By H.K. Slade
Thunder rattled the windows of the rundown double wide. A heavy wind slung thick sheets of rain into the sides of the trailer, drumming the aluminum walls and seeping under the door. Deputy Joshua “Country” Tumblewhite stood in the center of the living room, dripping water onto the thin carpet and praying tonight’s storm wouldn’t be the one that would inevitably flatten the trailer.
Country’s radio crackled, and the woman quietly sitting in front of him, Mrs. Garad, jumped at the sound.
“Which trailer are you in?” Deputy Silvia Garcia shouted over the radio. “They all look alike to me.” From the background noise in her transmission, it was apparent she was out in the storm on foot, probably getting wetter and meaner by the minute.
Keying up his radio, Country replied, “The grey and blue one at the end of the loop. The one you wouldn’t be surprised to find a meth lab in. And watch that puddle at the bottom of the steps. It’s deeper than the pit in your soul where the love of good country music should be.”
A moment later, the door to the trailer flung open and Garcia stumbled in out of the storm. A clay-red coat of mud ran up her uniform pantleg almost to the thigh. She’d found the puddle.
“Not that I want to stand in the way of you taking a shower,” Country said to the drenched deputy, “but what are you doing here in this mess? This is my call.”
Garcia wiped her hand over her head, sluicing water out of her short hair. She glared up at the big deputy. “No way, bumpkin. I’ve been looking for this creeper just as long as you have. It’s only a matter of time until he goes from watching women to snatching one up. Plus, Captain’s offering a day off to whoever puts the habeas grabius on him. I get this arrest.”
“Hell, that’s where our opinions differ, Sunshine,” Country assured her. “Dispatch sent me the call, so I get the collar.”
Country, a man born of sturdy stock, had an almost religious devotion to lifting weights. He could, if he had a mind to, pick Garcia up off the ground with his weak hand and not have to take a deep breath to do it. He was fully aware, however, that the smaller Marine-turned-deputy would kick his rather large ass up and down the trailer for trying it. They respected one another enough to banter without anyone’s feelings getting hurt, but Garcia was pushing the boundaries of propriety by trying to poach his arrest.
“Dispatch sent me, too, so it’s mine,” Garcia declared and thrust her chin in the air.Smiling amicably, he said, “I didn’t ask for a check-in.”
Pointing at the woman on the couch, Garcia countered, “Apparently the vic doesn’t speak English, so unless those farm animals you grew up dating taught you to habla Español, I get this one.”
“Oh, you’re here to translate?” Country asked, his eyebrows rising. He was suddenly blessed with a vision of how the next few moments were going to unfold. It took a valiant effort, but he somehow managed to hide his smile. Stepping aside and clearing a path for the smaller deputy, he said, “Be my guest.”
Garcia strode forward with her accustomed confidence, a look spoiled only slightly by the twenty-two-inch high-water mark on her right pantleg. Mrs. Garad, who’d mutely watched the exchange between the two deputies, gulped her tea, the porcelain cup clattering against the saucer she held in her other hand.
“Hola, señora. Soy el diputada Silva García de la Winston County Sheriff’s Office. ¿Puedes describir al hombre que se expusó?”
Mrs. Garad stared at the two deputies wordlessly. She wrinkled her nose at Garcia and shook her head.
Garcia tried again. “Estoy aquí para ayudar. ¿Puedes decirme del hombre que viste antes en tu ventana? Cualquier cosa.”
Again, Mrs. Garad gave her a look of incomprehension. The woman adjusted the dark scarf she wore wrapped around her head, folded her arms across her chest, and sat back into the cushions of the tweed-upholstered couch. It didn’t take a single spoken syllable for Country to understand the woman’s frustration.
Country judged he’d let this go far enough. Mrs. Garad was a victim, after all, and didn’t need to be involved in the rivalry between the two deputies. They were better than that.
Besides, Garcia turned around at that exact moment and caught him smirking.
“She doesn’t speak Spanish,” Country explained. “She’s from east Africa. Somali maybe?”
“But,” Garcia said, her forehead wrinkling in confusion, “dispatch said she didn’t speak English.”
