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Chapter Thirty Eight

On Friday morning, Colt drove across Victory Boulevard in Van Nuys and turned onto Tobias, a small street in a poor neighborhood. The Igloo container with Darci’s foot and a fresh sack of ice rested on his passenger seat. Colt planned to drop it off at the Coroner’s office after his visit with her parents. He parked across the street from number 895 and looked at the Tierney home. It was not what he had imagined. It was the furthest thing from a serene glass walled house overlooking the Pacific Ocean from the bluffs of Malibu. The small windows were covered by wrought iron grills to keep out intruders. Except for a blue tarp covering a corner of the roof, the house was indistinguishable from all the other dilapidated little dwellings on the block, every one of which needed paint. Several auto body parts—bumpers, side panels, hoods, doors, and an assortment of hubcaps—lay in a jumble near the driveway of 895 Tobias Street.

Colt reviewed what he wanted to say to the Tierney family. At the end of paramedic school, Sandy had spoken to the class about compassion and sensitivity in dealing with bereaved families and friends. First, she had emphasized, do not get involved with an accident victim or friends and family. Then she went on to say that if it was unavoidable, be a good listener and just express sympathy and support. Phrases such as “I understand,” and “I know,” were to be avoided because at the time of loss, the bereaved don’t believe that anyone can comprehend their grief. That, Sandy emphasized, should be the absolute limit of a paramedic’s personal involvement in any rescue incident.

Colt thought Darci’s mother and father would be grateful to know that someone was with their daughter and had tried to help her. That would certainly comfort them. If they asked, he would lie and tell them she felt no pain at the end of her life. He would also play dumb about the fact that she was pregnant. He was certain Darci’s parents would want to see her body whole before they buried or cremated her; it would help with their sense of closure. Closure was a term Colt had never heard of until he attended paramedic school.

While he sat in his pickup, an unshaven man came out of the house wearing grease stained pants and a Jake’s Towing Service T-shirt that barely covered a beer belly. When he bent down to pick up the morning newspaper, he glanced at Colt’s truck. Could this be Darci’s father? Colt watched him turn and walk back into the house.

When the front door closed, Colt jumped out of his pickup and headed up the walk.

The doorbell didn’t work. Colt pressed hard with his finger, but the button was stuck. He opened a screen door with the mesh torn away from the frame at the bottom and knocked on the unpainted wood. He tried to look through the small glass window, but it was covered with a film of dirt. Colt waited a moment and knocked again. His knuckles were about to hit the door a third time when the man wearing the Jake’s T-shirt opened it.

“Mr. Tierney?”

“Yeah?” The man stared at him with clouded brown eyes.

Colt had the brief thought that Darci’s ocean blue eyes must have come from her mother. “Uh, my name is Colt Lewis. I’m a paramedic with the L.A. County Fire Department.”

The man said nothing. He continued to stare and opened his mouth slightly. Colt saw teeth that matched the color of his eyes. Ranch hands in Wyoming had teeth that color, stained from a lifetime of chewing tobacco tucked into their cheeks.

“I responded to…your daughter…uh…the accident…she had in Malibu. Can I come in?”

The man stepped aside. “Sure, but I gotta go to work in a few minutes.”

Colt walked directly into a small, messy living room, which connected to a kitchen and dining area. Newspapers were strewn on the floor around a battered brown couch. Two unmatched chairs faced the sofa. In between, a coffee table was covered with half-full ashtrays, empty beer cans, coffee cups and a plate of unfinished food. A dark green rug looked as though it had never been vacuumed. An ancient black and white television set, the sound on mute, showed a local news broadcast. The house smelled of cigarette smoke and other stale odors that Colt couldn’t identify.

“Who’s at the door?” A beefy woman with pasty skin came into the room, leaving a bedroom door open behind her.

Colt saw rumpled sheets and a blanket lying on the floor. The woman wore a robe over a yellowed nightgown. Several ugly blue varicose veins protruded from her legs. Her ankles were thick and puffy. Colt immediately thought edema.

“Who’re you?” she asked. She held a cigarette and exhaled a cloud of smoke.

“He’s from the Fire Department. Went to Darci’s accident,” the man said.

“Oh?” She walked over to the couch, put her cigarette in an ashtray and sat down.

Colt watched her push aside some dishes with a bare foot and rest both legs on the table. Her robe and nightgown hiked up and he got a view of two fat inner thighs he didn’t care to see. He dropped his eyes. “I just wanted to tell you that we did everything we could to save your daughter.” Colt was dumfounded. He refused to believe this was Darci’s home. Could these people be Darci’s biological parents? They were pigs. Maybe she wasn’t as pretty as he remembered. Didn’t she have blond hair? The mother had three-inch gray roots in hair dyed several shades of blond and her eyes were a washed out, dirty gray color. Colt remembered Darci’s vivid blue eyes, the color of the T-shirt. Could they have really been the same polluted color as her mother’s eyes? Was his memory so unreliable? He turned and searched for a photo. All he saw on the living room walls were cheap pictures of cats and children with black eyes, painted on purple velvet.

