Wednesday, December 9, 2009


This is my try at Literary Fiction from last Spring.


Officer James Bluntworth sat on the polished wooden bench in the open railway car on the way to Silverton. His pressed, dark blue jacket flapped in the early autumn wind. The air carried the promise of an early snow, and the aspen leaves showed slight gilding around the edges.

If anyone had asked him about the beautiful landscape around him, he would have said, “I don’t give a damn.” But no one did. His habit of quietly cursing to himself combined with a tendency to stand and point his hand at passersby as if he were shooting them down kept him quiet alone. Save for one courageous, middle-aged man who took his place next to James as soon as the young man started acting strangely. This man would grab James by the dark blue jacket and seat him again after one of his episodes, which occurred almost every five minutes. After one of James’ flurries of motion the man patted James on the back with a large, meaty hand as curses flowed quietly from the young man’s already lined mouth.

About an hour into the two hour long non-stop ride from Durango to Silverton, Officer James suffered a particularly rambunctious outburst. He stood, pivoted as normal, then leapt over the bench into the shocked laps of the family behind him. After a beating about the ears by the matronly woman’s over-large purse, James found his seat and tried his best to stay put.

The man next to James put an arm around him and started to speak. “Listen, son, you’re going to have to calm down.” James nodded slowly. “All right. What’s your name?”

“Officer James Bluntworth of the Albuquerque Police Department.” James said as he stuck out his hand.

“Harry. Pleased to meet you.” He said as he firmly took the offered hand. “Retired APD myself, some years back.” Harry shrugged his once muscular shoulders, jiggling his portly frame. “It’s pretty clear that you’ve been affected in a bad way, Jimmy.” James clenched his fists, but he remained silent. “What brings you up here?”

“Fresh air.” James said, staring determinedly at the passing landscape.

“Forced leave, huh?” Harry said and elbowed James in the arm. James winced. “All right, bad joke. I came to this very train the first time they ‘suggested’ I take some time off. I reckon I behaved much the same then as you are now.” Harry scooted up his chair and straightened his black jeans. “How about I tell you the story, it may take your mind off your troubles for a bit.”

James shrugged.

“That’s the spirit.” Harry said. He grinned broadly and gave James a solid pound on the back. “This would have been… Goodness, thirty years back. I walked the beat for eight years without a single incident worse than a traffic violation. Then one day I hear a woman screaming bloody murder behind the old train warehouse. Well, I jumped on the horn right away and called for backup.” He imitated using a walkie talkie. “I ran toward the warehouse, my footsteps punctuated by horrendous screams.” Harry paused. “Listen, you don’t want the whole story. It’s horrific. Long story short, I thought a woman was being raped. I shot her two assailants when they tried to flee. Turns out she was pregnant.” James stared at Harry, his mouth opening and closing like a landed fish. “Yeah, giving birth. Worst day of my life.”

James continued to stare. Snow began to fall lightly. A chill wind sliced through the open air car. The family behind James and Harry gathered their children and went inside. “How did you-“ James said.

“Deal with it?” Harry said. James nodded. “Poorly.” Harry said to his shoes. “I was relived from my shift, went back home and cried. Yes, cried. For hours. Within a few weeks the internal affairs absolved me. Things might have been different had the family come in legally.”

“Family?” James said, raising his hands.

“Oh, yeah, that’s the kicker. Turns out the first guy I shot was the woman’s husband. The second was her brother. They had no papers, nothing. As far as the internal folks were concerned, those men never existed. The woman delivered her baby, and then they deported her after she put the baby up for adoption. They folks upstairs gave me three weeks leave and told me to leave the state. So I came up here.” Harry shrugged and shivered in the cold wind. A few flakes of snow landed on James’ auburn hair. “Truth be told, I tried to kill myself. I climbed up on a chair with a noose. I put my head through it then I smelled fear again. Same smell I noticed at the scene of the ‘incident.’ Ironic, huh? Fear saved my life as surely as it destroyed my confidence in myself.” Harry laughed a small, hollow laugh. “The shrink sent me up here. Said the nature would do me some good, force me to slow down.”

