James McGettigan investigates construction accidents...that aren't. A sadist assaults children as a tool of corporate greed. McGettigan believes he is the hunter. McGettigan is wrong!
Being buried alive…for the second time in a year…wasn’t an accident either time and isn’t easily found in the recommendations of James McGettigan’s cancer surgeon. But, still, corruption has an odor about it. It takes a practiced eye…and nose…but, its presence makes itself known.
An ACT OF GOD can be the definition of a physical occurrence beyond human control.
A high school gymnasium in Portland, Maine collapsed, killing and maiming students. Hundreds of million gallons of sewage sludge spilled into the Mississippi River, in Memphis. Accidents…or crimes? Like an experienced chef, who cooks by smell, touch, taste and presentation, McGettigan has been hired to check out the political stew.
What McGettigan, an engineer, recent widower, father and former pro ballplayer cannot prepare for is becoming a foil for a monster.
Three rapes of teenagers, at baseball fields, serve the interests of corporate criminality…and a monster’s sickness. A black Mayor stands accused of environmental racism by black church leaders. Blended with a strong dollop of revenge, these are McGettigan’s ingredients. Kaleidoscoping events show the rapes and physical disasters to be inextricably linked to each other, and to James.
A fine line between sane, and not, conspires with his demons to whisper…expose and destroy the monster. Entering the sadist’s world, McGettigan causes the rapist’s murder…and covers up both crime and criminal.
Two thunderous cracks filled the audible void.
Still holding Petey, I turned. We both saw steel beams, above where I’d been sitting, buckle and fall. Man and boy were transfixed. Bolted to the floor I was, as the progression of failure waltzed toward us, beam after beam crashing like dominos, until the huge volume of the gym was a cacophonous soup of sound and fury.
Sound paralyzed movement. Disorienting, it was. Loud enough to hurt. Wrenching at eardrums. Reaction was automatic—robotic. Heads swiveled to the roof. Games ceased. Eyes failed to focus.
Snow and steel fell at equal rates. Propelled by gravity towards waiting innocence.
Echoes of disaster reverberated with screams and pleas for help.
Petey began to wail. It seemed the correct thing to do. Inside, where Petey could not hear, the organism was wailing too.
All the way to the first outside door, there was no one willing to take Petey from my arms. Until a man ran up to us, tears of joy a tributary on his face. “Petey! Petey! It’ll be okay, son. Daddy’s here. Daddy’s here.” I gave him possession of his son and turned to run inside.
Standing at the entrance to the ruined gym, I saw there was no light. Staccato screams erupted from fulsome emptiness, marking me forever. It had taken less than thirty seconds for everything to be altered. Forever. For these few. The world outside this Maine gymnasium would barely notice.
So convenient it would be to think death arrived painlessly, a stochastic process of selection, choosing just these young adults. Nature’s culling of the herd. Not so.
An emergency box yielded a flashlight. The fire extinguisher was unnecessary. There was no fire. There was ice.
Where to start?
McGettigan is human, full of prejudice and weakness. More than a few victims were likely within my reach. Probably I could help none of them. Forgive me, but I was going to try to help the ones I knew.
I picked my way over and under detritus, attempting to navigate to where I’d last seen Rick Cranley. The path was often blocked. Sometimes obstacles could be moved by brute strength of arms and legs, hands continuously shredded by sharp edges through the coat wrapped around them. For too long, it seemed I was underground, under the pile of rubble, tunneling like a blinded rat—to nowhere.
The first body was a total shock. Lying on his side in two distinct pieces, this boy had been dissected by forces beyond any control. Reverentially, I’d pulled off my woolen outer shirt to provide a decent covering for his permanently ravaged face.
Now my brain, processing the unprocessable, broke through with a message: This was no accident. The organism rejected the message out of hand. All its resources were needed to make movement possible, as its compulsion to curl up and cry intensified.
An opening gave indication of good fortune. ‘Good fortune,’ two words which bounced back, slapping me in the face for sacrilege. Still, the opening was a fallen section of ductwork. I could wiggle through it for maybe twenty feet. It was the best of a number of bad alternatives. The ductwork ended in a maze of wires entwined around a section of the largest beam. The wire was live. Steel is a conductor of electricity. Snow had made the area wet. Dread clutched my throat, closing my windpipe. In the gathering cold, liquid terror dripped down my face.
I was paralyzed.
“Because, I must.” Had this unrelenting insistence been audibly whispered, a prayer offered as a last resort by a creature wracked by inadequacy?
Obeying this command, I’d reached out and held the cable where insulation remained intact. This was not the recommended method for handling four hundred and forty volts. Quivering hands were made worse by an intimate knowledge of the electrocution that would result from a less-than-perfect movement.
Dead reckoning said this was where Rick had been standing. There was no one, living or otherwise, in the narrow beam of flashlight. I cried out into the snowy night that cursed every God-revered thing. “Rick, can you hear me?”
The responding voice was not real. It was the familiar dulcet tone of McGettigan the Foolish urging, “Get out. It’s too dangerous. You’re not a doctor and you have no tools. You cannot help these kids.”
A different voice broke in. Faintly pleading its need to be heard. It called to me, “Uncle James! I can’t move.”
Waves of nausea swept over me before the organism’s coping mechanism cranked into higher gear.
I would not give in. It’d be too easy. I would not. “Keep talking, Bobby. I’m coming for you. I’m coming kiddo.”
Several times I slipped into a crevasse formed by the remains of the structure. Each time extracting my foot and leg was more difficult. Reserves of physical strength were diminishing as adrenaline was depleted. Driving me was sheer will to move. It was a feeling never before experienced quite like this.
Catalogued by a parallel processor, the pattern of the collapse resided in the organism’s core. Mental photos were taken continuously—a lifetime habit of the engineer. McGettigan already planned an investigation and was formulating proper punishment.
Inside the destroyed weight room, no Bobby, or anyone else, was visible. The depth of wreckage varied—from none in a corner, to my own height by the doorway. “Bobby! Say something so I can find you.”
Underneath one section of the pile were two more bodies, lying one under the other where they’d been thrown. The cheerleader on top was bleeding profusely, which I took as a positive sign. The boy’s neck immediately told me no help could be offered him. I hated myself, but relief flooded in as this poor child’s reddish hair registered on depleted mental functions. He was not Bobby.
My fingers were unwilling to cooperate. They were cold and bleeding onto the boy. The boy’s shirt didn’t yield to attempts to tear it off his body. I couldn’t tell how long I had to stop the girl’s blood flow. She was not conscious, and the light was inadequate for telling if her bleeding was arterial. Either way it had to be staunched.
My t-shirt cut easily on the ragged pieces of air conditioning compressor that had impacted the boy. I wrapped her arm above the elbow and her leg above the knee, tying cloth strips as improvised tourniquets, as tightly as my diminishing muscles would tolerate. I needed to move on, but checked my knots as best I could. She had not moved or spoken.
How long passed, I didn’t know. Surreality had taken over some time ago. Recognition of a face lying at my feet came only after staring for what seemed like forever. Crouching, I found there were no more chunks of rubble I could move away from my godson. He’d been pinned underneath thousands of pounds. “Bobby, can you hear me?” Stroking his forehead was all that was left to me. “Please, Bobby. Please be alive.”
I remembered being very cold. I even remembered feeling silly having a bare chest in a snowstorm.
It seemed forever before rescuers got around to us.