The girl looked down, stroking the knitted front of the
sweater. When she spoke, her voice was small.
it off a dead man…”
Nikki’s hands flew to her mouth. Andy and Sam each
put an arm around her as she sagged. Mo, nearest the door,
took the junkie by the elbow and steered her outside,
pulling the door shut behind them. MacGyver hesitated,
torn between looking after Nikki and finding out more
about Matthew. At a nod from Sam, he turned and slipped
out of the room. Looking up and down the hallway, he spotted
Mo and the nurse sitting with the junkie at a small table.
He opened his mouth to ask a question, but shut it again
as Mo raised one gloved finger.
is Trudy and she is very, very high.” Mo frowned
at the girl, who seemed fascinated by the ceiling. “Pacing
up and down, asking her stuff and waving your arms around
isn’t going to make her remember things any faster,
so if you want to help, sit down and just listen.”
Mo shoved a chair towards MacGyver with one booted foot
and turned back to Trudy. Trudy took a deep breath and
her eyes focussed, returning from somewhere very far away.
us about the sweater Trudy.” The nurse prompted.
Trudy looked down, then back up, her eyes scared. “He
Mo ignored MacGyver and the nurse as they turned to stare.
“Today-dead or long-time-dead?”
Trudy blinked, trying to think past the psychedelic parade
in her head. “Today-dead. Christmas eve dead.”
She giggled and her gaze slid away. “We wish you
a merry Christmas,” She sang softly.
stiff or bendy?” Mo patted Trudy on the cheek. “Stay
with me, OK honey?”
Like a big doll!” Trudy made puppet movements with
her arms, then sighed.
either he’s dead and he’s been that way since
soon after he left here, or she’s mistaken and he’s
still alive.” The nurse murmured to MacGyver, who
shook his head in confusion. “Rigor mortis doesn’t
last forever.” The nurse turned back to Trudy, missing
MacGyver’s stricken expression.
make any noises?” Mo took Trudy’s hand and
squeezed her fingers.
sound. Sssh…” Trudy freed her hand and put
her finger to her lips. “But when I borrowed his
sweater…” She sat upright, momentarily present.
“I didn’t steal it! I only borrowed it because
I was colder than him!” She blinked slowly and subsided
again. “But after I borrowed it, he was all shivery.”
She wrapped her arms around herself. “All shivery.”
Mo stared at
MacGyver and mouthed ‘He ain’t dead!’,
jabbing a finger at the Trudy – the girl –
she was wrong! Matthew wasn’t dead, he was alive!”
know where Matthew was?” MacGyver watched the nurse
lead Trudy away.
Not so much.” Mo shrugged. “We got a pretty
good idea of the area because Trudy buys from Copperhead
Joe too, but after that?” The scarves rose and fell
in a shrug.
take a look at the map again, see what we can piece together.”
MacGyver took the map from Doc and spread it out again
on the desk. “OK, Mo – shoot.”
She came out of Del’s and headed for the big dog.”
Mo sniffed, looking around the group.
Kelly raised a hand. It’s across from the police
station. It’s a burger stand shaped like a giant
MacGyver moved his finger on the map. “What else?”
through the rainbows, and then she fell down in them.”
Mo leaned forward to study the map.
Mel nodded. “Took my car there once, they got oil
all over the sidewalk outside.” He glanced at Kelly.
“Oil on a wet sidewalk makes rainbow patterns.
He pointed to a spot further south. “Here.”
MacGyver slid his finger across the paper. “Next?”
past the sideways house, but not as far as the black hole.”
Mo scratched and shrugged. “Hell if I know…”
MacGyver looked around, but no-one spoke up. “OK,
it’s a start. Let’s start at the garage and
split up to search around there. Mel, you’re leading.
* * * *
at the upturned box, hearing it call to him. He screwed
his eyes shut and stuffed his fingers in his ears, but
he couldn’t block it out.
* * * *
“No…” His voice was a desperate whisper.
a lookout for anything that could be a sideways house.”
