The lockup at the first breath smelled of wood dust. The floor was dusty under the table, otherwise shiny and there was a babbling lunatic caught by Officer Somerset being brought in through the front doors and taken into one of the lockups on the right. He was howling gibberish but Blake was unaware of it as he looked out of his lockup and stared. The grill that served as the window on the top side was what he was looking out of. His hands were clasped at his back stiffly, but soon they relaxed. This he kept repeating as he looked at a lone star in the skies that were attentive to his gaze. The Sheriff of the Bumblefirst town, with his legs crossed on to the top of his table, was lost in shuffling the pages of a magazine. It contained an article by his son on crime that had come down by orders in their little town since the appointment of his father to the office. The Sheriff liked his son too much but he had never been one to read and so he was shuffling to find the page which showed his son holding a framed picture of his father, the Sheriff A. E Lockhart. He was beaming proudly. Somerset would read it to him as soon as he was done putting that freakshow in his place.
He looked up from the magazine at the first cell that held Blake. Looking at him intently for a full two minutes, he barked.
"Convict, that is no safe for you to crack, do you understand?"
Blake nodded a little, but to the stars.
"Blake! Are you listening to me?" shouted the Sheriff again, to impose his authority. The ends of his mustache flopped a bit every time he shouted. Otherwise, he was an intimidating man, and so were his words. But always, he let everyone go later.
Today was different. Blake knew it, the star he held in his sight knew it, and since his profession required it, so did Sheriff Lockhart. Blake also knew something that no one else did. He strangely believed Parson would come for him.
"Blake," tried the Sheriff calmly. A lack of response agitated him and boiled up his head. Anger was not natural to him but he felt that his position required it.
"Don't bother yourself with me, Sheriff," Blake said, calmly, as if he was holding his own in front of a safe that was waiting to be cracked open by him.
This enraged the officer but before he could retort, Blake said, "I saw a magazine article today at the Mill's. Your boy, he feels very proud of you, don't he?"
Blake did not mean it the way it was taken by the Sheriff who threatened him with the intention to quicken the court proceedings that would happen against him, now that he had been apprehended red-handed. The Wallers, the Sextons and the Grants all would easily testify against him and those that wouldn't, he'd make sure they did; the force knew his modus operandi now and all those other crimes would be linked back to him.
"Why, Blake does your pretty daughter know about her old man and how he brings back the money now that Hancock & Smith do not employ him anymore?" Lockhart sneered back menacingly.
Blake's fist curled tight behind him, while he still kept looking at the star outside. The Sheriff did not fail to notice it and continued, "Oh yes, come, come boy, come at me. Come at me, do something rash so I can put you somewhere deeper in this hole."
But to Blake, all of it was just white noise, silent and crackling with futility. He kept looking at the star, which was the North Star.
Some time ago, when he was still an employed and respected citizen of this town, his daughter Laha had asked for a bedtime story. He had none in his mind then but he told her the reason how the Sailor Woodworth, from the story he had told last time he didn't remember when always knew how he could reach his love. Of course, he had made it up on the spot, but it had worked perfectly. He knew Laha must be looking at the star, like he was right now. It calmed him down.
"What's the matter with you now eh? Don't feel like talking much at the mention of yours?"
It did not get a reaction out of Blake this time. He could not risk to lose it today. Parson must be on his way, he thought. He must engage the Sheriff, do whatever he could to make it easy for his friend.
"Lockhart," he muttered loudly, "your boy looked like he would want to be nobody else but like his Pa." He paused, and continued, "that, that made me think about my daughter." He had said this with the utmost conviction as he gripped the bars lightly and looked at the Sheriff, who was perturbed upon being called out by his name like this.
He grunted and turned back to his magazine. Sipping his coffee quicker left a burning patch upon his tongue which made him feel strong.
"This town needs more officers like you Sheriff. I don't deny that, you know it," Blake added. The Sheriff did know it. Just before Hancock & Smith had decided to lay off Blake, he had been their chief technician. It was his job to think and invent new designs, his obligation to make their security impenetrable and he was rare at it.
He would come to Lockhart to get his work challenged by the best of the inmates. In return for help using their expertise. Blake would broker reduced sentences for the convicts who mostly had a natural respect for him. Most of the safe in this town belonged to Hancock & Smith and what belonged to them, was also Blake's.
