Detective Danny Rocco ends the phone call and opens the Ford Taurus driver’s side door to get in the car, which is in the Walmart parking lot a mile down the road from the trailer belonging to the guy Danny was talking with on the phone. Once in the car, he tilts his slim frame to his right and shuts the door. Settles behind the steering wheel.
The detective in the passenger seat looks over at him. “What he say?”
“He’s leaving work,” Danny says. His hand hangs over the plastic and leather arch of the wheel. The car smells like sweat—Carl’s sweat. “Said he would rather do this at his house than at work. Which I guess I understand, but I don’t know, I’d rather not do it there. I’d like to get the guns back but going to his house… I don’t know. Lots of moving pieces when we stop making the decisions and they do. I don’t like it. Dangerous.”
The passenger, Carl Sweeney, doesn’t say anything, which is unusual for him. The guy never shuts up. Talks. Interrupts consistently. If it weren’t for his ability to make cases from nothing he’d been booted from the Major Crimes task force a long time ago.
Carl pushes his compressed bulk back in the seat, places his hands on the dash, and straightens his arms. He asks, “Does he know why you called him?”
“Aren’t you hot, sitting in here without the air on?” Danny ignores Carl’s question because sweat trickles down his back, between his shoulder blades, moistening the fabric pressed against the seatback.
He runs his hand through his thinning hair. Lushness is not an Italian trait he’s inherited. Instead, he’s hanging on to the last vestiges of his youthful looks. Sweating won’t make him feel any better about it. He turns the car on to get some air going.
When Danny parked the car to take the call, he asked Carl if he wanted to leave it running but Carl shook his head and said, no, let the sweat take some weight off.
“Jesus, it’s hot in here.”
“The windows are down, ” Carl says like the heat doesn’tbother him and the window is enough ventilation to satisfy hisneeds. Danny can see Carl’s a sweaty mess. “I’m like a dog, all you got to do is roll the windows down, leave me in here. I’ll be fine.” Pants like a dog and lifts his hands to his chin, fingers down as if he’s looking over a wall or hanging off a window.
“Well, the law says you have to leave the car running with dogs inside.”
Carl grins and Danny realizes his mistake too late. “Yeah, but not kids.”
“That’s morbid,” Danny says, trying to dismiss the upcoming speech.
“It’s the truth,” Carl says. “Look I’m an adult. If I want to sit here like it’s a sauna, I get the choice to do so. My body, my choice.”
“I don’t think that’s what it was intended for.”
“No it was intended to kill children and you know what, that’s what people do but how do they do it: that’s the question. How do they leave kids in cars? Go in the house, go to work, the store, the bar—God the bar’s got to be the worse—leave little ole Timmy sitting in the car, strapped to the car seat, the kid doesn’t have a say in the matter, no choice, can’t fight back. Read in the paper the other day, some family put a kid in the trunk.”
“You read the paper? Who reads papers?”
“Online article,” Carl says, flat. “No one reads papers, we read on the computer looking like we’re working. Like we’re doing cases. You’re over there working hard on this trying to find leads.” Carl taps his fingers on the dashboard to simulate Danny working the computer, wearing his blue-light glasses, and biting his tongue, Carl even throws that bit in, bites his tongue to make his point, a pink bud at the corner of his mouth, looks like a toad about to strike a fly. “Spinning your wheels, did this guy pawn these guns. Did this other guy steal them? All the while, I’m over here reading about current events, studying, educating myself, because knowing the world is important. Knowledge is power, you know. But you, you’re over there in your little square box killing yourself, working, and to do what? Nothing, because it’s a phone call from the victim that gives you this lead.”
Danny doesn’t speak. It’s true.
Carl puts his index finger and thumb to the side of his face, eyeing Danny. “Hey, this guy’s selling these guns online, I think two of them belong to me, what can we do, that’s what the victim told you.” Doing the victim in a voice like Nicholas Cage trying to play against type.
“That’s not exactly what he said.”
Carl twists in the seat, putting an arm against Danny’s headrest. “Oh yeah, what’d he say?”
Danny sighs. “He said he set up a buy with this guy and bought two of his guns back. Took pictures so I could compare them with the case file. Said the guy said something about having thirty more back at his house and wondered if the victim might be interested in buying them.”
