Sirens wailed in the distance. Someone must have called the cops. There were numerous apartment buildings along this street, all of which would have a perfect view of the goings-on below. Had they simply heard a commotion or witnessed actual bloodshed? The results were the same either way. Bridge intended to be long gone by the time the first squad car arrived on the scene. He wasn’t one for answering questions, especially when the first question asked would be How did this guy happen to lose his skeleton?
Throughout all of this, Spade was still talking, but his words were meaningless. Despite the shrinking window of opportunity, nothing the cat could say was going to make Bridge any more likely to approach. He could wave the man over as much as he wanted, but there would be no change in proximity between Bridge and Lucy unless or until Spade backed off. Without some sort of explanation for the carnage he had observed and who or what was responsible, Bridge was more comfortable taking a chance on the one-armed man’s longevity than on his own. If Lucy died as a result, so be it. All things come to an end, the only difference being how bloody the ending.
The cat’s concession wasn’t long in coming, but Spade muttered under his breath the entire time he walked away, something about sides and how he got the feeling he’d picked the wrong one. For every four steps backward he took, Bridge took one forward, until he was kneeling at Lucy’s side. The man’s face looked as if it had been taken apart and then put back together in the dark, much of it out of proper order. Mullet had done a real number on him. After clearing the man’s breathing passages, Bridge fended off blows from Lucy’s single arm until he could pin it down with a knee. He then used his thumbs to pry open the man’s eyelids.
What he was looking for was unknown, but Bridge was interested in not only discovering the identity of Lucy’s employer but also how Lucy came to lose his limb. Once again, his curiosity was getting the better of him, and the irony wasn’t lost on him that had he shared his companion’s species, Bridge would be long dead because of it. In this instance, he’d have to take whatever he could get and call it good.
Leaning in, he whispered, “Polly,” steeling himself for the familiar separation of mind and body. For a moment, there was nothing, but then a feeling came over him that was unlike anything he had ever experienced before. For lack of a better description, a bottomless pit opened up inside of him, and it seemed that the world itself wouldn’t be enough to fill it. Though he knew instinctively what it must mean, his conscious mind couldn’t process the immensity of it other than to believe that this was bad. Very bad.
His mind’s eye held a clear picture of Polly—hunchbacked with a vaguely feminine form, eyes overlarge and tired from all they had seen poking out of gray flesh—, but, try as he might, there was no summoning her, even in Spade’s presence. Speaking her name a second time was unnecessary. Bridge wasn’t going to dredge up any of Lucy’s memories. Not tonight or any other night, for that matter. It wasn’t because of any wall this time, but because his means for doing so was gone. Dead. The whole thing made no sense.
Eternal damnation was meant to be just that—eternal—, and yet Polly’s eternity had gotten a hell of a lot shorter. Somehow, she’d been snuffed out, and it was no accident. This was murder, plain and simple, which made it all the more strange because although there were plenty of murderers in Polly’s neck of the woods, murder itself was non-existent. The inability to kill or be killed was just another part of the punishment, and the idea that someone had found a means of offing his or her fellow inmates had some devastating potential. Especially for someone whose entire job was acting as a connection between the two worlds.
As important as it was for Bridge to find Laura’s killer, Polly’s murder had to become a priority now as it affected him more directly. If one of the damned was capable of dying, what was to prevent others from being eliminated in the same way? Take those individuals away from him, and what remained? Without them, he was no longer the bridge. Without them, he was… nothing.
Not sure how best to proceed, Bridge decided to break his connection with Lucy. Nothing more was going to come of it, anyway. However, when he tried to turn away, he found himself unable to do so, unable to move at all, the one-armed man’s gaze holding him firmly in place. Worse still, the void created by Polly’s demise had grown and was tugging at the edges of his existence, drawing him inward as if it meant to collapse his body in on itself. If he allowed that to happen, there was no telling where he’d wind up, assuming he would even continue to exist. In terms of pressing matters, distancing himself from Lucy went to the top of the list.
