Dooley Downs

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IX Officer Holt

IX Officer Holt

Peter Dooley. Peter Dooley. Peter Dooley. Peter and Priscilla Dooley. Kids of the town lush, Tim Dooley. Great.

Officer Holt tapped the eraser end of his pencil rapidly on his laminated hardwood desk and stared at the blank report before him. Officer Holt hated paperwork. Nothing exciting happened in Prudence so report writing was just as dull. Petty theft, parking tickets, the occasional domestic dispute… all small time stuff. But at least walking the beat offered a measure of interest not to be found in writing reports. When he caught up on paperwork he felt like he was justifying his job, his worth. With only one other officer, a part-time secretary, and the Sherriff, he guessed that it wasn’t too much of a stretch.

Hell, the secretary herself could almost handle the whole department.

Now arose this situation with the Dooleys. Tim worked his way into the bottle after Sarah passed away. That was a tragic accident and Officer Holt could not exactly blame him for letting himself go, but the poor kids. Still, Tim must’ve passed on something to them because they were normally so well behaved… until now. Three reports arrived today about the Dooleys: one in person and two by phone. Officer Holt cringed at the thought of them, but especially the phone call from Mayor Maximilian. This wasn’t going to be an easy case, which meant a lot of paperwork, and unlike a parking ticket this case seemed like it was just getting started.

Officer Holt began this day by relieving his counterpart, Officer Stiles, from the graveyard shift at 8AM. Holt and Stiles shared the work week, Monday through Friday, on twelve hour shifts. Officer Holt took the day shift, 8AM to 8PM; Officer Stiles filled in the night and early morning. Sherriff Hodgson worked the weekends. Officer Holt was still unsure how the Sherriff stood awake for 48 hours straight for his shift, but he had few complaints.

At least I get the weekends off and don’t have to work at night.

™ Ÿ ˜

When he arrived this morning, the Dooley kid’s Aunt Gretchen, Sarah’s sister, stood impatiently in front of Officer Stiles’ desk as the policeman scrambled to hand over her complaint to Officer Holt and end his shift. According to Officer Stiles, Aunt Gretchen had just arrived, so he hadn’t had time to take down her information. Somehow, Officer Holt doubted the veracity of that conviction, witnessing the irritation on the woman’s face and the empty cup of coffee before her. But all he could manage at the time was a sigh. He probably would’ve done the same thing. Being the senior officer on a two-man crew, it probably would’ve ended up in his lap eventually.

Sitting at his desk, nursing a fresh cup of coffee and wishing he had stopped at six beers the previous evening, he listened and took notes as the frumpy, crochet garbed Aunt Gretchen blabbed on crankily about her story. Basically, Tim Dooley had cracked up, split town, and abandoned his kids. Well, not really abandoned. Aunt Gretchen possessed a note written and signed by Tim handing over custody of the kids to her. It was damn peculiar, considering that Tim successfully defended a custody battle in court against Aunt Gretchen not more than a half a year ago. But Tim had been going downhill and Tim’s signature on the letter looked legit, oddball deal that it was. It wasn’t a stamp or a copy; it was inked.

After a spell, Officer Holt asked Aunt Gretchen to go collect the kids and bring them to the station. She had talked on for a few hours explaining all sorts of family drama that he didn’t wish to hear about and he finally needed to get rid of her and take a dump in the bathroom. He’d been prairie-dogging it for the last half hour. He probably should’ve gone to collect the kids himself, but he never would’ve figured that the Dooley children would cut and run. They really must not like their aunt. By the looks of her, he wasn’t surprised.

She really should fix herself up: lose the homemade clothes, put on some makeup, and brush her hair. Who knows, there might be a decent looking woman under that hippy exterior.

Her manner left something to be desired, as well: uptight, self-righteous, and condescending; it was no wonder she had a reputation as an Old Maid.

Even I mightbrush her off if she came on to me.

