Harlan sat quietly in the passenger seat of the cruiser. He’d never been in a cruiser before and was taking a quick visual inventory of the dash and the controls. Officer Keyes judged that Harlan could be trusted in the front of the car and was explaining some of the gadgets. Harlan only half heard him. He’d seen enough and heard enough that he could pretty much figure out what was what without the narration. Besides, he didn’t much care. Police worship, uniform worship of any kind wasn’t his thing. He was polite and listened and made little noises to be socially appropriate.
“So, Harlan, where am I taking you then?”
Harlan gave an address and Officer Keyes nodded that he’d heard. He pulled into the left lane, turned west and headed down to the center of town to get onto a main street, heading out towards the West Flats. They cruised by in silence for a few blocks.
“Harlan, you got yourself mixed up in some pretty ugly business back there. We don’t think you’re in on it, so you’re not in any trouble, hey?”
Harlan nodded, listening pretty closely now.
“But Harlan you have to understand that we’re looking real hard for these guys so if you have anything to tell me, you should probably tell us now. We got the statement you gave to your principal about being jumped yesterday but I’m looking for details.”
Harlan was still as a stone.
“You hearing me? I mean, do you know the names of the guys who jumped you? Your statement is good, I mean. It’s good right? No troubles, but I’m looking for details.” Officer Keyes shot a glance in Harlan’s direction. “You know any names?”
Harlan cleared his throat. “No. I mean, no sir. I don’t know who they were.”
Officer Keyes nodded understanding. “What about special markings? Any tattoos or any special anything that could help us identify them? Did they use any names with each other? Call each other anything?”
Harlan thought about this, but honestly couldn’t remember. “I can’t remember. I don’t know. Maybe. I’d be making it up.”
“Uhmmm Uhhmmmm….. So, how’d you get mixed up in this?”
“I didn’t. I mean, I didn’t get myself mixed up in this. I wouldn’t be ‘in this’ at all, if Ms. Adams hadn’t called me to the office. She thought it was me. Her mistake, not mine.”
“Yeah. Yeah, that’s unfortunate. Well, Harlan, we’re here. This your house?” He gestured with his chin at a little bungalow on the corner, by the river near the ball-parks, gang colours painted all over the bleachers.
Instead of actually answering, Harlan said, “Thanks for the ride. Appreciate it.”
“No trouble, Harlan, but if anything comes up. If you think of anything, here’s my card. You call me, okay? I’m on this case, and I, uh, I’d like to help you out if I can.”
Harlan took the card and shoved it in his pocket, smiling politely and closing the door of the cruiser behind him. He could hear it rumbling on the street, felt Officer Keyes’ eyes on him as he walked down the path. He turned and walked along the broken sidewalk blocks around the house towards the back. When he got there, he sprinted through the back, racing to get out of the yard, through the snow, his footprints making a bright trail behind him. Couldn’t be helped. He stopped. He ran back towards the house, up to the back door, and back into the yard. He sprinted like a crazy person, slipping in the snow, running in every direction back to the fence and back into the yard and everywhere, finally getting back to the fence and flinging his backpack, then himself, over the fence just in time to see the cruiser coasting around the corner into the alley.
Harlan swore to himself. Crap! He leapt back over the fence into the yard crouching right up against the fence, panting, holding his backpack close, praying that no one was home, that no one was watching out one of those windows. He heard the cruiser pause right behind him, could practically feel the rumble of the engine in his clothes. He darted under a tight group of cedars yanking his backpack with him, working hard to control his breathing. The pains in his abdomen were shrieking at him. He shifted slightly to hold his balance and breathed through his mouth to be quieter.
The door of the cruiser opened and closed. Footsteps. Harlan peered through the branches but couldn’t see enough to know what was happening. He heard the fence creaking. Footsteps along the fence coming towards him, pause, then walk away. The cruiser door opened and closed. The engine rumbled still in park. The cruiser sat and waited. Harlan had no place to go and didn’t dare move in case the whole set of cedars moved with him. He sat and waited. Finally, after several eternities, the cruiser pulled out of park and slowly drove down the alley. Harlan still didn’t move. He was cramped up for one thing, but was scared the cruiser would come back, scared it was sitting at the end of the alley, scared it was sitting in front of the house.
After what seemed like a stupid long time Harlan crept out from under the cedars. Slowly. Really slowly. Partly because he couldn’t move any faster on his hands and knees, and partly because he was still really scared. Eventually he was out. He stayed low and looked for a crack in the fence. It was pretty easy to find. He could see a clear alley down the direction that the car had gone, but couldn’t see the other end of the alley. Looking far to his left he could see part of the street in front of the house. It was clear too.
It was starting to get dark. These people would be home soon. Harlan reasoned that the cop had better things to do and he dared to rise, just a little at a time until he could just see over the fence. No cruiser in either direction. He hopped over the fence and stayed close to the shadows until he got to the street. No cruiser there either. He pulled his hoodie up over his head, swung his backpack over his shoulder and started the long walk home.
What he couldn’t figure out is why he did it. He had nothing to hide. Why wouldn’t he give the cop his own address? Instead he dragged them both to the other end of town and caused himself all that grief and now he was walking home soaking wet from squatting in the snow under a bunch of damn trees and what was his problem? Especially when he just realized that his address would be easy for Officer Keyes to track down. Likely there were public data bases still available even on people who didn’t have records. Maybe especially on people who didn’t have records. Crap crap crap. Harlan was busily mentally berating himself and didn’t notice the cruiser trailing him about two block behind. It followed him all the way home. Harlan paid no attention because he had no idea.