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Cars were abandoned on the street, lights blazing, doors open where the drivers had jumped out to see the excitement in the parking lot at the hotel.
"What's going on?" Freda asked and I grinned.
"The Friday-night fights, I guess," I said. "There's not a lot else to do in a town like Elliot except drink and punch one another out." I would have driven right by and gone on to the motel where they were keeping a room for us, but I saw that one of the cars was a police car. And judging by the tightness of the crowd around the main event, the cop was in trouble. "Better take a look at it," I said. "Wait here." Then I added "Please" when I saw the look in her eye. It was only three days since our wedding and the bit about obeying had not been part of the ceremony.
"Chauv," she said cheerfully, "take Sam with you. He'll do a better job than I could." I patted her hand and got out, hissing at Sam, my German shepherd, to follow. He floated over the back of the seat and was beside me as I jogged toward the crowd.
There must have been fifty men there but I could see over their shoulders that the cop was down. One man was kneeling on his arms punching him, the other had the cop's gun in his hand. Somebody shouted "Go on! Shoot the son'bitch," and the man grinned drunkenly and tried to aim.
I told Sam, "Speak," and he bounced forward on stiff legs, snarling, and barking. The crowd flew apart as if I'd let off tear gas. Men yelled and stumbled out of the way, and I was through to the fight. The guy with the gun stared at me stupidly. He was too drunk to shoot right away but drunk enough to try it once he worked out his options. I shouted "Fight."
Sam grabbed himby the gun hand and he dropped the pistol, tugging back and kicking at Sam, who hung on, tightening his jaws like vice grips. The guy doing the punching ignored me, slamming his fist up and down into the cop's face like a piston. I kicked him on the point of the shoulder, his right shoulder. He was punching right-handed. He yowled and sprawled sideways, holding his shoulder in his left hand, swearing.
I knelt over the policeman. He was bloody but conscious. "Thanks," he whispered and tried to sit up.
"Lie there, I'll call the station." The crowd had backed off fifty feet and they watched me without trying to interfere. Crowds are like that, ready to respect the guy who's taken control, any guy. Ask Hitler.
I walked to the car, picked up the mike, and pressed the button. "Policeman hurt on Brock Street, outside the Headframe Hotel. Get some help over here right away."
The answer was a startled sqawk. "Who the hell is this?"
"A citizen, Reid Bennett. Two men had your officer down, one of them had his gun. The situation's under control now but there's a crowd and the officer's hurt."
"Be right there." Not copybook radio procedure but he was on the way. Fine.
I went back to the scene. The cop was sitting up, his hand over his mouth. The man I'd kicked was on his feet, backing away fearfully. The other one was still struggling with Sam. I pointed a finger at the guy on his feet. "On the ground and put your hands on your head." He swore but sat, putting his left hand on his head. His right hand was useless.
"Easy," I told Sam and he let go of the other man's wrist. "On the deck next to your buddy." I said and he did it, sitting next to him, his eyes rolling around at Sam, who was at my heel waiting for my next command. "Keep," I told him and he stood in front of the men, growling low in his throat, daring them to move. Behind me I heard the siren approaching. I bent and picked up the policeman's gun and handed it to him. He bolstered it and then shook my hand, holding onto it and pulling himself to his feet. He was groggy but not seriously hurt. "Thanks, Mac," he said painfully, speaking with his mouth almost closed.
The police car squealed to a stop alongside us and two men got out, one of them with sergeant's stripes on his tunic, the other a constable. The constable turned and shooed the crowd away and they scattered to their cars. The sergeant walked over to the guy I'd helped, strutting, slightly bowlegged, a bully's walk, and asked "Which one o' these assholes had your gun?"
The cop pointed and the sergeant turned and kicked the man in the gut, knocking him backwards.
"Hey," I shouted. "Cut that out."
Now he whirled to face me. "Who asked for your opinion, mister?" Then turned and swung his foot back to kick the guy again.
"Don't kick him again," I said, and he paused and turned back to me, grinning quietly.
"Or what, punk?"
It doesn't pay to escalate arguments. I kept my voice calm. "Is this how Elliot does its police work? Beating up on drunks after somebody else stops them for you?"
"What're you? A goddamn lawyer?" He laughed. "Hey, guys, we got ourselves a lawyer in town."
The man I'd helped took his hand from his bloody mouth. "He's the guy who stopped 'em," he said.