“We both know the victim’s interested in buying his guns back, they’re his guns, but you think we should just let him buy each piece back from the guy like a punishment for being a fuck-stick?”
“Why, because he left them in his car?”
“Well, that too, but because the guy’s truck gets broken into—couple of kids out car hopping and riding around in stolen cars, the ones they find with keys in them, and we chase these kids, and they crash—and then we recover these guns from the kids. They busted the back windshield of his camper shell to get in to take the merchandise, but this guy, what’s he do? Puts the guns back in the camper shell and tapes it with plastic. You and I both know he’s a retard. He should know better.”
Danny blinks once. “You can’t say that.”
“Never mind,”— Danny shakes his head considering not getting into it with Carl—“No, you know what, you can’t go calling people retards.”
“The guy’s staying at a motel, in town for a gun show, and you’re telling me I can’t make fun of the guy because he leaves his antique, rare, firearms in an unsecured vehicle overnight; a vehicle that’s already been busted into once?”
“I’m not saying you can’t make fun of the guy, give him a hard time, I’m saying you can’t use that word. Retard.”
“What do I call him?”
“I don’t know, something not so offensive.”
Carl chuckles. “You want me to use something like potato head, on account, he’s soft in the head, like a baby, that sound better to you, sound more po-litically correct?”
“No, that’s not any better.”
“How about Tater Tot? You got a problem with Tater Tot? No, good, cause that’s what I’m going to call him, a Tater Tot, they’re delicious but sorta useless, I mean what is it, hash brown or French fry, why’s it got to be both but neither.”
Danny groans in frustration. “You know what, never mind, I’ll call the guy back and tell him not today.”
“Then the guns will disappear. You don’t want the guns to disappear.”
“No, you just think the owner should have to buy them back for being stupid.”
“Oh so I can’t say the R-word,” Carl says. “But you can call him stupid. I sense a double standard here, isn’t that right,detective?” Carl pauses long enough to regain his original train of thought or one of the many threads that all go on at the same time inside his ADD mind. “But the guy calls, that’s the point. Not you finding the perpetrator—funny how all them TV shows call people perps, and yet I don’t think I’ve ever called someone a perp; perv maybe—and what do you do, you set up a meeting with him, except you play it straight, tell the guy, we need to talk. So he says sure but not at his work, which is his choice. So like I was saying, why in the trunk. In Alabama, like what the hell. What did the kid do to deserve to be hot boxed in an Alabama summer? Like that’s some Cool Hand Luke bullshit, and even then, you’re sitting there watching the movie, wondering, how those guys don’t die. Did someone bring them water? I mean, hell I’d need water. Sweat it all out of me.”
“I haven’t seen the movie.”
Carl makes a disgusted face like he can’t believe it and shakes his head. “Well, you bring me any water? I’ve been sitting in here sweating.”
“No. You could have gotten out and gone inside the store.”
“That’s the point, I could have gotten out, but I chose not to. I’m trying to lose weight, new diet, working out. I’m not fat, I’m not obese, I’m just a little heavier than my frame allows. I already have no neck and I’m built like a brick.” He adds, “It’s from years of weightlifting and martial arts, not eating ding dongs and honey buns.”
“I like honey buns.”
“I do too, but you are missing the point. You don’t get this wonderful physique, eating them. Besides, the sweat brings me back to my high school wrestling days when I had to cut weight. Did that wearing trash bags. This type of heat, it’s nothing, certainly not like a sauna. You can say I’m the older detective, but you can’t call me obese. But that’s what you think.”
“That’s not what I think.”
“Sure it is. You’re thinking, Carl, he’s heavy and stocky…so much so it gives him the appearance of fat, but I’m not fat.”
“No one called you fat,” Danny says.
Carl goes on defending himself even though he doesn’t have to. “But I’m trying to lose weight and get back out there, inthe dating game. Get back in shape. But my problem isn’t lack of will but cartilage. Years of lifting weights, martial arts, wrestling, and police work, have broken me down into a creaking stiff-jointed mess. I’ve been shot, beat down, divorced, and suspended. Now I’m back baby.”
Carl’s back from his administrative leave. He did shoot someone. Something Danny’s never done.
