The Bone Bridge
(This is the first draft of the first chapter of a new novel that I've been kicking around in my head ever since I was drafting out American Zen last year. I devoted 15 minutes or so into drafting out a partial synopsis then went back to AZ. Now that it looks as if that novel's rewrite is finished and I'm shopping it around, I'm free to work on something else. The Bone Bridge refers to the title character, Adam Moss, a teenager who has a near death experience. When he comes back, he's not alone. Not only are the dead appealing to him en masse to solve their murders, put them at rest and contact their relatives, there's a German terrorist after him who captures and enslaves these spirits, using them to commit acts of literal terror. The aftermath of one of these terrorist attacks is covered in this first chapter. Let me know what you think of it.)
First of all, a word about phones: I fucking hate the things. As far as I’m concerned, human technology peaked with fire and fulcrums. Everything else is bullshit. I’m sorry to be such a Luddite and a technological hermit but that’s just me. As a homicide detective, I’m supposed to embrace technology, I guess. I’m not Amish. Far from it. I just have a wild hair across my ass concerning anything and everything that wakes me up in the middle of the night. And that brings us back to my hatred of phones.
When the phone next to my bed rang for the first or maybe the fifteenth time, my hand shot out to answer it and I wound up launching the thing off its charger all the way to the bedroom window. Even in its new and slightly more desirable locale, the damned piece of plastic kept ringing with the insistence of Death itself.
“Hun, answer the phone. It may be the station,” my wife Beatrice mumbled as she pulled a pillow over the side of her head.
“Yeah, yeah.” It wouldn’t be the first time they called me when they shouldn’t have. It goes with the territory along with flat feet, bad coffee and all the other cop stereotypes that we find out, to our horror after we graduate from the academy, are actually true.
I stopped cursing the phone long enough to curse myself for punching the piece of shit to a place where I couldn’t even use it without having to get out of bed. I rolled off as the phone chirped and chirped like a loathsome, jeering electronic bird. I rested my hand against the window sill as I bent down to pick it up. Letting it ring one more time, I noted on the caller ID that it wasn’t the station but Lt. Rodriguez’s cell phone. I thumbed “Talk.”
“Ed, what the fuck took you so long to answer?”
“Uh, the Sandman? He sent me a really nice dream. You weren’t in it.” Before I could make another bad joke, I could hear sirens blaring in the background and I moved the phone an inch away from my ear. That last one sounded like it went right by my counterpart on the graveyard shift. “Roddy, what the hell’s going on?”
“Ed, you’d better get here at the Ritz Carlton on Mass Ave. It’s bad. Real bad.”
“Wh… what’re you talking about? What happened?” Another siren wailed in the distance. It sounded like they brought out the whole shooting match.
“Mass suicide, Ed. Look, I gotta go. We need all hands on deck on this one. You’re not gonna fucking believe it. While you’re getting dressed, turn on the TV.”
“What channel?” So this is how my day starts, getting briefed by a roving correspondent who makes twice the money I do with half the brains?
“Any channel.” I took an extra beat to let that register while I reached for yesterday’s wrinkled pants. “Hey, be careful how you pick up that body! Oh, shit… Look, I gotta go. Get your ass over here.” The line went dead.
I fumbled for the remote in the dark and turned on a news channel. Sure enough, there was the Ritz Carlton in the background, with bloody sheets covering presumably bloody bodies that were washed in red, white and blue lights like some horrid display of patriotism.
“Ed, what the hell are you watching? Do you have any idea what time it is?”
“In case you’re just tuning in, an enormous tragedy here in the hub of Boston…”
“Time to go to work,” I said after I listened to the breathless news report. I yanked my pants on as if my wife was married to someone else and her husband came home.
