A Favorable Favor

A Favorable Favor

by Brendan Dubois

GO BACK TO SHORT STORIES PAGE

In my line of work, as the only woman private investigator in a remote area of New Hampshire, I have certain hard-and-fast rules when it comes to my clientele.

First rule is, nothing illegal. Which means no burning down a neighbor’s barn over a land dispute, or trying to arrange a hit on a cheating wife or husband, or planting drugs in a bullying older brother’s car trunk so an anonymous phone call would result in him being sent to the state prison in Concord. This also means a thin client list, but at least one that won’t keep me up at night.

The second rule is, payment up front. Despite promises of income-tax refunds in the mail, small-claims court settlements in the mail, and other bits of monetary windfall in the mail, I never allow any client to hire me on credit. Not that I didn’t make that mistake during the first few months after getting my P.I. license, but after several weeks of living on noodles and rice and hoping the PSNH truck wouldn’t stop at my house to pull the power plug, I learned.

And rule three concerns male clients. Whenever a male client enters my office, I open up the center drawer of my desk, revealing the usual and customary office paperwork, and—the not-so-usual and customary stainless steel Ruger .357 revolver resting within. I’ve always performed this little task from the beginning, since males coming to see a private investigator—and especially a female P.I.—are often under some unique forms of stress, and I’ve always been one who believes that while stress on your part is fine, expressing it on one of my body parts is definitely not fine.

Only once—before today—had I ignored this particular rule. About a year into my new business, a sweet old man, dressed in a gray wool suit and red bowtie, came into my office, leaning on a cane. He sat there, smelling of peppermint, passing the time, and when he wanted to hire me to give him a massage and I gently declined, he nodded, stood up and whacked me up the side of the head with his cane. No stitches, but plenty of blood, and ever since then, somebody coming in bearing Y chromosomes means the center drawer opens up.

 

Except for today, at my small office, which has gilt lettering on the glass door that reads K.C. DUNBAR INVESTIGATIONS.

And why was today any different?

Well, when the male client is the police chief of your town, secretly handling a loaded handgun in his presence doesn’t seem to be the brightest move to make.

Bryant Hughes came in looking sheepish. He had on a dark-blue uniform, the usual leather holster, belt and jangling keys hanging off the side. He was a beefy five-foot-ten or so, with a thickness about the gut that told of too many hours sitting on the couch with a beer in one hand and a remote in the other. His face was flushed, and his thick black hair was combed back, the color matching his mustache. He nodded as he came in, his presence almost overwhelming my office, at the moment consisting of a desk, phone, three chairs, computer and two three-drawer filing cabinets with good solid locks. The window behind me overlooks a set of abandoned B&M railroad tracks and some marshland, and the front glass door gives a nice view of thePurmort grass common, once you get past the aforementioned gold-leaf lettering.

“Karen,” he said, taking one of the chairs. I moved my hand from the closed center drawer and said, “Chief. What can I do for you today?”

He looked around for a moment, as if checking to make sure none of the town’s three selectmen were skulking, in a corner or something. There are police chiefs and then there are police chiefs. From the handful of times I’ve broken bread and chatted things up with my competition in the rest of the Granite State, I know the differences in police officials that P.I.s can run into while doing their jobs. Some police departments won’t give any information out unless you make an appointment a month in advance and come bearing a cashier’s check to help offset any expenses. And then there are those that give you a spare desk and chair in their records department and give you the run of the place.

Bryant falls in between these two categories. While not particularly overindulgent in granting me favors, he’d always been professional and a reasonable guy to work with.

Which is why I found his presence so damn disconcerting. My last bit of official business with the Purmort police department was getting a copy of a motor vehicle accident report—a stunning piece of investigative work that took all of 10 minutes, and for which I billed the insurance company a full hour. But that had been months ago; there was no clear reason for Bryant to be here now.

Bryant looked around again and said, “I … I need your help.”

Well, that was a first. I played around with a pen on my desk and said, “Sure, I’d be glad to help out. What do you need?”

The sheepish look on his face got deeper. “This is confidential, right?”