Danny slips the car into gear and pulls from the parking spot. He receives word over the radio the target’s close to their location. The OSU orange F250 passes them, the driver staring straight ahead, intent on getting home before the cops do, but there are cops already at his house. Their backup, Gracie, passes them before Danny can pull into traffic behind the F250.
Carl says, “I got a taste of what my future looks like—retirement. It looks good.”
Danny and Carl share a love of Seinfeld, bonding by throwing quotes at each other and naming the bits from specific episodes like Trekkies talking about their favorite show. Carl likes to think he’s a Kramer, the goofy fun-loving guy, or Joe Pesci from Goodfellas, frightening but funny. Instead, he’s more a George Costanza. “Yeah, and the office was finally silent—we got a taste of that too.”
Carl frowns. “That hurts. What, you didn’t get your Dunkin today?”
“I bought you some.”
“That you did,” Carl says, “that you did. Did you know, I had to do nothing all day long and since I’m divorced, I mentioned that earlier, and you know all about it, no one was over there bitching at me about what I needed to do. Carl do this. Carl do that. No one doing nothing. That’s what I was doing, course, I thought like most people when they finally find themselves with a ton of time on their hands that I’d get to working on the house, do some remodeling, housework, or something, I did but not what I thought I would do. I did loseweight, that’s something. That’s not something you can take away from me. You know how much weight we gain just sitting behind a desk and driving in cars every day. Being on our feet. You wouldn’t believe it, but I didn’t always look like this. I usedto be something.”
Carl pauses, lifts his head, and seemingly enjoys the cool air hitting his squat neck. He pulls at his collar as Danny rolls the windows up, the air whipping the papers around in the backseat.
“Weren’t you hot out there? Look at you, you’re sweating. Your shirt’s nearly soaked through. At least in here, I’m comfortable getting out of the sun, enjoy the breeze, sit down… It’s the middle of an Oklahoma freakin’ summer and the humidity makes the heat hotter, it’s the type that sticks to you, making sweat, and turning shirts into Saran wrap.”
Danny shakes his head. “You wouldn’t stop talking long enough to let me make the call. You kept going on about ask him this and ask him that, it was all very distracting”
Carl says. “Look at you, you talk like you’re from New Jersey—”
“And you came to us via Atlanta, bearing a horse, who’s dead by the way, which gives you a certain quality these guys out here—”
“These guys out here—yes they’re freaking rednecks with all your interrupting why don’ you let me talk—these guys they don’t know how to handle you, but I do. With them, they’re mesmerized by your accent and agree to whatever it is you’re telling them. Do stupid stuff like that one guy who told you about the weed in his pocket because he thought it was legal and you were so nice and Officer Friendly towards him, smiling, but it was a park, and the law hadn’t changed yet. This guy’s no different, I bet, so what’d you say to him to get him to meet you at home?”
“I told him he had sold the two guns but didn’t mention anything else.”
“What did he say to that?”
Danny gives Carl a look. “That he’d like to talk about it atthe house.”
Carl thinks it over for a moment and then says, “that makes sense. I once got a guy fired from his job. He worked over at the paper plant over on the Bixby Jenks line. I’m there with another detective, it’s her case, and we’re there to ask him about a rape.We weren’t going to do nothing to him, see what he had to say, maybe see if he’d give us some DNA,” pausing to see if Danny says something—“a swab, you sicko.”
Danny shuts his eyes and shakes his head.
“But when we’re waiting to get through security, we get word from one of the managers. The guy left, said his girlfriend called and told him the cops were at his house. We were, we went there first, but we left when the girlfriend told us he was at work. So we’re standing there kind of processing this when the manager goes: and when you do make contact with him at home, tell him not to come back to work, he’s fired. We inquired about why, and they said it’s because they can’t have the police here all the time asking about this guy. Told us there were sheriff deputies around the week prior and the local jurisdiction the week before that. Management said it looked bad.”
“It does look bad.”
“Says something about the quality of the employee. If you can’t hire the right people to make shit paper, then who are the right people?”
The F250 pulls off the road and into a gravel driveway. Gracie’s chase vehicle shoots past the house. Danny pulls into the target’s drive behind him, and both Danny and Carl are up and out of the Taurus in no time. The retirement was really good for Carl; he is losing weight.
Danny says, “Harold.”
Harold, the target, turns his head to look at them as he exits the F250. “You’re the guy I talked to on the phone.”