The entire perimeter of the five star hotel was a massive crime scene that was wrapped in a nice, cheerful yellow bow of “Do Not Cross: Crime Scene” tape. The uniforms had already cordoned off both ends of the block on which the Ritz Carlton rested and even I with my lights and gold shield flashing had a helluva time finding a place to park on account of all the fire engines, fire rescue trucks, cruisers and ambulances that choked the area. Just outside the perimeter were news vans from what looked like every TV and radio station in New England. A couple of choppers circled overhead like rotund vultures.
Even the opportunistic jackals that run the TV news were downplaying the story. The sidewalk in front of the lobby was littered with bloody sheets when the Boston City PD ran out of body bags. I didn’t see nearly this many on the channel I’d turned on back home. I had a flashback to September 11th but suppressed that memory as I finally saw Lt. Emilio Rodriguez.
I slapped the gearshift into “park” and left the key in the ignition as my aching knees cursed me for getting out of the car so quickly.
“Roddy, what the fuck is going on? What happened?”
“How do you like your socialites: Over easy or scrambled?”
I wasn’t in any mood for sardonic police standup at crime scenes, a practice intended to chase death and keep it at arm’s length. I could see its time, place and function but Massachusetts Avenue tonight didn’t seem to be either.
“Roddy, what the hell are you talking about?”
“Far as we know, 103 dead and counting. Bunch of socialites were having some party up in the penthouse. Captains of industry, diplomats, celebrities, politicians past and present, you name it.” He gestured to a body bag awaiting a meat wagon. “Say hello to Senator Bill Dumont. Or rather, former Senator Dumont.”
“What?!” I thought that 16 years on the force and eight more in the Green Berets would’ve left me hopelessly jaded and incapable of surprise. I was wrong. “Our junior senator? That’s him?”
“Yeah, and that’s only the start of the guest list. 47 people we counted so far who jumped from the penthouse and some of the floors just below. Fire Department says there’s another 56 inside all deader than Adam and Eve.”
“What’s the BFD doing in there?”
“Precautionary measure. What else can you think of that would make 103 people panic and lose their fucking minds? I can think of three: fire and smoke, a gas leak or al Qaida hijackers coming toward them. So far, it appears to be none of those. We’re awaiting word…” Then Roddy’s walkie talkie came to life.
“All clear. You can all come up. We found nothing to explain this.”
“Ever see a penthouse suite, Ed?” he asked with a horrid cheer as he tilted his heavily moussed head toward the building and began walking toward it.
I’ve long since gotten used to walking past weeping women at crime scenes but the bystanders at the perimeter and the hotel workers who were kept in the lobby were something else. I’ve never seen such horror on human faces before and, considering the carnage, I could fully appreciate them turning on the full waterworks.
“…and when she passes, each one she passes goes… da dee dum…”
In spite of the situation, Roddy and I, as humans have done since the first Otis elevators, completely ignored eachother on the ride up. He’d since gotten the special passkey that allowed one to take the elevator all the way to the penthouse and I had no idea what to expect. Rather than ask him to brief me and maybe get a flippant response, I thought I’d just keep my mind clear and let it all hit me at once.
What a ghoulishly cheerful sound, almost as much as the song playing on the speakers: “The Girl From Ipanema.” Add elevators and its music to my growing list of the most loathsome inventions ever conjured in the fevered mind of man. The doors finally opened after the elevator made a tiny last second adjustment. “You’ve seen the scrambled. Now meet the over easy,” said Roddy.
We walked to the door and I noticed right away that it was off one of its hinges. Being a private affair for the hoity toity, it was obviously locked but it was just as obvious that whoever went through it busted the lock. I also spotted a crack down the middle of the heavy wooden door.
The scene was pure Hieronymus Bosch if he’d illustrated the Inferno of Dante’s Divine Comedy. As stated, our people and even the ME’s office ran out of body bags downstairs and were obliged to ask the hotel for bed sheets to cover the bodies. But since we hadn’t had the chance to investigate up here until the scene was clear, we couldn’t even do that. It was the expressions on their faces that almost made me freeze in my tracks.