“Absolutely,” I said. Maybe not technically, but if he wanted confidentiality, he got it. “What can I do for you?”

He wiped at his mustache, coughed and said, “Can’t believe I’m actually saying this. Karen, I need you to find my daughter.”

Now I knew why he was here.

I picked up a clean legal pad and the pen and said, “Chief, before we start, well, this seems a bit out of my league. You have all the resources of the state behind you. One word from you to the state police and other police departments around here, and they’ll all be looking for her.”

A shake of the head. “No, I don’t want to do that—and damn, I guess I didn’t speak right. I know where she is. I just want you to make sure she’s there, and then get her home.”

I eyed him as I toyed with the pen. “Tell me what you can, then.”

He shifted in his seat, the leather gear creaking some. “Her name is Carla. She’s seventeen. She’s … she’s a runaway. She’s done it before and has always come home in the past. But this time it’s been almost a month. Maureen, my wife, she’s frantic. And I have a pretty good idea where she is.”

“And where’s that?”

“With her idiot boyfriend, Logan Duprey. From up in Montcalm. Twenty years old, lives in a double-wide out on Timberswamp Road. Number fourteen.”

Kept on toying with the pen. A nervous little tic, I know, but at least I recognized it for what it was. “Chief, I’m sorry. I still don’t understand how I can help. If you know she’s up there, why don’t you just go there and get her yourself? Or have the Montcalm police help you out?”

By then, the poor guy looked miserable, leaning forward, rubbing his big hands together. “It’s … it’s like this. This uniform of mine opens up a lot of doors, gets me into places other people usually can’t go. But it’s also a trap. If I was just an insurance adjuster or lawyer or something else, I could go in and deal with it, do whatever I had to do, and no problem. Who would care? But I’m a police chief. If I do anything—anything at all that’s even a bit controversial—I got the selectmen watching over me, plus the newspapers. Can you imagine the newspaper coverage I’d get if I went up there and tried to get Carla, and a fight or something broke out?”

“So what do you want me to do?” I asked, though by then I pretty much knew the damn answer.

He kept on rubbing his hands together. “What I need, if you agree, is for you to just go there and get her out. Take her back home. Tell her we’ll work it out, that her mother and me miss her very much. Can you do it? Can you?”

I hesitated. For only a few seconds, but they seemed long seconds. I could see a variety of outcomes, from me going to get her and having her tearfully join me in coming home, up to and including running into the boyfriend, and having him fly into a rage against me fueled by beer and firearms.

But this was the chief of police before me. Doing this would put a huge deposit in the favor bank, something I could draw down when the time came, and damn, it was like he read my mind, because he said, “A favor, Karen. This would be a hell of a favor.”

But it wasn’t just the favor quotient. Something else tugged at my heart: seeing a police chief, usually all bluff and bluster, nightstick, pistol and cuffs, but now, here, just a dad who wanted his daughter back.

I nodded. “Okay. I’ll do it.”

Fifteen minutes later, when Bryant had gone, my head was spinning. After getting the information about Carla and a picture of her and a description of her boyfriend, I had brought up the issue of compensation. His face flushed and he said, “Karen, I was sort of hoping we could do this off the books. Maureen, my wife, she doesn’t know I came here and well, you know …”

Sure. No payment, just that hefty deposit in the favor bank.

So after he left, I swung around in my swivel chair, looked at my walls, nearly bare save for a framed print of Mount Washington, my license from the N.H. Department of Safety, and an award I received in a previous life from the New England Press Association. I recalled my three hard-and-fast rules and realized with a touch of horror that I had violated all three of them in the space of 15 minutes.

For I had not opened my center drawer when a male came in, I had agreed to do a job without payment, and while it probably wasn’t illegal, doing this job was certainly skating to the very, very edge. If retrieving the chief’s daughter went south on me, then I could face kidnapping charges, which, being a federal offense, would mean attention from the FBI. And although I admire them for much of what they do, I had a recent run-in with a local special agent who didn’t appreciate my charm and feminine approach to the business. I could just imagine the pleasure he’d take in arresting me.

So: 15 minutes, three broken rules, one hell of an accomplishment. I decided it was time to call it a day and go home to the man in my life.

