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Winter, Part Three
A Solstice story
Start at the beginning of the Solstice series
Sheriff Macintyre ran a thick and calloused finger along the brass mailboxes, the light of a bare bulb reflecting off their well-used surfaces. She mouthed the names as she went, carefully eyeing each one to repeat silently to herself. Cortez - Hammond - Crown and Earl, the last getting a tight smile of recognition. She came to Ms. Kim Soon, unsurprised to find her at the top floor, facing the east - apartment number five.
She lifted her head, turning to the parking lot. Six apartments in this block, all occupied. Four cars in the lot, not unreasonable, given the time of afternoon and assuming several of the residents would be at work. The truck had caught her eye coming in, however, bearing a North Dakota license plate but with a Minnesota Vikings bumper sticker plastered to the rear window, next to a wild-haired boy pissing on a Chevrolet logo. It wasn't a truck she recognized as a local, and the combination didn't strike her as a good one.
Keeping one eye on the stairwell, she fished a small set of tools from her pocket and set to work at Ms. Soon's mailbox. Within moments its door had sprung - not a difficult task, given the amount of mail it contained. Junk, mostly, but their effective dates confirmed her suspicions, showing that at least three days had passed since the box had been opened by anyone save the mailman.
Nodding to herself, she reached into the same pocket for a small, disposable cell phone and dialed Corbin.
"It's Macintyre. Change of plans."
"Are you on the bus or in a cab?"
"Neither. Decided to make a stroll of it."
"Good. Come back. Take up across the street. Watch the back stairs for a man coming off the top floor. Call me if he does. Otherwise watch the lot for a dark blue Ford pickup, Dakota plates, number DHW332. Vikings bumper sticker and one of those Calvin decals. If it leaves, first thing you do is put out an abduction call to 911. It'll be her."
"DHW332. Got it."
"After that come to apartment five for me."
"Do you want me to call for backup?"
"You are backup."
"I mean official."
"No. Because if that Ford doesn't leave, I'll call for your eyes, and only your eyes."
"Got it. Be careful."
She hung up, then looked at the name for apartment six, and dialed 411.
"Molina, please - 530 Vine, direct connect." When the answering machine assured her nobody was home at the neighboring apartment, she closed the cell phone, secured the safety catch on her holster, and climbed the three flights of stairs to listen at the door of apartment five.
Someone was watching television, the sound too low to make out words. She made a fist of her right hand, blew into it for luck, and knocked - three sharp raps on the flimsy door.
The television was instantly silenced. A moment passed before a woman's voice came through the door.
"What is it?"
"Ms. Kim Soon?"
She knew Corbin would have spun some story, put on some different face, hidden who he was. As he had said, they had their natures, and despite the risk she couldn't hide her own.
"My name is Stephanie Macintyre. I'm with the police. Like a word with you."
She took a handful of papers from her jacket. "Come to the peephole. See this? It's a warrant. I'm legally entitled to enter your home and to search it."
Another moment passed.
"Ms. Soon, I don't want to force my way in."
"Wait, just a minute. Please." The shake in her voice was palpable, and Stephanie pitied her. She knew well enough what the last few days must have held, and as she put the papers back into her jacket she shook her head.
Another few seconds passed, followed by the unmistakable clicking of a multitude of locks sliding from their homes, underscored by the sudden sound of running water, replacing the muted buzz of the television.
When she opened the door, Stephanie stayed outside, regarding her. Her face was round, like Heather's had been, and Susie's before her, with flawless skin the color of honey despite the flush across her cheeks. A concealing black tracksuit was zipped high across her neck and down her arms, and a pair of sunglasses hid her expression from Stephanie's view.
When Stephanie spoke, her voice was hard. "Take off the glasses."
Soon hesitated, then lifted both hands to her face and removed them, revealing dark circles and a thin bruise along one side of the left eye.
"Is he really in the shower?"
"If he's not right next to you, step outside with me. I'm here to help."
Another moment passed before Stephanie rolled her eyes and thrust out her right hand, seizing Soon by the wrist and pulling her bodily out the door. She flinched but didn't make a sound, and as soon as she was out Stephanie lifted a hand to her shoulder.
"Good. Go out to the black car with county plates."
Soon turned and fled, taking the stairs two at a time, making too much noise. Stephanie stepped across the threshold. Both the kitchen and living area were visible and clear, showing that the rear stairway was closed and latched from within. She swung carefully around to look down the small hallway. Three doors, all closed.
"Hate this," she muttered to herself, then pulled open the door to the left, revealing a hall closet with a single long coat and a few pairs of shoes, nothing more. She turned to the bathroom door across from it, moved to the side, and pushed it open.
She crouched and swung herself inside, placing her hands low against her abdomen. It allowed her to catch the workman's boot driving towards her groin, and as she continued to rise she kept pushing against the foot. Her assailant fell backward, arms flailing to catch the towel rack at his side and wrenching it from the cheap drywall - slowing, but not stopping, his backward descent.
The back of his head struck the porcelain edge of the tub, but his hand remained around the towel bar, swinging wildly before his face and chest. Stephanie brought her own boot squarely between the man's legs, and bared her teeth at the high-pitched howl which returned the blow.
She brought her knee to his chest, pinning him to the ground, and wrapped her right hand around the coarse hair that covered his windpipe. Black as she remembered it being, sprinkled with grey to offset the eyes she knew would be wild and green and amber, full of poison and a rage which she could barely contain in herself.
