Prompt: Write a story where one character comes to town and one character leaves town.
Officer Randolph’s new holster belt was cutting into his waist after his first full day in the police cruiser.
He was fresh out of the academy, new to Sycamore Grove, and new to the job as a policeman in the small Connecticut town. His brother teased him that, after so brief a period, he was already the number two man on the force. Of course, it was only a two man force, he and Chief Daniels. His dad asked if he was Barny to Chief Daniel’s Andy, and wondered if he had been issued a bullet for his revolver. He knew it was a joke, but he didn’t get it.
With so many municipalities cutting back, he was lucky to have the job. He anticipated it would be boring, mainly writing speeding tickets and rousting skate boarders out of the church parking lot, but hoped it would lead to better things.
His first day seemed as though it might be typical. He had started his shift with a trip to the park where his first duty of the day was to get the flag from the storage shed and raise it on the pole overlooking the lake. He was to check for evidence of any overnight teenage beer parties and to check the utility area near the parking lot for signs of illegal dumping.
Residents were allowed to dump wood chips there, but he was to ticket anyone he caught leaving anything else. At the end of his tour, and before dark, he was to take the flag down and store it in the shed. The chief, a Gulf War vet, had stressed the importance of this task.
During the course of the day, he had written five speeding tickets and had driven an elderly woman to and from her dialysis treatment.
Now in the early evening with the sun low in the sky, his radio crackled. It was the 911 dispatcher informing him that a local man had reported his wife missing and ordering him to check it out.
He was still new enough to town that he had to plug the man’s address into his GPS.
The home was about a half mile from the village green, but things got rural fast when you strayed even a little ways from “downtown.”
He saw the mailbox for the address and a steep driveway leading back into the woods. On the adjoining lot, near the road, he saw an older man busily feeding brush into an industrial grade wood chipper. The man did not look up or acknowledge the cruiser heading up his neighbor’s driveway.
He was greeted at the door of a well maintained cape cod cottage by a short, red-faced man who looked to be in his mid-seventies.
“Thank you for coming so quickly,” the man blurted. “My wife is missing and I am getting frantic.”
“How long has she been gone?” Randolph asked.
“She left about four hours ago. She was running some chores. She had to go to the drug store, the drycleaners, the A&P, and Wal-Mart. She said she’d be gone about three hours.”
“So, she’s an hour late. Maybe she ran into someone or stopped for coffee.”
“No, no, no,” the man said waving his hand. “My wife is not like that. She worries about me and would certainly have called from her cell phone if she had been detained or had a change of plans.”
“Did she have her cell phone with her? Whose phone is that on the side table over there?”
The man picked the phone up and sheepishly said: “It’s her’s. She’s forgotten her phone, but still she would have stopped back here if she had changed her plans.”
“It’s too soon to file a missing person report. I’ll drive her route and talk to some people in the stores and see if anyone’s seen her. She probably just lost track of time. I don’t think it's anything to worry about. What was she wearing?”
“I don’t really remember. I am embarrassed to say I didn’t notice. Wait! She had on her floppy straw sun hat with the long, shiny gold ribbon. Everyone knows her. We’ve lived here for years.”
“Good. What was she driving?”
“We only have one car. It was the white Honda Accord. I don’t know the license number.”
When he reached the end of the driveway, he called over to the man at the chipper:
“Hello, has your neighbor’s wife gone by while you have been working out here.”
“His wife?,” came the snarled reply.
“Yes, wife…as in the woman he is married to,” the officer replied, realizing too late that his answer came out sharper than he intended.
The man walked over to the cruiser and stuck his head into the driver’s window, close enough to Randolph’s face that he could smell his boozy breath.
“I was mayor of this town for fifteen years and I would not have tolerated a wise guy like you,” the man barked. “ I would have fired your ass in a New York minute. Put this in your crime stopper notebook, Sherlock: that guy’s wife died a year and a half ago.”
Walking back to his chipper, he laughed and said: “He’s Alzheimer’s…. a wacko..a nut job.”
This was a great way to end his shift; not only had he blown his first call, he had pissed off an influential citizen.
As he started back to town, his headlights came on. He realized it was almost dark and he had not taken down the flag in the park, yet another blot on his copybook.
He pulled into the parking lot and was relieved to see that there were no cars, no witnesses to his transgression. He noticed a large pile of fresh woodchips in the utility area that had not been there in the morning.
After he had folded and stowed the banner, he sat on top of one of the picnic tables and looked out over the lake as the light faded and the summer night sounds came on. He heard the back and forth chatter of the katydids and the deep, guttural rumble of the bull frogs; in the distance he thought he heard the neighing of a screech howl.
He thought about what he should do. If he told the old man he had not found his wife, he would worry even more and insist on putting out a missing person on his deceased spouse; if he said he had found her, it was likely to confuse him even more and perhaps send him deeper into unreality. He decided not to return to the house in hopes his addled old brain would just move on.
The former mayor was another issue. There was no point in talking to him and he was sure he would be greeted on his second day as a police officer with his first citizen complaint.
With a sigh he decided the best thing was to pack it in and head for home
As he U-turned out of the parking lot, his headlights swept the new wood chip pile. Tiny points of light, like fireflies in a summer meadow, reflected back.
He got out to investigate and picked up one of the glinting objects. What he saw was a tiny shred of shiny golden ribbon.