By J Thomas Fussell
Chapter 26: Del’s Not Convinced
Del sat on the bumper of an Emergency Response truck as an EMT bandaged his arm. The bullet had only nicked him, punching clean through the fat waddle at the bottom of his arm. It burned like hell and had begun to swell, but it did not restrict his movement. The deep cut on the palm of his hand from the knife attack represented a far more serious injury. He would see daylight through his hand if the wound was any deeper. The two middle fingers on his injured hand would not move at all. He would likely need surgery before it was all over. His arms and legs had taken quite a beating while fending off Tom Eastman’s attack on the stairs, but the dozen or so smaller cuts were almost trivial in concern. Most only needed butterfly stitches, although a few of the wounds would need to be sewn shut if he didn’t want scars. At least the bleeding had been staunched for the moment.
He looked up the steep yard from the street to the Brennon house. Everyone had been extracted from the house without incident, including the dead. The house stood empty and dark against the backdrop of the forested hill behind it and the deepening night above. Engineers had been called in to assess the structures stability, but they would not arrive until tomorrow. Del thought he could save them some money. The house’s stability was shit, impossibly so for such a young house in an affluent neighborhood like Silent Glade. It would have to be totally rebuilt.
Del could still see the dwindling lights of an ambulance as it drove out of the neighborhood with its lights flashing.
“Godspeed, partner,” Del said quietly.
The medics had hurried Nina out. They said they wanted to try to save her right eye, but Del knew better. She would never see out of that eye again, but she would adapt. He had never met a tougher person than Nina Houle. But god, he hated it for her. Blindness, even partial, terrified Del more than almost anything. It was hard to imagine but even with the nightmare of having her eye put out, she managed to save his life; there was no doubt about that.
Officer Wade Craig took the second ambulance in line. He had already lost a lot of blood from the shot to his thigh. Del guessed the bullet nicked Wade’s femoral artery. Wade asked about officers Marshal and Emerick as the medics wheeled him to the ambulance, but Del could only shake his head. Neither had survived. Officer Marshal had been shot through the forehead. He died instantly at the scene. Officer Emerick had fared far worse. The EMT said he likely survived his fall into the basement when the floor collapsed, but Tom Eastman had gutted him like a fish and left his entrails floating in the water around him.
To Del’s surprise and disgust, Tom Eastman had not been killed. When the EMT’s pulled him out of the water in the basement of the Brennon house, he still breathed. The right side of his head had been smashed in a groove that creased his skull from front to back. Shards of bone likely penetrated his brain. He would be lucky to make it to the hospital, and even if he did, he would not survive the surgery that followed. If God somehow saw fit to let that pile of human garbage survive, Del doubted he would ever stand trial. With an injury like that, no judge would consider him competent. Del sighed. At least Tom would not hurt anyone ever again.
Tom took the last ambulance. The driver offered to let Del ride up front, but Del had other plans. He would find a way to get to the hospital after. Besides, if he had wanted to ride to the hospital with someone, he would have left with Nina.
A sharp crack sounded from the Brennon house up the hill followed by a crashing cascade that lasted for at least a minute. Had another room found its way to the basement? Del thought maybe so, but how was that even possible? Modern houses did not just fall in on themselves after a month of neglect. Not without help. So… who or what was providing the help?
Del scratched his head with his good hand, trying to put it all together. There was no doubt that Tom Eastman hurt or killed several people in Silent Glade. He also had a penchant for trashing places. Could he be responsible for the Brennon house? Del didn’t see how – unless Tom had been working on it since the day the Brennon’s left. There was no evidence to support that idea though. If there was anything left of it by the time the engineers deemed it safe to enter, maybe a forensics team could figure it out.