The last of the firemen were leaving, the first having gone down on other elevators. They were in full Hazmat gear only with their helmets off. Handheld carbon monoxide detectors and other testing devices hung unalarmed from their hands. One guy we knew who was also a lieutenant stopped and nodded when he saw Roddy and me and said, “Roddy, Coffey, we tried not to disturb the scene. But we did a full sweep and found nothing. Obviously. Have fun.”
He put his helmet back on visor up as he shook his head.
I mentioned the faces. I know I’m beating around the bush. I’m just trying not to talk or think about it.
We’ve heard stories sometimes of people who were actually frightened to death and had their horrified expressions in their last moments of life frozen on their faces. I always wondered how morticians could smooth out the expressions into something less alarming by the time the relatives and beneficiaries came calling. I was wondering about that now, too.
Some died with their mouths and eyes wide open, some with their hands over their faces. Many of the bodies were equally contorted and I had a hard time recognizing even people I should’ve known. What the hell could make almost 50 people, including a US Senator, jump out of a high rise hotel when there wasn’t a fire or smoke or even a natural gas leak? 16 years on the job can prepare you for a lot but not something like this.
“It’s like fucking Jonestown,” Roddy said as he put on a fresh pair of latex gloves. He offered me a pair in case I didn’t have any. I did but I took them anyway.
“No, not like Jonestown,” I muttered as I pulled on the gloves. “At least with that, we know what killed those people.”
“I’d be willing to bet coronaries.”
“A mass coronary? I’ve heard of mass hysteria but that would be a first,” I said as I bent down to one particularly unfortunate dowager who looked even more horrified or terrified than most. I almost recognized her but couldn’t quite recall her name or place her face. “Plus, we have to ask ourselves what brought this on on such a wide scale.”
The CSI people were just coming in to the penthouse. It wasn’t until one of them remarked that the place felt cold that it registered with me, too. It did seem kind of chilly, as if Death itself was loitering around waiting to doggy-bag all the five star restaurant leftovers while no one was looking. Of course, the cold air could be attributable to it being October and the huge bay window being busted out when the rich, powerful and bored suddenly decided to go bungee jumping minus the bungee cords.
The penthouse, as one could expect, was enormous. Fine china plates of food rested on antique furniture that looked more expensive than my house and car combined. More of them were on the floor, the products of years of culinary school and loving tender care strewn all over the floor and ground into the white plush carpet.
Then my eye caught a glint of light on one of the faces of the dead. I recognized this one. It was Senator Dumont’s wife, Grace. I wondered what could make a man jump out of a thirty story window while leaving his wife behind. The more I discovered, the less I knew. I hoped, absurdly, that our Chief of Detectives would authorize the OT that this case would require. Unfortunately, if you were murdered in the Greater Boston area a month before or after this, you’d have to wait until we could find your killer because this had Task Force written all over it.
I bent down for a better look at Mrs. Dumont’s body and found the source of the light that glinted off her face. It was ice crystals. I pivoted on my haunches and called over one of the CSI guys. “Ron, get over here. Take a shot of her face.”
The crime scene technician, a tall African American guy, walked over, squared the digital camera for a second and took a picture. “Let me have a copy. Email an attachment to my email at the station, ‘kay?” He coolly nodded as if this was actually a normal crime scene. Just another day at the office, only a bit more crowded.
I looked back down at Mrs. Dumont’s face. Her residual body heat had just melted the ice on her face and I looked around. The only ice to be had were ice cubes in drinks that were both still in glasses on over priced furniture or spilled on the floor. I guess someone could’ve crushed an ice cube in the panic but on this plush carpet? And, yeah, it was cold but not this cold.
I got up and my knees cursed me with four letter words and pops. I looked at the busted front door. “Roddy, didn’t you say that some people leaped through windows on the floors below us?”
“That would kinda strongly suggest that someone or something was chasing them, doncha think?”