Con drove this time.
“Right over there” Harri said.
“I see it”.
Con pulled the Lincoln into the Riverside County Sheriff’s department parking lot.
The department had its own street sectioned off with the court house on one side and the Robert Presley detention centre on the other.
They parked in the small east side parking lot in between a couple of shiny pickup trucks.
The building itself was located in downtown riverside. A built up area that made a change from the open spaces they’d become accustomed to out here.
The courthouse, the detention centre and the sheriff’s department building were all concrete buildings. Elegant but with a hint of noble authoritarianism.
The building they’d parked in the shadow of was a tall rectangular concrete edifice. The windows of which were narrow strips high across the top, well above the average person’s height. Around eight or nine feet off the ground hooded by concrete awnings. Evidently it was some sort of holding facility not connected to the actual detention centre.
Despite the serious tone the buildings evoked, this was still California and of course there were palm trees everywhere. But even they were regulated in a strict spacing along the sidewalks. More serious plants stood guard in grey concrete planters along the edge of the rectangular holding facility. Some sort of fern or bush that had been trimmed into a phallic point.
On the other side of the parking lot was what looked like a multi-storey car park. They’d come the opposite way so hadn’t passed it. In between that and the temporary holding cells was a small red building with a comms tower poking out of the top. That must have been some kind of small office building for admin personnel.
Con hopped out of the car and quick stepped around the front not quite sure what to expect. Harri bundled herself out of her side almost visibly shaking. The thought of standing seemed to throw her. She sat for a moment turned out in her seat leaning on the open door taking in as much air as she could before could stand without feeling sick.
Con stood like a child watching his mother recover from a car crash. He was a good foot away standing with his hands out of his pocket not sure whether he should try and help her.
His mind was made up when she steadied herself against central column of the Lincoln and her Glock fell out of hip holster. He quickly stepped in and stooped to pick up the small plastic gun, which now looked like a cap gun on the parking lot floor.
He lifted it up like a glass slipper and presented it to her on one knee. She scowled at him and made a chupse sound. “Thanks” She put the Glock back in the holster and steadied herself.
His eyes searched her for a moment and she chupsed again “It’s nothing sordid ok?”
“I didn’t say anything”
“I know but I can feel your smirk.” She closed her eyes and lowered the pitch of her voice “It’s not a big deal, I don’t want you to go building it up in your mind”
“I wouldn’t dream of it” A little smirk leaked out, his fears of her unknown past seemed to melt away just a little.
She sighed and chewed on her lip a little almost for show.
“You know I used to be a cop”
“No, I didn’t know that.”
“Really, I thought everybody knew. Well regardless, I used to be a cop back in St Louis and when I was such a thing I worked in narcotics.” She paused to watch his cogs spin a little. “I know what you’re thinking and it’s not that. I didn’t steal drugs from the taskforce, you think someone with a history like that could make it into the FBI?”
She chupsed again. “You’re not taking this seriously are you?” She paused wondering if he even could and decided to go on anyway as if she had to hear it herself as she practiced in her head. “I was undercover, it sounds really glamourous, like I’m on a TV show. It wasn’t. I was under cover as a junkie.” She rolled her eyes. “And I know you watch all these TV shows and you hear all these stories about undercover narcos ‘pretending’ to take drugs when pressed. But it doesn’t work that way. This is real life and when a dealer high on crank holds a desert eagle to your head and expects you to shoot up in front of him to prove you’re not a cop. Ain’t no magic trick in the world that can make your eyes bloodshot and your pupils dilate like that. It has to be real or it’s your ass.” She waited for a reaction but when none came she continued as if there was more to the story. “We just lie about it after, say we distracted them with a magic decoder ring and injected it into a ficus or some shit, bullshit.” She sighed and continued. “I spent months injecting to get realistic track marks. Taking controlled doses of heroin and other opioids to build up a tolerance so I could keep my head. I spent months after washing out my system and it was all swept under the rug.”
“Did you get your guy?”