Dinner was a bowl of fettuccine Alfredo, balanced on my tummy, sitting on the couch, legs stretched out on a coffee table, watching one of those cable network judges who dispense justice in thrilling cases of pets run astray or hairstyles gone bad. Roscoe sat beside me, grooming himself and waiting for me to finish so he could lick the bowl.

“So,” I said to my black-and-white cat, about the size of a raccoon and occasionally with the temperament of an old man upset that Jeopardy has been cancelled on his local cable station. “Police chief comes into office. Makes unusual request, for no payment. I agree to fulfill said request. What does that mean? Am I getting light in the brain department? Time to pull the plug? Time to do something else besides sitting at home alone, talking to my cat?”

I finished off the fettuccine, wiped at my chin with a napkin, and picked up my glass of wine. Roscoe looked at me intently. “You know, if I were to die now, can you imagine how my obituary would read? Single woman found dead in her home, accompanied by moody cat.”

I passed over the empty bowl, let him lick for a few moments, then took it back. It was one thing to spoil him; I didn’t want him to get so fat he couldn’t move around.

“But I don’t intend to die right now. I’ve got a lot going on, and part of that going on is doing a favor for the chief. Downside? Possibly losing my license, getting arrested by the Montcalm police, and being featured in poor light in the local paper. Not a good way to build your customer base.”

I finished my wine, looked at the television—where justice, or a form of it, had been dispatched in just under 15 minutes—and set the empty glass on the coffee table. “The upside? A huge deposit in the favor bank. Meaning, not only would I get cooperation from the chief on my future local endeavors, but if I ever ran into a roadblock with any other police agency in the state—and even parts of Vermont—one phone call from the chief would clear the way. And having such power at my fingertips would mean a leg up on my competition.”

Hell of an upside.

Still … why did I have the cold, queasy feeling I was going someplace I shouldn’t?

“Roscoe. What do you think?”

My fickle companion leapt from the couch to the coffee table, where he attempted to lower a paw into my wine glass. I reached over and picked him up and placed him in my lap. I stroked his fur. “Have to do it right. Am I correct, buddy?”

Roscoe showed his affection by being a perfect lap cat for about five seconds before jumping down and heading to his water bowl.

Good ol’ Roscoe. Always knew which way to jump when the time was right.

I wished I had that same talent.

The following day I was in the next town over, Montcalm, traveling up Timberswamp Road in my Ford Explorer. The first half-mile was paved, after departing Route 112, and then it changed to dirt. Largely unpublicized in the glossy magazines about quaint and curious New England is that a large number of country roads remain dirt. The towns in this part of the state are fairly poor, which means most of the rural roads haven’t been paved. Twice a year they get graded and that’s about it.

Another part of the picture people often miss is the soul-grinding poverty, out here beyond the white church steeples and little shops selling gourmet coffee for 20 dollars a pound. The homes are usually trailers, pre-fab double-wides dumped on a concrete slab, or foundations with one habitable room where dad works on weekends and holidays to install plumbing or put up a frame for the first and second stories. Still, the land and the property taxes are relatively cheap, so there you go. In this part of the world, there are no large housing projects, apartment houses or tenement buildings. So people make do.

I drove up along the road until I reached number 14 and slowed down a bit. I saw a black mailbox, tilted to one side, with the numerals 1 and 4 painted white on the side. A dirt driveway on the right led off to a double-wide trailer, the color of old coffee. I kept on driving for a few minutes, running things through my mind. Despite the warm spring day, I felt a chill.

Up ahead was a wide spot in the road, and I turned around. There were other homes, other farms out here, some with a few chickens or sheep or goats in a fenced-in yard. I put my truck in park, thought things over, then drove back down to number 14. As remote as it was out here, it was the type of place where strange vehicles on the road were noticed, so I knew I wouldn’t have much time before I’d be spotted by a neighbor—and before the Timberswamp Road telephone relay team got into action, and reported that a Ford Explorer was trundling up and down the road without stopping. Which meant said Explorer was checking things out, was being suspect …

No time to be suspect.

