Saturday, February 4, 2012
Mike McMahon and Sharon Dupont buckled themselves into the cruiser and Sharon prepared to drive out of the Paskagankee Police station parking lot. “So,” Mike said, “What was that all about?”
“What was what all about?”
“That guy we just tossed into a holding cell, the one you called by his first name even though you never looked at his driver’s license; he taunted you about your father. You two know each other.” Mike phrased it as a statement, not a question.
Officer Dupont was silent for a moment, making a show of checking both directions for oncoming traffic before pulling out of the lot and turning north on the tiny town’s Main Street. The rear tires spun on the slick pavement before gaining traction, then the cruiser accelerated slowly along the mostly empty thoroughfare. Finally she answered. “Yes, I know Earl Manning. He was a couple of years ahead of me in high school. After he graduated—a minor miracle in and of itself—he became a regular at the Ridge Runner where my dad used to spend most of his time.”
“The Ridge Runner is a bar, I assume.”
“That’s right. Out on Ridge Road. Original, huh?” The young officer flipped her hair behind her ear in what Mike McMahon was already beginning to recognize as a subconscious reaction to stress.
“Is this something you’d rather not discuss?”
Another hesitation, shorter this time. “No, it’s okay. It’s just that I’m not used to talking about myself, that’s all. Besides, this is a small town, in case it had escaped your notice. Eventually you would hear all about my dad anyway. And about me, too, I suppose.”
Mike watched two cars slide partway through a four-way stop a couple of hundred yards ahead. The storm was worsening as temperatures continued their downward spiral. The driving conditions were iffy now and weren’t going to improve any time soon. He hoped people would have enough sense to stay off the roads, this being a Saturday, but doubted that would be the case. “So your dad is pretty well-known around here?”
Officer Dupont coughed out a laugh, short and bitter. “You could say that. He held down a bar stool pretty much twenty-four hours a day at the Ridge Runner for most of the last ten years, starting the day after we buried my mother.”
Mike looked down at the cruiser’s bench seat and then across at Sharon Dupont. She stared straight through the windshield, concentrating on navigating the slick streets. If she noticed him looking at her, she didn’t give any indication of it. “I’m sorry about your mother,” he said. “I didn’t know.”
“No reason why you should.”
“How old were you at the time?”
“So you went through your teen years with no mother and a father too busy drinking Budweiser to raise his daughter properly?”
“Yeah, that pretty much covers it,” she said. “My dad was always an enthusiastic drinker, but after mom died, alcohol took over his life. I think he single-handedly kept one shift working overtime at the Anheuser-Busch plant down the road in New Hampshire.”
The big Crown Victoria police cruiser slid to a stop in front of the Unitarian Church on the corner of Main and Elm Streets. Officer Dupont angled into the parking lot and turned the car around so they could monitor traffic on the two cross streets and stay off the increasingly dangerous roads for a while. She cranked up the car’s interior heat to combat the chill permeating the vehicle.
Mike turned in his seat to look at the pretty, young officer. “Sounds like the sort of situation you’d be anxious to escape.”
“Oh, I couldn’t wait to get out all right, and eventually I left Paskagankee to attend the FBI Academy, but of course you know all of that from my personnel file.”
“True enough,” Mike answered. “But your file doesn’t explain why you suddenly came back to this tiny, little place in the middle of nowhere. Nothing against Paskagankee, but it seems to me you wouldn’t be too quick to return, especially since you were doing well at the academy. I saw your performance scores, and you were kicking ass down there. What happened?”
“My dad was diagnosed with liver cancer a couple of years ago, and for a while he did okay. About six months ago, though, he started going downhill fast. I have no brothers or sisters, and with my mother gone . . .” She lapsed into silence and stared out the windshield at the empty streets, now rapidly glazing over with a thin coating of ice. Something like defiant regret hardened her features.
“You came back to care for your father.”
Sharon nodded. She fiddled with the turn signal and looked everywhere but at Mike. “I made a promise to my mom before she died that I would look after my dad. She knew he would have trouble coping after she was gone. I came back for my mom, not for him.”
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