Crosscurrent, Chapter Three
In downtown Bingham, Arkansas, Jules pulled into a well-worn Texaco, filled up, and stepped inside a sweltering phone booth. He fumbled about in his pocket, fished out a small red spiral notebook, and thumbing through its notes and numbers, looked up the one entry that would finally and gloriously set his life on the high road.
“Hello, is Mr. Martin there?”
“Mr. Martin, this is Jules Armand. I think you’ve been expecting my call?”
“So nice to hear from you, Jules. Welcome to the outside. Is everything going well for you so far?”
“So far, so good, but I’m still kind of sleepwalking, I guess.”
“Yes, I hear that’s quite common. Now tell me, where are you right now?”
“North Arkansas. Little town called Bingham.”
“Oh, that’s very good news. We’re ahead of schedule in that case.”
Patterson Supply was a mess. A pipe had burst during the night, and there was standing water in most of the aisles. The clerks had put as much of the stock as they could up on boards and cinder blocks, and getting through the store was a challenge. Hector Montoya was watching yet one more weekend go up in smoke. Home improvement—this time a fenced dog run—was Hector’s eternal curse, and on this particular Saturday morning as he waded through the hardware aisle, his mood loitered somewhere between bad and very bad.
He brightened when he saw Caslon Armand digging in a barrel of PVC scraps.
“Caslon! Hey, are you becoming a plumber?”
“Oh hey, Hector. No, man, I’m trying to get Ruby’s reefer system up to snuff. I found you can get stuff here for about half the price that they charge at a marine supply house. What are you building this weekend, a gazebo? A new house?”
Montoya’s quixotic domestic projects were the stuff of local legend, and he took the continuous ribbing in good humor (as he did almost everything).
“Nope, a dog run. Something easy this time. But somehow I know it’s going to end up costing a small fortune, and taking me the whole damn weekend.”
“Could be worse. Could be a boat.”
“I heard that. Say, I remember now that I wanted to talk to you. I’m sure you know about your brother by now, right?”
“Oh yeah. Did you have to remind me?”
“Well, I’ve been wanting to tell you that we got a bunch of e-mails about him, and a directive from the TBI that he’s not a welcome boy around here. If we see him, we grab him and call the feds.”
“Yup. FBI. Jumping lines when you’re under parole from a federal pen is a very big deal, and I just wanted to let you know that my guys are all on board about this. But, from what we hear, he’s gone on over toward the East Coast and he seems to be minding his P’s and Q’s. I really don’t think we’re going to see him.”
“Well I’d like to say he’s not that stupid, but it is Jules, after all. Thanks for the heads-up, though. Kate’s going to be really happy to hear you guys are on top of it.”
“Hey man, we’re on this like you-know-what, right? By the way, is Adam still coming home to help you out over spring break?”
“Yeah, and he may be sorry. I’m going to have to work his butt off. It’s jack season, and we’re starting long-lines out off the shelf. And I’m down two guys.”
“Jeez. Can’t you hire someone? There’s always guys down at the agencies.”
“Know what I found out a long time ago, Hector? A guy you have to show everything to is worse than not having the guy at all. And they can get you killed. I’d rather go light and tight.”
“Light and tight? Did you just make that up?”
“An Armand original, sheriff.”
Adam was staying at Lynn’s place so much that his friends joked that he should be getting his mail there. It was true; he stopped by the dorm only about once or twice a week now, mostly to pick up the occasional letter from home or to see the guys and maybe shoot a few baskets. At Lynn’s he felt like he was at home. She had a flair for the domestic, and her apartment had the warmth and cozy closeness of a country home. What a wild difference from most of the places in which other Tulane students lived. No beer-can pyramids, no Nirvana posters, no bikes or gym equipment. And Lynn was the human mirror of her abode; her Kansas roots showed in virtually everything she said and did. She was level-headed, fiscally conservative, and practical. And to Adam’s way of thinking, she was hot. He never could understand how a girl who made seemingly no conscious attempt at sexiness could, in fact, be so sexy. She ruled him in every way, and he reveled in his victim-hood.
