A Strong Woman - Cover

A Strong Woman

Copyright© 2012 by Robert McKay

Chapter 17

The next day I was up and at 'em – we might have a possible suspect, but that's not the same thing as a conviction, and I had to keep on running the canvass. We were short one interviewer, with Cecelia resting for her long night, and we would continue to be one short until we had reason to discontinue the surveillance. And if we wound up with more than one suspect to look at, we'd come up shorter still.

But having a suspect was progress, and I didn't mind too much the slowdown in interviews that the surveillance would cause. I handed out assignments to the interviewers and the volunteers, put on my hat and got my gun out of the drawer, and went out to my own assignment.

By now we had enough places we had to go back to that I'd chosen to consolidate them into one task. While everyone else was continuing the door-to-door canvass, I'd be driving around, trying to locate people who hadn't been there before, or who had been but hadn't come to the door, or where the one who'd answered the door had been a child, or whatever. We'd covered enough territory in three weeks or so that I needed to drive – I had addresses in the fancy Four Hills subdivision, in the Singing Arrow neighborhood, up Tramway north of Central and on various side streets in that direction, and west along Central and on side streets there.

Usually the second knock got a response, but occasionally it took three – and I had one address on my list where someone had already visited five times. Twice a child had answered the door, once no one had answered and there'd been no car in the driveway, once a car had been there and there'd been the sound of a TV from inside but no one had answered, and once there'd been the sound of movement behind the door without an answer. That made me suspicious that there was something fishy going on at that address, and it was the first place I went. I was ready to lean.

Normally I don't wear my gun when I'm working, because normally I don't need to. In all my years in law enforcement I've only drawn my gun on someone half a dozen times, and I've only been in two shootings – and that's more than a lot of cops. Beth Martinson had been an Air Force cop for 30 years, and the only time she's ever fired at a human being came after she retired. Rudy Delgado has been an Albuquerque police officer for years – I couldn't remember just how many, but he'd been a cop when I met him not long after I came to town – and he's never once shot at someone. Regular police gunplay is Hollywood's fantasy, not real life.

But this time I clipped my gun to my belt, and hung a plastic holder on my right side and stuck a Maglite in it. If I didn't always put the holder in the ashtray – I only smoked briefly, right after I graduated from high school, and Cecelia never has – I'd have had to do without, since I so seldom use it. And then I hesitated. I have a PI badge, modeled on the big oval LAPD shield, which I bought when I first set up my office in Red Hawk, OK back in 1988. It's illegal for a PI to flash a badge in New Mexico – impersonating a police officer is a crime, and a badge makes it easier to commit that crime – but I keep the private shield in a badge holder in my right back pocket, along with a copy of my license. I show the license when I need to officially identify myself, and I very occasionally flash the tin – show the badge – when someone needs impressing. That is about the only thing the PI badge is good for, impressing the impressible.

After a moment's thought, I pulled out the badge holder and slipped it over my belt, the badge to the front. I have never, since I resigned from the Red Hawk department, told anyone I'm a police officer, but there've been times when I didn't rush to correct someone who incorrectly assumed I am. It's a tricky line to walk, but someone misunderstanding my status isn't the same as me pretending I'm a cop.

I went up the cracked sidewalk toward the front door, the yard around me a stretch of bare dirt with a few plastic toys scattered dismally around. It was still warm weather, and it was hard to believe it was November already – I wasn't wearing a jacket, and had in fact rolled my sleeves up on my forearms. As I mounted the chipped steps of the concrete stoop I heard – as someone had heard on another occasion – the sound of a television. I knew it wasn't the radio because it was loud enough for me to make out soap opera dialogue. It had to be a soap opera – nowhere else does banality take itself so seriously, and besides the music was that pretentious junk they use for soap opera soundtracks.

After listening for a few seconds, and hearing only the blare of the TV, I stepped to the side of the door. There was a gauzy curtain over the window there, and the light was from the wrong angle – I couldn't see in. I stepped down off the stoop and walked over to the window on the left, but there was a blanket over that one and I didn't even try to peer in – in contrast to the dilapidation of the property, the blanket was taut and left no cracks around the edges.

Back on the stoop I again stood to the side of the door and pulled out my Maglite. I held it cop fashion – my hand down near the bell, where I could control the light more easily if I needed it, and where if I had to use the heavy light as an impromptu weapon I could block or strike with it. I used the end of the barrel to knock on the door.

There was no response. The volume of the TV remained the same, and I heard no movement. I tried again, much louder. Cops don't knock gently for hours – they expect a quick response. This time I did hear movement. There was a peephole in the door and my position left me outside its range of vision, an extra benefit on top of the fact that if someone decided to shoot through the door he wouldn't hit me.

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