ROUTINE

ROUTINE

Chapter 17.

The next morning found me back at the office.  I walked into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator door, and then remembered I had neglected to bring my lunch.  I stood there with the door open while a couple of the caseworkers fidgeted behind my back.

“Good morning, Nick,” one of the youngsters said to me.

“Hm?  Oh, hi.  Hi Georgia.  How’s it going?”  I said this reflexively.  She didn’t answer.  I could sense her eyes rolling in her head as she questioned my mental acuity.

As luck would have it, I did have a bottle of water in the refrigerator.  I picked that up and left the two young ladies to stash their lunches away.

I’m the old man of the office.  I can sense that the young ones are wondering how long it will be until I give up and retire.  The only one that’s older than me is the county director, and, of course he has no real work to do.

I’d like to believe I am something like the happy, fun-loving character I was thirty years ago, but I know that’s my ego teasing me.  I’m just another worn-out civil servant, ready for the scrap heap.

I became a social worker as the culmination of a series of bad decisions and bad luck.  I wanted to be a psychologist.  But my best friend died and I neglected to renew my student health insurance and, four days later my ex-wife came down with kidney failure. I ran out of money and had to stop college before going into grad school. I went bankrupt.

There’s not much difference between me and my clients.  Most of them ended up here as a result of bad decisions, accidents, and mistakes. The biggest difference is which side of the desk we’re on.

So, here I am, wandering about the kitchen in the office, trying to cover up the fact that I’m sort of lost.  I smile absently, nod, say hello to this one and to that one, and I steam listlessly to my workstation.

I sit, detached, waiting impatiently for my computer to crawl into action.  All around me, young women talk about their children, their husbands, and their impossible caseloads.  The Assistance Payments’ workers, with their similar jobs, have much in common.  I am alone with my dying clients than their dying thoughts.  My computer monitor, with its maddening, frozen hourglass icon on the monitor, whispers to me that countless electronic nothings are growing inside of it like bacteria.

The phone rings.  I pick it up.  It is Mrs. Montgomery reporting that her husband is coughing up blood.  I suggest she take him to the hospital.  She thanks me and hangs up.  I close my eyes and listen to the bedlam surrounding me.  The thought crosses my mind that this place cannot be much different than one of those factory chicken farms.  Fluorescent lights are always on.  There is constant cackling.  All we lack is eggs dropping onto conveyer belts and tattling off into subterranean depths.

The phone rings.  It’s Detective Hein.

“How is Lynn holding out?” I asked him.

“You can imagine.  They were married twenty-four years.  The were planning a second honeymoon in Europe.”

“When’s the funeral?”

“Saturday.  You coming?”

“Yeah.  So.  What’s the deal with Sara Chapman’s daughter and this young delinquent, Dylan?”

“Dylan Turnage,” he said.  “We don’t really know a damned thing, right now.  Is Sara a friend of yours?”

“You could say that,” I said.  “She’s really worried about her daughter.”

“Well, from what they tell me at school, she’s a handful.”

“Hm.  Keep me posted, please.  It means a lot.”

“See you Saturday.”

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THE THIEF

CHAPTER 16.

After the cops left, I told her, “You didn’t mention the boyfriend.”

“Oh!”  She put her hand up to hide her overbite.  Did she know I loved that, or was it a coincidence?

“He’s not her boyfriend.  He’s a friend.  She’s mentioned him.  He hasn’t been over here.”

“Why didn’t you mention him?”

“It just slipped my mind, I guess.  He’s not a big part of Shayna’s life.”

It was time for me to pace and to look miserable; so that’s what I did.

Horace McCarthy was dead.  I’d been to his home.  I’d met his wife.  Shayna had something to do with it.  Sara had something to do with it.  If I’d known about the connection, maybe I could have stopped it.

“Sara, have you been out to the Pig Farm?”

“No.  Why do you ask?  What are you getting at?”

“This boy, this Dylan Turnage, what do you know about him?”

“He seems nice.”

“Have you met his mother?”

“No.”

“I gotta go.”

“What?”

“I have some thinking to do.”

When I got to my house, the woman was gone, of course, and so was some money.  She was thoughtful enough to lock up behind herself, though, and my dog was fine.

I called the cops to report the theft.

A young fellow in a freshly-pressed uniform came and talked with me for about ten minutes.  I’d seen him around town.  He let me know that the thief I’d let spend the night with me wasn’t named Vicki O’Hara and she hadn’t just run away from her violent husband.

Imagine.  The woman had lied to me!

TO THE RESCUE!

CHAPTER 15

“Nick,” she said.  “A policeman just called.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“He said a detective from the State Police would be coming out to speak with me.”

“What about?”

“Shayna.”

“Did he give his name?”

“Yes,” she said.  “His name was Detective Hein and he was with the Sheriff Department.”

“Why would he call you?” I wondered.

“He told me that Shayna was at some place where there was a drug bust and a lot of shooting.  He said one of his friends was killed.”

“Who?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Nick.  Some other policeman.  Didn’t you hear me?  I said Shayna was there.”

That hysteria was back in her voice, that uncomprehending fear, the panic, all the things I remembered from before.  Back when she thought there was some sort of underground railroad full of kind strangers anxious to rescue abused children and their mothers.  I didn’t dare fall under her spell again. 

“What was she doing there?”

“Nickie, I don’t know. The detective thought I would know.


“I wonder why it’s been bumped up to the State cops.”

“I don’t know.  I don’t care.  I just want my Shayna back.”

That’s when she started to cry.

“When is the cop coming over?”

“Any minute.”

“I’ll be right there.”

I told Markman I had a personal emergency to deal with and asked him to sign me out.

In ten minutes. I was at her place.  An unmarked car blocked her driveway.  Two black-and-whites were parked in her front yard.  I pulled in next to them. “

SLOGGING AWAY

Chapter 14.

Of course, I couldn’t call in sick.  I’d promised to see what Detective Hein might know about Shayna.  Before I dropped back to sleep, I wondered why he hadn’t called.  Usually he gets back to me on the same day when I call him.  Odd.

I sneaked around the house, let Lillian out, fed her, and got ready to go.  My back hurt from sleeping on the sofa.  I walked to the end of the hallway to my bedroom.  The door was closed and there was no sound.

