“You know damn good and well who it is,” barked Kimball at the distorted, disembodied voice crackling within the rusty speaker box outside of his cruiser. “Let me in.”
Kimball hated going to Mayor Wallace’s estate. Not only was it two miles south of town and only accessible by way of a severely potholed gravel road, but the unwarranted level of heightened security never failed to piss him off. The old man was getting more paranoid by the day.
The gates creaked open and Kimball pulled through. He eased down the long and winding driveway to the house, where he spotted Wallace in a second floor window, scowling down at him and clutching a drink in his gnarled, claw-like hand.
He stood at the door and waited–there was no need to knock. Wallace, dressed in a bathrobe and slippers, opened it moments later.
“Come in,” he said, turning his back on the chief and going to the den.
Kimball shut the door.
“Be sure to latch it,” Wallace called.
Cursing under his breath, Kimball obeyed and followed the mayor into the den.
“Offer you a drink?” asked the old man, pouring himself a scotch and soda.
“Pass. I’m on duty. You don’t want your chief of police drunk on the job, do you?”
“I expect about half of your guys are either drunk or worse most of the time anyway,” said Wallace. “But, I guess you’re right. Technically.”
“I’m a busy man, in spite of whatever you might think,” said Kimball. “So let’s cut to the chase so I can get back to work. I got a missing kid out there and daylight’s burning fast.”
“You get rid of the snoop yet?”
Kimball couldn’t help but grind his teeth in frustration. “No. No I haven’t, and you know it. That’s why you called. You already know the answer to that one. Ask me one you don’t know.”
“Have a seat, Chief,” said the mayor, gesturing at one of the antique wingback chairs by the fireplace.
“I really don’t have–”
“Sit down. I don’t sit when other people are standing, and I want to sit now. So sit.”
“Fine.” He sat, and Wallace did too.
“Longer that fella goes pokin’ around out there, more chance you take of him digging up some things best left buried, if you catch my drift.”
“He won’t be a problem. Just your garden variety piece of shit, prolly couldn’t hack it as a real cop so now he goes around gettin’ in the way of real police work.”
“Don’t be so dismissive of his abilities. l’ve read up on him, and he’s got a very high success rate. Nearly a hundred percent.”
“Alright, alright. I’ll press him harder.”
“Good. Who’s the missing kid?”
“Carl Stintson. Jerry’s boy.”
“I don’t know any Jerry Stintson.”
“Yes you do, one that runs the lumberyard.”
“He never came home from school yesterday. Last they saw him was yesterday morning.”
Wallace sighed and drank. “Think it’s related?”
“Based on what?”
“Hey,” said Kimball, “Don’t you go underestimating my abilities, neither. Have a little faith.”
“You’re right. You’re right. We got a problem, though.”
“Yeah. I think eventually the the trail’s going to lead straight to that nursing home he’s rotting away in. And he’ll talk. It ain’t his fault, of course, he can’t help it. Altimer’s gettin’ worse every day.”
“Alzheimer’s, you mean.”
“That’s what it’s called. Alzheimer’s. Sorry, I just don’t like it when people don’t say words right.”
Wallace scowled. “Are you chief of police or head of the English department at OU? You understood what I meant, didn’t ya? Shit. Now what you need to do is make sure he don’t talk. Shut him up.”
“Shut him up? How the hell am I supposed to do that? Go over there and have a talk with him that he’ll forget about ten seconds after I walk out the door? You want me to rough him up an lil’ bit too, boss? Give him a good ol’ Texas Tuneup? See, that’s what we used to call it back in Amarillo whenever we had to–”
“I don’t want you to talk with him. I just want you to shut him up, like I said. Actions speak much louder than words. I want action.”
Kimball sighed, hard. He got up and paced; draped his arm across the fireplace mantle and rested his head on it.
“You sure there ain’t no other way to handle this? Get a court order that he can’t go over there harassin’ him or some–”
“Damn it Kimball you know that won’t hold no water. All that’ll do is alert him who to talk to, you idiot.”
“What if we checked him out and hid him somewhere?”
“Again, that will not hold water, legally. His family’d have to sign off on that and what would we tell them? I’ll say it again, one more time: Shut him up.”
“Fine. I just don’t get the point of it, is all. I’d be putting my ass on the line bigtime.”
“You’ll be doing him a favor. Matter of fact you can shoot me if I get like that. He’s trapped in some kinda… I don’t know. Hell. It’s all confusion and fear in his head and he’s miserable. It’s just gotta be done this way. You know why. You understand.”
“No, I really don’t. I don’t understand why we don’t just move everybody out of the town like they did in Picher.”
“You know damn well the government won’t ever admit to their part in it.”
“Whatever that is.”
Wallace shrugged. “I used to get all worked up trying to guess, kept myself up at night with all kinds of wild theories. After a time I come to realize some things are bigger than me. Best to leave ’em be.”
“You know what I think? I think the truth would ruin your lavish lifestyle, and that’s why you fight so hard to cover it up, even from yourself. Out here living high off the hog on hush money while the town you been in charge of for damn near forty years goes to shit.”
“Maybe you ain’t heard. I haven’t been in charge in quite some time.”
Kimball laughed. “Yeah, sure. Everybody knows Collins is your little puppet and does whatever you say. We all know who pulls the strings around here.”
“That’ll be all, Chief. I’ve heard enough out of you today. Kindly escort yourself out of my house.”
“You sure did make out good on all this.” Kimball went on as he stood and straightened his uniform. You’re the only one who did, in fact. Must be nice.”
Kimball glared at the frail, withering man whose worry-creased face betrayed decades of inner turmoil. He felt sorry for the old bastard, in a way, but not so much that he couldn’t hate him.