Monday, February 04, 2019

Frag, 02/04/19


Asa Pine always wakes up a second or two before. A second or two before the alarm goes off. A second or two before the phone call comes through. That's how he always remembers it, anyway. It's been like that since boot camp and the first subtle breath of needle noise before reveille tried to shake apart the squad bay's sound system.

He's staring at the clock radio as 3:36 a.m. becomes 3:37 and his phone lights up. Ring tone: "Riders on the storm / Riders on the storm / Into this world we're thrown ..."

He doesn't sit up or unplug the phone from the charger before swiping the answer icon and hitting "speaker."

"Pine."

The answer is not the expected: "Storm," or just a perfunctory order.

"Deputy Pine, this is Sheriff Susan Dorsey of Alachua County. How quickly can you get to Cedar Key, lights and sirens?"

Pine blinks, thinks. "Forty minutes."

"Don't stop for anything or for any reason. Meet me at the Sumidero County Sheriff's Office in 35."

"Yes ma'am."

No click, just a "call ended" message.

Pine pops a k-cup in the machine while he pulls on a uniform. He's out of the house with his insulated travel cup of joe four minutes later. One minute after that, as he turns on to Highway 24, he hits the lights. No siren. No need to wake people up unless he hits traffic. At a quarter to 4 in the morning, that's unlikely.

Just northeast of Otter Creek, past the Upper Waccassa Conservation Area, the strobes of several law enforcement and emergency response vehicles light up the sky to his north. An un-labeled gravel service road, or perhaps a very long driveway, leads in that direction. Pine ignores it and accelerates.

He pulls into a parking spot in Cedar Key 41 minutes after "call ended." Not 40. Certainly not 35. It's going to have to be close enough for government work. All of the department's vehicles except the sheriff's Ford Explorer are out. He's pretty sure he knows where.

Dorsey awaits just inside the employee entrance. Pine hears tension in the steady but unintelligible hum of talk from the dispatcher's desk down the hall.

"Pine?"

"Yes ma'am." They've met before, at a law enforcement banquet. He's not surprised she doesn't remember him. He barely remembers the event himself, but she's hard to forget.

"Ronnie Storm is dead."

Oh, shit.

"Accident?"

"Doesn't look like it."

Oh. Shit.

"Let me make this as simple as possible. The sheriff's department can't investigate the death of someone who happens to be the sheriff's daughter, the chief deputy's girlfriend, and another deputy's ex-girlfriend. Alachua County will handle the investigation until and unless the state decides to take it from us. We're going to need a liaison. You answer to the description -- a reserve deputy, with an alibi, from the other side of the county, who has never dated Ronnie Storm."

Alibi? Pine files that one away for the moment.

"How's the sheriff holding up?"

"I don't know. I haven't had time to monitor his emotional well-being. He called me the minute the news came in and we had about 30 seconds of so sorry, how can I help before I had to get to work on this. He's in his office. Leave him alone for now. We've got work to do."

As she turns away with an unspoken direction to follow, Pine brushes the star over his breast with one hand before filing the matter away under THINGS I DIDN'T SIGN UP FOR BUT THAT HAPPEN ANYWAY.

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