Jake Hines and his crew of police investigators chase scant clues in blizzard conditions when a half-naked body is found frozen in a snowbank. The mystery deepens as evidence indicates the dead man is a long-haul truck driver — but his rig is nowhere in sight.
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My first year as a cop, I figured out a way to lower the crime rate.
“Make the lawbreakers file the reports,” I told Frank McCafferty.
“You got a sick mind, Hines,” McCafferty said. He wasn’t chief of police then, just the acknowledged best shot in the department and my assigned tyrant, a.k.a. field training officer.
“Trust me,” I told him, “only a handful would ever commit a second crime.”
“Are you still fightin’ the problem with report forms?” Frank shook his head sadly. “Get over it, for God’s sake. Record keeping is just a fact of life, like bunions.”
“More like bleeding piles,” I said. “Or a strangulated hernia.”
“Jesus, what a bitcher,” Frank said. Everybody in the department had told me I was lucky to have him for a trainer, and most of the time I believed it. I only really wanted to kill him when he yelled at me about my driving.
He was also prone to fits of temper about my handwriting and spelling. An indifferent student to begin with, I had moved through half a dozen school systems during my childhood in Minnesota foster care, and there were holes in my basic education you could throw a cat through. Math aptitude got me into college, and I finessed civil service exams with multiple choice. Now, trying to become a cop, I was handing in typed reports that were mazes of whiteout and upper-case Xs.
Computers came along just in time to save me. I loved electronic correction so much, at first I didn’t notice that Spellcheck did nothing for the grammatically challenged. Then I got Grammarcheck and clung to it fervently till I realized it wouldn’t keep me from using “eight” when I meant “ate.” Finally Frank found me a bonehead English course in night school and helped me arrange my schedule around it for a couple of semesters. With my job on the line, I finally learned enough about my native tongue to write short declarative sentences. I keep a cheat sheet in the top drawer for toughies like “their” and “there.”
Mastering basic English didn’t make me love record keeping, which is boring and gobbles up too much time. But now that I’m a police detective, I consider information my lifeline, and think that cops who can’t keep good records ought to find another line of work.
So on the Sunday night when we found the frozen body in the snowbank, I was at the station till past midnight, filling out many forms. In fairness, I shouldn’t count the first ten minutes, which I spent in the break room hugging a cup of coffee.
The space around the microwave was crowded with night shift cops on break, waiting to nuke the leftovers they brought from home. They peeled off layers of padded clothing, blew their noses, and monotonously cursed the weather.