I stopped in front of the dirt driveway and parked the Explorer. I rummaged around in the back for a moment and then stepped out. I now was wearing a long-brimmed baseball cap with the Audubon Society’s logo on it and was carrying a small knapsack over one shoulder, a pair of binoculars slung over the other. Strange men—especially those bearing private investigators’ licenses—always get noticed in neighborhoods, no matter how rural. Strange women are noticed as well, but if they’re pretending to be census takers, soap vendors or birdwatchers, then they’re usually ignored.

I walked up the dirt driveway. There are driveways and then there are driveways. Really good dirt driveways have a nice base of gravel, with a shallow drainage ditch on each side, and the brush and vegetation are cleared away about a yard in either direction.

This driveway wasn’t one of those.

It looked like someone took a bulldozer or grader and merely scraped away the top level of soil, grass and saplings, leaving a rough and bumpy scar on the ground that would turn to mud every spring or fall.

Up ahead was the double-wide, a pre-fabricated house that was probably dragged in here some time ago and dropped on a concrete slab. The lawn was a muddy, grassless patch; an ATV was parked to the side, its big wheels muddy as well; and there was a mess of trash bags, piles of rock, rusting tools and rotting lumber tossed around the yard. It was as if an evil twin of Martha Stewart had been landscaping. The door was unpainted, and there was a set of concrete steps before it, one of the steps hosting an orange flowerpot that was growing a mess of weeds.

From the house there was music, some low type of country that had some serious thumping bass going for it. I was making my way around the side of the house when I spotted him through the large living room window.

He was bare-chested, wearing sweatpants and boxing gloves, and he was pounding the crap out of an Everlast punching bag suspended from the ceiling. Some people like having dining room sets or big-screen televisions in their living room, but this place didn’t look like it belonged to some people.

Nope, it belonged to one Logan Duprey, boyfriend of the police chief’s daughter, apparent amateur boxer and one seriously irritated individual. While it was easy to decipher that he was into boxing, it took the mind of a detective to deduce that he was ticked off, for right then and there, he looked out the window and straight at me. Menacingly.

So. I stood my ground. The door flew open, and I looked behind him and saw lots of studwork and bare plaster. Logan stepped out of his home-in-progress and said, “What the hell do you want?”

He was well-muscled, with short black hair, now with one boxing glove dangling off his hand, the other glove stuck under an armpit. He had tattoos up both arms and over his chest, a style that’s popular among some but not for me. Dark-blue sweatpants and black sneakers finished off his ensemble.

In a bright, chirpy voice, I said, “Oh, I hope I’m not intruding. I’m doing a bit of birding and saw the most amazing Pileated Woodpecker come up your driveway.”

He seemed to struggle with what I’d said. He acted as if a visitor from another dimension had suddenly appeared, speaking Sanskrit. He shook his head, “This is private property, okay? And you’re screwing up my training time.”

I kept up the smile and chirpy voice. “Sir, if I can just bother you one more moment, I’m the membership chair for our local birdwatching chapter, and we’re offering free memberships to women of all ages, and if the lady of the house is available, I’d like to talk to her and—”

“She ain’t here,” he said, glaring at me, “and I don’t want you here, too. So get the hell out.”

He stepped back, slammed the door, and in a moment he was back in the living room. But he wasn’t taking his anger out on the punching bag. Nope, he was staring right at me again.

My, this was going to be interesting. I gave him a cheerful wave and then left, walking back down the driveway with the little knapsack thumping against my back, and I wondered if young Logan Duprey would have been so rude to me if he knew the weaponry I was carrying in that little knapsack. Besides my .357 revolver, there were also handcuffs, pepper spray, and an extendable police-style baton that is great for whacking knee and elbow joints.

So maybe he would have been more polite.

Maybe.

But I wasn’t counting on it.

About 12 hours later, I was back on Logan Duprey’s land, but this time I wasn’t dressed up as Local Amateur Ornithologist with Her Head in the Clouds. This time, I was dressed as Rough and Tough Female P.I., which meant black jeans, black sneakers and black sweatshirt. I was in a little stand of brush and birch trees, keeping watch on the Duprey estate.

