Them movin’ in from the city… it’s poisoning our town.
A cockroach with wing cancer loses its last grip on the webby pink fibreglass and plummets into the dimly lit chasm below. It lands dead with a hollow tic on a nearly bald surface, then tumbles to the floor where it rolls into its grave, a shallow crack in the floor.
“What in the hell was that?” asks Vern, rubbing his head with a callused hand. “You sure it’s safe to gather down here, Chief?”
“I am,” says the chief as he’s coming down the stairs. “Ain’t nowhere else we could congregate tonight, Fellers. Ain’t nowhere else we could congregate.”
“I think a piece’a yer ceiling just hit me in the head, though,” Vern continues. The impact didn’t hurt, yet still he continues to rub his head. “What if it all comes down on top of us?”
The police chief says nothing, merely leans standing up against the support pillar at the foot of the stairwell and stares into the dim basement with squinted eyes. His face is naked, lewd with stolid contemplation, like he has something to share but doesn’t quite know how to say it.
“Would y’leave’im be a’ready, Vern?” snarls Officer Jim Hubert. He’s leaning against the back wall fiddling with one of the many holes in the sheetrock with his middle finger. Subconsciously. “The man’s clearly asked us here for a reason.”
“I understand that, Jim,” Officer Vern VanDunk barks back. “I’m just wonderin’ what that reason might be, is all.”
Jim snorts as if to bring mucus into his mouth to spit rudely, but then doesn’t spit, as he’s in Chief’s basement. His mouth sounds full when he speaks. “Well that’s why he’s the chief and you ain’t, VanDunk.” Addressing the chief, “I sure think it’s swell of you to invite us all back to yer place, Chief Maxwell. You c’n have us here as long as you need, Sir.”
Chief Maxwell continues to stare off into the muggy basement air from that sturdy support pillar, hands in the pockets of his blue denim pants, chest rising and sinking in steady rhythm beneath his crimson sweater. Above their heads the lightbulb chain swings back and forth, casting a swaying vine of black through the dim orange-yellow glow.
Gene Thorton and the other two officers share a look. Then, Gene opens his mouth.
“If you don’t mind me asking, Chief, what’s with the getup?” All eyes fall on the chief’s clothing, specifically the large blue blob in the center of his sweater. “I ain’t never seen you without your police uniform on.”
“Not just yet, Gene,” the chief says calmly, his stare unblinking. “Not just yet.”
“Then when? With all due respect, Daniel, we should all be out patrollin’ the streets tonight.” Vern hides his hands behind his back, grabbing one wrist. “You made the schedule yerself, Sir.”
A moment of silence is observed, as if to appreciate the scuttling of unseen vermin in the walls, in the ceiling, mayhap even up the stairs to get away from all these intruders in their home. Vermin don’t like intruders in their home.
“Why don’t you just shut yer trap, VanDunk?” Hubert spits.
Vern turns, one eye opened significantly wider than the other. “Now why is it that you are always on my ass, Jim? Why is that?”
Jim snorts again, then swallows loudly.
“Better me than that faggoty Tad I always see poppin’ in’n’out’a yer shack.”
Hands are thrown so close to the ceiling the knuckles brush insulation. “Thaddeus is my sister’s fiancé, Jim! You know that!”
“I don’t know shit.”
“You’re invited to the wedding! ”
“And I ought to be,” Jim growls as he withdraws his finger from the gaping hole in the wall so he can crack his knuckles. “I broke that bitch in first, after all.”
“All right,” Billy Gene announces, stepping towards the stairs. “This has been fun, Chief, but I’ve got a quota to fill.”
Billy turns to face Jim Hubert.
“Why don’t you–”
“Enough,” says Chief Maxwell. “Nobody’s leaving, I’m ready now. We’re just about to begin.”
Officer Gene sighs, then begins to turn back towards the stairs. “C’m’on, Chief, stop playin’ a–”
Billy Gene freezes. Just about everybody in the room freezes. Someone audibly gulps.
“Billy,” Vern says, his voice unnerved and low. “I don’t think the chief’s playin’ around.”
As if to agree with Officer VanDunk, Chief Maxwell thumbs the revolver’s hammer back with a thick click.
After a few uneasy rounds of looking from one pair of eyes to the next, Herm Billings says, “That’s, eh… that’s a nice piece y’got there, Chief. What is that, a six-shooter?”
“Five,” Maxwell says calmly from behind the barrel. The barrel trained on Billy Gene’s heart.
“Wow. Old boy.” Herm Billings licks his lips, but not out of any sort of hunger or thirst. “Bet there ain’t even a serial number on ‘er.”
