by T.L. Haddix
All Rights Reserved/Copyright 2011
Deputy Jason Hudson was almost ready to go off duty when dispatch paged him back out.
“What’s your twenty, unit sixteen?”
“Ten minutes out, just passing Heartfield,” he answered. Heartfield was Olman County’s latest subdivision.
“Sixteen, I need you to turn around and head back out to Frazier’s Grove. We’ve had a report of a six-oh-eight with an eight-ten. Fire department is responding, ten minutes out.” The dispatcher relayed the address.
Jason scowled. A domestic disturbance with fire involved. The two were never a good combination. “Isn’t that Don Hilton’s address?”
“Ten-four, dispatch. I’m heading that way.” As he turned around and flipped on his light bar, the radio crackled again.
“Sixteen, be advised that the suspect is wearing a pink Easter bunny costume and is carrying a flamethrower.”
He slowed the vehicle down and reached for the radio again. “Ten-nine, dispatch. Repeat that, please. I know I didn’t hear you correctly.” The dispatcher repeated the information, and he could tell she was trying to not laugh. “Carrie, is this a joke?”
“Negative, unit sixteen. Proceed with caution.”
Jason was tired. It had been a long four days, and he was looking very forward to having the next four off. The last thing he felt like dealing with was some practical joke his co-workers were playing, but he couldn’t ignore the call. Silently promising retribution, as pulling pranks at work was something at which he excelled, he accelerated. “Ten-four, dispatch. Sixteen out.” Hanging the radio up, he muttered, “I won’t forget this one, Carrie.” As he drove to the location, he started running through his repertoire in his head, trying to figure out which joke would be best suited for a response to this trick.
A few minutes later, it became readily apparent Carrie hadn’t been kidding. As he pulled up in the Hilton’s driveway, he saw that the large shed in the backyard was fully engulfed in flames. Dancing around the burning structure was a man dressed in a pink rabbit costume. Sure enough, he had a flamethrower strapped on his back.
Heart sinking, Jason radioed back in, then got out of the car. Don’s grown daughter, Ruth, met him as he reached the steps of the old, slightly dilapidated farmhouse.
“Thanks for coming, Jason. As you see, it’s Daddy again. I’ve tried to talk to him, but… you know how he gets.” Every few seconds, the older man would give a maniacal laugh and pull the flamethrower’s trigger. When the resulting stream of fire shot out, his laughter gave way to triumphant howls.
Jason did know how it was. Don was a regular with the sheriff’s department, always getting into this scrape or that, usually harmless and petty things that were more aggravating than illegal.
“What set him off this time?” Jason asked as he considered what the safest approach would be.
Ruth sighed. “He had a big ol’ fight with Mommy. She’s in the house crying. That’s her potting shed he’s torched.”
Jason scowled. “Is she okay?” Sirens sounded in the distance, and he hoped it was the fire trucks. If they didn’t get the flaming shed under control soon, the woods behind it could very easily go up as well.
“She’s fine. He didn’t hit her or anything. He knows better. She’d clobber him but good, and he’d end up dead or something. She’s sure mad as hell,” Ruth answered, “and possibly filing for divorce, but she’s fine.”
“At least there’s that. I’m going to try to talk to your dad. Stay back, okay?”
She nodded. “Just make sure you get his attention before you get too close. I hollered at him earlier and the bird bath bought it when he turned around too quick.”
Jason hid his curse under his hand. Squaring his shoulders, he moved closer to Don. As he did, the man turned around and spotted him. Unfortunately, he had been in the middle of another fiery spurt, and the flames followed, shooting in Jason’s direction.
Cursing again, this time more virulently, Jason’s hand hovered over his service weapon. “Damn it, Don! You want to watch it with that thing?” He wasn’t close enough to get burned, though the heat was uncomfortable during the few seconds Don held the trigger down. “Don’t make me draw this gun.”
“Oops, I reckon that’d be a bad deal for both of us.” With a rueful grimace, Don dropped the flamethrower’s gun to his side, letting it dangle harmlessly as he stomped across the yard toward the driveway.
“Didn’t see you there, Jason,” he apologized, his words slurred. “Sorry about that.” He stopped, still several feet away, when Jason held up his free hand.
“You want to take that thing off?” Jason wasn’t about to move his hand away from his weapon, just in case, until the man was safely parted from the flamethrower.
“Sure, sure.” With movements clumsy from the alcohol, Don unbuckled the harness from his chest and dropped the flamethrower to the ground. He grinned as he came closer. “You gonna take me in?”
“I’m afraid so. Your wife is pretty upset, and you’ve done some damage here tonight.”
With a proud grin, Don looked back at the shed. “Guess I have. I’ll go with you peacefully, you know. I could use a good night’s sleep. The old woman, she snores loud enough to shake the rafters.”
Shaking his head with exasperated disgust and reluctant amusement, Jason walked the now-docile man to his cruiser as the fire trucks drove up. “What the heck were you doing here, Don?”
“Well, see now, my Dorie? She says I drink too much. Says ‘pink snowbunnies will ski in Hell’ before she’ll let me back in the house after this round. I was just giving her what she asked for, stupid woman.”
Speechless, Jason pointed at the snowshoes the other man wore. They were attached to the costume feet with duct tape. “Okay, but why snowshoes?” he asked when he could make his mouth work around his astonishment.
Don shrugged. “Couldn’t find any skis.”
As he cut the tape away from Don’s feet and helped get the snowshoes off so he could load the man into the back of the cruiser, Jason shook his head. With his passenger closed safely inside, he cast his gaze heavenward. He could just imagine the teasing he was going to get for this. The report alone, which would no doubt be circulated within the department, was going to be hard to live down, never mind the story.
“Why am I the only one who gets these calls?” he asked the indigo sky. There was no answer, but he could have sworn the stars twinkled just a little brighter after he spoke, as though heaven itself found his situation amusing.