"Kevin Duffy," she said between too-heavy breaths, "you're under arrest for domestic assault, and parole violation in the states of North Dakota and Minnesota."
She leaned in closer to his face, left hand wrapped around the wrist which held the towel rack, her bulk on his sternum keeping his bucking frame against the cool tile of the bathroom floor. Her right hand tightened, continuing to cut off his air, throttling him beneath bright false lights in the windowless room.
"And this is the hand you took from me. Do you understand?"
The muscles of his neck grew to strained ropes, the anger in his eyes turning to dazed fear as her lips pulled back from her teeth. Her words were laced with spittle and venom, with generations of hate.
"Do you hear me, old wolf? This is the hand you took from me.
"I am the lawgiver, old wolf. Prince of temples, the trusted one, true-hearted foe of wrack and ruin. Grim they call me, and one-handed; born of blood, the iron fist. The long-armed they have called me both in earnest and jest, and thus do they still recall myself and my own. Wolf's bane they named me, when first you were fettered in cat's footfall and maidenhead, dwarf-trick and godsblood."
The light of awareness broke into the green eyes, even as the light of consciousness began to fade, as the mists of mortal dream parted and the mists of un-summoned slumber closed before him.
"I have waited, old wolf, for the day when thought and memory would bring us to blows once more. And I tell you now that you will never swallow the sun, never drink down the moon, and you will never - never - walk this world again."
Corbin knocked at the side of the door. "All right?"
"He's secure. Anyone downstairs?"
"Mr. Crown's a little curious, right below. I've explained as much as I could."
"I explained as best I could, and he's satisfied. You ought to be as well."
"Not yet," she said. "We're going to the tree."
"After the office?"
"No. Now. With him."
There was a pause. "Yeah, I know."
They watched each other for a moment before Corbin put his hands in his pockets, looking to the bathroom. "One: how do we keep her out of it but willing to play along? Two: aren't you tracked by some GPS system in the squad car? Three: how do we cover it up?"
"Two is the truck. One and three are resisting arrest."
"There'll be an inquest."
"No. There won't."
He watched her closely - the set of her mouth, the barely visible trembling of her right hand - and moved to close the apartment door. "Let's step to the bathroom and talk about this. However secure you think he is, he's more than a little famous for slipping out of bonds."
They moved into the hall, and Corbin peered in to see Duffy - face-down on the floor, hands, feet, and mouth duct-taped; the latter streaming into the mussed salt and pepper of his hair. Awake or unconscious, he did not move, and Corbin turned his own dark eyes to Stephanie Macintyre.
"How can I talk you out of it?"
"Why do you want to?"
He shrugged, carefully keeping his face neutral. "Partly because of the boss. I don't know where he stands on sacrifices these days."
"Is that a fact?"
He shrugged again. "Partly because you're a good partner. If you say there won't be an inquest then I believe you, but it'll take you out of any official capacity for a while and I never quite know when I'm going to need your help."
She waited in silence a moment longer, at which he cleared his throat. "Partly because I think it'll be to our advantage if Ms. Soon knows we're actively watching out for her, rather than thinking we did her one big favor."
"Partly because I want to keep your hands clean."
"And mostly - mostly, mind - because I know just how easy it would be to arrange for something permanent inside the prison walls, without your involvement, without my involvement, with no chance of Solstice being put in the limelight."
She crossed her arms across her chest. "Revenge is mine by right."
"Did you swear to it?" Please, please, he thought, let her say no ...
He hooked both thumbs into his belt loops. "Then name your blood-price. I'll see if I can pay."
Mayor Long spread his arms, smiling for the cameras, thin lips stretched too wide across his teeth. "I am proud - prouder than I can say - to be a part of this important initiative. As the parent of a young daughter, I know how important it is for women to have a safe haven, a place to find answers and aid, a place to recover the strength and dignity which abuse too often takes from them."
He spread his arms, the consummate politician. "But I am neither the moving force behind this program, nor its inspiration. That comes from no man. Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to introduce you to our very own Sheriff, Stephanie Macintyre."
The applause was both polite and sustained as she took the stand, squinting against the bright sunlight - looking into the faces of Corbin and Kim Soon, the one leaning against a low brick wall, the other sitting front and center in the early spring morning.
"I'm not given to speeches." She said. "I want to thank Mayor Long and the community for their support. I want to thank the donors to this shelter, both listed and anonymous. And Margaret Shure, in whose memory we have named the first shelter in Solstice proper, and who ..." She looked to Corbin, "will be ever in my thoughts. Thank you."
She turned, extending her right hand to take that of Mayor Long's, then moved into the crowd. It wasn't long before Kim Soon stood before her, a broad smile illuminating her rounded features. The bruises had vanished along with Kevin Duffy, swallowed by an overlong night which now lay in the past.
"Stephanie - thank you. For saving me, for taking him away ... for this. I wish Meg could have come down to see it, but she always spoke highly of you."
"She'd better have," said Stephanie with a tight smile. "But I think we're even now."
"Do you ..." She paused. "Do you really want to stick around and answer questions? I was thinking I could buy you lunch down at Del Norte's ... pick up a tradition where you and Meg left off."
Stephanie regarded her a moment, remembering both what she had seen as Soon's weakness, and the tale which spread both behind and before her. "Sure." Her own smile lost its tightness. "I'd like that."
Corbin watched them leave, walking together into downtown Solstice, and smiled into the west as sunlight translated the valley.
Story and image by Ivan Ewert, Copyright 2009