Cracks in a Sidewalk, Part III

Cracks sidewalk

Time for tea? Perhaps. Ginger tea for this one, if you please.

[You’ll Never Be Alone \\ Duncan Sheik]

Part III

Sherman and Didi Goodman sat outside the tent, now located a few blocks in from the boardwalk but still near the North Jetty, going over the latest vectors. The TB outbreak was gaining serious momentum now, despite the health department and CalTrans dispersing the latest encampments with bulldozers and flamethrowers. Most had fled to Culver City, though some of the homeless made it as far north as Santa Monica, but it was a rout. Daytime temperatures were still in the F-115 degree range, or Category 4, though the beach was still relatively cool at F-95 degrees. Still, as nighttime temps were still almost F-90 near the beach, the remaining homeless populations were suffering. And now that the Colorado River was a shadow of its former self, hydro power from Hoover dam was sporadic at best, so rolling blackouts were the norm these days. When people got home from work their gasoline powered generators fired up, fouling the air even more. Calls for wind and solar farms in the city were escalating, but in a sense everyone knew it was already too late.

Didi had located Ellie and Sherman had tested her family, and when they all tested positive for TB he’d had to notify the health department. The problem now, at least as far as Sherman was concerned, was that TB was spreading too rapidly in some neighborhoods, but not fast enough in others. And there was nothing predictable about these new vectors. If he’d been paranoid and susceptible to conspiracy theories currently spreading around the web, he’d have jumped to the conclusion that “someone” was seeding ghetto neighborhoods with the bacterium, but the simple fact of the matter was that wealthier neighborhoods on the west side had been equally hard hit. Yet clusters of localized infections was the norm, but when entire city blocks fell to the bug something new had to be at work. How could one city block fall and the next one over have zero cases? It just didn’t make sense.

“Any new ASP cases today?” Sherman asked, referring to the Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning passed along by consuming infected shellfish.

“Two clusters. San Pedro and Newport Beach. There’s also a new cluster of cholera patients at a camp near Griffith Park.”

“Cholera? Damn.”

“The Eagle Network affiliate is making noise again,” Goodman replied.

“What…the internment camp solution?”

“Yes.”

As homelessness spread, conservative news outlets were beginning to clamor for more aggressive solutions to the problem, the latest being to round up all the homeless and put them into camps up in the desert.

Bud Kurzweil pedaled up in a rush just then, and he looked spooked. “Have you heard?” he said breathlessly.

“Heard what?” Sherman said, taking a Diet Dr Pepper out of the cooler and tossing it over to the cop.

“At least two bombs hit in the Netherlands,” Kurzweil said. “And the word is NATO has launched on Russia.”

“Bombs?” Sherman sighed. “I assume you mean nuclear bombs?”

The cop nodded as he opened the can of soda and gulped it down. “Yup. The one that hit near Amsterdam was a big city-buster, at least that’s what CNN is saying. And there are reports of Russian airborne troops in the area.”

Sherman remembered nuclear doctrine. He knew what came next. 

“Say, weren’t you in the Navy?” Kurzweil asked. “Were you ever around any of that stuff?”

Sherman nodded. “Yes. To both your questions.”

“So, how long until the bombs hit?”

Sherman shrugged as he pulled out his iPhone and dialed Debra’s number.

“You back on the boat?” he asked when she picked up.

“Watching CNN. Amsterdam and Rotterdam are gone. One missile has hit St Petersburg and another is headed towards Moscow. The president is about to address the nation.”

“Better fire up the engine,” Sherman said softly. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.” He rang off and put his phone away.

“Where you headed, doc?” Kurzweil asked.

“Back side of Catalina. Didi, better bring the car around.”

“Got it,” she said, her voice sounding unchanged, indeed almost unaffected.

Kurzweil shook his head, and he looked distraught. “Think you could make room for me?” he asked carefully.

Sherman looked at the cop for a moment, then he nodded. “You won’t be missed if you cut and run?”

“All things considered, Doc, I’d rather be alive than late for roll-call.”

