Today's Reading

I had intended to take a few hours off from my job as a sheriff's detective in northern Ohio farm country. We'd gotten a guilty verdict that morning on a guy who'd tossed his wife down the stairs, breaking both her legs, an arm and her ribs. She was an addict, and her husband had claimed someone else had hurt his wife, probably a dealer tired of taking bad sex instead of money for his product.

The husband had discounted her claims that he had been the one who attacked her, saying she was probably too damned addled on heroin to have any goddamned idea who had thrown her down the stairwell, and maybe she had just fallen down the stairs all by herself because drugs made her woozy. Why would we listen to anything a drug whore said anyway, he asked on the witness stand. He called me both a liar and a motherfucking liar, after having sworn on the Bible, no less, so help him God. The prosecutor had objected to defend my honor, of course.

I took no real offense. Cops get used to being called names, even in farm country. Instead of taking umbrage, I just watched Baker Thomas, the husband. I watched him the way a raptor watches a mouse, and I could not help noticing how goddamned pleased he seemed every time someone mentioned Kate's injuries.

Heroin is a real goddamned problem around here, just like everywhere, and people were ready to believe Baker Thomas when the crime happened. This was just one more drug incident to them, they thought. Drug whore got hurt? Meh. How'd the Browns do last night?

But the guy's reaction to her fall had seemed a bit off from the start, and I had never quite believed him. Neither did the deputies working with me. He always seemed to be in on some private joke. Sometimes, you just know when a guy is guilty, whether you have the evidence or not.

He had presented us with what seemed like a solid alibi, though— witnesses who swore he was at a bar while his woman got busted up. It had taken me a month to break that alibi, but I eventually used my powers of persuasion, by which I mean I put one of those witnesses against a wall until he shit his pants, and that convinced the guy to talk. That cracked things open, and we proved Baker Thomas had stolen heroin from his wife and traded it for lies that established his alibi. Now the husband was on his way to prison.

I call that a good day.

My plan had been to take the rest of the day off, drink some beers and get Tuck to play some Steve Earle and Willie Nelson on the good speakers, instead of his usual hair band shit. That plan was now in jeopardy because the skinny stranger had snarled something about fucking faggots at the talking heads on the TV screen just as Tuck had tipped the tap handle for my India pale ale.

The man's timing was unfortunate. Ollie, who had been sitting nearby draining a double bourbon, planned to marry a big bearded guy named Rush who looked almost like Ollie's own twin. Read into that what you will, but I don't care to examine it too closely. Anyway, Ollie didn't like the stranger's comment about gay people one damned little bit. Words were exchanged, drinks were spilled and the next thing you know I've got a very large smelly man in motorcycle togs locked under my arm and a scrawny perfumed stranger scooting across the floor and leaving black marks from his boots.

My damned cellphone was buzzing in my pocket, too. That probably was a work call, and another reason to be cranky.

I locked my eyes on the skinny stranger, who had a pinched face, goatee, and dark arched eyebrows that made him look like a ringmaster at a circus run by Stephen King, or maybe Neil Gaiman. I hoped to keep the combatants apart long enough for them to see sense. I knew Ollie and figured he would calm down quickly. I did not know the scarecrow with the broken nose, but if he gave up, I thought I might even get out of this mess without paperwork. There was a chance of that, anyway, as long as the Stringbean on the floor didn't pull the knife.

He pulled the knife.

I rolled my eyes at the switchblade that suddenly appeared like a magician's paper bouquet in his right hand. "I'm a cop. Drop that."

"Fuck you," the idiot said, trying to get up.

The key to such situations is remaining calm, dispassionate.

I shoved Ollie away, calmly and dispassionately, and he crashed into the wall. I considered calmly and dispassionately kicking knife boy in the nuts, and figured I had every right to do so. That would have been unprofessional, though, and probably would have gotten my leg sliced. I drew my weapon instead.

"Mine shoots a lot farther than yours," I said. "Drop the blade."

He dropped the blade, but something in his demeanor told me he had stared down the barrel of a gun before.

"Shove that thing as far from you as you can," I ordered, and he complied.

I stepped back so I could keep both men covered, even though I was not too concerned about Ollie.

Ollie moaned, "Holy shit."

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