Now Officer Holt shifted his 300 pound bulk in his chair, creating ominous creaking noises, and thought about how the day had unfolded. Aunt Gretchen came back shortly after noon claiming the kids had run off into the hills surrounding the property. Grudgingly, he took the squad car up to the Dooleys’ property to investigate for himself, after hearing an earful from Aunt Gretchen over the welfare of the children and how she was going to scour the town itself for them. Sure enough, the place had been empty and locked, except the back door which was open. He had briefly toured the house, looking for signs of foul play. Despite being in disrepair and in need of a maid, the house stood vacant. He walked the greater exterior past the fence line, but no evidence of anything presented itself. Traveling back through the Dooleys’ back yard he noted that it looked mangy.

Arriving at the station, he received a call from Principal Harding. Apparently, several kids from the school were truant, including the Dooleys. Leela Sparks was among them and her mother was giving Harding an earful about finding her. Officer Holt felt the day shifting for the worst. On the tails of the Harding phone call came the coup de grace: Mayor Maximilian claiming his son got brutally mauled by the Dooleys’ cat in the bathroom of Fast Eddie’s Last Gas. Were they acting out over the disappearance of their father? The Mayor wanted “this shit” (as he so eloquently put it) sorted out.

“You get this shit sorted out, Frank, or you will be applying for a burger flipping position tomorrow,” Mayor Maximilian seethed through the receiver into Officer Holt’s ear.

The Mayor never called people by their titles, not even the Sherriff, as if he held possession of the only title in the realm: King and Lord Maximilian talking to his obedient serfs. He didn’t even use people’s last names. It reminded Officer Holt of a father talking to a child.

“I want those kids brought in and locked up so that their parents have to come and get them. And before you make those calls to their parents, you are going to call me first so that I have time to call my lawyer, come down there, speak my mind to those delinquent children, and then greet their negligent parents one by one with a civil lawsuit as they arrive. And if this doesn’t go exactly the way I just spelled it out for you, Frankexactly the way I have just described, well I might just contract with the Harsith Sherriff’s Department to patrol our quaint little town and sack the Prudence police force altogether. It’s not like you are actually doing anything useful around here. You’re an ornament, Frank. Now won’t that be a nice addition to your resume, huh? Won’t you just love to explain that you were the reason your co-workers lost their jobs, you fat piece of shit?”

“Yes sir,” Officer Holt managed.

He knew not to mess with the Mayor. He knew the Mayor had burned people down before for smaller things. Besides, Mayor Maximilian tended to own the conversations he engaged in, putting a certain perspective on the subject at hand that made it difficult to argue against. Officer Holt always found himself cowing to authority. He lied to himself about the order and direction it provided in his life, but deep down he felt himself a coward at heart. Joining the police force consisted of an attempt at compensation for what he lacked inside and out.

“Yes sir what?” The words arrived tersely through the phone receiver.

“Yes sir, Mr. Mayor… sir?”

Silence.

“Um, what I mean is that everything will go exactly as you said, Mr. Mayor… sir.”

“It better.” The phone clicked dead. Officer Holt carefully placed the receiver in its cradle as if it were a fragile piece of glass, or that Mayor Maximilian himself might pop out through it and berate him some more.

God, I hate him.

But Frank Holt also envied and revered him.

™ Ÿ ˜

Officer Holt put down his pencil. He pushed the blank report aside. He was unsure of what to do next. No decent leads. The Dooleys could be anywhere, though likely he placed them town-side. From their home to Fast Eddie’s Last Gas to Swenson Park where Principal Harding found them and had held Leela at her mother’s request. Principal Harding had already attempted calling the other parents without much success. Aunt Gretchen was who knows where… “scouring” the town, he supposed. The wall clock showed the time well past 5PM and on the path to six; his watch confirmed it.

Red knew Tim.

Probably the last person to see him.

He supposed he should start there, get some confirmation on Aunt Gretchen’s story. Besides, Red was close to Tim, knew his kids. Maybe he knew where to start looking. The bar was only a couple blocks away. Officer Holt felt his whole life teetering over a vast abyss.

