CHAPTER 1 - A Really Bad Place
GALACTIC SPACE, MILKY WAY GALAXY
The fleet had just crossed the starless void from the main body of the galaxy to one of the spiral-arms—a bare sliver of the vast emptiness between galaxies
Although devoid of stellar mass, the other three forms of matter still populated that astral dessert: one being energy in all its forms of electromagnetic radiation streaming at light speed from sources thousands, millions and even billions of light-years distant—and the others being the much swifter dark energy and its equivalence in mass, dark matter. An aspect of the universe in constant, multi-directional motion at multiples of light speed since the Big Bang, the dark energy, a paradoxical, un-seeable feature, provided the force propelling the armada at those same multiples of light speed.
Since matter in faster-than-light transit merely passes through normal matter with less disruption than a sunbeam through a vacuum, the fleet rode a crest of the dark force into the swirl of star-fields before it but encountered no obstacle among the myriad stars in its path. The navigators focused on a point near the middle of the arm and adjusted course.
When Officer Jason Wolfe got close enough to recognize the man stomping about through the debris and flailing a five-foot pole back and forth like a Scotsman of old hewing through armies of foes with his mighty Claymore, he wasn’t shocked to see it was Eric Morgan. With his wailing siren giving way to abrupt silence, Jason stopped his black and white crossways in the street to protect the wreckage-strewn scene from approaching traffic.
Eric spun, and, hunched over with flexed arms bowed outward like the Incredible Hulk just before he destroys something, he glared through the windshield at Jason.
In his mid-twenties, two or three inches over six feet in height and weighing two-fifty or better, Eric beat Jason by three or four inches and seventy or eighty pounds, not to mention the ten-plus fewer years on his frame than Jason carried. His blue tank top showed off hulking muscles glistening with perspiration in the afternoon sun of mid-summer. Dirty denims tucked into the tops of heavy, black, motorcycle boots. His dark hair was shaved on the sides and back but long enough on top to fall forward across his forehead and glaring eyes. Except for a few small nicks and cuts on his face, probably from flying window glass, he appeared to be uninjured.
“Oh, Beth,” Jason mumbled aloud, something he often caught himself doing while patrolling alone when he occasionally addressed his mutterings to his late wife as though she rode with him. “I sure hope he wears himself out in a hurry; ’cause, if he doesn’t, I can see this whole thing winding up in a really bad place.”
Eric kicked another piece of debris, a new shovel handle like the one in his hands that had spilled from the pickup upon impact with Eric’s car, and it skittered across the pavement. He swung his shovel handle with both hands and connected with a plastic gallon jug on the pavement, splitting it open and spraying liquid fertilizer across the scene. He spun and stomped over to the front of a recent model pickup with Ortega Landscaping painted on the door.
A woman who might have been forty years old sat behind the steering wheel with her hands clamped firmly over her ears and her eyes wide open. The right front fender, bumper, and grill of the truck were crumpled. The hood buckled up in the middle and spewed steam. All the white impact points and spidering cracks from one side of her windshield to the other made it difficult to see her clearly, just enough to see she was upright and conscious and with no sign of blood.
“Well, hell, Beth, I don’t suppose I could shoot him, could I? I can just hear the screams of protest. ‘Just a stick, a plain old piece of wood,’ they’d say. ‘What harm could he have done with a stick of wood?’ they’d say. Yeah, right.”
Jason undid his seat belt and unlatched his door but kept it closed as he picked up his radio mike. “Petaluma, One Lincoln Forty-two. I’m ten ninety-seven.”
“Ten-four, One Lincoln Forty-two. How’s it look?”
“Confirmed two vehicles involved. No apparent injuries at this time but pending—will advise. Looks like Eric Morgan’s involved. Location is the entrance to his driveway, and he’s a bit agitated.” Eric’s bellowing came in loud and clear even with the car windows muffling his words, and Jason was pretty sure the dispatcher could hear him. “—Highly,” Jason added. “Could get sticky; better start back-up this way. He’s stomping around and swinging what looks like a shovel handle. We’ll need two tow trucks and two units for traffic control; one at—”
A resounding bang of the shovel handle across the hood of his car, and Jason tossed the mike in mid-sentence. He shouldered the door open and rolled out onto his feet. When his hand brushed against the empty ring on his belt, he realized he had bailed out of the car without his baton.
