Chapter 5

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CHAPTER 5

Light, but still grey, not as bad as yesterday. Cold, damn cold. Steam coming off everything. The fence round the side of the gas station has steam rising from it in the cool morning sun. The handbrake ratcheted on. A few wrecks are parked there. Dirty place, beside an outhouse with a broken blue door. A small house is tacked on to the back, wooden, low roof. A tall metal chimney is doing its best to cough out black smoke from an early morning fire.

The woods behind are ugly. A ramshackle arrangement of trees at the edge of the dark woods, just walking their way toward the deadbeat garage. A bit of a fence, but not really. Tall wire, to keep the beasts out. They don’t approach the gas station much, unless they smell food from the dumpsters. Once the gas station was painted, but now it’s old and tired.

The red sign above is flashing with a broken neon bulb, irregular. The tubes spitting light on and off when they felt like it, like they were talking. The tired old gal sweeping out the store, not bothering to look up. She doesn’t care. She doesn’t care since her Billy left. Her boy. She just keeps the store every day. She’s seen all types of life go through that store, on the rough side of the road. She’s not impressed, so she doesn’t see anything. She just turns that radio on and gets her broom. That dress, she made that when she could still walk to town; now she can’t get that far. That church bunch were gonna come and take her to town for some new shoes but it hadn’t happened yet.

The store and its pale yellow light, the old boy doing the pumps. Denzel took over the gas hurriedly and gave the old guy a wad of cash.

Harry says to the old gal, “Where’s your telephone, ma’am?” He jams coins into the box. Getting through to the station the lieutenant wants to see him.

“I’m on my way,” he says.

In the florist Sally-May spends a long time dressing her shop window this morning. She’s right there doing her window. Chrysanthemums: orange, golden, yellow, russet. All-Saints flowers, All-Souls flowers, she’ll sell a lot this month. She’s keeping her eye on the road. Her man, John, works down at the station. Satisfied that she’s seen Denzel drive by, she goes back behind the counter.

A squad car blasts past Harry’s ears, shuddering out of a brief, fitful sleep in the passenger seat. Folks are walking by the station on their way to work.

Filthy, muddy and bedraggled Denzel comes round the car and holds the door for Harry. He throws himself out and staggers, fast as he can toward the station. Pushing through the black doors Harry gets to his desk. Not many in yet. A couple of guys try not to look at him. It’s tense in there. Lighting up, Harry shoves papers aside and Denzel brings coffee over. Dark and strong, full of sugar.

“Sorry, Harry, you’re off the case till we’ve checked a few things. You know how it is.”

“I can’t do that, sir. I haven’t got time. Mary could be out there in trouble. You know we’ve gotta hurry. Know how it is? Know how it is? Do YOU know how it is? It’s my WIFE! She’s out there and I have to find her, right now. I have to find her right now!”

He pushed forward right up to the lieutenant and shouted in his face.

The big guy wasn’t going to let Harry have an inch. He got up, tall, fat and pushed Harry back.

Harry’s eyes, bloodshot with distress drilled into the lieutenant’s head. They said it all. He was a mess, an angry mess. A desperate mess. His dark eyes crazy with anger and begging. He could shout loud and mean and threaten all he liked but now he’d have to beg. His eyes were begging him. Harry was a grown man staring with the broken eyes of a boy behind them. Sweat and mud stains down his tight face, his hands wringing around each other, shaking. Shaking, man, he couldn’t stop shaking. So much adrenaline, coffee, desperation.

“Let me do my job, for Christ’s sake! Let me get out there and help!”

“You pray to that Christ of yours, Harry; you pray to him for your Mary. You know there’s nothing I can do to get you on this case. I’d lose my damn job and so will you. It ain’t right. You back off and let me do my damn job, for Christ’s sake!”

Steam coming off the kettle and someone clanking a spoon around in a mug. So noisy, everything was so loud, damn it. The overhead fans whirred in an irregular way. Trucks and horns and a gang were shouting outside the station.

Harry stormed out. “God will find her for me, right, boss?!”

He went to the john and washed his face. He stared in the cracked bit of mirror at a man he barely recognized. Mary wouldn’t recognize this face. He zoned out again. Maybe it was some other case. Maybe he was out looking for someone else’s wife. He’d had a rough night and he’d come home to his Mary. He splashed his face again and shook his head. He tried smoothing down his messed-up hair. He could see her in the mirror. Coming up behind him, her arms around his middle, soothing him.

“It’ll be OK. It’ll be OK, baby. You’re home now. It’s OK; I’m here.”

