He pushed away from the desk, unable to eat another bite. It was a late dinner, and when he ordered from the drive-through, his eyes had been bigger than his stomach. Patting the large fleshy dome of his belly, he wondered how that could possibly be true. He felt slow and heavy… and tired.
It was darker than it should have been. Clouds had rolled across the sky like a floating sea of concrete. They ground out the early stars and crushed the sunset like a slow tide. It felt much later than it was, as though the town was plunged into midnight.
Now the rain began, coming down in enormous drops that streaked past the streetlights. Their slow pace was a soothing drumbeat, a lullaby that teased his eyes closed. Through the lids, he saw the first flash of lightning. As thunder rumbled, he forced himself to sit up and stay awake.
Rising slowly, he went through the motions of brewing coffee, knowing that he was too full to drink much of it. Another bolt lit the gloom and the rain came in sheets as if signaled to begin an assault. He was glad he was inside, warm and dry. This was definitely not a night to be out.
He opened the new Guns and Ammo magazine, restlessly flipping through the pages. His eyes couldn’t focus, and his mind was busy resisting the urge to take a quick nap on the small couch. The thunder boomed and roared, but another sound exploded through the storm.
It wasn’t as loud or as deep as the bellows from the sky, but it was mighty all the same. It was a hollow, scraping growl which rang up to the clouds and back down again. He had never heard anything like it before and he hurried to the windows. Scanning what he could see of the town, he expected to find a building in flames or an overturned car.
But he saw no more than blurry streetlamps and the softer smudge of golden light leaking from the windows of houses. Grabbing the radio, he began to call.
“Calling Unit 14, Unit 14 come in. Over.”
A hissing static, rising to a sharp squelch was the only reply. He adjusted a dial, determined to have a word with whoever had been fiddling with the equipment.
Repeating his call, he was again met by nothing but faint inference. Luke, the only deputy on duty, was probably in the diner on main street. True, it was a good place to keep an eye on downtown, but it was also a good spot to keep an eye on Louise, who worked the register.
“Dammit.” he almost muttered into the handset before he got control of himself. He really couldn’t blame Luke, Louise was a fine girl. And if Luke knew anything, he’d be on the radio. There was nothing to do but wait.
He would wait for exactly seventeen minutes and thirty three seconds.
Then the phone rang.
story by Joe Stanley