Read Night Tide Online

Authors: Mike Sherer

Night Tide

!

!!

!!

!

!!

Night&Tide&

&

By&

&

Michael&W.&Sherer

2&

!

!

Night&Tide&

&

Chapter&1
&

!! The! smell! of! gas! hung! on! the! porch! of! the! ramshackle!

house!like!a!bookie’s!leg6breaker,!heavy!and!oppressive,!full!of!

menace.! I! backed! away! cautiously,! nose! full! of! the! rotten6egg!

odorant! in! the! gas.! Finding! a! spot! where! polluted! air! left! off!

and! fresh! air! began! was! tough.! I! tucked! the! paper! I’d! been!

holding! under! one! arm! to! dial! 96161,! told! the! operator! about!

the!leak!and!gave!her!the!address.!!

!

“What’s!your!name,!sir?”!she!asked,!her!voice!clipped!but!

polite,!all!business.!!

!

“What! difference! does! it! make?”! With! four! more! stops! to!

make! and! a! waiting! bed! after! that,! the! thought! of! hanging!

around! to! answer! questions! didn’t! thrill! me.! Besides,! for! all! I!

knew! Caller! ID! had! put! my! name! on6screen! in! front! of! her!

anyway.!!

!

“I!need!your!name,!sir.”!

!

“Sanders.!Blake!Sanders.”!

!

“Are!you!the!homeowner,!sir?”!

!

“No.!I!was!just!passing!by.!I!smelled!gas.!I!called!you.”!

!

“But!the!leak!is!at!the!address!you!gave!me?”!

!

“Yeah,! I’m! pretty! sure.! That’s! where! the! smell’s! coming!

from.”!

!

“Is!there!anyone!in!the!house?”!

!

“How!would!I!know?”!!

!

Odds! were! pretty! good! someone! was! home.! No! one! had!

stopped! newspaper! delivery.! Unless! people! planned! on! being!

gone! only! a! day! or! two,! they! usually! put! a! vacation! hold! on!

their!paper.!!

Night&Tide
—Sherer&

3&

!

“Sir,! I’m! reporting! this! to! dispatch! now.! They’ll! have! the!

fire!department!on!scene!as!fast!as!they!can.!In!the!meantime,!

it!would!help!to!know!if!anyone’s!in!immediate!danger.”!

!

“I’ll!see!what!I!can!do.”!!

!

I!disconnected!before!she!could!think!of!more!suggestions,!

dialed!information!and!asked!for!a!listing!for!the!gas!utility.!I!

punched!my!way!through!the!prompts!to!report!a!gas!leak!and!

finally! got! a! live! person! on! the! line.! He! took! me! through! the!

same! rigmarole! without! much! enthusiasm,! his! voice! flat! and!

disinterested,!and!said!they’d!send!someone.!

!

Pocketing!the!phone,!I!stared!at!the!house!in!the!gray,!pre6

dawn! light,! debating! what! to! do! next.! The! house! stared! back,!

the!broken!slats!on!the!porch!rail!giving!me!a!snaggletoothed!

grin.!Dew!on!the!tall!grass!in!the!weedy!yard!soaked!through!

the! mesh! tops! of! my! athletic! shoes,! spurring! me! to! action.! I!

sucked!in!a!deep!breath!and!held!it,!climbed!the!few!steps!to!

the! porch! and! pounded! on! the! front! door.! No! answer.! I!

pounded!harder.!This!time!I!thought!I!heard!a!faint!voice!inside!

telling!me!to!hold!my!horses.!

!

“You!need!to!get!out!of!there,”!I!yelled,!expelling!the!breath!

I’d!been!holding.!

!

I!dove!off!the!porch,!gulped!down!more!air,!and!went!back!

to!banging!on!the!door!with!the!heel!of!my!fist.!

!

“I’m!coming!”!said!the!gravelly!voice,!muffled!by!the!door.!

