Much to my surprise, the Colby Trilogy has become something more. To maintain the parallel, I should now call the set the Colby Tetralogy, but I don't like that. I thought for a while about calling it the Colby Quartet. Since there's at least a remote chance that I'll revisit Colby again some day, I think we'll just refer to these as the Colby stories.
Keep in mind, though, that you don't need to have read any of the earlier narratives in order to follow this one. If reading "Cop Out" should tempt you to go back and check them out, well, I wouldn't mind that.
As always, sincere thanks go to Drew and Mickey for all their help. -Tim
The beach was almost deserted, but then it was early. A couple of shellers had worked their way past him, not talking much, looking down at the area of sand exposed by the receding water. Then there'd been the two young guys jogging by, wearing only board shorts. That had been the bright spot of the morning so far, Grant thought.
He idly watched the sanderlings skittering up to escape the advancing waves and then skittering back down to see what had been washed in. They seemed to do that endlessly. A mindless rut.
And now he, like the sanderlings, was about to settle into a rut. Not mindless exactly but, after what he'd been used to, boring. You must take early retirement or a desk job, he'd been told after the . . . accident. So, like the sanderlings he'd do what he had to in order to stay alive. One could only listen to so much music, even if it was Bach.
The leg was throbbing. He couldn't get comfortable either lying or sitting, so he heaved himself up, picked up his beach towel, and limped back across the sand to the condo where he knew Janet would have breakfast waiting for him.
She was at the range when he entered the kitchen.
"Hi, hon. Wash your hands. I've got scrambled eggs and hash browns, just the way you like 'em."
He gave his sister a one-armed hug and then headed for the bathroom.
When he got back, she asked, "How are you feeling this morning?"
"Jan, dear, I'm fine."
Giving him an appraising look, she asked, "You say that, but do you mean it?"
"Okay, so my leg still hurts. The doctor said it would be a while before that stopped."
She served up the eggs and potatoes and handed them to him. Then she poured a mug of coffee and put it at his place.
"Where's Ken? Golfing?"
"Uh huh. He and some of the boys had an early tee time."
Janet giggled. "Well, they act like boys sometimes. They stop at Hardee's for breakfast, and I'd love to hear the conversations that go on then."
"I pity the poor waitress who has to deal with that group."
"Oh, yes indeed!" She waited while Grant ate.
"Sis, you don't have to hover. I'll rinse my plate and put it in the machine."
"I'm sorry, Jimmy. I didn't mean to hover. I'm just worried about you." She grabbed her mug of coffee and sat facing him.
"No need to be. But, look, I've decided to go home. No offense, but I'm bored out of my mind. I can only take so much inactivity."
She looked concerned. Then her face became expressionless, neutral. "So you're really looking forward to being a supervisor?"
"No. That's just paper shuffling. But at least it's a job. I can't lie around reading and listening to music and watching the damned sanderlings for the rest of my life."
"Doesn't sound so bad to me. Just think how many men at 55 would like to be able to retire. You could find a place near here, so Ken and I could look after you. . ."
"Jan, sweetheart, you'd wind up looking after us both. When do you have fun?"
She grinned. "Don't you worry about me, brother. I love my life." She tipped her mug to get the last of the coffee. "Think about this. It's late October. You know what the weather will be like in Colby from November until about May. After all, we grew up in it. Do you really want to go back to that?"
He chuckled. "Yeah, I'm used to coping with Northern Ohio winters. And we don't have to worry about hurricanes."
"Well, it's a trade-off. I realize that every summer."
"Okay," Grant said. "Just remember you guys are welcome to come spend your summers with me. The old home place has lots of room. And we've got plenty of golf courses for Ken."
Janet sighed. "How often have we had this discussion, Jimmy?"
He chuckled. "That doesn't mean it isn't sincere. I'm glad you love me, Sis, and you know I love you."
She smiled and put her hand on his. "Still no good man on the horizon for you, baby brother?"