Besides, I could use a drink. My life is starting to look like the Dooleys’ mangy back yard.

™ Ÿ ˜

Red unlatched the heavy storeroom door, but kept it closed. With his hand firmly clasped on the handle, he turned surreptitiously towards the kids waiting behind him. Peter saw that Red’s pear-shaped chubby face wore a mix of emotions that he could not quite comprehend: worry, excitement, wonder, guilt, and a host of other things that were hard to pin down. Peter nearly swore that he saw lack of confidence buttressed by a certain surety, if that was possible.

Sweat beaded up on the bartender’s brow and cheeks, under his eyes and over his upper lip. The man’s cheeks shone with a flushness Peter knew well from Dad’s drinking, but although Red had imbibed wine this night he didn’t appear inebriated. Peter chalked it up to a combination of weight, wine, and exhilaration. Peter felt the excitement too, but it was one bred out of danger and uncertainty. That’s when it struck him: Red’s expression boiled down to fear, but fear where you know you are making the right decision, even though you question yourself.

Peter reached into his book bag and fingered the Sooth Jewels. The combined metallic arrow felt surprisingly warm. Maybe Bo Bo sitting in the bag so long had caused it to retain some of his heat. His finger pricked on one of the sharp ends and he pulled his hand away swiftly. He couldn’t believe he had placed his trust in something so completely that had failed them so miserably in their quest. Examining his finger he found no puncture. He sucked on it anyway.

What we really need is something to make us invisible, not some stupid arrow that points to places that have no answers when you get there.

“Here we go kids,” Red warned, licking his lips nervously. “I’m going to open this door and exit towards the bar. You walk straight to the front door normally. Don’t look around; don’t act unusual. You’re all just several kids that wandered into a bar and realized it wasn’t where you are supposed to be. Just focus on the front door, walk to it, and leave. I have to tell you that I could lose my license, the whole bar, if someone went to the authorities and complained of your presence. I mean, I could probably talk my way out of any inquiry and I might only face a steep fine, but you are all involved in something deep, mysterious, and possibly illegal. Remember, Dooleys, come back through Sid’s by ten. I don’t doubt that you feel there is still something important you need to do, but we all must exercise the utmost caution the rest of the evening. Okay?”

Nobody said a thing, they all just nodded. As a bargaining chip, Red had insisted that the Dooleys leave Bo Bo in the storeroom. That cat had been through a lot and he possessed a slight injury. Peter balked at first over the idea given how useful Bo Bo had been against Max and his monkey, Monkey. But Priscilla strong-armed the decision for him, decrying the trauma they had put their pet, friend, and family member through. Peter found no suitable argument to counter with. They both felt guilty enough over what their precious kitty had experienced this day, though they remained proud of his performance. Still, Peter silently wondered if Bo Bo’s presence with them served as a token of good fortune.

“Skeeter, Abe… go home. You can see your friends tomorrow.”

Red gave them one last look to make sure his message sunk in. Then, looking like he said all he could say, he turned, opened the door, and stepped through. Just as he said, Red headed straight to the bar. The kids followed, but as planned headed towards the front door, heads down or focused on the target. The noise came as a shock compared to the comparative silence of the storeroom. The bar had opened less than an hour ago and yet it appeared to be stuffed to the gills with loud conversation, laughing, and the boisterous buzz one expects from a popular watering hole.

Amazingly, nobody seemed to notice them. In fact, they found the need to dodge several bar patrons, who sooner would’ve collided with one of their numbers in an apparent obliviousness to their presence. One rotund lady swung her meaty arm out in revelry with a glass mug of beer which missed Peter’s head by a narrow margin. Had he not ducked, he might’ve found himself nursing a concussion at the hospital. The lady never even acknowledged his presence. Then Harold Cutter stumbled by and nearly knocked Doodle to the floor if Bug hadn’t anticipated and pulled him back in time. They finally navigated the gauntlet of libationary bodies safely to the front door. Nobody had paid a notion of attention to them.

