Home > End of Watch (Bill Hodges Trilogy #3)

End of Watch (Bill Hodges Trilogy #3)
Stephen King

For Thomas Harris

Get me a gun

Go back into my room

I’m gonna get me a gun

One with a barrel or two

You know I’m better off dead than

Singing these suicide blues.

—Cross Canadian Ragweed

APRIL 10, 2009
MARTINE STOVER

It’s always darkest before the dawn.

This elderly chestnut occurred to Rob Martin as the ambulance he drove rolled slowly along Upper Marlborough Street toward home base, which was Firehouse 3. It seemed to him that whoever thought that one up really got hold of something, because it was darker than a woodchuck’s asshole this morning, and dawn wasn’t far away.

Not that this daybreak would be up to much even when it finally got rolling; call it dawn with a hangover. The fog was heavy and smelled of the nearby not-so-great Great Lake. A fine cold drizzle had begun to fall through it, just to add to the fun. Rob clicked the wiper control from intermittent to slow. Not far up ahead, two unmistakable yellow arches rose from the murk.

“The Golden Tits of America!” Jason Rapsis cried from the shotgun seat. Rob had worked with any number of paramedics over his fifteen years as an EMT, and Jace Rapsis was the best: easygoing when nothing was happening, unflappable and sharply focused when everything was happening at once. “We shall be fed! God bless capitalism! Pull in, pull in!”

“Are you sure?” Rob asked. “After the object lesson we just had in what that shit can do?”

The run from which they were now returning had been to one of the McMansions in Sugar Heights, where a man named Harvey Galen had called 911 complaining of terrible chest pains. They had found him lying on the sofa in what rich folks no doubt called “the great room,” a beached whale of a man in blue silk pajamas. His wife was hovering over him, convinced he was going to punch out at any second.

“Mickey D’s, Mickey D’s!” Jason chanted. He was bouncing up and down in his seat. The gravely competent professional who had taken Mr. Galen’s vitals (Rob right beside him, holding the First In Bag with its airway management gear and cardiac meds) had disappeared. With his blond hair flopping in his eyes, Jason looked like an overgrown kid of fourteen. “Pull in, I say!”

Rob pulled in. He could get behind a sausage biscuit himself, and maybe one of those hash brown thingies that looked like a baked buffalo tongue.

There was a short line of cars at the drive-thru. Rob snuggled up at the end of it.

“Besides, it’s not like the guy had a for-real heart attack,” Jason said. “Just OD’d on Mexican. Refused a lift to the hospital, didn’t he?”

He had. After a few hearty belches and one trombone blast from his nether regions that had his social X-ray of a wife booking for the kitchen, Mr. Galen sat up, said he was feeling much better, and told them that no, he didn’t think he needed to be transported to Kiner Memorial. Rob and Jason didn’t think so, either, after listening to a recitation of what Galen had put away at Tijuana Rose the night before. His pulse was strong, and although his blood pressure was on the iffy side, it probably had been for years, and was currently stable. The automatic external defibrillator never came out of its canvas sack.

“I want two Egg McMuffins and two hash browns,” Jason announced. “Black coffee. On second thought, make that three hash browns.”

Rob was still thinking about Galen. “It was indigestion this time, but it’ll be the real thing soon enough. Thunderclap infarction. What do you think he went? Three hundred? Three fifty?”

“Three twenty-five at least,” Jason said, “and stop trying to spoil my breakfast.”

Rob waved his arm at the Golden Arches rising through the lake-effect fog. “This place and all the other greasepits like it are half of what’s wrong with America. As a medical person, I’m sure you know that. What you just ordered? That’s nine hundred calories on the hoof, bro. Add sausage to the Egg McMuffdivers and you’re riding right around thirteen hundred.”

“What are you having, Doctor Health?”

“Sausage biscuit. Maybe two.”

Jason clapped him on the shoulder. “My man!”

The line moved forward. They were two cars from the window when the radio beneath the in-dash computer blared. Dispatchers were usually cool, calm, and collected, but this one sounded like a radio shock jock after too many Red Bulls. “All ambulances and fire apparatus, we have an MCI! I repeat, MCI! This is a high-priority call for all ambulances and fire apparatus!”

MCI, short for mass casualty incident. Rob and Jason stared at each other. Plane crash, train crash, explosion, or act of terrorism. It almost had to be one of the four.

“Location is City Center on Marlborough Street, repeat City Center on Marlborough. Once again, this is an MCI with multiple deaths likely. Use caution.”

Rob Martin’s stomach tightened. No one told you to use caution when heading to a crash site or gas explosion. That left an act of terrorism, and it might still be in progress.

Dispatch was going into her spiel again. Jason hit the lights and siren while Rob cranked the wheel and pulled the Freightliner ambo into the lane that skirted the restaurant, clipping the bumper of the car ahead of him. They were just nine blocks from City Center, but if Al-Qaeda was shooting the place up with Kalashnikovs, the only thing they had to fire back with was their trusty external defibrillator.

Jason grabbed the mike. “Copy, Dispatch, this is 23 out of Firehouse 3, ETA just about six minutes.”

Other sirens were rising from other parts of the city, but judging from the sound, Rob guessed their ambo was closest to the scene. A cast iron light had begun creeping into the air, and as they wheeled out of McDonald’s and onto Upper Marlborough, a gray car knitted itself out of the gray fog, a big sedan with a dented hood and badly rusted grille. For a moment the HD headlights, on high beam, were pointed straight at them. Rob hit the dual air-horns and swerved. The car—it looked like a Mercedes, although he couldn’t be sure—slewed back into its own lane and was then nothing but taillights dwindling into the fog.

“Jesus Christ, that was close,” Jason said. “Don’t suppose you got the license plate?”

“No.” Rob’s heart was beating so hard he could feel it pulsing on both sides of his throat. “I was busy saving our lives. Listen, how can there be multiple casualties at City Center? God isn’t even up yet. It’s gotta be closed.”

“Could’ve been a bus crash.”

“Try again. They don’t start running until six.”

Sirens. Sirens everywhere, beginning to converge like blips on a radar screen. A police car went bolting past them, but so far as Rob could tell, they were still ahead of the other ambos and fire trucks.

Which gives us a chance to be the first to get shot or blown up by a mad Arab shouting Allahu akbar, he thought. How nice for us.

But the job was the job, so he swung onto the steep drive leading up to the main city administration buildings and the butt-ugly auditorium where he’d voted until moving out to the suburbs.

“Brake!” Jason screamed. “Jesus-fuck, Robbie, BRAKE!”

Scores of people were coming at them from the fog, a few sprinting nearly out of control because of the incline. Some were screaming. One guy fell down, rolled, picked himself up, and ran on with his torn shirttail flapping beneath his jacket. Rob saw a woman with shredded hose, bloody shins, and only one shoe. He came to a panic stop, the nose of the ambo dipping, unsecured shit flying. Meds, IV bottles, and needle packs from a cabinet left unsecured—a violation of protocol—became projectiles. The stretcher they hadn’t had to use for Mr. Galen bounced off one wall. A stethoscope found the pass-through, smacked the windshield, and fell onto the center console.

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