This time a dark-blue Ford Escort was parked in front of the double-wide. My own Ford motoring product was about 50 yards behind me, parked in a set of woods on a path that wasn’t even a dirt road, but which was maneuverable with my vehicle’s four-wheel drive. The Ford product in front of me, although not a four-wheeler, had suffered more than my own set of wheels had. The front fender had been stove in, and it looked like the rear bumper and tail light were being held onto the frame by duct tape.

About a half-hour earlier, young Carla Hughes had arrived home, wearing the uniform of a hamburger chain, and also the expression of one who had been on her feet for too long, smelling too much grease and disappointment. She had walked up to the trailer, went to the door and tried the handle.

Locked, it seemed.

She fumbled around in her bag for a moment, and after saying a string of words that her police chief father would disapprove of, she pounded on the door. “Logan! I forgot my keys again! Open up, will ya?”

No answer from the inside, no doubt because the music was still thumping loudly. Carla muttered a few words, retrieved a key from the flowerpot, unlocked the door, replaced the key and went inside.

I rubbed at my chin. Goal tonight was to do a little recon, try to establish some sort of pattern, because I didn’t want to try to talk to Carla with Logan in the way. He seemed over-muscled and too over-tempered to let me, and I didn’t think a cheerful heart-to-heart talk with him about the desire of dad and mom to get their daughter back would work either. If I could discover a pattern, a schedule, and then get Carla alone, I might be able to persuade her. Maybe use that older-woman-symbol-of-sisterhood gig with her, try to convince her that coming home would be best for everyone.

Well, that had been the plan, until the screaming started.

At first I wasn’t sure what I was hearing. Then the music stopped. The yelling, and the screaming, grew louder. Add to that a muffled sound that seemed like punches being landed on flesh.

I hesitated. Thought about my cell phone. Quick call to the Montcalm police and—

Sure. Do we have cell phone coverage out here? And if the 911 call got through, what then? At this time of night, Montcalm had maybe one cop on duty. So it would be 10 or 15 minutes before he or she got here, that is if he or she wasn’t tied up with a traffic accident or a break-in or . . .

The screams, the yells, grew louder.

“Damn,” I said in the darkness, and got up with my gear and sprinted to the house.

The front door was locked, of course—paranoia on Logan’s part, perhaps from taking a few too many steroids?—but I reached into the dry soil of the flowerpot, grabbed the sharp metal of the key, and got the door open. In the grease- and sweat-smelling hallway the noises grew louder, followed by an even louder thump, as that of a body falling to the floor. I turned left into the open living room.

The Everlast punching bag was still there, hanging from the ceiling. On the wood floor, fighting mats and other boxing gear were spread around. Logan was leaning over some of it, sweaty, fists clenched, still shirtless. Sprawled out on the floor, now wearing sweats and a T-shirt, was a very frightened-looking Carla. She looked up at me. Logan, now realizing there was a visitor to his little punch pad, turned to me, face red, breathing hard, fists clenched.

“You—what the hell are you doing here? You break in? Huh? Did you break in?”

I ignored him, looked to Carla, and said, “Honey, get up. I’m getting you out of here. Your dad and mom sent me.”

That set Logan off. “The hell you are! Nobody’s taking her away, nobody!”

He came at me, lunging across the floor, but I guessed he wasn’t used to women who didn’t back away or cower, and I turned to meet him, quickly shrugging my knapsack off my shoulder. I had opened the zipper while I was hanging out in the birch trees, and by the time he got a few steps toward me, I had my 24-inch extendable police baton in hand. He was another step closer when I flicked it open with a snap of my wrist. The trick was not to hit him in the arms or torso or face. It was to neutralize the threat by getting him on the floor, which I did with two quick blows to his knees.

He went down with pit bull snarls. I went to Carla. I’d like to say she leapt into my arms, crying with gratitude; but no, as in the sad case of so many women who stand by their man no matter what, she started screaming at me as well, refusing to get up, refusing to be rescued.

Crap.