Country nodded, encouraging his partner to keep working her way down the path.
The other deputy’s eyes narrowed as she deduced what had happened. “And they just assumed she spoke Spanish and sent the closest deputy with an accent they could find.”
“It seems kind of racist to me,” Country agreed, “but what’re you gonna do?”
Garcia rolled her eyes so hard she could have read the inside of her own forehead. “Jesus Christ. Okay, did you try the Language Line?”
“Yup. This trailer park’s in the Hole, remember? No cell service. And the storm knocked out the landline to the trailer. Any other suggestions?”
“She doesn’t speak any English?”
“Not a lick. And nobody around to translate. I figure her husband’s at work.” He pointed to the stack of bright yellow cards on the kitchen counter. “Cab driver.”
“Damn.” Garcia sniffed. “I don’t even know what language they speak in Somalia.”
“Arabic? Judging by the clothes she got on and paintings hung up in the back room, they’re Muslim. You got to speak some Arabic to be Muslim, right?”
Garcia squinted suspiciously at Country. “Do you speak Arabic, hayseed?”
“I grew up with a buddy who was Egyptian. He taught me a couple of pick-up lines in Arabic.”
Another monumental eyeroll. “I don’t think that’s going to be terribly helpful here.”
“Probably not,” Country admitted. “I just wanted you to know I know something you don’t.”
“Great use of our time,” Garcia griped. Under her breath, she added, “Time to see if that Marcel Marceau documentary was a waste of my Saturday night.”
She waved to get Mrs. Garad’s attention, pointed to her eyes with the fork of her index and middle figures, then looped them around to indicate the window and the stormy darkness outside. Mrs. Garad nodded her understanding and erupted in a burst of whatever her native language was.
“I don’t understand a word she’s saying, but at least you got her talking.”
“What was he wearing?” Garcia plucked at her raincoat and raised her voice. “What color was his shirt?”Mrs. Garad was sharp. She picked up on the clue instantly. The woman scanned the room, looking for something specific, then grabbed and held up a multicolored coaster like she’d found a solid gold Easter egg. She pinched the top of her shapeless dress and pointed to the orange part of the plastic coaster.
Garcia nodded. “Okay. He’s wearing an orange shirt. Was he white?” she pointed at the exposed skin of Country’s hand, then pinched her own skin and asked, “or was he Hispanic?” After a slight hesitation, she pointed at Mrs. Garad’s hand and asked, “or black?” Mrs. Garad thought about it a moment, then waved at Country.
“How tall?” Country asked, joining the process. He always got a kick out of charades. “Was he normal height like me,” he asked, and moved his hand from the top of his own head down to hover over Garcia’s, “or was he a tiny little person like Deputy Garcia?”
Mrs. Garad walked over to the window and held her hand out to mark a height. She mumbled something in an apologetic tone and looked back at the two deputies to see if they understood.
“About six feet,” Garcia said and gave the woman a thumbs-up. The deputy gestured to her own trim waist and asked, “Was he athletic like me,” then waved her hand in an exaggerated dome in front of Country’s stomach, “or a fat-body like Deputy Tumblewhite?”
Before Mrs. Garad could pantomime an answer, the poor woman’s face dissolved into an expression of absolute terror. She raised a trembling finger, pointing to something outside, and screamed a high, shrill wail that bounced off the flat trailer walls and assaulted Country’s ears. The two deputies leapt forward, reaching the window just in time to catch a flash of orange outside.
“Go!” Garcia shouted and bolted for the door. Country ran to the kitchen, careening off the walls as he turned sideways to avoid flattening Mrs. Garad. He burst out through the back door, took the three steps to the ground in one leap, and went splashing through the mud on what he assumed was an intercept course.
Country rounded the side of the trailer, fully expecting to have Garcia chase their suspect directly into his tree-trunk arms. The lights on the other trailers in the park, dim and dingy at the best of times, struggled meekly against the night’s storm to make little pockets of light in the inky darkness. No suspect. No Garcia. The big deputy crossed a washed-out yard to look down an empty gravel road.