I used the toilet and washed up, made sure Lillian had lots of water to drink, and I headed into town.

            It was about five minutes later when the local reporter with Michigan Radio announced that there had been a big shootout at an address not too far from where I lived.  The announcer said it was at a pig farm.  I had a pretty good idea where the shooting occurred.  He said that one police officer had been killed; but the name wasn’t given out.

            I had some serious cogitating to do.  That woman at my house had told me she’d been roughed up by her boyfriend.  I began to wonder if she had something to do with the shooting.  She did seem like a hard case.

  I had a swallow of coffee and then fanned through the stack of sticky-pad notes that were piled next to the phone.

            I got to the office feeling like I was in a dream, said my desultory “hello’s” and drifted back to my work-station.  The lights on the telephone looked like Christmas had come early.

Detective Hein had returned my call just ten minutes before I got to work.

Feverishly, I dialed his number.

I got his answering machine.

Pissed, I slammed the receiver down.  Before I got settled in my chair, the telephone rang.  It was Sara Chapman.  Detective Hein had just called her.

THE PROUSTIAN VERSION

THE PROUSTIAN VERSION

Chapter 13.

She sits down in a straight-backed wooden chair in my living room and, for the first time, we look directly into each other’s eyes.

“I could use a drink,” she says.

“Beer?” I ask.

“That’d be nice,” she says.                                                           

I go to the refrigerator and pull out a couple bottles.  I enjoy watching the foam lick the sides of the glasses as I fill them.  There’s a one-inch head on top of the drinks when I’m done pouring and they look to me like artwork. 

Thrilled with myself, I return to the living room, where my guest has made herself comfortable.  She has moved into my favorite spot.  Now she’s sitting back in my brown leather wing chair, next to the woodstove.            

I bend over and hand her one of the beers, then I settle down in my second-favorite chair, a rocker.  There is a slate and metal coffee table between us and I place my glass down on top of it.

“Would you like me to build a fire?” I ask.  “You look cold.”

“No.  I’m fine,” she says.  She takes a big swallow of beer, wipes the foam off her upper lip with the back of her hand, glances for a moment at the clean spot that made on her hand, shrugs and takes another gulp.

She gazes blindly into the doorway leading to the kitchen, sighing occasionally and slugging down the beer.   

“What happened to you?” I ask. 

After a few moments, she looks at me with her face all twisted, and I can see that she is fighting back tears.

“I, I can’t,” she says.  “Gimme a minute.”  She takes another drink and then she tells me she needs to use my bathroom.

“It’s right in there,” I say, pointing down a dark hallway.  “Do you, do you want to clean up?” 

“Yes.  I need to.”  She follows this statement with a question: “Can I take a shower?”

I inhale some beer at this point and I follow that suave maneuver with a life-saving choking fit.  Twenty seconds later I wipe my watery eyes, smile sheepishly, hammer my glass down on a coaster, and lurch out of the room.  “I’ll get you a wash cloth and a towel,” I call over my shoulder. 

I collect these, and a heavy terrycloth robe that’s several-sizes too large for her, and I pile it all on the edge of the bathtub.  I look around anxiously for evidence of male bachelor filth, but it’s okay.  The room is presentable.

I untangle some bandages, tape, Band-Aids, peroxide, and first-aid cream from the bathroom closet and I display these beside the washbowl.  I look at myself in the mirror.  I’m unshaven and rumpled.  My hair is an abandoned bird’s nest.  I splash some water on my hands and scrub it in to my thinning hair.  Then I fumble with my nasty-looking hairbrush before I use it to rip my hair flat back on my head.  Looking like a wet vampire, I pull as much hair out of the brush as I can and I pitch it in the wastebasket. 

Of course, a gob of it sticks to my wet hand and I just about have a fit getting it off.  I put the brush down next to the bandages.  I give myself another furtive glance in the mirror. This time I use both hands to ransack my scalp and to form a crooked part in the hair on the left side before scampering back to the living room. For God’s sake, you’d think I was a teenager on his first date.

But it’s weirder than that, isn’t it? 

I’m a man on the deep end of middle-age, suddenly attending to a young, attractive and mysterious woman who’s soon to be naked in my shower.  This just doesn’t happen every day.  And let’s not forget that this is occurring late in the same evening that I had a date with another woman!     My thoughts were like fish in the hold of a factory trawler.

“It’s all ready for you,” I sing.  My voice sounds a few octaves too high.  She doesn’t appear to notice, however, as she drains her glass and clunks it down on the coffee table.  I have scurried back into the living room, now.  The top button of her blouse is missing and I hope she didn’t notice my contemplation of that shadowy space.

I’m in the clear!  She actually smiles at me, a warm, glorious smile.  She purrs her appreciation for my kindness and she rises gracefully.  She’s standing now, facing me. 

I back up and I wave her regally towards the bathroom.  My inner voice is screaming at me, “Stupid!  Stupid! Stupid!”   Why have I been transformed into an adolescent?  And where is my curiosity?  Why am I not asking her dozens of probing questions, delving into her unexplained appearance in the woods behind my home in the middle of the night? 

This awkward moment passes as she crosses in front of me and closes herself in the bathroom.  I hear the click of the lock and the water beginning to run in the shower.

I scramble to get myself another beer and to start up the fire.  I have decided not to go to work tomorrow.  At this point, I’d just as soon stay up all night, being charming and debonair,

I’ve been alone too long.  I don’t know how to act.  Even if this was a normal encounter, a lost motorist, or a misdirected phone call, I know I’d become a tongue-tied jerk. I toss off a fourth of my beer with one prolonged swallow. Then I am down on my knees wadding up newspaper and breaking bits of kindling for the fire.

Finally, I was doing something I was capable of, and the preparation went smoothly.  I opened the flue and lit a match to the small pile I’d laid on the grate.  It caught and flared up immediately.  I had another pull on the beer and lay some larger chunks of wood on top of the fire.  These bathed in smoke for more than a minute before raising a couple tongues of flame.  I fanned it for a moment with a magazine, dropped a double-handful of still-larger pieces on the top and closed the door.  Within thirty seconds, a muted roar came from the firebox and I knew I had a fire.