“So Adam, have you come up with a plan for summer yet?”
Lynn was sitting on the edge of the bed, futzing about with a broken zipper on her backpack.
“What do you mean, ‘plan’?”
“I mean, the last I heard, you were going to stay here and just grind away through the summer.”
“Yeah, that was the plan. I was wanting to get at least ten credits out of the way, but I’m not so sure now.”
“Man, you are in a hurry to graduate, aren’t you?”
“You bet. I want to get this stuff behind me ASAP.”
“And you’re extra anxious to start collecting that unemployment, aren’t you?”
Lynn loved teasing Adam about his major, which was History. She was a business student, and already had two internships lined up for the summer, one of which featured a potential fast track into the company’s administrative cortex.
“Yup, I can see it now; laying around the place all day, watching daytime TV, ruining my liver with cheap gin. That’s the life for me.”
“Yeah, but seriously… What about summer? Now it sounds like you might not stay at Tulane?”
“Well it all depends on Dad. Actually, on a guy named Kilo.”
“Yeah, I’ve told you about him. The old hippie? The one that got arrested with that dancer that time? He’s Dad’s first mate, and he’s been sick as hell. They still don’t know what’s wrong with him for sure. Anyway, I’m covering for him over spring break, and if he’s still sick this summer, I think I might need to help Dad then too. He’s going to be crazed.”
“So what’s a first mate?”
“He’s like the vice-president. More important, actually. He keeps the crew straightened out while the captain runs the boat and makes all the big decisions.”
“Could you do that?”
“Are you serious? Of course! I grew up on that damn boat, remember? Sure, I could do it.”
“Was your dad ever a first mate?”
“Yeah. Probably the youngest one ever in Texas, or anywhere else for that matter. He got his papers when he was twenty. He was crewing for the guy that owned Ruby before him. Luis Sandoval. He was kind of like a father to Dad, taught him everything, and when he got cancer, he just gave him the boat. Didn’t ask him for a penny. His own kids were pretty much worthless, and he loved Ruby. So in a way, Dad was the only choice.”
“So what about your dad’s dad? You never talk about him.”
“Dear old Grandpa? Gramps? He was a dick. Sorry, but we was, though. He was the town drunk. And the town brawler from what I hear. He drank until he got mean, then he’d beat his wife and his kids, and when he got bored with them, he’d go out on the town and find someone else to hammer on.”
“He beat your dad, right?”
“All day, every day.”
“How does your dad feel about that?”
“He’s never said a word. Neither has Mom. They act like the Armand family began with me.”
“I can tell, you spoiled little brat. So what did your grandfather do? For a living, I mean.”
“He was a jack-of-no-trades. He worked at all kinds of brain-dead jobs: roughneck, shrimper, highway construction, that kind of stuff. But he always got fired, always blamed the boss when things went bad. He was from Louisiana, and he moved to Texas in the 60’s. For some reason he thought he’d do better in Texas, like they had lower standards or something.”
“And he got killed? Behind a bar?”
“Yeah. Big surprise there. He had about a million enemies, and one of them whacked him with a butcher knife in the alley behind the Music Box Bar. End of old Gramps, and there wasn’t a tear in the house.”
“And what about your uncle. It’s Jules, right?”
“Yeah, Jules. You don’t even want to know.”
What the hell kind of idiot would file all of the E’s behind the G’s? Hector was trying to organize all of the inactive contact forms, sorting through the stack of gray file boxes in the storage room behind the holding cells. On the table next to him was a half-eaten danish and the rank bottom-third of a large coffee. He picked up the phone, hit “55#”, and was already in full roar when Art Drummond picked up on the other end.
“Drummond! Who did the filing last week?”
“Yeah filing! I’m trying to get these contact forms separated out for the audit, and some moron has the whole goddamned works out of order. And this is just the first box!”
“Oh. The contact forms. That would be me, sir.”