“Keep!your!pants!on!”!

!

The!entry!light!blinked!on!and!the!door!opened!mid6swing.!

On!the!other!side!stood!a!disheveled!man!in!baggy!sweat!pants!

and!a!worn!bathrobe!rubbing!the!sleep!from!one!eye.!An!ample!

beer! belly! pushed! a! cotton! undershirt! out! between! the! open!

folds!of!the!robe.!In!the!yellowed!light!the!sweat6stained!shirt!

appeared! several! shades! off6white.! Scuffed! dirty! slippers!

covered! his! toes,! but! his! bare! ankles! were! mapped! with! blue!

veins.! Long,! greasy! gray! hair! hung! in! ropes! to! his! shoulders.!

Night&Tide
—Sherer&

4&

Several! days’! growth! of! beard! in! matching! gray! covered! his!

face.!He!dug!two!fingers!into!it!and!scratched,!scowling.!

!

“What!the!fuck!do!you!want?”!he!said.!

!

“You!can’t!smell!that?”!

!

“Smell! what?”! He! took! a! step! toward! me,! stuck! his! head!

through!the!doorframe!and!sniffed.!

!

“You’ve!got!a!gas!leak.!You!need!to!get!out!of!the!house.”!

!

He!peered!at!me!suspiciously!and!sniffed!again.!This!time,!

his!eyes!widened!in!shock.!!

!

“Jesus,! mister,! you! weren’t! shittin’! me,! were! you?”! He!

stepped!onto!the!porch.!

!

“I! called! 96161! and! the! gas! company.! Fire! department!

should!be!here!any!minute.”!

!

On!cue,!a!siren’s!wail!drifted!over!the!rooftops!and!down!

the! city’s! grid! of! canyons! between! houses! and! buildings.!

Absently,! he! wrapped! the! robe! over! his! belly! and! cinched! it!

tight.! Dazed,! he! shuffled! down! the! steps! onto! the! walk.! I!

followed!him!down!and!steered!him!toward!the!street!with!an!

arm!around!his!shoulder.!

!

“You’re!Mr.!Donato?”!I!said.!

!

He! glanced! at! me.! “Yeah.! Phil! Donato.! That’s! me.! How’d!

you!know?”!

!

I!held!up!the!paper!and!put!it!in!his!hand.!“You’re!on!my!

route.!Is!there!anyone!else!in!the!house,!Mr.!Donato?”!

!

He! shook! his! head,! matted! locks! barely! budging.! “I! live!

alone.”!

!

The!sirens!grew!closer,!burped!once!and!went!silent!as!an!

SFD! engine! and! a! squad! vehicle! pulled! onto! the! block! with!

lights! flashing.! The! engine’s! crew! jumped! down! and! busied!

themselves!running!out!lengths!of!hose!and!climbing!into!their!

gear.!A!lieutenant!got!out!of!the!squad!car!and!walked!over!to!

us.!His!nametag!said!“R.F.!Hinckley.”!

!

He!looked!at!us!both!and!settled!his!gaze!on!me.!“You!the!

one!who!called!it!in?”!

Night&Tide
—Sherer&

5&

!

I!nodded.!

!

“And!this!is!the!homeowner?”!

!

“Mr.! Donato,”! I! said.! “He! says! there’s! no! one! else! in! the!

house.”!

!

He!wrinkled!his!nose.!“Lucky!you!came!by.”!

!

Donato!stared!at!the!house!as!if!he!hadn’t!heard!us.!

!

Hinckley! leaned! toward! him.! “It’s! all! right,! sir.! Gas!

company!is!on!the!way.!Soon!as!they!find!the!leak!and!fix!it,!you!

can!go!back!to!bed.”!

!

There! was! no! response.! The! lieutenant! shrugged! and!

turned!away!to!check!on!his!men.!I!watched!them!set!up,!antsy!

now,!wondering!when!the!utility!would!show!up.!Then!again,!

