Chapter 1

 

“HEADING OUT on patrol?” Red asked as JD Burnside stopped to grab his coat and hat before going outside. Red looked him over and shook his head. “Here. You’re going to need these gloves, and put on an extra pair of socks.”

“It’s only November…,” JD said, getting a little worried.

“Maybe, but the wind will go right through you, and they have you on foot patrol in the square. That cold concrete is going to leach the heat right out through your shoes unless you have something extra on.”

JD sighed and sat back down in the locker room, going through his things until he came up with a second pair of socks. He slipped off his boots and pulled them on. Instantly his feet began to sweat, but he ignored it and pulled on his now-tight boots. “Is there anything else I should know?”

“Be sure to keep your citation book handy. Fallfest is just winding down, and everyone should be going home, but that also means the heavy-duty revelers will take it into the bars, so be on the lookout for people weaving and bobbing. We don’t want them driving home.”

“Is that why I’m supposed to be outside in god-awful weather like this instead of tucked in a nice warm patrol car like a regular person?” At least the patrol car would have heat. JD had not gotten used to the weather up in Central Pennsylvania, and he was beginning to realize that his first winter here was going to be hard as hell to get through.

“We always have someone visible to deter drunk driving. I did it two years ago, and Carter had the glorious honor last year. It’s only for a day, and all you need to do is keep yourself warm and your eyes open. Everyone will empty out in three or four hours, and then you can come on back and grab a patrol car. These are always interesting evenings.”

“Yeah?” JD inquired as he got to his feet.

Red grinned. “A few years ago, they had this cow parade thing where artists decorated fiberglass cows and they put them around the area. There were four of them in town, and one was on the square. That year we had someone decide it was a bull and that he was going to ride it… buck naked in the middle of town.” Red began to laugh. “By the time we got to him, he’d turned half-blue and all his friends were getting ready to take their turn. We stopped them before the entire crowd turned into a streak-fest.”

“What happened to the naked guy?”

“We hauled him away for indecent exposure, and he got a fine. The thing is, this may be a small town, but we have some crazies when they drink. So keep an eye out and call if you see anything. I’ll be around and will stop by to check on you.”

JD thanked Red for his help and the story, which had brightened his mood a little. He made sure he had everything and slammed his locker closed before leaving the station and heading out through town toward the square.

He was a block away from the square. When he arrived, he glanced up at the clock tower on the old courthouse to check the time.

“Assault in progress, courthouse common” came through his radio.

JD responded and raced forward, heart pounding. He rounded the courthouse and saw a group of three college students crowded around one of the benches.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, old man?” one of the boys was yelling, the sound carrying through the square. The others yelled as well.

“What’s going on?” JD projected in his best police voice. The students backed away, hands exposed, which JD liked. At least they didn’t seem to be a threat to him.

“This old guy was about to take a leak on the veterans’ memorial,” said the kid who’d been doing the yelling. “We sat him down and were trying to talk to him, but he tried to hit Hooper here.” He took a further step back and gave JD room. A man in his late sixties, if JD had to guess, sat on the bench, shaking like a leaf. The front of his pants was wet, and he smelled. When JD touched him, the man felt cold, and he continued to shiver. JD tried more than once to get the man to look at him, and when he finally did, his eyes were vacant and half-lidded.

“I need an ambulance on High Street next to the old courthouse,” JD called in. The man continued to shiver and shake. This wasn’t just from the cold. The scent of alcohol permeated even the mess he’d made of himself. The man needed help.

“Is he going to be all right?” Hooper asked. “We didn’t hurt him or anything. He was going to take a leak right there on the memorial, and we tried to stop him and help him sit down, but he swung at me and nearly fell.” The kid seemed upset. His eyes were as big as saucers.

“Did he hit you?” JD asked.

“No. He was too slow. But David here, the big idiot, started yelling, and that must have been what you heard.”

“How much have you had to drink?” JD asked David.

“Enough to know I won’t be driving,” David answered with blinky eyes.

“None of you had better,” JD advised.

“I’m their ride,” Hooper said. “I hate the taste of the stuff, so they buy me food and Cokes, and I drive the idiots home.” One of Hooper’s friends bumped him on the shoulder.

JD turned back to the old man, who was rocking slightly from side to side. JD tried to get his name, but he was becoming more and more unresponsive. JD got the students’ information and sent them on their way. He could check with them if he needed to, but what they’d said rang true.

