April, 1987 — near Cement City, Michigan
“All right, one more toast gents,” Tony states. “And then I’m off to the accommodations for the evening. We got an early morning tomorrow, and a bucketful of bluegills with our names on them.”
“Tony, you ever think about running for mayor?” Leonard asks. Bill and Patrick, the two veterans, have already learned over the course of a long evening that when Kenneth ‘Tony’ Dantonio gets a couple too many in him he becomes a bit loquacious. Paddy Leonard apparently just gradually gets even more wise-ass than he always is.
Both Tony and Rod are loving this: the idea that their senior partners are willing to take a weekend to celebrate their promotions. Maybe it means that they have more respect in the department than they might have thought! Of course it may also have to do with the fact that Leonard has been divorced for three years and Geisler is unmarried, but for tonight it’s more fun to focus on the respect angle.
“So!” Tony actually stands up, pushing his chair back from the table and solemnly raising his glass. Fortunately the chair does not tip over.
“Here’s to the two best old-gold shields in the People’s Republic of Ann Arbor. Thanks for showing us the ropes, gentlemen,” he sketches a shallow bow to Leonard and Geisler, “and may we live up to your exalted standards!”
“Live down to, maybe” Leonard says, smirking.
Geisler raises his glass to clink it with Dantonio’s, and Leonard and Johnson do likewise. “And may the new generation find,” Geisler says, “totally new and interesting ways to screw up.”
As they drink, Geisler realizes that the few remaining customers in Harold’s Place are staring at them.
Harold’s Place is a little hole-in-the-wall alongside of US-12 that Leonard found for them to drink at. The place where they’ve actually booked rooms for the weekend is just a couple miles away, right on Wampler’s Lake where they’ll be fishing in the morning. But the hotel doesn’t have any booze.
“And with that, ladies,” Tony says, “I bid you adieu. Come on, man,” he waves at Rod. “Drive me over there so I don’t kill a taxpayer. You guys coming?” He looks at Leonard and Geisler.
“No, you pansy,” Leonard tells him. “I want another drink before I turn in.”
After Johnson and Dantonio leave, Leonard orders two bourbons over his old partner’s half-hearted objections.
“So, it’s just fishing after all?” Geisler asks when they are alone. I thought you guys were going to get wild and crazy.”
“Oh, all you youngsters are getting so prim and proper lately,” Leonard says as the drinks arrive. “Frikking Dantonio is worried about bluegills when he should be worried about blue balls.”
“What do you mean you youngsters?” Geisler protests. “What the hell am I, a rookie again?”
“Younger than me, my friend.” Leonard is maybe in his early forties, no more than five or six years older than Geisler, but he’s nearly bald with just a fringe of close-cropped gray hair remaining, so he often puts on his older-and-wiser act, especially while drinking.
“And young enough to still be confused about what you’re doing here, apparently.” Leonard pins Geisler with the same gaze he uses on evidence. “I mean, what did you think you were getting into here, William? What exactly did you think a detective detects in Ann Arbor? You know the most serious crime in Tree Town is usually frat boys stealing exams.” Leonard takes a healthy swallow of his bourbon. He frowns, thinking.
“You know, though, we did have a couple of big murder cases before you came on board. That Collins deal in ’67, then the hospital stuff in ’75, and then that Watts asshole the Texans finally got. That was in ’80. Wasn’t that just the year before you started?”
“Yeah,” Geisler nods. He’s a little surprised that Leonard remembers what year he joined the department, but one rumor he heard way back then, and which has since been confirmed by experience, is that ‘Paddy’ Leonard is probably the smartest man in the AAPD and has not advanced beyond his current position simply because of a complete lack of ambition.
“Well, sorry buddy,” Leonard makes a pitying expression. “I’m afraid you missed all the good stuff. Tree Town has settled into a permanent torpor. Maybe you can write tickets at the Hash Bash.”
They continue talking, Leonard, as usual, a font of all the best gossip, rumors, and dirt on the department. Before long, the waitress is standing at their table again and Geisler is surprised to see that his glass is empty.
“Would you like another round, officers?” the woman asks.
“Oh my god,” Leonard grins, looking up at the woman. “Officers? Is it that obvious? You don’t think we look like movie stars?”
Geisler has decided that he likes Harold’s Place. It certainly isn’t the Earle, but it’s cozy: dark brown wood, old leather in the booths, and a yellow candle at every table. One thing it definitely does not have, however, is young, lovely, and cheerful waitresses. The woman who’s serving them is apparently the only one still on duty tonight. She’s in her fifties and looks as though she’s just come from a funeral.
“Yes, absolutely, thanks.” Leonard recovers quickly, seeing that the woman is in no mood to be jollied. “Two more bourbons, please. Tall and neat.”
“Paddy,” Geisler laughs, “if we have too much more of your Vitamin B here, they’re gonna be fishing us out of the lake tomorrow!”
The woman gasps a little and puts her hand to her mouth, looking aside in a vain attempt to hide her expression from them.
“Oh, I’m—I’m sorry,” she manages, but then turns and flees toward the back room with sudden tears in her eyes.
After watching her run away, Leonard looks at Geisler. “Damn, man. Do you get that a lot with women?”