“Well get back here and help me get this figured the hell out. I’m so confused now I don’t know which end is up.”
“Be right there sir!”
Hector sat the phone back in its cradle, paused a second, then smiled. He had to admit to himself that he must seem like one mean SOB to his guys at least half the time. Days like this really drew out the ogre in him, though. It was the first truly hot day of the season in Boward, the temperature already pointing north of ninety-seven, the humidity in close pursuit, and the normal morning sea breeze was no more than a whisper. The puppy had dug its way out of Montoya’s newly-fenced dog run three times during the week, one of the drunks in the big cell had gotten so sick last night that the guys had needed to bring a garden hose in through the window to hose things down, and the freaking Dow was down another thirty points. And now, with a state audit scheduled for the following week, it appeared the filing system was in serious need of an overhaul.
“Drummond, you do know your alphabet, don’t you?”
“Yes sir! Sure. But I just must have gotten distracted or something. I’m really sorry if I’ve screwed things up. I can get it sorted out in no time, I’m sure.
“Well you know, we have to have all of this stuff dead-nuts for the auditors next week. Those guys flag everything, even filing systems, believe it or not.”
”I’m sure they realize that a good filing system is important for effective law enforcement to work right, sir.”
“I doubt it. I don’t think they know shit about law enforcement, but they’re the most tight-assed, self-righteous, arrogant little jerks you’d ever want to meet, and when they bust you on admin points, the governor’s office is all over you for a month. That’s why we need to get these forms straightened out.”
“Sure, Hector. I’ll start with…”
Hector’s cell phone rang at almost precisely the same moment the red dispatch light blinked in the hallway.
It was Erica Needham’s voice at the other end.
“Hector, its Erica. We’ve got a really nasty domestic down here on Price. Guy has a knife, they’ve been fighting since midnight. Neighbors say they’ve been breaking things and throwing stuff around the whole time. We can’t get in because the guy’s threatening to poke his old lady. Derek just called it in.”
“Where on Price?”
“Oh, them. I guess the marital bliss just got to be too much for them again. When were we down there last?”
“January, I think, Hector. This is the first time we’ve seen the knife trick, though.”
“Yeah, kind of scary.” Aside, Hector signaled Drummond to pull a car up around front and to keep the motor running.
“Well, just sit tight until I get there, Erica. This will probably go nowhere, but let’s not push these two right now. Maybe they’ll start sobering up.”
On his way out the door, Hector ducked into his office, grabbed his service revolver from the coat rack, and his kevlar vest from the basket of gear in his locker.
When Hector and Drummond pulled up in front of the battered white stucco house at 1325 Price, the scene was surprisingly tranquil. Derek Larson was filling out paperwork on the fender of the department’s new Blazer. Erica Needham was squatting on the front porch next to the door, and Larry Salazar was sitting on a stump on the north side of the house. They were all in their winter blues, and sweating mightily under the intense sun. It had to be over a hundred now, and the inevitable throng of curious neighbors had retreated into the sparse regions of shade on the adjoining lots. Hector trotted over to Larson to get an update.
“I don’t know sir, maybe the heat killed them. We haven’t heard anything for twenty minutes or so.”
“The heat might just kill us. I can’t figure out why they haven’t sent our summer uniforms back yet. Hell of a day to not have them.”
“It looks like these are our old friends, Bob and Linda Sewell. Both drunk, we’re sure. They were in the living room, right there behind that window. The ratbag has a very large blade of some sort, the woman has indicated that he’s willing to use it on her. Very distraught. They may be in the bedroom now, but we haven’t made a visual for awhile. Officer Salazar has a cross-fix on both exits, Officer Needham has ceased verbal contact until hearing what you want to do next. It would seem it’s critical that we move in as a unit.”
Critical? Hector rolled that over in his head for a second. Critical. Larson was the only cop he’d ever heard use that word.
“Okay, well you stay here with the car. If you need to call Tri-County, you’ll be good-to-go. Art, you keep the damn neighbors away. I’ll go see what I can see.”
