Hank Donaghue was asleep in a motel room in Harmony, Virginia at 2:21 A.M. when the door went flying off its hinges with a crash. He jerked awake, shocked. The dark room filled with sudden noise and movement. The lights came on. Strong hands gripped the front of his t-shirt and pulled him upright.
“Son of a bitch!” a man screamed into his face.
Hank chopped upwards with his forearms, trying to break the man’s hold. They twisted sideways together and Hank fell off the side of the bed. The man fell on top of him, pinning him down. Hank worked an arm free and groped above him.
Someone swept Hank’s clothes off the chair next to the bed and shouted, “Gun!”
Hank looked at the yellow stripe along the outer seam of the second man’s trousers. Cop. He looked up at a young man with blue eyes, a blond brush cut and a trimmed blond mustache. The officer pointed his weapon straight at Hank’s forehead in a business-like two-handed grip.
Hank let himself go limp. “I’m a police officer. From Maryland.”
The man on top of Hank pushed off and grabbed a handful of Hank’s t-shirt. “You’re a goddamned killer and your ass is busted. Get up or we’ll shoot you right here and be done with it.”
Hank got to his feet. Another cop stood on the far side of the bed, gun leveled. He was a few years older than the blond cop, with short dark hair and thick eyebrows. He stared at Hank with flat brown eyes.
They moved Hank down to the end of the bed where there was more room to work. They turned him around and cuffed his hands behind his back. They weren’t gentle about it.
Hank was wearing only the t-shirt and boxer shorts, but the blond cop patted him down anyway.
“He’s clean, Chief.”
“He’s dirty, the son of a bitch.” The chief took a fresh grip on Hank’s t-shirt. He was about five inches shorter than Hank and was about fifty years old, judging from the crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes and the amount of white that was beginning to shoot through his thinning red hair. The body beneath his white shirt and khaki trousers, however, was muscular and fit, and the look in the man’s eyes betrayed a meanness and aggression that Hank immediately recognized. This was a cop who always traveled in a straight line, demolishing anything in his path that threatened to prevent him from reaching his objective.
This was his town, his law, and his moment.
Hank took the punches without making a sound. The first one struck him in the stomach, bending him over. The second clipped his jaw as he rolled his head, trying to minimize the impact, but the third caught him on the left temple and he dropped like a shot steer. After that it was a blur, a series of punches and kicks that ended with the chief’s hands around Hank’s neck as someone else tried frantically to pull him away.
“Billy, that’s enough!”
“Chief Askew! Let go!”
The hands jerked away from Hank’s neck. He dragged air down his throat like a fish gulping water.
Other hands gripped Hank at the armpits and pulled. “Get up! On your feet!”
Hank made it to his knees, still breathing heavily. He opened his eyes and looked at a uniform with a single gold bar on each black shoulder flash.
“I’m a cop,” Hank mumbled, “from Glendale, Maryland. There’s been some kind of mistake.”
“Close your mouth right now,” the man told him quietly. He was younger than Chief Billy Askew, in his middle-thirties, ruggedly handsome, with wavy black hair, green eyes, dark complexion, high cheek bones and a dimpled chin. “I’m going to put you in the cruiser, so just let it happen.”
“Branham, get him the fuck out of here!” Chief Askew shook his bruised hand. “Get him out!”
Branham got Hank on his feet and hustled him outside.
The Harmony Motor Inn consisted of a central lodge and two long single-story wings, one extending north and one extending south. Hank’s room was three doors from the end of the southern wing. His rented vehicle, a Grand Cherokee with Maryland plates, was parked in the spot directly in front of his room. Beyond it, blocking the driveway on the left where it wrapped around the end of the south wing, sat a darkened police cruiser. Another cruiser sat two doors up on the right, also on an angle. A third vehicle was parked close enough to Hank’s car to make it impossible to open the driver’s side door. This one was a black Ford Explorer with a Town of Harmony Police Department crest on the doors above the legend Chief of Police.
“Move,” Branham urged Hank, guiding him around the Grand Cherokee to the cruiser on the right.
Hank’s bare feet stumbled on a crack in the asphalt.
Branham caught him, hauled him up and promptly stuck a knee into the back of Hank’s knee, taking him off balance again long enough to push him over the trunk of the cruiser. It was a fairly impressive maneuver, given that Hank was six feet three inches tall and weighed two hundred pounds.
“Don’t move.” Branham opened the back door of the cruiser and hauled Hank upright. “In you go.”
Hank tumbled into the back seat. Branham pulled him up and swiftly released one of the bracelets, dragging Hank’s arms around to handcuff him in front.
“Sit tight. Stay calm.” He slammed the door on Hank and went back into the motel room.
Hank sat alone in the dark interior of the police cruiser. His left cheek felt wet from a cut that was bleeding. His left temple ached madly and his rib cage, his buttocks and his left thigh were sore from having been kicked. His right shoulder, which still wasn’t one hundred percent thanks to a four-month-old gunshot wound, throbbed dully. He looked down and saw that his t-shirt and boxers were spattered with what he assumed was blood.
He wasn’t exactly dressed for company.
He’d done nothing wrong and it was obviously a case of mistaken identity, so Branham’s advice to sit tight and stay calm was solid, the kind of advice he himself would have given a suspect he felt was not the person he wanted. The chief had said something about a killer, so there must have been a murder in town. They’d jumped on Hank’s handgun, a Glock 17, but since it hadn’t been fired in a while Hank was confident it wouldn’t take them anywhere they shouldn’t be going. They would find his identification and badge in his room and know he was telling the truth about who he was.
Stay calm. It’ll get sorted out.
Branham got into the cruiser and threw the transmission into reverse, looking over his shoulder.
“So if I’m under arrest, what’s the charge?” Hank asked.
“Just keep your mouth shut and don’t say anything,” Branham warned, avoiding Hank’s eyes as he swung the cruiser around and accelerated out into the street. “It’s going to be a long night and you’re in a shitload of trouble already.”