The van rolls through the stop sign, turning right without so much as a signal. Patrolman Kendle heaves a sigh and tips back his cup for a final sip of too-strong coffee that's long past anything resembling warm. He starts the motor and shoots out from under the shade of a tree, flicking on the lights and giving the siren a quick chirp.
Nestling up behind the van on the soft shoulder, he grabs his ticket book. He'd thought staking out that corner would be a waste of time, but, good lord, this makes his third boulevard stop of the morning.
Or, as some of the snowbirds call 'um: Rhode Island rollers.
For a moment he sits, his eyes on the still palm trees to the side. Not a stitch of wind, puffy gray clouds splattered against the pale blue sky, and probably no more than seventy degrees out there.
Perfect fishing weather.
He takes in a long deep breath and climbs out of the patrol car. Five more years until retirement. Man, is he really going to be able to do this for five more years?
As he sidles up to the passenger side window he gives his sagging pants a quick tug--Lena was on him about his weight yet again last night--then nods to the driver, a younger man with hair that hangs over his ears and a plain-looking shirt that doesn't match his plaid pants.
"Morning." He stretches back, noting the Florida State University seal on the van's door. "You mind taking off the sunglasses?"
"Oh. Sorry. No problem."
Kendle waits until the man sets the glasses on the dash, then leans into the window. "Not sure how things work over in Tallahassee, but here in Jacksonville those funny looking red signs give reason for most of us to stop. You in some kinda hurry, son?"
"Sorry, officer. My mind musta been a thousand miles away."
"I'd say so."
Kendle, noting a bit of hesitation in the man's voice, feels a twitch in his gut. Cop gut, as Mack, his partner for twenty years, used to say. He leans in closer, putting an elbow through the open window.
The van, one of the passenger types, has a bench seat just behind the driver, but the back is open. Other than a couple of candy wrappers loose on the floor, there's not much for Kendle to see.
Yet something about the driver gnaws at his innards.
"You ain't been drinking, now have ya son?"
"Me?" The man chuckles, yet continues to look straight ahead. "No, sir. Little too early for that. But, after explaining this ticket tonight, I'll probably do me a six-pack good and quick."
The driver turns his head--only for the briefest of moments--and Kendle pretends to smile, but he makes sure to catch a peek at the man's pupils. He almost feels disappointed when they seem about right; in fact the driver's eyes aren't in the slightest bit bloodshot.
"Well, alight then. License and registration, please."
The young man digs out his wallet and passes the license over the seat, trying hard not to meet the patrolman's eyes. "There's that, but I'm not sure where they keep the registration in these vans." He reaches over to the glove box and fumbles through some papers, before giving up and tipping down the sun visor, "Ah-ha."
Kendle takes the paper, still in its holder, and nods to the driver. He rubs a hand to the back of his sweaty neck, then moves it to his stomach.
"Don't go nowhere. I'll be right back."
With a slow shuffle he moves back to his patrol car and plops into the seat. Pursing his lips, he lets off a low whistle, his eyes on the back of the van. What's up with the driver, anyway? Hell, he's a handsome young guy, probably quite the ladies' man, no doubting that. But, on the other side, young and stupid may be more the case. Telling a cop you're gonna pound a sixer?
And there's just something else...
He rubs his belly one more time, and then grabs the mike, ready to call in the license and registration. But before he can click the transmitter, the radio squawks to life.
"Hank, you still over near the park?"
"Ten-four," he replies.
"Can you git over to the city parking lot? Some creep pretending to be a fire chief or something tried picking up Parmenter's fourteen-year-old daughter."
"Holy shit," tumbles out of his mouth before he can even think. He sucks in a breath trying to gather his composure and keys the mike one more time. "I'm on my way."
Springing from the car, he jogs back to side of the van. As he steps to the open window he holds the Colorado license up for a last look at the driver's name.
"Well, Mr. Theodore Bundy, this here's your lucky day. I'm off on another call. But I've got a funny feeling about you, so I'm gonna keep an eye out. For now, be a little more careful with your driving and watch them stop signs, you hear?"
"I guarantee it, officer. You have my word."
Jim Bartlett lives in Southern California with his wife and golden retriever - (shhhh - she doesn't know she's a dog).
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