Opening the front door, they stepped out into the cool October evening air and the sound of wind tickling the trees. Looking back into the bar, Peter noticed with profound curiosity that nobody even looked up at the door opening. It seemed to Peter that a door opening anywhere inspired some bit of attention to it. But the thought exited his mind utterly when he heard the voice addressing them outside and his attention fled the slowly closing entrance door.

“FREEZE!”

Everyone froze.

™ Ÿ ˜

Officer Holt galloped towards them cumbersomely, baton out and hand on his holstered tazer. Mayor Maximilian refused to front the insurance money for guns, claiming that Prudence remained a relatively crime-free community. The Mayor maintained a habit of boiling policy points down to factors other than money, even though that was exactly what the issue revolved around. Holt imagined that skill reserved itself for the politically qualified. He slowed considerably within ten feet of the kids, huffing and puffing over the exertion to close the distance.

“You… you kids…,” Officer Holt breathed heavily, waving his baton at them carelessly, “…Dooleys… Peter… Priscilla… you… you are coming… coming with me… down to the s-station. You all are. You all… are in deep trouble… mul-multiple offences…”

“Look, it’s Holt the Jolt,” Bug laughed, unexpectedly breaking their state of terror. “What’s up tubby? That was probably the most exercise you’ve gotten since Police Academy!”

“What are you doing?!” Priscilla couldn’t believe what was issuing forth from Bug’s mouth. Bug briefly glanced her way and winked, assuring her that he possessed some kind of plan not grounded in idiocy or insanity.

“Why you little…” Officer Holt whooshed harshly.

“Whoah, don’t taze me Holt the Jolt!” Bug raised his arms in a parody of someone under arrest.

Officer Holt had gained the nickname amongst the children of Prudence due to his accidental tazing of a shoplifter at Bob’s Market a few years back. At the time, tazers were a new addition to the Prudence Police Department’s armory. The Sherriff had petitioned the Mayor for years for something more powerful than police batons and pepper spray and the Mayor eventually settled for the non-lethal option of tazers. Officer Holt’s first call of duty carrying the tazer prompted him to hold it on a fleeing shoplifter, who decided being electrocuted served as a far considerable worse experience than just giving up freely. In his excitement over his new armament, Officer Holt accidently triggered the device on the surrendering perpetrator, shocking the young shoplifter into unconsciousness. The next day the story graced the cover of The Prudence Gazette with the headline: ‘Officer Holt Serves Justice A Jolt.’ While Holt the Jolt never caught on famously with adults, children in Prudence found it a constant source of amusement.

Officer Holt shook his jowls at Bug in consternation. Clearly losing his sense of perspective, he began to draw his tazer from its holster. “You little shit! That’s it. You kids don’t even know what kind of trouble you are in. All of you are coming with me. The Mayor has some choice words to say to you and your parents over what you did to his son, Max. Now turn and face…”

Officer Holt possessed time to neither finish his threatening tirade nor time to bring his tazer to a level where he might just live up to his nickname. He found his face and upper torso smothered in grey sticky strands that felt like giant spider webs or silly string. He waved his hands about uselessly, trying to block the barrage. It slapped against his exposed skin and stuck there. It entered his mouth with a sour taste as he choked and sputtered to keep it out. It plastered his hair and face, his uniform, his baton and tazer. Officer Holt would’ve dropped his arsenal of weapons from his hands, but they hung there against his open palms, stuck by the webs slathering his body.

“Run, you guys!” Bug howled with laughter at the effectiveness of Sid’s “weapons.” Doodle wasted no time in activating multiple smoke bombs, which within seconds spewed forth billowing clouds of acrid blue, green, yellow, and red smoke that quickly mixed into a putrid brown choking fog. Priscilla grabbed Peter’s hand without hesitation and pulled him along running down the sidewalk. Bug and Doodle ran off in a different direction towards the park.