A sudden hissing erupted amidst the renewed banging as Eric rammed and smashed his weapon into the front of the patrol car, into the grill, the headlights and, apparently, the radiator.
Damn, Beth! He can do plenty of harm if he keeps that up. “Morgan! Put that thing down before you hurt someone.”
“Up yours! Look what that bitch done to my car!”
Eric paced back and forth between the front of the truck and the passenger side of his fully restored, red, 1969 Mustang Mach One. Mag wheels mounted with massive, wide tires on the rear and dinky little tires on the front gave it the dragster look so popular with the muscle car crowd back when the car first came off the show room floor. He kept glancing over at the crunched sheet metal that now made up the majority of the car’s right side and huffed each time he focused on a different damaged area. He spun back to the truck and, bellowing his rage like a wounded grizzly, kicked it and bashed the hood and windshield with the pole he clenched.
“Morgan! Hey! Eric!” Jason moved away from his car. Maybe that would draw Eric away from its further destruction. “Calm down, man. It’s only an accident. Come on, now. Nobody’s been hurt. Let’s keep it that way.”
He raged, “I’m gonna hurt her, all right! I’m gonna hurt her like she hurt my car! Look at it!”
Jason’s stomach churned as the situation spiraled up from bad toward one that could be much worse. He glanced up the street beyond the two wrecked vehicles for some sign of the responding units. Nothing—at least not from that direction.
Where the hell are they, Beth?
He couldn’t take his eyes off Eric long enough to look down the street behind him. The woman was reasonably safe if she remained inside the truck cab, and as long as Eric’s assault upon the truck remained confined to the bodywork. Not likely the windshield would cave in just yet, not with just whacking it with the pole. Of course, it could start spraying glass splinters inside, or the attack could move around to either side window, and they would shatter. He hoped the woman had locked the doors.
Eric stopped slamming the truck and turned back to his ruined car. He took a couple of slow steps towards it, paused for a moment, and lashed out with his booted foot to kick his side view mirror off. He kicked out with his other foot, planted it firmly into the middle of the misshapen door three times in quick succession, further caving it in.
A wordless sound came from his throat. It started out as just a low rumble and quickly increased in volume and pitch to a full-throated scream of uncontrolled rage.
He turned and faced Jason across twenty feet of debris-littered pavement, glaring his fury to a focus. His hands played back and forth along the length of the heavy, seasoned wood, searching for the best balance and grip. His shoulders hunched up as his muscles tensed.
“Lay it down, Morgan.”
Eric took a step forward.
“Morgan, dammit! I mean it! Lay the pole down!”
Eric made no reply. He shuffled through bits of broken glass, plastic and chrome-plated pieces, and his heavy boots shoved aside more shovel handles and stepped around a burst-open gallon jug of pesticide. A kicked near-empty plastic bottle of herbicide bounced several feet when it slammed into the curb.
He held his weapon diagonally across his chest and pumped his arms to rotate the ends as he approached the front of the patrol car. Still three feet from the front bumper of the patrol car, he dropped his left hand and let the pole slide enough for his right hand to grip the end. He swung it once around his head and whipped the end out to smash in the glass of the spotlight mounted in the driver’s doorpost. He caught the pole with his left hand as it came around and he once again had a well-balanced, two-handed grip.
Jason backed up several steps to stay out of range, but if he continued to back up, he’d soon be among the people gathering at the periphery of the scene. Although Eric swung from over a dozen feet away, the tip of the pole whirred through a horizontal arc to within five feet of Jason’s head. A maniacal grin spread across Eric’s face. His eyes glared.
Jason’s right hand hovered near the grips of his still holstered sidearm, but he hesitated.
Not yet, Beth. It’s not that bad yet.
After all, Eric was still a car length away, nearly five feet beyond striking distance, and he had not taken any steps toward Jason in at least ten seconds. Now that his march of rage had paused, his momentum broken, there was a good chance his build-up to real violence would simply crumble. Maybe he’s ready to be guided back to reason.
