Monday, January 10, 2011

Until Dawn - 4

Emmerson Swift was glad that he took the four wheel drive out. The police department had tried to save money on the police cars, all three of them, and as a result they’d purchased cars that were fuel efficient and cheap, and about as good in the snow as a fish on the highway.

Which would be fine, if Em were still in SoCal. In Pennsylvania, it displayed a serious lack of forethought and was, to Em’s way of thinking, a near perfect example of what was wrong with the county commissioners. There wasn’t much he could do about it, aside from lodging protests and making sure the commissioners were given parking tickets as often as humanly possible.

That did not mean that Em himself had to drive the damn things, so he had his blazer fitted with lights and he took it out whenever the weather was bad. The forecast for the day hadn’t called for snow, but the dull ache in Emmerson’s shoulder was a lot better than Accuweather, as far as he was concerned.

He watched the snow fall, insulated coffee cup balanced on his gut. He was warm and comfy in the Blazer, but the snow was coming down so fast that he needed to have the wiper on just to see out the windshield. He wasn’t sure how much longer it was going to pay to be out here.

Em was waiting for John Mattingly, who was dangerous enough on a good night and was more or less guaranteed to hurt somebody on a night like this, if only himself. It wasn’t that Mattingly was a bad man, in the usual sense.

Em liked the guy, as far as that went. He was funny, in his was, a tiny little guy with red hair and a grey beard, how reminded Em of leprechaun, minus the Irish accent. He’d been a janitor at the local elementary school for forty years, going pretty much straight from student to hired help.

He wasn’t a janitor now, for precisely the same reason that Em was waiting for him outside of town; he liked to drink. No, he loved to drink. Alcohol was the deep and abiding passion on John Mattingly’s life, and Em didn’t figure the man had a dry day since high school. He was an alcoholic, even he knew that, but he was unrepentant. He loved to drink, and he did.

Which would probably be alright, in Em’s world, if John could keep it at home. But John drank all the time, and he wasn’t a homebody. He’d drank at work, and while the school had given him a lot of rope on the issue, they’d eventually canned him for it. He also liked to come into town and drink with his buddies.

Which was why Em was sitting in his truck at the outskirts of town, at the very edge of where his jurisdiction stretched. He’d be waiting in Mattingly’s driveway if he could, but this was as good as it was likely to get. Em leaned forward and looked up at the sky through the windshield. No sign of the full moon, and it wasn’t even that late. They’d had mild winters the last few years, and they were due a big one. He hoped Dani was home but suspected she wasn’t. Once again, he wished they had some kind of cell phone coverage.

The problem here was that Mattingly had gotten in the habit, as of late, of driving into town to drink after having spent the entire day drinking. He had managed, barely to skirt losing his license, but he was a danger to the community. Emmerson had tried to reason with the guy, and for a while it looked like it had worked.

Mattingly had either walked to the bar or caught a ride with someone. His girlfriend, a big bellied big breasted woman named Nelly who loved smoking nearly as much as Mattingly loved drinking, usually picked him up after he closed the bar or the Legion down.

The problem started when the weather went cold and Nelly’s car broke down. For the last week or two Mattingly had taken to driving to and from the watering holes in a state of massive intoxication, although he did some nights manage the fairly impressive feat of ending the evening more sober than he started without actually stopping drinking.

This was a small, small town, so when Mattingly drove Jenny Moore’s flowerbed one night, word had gotten back to the chief of police. Em had made sure the deputies were aware of this and they were looking for them, but the limitations of having a six person police force had allowed Mattingly to avoid getting picked up.

That good luck streak of Mattingly’s was going to end tonight if Em had anything to say about it. He about half hoped that Mattingly was going to do the sensible thing and stay home, but he didn’t have much faith that would happen. In his experience, men like that didn’t let a little thing like a blizzard get in their way. He just hoped he didn’t run out of coffee before he did.

He needn’t have worried. Em was halfway through pouring a cup of coffee when Mattingly’s old battered truck swung by, going faster than he should have in the weather. Emmerson swore to himself, chugged the cup of coffee and half scalding himself in the process. He put on the lights and pulled out.

Tried to pull out, anyway. The wheel spun, despite the four wheel drive.

“Ah, come on you piece of crap.”

He held down on the gas until the wheels ground down through the snow and found purchase on the solid ground. He jerked out into the road, Mattingly’s truck lost in the snow, not even the glow of the headlights visible.

“Damn it, Johnny.”

He leaned over the wheel and sped up. He wasn’t sure this was a good idea. The problem with chasing someone in a car was that you ran a fair to middling chance of creating the accident that you were trying to stop. Em remembered that everytime his shoulder creaked. He wanted to catch Mattingly and stop an accident, not cause one.

His Blazer was gripping the road fairly well, but he had no good way of knowing whether or not he was actually gaining on Mattingly until he actually caught the little bastard. Em slowed down his breathing and that continue to pick up speed. If he was going to catch Mattingly, it would be on the straight stretch before town.

He saw, or thought he saw, a dim red glow ahead. The dim glow grew a little brighter, and Em was definitely catching up to someone. As the road straightened out, he sped up even more. He saw the red lights ahead of him wobble a bit. Mattingly was fishtailing in the snow, but not too badly. It was enough to make Em sure of who he was following.

Emmerson gripped the wheel and sped up even more, focused on the tail lights in the distance.

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