“Fuck, what did I say?” Geisler asks in a small voice.
A few of the other customers, several men sitting at a table together who look like they might be from local factories, also watched the woman go. One of them turns toward Geisler and speaks just loud enough to be heard across the distance between their tables.
“Don’t worry about it, man,” he says. “She’s just—” But then the customer breaks off and nods to a man wearing an apron who emerges from the back. “Hey, Harold,” he says.
The aproned man, roughly the woman’s age, walks slowly to their table and sets down two new glasses of bourbon. Geisler realizes that the woman must be his wife, and that this is the proprietor himself. It’s a real mom-and-pop place.
“I’m sorry about that, gentlemen,” the man says calmly. “We had a—tragedy—a couple weeks ago. Linda isn’t over it yet.” Unlike his wife, the man shows no emotion at all. “I guess I wouldn’t be either, except the doctor has me dosed to the gills with—something. I don’t know.”
“I’m terribly sorry, sir,” Leonard says, as though he were the one who put his foot in his mouth. “We didn’t realize. I read about the drownings down here two weeks ago. One of the young men was—known to you?”
Geisler looks at Leonard and then back at the proprietor. He hadn’t read about any drownings anywhere, but Leonard is also rumored to read anything and everything that comes in.
“Our son,” Harold says quietly. “Yeah. They said drownings.” His mouth twitches as though the word is distasteful, then falls into a reverie that neither of them want to interrupt. After a few seconds he looks again at Patrick.
“You men are police officers. But that’s not why you came?”
“No, sir,” Leonard responds. “We’re detectives from Ann Arbor. I’m Detective Sergeant Patrick Leonard, and this is my partner—” Patrick reverts to their previous relationship in the interests of not confusing the civilian with too much detail, “Detective William Geisler. We’ve just come down to do some fishing over the weekend.”
The proprietor nods, compressing his lips.
“Well, I didn’t expect that you come to investigate,” he says. “Lord knows the Sheriff didn’t want nothing to do with it. He’s the one told the paper to say the boys drowned.” After another moment, the man’s medicated calm slips. “Drownings,” he repeats angrily. “Well, they ended up in the water all right. But it wasn’t no fish that done—” pain contorts the man’s mouth for an instant, then his face smooths again. “That done what I seen,” he finishes.
After a few long moments of memory, the man’s gaze drifts back to Leonard. “You say you’re a detective?” he asks.
“Well, detective,” the proprietor says from his artificial calm, “do you know any fish around here that’ll rip four young men’s throats out? Myself, I surely do not.”
“No sir, absolutely not,” Leonard answers seriously. He frowns. “Are you saying—”
“I’m saying too much. I’m sorry, gentlemen. Nobody wants to hear it, with the tourist season coming up. But my boy didn’t drown. He was killed.”
“Sir,” Leonard frowns. “Are you saying that your son was injured before he went into the water?”
“Yes, officer,” the man tells him seriously. “And it wasn’t by no wolf, either.”
“Sir,” Patrick asks quietly, “are you saying that you think your son may have been murdered?”
“Murdered?” the proprietor says slowly. “Maybe. I don’t know what the right word for it is. You go down there and you ask Matt Rollin at the Devil’s Lake golf course. He’ll tell you what he seen. And he’ll tell you there’s a reason they call it Devil’s Lake.”
Leonard says nothing. The aproned man takes a deep breath, then looks at the two of them again. His gaze keeps wandering away.
“Anyway I’m sorry again, officers,” he says. “Sorry to talk this way. Your drinks are on the house tonight.”
“Oh, no, sir, we can’t—” Leonard starts, but Harold stops him.
“Yes, officer, I insist. My Tommy—” his face twinges again for an instant. “I think he would like that. He was just looking forward to taking his first drink, I believe. Let’s say they’re from him.”
Leonard closes his mouth. Harold the proprietor nods, and turns to go back to the kitchen. After staring after the man for a long moment, Leonard looks back at his old partner.
“Damn,” he says.
“So you heard about this?” Geisler demands.
“Yeah. You should read the papers, buddy. Four boys got into the locked clubhouse at the golf course down there and had a little party, went out on the lake and drowned. That’s what the papers said.”
“But Harold doesn’t think that’s what happened at all,” Geisler says quietly, his eyes on his ex-partner.
“No,” Patrick sighs after a moment. “It certainly sounds like he doesn’t.”
“So—we’re going,” Geisler says, his alcohol-fueled gaze intent. “Tell me we’re going.”
Leonard takes a deep breath.
“It’s not even our county, William, let alone our jurisdiction.”
“I know that,” Geisler answers quickly. “But we wanted to go to a lake, didn’t we? It’s just a different lake. And it’s close, right?”
“Seven, eight miles south,” Leonard says grimly. “Something like that.”
“Tonight?” Geisler asks.
“Are you nuts?” Leonard asks incredulously. “What’s your concept, knock on a door at eleven at night? At a place where people are jumpy from recent—violence?” He breathes deeply again. “No.” He looks at Geisler and then away again, grimacing. “Not tonight.”
“Anyway,” Leonard says, rotating his bourbon glass slowly on the scarred wood of the table, “I think these are two drinks we have to finish.”