“Do you know God?” the man asked Colt.

“God? Uh…I guess so,” Colt replied.

“Darci didn’t know God. We took her to church for years, but she wouldn’t pray. She was Satan’s child.” The man folded his hands across his stomach as though he were rejecting the memory of his daughter. He looked at his wife and showed his brown teeth again.

“We ain’t seen her in almost two years,” the woman said.

“The girl was evil. Even God couldn’t save her,” the man said.

“Sir, I—”

“She took off to work in a restaurant,” the woman said, taking her legs off the table and sitting forward on the couch. “That’s the last we ever heard from her. Sometimes she thought people was after her.”

“Well, her friends wasn’t after her,” the man interjected. “Because she didn’t have none. Pissed ‘em all off. And the fuckin’ doctors—”

“Our daughter was sick,” the woman said. She looked at her husband and then at Colt. “No one could help her. They said she was bipolar and they gave her all kinds of pills. It cost us a fortune, but nothing worked for long.” She paused to take a deep drag on her cigarette, blowing the smoke out in a cloud from her nose and mouth.

Everything Colt had planned to say disappeared from his mind. Were they talking about the same girl he tried to save at the Surfrider?

“She was probably hooking,” the man said. “She was too lazy for work, but she had enough energy to run around day and night.” He scratched his neck. “She was Satan’s child,” he repeated.

This wasn’t the existence Colt had imagined for Darci. He didn’t want to hear any more about it. If this were her reality, he preferred to remember her life the way he had invented it.

“What exactly do you want, Mr.…uh?”

“Lewis.” Colt thought for a moment. “Well, I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am, how sorry the whole Department is, about what happened to your…uh…Darci.” He stopped and waited for an expression of grief or sorrow. They had only learned of her death yesterday from the Coroner. Were they in denial? The mother put her head down and rubbed her eyes. Colt thought she might be about to cry.

“Yeah, thanks,” the man said. “We didn’t want to see her again, did we Dora?” He looked to the woman for agreement, but she looked away. “It wouldn’t fix nothing,” he continued. “Just bring back a lifetime of bad memories and all the screamin’ and fightin’. There wasn’t anything good to remember. We told the Coroner to cremate her and he’s gone and done it. Saved us the expense. There wouldn’t be anyone to say prayers or come to a funeral anyway. Just us, and we already prayed all we could.” He disappeared into the kitchen.

There was a silence while the woman smoked and looked at Colt. Her eyes were damp. She said, “I just wish—”

The man returned from the kitchen with a cup of coffee and said, “Dora, when you gonna get the dishwasher fixed?

“I said I would, didn’t I?”

“What’s wrong with today?”

The woman didn’t answer, but gave Colt a sad look. She stood up, went to the television set and turned on the volume. News of a shooting in South Central Los Angeles boomed through the living room.

“Anything else?” the man asked Colt.

Colt shook his head. “That’s it, I guess.”

“I always liked firemen,” the man said, and stuck out his hand. “Good people. I’ve towed cars from lots of accidents and made money doing it. Real good people.”

Colt shook hands with the man and went to the door. He turned to say goodbye to the woman, but she had already disappeared, leaving a cloud of cigarette smoke hanging in the living room.

Colt closed the front door and walked out to his truck. When he looked at his watch, it was 8:30 a.m. He had been in the Tierney house for less than fifteen minutes. So much for the life of the girl who lived in the glass-walled house on the bluffs of Malibu. Colt tried to visualize her growing up on Tobias Street in Van Nuys with a pile of used auto parts at the end of her driveway. He tried to visualize her friends. He tried to see her with the German shepherd in the picture. Colt drew a complete blank. He couldn’t imagine a single thing about Darci’s real life except her unhappiness. His dream of the girl with the ocean blue eyes had been blown away by the Santa Ana winds.

Colt sat in his pickup and listened to the ringing in his ears. The rest of Darci’s body was already reduced to ashes—her parents and the Coroner didn’t waste any time—but her foot was still in the Igloo container on his passenger seat. What was he supposed to do with it now? Colt pulled out his cell phone, turned up the volume so he could hear over the ringing in his ears and called Nate Petruno. Petruno didn’t answer and Colt left a voicemail message: “Nate, its Colt Lewis. Darci’s father told me she’s already been cremated. What happened to the blue T-shirt? If you still have it, hold on to it. I’m on my way to your office to pick it up. Please call me as soon as you get this message. Thanks.”

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