Al Gallea squirmed in the seat. His first time out on an investigation! This was why he left the police force in Minneapolis to join a county sheriff’s department. If he had stayed in Minneapolis, it would have been about five more years before he would have gone out on an investigation.
Although he took notes, he could not remember any of the details of their conversation with Jefferson William Shermon, other than the man’s name. He was that excited. He did get the impression that the superintendent thought that the suspect, James Makinen, had at least fondled the girl if not actually having had intercourse with her. Al’s hands tapped nervously on his notebook as he thought about their upcoming interview with Makinen.
Deputy Sheriff Henry Hakanen, Al’s training officer, interrupted his thoughts. “Well, Al, I know James Makinen. I want you to just listen. I know you are _hot to trot_ this being your first investigation and all, but James won’t be handled like you learned in training school. Just try to remember everything you see and hear, and don’t muck anything up by talking.”
Gallea’s anger flared. He’d always thought of the overweight Hakanen as a joke. He never had understood why the other officers always stopped and listened to Henry when he talked. He said to himself, “Fuck it. This is a simple case. I’m going to handle it and no God damn overweight, over-the-hill fart like Henry is going to stop me.”
Before Gallea could form a retort in his mind, Henry pulled the car off the road and in front of an old trailer. Somehow, the overweight Henry was out the door, up the wooden steps and knocking on the trailer door before the increasingly flustered Gallea untangled himself from the seat belt and the files he had on his lap.
The door was opened by a middle-aged man in a ragged, sweat-stained workout suit. He whipped his face with a towel and said, “Hi, Henry. Haven’t seen you for a while. Come in and sit. I’ll make coffee.”
“Thank you, Jim. I would like that. How have you been?”
Gallea nearly didn’t make it through the door before it closed.
Jim’s “fine, thank you” barely made it out of his mouth when Henry interrupted him with, “This is Al Gallea. He’s new. He’s riding with me tonight.”
“Come in. Sit there.” James pointed to two mismatched chairs leaning against the walls of the trailer. James went behind a counter and started to make coffee. The TV set blasted a late night news show from its location between their seats and the kitchen. Al started to get up but Henry touched his shoulder and shook his head.
Soon the smell of fresh coffee drifted in from the kitchen. James came out and handed each a chipped coffee cup on a saucer. He left and came back with his own. He leaned against the wall a few feet away. Sipping the scalding hot coffee he said, “Okay, Henry. What’s up? You’ve never stopped by my place before on your own.”
Henry had poured some coffee from his cup and into the saucer. He slurped a sip of the now bearable hot coffee from the rim of the saucer before he answered, “Well, Jim, we got a complaint. I’ve got to ask you some questions.”
“You know better.”
“It’s my job.”
To Gallea’s amazement, nothing else was said. The men just sipped their coffee. Henry refilled his saucer from the cup he now had resting on the floor by his chair. Gallea’s impatience grew, as the two men seem to only contemplate the slowly cooling coffee they were drinking.
Gallea interrupted the drinking. “We would like to know where you were and what you were doing at 4:30 on Tuesday?” Nobody said anything. “You can answer these questions here or at the station.”
Henry said, “Sorry, Jim, but this is his first time on an investigation.”
“It’s all right, Henry. We all have our crosses to bear.” Makinen and Henry then got up and went to the door. James opened the door and they both stared at Gallea until he got up and left.
After the door closed, Al yelled, “What the hell was that all about? Aren’t we going to do anything?”
“I told you not to say anything. Now we won’t get anything out of him.”
“What are you talking about? You didn’t even try.”
“Sorry, son. I guess I should’ve explained. James Makinen is an old school Finlander. You’re new here, so you don’t know what that means. Finns don’t give a damn about the government’s authority and people from the government, even if they are very active in politics. They’re not intimidated. A Finn was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, thumbing his nose at the King of England. Through the years, they have played the Swedes and Germans against the Russians, the Russians against the Swedes, and the world against them all. They didn’t stop with using governments against other governments. As individuals, they would take on a government. All through the Cold War and the McCarthy Era, the center of the U.S. Communist party was a few miles from here in a small Finnish farming community. Nothing J. Edgar Hoover, Senator McCarthy, or any other anticommunist group tried even slowed them down. They just quietly voted communist while sending some of their sons to Korea and Vietnam. I remember my father’s story about one of Hoover’s G-men’s surprise when a Korean Vet with more decorations on his shirt than there was room for walked up to him after a Party meeting and tried to talk him into coming inside the Co-op for the next meeting.
