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The Paths We Take #27: Rats

Aug 21, 2018





Detective Townsend


“Where’s Luke Dawson?”

The tap-tap-tap of the pen on the case jacket matched the beat of the pounding in my head. It was the second time in less than twelve hours that I found myself in Lieutenant Mason’s office. I looked around at the placards on the wall — twenty-five years’ worth of that-a-boyrecognitions, certifications, and newspaper clippings were displayed in proud-mom style, minus the refrigerator.

“Townsend . . . Where’s Mr. Dawson?” Mason asked again. “Marks says you were at his place last night when he showed up there—”

“I don’t know where he is, alright. He knows a guy that I’m trying to pin down and I needed a phone number. That’s all.”

The faint clicking of unlocking doors and five-AM slurred “good mornings” floated around us. Mason was tapping the pen harder now. Click-TAP, Click-TAP, Click-TAP — clicking and tapping the pen simultaneously, his own little pissed-off orchestra. I was in his world. I had a lot of respect for the guy, but complacency had taken the place of street-smarts in the last few years.

“Bullshit, Townsend. Luke can’t help you; he’s deceptive, not to mention unstable. Are you still working that kidnapping he says happened? It’s been filed as miscellaneous information. Closed.”

Trust was an issue, but not with Luke. I couldn’t trust anyone in Special Investigations, and I didn’t know if I could trust Mason. So, I kept my mouth shut about Marks.

“We need to interview him regarding Nancy Hale,” he said as he stopped the tapping and clicking. “You know we need to.”

“I understand, but he’s not your guy,” I uttered as I started to stand up.

“Be careful with The Breed. One of your CIs must be giving your name out . . . that’s what rats do, you know.”

Click-click, click-click.I nodded my head, matching the pen that started again as I left Mason’s office.

. . .

Gary Snyder, Red Pines PD’s evidence custodian for over twenty years, was doctoring his coffee with hazelnut creamer when I slapped the evidence control form and sealed envelope in front of him.

“What’s this? I was hoping for a little something more along the lines of bacon and eggs.”

“I ate that already, but I did hear that they were getting a treadmill down here for you.”

“Eat shit Townsend,” Gary laughed as he signed the control form and slung the envelope onto the rolling cart. “You always come down here and piss me off first thing in the morning.”

The evidence room was in the basement of the main station, but it wasn’t just in the basement, it was in the corner of the basement that ran underneath the parking deck. Every time a cruiser would pull into the lot, the ceiling would shake at least twice — once when the front tires hit the speed bump, and again when the back tires hit. You could smell the earth through the walls. Gary hated it.

“At least I talk to you. You’ve pissed everyone else off so many times they won’t even come down here. They send the uniforms down, and they’re scared of you.”

Gary smiled, his bald head reflecting a golden hue from the overhead lights. He was about to wheel the cart back, but I interrupted him by throwing a case jacket on the desk.

“I need to sign out the evidence for this case. I’ve got court this afternoon,”

He read the case number aloud while he typed the case number into the computer with one hand and held his coffee with the other.

“This is three boxes,” Gary scoffed as he rolled his eyes. He grabbed another rolling cart and slid it over to me. “It’s in section D, all the way in the back. Just don’t take all day; I’ve got games to play on my phone. Just put the copy of the control form back on my desk when you’re done.

I rolled the cart back to section D, which was next to Section C — good thing I’m a detective — where the evidence file for Claire’s case was held. I loaded one of the three boxes from my narcotics case onto the cart, and then I grabbed the evidence folder for Claire’s case and hid it in the evidence box.

“I’ll see you tomorrow Gary,” I said as I put the copy of the evidence control from on his desk.

“I hope not,” Gary muttered as he struggled with the honey bun wrapper.

Marks was standing just outside the side entrance as I walked out of the building. I let the door ease shut as I scanned the parking lot. A few of the line sergeants were smoking cigarettes as they waited in their cars for the line units to check in with them before they went ten-forty-two.

“You’re always where you’re not supposed to be,” he sneered as he rubbed his forehead. The shadows circling his eyes made them look like his eye sockets were sinking into his skull. “The thing that I don’t understand is why you won’t just let this go. This is only going to end badly for you.”

The thin coating of snow crunched underneath as I stepped in front of him. I smoothed my hair back and adjusted my Eagles cap as I took another step. My hand gripped his shoulder; I leaned in and whispered, “I’m going to find her.”

Marks flicked his cigarette, sending ash and embers cascading down between us. After a long, breathless pause, he said, “She doesn’t exist.”

Lillian Chavez was getting out of her Crown Vic as Marks stepped back and opened the door. He held the door for her as they walked inside the station. I wondered what she was getting out of the deal. Marks couldn’t be her only reward.

I hit the unlock button on the key for my new ride and watched the headlights blink on, I needed a vehicle that wasn’t tagged by The Breed. When I got into the car, a newly confiscated Ford Explorer, I pulled my personal cell from my coat pocket. The screen showed a missed call from Kristin and another missed call from the blocked number that had called me twice in the last week, hanging up as soon as I answered

The engine sputtered as I selected the contact that read, “Gerald Price,” because there was no Gerald Price. The phone rang twice before Luke answered.

“You still a cop?”

“For now, . . . I don’t think Lt. Mason knows the extent of the corruption in the Special Investigations Unit. I’d need a lot of evidence to convince him that Marks isn’t the best candidate for officer of the year. We can’t take this to anyone else yet. We need more.”

“Did you get the case file?”

“I got it, but I don’t know how much help it will be.”

“What about Phil? Get her address or social security number from the diner, and then—”

“We can’t play this one as cops. What do you want to do? Try to report her missing again? That worked really well for you last time.”

A sliver of sun was visible over the mountain, and the river reflected bits of gold in the ripples of the black water. I could hear Luke breathing, but neither one of us knew what to say next.

“We have to find her,” I said, breaking the silence. “It’s the only way — considering we both live long enough.” I laughed, not sure why. I felt the emptiness in my stomach as it twisted itself into a knot. “Marks is going to pin Nancy’s murder on you. The DNA is going to come back, and then all he needs is a body, which I’m sure he will provide. It’s the best option for him — outside of killing you.”

“We don’t even know if Claire’s alive,” Luke said. “Are we doing the right thing?”

“I don’t know what the right thing is, but I know we’re not doing the wrong thing. We just keep going.”

I told Luke to use the firewood stacked underneath the deck at the cabin before I ended the call. There was nothing more to say.

Rats. I couldn’t get it out of my head, but just as I mouthed the word, I knew that is what I needed. I needed a Rat.It wasn’t the earth-shattering catharsis that I’d hoped for, but it was simple — I needed simple. I needed one in Marks’ crew, but that could put me in the river.

My personal cell buzzed in my pocket. The “Blocked Caller” blinked on the screen as the buzzing continued in my hand. I pressed the Accept button and held the phone to my ear. I could hear light breathing trickling into the receiver on the other end.

“You keep calling me . . . you must want to say something,” I said.

“You the cop?” a young man’s voice asked.

“Maybe. . . Who are you?”

“I can’t tell you that.”

The phone went silent as the call disappeared from the screen. I threw my phone in the passenger seat. This world is full of Rats.


© Josiah A. Miller 2018. All Rights Reserved.