A nearly empty pitcher of beer sweated on the table in front of us, and we were worried. Not about the beer, but about our buddy Doug.
“He’s in jail,” I said.
“You said that,” Bart replied. “Three times. How long has he been there?”
“Just got the call on my cell, right before you got here.”
“How did he get put in jail?”
“The cops arrested him and took him there.”
“I think I could figure that one out. What I mean is what’d he do to get there.”
“He got arrested.”
“How much beer did you have before I got here?”
“How much is not much?”
“That much.” I pointed at the pitcher.
Our waitress appeared, poured the rest of the beer into our glasses and asked if we were ready for another pitcher. Normally, we were more than ready, but this time we waved her off. She asked why Doug wasn’t with us. Doug and I are good tippers, Doug even more so. Bart The Frugal isn’t. Doug’s also what women call a “hottie.” Bart and I aren’t, although Bart claims he’s a “warmie.” I told the waitress Doug was incarcerated, and she laughed, saying, “Sure he is,” as she walked away.
“Let’s try this again,” Bart said after she departed. “The cops must have had a reason to take him to jail. Can we agree on that?”
I swallowed some beer, said, “Yep.”
Bart rubbed his hands together. “Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. What reason did they give?”
“The cops. What reason did the cops give for arresting Doug?”
“He doesn’t know.”
“He doesn’t know! How come? He’s not stupid.”
“I don’t know, he was a PE major.” Doug can bench-press four hundred pounds.
“Doug was a math major, and he’s not stupid.”
“I know that. It was a joke.”
“This is no time for jokes.” Bart The Joke Raconteur saying no time for jokes. “So, one more time. Why did he get arrested?”
“He doesn’t know.”
Bart threw up his hands.
“I’m serious,” I said. “He doesn’t know. All they said was he’s a ‘person of interest.’”
“He’s in Houston’s jail or Harris County?
“Bellaire, West University Place?”
“Skykomish? Jesus, where is that?”
“Little town in Washington State, named after local
Indians, in the Cascade Mountains. Used to be a thriving timber town.”
“What’s he doing up there? That’s almost three thousand miles from here.”
“Thought you knew. He went on one of his mountain-man communions with nature. You know how he is, gets out there alone wearing camouflage in the wilderness, turns into The Commando, grunts and sweats and gets all stinky, thinks he smells good. He just left yesterday. Where’ve you been?”
“Playing golf.” Bart’s the Greg Maddux of golf, never hits the ball long, places it neatly. Doug is Randy Johnson, puts it in orbit. I’m Clifford Prickett. Never heard of him? Well, that’s how I play.
Bart wiped the top of his head, where there’s no hair, and said, “I got to cut back on my golf game.” He even plays video golf. “Jesus, we’ve got to do something.”
“Okay. Let’s go bust him out.”
The Skykomish Tavern was the larger of only two bars in the town of Skykomish, unless you counted the three restaurants that also served booze. The crystalline Skykomish river ran through the middle of town, and the Cascade Mountain Range, parked at the back door, scattered giant Douglas Fir trees down to the town’s perimeter, all of it screaming for a photo opportunity.
The town’s mayor, who was also the owner of the tavern, leaned against the cash register behind the bar. Lined up at the bar in front of him were three regulars, Mark, Luke, and John, chugging Rainier Beer from cans.
They called themselves The Three Apostles, of course. All three were hulking lumberjacks, out-of-work due to the obdurate presence of the endangered spotted owl. On the backbar beside the cash register was a box of Spotted Owl Helper.
Between the beer cans in front of them sat the local newspaper that was issued only when the publisher, also the mayor, decided there was news. The headline said, “Sasquatch Peeping Tom Apprehended.”
Mark, with a beard to his chest, said, “Wouldn’t mind peeping on her myself.”
Luke, also with a beard to his chest, said, “You probably did.”
John, with a beard only to the bottom of his neck, which wasn’t too far from his chin, said, “Seeing as you look like Sasquatch, too, don’t know why you ain’t in jail along with that other fellow.”
“So do you,” Mark retorted. “And you, too, Luke. And I ain’t in jail ‘cause I didn’t do no peeping.”
“Who said you did?” Luke countered.
“No, I didn’t.”
The mayor said, “Jill identified the fellow the Chief’s got in there now, so quit arguing. You start another ruckus in here, I’ll ban you for life.”
