Petrie slapped at his neck, and then awoke completely. He did not need to turn on the light, he knew he had missed again and by now the mosquito was hiding somewhere low in his vehicle.
Petrie did not need to, but he turned on the interior light anyway. He ran his fingers several times through his hair and let out a deep sigh. Adjusting the rearview, he looked over his neck, his chin and face, and again his neck, quite sure of what he would not find. The little vampire had yet to leave its mark. He continued looking, lifting his chin and turning it side to side, but could not find so much as a faint bite or welt, not even a tiny red dot to speak of.
As he searched, two tiny beads of light appeared outside the windshield, flickering all the way from the top of Ketchesketchken Ridge. Though the lights were over 12 miles away, the night was such a clear and moonless black Petrie had no difficulty making out that the vehicle belonging to those particular headlights was speeding way too fast down Ketchesketchken Ridge. Sometimes he was wrong—sometimes, very wrong. Yet, there’s no denying the times Petrie had guessed right—as correctly as if his guessing correctly had been predetermined. Which was why he continued doing what he did just the way he did it.
Petrie reached for his stopwatch, pausing to watch the headlights round left to right, right to left, at each turn coming together as one light, like mating fireflies, falling into Petrie’s speed trap. The Town of Gold Bar did not get many out of town visitors anymore, maybe four or five a month, usually in daylight. Most out of town drivers were so caught up looking for landmarks and road signs, they kept well under the speed limit. The others, he had to look over thoroughly and take all necessary precautions. The out of towner coming down the Ridge this late hour was either very lost or very much on the run. Probably both. 1 for 2’s always good, he thought, then spoke the rest, “and 50%’s just half-bad.” He was still thinking of the mosquito.
The pest had been harassing him for over two hours now, ever since he returned from relieving himself in the bushes. Petrie had taken all the precautions, he had turned on the AC full-blast and all the way cold. Upon leaving and entering his vehicle, both instances he had shut the door fast and hard. Yet, as Petrie had parked just outside of town, there were so many mosquitoes; one was bound to slip in no matter how many precautions he took. The parasite probably stole a ride on his clothes or in his hair. Whenever starting to dose, Petrie would feel the opportunistic bug steal upon his face, his neck, or in his hair. He had to give the pest some credit though. Had the bloodsucker not pestered him just when it did, Petrie might have missed this opportunity, perhaps more. Then again, Petrie was not one to miss such opportunities, even while dozing. “Always ready for lights, action and fire,” the folks in the Town of Gold Bar were always saying about him, and they were right, too. No matter how tired or how involved in a dream he had become, Petrie nonetheless awoke at the slightest touch, sound, or movement—and with all his wits about him, too. Most likely, he would have noticed the headlights through half-closed eyelids with or without the mosquito’s harassment. Officer Petrie was an incredibly light sleeper.
Petrie’s speed trap began at a road lamp exactly 12 odometer miles from where he parked and ended at the next road lamp 1/10 a mile down the ridge. Several years back, Petrie measured and clocked the distance with his stopwatch while driving the trap at various speeds. With old school arithmetic, he ascertained his findings, multiplying the 3,600 seconds in an hour against the distance of 1/10 mile, and then dividing the 360 result against each time lapse he had clocked on his stopwatch. He tallied the figures on the back flap of his citation booklet: 1/10 a mile distance in 24 seconds equated to the legal limit of 15 mph; 18” equated to 20 mph, 14” to 25 mph, 12” to 30 mph, and finally 10” equaled 35 mph. He himself could not drive faster than 35 mph, even in broad daylight. Not that it mattered; driving the 1/10 mile trap anywhere under 24 seconds is what earned the driver a citation for speeding.
When the headlights reached the trap’s first road lamp, Petrie triggered his stopwatch. If one of the long-distance speeding citations were ever brought to court, Officer Petrie would have no problem testifying that the driver in question indeed had sped beyond the limits prescribed by Snohomish County. Since everyone in the Town of Gold Bar knew of Officer Petrie’s long distance speeding citations and thus kept clear of his trap, Petrie’s transgressors were always from out of town and therefore not likely to contest citations.