There must have been plenty of calls already, but an ambulance finally arrived and they got the man settled into it. He didn’t have any identification on him. JD made sure to get the information he could, and then the EMTs took the man to the hospital.

At least during that excitement he hadn’t had a chance to be cold. Once the ambulance pulled away, the square turned quiet. Dry leaves rustled in the trees, and wisps flashed in the lights that lit the side of the old courthouse. JD shivered when he realized those wisps were snow. God, he was going to freeze to death here.

JD pushed that thought aside and walked around the square, then along the side streets, watching for trouble. He passed a few people still huddled on the benches, but he figured they’d soon give up and head on home.

Now that the streets were no longer blocked off for the festival, traffic continued flowing through the main intersection, as it usually did. JD returned to the intersection, crossed High Street and then Hanover, then continued around to the narrow side street that ran next to one of the churches on the square. He hated that street. It wasn’t well lit and there were plenty of shadows.

He peered down to check for movement and was preparing to move on when Red pulled up in a patrol car. JD opened the passenger door and got inside.

“I saw you heading this way and thought we could take a ride for a while,” Red said.

JD was eternally grateful as he soaked up the heat inside the car. “I hate that street.”

“We all do. The chief is going to demand a streetlight. The church has been fighting it because they say it will mess up the light coming in from the stained-glass windows or something. But lately it’s become a real hazard.” Red put the car in gear and made the turn, slowly rolling down the street.

At the slight bend, two figures raced out of a corner and took off down the street toward the church’s back parking lot. Red flipped on his lights while JD jumped out and took off on foot. Red raced past him to try to head the men off.

JD was fast. He had run track in high school and college, and no street punk was going to outrun him. He pounded the pavement, feet racing. One of the men dodged and got away once, but when he tried it again, JD was ready and grabbed the back of his coat, yanking the man to a stop.

He fell to the ground and rolled. JD stayed on his feet, and when the man stopped rolling, JD knelt and placed his knee on his back.

“I wasn’t doing nothing,” the man protested.

“Yeah, I’m sure,” JD said as Red pulled up.

“The other one got away,” Red said angrily.

“This one was throwing things out of his pocket as he ran,” JD said, pointing back the way they’d come.

“Oh man. You going to try to pin shit on me now?” the man asked as he shifted on the ground.

JD cuffed him and made sure he was secure. “Nope. I’m going to make sure you get what you’ve got coming to you.” JD watched as Red carefully photographed and tagged what had been thrown aside. The law had been the family profession for generations, so JD had decided to become a police officer. But once he’d started down the path, he’d discovered a love of fair play, protecting others, and enforcing the law. Maybe it was genetic? He wasn’t sure.

Other sirens sounded, and soon two more cars joined them, bathing JD and the suspect in headlights.

“What have we here?” Aaron Cloud, one of the detectives, asked as he got out of his car.

“Cocaine, by the looks of it,” Red answered. “Enough of it that he’s going to be doing some long, hard time.”

“That ain’t mine,” the suspect said.

JD shook his head. “I saw him throwing it out of his pockets, with his bare hands, as I chased him. It was his. His prints will be on the bags.” The guy must be an idiot.

“Go ahead and read him his rights. We’ll take him down to the station.”

“There was another man with him,” Red said. “JD here jumped out of the car when we saw him, took off like a shot, and got this guy. I followed the other man, but he ran between the houses over there and disappeared across High Street.”

“We’ll find out who he was,” Aaron said, looking down at the suspect. “Won’t we?” The menacing tone Aaron used had the guy shaking a little. JD knew it was an act. Detective Cloud was a “by the book” kind of guy, but if he hadn’t been a police officer, he could have had a career in Hollywood.

Aaron took custody of the suspect, and JD helped Red confirm they had found everything that had been thrown by their suspect before driving to the station.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been so grateful for a drug bust in my life,” JD said as they rode, the wipers swishing back and forth to wipe the falling snow from the windshield.

They passed the square slowly. JD turned when he saw movement. A man stood up from one of the benches and slowly walked away. “Are there always people on those benches? They have to be freezing in this weather.”

“Yeah. People sit there all day long. They have their favorite spots, and heaven help anyone who tries to take it. Mostly people just pass them by and don’t really notice them.” Red made the turn and continued to the station. JD pulled his mind away from the bench sitters back to the report he was going to have to help write.

At least the station was warm. JD went to his desk and got to work putting together his statement of events.

“You did good,” Red told him as he passed. “Though I don’t recommend jumping out of moving cars every day.”