"Nope. And it's probably too late. Who'd want a 55 year old crippled cop?"
"You look incredible for 55! You've always kept yourself in great shape. And the leg doesn't really slow you down much, does it? I just hate to think of you living in that big old house all alone. You need to get out and find yourself a guy. Maybe the new job will give you time to do that. It'll be a nine-to-five kind of thing, won't it?"
"Yeah, being supervisor of detectives is a matter of making assignments and keeping track of progress. So there shouldn't be much overtime, night, or weekend crap to take care of." He stood. "Now, I hope you won't take this the wrong way, but I'm going to call and see if I can get a plane out of here tomorrow. I've imposed on you and Ken long enough."
"Jimmy! You know you're not imposing. It's been wonderful having you here. I wish you'd come more often."
He hugged her. "And I appreciate your taking me in when I was ordered to have this convalescent leave. It has been nice to be with you. And Ken. But I feel the need to get back and into harness again. Otherwise I'm useless."
The concern on her face apparent, Janet said, "You soon get used to retirement. You've paid your dues, you know. You're entitled to enjoy yourself now."
"Remember, Sis, I'm over a decade below standard retirement age. Except for my gimpy leg, I'm in perfect health. I expect I'll have plenty of time to veg out after I've reached 70 or so."
She gave him a peck on the cheek. "Okay, sweetie, if you're sure that's what you want. I can take you to the airport anytime you need me to."
* * *
He settled himself into his seat and put on his earphones, just as if he were a teen. But the music he listened to on his I-pod wasn't typical teen fare.
He was only a few bars into the music when someone put a jacket and a laptop in the overhead rack and sat beside him. Grant nodded and smiled at the man, who smiled back. One of the tricks of his trade was to make a quick mental inventory of people without appearing to study them. The man sitting next to him was a fifty-something, an inch or two shorter than Grant's 6'2". His curly blond hair was showing a fair amount of gray on the sides, but he had a youthful look. Grant had missed the eye color. But he hadn't missed the small gold stud in the guy's right earlobe. It matched the gold of his glasses frames. Mr. X was wearing a blue oxford shirt, faded jeans, and the ubiquitous sneakers.
Grant lost himself in the familiar music. After they were airborne and were allowed to unfasten their seatbelts, Mr. X looked over at him and said, "I love the Franck Symphony."
'What are the chances?' Grant asked himself. He turned off the I-pod and took off his headphones.
"I'm sorry. I must have had the volume up pretty loud."
The eyes were blue, amazingly blue, as Mr. X smiled at him.
"Not at all. I doubt that anyone else on the plane can hear it. I just caught a bit of that unforgettable first movement theme. I have the Monteux recording. Thank goodness CD's don't wear out!" Doing something that was rarely done on airplanes these days, he held out his hand. "I'm Jake Handley."
Turning so he could shake the proffered hand, Grant said, "I'm Jim Grant. Since this is a non-stop flight, I assume you're going to Detroit, too."
Handley chuckled. "Yeah. Love your deductive abilities!"
That made Grant smile. "A no-brainer, as the kids say, right?"
"No problem. And yes, I'm going to Detroit Metro. After that I'll hop in my car and drive home."
Unable to break a long-standing habit, Grant asked, "And where's home?"
"Colby, Ohio. It's - "
Grant interrupted him, smiling. "I know where Colby is. I live there, too."
Normally he would have cut the conversation short and gone back to listening to his music. But Jake Handley was more appealing than Franck at the moment. He set about getting to know his seatmate.
During the course of the conversation he learned that Jake was a history professor at Colby State University, that he'd been attending a conference on 20th Century British History at the University of South Florida and that he'd presented a paper there. Then, he admitted, he'd played hooky from his teaching duties at CSU and spent a night visiting friends in Lake Polk. Oh, and he was wearing a subtle fragrance, something familiar. What was it? There'd been a sample in his last Macy's bill. Acqua di Gio! Pleased with himself for remembering, he sat there chatting with the professor, finding him disturbingly attractive.