Struggling to form the words, Bridge uttered something close to “help” and “me,” though he had no idea how that could be accomplished or who might come to his rescue. There was the sensation of something nipping at the backs of his eyeballs, like goldfish retrieving bits of food from the surface of an aquarium. But those goldfish weren’t easily satiated, seemingly transforming from fish to fishhooks that anchored into the meat and threatened to suck his eyeballs back into his skull and down into darkness. Every fiber of his being resisted the pull, but it wasn’t going to be enough. He was going to falter and fold like a lawn chair.
Unable to see anything outside of his own fearful reflection in Lucy’s eyes, he couldn’t identify the object that bumped up against his side. Given its height, he had to assume that it was Spade, but whatever it was, it wasn’t enough. If the thought had been to knock him free, it wasn’t going to happen without substantial reinforcements. Bridge began to lose hope as his lips pulled tight against his teeth and folded into his mouth, powerless to resist the siren song inside of him. After all he’d witnessed, this seemed a less than fitting way to make an exit. Given the choice, he would have preferred to succumb to the bullet he’d taken back in his office. At least then there would have been something of him left behind, even if it were unlikely anyone would discover his moldering corpse on the thirteenth floor.
Just as his nails—both fingers and toes—were on the verge of retracting back from whence they came, a healthy thwak! from a well-muscled arm landed squarely across his chest. Bridge would have thanked the deliverer had he not been otherwise occupied by sailing through the air. Instinct drew his extremities inward, so that when he landed, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, his jacket saving the majority of his skin. By the time he returned his attention to Spade, Bridge was once again looking at nothing more than a battle-scarred cat.
It might have been his overactive imagination, but he could have sworn that the white fur that covered the cat’s forepaws had overcome its normal boundaries, crawling further up the feline’s legs. He supposed that could be attributed to his eyeballs slamming back into position. Whatever the case, the first words out of his mouth were “She’s dead.”
Spade took it in stride, responding with “So is he,” before indicating the one-armed man with a flick of his head. “Let’s leave the tears for a later date.” The sirens from before were now within a few blocks, if that. “In the meantime, I suggest we run.”
It was a good idea, but Bridge was unable to convince his body to commit. “Too tired to run.” As an alternative, he snaked Lucy’s keys out of the man’s pants pocket. “Everybody in the van. You, too, Rook.” Only then—as he scanned the perimeter—did Bridge realize that their trio had been reduced to a duo. Rook was long gone, with no indication as to which direction he’d headed. Although his absence came as a blow, lamenting over it would do nothing to slow the arrival of the police. Climbing into the driver’s seat, Bridge started the engine and reacquainted himself with the vehicle’s standard transmission, grinding gears in the process.
The view outside his window was oddly calming. From this angle, the carnage didn’t look half as bad. Bridge felt somehow removed from it, as if he were observing it on a television rather than sitting only a few feet away from it. Spade stood at attention at the heart of the melee, awaiting the man’s decision, his flickering tail the only thing betraying his impatience. Would Bridge allow him in or was this where the two of them parted company?
For Bridge, there was little to consider. Spade might not be on his side, but at the same time he wasn’t on anybody else’s either. Everything the cat did was motivated by self-interest, and as bad as that might sound, it had kept Bridge breathing. Whatever Spade’s purpose, if Bridge’s survival suited it, then he couldn’t find fault with it. Not yet, anyway. With a flick of his wrist, he opened the van door, and the cat hopped up into his lap, crossing to take up a position in the passenger’s seat.
“Think I’ve got an idea how to find our friend that doesn’t involve using Rex,” Bridge said. Spade’s reaction was immediate, as if suddenly remembering he’d left a stove on somewhere else. His head popped up, and he peered back out through the window. Without a word, he leapt across Bridge and down to the street. If anyone should have been pleased to avoid Rex, it was Spade. Instead he yelled back “Do not watch me!”
For once, Bridge had the common sense to listen.