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The sound of the phone was like a kitten mewing. I couldn't make out the words. 'Police chief here,' I said again. 'Who's calling?'
'Amy Wilson.' She was collecting herself. 'Please help me. Please.'
'Where are you, Amy, at home?'
'Yes.' The sobs took over again and then she said, 'He, he attacked me.'
Only one type of attack causes distress like that. 'Sexually, you mean, Amy?' I tried to sound matter of fact.
'Yes,' she said. 'Please come.'
'Be right there. Three minutes. Keep on talking to my wife.'
Freda had set down the notes she had made at that night's rehearsal and was watching me anxiously. 'It's Amy Wilson, Fred,' I told her. 'Keep her talking until I get there.'
I slipped my uniform belt back on, with its holster and the .38 and went to the other phone, the unlisted line, not connected to the police office. Dr McQuaig answered and told me he'd meet me there.
Sam, my German shepherd, uncoiled from his bed under the kitchen table and trotted out with me to the car.
The Wilsons live half a mile south of us, just north of town and I was there in a minute. I let Sam out and told him 'seek' and went up and rang the bell.
Amy answered the door, her face raddled with tears, her right hand holding the ripped front of her blouse together.
I felt like a goddamn Cossack just being there but there was no choice. We don't have a woman police officer in town. I'm the whole department, me and Sam. 'Come and sit down,' I told her. 'It's over.'
Not the right thing to say. It brought on more tears. I held my hand over her back helplessly but didn't touch her. That might have freaked her right out. 'When did it happen?'
'Ten minutes ago. When I got home.' She sat down on the couch and reached out for a tissue from a fancy wooden box. She wiped her eyes with it and then sat, folding it smaller and smaller with trembling fingers.
'My dog is searching the area. If he's anywhere close, we'll find him,' I promised.
'He said he'd come back and kill me if I told anybody,' she said through clenched teeth.
'He won't. He just wanted you scared. He's that kind of creep.'
'I know what kind of creep he is!' she screeched.
'Did you get a look at him?'
'He was wearing a mask. Like a ski mask.' She had the same tight control again.
'How big was he?'
'Big,' she said, nodding so hard it became a mechanical shudder. 'He was as big as Doug.' Doug Wilson, her husband, a long-distance truck driver.
'Built strong, like Doug? Or weedy - what?'
'Strong,' she said. 'He was strong. He just grabbed me and that was that.'
'I'll get him,' I promised. It was all the help I could give. A car pulled into the drive and Sam began to bark. I went to the door and whistled him in. He bounded over and Dr McQuaig got out of his car and came up the steps, carrying his bag.
'Where is she?' He still has the soft burr of the Highlands in his voice, smooth and comforting as a single-malt Scotch.
'Living room. I'll give you a few minutes, then call me in, could you?'
'Aye,' he said. 'That's best.'
He went in and I stepped down into the well-kept front yard. Everything was perfect in the moonlight, no weeds, the right mix of flowers, neat edges to the grass along the path. Amy is a city girl, like my own wife. She's a kindergarten teacher and she likes things pretty, the way Fred does. The ugliness of what had happened could crush her. I wanted to find the guy and kick him so hard he would never rape anybody else again ever. But he was gone and all I could do was to send Sam out once more, seeking. If a miracle happened, he could still be out there and I could lock him up and seal off Amy's nightmare right now, tonight.
Sam circled the area, out of my sight. He was trained to go about a quarter mile, further if he picked up a hot trail. But the rape had happened ten minutes ago. The guy could have been way out of range by now, out of town if he was in a car.
Dr McQuaig came to the door. 'Ye can come in now, Reid. The wee thing's in the bathroom.'
'Is she going to be all right?'
'She'll not be pregnant at least,' he said. 'But it'll take her a long time to get over this.'
'What happened? Was it straight rape or did he do anything else?'
'No,' he said softly. 'He raped her, but he didn't commit sodomy of any kind.'
'Thank you. Did you take a swab?'
'Aye.' He held out a small plastic bag with a ball of cotton wool in it. 'I've a felt pen here. If you'll mark it I'll take it to the office fridge an' freeze it until you can send it in.'
'Thanks again.' I squiggled my initials on the little bag which he had sealed with Sellotape. He put it into his top pocket, not speaking. He was still not leaving.
At last he said: 'She can't stay here. The poor wee thing's terrified.'
'I'll take her home with me.'
'That'd be best. An' get her husband home if ye can.'
He strode back to his car and I tapped on the door and went back inside. Amy was still in the bathroom, I guessed, and while I waited for her I looked around the entrance hall. This is where the rape had happened. Had he left anything behind? I was hoping for something out of his pockets, a pocket-knife, keys, a wallet if fate was really smiling. There was nothing like that, but there was a glove, a single work-glove, stained and greasy, lying on the hallstand.
Amy came out of the bathroom, wearing a robe. She looked as if she had thrown up.
I held up the glove. 'Is this one of Doug's gloves, Amy? Or did this guy leave it behind?'