She shrugged “What? Who cares? What you want me to give some sort of speech of how it was all worth it and I stopped some monster selling drugs to kids? I saved some poor orphans or a burning bus full of nuns? You and I both know taking out one guy makes not a bit of fucking difference when there are ten guys to take his place. We pat ourselves on the backs and say ‘good job’ for taking down one scumbag when we’re neck deep in shit” She shook her head. It’s like cleaning your boots when you work on a pig farm, you know they’re gonna get dirty again.”
“It was all for nothing?”
“It got me a glowing recommendation from my captain which got me into the bureau. So there you go, that’s my story, that’s my ‘deus ex machina’. Does that work for you? I’m like a super hero but my only power is I don’t die when I’m given an overdose of junk, I just nearly die.”
“Yeah I like it, I’m coming up with your superhero name, as we speak.” He put his hand around her waist gently, supporting her as he closed her car door. He smiled as he took her weight as they started to walk out of the parking lot. “Maybe Smackgirl, Dopewoman, CrackVixen?”
She squinted and chupsed again “So fucking funny”.
He continued as they walked towards the entrance of the sheriff’s department. “Maybe I can be your sidekick; Junkboy, Bluntman, Speedfreak, Tylenol-man”.
“You want me to shoot you?” She shook her head and playfully pushed him off her. Steadying herself she began to walk normally.
“Come on I’ll get you some nasty coffee inside, should make you feel better.”
The sun danced on his forearm, the warm glow seeping deep into his pores as his arm hung out of the window of the proud dinged Taurus.
James tossed back and forth, a miasmic cycle of never sleeping and never waking. His head hurt, a dull ache brought on by the sun and the day, he couldn’t remember the last time he ate or drank something. He didn’t feel hungry but his throat was dry and he felt hardly there. He felt like that’s the way it had to be, like he was on a fast, a pilgrimage.
Nevertheless, he opened the car door. It cracked like one of those baths for old people, letting out all the warm air from the car like water. The open air stinging his dirty damp warm skin. He must have slept in his car.
But where was he?
His feet found the ground with the urgency of falling. Landing in soft wisps of overgrown grass crunching sounds of gravel and broken tough glass. He looked around and saw a wasteland, unkempt greenery, twisted metal, rusted parts, emptiness, devoid of life and care and love. Grass and weeds sticking out of cracks in broken concrete, parting beds of gravel and rust and broken glass.
There was nothing to see but red industrial buildings with half their teeth knocked out. The glass that was left glinted in the noonday sun with a practiced bravado. It looked like an abandoned railyard way out in the boonies. There were only thick trees he could see beyond the crusted buildings. No car horns, or ferry horns, or planes overhead, no birds chirping. Just the sun rattling in the sky.
It looked abandoned, was this the right address?
He craned his neck and clumsily took a few steps away from his car. There was a large building made of rusted sheet metal along the north face of the large open lot. In bold print written along the side of the second floor were the words “Sacramento Locomotive works”
Had his doctor really given him the address of an old abandoned train yard or was this the product of his own fevered imagination?
There was a whistling, a cool wind blowing. The buildings were shambling wrecks staring at him glassy eyed. The warmth on his skin from the sun was soothing and he felt like he could breathe here. A depth of solitude rushed all around him. He felt like he was the only person at an amusement park at night for a moment. He had to steal himself, were these his thoughts? Were these the thoughts of a sane person meeting a stranger at an abandoned rail yard?
He decided to be cautious, the day he’d had. He cut a wide trail behind the building he was parked directly in front of. The other buildings were half dilapidated anyway. Boarded up or just looked too large and empty to be any place to meet someone. The building he’d parked in front of looked like a place they took train cars to be repaired as opposed to a factory floor. It was a large red brick building with a huge turnstile out front with large openings with awnings to allow the trains in. The tracks were all rusted and overgrown. The building itself was shaped almost like a large parish building. It looked almost like an industrial cathedral with all the stain glass tarnished and broken out.