About an hour into the flight, Grant cursed himself for drinking that extra mug of Janet's coffee. He excused himself to go to the restroom. It was good to be up and moving. His leg had stiffened as he sat.
When Grant was back in his seat, Handley said, "You know, Mr. Grant, I feel as if I've been doing a monologue. You know a lot about me, and you've told me nothing about yourself."
Grant grinned. "First of all, please call me Jim. And I apologize if you feel I've been interrogating you. It's an occupational trait, I'm afraid."
Handley raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
"Yeah. I'm a cop."
"Uh huh. Except for four years at Oberlin and a stint in the Army, I've lived in Colby all my life."
"Oberlin, huh?" He seemed surprised.
"I don't imagine many Oberlin grads become policemen."
"Yeah. I won't bore you with the story, but you're probably right."
"Would I be really nosy if I asked about your limp?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. Didn't mean to pry."
"No, no, it's okay. I just get pissed with myself when I think about how that happened."
Handley remained silent.
"Long story short, I was chasing a bad guy in an empty warehouse at night and fell down a hole. Busted up my leg pretty good."
Grant grinned. "Well, it hurt my pride almost as much as my leg. And it ended my career, more or less."
"I'm always going to have this limp. So I'm not 'fit for normal duties,' according to the regs of the Colby Police Force."
"So are you changing careers? You're not old enough to retire, obviously."
"Well, actually I could retire, though on a reduced pension. But I've been offered a desk job. I've got to tell my boss when I get back which it's gonna be."
"Oh, you've been on a convalescent leave, I take it."
"Uh huh. Staying with my sister and brother-in-law, actually. Soaking up sun. Letting the leg heal. And doing a lot of thinking."
"You, uh, don't have any family in Colby?"
"No, Janet, her husband, and their two grown kids are all the family I have."
Grant knew what Handley was trying to find out, but he'd always been in the closet except to Jan and her family and a very few people in Colby, so he wasn't about to spill the beans to this man, however personable he was.
"Have you made up your mind about retirement?"
"I can't see myself retired. So I think you're looking at the new supervisor of detectives."
"Sounds impressive. But you say it's a desk job?"
"Yeah, paper shuffling. Assigning cases. Doing performance reviews. Not my thing, but better than staying home all day."
"I can certainly understand that. But you know, there would be worse things than being able to catch up on one's reading, listen to music, maybe do some volunteer work."
"There'll be plenty of time for that later. Right now I just want to stay in harness."
They continued to chat, and sooner than Grant expected they were told to fasten their seat belts in preparation for landing.
"Need a ride to Colby, Jim? My car's here."
"Thanks. I appreciate the offer, but I'm being picked up. It's been nice talking with you, though. Made the trip go quickly."
Jake handed Grant a card. "Call me. Let's have lunch some time. Or a drink."
Grant grabbed his wallet, fished out one of his cards, and gave it to Handley. "Okay. Sounds good."
The two walked to the baggage claim area together. Grant spotted the young plainclothesman who'd been delegated to pick him up, so he shook hands with Handley and they said their farewells.
The young officer grinned and said, "Hi, Captain, welcome back."
"What do you mean, boy?" Grant said, trying to look stern. "I haven't told anybody yet whether I'm retiring or not."
"Yes, sir. But the betting around HQ is that you aren't gonna retire yet for a long time. Chief Boros has pretty well let everyone understand that the captain's job is yours when you get back. And everybody'll be pretty disappointed if you don't take it."
"You don't say?" Grant said, still trying not to smile. "Come on, detective, let's go home."
When the young man dropped him at his home and insisted on carrying his luggage into the front hallway, Grant thanked him. "I'll call tomorrow and see if Chief Boros has time to see me."
"Sounds funny calling him Chief. I mean, it's only been a few weeks since he had the job you're taking over."
