Treva Williams, the only hostage to be released, sat on the curb beyond the cordoned-off area, wrapped in an EMT blanket. Shivering, teeth chattering, though the afternoon temperature had topped 100 for the third straight day.
She looked up at me with dull, disbelieving eyes.
“They shot him.” Voice strained, a whisper. She was dissociating. Half out of her body. In shock.
“Who got shot?” It was Detective Eleanor Lowrey, standing beside me. The implacable heat had raised beads of sweat on her smooth black skin, though her violet eyes maintained their focus. “How many were there?”
“They shot Bobby. Bobby Marks.”
“The assistant manager?” Lowrey consulted a Xeroxed page tucked in her notebook. The cops had just gotten a list of all on-site employees at this branch from the bank’s home office in Harrisburg.
A long way from where we were now. Downtown, the corner of Liberty and Grant. Normally a busy intersection in the business district. The cacophony of traffic horns blaring, harried pedestrians shouting into cell phones, street vendors hawking Italian ices as relief against the blistering heat. The Brownian motion of urban life.
But not today. With the streets blocked off, traffic halted, sidewalks emptied, there was only the crackling tension of a city block under siege. The smell of sweat, the buzz of adrenaline, the pall of fear.
I looked down and saw that Treva had buried her chin in the folds of the thick blanket.
“They shot Bobby in the head,” she said again, her words muffled. “Blood everywhere. Blood and—”
She paused, touched her forehead with trembling fingers. Looked at the bits of scarlet and grey dotting her fingertips. Blood and specks of brain matter. Bobby’s.
Treva convulsed then, doubled over under the blanket. Colorless bile splattered the pavement at our feet. Eleanor Lowrey gasped and took a step back.
“It’s okay,” I said to her. She nodded.
Lowrey was a good cop, one of the best I’d ever seen. A rare combination of steely competence and empathy. But right now, her awareness of Treva’s emotional state was in conflict with her urgent need for information about what was happening inside that bank. Other lives were at stake.
I turned my attention back to Treva. Put my hand on her shoulder, felt it trembling under the coarse blanket. Her auburn hair, tangled and drenched with sweat, curtained her face.
“I’m right here, Treva. The police, too. You’re safe. You’re not in the bank now. You’re far away from those men.”
It took a supreme effort, but she finally straightened again. Looked up with blinking, vacant eyes first at Eleanor Lowrey, then at me. Then at the uniformed men and women positioned beyond us, behind a semicircle of black-and-whites, lights flashing. Weapons pointed from every conceivable angle at the First Allegheny Bank building.
Standard containment of a robbery-in-progress. With hostages.
My own eyes riveted on her pale, stricken face, I heard the sounds of frenzied activity taking place behind my back. The angry shouts ringing down the chain of command. SWAT teams in Kevlar jackets taking position. News vans choking the streets beyond the perimeter, reporters and camera operators scrambling. Overhead, the persistent clattering of the police choppers, and, just beyond, those of two rival TV news channels. The controlled chaos of a full-scale police action.
Treva barely registered any of it. She drifted in and out of conscious awareness of her surroundings, including Lowrey and me. Perhaps even of what had just happened to her.
“Tell us about Bobby Marks,” Lowrey was saying, not unkindly. She squatted on the pavement to put her face at eye-level with Treva’s.
“I told you, they shot him. They said don’t move and he moved, and then they shot him in the head. Right there, in front of me.”
She swallowed air, gulping it like a fish pulled from the sea.
Her eyes shone, wet with grief.
Treva looked with sudden curiosity at her stained fingers. “He’s on me, isn’t he? That’s Bobby on me.”
Lowrey leaned closer and tried again. “How many men, Treva? Can you tell us? How many guns?”
I glanced over at Eleanor and shook my head. She sighed, rolled the kinks out of her neck, and sat back on her haunches. Giving Treva some space.
Moving deliberately, I sat next to Treva on the curb, shoulders touching. Letting her know I was there. Anchoring us in the here-and-now. Keeping her in the present.
The heat shimmered off the cracked, sun-bleached pavement. This section of Liberty Avenue was without trees, without shade. The air hung thick and unmoving as a shroud.
“Do you know where you are now, Treva?”
She stared straight ahead. “Outside. On the street.”
Suddenly, an unmarked sedan screeched to a halt just beyond the perimeter. Two guys in jackets and ties got out. One was the assistant chief of police, scowling as he brushed past a woman reporter from WTAE-TV who’d rushed to intercept him. He waded into the throng of uniforms, barking orders, his subordinate at his heels.
Lowrey and I exchanged glances. Treva hadn’t even reacted to the squeal of tires, the slamming of car doors. The upraised voices of the cops on the scene.
“Can you look at me, Treva?”
She nodded, then turned her head. A pretty, oval face. Muted makeup smudged, etched with tears. Deep brown eyes, gone nearly black as her consciousness kept trying to recede, to escape an unacceptable reality.
Treva Williams was a smallish, slender woman of thirty or so. Under the blanket, I saw her standard bank officer’s pale blue skirt and jacket, collared white blouse, and appropriately tasteful pearl necklace. Only her earrings betrayed any individuality. Larger than you’d expect, loops with tiny green stones dangling. A personal statement. Saying to the world, I’m not just some drone in a bank…
A world she was drifting away from, moment by moment. Pulled as though by a powerful force into a different time and space. Someplace far removed from bank hold-ups, men with guns, sudden violence. A place where the blood and brains of a colleague didn’t end up on your fingers.
“Are you still with me, Treva?” Her “yes” was unconvincing.
I kept my face composed. No smile, no reassuring look of empathy and concern. Nothing to set off her warning bells, remind her that people were worried about her. That something bad had happened.
“What color is my tie?” I said. “Blue.”
“What about my shirt?” “You’re wearing one.”
I had to smile. “Yes, I am.”
She stared me. Waiting. Compliant.
“Am I wearing a jacket with my tie?” I said. “And don’t forget to breathe now, okay?”
“A jacket? Yes, you are. You must be hot.” A long pause. “Did you say something else?”
“Yes. I said, don’t forget to breathe.”
“Okay.” As if to comply with the crazy man, she took a deep breath.
Eleanor leaned across then and tapped my knee. Hard. We need real info, Dan, she was signaling me. Get her to give us something we can use.
I stared back at her. Treva Willams was in no shape to be a star witness. She was barely holding it together as it was.
“Do you want anything, Treva? More tea?”
For the first time, she looked down at the cooling Styrofoam cup in her small hands. Unpainted nails. No rings on her fingers. Odd, I thought, given the earrings.
“Is this tea?” Her voice thin, a wisp of sound. “Yes. Would you like another cup?”
She was about to answer when her hands, as though with a will of their own, opened, and the cup fell to the pavement. Tea splashed my trouser cuffs.
“Treva?” I brought my face closer to hers, which had turned once again away from mine. Staring with unseeing eyes past where we three huddled at the curb.
Her face was frozen, a pale mask. Her body slumped, folded in on itself, as though deflated. As though her spirit had fled.
She was alive, unhurt. Saved from her ordeal in the bank. But Treva Williams was…elsewhere.