“Did we get any information out of him?” JD asked.

“Aaron is leaning on him pretty hard. He’ll probably lawyer up pretty soon, but he says the other guy was just a customer,” Red explained, which was what JD had figured. At least they got the dealer this time. Usually it was the other way around. “Did you send in your statement?”

JD nodded and stood up. It was time for him to go back out on patrol. At least this time of night he’d have a vehicle. “I’ll head out with you.” Red walked him to the parking lot, and they got in their respective cars. “Stay safe.”

“You too.” JD started the engine, then pulled out of the lot. He drove through town and turned into the same side street he and Red had gone down earlier. It was empty this time, and he continued on.

The snow was getting heavier, and he drove carefully as visibility got worse and the streets more slippery. Toward the end of his shift, he made one last tour of town. He passed the square and saw a single figure on one of the benches in the courthouse square. JD knew there was nothing wrong with sitting on the bench, but it was after eleven and cold as hell. He pulled to the side of the street and got out, then walked up to the man.

He was hunched and curled into his coat, arms wrapped around himself, chin to his chest.

“Sir, are you all right?”

The man looked up and then lowered his gaze once again, saying nothing.

“Sir, is something wrong? It’s way too late and too cold to be out here. You should head on home.”

“I’m fine. Doesn’t matter, anyway. No one cares.” He lowered his gaze once again and continued sitting where he was.

“You’ll be a lot warmer and safer if you go home.” JD was becoming concerned. “I can help if you like? Can you tell me where you live?”

“Of course I can. But it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.” He got to his feet. He seemed steady enough. “People are crap, you know that? Everyone takes advantage of everyone else, and no one gives a crap about it.” He took a few steps, weaving slightly, and then he straightened up and headed off toward the courthouse. “No one cares about anything or anyone.”

“Do you need some help?” JD asked.

“No. There’s nothing you can do.” He walked off and JD watched him go. Something wasn’t right, but he was cold and the guy seemed harmless enough. JD went back to his car and slowly drove down the road. He saw where the man turned, and then watched as he went inside one of the apartment buildings in the first block of Pomfret.

His phone rang, so JD pulled to a stop before answering it. “You heading back to the station?” Red asked.

“Yeah.” He checked the time.

“Terry is going to meet me at Applebee’s. They’re still open, and we can get something to eat.” Red had been nice enough to befriend him when he’d joined the force six months earlier.

“Sounds good. Let me get back and finish up. I’ll meet you there.”

JD drove back to the station, checked in, and then left. The snow barely covered the ground, but it was enough to make him itchier about driving. He knew people here didn’t think too much about a little snow, but he’d rarely driven in it back home. As he clutched the wheel, he tried to remember the last time he’d actually driven in snow. It must have been four or five years ago.

JD approached Hanover Street and saw a hunched figure walking back toward the square. JD knew he was off duty, but he turned left instead of right anyway. He watched as the man went back to the same bench and sat down. There was something very wrong.

JD pulled off the road, then got out and jogged across the street to where the man sat. “I thought you’d gone home,” JD said gently.

“This is my bench. I like it here.”

“Dude, it’s really cold, and you’re going to get sick.” JD helped him to his feet. “It’s also really late. You need to get home where it’s safe and warm.” He hoped the guy wasn’t sick, but he couldn’t leave him out in this weather. “When was the last time you ate?”

The man shrugged. JD looked at his arm, checking for a medical bracelet. He’d had a friend who acted like this sometimes, a little loopy and strange. He’d been diabetic, and when his blood sugar got wacky, he’d act really out of it. “Why don’t you come with me, and I’ll see about getting you something to eat.”

“Okay,” the man agreed, and JD helped him walk across the street. He got him into the car, wondering what Red was going to think when he showed up with a stranger. The guy sat quietly, lightly fidgeting with his hands as JD drove to the edge of town and pulled into the restaurant parking lot.

“Let’s get you something to eat, and then maybe you’ll feel better.” JD had committed himself now. He’d crossed a line between officer and public a long time ago—and if this turned out badly, he could be in a hell of a lot of trouble—but something told him the guy wasn’t dangerous, just a little confused.

He parked and they got out, the man following docilely.

Red met him at the restaurant door, staring quizzically. “Who’s this?”

“He’s….” Shit, how was he going to explain this? “A guy who needs some help.”

Red turned slightly, looking at JD like he’d truly lost his mind. “Is that some Southern thing?” Red asked.

“It’s a human thing,” JD answered.