Carl can’t help himself. “Anyone else promise to meet you at your house?” And when the guy doesn’t answer, Carl says, “We’re here, where are the guns?”
Harold’s eyes pop open wide. “What guns?”
“The thirty more you were going to sell to…” Danny reads the victim’s name off a piece of paper he’s holding in his left hand.
Harold considers his options. Danny watches the debateplay across the man’s features, thick brow narrowing, flat nose scrunching, lips, hidden in a thick bushy unkempt beard, twisting, before the guy drops his eyes and says, “They’re in the house.”
“You want us to go inside with you to get them?” Carl asks.
Harold closes the F250’s driver’s side door and jams his fists onto his hips. He looks back at the house and then at the two detectives. “My wife’s inside.”
“She want to bring them out to us?” Carl asks before Danny can respond.
“She know they’re stolen?” Danny asks.
Shaking his head, Harold says she doesn’t. “I bought them from a friend.” Harold turns, ushering them up the steps of the trailer. At the door, he stops and blocks the doorway. Two more police cars, detectives, pull up, and bodies exit. Harold looks beyond Danny and Carl at the others arriving, and then at Danny and Carl. “If we’re going to talk, can we talk out here?”
“What you don’t want your wife knowing you have stolen guns?” Carl says.
“That’s not it,” Harold says.
But that is it. Danny tells him it’s fine as a voice shouts from inside the house, beyond the screen door. “What’s going on?”
Harold, not turning to talk to his wife, shouts back, “There’s just some people here over a misunderstanding.” Then Harold’s talking to them. “It’s just a misunderstanding, guys. I didn’t do nothing wrong.”
“So you did something?” Carl asks but Harold doesn’t get it.
Harold’s wife comes to the door. She’s a large woman, dressed in pajama pants. “Aren’t you supposed to be at work?”
“I found some guys to take those guns off our hands. Only we got the days messed up and they had to do it today.”
Her tone stretches the word out in disbelief. “Now?”
The wife stares her husband down hard and shrugs, evaporating back into the trailer.
Danny asks, “Who you get the guns from?”
“A friend,” Harold says, and he gives the friend’s name while driving his hand down into his pocket to fish out his phone. He pulls out the phone and starts searching for the friend’s number.
“How much did you pay for the guns?” Danny asks.
Harold pauses looking for the friend’s number and sheepishly admits. “Three thousand.”
Carl scoffs. “Three thousand for thirty rifles?”
“And two handguns,” Harold says. “My friend wanted to see if I could sell them. Said I’d make back my money.”
“Your friend’s wrong,” Danny says. “We’re going to have to take those rifles from you.”
“And the two handguns,” Carl adds, smiling.
“Okay,” Harold says without pause.
“Okay?” both Danny and Carl say at the same time.
Danny says, “You’ve paid three thousand dollars for some guns, which we’re going to take.”
“Seize,” Carl adds.
“Seize from you,” Danny says, “and all you have to say is okay? You don’t even sound upset about it.”
Harold shrugs. “Sometimes you win some and lose some.”
Through a daisy chain of bodies, Danny and the other detectives collect all the rifles from inside the house, Danny taking them from Harold, handing them to Carl, who hands them to Gracie and the others, so on and so on, throwing them in Danny’s trunk like he’s running guns for the Rebellion.
After they are all finished and about to leave, Carl stares into the trunk. “Jesus that’s a lot of rifles.”
Danny snaps a couple of photos with his phone. “You’re telling me. Think the victim’s going to be happy to get them back?”
Carl looks to Danny and then back to the trailer. “About as happy as Harold’s going to be losing three thousand dollars.” He helps Danny shut the trunk. “Although I still say you should have told his wife what it was all about.”
“He was helping us, being cooperative, I didn’t feel like it was right.”
“That’s the Yankee in you,” Carl says. “We could’ve watched a show. Coulda seen how mad she was at him. That guy spent three grand to buy them just to have the cops come take them.” Carl steps around the car and opens the passenger side door. “Hey, I didn’t ask you, what’s Harold’s full name, you know for my memoirs.”
Danny knows Carl means his report.
Danny stands at the driver’s side door. “Gouch.”
“His name’s Harold Gouch—as in Harry Gouch—Jesus,” Carl says. “He was right, sometimes you do win some and lose some.”