"I may be taking over, Wozniak. Don't be spreading any rumors."
"Oh, okay, sir."
"Thanks again for picking me up."
"Well, I was ordered to do it, Captain, but it was a pleasant duty."
"Dammit, boy, I'm not a captain yet!"
Wozniak grinned. "Sorry 'bout that, sir."
Grinning and shaking his head, Grant said, "There's just no damned discipline in this police force."
A very unchastened Wozniak turned the unmarked police car around and went down the drive.
When he got home from the hospital - his leg in a cast - Grant had slept on the pullout bed in his ground floor study. Now he was eager to get back to his real bed upstairs, so, after turning up the thermostat to take the chill off the house, he laboriously hauled his valise up the stairs. He found he had to sit and rest a few minutes once he'd gotten there. His leg still hurt, but the main problem was that he was out of shape. He hadn't been able to run or work out since the accident. He'd never run again, he was told, but the doctor had urged him to keep going to the gym and work on machines that wouldn't impact his leg.
He called his neighbors' house, 100 yards down the road.
"Ricki, it's Grant. I'm home."
"How are you? Did you have a good time? How are Jan and Ken? How was your flight?"
Grant chuckled. "I'm fine, they're fine, and the trip was fine. How are you and Bobbi?"
"We're both great, and so is Archie."
"I'm glad to hear it. Look, I've got to go get some groceries, but then I'll come over and pick up Himself. You sure everything went okay?"
"Yes, Jim. He likes us, you know. I'm sure he missed daddy, but he's fine. I've got a chicken and broccoli casserole in the oven. Why don't you plan to eat with us? I'm sure Bobbi'll be as eager as I am to hear about your trip."
"Deal. When do you want me?"
"Well, this puppy knows I'm talking to you, so you'd better get your ass over here as soon as you get back from the store. I'll have a JD waiting for you."
"You're a prize, dear."
"Uh huh. See you later, baby."
Ricki and Bobbi were among the very few people in Colby who knew that Grant was gay. And he'd never actually told them. They just knew. Apparently some lesbians had gaydar. That made him think of the guy he'd sat with on the plane that afternoon. He wore a stud in his right ear. And even if he hadn't, Grant would have guessed he was gay. Not that he was campy or anything. Just something about him. And he was great looking. Besides that, Grant couldn't think how long it had been since he was so comfortable just chatting with another guy.
He did enough grocery shopping to last until the weekend, when he'd go again. Then he showered and went next door, to be met by an exuberant Archie doing his version of the happy Snoopy dance.
He was grateful for the Jack Daniels on the rocks that Ricki shoved into his hand after the master/beagle reunion. The casserole and salad were delicious, as was the apple pie Ricki had made from scratch. Grant thought Bobbi was lucky to have such a loving partner, especially one who was so talented in the kitchen. He had Ricki's recipe for the chicken/broccoli casserole, but it always tasted better when she made it. He suspected she had a secret ingredient that wasn't on the copy of the recipe she'd given him.
As they had their coffee and pie, Bobbi asked, "So, Grant. Have you made up your mind what you're gonna do?"
Grant faked a look of innocence and asked, "About what?"
Bobbi hit his shoulder hard enough that it smarted.
"About your job, sumbitch."
Grant grinned. "Oh, that. Yeah, I really can't see retirement yet. I'm not looking forward to being stuck at a desk 40 hours a week. I hated the paperwork when I was an active detective. But I don't see any alternative."
Bobbi nodded her head as if she agreed.
"You know, retirement might not be so bad if you had a great guy in your life," her partner commented.
"Jeez, Rick! You sound like Jan."
"Well, maybe she's right. Think about it. Being home all day wouldn't be bad. Take it from me. You could read. And then put a nice meal on the table when your woman -- oops -- your guy came home."
"Yeah, right!" Grant said.
Later, as he was leaving, Ricki said, "Be careful when you take Archie for his walk. He's pretty strong, and he could pull you over."
