Deputy Rachel Maples pinched her eyes to look through the beveled glass
without the person inside noticing. Though she was talking with a woman who stood on the other side of the door, her ears detected sounds coming from other parts of the building.
The woman had told there was no one else in the house.
“Where is Wendell Levins?”
“He ain’t here, I told you.”
The officer looked back to her partner, then around at the clearing of thick Oaks and Hickories that surrounded the clearing. And at the weeds and junked out cars. All the places a person could hide without her or Pitts ever noticing until it was too late. Her heart fluttered. Was this such a good idea after all?
“Ms., we really need to find him. May we come in?”
“Wendell ain’t here. Won’t be here ‘gain I imagine. So go on.”
The voice from inside sounded like how the skinny dog in front of the old Fleetwood mobile home looked. With it’s boney back arched, teeth beared and the tail between its legs.
“Ma’am, we’re here to help. If you’d please open the door.”
The voice didn’t answer, but the shuffling and movement from inside continued. Maples turned to look at Deputy Pitts, then knocked again with the end of her flashlight.
“What do you think Rachel?” hissed Pitts.
“We don’t have a warrant,” answered Maples. “And we’re on duty.”
She paused, then looked back at Pitts.
“Call me Deputy Maples.”
“Fine, but he’s in there. I’m sure of it. I mean there are two people in there for sure. He’s probably in there right now listening to us.”
“Ma’am,” called Maples through the door.
She imagined kicking the door open. Felt the muscles in her legs and hip flex, and her arm drop as she shifted weight to one foot. She wanted to kick the door open, but was restrained by law. Pitts was probably right, she thought. Levins was in there. Everything in her body screamed it. She wished she were a first-year like Pitts. Then at least she could kick the door open, take care of business and blame it on inexperience.
Instead Maples turned away from the door and climbed down the wrought iron staircase, sliding her flashlight through the open ring on her duty belt. She thought about Wendell Levins. How he’d been kicked out of Reeds Spring High School. Supposedly he’d stuck a homemade pipe bomb into the back end of a stray dog. She was just a kid back then and lived two towns away, but rumors like that spread far and spread fast. She remembered how all the adults said that a boy who does something like that is bound to turn into the wrong kind of man. So far they’d been right.
“We don’t have a warrant, and god knows who’s in there or how many. If you want to tangle with Judge Pratt about a civil rights violation, that’s your deal. Me? I just don’t want to end up in a shootin match with Levins or anyone else over a rumor.”
“Rumor?” said Pitts, following Maples back to the car. “An hour ago it was a tip. Now it’s a rumor?”
“Might as well be the same thing without any proof. Don’t forget Rook, without proof or legal backing, you aren’t nothing but another fool in these woods with a gun.”
“It’s just... We’ve been wanting this guy for weeks. Why can’t we get something on him? I mean, we know he was out by the bluff when that lab went up. We know he was talking about it at Flat Creek the night after.”
“Look, this is the way you have to do it sometimes. Get a lot of little information, then just look around. Lot of small bites instead of a one big one. Here.”
She tossed a set of car keys across the beam of headlights.
Sitting in the patrol car, the two deputies watched the darkened mobile home for a few minutes as moths circled around the headlights. Pitts waited for movement. Maples expected none.”
“626 is 10-8, back in service and returning to station,” said Maples.
“Roger 626, 10-8,” the radio scratched in reply.
“So that’s it?” asked Pitts.
She backed down the gravel drive, rather than turning around. Paranoia, perhaps, but she wanted to keep an eye on the house and all the hiding places in the yard. Just in case. Once out of the drive she turned away from the scene and back onto Cave Mountain Road, off to find the pavement and the way back to town.
It was funny, she thought as she drove, how she’d been trained for this job early on. How her own father, the first Deputy Maples, would take her out to the far corners of the county on a four-wheeler. She’d be riding on his knee blindfolded and at a certain point he’d whisk off the blindfold and say “Ok now Rachel. How we going to get home?”
The games backfired a little when the girl got to high school. Her perfect knowledge of every hill and holler in the county made hiding from the deputies on beer drinking nights not only easy, but fun for her. When the cops discovered one of their drinking spots, they’d disappear into the woods – first on foot, then in trucks as her friends turned 16 – and set up shop somewhere else. Fun, at least, until Deputy senior worried it might be going beyond games for some of her friends and put a stop to it.
At the station, Maples thumbed through a two-page case file with her feet on the processing counter, while Pitts twirled a rubber training gun in front of a mirror and practiced dropping it in his empty holster.
To Maples, Pitts was a nice guy but no deputy. After a month he’d been a good student, but at 21 years old he had a long way to go. Stone County was no New York or Chicago, but its hills and hollows were full of people who shoot first and don’t ask questions later. And there are a lot of places to stash a ex-trespasser. Too many people around there just disappear. A soft boy like Pitts wouldn’t last long without the right training. Maybe someday when he’s had a few licks and can stand up to what some of those rough county types could throw at him. Someday when he has more than a few blonde whiskers below his nose.
