No, I haven't been writing enough to have a new flash for you today. But no fear--I have plenty of re-runs you probably didn't see or don't remember!

As a little encouragement to myself as I get back to work (at last!) on Death By Library, I have a short story from Pismawallops Island. Unlike the books, this is from the perspective of the town's police chief, Ron Karlson. I picked it in part because it features a character who plays a larger role in the new book.

In the Line of Duty


When his radio disturbed him, Ron Karlson was sitting in his police cruiser staring out to sea and thinking.

“Chief? You out there?” The Pismawallops Island police force, having precisely 2.5 officers, could be informal.

He reached for the handset. “Karlson here.”

“Homer’s lost his car again.” The dispatcher sounded like she was rolling her eyes.

Homer Roller. The biggest disaster ever to grace a cop car. He had a tendency to leave the car in odd places, forget where he’d parked, and hit the panic button, sure the car had been stolen. So far, it hadn’t been, but there was a first time for everything. Ron put the cruiser in gear and backed out of the overlook, not entirely sorry to leave his thoughts.

He picked up the deputy on the side of the road near old Mrs. Halsey’s place.

“Where did you leave it this time?” Ron asked, trying and failing to be patient.

“Right here. Honest, chief. I parked here, and was investigating a disturbance in the woods over there,” he gestured at the opposite side of the road from the ancient farmhouse where Mrs. Halsey refused to be removed. “There were some kids building a treehouse. I was my duty to ensure they weren’t trespassing.” Homer memorized a lot of his dialog in advance.

“Were they?” Ron pretended an interest.

“Naw. They said it was their old man’s property.”

Ron wondered if that were true, but didn’t press. He didn’t really want to know.

“And I came back here, and the car was gone. That’s all I know!”

“You left the keys in it?”

Homer kept his eyes on the floormat. “Yeah.”

Ron sighed. “So anyone could have taken it. Including one of those kids.”

“I don’t think so. They were little kids. Unless,” Homer conceded, “they had an older brother hiding somewhere. I didn’t hear any cars on the road,” he added before Ron could ask.

Ron drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, thinking. He knew what JJ would say about what he was about to do, but she’d lost the right to nag since she wasn’t talking to him. “We need to go ask Mrs. Halsey about this. She might have seen something.”

Homer turned pale. “The crazy lady? No way!”

“She’s not crazy. She’s old.” And suffering from dementia, which Ron knew very well was next door to crazy, at least by Homer’s standards. Ron wasn’t totally happy going in there himself. Mrs. Halsey had shot at him in the past. “I confiscated her shotgun last spring, so it should be safe.”

Homer sunk low in the seat as his boss drove them into the old woman’s yard.

“Huh. She’s not on the porch. Wonder where…” Ron had a sudden idea where the woman was, and he didn’t like it. They had to be sure, though, so he unbuckled and got out. He couldn’t help it; he twitched a little as he approached the front porch, but no one shot him, even after he hammered on the door.  He turned back to the car, where Homer continued to cower. “I’m going in—welfare check.”

“I’ve got you covered,” Homer quavered.

They needn’t have worried. No one was in the house. His suspicions confirmed, Ron went back out to the car. “I think I know who has your car,” he told Homer.

It took the deputy a minute, but he got it eventually. “Mrs. Halsey?!” His voice broke a little. “She can keep it!”

“No, she can’t,” Ron said, not that either of them needed telling. “She doesn’t have a license anymore.” Which was the least of it. He reached for the radio. “Tacy, we have a problem.”

They eventually found the car—and Mrs. Halsey—at the overlook. There were sometimes teens there necking, but they would have fled, not from the police car, but from Mrs. Halsey. She was in the car, grinning and playing with the lights and siren. Ron was happy to see that she hadn’t figured out how to remove the gun from its locked rack.

Even so, he approached with some caution. “Mrs. Halsey?” he called from a few feet away. She turned to greet him, still smiling. The car had made her happy, which made his task both harder and easier.

“It’s time to let Homer have his car back, Mrs. Halsey,” he said. “I’ll give you a ride home.”

The smile left her face. “I found this car. It’s mine.”

“No, it’s not. That’s not how it works. You know that.”

Her face fell. “I like it.” She showed no signs of moving.

Cursing the woman’s family, who dealt with her increasing dementia by staying as far away as they could, Ron tried another tack. “Come on with me, and you can run the lights and siren on my car, without the trouble of driving.” Creating a disturbance on the sparsely inhabited roads between the overlook and the Halsey home was a minor price to pay to get her out of the car.

“I like to drive.”

“Well, yes, but you know, it’s getting dark, and you don’t see so well in the dark. Better to let me drive and you have fun. Besides, the deputy needs the car. His mother’s expecting him home for dinner.”

“Fool kids,” the old woman muttered. Ron wasn’t sure to whom she referred—him, Homer, Homer’s mother, or all of them—but it didn’t matter. She climbed slowly out of the car, and followed him back to his cruiser.

Homer, seeing them coming, bolted. He was in his own car with the doors locked before Ron had helped Mrs. Halsey into the passenger seat. He made sure her seat belt was fastened.

Siren blaring, lights flashing, they headed back to the Halsey home.

The only thing the old woman said the whole way was, “Faster!”

Ron sighed. He liked happy endings.

***
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2019
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