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A Cold Snow in Castaway County
By John Lindsey Hickman
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 John Lindsey Hickman
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt was growing dusky as Dell drove his Chevy Trailblazer toward Eagle Ridge on Route 17. It was the second week of October, 2007, and the weather in Maine was unusually brisk this year, requiring most local folks to wear at least two layers, if not more, just to be comfortable. The lakes had not frozen over yet, but most of the geese seemed to have left the area for a warmer climate—maybe Georgia or even Florida, as many of the "summer folk" did each year to avoid the harsh Maine winter.
Dell kept asking himself how he had allowed his friend to talk him into this speaking engagement tonight in the first place. He never considered himself a good public speaker, but he was sure that he couldn't win the race without getting out and talking to people. But did it have to be a large group? Well, he would try his best and hope no one asked any really personal questions.
As he pulled in front of the town hall building, he noticed that there was little space left in the adjacent parking lot. This made his apprehension rise, and he expected that the butterflies he was feeling in his stomach might just be big enough to carry his whole body away. As he entered the hall, he saw his friend Dexter waiting for him with a few three-by-five cards in his hand.
"Okay, Dex, don't tell me you've already prepared a speech for me."
"Well, I thought you might need some help, since you have always seemed to be a man of few words."
"Thanks, Dex, but I think I'm just going to go out there and give them the truth; just me as I am, take it or leave it."
With that, Dell walked casually out to the small podium at the center of the floor and began to speak to the hundred or so citizens who were awaiting his "thoughtfully prepared" speech. Dell was a handsome man, about forty-five, just over six foot two, weighing around 230 pounds, with graying temples and a slightly graying mustache. Although he was wearing blue jeans, he had a sport shirt on and a tan blazer, so he looked quite dignified as he began speaking.
"Hello ladies and gentlemen of Castaway County, my name is Wendell Hinton, but all my friends call me Dell, and I hope each of you will. I came to live in your beautiful county a little over a year ago, and my good friend Dex—excuse me, I mean Father Delaney—kept telling me he thought I should run for sheriff. I always told him that I had far too much work to do on my cabin on Spoodicook Lake, but he kept after me almost as hard as if he wanted to convert me!
"So here I am tonight, talking to you fine folks, trying to explain to you why I would be a good man for the job. Now, I'm not going to say anything bad about the current sheriff; I've had no problems with Lance Corey myself. I do feel that my past experience in the Boston Police Department and running on your local ambulance squad make me a viable candidate for the job. Although my experience has been in a police department rather than a sheriff's department, the same supervision and leadership theories apply to both. And I feel that I can be an effective leader. I am considered to be an honest man and take any law-enforcement job with a deep respect and sincerity. Most of you have already received one of my campaign fliers, and they outline the specifics of my training, experience, and awards, so I won't bore you with them now. So, enough blowing my horn, I guess ... well ... it's proper ... at this time, I will take any questions you may have."
A rather attractive woman in the third row whom Dell recognized as Tish Weldon, wife of Joshua Weldon, a town selectman for Spoodicook, raised her hand.
"Yes, Mrs. Weldon?" Dell asked.
"Mr. Hinton, we all know that you worked on the Boston Police Department, but could you explain in what capacity?"
"Yes, of course. I was a lieutenant in the detective bureau, primarily in sex crimes."
Another hand went up from a man in the last row, an older man whom Dell did not recognize. The man queried Dell, "You left Boston quite a long time ago; I believe I've heard at least six years. Didn't you work for any other police agency after that?"
Dell had agonized over a potential answer to this question because he knew that someone would ask it in some form or other. He had contemplated a variety of answers, ranging from humorous to just declining to respond to the question at all. In all his thinking about it, he had never actually selected an answer that suited him. Now he had to come up with one in front of many of his fellow townsfolk. "Well, the truth of the matter, sir, is that I was involved in a police shooting in Boston and shortly after that, I resigned. I found it difficult to deal with something that personal while continuing to work at the level required by my position. Rather than perform my job in a poor manner while I worked out the personal stuff, I resigned and began working for the rescue squad in my neighborhood there. Once I put that all behind me, I moved to your lovely county out by the lake."
Thankfully, no one else seemed to be waiting for a more detailed answer, so Dell left it at that. A few other citizens asked some usual questions asked of every candidate for a political office. Finally, a beautiful lady posed a final question.