"A very fine officer he would make, Lockhart. Just like you," Blake tried again. and he sighed at the pointlessness of this effort. Parson was taking too long. He looked at the clock on the wall directly in front and saw that it was just fifteen minutes past nine pm. Parson would be here in the next fifteen minutes. Blake had never done this, but the string of crimes he had to commit recently was also something that he had never done earlier.
He relaxed his grip on the bars, seeing that none of his small talk was being received well or reciprocated like during those times when he would be sitting opposite Lockhart and having a hearty talk about their kids.
Somerset came back, striding along with the swagger of a new officer. He was heavyset but like a newbie, he was naive and that showed in his expression. His eyes were always on the lookout to prove himself on the field and when he came back to stand at attention to Lockhart, the Sheriff shook his head and flung the magazine at his junior, who caught it with fumbling hands.
"Read me page fifty-two," ordered the officer of the station with a yawn and clasped his hands in his lap. Twice, he blinked. Each time, he let his eyes droop down a little too long. That was enough for Parson to enter into the only proper room the station had and stand behind the gate that folded inside to allow him a hiding place. He had a nut tightener in his hand, and in the dim light of the room, nobody could see his shoes that were plainly visible, but only if looked at with intent.
"Born in the northern neighborhood of Boon Valley, Sheriff Lockhart always wanted to follow in the steps of his uncle Ex-officer Wade Lockhart. He was always encouraged to dream bigger, and want more piped his son, Matthew. 'He never wanted to be like gran'pah. Gran'pah was a builder, and pah would tell me, being a builder is no adventure, being an officer and upholding the law, that is an adventure.'" Lockhart smiled at this. Somerset paused and then resumed but with a delight in his tone that he soon tried suppressing, "'Then he would take out his magnum and place it in my hand-'" Lockhart jumped at this and snatched the magazine away from Somerset to read the rest by himself. After he was done, he could not help himself from shaking and wanting to hammer his desk with his fist. His face raged purple.
Somerset could not help but stifle his laughter at the most inappropriate times. That is also what made him a naive in spite of the two years he had spent in service. Lockhart caught him and asked him to get out of there, to get him coffee from Arthur down the road. Somerset jumped at this excitedly and scurried away. That made it just easy for Parson. But when Lockhart looked at Blake, the latter did not smile and looked only glum. He hung his head low in shame. He did not want it, any of it, and he did not want to drag his friend into it. How he had come down to such acts in the space of just a few months was agonizing to recall.
"You want coffee?" asked the Sheriff in a neutral tone, a stern voice that meant just business, despite what the words communicated.
But Blake did not respond. This was the plan, to try to draw away Sheriff, bring him to a position so Parsons could come and knock him down.
"I know the man you are Blake. Hell if you'd want you can loot the entire town here and bring us all down to our knees. They'd need years to redesign all their locks and all their security if they came to know what you're at now," said the Sheriff and paused.
He stood up and marched slowly to Blake's cell.
"There is still a lot of good left in you. I can attest to that, even if the Wallers threaten to drag your life to court, and your family as well." Lockhart clasped his hands behind his back and stretched himself straight. He stood there in front of the bars, within arm's reach of its occupant and looked ahead, blank, as if he was meditating upon some thoughts, arranging his next words in the best pattern that would sound very convincing.
Having failed, he uttered an exasperated sigh, and said, "We have had this conversation before. You tell me where the stash is and I will bring you down to just parole. You don't and this is a serious crime. You know that as much as I do."
Unbeknownst to Lockhart, Parson had tiptoed behind him and was coming closer to have the best shot at his head. Landing a tight blow at the hat would do it best; the man would go down and not be really hurt too. Parson would take his chance with that, but to seriously harm an officer of the government, he would not.
When Blake would not reply and try to not look sad about the impending disaster, the Sheriff would shout and call him a convict. He'd think up of several ways to convince him to give in but none could come to fruition. He mumbled the side deal he was going to propose Blake which would have shocked the convict, but he collapsed down to the floor with a gentle thud before his speech could make any sense. No third person could tell if Blake felt more guilty or Parson, who just held the nut tightener in his hand and looked pale with sweat nodules oozing out from his face and rushing down to hide under his denim shirt.