“C’mon you fat nob! Come try to get us you big dogalog! Holt the Jolt! Holt the Jolt!” Bug brayed laughter as he and Doodle ran into Swenson Park. Guided only by the sound of Skeeter’s voice, Officer Holt considered no other choice but to blindly follow it in a desperate attempt to fulfill his civic duty and the Mayor’s directive. Back in his mind he already realized his failure; in the front of his consciousness he had no choice but to try pathetically through a fog of stinky smoke and sticky web strands to capture at least one of these malcontents. Half blinded, he followed Bug’s taunts into the park.

Priscilla continued to draw Peter roughly in the opposite direction.

™ Ÿ ˜

Max stood peeking around the corner window of Fatboy’s Donuts. He arrived too late to witness his targets exiting Red’s Recovery Room, but was drawn from his station in front of Sid’s Toy Bazaar by the raised voices of confrontation in that area. Observing the escalating altercation, he watched the promise of his reward diminish before his eyes. Holt the Jolt had them in the cold embrace of the law; impenetrable to a kid of his stature.

It wasn’t hard to command control away from his butler and father once the limo arrived at Fast Eddie’s Last Gas. Fast Eddie looked visibly relieved to be rid of the situation. Max had immediately ordered the butler to apply the car’s first aid supplies to his wounded hand, despite the old pleeb’s protests that Max should go see a doctor. Max had used the car phone to report to his father that he was okay, but made it a point to complain profusely about the Dooleys. Getting his father into an alternate directive mindset served as critical to retaining the freedom he needed to pursue his impending reward.

Traveling back into town, he had spotted his bike near the entrance gates. Inspecting its condition, he immediately concluded that the Dooleys and their friends were stalling for time. He had thrown the bike in the limo’s trunk and ordered the butler to drop him off at Sid’s Toy Bazaar, the only place in town he figured kids his age on the lam would go.

For Christ’s sake, they actually thought heading into town offered the safest option.

But then, Sid did sell some pretty useful gadgets that could be turned into protection. Then again, if Sid commiserated with their plight…

At first, Max had grown dismayed after the butler dropped him off and he found Sid’s Toy Bazaar closed and locked for internal maintenance purposes. Lights remained on deep into the interior, but pressing his face against the glass he had witnessed no movement. The trail appeared lost as he waited and wondered how to proceed. He missed Monkey, but eventually saw fit to send his companion home with the butler who was waiting up the street. Then, the commotion around the corner caught his attention.

Despite the fact that his reward was vaporizing before his eyes, Max actually envied Holt the Jolt. He fantasized about having Peter and Priscilla incapacitated in separate cells, handcuffed and possibly gagged and blindfolded. Priscilla would be quick; there wasn’t much to little girls. They were too weak and fearful. But Peter… well, the possibilities with Peter seemed endless. Peter liked to resist, to fight. The police baton would serve as a useful tool against both of them, among other things.

Max shook these thoughts from his head. His father would have the fun with this one, once they were arrested and their parents were contacted. His father’s idea of fun differed from Max’s. Over the last couple years, Max began developing unrequited urgings in his loins and mind that seemed insatiable. His father’s dirty magazines hidden in his den failed to arouse him anymore. He liked the images, they just lacked substance. They lacked possibility. Max wanted sex, though he knew not the experience short of rubbing himself against his pillow at night. But more, he craved to mix it with power, to add an element of violence. He wanted his reward.

I want my reward.

Then, suddenly, providence stepped in and offered him a gift. He watched greedily as the situation turned against Holt the Jolt. He briefly wondered about the weapons that Skeeter and Abe had obtained and quickly chalked it up to Sid’s meddling. Then the prize re-emerged. Holt the Jolt took off after the two drips and left Peter and Priscilla alone. He saw Priscilla grab Peter’s arm and pull him off down the sidewalk.

Maybe there is more to the little bitch than I had first surmised.

Swiftly and quietly, but keeping a fair distance, Max followed the twins.