MacGyver put the pickup in gear and followed Sam and Mama
Lorraine away from the garage.
that is.” Nikki wiped condensation off the window
with her sleeve and stared out. They drove down the shabby
streets. Boarded-up windows and grimy neon signs slid
past the truck windows, anonymous figures hurried along
in the gloom between the tall buildings.
this street looks like it should be condemned!”
Nikki blew on her hands to warm them, not taking her eyes
off the street.
the buildings are pretty much holding each other up!”
MacGyver leaned forwards, looking at an old wall leaning
heavily against the building next to it.
Nikki frowned. “Could that be what she meant by
MacGyver brought the pickup to a halt. “How about
Nikki opened the pickup’s door, standing on the
step to get a better view.
at the end of the row leaned crazily against some stout
poles. Its roof met the building next to it at a sharp
angle, and cracks ran down the height of the brickwork.
Rusty railings separated it from the street, bent and
went past the sideways house.” MacGyver waited for
Nikki to come back inside the truck before moving off
saw him before she got to the black hole.” Nikki
sighed and shrugged.
have found it.” MacGyver flicked the headlights
onto full beam, the light shining off a ‘road closed’
barrier at the end of the street. Beyond, in the gathering
dusk, a sinkhole had torn a gaping hole across half the
be close!” Nikki turned to MacGyver, hope in her
eyes. “Pull over!”
the pickup in a space behind a dumpster. Handing Nikki
a flashlight, he got out and stepped over the low fence
into the yard of the first building.
themselves hoarse calling for Matthew.
The first building
proved empty, just a shell with something green and foul-smelling
coating the walls. In the second, they disturbed three
junkies and the largest cockroaches Nikki had ever seen.
In the third, Nikki almost fell through the floor when
the rotted boards collapsed under her weight.
* * * *
eyes snapped open. He must have fallen asleep because
he’d dreamed he heard Nikki calling his name. He
sighed, feeling tears prick. Nikki couldn’t be here,
she didn’t know where he was. Matthew scowled, angry
with himself for getting in yet another mess. This time,
even he didn’t know where he was.
Hearing a man
shout, he turned in the direction of the voice. Had the
man shouted his name? He unplugged his fingers from his
ears and listened.
The man’s voice, nearer this time.
Matthew drew in a great, wailing breath as he recognised
Nikki’s voice. He heard Nikki cough, then shout
NIKKI! I’M HERE!” Matthew stood on wobbly
KEEP SHOUTING!” The man’s voice again, and
a thud as someone threw their weight against the door
Matthew could see through the holes in the ceiling above
Matthew could hear her calling back to him, and saw the
door shudder as she kicked it. There was a pause, then
a splintering crash as Nikki and a tall man burst through
the door and stumbled into the room above him. Nikki gasped
as she saw the gaping hole in the floor, and the man threw
himself to the side to avoid falling down it. His weight
made the floor shake as he landed, dust sifting down through
the cold air.
stay back.” The man got to his knees and moved closer
to the hole, lying down to peer over the edge. “Matthew,
right?” He grinned down and Matthew nodded.
to meet you. You stay there a minute, while I figure out
a way to get you up here, OK?” There was a brief
conversation that Matthew didn’t catch, then the
man poked his head over the edge of the hole again.
see anything down there? Can you tell me what’s
in the room with you?” The man turned, said something
to Nikki and Matthew heard her walk back across the room.
Matthew looked around, noticing for the first time that
he was alone.
a cloth. Um… And a door leaning on the wall.”
He squinted up through the dusty air.
The man leaned all the way down the hole, looking into
the room. “Is there anything you could rest the
door on, make yourself a kind of a step? You’re
too far down for us to reach and pull you out.”
Matthew looked around. “No.”
The man disappeared and Matthew heard him dragging something
across the floor above. “I’m going to drop
these down the hole as carefully as I can. Stay out of
the way, OK?” there was a scrape and a clank and
the man lowered an oil drum down the hole, leaning so
far that Matthew figured Nikki had to be holding his ankles.
