Graham thought about his informant on the drive home.
He didn’t know for sure that Warburton was Tycho, but the pieces seemed to line up – Tycho had said he’d just been laid off, and he’d certainly been bitter enough. As he often did, Graham tried to put himself in the shoes of his subject – to gain their perspective – but this time he came up short. Was his tip to Graham the final “fuck you” before he did himself in? But why would he kill himself before the story broke?
He had to admit that he would probably never know for sure, and that happened sometimes. A source petered out. A story fizzled or was squashed by his editor, or political pressures forced a story down. He had learned long ago that the notion of a free press was oxymoronic; the only true free journalism taking place anymore was in the blogosphere, because if you had a brand or a corporation behind you, censorship was all too real.
He pulled into his driveway and cut the ignition.
He got out of the car and saw Buzz loitering around in the carport, where he kept his weight bench and washing machine. That gave Graham pause. Buzz was never outside. Had he left a window open or had Mrs. Connelly from next door come over again? She was an elderly widow who had keys to his house because she took care of Buzz when he was traveling, but she was somewhat senile and sometimes went into his house thinking it was hers. Sometimes she forgot to close the doors fully. Once, she had walked in on him and a date as they were disrobing on the sofa; but even after that particular incident, Graham couldn’t bring himself to confiscate her keys.
He grabbed his briefcase from the passenger seat and set it on the hood of the car, then went after Buzz. But the cat hissed at him and scampered back into the darkness, out of sight.
“God damn it, Buzz,” he said, and retrieved his briefcase. He walked around to the front door and found it not only unlocked but slightly ajar. He pushed the door open. “Mrs. Connelly?”
He saw her then, lying on the living room floor, face down, facing away from him. He knew instantly that she was dead. She was in her nightgown. He could see the bulging blue veins in her calves. Her red painted toenails. And the butterfly tattoo on her ankle that hinted at a youth he’d never had the courage to ask her about.
A round halo of blood crowned her head.
He took a step into the foyer, but instinct made him stop.
Then he smelled the gas.
Not gasoline, but natural gas.
Graham backed out of the house, turned to head for his car, realizing he’d left his cell phone sitting in the cup holder. And that was when he saw the black SUV, sitting at the curb two houses down on the opposite side of the street. Its windows tinted dark, engine idling.
But he knew – somehow he just knew – that the man or men inside that vehicle, had killed Mrs. Connelly and they were after him. That she had gotten in their way, perhaps surprising them as they waited. Or they had entered the house to find her already there and had killed her, but Buzz had gotten out.
Graham ran –
Then the house exploded.
And in the next instant, Graham somehow found himself lying face down in the yard across the street from his own home. He rolled over onto his side, the taste of soil, sand, and grass in his mouth. His back was searing, as if he’d fallen asleep in the sun for hours. He pushed himself to one knee, but collapsed and fell onto his back. He was vaguely aware of the inferno across the street, that it was his house burning away into nothing.
The darkness pulled him down.
He assumed he was dying.
Hands on him now, faces leaning down to him, their mouths moving but he couldn’t hear anything they said. His vision was fading fast and he wanted something to grasp onto in this world, something to take with him, his final memory, the last thing he would ever see. He tried to look away from the panicked faces, but all he saw was the bright red-orange flames shooting into the night sky. He followed the flames up, his eyes moving past them until finally, he saw the thing that he could take with him. A final vision before he left this plane of existence.
It was the moon.