The sergeant looked at him blankly for a moment and then laughed again. "Well, in that case," he said and turned to face me, a duty grin snapped into place like a holdup man's mask, "I guess the citizens of Elliot are in your debt, sir," he said, but his grin mocked the words. "Thank you very much. I'll see if we can't get you a civic commendation."
Freda had got out of the car. She came over and stood beside me, not speaking. She's the kind of woman who would stop traffic in a town a lot bigger than Elliot, and the sergeant stared at her for a moment and asked, "Are you with this gentleman, ma'am?"
"He's my husband," she said. "Do you need a statement about what happened?" Her voice was cold. She's an actress and knows how to project emotion. She didn't like this guy.
"That won't be necessary, thank you, ma'am," the sergeant said. "But I want to thank both of you for your assistance." All textbook formality now. The man he'd kicked was trying to sit up, his hands clutched to his stomach. His face was ghastly in the orange street light. Fred crouched beside him. "Are you okay?"
"I think so." He gasped it out. "Thanks lady."
The sergeant ignored him. He told the constable who had come with him, "Take Smith to the hospital. I'll take these two down the station."
"What about this man?" Freda asked. "He could have internal injuries."
"Don't worry your pretty head about him," the sergeant said. "He'll get medical attention once I've booked him."
"As long as he doesn't fall down the station house stairs first," Freda said.
The sergeant shook his head sadly. "Ma'am, there's no need to say things like that. He's in the hands of the law now. He'll be taken care of, 'kay?"
"Make sure he is," she said.
I touched her arm. "The sergeant will do like he says, Fred." Fred, not Freda. She's never liked her given name and shortened it to make it a joke. Only a woman as good-looking as she is could get away with using a man's name without raising anybody's eyebrows.
"I hope so," she squeezed my hand and said. "I'll wait in the car." She let go and turned away. All of us watched her go.
"I guess I'll need your name for my report," the sergeant said. "If that's not too much trouble, sir."
"No trouble at all, sergeant. I'll be coming in to see you tomorrow anyway. My name's Reid Bennett."
He looked at me sharply. "Bennett? Aren't you the guy who's applying for a job as constable?"
"That's right, sergeant. I hope to be working for you."
He laughed out loud. "Well, how about that?" he said. "That's really gonna be an experience." The news had given him his authority back and he showed it in his voice. "In that case, Bennett, don't bother coming in now. I'll see you in the morning. You check into the motel and have a nice night with the little woman."
It was his first attack in what I could see was going to be a war. There was no answer so I nodded and called Sam and went back to my car, wondering why I'd let myself get talked into this assignment.
Fred was angry. "That sonofabitch," she said. "Can't you nail him for what he did?"
"It wouldn't help." I started the motor and drove on towards the lights of the motel further down the street. "He'd get a reprimand, that's all. Nothing would change."
"He's going to make your life hell," she said. "Damn. Why did you volunteer for this one, Reid?"
"I had to. These guys are too cagey to accept a young cop unless he was born here and they'd watched the way he grew up. They'll accept me. I've got a reputation as a hard-nose."
She laughed. "Only with people who don't know you." She reached out and pressed the end of my nose. "See, pure marshmallow."
The motel was almost full but they'd kept a room for us and we checked in. I unpacked the car and gave Sam a comfort stop before putting him back in the car with the window down.
The room was small and overheated but having Fred in there made it as homey as I needed. She grinned when I came in with the last of the bags. "Well, we've already seen the sights. What's it going to be, TV or me?"
"This is supposed to be our honeymoon," I said, and she laughed.
"You sure pick exotic locations to take your wives, Bennett. Okay, I'm gonna shower. How about you?"
"Just what I was thinking," I said, and we kissed and got on with our honeymoon.
Later, as she slept, I began to wonder if I should have accepted the assignment. Maybe I wouldn't have, except that the request had come from a friend, Leo Kennedy. He used to be with the Ontario Provincial Police but he'd moved up, taken a job as adviser to the Provincial Police Commission, the outfit that keeps tabs on police departments across the province. He'd come to see me at Fred's apartment in Toronto where I was recuperating from a bullet wound. It was the week before we were to be married. Fred was out shopping. He'd joshed me, asking why I wasn't out with her, picking out a silver pattern. Then he'd come to the point.
"Reid, this is a hell of a time to ask a favor but we need one."
"We, meaning the Kennedy clan or the police commission?"