When the headlights passed the second road lamp, Petrie stopped his watch. Under the interior light, he stared blinking at the result: 9.05. Petrie had stopped time at nine-point zero-five seconds. With a pen and a used coffee napkin, he calculated the speed. One tenth of a mile in nine seconds equated to something over 40 mph—nearly three times the 15 mph zone limit. In the dark of night, the driver’s speed violation seemed a madness of daredevil proportion. Such a speed poses a serious danger at night, he will say to the driver later, especially for you out-of-towners not accustomed to the Ridge.
The headlights continued sliding down the steepest bend of the Ridge, until they reached Route 22’s straightaway. The vehicle now headed directly toward Petrie. It was time for the “Welcome Lights.” He turned off his interior light, ignited the engine, and turned on the overhead lightbar. He sat back to wait. With 11 miles between him and the oncoming driver, Petrie had time to relax.
The Welcome Lights, as he called them, were the first in a series of procedures designed to provoke and unravel the most unflappable of criminal minds. If the approaching driver, for example, were not of the criminal ilk, if he later proves to be merely lost and so frustrated at being lost that he had lost track of his speeding, this driver will not give the revolving patrol lights much attention. He will express genuine confusion at having been stopped. With all the aimless drivers that Petrie had stopped merely for speeding downhill into his trap, their reactions hardly varied: “Who, me! Speeding? Where? When? Are you sure it was me?” Without much of a pause, the lost speeder next asks, “You clocked me from all the way down here? How is that possible?” Some will even demand to see Petrie’s radar gun. Lost speeders are always grateful when Petrie releases them without a citation. After all, Officer Petrie was not really out to catch speeders.
To the criminal mind, however, the revolving red and yellow lights will loom ahead as a bad omen. If the approaching driver, for example, is a wanted felon, if he later proves to be a fugitive running from the law, this driver will see the unmistakable red and yellow lights revolving and right away assume that the patrol vehicle is on the move heading his way. He will grow increasingly apprehensive and nervous. With all the fugitive drivers that Petrie had stopped running from the law, their reactions hardly varied: they will slow down or attempt to sneak away. If the guilt-minded driver does not attempt evasion, if instead he drives on with strained composure, the 11 miles of a slow and ever slowing lapse of time will become all too torturous. When finally the driver figures out that Petrie’s patrol car is not moving, but actually parked, his growing agitation will inspire the hope that the officer has stopped another driver or, better yet, that there has been an accident. With either scenario, the fugitive would only need to cruise by as inconspicuous as ever. Meanwhile, though, he will compulsively hypothesize which of the two scenarios is more likely to result. He will hope for a road accident, until his pathological series of doubts will undermine this scenario and consequently inspire the hope that another driver has been stopped. Inevitably, this scenario presents its own doubts and misgivings, thereby returning hopes to the first scenario. Back and forth, between two hopeful outcomes, the driver’s fears and apprehension will grow and fester into a third scenario: that the lights are not coincidental, that they have everything to do with him and him specifically. The harder he tries to convince himself that the lights have nothing to do with him, nothing legally whatsoever, the more he will concoct elaborate cause-and-effect reasons of how the lights have everything to do with him—specifically him. Soon enough, the driver will be caught inescapably in his own self-destructing, self-fulfilling prophesy. Many remote smoking guns will penetrate so deep into his criminal imagination that, by the time he drives past Petrie’s lone patrol car, the driver will not resist looking into his rearview mirror to see the ominous, parked patrol car now turning around, soon pulling up behind him, and now signaling the driver to pull onto the side of the road—all just as the fugitive imagined.
To be sure, the Welcome Lights were torturous, sadistic, and perhaps excessive. Yet, as a police tactic, they worked exceedingly well and did not hurt the innocent. That was their beauty, flustering the guilty but not the innocent.
