From THE WAY LIFE SHOULD BE by Terry Shaw. Copyright Â© 2007 by Terry Shaw. Reprinted by permission of Touchstone Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
It was three a.m. and anything was possibleâ€”all he needed was a little luck. At least thatâ€™s what Paul Stanwood tried to tell himself as he turned his Range Rover onto the wet, sandy road and its headlights bounced through the shadows and fir. He knew he shouldnâ€™t be there. He just couldnâ€™t help himself.
When the Rover began to stall on the ruts, Stanwood downshifted to let the tires grab hold, which seemed to do the trick. He was nervous but kept going until a sign on a steel gate read: â€œSullivan Park Closed at Dusk. Violators Will be Prosecuted to the Fullest Extent Allowed by Law.â€
Whatever that meant.
He wasnâ€™t sure but was willing to take a chance, so he cut the ignition, got out and began walking the footpath through the gently swaying spruce before reconsidering. He stopped and took a deep breath. The rot drifted up from the clam flats below and a full moon burned like a bare bulb off the dark water of Penobscot Bay.
The park was at the end of a long peninsula, a tangle of rock, surf and pine that had once been a saltwater farm. Now it was just a road through the woods, a small, unpaved parking lot and an oddly out-of-place pay phone. Past the clearing where he stood, a few scattered picnic tables and a cinderblock bathhouse completed the sceneâ€”not much, really, given the recent sensation. Of course, there was the boat launch.
â€œThe only place in town to get off at low tide,â€ according to John Quinn, whoâ€™d come home to run his familyâ€™s newspaper. He said the park was an embarrassment and that grown menâ€”no matter their sexual preferenceâ€”should have a sense of decency.
Quinn had no idea what was at stake. After being gone a decade, he was clueless about the changes taking place in their hometown. Paul planned to tell him as much, once he was sure of everything himself, though heâ€™d been warned against it. He shook his head at the thought, when something cracked behind him.
â€œWhoâ€™s there?â€ he asked.
For a moment he listened to the waves lap the granite shore, the whole time wondering if those had been his own steps echoing in the darkness. He stopped and spun around. Damn. He couldnâ€™t believe how paranoid heâ€™d become. He took another deep breath and tried to relax. Easy now, he told himself. The sun would be up in a few hours and everything would be safe and fresh with the new day.
Keeping that in mind, Paul walked toward the bathhouse and stepped inside. The place was a mess. He could make out overturned benches and a cracked toilet. The urinals reeked and it was hard to believe the spot had become the object of such fierce debate. Men were being arrested. The cops were under fire. Neither side would listen to reason and somehow Paul was caught in the middle. What was he supposed to do?
As he shuffled his sandals along the gritty concrete and lit a Camel, the flame shined briefly on a wall covered with crudely drawn slogans and promises that made him laugh out loud. The whole thing seemed suddenly absurd, and by the time he was halfway through the cigarette and beginning to relax, the gravelly sound of tires came from the road.
A car door slammed and someone began walking his way.
â€œHelllloo!â€ Stanwoodâ€™s voice echoed off the low, flat ceiling.
â€œYou alone?â€ came back.
The other voice hesitated. â€œI thought I saw someone else poking around.â€
â€œThat was just me, admiring the scenery.â€
â€œGlad to hear it.â€ A figure appeared in the doorway. â€œI was hoping youâ€™d be here.â€
â€œIâ€™m flattered,â€ Stanwood said, once he recognized the voice. â€œBut youâ€™re the last person Iâ€™d expect to turn up in a place like this.â€
â€œI wish I could say the same about you.â€
Stanwood ignored the shot and asked what he had in mind.
â€œA little surprise.â€ The man reached into his nylon windbreaker.
â€œSo whatâ€™s that?â€
â€œThis?â€ The man flicked on a steel Maglite the size of a nightstick and stepped toward him. â€œWhy, itâ€™s the surprise.â€
Stanwood held up his hands to shield his eyes from the glare. â€œLookâ€”Iâ€™m not here for what you think.â€
â€œThen what are you here for?â€
He wasnâ€™t sure. â€œTo tell you the truth, this whole deal has become a little too complicated.â€
â€œMaybe I can simplify things.â€ The man swung the Mag in a small, fast arc, catching Stanwood on the collarbone and sending him to the floor.
