This week’s Friday Flash Fiction Challenge from Chuck Wendig had us choose (via randomization) a setting from his list. I chose #16: In a police department during an epic blizzard.
“Gawd,” Chief Burnett let the metal blinds snap shut again, freeing his pudgy fingers. “It’s still coming down.”
“So the transfer won’t happen tonight, will it?” Quinn already knew the answer, but he asked anyway.
“No chance,” Burnett laughed and Quinn looked away from his trembling jowls.
He tried not to think about how much colder it would get inside the police station as the day wound down into night. It was just past 6 pm and the heater was already making a sound somewhere between a rattle and a wheeze. It reminded Quinn of his parent’s old dog trying to breathe shortly before they put it down. There was a faint clatter and Quinn felt the hair on the back of his neck rise. He reassured himself by remembering the gun that hung on one hip and the nightstick on his other side.
“Worried, Brody?” the Chief settled his bulk into his desk chair, which creaked in protest, the ancient wheels squealing.
Whenever the Chief smirked, Quinn Brody thought of a great fat walrus. The Chief wallowed in his chair like a sack of blubber, a bloated corpse. Quinn struggled to keep his disgust from showing.
“We are not a high security facility. Sir. The prisoner—” he tried again.
“—Will be just fine, Brody. What’s he gonna do, anyway? Chew through the bars and run out into that?” Burnett guffawed and jabbed a meaty thumb back at the window.
Quinn could hear the wind even over the Chief’s barking laughter. There hadn’t been a blizzard like this—especially not this late in the year—since anyone alive could remember. The Mistfall police station was a tiny building—five rooms in all. The foyer didn’t quite count as a room and served as the reception area and the booking station. The chief’s office occupied another room, the rest of the force (all eight of them) shared a third room, and there were two closet-like interrogation rooms. The cellblock ran along the back of the old, squat building—five cells in all. They saw their share of drunks, druggies, hookers, and johns. Nothing like their current resident ever graced the old jail—until now. Quinn realized he was toying with the catch on his holster and clasped his hands behind his back. He didn’t need the chief to see his nerves. Everyone else went home early when the storm looked bad and Quinn—still considered the rookie—got the short stick every time. The only reason the Chief stayed was that his second in command was stuck at home when the blizzard started during lunch. Quinn knew the last place Burnett wanted to be was in the icy police station with him; the feeling was mutual.
“If that’s it, sir…”
“Oh go check on the bastard if you’re so worried,” Burnett’s eyes were humorless, glinting out of the fatty folds of his red cheeks.
Quinn shut the door to Burnett’s office carefully, too tempted to slam it so hard the glass shattered. Maybe Mistfall was a small town and didn’t need a full police force or funding or a chief that did anything other than schmooze with the Mayor and his cronies, but Quinn would be goddamned if that lunatic got out on his watch. Burnett wasn’t there when they booked Him; Burnett didn’t see His eyes. Quinn fought off the panic that rose in his throat as he walked towards the cellblock. All of the cells had simple iron barred doors; no solitary confinement or high security here. A long gate ran along the narrow hallway between the main building and the cellblock. They’d put Him all the way at the end—as if that small measure of distance could save them.
It took Quinn a moment to realize he could hear music. The man sat on his low cot, slowly rocking back and forth. Dark, unkempt hair swirled around his gaunt face like the pitch-colored water of Mistfall River lapping against wet rocks. Quinn gripped his nightstick until his knuckles whitened. He reached his free hand up to the bars of the gate to steady himself. As soon as he touched the icy metal, the prisoner stopped rocking and humming. So slowly it would have seemed comic in any other circumstances, the prisoner’s head began to turn towards Quinn. Finally, his light eyes appeared from under the curtain of dirty hair.
“Officer Brody,” he smiled beatifically at Quinn—his voice was deep and melodic, a terrifying contrast to the skeletal face.
It looked like someone had cut the excess flesh away and pulled the prisoner’s skin tightly back against his skull. His lips barely covered his surprisingly straight teeth; his pale eyes seemed to have no lids.
“That song—don’t sing that song,” Quinn’s voice came out a whisper.
The prisoner cocked his head to look at Quinn, a smile playing across his colorless lips.
“What song?” he asked, rising from the bed in one fluid movement.
He walked towards the bars, head still cocked to one side, his bare feet whispering along the cement floors. The prison jumpsuit hung on his wasted frame. Quinn could see the tattoos that ran over his hands and neck and feet—the tattoos that disappeared under the jumpsuit. The tattoos were wriggling lines and loops and whorls. The names of every man, woman, and child the prisoner ever killed. His entire body was covered. Everywhere except his face. The prisoner shoved his head suddenly through the bars, sweeping his greasy hair away from his prominent cheekbones. The fluorescent lights flickered once, twice, and Quinn prayed that the generator would hold.
He looked back to the prisoner and saw, running across his forehead, carved with something dull—the prisoner’s fingernails, he realized—was a name. He squinted at it, gorge rising as the crooked letters became clear. Lyle Burnett. Quinn’s nightstick clattered from his nerveless fingers as he heard a scrabbling noise coming from behind him, followed by a loud thump. Chief Burnett’s chair, relieved of its burden, creaked like a ship set free of its mooring.