Hector walked across the lawn, made a hand signal to Needham who knelt sweltering on the porch, then around the side of the house and past Salazar, who looked as if he were ready to faint.
“You okay Larry?”
“Damn hot, boss. But I’m okay.”
“You heard anything lately?”
“All quiet on the western front. I think they’re still in the bedroom.”
“Well, I’m going in through the back. Just keep your eyes open, and signal me if you see anything.”
Hector crouched low, and scurried around through the ironweed and parched creosote to the back of the house. Andy Richter, leaning against one of the older blue patrol cars in the alley, gave a wave. The back door was open, and cool air from the swamp cooler streamed through.
Critical. Larson just cracked him up. It’s critical that I don’t trip going in the back door. It’s critical that I don’t let this low-life jerk stab his wife. Then she’d be in critical condition. In spite of himself, he started to giggle, and the harder he tried to stop, the worse it got. As he stepped through the doorway, he was beside himself with stopped-up laughter and had to literally bite his lower lip to keep it in. He thought: it’s critical that I keep my shit together when I talk to this guy.
“Bob Sewell? It’s Hector Montoya. I’m the Boward County sheriff. I think you remember me. I want to come in and talk.”
“Just stay calm, Bob. I just want to talk. If you simmer down, we can get things patched up and we can all relax. It’s too damn hot to be going through this, you know? I’m dying and I just want to get back to the AC in my office.”
Hector stepped into the house. The first room inside the door was the laundry room. A basket of clothes was overturned, and socks, underwear, and assorted shirts were strewn around the room. The place was indescribably filthy. The paint on the walls was greasy with dirt, and the molding around the doorways splintered and black with grime. In the kitchen dirty dishes were stacked ten deep on the counters, flattened Coors and Bud cans littered the flaking linoleum floor, and flies swarmed with frenzied abandon. God, he hated flies.
“Bob, it’s Sheriff Montoya. I’m in your kitchen now. I’d love it if you’d just walk out of here with me. We could all just call it a day. Hell, I could use a little nap, couldn’t you?”
“He’s going to kill me!”
Linda Sewell’s voice was frantic, hoarse, and genuine.
“Shut your goddamned mouth, Linda! I warned you to just shut your goddamned mouth!”
Bob Sewell’s voice, on the other hand, sounded like a recording. Maybe, after seven hours of screaming and fighting, his commitment was starting to fade.
“Bob, come on out here where I can see you. Do you still have that big old knife?”
“He’s got a butcher knife stuck on my neck!”
“It’s a machete, idiot!”
“Jeez, Bob. You don’t want to be doing that. Come on, man. It’s just the heat and the booze, I know that. Put that blade down and come on out here. Let’s just talk.”
There was a stirring from down the hall, and after a moment Bob Sewell came from out of the bedroom. He was wearing a Dallas Cowboys T-shirt and cutoffs. Hector remembered him now, from last January. A huge, moon-faced man with dirty blonde hair, balding on top and tied back in a ponytail, Sewell presented an odd contradiction of massive physical power and bewildered juvenile innocence. He held a rusty 17 inch machete in his right hand. He was obviously exhausted and sweat soaked his clothes.
“God, I am just so tired,” he said as he let the machete fall to the floor.
Around and past him, Hector yelled. “Linda, are you okay?”
Sobbing from the bedroom: “Yes. Yeah, I—I’m okay, I guess. I’m okay.”
Keeping one eye on Bob Sewell, who had now slumped to the floor, Hector unsnapped the two-way from his belt and made the terse announcement the guys melting out in the sun were dying to hear:
“This is Montoya. We’re okay now. We’ve got two very tired and dehydrated people in here. I’ll bring the man out first. Larry, can you come on in and check on Mrs. Sewell?”
He read Sewell his Miranda’s, cuffed him, got him to his feet, and pointed him toward the front door. As they were crossing the garbage filled living room, Larry Salazar came in through the back, stepping over pizza boxes, laundry, and trash.