'Christ,' Grant thought, 'everyone wants to treat me like an old man!'
"Thanks for the warning. I'll be careful," he said.
The next morning Grant went to his appointment with Police Chief Al Boros, who shook his hand and said, "Welcome back, Grant. Would you like some coffee?"
"No, thanks, Chief. I'm good."
Boros, who'd always worn a suit when he was supervising the plain clothes branch, was now in full uniform. "So, how was Florida? How's your sister, Jean, is it?"
"Florida was warm. Jan and Ken are fine, thanks."
"So what did you do down there?"
Grant chuckled. "Laid around on the beach, mostly. Slept a lot."
"How's the leg?"
Grant's hands clenched. "It's getting better. Maybe with a little more time I could . . ."
"Now look, Grant. You've got to face facts. The doctors all said that leg would never be 100% again. So you may as well be realistic. Of course, if you'd been following procedure, this wouldn't have happened."
Grant tensed. This point had been raised before. He shouldn't have been chasing Karpov alone. That did violate procedure. But he didn't see how having another cop there with him would have made any difference. It was dark. It was a big, unfamiliar warehouse. And he fell through a hole in the floor onto a concrete basement twelve feet below. He was lucky, the doctors had said, that he didn't do worse than mangle his leg.
"Yes, I know."
Having made his point, Boros seemed to relax. "Sorry, I didn't mean to bring all that up again. I just need you to tell me what you've decided to do. And I don't mind saying I hope you'll stay on."
"Thanks, Chief." He'd almost said "Thanks, Al." Shifting a little in his chair to make his leg more comfortable, he said, "You know, if I take the job, my style wouldn't be like yours."
"Well, face it, you tend to micromanage things. I'd be more inclined to let the guys do their thing. I mean, if you hire the right kind of people, then you've got to trust 'em."
Boros stared at the wall behind Grant for a while. Then he looked Grant in the eye and said, "So long as everybody follows SOP, I'm okay with that."
"Does that mean you aren't going to micromanage me, either? After all, I'll be doing your old job."
Boros grinned. "Shit, Grant! I've got so much on my plate I won't have time to hassle your ass. I know you'll do your job right." He stood. "So, you're not retiring?"
Grant heaved himself up. "No, I guess not."
"Congratulations, Captain Grant," Boros said, still smiling. "I suppose I'd better call the fag over in PR and tell him we have a new Supervisor of Detectives."
"You mean Anders?"
"Yeah, but his deputy PIO is another one of them."
"What difference does that make?"
Boros looked searchingly at Grant for a couple of beats. "Not much, I guess, but I'm damned glad we don't have any queers in our department."
"You'd better watch saying things like that. The County Commission has made it clear that they don't want any discrimination based on sexual orientation or anything else."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. This is just between us. I'd never say anything like that where I could be quoted. Now, welcome back. You reporting for duty tomorrow?"
"I thought I'd start today, if that's okay."
"Good man! Come on, we'll get you settled in my, that is, your office."
Friday evening when he got home from work, he walked Archie. When they got back, he checked his answering machine.
"Hi, Jim. This is Jake Handley. Remember me from the plane the other day? Look, I usually hate plane flights. I try to sleep through them if I can. But I really enjoyed talking with you. I was wondering if you'd like to meet me for dinner, my treat, tomorrow evening. It's short notice, I realize, so if you're busy, I'll understand. Give me a call, please, at 555-6839."
NOTE: Some years back, Colby County adopted a unified police force. It is not called the Sheriff's Department. Instead, the Colby Police Department services the City and County of Colby, including the smaller towns in the county like Higgins. Its headquarters is an annex on the same grounds as the court house, but there are stations in Higgins and the other smaller towns. The head of the department is called the Chief. There are two deputy chiefs, holding the rank of captain. One is in charge of the uniformed branch, the other, now Jim Grant, heads up the plain clothes branch.