Jill was the town’s only woman of marriageable age still not married. In her late-thirties and possessed of heart-thumping looks, she was the subject of the local’s betting pool on the date she would move to Seattle to find a husband.
Luke said to the mayor-publisher-reporter-bar-owner, “How come you call this fellow Sasquatch?”
“’Cause he looks like it.”
“No, he don’t. I mean he’s big, but he’s not all hairy all over. Not even a beard. Not like this.” Luke stroked a beard that had enough hair to stuff a pillow.
“I’ll have you know the legend describes Sasquatch as being hairy all over or hairless or somewhere in between. So I’m utterly justified in my reporting.”
“Don’t get your pants on fire,” John said, “Luke’s just asking a question.” The Three Apostles stuck together. “You sure you not just trying to drum up tourism?”
“I beg your pardon. I call each story as I see it. My ethics wouldn’t allow me to do otherwise.”
“Ethics?” Mark piped in. “Since when ethics got anything to do with what you do?”
“Careful,” John said, “or he’ll throw you out on your ethics.”
All three laughed. They sounded like large dogs.
“Very funny,” the mayor said. “We’ll just see what happens when the circuit judge gets here. And since I’m the mayor, I believe I’ll see what the Chief is ―”
The Chief walked in before the mayor could finish. He was a former, no-nonsense Seattle cop, retired at forty-eight, now heading up a one-man police force, elected on the slogan, “Don’t Trifle With Skykomish. Or Me.” He walked to the coffee machine and poured a cup.
Luke said, “When you gonna get yourself a coffee maker?”
The Chief sipped his coffee, looked at Luke with cool eyes and didn’t answer.
The mayor said, “What’s that fellow doing?”
The Chief put his cool eyes on the mayor and said, “What fellow?”
“The one you got in jail. Who else?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“Do you know who you’re talking to?”
“It’s ‘to whom,’” the Chief said and sipped more coffee.
The mayor stalked from around the bar and stomped up to the Chief, leaned in close, and said, “I’m you’re boss.”
“Well, boss, lean at me any more and you might fall down and hurt yourself.” You truly didn’t trifle with the Chief.
The mayor straightened, back up three steps, and said, “I demand a report.”
“Talk to his lawyer.” And with that the Chief finished his coffee, gave The Three Apostles a cool look, and walked out.
The mayor harumphed, then walked out, too.
Behind him, The Three Apostles reached over the bar and helped themselves to more Rainier, all three mumbling, “Ain’t no such thing as a hairless Sasquatch.”
“Plane ticket cost a fortune.” Bart The Frugal. “Couldn’t even use my frequent flyer miles.”
“We had to get here in a hurry,” I said.
“I realize that. Doug’s going to owe me a case of beer. Two cases.”
We were sitting in an airport rental car, parked in front of the Skykomish Tourist Bureau, a shack by the side of the highway tucked between two giant Douglas Fir trees. The highway was a two-lane blacktop that curved like an innerspring east from Seattle through the mountains to Skykomish and beyond. Actually, it bypassed the town by a hundred yards. You had to turn onto a narrow road to drive over to it.
“Talk about culture shock,” Bart said. “Roads in Houston are straight as a plumb line. And flat. Only thing close to a mountain is a freeway overpass.”
“Don’t forget speed bumps,” I said as I studied a letter-size map of Skykomish, looking for the jail. I pointed it out to Bart, and he drove in that direction. We were in a Ford Escort. Cheapest rate. Bart rented it.
He asked, “You ready?”
“No way we’re going to get away with impersonating lawyers,” I answered.
“Then why are we doing it?”
“We aren’t. I am.”
“I look more like a lawyer than you.”
“No, you don’t.”
“So who am I supposed to be? The janitor?”
“I don’t look like his brother.”
“I don’t half look like him.”
I glanced at the front page of the newspaper I’d grabbed at the tourist shack, then read the Sasquatch story aloud to Bart.
“Peeping Tom?” Bart said when I finished. “Doug? A Peeping Tom? Never in a million years. Women peep on him!”
We parked in front of the jail and sat there a moment, pretending we knew what we were doing.
A man stomped along the sidewalk in front of us, looked our way, came up to Bart’s window and said, “If you gentlemen are looking for a place to wet your whistle, try my fine establishment.” He whipped out a card, handed it to Bart, and said, “This is good for one free drink!”
