From an inner pocket in his bearskin coat, Pope took a clear, unlabeled bottle containing some brown liquid, raised it toward the sky, and said something that ignited the crowd into a frenzy of fist-pumping cheers.
While Pope took a long pull from his bottle, the crowd began to part, a corridor forming down the middle of Main Street, everyone straining to see.
Three figures appeared, moving through the crowd toward the bonfire.
The outer two—men dressed in dark clothes with machetes dangling from shoulder straps—held the person in the middle by her arms.
Ethan felt something dislodge inside him, a molten core of rage metastasizing in the pit of his stomach.
He could see that she didn’t have the strength to stand, her feet sliding across the pavement as her captors dragged her along. One of her eyes was closed from what must have been a savage blow, and what he could see of her face was covered in blood.
But she was conscious.
Conscious and terrified, her gaze fixed on the wet pavement under her feet like she was attempting to shut out everything else.
The two men toted her to within ten yards of the bonfire and then pushed her forward, releasing her.
Pope shouted something as Beverly crumpled to the ground.
The people in her immediate vicinity pressed back, forming a circle of open space around her, twenty feet in diameter.
Through the window, Ethan heard Beverly crying.
She sounded like a wounded animal—something so desperate in her high-pitched keening.
Everywhere, people were elbowing their way through the crowd, trying to reach the outskirts of the circle, the cluster of bodies forming the perimeter becoming tighter and tighter.
Pope tucked the bottle back into his coat and took hold of his shotgun.
He pumped it, aimed it at the sky.
The report echoed between the buildings, rattling the glass in the window frame.
The crowd fell silent.
No one moved.
Ethan could hear the rainfall again.
Beverly struggled to her feet and wiped away a line of blood running down the middle of her face. Even from this third-floor window, Ethan couldn’t miss the quaking that had enveloped her, the all-encompassing fear that consumes a person who knows exactly what horrible thing they’re about to experience.
Beverly stood teetering in the rain, favoring her left foot.
She turned slowly, hobbling, taking in the surrounding faces, and though Ethan couldn’t hear her words, the tone of her voice was unmissable.
Rain and tears and blood streaming down her face.
A full minute elapsed.
Someone shouldered his way through the mass of people and broke out into the circle.
It was the shirtless man with red suspenders and a Santa hat.
At first, he lingered on the edge as if steeling himself—a boxer in his corner, moments before the bell.
Someone handed him a bottle.
He tilted it back, took a long, reckless swig.
Then he gripped his painted bat and stumbled out into the circle.
He circled her.
She backed away, veering close to the edge of the crowd.
Someone gave her a hard shove out into the middle of the circle, the momentum propelling her straight at the man with the bat.
Ethan didn’t see it coming.
Neither did Beverly.
Happened fast, as if the man decided at the last possible second.
A single, fluid motion.
Raised the bat and swung.
The sound of maple striking skull made Ethan instinctively shut his eyes and turn away.
The crowd roared.
When he opened them again, Beverly was on the ground, struggling to crawl.
Ethan felt a surge of bile threatening to surface.
The man in the Santa hat dropped the bat on the pavement and strutted off into the crowd.
The bat rolled across the road toward Beverly.
She reached for it, her fingers inches away.
A woman wearing a black bikini, black heels, a black crown, and black angel wings stepped into the circle.
The crowd cheered.
The woman strolled across to where Beverly lay straining for the bat.
She squatted down, flashed Beverly a bright, toothy smile, and lifted the weapon, gripping it in both hands and raising it above her head like the battle-ax of some demon queen.
No, no, no, no, no...
She smashed it into the dead center of Beverly’s back.
Screams of joy filled the street as Beverly writhed on the ground.
What he’d have given to be hovering in a Black Hawk two hundred feet above Main in control of a GAU-19 Gatling, burning two thousand rounds per minute into the crowd, cutting these motherfuckers in half.
Ethan turned away from the window, lifted the coffee table with both hands, and slammed it into the wall, wood splintering, glass shattering.
The effort only whetted his rage.
He craved violence, a small voice inside him suggesting he go down there into the crowd with the machete right now and hack away. Yes, they would eventually overpower him, but God there was nothing he wanted more than to go slashing through the masses, a one-man massacre.
But then you’ll die.
Never see your family again.
Never know what any of this was all about.
Ethan returned to the window.
Beverly lay unmoving on the street, a lake of blood widening around her head.
The circle was breaking down and closing in.
Then all at once, the mob descended upon her.
It was a betrayal to leave, but he couldn’t bear to stand there and watch, and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do to stop it—five hundred people versus one.
There’s nothing you can do for her. She’s gone. Now go while you still can.
As Ethan stormed back toward the door, he heard Beverly cry out, the sound of her pain, her utter hopelessness, bringing tears to his eyes.
There could be people outside this door waiting for you.
Must be vigilant.
Ethan stepped out into the hallway.
He shut the apartment door.
The commotion on Main became an indistinct murmur.
He wiped his eyes and headed back the way he’d come, up the hallway and then through the door to the stairwell.
On the third-floor landing, he hesitated, listening, staring down through the railing.
At the bottom, he cracked open the door just wide enough so he could squeeze through.