CODE BLOOD

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Chapter Twenty Seven

“So how was the meeting with Sandy this morning?” Moose asked while they sat in Colt’s pickup in front of Markus’ apartment on Albion.

“No problems with my skills,” Colt said. “Brian gave me a good report, but he said I’m too sensitive.”

“What does that mean?”

“I’m supposed to stay detached from the people I rescue.”

“That’s it?”

“If I don’t fuck up, five more shifts and my internship’s over.”

“Attaboy.” Moose reached over to grind his knuckles against the side of Colt’s head.

Colt pushed his hand away. “Hey, there goes the albino. That’s him in the PT Cruiser.” He pointed toward the alley.

“Great.”

“I’m going in.”

“Going in? I thought this was a surveillance mission. That doesn’t include breaking and entering.”

“I’m going in to get the foot. Her parents are gonna claim her body pretty quick. I want to get the foot to the Coroner before that happens.”

“No way.” Moose reached across and shook him. “Earth to Colt.”

“What?”

“Brother, have you lost your mind? What’re you thinking?”

“I’m getting the foot back.”

“How do you know this guy even has the foot? I think you’re imagining this.”

“I’m not imagining anything. He has it.”

“You’re risking your career. Do you understand that? Half the firefighters in the country would kill to work for L.A. County Fire Department. Not only that, but you’re a paramedic. I could never get through that program. The best I could do is three years in the Marines. You’ve got it made and now you’re breaking into someone’s apartment? That’s a crime. If you get caught, you’re shit out of luck and you lose everything. For what?”

Colt sat quiet for a moment, looking straight out the windshield. “He was there with her. After the accident he deserted her and took her foot.”

“Where are you getting all this crap?”

“Believe me, I know. He’s the kind of scumbag who would do something like that.”

“Colt, she’s a cadaver now. You did your best and she didn’t make it and that’s all there is to it. Over and out.”

“The girl was abandoned. She was all alone. No one was with her. I showed up and held her hand, and then I let her down.”

“Stop. This is such bullshit. Forget about whatever her name is. Get a new girlfriend and get laid. Don’t risk everything you’ve got for someone you don’t even know.” Moose leaned over, turned the key in the ignition and started the engine. “C’mon, let’s go.”

“What if I just go in and make sure he has it? If he does, I can tell the Sheriff’s Department. They can retrieve it.”

“What’re you going to tell them? You broke into someone’s house?”

“Someone has to do something.” Colt turned off the pickup’s engine

Moose exploded. “Let her parents find the damned foot. It’s their daughter. Look, man, I’m not getting involved in this. I have a fiancé and I’m not gonna screw up my life for this. You know I’ve got your back in any emergency. If you were in any kind of trouble, I would risk my life to save you.” He opened his door. “But you’re on your own on this one.”

“She had a name, Moose. It’s Darci. She’s a person, a real person and she should be buried with her foot.”

“She was a person.”

“This is no big deal, Moose. The albino’s not home. All I have to do is go in and find it. It has to be in his freezer. After that, I’m done.”

“Whatever,” Moose said, “but I’m out of here.”

“Hang on for a minute. You’re a Marine, you can handle this. Just wait in the truck. If he comes back, honk the horn. You won’t be involved.”

Moose got out of the pickup and leaned in the window. “See you later, Bro. I’ll just walk back to your place to get my car.”

Colt exhaled. “Catch up with you later.”

Moose started to walk away, turned and came back to the truck. “You’re still coming for Thanksgiving, right?”

“Right.”

“No date?”

“Not unless lightning strikes in the next two weeks.”

“Don’t do anything stupid, Stupid.” Moose walked off down the middle of the street.

As soon as Moose disappeared, Colt got out of his truck and stood on the sidewalk. The neighborhood was quiet; there was no traffic and no one outside walking around. He climbed the front stairs to Unit 2, knocked on the door and waited. He knocked again and still there was no response. He tried the door handle, but it was locked. He hit the door with his shoulder and it popped open. So much for breaking and entering.

“Hello?” Colt called. “Hello?” He entered a dark cave decorated with black lace and red candles. Thick curtains covered the windows in a small living-dining room. Wrought iron porch chairs circled a table covered with computer equipment. Colt had never seen so much electronic gear and the tangle of wires, cables, plugs, surge protectors, and power outlets violated every known fire code. He understood the darkness—Mark Draper was an albino—but the place was eerie.

Colt went into the kitchen, turned on a light and stood in front of the refrigerator, thinking of Darci Tierney. He opened the door to the freezer and saw several packages of frozen peas but no foot. He pushed them aside and found two plastic bags, which he pulled out and laid on the counter. The first bag contained what looked like the head of a brown squirrel, teeth bared, eye sockets empty, the fur around the neck frozen and stiff like small quills on a porcupine. Colt picked up the second bag, expecting to see the foot. Instead, he found a left hand, fingers bent, frozen in the shape of a claw. Colt dropped it on the counter and stepped back, trying to make sense of what he saw before him. What kind of lunatic was the albino? Colt had seen heads of trophy animals shot in Wyoming and some people carried a jackrabbit’s foot on a key ring, but this was sick. In front of him was proof certain that the albino was some kind of body-parts freak, just the kind of person who would pick up Darci’s foot. The problem was, the foot wasn’t in the freezer. Colt looked again. Aside from the frozen peas, all he found was a package of turkey burgers, crusted inside with ice. He put everything back, checked the refrigerator and saw nothing but a dozen containers of yogurt. He leaned against the kitchen counter, trying to decide what to do next. Plan B was to go to the albino’s office in the Nano Research Center.

Colt wandered into the bedroom. It was another weird room with a few pieces of heavy wood furniture. A box of Real Feel colored condoms had been dumped out on the floor. The dresser drawers were open and a girl’s clothes lay on the floor. The black drapes were pulled aside, admitting a shaft of late afternoon light and exposing a partially opened window that led onto the top of the carport in the alley. A sheet pulled from the bed lay crumpled on the floor. Colt nudged it with his foot and saw stains on one corner. He bent down to look more closely. The dark brown spots looked like dried blood.

Colt started out of the bedroom, stopped, went back and opened the closet door.

AAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.

The siren mounted on the inside door jamb erupted into a wail. Although Colt had learned to distinguish the sirens of various emergency vehicles, this blast of sound, inches from his ear, was like nothing he had ever heard. He slammed the closet door and staggered back, hands over his ears. The siren stopped, but the noise was replaced by a roar that continued into the center of his brain. Colt closed his eyes and tried to blot out the pain in his head. “Fuck,” he shouted, kicked at the bloody sheet on his way out of the bedroom and went for the front door.

Colt sat in his pickup for half an hour. The roaring sound began to subside, but was replaced by a high-pitched ringing-buzzing sound that was just as bad. He wondered if his eardrums had been broken.

Driving home, Colt didn’t see Moose anywhere on the street. When he reached Chautauqua, Moose’s car was gone and Colt felt relieved. He had a terrible headache, could barely hear and was in no mood for a discussion about breaking and entering or about the severed foot he didn’t find in the albino’s apartment. The little bastard albino must have taken it with him when he ran off.

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