Chapter One

 

 

RED MARKHAM heard the call for backup through the radio, flipped on the flashing lights of his patrol car, and took off down High Street. He turned north and drove two blocks, going through the stop sign as quickly as he could. Red pulled to a stop behind the other squad car and unfolded himself from the seat. He could see over the hood what the problem was and strode over to where two other officers were struggling with a suspect.

“Get the hell away from me. I wasn’t doing nothing!” the suspect yelled at the top of his lungs, trying to yank his arm away from Smith. He managed it, too, and used the free hand to punch Rogers. “You have no right!” Smith got hold of him again. The guy wasn’t that large, but he was hopped up on something, that was for sure. When Red caught sight of his eyes, they were as big as saucers, red, dilated, and as wild as a feral cat’s.

“That’s enough!” Red snapped, wielding his voice like a weapon. The suspect continued struggling.

“Tase him, for God’s sake,” Rogers called. Smith went for his stun gun, but the suspect knocked his hand away. The situation was turning dangerous fast. Red approached and pulled his weapon.

“Get down now!”

The suspect turned toward him and instantly stopped moving.

“I said get down on the ground!” Red’s voice became sharper. Drill sergeants could take lessons from him, or so he’d been told.

The suspect’s wide eyes got even bigger somehow, and he stilled completely. Then he dropped to the sidewalk on his stomach and didn’t move. “What the hell are you?” the suspect asked under his breath.

Red ignored the comment and kept his gun on the guy while the other two officers cuffed him. Once the suspect was under control, Red put away his weapon.

“Jesus Christ, I’m in the middle of the freak patrol.”

“That’s plenty out of you,” Smith told the prone suspect. “You already have more trouble than you can handle.” Smith read him his rights and strongly advised him to keep his mouth shut for the foreseeable future. Red stepped back and glared at the suspect, making sure he made no move toward his fellow officers.

“What happened?” Red asked once the suspect was calm.

“Don’t know. He looked strange, and when I stopped to see if he needed help, he went off,” Rogers explained. He was a few years older than Red, and they’d joined the Carlisle police force at about the same time. Not that Red knew him all that well, outside of work, or Smith, for that matter. Both men were good guys who Red trusted to have his back when he needed it. But calling either of them friends was a stretch.

“The guy’s higher than a kite,” Smith chimed in.

“Some new stuff has hit town, and it’s strong as hell. This is the second guy like this I’ve had to deal with, and the department’s had about six so far. It’s bad and getting worse,” Rogers added.

The suspect wasn’t moving, and Smith bent down. “Shit, call an ambulance. He’s barely breathing.”

Rogers radioed in, and within a minute they heard sirens approaching. That was the beauty of a town this size. The ambulance garage was only a mile away, and those guys were always on the ball. Red didn’t take his eyes off the suspect in case he was playing possum, but he grew more and more limp. The ambulance arrived, and the EMTs took charge of the suspect, worked on him on the ground, and then got him on a gurney and into the ambulance. Rogers rode along, and Smith prepared to follow in their car, but it didn’t look good to Red, not at all.

“Hey, man,” Smith said just before they got ready to leave. “Appreciate the help.” This whole situation had gone from bad to worse to possibly tragic within about two minutes.

“No problem. I’ll see you back at the station.” The back doors of the ambulance thunked closed, and Smith went to his car. Red waited until they all drove away before going to his. He sat in the driver’s seat and adjusted his rearview mirror. He did not look at himself in it. He never looked in a mirror if he could help it. He knew what he looked like and didn’t fucking need to be reminded. He was well aware he was never, ever going to win any beauty contests.

Red snapped out of his thoughts when he heard another call—an altercation at the Y. That was a new one. He responded to the call and was informed that an ambulance was already on its way, along with the fire department. What a fucking day. He wondered for two seconds if it was a full moon, but he didn’t believe in all that crap anyway, so he flipped on his lights and hurried to his next call.

The Y was in an old school building that had been expanded. The old part was just that, old, while the addition was new, shiny, and well equipped. Red parked near the ambulance and rescue vehicles. He headed inside and was directed to the pool area. Not that he would have had any trouble figuring out where to go from all the people huddled outside the door. People loved to gawk. “Excuse me,” Red said, and some of the people turned around. They stared, the way everyone seemed to stare, and silently got out of the way, tapping others on the shoulder, parting groups of people in workout gear and dripping bathing suits like the Red Sea.

Pushing through the door, Red took in the scene. A woman and a young man in a small red bathing suit stood off to the side. The woman, about thirty or so, Red guessed, soccer-mom type, was yelling and trying to poke the kid in the chest. One of the firemen was trying to separate them and looked grateful when Red approached.

“What’s going on?” His voice echoed off the walls of the natatorium.

The woman stopped still, and the kid took a step back, nearly falling into the pool. “He….” the woman began, regaining her composure. “He nearly killed my son.”

“I did not, lady,” the kid protested, crossing his arms over his sculpted chest. Red quickly took him in and swallowed hard. He was a specimen of damn near perfect manhood, like he belonged on the cover of some magazine. He allowed the thought for a split second. “If you’d have been watching your son and making sure he obeyed the rules the way you’re supposed to, none of this would have happened.”

“All right. You, over there.” Red pointed to the kid. “Sit down, and wait for me.” Red then turned to the woman. “You, follow me.” He took a step back and waited for both of them to obey his instructions. “Sit here, and I’ll be with you in a minute.” He waited for her to do as she was told and walked over to where a young boy lay on the tile around the pool. The kid was blue, and Red watched as two EMTs tried to resuscitate him. It didn’t look good, but then the kid coughed, spit up water, and gasped for air. Red motioned to the woman, and she hurried over. The boy, who looked about eight, coughed again, and the paramedics told him to stay still. His mother rushed to him, and he began to cry.

