“Say that again?” David shouts into the cellphone, feeling the bite of the wind against the back of his neck. What a swell time to get a haircut? Who exactly was going to care about the way his hair looked during Christmas dinner? Doesn’t matter, the howl of it is bad enough. He couldn’t possibly have heard what she said. Looking at the tipped over semi in the middle of the road, David watches Luther talking to the bloodied driver.
“He was expelled,” Claire says loudly over the phone. She says it slowly too. David hates that. It’s not his fault the wind is howling like a banshee and the storm is picking up. They’re all lucky that Avery made it home before the roads turned to ice. But right now, that’s not his problem. Keith is.
“What’d he do this time?” David asks, letting out a sigh that sends a long roiling spear of mist out of his mouth and into the fat flakes drifting toward the ground. All year, they’ve been dancing this line, waiting for the axe to fall and it looks like Keith finally did it. That boy seeks out trouble the way some seek out candy or approval. Whatever the final straw was, David is certain that it can be anywhere from talking in class to taking a bomb to school.
“He broke Carter Penn’s nose,” Claire says angrily.
Jesus, David shakes his head. When he was in middle school, he had only thrown punches at his brother and that was it. He’d never been in a fight before he put on the uniform. This will be the fifth fight this year. Hank Penn is going to want some sort of punishment for this. Already, David’s mind is going into damage control mode. They’ll pay for the hospital bills, make Keith apologize, and then they’ll see to it that Keith is grounded until the sun stops shining. Of course, not that grounding has ever done a thing to faze that boy.
“I’ll call Hank when I get back to the station,” David says, glancing back over at the driver who looks like the wound to his head was bad enough he’s going to need some serious stitches. Whatever the driver thought he saw crossing the road, it was enough to get him into this mess. David looks up at the snow coming down heavier and heavier with each passing minute. “We’ve got a pretty nasty wreck on Old Road.”
“Is everyone okay?” Claire asks, immediately sounding worried and compassionate. David smiles. How she can just flip over like that with the snap of a finger is beyond him. It’s reassuring. She dances over her emotions like they’re nothing.
“Yeah, the driver’s pretty banged up,” David says, looking south to see if the paramedics are on their way. Nothing, just the drifting snow and the dark gaps between the trees. “I’ll call you on the way home, Honey,” David says, wrapping up the personal call that Luther is clearly getting annoyed at.
“I love you,” Claire says, almost like she’s reminding him.
“I love you, too,” David answers with a smile on his lips. HE should have brought a scarf. It’s too cold to be out here without one, the wind is too much.
Slipping the phone into his pocket, he wonders where Ryker and the fire boys are. They’re the closest thing to paramedics that Ashwood Bend has. He put in the call half an hour ago, so what’s taking them so long. The roads are slick, but they’re not treacherous yet. David leans back on the wet patrol car, arms crossed and eyes on the south. They’re going to catch a lot of grief if this guy has serious problems and it took this long to respond. Letting out a sigh, David checks his watch. His shift should be up in an hour. It’s doubtful that this will be all wrapped up by then.
He can’t help but think about what the driver says. The driver claims that there was some sort of thing crossing the road in front of him, startled him, he swung the wheel and flipped the truck. To hear the driver tell it, there was a half naked man out here in the freezing cold, running across the street. From the way the truck flipped and the way the driver told it, the runner was crossing right to left across the street, meaning he was coming up form the river. Why would someone be half naked, down by the river this time of year? David looks over his shoulder at the dark woods sloping up the side of the mountain. If there was someone, they won’t make it through the night. There’s no one up the mountain that way.
“Where the hell are they?” Luther growls, crunching the fresh snow as he walks along the side of the road back to the cruiser. David looks at him and shrugs. There’s nothing on the radio and the snow’s coming down thick enough that the heat off the road won’t be enough to keep it uncovered. Someone needs to call Harry and see if he’ll spend the night plowing the roads. “Freezing my balls off,” Luther leans against the side of the cruiser and looks to the south.
“How’s the driver?” David asks, genuinely concerned.
“Freezing his balls off,” Luther growls, throwing open the door and dropping down into the driver’s seat. He snatches the radio and calls back to the station. “Hey, Liv, where the hell are the fire jockeys?”
“They’re on their way,” Liv answers in a moment. Luther rolls his eyes. “Bryson Murray and Luke Turner ran into each other at Main and First.”
“Jesus,” Luther shakes his head. “So that’s where James and Alexander are?”
“You get a gold star,” Liv answers.
“Shit, well tell them to get their asses in gear and head up here,” Luther takes it out on Liv. “Call Jeb and tell him we’ve got one hell of a mess up here and that we’re going to need his tow truck.”
David looks down the road, seeing something flash between the thick curtain of wafting snowflakes. Standing forward, he looks at the lights, watching them for a moment, making sure that they’re real. They certainly are. Maybe Ryker and the boys made it through town after all? He zones out Luther and watches as the lights draw closer and closer. Squinting against the snow that’s sticking to his face, David tries to identify the truck. Brown, beat up, and old—a Chevy to boot. That’s not Ryker. David sees that truck every morning on his way to work when he pulls down the lane. That’s Jeb’s truck, but not his tow truck. Crap, what the heck is he doing out here?
“Jeb’s already here,” David says to Luther who pulls the radio away from his mouth.
Before David can raise his hands to flag down Jeb, he notices that Jeb is going too fast. Whether it’s the slick from bad wiper blades, too much snow, or just that he’s not paying attention, Jeb is going way too fast. Waving his arms, frantically trying to get his attention, David turns and looks at the flares in the middle of the road, pulsing crimson lights, warning him, but Jeb is driving too fast.
By the time Jeb realizes his mistake or notices the wreckage, he slams down on his brakes too hard, swerving the front of the truck to the right and swinging the bed of the truck around behind the front, spinning in a complete one eighty. David dives from his spot on the side of the road, watching the bed of Jeb’s truck slam into the side of the cruiser, slamming the door and the speeding wall of metal down on Luther’s shins. He can’t hear the scream of the crunching and grinding of metal screaming through the blizzard. The cruiser whips away from the side of the road, sinking into the embankment as Jeb’s truck flips, rolling over the embankment and slamming into the trees. Something flies from the bed of the truck into the forest, but David can’t see it. All he can hear is the tinkling of glass, the screams of Luther, and the moaning of Jeb’s engine.