“I’ve seen Makinen’s father go up to the Governor of the State and lecture him like he was a little boy misbehaving at a picnic. And the Governor took it! After James’ divorce, he has even less respect for the police and the courts. His father is a Democrat, but I think that James has been lately doing some work for the Civil Libertarians. After you put those questions to him officially, he probably won’t give us the time of day. Now we will have to do it the hard way, by finding people who might have seen him or the girl when she says it happened.”
“But can’t we just bring him to the station?”
“Son, weren’t you listening? We bring him in, he will have a lawyer.
The lawyer won’t let him say anything to begin with. But Jim is old-time stubborn Finn. He won’t give us the satisfaction of answering our questions, even if it clears him!
“There’s an old Finn that lives a couple of miles up the road from here. Ano is his name. Nobody ever found out what happened, but he had an argument with his wife twenty years ago. They didn’t talk to each other for fifteen years. She still cooked the meals. He still drove her to town. They still slept together. For those fifteen years, they never, ever spoke to each other, just their kids. He cried like a baby when she died five years ago, but he buried her in a cemetery two counties away and bought a plot for himself just down the road from here.
“You challenged Jim directly when you asked him those questions as a
Confused Gallea left with Henry. The next day he figured Hakanen had to be pulling his leg. He asked Nancy in dispatch if she had ever heard of anyone not speaking to his wife for twenty years or so. When she replied, “Oh, you mean Ano?” he felt he had suddenly been dropped into a foreign land. Al decided to call Chris, his best friend since his move north from the Twin Cities, maybe he could help him figure out what was going on. But maybe he wouldn’t be of any help. After all, his first indication that things were different up here was when he had first met Chris.
Every year the county sheriff, Jacob McKinsie, would hold a law enforcement picnic. The official reason for the picnic was for all the police departments in the area to get together socially. The idea being that since all the different departments worked as a group many times each year, the better you knew each other the easier it is to work together. The unofficial reason was a kick off for the fall political season for the local politicians. Food was supplied by McKinsie’s brother, Junior.
Jr.’s Bar-B-Q-to-Go was Al’s first sight of a homemade grill and smoker on wheels. Jr.’s source of mobility was a one-ton Chevy pickup polished so bright you could barely look at it. Behind the truck was a large trailer built on the axles of a wrecked car. The trailer looked like a cross between a small boiler, a cement mixer, and a steel conveyer belt. The color of the trailer was the nondescript red-brown of steel that had all its paint worn off but not yet rusted through. Two small pipes vented the smoke from the grill right above the cooker’s head. The smoke blew downwind across the park engulfing half the picnickers in a gray mist. Al would alternately get the smells of grilling chicken and ribs with burnt grease and diesel fumes.
Al never understood how the food from that homebuilt monster could be so tasty. After his first bite, he stuffed himself till he became drowsy. The polka bands woke him up after the huge meal. There is nothing worse musically than a couple polka bands warming up to different tunes. Dusk had come and the mosquitoes had put in their first appearance so Al decided to leave. He was just walking past the fumes from the grills when a voice stopped him. “Would you like a beer?”
Sitting in a lawn chair just at the edge of the smoke fumes was Chris. There was a small cooler next to him and an empty lawn chair.
Al thanked him for the beer and sat in the empty chair. A thick tendril of smoke made him gag. “It takes awhile to get used to the smoke but it does keep the mosquitoes away!” was Chris’s comment. They soon discovered that they were both rookies. Chris was new to the town police and Al was new to the sheriff’s department.
After a quiet hour of talk, Al got up to leave. “I’ll buy you a cup of coffee in town.”
“Thanks, but I’ve got to stay.”
“You mean you like polka music?”
“I don’t, but my wife does. She’s over by the bands now.”
When Al finally did talk to Chris about Makinen and Finns in general that night, he got the cryptic remarks, “I kind’a understand the Red Necks around here. They like Country Music. The punks like Rap. Most kids like Rock. A lot of people like Polka. But I don’t understand the Finns. Do you know they like the Tango? Talk to Henry. He’s Finn.”
Al was completely lost. Maybe he would eventually understand something tomorrow.
* * * *
It was three in the morning when James woke to the phone ringing. The voice on the line claimed to be Kawalski. The voice said he was fired and not to report to the school. James just hung up and went back to sleep. Kids! When would they stop making crank calls.
* * * *
_A creaking of a door … hasty steps … a_ *click* _and then light … The figure shrouded in darkness quickly turns a card over._
A man with a crown holding a small sceptre in one hand and a cup in the other appears on the card. His throne seems to be floating on water with a fish and ship in the background. The card is upside down.
_The figure switches off the light and bolts to the door. The darkened room settles to silence.