James nodded. “Told me the same thing.” He grabbed his pressed, dark blue jacket and zipped it up. “It’s pretty darn chilly for October.” James said.

“Always is. It’s the altitude.” Harry said and looked out the railcar. Snow began to land softly on the green and gold aspen leaves. “It’s starting to stick.” The wind died down for a bit as they passed through a narrow cut in the mountain. The rough walls passed so close on either side that they could touch them without leaning over the rail. “You still interested in how I handled my mistake?”

“Yeah.” James said and stuck his hands in his jacket pockets.

“I stayed up in Silverton for two weeks. I ate at the Pickle Barrel and hiked a lot. I always felt closer to God out in the wilderness. Doesn’t get much more wild than outside Silverton.” Harry said, pointing out at the dense forest and underbrush shuffling past them. “One day when I was out hiking I stopped and sat down. I had hiked further and faster than I normally did. I just needed to rest. Looking around at the dying beauty, I sank deeper into my depression. Then I just started yelling. I screamed at God at the top of my lungs. I cursed at Him. Why didn’t He intervene? All those questions that had been bottled up in my chest slowly building pressure. I exploded. After what must have been hours of screaming, I collapsed on the forest floor. It was cold and dark. The sun had set, but the moon hadn’t risen yet. I didn’t have the strength to make it back. I crawled into a nearby cave and did my best to stay warm. I woke the next morning, hungry but alive. Snow had fallen during the night, much as it is now.” Harry swung his hand across the view of the railcar. “I woke with an empty feeling. I remembered reading somewhere that you couldn’t get filled until you were empty. It took a long time to get filled, but eventually I did. Now I come up here every year to commemorate my experience.”

The conductor came through the car yelling, “Silverton in fifteen. Be ready to get off. Silverton in fifteen minutes!” His booming voice made the brass buttons on his blue coat bounce.

“Wow.” James said when the conductor passed. “I don’t think I should count on a similar experience.” He shrugged and blew into his hands. Steam escaped between his long, thin fingers. “Also, I’ll eat with you.”

Harry turned to James. “How’d you know I was going to ask?”

“It’s pretty simple. You’re still digging at my story; you’ve just changed tactics a bit.” James paused, blowing more steam between his clasped hands. “I’ve decided I’ll give you it.” James buttoned the top button of his jacket and swiped some of the dusty snow off his pressed pants.

“Fair enough.” Harry said and pulled on his fur-trimmed hat.

The two officers walked into the Pickle Barrel just off the main street, a few blocks from the train stop. They had two hours to spend before the train started back towards Durango.

Snow steamed off the pair as they stepped into the well-windowed, dark wood paneled common room of the Pickle Barrel. A few booths lined the east wall. Four large round tables dominated the center. One smaller round table sat off in the far west corner. The hostess greeted them and led them to the round table in the corner. “Our other tables are full already.” She said as she handed each of them one double sided sheet of paper. “The special today is a New York strip steak and the soup is tomato basil. Anything to drink?” Harry shook his head no. James asked for the beer menu. “It’s right on the table here.” She said. “So two waters then, while you decide on a beer?”

“Sure.” Harry said.

“Make mine without ice.” James said just as the hostess turned around.

“Okay. Your server will be with you in a moment.”

The server came to the table with two glasses of water and asked for their orders. Harry ordered the Rueben and James got the special, medium rare with the seasonal ale. James stood up after the waiter left and removed his jacket. He hung it carefully on the back of his chair and sat back down. “So I promised you a story.” James said. Harry scooted his chair around closer to James.

“It all started a week ago when I was walking my beat downtown. I’m a plain clothes detective down there. I just keep my eyes open and gather whatever information comes my way. I was pretty green, didn’t have any real field experience to speak of. I didn’t graduate top of my class from the Police Academy, but I did pretty well, particularly in my negotiation skills. So they put me in one of the few remaining beats so I could keep my ears open. The Force set me up as a snitch. In reality, I was buying information from other snitches, but it’s not too hard to set up a cover as a snitch. Plus that meant that I could get information more readily because people knew I would pay for it.