The Brennon house was not the only anomaly on this street. There were so many loose ends that Del could not believe the case was coming to a close – even though he was more than ready to be finished with Silent Glade. No doubt remained as to Tom Eastman’s guilt. Del knew without question that the deaths of Fred and Leroy Stanton, Officers Emerick, Marshal, Brown, and Wagner, along with the assaults of Amy and Larissa Eastman, Julie Hunter, and Mike Blanchart, as well as the wounding of Nina, Wade, Craig, and himself all fell on the shoulders of the psychopath Tom Eastman. He also knew that Tom would take the blame for the assault on Beverly Hernandez and the murders of the S.W.A.T team and canine unit in the forest, along with the deaths of the men who crashed in the chopper. But there was the rub. Del did not believe Tom was responsible for those deaths, and for a detective such as Del Fuller, that was a major problem. There was no way a man, no matter how crazed, could do what had been done to those men in the woods in so short a time. Not to mention the methods used were not even similar to his normal M.O. Tom Eastman’s weapon of choice was a knife or gun. He did not rip people limb from limb; he stabbed, shot, or beat them. As for Mrs. Hernandez, both of her eyes had been removed with surgical precision using an unknown tool that left strange splinters. This was nothing like Tom’s attack on Nina. He did not have the skills to remove a person’s eyes without damaging the surrounding tissue – nor the restraint.
In addition to the questions of who killed who, he also had to consider the loss of an entire day by Nina and himself. Both believed they had warned everyone about the danger Tom Eastman and his keys represented, but no one in the neighborhood remembered having the conversations. How could that be? Could the sickness that followed that day have something to do with it? Del thought maybe it did.
Then there was all of the circumstantial things that did not add up to a whole picture, but did not seem related to Mr. Eastman’s case specifically. Things that were just odd. The freakish pace of spring in this neighborhood, odd behavior by animals, rotting houses, vegetation that seemed to grow too fast. Del shook his head. Those thoughts led to places that made him uncomfortable. He needed to stay more concrete. How could he prove any of these thoughts? What had not been tampered with that might give him additional clues?
And then it struck him: the helicopter… of course! What knocked that chopper out of the sky? Del suddenly needed to know. He needed something to make sense. Anything to stop him from going down the path his logic seemed to point.
“Take me to the chopper,” Del said to the first police officer with a car he saw when the EMT finished bandaging his wounds.
Lights still blazed at the Stanton’s house where a dozen cops continued to sift through the murder scene, looking for clues and deconstructing the scene as thoroughly as modern science would allow. What had the team made of the strange leaves and sticks in the bed? What else had they found that could not easily be explained? Would they even know what to look for? Del was not sure they would. Why would they? He did not even want to put into words what he was beginning to believe. And even if he could make some sort of sense of all this, would he know how to prove it, or what kind of clues to look for? He doubted it.
The strange vegetation line that he and Nina noticed a week ago had not diminished in clarity; instead, the delineation between inside and outside of the Silent Glade neighborhood had only become starker. It was as if Silent Glade were drawing the life from the fields surrounding it. Did this delineation exist in the forest too? He had not thought to look. Del made a quick note to check it later.
Once the police car passed the tree line, the lazily drifting smoke from the helicopter crash could be seen in the distant lights that shone brightly around the wreckage. He hoped there would be enough left for him to ascertain what took it down.
The drive to the crash site took about ten minutes, but felt interminable to Del. The pain in his body had sharpened. By the time they pulled into the field, a thin bead of sweat had appeared on his face as he concentrated on ignoring his screaming wounds.
A group of firemen in hazmat suits moved in an arch around the area looking for chemical hotspots and clues. Police officers directed traffic where the makeshift turn-off into the field had been cut. Del flashed his credentials and had the driver carry him as close to the crash as the crash team would allow. Del saw a woman giving orders to another group of people in protective gear and walked over to her.
“Excuse me, ma’am. I’m Detective Del Fuller with TBI. I need to take a look at that chopper.” He held out his credentials as proof.
“Captain Marty Felder.” The woman replied but did not offer to shake his hand. She continued, “Don’t care who you are though. I can’t let you go up there. It’s still hot. We got fuel everywhere. I’m sorry. You’ll have to wait.” She could see the urgency in Del’s eyes, then his condition suddenly dawned on her, and she added, “Shit man, you look like hell. What’s the rush? Shouldn’t you be in a hospital?”
“How did it crash?” Del asked, ignoring her comment.