He gazed over staring into the mirror, then his image of Mary vanished and he just saw a wild man. A man wild with bloodshot eyes. He gasped and let out a single noise of pain. Gulping he went to find Denzel.

Time was sliding past them in a surreal stream of moments.

The familiar station was unreal to Harry now. The desk, the blackboards, the typewriters. The normally comforting coffee pot. Dirty spoons and dirty mugs.

His face was tired and taut, like the tired old brown room and busted blinds in the lieutenant’s office. Behind his dark eyes were the pink meatloaf and the dripping, dead deer, the telephone in the gas station and rain. The endless damn rain, all merged around together in a big cloud of jumbled images. The woods kept coming up in the front of his mind; the patterns of dark branches like waving arms were imprinted on his eyes. Just about visible in the darkness that surrounded him. Crisscross sticks, his hands cut by pushing stuff aside, his pants ripped from falling time after time in the moldering, leafy woodland floor. He stank; he stank like a wet, decaying wood. He was tired now, the relentless running all night, running to nowhere; they’d staggered all night for nothing. They had no leads. They got nothing. Just adrenaline pushing him on, raising him to madness.

“Find my wife!” was the loudest voice inside his muddled head.

Jefferson stood aside as Harry barged back into the lieutenant’s office. He sat up straight and serious.

“I know what you’re gonna say, Harry, and I cannot sanction it. I don’t want it this way but you can’t be on the job.”

“DON’T TELL ME THAT!” screamed Harry, with a crack in his voice. His twisting face leaning over the desk. Smeared face from the washroom water, distorting his handsome features with dark shadows and patches of dirt showing the wildness of his skin. He grasped at his dark face with dirty hands, rubbing his cheeks like it would all go away if he rubbed hard enough. “Just do what I need you to do damn it!”

He wanted to run out and grab the car, or shout and kick stuff. But he needed the station, he needed the search party, he needed the law on his side. He must have them on his side.

The lieutenant stood, shoving his chair back, knocking his coffee everywhere, swearing. A flick of his greasy hair falling on his reddened face. He was mad. Harry was always a maverick but now he needed him to shut the fuck up so he could help him. He shouted loudly for Jefferson …

Denzel pulled Harry out the door. “I’m gonna take him out see, I’m gonna take him out,” he shouted. “I’ll sort this out,” Denzel shouted behind him pulling hard on Harry’s tensed-up arm. Denzel shoved him hard down into a chair and he stayed put. Harry knew it would be like this but he was mad as hell. “Sit down, Harry, and let me just do this.”

The loud bell of a telephone rang, jangling-like.

A cop picked it up and put it against his stubble.

In Harry’s head he heard Mary’s voice, “Hey, baby, it’s me.”

The blinds were open, and the lieutenant was standing up leaning on his desk, face red shouting up at Denzel but Harry couldn’t make it out. Denzel was right there, facing right back at him, waving his arms around, pointing, slamming his fists down. He paced around while the guy was mouthing fast and looking mighty angry. He was shaking his head and looking up to the heavens when Denzel chucked a chair over. Sitting hard back into his chair the fat man in his tight waistcoat stopped, held up his hand to signal Denzel to stop and shouted some more. They both seemed to stop for a while. Six feet of Denzel staring at him while he lit his big fat cigar. He sat in a haze of thick smoke for a minute.

Breathing fast Harry sits at his desk. He’s jumpy. He keeps his eye on the lieutenant’s office. He strides over to the coffee pot and grabs another one. Blundering hands. His guts are groaning; it’s been hours now since he ate and he’s itching to get back in the car. He takes someone’s brown paper bag. Pastrami on rye. Dry. He shoves it in his dry mouth; he can hardly chew but knows he needs it. He throws back coffee into his full mouth to try and get it down. It hurts his guts. He gets pain.

Harry sits back down in his old wooden chair. Finishing the coffee he stares with real rage at the chief.

The pastrami has set his head straight. What would he normally do? What would he normally do on a case? Thinking fast now he gets his pen. It blotches. He drags his draw out and rummages around for another. He looks up as another bunch of shouting resounds out of the office.

The station door bangs in the wind as a young cop enters. Harry gives him a black look. The guy doesn’t know how to be in front of Harry so he takes his cap off, sidles off to his desk under the window. He’s a tall, thin dude who bumps the hanging, grim light above his desk. Light and shadows spin round the office. Harry does not like this. He spins with it. His head spins with the shadows. Flashes of light hit his eyes and he glares at the young guy.