That knocked the wind out of him.
Stanwood forced himself to his hands and knees but the man swung again, connecting with the side of his skull and causing everything to blur. Stanwood rolled onto his back and tried to cover himself. The man swung a third time and shattered a forearm. Stanwood curled into the fetal position and tried to smother the pain. â€œJesus Christ,â€ he muttered before another crack sent him under.
â€œThatâ€™s right,â€ the man said, his breath heavy from the effort. â€œItâ€™s time to go home to Jesus.â€
He swung again and the light went out.
Quinn snatched the phone on the first ring.
â€œJohn, itâ€™s Ginny Sewell.â€
He groaned, fell back onto his bed and waited for her to continue. He was used to calls at odd hours, but this was a little early, even for Ginny. â€œWell, what is it?â€ he asked when nothing else followed.
â€œItâ€™s Sarah,â€ she finally managed.
â€œIs she all right?â€
â€œNo,â€ Ginny said. â€œSheâ€™s not.â€
Sarah was the police reporter at the Stone Harbor Pilot and Ginny was her mother. Since she was sobbing at the other end of the line, Quinn thought the worstâ€”that her daughter had been in a horrible accident rushing to a crime scene or fire.
Â â€œTell me what happened,â€ he said, slowly but firmly.
Â â€œSheâ€”sheâ€”sheâ€™s been arrested.â€
Quinn relaxed. â€œThatâ€™s it?â€
â€œWhat do you mean, thatâ€™s it?â€ Ginny couldnâ€™t believe his attitude.
â€œYou made it sound like she was dead.â€
â€œDonâ€™t yell at me!â€ Ginny shouted.
â€œIâ€™m not yelling at you!â€ he said, though suddenly he may have been. He had a temper and his heart was still racing from being jarred awake so early on a Sunday morning. The glowing numbers on his alarm clock read 6:00 a.m.
He took a deep breath as Ginny blew her nose into the receiver and tried to compose herself. â€œIâ€™m sorry,â€ she said. â€œI didnâ€™t know who else to call.â€
â€œDonâ€™t worry about it,â€ Quinn said. â€œYou just scared me. Thatâ€™s all.â€
â€œWell, Iâ€™m scared, too.â€
â€œI bet.â€ During the next awkward moment, Quinn looked around the bedroom. His wife, Maria, was on the other side of the sheets, lying perfectly still in the early morning light, which could only mean one thing: She was pissed.
â€œJohn, you still there?â€ Ginny asked.
â€œYeah. I was just thinking.â€
â€œNothing importantâ€ was probably the wrong thing to say. By then it didnâ€™t matter. Anything he said couldâ€”and wouldâ€”be used against him. He knew by the way his wifeâ€™s whole body was stiffening beside him. â€œSo what did Sarah do?â€ he asked Ginny.
â€œThey charged her with disturbinâ€™ a crime scene,â€ she said. â€œAt Sullivan Park. It happened an hour ago.â€
â€œJesus.â€ Quinn could just imagine the call theyâ€™d answered. The park was the biggest pickup spot on the Maine Coast and had been making headlines all summer. In the past month alone, twenty-three men had been charged with public lewdness as part of a police crackdown. Despite the arrests, they kept coming, up and down Route 1, from Belfast to Bath. Tourists, locals, it didnâ€™t matter.
â€œDonâ€™t you have anythinâ€™ else to say?â€ Ginny asked.
â€œI hope she was wearing rubber gloves.â€
â€œThat isnâ€™t funny.â€
â€œI know.â€ The full effect was beginning to hit him. â€œAnd Iâ€™m not laughing.â€
Neither was Ginny. â€œThe police chief says sheâ€™ll have a criminal record!â€
â€œOh, heâ€™s just trying to scare her. Trust me.â€
â€œHeâ€™s serious!â€ she sobbed.
