Bill Roach was the next one I noticed.
Old Bill used to run the local theater. His father opened it in 1939. Saw my first movie there. Had my first kiss with Sally Gordon there watching Sixteen Candles. Bill had recently retired and handed the business off to his son Bruce.
I was out on a morning patrol and found him wandering down the highway in nothing but his boxer shorts. I flashed my lights at him, but he didn’t even look at me. So I pulled up next to him, rolled down my window and tried to talk some sense into him.
“Bill,” I said.
He continued to shuffle forward. Figured maybe he’s sleep walking, I’d wake him up and take him home. So I hit the siren, just enough to shock him awake. But he kept shuffling.
I pulled the car over, got out, and grabbed him by the shoulder.
“Bill!” I said.
He turned around and gave me the most vacant stare I’ve ever seen.
“It ain’t right,” he said.
“Bill? You awake?”
“It ain’t right, Sheriff,” he mumbled.
He tried to turn around again, but I held on to his shoulder.
“No, Bill, it ain’t right for you to be out on the street in your underwear.”
“It ain’t right. Not right at all.”
“Why don’t you come with me? I’ll take you home. Have Sarah make you some eggs. Have you eaten?”
He just stared at me. “Not right. It’s not right!”
He was starting to get agitated, so I let go of him.
“Okay, Bill. You’re right. It ain’t right.”
“You can feel it too?”
“Yeah, I can feel it. Why don’t you come with me and we’ll go to your house and figure it out together?”
He stared at me and then shuffled to my car.
“Why don’t you take the backseat, Bill.”
I helped him into the back and closed the door behind him.
“It ain’t right, Sheriff,” he said.
“No, Bill, I don’t suppose it is.”
I took him home to his wife Sarah. Sweet lady. Baked the best apple pies in the county. She was grateful to see him. She gave him one of his pills and got him back into bed.
“You sure you don’t want me to take him to the hospital, Sarah?”
“No, no. That wouldn’t do. I imagine he just forgot to take his medication.”
“You ever see him do something like this before?”
“No, not like this,” she said. “A few senior moments is all, Martin. We’ve been married 40 years and he never sleepwalked in all that time. But we are getting on in years. Things change.”
“Well, keep an eye on him, Sarah. It’s getting cold out and he’s liable to freeze himself solid if he keeps going out in his skivvies.”
“I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again, Martin. Thank you for bringing him home.”
I noticed her wince a little.
“You okay, Sarah?” I asked.
“Yeah. Just got this headache. Doesn’t seem to be going away. Maybe I need more rest too.”
“Maybe you should get it checked out?”
“Oh, it’s just a headache, dear. I’ve had worse. You want to talk to Bill when he comes around?”
“Yeah. Just call the station and Emma will let me know to come by.”
“I like her, Martin. You two would be good together.”
“Don’t go there, Sarah. I can hear the old ladies chattering in church now.”
“You need someone to look after you, Martin.”
“I do fine alright by myself, thanks,” I said. “You take care. And if you need me to give you or Bill a drive to the hospital, you let me know.”
“Thank you, dear.”
After Mary Murphy, I confess I was more than a little worried about Bill. He was a good guy with a sharp mind and nothing at all like the man walking blankly down the highway in his boxer shorts this morning. But before I could think much more of it, I got a call from Emma.
“Emma. Something happening?”
“Got a call from Matt at the, uh… “Botanical” store. Group of teens getting rowdy after he turned them away. Says now they’re standing outside, screaming at him and hitting the door and windows.”
“Hell. Alright, tell him I’m on my way.”
Yeah, we got one of “those” stores here ever since the government legalized it. Matt moved up from down south and opened up shop here. He’s a good kid. Keeps the teenagers out, as he should. Pays his taxes. Most of us accept his services here. Some like to complain and bitch and moan about it, but then their backs go out and they’re down there hitting him up. Hypocrites.
I drove up and pulled into the parking lot. Andy Schaffer and four other boys from the high school were pressed up against the door and windows. They were screaming obscenities and slapping the glass.
“We will get a fucking brick, you fucking asshole!” Andy screamed.
One of the boys finally noticed my car and signaled the rest. They all turned around and glared at me. I could see why Matt called. I’m armed and I didn’t feel comfortable getting out of my car with the looks they were giving me. Their eyes… there was something there… never seen it before, but I knew what it was.
But I got out of my car anyway. I had a job to do.
“Alright, boys, break it up. You are disturbing the peace. And what the hell are you even doing here? Don’t you have class?”
“We’re fucking tired of that fucking school,” Andy said.
“Tired of being told what we can and can’t do!” another boy, Chip, I think, said.
“Now settle down,” I said. “Now, if you boys apologize to Matt and get your asses back to class, I won’t have to bring your parents in.”
“And if we don’t?” Andy snarled. “What if we said, ‘Fuck you, pig!’?”
