Traffic

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"So," said Mitch from behind the wheel when they were back on the road south to the VA hospital. "Tell me about Joey. I thought the pagoda would sort him out, but he got Lost again the instant we left it."

"Joey's problem is he doesn't want to be found," said Rose, from the passenger seat. "If he comes back, he has to deal with being the guy who did all the horrible shit he remembers. He'd rather stay Lost."

"But Anne is the one who got raped," said Mitch.

"So which is worse?" said Wolf, sitting in the back seat. "Being the one it was done to, or the one who was forced to do it? You can't pick just one of those two to be the one who was raped."

Mitch shook his head.

"Rose, I gotta say something here," said Wolf. "I think that you making people do stuff ain't good for you."

Rose stared out the window for a moment, her face unreadable. "I think you're right," she finally said. "The pagoda brought an end to all that, and I thought I was going to die."

"Withdrawal symptoms?" Mitch gave her a speculative look.

"In spades," Rose said. "I've never done drugs, but I've ... I've tripped on junkies going cold turkey before, and it was like that."

"So our perp," said Mitch slowly, "is an addict, getting his fix."

Silence grew between them for a moment, then Wolf and Rose nodded. "More and more often, harder and harder," Wolf said. "That's what dopers do."

"So how does he shelter?" Wolf asked. "If shelter gives you withdrawal symptoms after you've been pushing people, what does he do when he needs to rest?"

"I ... I don't know," said Rose.

"Huh," Wolf murmured, pulling out his notebook. On the first page, above 'sick kicks', he wrote 'hooked on it' and circled it. Flipping to a blank page, he positioned his
pencil at the top and wrote 'Shelter.' Another constraint on the bastard's existence. "Rose?" he said, writing 'Museums' at the top, "What kinds of places are shelter?"

"Used bookstores and lending libraries for starters," she said. "The library's one of the safest places in the world. Uh, art museums. But skip that so-called modern art crap, I'm talking about stuff that took a lot of time and energy and concentration to do. And art gets better with age, if it's good and it's where people can see it. Um, there's a few special places like the Giant Camera behind the Cliff House where people just fall into the experience of something and they make it just a little more real every time. There's built things, where a lot of effort and finicky details had to be worked out, like that box of watches I had. There's the same kind of vibe at the Musee Mechanique down on Fisherman's Wharf."

"How about Philo and Indra's place?" Wolf asked. "You called that a shelter place."

"Yeah.... It is," Rose replied. "Indra makes her own shelter. That's why her stuff is so damn good. It's why the Randoms, even the ones who get Lost a lot, never get Lost at the warehouse. I don't even like the studio," Rose said. "There's some dark, dark stuff going on in there. Books can have tension, or even be a little scary, but they're nice and calm. But that warehouse is all about looking straight into the abyss."

"Wait," said Wolf. "Rose, didn't it hurt when you went into the warehouse?"

"Huh?" Rose looked up, startled. "No. No, it didn't."

"But it was shelter from all the stuff outside of it, right?"

Rose nodded.

"That may not mean anything," Mitch warned. "She got through her stuff at the pagoda, right? She was nothing like as deep into it when we got to the warehouse."

"How close did you watch her, Mitch?" Wolf asked. "Did you notice her telling Harold to get into the car? Did you notice that traffic was getting the hell out of our way on San Pablo Street?"

"Huh?" Rose's head jerked up. "Was I screwing with traffic?"

"I don't know whether it was you or not, but we were luckier about getting through traffic than I've ever been in my life." said Wolf.

"Damn," said Mitch, hitting the brakes. "That guy cut me off." Ahead of him, an SUV had just cut into the lane.

"Mitch, you've been driving ten miles an hour faster than everybody else on the road for the last fifteen minutes," said Wolf. "You had to slow down right after I asked Rose what kind of places were good shelter, and now suddenly you're moving at the same speed as everybody else right after Rose heard me talking about her screwing with traffic. Does this look like a coincidence to you?"

Rose's eyes were wide and shocked when she turned around in her seat to face Wolf. He smiled, trying to be reassuring. "Like I said," he said, "it's probably not good for you. But crap thinking about it is what's really dangerous. Try not to do it unless you really mean to."

Mitch's teeth were grinding. "God Damn it," he said. "If we had a siren, I'd use it. But we don't. Can we get there in time to save my partner's ass please?"

Rose turned back to the front. Her expression hardened and she gave a short nod. "Right," she said. "No more crap thinking, but we're going to get there as fast as we can."

Ahead of them, three drivers changed lanes and two sped up, leaving their lane suddenly clear. Mitch punched the gas without saying another word.

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