I’d!done!my!part.!I!had!no!reason!to!stay.!

!

Before!I!made!up!my!mind,!a!gas!company!truck!rolled!up,!

nosed! in! to! the! fire! engine! and! parked.! As! the! driver! got! out,!

one! of! the! firemen! yelled! over! the! low! rumble! of! the! engine,!

diverting!my!attention.!

!

“Hey!!Don’t!go!in!there!!Hey!you!”!

!

I! turned! to! see! Donato! partway! up! the! walk,! already! a!

dozen!yards!away.!

!

“My!cat!”!he!said.!“I!forgot!my!cat!!She’s!in!there.”!

!

“Wait,”!I!said,!taking!a!step.!“You!can’t!go!back!inside.”!

!

He! didn’t! stop.! As! soon! as! he! spotted! me! moving! toward!

him!he!broke!into!a!shambling!run,!losing!a!slipper!on!the!way!

up!the!walk.!I!went!after!him!with!a!burst!of!speed!that!elicited!

a!groan!from!the!titanium!and!ceramic!joint!in!my!hip.!I!hooked!

an!arm!around!his!stooped!shoulders!as!he!reached!the!steps!

and!changed!direction,!dragging!him!aside!toward!the!bushes!

fronting!the!house.!Planting!his!feet,!he!bent!at!the!waist,!and!

my! looped! arm! suddenly! held! air,! not! his! shoulders.! The!

abrupt! lack! of! resistance! sent! me! over! the! edge! of! the! porch!

arms! churning! like! a! wind! turbine! in! a! steady! breeze.! As! the!

bushes!rushed!up!to!meet!me,!I!twisted!to!avoid!a!branch!in!the!

eye!and!saw!the!old!man!disappear!into!the!house.!

Night&Tide
—Sherer&

6&

!

Something!inside—furnace!or!water!heater,!maybe!an!old!

thermostat—sparked!and!ignited!the!gas!with!an!ear6splitting!

whump
! and! ball! of! orange! flame! that! blew! out! the! front!

windows.! Shards! of! glass! rained! down! as! a! blast! of! hot! air!

rushed!over!me,!sucking!the!oxygen!out!of!my!lungs.!I!lay!in!the!

dirt,! dazed! and! blinded,! the! sudden! shock! turning! the! whole!

world!black.!

!

Night&Tide
—Sherer&

7&

!

!

Chapter&2
&

!

!

Perry!Langford!stepped!outside!the!visitors!building!at!the!

federal!penitentiary!in!Marion,!Illinois,!and!tasted!freedom!for!

the!first!time!in!more!than!twenty!years.!Even!the!air!smelled!

different! to! him! than! it! had! on! the! other! side! of! the! fence! a!

hundred!feet!away.!He!raised!his!arms!and!stretched,!lifting!his!

face!to!the!April!sunshine,!then!climbed!into!a!waiting!cab.!As!it!

pulled!away,!he!looked!back!one!last!time!at!the!hellhole!that!

he’d!called!home.!
Never*again.
!

!

From!downtown!Marion!he!took!a!bus!to!Carbondale,!ate!

lunch! in! a! diner! near! the! station! and! wandered! around! town!

until!the!time!came!to!board!an!Amtrak!train!to!Centralia.!The!

train! arrived! in! Centralia! two! minutes! behind! schedule.! After!

disembarking,! he! walked! a! mile! through! town! to! the! house!

where!he’d!grown!up.!It!stood!empty,!his!parents!having!died!

years!before.!

!

The! next! day,! he! met! with! his! parole! officer,! applied! for!

several!jobs!around!town,!and!spent!the!afternoon!cleaning!the!

house.! Neighbors! looked! out! their! windows! and! offered!

grudging!smiles,!glad!to!see!someone!finally!taking!an!interest!

in! the! place.! They! watched,! nodding! appreciatively,! as! he!

placed!full!trash!cans!neatly!at!the!curb.!They!waved!at!him!the!

next!day!when!he!mowed!the!overgrown!yard!and!trimmed!the!

scraggly! bushes! covering! the! windows.! They! beamed! on! the!

third!day!when!he!put!a!fresh!coat!of!paint!on!the!front!porch.!!