“There are two of us.” Bart The Frugal never let up.
“Ha, ha,” the man said, “a real jokester,” and stomped away.
“Wonder if they have scotch,” Bart said.
“It’s a tavern. Only beer and wine in taverns in this state.”
“How do you know that?”
“I’m full of useless information.”
“All right, let’s get serious.”
I put on a serious face.
“As far as who you’re supposed to be,” he continued, “you’ll be his step-brother demanding his release, just like a real brother. Any other objections?”
“None. Only that we should go with Plan B and be done with it.”
“Yeah, I know, bust him out. Come on, let’s get a look at this so-called Chief-of-Police.”
We got out, put money in the only meter in town, walked across the sidewalk, stepped through the door, and instantaneously I knew from the looks of this Chief that I wouldn’t be demanding anything.
“One of you supposed to be Sasquatch’s lawyer?” he asked before we could speak. He was leaning back in his chair with his feet on the desk and looked as if he never moved from that position.
“I am,” Bart said and gave him a card he’d printed on his computer in Houston.
The Chief didn’t stand or in any way show a friendly greeting, only moved his eyes back to Bart after he glanced at the card. “You don’t look like a lawyer,” he said. “And who’s this supposed to be?” His eyes on me. “A janitor?”
My knees turned into Krispy Kremes.
Bart said, “He’s the step-brother.”
The Chief’s eyes went to Bart. “The step-brother, huh? Well, Sasquatch is staying right where he is until the circuit judge gets here. And what’s his name?”
“I don’t know the judge’s name.”
Bart shrugged, said, “Bigfoot?”
“Don’t test my patience. What is the name of this fellow I have in my jail back there, the one you say you represent? That clear enough for you?”
“Clifford Prickett,” Bart lied. “So, when does he get here?”
“When he gets here.”
“Do you have a more definitive time than that?”
Something sounded unconstitutional about all this, but we decided not to tread there. Bart, showing he at least watched Law And Order, said, “My client is an outstanding citizen with roots in ―”
“Save it. I’ve heard it all before. He stays right here. You don’t like it, bust him out.”
I nearly collapsed.
Bart said, “We’d never think of such a thing.”
During the week, as this was, the mayor’s tavern closed at one in the morning. It’s lights were the last in town to go off. The Three Apostles stood on the sidewalk outside the tavern and leaned against one another. Their wives had left a phone message with the night bartender for him to tell them not to come home until daylight, or their beards would be set on fire while they were passed out.
“What do we do now?” Mark wanted to know.
Luke answered, “We go to my shack up the side of the mountain.”
“Great idea,” Mark said, missing an attempt to slap him on the back.
John was a leaning pillar of salt, too full of Rainier to speak.
Mark and Luke positioned John between them, clasped their hands under his armpits, and stumbled along the sidewalk toward the edge of town.
“Sssh,” Mark hissed, “we don’t want to wake anybody up. They’ll call our wives.”
“Hate it when somebody does that,” Luke said.
“Call our wives?”
“No. Sssh. Wife does it to me all the time.”
“Don’t blame her.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“No, what you said.”
“What’d I say?”
They left the main street’s string of stores and stumbled in the opposite direction of the jail.
“Mayor’s house is right up here, on the bank of the river.” Luke said.
“I know that.” Mark retorted.
“I know you know that.”
“So why’d you say it?”
“Just making conversation.”
“I said I hate it when ―”
“Look, the mayor’s still up.”
Luke looked. A light was on in the living room. The theme song to a CSI rerun peeled through the window. Luke pointed at the silhouette of a person’s head resting against an armchair. “That the mayor in there?” he asked.
“Who else would it be? Hear he watches TV all night.”
“Tell he’s not married.” Luke pulled on John’s shoulder and took a step, saying, “Let’s go on up here to Jill’s house. Maybe she’s got a light on.”
“Told you I don’t ―”
Mark held up a hand. “Just hold it a minute,” he said. “Now what’s he doing?”
“John’s just standing here. That was me pulling on him.”
“Not him. The mayor.”
“He’s not doing nothing.”
“That’s just it. Nothing. People move when they watch TV.”
