The second book in the W. Cooper series, 2006
for Sophie and Brick
He pressed the button and the cacophony began. The big door descended, wheels running noisily along the twin metal tracks, and then it was over, and he stood in silence, and darkness. He thought of releasing his grip on the handle of the coffee mug he held; he knew the ceramic mug would shatter, the lukewarm coffee pooling on the concrete floor, never to be swept clean. But he didn’t drop the mug. Instead, he made his way in the semidarkness to the light switch, and in a few seconds the ceiling-mounted rack of fluorescent bulbs bathed the garage in a diffused moon lime glow.
A black Chevy Blazer occupied one side of the garage. Along the opposite wall were rows of fertilizer bags, stacked nearly to the ceiling. Beside the fertilizer stood bags of grass seed and topsoil; two dozen red, five-gallon fuel canisters were pushed against the bags.
The man approached the workbench at the back of the garage. He used pliers, a Phillips-head screwdriver, and a soldering gun to secure a series of contents within seven crimped lengths of narrow brass pipe. This took him about twenty minutes. When he finished, he set the seven devices in a neat line on the bench.
What he did next would have horrified his wife, but not for the reason he supposed it should have. Armed with a fishing knife, he sliced open each of the bags of fertilizer and, one by one, emptied their contents into the cargo space in the rear of the Blazer. He ignored the bags of topsoil and grass seed. When he had filled the back end of the SUV nearly to its ceiling, here moved a stepladder from its hook on the wall, stood it beside the Blazer’s passenger-side door, and proceeded to pour the remaining complement of fertilizer through the sunroof, burying the leather seats his wife had demanded they include as an option in three feet of ammonium nitrate pellets.
He closed the rear doors and made sure each of the side doors was sealed. Then, mimicking his transfer of the fertilizer bags, he carried each of the five-gallon canisters of fuel from its place against the wall, up the stepladder, and, obscenely, poured each container’s fuel in through the Blazer’s sunroof. The garage soon reeked of diesel fumes.
He took the lengths of crimped brass pipe, reached in through the sun-roof, and dispersed the devices evenly throughout the vehicle. From his perch on the stepladder, he reached into his pocket and depressed the appropriate button on the Blazer’s car-alarm remote; the sunroof closed and the parking lights flashed once, the doors locking noisily.
He came into his kitchen, where he noticed a plastic fire engine parked beneath the kitchen table. He took the toy from under the table and returned it to the playroom.
The kitchen stairwell took him into the basement. Once there, he opened the top door of the aging refrigerator-freezer reserved for soft drinks and beer. From his pocket came the trusty Phillips-head screwdriver, which he used to remove ten screws at the base of the freezer. When he had the screws out, he reached beneath the edge of the panel he’d just unfastened and removed a metal storage container the size of a shoe box. He used a combination to open the container’s lock and opened its lid to reveal fourteen glass vials, each plugged with a wax-sealed cork.
He pocketed a pair of the vials, resealed the container, and returned it to its hidden compartment.
In the kitchen, he ran warm water over the vials in the sink until the cold fluid became less viscous. Vials repocketed, he returned to the garage; at the workbench, he broke the seal of the first of the vials and removed its cork, revealing the gelatinous, deeply blue contents within. He stood, nearly motionless, observing the reflection made by the fluorescent lighting on the surface of the fluid. He had thought through this part upward of ten thousand times, inevitably drawing the same conclusion he drew again now.
He had no choice.
Seizing the vial in his right hand, he lifted the tiny container to his lips, threw his head back, and consumed the flavorless fluid in a single swallow. He set the vial back on the workbench and stood still for nearly five minutes while his stomach grumbled noisily, objecting to the offensive drink it was forced to digest. He left the second vial in his pocket.
From an open cardboard box on the workbench he removed the last of the day’s devices: a tiny black box with a green flip switch. While approximately the same size as the car-alarm remote, it was nonetheless simpler in both design and purpose.
Using the stepladder, he climbed onto the Blazer’s roof and stretched out, facedown, on the cool surface of the vehicle’s skin. In his right hand was the black-box remote. He looked at it, then readied his thumb beside the flip switch.
Electing not to engage in further doubt or debate, he pushed the switch against its housing and closed his eyes.
He thought to himself in the instant before his death that he would be the first martyr of his kind. Perhaps nobody would know it; perhaps nobody would open, or understand, his message-in-a-bottle. Perhaps when the truth emerged, if it ever did, his wife and son would come to understand; perhaps not. No matter. He knew he was acting piously, and that his actions were just, and necessary.
At that point his thoughts ended abruptly as, along with the Blazer and the majority of the house enveloping it, the man’s body was dispersed in a sudden, crude, foul-smelling eruption of fire, black soot, and enflamed fragments which, in their violent fury, flattened nearly two square blocks of the suburban housing development in which the man and his family had once owned their home.
Powell Keeler III, Po to his friends, was following the sloping curvature of the Lesser Antilles in the 150' Trinity motor yacht that was not his own. Po had taken his time since setting out from the Caracas Yacht Club four days prior; he’d been clear enough with his client, an old high school acquaintance and owner of the Trinity. They’d come to an agreement, Po taking the gig on one condition:
There wasn’t any rush.
His client needed somebody to sail the Trinity back home to Florida, a return leg on which the client, following his family’s six-week cruise through the Caribbean, did not care to use the boat. Having caught wind of this predicament, Po, bonded yacht transporter as he happened to be, offered his services as a favor-such favor being predicated upon his old buddy’s fronting him fuel money, a token fee, and sufficient cash to cover one month’s premium on the bond Po held as a condition of his transport license.
Once his old pal acquiesced, Po headed down to Venezuela posthaste.
Standing now at the helm, Po eased the yacht along its northwesterly course from a point some ten miles due east of Virgin Gorda. It was early, with the first orange crescent of sun an angry harelip on the black horizon. Seas were calm. Po had elected to navigate around the British Virgins, looking to avoid its endless supply of reefs and shallows on his way to the evening rendezvous he hoped to share with the bikini-clad babes known to cluster at the main swimming pool of the Atlantis resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas.
The Trinity was loaded with dual Furuno FR2115/6 radar units, which Po had taught himself how to use a few jobs back. This meant, among other things, that Po understood perfectly well what the instruments were now telling him.
Four vessels, one of them significantly bigger than the Trinity, loomed directly in his path. The fleet was camped out five miles to the north, with the two smallest boats on his screen closer than the others. The yacht’s radar had also detected an airborne object that wasn’t flying particularly fast, located halfway between the Trinity and the fleet.