Paul frowned. "Did you hear something?"
She was just sitting in an attitude of abject reflection, sort of curled in on herself. They were holding hands on the kitchen table, sitting shoulder to shoulder, wrapped in light that reflected in a gentle glare from the oilcloth, and around that the darkness that filled the house.
They heard a loud bang, like a door slamming.
Paul rose. Marsha jumped to her feet. They ran out the door and across the lawn.
As they sprinted across the lawn, they heard a car roar away, spraying gravel against the front of Paul's house.
They bolted around the corner and up onto the porch.
A body lay in the entrance between the kitchen and livingroom.
Paul crashed the door open, slid across the floor, and skidded to a halt next to the boy.
Marsha followed, on her knees, shrieking.
Pete's head lay in a splash of blood.
Paul felt the boy's neck. Where was the pulse?
He leaned over and listened for breathing.
"He's not breathing," Paul said, "Call 911."
Wailing desperately, she didn't hear. She tugged at her son, who was completely limp.
Paul jumped up. He grabbed the phone. His hands shook and his fingers nearly missed as he dialed: 9, 1, 1...
The emergency operator answered, a woman with an even, nasal voice.
Paul said: "I have an eleven year old boy here who's unconscious, bleeding from a head wound, I think caused by burglars, and I don't know if he's alive or dead."
Sheriff's Deputy Jeff Toole, a big blond man of 30, was nearing mid-shift and was about to go to dinner when the call came in about a possible violent crime at the home ofwow, Paul Owens! The guy who couldn't remember to bring the library books back. Man, Jeff thought as he turned on the lights and siren and headed for the other end of Madeira. This would be a big deal. Owens was one of the whiz kids from Rockwell that every cop in the area knew about and had to keep an eye on.
Paramedics Clint Young and Shep Frizzell were reading magazines at the ambulance station when the call came in about a possible bleeder, maybe a burglary victim, shooting or other status unknown, at an address on Madeira Road.
Within a minute, the white ambulance pulled out of its garage, lights and sirens wailing.
At Burbank's Fire Station 99, the Emergency Unit rolled out, followed by a small hook and ladder. Red lights flashing, sirens howling, the vehicles roared out of the fire house and into the black of night.
At every intersection, the driver sounded a loud klaxon like a Norse war god's horn.
Everywhere, cars pulled to the side as the two red engines blared through the streets, one closely following the other as they wove through traffic, sometimes cutting through corner gas stations.
Deputy Jeff Toole was the first on the scene.
His squad car plowed to a sideways halt on Owens's front lawn.
Jeff left the door open, scrambling to the trunk, where he pulled out the emergency first aid kit.
Marsha cradled Pete to her as she sat on the floor. Crying brokenly, she rocked back and forth sideways, holding his head over her shoulder as if he were a baby. His arms hung limply at his sides.
Paul pull him away to try mouth to mouth.
As he blew into Pete's mouth, the boy coughed.
Marsha held her hands before her face and looked on in shock. Hope poured over her features, obliterating grief.
The door crashed open and a policeman staggered in, carrying a heavy metal case.
ToolePaul recognized himno time to talk now.
Two paramedics hurried in, carrying more emergency equipment. Toole made way for them as they bent over the boy.
Pete coughed again, convulsively.
Several firemen in long black helmets and bulky orange rubber suits entered the house.
"He's breathing," one of the paramedics noted. "Pulse is acardic, slow."
Pete coughed again.
The firemen were soon on their way back to the station.
Paul stood and held Marsha, who pressed her face against his side in the shelter of his arm.
One paramedic worked on Pete while the other went outside and came back pulling a stretcher.
The paramedic carefully felt Pete's body, starting from the head down, and spoke as he did. "He's got a pulse, coming back now. Looks like he was struck on the head. I checked his pupils and they are a little unfocused but not dilated, not irregular, no sign as of now of any trauma to the brain. Can't tell until the hospital X-Rays him. He's pale and clammy, in shock. Bleeding from a whack to the back of the head, also a little bump where he hit the floor. I'm hoping this is strictly a surface injury. You may see some considerable edema before this is over. Black and blue."
Together the two paramedics lifted Pete onto the stretcher. Marsha hovered close to him as they took him out into the ambulance. In a few minutes, the ambulance was speeding away with lights and sirens.
"What happened, Mr. Owens?" asked Deputy Toole, who held a pen and notepad ready.
Paul explained what little he knew. "...And we made the mistake of letting him go alone to get his model airplane."
"Do you know what the intruders were after?"
Just then there was a knock on the door. "Everybody be quiet." The door opened, and in walked a familiar figure. He was a tall, dark-haired man and he wore a red-brown-blue checkered flannel shirt, jeans with a cowboy belt, and deck shoes. Waving a billfold with badge and I.D., he introduced himself: "Special Agent John Mandigar, FBI. Mr. Owens and I are old friends."
"I'm the Principal Investigator," Toole said, introducing himself.
"Not any more. Sorry, but this is a top secret matter and your department will not be in the loop."
"I'll have to get the Sheriff on the phone."
"Washington already did that. He's on his way here to confirm to you what I'm saying." Mandigar turned to Paul. "What happened?"
"My neighbor's son was assaulted by a burglar."
"What were they after?"
"I don't knowand I don't know that you have the clearance or the need to know, since you're declaring this a federal gig."
"Still cheeky, huh?"
