It's a challenge Rigby isn’t sure he can handle.
Never the most popular person in the Lewisville Police Department, he finds himself in charge after his mentor, Police Chief Jim Pearson, is involved in an accident.
All Rigby wants to do is track down the hit-and-run driver, but when Lewisville is rocked by two other major cases in one day, he discovers running the department is a lot more complicated than Pearson makes it look.
Now he has to put aside his go-it-alone attitude and trust his colleagues – many of whom he fears would be happy to see him fail—or risk letting down the one person who’s always had his back.
But old habits die hard.
Fog swirled around the car, visibility reduced to the span of the headlights. Police Chief Jim Pearson eased off the gas as he approached the first of a series of blind bends requiring caution even in good weather, but now slick from the day’s constant sleet.
He glanced across at his daughter Sarah who sat rigid in the passenger seat. Was it the awful driving conditions that made her tense or the aftermath of whatever had brought her home from college for a long weekend at such short notice?
He forced his attention back to the road. There’d be time to sort out the latter later, for now his focus had to be on getting them both home safely. Still, her unusual silence made him uneasy.
Fortunately, there were few other cars on the road, most people heeding the warnings to avoid the treacherous conditions unless absolutely necessary. He would have been one of them if Sarah hadn’t called to request a ride from the train station. How could he have refused?
Pearson slowed again as a halo of light appeared up ahead. He flipped off the fog lights hoping the oncoming driver would have the decency to do the same as he took the almost ninety-degree bend, a local black-spot for accidents.
Light flooded the car, temporarily blinding him.
Metal scrunched against metal. The car pivoted, slid and started to topple.
It was the last sound Pearson heard.
Fifteen minutes into the movie, Detective Paul Rigby’s phone buzzed. He groaned. Reached for the offending device.
“Don’t answer it,” his girlfriend Becca said half-heartedly even as she hit the remote and froze the television screen.
As if. Ignoring calls wasn’t an option for either of them. Crime, medical emergencies—they didn’t operate on a regular schedule but, with the current weather conditions, Rigby would have waged a bet that Becca’s phone would be the one interrupting their quiet night in.
He groaned again at the sight of the incoming call number—Pearson’s home line. If his boss couldn’t wait until morning it had to be something serious.
Rigby frowned. Not Pearson but his wife Molly and, from the sound of her voice, she wasn’t calling him with an invitation to dinner.
“Molly, what’s wrong?”
“I’m sorry to bother you.” He heard her take a sharp intake of breath. “It’s probably nothing, but Jim went to get Sarah from the train station and he should have been back over an hour ago. And I’ve tried calling his phone but he’s not answering. And I’ve tried Sarah’s phone. And… And I don’t know what to do.”
Rigby wished he could reach down the phone and hug Molly. She was a pragmatic woman not given to blowing events out of proportion so the call alone was worrying.
“Maybe the train was late.”
“Jim would have called to let me know.”
Of course Pearson would have. He was that kind of guy.
“Maybe the cell service is spotty, with the weather and all.”
“I’ve tried several times, both phones. I’m getting their voicemail.”
Rigby stood up, crossed to the window. He could barely see the house across the street. He cursed silently.
“Maybe they’ve broken down or got a flat tire.”
“But he would have called me.”
Broken down and no cell service? A double whammy especially on a night like this. And not only would Pearson not be able to call Molly, but he wouldn’t be able to call roadside services either. And Pearson’s knowledge of a car’s mechanics didn’t extend much beyond turning on the engine. It was one of the few subjects where Rigby had the upper hand over Pearson, but only just.
He debated whether to tell Molly he’d ask for a patrol car to check out the route, but the night shift probably had enough on their hands without having to go and look for their Chief of Police. Which left only one option.
He looked back at Becca. Her expression was full of resignation. She’d already switched off the television.
“I’ll go and see if I can find them,” he said to Molly.
“Are you sure?” He could hear the relief in her voice. “It’s such a horrible night.”
“Well, we can’t leave them stranded, can we?” He forced levity into his voice. No need to give Molly more cause for concern. “I’ll have Jim call you as soon as I find them.”
“I’ll be waiting by the phone.”
“It might be a while.” The train station was a thirty-minute drive away on a good day.
“I’ll be waiting.”
The line went dead. Her not so subtle hint for him to get on with it?
Becca sighed. “Got to go.” A statement, not a question.
“Got to go.” Rigby grimaced apologetically. “Hopefully I won’t be too long. If they’ve broken down, I’ll give them a ride home and we’ll sort the car out in the morning. No point in messing around in this weather.”
He grabbed his jacket and keys, gave Becca a quick kiss on the lips, and dashed for the door.
“Drive carefully. It’s a mess out there.”
Rigby barely heard her. Molly hadn’t mentioned it so he hadn’t wanted to bring it up, but while Pearson may not have been able to get cell service he should still have been able to use the police radio. And Pearson being Pearson would contact the officer on desk duty and request a message be passed on to Molly.
That didn’t bode well at all.
Rigby scanned both sides of the road ahead as he drove. In some places there wasn’t anywhere a driver could safely pull over, but the tree-lined route offered several spots where a slight misjudgment in navigating the bends could be dangerous.
He slowed at the approach of an oncoming headlight. Allowed himself a moment of wishful thinking that it would be Pearson, only for his hopes to be dashed by the realization the vehicle was the wrong color. The car crawled past, an elderly driver hunched over the steering wheel. What had brought him out on a night like this? Could he too be coming from the station? He was going so slowly the journey time would easily be doubled. Maybe Pearson had got stuck behind him, there was nowhere to overtake, and the next car would be his.
