“I’ll need a ladder,” called Rusty from the pump house roof.
Mac grimaced. No time for playing at politics. Might as well get the whole damn fire force in. “Rusty, we’re running on empty. Get down off that roof and call in your trucks. If anything’s going to blow, we’ll be right there to deal with it.” He turned to the youth. “You’d better go warn your guys, and your family. Could be an emergency evacuation coming up real soon.”
Ten minutes went by. Four water trucks, eerie red machines silhouetted against the display lights, lined up facing the marquee. Firemen wearing helmets unreeling hoses from the machines’ innards. Preparing for Armageddon.
The loudspeaker, blasted above the rock band. “‘And now for the grand finale, folks. Hold your breath.’”
Mac looked at his watch. Eight fifteen. He heard the click from the pump house, and then the pump motor started. There was a gurgling sound. A waft of air invaded his senses. He sniffed.
“Oh fuck,” he cried, as the spray erupted from the sprinklers.
Smoke and fire, the smell of burning flesh both excited and terrified him. The helicopters had torched whole villages with their fire cannons, exterminating every living thing. A giant barbecue. Men, women and children, the hungry flames consuming, consuming until all perished in their hell holes. And each day, another settlement, more of them; the enemy kept coming, rising from the ashes in a fiery smoke storm of oppression. The flames could not quench them.
The sky lit up in a blaze of glory. Mason was impressed with the display timing as he watched his masterpiece. The crowd around the marquee laughed as they felt the first wetness. All part of the fun. But then it got better. A dying ember sparked a new life; flames fanned and a feeding frenzy began, the hungry flames consuming, consuming. Mason was God as he orchestrated the fire waves to engulf the marquee, and create inhuman fireballs.
But then the panic set in as the fire spread, fueled by the pump’s heartbeat. Partially satiated, he allowed himself to be jostled by the crowd, in no hurry to force his way to the already crammed exits, he would go with the flow. And as an encore, the kids.
Babe George was making eyes at the press girl on Tom Hank’s left. His multi-million sponsorship deal had been renewed, thanks to his last desperate throw. Captured on TV for eternity, one of football’s greatest sporting moments. He would enter the hall of fame as one of the greatest quarterbacks in history.
The thumping rock music stopped suddenly. In a vacuum of calm he heard yelling and screaming outside. Then the fire waves hit, turning the marquee into a smoking inferno. The heat became unbearable; the naked flames peeling charred skin from his arms as he frantically leapt across the floor, sobbing with pain. A hysterical horde of distinguished guests blocked his escape, everyone seeking a safe way out. He tried to force his way through. First one way, then another. But it was too late. Nowhere to go for the great Babe George. Too many bodies. Too many flames. At the end, he sank to the searing red carpet and succumbed to the smoke.
Mac felt helpless and totally devastated. It was a nightmare, but he couldn’t just rush into the crowd. Katie hadn’t answered his frantic calls. He had to wait. Rusty and his crew were hosing down the flames but the damage had been done. Especially the marquee. The crazy ‘motherfucker’ had wreaked his revenge on the Bees, and God knows who else. His cell phone buzzed. He flipped it open. Hoping it was Katie. Or his dad.
“We saw it on TV. All of us. Chief, Andy, Riley...” Elmer couldn’t find the words to ask.
Mac said nothing. Just stared at the smouldering remains of the marquee. Trying to see the terrace behind it.
“You there, Mac? Mac?”
“Buddy, I fucked-up.” Deflated, struggling with his emotions. “My mom and dad are in there somewhere. And Katie.”
“Mac, Chief wants a word, ok?”
“I’m not up to...”
Chief interrupted. “Mac, listen to me real good. Those fire trucks saved thousands of lives. We got men in haz-mat suits and family liaison all over the stadium. Let them do their job and find your family. You’ve still got your job to do, and that’s to nail the perp.”
“But...” Mac couldn’t finish.
“No buts. The mayor has called in the feds. When they turn up, it’ll be their show. We’ll be hog-tied. So get your ass over here now.”