“She’s in the bedroom, Larry. I’ll get Mr. Sewell here out to a cruiser. We better get Tri-Country down here to take a look at her.”
Out front the neighbors were tightening the circle around the lot, braving the sun and not wanting for a minute to miss Bob Sewell’s thrice-annual perp-walk.
“God, Derek, get these people to back off a bit, would you?”
Crowd-control was Barney Fife-nirvana for Derek Larson, and as he began working the perimeter like an exuberant sheepdog, Hector guided Bob Sewell into the back seat of Larson’s Blazer. Suddenly, from within the house, there came a long horrible howl, overlapped after a moment by an even longer scream.
“Larson! Watch this guy!”
Montoya sprinted back into the house, skidded around the corner into the hallway, and almost ran over Linda Sewell as he entered the bedroom. She was standing over Larry Salazar, who was crumpled in a pool of blood on the shag carpet. In her right hand was the jagged neck of a gallon wine jug, the rest of which formed a shattered wreath about the raw, bleeding laceration that stretched most of the way around Salazar’s skull.
“Richter! Needham! Officer down! Officer down!”
Hector shoved Linda Sewell to the floor, buried a knee in her back, and pulled her arms into a sort of full-nelson. Richter and Needham flew into the room and stopped dead in their tracks at the sight of Larry Salazar sprawled on the floor.
“Jesus! Jesus Christ! God, what happened?”
“How the hell would I know, Richter? Get this woman out of here! Where’s Tri County?”
“I just heard them pull up. Carolyn must have told them to run lights and siren.”
“Smart girl. Run out front and direct them back here, would you?”
Richter handcuffed Linda Sewell, pushed her to her feet and out the door. For the first time, Hector noticed that her clothes were torn and that she was missing part of her right ear.
Hector leaned down close to Salazar and said, “Larry, can you hear me? You’re going to be okay. The guys are here with the ambulance. They’re going to take good care of you. Can you hear me Larry?”
Back at headquarters things were funereal. Whenever a deputy was busted up in the line of duty, the entire staff at the station was hugely affected, and an emotional funk sat on the place like a black fog. Hector stuck his head in the door of the dispatch office and thanked Carolyn for calling the ambulance.
“That was a good call having them run L&S, Carolyn. Thanks. Things fell apart so fast down there I couldn’t believe it.”
“Somehow I knew something was going to crash. I guess I’ve been dispatching so long I have a sixth sense. How’s Larry?”
“Erica’s down there with him right now. She’s going to call as soon as the docs have any news. It didn’t look good, I’ll tell you.”
In his office, Hector sat back in his chair for a long time, rubbing his eyes, thinking back on the scene on Price. God, what a mess. He wondered what the hell Linda Sewell could have been thinking when she nailed poor Larry. And what had Larry felt, going into the room assuming he was there to help this poor defenseless, battered wife, only to be bashed over the head with a gallon Rossi wine jug? Jesus, things just don’t make sense sometimes. After several long moments, his pulse finally back in the comfort zone, Hector opened his eyes and punched up the phone to check his messages. He had two, the first from Kim:
“Hi Honey, hope your day is going okay. Wanted to let you know that your little stinker got out of the dog run again somehow, and I found him over at the Foley’s, going through their trash. Sorry to tell you. Oh, yeah, and Enrico called to wish you a happy Father’s Day. You should call him when you get a chance. He sounded a little down. Gotta go. Love you!”
And the second from Tom Lyle of the Texas Bureau of Investigation:
“Hector, it’s Tom Lyle. Hope things are going okay down there for you. I thought you’d like to know that Jules Armand has gone off-screen somewhere where he isn’t supposed to be. A State cop pulled him up in Arkansas today. Speeding. He got loose somehow. What can I say: dumb cop… it’s Arkansas, you know? Anyhow, he made a run and they lost him. Rental car, southbound near Jennings somewhere, 10:30 a.m.. Blue 2002 Camrey, Illinois BVT 233R. Who knows what the hell he’s thinking. We’ll keep you posted if we hear anything more. Stay cool down there.”