"Mr. Hinton, I'm Suzi Parks from Channel 4 News. Do you believe that a career as a police officer has prepared you for the job of sheriff?"
"Well, Ms. Parks, I think that it has begun the preparation. I know there are many additional duties and responsibilities that a sheriff has that a police officer does not, so I'm guessing I will have to do some on-the-job training if I am successful in the elections."
With that, Dell smiled and thanked the audience for attending, and then the speech concluded. Dell was entirely thrilled to be allowed to leave the building after shaking a few hands and making the standard observances of some of the people's children and babies. Dell was sure that if he lost the election in November, he would surely never run for any political office again in his life. He said goodbye to Father Delaney and climbed back into his Trailblazer and headed back out Route 17 toward the lake.
As he drove southwest to Daphne Crossroads to pick up Route 121 to Spoodicook, he began to think about that question he had tried so hard to avoid back at the town meeting. He had actually had a pretty good career in Boston. He began as a beat cop and quickly was singled out as supervisor material. Although he enjoyed the daily fare on the streets, his wife, his first wife, had pushed him to request a transfer to the detective bureau once he made sergeant, because she felt it was safer and, more to her point, more prestigious. That Elaine—she sure tried to make sure that they hobnobbed with only the best bluebloods in Boston. Most of those pricks thought a beat cop was a street urchin and would allow only higher-ranking detectives to be considered appropriate for their circles.
He had made detective in only his fifth year on the force. Within another two years, he had made detective sergeant and, finally, lieutenant of detectives. Most of the time he was responsible for the sex-crime section, and while it was interesting work, it became a source of negativity in his daily life that sort of made him become jaded. Near the end, he began to think of people in several categories, none of them very nice.
And then it happened.
One dark, summer night in May, 2006, just as his shift was ending, he had responded to a call for a burglar alarm at an old warehouse. The location was just around the corner from him at the time, so he responded. He exited his unmarked cruiser and saw someone with his or her leg over a broken window, coming out of the building. As the person placed both feet on the ground, Dell pointed his duty weapon at the person and shouted, "Stop and put your hands up!" The person turned slightly toward Dell, and he could see a little light shine off of some metallic object in the person's right hand. It was now coming around and would be in a direct line with Dell's body in a split-second. Taking the object for a possible handgun, Dell fired one shot directly at the person's torso. The person dropped quickly to the ground. Dell kicked at his hand to get the metallic object away, and then he placed him in handcuffs.
Dell rolled the person over to check for vital signs, and he saw the cherubic face of a mere child! The boy could not be more than thirteen, or so he thought. There were no signs of life left in the boy's body. When he looked over to the metallic item he had kicked away, he saw it was a metal flashlight—one like he and every other cop in America carries. It was just a flashlight! A cold sweat came over Dell, and he had the urge to turn away and puke. He knew in his position of authority he had to hold in his personal feelings, so he had to get his emotions under control; he had to fight through the commands in his brain to yell out in his pain and break down, falling to his knees and crying uncontrollably. He had to be strong. He had to be in command of himself and the scene. It was his job. So he called for the emergency squad and a supervisor to respond to the shooting.
After that, Dell had been placed on administrative leave for a while, then at a desk job with no possibility of responding to any calls for service while the department conducted an internal investigation into the shooting. That was all normal police procedure. Within a month, the department had cleared Dell, classifying the case as a "justifiable use of force under the circumstances," and the Commonwealth Attorney listed it as a "justifiable homicide." None of that really helped Dell. The local papers had all crucified him for the killing of a young child with a flashlight, and his name was the bane of every local radio and television program. Of course, as soon as Dell became a persona non grata in the community, Elaine had left him high and dry. Her life was organized each day with the end goal of elevating her social status and becoming the "queen bee." She just couldn't allow her husband to drag her down as she was climbing the ladder. Unfortunately, to her, Dell had become a huge liability, and she needed to cut her liabilities to be successful.
Dell simply lost his desire to continue working in law enforcement, and so he began working on a local rescue squad. He felt he needed to give back to the community, as if he had taken something that night and had to make a repayment for it. At that time he felt sure he would never be able to strap on a gun belt and place himself in the position of possibly shooting someone ever again.