Kurzweil knew engines so he’d be good to have around, and besides, Sherman owed him now. After the solar-magnetic anomalies of the past couple of days the entire electrical grid had been down for hours, and engines of every kind had been fried. After switching out solenoids and logic boards, however, Kurzweil had revived the Rover and the boat’s diesel in one afternoon, so Sherman didn’t hesitate. “Well, of course. There’s plenty of room, and we’d be happy to have you.”

Didi pulled up in Debra’s old Land Rover and they loaded all the medications in the rear and then took off for the marina. When they got to aquaTarkus Deb was filling the water tanks, and she had Roscoe leashed up and ready for one last walk, so Sherman and Kurzweil took the pup up to the grass. Cars were streaming into the parking lot now, and boat owners were loading supplies as quickly as they could, only now there was a sense of real panic in the air. Even more so as they walked back to the boat, as people were frantically loading supplies on their boats.

“I wonder how many people got there engines sorted out?” Deb asked after they cast off their lines and motored for the breakwater. And as if on cue, a little sailboat entered the fairway under sail, and in the disturbed, light air it was hardly making any headway. “Gene, you think everyone will be headed for Catalina?”

“It’s the safe call. Two good harbors on the backside, and the only other option is San Clemente, but that would be dangerous. It’s too close to the Navy bases in San Diego.” They were the first boat to make the breakwater, but Sherman halfway expected the flash of a detonation at any moment. He looked at the chartplotter and noted the course, 197 magnetic, and he synced the autopilot – watching as it kicked-in when engaged.

“Isn’t there another island out past Catalina?” Kurzweil asked.

“Yup. San Nicolas, but the Navy owns that one. And Santa Barbara Island is even closer, but it’s too small to offer any protection from a blast and I don’t thing there are facilities there.”

“I can’t believe we’re having this conversation,” Debra said as she and Darius came up from below.

“Everything stowed?” Sherman asked.

Debra nodded while Darius stared at an airliner trying to line up for a landing at LAX. “Man, that don’t look right,” he grumbled as he pointed to the west, and Sherman turned his attention to the A380 that looked about five miles out, so coming in from the west. The left wing was low and the huge aircraft seemed to be wallowing, then he suddenly realized he didn’t hear any sound coming from the engines and he looked at the aircraft’s position relative to their own.

Sherman swung the boat into a hard right turn and then chopped the throttle, letting speed bleed off as the boat arced in a smooth circle.

“What’s wrong, Gene?” Debra asked, but Didi answered before he could.

“The jet is out of fuel and in a glide. It will not make the runway,” she added unnecessarily, because now it was quite obvious the huge jet was too low and too slow to even make the beach.

“Bud, you got your radio handy?” Sherman asked Kurzweil.

“On it,” the cop said, taking his radio out of its holster. “Two VictorPaul to all units vicinity LAX, looks like an inbound A380 is going to land in the water.” Since the solar flares and magnetic anomalies of the day before, LAX had been closed so the tower and fire services were unmanned, and that meant that the county’s emergency services would have to respond…and they’d be slow…at best.

And as everyone looked on, the A380s drooping left wingtip sliced into the water about a half mile short of the beach, and horrified now, Sherman looked on helplessly as the aircraft started spinning towards the breaking line of breaking waves. Sherman pointed the bow at the disintegrating airliner and pushed the throttle to full power while Kurzweil started giving updates to responding units from both the fire and police departments. One doorway up on the airliner’s right side’s forward upper deck opened and the emergency slide deployed, just as the entire left side of the airliner slipped beneath the waves.

“Looks like the port wing spar snapped,” Sherman said, “but it’s still partially attached to the fuselage, so it’s pulling the passenger cabin down!” And as he spoke the right wing started rising higher and higher, until it was pointing almost straight up into the midday sky. People started climbing up and out of the lone open doorway and onto the side of the fuselage, and Kurzweil kept sending updates to emergency responders all the while. A couple of firetrucks appeared near the beach but as very few vehicles had been repaired after all the recent geomagnetic anomalies, it looked like the response would be inadequate, at best… 

“Better break out the Zodiac,” Sherman said to no one in particular. “Deb, you’d better take the helm while we get it ready to go.”

“Got it,” she said, and then: “Gene, have you been keeping an eye on our depth?”

He nodded. “Yeah. It’s gonna be tight. When we get to fifteen feet indicated turn away from the beach and circle around.”

