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Authors: Linda Castillo

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Police Procedural

After the Storm (5 page)

BOOK: After the Storm
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He’s already got his keys in hand. “You’ve got a driver, too, if you want it.”

“I do.” I look at Lois. “Call everyone in the department. Make sure they’re okay. Then I want every officer on duty. Pickles and Mona, too. Unless they’re dealing with their own emergency. First priority is the injured, most critical first. We’re setting up a temporary shelter at the VFW.”

“Gotcha.”

“Call one of the guys—T.J. or Skid—and get them to fire up that generator for you so we have power here at the station. It might be a while before we get our power back, and I’d like to get the phones up and running.”

“Okay.”

I take the stairs two at a time to the top. Tomasetti and Lois bring up the rear. Then I’m through the door, and as I tread down the hall, I feel the cool, damp air coming through the broken window. Outside, the tornado sirens wail their eerie song. Though it’s late afternoon, it’s nearly as dark as night, so I turn on the Maglite.

I reach the reception area and look around. My heart sinks as I take in the damage. The blinds flap in the wind coming in through the window. Rain sweeps in with every gust. Water glistens on the floor. An aluminum trash-can lid is lodged between the blinds and the sill. Shards of glass, chunks of wood, and other small debris—leaves and twigs and trash—litter the floor. There’s paper everywhere.

“Looks like we dodged the bullet here,” comes Tomasetti’s voice from behind me.

“Computer and radio are dry.” It’s the only positive comment I can come up with.

“Oh my God.” Lois looks a little shell-shocked as she walks over to her desk. “Want me to call that glass guy up in Millersburg about that window?”

Usually we require three estimates on any work done for the township. Since time—and security—are at issue here, I reply with, “Get him down here within the hour. If he can’t replace the glass today, I want it secured some other way. Lois, if you smell any gas or smoke, get out and call the gas company and then call me.”

“Okeydoke.” She rounds the reception desk and gets behind the phone console, which is eerily silent.

“I’m going to go down to the trailer park to see if anyone’s hurt,” I tell her. “Call me if you need anything.”

Outside the window, the rain pours down, slapping against the concrete like a thousand angry fists.

 

CHAPTER 2

It’s an unsettling experience to drive through a place you’ve been a thousand times and not recognize it. Tomasetti and I are in his Tahoe heading south on Township Road 18. The closer we get to the Willow Bend Mobile Home Park, the worse the damage becomes, until it’s an unrecognizable war zone. Mud and debris cover the asphalt. Power lines dangle like dead snakes from telephone poles that list at a 45-degree angle. The air smells of gas and burning plastic.

Tomasetti slows the Tahoe, his eyes scanning the area to my right. I’m about to ask him why he’s slowed down, when I realize we’ve arrived at our destination. I didn’t recognize it because half of the trailer homes are gone.

“Is this it?” he asks.

For an instant I can’t speak. I don’t know how to put the disbelief roiling inside me into words. I never liked this place; I didn’t much care for some of the people I came in contact with here. Willow Bend was the epitome of a neighborhood on the decline. The Painters Mill PD took more calls from this dismal trailer park than from the rest of the town combined. Drunk and disorderly. Domestic violence. Loud music. Loose dogs. The occasional burglary. But I never wanted this. I never wanted it gone.

The maple tree that had stood guardian at the entrance since I was a kid is gone. The only sign that it had ever existed is the jagged-edged stump that juts three feet from the earth like an abscessed tooth that’s burst.

As I look out over the land, I wonder if this is what it’s like in the aftermath of war. Dozens of mobile homes have been torn apart and lie in pieces. Several have rolled off their foundations. Others have been smashed by trees. Farther in, I see the back end of a pickup truck protruding from the side of a double-wide. An hour ago, this park had housed nearly thirty mobile homes—young couples and families and singles just starting their lives. Children had played in the postage-stamp-size yards. Barbeque grills and hibachis had been set up on decks. Cars had been parked in concrete driveways. Taking in the devastation, I know I’m going to find things I don’t want to find. I’m going to see things I don’t want to see.

I feel Tomasetti’s eyes on me, but I don’t look at him. Instead, I snatch up my phone and speed-dial the mayor. He answers on the first ring, sounding harried and stressed.

“Willow Bend is devastated,” I tell him. “We’re going to have casualties.”

“Aw … no.”

