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I let go of Linda and grabbed the phone. "Chief of Police."
"Still wide awake, eh?" Murphy gave his dry, old-man's chuckle. "Good, won't take you long to get dressed and down the station."
"Okay, Murph. What happened that you have to call me at..." I checked the alarm clock. "At three A.M."
"Young Sullivan, Ken Sullivan's kid got himself cut up." I struggled upright. Linda was lying on my left arm. I pried it free. Ken Sullivan was a town councilor. Like it or not, I had to take notice.
"Knife cuts, or what?"
Murphy coughed once, a signal that things were not as bad as they sounded. "No. Outboard propeller. He hit something up by Indian Island, fell out of the boat, and the motor ran over him."
I swore softly and patted Linda's bare shoulder. Murphy went on in his infuriatingly slow, up-country way. "So the girl with him pulled him in."
Now it made sense. Murphy wanted me to talk to the girl. Other stuff he handled, out of the little Mickey Mouse switchboard in his house over on the point north of the Harbour. But this was an investigation. I could see his eyebrows raise in disgust at the word. It called for the police chief -- the whole force in fact -- of Murphy's Harbour to turn out of a warm and appealing bed to soothe the feathers of some flustered cottager.
"Couldn't this have waited until tomorrow?"
"It already is tomorrow." He sounded reasonable.
"Okay, so tell her to wait at the police station."
"She's there now," he said, and beat me to the hang-up by a microsecond.
I turned back to Linda, warm, Chanel-scented, every-Friday-come-rain-or-shine Linda. "Where were we?" She showed me and very soon I wasup and getting dressed. She watched as I buttoned the pants and tucked in the shirt.
"What a lousy thing to happen on a Friday night." I nodded, concentrating on buckling the Sam Browne with the handcuffs pouch and the .38 Colt Police Special. She sat up, dangling her head to one side. She was a brown-eyed blonde, slim and pale from too much book work. She worked north of Murphy's Harbour and came through every Friday, stopping by like a swallow on her way south. Where she went before or after she never told me. At thirty-five and back on my own I knew better than to ask.
She stepped out of bed and reached for her clothes. Even standing still she looked like a dancer. She said, "I'll head for home, Reid."
"Sure." I bent and kissed her nose. I was fond of her, mysteries notwithstanding. She had helped me feel more like a person and less like a function, a computer print-out, ex-soldier, ex-detective on a city department, ex-husband, paid an impossibly small amount of money to keep law and order in Murphy's Harbour. The "Chief" was a joke. I was the entire force. Me, and Murphy, and Sam, my German shepherd.
I went downstairs and outside onto the cool predawn grass. Sam was on the prod, but he stopped very still as I spoke to him. "Okay, Sam, cool it. This is talking work, you can take it easy." He gave a low whine and fell flat, coiling down like an abandoned rope. I bumped the wire of the cage with the heel of my hand and went out to the car.
I passed what little there is to see in Murphy's Harbour on my way to the station. There's one main street with buildings one side, water the other. The buildings include the real estate office and the beer store and the boardinghouses with their hand-lettered signs. There's a hardware and bait store and a grocery where they'll cook you a breakfast if you happen to be police chief. That's it. On the water side there's the Lakeshore tavern and the marina. Tonight the docks of the marina were crowded, about normal for mid-August.
The police office is a quarter mile out of town, on a swampy lot some councilor sold the township in the fifties. It's a concrete block building that looks too much like a bunker. There was a Mercedes out front with its headlights on. I drove up nose to nose, keeping my own lights on to check the occupants. Mr. Cottager and daughter. Him pale, her red-faced. He was a commuter and the family stayed here all summer.
He opened his door as I opened mine, and he cleared his throat as if it were all stuffed up with money. "Chief of Police?"
"I hope this won't take long, it's late."
"I noticed." I walked by to the passenger side of the Mercedes. His daughter was sitting there, staring ahead like a hypnotized chicken. I broke the spell.
"Hi. I'm the police chief. I hear you did some lifesaving." Her father was fussing at my elbow. He was tense and it didn't take any working out. Young Sullivan, the fellow she'd pulled back into the boat, was the junior-grade stickman of the entire area. Papa wasn't happy that his daughter had been in that boat, or worse, ashore on some island with Sullivan. He wanted this over, wiped off the record.