A half mile away, behind the jailhouse, every move Bart and I made seemed to clang like church bells. Nighttime in the mountains amplified sounds, as I’d been told by folks who were avid campers. Such as Doug. He slept on the ground when he went on these sojourns. I couldn’t tolerate the mere thought of sleeping on anything other than a mattress. Serta, Beautyrest, Posturepedic, didn’t matter to me, as long as it was a mattress.
I was grinning wildly, despite the fact that we were about to commit a crime. We were dressed in black, from shoes to ski masks. The masks were my idea. I got it from watching a lot of heist movies. I also had a coil of thick, hemp rope in my hand. One end trailed out the rental car’s window around to the back where it was tied to the frame. We were waiting for what we considered the right time to sneak up to the cell’s window.
“What if Doug’s asleep and won’t wake up?” I asked.
“I brought a water pistol to squirt him.”
“You really thought of that?”
“Be prepared, that’s my motto.”
“What if there’s glass behind the bars?”
“Jesus, would you quit being so negative?”
“Thought your motto was ―”
“All right, all right, let’s go see.”
Four vertical bars, six inches apart, blocked a narrow window from entry or escape. No glass. The bottom of the window was parallel with our eyebrows. We stood on tip-toes, and Bart whispered, “Doug?”
Doug’s face suddenly appeared. “About time you ninjas got out of the car,” he bellowed.
“Jesus,” Bart said, “would you keep your voice down. What if ―”
“I’m the only one in this stinking place. Chief went home long ago. Now get me out of here.”
I said, “The Chief asked Bart your name. You didn’t have ID on you, I take it.”
“ID’s at my campsite.”
“It’s a good thing. All we got to do is get you out of here, and nobody will know who you were. Wait a minute, did he fingerprint you?”
“This is a strange place. And yeah, I agree, he should have fingerprinted me. But you know, I don’t think he thinks I did it.”
“Peep?” Bart asked.
“What are you, Tweety Bird? Of course I mean peep. When he finally let me know why he was holding me, I told him I didn’t do it, told him to take me up to my campsite and I’d show him my plane ticket that’d prove I wasn’t here when it happened, and the darnedest thing is he looked like he believed me.”
“Did he take you?” I asked.
“I’m still here, aren’t I? He just nodded and walked away, came back and gave me a phone to call you, and I haven’t seen him since. Heard him out in the office a few times. Even heard you guys come in. But he hasn’t been here much. Now give me the rope.”
I handed it to him. He wrapped it around the bars and said, “All right, back the car to the wall, then gun it straight out.”
That’s exactly what we did. Bart backed the car to the wall, I got in the passenger’s seat, we looked at one another, and Bart gunned it. The car reached the rope’s terminus and came to a dead halt, rope taut, tires spinning. We nearly went through the windshield.
And the bars didn’t move.
But the mayor was moving. From behind one tree to the next in the shadows outside of Jill’s house. He wore a gorilla costume. The face was cut out and replaced with a rubber mask of Arnold Schwarzenegger. The temperature was forty degrees, but he sweated a waterfall behind the mask.
He glided from one tree to the next, each tree closer to Jill’s bedroom window. Only thirty feet away now. Then twenty. Then ten. He positioned himself behind an ancient cedar, one so old that its diameter could hide a real gorilla, and stood there as still as the tree, and waited.
The light was on in her bedroom. As he knew it would be. She never closed the blinds. Heck, most people in Skykomish didn’t have blinds. They liked to bring the outdoors indoors. Even waved at people when they walked by. Jill’s bedroom, though, faced the river. No one walked by from that direction, which enabled him to sneak to her house from his undetected, along the river bank, blending in with the shadows and overhanging tree limbs. Her house was only a hundred yards from his anyway. If it weren’t for all the trees, he’d use binoculars.
The river rippled over countless river rocks, the sound a bedroom lullaby. But not to the mayor. Made him want to use the bathroom. He held back and thought other thoughts.
Those other thoughts centered on whether Jill would appear clothed or partially clothed or unclothed. Didn’t matter which to the mayor. If she were clothed, she always unclothed before getting under the covers.
He waited some more and sweated some more. Every three minutes he peeked one eye around the edge of the tree to see if she’d appeared. Not yet. He peeked again. And again. Darn, where was she?