™ Ÿ ˜

Thirty minutes later, Officer Holt stood in the station bathroom, peeling off the hardened and flakey remains of the webbing he had been assaulted with. He wanted to cough with every breath, lungs tickling with the acrid smoke of the numerous smoke bombs he inhaled on his futile pursuit of the Dooleys’ delinquent friends. Of course they had evaded him. Of course the wind had died down conveniently so that the smoke hung throughout the park like a fog. He had finally emerged from the smoke at the park’s edge near the town’s entrance. A young couple stood hand-in-hand, looking at him, whispering and giggling. Apparently, anyone else out and about had fled the ominous clouds of multicolored, sulfur-tainted smoke. The couple had simply turned and walked away when he tried asking where those troublesome kids went as he pulled at the web stuck to his face in an attempt to see, hear, and speak better. No doubt he sounded incoherent to them or looked ridiculous; probably both.

He spat into the sink and then sneezed on top of it unexpectedly. Then a coughing fit overtook him. As it subsided, he spat some more. He had peeled most of the webbing away. Only a fine grey paste coated his skin, hair, and uniform. It appeared ground in, as no amount of brushing seemed to remove it sufficiently. Finally, he settled for a face washing. He would take care of the rest when his shift ended in an hour and a half. Drying off his face, he realized that his shift might not be ending that quickly.

Oh, shit… the Mayor charged me specifically with this and I have nothing to show for it but the mess that is me.

He looked despairingly at his image in the mirror: fat, disheveled, and covered in filth.

Maybe I should be fired. Maybe I’m not cut out for this. I’m a laughing stock around town, a mockery and a joke. Mayor McCheese is going to serve my balls to the Sherriff, or worse.

Officer Holt sighed heavily. He didn’t even get to have that drink and talk to Red. Oh well, there was still time and he didn’t have any other place to start looking for the Dooleys. Back to the old drawing board; back to square one. He took one last look at his pathetic image in the mirror and then wiped his dripping face with a paper towel. Rolling it up, he took aim at the metal waste can in the corner and tossed.

Two points…

The wet paper ball hit the edge of the waste can and bounced off, hitting the floor. Grumbling, Officer Holt lumbered over to it. He groaned as he bent over to pick it up, supporting his bulk by placing one hand on the edge of the waste can. As he pushed and straightened himself up, wet paper ball in hand, he tried to place it into the open orifice at the same time. But the shift in weight upset his balance and not only did he miss placing the trash into the can again, he also fell and brought the can down on himself with a crash, emptying out half its contents on the aquamarine tile floor. He angrily struggled to his hands and knees and furiously began shoving the trash back into the can, cursing under his breath at the task and his own clumsiness.

He pushed the waste can up into its righted position. Then, using it as a support again, he tried to pull himself up. However, his polished shoes slipped on the slightly damp tile and he fell flat on his chest, knocking the wind from his lungs. He lay there for a moment to catch his breath… then the tears came. He tried pinching them back with his eyelids, but his chest started hitching. Officer Holt broke down, bawling and kicking the floor.

After a few moments, the fit subsided. He pulled himself to a sitting position against the bathroom wall and quietly sobbed there, looking for all the world like a sad overgrown child that everything and everyone conspired against.

™ Ÿ ˜

Officer Holt sat at his desk, waiting patiently for Tim Dooley to calm down from his third outburst of tears and sobbing. His shift ended an hour ago and he glanced up at the wall clock to give the fact a second confirmation. Tim had arrived at the station on his own accord just as Officer Holt and Officer Stiles were changing shifts. Tim had been so overwhelmed with grief, Frank wondered how he had managed to make the drive from the Mirror Falls Overlook where his wife apparently had fallen over the railing and plunged to her death. It sounded like a sad and tragic accident. Officer Stiles and Sherriff Hodgson were up there now, investigating the scene.

I wish Sherriff Hodgson had taken me. I hate paperwork… and I can’t stand seeing a grown man cry.