I let my hand drop to my baton and tried to sound braver than I felt. I could take two… maybe three of them… but not five.
“Then we’re gonna have a problem, Andy? Do you really want your mom to see you acting like this?”
The five kids seethed. I could tell they didn’t really care what their mamas thought of them right now.
“You want your dad to know about this?” I said.
That, at least, seemed to get Andy. He was still glaring at me, but he turned his head to the door and shouted, “Sorry, Matt!” with all the sincerity of a rattlesnake apologizing after it bit ya.
“Good,” I said. “Now get the hell out of here.”
“Whatever,” he said. “Come on.”
He walked toward his van and the others slowly followed him.
“Son, I’ll know if you don’t go back to class. If you don’t go, I will be very unhappy. If you cause trouble for your teachers, I will be extremely unhappy. And if you ever pull shit like this again, son, there won’t be a second warning.”
“No,” he said. “There won’t.”
The kid slammed his van door shut, waited for the others to get in, and peeled out of the parking lot in the general direction of the school. I watched them until they made their next turn, then headed to check on Matt.
“Matt,” I said. “They’re gone. Open up.”
It was a minute before I saw Matt’s short frame pop up from behind the counter. He was a little fella with a small build, a patch of dark wiry hair on his head, and a hipster beard. He unlocked the door and let me into his shop.
“Oh, thank God, you’re here, Sheriff,” he said.
“Matt. What happened?”
“You saw ‘em. The kids tried to come in here. You know I don’t allow that.”
“I know,” I said.
“I don’t serve kids. You have to be eighteen.”
“Matt, I know. What set ‘em off?”
“I told them that they needed to leave. Then the leader-“
“Yeah, Andy got mad. He demanded that I give them some product. I told them, “No.” and if they didn’t get out, I’d call the Sheriff. Jesus, Sheriff, I thought he was gonna kill me. He shoved me and that’s when I got my gun out. He didn’t like that, but they all got out of my store. I thought that was gonna be it, but they just kept standing there, staring at me. So I locked the door and called you. And that really set them off. They were banging on the windows, hitting the door. I thought I was gonna have to shoot ‘em.”
“Well, they’re gone now, Matt. Do you want to press charges?”
Matt shook his head. “Just… please, keep them away from here.”
“Alright, I’ll have a talk with them after they’ve calmed down a bit and let ‘em know that they aren’t welcome here.”
“Thank you, Sheriff.”
The rest of the afternoon was unusually busy. Had to stop an altercation between two drivers, ended up arresting one of them for throwing a punch at me. After that, it was a domestic violence call. After that, couple groups of kids screaming and shoving each other at the town’s drive thru. After that… well, it all sort of blurred together.
“Whole damn town seems to have a burr up its butt, Emma.”
“Full moon coming,” she said.
“Well, I hope it’s that simple,” I said. “I can’t recall the last time I’ve ever had both jail cells filled.”
“I’m sure it’ll die down soon, Sheriff,” she said.
“Hope so, because I don’t have any more room to put ‘em, if it don’t.”
I meant to call Bill and Sarah, but I suddenly had a lot of paperwork to fill out and it slipped my mind. Didn’t think of ‘em again until I got a call a couple days later. Neighbors heard a woman shouting and crying. I tried calling, but there was no answer, so I got in the squad car and sped over to the Roaches’ house.
I knocked, but no one answered.
“Blil! Sarah! Everything okay?”
I knocked harder.
Then I heard the scream. A guttural, primal scream that nearly stopped my heart. I kicked the door open and I almost wish I hadn’t.
Sarah was smashing her face against a wall. Blood was everywhere. There were holes in the walls. Blood splatters on the walls.Blood on the floor. I was in shock. I didn’t even move until she slammed her head one more time into the wall and fell down limp onto the ground.
I ran over to her. I turned her over and… Jesus, her face… I… how was she still alive?
There wasn’t much left to her face. It was more like something you’d find in a butcher’s case than a human face. I almost gagged, but I had the mind to at least call for help on my radio.
“Emma! Get an ambulance to the Roach house! Now!”
What was left of Sarah Roach gasped and wheezed through all of her blood. Her breathing was shallow and I didn’t expect her to last until the ambulance arrived. I was right. She died. But not before she wheezed out some last words to me.
“Make it go away…”
As to Bill Roach, he was sitting in his recliner, rocking back and forth in his own filth, staring straight ahead at the wall. He didn’t even notice what his wife was doing. Didn’t try to stop her. Didn’t do anything. He just sat there. In his own world. I had him committed. His son eventually agreed. There wasn’t much of a choice to the matter. He couldn’t take care of himself and Bruce didn’t have the money to hire a nurse to watch him.
So they came to take him to an institution. As they hauled him away, his last words to me were, “It ain’t right…”
Old Bill was right. Things weren’t right. They still aren’t.