"Officer..." he said, and when I ignored him, "Chief..."
I said "yeah" again, starting to feel like Gary Cooper.
He did his throat-clearing bit again. "I can explain what happened."
"Great. You were in the boat as well?"
I turned away. Murphy's Harbour is a tiny patch, but it's all mine and I don't have to put up with the kind of guys who run your life in a big department. I crouched a little and looked in at the kid who was watching us as if we were on television.
"Hi again. What's your name, please."
"Jane Bryant." There. She could talk as well as pull people into motorboats.
"Thank you, Jane. Can you tell me what happened?"
She looked past me quickly at her father, but his face was in shadow. She spoke up, nervously.
"We were in the boat, see."
Her father let up with the throat and started grinding his teeth. I felt for him. The kid was pretty and she must be smart. Maybe next year, when she was over sixteen, it wouldn't matter. Tonight it did.
She had to gather up her strength to talk over the tension he was generating. I turned to him and said, "You're making your daughter nervous, Mr. Bryant. Could you please stand back."
He backed off, as if he were pacing off the distance for a duel. The kid relaxed with every step he took. It didn't take police work to know that she and young Sullivan had been playing something a bit more strenuous than spin the bottle, and she figured her old man was going to lock up Sullivan for doing what comes naturally. I said, "The only thing I'm interested in is what happened that made him fall out of the boat. Cool?"
It was. She took about a minute to give me what I wanted, the fact that they had run into something just east of Indian Island. Young Sullivan had been standing up on the seat of a little Fiberglas runabout his dumb father had laid on him for his sixteenth birthday. They ran into something at high speed and he flew over the top. The boat ran over him, but she managed to circle back and pick him up. There was a spatter of blood on her sleeve, an arc of spots that indicated he'd suffered arterial cuts. I was glad she had been there to help. Accidental death occurrences are a pain.
Her father had crept back while we talked, inching across the grass in front of the office like a turtle, until he was close enough to shut her up again. I told the girl, "Thanks, Jane. I'll just go take a look at what you hit." If I'd been young enough to want to prove something I'd have stepped back onto her father's toes and then apologized. Instead I said, "You've got a very brave daughter. She did a great job of lifesaving."
He cleared that throat of his again, and I could see his next move before he made it. He stuck his hand out in a handshake and awkwardly laid a bill in my hand. A sawbuck, I guessed. He was too full of his own importance to lay a twenty on me. I imagine he thought any policeman should be proud to frame a ten given him by J. Bryant, Esquire.
I didn't look at it, just reached out and stuffed it into his shirt pocket. "No need for that. This is my job."
He was alarmed. It was one thing to try and buy a copper, another to be held in contempt by one. "But this is just an acknowledgment that we appreciate your turning out late at night," he said.
"It comes with the uniform," I replied, and walked back to the cruiser.
I drove down to the main street, to the boathouse at the end of the marina that held the police boat. We kept it locked to keep the vacationers from urinating in the gas tank or performing other antisocial acts that might prevent me from saving their necks when they fell out of their boats somewhere, as they did most weekends. I unlocked the door and climbed into the old eighteen-foot cedar strip. The boat was a joke, so far as patrolling went, but it was very forgiving; you could and on the thwart to fish, or to pull in some gray-faced corpse as I had done once already this summer. The motor as a 20 Mercury, not big, but enough to purr the boat along at around fifteen miles an hour. It was a utility rig, and I was a utility police department, cheap enough that the taxpayers couldn't have gotten protection from the Ontario Provincial Police for the amount they paid me and Murphy.
The motor started with a smoky little burble. I pushed the choke home and backed out of the boathouse, into the midst of the weekenders' cruisers. Perhaps at high noon when the captains sat on their decks drinking gin and tonic with their lean, long-legged women, I might have envied them. But now, an hour before dawn, with the Big Dipper upside down in the sky and the bullfrogs twanging away along the shoreline, I was glad to be out and about. It was almost worth having quit the City Department.
I turned the boat up-channel, above the lock, and moved out at full power, fanning my flashlight over the water. If the girl was accurate in her placement of the thing they'd hit, it as a mile and a half away, drifting on a current that went nowhere at this time of year.