â€œCalm down. Iâ€™ll be right there.â€ Quinn hung up and shook his head.
â€œWhere are you going?â€ his wife asked.
â€œThe police station.â€ He smiled and ran his hand along her soft, bare shoulder and down her arm. â€œBut donâ€™t worryâ€”this wonâ€™t take long.â€
Maria turned on her side, away from him. â€œItâ€™s them again, isnâ€™t it?â€
He didnâ€™t answer as he got up and pulled on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. He couldnâ€™t just leave one of his reporters in jail, especially when she was only doing her job. It wasnâ€™t her fault she usually beat the cops on calls and they were tired of being embarrassed. Given her crap salary and the hours she worked, driving down to the station was the least Quinn could do. He was probably going to stop by the office later that morning anyway, which would make his wife just as mad. With the way things had been going, he really didnâ€™t have a choice.
Besides, no matter how much of a pain Sarah could be, he admired her. She was twenty-two and had worked her way up from part-time librarian to news clerk to reporter. She had real passion. She was always in a rush, always carrying a hand-held scanner and always running down fires and accidents and random police calls. The only drawback was she didnâ€™t have a license and her mother had to drive her everywhere.
The whole arrangement may have sounded strange to the uninitiated, but Ginny had a lot of time on her hands and didnâ€™t mind waiting around in her ancient Lincoln Continental, scoping out men, reading the racing form or working on a romance novel that had occupied her free time, on and off, for the past five years. Thatâ€™s how long sheâ€™d been on disability after ruining her wrists stitching moccasins at a local factory.
Driving in, Quinn went right past the place. Now converted into an outlet store, the buildingâ€™s brick exterior had been painted, polished and given newfound charm. As he descended into the lower part of town, the streets were quiet and empty, save the occasional shriek of a gull, with block after block of wooden frame homes, brick sidewalks and cluttered storefronts stacked on a waterfront dating to the seventeenth century.
Boats of every size filled the harbor, from Boston whalers and dories to the hulls of Navy destroyers and the three historic schooners that tied up each summer at the maritime museum. It was a picturesque setting, one that made him feel like he was driving through a postcard, until he got to the police station and noticed television crews were set up for a long siege on the front walk. Quinn cringed at the image viewers were getting at home, since one of the talking heads was already going at it.
â€œâ€¦ and in a bizarre side note to this sensational story, a reporter has been arrested forâ€¦â€ he paused, as though he couldnâ€™t quite remember. His cameraman mouthed the rest of the sentence and TV Boy delivered the line â€œdisturbing a crime scene,â€ as though the hitch had been deliberate.
Quinn couldnâ€™t wait for this to be over. The last thing Sarah needed was for her arrest to be blown even further out of proportion. He got out of his car and slammed the door.
Ginny was waiting in a bulging red dress, pacing and smoking frantically. She was a short, busty woman in her early forties and her face was flush with make-up and concern. â€œJohn, thank God youâ€™re here!â€ she said breathlessly as she clicked up the stairs in her high heels beside him. â€œWeâ€™ll see what they have to say now.â€
He stopped halfway. â€œMaybe you better wait here.â€
â€œIâ€™ve been waitinâ€™ more than an hour and donâ€™t think I should have to wait any longer.â€
â€œYouâ€™re probably right,â€ he said. â€œBut let me handle this.â€
She crossed her arms and sighed.
He put a hand on her fleshy shoulder. â€œSo tell me everything that happened,â€ he said. â€œFrom the beginning.â€
â€œI guess it all started with Anthony Perkins.â€
â€œOf course,â€ she said, as if that were the numbest question sheâ€™d ever heard. â€œJust as he was stabbinâ€™ his first victim on the Late, Late Show, a call came across the scanner about Sullivan Park. Since itâ€™s only a half-mile from the trailerâ€”if you go the back wayâ€”we took off. We were the first ones there and Sarah went right in.â€
â€œYou let her go in alone?â€
â€œI left the headlights on,â€ Ginny insisted. â€œAnd the next thing I knew there was sirens and policemen and Sarah was under arrest.â€
He waited for Ginny to continue but she didnâ€™t.