Within six months, Dell had received a call from an old school friend, Dexter Delaney. Dex now lived in Maine and wanted Dell to come up and visit for a while. Dex was a pastor with a local church, and Dell decided that his life needed a renewal process and maybe, just maybe, Dex would be the one to point him in the right direction. That's how Dell had ended up in Castaway County.
Now he was preparing to make a run for the office of sheriff in this little woodland community. He had his friend Dex to thank both for the opportunity and for pushing him into it in the first place. As he drove into Forest Road, the entry into Bear Cove and his cabin, Dell began to wonder again—did he have the strength and ability to fight his own demons and
Dell also thought about the question asked by the reporter—Ms. Parks, her name was—about his ability to adapt to being a sheriff after being a police officer. Well, he thought it was a good question. A sheriff has a lot of duties and responsibilities, some of which Dell may not even as yet be aware of. If he did win the election, how was he going to educate himself about the job? Would he be able to rely upon any of the current staff to help and mentor him? If he did, would they see that as a sign of weakness on his part? How could he be a leader if he really didn't know the job functions well enough himself? Dell decided that he needed to think more about these issues and consider making an action plan in case he actually won the election. Now he was sweating and opening his collar to allow for unrestricted breathing. He thought to himself, I had no idea that running for sheriff was going to be so nerve-wracking!
Chapter TwoOne of the best things about living on a lake is that the natural sounds combine to lull you into a sound sleep. Lying in the bed in the summer and fall, you can hear the constant lapping of the waves against the stones on the shore; they keep a rhythmic cadence as they splash against each stone and then retreat back into the trough of the next wave coming to attack the stones in succession. If the waves are of significant size, they also provide a rocking of the dock floating just off shore on large Styrofoam billets, and attached to the shore by a wooden walkway that is hinged at both the dock end and the shore end. These hinges have a large pin in them that is removed in the fall so that the dock can be detached and the walkway can be hauled up on the shore for the winter. As the waves lap the dock they cause it to roll back and forth, causing the pin to shift and moan in the hinges. Initially, Dell had thought the sound somewhat menacing, but with time, it became one of the natural sounds heard by the lake.
On many summer nights the loons call throughout the night; sometimes a long mournful cry, especially in bad weather, and sometimes the more comical "laughing" for which they have received great fame. Loons, Dell had noticed over time, are gregarious birds who seem to like calling to each other and then moving to other parts of the lake to call again as if they were playing a game of hide and seek in the dark. Why, he could remember many nights when the lake seemed to be full of loons, laughing at each other and playing the game.
The other sounds that tended to lull one to sleep were those found in woodland areas—like the breeze, however slight or firm, as it blows through the pine boughs and the needles on each branch. And, although Dell tried to keep his trees cut back from the roof of the cabin to reduce the natural rotting effect due to moisture and lack of sunlight, there was always at least one bough whispering at the roof peak or at one of the window screens.
But this was wintertime in Maine, and those summer sounds had been replaced by those of snow blowing through the trees and the crackling sounds of the ice and snow along the shoreline of the lake near the rocks. The floating docks had long since been unhooked from the shore cribs and towed into a quiet cove to become marooned there, freezing in with the ice as it spread across the lake. The ice was almost a living thing. It formed and shifted periodically throughout the winter, and then broke up in the spring, all the time creaking, crackling, and groaning with slight bursts of movement. The ice devastated many old dock cribs and boathouses built directly in the water at the shoreline. Such dock cribs often had to be rebuilt every few years because of the damage caused by the retreating and shifting ice packs.
The wildlife around the lake had changed with the season as well. Rarely were loons heard, unless an occasional one was heard flying over the lake. The squirrels had gone into their nests and were hibernating the long winter months away, balled-up and cozy. Dell realized that he now missed the summer sounds of life that had been replaced with the more dreary sounds of the north winters. His thoughts carried him back to those warmer days and created a very satisfying dream that led him into a deep sleep.
As he awoke the next morning, a slight beam of sunlight had pierced his realm of sleep as it charged through his window to remind him that a new day was dawning. Dell thought pensively for a moment about that new day dawning, for it was not all that long ago that he had given up on the thought that a new day for him would ever dawn.
Excerpted from A Cold Snow in Castaway County by John Lindsey Hickman Copyright © 2011 by John Lindsey Hickman. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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