Terror Firma

Chapter 12

Monday 7th August

Sean was still asleep, but Bill and Caitlin had got up early. They hadn't touched breakfast. Neither had slept well. They had tossed and turned, their minds troubled by waking nightmares – imagining David languishing in a police cell, trying to explain his actions, picturing all sorts of problems.

Fortunately for them, not even their worst fears came close to the horror of reality.

Despite David's assurances not to worry, they couldn't relax until he'd phoned to say it was all over. He had promised to let them know first thing in the morning, refusing against all protests from Cat to call during the night. The way he'd fussed over her and the unborn child, anyone would have thought that he was the doctor, and not his cousin, she had observed to Bill after their newfound friend had gone. Now, they sat uncomfortably on the edge of their comfortable couch, hands firmly clasped together, staring at the phone, willing it to ring.

"It's still quite early; he's probably just slept in." Bill tried to sound reassuring, but Cat knew that deep down her husband was just as concerned as she was herself.

They felt responsible. If Bill hadn't poured out his heart to David after lunch, the younger man would never have offered to go snooping around. And if Bill's suspicions were anywhere near the truth, as David had believed, then he could be risking far more than his job.

"I should have gone with him, Cat." Bill said, not for the first time.

"We've been over it, Bill," countered his wife, looking tired and drawn.

"You offered; he wouldn't hear of it, not under any circumstances. He went as far as making you promise not to go anywhere near the place. He was so insistent, he scared me."

"Yeah, it was like he knew something bad was gonna happen."

Bill bit back the words as soon as they were out, but Caitlin had already come to this conclusion anyway.

"Oh, Bill, what can we do?"

She had never met David Beckett before yesterday, but she had taken to him at once. Everything about him confirmed the image that Frank had painted at length over coffee Saturday morning.

How long ago that seemed now.

She hoped it would be the start of a lasting friendship. David seemed lonesome somehow. There was an air of the 'little boy lost' about him. He'd obviously been a bachelor too long, judging by the relish with which he'd devoured her simple home cooked meal. And his willingness, not only to accept Bill's story, but also to take it all upon himself, had moved her deeply. He may have joked about Quixotic quests, and made light of the whole thing, yet beneath the surface he clearly took the matter seriously and was under no illusions as to what he was getting himself into. But still he had gone ahead, to protect her Bill, who was not even a close friend, but little more than a work colleague. He seemed to know just how scared she was of losing Bill, and his eyes had shone with the promise of a happy ending.

She felt another pang of guilt. What if their happy ending had been bought at the expense of this gentle young man's life? She couldn't bear it. She pulled her hand away from Bill's and stood up, pacing the floor restlessly, rubbing the small of her back. She could feel the baby moving; it seemed as agitated as she was. Bill watched her apprehensively. He was growing increasingly afraid that the tension would bring on labor. He swallowed hard to banish the lump that had risen in his throat.

Why didn't the darned phone ring? Where was David? What was going on?

Finally, in an attempt to distract them both from their worries, Bill rose and crossed the room to switch on the television. Then he took the remote control and flicked idly through the channels. He had just passed NBC and was hovering on CMT, hoping to hear something soothing, when Caitlin stared at the screen and then wheeled around to face him, gesticulating wildly.

"Turn it back, Bill, quick!"

"Back?" he queried, not comprehending.

She snatched the control and returned to NBC. It was an outside broadcast, the anchorman handing over to his colleague on the spot, who was interviewing a classy lady in what was once a green leotard, but was now a dirty grey. They were making a fuss of an Afghan hound. But it was the location that had caught Caitlin's eye.

"L-look," she stuttered, pointing at the screen, "its …"

But Bill could see where it was.

"Sshh." He ordered, and took back the remote control, pounding on the volume switch in a gesture that would have reminded Sam of Al's handling of the COM link, if only he could have been there to witness it.

"Tell us again exactly what happened, Miss Reynolds, for the benefit of those viewers who've just tuned in. This really is astonishing…" he gushed.

The woman on the screen the proceeded to ramble about how she always went jogging in the early morning when it was quiet, taking her dog, Lucky. She recounted the story of how the animal had earned her name. She babbled enthusiastically.

Bill snapped at the set – "Get to the point, woman. What is it all about?" Had the dog saved her from an intended rapist? A mugger?