On clear black moonless nights like this one, oncoming headlights from one mile or ten miles away looked much the same. After six minutes lapsed, Petrie figured the driver was about five miles down Route 22’s straightaway. One of his headlights looked dimmer than the other, tilted a bit low, too. From Petrie’s experience, vehicles that revealed their owners’ negligence were a red flag to criminal activity. It was quite an ugly irony whenever a fugitive, much less a wanted felon, attempted to smuggle, say, a cache of drugs or unlicensed weapons across state lines, but in an eyesore car calling so much negative attention to itself. After seven years on patrol, Officer Petrie could not help but take long, hard looks at vehicles that appeared misused, roughed up, stitched together as if ready to burst from their seams. The criminal mind being so bent on self-destruction, sometimes the most likely places for trouble are indeed the most likely places for trouble.
For example, the mosquito. It was possible that the pest had entered his vehicle well before Petrie’s shift began; but more likely, his assailant had slipped into the vehicle as Petrie returned from the bushes. Yet, the more he thought about it, the more the improbable did seem possible. He had to weigh in that the garage at the station also had mosquitoes. Though the station’s garage was in the center of town, it was warm, damp, poorly lit, with little ponds of standing water and no proper ventilation to speak of—a good breeding ground for bloodsuckers. Moreover, he had observed mosquitoes hovering silently near the garage’s fluorescent lights. Yes, it was more than plausible that the mosquito had been in his in car since the beginning of Petrie’s shift. If this were the case, the bug would have waited a couple of hours before venting its first attacks, meanwhile
dozing quietly beside him while Petrie waited for headlights.
Which did not make sense. Or, didn’t it? The mosquito’s attacks began only after Petrie returned from the bushes, true, that much was indisputable. Yet, the assaults began only after he had started dozing. Who is to say that the marauder would not have begun its agenda sooner had Petrie begun dozing earlier? Had Petrie napped while in the garage, perhaps his winged skulker would have harassed him then as well. Yes, the mosquito might very well have been inside his vehicle the entire evening, quietly until aroused by the slamming of the car door, the fresh scent of urine, and the change in Petrie’s breathing as he dozed off. Mosquitoes in the station’s garage were urban mosquitoes, and an urban mosquitoes bred in the center of town were bound to be more patient, cautious, and far more elusive than its wild kin in the woods. Bush mosquitoes lived off over-bred, overfed livestock, which could barely roll in the mud without help. Town mosquitoes, however, are the end product from the most cunning generations of savvy, streetwise, ancestral parasites. The bloodsucker in his car was savvy and cunning all right, certainly fitting the biological profile of a pest with the genetic savvy to sidestep fly swatters, nets, screen doors, glue traps, serial poisons, and people. The way this stalker could wait through the most stealthy surveillance, accurately sensing whenever Petrie began to doze, the way it could steal upon an exposed area of Petrie’s skin, picking and choosing all the moments to nab at Petrie’s flesh—usually the neck, chin, or in his hair—before flying out of reach a split instant before Petrie’s slap could reach it and his eyes could open to see where the pest had flown. No, this mosquito did not develop its skills in the woods.
Yet, in the nearby bushes there was such a vast number of bloodsuckers, too many to dismiss altogether. Circumstances and statistics aren’t always accurate, but they are reliable enough. The bloodthirsty rampage began shortly after Petrie returned from the bushes, and just after the AC’s chill had dissipated. One of those rural marauders must have lodged itself on Petrie’s uniform, perhaps in a fold of his pants, shirt, or sock, and then clung there until well inside the vehicle. Now that the parasite had the scent of Petrie’s blood, it was not about to leave him alone.
The headlights disappeared.
