He flashed tin and I laughed.
“Why’re you laughing? I’m on the Merit Commission.”
As the junior member of minor commission that handed out minor Sheriff’s Office promotions.
“And?” I said.
“I gotta get home.”
“Road’s closed. Whole town’s closed.”
“I know that.” Red-faced, he shook his badge at me.
“Got some tin, huh?” I made no move to let his minivan through the barricades.
“Your boss – the Sheriff – is a friend of mine.”
Pulling out my cell while my emergency lights cast us in red and blue shadows, I said, “A friend of yours, huh? Well, then let’s call him.”
Two miles in front of us, the entire town seemed to burn, though it was really only the remnants of a freight train. Better than twenty cars had derailed, most filled with ethanol. The fire had been burning for two days now. All of the town’s 350 residents had been evacuated, though only two houses had burned so far. When I was doing a door to door search, I’d found this guy standing in his backyard watching the fire. He adamantly hadn’t wanted to leave.
Now here he was, flashing tin and demanding entry.
“That badge give you arrest powers? Or just free sodas and maybe some pussy every now and again?”
He gripped the wheel of his minivan so hard I thought he’d tear it off. “You son of a bitch. You can kiss the sergeants’ promotion goodbye.”
“My bad.” I shrugged. “It’s a mandatory evacuation…Commissioner.”
He smirked. “Which doesn’t have the force of law.”
“As opposed to your badge.”
“Goddamnit, I’m going in.”
The delicate moon was hidden behind thick smoke. When the smoke occasionally parted, the moon looked somehow sad. “Why?”
“Why? Because I damn well say so.”
The environmental guys kept telling us the smoke wasn’t lethal, just made it tough to breathe. Their overriding concern was the remaining cars. They thought those cars might get hot enough to explode.
“Deputy, I’m going in, that’s how it is. I gotta get my animals.”
“Animals? You should’a said so. I have animals, too. Listen, let’s start over. I’m tired and maybe we got off on the wrong foot. I apologize. I just don’t want anyone getting hurt.”
His face eased up, relief as bright as the fires.
“How about I escort you in?” I held his gaze. “Then I can escort you and your animals out.”
His head tilted. “Well…I appreciate that, but…I’ll pass. I’ll be fine. And anyway, my animals don’t like strangers.”
“It’ll be easier if I go alone.”
I let him pass. “Please be careful.”
Nodding triumphantly, he drove off without a word.
* * *
Here’s the thing: I’d already checked all the houses…three times.
There were no animals left.
* * *
When I got there, Commissioner Frances Magnarelli was already tied up.
“Deputy.” Bruises stained his face. “Thank, God. This psycho attacked me. Arrest her.”
The psycho grinned at me, melted ice cream dripping down her chin. “Rocky Road. His.”
“Figured you’d help yourself?” I asked.
“Hey, man, it was already getting melty. Man’s got no electricity, I’m helping him out.”
“Shut up.” To her, I asked, “Ready?”
“Tee it up.” She tossed the ice cream over her shoulder and in three steps crossed the room. She slapped him hard enough to bloody his lips. “Lucky for me that train derailed, I guess, huh?”
He blinked rapidly, his wheels turning. “I…I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. How’d you get into my house?”
“’Cause otherwise, we’d still be going at it, wouldn’t we? Well, you’d be going at it. A little hard for me to participate, being drugged and tied up and all.”
During that last search I’d found her in his basement. Bound and suspended from the ceiling. Naked. Bruised. Crying. Dried semen in her hair and red welts on her ass.
“I thought I was going to die. But you came back. We – “ She indicated me. “Knew you would. One last hurrah before you split, huh?”
“I bet he was going to drug you and drive your ass out of here,” I said. “Take you to some new place. We’d have never found you again.”
His badge was lighter than mine, as though it were just trifle rather than a real thing. “You people,” I said. “Fucking holster sniffers. Don’t have the balls to do the actual job.”
Magnarelli smirked. “Gonna lecture her, too? Bitch didn’t look at me until she saw the badge. Made her as wet as a fire hydrant.”
She punched him. His nose exploded, blood covered his shirt and carpet. She hauled him to his feet and dragged him toward the basement stairs.
“Deputy.” His voice was as wobbly as an old man. “You can’t let her do this.”
She balanced him precariously on the edge of the first step for a heartbeat, then pushed. He fell like stone. Tied and unable to break his fall, he bounced down the stairs and slammed into the concrete floor. Somewhere in that fall, I heard a bone snap.
“My leg’s broken. Help. Heeeeeeeelp.”
I headed out of the house. A broken leg was a stroke of luck. That way, when someone eventually found the body, an autopsy would show an accident. A man – with a predilection for kidnapping young woman and raping them repeatedly while they were tied in his basement – fell down his stairs and broke his leg. There was simply nothing he could do to save himself when the fires came.
I looked back, saw her pull out a Zippo lighter and flick it once, just like I’d shown her.
It flashed to life and for a split-second, the flame was the color of tin.