She came into view at the top of the stairway and motioned to hurry us. Burnett, who wasn’t going to hurry for any- one, kept climbing at the same indolent pace. We found her on the third floor in an open doorway. Beyond her, an empty room—white walls, folded canvas tarps, a dried roller, stacked cans. I smelled paint.
“We here for you?” Burnett asked.
“No. Him,” she said.
She shifted her eyes toward a shut door at the end of the newly painted white room. Burnett walked past her.
“Locked,” she said. “It’s locked.”
Burnett tried the knob, put his shoulder into it, then stepped back.
“I don’t know. Like this . . .”
She showed the length of the gun with two hands.
“Whatta you think?” he asked. “He ever tried before?”
“I don’t know.”
“You see him load it?”
She shook her head.
“Well, this is stupid. Don’t go near the door.”
That was it for Burnett. He walked to the end of the hallway, jerked the window open, and felt for cigarettes. She leaned against the doorframe and watched him sullenly. I thought I ought to say something.
“It’s not our job,” I said. “Some barricaded patient. What’re we gonna do?” Then, “You’re his girlfriend?”
“I hardly know him. I’m part of his group.”
“I’m positive,” she said.
I didn’t understand what she meant. Then I did.
She looked as if she was just out of college. Brown hair partway down her back, olive skin, a navy pullover sweatshirt with dangling white cords coming out of brass sealed eyelets. With her shy demeanor, thin, nervous mouth, big eyes, and scrawny body, she wasn’t particularly attractive. The dispatched report said her name was Emily Pascal.
“What’s his count?”
“Ten. So he’s got nothing to lose,” she said.
We could hear sirens, far away at first, then closer. Down the hallway, Burnett stood with two hands on the windowsill. Emily Pascal leaned off the doorframe.
“Don’t go in there,” I said.
“I just want to check,” she said. “Before the cops. Maybe he’ll go willingly.” She started into the apartment, into the newly painted room. I reached out as if to restrain her but she gave me a sharp look.
“Don’t touch me.”
I pulled my hands away. Burnett glanced over, bored.
“Don’t let her in, Frank.”
But she’d already gone in. Then two things happened, one right after the other. The sirens outside the window wound down and stopped and in the sudden, unexpected silence afterward there was a loud pop from the inner room. I heard something fall.
“I don’t fucking believe it,” Burnett said.
He tossed his cigarette out the window and started back, not hurrying at all. He joined me in the doorway. The girl, Emily Pascal, now lay on her side, making little moaning noises. Her right leg was out straight, but her left leg was bent, and around the left knee I saw a hole in her jeans about the size of a pea. Around that hole there was a growing purplish stain.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Safelight by Shannon Burke. Copyright © 2004 by Shannon Burke. Excerpted by permission of Random House Trade Paperbacks, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.