Country drew his flashlight and turned in a circle. “Sonofabitch.” He scanned the cars parked in the neighbor’s yard, his frustration over losing the suspect quickly turning to worry for his partner. Garcia was plenty capable, but she had no way of knowing who the suspect was or what he was capable of doing. He could be an unemployed dishwasher or a Delta Force operator or anything in-between. The suspect was a complete mystery, and it was always the unknown that got cops killed.
Lightning flashed high in the clouds overhead, and a heartbeat later, thunder rolled through the trailer park. They were in the center of the storm now.
Country got on his radio. “Dispatch, send me some more units. Baker Twenty-Three is in a foot chase. Garcia, you got your ears on? Tell me where you’re at.”
The radio filled with chatter as other units called in their response. Protocol required them to switch to a different channel so the officer involved in the chase could give updates, but that didn’t matter to younger officers eager to get involved in an exciting call. It was rude, but worse, it was dangerous. The knot building in Country’s stomach caused the normally calm deputy to lose his temper.
“Clear the damn channel!” he yelled into his mic. “Garcia, where are you at?”
The radio went silent. The big man stood in the wind and rain, ankle-deep in mud, hoping and praying for something… anything to get him moving in the right direction. He slogged to the far end of the trailer. Someone had strung a sheet of plastic from the neighboring single wide, making a little patio against a picket fence. It wasn’t dry, but it was enough shelter to keep the rain from washing a muddy boot print off the gate… just at the height a five-foot-nothing Marine might kick it at if she were in a rush.
Country crept as best he could through the gate and into the back yard, one hand on his flashlight, the other on his gun. A single, sixty-watt porch light attached to the back of the trailer lit a broad patch of weeds and sand as well the six-foot fence that surrounded it. The rain overflowed from a cheap plastic kiddie-pool in the center of the yard. Next to a row of overgrown shrubs, a brace of dirt bikes quietly rusted into one giant knot of metal.
He swept the yard with his flashlight. No suspect. No Garcia. Country was just turning to leave when the rhythmic splash of someone running reached the edge of his hearing. He killed his light and froze in place. A moment later, a figure nimbly leapt over the far fence, landed in a crouch, and took off at a sprint back toward Mrs. Garad’s trailer.
The backyard was too dark to make out any fine details, but the man had on an orange t-shirt and he was running hellbent for leather through people’s backyards in the middle of a thunderstorm. Country figured that was good enough to stop him and ask some questions.
The big deputy stepped in the man’s path and spread his arms like he was catching a baby goat. In Country’s experience, this was enough to stop most people in their tracks. Orange Shirt, however, didn’t break stride. The man cut left, then right. The next thing Country knew, he was sprawled on the ground, covered in mud and the soggy remnants of his pride.
“Get up, tubby!” Garcia panted as she ran past. “He’s been running in circles!”
From the ground, Country watched as the man bounded to the top of the fence, planted one hand, and slid over it Jackie Chan-style. Garcia was right behind him. There was no way in the world she could match the man’s agility while wearing all her water-logged police gear, but she clawed over the fence on pure determination alone. If Orange Shirt thought he could run far enough to get the Marine-turned-deputy to quit, he obviously had no idea who was chasing him.
Country climbed to his feet. For a brief moment, he considered joining the chase. He could probably smash through the fence and maybe the one after it, but realistically he had about as much chance of catching Orange Shirt as he did of making a trip to the State Fair without eating a funnel cake. He was going to have to try something he hadn’t been particularly successful at doing up until this point in his life: he had to out think the suspect.
By the weak light from the trailer, Country could make out the path where Garcia and the suspect had stomped down the weeds. She’d said they were running in circles, and sure enough, the tracks showed they’d come through here before. A plan formed in Country’s head, one simple enough to work if he hurried. Time was against him.
Grabbing the two bikes by their frames, Country slung them across the yard and into the suspect’s path. Then he squatted down and started dragging the kiddie pool towards the fence. That took a long minute. If he jerked it, the cheap plastic would tear, so he scooched the heavy tub of water inch by inch into place. Lighting arced overhead again, and it occurred to Country that it would be a hell of a thing if he got struck by lightning. It would either kill him or give him superpowers, but one way or another, all this work would go to waste. And still he pulled. His shoulders ached, his back hurt, he was soaked through to the skin… but Country wanted this arrest.
