Officer Dougal straightened out and ran his hand over his face.
There was no pulse. Five minutes ago there hadn't been a pulse.
He looked down at the still figure of fugitive John Fitzhugh and
felt only a deep unease. The man had been a cop killer and had
been on the run for the past six days as public enemy number one
after his infamous courthouse shooting of Arnett Wendling and
four uniformed officers.
It was a huge story. Taking place a state north of Dougal in Ohio
it had made national headlines and the chase had been followed
every day in the news. Dougal knew a lot of the background story,
sympathized partially with Fitzhugh, and after being the officer
to bring him down, felt no satisfaction.
He turned a slow circle and let his eyes take in the mountain
forest, listened to the rushing waters of the Kanawha below the
ridge and watched as a fox squirrel ran along the forest floor.
Letting his eyes rest on the small white flower of a
jack-in-the-pulpit, he realized he was just looking away, wanting
to see anything but the inert form of public enemy number one.
Taking a few steps away from the cooling body, he hunkered down
and plucked the late spring bloom from the ground and studied it.
His wife would like it.
With a sigh of departing tension that turned into a groan of
bodily aching, Dougal stood erect and, not looking back to the
body, pulled his walkie-talkie from his belt. Cramps seized his
thighs and calf muscles and he gritted his teeth, flexed his toes
forward and waited for the spasms to subside. When they had
calmed, he called in.
"Ranger Station Four this is Dougal here. Do you copy?" He
released the button on the side of his handheld unit and listened
to the crackling static while waiting for the reply.
"This is Four here. What is your status and location?" Dougal
frowned at the reply. They damn well knew his status and hadn't
cared jack squat for his location when he had called in two hours
"Status is an all clear. You'll find me about two, maybe three
miles up Kanawha heading East from seventy seven. I'm about a
quarter mile above the river on the North bank but I can see it
from here. Just send out a boat and I'll fire when I see you."
"What's your ETA?" There was a moment of static silence and
Dougal wondered briefly how long he could stand to be out there
alone with Fitzhugh's remains.
"About an hour." Dougal nodded slowly, turned and glanced over
his shoulder toward Fitzhugh and felt his stomach sink. So be it
Walking back to Fitzhugh's fresh corpse, Dougal stared down.
After a brief hesitation he bent and extracted from the dead
man's grip a small handheld dictation recorder. It was a sleek
new model, one that recorded onto a nine gigabyte memory card.
His post was one of several hundred around the country who had
been issued the recorder as part of a test marketing group. The
way it worked was that instead of taking written statements on
scene, the recorder was to be used and the recording transcribed
later, saving the officers in the field paperwork and time.
Dougal had never used his before today.
He checked the recorder, made sure Fitzhugh's dying statement had
been saved, all ninety minutes worth, and slipped it into its
pouch on his belt. As if returning the recorder to its holder had
reminded him, he undid the snap on his holster and pulled his
sidearm. With a practiced ease, he dropped the clip and thumbed
out shells, counting as he did. Three shots had been fired. He
didn't remember more than the first, which had taken Fitzhugh low
and to the right of his abdomen. It had been the only shot that
scored. Dougal shrugged, replaced the partially used clip with
one of his two spares and walked a short distance away to study
the river below.
The killing bothered him. He had never killed anyone before. To
be honest, he had never even fired on anyone during his twenty
four years of service with the West Virginia Highway Patrol.
Twice he had drawn his sidearm, and once had fired a warning shot
high and well to the side when called in for backup at a botched
robbery. Now, with the adrenaline long gone, any perceived threat
against him as dead as Fitzhugh was himself, Dougal was beginning
to feel the dark emotions of taking a life rise up in his being.
He reached for the breast pocket of his uniform and laughed out
loud, an uneasy sound, at the unconscious gesture. He hadn't
smoked for nearly seven years.
Running his tongue across his lips, Dougal realized how thirsty
he was. With his car at least two miles west through rough
terrain and a body he was responsible for, there was no question
of going after the water bottle he habitually carried in his
cruiser. Digging in his pockets, he found a piece of gum and
settled for chewing up enough spit to keep his whistle wet while
he waited for the Park Rangers to show up with their boat and
stretcher to remove the body.
He wasn't sure why the rangers were doing the pick up, but that's
what dispatch had told him, and whom they had instructed him to
communicate with in regards to removing the body. Of course,
Fitzhugh had been no more a corpse than any other living person
on the face of the earth when he received those orders. He
supposed there was a medical examiner's wagon waiting at the
ranger station, probably his shift supervisor and some
representatives from the media as well. Surprised with the
thought, he conceded to himself that he was grateful for some
time alone after Fitzhugh's death.
With little to do besides sit and wait while looking down river,
Dougal pulled the recorder form his belt pouch and turned it on.
Trying to remember the instructions from the briefing over the
use of the recorders (there was always a briefing when they
received new gadgetry) he fumbled his way through the process of
assigning a name to the recorded dying statement of Fitzhugh.
After several false starts, he found the proper combination of
function keys and with a scroll bar, managed to save the
recording. He thought briefly of checking the audio (there were
earbud headphones coiled at the bottom of the storage pouch on
his belt) but decided against it. He had stood by while Fitzhugh
went on for ninety plus minutes, talking into the recorder, and
the memory of what he had said was still fresh and unsettling.
Let Boggs worry about it behind his desk if there was something
wrong with the audio.
Settling in for the
wait, with his back against a dying Maple, Dougal wondered what
his wife would be cooking for supper, whether he would be coming
home to a quick angry glance as she looked up from one of her
novels accompanied by a forced politeness in her tone while she
explained dinner was in the fridge. God, he hoped not. If for
just one night he needed understanding, this was it. Glancing at
his watch he knew there was no way he would be home before his
shift was two hours past over. He had left his cell phone in the
car and was loathe to call into dispatch asking that someone call
his wife. It just seemed so damned unprofessional and he always
grated when he heard somebody else doing it. For now, all there
was to do was wait for the boat.