"The commission. We've got a problem up at Elliot. Ever heard of it?"
I nodded. "Sure, it's a mining town not far from Olympia."
"Right." He set down the drink I'd poured him and scratched his neck awkwardly. He's a chunky, good-natured guy and he looked uncomfortable. "Like I know you're getting married and you want to get away on a honeymoon an' all, but this is urgent."
"So tell me." I sipped my beer and waited.
"Yeah, well, there's a lot of talk in town about police corruption. And I'm not talking small stuff, discounts at clothing stores an' the rest of the chickenshit. I mean heavy. For instance taking a cut from the hotel. And what's even worse, taking a cut from the local hookers."
"That could be scuttlebutt. There's always hookers in a mining town. The police let them operate. Otherwise no woman would be safe."
"Yeah, but the way other guys do it is to turn a blind eye. They let them work out of their Winnebagos on payday at the mine and make sure nobody's pimping off them. That's the ethical way to handle the problem. Only the chief's taking a cut."
I set down my glass and rubbed my sore shoulder. The collarbone had been smashed by a bullet and the chunk of metal they'd put in there afterward was still making its presence felt. "How do you know?"
He frowned. "We got word a couple of months ago from the guy who used to own the hotel. He got tired of the way they were upping the ante and he gave us a call. We sent an investigator up there to see him, but before he reached town the hotel guy, name of Lewicki, had an accident. He was dead the day after he called us."
"How did it happen?" I asked. If Fred hadn't come along when she did I wouldn't have asked any questions, but I knew that if I went up to Elliot on a fishing trip for the commission, she'd come along. I wasn't sure how well she would handle the drabness and boredom of a mining community in the bush.
Kennedy leaned forward intently. "The forensics people say Lewicki was full of booze when it happened. He came down a hill outside'f town an' wiped out on a rock at the bend. Routine road death except for one thing. This guy was AA, hadn't touched a drop in fourteen years."
"So you figure somebody tipped a bottle of rye down his throat and turned him loose on the hill."
Kennedy nodded. "Yeah. Understand that we're investigating this at arm's length. All we can do is monitor the reports at a distance. We can't even use a wiretap in town because we can't trust anybody local not to tell the chief."
I stood up and walked over to the window. Fred's place is high up in an apartment block in the north end of Toronto. It's about as pleasant as city living gets, but it made me feel like a caged animal. Living here would be a penance, but I wasn't sure I wanted to go back to my job as police chief in Murphy's Harbour. It's a sleepy little resort town, and Fred is a city girl, an actress who likes to be close to the theaters and the art gallery and all the other trimmings of the big city. We still needed some time to talk things through. We wanted to be together for keeps, but we weren't sure where.
In the meantime there was no harm listening to what Kennedy had to say. I sat down again. "You want me to go up there and snoop around, is that it?"
"No." He shook his head. "Not quite. We can get closer than that. These are good times in town. The gold mine's working two shifts, the population's grown. They're expanding their department."
I laughed. "Lemme guess. I'm going to head up there and say I'm sick of being chief in Murphy's Harbour and apply for the job?"
"Would you?" His cheerful face was serious. "You're the ideal guy. You've got small-town experience. You've got a reputation for being a hard-nose who can take guys down. It's perfect cover. You can say you're tired of not being appreciated, not getting enough money. Hell, they're paying a constable in Elliot more than you make as chief. We can back that up at Murphy's Harbour. We can make sure the mayor, or is he just a reeve up there, sings from the same hymnbook. And I figure the department at Elliot would welcome you with open arms. You'd be on the inside."
He stopped and looked at me without speaking for a moment and then added, "And there's one other thing, Reid. This is a dangerous assignment. Nobody I know can take care of himself like you can."
The door opened and Fred came in, carrying a stack of packages. She looked great. "Well hi, Leo, what brings you here?" she asked.
"You may throw me out when I tell you," he said, going over and taking the packages out of her arms. "I've been offering your intended a substitute for a honeymoon."
"We'd been planning on New England," she said. "But I guess the chowder'll be just as clammy next year."
Kennedy turned to me and for once his face was serious "You're a lucky sonofabitch, Reid," he said.
Now I was lying there in the dark with my wife next to me, and I was certain he was right, but I'd seen something of the town. I was worrying how I'd manage over the next little while until the case was cracked.
Copyright © 1990 by Ted Wood