He couldn’t hold it any longer. He had to relieve himself. Quite a chore, considering the costume. He unzipped it from the bottom of his neck to his pelvis, then dug around through the layers of hair and padding. He wondered if the hair were real hair, and if so, what kind of hair. Surely it wasn’t gorilla hair. Synthetic probably, although it seemed suddenly to develop a gorilla stink. A horrible stink. Must be dog hair, all smelly with his sweat. Anybody who’d use dog hair deserved to be cold-cocked.
And on that thought, the lights went out. Not in Jill’s bedroom. In the mayor’s head.
“It’s a mannequin head!” Luke hollered.
“Sssh,” Mark shushed.
“How many times I gotta tell you ―”
John managed to interrupt with, “Did you say mannequin head?”
“It’s what the mayor’s got in that chair,” Luke answered. “A dummy head.”
“He’s a dummy, all right.” John was resuscitating himself.
Mark said, “Now what would the mayor be doing with a dummy head in his chair?”
“Wants people thinking he’s there when he ain’t.”
“So what’s he doing he doesn’t want nobody knowing what he’s doing?”
A lone bird, perched in a tree high above them, peeped. The Three Apostles turned their heads upward, then slowly lowered them toward one another, their faces alight with Sherlockian deduction.
Luke said, “Let’s scoot on up to Jill’s house. See what we can see.”
“I’m no peeper,” Mark protested.
“I don’t mean let’s peep on her.”
“So what do you mean?”
“I mean let’s see if the mayor’s peeping on her.”
“That’s what you better mean.”
John, almost sober, started walking and said over his shoulder, “You two peepers follow me.” John could get drunk or sober as abruptly as a cliff preposition.
They stepped into the street and within minutes they were in front of Jill’s house. Around the back was a light barely visible from the street.
Luke said, “I think I see somebody back there.” Pointing in that direction.
“I think you’re right,” Mark said.
John headed that way, saying, “Let’s find out.”
They found Jill, fully clothed to their disappointment, standing beside a tree. She was rigid, staring down at something on the other side of the tree.
They announced their arrival as if their arrival behind a single woman’s house in the dead of night was a commonplace occurrence.
John asked, “What’s wrong.”
If she considered their arrival an uncommon occurrence, she didn’t show it. Living in the mountains will do that to you. She said, “I was in my bedroom, fellows, and I smelled this horrible smell coming through the window. Then I heard a thump. So I came outside and just now found this.” She pointed to the other side of the tree.
They took a look and found a prostrate gorilla.
Mark said, “It’s breathing.”
“Must be alive,” Luke said.
“That’s what breathing means,” John said. He bent down and rolled the gorilla onto its back.
“Holy moly,” Mark and Luke said.
Jill said, “This is terrible.”
“Terrible?” John repeated.
“Yes, terrible. This is how I identified him when I saw him at the general store.”
“He looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger.”
“Got any more ideas?” Bart asked.
“Maybe Doug has one.”
We got out and trudged back to the cell window. Bart stood on tip-toes again and whispered, “Got any suggestions?”
Doug answered, “Yeah. Next time rent a Hummer.”
“There’s a downhill slope over here,” I said. “We’ll be going at it from an angle, but maybe pulling the bars from the side will work better, and maybe the momentum of going downhill will give us the added speed we need.”
“Speed, smeed,” Bart said. “Weight and horsepower are what we need.”
“You have a better idea?” I was miffed. I’d wanted to rent a Continental Town Car. But, no, not Bart The Frugal.
Doug The Commando said, “Do it.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “There’s a pile of rocks over here. Let’s put as many of the big ones as we can in the trunk for more weight.”
“Glad someone’s thinking,” Doug said.
“I would have thought of it.” Now Bart was miffed.
Putting the rocks in the trunk made me wish I were the one in jail. Doug would have lifted a rock under each arm, whereas it took both of us to lift only one rock, but at last we filled the trunk.
Doug peered through the cell window the entire time. He said, “This is just horse crap. You guys have to work out more.”
“Lot of good it’s doing you,” Bart remarked. “Way you work out, you ought to be able to knock the wall down.”
“Already tried,” he replied.
“Or bend the bars.”
“Tried that, too. Bars are too short.”
Doug The Commando assuming he could bend them otherwise.
I said, “Well, if this doesn’t do it, maybe somebody will come to save the day, like Mighty Mouse.”
Mark said, “That’s not Schwarzenegger. That’s a mask!”
“Either that or an alien gorilla,” Luke offered.
