Authors: Dennis Yates
“Why is this happening?” she asked again.
“Not now Tammy.” Mitch said. Although their bodies touched, his voice sounded much farther away. He still saw red pinwheels in his head, hadn’t told her that he’d been knocked unconscious after the patrol car had been plowed off the highway and crashed. He remembered shooting toward the edge of a cliff, of turning to see the sheriff unfastening his seatbelt and opening his door and then a curtain of blackness dropping down on the whole thing, certain that when he came to he’d be hitched with death.
“Then tell me one thing, Mitch. Did you think of your family before you started messing with those guys?”
“You need to kindly shut up now so I can think,” the sheriff said. He could no longer feel his hands. They’d cuffed them with those plastic things he’d seen used during riots—what you’d use to tie an end of a garbage bag, he thought. Damn if I could only get to my smokes.
“Kind of late for thinking, isn’t it?” Tammy said. “Seems to me like you’ve run out of options. And I hope you weren’t lying to them this time.”
Mitch felt his stomach spinning and sat up. “Tammy. My head is killing me.”
“How could you do this Mitch?
“I’m sorry. I did it for us. I wanted out but the sheriff wouldn’t let me.”
“You did it for
“I wanted you to be able to quit the 101 and stay home with the baby.”
“Well look where your good intentions got us now. Our house has been ransacked and who knows what they’ll do to us if they come back again. I thought you were smarter than this, Mitch.”
“It’s not his fault,” the sheriff said. “Mitch just did what any man would do if he had a baby on the way and money was tight. He’d find a means to supplement his income.”
“Well I hope you go to hell Sheriff. He was good before he started working with you. You should be ashamed but I know you don’t give a shit.”
The sheriff stared at the wood stove and sighed. The glow was already fading. Was he going to be able to move? His back was killing him. Whiplash for sure, no hope of sliding his hands under his legs so he could get them in front. He was just too fat and out of shape for that. And she was right about Mitch. He’d been as squeaky clean as they come. Always was a good kid. Never got mixed up with a bad crowd or caused him any trouble. Back then he sometimes wished he’d had an excuse to stop by Mitch’s house to have a talk with his folks, just so he could’ve gotten a glimpse of the boy’s older sister. Linda was captain of the cheerleader team and oh man did she have some curves on her.
“Hate me all you want Tammy. But you’re going to have to forgive that boy one of these days. I also know it wasn’t his idea to start a family this soon. Hell, I worked with him the same day you’d shoved that dripping home pregnancy test under his nose. Poor kid was shock. I had to pull over twice just so he wouldn’t puke in the patrol car. But you just couldn’t wait get that noose around him good and tight, could you girl? So let’s just cut the crap now and talk about how we’re going to get out of here before they come back.”
Gradually Tammy’s crying began to mingle with the sibilant chorus of water being pulled from the bay. Mitch imagined fish being drawn out to the dark mouth and the crowd of lurking sea lions, the exposed sandbars loaded with clams. If you didn’t mind taking the risk of getting grounded until the tide turned, you could land a small boat on one of those sandy islands and go home with more clams than you could possibly eat.
He hadn’t wanted to go out with the sheriff that night. It was too windy and the waves at the bar were bigger than he’d seen in a while. He’d once capsized in similar weather, but it had been in the daylight and some other fishermen were quick to pull him out before hypothermia set in and the current pulled him under. On that night with the sheriff the bay had been empty and other than a watery moon far to the south, he remembered it mostly by the shapes of black waves and their echoing thunder between the rocky sphinx-arms of the jetties. He’d begun to feel uncertain that he would make it home alive, that the sheriff was having second thoughts about allowing him into his private world of traffickers and pirates. The sheriff had been acting restless, and more often then usual Mitch had smelled alcohol on his breath while they were on duty.
The sheriff promised a smooth transaction, that they’d be returning to shore before he knew it. We make the buy and then drive the stuff to a guy waiting in a Portland motel, he’d said. As simple as visiting grandma on a Sunday afternoon. We’ll take the patrol car so it’ll look like official business and I’ll have you’ll back home in time for dinner with the little wife.
There were two of them. The captain steering the boat and a bald beefy guy with a backpack. They’d seemed mildly hostile and appeared to be heavily armed. As soon as they’d gotten within hearing distance they began to shout “No Luce, no Luce!” The sheriff didn’t understand what they saying, and the engines of both boats drowned out Mitch’s translation. When Mitch was about to toss over the duffel bag of cash as planned, one of the traffickers did something that made the sheriff panic, and before Mitch even realized what was happening, shots were fired and the large tattooed man was clinging to their starboard bow with blood spraying from his chest and the boat he’d come from began to rapidly zigzag back out to sea. Mitch was sure its captain had been hit too, had heard the man’s screams above the thundering motor and waves.