“So, anyway I’m walking down by Zuni, right? I’m walking there a couple days ago and…

Officer James walked down an alley that he didn’t check very often. He didn’t check this alley often for a variety of reasons, most of them practical. Nobody went down that alley on a regular basis. It was narrow and only had a handful of exits that people could slide through quickly which made it bad for dealing drugs. For the same reason, it was a dangerous place for a cop to walk into, even in disguise. It would be a simple matter for one of the Crypts to sneak up behind James in that alley and send his ear back as a message to the Force. The other major reason to avoid the alley was the smell. Some of the houses had old plumping which had burst but couldn’t be replaced on the salaries the owners made. Foul, raw sewage bubbled up here and there, leaving the area as a perpetual mire. The distinct earthy smell of human excrement, or the anaerobic bacteria found in the excrement James reminded himself. This scent mixed foully with the acrid, slightly metallic smell of urine. The alley was empty. Officer James always wrinkled his nose slightly when he exited the alley on his way to meet with his fellow information brokers.

James always liked that euphemism for what his claimed job was, information broker. It made him feel like he went to college for his M.B.A. just like he wanted to in high school. Finances forced James into Police work, and he threw himself into it with all the professionalism he could. Even though he liked his job title the clothing he was forced to wear irked him. His tennis shoes squeaked and didn’t have the authoritative thump of hard soled dress shoes. His plain, baggy white T-shirt lacked any pizzazz or panache. James did get to wear one nicer piece of clothing. He ironed his jeans and always made sure they were immaculately clean. This one touch made him look more respectable in his opinion. The other “brokers” he worked with didn’t seem to notice or care, but those low-lives didn’t amount to much in James’ opinion.

Tonight James was especially aware of how dangerous his position as an undercover officer really was. A gang shooting the night before left three dead, all on one side of the turf warfare. Some thugs shot down a street leader with his girlfriend and a lackey outside a movie theater. James knew that there would be blood, and something would probably go down tonight. However, James also knew that he shouldn’t know as much about the case as he did, so not showing up to swap info as normal would look fishy.

“Where you goin’, Pretty Boy?” Two-fingers asked. James realized that he had almost walked straight past the normal drop point.

“Checking if I had a tail.” James said.

Two-fingers nodded. “We’re all a bit nervous tonight. The Blood’s are in for it big time tonight. That’s the word on the street, leastwise.”

“Yeah? I guess that news’ll be all over the street in a couple hours, eh?” James said.

Two-fingers chuckled a bit and lit a cheap cigarette. The lighter illuminated his pitted, disfigured face. James knew crystal meth was the cause of Two-fingers’ face. “I like you, Pretty Boy. You got wit. Aaand a certain style. Choosing your moniker after an old style gangster – that takes guts.” Two-fingers took the cigarette from his mouth. His face disappeared from sight. James could only see Two-fingers’ mangled hand holding the cigarette and his dusty, black jeans.

“Meh. I figure, in our business, we get to make some choices that put us a cut above the rest.” James said. The cigarette raised and fell, sending its ash spiraling to the concrete. James assumed his informant shrugged. “By the way, any idea where the hit is taking place tonight?”

“Pretty Boy, you know I don’t give no information away. You gotta pay.”

“What’s the price tonight?” James asked.

“For you? Twenty.”


“Fifteen.” Two-fingers took a long drag. “And five dollar charge for the right to haggle.”

James sighed. “All right, here’s twenty.”

“It’s happening down on 4th and Gold. By the high school.”

James felt his stomach freeze. “You’re joking, right? That’s way outside of either gangs’ territory.”

“That’s all I know.” Two-fingers shrugged again. “Won’t be worth much in about 3 hours though.”