"This isn't the Soviet Union, Mandigar, and I'm going to ask you to keep a civil tongue in your rather square head."
Mandigar put his badge on his belt, accidentally revealing the rather large and ugly handle of a .38 cradled under his arm. "The woman your girlfriend?"
"Yeah." Mandigar was sure to know all about it, so why resist?
"I see you're upset. That's okay. You keep a civil tongue, and so will I. Deal?" He looked Paul up and down with an ugly grin.
"Okay. So which one of you is going to solve the crime, after the small talk is over?"
"Mr. Owens, answer me one question. Be aware that your ass may be right back in the frying pan if you lie, prevaricate, or otherwise screw around with me."
"There goes the civil tongue. Oh, I'm sorry, you don't have one, no wonder you can't stop insulting me, you verbal diarrhea machine."
"I'll wait outside," Toole said.
"Owens, did you bring work home?"
"Then what are they after?"
"I don't know."
"Bullshit." Mandigar pulled up a chair, turned it around, and straddled it with his arms folded on the back. "An absent minded professor like you is likely to pick up some top secret document and walk to his car, reading it, and drive all the way home, miraculously not getting in a car wreck while he continues reading. I've been on this beat for ten years, Owens, and I've seen it all."
"I have never brought anything classified home. Not even absorption test samples."
Mandigar waved a finger. "No, no, what I just heard was that you never brought anything classified home. So what did you bring home that wasn't classified that someone would be after."
"The boy's going to live, Mandigar," Paul said.
"I heard the damn ambulance jockey, Owens. I'm not deaf. I'm rejoicing inwardly. My problem is that I don't know what you eggheads are cooking up in that loony bin over there, but I do know I've been told to give my life if necessary to save you guys for America. That's asking a lot of me, and that's why I appear pissed off a lot of the time. I'm not interested in throwing my life away for you, Owens, and I don't like having to jump off the couch in the middle of the night to run to your house. Now what were they after?"
"Who?" Paul pressed back. He gripped the back of Mandigar's chair and shook it. "Who is after what?"
"Could be three things. A plain burglar. A Soviet spy. Or."
"Sometimes we get mercenaries. Those are Americans, usually, who'll steal anything they can and sell it to whoever offers top dollar. Once in a while, guys like that latch up with Soviet agents, who are after something. Now what would they be after?" Mandigar rose and walked around the room with his arms spread. "What's missing, Owens? Goddamn it, stop playing games and start looking."
Paul looked at the table. "The model airplane." He hurried to the table, looked beside it, under it. "It's gone! Pete's model airplane!"
"Yes. It's just a flying saucer a little boy and I made. But.."
There was a knock on the door. Paul said: "Yes?"
Steve Rossi and Ben Rich stood outside. "We came as fast as we could. What's going on here?"
Paul said: "I'm beginning to put together a picture of what happened."
Mandigar said: "Yeah, so am I. Owens, ..." He shut up and shook his head.
Paul explained: "I think these were the same people who searched my place a couple of weeks ago. I thought it was you, Mandigar, in your zeal to prove I'm a Commie or something."
"I do remember you babbling about that."
"It wasn't you. It was someone who knew that I was working on something highly sensitive. It wasn't a secret yet, and it was just in my head, but someone was on to me."
Rossi said: "Mr. Mandigar, if I may explain. I think I may have unwittingly added to this. You see, when Paul handed us his model for a top secret project, we tested it and found he's absolutely right. It's very important. I was so excited that I called him in the middle of the night. He was under pressure from the auditors and from you, and I knew it would be a great relief to him to know he was on the right track. I think I also admonished him not to talk about it. I may have said something like "this is now a highly classified project.' IIcould kick myself for being so careless."
Ben said: "Oh boy. I'll have to dance around that like a ballerina. Paul, did you ever bring any secret materials home?"
"The model," Paul said. "You guys stripped off the mockup itself and gave me back the chassis. I then built a flying saucer for the little boy next door. Pete must have surprised the intruder, and the intruder hit him over the head. The flying saucer is gone."
"How is the boy?" Ben asked.
"He's getting X-Rays. He was breathing and in shock when they wheeled him out of here."
"Mrs. Kassner's boy?"
"I'm sorry that poor woman's going through hell."
Paul noticed that the Sheriff's squad car rolled to a stop outside. So did another police car to keep traffic moving through the forest of flashing lights. Paul saw Jeff Toole in an animated conversation. Or rather, the Sheriff, an older, potbellied man with wiry gray hair, did most of the talking, and Toole mostly nodded.
"Where are you going to look for the intruders?" Paul asked Mandigar.
Mandigar sighed deeply. "I'm not sure."
Ben said: "If I may make a suggestionthey have a harmless flying saucer? Why don't we let them keep it?"
Steve added: "Good point. If we do nothing, then it will confirm their results when they bring this thing to Moscowit's a dud."
Mandigar nodded. "Good. I like it. I do want to find out who they are so that we can watch them while they don't know we'll be watching them."
"Deal," Ben said. He turned to Paul. "Terrible thing about the child. I'll go over to the hospital and see how they're doing. Want to come?"
Paul thought about it. Pete had been brutally beaten, and nothing was going to happen? He said: "There is just one stop I'd like to make. It might help you verify who your suspects are. Then we'll all be happy, okay?"
"I'll explain on the way." To Ben he said: "I'll need one thing from you, even if you have to drive to the plant right now and get it."
"Sure," Ben said. "What is it?"