Getting his eyes close to his notes he starts again: town, riverbank, woods, quarry, old factory.

Quarry? His eyes fill with water. No, not Mary. Not the quarry.

Harry drags open the other drawer and quickly finds a bottle. He swigs hard and lights up.

“Hurry the fuck up!” is all he can think.

Denzel bursts out.

Denzel rushed out slamming the door. Harry got up fast.

“We’ve got forty-eight hours and that’s it, Harry.”

Best partner he ever had. Best friend he ever had. Like family.

Harry swiftly pours him a coffee and throws someone’s sandwich toward him. The young guy notices.

Harry snarls at him, “WHAT?”

Denzel chews it down. They huddle over Harry’s desk for a quick minute.

Harry goes over events again. Denzel pretty much knows Mary’s routine so he’s surprised she got off work early too. They ring the doctor. News has got around. The doctor is calm. He calms Harry for two minutes to tell him he hasn’t seen Mary. Nobody has.

“We need her address book. Annie Stanley could help us out there, who Mary goes to see and stuff.”

Denzel rings Mary’s work. Nothing.

Hairdressers. Nothing.

What about the town hall ladies circle?

“Hey, kid.” The young cop looks around. “Yeah you, buddy, find out who runs that ladies circle at the town hall, the thing where they make stuff and visit old people. And write down every word they say.”

“Yes sir!” he stammers, and shakily starts to dial the switchboard.

The lieutenant pulls the blinds shut and gets on the phone. Harry doesn’t miss a trick.

He’s ringing for more cars, from Charlottesville. He knows Mary, they all do. His sister Rachel knows her, real well. His sister always gets Harry and Mary over in the holidays; they chat a lot and laugh. He doesn’t quite get the women. Not married. Man, that's why he’s got so greasy like. Being a cop in a shithole town you don’t meet many women.

Jefferson comes over to Harry who peers up with his black eyes from under his furrowed brows. A note lands on his desk:

All available detectives and officers on the beat are allocated to the job.

Only the young cop and the lieutenant will remain at the station with Jefferson, the gofer.

Harry settles down a bit. He writes down where the cars are being sent. Harry tells gofer to check a couple of places then walks straight out.

“I want to talk to the Stanleys again. Hear about that guy again.”

“I’m taking you home, man; you’ve been up all night. You gotta get a couple hours rest or you won’t be no help to nobody.”

Harry just stares through Denzel for a minute. Rest? What? No.

Harry’s stuck in a circular thought when Denzel raises his voice to him. Denzel’s dog-tired. He wants to find her soon. Both their thought patterns are reduced to autopilot. Sooner, good. Later, bad.

“Harry, let’s get with it. We’re going.”

Harry grabs some car keys from the board as they leave.

In the parking lot Harry hauls out his wet bag from the back seat of Denzel’s car.

“You go home, Denzel. Get some food and rest yourself. We’ll make better time if I drive myself.”

He slaps Denzel on the back. Denzel agrees but doesn’t really want to leave Harry alone.

“I’m gonna drive along with you; we’ll check your place out, then I’ll go off,” says Denzel. He didn’t want Harry to go off anywhere crazy on his own. “You gotta get some rest, man, or you won’t be any use.”

Harry didn’t bother replying. They’d spent days awake on other jobs … His mind briefly wandered back to the homicide. He could see the pair of them sitting there, staking out the place. He’d stared at it so long it was a stuck image in his mind, framed by the window and nets they’d hidden behind. In his head it now resembled a painting in some gallery. Once an image was in there with Harry it never left. He could walk through the right-hand side of his brain at will and see all the framed shit he’d ever dealt with.

“LOCAL WOMAN. COP’S WIFE. FOUND IN QUARRY!”

“Harry. Hey, Harry, back in the room!” said Denzel. Denzel looked panicked. Denzel was worried. It was the first time Harry had really looked into Denzel’s face properly since the world had turned to shit.

Denzel looked wrinkled up, he was too wired to change his face. Like all of his face had slid downward. All of those hard features had worn themselves out with thinking of Mary. Thinking of Mary and trying to fight the boss, trying to keep Harry on track. His square shoulders were hanging forward, not his usual tough frame. The tasteless sandwich had tightened his guts and he was crashing. He wanted to walk Harry and Mary right back into their home, sit them down in their parlor, make them coffee and light the fire for Mary. He’d get her robe, and put that little table up to put her feet on. Harry would hold her tight and he’d just give her a blanket and his eyes would tell her it was OK, that he would keep her safe.

“Thanks,” said Harry squarely. They were partners.

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