James ran his hand through his short, brown hair. “So they’re going to risk shooting up a high school for the sake of this feud?”

“Duh. Who’s side are you on anyway? Sounds like you might be a copper or something, carrying on about a school like that.” Two-fingers stabbed out his cigarette on the side on the building. He began to prance about. “Oh, look at me! I’m a concerned citizen. Someone might shoot up a school building at midnight.” He spat. “Disgusting. For being a broker you sure have weird ideals. Don’t you give a damn that one of the high rollers who pays for our ears is gonna get blasted?” Two-fingers stalked off down the street. James heard something about moron and not having any sense.

James stood still in the shadows for a long bit. The faint autumn breeze brought a whiff of cigarette smoke from the ashes on the ground. The white ashes were picked up and scattered in miniature dust devils across the grey cement. Officer James walked up Zuni for a couple miles before he hooked a right onto a residential street and plunked himself on Central, just off UNM campus. James pulled out a piece of paper from his wallet and the black pen which he always carried with him. He scribbled “Tonight, Amy Biel, Midnight, Shots fired” across the scrap. He grabbed a bit of soil from a mound outside one of the nicer houses and smeared a bit on his face and in his hair. Next Officer James pulled out the hip flask from his back pocket. He took a mouthful, swished it around and spat. Next he splashed a bit behind his ears and on his wrists.

James stumbled into The Frontier, where four Police Officers had just taken up their post to walk the restaurant and keep people out of trouble. “Hey, pigs!” He shouted. All four men snapped their attention directly to the stumbling, hunched, grimy person in ironed jeans. They exchanged glances. “What’sha matter? Deaf, piggies?” The biggest one walked over to James and clamped on James’s shoulder with an iron grip.

“Say that to my face.” The officer said.

James stepped back and placed his hand over the man’s. “ I don’t tolerate no disrepec! You address me by my rank and title: Pretty Boy.” He said, pointing a dirty thumb at his chest.

The officer removed his hand and closed it into a large fist right next to James’s ear. “You have some nerve, boy. I should punch you in your grimy jowls, pig. He said.

James smiled. “That’s the spirit! I like to know our boys have some spunk.” He took a step back towards the plate glass door. He pulled out the scrap of paper from his back pocket. “Here’s a bit of something for your time, gentlemen.” James made a slight inclination of his head then blew a raspberry and dashed out the door.

James walked down Yale to his car which was stashed behind Saggio’s as per an agreement with the owners. He climbed into his Tahoe and drove to his house. He changed his clothes then headed to Amy Biel High School.

The white building stood proudly on the corner. James drove slowly past, checking for any activity. He considered it ironic that this school was built in the oldest courthouse in Albuquerque. Justice wouldn’t be had tonight though. He only hoped that he would have backup for when the shooting started. James parked on the street a block down from Amy Biel. He put on his standard issue belt, polished to a high gloss, and checked his equipment: mace, collapsible baton, Tazer, Glock .45, and two extra magazines. Everything was accounted for. James did one last thing. He pulled his badge out of the glove box, shined it on his shirt and pinned it above his heart. “Officer James Bluntworth.” He said to himself. He drew a deep breath and slowly let it out. “Time to find a place to hide.” James stepped out of the white Tahoe and started walking around the block. He had two hours to kill yet so he started walking south along 4th, away from the school.

“Freeze!” A high voice said. James immediately complied, but he turned his head slowly to find who had spoken. 4th was abandoned; street lights flickered here and there along the roadside. A ramshackle red building stood next to James. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the silver flash of a gun barrel in the light. James dove behind the automated parking meter and pulled out his gun.

“You don’t want to do this.” James said.

“It’ll be fun.” The voice said. Small footsteps approached James slowly. James heard the hammer of the gun click ominously into place. Instincts took over. He rolled on his stomach out from behind the parking meter, aimed, and fired twice.

The bullets caught the boy twice in the chest. He fell over immediately. A deadly wheeze rattled from his chest. The revolver fell from his limp hand.

