Thursday, May 13, 2021

Leaving the Scene, Chapter One


I used the opening of Leaving the Scene to set up the changes in Penns River since Pushing Water and to give little hints about what might be to come. The novel drop on Monday from Down & Out Books.






The American Legion function room was about half empty when Ben “Doc” Dougherty pulled a folding chair next to Stan “Stush” Napierkowski and asked what the plan was for tomorrow.

Stush tipped his can of Rolling Rock toward Doc in salute. “Get up around six. Make coffee. Read the paper.”

Doc waited until he was sure Stush had finished. “You do understand you’ll wake up retired, right? Live a little. Sleep till quarter after. Tempt fate and go for six-thirty.”

“It’s not like I’ll set an alarm. I been getting up at six for so long I do it on Sundays and vacations.”

They sat two feet apart, watching the room with cop eyes as the party lost steam. Doc asked if Stush had plans beyond coffee and the paper.

“I might run over to Oak Lake. See can I scare up a foursome.”

“They gave you a lifetime membership at the country club. I hear that’s a hell of a nice course.”

Stush nodded. “Might be the best course in the area except for Oakmont. Played it a couple of times when the big shooters around here still cared about schmoozing me.” A sip of beer. “Look who I’d have to play with. Same jagovs spent the last five years trying to run me out of a job.”

“Won’t they be working?”

“It’ll either be them or some of their asshole buddies.” Stush sipped and looked in the general direction of the country club. “Maybe I’ll sneak over some Monday when they let the caddies and hired help play. My people.”

Doc knew the aluminum mill would reopen and run three shifts before Stush played the country club. “You’re Polish. You should bowl.”

“I will. Joe Rychlinski’s been trying to get me on his team in the Tuesday night Falcon’s league for a couple years. Now I have time.”

Doc watched Stush take in everyone still there the way a father looks at a child leaving for college. Forty years a Penns River cop, twenty-five as chief. Doc turned down half a dozen six-figure private security jobs after nine years in the Army so he could work for his Uncle Stush. Uncle in name only. Stush and Doc’s father friends since they worked together at the A&P right out of high school, Penns River still a township. Spoke so no one might overhear. “You trained us well, Uncle Stoshu. We’ll be okay.” Stush turned when he heard his boyhood name, eyes shining. “Everything I hear about Sullivan says he’s a good man,” Doc said.

“Sully’s aces.” Stush crushed the empty can. Held it up for Doris Renko to see from behind the bar. “Don’t know if I told you, but part of the reason I retired now is because he was available and interested. And the country club membership.” A wink.

“You’ll miss it, though.”

“Goddamn right.” As much emotion in Stush’s voice as if discussing how much a putt might break. Gestured to the room. “This is what I’ll miss. The job’s been a pain in my ass for a long time. Gave me a heart attack a few years ago. Sullivan’s welcome to it.”

Doc sipped his Foster’s. The only guy in town who drank it. Doris always kept a couple of the big oil cans cold for him. “What would you say changed the most since you came on? Besides getting cars.”

Stush accepted a fresh beer from George Augustine. Asked after Augie’s daughter in the Air Force. Turned back to Doc only after satisfying his curiosity. “I walked a beat, smartass. Knew every family on it. I told a kid to stop or come over here and he didn’t, I ran him down and gave him a couple swipes across the hammies with my baton. Told him if it happened again I’d take him home to his father. Anything I did be like kisses from his mother once his old man got through with him.”

“White kids?”

“Mostly, yeah. Not all. See, I didn’t just know the families. They knew me. I’d tell them I had to smack their kid’s ass and why, everyone was good with it.”

“Can’t do that now.”

“No, and it’s a good thing. A cop in a unit riding around all day can’t have the same kind of rapport. Or judgment. There’s too much distance. Cop in a car doesn’t know the people as well, someone lips off to him could end up in the hospital. Puts everyone in a jackpot having to write around it.”

“You must’ve put your share in there.”

Stush held up a finger. “One.” Saw Doc’s face. “Swear to God. Little half-pint Dago hanging around down by the tracks looking to boost stuff outta the boxcars pulled a knife on me and took a swipe.” Swallowed beer, his eyes smiling at the memory. “I guaran-goddamn-tee you that little cocksucker never pulled on a Polack again.”

The two men watched in companionable silence as the party wound down. Peers now after Doc had proven himself as a cop and a man more times than either could remember. Stush swished a sip of beer around in his mouth before he swallowed. “How’re the troops taking to Snyder as deputy?” Promoting Nancy Snyder from patrol to deputy chief over several men with more rank and seniority was Stush’s final personnel decision.

“My first choice would’ve been Mike Zywiciel, but he made it clear he didn’t want the job. To be honest, he didn’t exactly cover himself in glory during that active shooter business at Rose’s last winter. He’s better off running patrol, though I doubt he’ll last a year with you gone.” Doc shook the last crumbs of pretzel and salt into his mouth. Washed it down. “Nancy’s probably a better choice. She has a good idea of the big picture, doesn’t rattle, and I doubt the mayor or any of the assholes who actually run this town will intimidate her. She’s fine.”

“Just fine?”

“What do you want me to say? She’s going to reinvent police work? My biggest issue with her getting the job is we’ll miss her on patrol.”


“Jesus, Stush. And what? I have no problem working for her if that’s what you’re asking. Hell, I like working for her. She’s smart and on top of things, and she doesn’t play favorites with the people who were friends before the promotion. If you’re so worried about how she’s working out, why didn’t you let Sullivan pick someone?”

“Because he would’ve picked you, and you would’ve felt like you had to take the job, and I know how much you don’t want it.” Went on while Doc still gathered his thoughts. “Benny, you’re the most respected person on the force. You’d have been the perfect bridge between the old and the new, Sullivan’s obvious choice. Even the assholes who’ve been running me out would’ve recommended you as the best man to lubricate the transition.” More beer. “I know Sully a little. From conferences and around. He’s a persuasive guy. He’d of used arguments I never would because you and me go back so far. Guilt you into taking the job you’d hate. Not just hate it; hate it. I appointed Snyder as my parting gift to you, and because she was the next best qualified once I saw Zywiciel wasn’t up to it. Sullivan doesn’t want her, he can get rid of her.”

Stush seemed surprised to find himself leaning half out of his chair. Sat back and drew in some beer. “I didn’t bring her up to talk about you. How’s everyone else taking it? The people who wouldn’t tell me, I mean.”

“About what you’d expect. Some think she jumped the line. Some don’t like working for a woman. Some just like to bitch. Mostly everyone’s fine with her, and she’ll handle the others. From what you tell me about Sullivan, I doubt he’s going to put up with much bullshit, regardless of the reason.”

“Sully’s going to come down hard for a while, showing everyone else how far up the tree he can piss.” Stush folded his hands across his belly in his standard thinking pose, can of Rolling Rock poised between his fingers on the shelf. “She’ll be fine. Retiring now wasn’t exactly my idea, but my conscience is clear.”

The two men nursed their beers, far enough into the evening to know they didn’t want any more but not yet ready to go home. People came by every few minutes on their way out to congratulate Stush or break his balls or show they wanted to say something even if they had no idea what it was. Stan Napierkowski and Ben Dougherty were the closest things to heroes Penns River had. One was stepping down and the other wasn’t stepping up. Penns River lost something here tonight, and the town had little left to lose.