John, now sober, said, “That ain’t no Schwarzenegger, ain’t no alien nothing, and that ain’t no Sasquatch. That’s a mask.”
“I already said that,” Mark said.
Jill said, “Of course it’s a mask. I meant the fellow in jail looks like Schwarzenegger. This is someone else.”
John said. “So let’s see who it is.”
No one moved.
“Well,” John said, “who’s going to look?”
Jill rolled her eyes and said, “I will.”
All four huddled in close. Jill bent down and slipped a finger under the edge of the mask and lifted it, all four bending lower to get a better look.
“Well I’ll be,” John said.
“I knew it all along,” Mark said.
“No, you didn’t,” Luke said.
Jill cut them off. “We need to get the Chief over here so he can let that man out of jail.”
“Chief’s in bed,” John said. “I don’t want to trifle with the Chief when he’s in bed.”
“Somebody’s got to trifle with him,” Jill said. “And if you three men won’t, I will.” Her emphasis on “men” stirred The Three Apostles into action.
“Let’s haul his royal rear end over to the Chief’s house,” Luke said, and all three bent to the task.
Jill stopped them with, “No, the Chief needs to find him here. If you three think you can handle guard duty, I’ll go get him. Can you do that?”
They nodded. Sheepishly. Or as sheepishly as men the size of mutant wolfs can nod.
She stalked off muttering, “What else weird could happen around here.”
We began our descent downhill with the accelerator floored and our seat belts buckled. As we neared the end of the rope, we braced ourselves for the jolt and subsequent breakthrough, but when we reached the end, the rope twanged and once again jerked us to a dead standstill, tires spinning. Only this time, the frame bent.
“Notice any Hummers around town,” I offered.
“Funny,” Bart said, sitting behind the wheel, holding onto it, and tapping it with one finger.
“How about we just ram the thing into the wall.”
“We’d have to leave it. You want to walk back to Seattle? And the Chief would trace it to us. Then we’d be sitting in there with Doug.” Bart The Joke Raconteur had seriously lost his sense of humor.
“I was joking,” I said. “But there is one other option.”
“And, pray tell, what is that?”
“Doug said when he called me that his rental, a pickup, is impounded behind the tavern. We could steal it and use it.”
“And add grand-theft auto? I pass on that.”
“We’re in deep enough already, so what the heck, why not?”
We stopped talking, listened to the engine tick, considered and discarded other options, including dynamite, when we heard Doug exclaim, “Who or what the heck is that!” His arm pointed out the window toward the trees on Bart’s side of the car.
Jill said to the Chief, “You’re not going to believe this.”
The Chief stood in the doorway of his house. He wore red-and-black-checkered flannel pajamas, something Jill found endearing. He said, “Oh, don’t be surprised if I do.”
“You have to release that fellow you have in jail. It was someone else peeping on me. The Three Apostles are guarding him at my house this very minute.”
“The mayor, huh?”
Jill stammered, then regained her voice. This Chief was beginning to impress her. “How in the world did you know?” she asked.
“Little things. I’ve been waiting for him to trip up, and I figured with this fellow in jail, he’d get over-confident, and this would be the time. Peepers are compulsive. Compulsion hits them, their brains short-circuit and the only thing they think about is peeping. And once they start, the time between each peep-job shortens.”
Jill shook her head. “But this fellow I identified looks so much like the face I saw all those other times.”
“Mayor wore a mask, didn’t he?”
“How did you know that, too?”
“Those weren’t razor burns he had on his face after each time he was seen peeping.”
Yes, this Chief impressed her, all right. No wonder no one trifled with him. And he was kind of cute, too.
He said, “Wait in the living room while I get dressed and I’ll go get him.”
Jill asked, smiling, “How old are you?”
Bart and I sat in the car, transfixed, and watched whomever or whatever it was move from one tree to the next. One thing for certain, it wasn’t Mighty Mouse. It was huge, its stride long and slow, its body covered with hair, and its eyes, Lord have mercy, its eyes. They were human. And intelligent!
It stepped closer, not ten feet from our car, and walked around us toward Doug’s cell window. A horrible stink permeated the interior of the car, sort of like Doug
smelled when he communed with nature. Then it stopped and looked at us and raised an arm the size of a railroad tie and pointed a finger at us, as if to admonish us to stay put.
