Police Chief Hatton called me into his office. Today he was not his usual monosyllabic self. He rambled, then roared. When he began shouting at me that there were holes for criminals, I knew where he was going. Sure, I knew the justice system was flawed, but for a suspect in a homicide case to get released this morning because of a clerical error on my part, well, my gut felt as if it had abused an all-access pass in an amusement park. I had apologized the previous evening, but I guess a bad night’s sleep led Hatton to needing to press my error home. I could understand that he was still pissed at me and hoped his speech was his way of venting what agitation remained. No such luck.
Hatton’s forgiveness would not come easy.
Later that night, he made me drive him to a hilltop overlooking town. He climbed out the vehicle and indicated for me to join him. I did, even though a feeling of unease had surfaced within. I looked to the clear heavens and saw the full moon. Glancing at Hatton, there was a moment I thought he would turn into a werewolf. He didn’t.
“Officer Peralta,” Hatton said, when he noticed my gaze.
“Yes, Chief,” I said.
“Follow me,” he said, sauntering towards the vehicle’s trunk.
“Draw your firearm.”
“Draw your fuckin’ firearm,” Hatton said. He closed his eyes, paused, and then shook his head. “Sorry ’bout that. I’m a little worked, up, just do as I say, right?”
I nodded, and I drew my weapon. Inside, my lungs contracted, and a cool chill came over my entire body. I didn’t like where this was headed.
Hatton opened the trunk. The criminal who should have been released that morning—due to my error—was lying within, gagged and handcuffed. I took a step back, keeping my aim on him, as Hatton got him up to his feet. Spellbound, I watched Hatton lead the man to the hilltop’s edge. I felt the chill around my body harden until it felt as if I had been trapped in ice.
“Peralta, you have a choice. Either you push him over here…” Hatton paused, frowned, and massaged his jaw. “Or you release him. Do you understand?”
I didn’t. But I forced myself to nod. This caused the frigid state that had fallen over me to pass. The gun began to shake in my hands.
Hatton said, “Your choice?”
“Um…well, we have to let him go.”
Hatton shook his head. “Very well,” he said, and walked the criminal over to a dark spot on the ground.
I studied the spot, which almost looked like a large X.
Hatton took something out his pocket. He withdrew his weapon and spoke to the criminal. “Now listen, we’re letting you go, nod if you understand?”
The criminal nodded.
“Good, I want you to do as my officer says, no funny shit.”
Hatton called me over, told me to put my gun away, and handed me the object—a compass. He took the handcuffs and the gag off the criminal, who didn’t speak, but nodded when Hatton whispered more commands to him. My mind ached as I tried to understand what was going on. I thought of bolting, but I knew that would only piss Hatton off.
“Right,” Hatton said. “East is off the edge and you find a nice straight fall to justice, but you didn’t want that. So Peralta, you’re leading him west, and west exactly, until he is out my jurisdiction. Are we clear?”
I nodded. I didn’t doubt that both I and the criminal thought Hatton had lost some of his marbles, but he now held the gun, and the grin that had begun to form on his face didn’t seem like one to mess with. I accepted I would have to do what Hatton said, at least until I could figure what was going on in his head.
The criminal walked a few feet ahead of me while I held the compass and made sure we headed due west. Hatton walked a few steps behind me, to my right, his gun on the criminal at all times. I just didn’t get it. I wasn’t sure how big an area Hatton policed over, but I knew it would be miles before we were out of it. Morning would have come and we would still be walking.
Then it hit me.
This was some type of wicked punishment for my mistake. I would have to walk until Hatton got bored. Why the criminal was involved, I didn’t quite understand. Maybe Hatton wanted to punish him as well before releasing him. It wouldn’t be the first time Hatton pissed all over police procedure, or at least so I had heard.
I tried summoning courage to talk to Hatton, but before I could utter a word the criminal disappeared from my view.
There was a short scream and then a dull thud.
“What the fuck?” I said, marching forward.
I felt Hatton’s hand grip my shoulder. “Careful.”
Hatton pressed the switch on his flashlight and shone the beam of light a few feet ahead of me. There was dark, square-shaped hole.
“Old mineshaft,” Hatton said.
I snatched his flashlight and moved closer to the hole.
I saw the criminal’s mangled body.
“Shit, he fell,” I said. “I-I think…he’s dead.”
Hatton chuckled. “You didn’t think I was gonna let a killer go? Hell, they don’t call this place last drop for nothing.”
I couldn’t speak.
Hatton took back his flashlight. “Come on, Anna’s diner is still open. Dinner is on me.”
As I followed Hatton back to the vehicle, numb from the shock, I recalled him saying there were holes for criminals.
Now I knew what he really meant.
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