Petrie blinked several times. Where the headlights had been, there was now nothing but pitch-blackness. The driver may have pulled off the road simply to change a tire or take a nap. Perhaps stressed by Petrie’s Welcome Lights, the driver’s nagging fears had overcome him, and he was now waiting off the side of the road, sweating it out in a ditch or behind some hedges, waiting for Petrie’s vehicle to drive by. Possibly, the driver had turned onto Munsun S Road, which connected three times with Route 22. If so, Petrie should have noticed the car turning, the headlights sweeping to the left or to the right, before disappearing behind the hedges—unless this daring speeder’s lights were off. Or, he might still be on Route 22, either parked on the road or driving without his lights. In the camouflage of pitch darkness, the driver could very well be sneaking back toward the Ridge or continuing in Petrie’s direction. Now, why would anyone elect to turn off his lights without turning off the car? It seemed a good time to take a look and shine his lightbar along the ditches and hedges.
Just as Petrie shifted his gears into drive, the headlights reappeared. Their uneven beams shone directly for several seconds and then made a long sweep to the left, cutting like scissors through the hedges of Munson S. No, no, you don’t live on Munsun. You’re an out-of-towner, all right, and you’re sure trying hard to avoid me. Well, you won’t get far, not on that road, you wont.
Munsun S began at the left side three miles down the straightaway, reconnected as an intersection one mile off, and completed its S from the right side of the straightaway at the very edge of town, approximately forty yards in back of Petrie’s patrol vehicle. The four families who lived on “S,” as it was called, rarely received visitors. As the road was rough and difficult on wheels, it would be at least 10 minutes before the driver reappeared at the intersection of Munsun S’s middle loop. It was time to radio in to Gail.
“Aint there any teaching you how to sleep on the job?” Gail said. He must have awakened her from a nap.
“Guess not, Gail. But this evening I’ve had a little help from a not too friendly night marauder, making me all the more a light sleeper.”
“Well then, give me his stats, read me his profile already.” He had awakened her, all right.
“Can’t do that just yet, Gail.”
Gail paused for a long moment. “Well then, if you don’t have his license with you,” she said with impatience, “give me his tags.”
“Can’t do that either, Gail dear.”
Another pause from Gail. “Well why not? If you’re parked on 22, where you usually are, where’s your speeder?”
“The last I saw of him, he turned onto the first loop of the S, Gail dear.”
“Aren’t you going after him?”
“No need roughing up my shocks," he said, pausing for effect. "He’ll likely show in about 10 minutes, and I’ll nab him then, Gail dear. I reckon right about now, he’s finding out how rough that road is—”
“You seem to enjoy endearing my name, officer. Why are you telling me all this now?”
He had to laugh. Awakening Gail from her catnaps never endeared her graces to anyone. Usually, the only time he ever radioed Gail was after stopping a speeder, not before. Or when feeling lonesome, like now. “I guess I could have waited, Gail, but I just had to share this one with you early. I think he’s a live wire.”
“Are you sure it’s an out-of-towner, not one of our residents?”
“Oh yes, I’m sure—” Petrie felt a faint pricking on his neck, but resisted slapping at it. He raised his hand slowly, as the sensation dissolved. He turned on the interior light, then lifted his chin and turned it slowly in the mirror, left to right, back and forth, searching. He had to wonder if the mosquito’s earlier assaults had put him too much on the alert. He could not remember actually hearing the mosquito buzzing, much less seeing it. Yet, he knew all too well what a mosquito felt like and had been feeling it all night long. At the very least, he could be confident about the earlier attacks—those initial tempo-setting hit-and-run attempts that must have worked so deep under his skin, he was only now feeling the phantoms of bites no longer there.
“… The McCormacks also live on Munsun,” Gail continued. “So do the Gilbies and—”
“Gail! Gail! Gail …”
“You have a strong feeling about this one, you say?”
“Stronger than usual, but don’t ask me to explain.”
“All right, good enough. Everyone knows about your methods and your special speed trap. Even if you weren’t close enough to read his plates, by now you probably know if he’s left-handed and has a limp from shooting himself in the foot so often—”
“From the way his headlights work, I’d say he has a very low sperm count.” He couldn’t help himself. “That should interest you some, Gail dear.” There was a pause, and he imagined she was holding the microphone away from her mouth, likely holding back laughter.
