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Chapter One

I was sitting in the office I keep in my house, drinking beer and trying to come up with a clever idea for a drainage system that wouldn't cost my client too much money, when Danny Ackerman came in. I hadn't seen him for a month, but we'd been pretty good friends, had played poker and gotten drunk together, and he'd stuck around when I had the trouble a few months before, so I was glad to see him. He's a short guy and he doesn't look like much, but people tell me he's tough. Last time I had seen him he was running a hole-in-the-wall private detective office doing mostly industrial surveillance and such while he kept trying to get a master's degree in sociology and penology at the University of Washington.

"Hi, Paul," he shouted down the hall. "Got anything to drink?"

"Sure. Come on in. I'm not getting anywhere sitting here."

My office is the living room of this old house I have in the University District. You get to it by going past the stairs in the entrance and around through the kitchen, because I keep the big sliding doors from the hall to the living room closed. The house is full of sliding doors, and built-in cupboards, and fireplaces, and wooden panels. I said it was an old house. Danny got past Tiger, a big tomcat who moved in with me one day and won't leave, and came through what used to be the dining room, to the office. He'd been there before, so I let him get his own drink, which turned out to be a glass of beer from the cooler thing some client sold me. I'll admit I've probably saved the price of the thing by buying beer by the keg, but I still say I wouldn't if the damn thing didn't make it so easy to drink beer that everyone did. He got his and sat down.

"What're you doing tonight?"

"Thought I'd scout around the District and check out the new chicks. Particularly the freshmen." Actually it's unlikely that I'd do that, though I have been known to. But Danny's the kind of guy who'd expect that answer.

"Good. Come out and play cops and robbers with me." He took a long drink.

"What? Go sit in your car and watch to see if some slob is carrying an airplane under his coat or something? No!"

"No, I mean be a real cop for the evening. I'll get you a badge and everything. You can keep it; might do you some good if they ever try to lay a ticket on you."

"Danny, you got to be crazy. How are you handing out badges?"

"I'm the new chief of police in Lathrop. Don't I look like one?"

"You look more like a crook." I said that, but I didn't mean it. One of the reasons I like Danny is that he's really a pretty good guy. I may run around with some real losers once in a while, but when you come right down to it, I don't think much of people who are just out for what they can get. That's a hell of a thing for me to say since I guess that's what I am, but at least my racket's honest. It says so in the law books.

"Here. Look." He took out his wallet, and there was a badge. Bright, shiny, with the state seal on it and everything. It had a big number "one" and said "Marshal." I looked at it, and the card in the wallet with it, which told me that Mayor E. Sundesvall had appointed Daniel J. Ackerman his true and lawful marshal and chief of police for the town of Lathrop. Danny grinned. "Told you," he said. "This thing's for real."

"Chief of how many police?"

"You would ask. Well, there's two part-time old geezers for the daytime who watch the school crossing, and there's you."

"There's me? Like hell. You live out there now?"

"Weekends. Going out tonight, but I'll be coming back in tomorrow. Come on out and ride with me, Paul. I could use some company."

"And do what?"

"Stop a fight or two, give out some tickets to speeders, put up a drunk in the tank, and have some fun. Nothing, really. Come on."

"You mean it about the badge? I've always wanted a badge."

"Yeah. Got it fixed with the mayor. You'll have to stop by with me to see him, but it's all set. Doesn't pay anything, of course."

"Of course. What time, Danny? Leaving and coming back?"

He looked at his watch. "Well, it's four now. Ought to get out there by seven and it's an hour or so's drive. I'll catch some supper and make some calls, and pick you up at six. This is Friday so the bars close at two a.m., should be quiet in an hour after that; stop at the 'Hasty' for something to eat when we get back. I'll have you home by five a.m. tomorrow. I never heard of you going to bed alone before then on Fridays anyway."

"The hell you say. I sure wish I had the life you guys dream up for me. Okay, I'll go. Provided you get me that badge. Want to eat here?"

"Thanks, no. I've got some things to do." He started out. When he got to the kitchen door, he turned back. "Got a gun? Now, there's a question for you," he added, looking at the rifle rack on the wall. "I seem to remember you have one you can carry without wheels and a tripod somewhere. Wear one, it's legal. You won't need it, but it adds to the fun." He left.

I straightened up my papers and got the drawing board cleaned off, finished my beer, and went out to eat. I like to cook, but not for just myself, and lately there'd been nobody else to cook for—or to cook for me either, for that matter. Walking down to the District, I thought about Danny's idea of fun and wondered why I had agreed to go. Well, I never had much experience with police one way or the other, and it might be a kick to be one for an evening. Anyway, Danny was fun to talk to, and he was one of the guys who had helped me out when things were rough. Why not?