“I need you to get paramedics and the fire department out here. Ambulances.” I run out of breath, my lungs fluttering as if the air were suddenly too thin, and I realize I don’t even know if there are any survivors. “Auggie, get the sheriff’s department out here. Call the gas company. Tell them we’ve got a leak.”

“Okay. Okay. I’ll take care of it right now.”

I disconnect and look at Tomasetti. “I need to get in there.”

He doesn’t look happy about it, but he knows better than to argue. Glancing in the rearview mirror, he drives ten yards into the park before our route is blocked by the exterior wall of a mobile home that has been shorn off. I see tufts of insulation and jagged two-by-fours and wooden paneling with a framed picture still attached.

I throw open the door and get out. For an instant, I stand there, frozen and mute because the devastation is so overwhelming I don’t know where to begin. Vaguely I’m aware of Tomasetti’s door slamming. Of him coming around to stand next to me.

“Watch for live wires,” he says. “If you smell gas, if you hear it, back off. Don’t go in.”

Nodding, I start toward the nearest mobile home. It’s a blue-and-white single-wide that’s been pushed off its pad and onto a pickup truck parked in the driveway. “Painters Mill PD!” I shout. “Is there anyone there? Do you need help?”

The words feel absurd coming out. Of course, the people who live here need help. The question is: Are they able to ask for it? Are they able to move? Are they still
alive
? I move closer to the wreckage. I hear hissing, but there’s no odor of gas. That’s when I realize there’s a slow leak in one of the truck tires. In the distance, emergency vehicle sirens begin to blare.

A sound reaches me over the cacophony. A tiny cry, like the mewling of a kitten. I glance over at Tomasetti, who’s standing a dozen feet away from me. I can tell by his expression he heard it, too.

“What was that?” But I’m already jogging toward a second overturned mobile home. It’s a green-and-white Liberty, lying on its side, a heap of twisted metal, busted two-by-fours, and clumps of insulation. The big bay window at the narrow end is shattered, yellow curtains spilling out and soaked with mud. “Police department!” I call out. “Is anyone in there?”

Ever watchful for live wires and the smell of gas, I reach the window. There’s glass everywhere. Indistinguishable pieces of metal. Splinters of wood. I wish for gloves as I kneel and peer in the window. I see a vintage refrigerator lying face down against caved-in cabinets. Water trickling from a broken pipe below the sink to my right. Carpet buckled over a floor that’s been split. “Police! Is anyone in there? Are you injured?”

The cry comes again, so clear this time the hairs at my nape stand on end. A baby. Not just a baby, but a newborn, gasping as if trying to cry. “Tomasetti!”

I hear him, already on the phone, calling the fire department for assistance. Mud and glass shards forgotten, I drop to my hands and knees. I yank the curtains from the window, toss them aside. Then I’m slithering through the opening. “Police! Do you need assistance?”

Tomasetti comes up behind me, hooks a finger in my belt loop from behind. “The fire department is two minutes away.”

“I think the baby is in distress,” I tell him.

“Goddamn it.” But he releases me.

Glass slices my elbow, but I don’t stop. Then I’m inside a kitchen turned upside down. The refrigerator lies in my way, so I rise to a crouch, ding my head on an open cabinet door. Ahead I see a living room. A shattered television. A sofa lying upside down. A playpen, one side crushed.

The cry comes again. The strangled sound of a drowning kitten.
Not right,
a little voice whispers inside my head, and I know the infant is either terrified or injured or both. I move past the cabinet door and stand. The smell of gas makes me hesitate. It scares me because I know if there’s enough built up, one spark and the place could explode. But there’s no way I can walk away and leave an injured child behind.

“Hello!” I hear fear in my voice now. Urgency pushes me forward. “Police! Is someone there?”

On the other side of the sofa I see a blanket and bed linens. A stuffed animal. A bunny. I start when I see an adult female lying facedown, a coffee table on top of her. “Ma’am?”

No response.

“Shit.”

I turn my head, see Tomasetti crawling through the window, his expression grim. “I’ve got a woman in here,” I tell him. “She’s not moving.”

“Kate, we’ve got gas in here.”

But in the next instant he’s standing beside me and we’re moving forward, stumbling over a kitchen chair, crunching through broken glass and splintered paneling.

I reach the woman first. She’s wearing an Ohio State sweatshirt. Denim shorts. White legs smeared with blood. “Ma’am?”

She groans, a deep, raw sound. When she looks at me, her eyes are dull and unfocused. “Wha—? I don’t … what happened.” Realization kicks in, and then she screams, “Lucy!” She moves, and then, “Oh, God! My leg! Ohmigod!”