No time for much of anything, because a bruised and very upset Logan was trying to get up off the floor. So I did the best I could, which was to go into my bag of tricks, pull out a set of handcuffs and cuff one of my wrists to Carla’s. Then I got her to her feet. Logan was right behind her in the on-the-feet part, so I went at him again, once to a knee, the other time to the chest—to knock some air out of him—and with all the yelling and screaming on everyone’s part, it was amazing I was able to drag Carla out of the house.

“Carla,” I said, “shut up and stop fighting me, all right?”

And for some reason, the screaming stopped, though not the crying, and now with the knapsack back on my shoulder, a flashlight in hand, I dragged her through the brush and woods, back to my Explorer. When we got there, she said, “Look … I’m just … look, can we get the handcuffs off, please?”

So I took the small key, undid the cuff to my wrist, and then—

Surprise time.

She tried to run back to the house, but I tripped her to the ground. I caught both her hands, pulled them behind her back and snapped the cuffs. A lot more curses came my way from a teenage girl who should have known better, but in a couple more moments, she was in the front seat of my Explorer, fastened in with a seatbelt, cuffs and all.

I got in the driver’s side, started up the engine, and Carla said, “He’ll find you. Logan is good. He knows these woods, these roads. He’ll find you and get me back!”

I punched the accelerator, got out of the hiding place, and then was on the town dirt road, heading away from the double-wide. “Maybe he’ll get you back, but not tonight, hon. Not tonight.”

And so we drove into the darkness, the headlights cutting a path ahead of us.

I made a few turns here and there, and promptly got lost. Which was fine, for I thought if I had no idea where I was going, the upset boyfriend back there probably wouldn’t know how to follow me. As I drove, I looked over at my ward, sitting there sullenly, sniffing, nose dribbling snot down her chin. She saw me looking at her and said, “What? You a cop or something?”

“Or something. I’m a licensed private investigator. Your dad and mom sent me here to take you home.”

She snorted. “Yeah. Right.”

“No lie, Carla. I’ll show you my license if that’d make you feel any better.”

More sniffles. “You … you didn’t have to hurt him like that.”

“Yes I did, hon. Yes, I did.”

“Why?”

“Because he was coming to hurt me, just like he was hurting you, that’s why,” I said. “And that’s one thing I won’t stand for—a man hurting a woman, either me or someone else.”

“But he wasn’t hurting me!”

I glanced at her again, the poor young girl, snot on her chin, handcuffed in my front seat, the latest and maybe not greatest addition to the Stockholm Syndrome.

“Carla, I saw you. You were on the ground. He was over you. Fists clenched. And I heard you, too. The screaming. The yelling.”

“But he wasn’t hurting me!”

“Carla, look, I know it seems like it now, but when I get you back to—”

She kicked at the floorboard of my Ford. “Damn it, listen to me! He wasn’t hurting me!”

I slowed down. “All right, I’m listening to you. What do you call it then?”

“Training,” she spat out. “I was helping him train.”

We slowed some as I hit the brakes, and the Ford came to a stop on the deserted dirt road.

I shifted in my seat, looked at her. “Explain.”

She looked a bit scared. “You didn’t know?”

“Know what?”

She coughed. “I thought you said you were a private investigator. That you found things out. Didn’t you know about Logan before you came here?”

I opened my mouth to say something, firmly shut it. Talk about a life lesson learned, from a girl half my age. Sure, I knew a lot about Logan. From what I had seen, and from what her dad had told me. No bias there, eh?

Now I talked. “Sure. A bit. But you tell me, Carla. You tell me about Logan.”

She coughed again and leaned forward to ease the pressure on her handcuffed hands. “He’s in the state championships next week, for kickboxing. I was helping him train. That was the sounds you heard. Him hitting and me screaming, to encourage him. But this time—” and she giggled a bit “—he went too far, again. I slipped and fell on the floor.”

“But he was still hitting you, wasn’t he?”

“Well, yeah, but I was holding hand pads. Didn’t you see them?”

“They weren’t on your hands.”

“Of course not. They were on the floor. I had pulled them off to get up off the floor when you broke in.”

I said nothing, listening to her breathing, the engine running. “You said Logan is trying for state championship.”

