too,” Caroline said. Quickly, she added, “No, don’t call 911. I don’t mean it. That would be something he’d want me to do, damn him. I wonder how much Oprah or Ellen would pay me to turn myself inside out on national TV.”

Probably quite a bit, Colin thought. Aloud, all he said was, “Maybe you don’t want to do anything too real fast.”

“Maybe I don’t. But maybe I do, too. Gotta get on while Mike’s still hot news, right?” Caroline sounded brittle, and who could blame her? She went on, “One more thing to talk to my lawyer about. He’ll send his kids to Harvard thanks to me any which way, if it hasn’t frozen solid by the time they get there. Take care, Colin. None of this was your fault, and I am sorry I thought it was.” She hung up before he could respond.

“Jesus,” he said as he set down his own phone’s handset.

Gabe had come back from his cigarette break. “Who was that?” he asked from a couple of desks away.

“Caroline Pitcavage.”

Gabe said “Jesus!” too.

“Tell me about it,” Colin said. “Right this minute, drinking lunch looks like the best idea I’ve had in years. Wanna come along?” Gabe didn’t tell him no. Colin hadn’t thought he would.

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