Time to Kill
And who’s the little girl?
Never mind the girl…
I Don’t Mean to Be a Bother
An explosion of gravelly roaring throws Daniel Maxwell from the floor of his basement up onto his feet. Some of the grit he picked up during the night rains down to the crumbly floor; the rest stays lodged in his arms and legs and face, and the sliver of belly not covered by his night shirt. Maxwell’s every muscle is tight and stiff, his joints feel swollen, too large for the bones they connect, and his headache, for the love of Rock his headache…
Chief Maxwell slept down in the basement last night. Second night in a row. He thought it wouldn’t be as bad after the first night, though he would be used to it. He was wrong. It was worse last night, and it would probably be the worst of all tonight if Maxwell were to sleep down here again, go for the full hat-trick. But he’s not. No need. There wasn’t any real need for it last night, either, but he thought he might as well. Thought he would get used to it. He was wrong, but it don’t matter now. Now he’s up, and it’s time to start the day.
The out-of-date smart phone – does Maxwell make enough to afford a new smart phone? Yes. Is his current phone old, scratched up, and occasionally laggy? Yes. Is Maxwell going to be upgrading any time soon? No. Hell no. He makes plenty, but that doesn’t mean he’s about to be goin’ off and spendin’ it all. That’s Maxwell’s old man money; a man’s got’a have old man money for when he gets to be an old man, y’understan’, and thanks to Rock saving the town of Wuester from being poisoned like It is, it’s lookin’ like Maxwell is going to live to spend that money. Not all of it, of course, but some – continues to rattle uproariously against the grit-laden basement floor. Maxwell, standing firm yet swaying back and forth like a tree in high winds, lets it go on vibrating until the noise brings the drowse fully out of his eyes. Then he sits, picks it up, hits the snooze, and calls the number at the top of his speed-dial list.
The phone rings once.
‘It’s okay, she might not have her phone next to her.’
The phone rings again.
‘She’ll pick up, Daniel. Don’t you worry.’
The phone rings a third time.
‘One more and I’ll go to voicemail. She knows I don’t like leavin’ her voicemails.’ Maxwell begins to pick at the dead skin capping his toes. ‘Why don’t she just pick up already?’
The phone rings a fourth time.
“Hello, you’ve reached the phone of Mered–” is cut off by a small clamor. Then, in a croon, “Hello?”
“Goodmornin’, Momma,” Maxwell says glumly. “How are you today?”
“I’m real tired, dear,” Momma Maxwell says. From the sound of her voice, she still has that drowse in her eyes. “It’s hardly six Ay’eM, I’m always real tired when you call me this early.”
“Oh I know, Momma. I don’t mean to be a bother.”
“I know, baby. What’s goin’ on, you feelin’ okay?”
Maxwell shrugs as if his Momma can see him.
“Awh, my little chief of police. What’s goin’ on, baby? You tell Momma everything.”
“Well I slept down in the basement again, Momma. My whole body’s achin’ like it needs a pain pill.”
“The basement?” Momma Maxwell demands. “Why on God’s green Earth are you sleepin’ down in that grody unfinished basement a’yours, Daniel?”
“Ain’t the first time I’ve done it,” Maxwell says as he stands up, the strain clearly audible in his voice. “Slept down here last night, too. It don’get any easier, Momma.”
“No, I don’t suppose it do!” Momma agrees. “Now stop jiggin’ around it. Tell me why you’re sleepin’ down in the basement.”
Chief Maxwell bites his bottom lip. She may be tired and she may be old, but Momma Maxwell is shrewd as she’s always been. “That’s somethin’ I’m not comfortable with sharin’ in full, Momma. I’m sorry.” Momma serves him silence as he trudges up the squeaky steps. “‘Sides, that ain’t even why I called ya.”
“Then why’d y’call me, Daniel?” Momma Maxwell asks, her exhaustion bearing down relentlessly through her voice. “Last night was my Mahjong night with the ladies, I didn’t get to bed until hardly three hours ago.”
“I know, Momma. I’m real sorry, I don’t mean to be a burden, I just… I need to ask you a question. My mind is heavy somethin’ fierce this mornin’.”
Meredith Maxwell gets out of bed and throws a robe on, then heads into the kitchen to get some coffee goin’.
“See, Momma, I uh…” Well he can’t just come out and say it, she’d be apt to drive out here and throttle Daniel if she knew what her son’s gotten himself all wrapped up in. “Now I don’t want you to worry none, but uh… so… well, let’s just say there’s a man, okay, and this man has to do somethin’ bad, an–”
“Are you this man?” Meredith asks sternly. “You give it to me straight or you keep it to yourself, Daniel. Are you this man of which you’re speakin’?”
“Momma, I don’t wan’a fight you. Let’s just say there’s a man and keep it there, okay?”
Momma exhales loudly through both of her nostrils. Daniel knows this is as close to okay as he’s go’n’a get.
“So this man, let’s uh… let’s say he has to do somethin’ bad. Like… real bad, the kind’a bad that ain’t just go’n’a be frowned upon, okay? But, but from doin’ this bad thing, a lot’a good is go’n’a come out of it. A whole lot’a good for a whole lot’a folks. And, and if he don’t do this bad thing, then… well, there’s no tellin’ what’ll happen, but it sure won’t be good. It’ll prob’ly even be worse for everybody else if he don’t do this bad thing, even though doin’ this bad thing will be pretty awful for him… and the one he’s got’a do it to…”
Maxwell lapses into silence. His Momma don’t say a thing.
