Page 37


They were walking now, shivering. She was hugging herself. He turned up his collar and pulled the halves of his sportcoat tight together.


“How much of the hour has passed?” Connie asked.


“Damned if I know. I've lost all time sense.”


“Half an hour?”


“Maybe.”


“Longer?”


“Maybe.”


“Less?”


“Maybe.”


“Shit.”


“Maybe.”


To their right, in a sprawling recreationalvehicle storage yard behind heavyduty chainlink fence crowned with razor wire, motor homes stood side by side in the gloom, like row after row of slumbering elephants.


“What're all these cars?” Connie wondered.


They were parked on both sides of the road, half on the narrow shoulders and half on the pavement, squeezing the threelane street to no more than two lanes. It was curious, because none of those businesses would have been open when the Pause hit. In fact, all of them were dark, and had closed up seven to eight hours earlier.


On their right, a landscapemaintenance company occupied a concreteblock building behind which a tree and shrub nursery was terraced halfway up the canyon wall.


Directly under one of the pole lamps, they came upon a car in which a young couple was necking. Her blouse was open, and his hand was inside, marble palm cupping marble breast. As far as Harry was concerned, their frozen expressions of ardent passion, tinted sodiumyellow and glimpsed through the car windows, was about as erotic as a couple of corpses tumbled together on a bed.


They passed two automobilerepair shops on opposite sides of the threelane, each specializing in different foreign makes. The businesses fronted their own parts junk yards heaped with cannibalized vehicles and fenced with high chainlink.


Cars continued to line the street, blocking driveways to the businesses. A boy of about eighteen or nineteen, shirtless in jeans and Rockports, as thoroughly gripped by the Pause as everyone they Camaro, arms out to his sides and palms up, staring at the occluded sky as if there was something to see up there, a stupid expression of druggedout bliss on his face.


“This is weird,” Connie said.


“Weird,” Harry agreed, flexing his hands to keep the knuckles from growing too stiff with the cold.


“But you know what?”


“Familiar somehow,” he said.


“Yeah.”


Along the final length of the threelane blacktop, all of the businesses were warehouses. Some were built of concrete block covered with dustcaked stucco, stained with rust from water pouring off corrugated metal roofs during countless rainy seasons. others were entirely of metal, like Quonset huts.


The parked cars grew more numerous in the final block of the street, which deadended in the crotch of the canyon. In some places they were doubled up, narrowing the road to one lane.


At the end of the street, the last of all the buildings was a large warehouse unidentified by any company name. It was one of the stuccocoated models with a corrugated steel roof. A giant FOR RENT banner was strung across the front, with a Realtor's phone number.


Security lights shone down the face of the structure, across metal rollup doors large enough to admit big tractorandtrailer rigs. At the southwest corner of the building was a smaller, mansize door at which stood two toughlooking guys in their early twenties, steroidassisted physiques bulked up beyond what weightlifting and diet alone could achieve.


“Couple of bouncers,” Connie said as they approached the Pause frozen men.


Suddenly the scene made sense to Harry “It's a rave.”


“On a weekday?”


“Must be someone's special party, birthday or something.”


Imported from England a few years ago, the rave phenomenon appealed to teenagers and those in their early twenties who wanted to party nonstop until dawn, beyond the eye of all authorities.


“Smart place to hide?” Connie wondered.


“As smart as any, I guess, and smarter than some.”


Rave promoters rented warehouses and industrial buildings for a night or two, moving the event from one spot to another to avoid police detection. Locations of upcoming raves were advertised in underground newspapers and in fliers handed out at record stores, nightclubs, and schools, all written in the code of the subculture, using phrases like “The Mickey Mouse Xpress,” “American Xpress,” “DoubleHit Mickey,” “Get Xrayed,” “Dental Surgery Explained,” and “Free Balloons for the Kiddies.” Mickey Mouse and X were nicknames for a potent drug more commonly known as Ecstasy, while references to dentistry and balloons meant that nitrous oxider laughing gaswould be for sale.


Avoidance of police detection was essential. The theme of every illegal rave partyas opposed to tamer imitations in the legitimate rave nightclubswas sex, drugs, and anarchy.


Harry and Connie walked past the bouncers, through the door, and into the heart of chaos, but a chaos to which the Pause had brought a tenuous and artificial order.


The cavernous room was lit by half a dozen red and green lasers, perhaps a dozen yellow and red spots, and strobes, all of which had been blinking and sweeping over the crowd until the Pause stilled them.