â€œThen what happened?â€ he asked.
â€œI went home and changed outta my bathrobe,â€ she said slyly, as if to tease him.
â€œWell, that explains it.â€ Quinn wasnâ€™t fazed. He knew the Sewells had their own way of operating and let it go at that. He told her to wish him luck, then went inside.
The station was packed. A couple of powdered and puffed TV reporters milled about in suit jackets, ties and shorts, trying to act casual yet keeping a respectful distance from the departmentâ€™s two detectives, who along with a handful of patrolmen worked the phones. Every one of them was yakking, until they saw Quinn. He knew something serious had happened at the park when they all looked away rather than making eye contact.
That wasnâ€™t a problem with the chief. When Quinn stepped into his office and pulled up a chair, Al Sears sat staring behind his desk, 220 hard pounds on a square-shouldered, six-foot frame. He was tan and wore faded jeans and a tight red polo shirt. Despite the casual attire, he still had his blond flattop, a chip on his shoulder and a Glock 9 mm clipped to his belt.
Sears tried to look right through Quinn, something that usually worked with teenage delinquents but came across as silly to a grown man who was just as big, especially when that grown man had known him since the third grade. â€œAlvah,â€ Quinn said in greeting.
The chief nodded and waited for Quinn to get to the point.
â€œAny particular reason you locked up Sarah?â€ he asked.
Sears looked down at a report on his desk, then back at Quinn in his Bob Marley T-shirt, as though he couldnâ€™t decide which deserved more attention.
â€œWell?â€ Quinn pressed.
â€œShe mucked up a crime scene,â€ Sears finally answered.
â€œCan you be a little more specific?â€
â€œItâ€™s a felony.â€
â€œIt sounds like a stretch.â€
â€œI donâ€™t care what it sounds like,â€ Sears said. â€œI put her tight little ass in jail and thatâ€™s the end of it.â€
Quinn figured that was unlikely, given Searsâ€™ reputation with women. â€œDoes her tight little ass have anything to do with this?â€ he asked.
â€œI doubt it.â€
â€œWell, thatâ€™s all you ever seem to think about.â€ Quinn rolled the chair back from the desk to make himself more comfortable. â€œSo does that mean I have to pay to get a lawyer out of bed on a Sunday morning?â€
â€œAlvah, be reasonable.â€
â€œI have been.â€ Sears hated to be called Alvah, a name only Quinn still used, now that the chiefâ€™s mother was dead and buried.
For his part, Quinn couldnâ€™t believe what was happening.
â€œYou think this whole thingâ€™s funny, donâ€™t you?â€ Sears asked.
â€œItâ€™s unusual, to say the least.â€ Quinn stood up and leaned on the desk. â€œMy God, you spent the whole summer bullying those poor bastards and now you have to bully Sarah.â€
â€œIâ€™m not bullyinâ€™ anyone,â€ Sears said. â€œShe brought this on herself.â€
Quinn raised an eyebrow but didnâ€™t respond.
â€œAnd I sâ€™pose youâ€™re an expert on this sorta thing,â€ Sears said.
â€œI didnâ€™t say that,â€ Quinn insisted, though heâ€™d spent three years as a cop reporter at the Miami Herald and knew a thing or two about crime.
â€œWell, this isnâ€™t Miami,â€ Sears said, as if reading his mind.
â€œIâ€™ll say.â€ Quinn smiled and walked over to scan a wall lined with yellowed newspaper clippings of Sears as the school D.A.R.E. officer, as coach of a championship Little League team, as the most recent inductee into the Stone Harbor High School Football Hall of Fame. In addition, every stripe and medal heâ€™d ever earned was framed and mounted, including a front page Pilot story announcing his promotion to chief. But the spot of honor was reserved for the game ball from a 17-16 homecoming win over Westbrook.
