Ground shaking. Sirens blaring. Killer on the loose! Killer on the loose! Only, I was no killer and that was no siren. It was my phone. I fumbled for it in my pocket and answered—before thinking that maybe I shouldn’t.
“Hana.” It wasn’t a question.
“What’s going on?”
That was a question. In an American accent.
“I wish I god-damn-well knew,” I said in my best American accent. My back was killing me. My hands were shaking, teeth chattering.
“Where’s my daughter? Do you have her?”
“The hell ahh doo,” I said.
Papa loved John Wayne movies.
Then it clicked.
“YES! What’s going on? What happened at the water museum?”
“I can’t answer any of your questions.”
“Can’t or won’t? I must know the truth, I’ve got to be on the flight with Emi by 6:30 p.m. tomorrow or else and what happened to…”
But the phone line went dead, along with his questions. The phone batteries were dead. Death always comes in threes, Papa said.
It was dark and my back was still killing me. I could hear a single car rumbling across the four-lane Teganuma Bridge above me. Was it after midnight? I couldn’t be seen on the streets.
But to stay here, I’d be dead from the cold.
Where were the policemen? Where was Emi?
I risked a look around. No sign of anyone. No wonder. I stank of swamp and sea water, and sweat. There was no way I could go to the main road. There was no way I could stay here.
That left only one way—over the bridge out of Abiko, over the lake to the big city of Kashiwa. But I could hardly wander over the bridge. Over meant game over.
Why go over the bridge when I could go under it? I inspected the underside of the bridge. It looked no more difficult than the climbing frame at my kindergarten school. Just a bit higher off the ground. OK, a lot higher off the ground. Yes, if I followed the steel girder under my back it would take me over the lake, but under the bridge, out of view.
I did the arithmetic l. Two sets of five steel girders arched over to two sunken piers that carried the weight of the four lane highway. 2. About 20 meters to the first pier. 3. Ten piers to get across the lake. If it takes one exhausted girl a night to cross a 200-meter bridge, how many hours would it take two cops to cross that same bridge when they came to it? Also, would they have enough time to run a bath? How long would it take them to fill it?
Baths? There was a bathhouse on the other side of the lake. Forget the mathematics, this was my goal.
I couldn’t walk on the girder, all I could do was scoot along with my body squeezed into the hollow. By lying on my side, I could use my right hand and leg to scoot forward, with my left limbs wedged against the top lip of the girder. I was two meters above the ground. I was shaking. From the cold, my tired muscles, another aftershock? But I was moving forward. Each centimetre a victory against the laws of physics.
I was pushing my body against its will. Against the wind that blew stronger above the lake. Salty sweat ran into eyes, but I didn’t dare wipe it free for fear of losing my grip and falling into the waters below. Go forward or die. Simple when you have no choice.
I was nearing the middle when the bridge rattled and shook from side to side. If it was a truck overhead or an aftershock, it was the same thing to me. It was shaking me out from inside the girder. There was nothing for me to grab hold of.
I was going to fall. I screamed, as I rolled over the lip of the girder, but the pocket of my robe caught on a steel rivet and I dangled head first over the edge.
I grasped the steel with all I had left. I didn’t fall. But I was staring at the water five meters below. The half-dozen giant fibreglass swan pedal boats moored under the bridge looked the size of real swans. But there was no way I could jump. There was no way I could stay where I was.
Aunt Tanaka’s voice came back to me: “Just use your common sense, smile and keep moving.”
The bridge had stopped moving. I smiled. And pulled myself back into the fold of the girder. Then something in my head sent a shudder through me, that I knew how to make it all stop hurting… the cold… the exhaustion… the failure. If I just closed my eyes and let myself drop. Everything would be over.
But I wouldn’t, not just yet. I still hadn’t found Emi.
I still could do this. I could. Make it to the other side. I pulled my pocket free of the rivet. And squeezed forward. One notch at a time. I was numb, but numb to my pain. Counting off each notch as I squeezed over the rivets. One, two, three… 26, 27, 28… always forward… 52, 53, 56… and I kept moving… 134, 135, 136… I kept moving until the lake beneath me stopped. After 219, I could go no further. Bushes, concrete and a path below. A grassy verge? That would do.
I closed my eyes and rolled out of the girder. For a second I felt nothing, only the wind running over me and imagined myself landing like a cat, unharmed, but…
Start the novel from Chapter 1 here or use the next/previous arrow keys to flip through the book.
That was a chapter of Half Life: A Hana Walker Mystery. I’m publishing a chapter a day in sequence on this blog to promote the book. You can buy HALF LIFE as a paperback from Create Space here or as a Kindle download from any Amazon site including links to the book here at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.co.jp.
The sequel, Prime Life, is coming out in the New Year.