“Oh, and how did you figure that one out?”
“Which, the driver with the dim headlight? Or you, Gail dear?”
“Ha, ha, very funny. Sign yourself up: you’re a true comedian!” She seemed to have forgiven him for waking her.
“Well Gail, it’s like I always say, 1 for 2’s always good and”—
“Yeah, yeah, ‘50 percent’s just half-bad.’” She paused before continuing. “Well, it’s not like you haven’t been right before. Anyway, as I mentioned, you are out there alone tonight. Robby’s back home with the flu, and it’ll take Snohomish County 20 minutes to respond if something should go wrong.”
“If the speeder doesn’t show in 10 minutes, I’ll flush him out no problem.”
“If this fella’s a live wire, as you think, just detain him and call me at the first sign of ….”
“Now Gail dear, you just take another nap, and I promise you won’t miss out on anything.”
Petrie leaned back and waited thirteen minutes, before the uneven pair of headlights scissored back onto Route 22. He expected the driver to turn and head back toward the Ridge, but instead the headlights continued across 22 onto the second loop of Munson S. Petrie waited another eight minutes for the driver to complete Munsun’s second loop. The headlights scissored through the darkness directly behind Petrie’s vehicle, then paused for a few long seconds. Surprise again! Petrie smiled, I’m still here, still waiting around for you-know-who. The vehicle turned around and drove at a slow speed toward the Town of Gold Bar.
Petrie shifted his gears into drive and soon pulled up behind the Camaro. When the driver pulled over, Petrie parked about 30 yards behind the vehicle. It was a good tactic not to let the driver know why he had been stopped—not right away, that is. The delay kept the guilty-minded off-balanced, guessing and wondering, yet it merely inconvenienced the innocent. In this situation, criminal and law abider alike were likely to ask themselves many of the same questions: “Why did the officer stop me? Why has the officer parked so far away? What the hell is taking him so long now?” Of course, the guiltless would soon step onto the street, understandably outraged. Ironically, if the driver were to spring from the Camaro with fists raised, it would suggest that the driver felt he had done nothing wrong and had nothing to hide—nothing to warrant being detained. In contrast, the guilty-minded speeder was likely to remain in his car. Such a driver does not trust his own thoughts, thus all the more ripe for rattling. He will appear shaken, impulsive, eager to get back on the road, and incapable of hiding his relief once learning he was caught only for speeding.
Quite likely, the speeder at this moment was squinting into his rearview mirror, endeavoring to see what Petrie was up to. Petrie would keep the driver wondering, waiting a few more telling minutes more, before walking over to figure out what the driver has been hiding—or hiding from.
Petrie radioed Gail.
“About time, you had me worried!”
“Gail! Gail! Gail!” He had always liked Gail.
“All right, never mind that. Just read me the tags.”
“Looks like an old year Chevy Camaro, one of those ‘76 to ‘80 models with a California plate: R as in Roger, S as in Sam, D as in David, 5-2-9er. Need me to repeat?”
“Thank you, no thank you. The driver’s license?”
“Not yet, gonna let him sweat a bit. At least ‘til we find out something on the vehicle’s ownership. Just run the plate through for now, Gail, and don’t miss anything on this one.”
“Watch that tone, mister.” He could tell that Gail liked him, too.
Five minutes later, the driver had yet to stir from his vehicle and Gail was back on the radio. “The vehicle is registered to Jim Saint James of San Francisco and has not been reported stolen.”
“What was that name again, Jim or James?”
“Both. Jim Saint James is how it reads.”
“Are you sure you’re not reading, James Saint Jim, or maybe Saint Jimmy James—?”
“Reading exactly what it says, the first name Jim—J. I. M. Smart ass!”
“All right, all right,” he laughed. “I’m sure he’s no saint, whatever his real name is. You can sit back Gal, this might take awhile.”