â€œNow if youâ€™re through gawkinâ€™,â€ Sears said, â€œI have work to do.â€
Quinn picked the football off the tee, tossed it in the air and caught it with a smack. â€œWell, it must be pretty important if it got you in here on a Sunday morning,â€ Quinn said. â€œEspecially when thereâ€™s a favorable marine forecast.â€
Sears stopped what he was doing and turned to angrily face Quinn. â€œIt just so happens a prominent member of this community was found beaten to death.â€ Sears stepped forward and got a hand on his precious ball, which only caused Quinn to tighten his grip. â€œAnd Iâ€™m not gonna put up with any crap, no matter what cocksuckah got popped.â€
Quinn let go and watched Sears stumble backward a few steps. â€œWhoâ€™s dead?â€
Sears quickly regained his footing and stood back up to his full height. â€œThe name isnâ€™t being released till the familyâ€™s been notified,â€ he said as he carefully set the football back in place.
Sears hesitated. â€œSure you can handle it?â€
â€œYes, I can handle it.â€
â€œOkay then. Paul Stanwood was beaten to a bloody pulp in the Sullivan Park bathhouse. We found what was left a him this morninâ€™.â€
Quinn couldnâ€™t handle it. He felt like a granite block had fallen on his chest and the only thing he could do was slump in the chair and stare at the ceiling as tears came and he struggled to make sense of it all. Paul was his best friend. How could he be dead? Theyâ€™d just spoken the day before.
Â And what was he doing in Sullivan Park? He was married, had two children and was straight as an arrow. For Godâ€™s sake, heâ€™d been a jock and an Eagle Scout and legend had it heâ€™d lost his virginity to their French teacher, Miss Racette, in ninth grade.
But Sullivan Park?
â€œSo why was he there?â€ Quinn finally asked.
â€œThatâ€™s not a question Iâ€™m prepared to answer on behalf of the deceased.â€
â€œWell, you better say something.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ Sears said as the very beginning of a smile began to form on his face. â€œSeems like I already said too much.â€
â€œThis isnâ€™t funny.â€
â€œI know it has to be tough.â€ Sears reached for a pack of cigarettes on his desk and offered one to Quinn.
â€œI donâ€™t smoke.â€
â€œDonâ€™t tell me to relax!â€
â€œI wonâ€™t tell you again,â€ Sears warned.
â€œYouâ€™re twisting this all around.â€ Quinn stood back up. â€œPaul was on the board of selectmen. Iâ€™m sure he was just checking out the situation.â€
â€œAt three oâ€™clock in the morninâ€™?â€
Christ. The smalltown speculation had already begun. â€œItâ€™s a homicide,â€ Quinn said, â€œnot an inquisition.â€
â€œItâ€™s a fact a life,â€ Sears said. â€œSo get used to it.â€
â€œYou donâ€™t know what youâ€™re talking about.â€
â€œIâ€™m afraid I do.â€ Then Sears laughed like Christmas morning. â€œAnd for the sake of his wife and children, weâ€™re lucky we didnâ€™t find a dick up his ass.â€
â€œYou know that isnâ€™t true!â€
â€œDo I?â€ Sears asked. â€œIâ€™m just looking for answers and donâ€™t want to make any assumptions.â€
Quinn stepped towards him and squared his shoulders. â€œIâ€™m warning you, you sick son of a bitch. One more crack about Paul and Iâ€™ll put you through that wall.â€ Instead, Quinn kicked his chair across the tiled floor into the steel desk, where it crashed and tumbled over.
â€œThatâ€™s enough.â€ Actually, it was more than enough. Sears walked over and cracked the door. â€œSergeant!â€ he called into the hall.
A woman in uniform stepped inside. â€œYes, Chief?â€
â€œDid you hear what this man just said?â€
â€œThatâ€™s what I thought,â€ Sears said. â€œArrest him for threateninâ€™ a police officah.â€
Sears went back to the file cabinet, took out a folder and sat back down at his desk as though Quinn were already gone.
â€œI want a lawyer,â€ Quinn said.
â€œSure,â€ Sears said absently before adding as an afterthought, â€œIf you want, Iâ€™ll even call a good psychiatrist.â€
Thatâ€™s when Quinn was led out of the office under the glare of the TV cameras.