The water was still running joyfully in the bathroom.  I hadn’t heard that sound, the sound of another person showering, in a long time.  It made me feel good.  I felt needed and I felt, for that brief moment, that I was part of something.  It occurred to me that I should have sat out a bottle of shampoo for her.  I finished the beer, turned on the television, took my beer bottle and the two tall beer glasses into the kitchen. Her glass was dirty from her hands. I put it in the sink, ran some water in it, and grabbed a clean one from the cupboard. I was reaching into the fridge for two more beer bottles, when the water in the shower stopped flowing.

I pushed the refrigerator door closed with my shoulder and returned to the living room.  I sat the beers down on the coffee table.  Next, I opened up the wood burner, and put two sticks, each about two inches in diameter, on top of the kindling.  I figured they would take off okay, and I closed the door back up.  The intake baffles and the flue were wide open.  I turned on the television, then turned it off, turned on the stereo, then turned it back off.  Finally, I turned the tv back on.  If she was listening, she must have assumed I’d gone insane.

I turned the tv down:  background noise.  David Letterman.  No.  Wait.  We weren’t going to be watching tv.  We’d be talking.  Right.  The stereo.  I turned off the television again and turned on public radio, late night jazz, yeah.  That would work.

I spun back to the kitchen, to the refrigerator, to the beer.  Back in my element.  Mindless movement.  I pour the beer more slowly, down the sides of the glasses so there is no head this time.  A study in amber.  Liquid gold.  I wish I had more. 

What was she doing?  Was she going through my medicine cabinet?  No.  She would be using those bandages and cream I had left out for her.  She was pretty scuffed up.  Probably the hot shower had loosened some scabs.  There was probably blood on my towel!  I shouldn’t have given her the new one.  No.  That was a nice gesture.  She would appreciate it.  No.  She wouldn’t notice.  Should I soak it in cold water immediately?  As my head was exploding, I heard the exhaust vent in the bathroom start up.  Seconds later, the bathroom door opened, and there she was. 

She steps out into the hallway looking squeaky-clean and beautiful.  Steam from the shower follows her for the first step and then rolls backwards and upward behind her.  Her feet are bare and she is wearing that white cotton robe.  It’s cinched up tightly at the waist, emphasizing its extreme oversize.  She has it pulled up around her neck, but as she comes closer, it slips open a bit.  She has band-aids on the back of both hands and I can see a three-by-three over her collarbone.  Her copper-colored hair is wild and fluffed-out.  She’s parted it in the middle with her fingers, but the look is pure cave woman.  I like it.  I like it a lot.

“Feel better?” I ask.

“Much.  Thanks,” she replies.  “Say, I, I don’t have a comb.  Do you have one that I could use?”

“Of course.  Would you rather have a brush?”

“No.  Just a comb.  Oh, I was such a filthy mess…”

She’s talking to air.  I’ve jogged past her to the bathroom.  In the upper left-hand drawer of the vanity, I’ve got one that’s in good repair.  I run it under hot water in the sink just to make sure.  I shake it dry and see that she’s hung the towel neatly and it doesn’t look  stained.  I turn around and nearly run into her.

Flustered, but not completely out of control, I wave it at her with a flourish.  She smiles and brushes against me as she returns to the bathroom.  This time, she doesn’t bother closing the door. She turns off the vent and leans over the sink. She combs her hair straight down over her face, straight up over her head, down over her face, straight up over hear head, down to the sides, straight back.  She shakes her head and parts her hair deliberately and precisely.  She stands upright, pushes her hair back across both shoulders, assesses herself momentarily, then takes the time to remove a few stray hairs from the sink.  She places the comb next to the sink, rolls the shed hairs between her palms, and flicks them into the wastebasket.  Now, she looks frankly at me.

What next?  What indeed?

“Your clothes need washing.  Would you like me to put them in the washing machine?” I ask.  

She smiles demurely and says, “Men don’t know how to wash clothes.  Where’s your washer?  I’ll take care of them, if you don’t mind.”

I lead her down the basement steps and pull the string connecting to the one lightbulb on the ceiling.  It’s really not as primitive as it sounds:  the washer and dryer are less than a year old and the basement is dry.  I’ve just not had the pleasure of entertaining down here, before.  It had never occurred to me.  Squatting beside the washing machine, there’s a utility sink.  On top of the dryer, there is a bottle of detergent and a spray bottle with some kind of pre-washing chemical.  Everything appears adequate.           

She attends to her clothing, scrubbing and spraying a couple especially stained bits before tossing everything, her torn white blouse, her colorful skirt, her playful-looking white lace panties, and her ankle-high white stockings, all together in the washer.  She sets the temperature to medium and she dumps in a half cup of detergent.  She closes the top of the machine and looks over her shoulder at me.            

“Okay,” she says.  “Let’s go upstairs.”  Then she adds, “Thanks for everything.”           

I smile like an idiot and follow her upstairs.

Back in the living room, she pauses before the fireplace.  The fire is roaring merrily, now.  I open the door, lay a split log on top of the pile, close the door, and shut down the dampers.  Success. 

I stand, my knees cracking loudly, and hand her another beer.  She nods her thanks and snatches the robe closed with her thumb and forefinger as she eases herself down into the rocker.

“To you,” she smiles, holding the glass at arm’s length towards me.

“To you,” I counter, reaching back for my own and touching her glass with it.

The heavy leather chair feels substantial and comforting underneath me.

BAD MOON RISING

Chapter 12.

I was in bed, but not asleep.  It was nearly midnight and Lillian started boofing.  That’s the sound she makes when she barks.  It’s sort of a muted, self-conscious bark.

Well, like I said, she started making this sound of hers.  I couldn’t get her to stop, so I got out of bed and decided to find out what was bothering her.  I pulled on a pair of blue jeans, turned a few lights on as I went through the house, and eventually found myself at the back door, where Lillian  stood boofing and even growling.  I switched on the backyard light, and squinted into the darkness.  The air seemed thick.  The moon was once again hiding behind the clouds. Fog was settling in, covering the woods in a steaming blanket.  It seemed, somehow, to illuminate the trees, giving them a shimmering aspect, as if the Northern Lights were shining down onto them.