Now lances of colorful, fixed light found some partiers and left others in shadows.


Four or five hundred people, mostly between eighteen and twentyfive, but some as young as fifteen, were frozen in either the act of dancing or just hanging out. Because the disc jockeys at raves invariably played highly energized techno dance music with a rapidly pounding bass that could shake walls, many of the young celebrants had been Paused in bizarre poses of flailing and gyrating abandon, bodies contorted, hair flying. The men and boys were for the most part dressed in jeans or chinos with flannel shirts and baseball caps worn backward, or with preppy sportcoats over Tshirts, though some were decked out all in black. The girls and young women wore a wider variety of clothes, but every outfit was provocativetight, short, lowcut, translucent, revealing; raves were, after all, celebrations of the carnal. The silence of graves had replaced the booming music, as well as the screams and shouts of the partiers; the eerie light combined with the stillness to impart an antierotic cadaverous quality to the exposed curves of calves, thighs, and breasts.


As he and Connie moved through the crowd, Harry noticed that the dancers' faces were stretched in grotesque expressions which probably had conveyed excitement and hoppedup gaiety when they were animated.


In freezeframe, however, they were eerily transformed into masks of rage, hatred, and agony.


In the fiery glow produced by the lasers and spots, and by the psychedelic images that film projectors beamed onto two huge walls, it was easy to imagine that this was no party, after all, but a diorama of Hell, with the damned writhing in pain and wailing for release from their excruciating torment.


By seining out the rave's noise and movement, the Pause might have captured the truth of the event in its net. Perhaps the ugly secret, beneath the flash and thunder, was that these revelers, in their obsessive search for sensation, were not truly having fun on any fundamental level, but were suffering private miseries from which they frantically sought relief that eluded them.


Harry led Connie out of the dancers into the spectators who were gathered around the perimeter of the enormous vaulted chamber. A few had been caught by the Pause in small groups, in the midst of shouted conversations and exaggerated laughter, faces strained and muscles corded in their necks as they had struggled to compete with the thunderous music.


But most seemed to be alone, disengaged from those around them. Some were slackfaced and staring vacuously into the crowd.


Others were as taut as stretched wire, with unnervingly feverish stares. Perhaps it was the Halloween lighting and the stark shadows, but in either case, whether holloweyed or glaring, the petrified ravers on the sidelines reminded Harry of movie zombies paralyzed in the middle of some murderous task.


“It's a regular creep show,” Connie said uneasily, evidently also perceiving a quality of menace in the scene that might not have been so obvious if they had wandered into it before the Pause.


“Welcome to the nineties.”


A number of the zombies on the periphery of the dance floor were holding balloons in an array of bright colors, though not attached to strings or sticks. Here was a redhaired, freckled boy of seventeen or eighteen, who had stretched the neck of a canaryyellow balloon and wrapped it around his index finger to prevent deflation. And here was a young man with a Pancho Villa mustache, firmly pinching the neck of a green balloon between thumb and forefinger, as was a blond girl with empty blue eyes. Those who didn't use their fingers seemed to employ the type of hinged binder clips that could be bought by the box at stationery stores. A few ravers had the necks of their balloons between their lips, taking hits of nitrous oxide, which they had bought from a vendor who was no doubt working out of a van behind the building. With all the vacant or intense stares and the bright balloons, it was as if a pack of the walking dead had wandered into a children's birthday party Although the scene was made infinitely strange and fascinating by the Pause, it was still drearily familiar to Harry. He was, after all, a homicide detective, and sudden deaths occasionally occurred at raves.


Sometimes they were drug overdoses. No dentist would sedate a patient with a concentration of nitrous oxide higher than eighty percent, but the gas available at raves was often pure, with no oxygen mixed in.


Take too many hits of the pure stuffin too short a time, or suck too long on one toke, you might not merely make a giggling spectacle of yourself but induce a stroke that killed you; or, worse, one that was not fatal but caused irreparable brain damage and left you flopping like a fish on the floor, or catatonic.


Harry spotted a loft overhanging the entire width of the back of the warehouse, twenty feet above the main floor, with wooden steps leading to it from both ends.


“Up there,” he told Connie, pointing.


They would be able to see the entire warehouse from that high deckand quickly spot Ticktock if they heard him enter, no matter which door he used. The two staircases ensured an escape route regardless of the direction from which he came at them.