Parson was a family friend, and he had arrived there from being a past lover of Clarissa. He was bound by his own oaths to side with the Winchester, as they were named, since the latter had run off and married Blake. As a godfather to his daughter, he was under no obligation to free Blake from the lockup like this but Clarissa had raised her concerns about her husband a couple of days ago. This was alright but that same evening, Blake had ran into his office, wet with sweat and black with grime, and had demanded of him that he place the stash in the shed half a mile down the row of buildings in the valley. He had then run away, short of breath, as if evading capture. Parson had been concerned, overly concerned. The note under the stash that he had found after he had come back, having done the deposition dutifully, had pleaded of him an impossible help and given a time for it. It was conditional, the help, and he felt that the help would certainly be needed.
Parson did not smile as he took the keys from Lockhart's belt and unlocked the cell which held Blake. As soon as the latter stepped out, Parson felt disgusted with himself and knocked Blake, with a low swing, on his temple. It swooped by at an angle so Blake was left staggering back against the bars while Parson, who was shorter, huffed and puffed and glared and cursed.
"Yeah good to see you too ma-"
"Shut up. I said shut up!"
Blake went for the other's mouth and put his hand around it, shutting him up.
"If Somerset is coming, you would either be framed an accomplice, which you had become earlier when you deposited my stash. I hope you have. Or you become a criminal, which you might not be if you shut up already. Hold yourself stiff," Blake whispered. Parson was blowing purple with all the blood rushing in his head, like a mad bull thrashing with madness.
Eventually, he relented in a couple of minutes and Blake released him. Together, they dragged the body of the Sheriff back to his chair and placed his hat on his head. From afar, and even from opposite the table, he looked like a sleep-deprived honest to god officer taking his earned nap. The head did not have even a graze, but just a bump at the back that would throb when he woke up. He would need the coffee Somerset would bring after he was done flirting with the wench two blocks down from Arthur's.
Together, they ran outside and set for the valley, their faces covered in handkerchiefs and hats placed atop their heads. They jogged at a healthy pace for two men who were between six and six feet two inches tall, and lean with the right amount of poundage in their muscles. While passing down, they went through the same road as Arthur's, assuming Somerset would have reached the station by now but the boy was there, still chasing after Polly. Parson was the closest to him, and while passing him by, he winked in his direction. The gesture was returned in kind and with enthusiasm.
When he looked at Blake, Parson noticed that he was looking at the North Star. Wondering why, they walked ahead for a couple more minutes till it hit upon him. Why, it was Laha. Who else could it be but her at North Star?
He did not know what to ask exactly, when he was divided between disliking the man he walked with and also being under an unspoken obligation to protect him, so he just uttered, "Laha?"
Blake did not reply but kept looking up, gazing fiercely and willing his feet to drag him ahead, while they walked at an even speed and kept strutting ahead in the direction of the shed.
A couple of paces ahead and Parson felt he couldn't step ahead without getting his answer. He stretched out his arm in front of his large partner and dragged him back to stop.
"Hub, what, what's the matter with you? We don't have time. I have to-"
"Laha. Is there something wrong, with her?"
As if surprised, Blake glared angrily and in the next moment, his eyes pinched as if he had hit upon a fact. It quickly changed to a burst of laughter that was mocking and ridiculed Parson for his ignorance.
"She is dying! If I don't get to her quickly, something might happen to her. She is missing out on her medications for God's sake."
Parson was surprised by this revelation and he took a moment in which Blake, invigorated by this expression, stormed up ahead at a pace higher than that of a jogger.
Quickly, Parson caught up with him and demanded to know more about it, particularly since when it had happened.
"For three years now. Why, did she never tell you that huh?"
Parson felt hot and stifled with shame. He had a weird regret that he was not as close as he should be to his god-daughter, the daughter of his love after whom he had found no one or had never understood the necessity of it.
They ran and ran and never stopped till they reached the shed a mile later. It was a rust-colored shed, creaky and it had a lock on the outside. It was a hideout that Parson had no idea about, but apparently, Blake did, and inside it was hidden the stash. Parson, for one, had no idea about what it contained, until only now. The parcel was tied thrice over or more, with thick brown paper. It could only be one thing.
When Parson retrieved the packet and came out, he handed it to Blake just as he was about to demand it back.
Blake, short of words, looked at Parson, turned around, and started walking. The man had practically been his rival. For all he wanted, he could have simply handed over the stash to Lockhart and kept Blake in.
At this though, Blake stopped, turned around, and looked again at his friend. Then he pulled down the brim of his hat and nodded before setting again for home.
As he did, Parson nodded back and looked at the North star and smiled regretfully, but with some hope.