Officer Holt immediately hated himself for thinking that. It was selfish, but he couldn’t help it because it was true. He glanced over at Tim again. The man looked a wreck. Frank supposed he understood. Though never married and without even a girlfriend to speak of, Officer Holt took his own mother’s death pretty hard when she had passed away last year. He had cried a lot, he knew that much. Loss took time to get over and Tim wasn’t about to get over Sarah’s death anytime soon.

So far, Officer Holt understood the basics of the tragedy. Tim and Sarah had gone out for a romantic evening at the Mirror Falls Overlook. They had called Sarah’s sister Gretchen to come over and babysit their young kids, who were about seven. Once she arrived, they took Tim’s old Jalopy into Prudence, accessing the town’s north entrance, which turned into Old Goat Road. Old Goat Road climbed into The Foothills and led to Becker’s Bridge, which spanned The Carp River. Once over the bridge, Old Goat Road followed The Carp River several hundred yards to where it spilled over a cliff and became Mirror Falls. Old Goat Road turned and continued on through The Foothills, but where it met the cliff stood a historic wooden placard describing the falls and a bench for the occasional visitor to sit and enjoy the view. This area was known as the Mirror Falls Overlook.

Mirror Falls was an interesting geological oddity. A mammoth boulder, almost a hill unto itself, cleaved The Carp River in two so that the river itself did not fall over the cliff as one fall, but two. The cliff itself stood inverted like a bowl, so the split river curved around the intersecting land mass on either side and fell off the rim on opposite sides. The resulting falls “mirrored” each other, hence the name, dropping three hundred and fifty feet to a shallow rock laden pool and continue on reunited as The Carp River again. A low metal railing at the Overlook served as marginal safety against anyone leaning over the rim to get a better look at the cascading water crashing into the violent pool below, but it barely came up to the waste of the average adult female. Despite that inviting fact, Sarah remained the only known casualty at the falls. Nobody had even attempted suicide there.

“So, Tim?” Officer Holt tested Tim’s emotional state. The outburst of wails had subsided to a few moaning sobs.

“Yeah?” Tim groaned pitifully. He looked up at Officer Holt with droopy bloodshot eyes.

“Can we go on?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Had you and your… I mean, had you and Sa… had there been any drinking?” Officer Holt tapped his pencil nervously on the report form. He was experiencing difficulty maintaining eye contact with Tim.

God I hate this. The kids haven’t even been told their mother is dead yet. I wonder if I can get him to make that call so I don’t have to. Ah shit, Frank, stop it!

“Drinking?”

“Um, yeah. You said it was a romantic evening. Had you two shared some wine together or something? Perhaps at home before you left? Or maybe you took a bottle with you, hmm?”

Tim looked confused for a moment, and then recognition washed over his face. “Oh, yeah. Well, we had a couple glasses of champagne before we left. You know, while we were waiting for Gretchen to show up.”

“Just a couple?”

“Oh yeah, just a couple. The bottle was half full when we left.”

“So you two weren’t, you know, a little tipsy, a little buzzed when you left?”

“No, no, not at all. Well, I wasn’t. S-S-Sarah… she was a little silly. She finished both our glasses right before we left.”

“So Gretchen didn’t show any concern that you two were drinking before you left?”

“Well, not when she arrived. I mean, the glasses were there on the living room coffee table, half full along with the bottle. After we greeted her, I went out back to get the kids…”

“Out back?”

“Out to the backyard. The kids were playing on the… on the… on the swingsetweboughtthemlastyear!” As his words ran together his voice rose to a high pitched shriek and his face imploded into a torrent of fresh grief. “Oh my God, my kids, my kids! They don’t know! They don’t know yet! What are they going to do without their mother! Ahhhhhhhgh!!!”