“Hell.” James said. He reached for his radio, found that he’d forgotten it, and swore again. He put his gun in the holster and ran to his Tahoe. He threw the door open and grabbed the radio which sat on the passenger’s seat. “I need an ambulance two blocks south of 4th and Gold. Hurry it up! A kid is dying.” James grabbed his medkit and sprinted back to the kid.

Sweat stood out on the kid’s pale lips. His wide eyes sought frantically, for what James didn’t know. He pulled out gauze pads and pressed them over the holes. The kid wheezed something as he moved his lips. James bent his head close to the dying kid’s mouth. “Only… a joke…. Not loaded.”

The ambulance whirred onto the scene ten minutes later, but it was too late. The once searching eyes stared blankly at nothing. James sat forlornly by the body, his eyes red and his nose snotty. “What happened?” The medic said, checking the pulse of the boy.

James shook his head. “Wasn’t loaded. Shot him. Wasn’t…”

“We’ve got a stiff!” The other EMT wheeled over a gurney with a black bag atop it.

“You shot a person that pointed a gun at you.” Harry said. “And you’re upset why? You did it by the book.”

“The kid was twelve, Harry. He wasn’t in either gang; he probably didn’t even know what was going on in that scene.” James said.

The waiter delivered the steak, beer, and Rueben. Would they like anything else? No. He left. James grabbed his knife and fork and prepared to dig in. “Wait a second.” Harry said. Harry put his hands together and began to pray. “Heavenly Father, please bless our meal and our conversation, Lord. Please, Jesus, give Jimmy here your peace that transcends understanding. In your holy and precious name we pray. Amen.”

James mumbled an amen. “Can I eat now?” Harry nodded and grabbed his Rueben with both meaty hands. James cut his steak into bite sized cubes while he talked.

“So this kid, I shot him, right? Turns out the beat cop down there knew he was running around with a gun that didn’t have any bullets. Frank. The kid was called Frank.” He took a bite and chewed. Harry chewed mutely. “That’s not the worst of it.”

“No?” Harry said.

James shook his head and chewed another bite of steak. “This is good.” He said pointing at the steak.

“So’s the Rueben. Just the right amount of Sauerkraut.”

“Anyway, so I kind of… lost it a bit after the shooting. The Bloods’ leader got shot outside Century 14 two nights later. Nothing was happening that night. Two-fingers sold me bad information.” Harry shrugged and took a big bite out of his sandwich. “Yeah, I guess it had to happen sometime. So they put me on forced leave…”

James walked outside Sneaker’s bar and pizzeria. He didn’t drink much, but he wanted some company during his forced leave. He stayed there for a couple hours, carefully measuring his intake of alcohol so that he wouldn’t be drunk when he left. At Ten o’clock sharp, Officer James left Sneaker’s. He felt a little better about the happenings of the night before. He’d done it by the book. That was important. That he did things correctly. Internal affairs had already cleared him of any misdoing. James’ recorder that was always attached to his belt proved that things happened just as he said. He was in the clear.

He still felt terrible though. James knew that he should have talked more to the assailant. His negotiation courses taught him that. He just didn’t apply his learning.

“You never do!” A pimpled teen of no more than fifteen shouted. “You never do anything right!” The boy in a polo shirt and khaki pants stood in the parking lot, kicking the rear tire of James’ Tahoe. James realized then that he was double parked.

“What are you doing to my car, kid?” James said.

The kid stood straight with his arms at his side. If his face didn’t look so terrified he might have been standing at attention. “Nothing. Just, you know, checking tire pressure.”

“Uh huh.” James said, walking closer to the well dressed teen. “Why were you shouting?”

“Just. Nothing.” He dropped his head and started to shuffle off, his face red.

“Listen, kid. I’ve had a rough past 24 hours. Now, I want some answers.”