It took about five minutes to get the inflatable boat in the water and running, and Sherman ran Kurzweil over to the fuselage. The aft end of the airliner had sunk rapidly so people had moved that way, to where the water met the fuselage, and because he was still in uniform Kurzweil’s gun and badge prevented panic from overtaking the crowd. They loaded five injured passengers the first time over and ferried them to just outside the surf line, where paramedics and firefighters were standing by to carry the injured ashore. Two more sailboats arrived and soon two more Zodiacs joined the operation, and between the three inflatables everyone was evacuated from the Airbus within a couple hours.

And by that point it was obvious no hydrogen bombs were on their way, so Sherman looked around and asked everyone on aquaTarkus what they wanted to do. And everyone now wanted to go back to the marina.

“Well, Hell, that was an interesting day,” he said as he pointed the boat at the breakwater and added power.

Then Darius came up to him and showed him his iPhone. Turned out he had captured the A380s approach and water-impact on his phone and he smiled. “Betcha I get a million hits on YouTube!” he beamed.

+++++

Debra had gone to the hospital and visited the woman with the black aura more than once in the days just before the two-day war, and she soon came to a startling realization. The woman remembered nothing about her life, nothing at all, and her physician expressed concern about her neurological condition.

“Her short term memory should be impaired, perhaps permanently, but this toxin has no reputation for affecting long-term memory.”

“So,” Debra said, looking at the young Vietnamese woman, “do you think something else is going on?”

“Every test we’ve run is negative, even her fMRI came up clean.”

Debra looked at the woman through a window; her aura was still a swirling obsidian mass, and she still felt her father’s malign presence when she walked closer to the woman, but how on earth could she relay this information to a neurologist? “Could this be a mental disorder, I mean like some kind of psychotic episode?”

The physician shook her head. “No evidence of that.”

“Idiopathic,” Debra sighed. “But that just doesn’t seem logical,” she added.

“Logical? What do you mean, exactly?”

“Next time you talk with her, ask her if she’s been to Argentina recently.”

“Argentina? What do you think’s going on?”

But Debra shook her head. “Just a hunch,” she said – quietly. “But ask her about Argentina. And see if she responds to the name Ted Sorensen.”

“Sorensen? The movie guy?”

Debra nodded, but now she was getting upset. She looked at the woman again, studied her aura and recoiled when she felt her father still reaching out to her, but after a minute more of that she turned and walked from the hospital. Darius was waiting for her at the Land Rover, and he could tell something was wrong as he watched her approaching – but he knew that look, knew not to push her.

“Father Gene, he needs us to to get more of them TB drugs, he said the starter paks if they still have ‘em.”

She nodded. “Okay. That means we head over to La Cienega. Feel like driving?”

“Yeah, sure,” he said, helping her in then walking around to get behind the wheel. “Ain’t much traffic out yet.”

She sighed. “No more solenoids, no more motherboards. A lot of people are going to have to learn to like public transit.”

“Radio was sayin’ they got no power from the Bay Area all the way up to Vancouver. A hundred and eighteen degrees  in Portland today, too.”

She turned on the air conditioner and basked in the cool air – when the sky turned unnaturally bright and the engine died. She saw people out on sidewalk cover their eyes but within a few seconds they started falling to the pavement, then her eyes were drawn to the Land Rover’s hood – because the paint was beginning to sizzle and crack. She picked up her iPhone but it wouldn’t turn on, and when she looked outside the car she saw bodies writhing on the pavement.

And then the sky turned an impossibly bright white for a few seconds and spidery cracks appeared all over the windshield – then as quickly everything went back to ‘normal’ – whatever normal was these days. She opened the door and stepped out onto the pavement but her tennis shoes seemed to melt into the concrete so she jumped back into the Rover.

Darius experimentally held his hand up and placed it on his door’s glass window – but he quickly yanked it back and whistled in startled pain as the intense heat registered. “Must be a hundred and fifty out there,” he said as he looked at the skin on his fingers. “What happened?”

“Probably another solar flare. Now we need to wait for the temperature to stabilize.”

“Then whatta we do?” Darius asked.