Moving deeper into the building, they passed two bosomy young women in tight Tshirts on which was printed “Just Say NO,” a rave joke on Nancy Reagan's antidrug campaign, which meant these two said yes to nitrous oxide, NO, if not to anything else.


They had to step around three girls lying on the floor near the wall, two of them holding halfdeflated balloons and Paused in fits of redfaced giggles. The third was unconscious, mouth open, a fully deflated balloon on her chest.


Near the back, not far from the righthand stairs, an enormous white X was painted on the wall, large enough to be visible from every corner of the warehouse. Two guys in Mickey Mouse sweatshirtsand one of them in a mouseear hathad been frozen in the middle of bustling commerce, taking twentydollar bills from customers in return for capsules of Ecstasy or for disco biscuits saturated with the same stuff They came to a teenager, no more than fifteen, with guileless eyes and a face as innocent as that of a young nun. She was wearing a black Tshirt with a picture of a shotgun under the words PUMP ACTION. She had Paused in the process of putting a disco biscuit into her mouth.


Connie plucked the cookie from the girl's stiff fingers and slipped it out from between her parted lips. She threw it to the floor. The cookie didn't have quite enough momentum to carry it all the way down, halting inches above the concrete. Connie pushed it the rest of the way with the toe of her shoe and crushed it underfoot. “Stupid kid.”


“This isn't lee you ”Harry said.


“What?”


“Being a stuffy adult.”


“Maybe someone's got to.”


Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or Ecstasy, an amphetamine with hallucinogenic effects, could radically energize the user and induce euphoria. It could also generate a false sense of profound intimacy with any strangers in whose company the user happened to be when high.


Although other drugs sometimes appeared at raves, NO and Ecstasy were far and away predominant. NO was just nonaddictive giggle juicewasn't it?-and Ecstasy could bring you into harmony with your fellow human beings and put you in tune with Mother Nature. Right? That was its rep. The chosen drug of ecologically minded peace advocates, well consumed at rallies to save the planet.


Sure, it was dangerous for people with heart conditions, but there was no recorded death from its use in the entire United States. True, scientists had recently discovered that Ecstasy caused pinsize holes in the brain, hundreds or even thousands of them from continued use, but there was no proof that these holes resulted in diminished mental capacity, so what they probably did, see, was let the cosmic rays shine in better and assist enlightenment. Right?


Climbing to the loft, Harry could look down between the steps, which had treads but no risers, and see couples frozen in make out postures in the shadows under the staircase.


All the sex education in the world, all the graphic pamphlets on condom use, could be swept aside by one tab of Ecstasy if the user experienced an erotic response, as so many did. How could you remain concerned about disease when the stranger you'd just met was such a soulmate, the yin to your yang, radiant and pure to your third eye, so in tune to your every need and desire?


When he and Connie reached the loft, the light was dimmer than on the main level, but Harry could see couples lying on the floor or sitting together with their backs against the rear wall. They were making out more aggressively than those beneath the stairs, Paused in tongue duels, blouses unbuttoned, jeans unzipped, hands seeking within.


Two or three of the couples, in an Ecstasy rush, might even have lost such complete touch with where they were and with common propriety that they were actually doing it in one fashion or another, when the Pause hit.


Harry had no desire to confirm that suspicion. Like the sad circus on the main floor, the scene in the loft was only depressing. It was not in the least erotic to any voyeur with minimum standards, but provoked as many somber thoughts as any Hieronymus Bosch painting of hellacious realms and creatures.


As Harry and Connie moved between the couples toward the loft railing where they could look down on the main floor, he said, “Be careful what you step in.”


“You're disgusting.”


“Only trying to be a gentleman.”


“Well, that's unique in this place.”


From the railing, they had a good view of the frozen throng below, partying eternally.


Connie said, “God, I'm cold.”


“Me, too.”


Standing side by side, they put their arms around each other at the waist, ostensibly sharing body heat.


Harry had rarely in his life felt as close to anyone as he felt to her at that moment. Not close in an amorous sense. The stoned and groping couples on the floor behind them were sufficiently antiromantic to assure against any romantic feelings rising in him just then. The atmosphere wasn't right for it. What he felt, instead, was the platonic closeness of friend to friend, of partners who had been pushed to their limits and then beyond, who were very probably going to die together before dawnand this was the important partwithout either of them ever having decided what he really wanted out of life or what it all meant.

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