“Ginny’s Curve” by Vicki Stiefel, Clark Professor and author of five novels, looks inside the life of a police officer on traffic patrol, but what appears to be a typical night shift seems to have a curve of its own. The haunting style of the piece pairs with an air of mystery and intrigue that will keep you reading until the end of this short story below.
Officer Jim flicked a button. Blue and red lights flashed. Up ahead the Chevy wagon slowed, then pulled onto the shoulder of the road. Jim watched as the Chevy bounced once before settling to a stop. He grabbed his flash, checked his radio, then opened the door. With his right hand he hitched up his pants before proceeding down the asphalt. As he neared the Chevy he heard some country/western song blaring from an opened window. “Baby, my love—“ were the last words before it was abruptly switched off.
A whisper of wind ruffled the branches of a live oak and a chorus of cicadas chirped and buzzed. He paused for a moment, savoring the natural sounds. It had been a while, he thought. Or maybe it just seemed that way. He shook his head, then moved on to the waiting car.
“How you doing tonight, son?” Jim always thought to start out slow and easy. See what the deal was. He wasn’t in any rush. “Can I see your license and registration?”
The man staring bug-eyed at him couldn’t be much younger than Jim. He called all of them son, anyways. Jim counted four kids bouncing around the car, the littlest popping his head into the beam of Jim’s light.
“Cut it out, Tad.” The man poked Tad’s head back inside, then handed Jim his license and registration. “Uh, officer, can you tell me what time it is?”
Jim didn’t chuckle, though he felt like it. After giving out hundreds of tickets, he was used to this game. Tryin’ to tell the cop you was human, thought Jim. Some of the younger cops bought it. Jim already knew it. He checked his watch.
“Ten after nine. Pretty late for some of those kids to be out. Right?”
The man chewed on the droop of his pale, blond mustache. “I guess. We was fishin’.”
“Catch anything?” asked Jim.
The man’s head moved back and forth.
“Too bad. You know you were speeding. Doing forty-five in a thirty.” Jim pointed his beam at the tires. “I thought I caught sight of some baldies. Dangerous.”
The man sighed. “Yeah. I know. Got laid off six months ago.” A kid screamed that Sally was pulling her hair and the man turned and told them to hush. Two girl-giggles erupted from the back seat. Then silence.
“I should ticket you, you know,” said Jim. “Especially seeing as you’ve got a passel of kids in the car. ‘Least they’re all wearing seatbelts, ‘cept for him.” Jim pointed to Tad.
The man nodded. “I know. He don’t pay much attention. The wife’s real crazy about wearing belts. I agree. But with Tad…”
Jim didn’t know whether the man’s beaten-dog look was an act or real. Didn’t matter much to Jim.
“So,” said Jim.
“I can’t afford a ticket, Officer. Can’t afford it.”
“I can appreciate that, son. This curve’s deadly, though. You need to think, I mean really consider, how you was drivin’.”
“I will. I will.”
“She’s pullin’ my hair again, Daddy.” Shrieks. Giggles.
“Shush, you guys. Jeez. This is serious, kids.”
Jim peered around the man’s head into the car. Everything stopped. He always loved this effect on kids. That’s the way it should be. Surprise. Maybe a touch of fear. Then, maybe even admiration or affection. It was all in how you handled yourself.
“You hear what your daddy said?” he asked.
Four pair of eyes stared back at him, three of the heads nodding yes. Tad smiled, bit his lip, then nodded, too. Satisfied, Jim returned his attention to the man.
“I’ll be back in a minute. Just sit tight.” Jim walked back to the squad car. This was getting to the good part. Give them time to think. To realize how much money was involved. And how many accidents people caused coming around this curve fast as all get out. Caused some deaths, too.
Jim sat in the squad car. He wiped the greasy sweat from his neck with a handkerchief, then rested the square of cloth on his knee. The cotton was thin, with a small hole burned in the corner from one his old partner’s cigarettes. He rubbed his embroidered name, Officer Jim Donahue, with the pads of his fingers, then traced the stitches that said, From your loving daughter, Ginny. She’d made it for him in Girl Scouts. So long ago. He was glad they’d cremated her. ‘Least she wasn’t rotting in the ground.
He neatly folded the handkerchief and made a mental note to wash it when he got home. He opened the car door.
The man stared up at him. The children sat quietly in their seats. Jim pulled out his book and the man’s eyes pleaded a question. Jim kept his face poker-straight.
“You know how much this ticket is for?”
The man’s head shook back and forth.
“One hundred fifty dollars.”
The man nodded once, then swallowed hard. “Well….” This was the best part, the fun part, watching the changing expressions flick over a face. “I ain’t gonna write you no ticket.” Relief. Gratitude. Wonder. “I’m gonna give you
a warning.” More throat swallowing. The kids stayed quiet, but he knew they were listening. “You’re not gonna speed again around this curve, or on this road, are you?”
“And for that hundred fifty dollars, you’re gonna buy a new set of tires. Keep them kids safe.”
“Get going, now. Get them kids home. And make sure Tad wears his belt.”
“I will.” The man mumbled his thanks. Repeated it. Jim watched the car pull out. He felt that familiar burst of satisfaction. He’d done a good job. An important job. He hitched his pants up before returning to the squad car and driving back to his spot. He took out his thermos of coffee, settled in and waited.
He stopped two more cars. Had to ticket one. Dumb out-of-staters didn’t get it.
The black Saab whipped by doing at least sixty. On this curve, too, thought Jim. He shook his head, pulled out the squad car, and turned on the flashers.
He saw a small animal trot across the road up ahead. The Saab didn’t brake. Jim swerved around the carcass and picked up speed.