The teen stopped. “I’m not a kid! I’m a young adult. I deserve some modicum of respect.” James laughed. Just a snicker at first then a chuckle then a straight out guffaw. The teen appeared outraged. Fire sprang into his eyes. “Don’t you laugh at me!” He said as he stormed back towards the Tahoe, his thin but obviously muscular frame shaking with every step.

James put his hands up. “I’m not laughing at you. It’s just, you remind me of when I was younger.”

The youth stopped and turned to face James again. A light breeze tugged on his white and blue polo. “I’m not much younger than you! What are you, twenty?” He said.

“There abouts.” James said, eyeing this defiant ‘young adult.’ “What’s your name?”

“Brian. What’s yours?”

“Officer James Bluntworth, you can call me Officer Bluntworth.”

“So you’re a tight ass then? Can’t relax even around a kid.” Brian said, planting his hands on either side of his hips.

“I thought you were a young adult, kid.” James said, pushing roughly by Brian and opening the driver’s door.

“Jerk.” Brian said.

James pulled out of the parking spot and moved towards the exit.

A rock hit James’ back window on his Tahoe, shattering it. James slammed on the brakes and got out of the car. Brian was gone.

“Wait.” Harry said. Putting his sandwich down and holding up both hands. “So a kid rocked your car outside Sneaker’s then ran off. What’s so terrible about that?”

”Hold your horses. Seriously. You’re impatient.” James said, slamming his now empty mug of beer on the wooden table. “Wait a damn minute before you interrupt. I listened to your stupid story.” James’ face went an ugly shade of red.

“Fine.” Harry said, picking up a steak fry and stuffing it in his mouth. “Continue.” He said around the fry.

“I think I will.” James took a hard bite of his cubed steak and set his silverware down. “So Brian wasn’t there. I’m pissed, but it’s ten at night no place would repair my car that late. I drive back to my house and go to sleep…”

James woke up the next morning with a splitting headache. He hadn’t gotten drunk, but he hadn’t drunk any water either. “Great.” He thought. “The hangover without the fun.” James walked to his bathroom, holding his head together with his palms. He grabbed the glass he kept next to the toothpaste-free with sink and filled it with water. He drank the water down quickly, refilled the glass, and drank again. He grabbed two Ibuprofen and followed them down with a third glass of water. For a long time he sat on the toilet in his plaid pajamas. After half an hour the headache started to subside. James drank another glass of water and started the water in the shower. While the shower water heated up, James shaved quickly. He shaved once with the grain then once against it, just to be sure. He took a ten minute shower as he always did, and then he went into the kitchen wearing his pressed jeans and baggy white T-shirt. James took out a single serving bag of off brand instant coffee and put two slices of bread in the toaster. While the water heated and the bread toasted, James went outside to pick up the newspaper. Then his routine broke completely.

The Tahoe’s window wasn’t broken.

“But the kid smashed it with a rock!” Harry said, almost choking on a steak fry.

“Do you want me to tell you the story or not?” James said, staring at Harry. James kept his gaze fixed on Harry as he put a bite of steak into his mouth. He chewed slowly.

Harry looked down at his plate. “Fine. I’ll stop.”

“Thank you.” James said. “So the window wasn’t broken. Naturally, I was curious. I opened the back door and started looking for fragments of glass…”

James didn’t find any glass. Whoever repaired his window did a really good job cleaning up. When James got back to his kitchen, it smelled like something was burning. James quickly turned off the burner under the kettle and rushed the kettle into the sink. It hissed loudly when he poured water over it. James removed his burned toast from the toaster oven and gave up on breakfast. He sat at his table, thinking what to do next. He reviewed the facts: he shot someone two nights ago, last night Brian broke his window, this morning the window was fine. Things weren’t adding up.

James pulled out his ironing board and began to iron his clothes. He started with his shirts. First he drenched them in starch then neatly pressed them with the steaming iron until all the edges were crisp and sharp. “Sharp enough to cut through the red tape”, a fellow officer joked. After an hour of ironing, or about three shirts, there was a knock on the door. James put the iron in its stand and walked through his kitchen over to his white front door. He looked out the peephole and saw a boy in a blue and brown striped polo and khaki pants. He wrenched the door open. “What do you want?” He said.