She nodded. “That’s right. He’s got a good shot at winning it. And one of the judges, he’s a Hollywood producer.”

“A movie producer?”

“Oh hell, not one of the fancy studios, we know that. But a guy who does kung fu films, that sort of thing. He’s one of the judges, and part of the first prize is flying out to Hollywood, to be in his next movie. It’s a good break; Logan’s been training for it all these months. I work and pay the bills, give Logan time to train and focus. And we’re both going out to California if he wins.”

“You sure?”

Another quick nod. “He promised. And believe you me, a promise from Logan, it’s a guarantee.”

I waited another moment, and said, “Carla …”

“Yeah?”

“I’m going to take the handcuffs off of you, but only if you promise to tell me one more thing. And I’ll promise to do something myself.”

“What’s that?”

“Tell me about your dad.”

She leaned forward. “It’s a deal. And what’s your promise, then?”

I turned to her, key in hand. “If it all works out, I’ll apologize to Logan.”

The next day, the chief came back to my office with a big grin on his face. “Karen … I don’t know how to thank you. Honestly, I don’t believe it. You dropped her off last night and she apologized to me and Maureen, and it’s like she’s a new girl. What the hell did you do to make her change like that?”

I smiled sweetly at him and said, “I listened.”

That confused him for a moment as he sat down in the chair. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

“I said I listened. That’s what I did. And I learned a lot.”

Now I had gotten his attention. “Karen—”

I leaned back a bit in my own chair. “Like the reason she left home. Not because you beat her or kept an eight p.m. curfew or read her online diary. Nope, she left because you were ready to pack everyone up and move away. To Massachusetts. To a high-paying Homeland Security gig in Boston. And that’s why you wanted her home with you and your wife. The guy running that Boston office is a straight-and-narrow guy who loves family values and runs his office on said values. Having someone working for him who had a teenage daughter living in sin with a boyfriend wouldn’t have met his needs, would it? And you wouldn’t have gotten that job.”

Bryant’s face colored. “That’s none of your business.”

I leaned back even more. “Oh, it became my business when you told me to go fetch her. Which I did. But you left a few things out. Like Logan. Maybe he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he works hard at something he’s good at. He doesn’t drink or do drugs. And Carla. Sure, she’s seventeen. But in just over a month, she’s going to be eighteen. And then she can live anywhere she wants. Am I right?”

He stood up. “We’re done here. And don’t expect any payment. All right? And as for me doing you any favors in the future, forget it.”

“Oh,” I said. “You’ve already done me a favor, and you’re going to do me another one. If you get that job, you’re going to let Carla stay here until she turns eighteen, when she can move in with Logan without your say-so.”

“What the hell makes you think I’ll do that?” he said, his face really red now.

“Because if you don’t, I’ll e-mail a picture of your daughter and Logan, living in non-married bliss, to your new boss, and we’ll see how your employment prospects are.”

He stood there, a man in uniform, the police chief in my hometown, and I suddenly got the feeling I had better follow the speed limit on the local roads during the next several weeks.

“Why? Why are you sticking up for Carla like that?”

I looked straight at him. “Because I don’t like bullies, bullies who pick on women, bullies who can either be a husband or a boyfriend. Or a dad.”

There seemed to be a struggle with his temper going on behind that fleshy face of his, and the promise of moving up and out of Purmort seemed to win, for he kept his temper about him.

“All right,” he finally said, and headed to the door. Then he turned.

“The other one,” he said.

“What?”

“You said I had already done you a favor earlier,” Bryant said. “When did I do that?”

“Earlier,” I said, no longer leaning back in my chair. “When I took this job from you, I got sloppy. I trusted you. I didn’t do any background checking, didn’t do any real investigating. Just blundered into something I knew nothing about. Now I know better. You did me a favor, reminding me of the right way to do my job.

The chief muttered something that would have made at least two-thirds of the board of selectmen turn white with shock, and then he left, slamming the door behind him. It was so loud, I was sure the patrons and owners of the Italian restaurant next door had heard him.

And to the empty doorway, I said, “Thanks.”

And you know what?

I really meant it.

 

The END

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *