Then, from behind, a number of figures, there must be six or seven, large and malformed, move around her and tackle Moses Todd to the ground where he continues to shout out, Son of a bitch, son of a bitch, until she’s breathing so hard that she can see little light explosions in her eyes, and she eases herself to the ground and wonders when she will actually die because she’s awfully tired, so terribly tired, and Moses Todd is right—there are debts she owes to the perfect world and she feels like she has cheated them for too long already.
INSIDE THE town hall are rows of desks scattered with the detritus of a different age. Dusty computer screens, mugs full of ballpoint pens, framed photographs, ceramic pots with viney plants long dead, their dry tendrils snaking along windowsills—here and there smears of black-brown dried blood across the blotters.
The screen of one of the computer monitors is broken out and propped up inside, grinning and still bespectacled, is the ancient dried head of a man.
They take her to the back of the building, through a pair of swinging doors and down a flight of marble steps into the basement, a large central room with a row of five or six jail cells against the back wall. Against another wall are two tables built high with teetering lab equipment—the kind she’s seen in meth dens, but not exactly. In the middle of the room there’s a metal table with high edges and a drain—an autopsy table—except this one is jury-rigged with belts to help keep the body down. And next to the autopsy table is something that looks like a dentist’s chair. The linoleum floor is crusted over with flaky blood and dried bits of gore.
They put her in one of the cells and slam the barred door shut. She falls to her knees and climbs on top of an old cot against the wall. She can hear sounds of movement and grunting. There are meatskins in one of the cells, shifting around one another like nervous animals.
There’s a barred rectangular window high up on the wall in her cell, and she looks at the light coming through it and feels sleepy. The glass of the window is opaque with grime and crazed with fractures, and one small wedge of glass pane is missing altogether. Through that tiny opening she sees the sunlight bright and clean.
God reaches you even in a basement, and she can’t keep her eyes open.
Hey, little girl. Wake up. It’s time to wake up.
She is dreaming of nice things—of pastures with dried grass coming up to her waist, of lakes where she can float stretched out on the surface, her skin tickled by the taut skin of the water, she like nothing but a little scurrying waterbug whiling away her time between the sea and the sky.
Time to wake up, little girl.
She knows the voice even before she opens her eyes. She shades her eyes and cracks them open, and the first thing she sees is the light coming through the rectangular window above her. Still daytime—she hasn’t been out long.
Rise and shine, lollipop. We’re in a fix.
Moses Todd is in the cell next to her, holding his bleeding arm.
She sits up. Her head is pounding, but the spinning has stopped. She can stand up all right. She stretches herself and walks in circles around the cell a few times to clear her head.
Then she hears a moaning from the cell beyond Moses Todd’s. She recognizes it.
Maury, she says and looks past Moses.
And there he is, her dummy, reaching his arm out to her through the bars and moaning plaintively.
I figured they got you, Maury, she says. She can feel her face smiling even though it hurts her head. I reckoned I was out one dummy.
Maury’s dense, flat eyes gaze back at her.
In the cell between them, Moses is using his teeth and his good arm to rip the sheet from his cot into a long strip.
This is touching, he says and holds out to her the strip of fabric through the bars. But why don’t you give me a hand before I pass out.
She backs away from him.
I ain’t helpin dress your wounds, Mose. You’ll just try to kill me again.
You knew I was comin after you.
It don’t matter. You bleed out, and I got one less hassle to deal with.
He chuckles, shaking his head.
I guess that’s right, he says.
He takes the strip and sits down on his cot and proceeds very carefully to circle his arm with it and knot it with his teeth.
Then the door at the other end of the room opens and two men come in—massive, like the others she’s seen. They have to duck to fit through the doorway. One has no shoes on—instead his feet are encased in a growth of chalky bonelike shell articulated with tendon between the plates that spread and contract when he walks. She wonders how far up the legs that bone goes. The skin of his face is half gone, revealing one eyeball, unblinking, rolling in a jellied socket. He looks like a corpse, like a meatskin, but he moves like the others—with human purpose and alacrity.
The man with him is less decayed. His skin is cracked open in places, and his hair has fallen out in tufts, but there isn’t any growth of bone that she can see.
The one with no shoes strides over to the bars of Temple’s cell, his bony feet clacking against the linoleum as he walks.
The girl’s awake, Bodie, he announces. He grips the bars of the cell and addresses Temple. Girl, you frighted Millie near to death. Why you wanna terrify a nice girl like her for? Why you wanna go messin around in her nursery? She got the makins of a true-hearted mother woman in her mini soul. It’s just lowdown spitefulness to want to trample on that. You jealous cause she’s got a family what loves her?
His eye rolls back in its socket, moistening itself.
I got no interest in her baby nursery, Temple says. She was the one with the weapon.
Oh, he says, pointing to her gurkha knife where it lay on the table amid the lab equipment. I guess that there’s a passel of wildflowers. Mama ain’t too happy with you, girl. You’re jealous is what I think. But the family, it’s a iron fierce thing. It ain’t for snatching up by strangers.
Hush up, Royal, Bodie says. We just here for a dose. Sit down.
The one called Royal stares at Temple awhile longer with his unclosing eye and then walks to the dentist chair, where he straddles it backward, embracing the back of the seat with his arms, laying his face in the headrest.
At the table, Bodie takes a syringe and fills it with clear liquid from a beaker that was positioned under one of the valved pipettes. He flicks the air bubbles out and goes over to where Royal sits.
You ready? he says.
Stick me, says Royal.
Bodie leans over and carefully injects the needle into the back of Royal’s neck, up near the base of the skull, then presses down the plunger, slow, while Royal’s whole body seizes up like one contracting muscle.