The beam of my light flattened itself over the bare brown rocks of the shoreline, where no cottages had sprouted. I settled back, figuring five minutes would see me on target. The wind of the boat's movement pierced my shirt and made me shudder. I was filled with a sudden sympathy for young Sullivan with his back and legs hanging in slices like bacon. I didn't like the kid -- he was too fast with his lip, too secure in daddy's money to take any notice of laws that weren't there to make life easy for him -- but outboard cuts are ugly, spiral gashes all over the injured part. Then I grinned. If his back was cut, Fate might finally have gotten a piece of ass out of him for a change.
A mile upstream my light bounced back off something floating. It was a boat, as I'd thought. If it had stopped the Sullivan boat that quickly, it had to be big. And if he had gone over and then under his own boat, he had to have moved what he had hit. It was a fourteen-foot cedar strip, a workhorse fishing boat from one of the lodges or marinas along this stretch of the waterway.
I came alongside and grabbed the bowline, then cut my motor. I tied the bowline to my thwart and shone the light over the new boat. There were tackleboxes and two fishing rods in the bow. The rods were not set up. The boxes were closed. The side of the boat was sprung at the curve of the bow where something had hit it. There was no paint at the point of impact. That fit the facts. The Sullivan boat was Fiberglas.
I didn't stop to check anything more. It was getting chill with the predawn damp. I hitched the bowline of the boat around the handle of my motor and started up, taking care to keep the line clear of my propeller. Then I motored back toward the bright white light at the marina, my lodestar.
The world was quiet and I traveled in a tunnel of darkness, watching low to the water so I would not do the same as Sullivan had done. If he'd been sitting down, instead of standing ere like a proud young rooster, he'd be in his own bed by now, and so would I. An old book title, I Should Have Kissed Her More, came to mind; if the little turd had been snuggling at girl he'd have been safe.
As I approached the dock I saw the man fishing. It looked like a Picasso painting, a harlequin figure of blacks and whites made up of lighted portions of his body against the blackness of the shadows. I watched as the figure lifted a shaft of light and fanned it out gently toward mid-stream. I should have known Murphy would have come down to see what was happening. He would claim to be fishing, but you couldn't expect him to stay away from trouble. Not an old soldier like him.
As I came in, he set down the rod and moved out to dockside to meet me, moving slow and wink on his metal leg. I cut the motor and tossed him my line. He pulled me in.
"Hi. Couldn't sleep, eh?"
Murphy spat into the water clear of the boat. "There's a goddamn pickerel out there, must be eight pounds. He feeds on the surface at night. I'm gonna get him."
"Sure," I said. I tied the stern line and got out of the boat. The second cedar strip bobbed up behind us, jackknifing gently as it hit.
Murphy reached down and grabbed it with his left hand, the one that's tied up into a knot from the same 88 shell that took his leg, on the Hitler Line in '44.
"Not too many cedar strips around anymore," he said.
"You know who owns it?"
He nodded. "Yeah."
I straightened up, shrugging my shoulders to try and get extra warmth from my thin shirt. "You gonna let me in on it?"
"Ross Winslow, from Ferry Beach Lodge."
I frowned. "It couldn't have floated into mid-channel from there. I wonder if somebody was out in it."
"What makes you think it was empty?"
I pointed at the fishing rods. "If a guy had gone fishing, the rods would have been set up. If he wasn't fishing, the rods wouldn't be in the boat."
Murphy did his old man thing with the dry throat. "Well, if they were coming in from fishing, the rods would be down."
I shook my head. "There's no flashlight in the boat that I can see. They couldn't have taken down their rods in the dark."
We stood rolling these chunks of wisdom around in our heads like cannon balls. Then I yawned. "Well, the hell with it. I'm for bed. I'll check Winslow's place in the morning. See any of his people were out late."
Murphy said, "Yeah, sure," and turned away.
I tied the Winslow boat and followed Murphy up the dock. "Come on, I'll drop you at the house."
He unsnapped his rod and folded it, then picked up his big old tackle box. "Thanks," he said bleakly. Both of us were tired.
I dropped him at the gate of his white-painted picture-book cottage with the honest-to-God roses around the door. Their scent was as heavy as sadness on the air. He said nothing, just nodded a thank you as I started back to my house. The bed was still fragrant from Linda's perfume, which was lighter and sweeter than those sad purple roses of Murphy's.
Copyright © 1983 by Ted Wood