Well, I opened the door and Lily burst out of the house like she was on a rocket. She skidded a bit on the first step as she launched herself into the woods.

I grabbed a flashlight, slipped on a pair of moccasins and headed after her.  There are several hundred acres of untouched state land adjoining my ten acres and I had no idea what had gotten Lillian so worked up.  I didn’t hear coyotes.  There hadn’t been any signs of bear near the house, and it never crossed my mind that a human might be out there. 

I stepped down off the deck, went down the three wooden steps (Lily had flown right over the bottom two), and I was in the back yard.  I didn’t hear anything but my dog. She was far ahead of me, boofing up a storm in the black night. 

I called after her.  There was no response, nothing but her muffled bugling, fading farther and farther away. 

Nothing. 

Then I was in the woods with the flashlight, making crazy patterns on the trees and the rocks, the roots, the stumps, and everything.  Other than the now-distant racket that Lillian was making, all I can hear is the sound of my own feet, the swish of weeds whipping against me, and the bell-like sounds of water dropping off leaves onto the ground, accelerating into a brief torrent when my head or my shoulders brushed against the occasional low-hanging branch. 

There’s no trail that I can make out.  I’m fighting my way through the underbrush, crossing the occasional deer path, when all of a sudden my dog lets out a yelp and comes charging back toward me like the Union troops at the first Battle of Bull Run.  She slides past me and cowers at my feet.  I turn around, bend down and pet her. 

The sounds of running and heavy breathing fairly explode behind me.  I twist at the waist, but before I’m standing, crash!  Something has slammed into me.  Something pretty substantial.  It knocked me into some big tree with a rough bark and my flashlight went flying and out.  I could have had a stroke.  It’s one thing to slink out into nothingness with a flashlight and a case of curiosity.  It’s a completely different thing to be knocked ass-over-teakettle by an unseen projectile in the dark of night.

Lillian stood her ground and growled, bless her heart.  This woman, Mary Lou

Turnage, that is, bounced off me and landed in a heap next to the dog.  Her knee had caught me in my right shoulder, and I was down on the ground, beside her.  Adrenaline took over from what little sense I had at that point and I dove on top of her, pinning her elbows to the ground with my own and jamming my knees into the tops of her thighs.  The moon was still hidden by clouds and the night was black as pitch.  Imagine my surprise when I realized I had my hand on a female breast!  This had become a rare and wonderful evening for me.  It had a little bit of everything going for it.

Once I reacquired my equilibrium, I said, “Oops, sorry,” relaxed my body and rolled off her. The next thing I knew, this woman was slapping wildly at my face and on my arms and chest. Her hands were flying like a whirligig in a tornado.  

My hands were up to the sides of my face, deflecting her blows, and I fought my way up to my knees.  Eighty yards behind me, the porch light was on and my eyes were starting to adjust to the darkness.  In a few moments, her frenzy subsided and she wilted like a plucked flower.  It was like the spark of life went out of her.  I stood and offered my hand to her.  She took it without looking up into my eyes and I helped her up, bending at the knees to place one hand behind her shoulder.  I could feel her hot flesh beneath my fingers.  The right shoulder of her blouse was nearly gone.  Her shoulder blade was wet with blood.

She backed away from me like a trapped animal.  I could sense she was looking for a place to run, a way to get out of here and away from me.  She turns away from me and she’s crying now.  Her shoulders visibly sink with each spasm of grief.  She is defeated, exhausted at last.

I ask her if she is okay and she turns to me like she’s coming out of a dream.

“Yes.  Yes, I’m okay,” she says, wiping tears and broken dusty leaves from her cheek with the ripped sleeve of her gypsy blouse.

“What are you running from?” I ask.

She shrugs her shoulders and tosses off another deluge of tears.

“Come on,” I offer.  “Come up into the light and let’s see if you’re okay.”  She follows me, sheeplike now, and wordless.

I stumble across the flashlight and then I bend down and recover it.  I turn on the torch and use it to point the way back to my place.  Little Red shuffles along beside

me.  Neither of us can think of a thing to say. 

When we get out of the woods and fully in the light of the house, I steal a look at her.  She’s quite a mess.  Dirty, disheveled, and bloody.  It’s bizarre and surreal.

I don’t want this night to end.  Do you understand?  For the first time in years, I am involved with people and excitement.  I have been blown out of my boring and stable safety zone.  I suppose that’s why I will find myself I making so many poor decisions in the next two days.  Who knows? 


That’s a Wrap

Chapter 11.

            With all this police drama and crime going on, my problems seem like small potatoes, don’tthey?  Nevertheless, I make no apologies for my ration of grief.  It was sufficient for me at the time.  And, don’t forget, gentle reader, that I am not omniscient.  As you turn these pages, you have much more information than I had at that moment, infinitely more. 

            With that thought in mind, please join me, now, as I reinhabit my brain, that same night, following my visit with Sara Chapman.  Okay?  Let’s go.

My brain was all tangled as I drove home.  Overall, the evening had gone well.  But I couldn’t ignore the fact that Sara and I have a history together and things didn’t turn out well.  I had no reason to expect our futures to travel smoothly.

Now, in my mind, I am wandering, waist deep in the swamp of our relationship, ten, eleven years in the past. I just couldn’t fix things for her, not the way I was supposed to. Tacitly, and by any definition, I was on the side of law and order; yet law and order dictated that she allow Brad Nicolette, father of her younger girl, to have visitation with his daughter. I was convinced the little girl wasn’t safe with him.  What was I to do?  I had absolutely no idea.  It wasn’t like I was a young, inexperienced worker.  It was just that this assignment had gotten out of control and I’d fallen in love with one of the victims. 

            On top of everything else, Sara told me that Brad Nicolette had taken some obscene pictures of Rachel.  I never asked Rachel about them..  I don’t know. I didn’t follow through on that appropriately.  I was in love, stupid in love.  I accepted the existence of those pictures like I accepted the fact that the sun rose in the east.  Without any evidence to support my belief, these became a part of my reality.  