Officer Holt felt disgusted at Tim’s behavior and ashamed of his lack of empathy at the same time. He topped off that cake with a frosting of utter embarrassment. He tried like hell to keep this internal mess from spilling out onto his face. He was fairly successful. What did show went unnoticed by the cloud of chaos swirling in the seat in front of his desk. He unwittingly tapped his pencil more and more furiously, one eye twitching and blinking as his left index finger pounded his temple in an effort to contain himself. The sound of the pencil tapping had the unintended consequence of breaking Tim suddenly out of his spell.

“What?” Tim asked, cheeks red and streaming with tears. He wore an empty expression on his face, drooping with the exhaustion of sorrow, as if he just woke up from a bad dream that seemed like reality.

“What?” Officer Holt froze and looked up at Tim, returning from his own internal nightmare.

“What did you say?”

“Say? No, I… well, you were saying about Gretchen and how you went and got… I mean you and your wife left her alone for a moment in the living room… where did your wife go?”

“Oh, well she just wanted to touch up her face and spritz on a little perfume. We both returned to the living room at the same time. After meeting the kids, Gretchen suggested that Sarah and I have a toast. I’m not sure why, there wasn’t any kind of special occasion. In fact, that’s what Sarah said.”

“What?”

“What?”

“Sarah said what?”

“No, she didn’t say ‘what’; she said: ‘What for, sissy? We’re just going out.’ Then she downed her glass of champagne, then mine. That’s when Gretchen got upset. It was kind of weird. I think she thought Gretchen was going to drive, but I assured her that I was and that I had only had a glass and a half of champagne. She still seemed so concerned. Gretchen is kind of strange that way, I guess. Sarah just rolled her eyes and ushered me out the door. I suppose she is used to it.”

“Used to what?”

“Sorry?”

“What for?”

“What for what?”

“Why are you sorry?”

“Why am I sorry?”

Oh no, his face is quivering again. I need to pay more attention to what he is saying, but God I hate filling out these damn reports! C’mon Frank, get it back on track before he has another meltdown!

“You said your wife was used to something?”

“Oh yeah,” Tim whispered, seeming to return to normal. “Sarah is used to Gretchen’s idiosyncrasies.”

“Idio-what?”

“Sorry, Officer. I mean her peculiarities. Gretchen is… how do I say this…”

“Weird?”

“Yeah, I guess that’s one way to put it.”

“Creepy?”

“That’s another way.”

“Got it.”

Officer Holt’s phone rang just then. Gratefully, his hand shot out and snatched the receiver off of the cradle. Accidently, he smashed it against his face and ear. He smiled at Tim and raised his finger mouthing “just a moment” as he struggled to contain the pain in his ear.

“Prudence Police Department, Officer Holt speaking, is this an emergency?”

Silence answered, but the phone still rang.

“Hello?”

The receiver was dead. No dial tone; nobody on the other end. Still, the phone rang as if he hadn’t even answered it.

“Hello? HELLO?!”

The phone kept ringing and still there remained no answer. Officer Holt tapped the phone hook to try to interrupt the ringing, or to at least get something on the receiver. Nothing changed. The phone kept ringing. He looked at Tim. Tim looked dazed, lost in oblivion.

“HELLO?!”

™ Ÿ ˜

Officer Holt awoke to a phone ringing and his own voice shouting “hello.” He sat propped up against the station bathroom, drool covering his lips and chin. A phone rang in the general office. He jerked himself alert and rose to his feet with little exertion. The adrenaline of realizing you had fallen asleep when you weren’t supposed to be asleep jacked Officer Holt up. He blasted through the bathroom door and ran to his desk. With a feeling of déjà vu, he snatched the receiver off the cradle.

“HELLO?!”

“Frank?” The voice sounded familiar, but in his confusion he failed to place it.

“Uh, yes, yes. I’m sorry. Who is this?”

“Frank, it’s me, Red.”

“Red?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, hi. Sorry, I was just… uh, I mean I had something going on… or something…” he sputtered feebly.

“Frank, listen to me. I have some information I think you need to follow up on.”

Officer Holt looked up at the wall clock. It was only 6:40. He hadn’t been out that long.

“Yes, I’m listening…”

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