The Saab was slow coming to heel, but it finally pulled off the road onto the shoulder. Jim walked over to the car. He heard some cool jazz blaring from the speakers. He loved jazz.
He shined his beam into the car. The woman turned the music down, but not off. She flicked her black hair away from her face. When he asked to see her license and registration her red lips curled into a smile.
“Now, Officer, why would you be wantin’ those?”
“Because you were speeding, ma’am. You see that animal you run over back there?”
Her smile widened. She had beautiful, bright, white teeth. “Now of course I didn’t hit any animal. I would have felt it.”
“Ma’am, there’s a body laying in the road. Small, furry thing. What if it’s some kid’s cat?”
“You don’t feel nothin’ about this, do you?”
“Look, Officer, I have an important engagement to attend this evening. I’m late. And I still don’t believe I hit anything.”
Jim asked to see her license and registration again. “Now, Officer, I bet ya’ll didn’t even time me on radar, did you?” Her voice dipped and swayed, like the sultry tune playing on the radio.
Jim knew just what she was all about. And he’d already noticed the fancy radar detector stuck on her dash. “No, ma’am, I didn’t get you with my radar gun. But this here’s a thirty mile zone. You were burning rubber. This curve’s danger—“
“I wasn’t. Look, I’m late. I’ve got ten minutes to get to where I’m going. I’ll never make it in time. I’m leaving.” She started to push the shift into gear.
“You’re not going nowhere, ma’am, til we clear this thing up.”
“Bulls—t.” Those pretty lips pulled into a snarl. “I’m sure I was going no more than thirty-five. And that ridiculous story about the animal. With those glasses on… Well, your eyes couldn’t be too good in the dark.”
Jim chewed on his bottom lip. That familiar, anxious feeling pushed at his chest. He was just trying to do his job. Keep people safe. He’d been at it a long time. Didn’t need the reminder about the glasses. Didn’t like doing what he knew he had to if she kept up with this. But the law was the law. He repeated his children and grandkids’ names to force himself to calm down.
“Now, ma’am, you were speeding. Hand over your diver’s license and registration. Please.”
Her now-angry voice grated like a shovel hitting rock. “I was not. Look, my husband’s a lawyer.”
“I don’t care if he’s the Chief Pooh-Bah, ma’am.”
“You can’t talk to me like that, you old man. I wasn’t speeding. You’re full of it…”
It took him this long to register the alcohol on her breath. His nose was going bad, too, just like everything else. Stupid woman, driving this curve, drunk, arrogant. Didn’t she realize what could happen? Didn’t she know the law?
“…did you hear me? We’ll sue. Police harassment.”
“Ma’am, you’ve been drinkin’.” He fiddled with the pencil in his right hand. He hated this part. “I’d like you to get out of that car, please. I’m gonna have you walk the line.”
“F-you. Drinking? Don’t be absurd.” She laughed, then hiccoughed once. She reached into her purse. Jim tensed. She pulled out wad of bills and wagged them in front of his face.
“I’d like you to put those away, then get out of that car.”
“Oh, come on, big guy.” Her eyes glittered. She smiled a drunk’s smile, then waved the bills again, like you’d tease a dog with a bone. “Come on.”
He put his hand on her shoulder. “Put that away now, ma’am. We’re gonna walk a bit. See how you do.”
She jammed the money back in her purse. “Like hell. I see the way you’re staring at me. I know your type. You stop women to see if there’s any action. Well, you stopped the wrong girl this time, Mister.” She gripped the steering wheel and pushed the stick into first. “Sexual harassment charges, I figure. Get outta my way. Now.” She turned the wheel. “You’ll be sorry
you ever met me, you dope. It’s pathetic, the way you’re leering—“
Jim pulled out his Smith & Wesson .38 and shot her between her angry, black eyes. She jerked back, caught the steering wheel, then slumped toward him. Her head lolled out the rolled down window, shiny black hair curtaining her face.
He shook his head as he stared at her. “You shouldn’t a speeded around Ginny’s curve all tanked up like that. Your husband’s a lawyer, you oughta know the law.” He hitched his pants up before he started back to the patrol car.
* * *
A siren whined, then shrieked as a car rammed to a halt across from the Saab. The car’s whirring red bubble painted the dead woman’s head crimson.
“Told ya,” said the man in the corduroy jacket.
“You were right,” said the other man. “Jim got another one. Isn’t he somethin’?”
The two men walked over to the Jim’s car.
Jim sat in the patrol car filling out forms. He looked up. “Hey, it’s Tommy and Jeff. You boys here to clean up?”
Tommy nodded. “Hell of a job. Got yourself a DUI, huh?”
“Yup. She,” he pointed to the dead woman, “was a bad one. Same as Ginny’s killer. Talk about sass. Wouldn’t give me her license or registration. Hit some poor animal. Didn’t care one bit. Refused to walk the line.” Jim shook his head. “I tried to reason with her. She wouldn’t have any of it. Some people don’t believe the law could ever come down on them. I called for pickup.” Jim finished his paperwork.
Tommy Spero laid a hand on Jim’s shoulder. “You did good, Jim. You know, I think you got the highest body count so far this month. You seem to catch the bad ones. It can be tough, shooting them the way you have to.”
“I know. But I keep seeing Ginny’s face. Makes me strong.”
“Vinnie’s coming to take over your spot. Tired?”
Jim smiled. “Yup. Hard night’s work. But a good one.”
“Yeah, a good one.”
“Ya know,” said Jim, “I had a real nice fella tonight. Had a passel of kids. Real respectful. See, he was taking Ginny’s curve a mite too fast, but…..”
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