Today's Reading

"It's going to be OK, Ollie." I looked at the skinny idiot. "I am Detective Ed Runyon, Mifflin County Sheriff 's Office, and you both are under arrest." I recited the rest of the Miranda stuff. I don't think either guy was really listening.

"I can't get arrested," Ollie said. "Rush is gonna be pissed."

"You can kiss and make up later," I said. "I can't ignore a barfight, Ollie." I really wished to hell I could ignore it, but taxpayers wouldn't like it, and neither would my boss.

The phone in my pocket kept buzzing.

Ollie inhaled deeply, hands on his knees, and blew out a loud sound, something between a "whoa" and a "whew." It could have been a blowing whale, it was so loud. He spun, lost balance and fell back against the wall again. With that additional data, I concluded the double bourbon had been Ollie's third.

One of the traffic signs that pass for fancy decor at Tucker's Bar and Grill clattered to the floor as Ollie slid down on his ass. The sign said "Falling Rock Zone." I didn't have time to laugh at that or make a wisecrack. Neither did the huge dead buck's head hanging above.

Somewhere behind the bar, I heard Tuck say "thanks." He popped up from cover and placed his cellphone on the bar. "Help is on the way, Ed. Dispatcher said they are close by."

The stranger stayed on the floor, and snarled a bit. "Fucking cop, man. This was a set-up."

"You are under arrest for attempted assault with a deadly weapon," I told the stranger. I aimed at his sweaty face. "Plus, you know, actual assault. Probably some other shit. I will figure it all out later. Do not move."

He didn't move.

"Me, too, Ed?" Ollie's question was expressed mostly in burps.

"You're under arrest, too, Ollie."

"Damn, Ed. Sorry." His face, the part that showed through all the beard, anyway, was beet red. It got redder.

A few minutes later a siren split the air somewhere nearby, and I heard tires squealing through a tight turn. Another siren sounded from the north, and I heard a cruiser brake hard outside.

"Hail, hail, the gang's all here," I said.

Tuck had a short-barreled shotgun leaning against his shoulder. "I popped your brew into the fridge, Ed."

"Thanks. Best service anywhere." My phone was still vibrating, but I ignored it and kept an eye on the man on the floor. "You can put the shotgun away, Tuck. Cavalry's coming."

"Right."

Soon after Tuck had put away his shotgun and Ollie had started breathing normally, Deputies Scott Baxter and Irwin Trumpower came through the door, guns drawn. Bax was low, Trumpower was high, and they made it look just like on TV. Trumpower was more Hill Street, while Bax was more Mayberry, but still, just like on TV. The guns went back into their holsters pretty quickly, though.

Irwin, the senior of the two, spoke. "Got it all under control, Ed?"

"Looks that way, Trump."

"Do not call me that." His forehead, which always looked crinkled with concern even when he was telling a dirty joke, folded into deeper furrows.

"Everyone calls you that," I said. "Have for years."

"Not anymore," Trumpower said. He added under his breath. "I watched the news today. Fuck that fucking guy."

"Should've heard him this morning," Baxter whispered, aiming a thumb at Trumpower. "Madder than a wet cow on a Tuesday."

"What does that even mean, Bax?" Bax was known for having a blender somewhere between his brain and his mouth, and things come out of him a little mixed up.

"Just means Irwin was upset about being called Trump, is all." Baxter looked a little wounded.

"OK," I said. "Irwin it is. Cuff these guys for me? The gentleman there on the floor first, please. A count of assault against each, and attempt with a deadly on a peace officer against Skinny. Bag the knife there, too. It's under that table." I pointed. "It belongs to Skinny. Got his nice, grimy fingerprints all over it."

Trumpower cuffed Skinny. Baxter, who swears he's older than thirty but looks like he should be playing the nice teen boy next door on an old-fashioned sit-com, cuffed Ollie and raised his eyebrows. "What started it?"

I holstered my gun, and pulled my phone from my pocket. "That one there," I said, pointing at Skinny, "exercised his free speech rights to say nasty things about gay people. Ollie exercised his free speech rights to call Skinny a stupid piece of shit, if I recall correctly. He might have called him a fucking stupid piece of shit, actually. I wasn't really taking notes. Anyway, things sort of went downhill from there. The marketplace of ideas in all its glory, the epitome of civil debate. Like Twitter, only you could actually smell it."
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