“Mac, you up for this?” asked Elmer, pushing hot black coffee within reach.
Mac felt like shit. His eyes, red from the smoke. He groped for the cup and he poured the steaming liquid down his throat. “If anything’s happened to my family, I’m going to kill that ‘motherfucker’.”
Elmer put a consoling arm around Mac’s shoulder. “Mac, it won’t help any. Look what happened to me. Lost my son, and then Carol walks out on me because I couldn’t handle it. This time we gotta do it right. Find Mason, and let him rot in the pen.”
Mac raised his head, as if seeing Elmer for the first time. “We’re wasting time,” was all he had to say.
Despite the delay, Mason was in high spirits as he backed the pick-up out of the stadium. The cops were otherwise occupied, no one bothered him. All they wanted was to get the vehicles out of the stadium parking lot as quick as they could. Make space for the paramedics. He switched on the radio and searched for the local news bulletins. There it was. His masterpiece, on a special bulletin. ‘...earlier this evening. And now we have the latest update on this shocking tragedy from our man on the spot, Frank Wessel.’
The sober voice of the news reporter painted a dramatic picture. ‘Early estimates indicate there are nearly four hundred casualties and many more being treated for horrific burns. Among those feared dead are several of the Bees entourage, including the legendary Babe George, and chairman Tom Kennedy. More reports on this emerging...’’
The radio commentator was cut off in mid-stream for a ten-second commercial break. Special concession on barbecues. Surplus stock. Mason scowled. Only four hundred. He was expecting a much higher toll. But then he perked up. Babe George and Tom Kennedy. He punched the air.
He coasted up the dirt road to the barn and parked the pick-up outside. Flashlight in hand, he hurried through the barn and peered outside. The limo was not where he left it. Frowning, he turned around, and saw the machine gun first. The barrel shining in the moonlight. A finger squeezing the trigger. And then he felt the bullets ripping through his legs, bringing him to the ground.
“The girl fingered you,” said the voice.
The girl came into focus. Anna. Something shiny in her hand. Dirty dishevelled, mud on her clothes. She spat in his face. “Rot in hell,” she yelled.
‘The women were the worst...turning our Men into Eunuchs.’ Mason screamed his nightmare as he thrashed against his bonds. But it was no use, he was staked out and his legs were in agony. His eyes staring at the moon. They left him like that, Apache style. Just as he had told the girl. Slowly dripping to hell. He heard a car moving back down the dirt road, and then more cars moving back out to the highway. And then there was silence.
Apart from the wildlife.
“Close to midnight, and we haven’t located the fucking place. How the hell do they expect us to comb this wilderness at night?” Mac beat his fist on the passenger dash. “No lights anywhere. Mason could be clear away by now.”
Elmer eased off the gas. “We got road blocks set up on all the highways. He won’t risk it. I’m sure he’ll just hole up until the heat dies down.”
“And the hostages?”
“Mac, we’ll find him. Just hold on in there, ok?”
The calls came in quick succession. His screen lit up. Katie. Adrenalin surged through his body. He prodded at the green button with a shaking finger. “Katie, you’re safe. You are safe? Please tell me you’re safe.”
Katie answered, from the hospital. Her voice sounded distraught. Sobbing, she told him. His dad - overcome by fumes - his mom on a ventilator. “Mac - your dad saved my life. Carried me clear - went back for your mom. Oh, Mac...”
He heard her break down, couldn’t speak. Nor could he. Struck dumb by the shock, hoping it was just a dream.
But it wasn’t.
The second call. He went through the motions, and looked at the display. Number withheld. He frowned and clicked the green button. “Mackenzie,” he said.
It was Mama. She rattled off the GPS coordinates; and a Smithsonian condo address with more evidence. “You owe us big time,” she said and disconnected the call.
Mac punched in the GPS code on the Range Rover, courtesy of Chief Amos. He slapped Elmer on his shoulder. Steely determination in his voice. “Motherfucker, here we come.”