The University District of Seattle has changed a lot in the last few years. When I first came here as a student it was just a district near the university, with any place that had any particular character being concentrated in a fringe a mile away, where the taverns are legal. Then it had been kind of nice for a while, with coffeehouses and folksingers' places going up. Now it was getting a sick look to it, with too many students looking sloppy like they planned it that way, and not because they didn't have enough money not to. Lately I've begun to think the studied sloppy ones outnumber the others, but they don't really. They just take up so much of the view. The war siphons off some of the good ones too, leaving a lot who got out of going over to get in everybody's way.

I ate in Eileen's. That's not what they call it now, but the name has changed so often, I can't keep track of it. It's a reasonably nice restaurant, but everybody who owns it goes broke. They're always sure they've got a gold mine, too. It ought to be one, a block from the campus, but that's the trouble. The main customers are students, and they can't afford to eat in a nice place, but they like to go to them. And take up space while they drink coffee. If you throw them out, the faculty and people who can afford to eat in a nice place won't eat there either. So, at mealtimes it's jammed, but most of the people in it don't buy anything, or just buy coffee, and sit and talk to their friends. It was early enough so it wasn't jammed.

Over in the corner there was a booth full of ex-friends of mine. They didn't know they were ex's, because it's not too good an idea to let that kind know you don't like them. They were all about my age, thirty or so, and some had been students with me. That actually put most of them a year or two older than my 28, but since my folks let the school jump me past the third grade, I've become used to being around people a year older than me.

Some of them waved and I waved back, but their booth was full so I had a good reason to sit alone. They don't usually come to Eileen's, which was one reason why I still do. I watched them while the girl went after my order.

They were all listening to a joker in a clean shirt, which set him apart from the rest right there. I thought maybe I'd known him, but I couldn't place him. Looking at them, it came to me that I had once spent a lot of time with that crowd, had even liked a few. That was back in my student days, when finding a good party where you didn't have to spend much money was important. But I managed to obtain my degree—which wasn't that easy since I really shouldn't have skipped the third grade—and go out and make a living of sorts, while these still hung around the college. One or two might still be. students, or claim to be. The rest worked in bookstores and lived off unemployment, or younger girls, or whatever else they could find, and ran around supporting one obscure cause after another. They all had a cause or two, but they changed so fast I stopped keeping up with what it was the United States was doing that had to be stopped. Even when I had known them I hadn't agreed with them, of course, but I prided myself on my ability to accept anything and anybody, and so did they, so we got along. They thought it was amusing to have an ex-officer for an occasional friend. And my wife—ex-wife legally for two months, actually for three years—had got along with them fine. She loved obscure causes.


But lately, like the District, their mood had turned ugly. More and more of them seemed actually embarrassed to know me, and the last time I went to a party where many of them were, I almost got in a fist fight. So I stopped going to their parties and started eating at Eileen's instead of somewhere one of the intense ones might turn up. As I said, these were people you didn't want mad at you. Mostly they were harmless, but when they got that intense look on their faces and started talking about how the U.S. was murdering people in Southeast Asia, it made me wonder whether they'd stay harmless. I didn't want the fire department to be the way I found out.

They were pretty excited about the newcomer, so I looked at him again, and then I remembered. John Franklin Murray. Ex-paratrooper. Socialist when he was in college. Must be thirty-two, thirty-three now. Rich parents. Thrown out of Reed College when he couldn't pay the tuition, having got his folks so sick of his lectures on how they ground the faces of the poor that they cut him off. Came to the University of Washington to finish up. Last I saw of him he had gone off to work for a real far-out newspaper, something like People's Daily, which I understood took the Chinese Communist party line. He hadn't been a particular friend of mine, and as I remembered it, the last time he was in town he and I had had a drunken shouting match we thought was a debate. He was another good one to stay clear of. I ate and left the place, but not before one of the girls left the group and came out with me.

She was one of the younger ones, and I thought there might be some hope for her. She was about twenty, and at least she was clean, even if she did wear the black stockings and shorts with a man's shirt that makes up the uniform around Seattle for that set. She also had the long black hair and no makeup, but she was sort of pretty for all that, and having seen her in a sweater I knew she wasn't as shapeless as the outfit made her look.

"Hi, Paul. Where you been?"

"Haven't been around much, Carole. Busy making money so I can pay taxes to support your friends' unemployment checks."

"Somebody's got to. Did you know John Murray?"

"Not very well," I told her. It was after five, and I wanted to get home so I stepped out fast, but Carole kept right up with me. I liked that, because there aren't many girls who can keep up when I walk fast, and I like to walk fast. That's one of the ten thousand things that infuriated my ex-wife. "He was in school when I was, so I met him, but I didn't know him very well. He wouldn't have thought much of me anyway. He was a real true believer even back in college."

"He still is. That's one reason why I left. I don't think things can be quite as bad as he says. Why, he told me the FBI was watching him, that they were probably taking pictures of everybody he talked to right then."

"That's not very original, Carole. Ivar was saying that ten years ago. Come to think of it, so was John Murray. Should they be?"

"How would I know? They do bug us once in a while. Or the cops do anyway. But I don't see how we're really all that important."