Except there was no next car, Rigby had the road to himself. As mile after mile passed he grew increasingly concerned. He wished his phone would ring. Molly, announcing their safe arrival home and apologizing for the inconvenience caused. No inconvenience at all, he’d say, just relieved to know they were okay.
He slowed the car to a crawl as his headlights lit up the chevrons marking a ninety-degree bend in the road ahead. The chevrons were a recent addition after one too many fatal accidents, the last of which involved four members of the high school football team, classmates of Pearson’s younger daughters. To his left, trees had been felled, a prelude to widening the road, an operation complicated by the need to flatten out the cleared slope.
Rigby glanced across as he drove past. The gradient meant it wasn’t an ideal place to pull off the road, but better than the alternative. But the fog enveloped the space in a uniform curtain, no shadowy outline of a car or a person trying to attract attention. Besides, the first thing Pearson would do would be to light a warning flare.
Assuming he could.
Rigby tried to block out the thought. They’d broken down, as simple as that. And picked the worst night of the year to do it. And they were waiting to be rescued and Molly was waiting to hear they were safe, so he’d better get on with it.
He took one more look at the clearing. Slammed the brakes on. He’d almost overlooked the disturbance in the dirt at the side of the road, suggestions of something having plowed across the ground. He stuck his emergency light on the roof of the car, grabbed his flashlight from the glove compartment, and raced across the road.
Halfway down the slope he spotted the car on its side, its apparent roll brought to a halt when the roof hit an enormous tree trunk.
Rigby was on the phone to the emergency services before he reached the car. He shone the flashlight through the front windshield. Saw Pearson and Sarah held in place by their seatbelts, neither conscious. He relayed as much information as he could to the dispatcher who told him to stay on the line until the first responders reached him.
He scrambled back up the slope to his car. He needed to keep the road near the crash clear for the rescue vehicles so he drove further down the road until he found a narrow grassy shoulder to park on.
He ran back to the crash site, shone the flashlight on Pearson and Sarah in turn, desperate to see some sign of life. He persuaded himself he could see their chests rise and fall, however minuscule. He wanted to clamber up, rip open the door and pull them out. To do something. But he knew he shouldn’t. There was no sign of any further danger from the car. There were no flames or apparent fuel leaks. He had no idea what injuries they’d suffered but any action on his part might only make them worse.
He checked his watch every few seconds. What was taking so long? He strained to hear the sound of sirens, a sign help was drawing close. He wanted to yell at the dispatcher. Tell them to hurry up. But knew it wouldn’t do any good.
He shone the light on Pearson again. He looked as if he were asleep. His face was a little bruised but there were no obvious signs of blood. That had to be good, right? He switched the light over to Sarah. Her head was at an uncomfortable angle, her shoulder-length blond hair mostly shielding her face from view.
He angled the light away from her face. She raised her head, the curtain of hair parting wide enough for him to see her open her eyes.
She stared straight at him but there was no flicker of recognition. Her eyelids fluttered and closed. Her head slumped back.
The calm voice of the dispatcher asking for an update snapped him out of his moment of panic. He described Sarah’s instance of consciousness, desperate for reassurance he hadn’t just watched Sarah’s last seconds of life but, of course, the dispatcher couldn’t help other than to tell him the emergency services were only minutes away.
He prayed they weren’t minutes too late.
He ran back to the road when he heard the sirens. Waved his flashlight so they would know where to stop. A rescue engine arrived first. The sight of the six firefighters taking control of the situation brought Rigby a huge sense of relief. This was one instance when he was more than happy to take orders if need be. Anything to get Pearson and Sarah safely out of the car.
A car door slammed.
Rigby turned to see Docherty, one of his few real friends in the department, emerge from his patrol car.
“Rigby?” Docherty’s jaw dropped open as he rushed over to him. “You okay? What happened?”
“I’m fine,” Rigby broke off. Realized Docherty thought he’d been in the crash. “It’s Pearson and his daughter.”
“What?” Rigby’s words took a moment to sink in. “The Chief? Is he okay?”
“They must have gone off the road in the fog. Hit a tree or something. Rolled over. They’re both unconscious.” The image of Sarah’s movements replayed in his mind. “I hope.”
He glanced down the slope where he could make out the shapes of the men as they worked to cut open the passenger door. A painstaking task which couldn’t be hurried even if this was a life or death race. He prayed it wasn’t.
“Do you want me to go inform his wife?” Docherty’s voice betrayed his discomfort at the prospect. “I could drive her to the hospital so she’s there when they bring them in.”
Molly was already waiting for his call. As soon as she heard his voice rather than her husband’s she’d know. Know something was wrong. He hadn’t been able to find them. Or worse. He couldn’t tell her it was the latter over the phone.
“No, you stay here and deal with the scene. I’ll go and tell Molly. But let me know when they leave for the hospital.”
Docherty nodded. His relief at being let off the hook evident.
“I’ll keep you posted,” he said as Rigby headed back to his car.
Just please don’t tell me they are dead, Rigby thought as he made a tight U-turn and drove slowly past the ever-growing line of emergency vehicles. He spotted Becca unloading a stretcher from the back of an ambulance. He wished he could stop, take her in his arms, take comfort from her presence, but this wasn’t the time for personal needs. The job always came first.
Some days that was harder than others. And this was definitely one of those days.
Molly, who at times had been like a second mother to him. Who had comforted him through his own time of grief. He dreaded having to unleash the angst the news of the accident would bring.
There were no words which would ease the pain.