“We get the folding bikes down and head for the marina…but we’ll have to wait for the pavement to cool down first.” She pulled out her iPhone and it too wouldn’t ‘wake up’ and she shook her head. “Looks like this is fried too,” she sighed. She held her hand up to the glass and quickly pulled it away, surprised that some people had survived and that they were getting up and making their way to any shade they could find.

But after a few minutes sitting there in the line of stalled traffic the temperature inside the Rover was rising quickly, and now Darius was beginning to sweat profusely. 

“Okay,” she said, “let’s get the bikes and see if we can make it down to the boat.”

Once the bikes were down and unfolded, she tentatively rolled the tires and they moved freely so they took off down Venice Boulevard, weaving between stalled cars and around dazed people wandering around in the streets. She smelled smoke in the air as they made made their to Lincoln Boulevard, then she heard someone screaming, and they could both see flames coming out of several buildings, then people smashing glass storefronts and grabbing anything of value before they took off down the street.

“We best hurry along now, Miss Debbie,” Darius said – just before a huge fireball erupted at the Chevron station they were passing. The concussive explosion knocked them both to the ground, and when Debra stood she saw that Darius was having a hard time just sitting up so she went to his side.  He’d tried to stop his fall with an outstretched arm, and she could see that both the radius and ulna in his right forearm were fractured, their disjointed forms stretching the skin above his wrist, and he appeared to be in a good deal of pain. She helped him stand but he was looking at her like he really didn’t know what to do, so she picked up his bike before she reached for hers, but he still seemed confused about what to do next.

“What’s wrong, Darius?”

“I ain’t no good now, Miss Debbie. Can’t protect you, can’t drive you nowhere…”

“Don’t you worry about that,” she said, watching his aura wilt before her eyes, turning from deep blue to silver gray as his lingering depression came back for him. “Come on, let’s go…we’ve only got a few blocks left to go.”

They pushed their bikes along, watching as the world went mad all around them. More windows shattered and television sets disappeared down trash-filled alleyways. Someone tried to rob a liquor store and the owner chased the robbers out into the street, shooting at them as they ran between cars and completely oblivious to the danger he was himself creating. A house was on fire a couple of blocks away and a huge column of black smoke was rising into the cloudless sky, joining the fire and smoke from the blazing gas station behind them, then she saw smoke coming from the marina – a lot of it, too. She picked up their pace a little, suddenly wondering where Gene had been when the solar flare hit – and if he was okay.

As they got closer to the marina she could see dozens of boats fully engulfed in fuel-soaked flames, but most appeared to be on the far side and well away from where aquaTarkus was tied up. She turned and looked back towards downtown and was shocked to see dozens of columns of black smoke rising into the afternoon sky, but what was most surprising was the utter silence of the scene. No cars, no airplanes or helicopters, and most worrying of all, no sirens. No cops. No firefighters and no paramedics.

They were alone now. Cut off.

When they made it to the pier where her boat was tied off she saw Gene and Bud Kurzweil were already there and waiting for them, and as they pushed the bikes out the pier Gene came out to meet them, stopping when he saw Darius’s wrist – then nodding his head in understanding.

“Get him down to his cabin,” Sherman said. “I’ll get to him after we get out beyond the breakwater.”

“So, you got the engine running?” Deb asked.

“Yup. You and Bud need to stow the bikes after we cast off the lines.”

She stared at him for a moment – as she was not quite sure what she was seeing in his aura – but whatever it was he seemed seriously alarmed, so she helped Darius into his berth and told him they’d be with him soon, then she went topsides in time to help coil and stow the lines Gene and Bud had just pulled aboard.

Gene went to the helm and backed out of the slip – again, and this time he took note of the mass of other boats entering the fairway. “Lot of people having the same idea,” he said to Debra as she came and sat by him. “How bad is out there,” he asked.

“People were looting within minutes, and I think people were trying to steal gas by cutting the nozzles from the fill hoses. I think that’s what caused the Chevron station to go up, anyway. Knocked us right off our feet.”

Sherman shook his head as he listened, then he watched as kids in a Zodiac took off from a nearby pier and headed for the closest boat to them – which happened to be aquaTarkus. Then he realized the guy in front of the little boat had an assault rifle. “Bud,” he said, “you see what I see?”