"I was about to say that myself. I heard a lot of wild talk when I used to hang around with that crowd, but that's all it was. Worst thing I ever heard of them doing was stealing an outboard motor, and then they were afraid to sell it. Probably more went on that I didn't hear about, though, since everybody knows I'm square. I'm surprised you talk to me."

"Come off it, Paul. There's nothing wrong with what we're doing. This is a free country. We've got a right to protest. Maybe we even have a duty."

"Sure, Carole. And marijuana's harmless, and Bennies won't hurt you, and drinking and talking all night is more important than studying, and to hell with it. I thought so too when I was your age and nothing could cure me of it, so let's not get in an argument about it." I walked on, figuring she'd go off somewhere else. Another time I might have tried to talk her into doing something normal for an evening, but I had this bit with Danny Ackerman to get through. She kept right up.

"Really now, Paul. You used to be friends with the crowd. You still have some good friends there. I met you at one of the parties. So what's all this about how you don't like us?"

"I didn't say I don't like you," I said idiotically. "I said I didn't want to argue with you about your habits and causes. If you have to get a statement from me, I'd say you were wasting a lot of time you'll regret later; and maybe there's more to what your friends call bourgeois morality than you think, but I am not going to argue with you about it, and I have to get home."

"Be at the party tonight?"

"No. I have to go up north with a friend. Bye." I really put on the steam and left her behind. Short of running, she couldn't keep up, and although it looked like she was going to try it for a second, she didn't. I went on home and changed clothes.


Take a gun, Danny said, so I looked over the collection. It wasn't much of a collection, being mostly hunting rifles. I only had three handguns. I had a visitor from the East Coast once who thought I was trying to start a war, what with four long guns and three pistols, but it isn't too unusual in the West. You can be in elk country an hour's drive out of Seattle, and the hunting is different on each side of the Cascades. On the seaward side you mostly get thick brush, and you want a heavy slow bullet. In eastern Washington there's more flat open country, and a flat-trajectory, high-velocity light bullet is better for the longer shots. That makes for two rifles, and if you hunt varmints there's another. Add a shotgun and you have four. The pistols are a little different, but again they're usual here. The laws are different too. You don't need a permit to carry a pistol if it isn't concealed, and there are still a few places where nobody thinks twice if they see a holstered pistol. Shakes up the Easterners, though. The only trouble was, not one of the things was suitable for carrying as a policeman. Even as a one-night, imitation, deputy policeman. There was the old .22 Colt Woodsman I had learned to shoot with, which was out on the grounds that a .22 is only just better than useless, except for tin cans and maybe birds. There was a .455 Webley I got from a mail-order house because it was cheap, and I wanted a big caliber gun. I sometimes carried it in the woods, heavy as it was, because we do have bear where I go fishing and although they're more afraid of you than you are of them, they're still big, and once in a great while somebody gets mauled.

Finally, there was a very good 9 mm. Luger I bought from a hungry roommate after he had a particularly disastrous night at poker. He offered it cheap, and it was a beautiful prewar piece. I've been told it's worth a couple of hundred dollars as a collector's item now, but I've never needed to cash in on it. Lugers are beautiful weapons. But they're automatics, which means you can't carry them cocked and they take both hands to get set for shooting. Automatics put out a high volume of fire which is what the military is interested in, but a policeman is usually concerned about getting off one reliable shot in five years. As a military weapon Lugers weren't so hot either. That big outside knee gets dirty if you aren't careful. The only reason the Germans adopted them was that the 7 mm. Luger, which is a police caliber, has all the same parts as the 9 mm. except for the barrel. Change that and your police weapon is a military pistol. The treaty that ended World War One forbade the Germans to have military pistols, so they used the Luger for the police and when they decided to convert, presto, a lot of 7 mm. barrels hit the ashcan. Also, the Luger can have a stock and a drum fitted to make it a very high-fire volume weapon, if you want to do it. I guess if you have a treaty looking over your shoulder you'll try anything. But it still isn't all that much gun.

Still, it was the Luger or nothing, because the chances of concealing that Webley were nil, and I didn't have a very good holster for it anyway. I took the Luger out and checked the magazine. The gun fit my hand perfectly, and I knew why I had bought it. Impractical or not, there's a deadly quality about the thing that's lacking in other handguns. And it is at least as accurate as I am, which isn't very. I also took out some cartridges and thought about whether or not to take them. Which was silly, because the chance that the gun would be anything but in the way was so small as to be zero. But, I thought, what the hell, if I'm going to be a fool I might as well be a complete one, so I found a plastic box from my fishing tackle and got eight cartridges in it, and dropped the whole mess in my pocket. Then I strapped the Luger on my left side, up high against my hip where it would be easy to carry, and buttoned down the flap of the holster. The thing was only a little easier to get at than if I had put it in the desk drawer, but at least my coat would cover it. I also put on a tie and got out a good sports coat, and there I was. It was about a quarter to six, so I sat down with a beer. Danny came right on time—just as I was finishing.

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