He’d slipped on the trafficker’s blood and fallen, bashed his knee against a crate. Writhing in pain, Mitch had watched the sheriff holster his gun and then attempt to pry the pack from the smuggler’s hand. But when he’d let go to find a better grip, the stiffening hand suddenly sprang open and the pack had splashed into the dark bay. Enraged by the corpse’s final jest, the sheriff had punched the grinning face until his fists were soaked in blood. Mitch had closed his eyes when he felt his dinner coming up. Dawkins had shouted at him to get up and find the aluminum pole he kept stowed while he struggled to detach the man from the boat. The trafficker had wrapped a muscular arm around the steel rail and refused to let go. Mitch had vomited before pulling himself to his feet, and while he’d stumbled to the front of the boat he’d heard the sheriff shouting and the sharp thwack of metal biting metal. When he’d found the pole and returned to the back again, the sheriff was rinsing an axe in a bucket of water. His hands were clean of blood, but his white shirt had turned pink as if it had been accidently laundered with something red. The trafficker was gone. Mitch hadn’t bothered to ask where.
They’d searched for hours, but the current had pulled the trafficker’s pack under and they’d had no luck finding it. When it was almost dawn the sheriff decided they should head back. Mitch had wanted to go straight home, but the sheriff insisted they go to his house to settle down. Mitch was frozen to the core and couldn’t stop shaking. The sheriff built a fire and had Mitch sit near it while he went into another room to make some calls. A half hour later he reappeared with a bottle of Jim Beam and began pouring them drinks, talked loudly about fishing with his old man and how he’d once beat the crap out of a bunch of hippies and run them out of town. He’d confiscated their dope and then ended trying some of it and spent the night laughing his ass off. Changing the subject, however, did no good. Mitch had been scared shitless. As for Dawkins, the more he drank the higher his bravado had climbed.
It wasn’t until the fourth glass that Mitch had felt anything like real consciousness begin to rise above the buzzing hive of nerves of his thawing body. His voice had remained shaky and thin.
“What’s going to happen when that guy from the other boat tells his people what you did?” Mitch said.
Dawkins downed his glass and quickly refilled it. His face reddened. “Well with any luck he won’t make it back to tell anybody, will he Mitch? Seemed to me he wasn’t doing so hot.”
“But what if he does make it back? His guys are going to be coming here to find out what happened.”
“It won’t be just them,” the sheriff said. “Everyone’s going to be paying a visit.”
“But you’re going to give the money back to that guy in Portland, right?”
“I haven’t decided yet.”
“Jesus Sheriff, what are you talking about?”
“We could have been killed out there, Mitch. I want my hazard pay, and I know you do too. It’s not my problem they picked unreliable people.”
“You didn’t have to shoot them. They weren’t going to do anything.”
“They were going to rip us off, Mitch. Couldn’t you tell? Yelling at us like that in Mexican. I’m no racist, but I do like to do business with people that can speak our goddamn language.”
“I think they were just afraid of the light. Your lights were too bright and they must have thought that it would attract attention.”
The sheriff picked up the whiskey and drank straight from the bottle. “Whose side are you on anyways?”
“I’m just saying they weren’t going to rip us off. In fact I don’t recall either one of them drawing a weapon.”
“Well I saw what I saw too. And that really ugly one at the helm was going for a shotgun.”
Mitch had stood up and swayed. “Listen, if you’re not going to give that guy in Portland his money back, then I don’t want anything to do with this. It’s suicide and you know it.”
“Well guess what Mitch. We’re in this together, remember? And when they come, you better be standing with your partner or else things will get kind of dicey between us real fast.”
At that moment Mitch made up his mind to get Tammy and run. The next day he would go to the bank and close their savings account. He wasn’t going to tell her about what happened until everything was set. Then they’d pack up and leave in the middle of the night and if the sheriff didn’t catch them first they would go somewhere else far away and start over. But how far would they get? After having the transmission in the truck fixed last month and paying medical bills, they’d hardly have enough gas money to even get them across the state line.
When the sheriff went off into a back room again, Mitch believed that if he stayed any longer he’d be killed. But just as he managed to get to his feet the sheriff was there again. In his hand was a thick stack of money, more than enough to get set up in a new town and raise baby.
“Here’s your cut. Now go home before I change my mind,” the sheriff said.
Mitch hadn’t wanted to take it. But not to take it would have been stupid. He’d put it in his jacket without saying a word, had rinsed his face and used the sheriff’s mouthwash before driving home. Tammy had awakened when he’d crawled into bed and he told her a lie about working a burglary scene and then going to the sheriff’s house after their shift to drink a beer and watch some boxing. As he tried to fall asleep he listed more details to support his story should she ask him later. She didn’t seem angry at him for being so late and went back to sleep before he did and it had felt good having her warm body next to his.
Except he didn’t sleep at all. He kept waking up, thinking the trafficker was standing at the foot of their bed dripping blood on the floor, asking him if he knew what happened to his arm. Mitch had slipped out of bed and put a towel under the dripping faucet in the bathtub. He had to remember to stop in at the hardware store for some new washers.
Back in bed, he began to think about the money the sheriff had given him. What was happening to his life? Had the sheriff gone insane? He hadn’t always been this way, only since his dog died. When Butch was alive the sheriff seemed to have something to live for. Now it seemed like he didn’t care.
He’d decided the money was only going to bring him bad luck. And before Tammy awoke he drove back to the sheriff’s house and shoved the money through the mail slot in the front door. The sheriff was still awake and had opened the door as he fed the last wad through. He just stood there in his underwear with the near-empty bottle of Jim Beam and told Mitch that giving the money back wasn’t ever going to make his troubles go away.