“You’re going to be all right,” the paramedic said to him. Red had crossed paths with Arthur before and knew he knew his stuff. “Just rest and breathe.”

“Mom,” the kid said.

She took his hand. “You’re all right,” she soothed, and then she began thanking the people who’d helped her son.

“We’re going to take him to the hospital so we can check him out,” Arthur told the woman. She nodded and didn’t release her son’s hand.

“Ma’am, I need to speak with you,” Red told her. She nodded and whispered to her son before getting up and walking over to where Red waited. “What happened?”

“I didn’t see it. I had dropped Connor off for his swimming lesson, and he was going to stay for open swim afterwards. He and his friends usually do. I got here and saw them pulling him out of the water. I called the police.” She turned toward the lifeguard, who sat where Red had told him to. He looked nervous as hell. “I only know that if he’d been doing his job, none of this would have happened,” she spat.

Red pulled out his pad and began writing down what she had told him. He got her name, Mary Robinson. He also got her address, telephone number, her date of birth, along with Connor’s, and all other pertinent information. “So just to be clear, you didn’t see exactly what happened?”

“No, but….” Her argument had rung hollow, and it looked like it was starting to sound that way to her as well. She looked toward her son. Red noticed that she was looking anywhere other than at him. It was something he’d gotten used to.

“It’s all right. We’ll find out what happened.”

She kept looking at her son, and Red stepped back to let her be with him. Then he walked over to where the lifeguard sat on the bottom row of a set of bleachers set up along the side of the pool so spectators could watch races.

Red saw the startled expression on the kid’s face as he approached. The kid did a better job than most of covering the pity Red saw flash through his eyes for a split second. “Can you tell me your name, please?” Red asked, getting things moving.

“Terry Baumgartner,” he answered, swallowing hard. “He and his friends were horsing around on the pool deck. I told them more than once to stop and was about to ask them to leave when I turned away because a little girl had approached my seat. And when I looked back, I saw him under the water. I dove in, along with Julie.” He motioned to the young woman in a red one-piece swimsuit who stood a little ways away. “I reached him first and pulled him out. We started resuscitation right away and continued until we were relieved a few minutes later.”

“Who called this in?” Red asked.

A man stepped forward. “I did. They yelled to call 911, so I did. The kids were roughhousing, and I remember thinking someone was going to get hurt.”

“Daddy, is Connor going to be okay?” a little girl in a wet bathing suit asked as she walked up and took the man’s hand.

“Yes, honey, he’s going to be fine,” he said, soothing the kid’s fears before turning back to Red. He swallowed as he met Red’s eyes. Very few people did that anymore. “What he said is the truth. The kids were asking for trouble. If the lifeguard did anything wrong, it was not kicking them out earlier. But he did warn them.”

Red glanced to Terry, who nodded. Some of the worry seemed to slip from his aqua eyes, and his godlike, lanky body lost some of its tension. He lowered his lean arms and let them hang down from his sculpted shoulders. Damn—the kid wasn’t big, but he was perfect, as far as Red was concerned. “Thank you,” Red said, turning back to the man. He took down his contact information and asked a few more questions before thanking him again. He then talked to the other lifeguard, Julie, who confirmed what Terry had told him. Red was satisfied that this was an accident and that the lifeguard hadn’t been responsible. He then spoke with the manager of the facility and got the necessary information from him. He was very helpful and seemed concerned and relieved at the same time.

By the time Red was done, Connor had been taken to the hospital, and most everyone else had been dismissed. He was getting ready to leave when he saw Terry and Julie standing off to one side, talking animatedly back and forth. Their voices weren’t as quiet as he assumed they meant them to be, because he heard little snippets of their conversation. “I’d die if that happened to me,” he heard Terry say and saw the kid looking his way. Red ignored him and walked carefully over the wet tile toward the door. Beauty was only skin deep.

“Red.” He turned and saw Arthur approaching. He’d obviously heard what was being said as well. “Don’t listen to them. That kid is as shallow as an overturned saucer.” Arthur said it a little louder than necessary, and the chatter from the corner ceased abruptly. “When you get off tonight, you want to meet us at Hanover Grille?” he asked more softly. “Some of us are going to have some dinner and hang out for a while. You’re welcome to join us, you know that.”

Red smiled slightly. He was self-conscious about his smile, and when it threatened to go wider, he put his hand in front of his mouth. “Thanks.” His impulse was to say no, thank you, and just go home after work, but Arthur was sincere, and it might be good to get out with people for a change. “Once I’m off shift and get my reports done, I’ll try to stop by. It may be late, though.”

“I know how things work,” Arthur said, and then he hurried away, out of the natatorium.

Red did a mental check that he had spoken to everyone and had all the information he needed. He confirmed he had, and when he checked the clock on the wall, he said a silent thank-you and left the building.

As soon as he pushed open the outside door, he saw four news vans out front, with reporters milling around getting ready to file their stories. Red went right to his car and left, even as they were making their way over. He had no intention of making any comments to the press. He would head back to the station and let the powers that be decide who they wanted to speak for the department.

He got back to the station and filled in the captain about both the suspect on the sidewalk and the near drowning. He made sure the captain knew about the reporters and then headed to his desk to start writing reports. It took an hour. He filed them and got ready to leave. It had been a long, exciting day, and he was exhausted. Red didn’t talk much with the other officers in the station. He did say good-bye to the ones he encountered, to be polite, and then hurried to leave.

Red was already in his car and pulling out of the lot when he remembered Arthur’s invitation. Since he didn’t have anything to do this evening besides sit at home, watch television, and drink too much beer, he decided to take Arthur up on his offer.