2.18: Respect

The scraping of a key into his cell door lock interrupted Henry’s frantic dreams. There had been something about… teeth? Or had they been streets? He shook dense cobwebs from his mind, and sat up as Leia Thao swung the door open. Her mouth was a thin line. Her face was red. She was livid. “Explain yourself.”

“Excuse me?”

“The park,” she hissed. “The supposed burial site of Emmaline Cass. There was nothing.”

He blinked, struggling to get up to speed. He hadn’t expected that shoe to drop so soon. 

The sheriff dropped into a squat, to lower herself to his level, and spoke softly. “I don’t give a shit about recovering any Cass bones. The Mayor doesn’t care very much either. But the village sure as hell does. Those people want answers, and they know enough to realize that those answers have been coming from you. It’s them you have to worry about.”

“That’s funny. I thought it was you, who threw me in here.”

“And if they want me to keep you in here, I won’t cry about it. Do you understand that?”

“I gave you the wrong location.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Is that right?”

“If you want, I’ll bring you to the real place. No tricks this time.”

“This is your last chance,” she said, straightening herself up and speaking once more in a normal tone. “One more mistake, and I’m going to make it my life’s work to bury you.”

***

Henry figured she was telling the truth. He brought her to the park and flagged the area beneath the old gnarled oak where he had first seen Clair unearth her special cache. There were so many things he’d meant to do, before giving up the real location. Speaking with Taylor and finding Clair were chief amongst them. If he hadn’t left the village, perhaps he would have had time.

He shook his head. There was no time now to dwell on past time wasted. Or on why he’d wasted it. Or on hearing Ray’s voice again. The deputy who was not Taylor drove Henry back to the station, and locked himself out of the building after securing him in his cage.

Then there was nothing to do. No visitors. No books. No phone. Nothing. He browsed through the notes he’d taken over the previous day, trying to synthesize some sort of trend out of the mess of stories, but there was little to work with. It seemed as though Mathas Bernard liked to go out at night, and had some sort of affinity for routing around in trash. Perhaps he was hungry. Perhaps he was lost. He either despised, or was intrigued by, light. And he was sometimes seen chasing someone. Or being chased.

Useless thoughts and theories flitted about his mind, colliding and ricocheting off one another, until finally the station doors clattered open—and two pairs of footsteps made their way down the hallway floor. “Of course you can see him,” Leia said. “You can take as much time as you need.”

That was all the warning Henry got, before Howard sidled into the room. He had a nasty sort of grin plastered on his face, and an even nastier welt on the side of his nose. What had before been a red complexion was now verging on cherry. The man stood in front of the cell, arms crossed, saying nothing.

“You’ve come to gloat,” Henry said.

“Not worth it anymore, is it?”

“Howie, if I could go back in time, I would do everything in the exact same way.”

His face twisted into a scowl. “I actually came here to be reasonable. To offer you a way out of this mess you’ve found yourself in.”

“Is that right?”

“It is. I’ll drop the charges, if you apologize. To me, and to everyone else in this village.”

Henry laid back on his cot, and considered the man standing before him—from his beady focused eyes all the way down to his anxiously tapping feet. “Howard,” he said, “how in the hell is that going to help you?”

He missed a beat. “What?”

“I told you this already. You live a sad life, Howard, and you have no clue how to make it any better. Nobody respects you. Did the sheriff look you in the eye when you called her with a bloody nose? I think, deep down, you know that what I’m saying is true. And I think, deep down, that you understand that my punching you in the face was far more than you ever deserved. I treated you like an equal. Which you are not. That’s the most respect you’ll get out of me, and that’s more than you’ll get from anyone else, either.”

His face contorted even further. His meaty cheeks curled into dense folds. “I came here,” he spat, “to offer you a chance. I came here to be the bigger man.”

“Howie, you don’t have to try for that. You’re already the bigger man.” 