The sound of approaching footfalls carried through the sounds of the storm. “Time to go,” Country said to himself. The big deputy abandoned the kiddie pool. It would have to be good enough.
Country rushed to the back of the trailer, drew his collapsible baton, and smashed the single lamp with one backhanded swipe. Then he stepped back, disappearing into the shadows.
“Baker Twenty-Three,” he whispered into his radio, “I’m holding my last twenty. Ten-zero the fence. Come at it from the north.
”No reply came, but Country hadn’t expected one. He just hoped Garcia would be able to piece together his ten-code instructions: “I’m where you left me. Watch out for the trap. Go around.”
The footsteps came closer, still at a steady stride. Whoever Mr. Orange Shirt was and whatever his proclivities, the man kept himself in shape. The fence creaked as their suspect mounted it, and then Country heard the very distinct sound of a shinbone striking the metal crossbar on a dirt bike, followed closely by the splash of a grown man landing face first in a kiddie pool.
From the back fence, Garcia’s light flared to life and cast its painfully bright beam on the downed form of a man clutching his leg. “Winston Sheriff’s Office!” she yelled with a voice of command common to drill sergeants and animal trainers. “Don’t move!
Mr. Orange Shirt stood up and took a few steps, stopping when it was apparent his leg wouldn’t hold weight. He backed away from Garcia, his hands balled into fists and held up like he was fixing to fight. Garcia lowered herself over the fence, huffing and panting. Pepper spray had next to no chance of working in the heavy rain, a Taser, none at all. Even injured, Orange Shirt was a head taller than Garcia, and he clearly thought he had enough of an advantage to try and fight his way past the female deputy.
Country emerged out of the darkness directly behind the man, as silent as a stalking tiger. He clamped down over Orange Shirt’s arms, pinning them behind his back. The suspect tensed, starting to struggle, so Country flexed his massive biceps and lifted him bodily off the ground. Something in the man’s shoulders made a noise like cogs grinding to a stop, and all the fight went out of him.
“Hey there, little fella,” Country said as he worked cuffs onto the man. “That there was mighty entertaining, but I’m gonna need you to take you a big ol’ breath and relax so we can all get out of this here lightning storm.”
Garcia leaned forward on her knees, catching her breath, but kept her flashlight fixed on the man until Country had the cuffs double-locked.
“Think this is our guy?” Country asked her.
Tired as she was, the smaller deputy chuckled. “Yeah, that’s the balance of probability,” she said, her customary sarcasm undercut by her smile.
“You want him?” Country offered. “You did all the running.”
Garcia, who was still standing in front of the man, shone her flashlight on his waist and started laughing out loud. Deep, uncontrolled belly-laughter.
“No,” she said when she could get enough air to speak. “You cuffed him, you get the arrest. Just make sure and… secure everything.” She wiped her eyes with the back of her hands. In the low light, Country couldn’t tell if she was wiping away rain or tears. She walked off towards Mrs. Garad’s trailer, cackling madly.
Confused, Country turned on his flashlight and for the first time got a good look at the front of the suspect’s waist. After a half-decade as a patrol deputy, things rarely startled Country. What he saw in the beam of his light made him flinch.
“Good lord,” he said to Orange Shirt. “Have you been running around jumping over fences all night with that thing hanging out?”
The man nodded so sheepishly that Country almost felt sorry for him. Only at that point did it dawn on the big deputy that it was now his responsibility to make his prisoner presentable at the jail.
Country sighed, realizing he’d been outmaneuvered by his partner.
“Hey, Garcia!” he shouted to be heard above the storm. “You can at least lend me a pair of gloves, right?”
(Bio: H.K. Slade is a writer specializing in police procedurals set in eastern North Carolina. You can find his previously published works in Mystery Weekly, Everyday Fiction, Alien Skin, and an upcoming issue of Black Cat Mystery Magazine. You can find more from Slade at his website Here.)