“No sir,” Chief Maxwell agrees, his arm steady. “And if there was, I’d’ve filed it off myself.”
That hangs in the air like the odor of musky mildew.
“Why don’t you boys all have a seat? I’ll put the gun away and we can begin.”
“Begin what?” asks Officer VanDunk.
Nobody answers, especially not Chief Maxwell.
“There ain’t nowhere to sit, Chief,” is bravely pointed out by Billy Gene.
Maxwell bounces his eyes from the floor back up to Billy’s. “The floor’ll do fine.”
Evidently, the floor’ll do fine; the five police officers sit down on the carpet of grit covering the concrete floor of their chief’s basement. The chief himself sits down on the bottom stair, the old wooden step groaning under the weight of him. Ten perplexed and fearful eyes stare up at Chief Maxwell, ten boys in blue all suited up and ready to listen to exactly what he has to say, two whole pewfuls of churchfolk ready to receive their gospel straight from the holy book. Liking what he sees, Maxwell unthumbs the hammer. The gun stays gripped.
“Now boys,” Maxwell begins, his voice heavy with rasp, “I’m sure you’re all wondering why I called you here tonight. I–… there is a reason, a… a good reason. There’s something I need to discuss with you tonight, but…”
Maxwell trails off into silence. The officers exchange nervous glances like trading cards, Vern’s I’m trying my best here for Hubert’s You damn well better be.
“Go on, Chief,” finally escapes the mouth of Billy Gene, despite the gun still being pointed at him. “Whatever you need to tell us is clearly somethin’ important. Go ahead and say it, Sir.”
Maxwell looks up at him for a moment, then back to his shoes. He goes ahead and stays silent.
“Whatever you have to say, Chief, it won’t leave this basement,” offers Jim Hubert. Chief raises his head. “You can trust us, Chief.”
“Trust…” the chief mumbles. Nods his head. “Yeah, trust… that’s what I’m looking for.”
Police Chief Daniel Maxwell stands from the bottom step and crosses to the middle of the shabby basement, the handle of the revolver gripped tightly in his sweaty palm. His eyes are locked onto those of Jim Hubert.
“You say I can trust you, Jim,” Maxwell says as he shoots the gap between Billings and Gene, coming to a halt before Hubert. “Is that right?”
“Yes, Sir,” Jim Hubert says from the depths of Chief Maxwell’s shadow. There’s nowhere else he’d rather be right now.
“Can the same be said of all of you?” Maxwell asks earnestly, looking around to check the faces of the other four uniformed officers.
The other four uniformed officers, their eyes widely open and mouths tightly shut, slowly nod their heads in agreement. Amiable enough, considering the heavy iron their chief is swinging in their faces like a metal dick of sorts.
“Well, I do believe you, boys. I think I can trust you.” Pointing the barrel at the ground, Maxwell thumbs the hammer. “But I don’t know that I can. Not for sure.”
A panicked confusion leaks from their pores.
“How ca–” Jim starts, then goes deathly silent when the barrel presses into his forehead.
“Chief!” Vern says in a panic. “Chief Maxwell, what’re you doing?! Don’t kill him!”
“I do think I can trust you boys,” says the chief with sweat on his brow, “but I don’t know for sure.”
The silence is so dense that heartbeats are audible.
“How, then?” Billings says dryly. “How can you know for sure?”
Chief Maxwell shrugs, his fat index finger wrapped snug around the trigger.
“I trust you, Chief.” Hubert. His voice is shrill, but it’s Hubert all right. “You might not trust me, might not trust us, but I–…” He gulps. “I do trust you, Chief Maxwell, even right now. And I want you to know that.”
Chief Maxwell looks around at his officers. They’re all nodding, lookin’ a bit like pigeons bobbing their heads. All aside from Jim Hubert, of course. Jim’s hardly even breathing right now.
“Well I’m glad to know that, boys. I truly am glad.” A long moment slinks by, and Billy Gene swears he sees the chief’s bottom lip quiver. “Because, boys…” A shaky sigh. “There’s only one way to know if I can trust you. Only one way I can know for sure.”
Then, he pulls the trigger.
Hello Commons, this has been the first subchapter of the first chapter of Under the Hood: The Imprisonment of Jonathan Knox, a novel about a man who likes to eavesdrop on his neighbors.
Under the Hood: The Imprisonment of Jonathan Knox is the second book in the W-2222 series, a series of books which take place in Universe W-2222.
Under the Hood: The Imprisonment of Jonathan Knox is available to read for free in its entirety on my website. Click here to check it out.
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