Petrie opened a stick of Spearmint, bit once into the gum, and held it lengthwise between the front teeth while rolling the wrapper into a small ball. He made several quick chews, dropped the paper wad into a Styrofoam coffee cup, grabbed his flashlight, and flipped on the AC switch all the way cold. He exited quickly, slamming the car door behind him.
Red and yellow lights from his vehicle’s overhead lightbar blinked and revolved in the otherwise pitch darkness. After positioning the flashlight atop his left shoulder with a finger on the flash switch, he pulled out his revolver and released its safety. Holding the pistol close to his right hip and the flashlight at his left shoulder, Petrie crept toward the Camaro. Criminal and law abider alike were likely to notice Petrie’s slow approach, but the fugitive would fixate on the stealth in Petrie’s gait, how his right hand appeared curled at the hip in the shape of a gun, as he stepped out of the blinking, revolving darkness. Fugitives often cracked from less. If the driver were to make an aggressive move, now would be the time. Possibly, the driver is sharing this very thought—“If I am to make my move, I aught to make it soon!”
The Camaro’s interior light was turned on. As Petrie stepped toward the vehicle, he could see that the side window was partway down but could not see anyone in the vehicle, a bad sign. Keeping his gun low at the hip, he approached the driver’s side and flashed his light through the window’s gap.
A white beast lunged barking at Petrie. Slamming its nose and teeth into the glass, the beast continued barking and snapping at Petrie. The driver, stretched over the passenger seat, seemed to be groping for something on the floor.
“Put your hands where I can see them--NOW!”
The driver twisted around and blinked into Petrie’s flashlight. The beast became wilder and more vicious, snapping at the glass and then pushing its snout through the opening with a hysterical mixture of barks and growls. The driver sat up slowly, palms in view, fingers splayed, all the while coaxing the
“Shush, Snow! Shhhh, shhhhhhhh!” As the dog continued to bark, the man looked confused about the dog’s behavior and continued tying to coax it. The animal looked like a large shepherd of some kind and seemed barely to fit in the backseat.
“Control your pet. Keep your hands where I can see them—NOW!”
“Hush, Snow! Snow, Snow! Shhhh! Hush! Hush! Shhhh, shhhh!” the driver repeated until the dog withdrew from the window.
Petrie had a knack for exploiting confusion. Again, he flashed light into the animal’s eyes, and again the dog lunged, snapping blindly at Petrie as it pushed its snout sideways through the gap of the window. “Control your pet, I repeat, roll down your window. Roll down your window a little more. Keep your hands where I can see them. Control your pet, I repeat, control your pet!” These rapid demands kept the driver busy, reaching back one hand to muzzle the dog while using his other hand to roll down the window additional inches. While the driver struggled with his dog, Petrie flashed his light inside the car. A wallet was on the passenger seat. On the floor where the driver had been reaching, there was only a square of paper the size of a postcard. In the back, the dog was cramped between a microwave oven and a television set. From a closer look, the dog appeared to be a very large white German Shepherd. Petrie did not like dogs, even police canines. “I repeat, control your pet.”
“Snow! Hush, hush! Shhhhhh, shhhhhh!” the driver cooed. “Shush, shush! Shhhhhhh!” With a hand firm around the shepherd’s snout, the driver muzzled his pet by squeezing the flesh of jowls against the teeth. After several seconds, the shepherd let out an indignant whine. “Shhhhhuh! Shhhhhuh!” he cooed again.
“Roll down your window more,” Petrie repeated.
Keeping one hand as a muzzle and his eyes on the dog, the driver rolled down his window halfway, then groped for his wallet on the passenger seat. Petrie peered inside, sniffing for alcohol, marijuana, rotting flesh, anything illegal. Something in the car had a pungent but unrecognizable odor. There were numerous small boxes of different sizes stacked along the back window and around the television and microwave oven. Something glinted silvery on the floor; wedged between two boxes, directly under the shepherd, was some kind of pipe that looked like the barrel of a gun. Petrie held his own pistol near the hip, just out of the driver’s view.