!

On!the!fourth!day,!the!neighbors!saw!him!leave!the!house!

dressed!in!an!ill6fitting!gray!suit.!He!never!came!back.!

*!*!*!*!*!

!

She!sat!in!the!rented!car,!cocooned!in!the!dark.!The!list!of!

names!lay!in!her!lap,!pencil!in!her!hand!resting!on!it!lightly.!She!

Night&Tide
—Sherer&

8&

tried! to! remember! how! long! she’d! called! strange! hotels! and!

executive!apartments!home,!how!long!it!had!been!since!she’d!

driven!her!own!car,!cooked!a!decent!meal!in!her!own!kitchen.!

At! least! it! wasn’t! raining.! Seattle! had! maintained! its! dreary!

reputation!during!her!first!week!in!town,!but!recently!had!put!

on!a!sunnier!face.!She!could!see!a!swath!of!light!blue!painted!

over! the! tops! of! the! buildings! to! the! east,! and! stars! glowed!

faintly! in! the! dark! sky! overhead! promising! another! cloudless!

day.!!

!

She! stifled! a! yawn,! circadian! rhythm! thrown! off! by! the!

hours!she’d!been!keeping!lately.!Not!just!because!of!what!she!

had! to! do.! She! hadn’t! been! sleeping! well.! Good,! old6fashioned!

insomnia.!Hormones,!maybe.!Stress,!more!likely.!Soon,!though,!

it!would!all!end.!She!sensed!she!was!close.!A!muffled!blast!half!

a!mile!away!rattled!the!car!and!lit!up!the!sky!behind!her.!She!

drew!a!line!through!a!name!on!the!list,!set!paper!and!pencil!on!

the!seat!next!to!her!and!turned!the!key!in!the!ignition.!She!sat!

several!minutes!longer!with!the!engine!running!until!she!heard!

the! sound! of! passing! sirens! fade! away! somewhere! far! behind!

her!and!die!with!a!squawk.!

!

Exhaustion!rolled!over!her!like!a!runaway!truck!on!a!steep!

grade! as! she! navigated! the! dark! city! streets! to! her! next! task.!

She!didn’t!know!how!people!could!work!nights.!The!months!of!

travel!had!taken!their!toll,!but!not!like!the!past!two!weeks.!It!

was!the!crazy!hours.!Who!in!their!right!mind!turned!their!lives!

inside!out!and!stayed!up!all!night!except!vampires?!Then!again,!

who! in! their! right! mind! would! give! up! nearly! everything! in!

pursuit! of! answers! to! something! that! happened! twenty! years!

ago?!Answers!to!questions!that!supposedly!had!been!answered!

already?!A!man!had!been!tried,!convicted!and!gone!to!jail.!Why!

was! she! still! convinced! he! wasn’t! the! only! person! who! had!

been! involved?! Because! others,! like! her! contact,! believed! the!

same!thing.!

Night&Tide
—Sherer&

9&

!

She’d!spent!nearly!twenty!years!trying!to!forget!what!had!

happened,!but!she’d!been!drawn!back!in!until!it!had!become!an!

obsession! again.! And! now! it! had! cost! her! her! marriage! and!

maybe!her!sanity.!Certainly!she’d!lost!sleep.!She!laughed!at!the!

Other books

Hunted by Sophie McKenzie
House Party by Patrick Dennis
Loving Julia by Karen Robards
All the Colors of Time by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
The Cupcake Diaries by Darlene Panzera
Anna Maria's Gift by Janice Shefelman
Gifts of the Blood by Vicki Keire
The Mordida Man by Ross Thomas