It walked up to Doug’s window, thumped a finger against a bar, and then pulled out one bar, followed by the remaining three.
We couldn’t see Doug’s face, but we knew his eyes had to be as wide as ours.
The thing reached inside the window all the way to its elbow, turned its head first one way then the other, as if it were looking for the Chief, then as casually as pulling its arm through water, pulled the wall down, turned around and walked back the way it came, and along the way stopped beside our car, and I’m telling you the truth, it smiled at us, before disappearing into the forest.
“I’m fifty,” the Chief told Jill after he changed clothes and they were in the Chief’s car on their way to pick up the gorilla mayor.
Jill smiled wider, said, “You’re not as old as I thought you were.”
The Three Apostles stood like sentinels around the still prostrate mayor. The Chief parked at the side of the road in front of Jill’s house and signaled for them to haul the mayor up to the car. They did. The mayor didn’t wake up the entire time. He was snoring away.
“Pile him in the back seat fellows,” the Chief instructed.
They did that, too.
The Chief said, “Which one of you cold-cocked him?”
The Three Apostles looked at Jill.
Jill declared, “It wasn’t me, though I wish I had.”
The Chief considered that, but could think of no place to go with it. He said to the Three Apostles, “Seeing as our mayor here kept the budget under lock and key, and seeing as we’ll be getting a new mayor not so inclined, our town council will finally see their way clear to budgeting for deputies. And seeing as I’m the one who hires deputies, I’m offering you fellows the jobs. So what do you say?”
They nodded together, with vigor.
“Just one thing,” the Chief added. “You’ll have to shave those beards.”
Doug came through the hole in the wall like a cannonball and jumped into the back seat. “Let’s get out of here,” he yelled.
Bart was already twisting the ignition. He gunned the accelerator and we sped around the jailhouse onto the main street and turned toward the road that would take us to the highway. We turned again and there was the highway, right in front of us. Also right in front of us was the Chief’s car, with the Chief sitting in the driver’s seat, just sitting there grinning at us.
Bart braked to a stop. We got out and walked up to his window as if we were on a midnight stroll. Bart said, “Evening, Chief.”
He responded with, “It’s morning. And what are you fellows doing out, so to speak?” A comely, semi-young woman sat in the passenger’s seat, grinning, too. The Chief pointed a thumb at the back seat and said, “Meet Sasquatch.”
We looked in the back seat at a snoring gorilla with a familiar face.
Bart said, “Looks like a natural born politician.”
“He does, doesn’t he?“ the Chief said looking back at him, then to Bart he said, “I trust you fellows are of the character who’ll pay for whatever damage you did to my jail busting out, aren’t you?”
Bart surprised us by pulling out a checkbook and saying, “I’ll write you a check.”
“That’ll do for now. By the way,” he said, looking at Doug, “did you know you look like Arnold Schwarzenegger?”
The Chief didn’t let us off quite so easily. Trust is a good thing, but the Chief’s trust went only so far. He had Bart and me show him every piece of ID we had on us. I learned the comely, semi-young woman’s name was Jill, and I kept hoping she would turn her eyes on me, but she had eyes only for the Chief, who kept addressing Doug as Clifford. We didn’t correct him. We traded the Escort for Doug’s rental and promised the Chief we would have the rental company pick it up. Bart, not wanting to trifle with the Chief, begrudgingly paid the impound fee, too. We drove up to Doug’s campsite, only two miles away, and gathered his precious communal gear, including a shotgun he’d never shot. All of this took less than two hours.
It was still nighttime when we passed Skykomish again, that time of night before dawn when night is at its darkest. We slowed down and looked at the town and its picturesque setting one last time. The town’s buildings were peacefully clumped together in the shadows of the Cascades. The river glistened in the moonlight.
Slowly we rolled by, but before we got back up to speed, Bart hit the brakes. In front of us, caught in the headlights, standing at the side of the road only a few feet from the forest’s edge, was a human figure. A huge one. Covered in hair. Except for its face. Green eyes glittered at us over hairless cheekbones and a surprisingly delicate nose, and all of that below a hairless forehead. The hair on its body bunched up around the shoulders next to a thick beard and long hair on top of the head, but the body hair stopped at its wrists and ankles, like a coat. It smiled at us, then disappeared into the trees. It was a man. Had to have been. An abnormally big one, sure, but a man, nevertheless.
Or was it?