Ch. 25

Fury jolted Evangeline to her feet. She ran through the house looking for another way out. Behind her she could hear Hallam moaning low. She caught sight of an array of pictures pinned to a wall in a bedroom at the back of the house – newspaper clips of the Killing Club victims and the photo the Banner ran when she was named “Woman of the Year.” There were also pictures of John and Dennis with the words “dead mick” and “dead nigger” scrawled underneath. Fighting the shuddering that had started in her bowels, she shoved the wide window open, climbed up on the bed covered with Hallam’s sweaty sheets and eased up on the sill. Looking for more wires and seeing none, she used her powerful, blood-streaked legs to leap out of the window, away from the house. She landed on her wrist and heard a small bone snap. Refusing to cry, she started crawling away from the house. She heard the roar of tires on gravel. Someone was coming. John was coming! She had to get around front to warn him away from the house.

When the SUV pulled up in front of the low-slung stone farmhouse, John’s heart started clanging in his chest like an alarm. He could feel Evangeline was nearby. He nearly tripped when Bo jerked him back by the neck of his shirt. “Hold on Hotfoot! You can’t just go running up in there – you could get Evangeline and yourself killed.”

Whatever was left of good police in John – the skillful tactician, the cool negotiator, the professional who knew when to talk and when to shoot – had vanished when he heard Evangeline’s strangled lullaby on the phone. Bo’s words were like an icy wakeup slap.

“Commissioner, let me handle this,” Randall said, glancing from Bo to John. “He’s my father. I can get him to talk.”

John snarled, “Talk! Talk? That motherfucker’s going to do more than talk!”

Bo stepped between the two younger men. “John! For Chrissakes! Randall may be the one man who can lead us through this nightmare. Let the man do his job.”

John poked his finger in Randall’s chest. “All right. You’ve got two minutes to make contact and then we’re coming in. And if anything happens to Evangeline, your ass is mine.”

Bo and Dennis could see the pain in Randall’s eyes. He didn’t bother to answer John, but turned on his heel and picked up a bullhorn. SWAT officers piled out of two vans and started staking out positions along the front and near side of the farmhouse. The front door was open and the screen door banged gently in its frame, but it was too bright outside to get a good look inside the house.

“Pa! Pa! It’s Randall. Pa, are you there? Can you hear me?” he called over the bullhorn. “Pa, we need to talk.” All ears strained for a response but none came. Randall started walking towards the front door. “Pa, I’m not armed, but there’s a bunch of fellows out here who are. Let’s make this easy on all of us. I’m coming in to talk.”

Slumped in the grass behind the house, Evangeline fought to stay conscious. She heard the words “I’m coming in” and loosed a weak scream.

That thin “No” carried on the wind and every officer’s head jerked. Randall raced for the door, catching a glance of his father’s burned face, the old man trying to pull himself up by the leg of the kitchen table. Bo saw a white butterfly light in Randall’s sandy hair as he stepped into the house. Then there was a second of silence, followed by a deafening explosion. Randall’s body flew up and backwards, a bloody torso landing 20 feet from the SUV. Stones and fragments of glass and wood shot everywhere as a livid fireball tore through the house.

John ran towards the fire. “John! John!” Bo cried. Before John could get to what was left of the house, another fireball flared and thick clouds of black smoke drove him to his knees. Dennis and another officer dragged him back behind the SUV.

“No, no, no, no, no,” John moaned. “Not Evangeline. She’s got to be alive. I’ve got to save her. I’ve got to save her.”

Bo wrapped an arm around his shattered colleague. “We’re going to do what we can, John. But if she was in that house…”

In the yard behind a wall of flames, Evangeline gazed up at the smoke driving all of the light from the sky. “John’s dead,” she moaned. Then the earth seemed to swallow her up and everything went black.