Chapter 40

Matt’s palm alarm woke him early. Jill was up and nearly dressed. “Trying to leave me already?”

“How could I, I’ve waited my whole life for you.” She leaned down and kissed him. “Teachers, though, can’t be late. It sends a not good message and gives the children an excuse to be late themselves.

“Can’t have that.” Matt bounded out of bed and ran to the shower. “Hold on; I’ll walk you to school.”

“Do I have a choice?”

“No,” he turned on the water. “Not really.”

Matt felt good. He almost bounced as he walked Jill to her school. The world felt like a much less threatening place than it was the day before. Still, he examined everyone they walked past and every shadowy alcove that could have if shelter against the eyes for would be ambushers. His temper was jubilant as they approached the school.

“I’ll drop you at the door.”

“It’s okay,” she said. “This is a school; it is totally safe here.

“You certain?”

“It’s broad daylight, and there are people around.” She kissed him again. “Besides, teachers have to be respectable. I have to keep my reputation.”

Okay,” he stopped. “I’ll call you when I get off shift.”

“If we don’t hurry, neither of us will have to worry about our shifts.” She blew him a kiss and walked toward the office.

Matt had a couple of hours before his shift started, and he was famished. He rushed back to his apartment so full of love he hadn’t realized that he’d let his guard down until he saw the note on his door.

Don’t leave her, Dales!

The note-leaver had been there, watching him. Every hair on Matt’s body rose. They saw him leave with Jill. She was in danger. He opened his door and ran to the vid-com.

“Public Elementary School Section Beta switchboard.” It took an eternity before an old man standing behind a counter answered.

“Yes, how can I help you?”

“Can you patch me into Jill Cochiti’s room?”

“Are you the substitute?”

“Substitute,” Matt’s adrenaline surged, and he pulled out his badge. “I’m no substitute. Put me through to Ms. Cochetti.”

“I’m sorry, officer,” the old man looked down onto a clipboard. “Ms. Cochetti hasn’t arrived yet, nor has she yet to call in.”

“I just left her in front of the school.” Matt’s voice started to show the stress he felt.

“I’m sorry officer. Whether this is important I can switch you to the principal.”

“Did you call her at domestic?’ Matt demanded.

“That is standard procedure. I’m going to transfer…”

“Disconnect. Get me Chief Vanderhaar.”

Another eternity later, the screen lit up.

“Vanderhaar.” His former partner looked not having time.

“The woman I was with, Jill Cochetti, she’s missing. I left her at school, but she never made it to lesson.” Matt was almost hyperventilating. “Run a trace. I’m on my way to her apartment.”

“Dales, hold on a second…”

“Disconnect!” Matt yelled as he ran out of his door.

He was out of breath when he reached Jill’s apartment. Teams of officers were waiting outside an opened door, making a perimeter.

“Stop!” one of the officers ordered. “We can’t have you contaminating this site.”

“What. I was just here. Where is..?” His stomach cramps hurt so bad he crumbled onto the walkway.

“It’s alright,” Vanderhaar told the officer as he walked out of the apartment.

“Is she…? My God Ken, did he kill her?”

He asked softly. “You were close?”

“Were?”

“I’m sorry, Matt. She’s dead.” Vanderhaar cleared his throat. “The message was left on the board. We found the chip on her kitchen table.” He held out an evidence bag containing the bloody device. “It’s hers.”

“I want to see the body. Ken. You have to let me see her.” Matt struggled to his feet.

“We don’t know where it is,” he said.

“Nobody? She could still be alive; you don’t know.”

“There’s too much blood. Wherever the murderer took the body — no one survives so much blood loss. She’s dead.” Vanderhaar’s tone left no room for argument.

“Some of it could have been the killers. Maybe she fought back.”

“I’m sorry. It’s been tested. It has her genetic code; it’s all hers.”

“No, why would he take the body? It makes no sense.” Matt could feel a sympathetic hand touch his shoulder. He pushed it absent and stumbled back. “Not her. Not her.”

He started running for the door as fast as he could. He had to receive out of the room, he had to think. There were too many people moving around the room, her room, walking through the pools of her blood. He couldn’t stand it any longer.

The sound of his footfalls on the pavement became regular and rhythmic, like the beating of his heart, like the throng of the crowds in Dallas. The sound of the throng continued to grow as he ran. Soon, all he could hear was the sounds of the people of Dallas rioting. He found himself pushing through the crowds of people before him. He had to get to the front of the line. This was wrong. It was a mistake. People would die provided he couldn’t get through to the front of the crowd. He ran into the park, pushing civilians absent as he did so.

“Disperse,” He yelled as he pushed and shoved. “Food is on its way. Go back to your houses!”

A glint of light flashed above him, followed by a loud crack. Matt pulled out his service gun and returned fire; his bullets ricocheted off the city dome. He emptied his weapon and dropped it. Then fell to his knees, paying no heed to the fleeing colonists around him. The sounds of the past faded as he collapsed on the grass. It felt warm, as warm as when Jill gave her puppet show. The image came readily to his intellect. It faded, replaced by the sight of her falling from a brilliant height, her body crashing into the park grass with a sickening thud.

When the officers arrived to take him into custody, Matt was weeping uncontrollably. He no longer cared what happened to him, not even when he felt the brutal cuffs cut into his wrists. He didn’t protest or put up a fight when two men pulled him to his feet.

“Jill,” he said.

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