Monday, December 23, 2013

The Junior Officer

By Judith Boswell
Mystery/Crime, 325 pages
Cover art by Richard Stroud

Chief of Police Bret Skoal is being blackmailed. A videotape showing his excessive use of force on a group of unarmed teenagers has been shipped overnight to the department, just in time to complicate an ongoing homicide investigation.

Officer Robbie Brooks is five years sober, and barely hanging on to his job thanks to Chief Skoal. He's desk bound and bored, but at least he's still alive, so long as his old partner doesn't come back to finish him.

Rookie Lou Culpepper frequently blurs the lines between fantasy and reality, because reality is often so damn unsatisfying. That's all about to change.

He phoned the prison to set up a face to face meeting with a bad feeling in his gut. After all these years, he couldn't shake the feeling of guilt. Danny could have been any kid back then, he'd thought to teach him a lesson-a hard-ass cop on a mission. He thought he had gotten through to him too, but obviously...

"Culpepper," he yelled out into the hall. "We're driving out to Butner in an hour."

"Yes, sir."

He'd bring the kid. It would be helpful perhaps to have someone there with him, in case Danny proved unforgiving. That is, if he even remembered who Officer Skoal was.
Lou was excited about the road trip. He would use this as an opportunity to impress upon the chief his usefulness, his maturity, and his police chops. He had no idea why they were going to visit a prison inmate personally, but he had every confidence that there was a plan, and that he could be an implementing force.

First he needed some tunes.

Butner high-security was a flat and impregnable structure surrounded by wire. It lay low to the ground and looked smaller than it was, like a particularly dismal high school or a strip mall. On the inside, however, everything was blindingly white and labyrinthine in its scope and complexity. Security let them in immediately after seeing their badges, and greeted Chief Skoal by name. Lou had a suspicion it was much easier to get in than to get back out. They were escorted to a private cell, where they waited, Lou pacing every inch in anticipation, the chief sitting at once at the steel table, unloading his briefcase with files and photos he had brought along. The doors clanged open and shut and Danny walked in with his escort.

The chief was first impressed by how much the boy had changed. His face had hardened, frozen in an irredeemable scowl, his baby fat gone, his features could have belonged to a stranger. His arms were covered in prison caliber tattoos, his demeanor was hostile and slovenly, but he seemed at the same time completely at ease. He sat at once, kitty-corner from the chief, and stared at the wall across from him. The chief watched him closely in silence, looking for a glimmer of recognition before proceeding. "Danny Bauer, my name is Chief Bret Skoal, and this is Officer Culpepper. We need to ask you a few questions."

Danny shrugged. If he had any memory of their previous history, he didn't show it. The chief took the shrug as encouragement and pushed the top photo over. It was a head shot of the victim, taken at the morgue. The photo showed a man, clearly dead, but cleaned up and put right, without the identifying marks of a homicide. Lou looked over at the photo with some surprise. He had not been aware of any connection between the victim and this convict, or of any leads in the victim's identity. Obviously, the chief was playing this one close to the chest. He tried to gauge Mr. Bauer's reaction.

At first there wasn't one. He continued to stare unblinkingly at the wall, and the chief wasn't even sure Danny had looked down at the picture. Then, in one fluid motion, Danny lunged across the table at him, bared teeth first. No noise escaped him except a rapid intake of breath as the armed escort forced him down to the table, his face pressed against the metal.

"Answer the questions," the guard shouted, bringing his elbow into the small of Danny's back.

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