I had been seeing Sara on a pretty regular basis for about two months when she dropped that bombshell on me.  I’ll never forget that evening.  It was nearly sunset.  I was watching her out of the corner of my eye as I drove.  She was a study in contrasts.  Her face was molded iron, surrounded with that halo of long hair.  Both our windows were down a couple inches and her hair was floating in the breeze.  She reminded me of a mermaid, the way they’re pictured with their hair like spun glass, rolling gently under the waves.  She was staring directly through the windshield, not looking at me.  We weren’t talking.  I was just happy to be with her.  We had no particular destination in mind.  We were driving down 131, south of Petoskey.  She just blurted it out, like she was giving me a weather report.  No preamble.  No preparation.

“Brad has dirty pictures of Rachel,” she said.  I looked over at her, struck dumb.  The silence in the car, it was like the aftermath, the silent vacuum following an explosion.  She let it soak in. 

“You’ve seen them?” I asked Sara.

            “No.  But Rachel told me.  After the police investigation was over.  Just before we met, Rachel told me,” she said.

            “You never went to the police?” I asked.

            “They wouldn’t have believed me.  They never believed us.”

            “Do you have any idea where he keeps them?” I asked her.

            “Pull in here, now, to the right,” she said.

            I hit the brakes hard, looked in the rear-view mirror to make sure no one was behind me, and slid into the gravel parking lot of a decrepit old motel.  We were out between Boyne City and Walloon Lake.  It was one of those forty-year-old non-chain motels that couldn’t attract tourists anymore.  It catered to poor people, alcoholics, deadbeats and drug addicts.  People just out of jail.  People on their way to jail.  I stopped the car under the old neon sign advertising Deer Lake Motel, vacancy.  The office was just to our right.  It was a small block-shaped building that jutted out into the parking area a bit farther than the short string of rooms that were separated from the office by a dirt driveway and a coke machine.  An old car, the manager’s, I assumed, was parked in the driveway.  There were nine rooms for rent.  Two of them had cars in front of them. Four of the rooms had screen doors.  The rest of the rooms showed the scars where those doors had been ripped off.  The place stunk of despair, surrender, and loss.

            “Keep moving,” she said.  “Drive slowly through the parking lot and out the other end.  He lives in number nine.”

            I drove through the dusty lot, giving the last room a careful look.  There was no car in front, no sign of life.

            “You’re sure he lives here?” I asked her.

            “Yes,” she said.

            “You think he’s got the pictures with him?”

            “I’m guessing.”

            “What do you want me to do?” I asked her.

            “I don’t know,” she said.  Now she was looking over her shoulder at his room and I pulled back on the highway, still heading south.

            We drove awhile, and I lost my focus.  I’d had some restaurant in mind, some little place between Boyne City and Charlevoix; but I no longer had an appetite.

            “Let’s go back to your place,” I said.

            The babysitter, a girl I knew, was surprised to see us back so early.  I gave her an extra five dollars and took her home.

            I returned late that night, after Rachel and Shayna had gone to bed.  Sara was expecting me.  We talked until early in the morning.  We discussed how I would break in to that crappy motel room and steal those dirty pictures.

            I’d never done anything like that in my life.  It had never occurred to me.  I had confronted people working at cash-jobs, people who were allegedly disabled or unable to find jobs.  I had caught them in gas stations, on woodlots, and on oil fields.  I had been pushed around a couple times by hillbillies who were angry at losing their welfare benefits.  Once, a guy had pointed a pistol at me when I’d busted him.  None of that had scared me.  This business did.  This time, I was breaking the law. 

THE BIG SHOOTOUT – part 3 (adagio)

Chapter 10.

The next batch of cops blew in like a thunderstorm.  One car after another came skidding down the driveway until the whole yard in front of the big ramshackle farmhouse was choked with them. 

The pig farm was secured in a matter of minutes.  Three ambulances showed up.  One of them took the wounded police officer to Parkview Hospital in Grantville. Another one took my friend’s body to the same place, to have him declared dead.  The third meat wagon stayed put.  The cops didn’t see any need to pack away the bodies of Ned Ishmael and Dean Jenkins right away:  they’d keep. And there might be more people needing medical attention.

The fresh police spread out over the farm and collected Willie, Shiner, No Neck, and Roach.  Due to the various intoxicants these four had imbibed, the questioning was time-consuming and inconsequential.

 Gene had slipped off the grounds withMoondog and, long before the second wave of police had arrived on the scene, he had the dog at his home, half a mile up the road.   Moondog was blissfully drinking water out of a half-gallon dish while the sirens shrieked past.

Danny was found hiding behind a sofa in the living room.  He was read his rights and interrogated.  Happily for Danny, he’d only been smoking hash and eating amphetamines all day.  He was lucid enough to answer all of their questions with, “Get my attorney”.  Of course, when Detective Loeb finally gave up and agreed, Danny couldn’t remember his lawyer’s name.  He’d only hired him once, six years earlier, to help him beat a battery rap.  Danny asked for a telephone book.

Relieved of his medical duties, DeputyLawrence walked into the bedroom Mary Lou and Ned had shared.  Daisy and Flo were hiding there in a closet.  George Lawrence held his pistol out in front of him.  He heard some clothes hangers rattle.

“Come out,” the policeman ordered.

Heads down, without a sound, they obeyed.

He looked at their uncomprehending,drunken expressions and said, “You stupid whores.  Face the wall.  Put your hands up.  Spread your legs.”  After they did this, he kicked Daisy’s left ankle in an attempt to spread her feet farther apart, and she fell on the floor.  He patted Flo down and then he told her she could drop her arms.

“Stand up,” he told Daisy.  She did and he ran his paws over her.  “Both of you stay right here.  Don’t move or I’ll shoot you,” he said, and he left the room.  Other officers were clearing the rest of the upstairs rooms. Deputy Lawrence headed downstairs to the kitchen.

Outside the main house, police officers buzzed around like a swarm of heavily armed bees.  George Lawrence found a bottle of soda in the refrigerator, wiped off the top, popped it open, leaned against a wall, and began to take long swallows of the sugary water.