“What should I–… what should the man do, Momma? Should he go through with the bad thing, or should he put some pressure on the breaks and wait a little, see how things turn out?”
Momma Maxwell sighs heartily. Beyond that sigh is the sound of a tiny spoon clinking the sides of a ceramic mug filled with coffee’n’cream, maybe even a little sugar. “Well it’s hard to say, baby. I don’t really know what y–… the man, is getting into. But let me ask you one thing.”
“Sure Momma,” Chief Maxwell says, wishing he was talking on the old wall phone his Momma still has at the house so he could twirl the cord around his finger. “Go ahead, ask me anything.”
“The man who has to do this bad thing – is he a man? Or is he just a boy wearing a big pair’a’pants?”
The rising sun casts glorious beams of scarlet orange through the bleak twilit dawn, shattering the darkness of lingering night and sweeping the pieces away cleanly.
“He’s a man, Momma,” Police Chief Daniel Maxwell says with determination. “Oh you just better believe he’s a man. He ain’t no boy with pants that don’t fit him, he’s a whole man.”
“And you know what men do, Daniel?” Meredith asks, then sips her coffee.
“I sure do, Momma. Men do what they got’a do–”
“So they can do what they wan’a do later,” Momma Maxwell finishes, the coffee warm in her belly. “Good–… man. Good man, Daniel. Does that answer your question?”
“It sure does, Momma,” Maxwell says as he shoves his pudgy legs into the blue denim pants that showed up on his back porch shortly after the arrival of The Tome. “I think that man’s go’n’a get this right. I really believe he will. Lis’en, I got’a go Momma, they need me at the station pretty soon. I’m sorry for wakin’ you.”
“It’s no trouble at all,” Momma Maxwell says. In truth she was awake anyway – last night was Mahjong night, but the ladies weren’t exactly the only ones invited; the games aren’t hardly over. “You be good, Daniel. Momma loves you.”
“I love you too, Momma. You take care.”
Daniel hangs up the phone and throws it onto the couch, then finishes pulling the pants on. He sure ain’t a boy, and these pants sure ain’t too big for him. Hell, he can barely get the things on, but he manages. Pulls the red sweater with the silhouette of Rock on the front over his head. The material is itchy against his skin, terribly itchy and scratchy like it was made out of eyelashes or some cartoony nonsense like that, but he’ll never have to wear it again after tonight. After tonight it’ll all be over, and Wuester will be saved. Just got’a make it ‘til then.
After pocketing his outdated smart phone, Maxwell gingerly approaches the door to his bedroom and knocks gently on the closed slab. He doesn’t hear anything, so he goes right in. A small form stirs under the blanket, rolls over to face the opposite wall, and Maxwell is plenty okay with that. Maxwell don’t wan’a look into her eyes if he don’t have to, so he simply opens his closet, wrestles his police blues on over top of his Feller uniform, and heads right back out. As he’s passing through the doorjamb he takes pause and turns slightly, throwing a look over his shoulder.
“Lis’en, I… I’m real sorry about all this, Sss–…” but he can’t bear to say the name. Just can’t bear to say it. “It’s… it weren’t my choice, y’hear? I di’n’t… if it was up to me none’a’this’d be happenin’, but it ain’t up to me. It’s up to Rock and Chalak. Hell, they’re one in the same for all I know. I’m a pawn, S–… I’m just a pawn in all this, just like the other Fellers, just like you. There are big stakes at risk here, y’understan’? Big, big stakes, and…” There are tears in Maxwell’s eyes now. Why must the world be so cruel? “I don’t know if it means anythin’ to you, and I understan’ if it doesn’t, given the circumstances, but… well, there’s go’n’a be a whole lot’a good that comes out of tonight, okay? You ain’t… it ain’t all go’n’a be for nothin’, a’ight? I promise you that. It ain’t all go’n’a be for nothin’.”
The form under the blankets of Maxwell’s bed doesn’t say a thing. Maxwell supposes that ain’t the worst.
“I need to head out to the station now, uh… someone’ll come by later on to check on ya. I’m’a lock y’back in now, uh… don’t be too scared, okay? All this ain’t all for nothin’, and it’ll all be over soon. Okay?”
Okay or not, Maxwell gets no answer. But that ain’t the worst answer he can get. No, definitely not the worst. Maxwell closes his bedroom door and locks it from the outside – he had to take the doorknob out and reverse it, there are still little bits of wood at the foot of the door from the screws – then heads out to his cruiser. It’s a cold morning, and his sweater is itchin’ him something fierce underneath his standard blues, but there aren’t too many clouds in the sky. The sun is shining, and though the air is cold the beams are warm on his skin. Should be a clear day all the way into tomorrow, which is good. Maxwell and the Fellers will get a good view of Rock crashing down through the heavens to save their little town.
Maxwell pulls onto Cannonball Road in silence and drives down the bend slowly, headed in the direction of the center of town.
Hello Commons, this has been the first subchapter of the third 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.
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