Short Story Saturday: Captain Nemo
It’s another Short Story Saturday! Local writer, Charles Wilson, has another bit of fiction to brighten your morning. He took a recent news story and added a little imagination.
If you have a story you would like to submit, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
It was the perfect ending to a very imperfect day.
I had gotten transferred up to the Fortuna station from Santa Cruz by the Chippies a couple months ago. The Santa Cruz patrol was mostly busting speeding college kids and young surfers en route from San Jose on the other side of the hill.
The trouble is that the cost of housing is so high that we had to live almost 2 hours away from my station and it felt like I just lived in a car. It sucked! And with a 1 year old and a child in the oven, Mary was in no position to get a job herself so we were a one income family, at least for several years. Like I said, it sucked!
Mary was getting more depressed than I was and that was bad. She was born and raised in Humboldt county, by a couple of loving hippie parents. Frumboldt was how she liked to put it.
The in-laws still lived there, Mary said “My Dad has his roots so deep in the ground he’s like a tree.” They were a little odd but Mary clearly loved them and they certainly seemed to return her love.
Finally, she couldn’t take it any more. I got home after my usual 12 hour work day absence and she was sobbing like a child after is favorite toy had been broken. When I asked her what was wrong she said “I want to go home! This is no way to live and no place to raise a kid let alone two of them. Won’t you please try to get a transfer to Humboldt county? We could afford a nice place up there and my folks could see their grand-kids on a regular basis. They could even babysit so we could go out on a date. Remember those Bill? A nice dinner I didn’t have to cook, a good movie and a break from being mommy. Please Bill, won’t you try?”
So I did. The transfer wasn’t that difficult. A few months after I made the request someone up north retired, a slot opened and I was told to report for duty there in one month.
Moving had been an absolute nightmare what with our 1 year old son and another kid due soon. The little boy was upset at having his entire world turned upside down and Mary was alternating between joy at going back home and the dread of moving all our stuff. And we had only been married 3 years, what would it be like if we had been together for half a century? I shuddered to think about it. Her folks worked their asses off helping us get moved or I don’t know what we would have done.
The in-laws had helped Mary find a house we could afford in Fortuna and helped a little on the down payment too so at least we only had to make the one move. Mary was beside herself with joy at being back where she said the air smelled of life instead of car farts. That’s what she called the haze that would fill the Bay Area on still winter days. And I have to say I could see her
point, the air here carried a variety of smells Santa Cruz lacked. Both places shared the smell of the sea, at least Fortuna smelled that way some of the time but it also had the aromas of freshly sawed lumber and cattle depending on which direction the wind was coming from.
We were getting settled in pretty well but I was still at the bottom of a steep learning curve at work. To the west of Fortuna was a big expanse of what locals called “the bottoms,” flat land covered with pastures and cattle. Farm houses and barns dotted the landscape while small roads and lanes crisscrossed it. It was really pretty country but I was just starting to learn the maze of roads. (For Google Map, go here.)
Rose was born two weeks after we were moved and she joined Bill junior in keeping Mary hopping. Mary was definitely not going to be bored while I was at work! Between being back home again and the new baby she was in seventh heaven.
First Mary got it, the flu that is. Then she seemed to give it to Junior and the next thing I knew I had a sick wife and a sick kid plus a (thankfully still healthy) baby to take care of when I wasn’t working. Mary’s mom came and nursed them while I was at work but they kept me hopping when I was home. I was building up a sleep deficit and really craved 1 good night’s sleep uninterrupted by crying kids or hacking spouse.
The call came about 3 in the afternoon on what was supposed to be a day off. “Olson’s sick, you’re first on the rotating substitute roster Bill. You get to start your shift in an hour and a half. You’ll be driving Olson’s cruiser tonight.”
Great, just what I did not need! An 8 hour shift driving in the dark when I haven’t slept since 0345 when Rose needed feeding. I called the in-laws and told them of our plight, her mom said of course they would be over in an hour to take over the nursing detail so at least that was covered. I thought about trying to get a nap but gave that fantasy up immediately. Between the baby, Mary and Junior I was just running from one mini crisis to another.
So when the in-laws showed up I was grateful. It felt at that point like a night in a patrol car might seem relaxed by comparison. I kissed Mary on the forehead, tousled Junior’s hair, thanked the in-laws again and was off to work. I logged in, got into Olson’s cruiser and started my shift. Darkness was only an hour or so away and the rain was slashing down with a vigor I had rarely seen living down south.
My route was to be 101, it should be a pretty easy evening unless someone had an accident. It was too nasty out for people to be driving around unless they really had a reason to be out. My biggest task would be staying alert till 0100 when the shift ended and I could go home.
As I expected things were slow which was fine with me. Who wants to stand in the pouring rain being polite to some jerk that was going 85 in lousy weather. Worse yet, who wants to deal with an ugly accident, the smell of blood and death. Yeah, gimme a slow boring shift, I was ready for it.
I was heading south from the outskirts of Eureka on my final lap. This one would end in the station parking lot and I was done for the night. At least that was my plan. As I drove south I came up on an old VW camper van crawling down the road at 50. This was actually about the right speed for conditions but I figured I would run a license plate check just in case I had someone the state computer system wanted arrested. The van got off at Fernbridge so I followed. I was waiting for the info back from Sac.
We were caravanning towards Ferndale on 211 when I saw it up ahead. A pair of headlights was sweeping in circles like a strange lighthouse ahead on the road. I passed the VW and sped to see what was going on up ahead and turned on my flashers. Immediately the headlights stopped spinning, and the red glow of tail lights replaced them. And those tail lights seemed to be receding at a high rate of speed. I called dispatch to get the Ferndale boys ready for the catch but they were already deployed at a loud party of tourists. I chased the taillights all the way to Ferndale proper and through town with flashers going and siren blaring. The driver up ahead seemed like he was determined to run till his rig ran out of gas. It turned on the back road to Rio Dell and we continued our chase scene along it. The pickup was swerving from side to side so I couldn’t pass to block its escape. Suddenly its brake lights flared ahead of me and the truck I was chasing turned hard left, blew through a barbed wire fence and off into a field. I watched the lights bounce wildly as it crossed rough pasture and figured whoever it was they had probably made their escape. The headlights seemed to be running more or less parallel to the road we had been on so I continued driving along slowly to see what he would do next.
Then they stopped moving. I opened the patrol car window and could hear a V8 motor revving wildly. The faint sound of rapidly spinning tires in mud made me realize the guy was stuck. The asshole was MINE!
A road to the left appeared, one that looked like it would get me close to where my prey was stuck. Now if I could only get there before the driver got his rig free. I noticed a road closed sign as I hung the turn. “Great” I thought to myself as the car accelerated down the road. I‘ve got him trapped.
I was going about 50 when suddenly a dip in the road appeared out of the dark. A second later the car ran into a soft wall of water and came to a stop. The engine died and a cloud of steam drifted out from under the hood and in front of the headlights. OH CRAP!
In the profound quiet that ensued I could hear water flowing around the car. It made a peaceful sound.
So I got on the radio, called Dispatch and requested a tow truck.
It took a little while to figure out where I was but the dispatcher did it. “Sounds like you’re on Coffee Creek road, it will be a couple hours. The trucks are both working,” Dispatch replied.
I knew I was going to get no end of friendly shit from my fellow officers. After all I would be dishing it out in bucket-loads myself if the tables were turned. One of the older officers nicknamed me Captain Nemo and the others took it up. The name has stuck to this day.
At least I got to nap till the tow truck arrived.