“Yup. On it,” Kurzweil sighed, keeping his right side out of view as he unsnapped his holster.

When the Zodiac was about fifty feet away the kid with the rifle brought it up to his shoulder but Kurzweil drew down and fired first; this kid fell back into the inflatable and the other boy in the boat picked up the rifle and started to aim at Kurzweil; two more shots rang out and this kid went down, only now it was obvious both were badly wounded and writhing in pain.

Sherman backed off the power and circled around to the boys’ little boat – just as automatic weapons fire erupted from Chase Park – causing instant havoc throughout the marina.  Bud jumped down into the inflatable and he found the boy in the back was already dead, while the first boy was wounded and crying out now as he went into shock.

Sherman tossed a line to Bud and as soon as the boy was hoisted onboard and the little dinghy tied off, Sherman moved away from the gunfire at full throttle. As aquaTarkus motored out the breakwater he could see the large homeless encampment by the North Jetty and he flipped a button on the plotter and looked at the current outside air temperature.

“One eighteen,” he sighed, “and that’s down here at the beach.” Bud lifted the wounded boy into the cockpit and Sherman looked at Deb and pointed at the wheel. She nodded and he went below to grab an IV setup and his go-bag, but he dropped in to check on Darius first.

“How’re you doin’ down here, Amigo?” he asked, and when Darius shook his head Sherman took out an pre-filled morphine syringe and shot him in the arm.

“Did I hear shootin’ up there, Doc?” Darius asked.

“Yup. Things are breaking down real fast now. No cops, no fire department, so I’d guess the next thing will be troops. I don’t think we want to be around for that.”

Darius nodded. “Thanks for taking care of me, Doc.”

Sherman nodded. “Darius, you’ve been taking care of me for years, so it’s about time I returned the favor, you know? We got a kid in the cockpit with a gunshot wound, and as soon as I’m done up there I’ll try and set your arm.” Darius nodded and Sherman turned to go topsides – and there in front of him was Didi Goodman.

He jumped back, completely startled. “How’d you get here?” he asked, looking her over suspiciously.

Yet true to form she simply shrugged away his question with an enigmatic little flip of her hand, then she turned and walked aft to the companionway. She picked up Sherman’s equipment then walked topsides – only to have to face down the shocked expressions from Deb and Bud Kurzweil. But she ignored those as adroitly by turning to the boy with the gunshot wound in his belly – and she sighed when she saw the damage to his upper right quadrant.

“Let me guess,” Goodman said sarcastically to Kurzweil, “hollow points…right?”

“You know it, man. 45 ACP, Silvertips,” Kurzweil nodded with satisfaction. “Great stopping power,” he added – unnecessarily.

“Yes, you stopped him, alright,” she said as she leaned over and palpated his belly. The boy writhed in agony and Kurzweil turned away and walked forward, leaving Goodman and Sherman alone to deal with the consequences of the boy’s actions. “He might survive a day,” she started to say to Sherman, “in a well equipped hospital. But he’s going to need a transplant, Gene. What do you want to do? Drop him over the side, maybe?”

Sherman recoiled from the insinuation. “We can give him morphine, I think…”

“And just how much of that do you have, Gene? Enough to help Darius and this kid? Because that’s what it’s going to come down to, and you know it.”

Sherman turned and looked shoreward, as if there was a morphine store right around the next corner – but the hard-edged reality of the situation came into sharp relief as he looked at the surreal number of coiling back clouds now rising over the city. “It’s all coming undone,” he whispered – more to himself than to anyone else. “I thought we’d have longer, ya know?”

“Maybe it was always just a house of cards,” Debra said as she turned and looked at whole blocks of houses and condos being consumed by walls of towering flames.

“That doesn’t matter now,” Goodman said stoically. “What matters is this kid. What are you going to do for him right now?”

Sherman caught the tone in her voice as he turned and looked at her, his eyes suddenly full of wonder: “Why is it that I get the impression we’re being judged?”

“What makes you think that you aren’t?” Goodman said with the faintest smile on her face – yet in the next moment her form wavered a little before it just disappeared. 

Sherman turned and looked skyward, then he turned to his bag of tricks before he shrugged and started to work on the boy.

© 2022 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…and note this story is fiction, pure and simple.

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