The drum bounced off the floor when it landed, and Matthew
stood it on its end, holding on as a wave of dizziness
overtook him. “Matthew? Matthew! You OK? Can you
throw me the cloth?”
to the sound of cloth ripping, then stood out of the way
as a chest of drawers was lowered next to the oil drum.
lay the door on top of those?” The man watched him
do it, hanging upside down with his long hair making a
shaggy halo around his head. “Good. Now climb up
on it and catch this.” Matthew reached out, catching
a makeshift rope knotted together from the old curtain,
a knitted scarf and a length of cable.
got it!” Matthew knotted the rope around his waist
and took as firm a grip as he could, willing his cold
hands to hold on. The man disappeared and Matthew felt
a tug on the rope, followed by a curse he recognised as
one of Nikki’s favourites and an almighty heave.
For a moment he dangled above the floor, reminded with
a rush of vertigo about his dream, and then strong hands
were pulling him up through the hole in the floorboards.
thank goodness!” Nikki swept him up in a hug, then
stepped back and punched him hard on the shoulder. “You’re
a scumbag, you know that?! You had me scared to death!”
She hit him again, then hugged him, tears streaming down
I’m Mac.” The tall man smiled and held out
a hand. “Come on, let’s get you back and share
the good news!”
Matthew, showered and dressed in clean clothes, watched
Nikki putting up Christmas decorations. Santa Luisa Mission
was full, and he was shy of talking to so many new people.
The one in charge, Doc, was arguing about sandwiches with
a brightly dressed woman wielding a ladle. Two bikers,
an overage hippy and a young man who looked a lot like
MacGyver were heling with the decorations. A bubbly girl
and a massive person wearing several coats were organising
a group of homeless people into singing carols. The large
room was warm, steamy where the radiators were being used
to dry coats and gloves, and the noise was incredible.
Matthew was glad to fade into the background and jumped
when MacGyver sat down beside him. For a moment MacGyver
watched the room too, taking in the scene.
get used to it’” He grinned. “It’s
a bit much to begin with, isn’t it?”
Matthew nodded, hunching down inside his sweatshirt and
pulling the sleeves over his hands.
you run like that?” Matthew glanced sideways at
MacGyver’s question, but saw only concern in the
Matthew looked down at his feet. “I just needed
to be on my own, you know? I know everyone’s trying
to help me, and I’m grateful, but… Just too
many people. And I wanted to sort myself out without relying
on everyone else yet again.” He sighed. “Guess
that didn’t work out the way I planned.”
MacGyver studies Matthew. “You use?”
Matthew’s answer was quick and sure. “No,
I’m staying clean this time.”
to hear it.” MacGyver stood up. “You gonna
stay with Nikki for a while?”
Matthew looked across at Nikki, stringing tinsel along
the tops of the windows. “She’s been so good
to me. I don’t want to give her any more trouble,
you know?” He shook his head. “I haven’t
even got her a Christmas present. What kind of brother
she’ll forgive you.” MacGyver smiled down
at Matthew. “The best Christmas present you can
give her is to stay clean. Look her in the eye, tell her
you’re going to do it and mean it, OK?”
I will.” Matthew smiled back and stood up, holding
out his hand. “Thank you, MacGyver, and Merry Christmas.”
Christmas, Matt.” Bypassing the hand, MacGyver pulled
the boy into a hug, then released him and gave him a gentle
push towards Nikki. He watched Matthew cross the room,
and speak to Nikki. She listened carefully, then ruffled
his hair and kissed his cheek.
Christmas, Mac.” Doc handed MacGyver a cup of cocoa
and a cookie. “I think he’ll make it this
time, don’t you?”
MacGyver blew on his cocoa, watching Matthew pick up a
length of tinsel and hold it out to Sam. “I think
he’ll be just fine. Merry Christmas, Doc.”