Upstairs, in the same room where Joe and Rita were hiding, a pair of policemen found Tina’s baby, pissy andscreaming, in an open dresser drawer, wrapped loosely in dirty blankets.  One of the cops picked up the odorous bundle in his big, outstretched arms, being careful not to pull it close to his crisp, clean uniform.  His partner kicked in a closet door and found Joe and Rita huddled on the floor.  He ordered the two to stand up and then patted them down.  The other cop handed the baby to Rita and asked, “Are you the mother?”

Rita said, “No.”

The policeman handed the child to her and said “Do what you can with this thing, willya?”

 She took the baby into the upstairsbathroom to clean it up.

Slow-Joe was marched downstairs at gunpoint.  When he was halfway down the steps, George Lawrence threw his half-empty bottle into the kitchen sink.  It exploded with a crash.  Its contents erupted, splattering the backsplash, the window above the sink and the floor in front of the sink.  The young policeman following Joe down the steps jumped at the noise and accidentally fired his pistol.

The bullet whistled past Joe’s right ear and he dove over the last six steps and hit the dusty floor.  He covered his head with his arms and began crying.  Deputy Lawrence busted out laughing. 

“Careful with that gun, sonny,” heyelled to the officer who’d been escorting Joe downstairs.  “Gimme that punk,” he said, pulling Joe up bythe back of his t-shirt.  He shook the boy like a rat and walked him out of the kitchen through the back door.

At just about that time, Dylan Jones’ girlfriend, Shayna Chapman showed up. She was a pretty little child with big blue eyes and short peroxided blond hair.   She hadn’t heard about Dylan’s problems with the law.  There was an outstanding arrest warrant for her driver, a seventeen-year-old named Susie Blanchard.  Susie had the steering wheel cranked and was about to speed away when Shayna yelled, “Stop.  I’m getting out”

Shayna sprinted down the driveway.  A tunnel of dust enveloped Susie’s dad’s car as she high-tailed it away.

Shayna had never seen so many police officers in one place.  They were running that crime scene cop-tape all over the place and they all looked angry.  It never occurred to her that one of their own had been killed, here.

She was wringing her hands and asking questions and getting in the way and pissing off all the cops.  Finally, a detective got her name, her mother’s address, and phone number, determined that she had just arrived, and told her to beat it.  He told her that someone would be in touch with her and went on with his business.  She wandered down to the creek.

She followed a deer path through knee-high grass, down a shallow grade, to the spot where she usually met Dylan to get high and to make love in the shade of an old swamp maple.  She hoped she’d find him there.  She reached the spot where the grass was flattened down and dying and she just stood there.

After a few seconds, she walked over to a big pine tree with a folding chair leaned up against it.  She opened the chair up and she sat down on it to think things over. She was right at the river’s edge.  It was a pretty spot, just like a postcard.   The river curved around that tree and there was a sand trap straight out in front of her.

You could catch trout while you sat right in that chair.  She had done it, herself.  You could eat them, too, because it was upstream from the pig farm. 

She had a cell phone with her, of course.  She tried calling Dylan, but got no answer.  She tried calling Dylan’s mom.  A policeman answered it.  She hung up immediately and put the phone back in the pouch attached to her belt.

She had no idea what she was supposed to do.  After a few minutes, she followed the river down to a bridge, climbed up the abutment, and began walking.  She needed to collect her thoughts.

THE BIG SHOOTOUT – Scherzo

Chapter 9.

George Lawrence cracked Little Red up across the jaw with his forearm and she hit the floor like a sack of potatoes. 

Over all her racket, the cops heard the unmistakable sound of a shell being jacked into a shotgun.  All hell broke loose when Dean pulled the trigger of the twelve-gauge. My pal Horace just got blown to bits.   That’s the only way to describe what happened to him.  O’Conner pulled the kitchen table down on its side and slammed his back up against it. He landed on some of Ned and slipped in it.  “Officer down,” he hollered into his radio.  Dean ducked out of the doorway and reloaded. 

Harvey was awake, now, but he pretended to be invisible, flat-out, face down on the kitchen floor.  Little Red blasted past him like a burned cat. She slammed the master bedroom door behind her, desperate to escape.

The cops fired madly out of the kitchen, hoping a stray bullet would find Dean.  No luck with that, though. He came rolling across the doorway blasting.  He’d been a paratrooper in Afghanistan and he was an absolute wild man.   The kitchen table exploded and the State cop O’Conner took a few pellets in the shoulder and in his back.  He let out a yell, spun around and struggled to his knees, his pistol held by both his shaking hands.  But Dean was out of sight again.  O’Conner slid back onto his stomach, the shredded table offering no protection.  He closed his eyes against the pain and lay unprotected, praying he wouldn’t be shot any more.

The cops proceeded to pulverize the wall next to the doorway with bullets  Detective Loeb sprinted out the back door and ran around to the front of the house.  He found a brick in the lawn and tossed it through the picture window into the living room.  That knocked down a blanket that was hanging over the window in lieu of draperies, and Loeb got a good look at Dean’s shoulder-blades. 

“Drop that gun,” he yelled.

Dean spun, gun at his shoulder, until he was squinting down the long barrel at the detective.  A second later, his dead eyes were staring at the ceiling and blood was pumping out from his forehead onto the floor.

Elsewhere inside the house, the living cops, including O’Conner, who was struggling to stay awake, all had their weapons out and they were looking for targets.   Mary Lou Turnage snatched her wallet out of her purse and then ran and locked herself into the bathroom.

She went to work trying to unlock and open a window that had been accidentally painted shut sometime in the past few decades.  After digging through some dry paint with a screwdriver that was fortuitously dropped on the floor sometime ago, she jerked the window open with a bang, stood on the toilet seat and launched herself through the screen and out into the mud out back.  She hit the ground running, scooping up her skirt in her hand, and she scrambled into the woods.

Back in the kitchen, Sergeant O’Conner tried to push himself up to a kneeling position, but he couldn’t.  He lay facedown on the bloody floor.  Wilber Scott asked him if he was okay.

“No.  I’m not okay,” spat out the Statey.  “I been shot. Jeezus.”  He squeezed his eyes shut again and shuddered against the pain.