Jason lowered the volume and projection of his voice to a conversational level. “Come on, Eric, put it down.”
A voice wafted across the scene from somewhere behind Jason’s right shoulder, “Jesus! Hey, Mickey, look at Eric’s car! Oh, man what a mess. One of the best restoration jobs I’ve ever seen, and now it’s just a ton of scrap metal. Son-of-a-bitch!”
Eric’s shoulders hunched and the shovel handle in his hands began to shake as his knuckles turned white.
“Hell, he’s only had it out of the paint shop for a couple of weeks.” Apparently, the bigmouth behind Jason was still talking to Mickey, also out of view. “Man, it was some mean machine, too. He probably done half the prep-work on it hisself.”
If Jason turned around and ordered the man with the flapping tongue to shut the hell up, would Eric’s renewed rage trigger a charge while he was vulnerable?
Jason tried again. “Easy, man. Why don’t you let me take a look at those cuts on your face, Eric? They don’t look all that serious, but there could be glass slivers in some of them.”
“I bet she don’t even have insurance,” said Bigmouth.
Shut your damned mouth!
Eric slid his left hand down to his right hand and shuffled both hands to the end of the pole. With feet set wide, he crouched with his weapon cocked over his right shoulder and glared over the left one. He looked like a batter facing a pitcher known for a burning fastball. The shovel handle whooshed and whirred through several practice swings, but his feet still made no move to carry him forward.
“Don’t let him give you a ticket, man. He didn’t see you do nothin’. He’s gotta see you. Ain’t that right, Mickey?”
“That’s right, Eric, he’s gotta see you. Don’t let him shit you, man. He’s just waitin’ til you relax so he can pepper-spray and cuff you.”
“Yeah, Eric. Don’t sign nothing,” came yet another voice.
Oh, great, now Mickey and his friend have a buddy, and they all think they’re lawyers. You be sure and listen to them, Eric. They’ll advise you straight, all right—straight into jail.
“Hey, Eric, you oughta ram that thing up his ass.”
Damn, Beth, don’t those idiots know how close he is to blowing up? ...Well, yeah, of course they know. That’s why they’re doing it. They just want to see some action, preferably with blood—lots of blood.
With his gaze still locked on Jason, his eyes all but glowing from the heat of his rage, Eric made a couple more whirring swings.
He took a step forward.
Jason wasn’t due to get a Taser for another week, and Eric was still too far away for pepper spray to be accurate enough to be effective. With the reach of Eric’s weapon, he wouldn’t have to get within range at all. Shoulda grabbed my baton.
Jason’s thumb popped the safety strap on his holster. In a quick, continuous motion, he stepped forward and out with his left foot, crouched forward, hooked his right hand around the grips of his pistol, and whipped it out to chest level with arm extended, his left hand stabilizing it. Keeping Eric centered over the top of the barrel, he maintained his aim with his lower peripheral vision.
“Drop it, Morgan! Now!” Jason’s voice was no longer low-keyed and calming, but harsh, authoritative and forceful—commanding.
Eric paused. His elbows even dropped an inch or two while he appeared to reconsider the situation.
“Don’t let him bull-shit you, Eric. He ain’t gonna shoot you. That’s just show.”
“Yeah, man. Kick his ass!”
The elbows went back up.
Even as Jason kept his focus and his attention on Eric, who was now only about nine or ten feet away, he became aware that the ring of gathering spectators had filled in around the part of the circle on the far side of the scene. Four people had edged around to just ten or fifteen degrees off Morgan’s left side. Awareness of the residential area surrounding them and the congested downtown district of Petaluma in that direction and well within range of any stray bullets further gnawed away at the edges of his rapidly shrinking options.
“Shit, Eric, look at your car!” said yet another voice from behind Jason. “How many times did she hit you? What’d she do, back up and take a second shot at you?”
Yeah—pour a little more gasoline on the fire. Oh, God, Beth, he’s gonna do it. “Drop it, Morgan! Drop it!”
Eric’s voice erupted again in a rage driven explosion to a screaming crescendo, and then, stomping forward, he started the swing.
Jason’s gun bucked twice as two shots rang out, a double bang and a double flash of fire so close together the second was like a shadow of the first.