The barrier gate arm lifts and she drives onto the pier wondering what catastrophe had at last befallen someone other than her.
It’s only after she passes the tourist storefronts shuttered for the night, their wares swaying like ghosts on a clothesline, and draws closer to those anxiously circling red lights that she wonders “who” instead of what.
Who are all those emergency vehicles for? One of her friends? All of them?
Duffy and company had attacked on multiple fronts. The prank call was just a taste. Connie and Di and Dallas are being winched up from a watery grave by a crane, their legs wirebound to cinder blocks. Sharks and fishes had already begun nipping flesh from their noses and ears, and their contorted faces have preserved postmortem the terror of their last moments.
“Don’t believe everything you think,” she says loudly, another moldering Yeagerism. It’s hard to halt her imagination and all of its doomsaying escalation.
The end of the pier is the chaos the lights promised: an ambulance faces her in the middle of the street, straddling both lanes, its left front side badly smashed in; another ambulance runs parallel, its back doors open toward her; a fire engine is partially up on the curb between the damaged ambulance and The Grove, where Formal is being held; police cars are parked and double-parked askance throughout the lot on her left; a clot of police surround a boy in a bright blue tux sitting on the pavement, his hands handcuffed behind him, his head bowed; everywhere there are emergency workers bustling or filling out paperwork; everywhere there are attendees standing idly, gawking; young ladies hold their heels in their hands, their overexerted bare feet resting on the cold pavement; gentlemen have slacked their ties and bowties. Many of them are reacting with the appropriate detached engrossment, receiving the scene through the prism of their outstretched smartphones, bending reality into cinema in order to later say convincingly and without irony “It was like a movie.” Some of them are crying. Everyone looks exhausted, but no one seems to be going anywhere.
Beddy pulls into the parking lot where a policeman stops her. She rolls down her window.
“What are you doing?” he asks, and jabs her with the beam of his maglight.
This is a good question.
“I’m um, just getting here.”
“Are you arriving late because you had a good time elsewhere?”
She winces. “God, no.”
“You’re not currently intoxicated, then?”
“Have you had anything to drink this evening?”
He leans in towards the car, sniffing perceptibly. “All right, then. Let’s get you parked. Move toward the back, park as far back as you can. When you cross the street, watch for broken glass. We haven’t gotten it cleaned up yet. And don’t loiter with the rest of this crowd.”
She wants to ask him what happened, but he pats the top of her car brusquely, the universal sign to move along. She obeys.
The parking lot is three rows deep, and she chooses a spot in the third row, in front of the guardrail. She grabs her purse, gets out, and weaves through the occupied parking stalls toward the crowd. A knot of worry is tying itself in her guts.
A tall EMT leans against the front of a brown station wagon up ahead, smoking a cigarette. He’s the only emergency worker who doesn’t seem to be active. He stares off into ambiguous space. The pacing of the turret lights intermittently backlights the smoke in red or blue.
She stops when she reaches the front of the wagon. She looks at him. Everything about him is dark: his hair, his eyebrows, the pockets of his cheekbones, the fine shadow of stubble along his jawline and chin. He doesn’t look back. She looks where he’s looking.
“Shit’s fucked,” he says.
He takes a slow drag from his cigarette and exhales at the speed of his drag.
“What happened?” Beddy says, too impatiently. “I’m sorry. Are you allowed to tell me?”
Beddy’s shoulders droop, and he looks over at her for the first time. Everything about him is dark, but his eyes are empathic. He looks off again, to what seems to her to be beyond the fray and crowd and even The Grove itself.
“Responded to a call about a pedestrian struck by a car. Got here, checked her vitals-”
“‘Her?’” Beddy’s heart calcifies in her chest. “Who was she?”
“Not at liberty to say. So we strapped her on the gurney, loaded her in, and we’re backing out, right? We get clocked by this drunk driver.”
“Oh God,” she says. Her remark is part sympathy, part deepening fear.
“Right? My partner and me, we’re fine. I check the girl, and she’s no worse off than before. But dumbass broke our left front axle when he hit us. So another ambulance had to be called, and except for making statements, now I’ve got the night off.”
He looks over at her again, searching her.
“I’m okay,” she says, without prompting.
Her hands are shaking, and she holds one hand to steady both. “Do you know what the girl looked like?”