Scott ripped open what was left of O’Conner’s shirt and was hit with a wave of nausea as he checked out the holes in his fellow officer.  Dallas Perkins was rifling through some kitchen drawers, looking for aclean towel.  He finally did locate one.  He ran some cold water on it from the sink, squeezed it out, and pressed it down against O’Conner’s back. 

 “You’ll be okay,” Scott said, as he watched the white towel turn dark red. 

“Just lay still.  Medics are coming.”  He applied pressure with the palms of his hands to the hot blood pouring out of his comrade.  O’Conner didn’t complain.  He’d gone into shock.   The room stank heavy from the blood.  Standing behind Perkins, Wilber Scott was using his radio, calling again for an ambulance and for more police.

“I’m going outside to check on Loeb,” Scott said. He held his pistol, barrel upwards, tight against his chest.  He looked to George Lawrence and said, “Take over in here,” and then he was out the back door.

He joined the lieutenant and the two of them circled  the house in opposite directions, looking for other shooters.

Young Dallas Preston was getting nauseous. 

His hands were sticky and hot from O’Conner’s gurgling blood.   Within five feet of him, lay the remains of his friend Horace McCarthy and the dead black man. 

George Lawrencesaw how pale Dallas was getting and wondered if the younger man might vomit.  He hurried to the bedroom where Mary Lou’s purse was turned upside down on top of a queen-sized bed.  He pulled a blanket off that bed, sending thepurse and its discarded contents flying through the air. The purse landed in a corner of the room, pushing gobs of dust ahead of it. 

Lawrence then returned to the kitchen and placed the blanket carefully over the remains of patrolman McCarthy. He jerked open a door under the kitchen counter, found a dry towel and took Perkins’ spot, trying to stop the bleeding from O’Conner’s back.  He told Dallas Perkins to go outside and get some fresh air.

 The young manwandered out of the kitchen, walked around the house and into the front yard.  He watched Deputy Scott and Lieutenant Loeb as they circled the building on either side of him.  Dallas Perkins stood perfectly still with his handgun pointing to the ground.

Deputy Lawrence heard a baby yowling somewhere. He figured it wasn’t a threat to him and he ignored it.

Somewhere in the distance, sirens were screaming. 

They were getting closer.

THE BIG SHOOTOUT – Part 1

Chapter 8

“What the fuck,” said Joe, jumping off Rita and springing to the front window.  He banged his head on the lintel and was rubbing his bruised noggin as he ran back towards the hallway-door without even pulling his pants on.

“Hey!  Hey! Listen!  The cops here,” he shouted.

“What?” Gene hollered from downstairs.

Joe pressed down against the railing at the top of the stairway.  “The cops are here,” he yelled.  “The fuckin’ cops!  Cops!”

Outside the house, Rhino had just straddled his 1989 Electra Glide.  Smitty and Big Red were arranging their duffels in the trunk of Smitty’s 1957 Chevy coupe.  Those cops were still working their way down that long driveway, stepping around the deep, water-filled potholes and looking around warily when Rhino kicked the Harley into life.  He waved at the house, revved the engine up a couple times and hammered the big bike into first gear.  He waited for his partners to get into the Chevy, nodded towards the cops and then he cranked the accelerator.   He let it rev down and then led the old Chevy up the muddy driveway.

Seeing the shadowy forms of all the policemen up ahead, neither Smitty nor Red were inclined to let their vehicles do much more than idle, as they splashed their way towards the cops. Those unexpected sloshing sounds from the puddles set up an interesting contrast to the  steady grumble from the big 8-cylinder engine and the rap rap rap pounding of theHarley’s engine.

O’Conner, Scott, and Perkins had their pistols in their hands.  The three older law enforcement officers just exchanged thoughtful looks.  Five feet off the drive, balanced on a strip of clay that passed for a shoulder, the motorcycle rumbled past them at about four miles per hour.  Rhino nodded to the police and offered a half-smile, a sideways smile, as his bike rumbled past them

Up near the road, Rhino pressed down on the brake and stopped next to the dilapidated fence.  He jerked the bike upon its center stand and climbed off. Next, he unlatched the gate and pulled it open.  He took one long, last look at the farmhouseand the platoon of law enforcement officers about to assault it, shook his head, spit on the ground, and returned to his motorcycle.  It was still running, grumbling and complaining in that unique way that only a Harley Davidson can.  He swung his right leg over the seat, balanced himself, and pushed forward, releasing the stand.  Then he was gone.  

Every cop I’ve ever met appreciates powerful old cars.  The ones here at the pig farm were drooling over the classic turquoise Bel Air with the white roof that Smitty was steering down the drive.

 Sitting behind its oversized steering wheel, Smitty gave the car’s horn a couple long blasts and Big Red waved his hand towards their friends inside the house.  The car rolled haltingly past the police.  Smitty and Big Red were nervous as a pair of dogs in a thunderstorm. They were both pretty loaded and the trunk was, too, with a few pounds of dope, a suitcase full of money, a semi-automatic Winchester and a Colt Python.  Big Red, in the passenger seat, took his sunglasses off the dashboard and slid them down over his face. 

Sergeant O’Conner had put his pistol back in its holster and his hands rested on his wide hips.  He had a 1955 Chevy at home and would have liked to swap stories with the two men before they drove away.  He wondered if it had a 409 in it.  It sure sounded like it did.  He wished he could think of a reason to ask them to open up the hood.  His partner,on the other hand, was in a mood to hassle these two characters.

 “Hold it right there,” yelled Detective Loeb, holding his hand up,

Big Red put on a concerned look and asked, “Something wrong, officer?”

“Yeah,” the cop answered.  We’re looking for Mary Lou Turnage.  She here?”

“Yeah, she’s up at the house,” Big Red replied.  “Look, we’re running a little late, officer.” 

 Loeb could think of no reason to prevent them from leaving, so he dropped his arm,backed off to the side of the drive, and waved the two men past. The cops stepped aside, three on either side of the car, and the old Chevy rumbled past them.  Every one of those cops raised upon his toes, hoping to see something illegal inside the car.

“Son-of-a-bitch,” said Big Red as they turned onto Chalmers Pike.  “I’m glad them fuckers didn’t get here ten minutes ago.  Let’s roll.” 

