Monday, December 24, 2007

Chapter 7: Back to Work, Part III

A horn blared behind him. Moving the mirror back up, he saw a silver car sitting behind him. The driver flipped the bird at him with one hand and pointed at the road with the other. Vernon looked out the windshield. Traffic had thinned considerably. He waved at the following driver, stomped on the accelerator and whipped out onto the highway. Batteries and flashlights rattled on the floor. Vernon quickly caught up with traffic and wove through it, dodging in and out of lanes whenever an opening presented itself.

So intent was he on threading his path that Vernon never saw the state trooper until the flashing lights appeared in his mirror.

Sighing and shaking his head, Vernon pulled over and leaned over to retrieve his insurance card from the glove box. He flipped past maps and car repair bills, dug past car manuals and coupons. Where'd it go? I saw it in here not that long ago. As his fingers finally closed on the paperwork he sought, another thought occurred to him. Is it still current? Cheryl always took care of the bills. He usually didn't realize something was due until after she'd already paid it. Nothing I can do about it now. He took a deep breath and placed it in the seat while he pulled the wallet from his back pocket and took his license out. Vernon looked in the side mirror and saw a black trooper wearing the familiar tan shirt and cowboy hat walking toward the Camry, thumbs tucked into his black gunbelt. He couldn't see the trooper's eyes behind his sunglasses, but the bandage across his nose and scowl creasing his features didn't bode well for this particular stop.

"What seems to be the problem officer?" he said to himself, then shook his head. "Morning, officer. Is something wrong?" He rolled his eyes. "Well, of course something's wrong. You think he pulled you over to chat?"

The trooper tapped on his window. Vernon rolled it down and leaned his head out. "Good morning, Officer," he glanced at the name tag, "Williams. What's up?" He cringed at the stupid question and tried to cover it by handing over his license and insurance.

"That won't be necessary, Mr. Hamilton." Officer Williams' deep voice had a nasal quality. "I just plan to give you a warning this time."

How did he know my name? Vernon tried not to frown. He could have looked up my license plate number, I guess... He looked up at the trooper, who appeared to be trying to refrain from smiling. The cop touched his nose gingerly and grimaced. Vernon gasped. "Marvin?"

He laughed. "I was wondering how long it was going to take you to figure it out." His tone grew somber. "Seriously, Mr. Hamilton – you need to slow down. Even if you don't hurt someone, we like to patrol though this area, and you probably won't get so lucky next time."

"I know, I know. I just couldn't stand to be there any longer. I had to get out of Jennings Grove..." He bit his tongue. He'd already injured this man, why push his luck in insulting his hometown?

Marvin just nodded. "Bad night, I take it. I understand, believe me I do. But that's not something you can really explain to another trooper, now is it?"

"I guess not."

"I know how it feels to need to blow off some steam. Take my advice: get a hobby. I box three times a week."

"Thanks, Marvin." The trooper saluted and turned to walk away. Vernon chewed on his lip for a moment, then asked: "Why?"

"Why what?" He turned back to the window.

"Why just let me off with a warning? I broke your nose, for crying out loud. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad I didn't get a ticket, but I don't understand it."

Marvin smiled sadly. "I'm not a Jennings Gove native either, Mr. Hamilton. I had a very hard time getting used to it after the night took my son. That was fifteen years ago, and I still find it hard not to resist going out there when I see him in the dark."

"Why resist at all?" Vernon asked softly.

"Because those left behind still need you." Marvin tapped the roof of the car. "That's a darling little boy you've got; I've never seen Kateri so taken with a little one. I know it's tempting, but you got to remember your duty to your son."

"I'll keep that in mind, officer." He stuck a hand out the window. "Thanks."

Marvin shook the proffered hand and walked back to his squad car. Vernon watched him go, then put the Camry back into gear and slipped back into traffic.

The drive into Paris passed smoothly. Vernon forced himself to stop chewing on his lip halfway there to keep from biting it off. Everyone keeps talking about my duty to Raymond, but what about my duty to Cheryl and Alexis? he thought as he parked. He sighed, climbed out of the car and walked into Paris Plastics.


Part IV of Chapter 7 coming Friday!

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