'Yes.' She nodded eagerly. 'Yes. I put it there for you. Yes. He left that behind.'
I checked it against my own hand. It would have fit me, but as I already knew he was my size, that didn't help. The smell might, though. It was rank and slimy, as if the owner worked with greasy meat. I got a plastic bag from Amy and put it inside. Then I went on with my questions.
'Can you remember anything about him? Did he have any tattoos you saw, any scars? What was he wearing?'
'No.' She sat down, crossing her legs, tucking the robe tightly around her. 'It was dark when I came in.'
'That was when it happened?'
'I'd come back from rehearsal. I was one of the last to leave. Fred had some notes for me.' I knew what she meant, my wife was directing the play she was in and I'd lived with the theatrical uproar for months, but she explained anyway. 'Some suggestions on how to say a couple of my lines, some business.' For a moment she was happy, thinking back to the intensity of her moments on stage, but then she remembered reality and shuddered.
'You drove home?'
'No. I walked, it's not far, and it's a nice evening.'
The rehearsal was at the tent they had set up on Main Street, a five-minute stroll away. 'Who was there when you left, anybody you didn't recognize?'
She shook her head. 'Your wife was there, and Carl Simmons and the stage manager and a couple of others. Carl offered to drive me home but I said no.' She bowed her head and sniffed. I waited and she went on eventually. 'So nothing was different. Nobody followed me that I could see.'
She faltered and I coaxed her, gently. 'What happened, Amy?'
She dug her hands into her lap and sat up straight. 'I came up to the porch. It was dark, like I said. And he must have been following me after all. When I got to the top step he grabbed me from behind, he put one hand over my mouth and told me: "Don't scream."'
'Would you recognize his voice if you heard it again?'
She nodded and struggled to hold on to her composure. He took my key and opened the door.'
'The key was on a ring?'
'No. I have a key ring but this was just the housekey, I carry it on its own when I don't take a purse with me. It slips in my pocket.'
So the guy hadn't known in advance which key opened the door, no clue there. I waited for her to continue. 'Then he shoved me through the door and pushed me down on the floor and raped me.'
This is the point where you need sexual abuse counselling training. I haven't had any so I tiptoed through the question. 'He raped you. He didn't commit any other crimes on you?'
She shook her head, eyes brimming with tears. 'Wasn't it enough, what he did to me?'
'I'll get him,' I promised, knowing it was almost certainly a lie. 'Did he touch anything other than you while he was here?'
'It wouldn't matter,' she said, suddenly intense. 'He was wearing gloves, you saw it. Work- gloves, like leather. And they smelt.' She shuddered. 'I smelt them when he put his hand over my mouth and then when he ripped my blouse. That was after he'd finished. He ripped my blouse, then he stood up and said something.'
'Can you remember what he said?'
'Yes,' she said softly. 'He said it had been a long time but it was worth the wait.'
'Did that mean anything to you? Like could this have been somebody you used to know, some guy you dated one time, before you knew your husband, somebody getting back at you?'
'There have never been any men in my life except Doug,' she said. 'And now this one.'
That cracked the shell of her control and she sobbed. I excused myself and used her phone to call home.
Fred answered and I said: 'Can I bring her over? She can't stay here on her own.'
'Of course. Are you on your way?'
'Two minutes,' I said. 'And, listen, love. This guy is on the loose somewhere. Please get that can of Mace I brought home and keep it handy.'
She laughed, but it was nervous. 'Just until the seventh cavalry get here.'
'Two minutes,' I said again and hung up. I told Amy to get a bag packed, she was coming with me. She protested but only feebly. I waited while she slipped back into blue jeans and a sweater and put some things in a bag. I was racking my brains for something productive to do. The description she had given could have included me or any of a hundred men in the area. There was nothing to go on, except for his words and the fact that he wore smelly work-gloves. It looked like a case that would never be closed.
She was still in the bedroom when the phone rang. It rang twice while she came out to the door and looked at rne, nervously. 'Pick it up,' I told her. 'If it's him, let him talk, I'll listen from the kitchen.'
She picked it up and then said: 'I'll get him.' She came to the bedroom door and said: 'It's for you. Your wife.'
I went out to the kitchen and took the phone. 'Hi, love. What's on?'
'There's trouble at the Murphy's Arms. Bradey phoned in a panic. He says two guys are wrecking the place. Can you get down there? I told him you were on a serious investigation but he's absolutely panicked. You'll have to go.'CHAPTER 2
Bar fights weren't uncommon at the Murphy's Arms. If Eric Bradey was panicking, things were hairy. I had to get down there. 'OK, will do, but I'll drop Amy off first. Be back in two minutes. Stay inside until I get there.'
'Rightoh.' She was working on her English accent for her own role in the play she was producing. Over the last couple of months I'd grown used to having her sound like Princess Di from time to time. Right there it made me smile, despite the situation.
Amy had her bag packed but was making noises of protest. 'It's very nice of you but you don't have to do this.'