 The two men held their breath as their car twisted delicately around the three cop cars at the gate. Then, like a fish shaking off a hook, the classic Chevy shot down the dirt road. 

  Inside the house, Gene was spraying air freshener all over the joint.  Teddy and Freddy had their arms filled with illegal drugs and paraphernalia.  They scrambled out the back door, looking left and right for the law.  If the house was searched, there wasn’t asafe place to hide the stuff.  They were heading down to the creek.  Dean and Daisy and Flo were pretty wasted.  They’d polished off a quart of Jack Daniels and they just sat at the kitchen table, dumfounded.  Little Red tossed the box of beer cans down beside the stove in the kitchen, jumped over Harvey, and ducked into the bathroom to check herself out in the mirror.  Her eyes were like black holes in space.  She ran into the bedroom and dug her sunglasses out of her purse.  The cops were knocking at the front door of the house. She fumbled with her shades, dropping them twice on the bed before pushing them over her crazy eyes.

 “Hey baby,” Ned called out.  She turned around and he tossed the water pipe at her.  Shesnatched it out of the air and ran with it back to the bathroom.  Her hands shook like a tree in a blizzard as she dumped the skunk-smelling water down the toilet.  That made the whole bathroom reek. Her hands shook as she laid the pipe down in the back of the vanity.  She piled some shampoo bottles and some toilet paper rolls in front of it.

 “Mrs. Turnage.”  It was a nice-sounding voice, very resonant.  That was Horace McCarthy calling out to her.

 She gargled with some mouthwash, and ran a brush through her hair before she yelled back, “I’m in the bathroom.” 

 She looked in the mirror and saw a junkie.   

If the cops looked into her eyes, they would know she was high.  She kept the shades on. Next, she spritzedsome perfume on her neck and around the bathroom and figured it was showtime.  She left the bathroom and passed through the master bedroom.  Nedhad pasted his back to one of the bedroom walls and he squeezed himself besidethe door that opened into the kitchen. He shushed her silently and pulled his index finger across histhroat.  His eyes were bugged out and he was mouthing, “No.  No.  No.” There was a warrant out for him. He didn’t want any part of talking to those cops.  She rolled her eyes, and made a face at him as she stormed past him.  Men.  Not worth a goddamn thing, she thought.

 The cops were in the living room, their prying eyes digging into everything.  Their nostrils were wide like dogs on ascent.  They asked about Little Red and Gene told them she was inside and that they could come in.  Moondog lumbered off the kitchen table and hecame growling into the living room with his hackles up.  Gene deftly grabbed him by the collar andforced him up against a wall. 

 “You want some coffee?” Gene asked the police officers.  A couple of them paid attention to him and shook their heads as he wrestled the dog past them and out the front door.  “I gotta put this dog on his chain,” he toldthem.  I’ll be back in a minute.” 

Then he was gone.

The policemen stood around, confident there was some illegal activity going on and they were itching to see or smell some evidence that would allow them to tearthe place apart.  The cloying perfume ofthe spray air-freshener told them they had just missed something.  They exchanged questioning looks.  The State Boys were wondering if they had reasonable grounds to start shaking people down.  The sheriff’s crew had never been out to the pig farm before. 

 They were sort of overwhelmed.  

 Little Red was the center of attention when she strutted into the living room.  She had a look about her like a Gypsy.  It was a contrived look, but it worked.  It always worked for her.  It started with her flirty eyes; but their wildness was hidden by a pair of sunglasses. Her hair was a wave. She had on a low-cut white blouse with no sleeves and her pleated skirtwas purple with yellow smiling moons on it and it swirled across the floor as she glided in to challenge the cops.

“What is it?” she asked, crossing her arms.

 “Mrs. Turnage?” asked Detective Loeb.

 She nodded and gave him a black look.

“Mrs. Turnage.  Is your son here?”

That took her aback.  She hadn’t expected theywere here to hassle her about her kid.

 “No,” she said coldly, glancing at her wristwatch, “He’s over to some friend’s house

 “And what friend would that be, Mrs. Turnage?” asked the detective.

  “Probably Tammy Horton, that’s his girlfriend.  He might be at Bobby Fremont’s place.  Why do you want to know?”

 “He got caught selling dope at school and then he beat up the principal.”

 Without a moment’s delay, she snapped back, “That’s impossible.  He doesn’t use drugs. You’ve got him mixed up with someone else. He never gets in trouble.”  

 The detective stared at her like she was a roach. “I repeat:  he was caught selling narcotics at school, earlier today.  Then he assaulted the principal, put him in the hospital.  We need to speak with him.”

 She turned white.  She didn’t know what to say or what to do.   What she did was she lit a cigarette.  She flipped the wooden match into an ashtray, swallowed a bunch of smoke and then tilted her head backand spit a plume of haze up at the ceiling. She still couldn’t figure out the best way to respond to the policeman’srevelations about her son.  So she got mad.  That usually worked for her.  But it didn’t work on these cops.  Not at all.

 “You’re fucking lying,” she said.  “Get the hell out of here.”

 The cops all looked back and forth at one another, grinning.  That made her even angrier. 

 “Don’t you laugh at me, you fuckers,” she snapped. She turned her back on them and marched into the kitchen.  All six policemen were right on her tail.  She looked sprawled out in various stages ofintoxication.  She took another hit on the cigarette and smashed it out on the kitchen table.  She was looking up at the ceiling, hyperventilating.

“Miss Turnage.  Do you know where the boy is?”

 “No.  I mean, yes. He’s not here.  He’s at one of his friend’s homes. You’re the cops.  Youfind him.”

 “You’re not being very co-operative, Mrs. Turnage. How about giving us the phone numbers of the kids he might be with.”

 “I don’t know their phone numbers.  I don’t even know if they all have phones.”

“You don’t keep very close tabs on him, do you?” Sergeant O’Conner offered.

 Shejust stood there, steaming.

 Deputy Lawrence was staring off into the bedroom where Ned was hiding.  He was amazed and disgusted by the curtain of thick black cobwebs clinging to the bedroom door.  Without looking at Little Red, he said,“Don’t seem like you’re much of a parent.”

 She slapped him.  It was just a reflex action.