He and Cat were sitting side by side again, even closer to the edge of their seats. They searched the background of the scene on TV, hoping to see a glimpse of David on the building site.

"…I thought she was chasing a cat…" the woman was still rambling, but the reporter and the crowd that had gathered on the sidewalk seemed to be hanging on her every word. It had to be leading somewhere.

Bill could feel Cat's hand trembling as they watched, a growing sense of foreboding creeping over them both. They perched, glued to the screen, hardly daring to breathe, certain that they were going to hear something dreadful, and that it was all their fault.

Finally, the woman got beyond the Overture and into Act One. She told how her amazing dog had sensed something wrong and had shown her where a man was trapped, bound and gagged, inside the giant cement mixer. She described how the intelligent creature had pointed out the switch to turn the machine off. She explained how the dog had nudged aside the chute to prevent the injured man from plummeting into the foundations. She marveled at how her pet had even found water to clean him up and a phone to summon the paramedics.

The Donahues listened with mounting terror as she related her dreadful tale, knowing there was only one person she could be talking about. When she described the state of the man she had rescued, and how she had thought at first that he was dead, Cat let out a cry and clutched at Bill's hand so tight that she dug her nails into his palm. He put his arm around her shoulder, but they were powerless to do more than stare, dumb-struck, at the screen, listening as the woman – Miss Reynolds – spun her story out to the bitter end.

Then it was over.

Mr. Ruggiero was unfortunately unavailable for comment. Everyone at the site was patting the dog and expressing astonishment. The roving reporter was trying to get Miss Reynolds' telephone number.

Bill and Caitlin looked at each other, wide eyed, in abject horror. Cat was crying.

"Oh, Bill, what have we done?" her lip quivered.

William Donahue swallowed hard again, fighting against his own sense of guilt and concern in an effort to comfort his wife. They were both distraught, but he had to think of the baby as well. He couldn't let Cat get hysterical. After two miscarriages and a stillbirth over the past five years, this baby was to be the answer to all their prayers. He couldn't stand the thought of anything happening to it now.

"It'll be okay." He said, with more conviction than he felt.

"David's alive. I'm sure he's gonna be just fine."

'Please, God.' He added, silently.

They both moved, as if one, for the telephone.

"How do we find out which hospital he's in?" asked Cat, "I have to see him for myself, to be sure."

The tears were streaking down her cheeks, falling unabated on the yoke of her pastel blue dress. She began to tremble violently as a thought struck her.

"Dear God, Bill. That could've been you!"

She collapsed back onto the couch, clutching her swollen stomach. Her breathing was erratic. She was having palpitations. Then she cried out as a strong contraction gripped her with a wave of pain.

And Bill's world went to pieces.

As he grabbed for the phone, he felt a shaking, which at first he put down to his knees, the shock, the worry. Then he realized – it was another quake. Their building had been on the very edge of the big quake last year, and they'd suffered only minor damage. This time it was far more local and the ground started to vibrate beneath him.

Ornaments jingled and shuffled across shelves, to slide gracefully to the floor. Framed photographs dive-bombed from the walls, with a splintering of wood. Windows rattled, louder and louder.

There was an ominous rumbling. The television, still switched on but broadcasting unnoticed now in the corner of the room, leant at an impossible angle for a moment, before crashing into a hundred fragments on the floor. Glass shattered. Cupboard doors burst open and provisions scattered all over the floor.

Bill heard a whimper from the small bedroom and looked from Cat to the door. Sean!

He must have been woken by the tremors – he must be scared poor little chap. Bill had the receiver in his hand, but he hesitated. What should he do first? Get Sean? Call an ambulance for Cat? Help Cat? Try to get them to safety? Agonizing moments slipped by as he weighed the choices, torn apart by indecision.

Then he punched up 911, at the same time calling out to Sean to come out of the bedroom and join him. He knew his son would be even more frightened when he saw his Mom in this state, but he'd just have to be a brave little man. He was nearly seven now, and Daddy needed him to be strong.

He was proud of how well Sean did cope, helping to make Mommy more comfortable, then going to crouch down in the door frame like he'd been taught at school, while Daddy finished on the phone. Bill could see him biting back the tears, and could hardly contain his own.

'Monday mornings,' he thought, 'Who'd have 'em?'

The power spat, buzzed, and then went out.

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