Nellie Gracie was just hanging up the phone when Emm came in and stomped the snow off his boots in the police station. Nellie was a police officer, and she actually insisted on wearing the uniform, but her job wasn’t to go out and snag criminals, such as they were in Stonebury. Her role was a lot more important than that.
She was a sturdy woman of indeterminate age, the kind of ageless country woman that you got around here. Her hair was jet black, but whether that was nature or nuture was a matter of some debate. She had an easy smile and the ability to wither a man’s soul by staring over the tops of her glasses. Which she frequently did. She was doing it now, because Emmerson Swift was making a hell of a mess.
“Don’t look at me like that, what was a I supposed to do?” he said.
“Is that Johnny Mattingly?”
Mattingly was slung over Em’s shoulder like a sack of grain. If it was any strain to Em, it didn’t show.
“Is he dead?”
Em shrugged a shoulder and Mattingly snorted.
Nellie got up.
“Maybe next time. Be careful, the floor is liable to be slippy. Snow damn fool got snow all over the place.”
Cameron Coyle stepped in the door, snow gusting in behind him, and he got the full weight of the Nellie stare. He returned it without a blink.
“Nellie, this is Mr. Coyle. Mattingly managed to wreck his car, so he’s going to be weathering the storm with us.”
Nellie gave him the once over as she opened the door to the holding cell. Em stepped in and dropped Mattingly on the bed. He kept snoring. Em shook his head. Nellie locked the cell door on him.
The police station was not what you would call a high security operation. It was about ninety percent an office, and it had once been the senior citizen’s center before they got a big grant. It had a holding cell, one that had been installed at fair cost to the town. It didn’t get used much. Most of the real policing was left to the staties, but Em did find it was useful to have some place to keep the drunks for the night. Especially on nights like this.
“Nellie can you –“Em started.
“ I got it.”
“Mr. Coyle, you can have a seat. There is, I’m afraid, going to be paperwork.”
There was, a great stack of it that Nellie slapped down in front of him. Nellie had worked for the Stonebury police, off and on, for forty years. The off and on wasn’t her doing; the town went through periods where it decided that it didn’t need its own police protection.
These periodic gaps were why Nellie was probably the most important person on the police force. She provided continuity. She knew who did what, and where they had put it. She also, quite crucially from Em’s point of view, knew how to operate the ancient coffeemaker. Nellie believed that the entire police department would collapse without her, and Em was pretty sure that she was entirely correct.