I kneel beside her. “I’m a police officer. Try to stay calm. We’re going to get you out of here.” I run my eyes over her, looking for visible injuries, and wince at the sight of the white-pink bone protruding through the skin at her shin.
Compound fracture. Jesus.
“Where else are you hurt? Are you in pain?”

“My leg!” she cries. “Oh, God! It hurts like a son of a bitch!”

“Ma’am, is there a child here with you? Anyone else?”

“Lucy,” she whimpers. “My baby! She was right here. I was holding her when everything just … exploded. Oh, God. Ohmigod! Where is she?” She rolls onto her side and lets out a scream that makes every nerve in my body jump.

“I’ll find her. You just lie still.” I look over at the playpen. Fear swirls in my gut when I see a tiny hand protruding from beneath it. Little fingers curled and not moving. In the back of my mind, it registers that I haven’t heard a cry in several seconds.
She should be crying.

“I see her,” I say.

“Where? Where is she?
Where is she!

“We’ve got her.” Tomasetti kneels, sets his hand on the woman’s shoulder. “What’s your name?”

“P-Paula,” she says. “Paula Kester.”

I don’t think about what I’m doing as I stumble past a splintered table. I fall to my knees, set my hands on the playpen rails, and lift it. I choke out a sound when I see the tiny baby. Its face is blue and scrunched up. Mouth open and quivering. I see pink gums. Eyes that aren’t quite right. Blood on its chin. Glass shimmers on a little onesie that’s been nearly torn from its tiny body.

Holding the playpen up with one arm, I reach for the infant. Her skin is wet and cool to the touch. I know better than to move an injured patient. If they have a spinal injury, any kind of movement could do more harm than good. But with the smell of gas present, I don’t have a choice.

“Come here, little one.” Grasping the baby’s ankle, I pull her toward me as gently as I can manage. “I’ve got you, sweetheart. You’re okay. You’re safe now.”

“Lucy?” comes the mother’s voice. “Why isn’t she crying?
Why isn’t she crying?

When the baby is clear, I lower the playpen and carefully lift her into my arms. “I’ve got her.”

I glance over to see the woman propped on an elbow. Her face is bleeding and red, her expression twisted in pain, tears streaming from her eyes. “My baby! Oh, my baby! Is she hurt?
What’s wrong with her?

“We need to get you out of here. Both of you. Right now.” Tomasetti’s voice cuts through her panic. Deep. Authoritative. No room for argument.

I glance over to see him shoving debris aside, his eyes on the woman. “There’s a gas leak,” he tells her, “so I’m going to lift you and carry you out through that window over there. That all right with you?”

“Oh, God. Gas. Please! Just take care of my baby.”

I hold the child against my chest. I make eye contact with Tomasetti as I brush past him and start toward the window. The smell of gas is stronger now. Building inside the small space. I quicken my pace.

Behind me, I hear the woman moaning. Tomasetti reassuring her as he moves her. I stumble past toppled furniture, the buckled floor, the overturned refrigerator. The baby is limp and soft and frighteningly quiet in my arms as I drop to my knees and scrabble through the window. Holding her against me with one arm, doing my best to protect her from the glass and splintered frame, I crawl through. All I can think about is getting the baby out.

Then I’m free of the trailer. On my knees, holding the child against me. I turn, relieved to see Tomasetti a few feet behind me. He’s carrying the woman. I see exertion in his face. Stress in the way his mouth is pulled tight. A moan of pain tears from her throat with every step he takes.

Sirens blare all around. I look over to see a Painters Mill fire truck next to Tomasetti’s Tahoe. Clutching the baby, I jog toward the firefighter as he disembarks. A tremor of fear moves through me when I glance down and see that the baby’s face is purple.

“She’s not breathing!” I scream. “I need a paramedic!”

Tossing his hat onto the ground, the firefighter sprints toward me, arms forward and reaching. “Is she choking? Is her airway clear?”

“I don’t know! She was beneath a piece of furniture.”

Gently, he takes the baby. His face tightens at the sight of her. Without speaking he moves her farther from the mobile home and drops to his knees. He lays the child on the ground and checks for a brachial pulse. He glances up, shakes his head at a second paramedic approaching. Then, using two middle fingers, he begins rapid chest compressions. “How long has she been quiet?” he asks me, without stopping.

BOOK: After the Storm
9.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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