***

Little else of note happened that night. He was fed—takeout from the buffet. He wondered if that was their standard procedure. There was no kitchen in the station, as far as he knew. Nobody bothered him. Off and on there was the noise of the main door sliding open, presumably to let Leia in and out, but nothing beyond that.

Henry eventually found comfort in the silence and boredom. It wasn’t so different, laying on a cot instead of a cheap hotel mattress. The calm was arguably the superior companion to the background noise of basic cable TV. He drifted in and out of light sleep.

Through the window the sky lightened to a pastel purple. Hours or minutes had passed, he wasn’t sure. It was the break of dawn, and the sheriff stormed into the station with her characteristic fury. He sprung up, prepared for what was about to happen. 

“We found the damn casket,” she said. Her eyes were bloodshot. Her uniform hung loose around her shoulders and waist. Had she been up all night? “Want to take a guess what we found inside?”

“Nothing.”

She gave a hoarse bark of a laugh. “Not exactly. An empty bottle of whiskey. What kind of joke is this?”

“I keep trying to tell you, it isn’t a -”

“Why the hell am I even asking? You’ve done nothing since you got here but lie. You should have stayed out in Greenfield. Yeah, I know you took off for a couple days. Against my explicit directions, mind you. It isn’t hard to keep track of people in a place the size of Tortus Bay.”

Except she hadn’t been able to track him down, at the Anderson. “But the casket is proof that -”

“I don’t want to hear anything more out of you,” she snapped. “I don’t know what I’m charging you with, but I’ll have something.”

***

Henry had plenty of time to wonder how Emmaline Cass’ body had been moved from her casket. Perhaps Taylor had passed his message on to Clair. Or maybe more people than he thought knew about the burial site. He had no opportunity to ask anyone about it. The sheriff sat at her desk for the entirety of the day, loudly turning away potential visitor after potential visitor. Even Kara had no luck. “Tell the Mayor, then,” Leia yelled. “March him down here and let him sort it out, but until that happens you’re not getting back there.”

It took until nightfall for someone to finally break the sheriff’s will, by which time Henry had already given up hope. He heard someone enter, and the pursuing lilting noise of a conversation, but the words were too soft for him to decipher. Gradually they got louder. “I don’t understand what you think your authority here is.” It was Aria’s voice. “The charges were dropped.”

“I have the authority,” Leia spat the word, “to hold him for as long as I need.”

“You know that’s not true.”

“Listen, I’ll tell you what I told Kara: if you don’t like it, you can go to the Mayor.”

“The Mayor? What’s he got to do with it? If I go somewhere—and I will—it will be to the State. I do a lot of business out there in the wide world. How are they going to like a report of indefinite detention?”

There was silence. From his cell, Henry thought he could feel the seething anger. Then there were loud footfalls down the hall, and Leia unlocked his cell without meeting him in the eye. “Mathas Bernard is out there,” he said, instead of stepping out. “That’s what you need to be worried about.”

“Leave.”

“Look for him,” he pleaded. “A word from you could mean a lot.”

Her voice was cold. “Stop spreading misinformation in my village.”

“Next time you bury me, right?”

She had nothing to say to that. Aria met him by the entrance, with a brief smile and a harried look about her face. “The charges were dropped?” he asked.

“Early this morning,” she said. “Some people went to intervene with Howard on your behalf, but he’d already done it. Wouldn’t tell anyone why the sudden change of heart.”

He grinned. “Thank you for talking sense into the sheriff.”

“That was never my intent.” She held the door open, and they stepped together out into the blustering autumn air. “Simply wanted to give a business partner a quick update, but she wouldn’t let me back to see you.”

“There’s an update?”

“Everything’s set up. All we need is the copy for the first issue, and we’ll have the Tortus Bay Examiner out in people’s hands by the end of the week.”

“The Tortus Bay Examiner?”

“Yeah, I thought of it myself.”

“Doesn’t that make it sound a little bit like, I don’t know, Turtle Fancier?”

“You’re going to need more imagination than that, my friend, if you want to succeed in the publishing business.”   

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