“Hi!” Brian said. “I’m really sorry about yesterday. I repaired your window.” James gave Brian a double-barrelled glare. “Um… Well, I think we should talk about last night.”

James stepped stiffly to one side of the open door. “Be my guest.” He said in an inhospitable way.

“Sure. Uh, thanks.” Brian stepped cautiously in, keeping his eyes down but always towards Officer James. James motioned to one of the metal kitchen chairs then grabbed his iron and started back on his fourth shirt. Brian sat staring at the yellow and white checkered plastic table cloth for a few moments. “I was in a really bad mood last night. I wanted to start a fight.” Brian placed his left leg on top on his right and sighed. “I waited outside Sneaker’s for hours before I saw anyone come out that I thought I could fight.”

“Me?” James said, pressing the iron into a particularly persistent wrinkle.

“Yeah.” Brian said slowly. “I saw you go in, and I thought, ‘what the Hell, I can take him.’ Luckily you double parked so I beat on your tire when I saw you come out. Looked like you were beating yourself up about something – adults always are – so I said ‘You never do.’ I learned that from my mom. Kills dad whenever she says it. He always takes it the worst way.” Brian paused.

James nodded. “My mom used to say that all the time.”

“Whatever. So, I saw that it hit you, and you were already pissed. Then I started getting scared, right? I thought, ‘Shit, this guy’s probably shot people. What am I doing?’” Brian kept staring at the checker table. James stared ahead. “Then you pushed past me and I thought, ‘This guy’s probably shot people.’ I got pissed. Some chump copper killed my friend last night. So I rocked your window.”

James smelled smoke. He looked down and saw an iron shaped hole in his shirt. His face turned red. “Get out.” Brian looked up. “Get out!” Brian stared at the clean cut man, motioning with a hot iron. “GET OUT!” James roared. Brian jumped to his feet, overturning his chair and ran. He looked back at James and slammed into door. James ran at him, flung the door, and screamed. “Get out of here! You, you…” James paused, nostrils flaring. “GET OUT!!!” Brian scrambled out the door. James slammed it shut.

“So then I got a call three hours later.” James said, shuffling the last few bites of steak into his mouth. “It was the Chief of Police. Asks me to come in, talk to the headshrinker. Fine. Normal protocol, right? So I go in, and he starts asking me weird questions. Who was I talking to last night outside Sneaker’s? Who was I yelling at that morning?”

Harry wiped his hands with his napkin. “Why was he asking that? It was just some dumb kid, right?”

“Yeah.” James said, grabbing a piece of bread and mopping up the steak juices. “Well, not quite.” He took a bite of bread and chewed. “Turns out a couple of my fellow officers saw me walk out to my Tahoe last night and start gabbing at nothing. Then my neighbor told another of my friends that I was yelling at someone to get out then slammed the door. No one was there.”

“Spooky.” Harry said. He took a sip of his water.

“Very. So the Chief tells me to come up here, says he knows the air will do me some good. ‘Who knows?’ He said. ‘You might meet someone to talk it out with.’” James shrugged and looked out the window. The snow was falling in clumps now. Almost every inch of the mud road was covered in white.

Harry cleared his throat. “Looks like Chief Martinez was right about one thing. You did find someone to talk to.”

James nodded. “You know the Chief?”

“Personal friend. Calls me up every now and then and tells me to ride the train.” Harry said. He picked up the check and stuck a couple bills on it. “I’ll foot the bill for you today.”

“Thanks.” James said. “You ready?” He stood and put on his nearly dry jacket. He zipped it up and buttoned the top and bottom brass buttons to keep out the wind.

Harry nodded, grabbed his jacket and zipped it halfway up. “Have a good ride back, James. I’m taking the bus back today.

"Thanks, I guess."

Harry inclined his head forward, then walked into the snowstorm, leaving imprints in the fresh powder.

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