'Wouldn't leave you here on your own, Amy. You can arrange something permanent from our place. Shall we go?'
I tried not to hurry her as she came out, locking the door carefully, but I was anxious to get down to the hotel. Bar fights are easier to understand, and solve, than rapes. I could earn fifty cents worth of my dollar that day at least by saving the place from being trashed.
Fred was waiting under the verandah light and I waved to her and let Amy out of the car, pausing only long enough to see Fred come down the steps and take her by the arm, then reversing and driving down, past Amy's house and through town.
The Murphy's Arms is below the lock, outside the town proper, at a lower level, physically and socially, than our other pub, the Lakeside Tavern which is on Main Street.
The crowd and the noise were spilling out of the front door. I didn't bother struggling upstream like a spawning salmon. I went in the back way, through the stainless steel door at the rear, with Sam on my heels. It brought me in behind the beer taps where nervous little Eric Bradey was standing, nursing the baseball bat he keeps under the counter, shifting from foot to foot, plucking up his courage to step in.
He jumped when I tapped him on the shoulder, then gave a big gulp of relief. 'I called you. It's Jack McWatters an' some tourist. They must've broke a million glasses.' I went past him to the back of the crowd that was pushing, climbing on chairs, rooting for the fighters like this was a scheduled bout.
It was McWatters sure enough. He's a tall, heavy Ojibway Indian, only the word 'Indian' is not polite any more. Maybe that's what he was explaining to the other guy as the pair of them swapped big roundhouse punches and gave out grunts as if they were trying to invent their own language.
I let them go at it for a few more seconds. They were both head down, thumping one another like toys in a battery commercial. The stranger was quicker but he was lighter and McWatters had the strength of a lifetime of work in the bush. Nothing short of a chainsaw at the knees was going to bring him down.
Generally I wait until one or the other realizes he's not going to win. That halves the problem of shutting them down. One of them is glad to stand there making threatening noises instead of taking punishment. But this was shaping up to be an all-nighter so I said 'speak' and Sam sprang at them, bouncing as if his legs were springs, splitting the crowd open like a dropped melon.
The visitor let out a yell and jumped back, but McWatters only shook his head like a man coming out of the water and grabbed a beer bottle, smashing the end out on the corner of a table. Sam crouched in front of him, snarling and dodging his jab before I shouted 'fight' and he grabbed the hand that held the bottle and hung on.
McWatters roared and tried to change hands but I grabbed his left wrist and spun him around, trying to throw him. He wouldn't drop but I wasn't going to waltz around the room with him. I kicked him behind the knee and he folded like a jackknife and lay there swearing.
Sam still had his right hand. I told him: 'Drop the bottle or you're going in.'
He was sober enough to do it. Letting go of the bottle and letting himself go limp. I told Sam 'easy' and he backed off, his head lowered, eyes still fixed on McWatters's face.
'Good boy,' I told him and he gave his tail one sweep of acknowledgement.
'OK, Jack. I'm going to let you up. Go right ahead of you and sit in that chair. Don't try to take a swing at me or you're going inside. Got that?'
He nodded and I let go of his wrist and stood up, taking a careful step back out of range of a sweep kick. He's worked in bush camps with French Canadians who fight with their feet. He would have known the tricks. But he just took the couple of steps and turned around to flop in the chair. Fine. He was sober enough to go home, I judged. But still angry at the visitor. 'Wasn't for Sam I'd've punched your goddamn lights out,' he told him.
'In a pig's eye,' the visitor said. 'Eye' came out 'ah'. Kentucky, I guessed, or Virginia. He was glad to be out of the fight but too macho to let it show. I've known a hundred guys like him in the service. They have that coal-country pride. Poor they may be, but don't go thinking you're as good as they are. They've got fists and knees to prove otherwise. His face was bruised but he looked me in the eye and said: 'You must be Sam.'
McWatters slapped his knee and guffawed. The crowd snickered. 'This is Sam.' I pointed. 'I'm the police chief. What's your name and what's all this about?'
He didn't like the laughter. 'Name's Thad Langdon. I'm from Norfolk, Virginia.'
'What happened here?' I didn't really care but asking the question shames people, which cools them out.
'There wasn't a whole lot to it, I guess.'
'You were taking it seriously a minute ago. What happened?'
He straightened up to his full height, eye to eye with me. 'I got me a bear this morning.'
He sounded like he expected me to reel back, awestruck. When I didn't he upped the ante. 'With a bow. From twenty yards.'
'And?' Hunters don't impress me. Not since the war.
McWatters laughed again. 'Ask 'im how he got it.'
Langdon looked around at him angrily. 'I don't live here, awright? I went with a guy knows where the bears is at.'
'Willy Veale.' He's a licensed bear operator.
'Yeah. Veale. Lives to hell an' gone in the bush.'
Excerpted from A Clean Kill by Ted Wood. Copyright © 1995 Ted Wood. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted August 8, 2013