Mary looked Del up and down one more time, then rolled her eyes with a sigh. This man was determined. She pointed down the path of the crash and said, “The helicopter came in at an angle leaning heavily to the right. The blades likely shattered on impact, and then it tumbled for a couple of dozen yards, breaking off the rotor and the landing struts, spewing gas and bodies as it went before bursting into flame. A spark likely started the blaze which, as I said, is contained but continues to smolder in places. I doubt anyone survived the actual crash event, but if they had, the fire finished them.” Marty pointed again, but this time she pointed to a row of sheet covered bodies which lay neatly side by side waiting for pickup.
“I need to know what brought that thing down. Do you have any idea?”
“Yeah, a rock,” Captain Felder said.
“A rock? You mean like Rambo in the movie First Blood?”
“Um… no. Taking out a helicopter with a fist sized rock is highly improbable. Come over here, let me show you something. Then you’re going to get out of my crime scene and go to the hospital. Okay?”
“Yeah, sure,” Del said, and he would go too. He didn’t want to go, but his hand was starting to throb and swell – waiting any longer would be foolish.
Captain Felder led Del to a twenty-foot square area of ground covered by a large plastic sheet and lit by a halogen light array on a stand. Parts of the helicopter torn off in the tumble through the field had been laid out here as they were collected. Pieces of the rotor blades, engine, and helicopter body were in neat rows, some of which were already labeled. Marty led Del to a curved piece of glass that was shattered into a thousand pieces but glued together by the safety layer between. She pointed to a ten-inch diameter hole on the right side of the cockpit window.
“Now my forensics team is insisting that this hole was made in the tumble across the corn field.” Captain Felder gave him a dubious look. “That’s almost believable and probably what will end up in the report. I’ve seen that sort of thing in car crashes when the car tumbled across a rocky embankment or the like. Now let me show you something else, and you be your own judge.”
She led Del over to the covered bodies.
“This is pretty gruesome. I don’t need you throwing up all over these dead folks.” She gave Del a questioning look. She was giving him an out.
Del just motioned with his hand for her to proceed. He hurt all over, but he needed to know.
“This body has been identified as Co-Pilot Wayne Briggs. He sat right behind the break in the glass,” Captain Felder said and flipped the blanket off the corpse.
Del let out an involuntary groan at the sight. He looked for a moment and then indicated she could cover the poor man back up. Co-Pilot Wayne Briggs’s burned face had been smashed flat from beneath his nose to the bottom of his throat. Whatever had punched through that window crushed the man behind it as if he were a bug.
“The forensics guys are looking for what could have done that. Maybe an old fence post or a weird pillar of rock.”
“I take it you don’t believe that’s what you are looking for,” Del said.
“I’m not saying it didn’t happen that way, but I haven’t seen either a post or a stalagmite in the crash path. You look like you’re hurting. Have you got time for one more?”
Del swallowed hard. His fingers were starting to cramp in his wrapped hand, and knots of pain had formed at the deep cuts on his arms and legs. He said, “Yeah, one more, and then I think I need to head on.”
She led him to yet another area closer to the cars where the officer that drove him still waited. A long folding table had been set up off to one side. On it sat the helicopter’s black box, several personal effects from the four men on-board including wallets, watches and cell phones, several small components from other parts of the aircraft, and a bowling ball sized rock.
“I found this in the floor of the cockpit wedged beneath the seat. You didn’t happen to find a catapult in the forest, did you?”
“No. No catapults on the hillside. You think that’s our weapon?” Del asked incredulously.
She shrugged. “If you didn’t find a catapult, I don’t see how. Do you? That rock weighs fifteen pounds if it weighs an ounce.”
Del felt suddenly tired. It was as he feared, and nothing made sense. Tom Eastman had not knocked that chopper out of the sky. And if not Tom, then who? He winced at a sudden pain in his hand. “No ma’am. I don’t see how at all, and that’s the problem. Thank you for your time. I believe I’ll take your excellent advice and visit the nearest hospital. Will you send a report to me, Del Fuller, at the TBI when you finish? I’ll have the paperwork sent to authorize it if need be.”
“You’ll get your copy. Did I mention you look like shit?”
Del grimaced in pain again and said, “Yes ma’am. I believe you did.” He had a feeling he would be back to Silent Glade in the not too distant future. There was unfinished business here, and he did not think he would be able to let it go.