Deputy Maples ran her finger along a scar that looked like dripped candle wax running from her temple to her ear.
“You try any gun twirlin with your Beretta, you’re likely to put a hole in that pretty face of yours.”
The phone on the dispatch desk rang.
“Aw Maples,” he said, reaching for the phone, “you’re just mad cause I’ve got better trick gun skills. Stone County Sheriff’s office.”
The smile disappeared from Pitts’ face.
“Yes. Yes sir, Sheriff. Hold on one second.”
He held the phone out to Maples.
“Boss for you.”
“Maples.” Said the deputy into the phone.
Pitts sat down behind his desk and tried to make the squiggly words from inside the phone into something intelligible. He couldn’t be sure, but from where he sat across the room it sounded like Maples wasn’t getting a lot of little bites, but rather one big one right out of her ass.
“Sir, it was just a knock and talk. We had some good intel on that lab situation at Crowder’s place. We were just going to see what we could find out from Levins. We were actually hoping he wasn’t there. We wanted to see if his wife would tell us… No sir. No sir. We didn’t go in the house. About 10 minutes total. I knocked twice, we distinctly heard at least two, maybe three individuals in the house. We went 10-8 after the wife refused to open. No big deal at all… But sir, we do knock and talks all the time, I don’t understand… Yes sir. I got it. Loud and clear. Yes sir. Sorry you got woken up. Goodnight sir.”
Maples hung up the phone, then walked toward the plexiglass window that looked out into the station’s waiting area.
“So, boss very politely requested we don’t approach Levins again unless we catch him in the act or we have something concrete. Seems Mr. Levins has some connections. A lawyer called boss to say we were harassing his client this evening.”
“Serious?” said Pitts.
“But we do knock and talks all the freaking time when we have good tips.”
“Well, apparently we need to give Mr. Levins a rest.”
She sat down, but kept her attention focused somewhere outside the station. Pitts hated when she did that. When she left him behind, deep in thought about a case or situation, felt like she may’ve been saying “hold on, Pitts, and let the real cop give it a think.” He didn’t like not knowing where her line of thought was taking her. Then Maples turned toward Pitts, back from wherever off in the world her mind had taken her.
“Something’s not right here. That guy’s the lowest of the low. Why is the Sheriff getting a call at his unlisted home number from a lawyer to say we were harassing a cook and a felon?”
Pitts turned and thought for a moment.
“Wanna go patrol for a while?”
“Yeah,” Maples replied, “let’s go Patrol. Let’s get out of this office.”
Maples wanted more than her eight years experience to draw on. She could see that some of the pieces fit, but she wasn’t sure exactly how. Something seemed strange about Mr. Levins’ new protection. Something else too. The way he’d been bragging at Flat Creek, almost proud, at the explosion; according to the guy who’d tipped them off. That wasn’t like Wendell Levins. He’s always been an asshole and a drunk and a dirt bag, but for some reason he seemed to be coming out of his shell. Five years ago he’d gone up for a domestic and drug possession. Judge gave him 180 days and then nobody heard from him for years. Everyone knew he had things going on in the back-country. Everyone suspected he was cooking, but it was a rare occasion to see him in town and you never heard him talking about it. Something was different.
Maples thought about her training officer, Sergeant Lawson. Man that was a long time ago. He was a cop blessed with the last name Lawson, but also a real mother-fucker with beady eyes and a belly that made it look like he was being lead around by his tie. He loved to mess with people, especially teenagers. Loved patrolling all the drinking spots. Even carried a six-shooter. A 357 with a leather hammer guard on the holster that he’d snap open with his fingers whenever he stepped out of the car. Like he was opening a Zippo lighter. Every teenager in Stone County in the seventies, eighties and nineties knew that snap. A mother-fucker, but a great cop. He’d have some idea what was going on.
Maybe a good patrol would take her mind off of the questions fluttering around her mind like so many mosquitoes around a light. Sometimes a little late night patrol is a good way to turn the light off for a bit. Which can be just the thing to shake something loose.
It felt right to her that they called it patrolling. When you’re sleeping with your subordinate, you should give it some kind of technical name. Somehow, the right name makes a certain act more professional. A clever name also makes it easier to hide. As in “Hey boss, Pitts and I are going off on Patrol.” Or, “Man that was a long patrol last night.”
God I’m an idiot, she thought as they walked toward the car.
As they drove to their spot – far enough away from the station, and at a place they could hide their patrol car – they sat mostly quiet. Climbing over the fence between duty and pleasure.
“Want to check him out?” asked Pitts, motioning to a dark figure walking along the side of the road. “I mean, it is after dark and an odd time to be walking on a narrow country road. Kids gotta big duffle. Looks a little off.”
“He’s a kid, Pitts,” said Maples. “A harmless kid. And what you’re talking about is profiling.”
She thought for a moment, her instinct bubbling almost imperceptibly.