His feet were loud on the gravel and concrete, it was everywhere, the overgrowth of the place did nothing to muffle his steps. This place was too perfect for an ambush. Someone could hear you coming from a mile away, as quiet as it was out here.
He tried to keep as far away from the building as possible. Around the back it was a lot more overgrown. Weeds and roots had torn up the tracks, barbed twisted metal writhed rusty like the bones of a snake in the dirt.
There was a larger awning around back. A small in-building around the side and larger shuttered garage on the other side of that. The carcasses of train cars and cabs were neatly parked in nooks between each building. Gently rotting.
He slowed down, softening his footsteps on the gravel as it crunched under his feet. Each little rock scraping and clicking like rough worn teeth. He started to breath shallow and slow as he noticed tucked under the awning next to a rusted out train car was a car loosely covered with a blue tarp. Distinct from the dead train cabs it looked like it was only parked there a moment ago. No rust or debris, there wasn’t even much dust. The weeds were parted and flattened and there were signs of recent tire marks in the dust.
A light wind flapped a loose corner of the tarp. As if someone were in too much of a hurry to secure it somehow. Someone tried to hide it back here, but why? It was still, he could hear all the creaking’s of the old metal. The train car next to it, a derelict hiding from the sun. One good eye red raw around the edges, white as alabaster, the noon day sun only touching its toes.
He approached the car slowly, sucking in deep breaths of raw rusty minerals tens of years old. He could see the back under the tarp as it flapped suggestively. It was a grey Oldsmobile cutlass, a classic. He touched the boot as if to rest himself against it. He felt like he could feel where it had been. He could see that tree, the one with the arms and the legs and the heads all white and clean. He could feel their eyes on him, he could hear their tongues clack dry. He could hear the waves, smell the river, the night. Feel the moon as if it was right in his back pocket, his blood swelled and crashed again. He couldn’t hold onto that feeling, nor did he want to, or did he?
He traced along the edge of the cutlass in a daze, his head was a few pounds lighter now. He opened the back seat. The interiors were all cream camel leather. The front seat was clean and perfect but for a few cracks, that was just window dressing. Waiting for him in the back was a mess of pictures and little boxes, jewellery, real and fake, drugstore prophylactics, stick on nails.
The pictures were all of women.
Their hands, their feet, their necks. Bound with cable ties and plastic wrap. Their knees, the back and fronts. Special attention paid to the joints. Their elbows and wrist and their neck. They were all extreme close ups, the camera seemed to probe them surgically. All the pictures were taken in rooms where the only light was the camera flash. So their skin was bleached out white on a black canvas giving a high contrast. There were very few of their heads and their faces and even then they all had their eyes closed and they were shot too close to make out their faces.
Mixed in were pictures of insects, butterflies and cockroaches with pins nailing them to corkboard.
Oddly James remarked on them with a detached gaze of an observer lost in a morbid curiosity. Wanting to see more but all the while fearing to see too much. He continued to flick through the pictures, not sure what he was seeing. But as he reached the deepest set in the pile there was a picture of a girl with red hair. Upon seeing this his blood became as thick as motor oil and stopped in his veins. She was standing in a mirror, her hair dyed a deep red. The photo looked recent. In the mirror she was smiling. She was wearing a red dress and too much makeup and there was a man standing behind holding the camera. The flash hid his face but there was no mistaking the stance, as if it was possible not to recall your own outline in a mirror.
He took this picture, James with his own hand. But what about the others? Did he take those too? If not, then who? Why would his picture be mixed in with the rest?
His mind reeled, it was almost like he could a train whistle. The rattling wheels clanging against the steel tracks barrelling down towards him. A bright light and a sliding of a train door.
Behind him a masked sound of two heavy feet touching down in the gravel. He turned but was caught in the door frame of the cutlass. The feet were fast scraping along kicking up the gravel as they descended upon him.
James opened his mouth but before a sound could be uttered the tire iron came down and clipped him in the side of the head.