“Jesus, I have to piss.”
“I don’t think Jesus cares much about that, Mitchell.”
Ferguson didn’t turn toward Mitchell as he said it, just kept pretending to watch the green smear of moss-covered evergreens as they raced by the passenger-side window.
“The way I remember it,” Mitchell said, adjusting his not-inconsiderable weight in the driver’s seat, “Jesus was a man for a while, just like you and me. And unless he was an exceptionally lucky man, there was probably a time or two where he was close to soiling his robes just like I am right now. And him being a basically decent guy, I think he would care.”
Mitchell glanced past the shotgun between them to check for any reaction in Ferguson: a clenching fist, a shaking head maybe. Nothing.
At police functions, Mitchell would swear to the other officers that Ferguson was cold to the touch; that his veins ran with 100% glacier water just like the bottles of Aquafina in the station vending machines. Ferguson was an easy target at those things, standing across the bar from the rest of the guys, feet shoulder-width apart and eyes scanning the room. “He reminds me of a gun turret.” One of the guys said. “Yeah, or a lawn sprinkler,” Mitchell said. Everybody laughed. It was easy to laugh at Ferguson, and laughs were in short supply those days. But every time he said something about his partner, Mitchell glanced quickly across the bar at Ferguson, then down at his beer.
Ferguson was tall and thin, but taught like a whip, with forearms that flexed with ropy tendons like coils of bungee cord. He kept his bald, steepled head shaved to a shine, and in the right light, Mitchell would say it glinted like the edge of a knife. He had a thin, deeply lined face that was perpetually carved in a look of stern disapproval. But Mitchell detected a naivety hidden behind the expression, as though it was a mask Ferguson forced himself to wear — one that didn’t quite fit.
Sometimes Mitchell couldn’t bring himself to look at his partner across the bar. He made a ridiculous figure, standing like a neon centurion next to the electronic gambling machine, in the glow of the St. Paulie girl. He took his job so damned seriously. And it was a serious job, so it was hard to fault the guy. But even if Ferguson wasn’t from out of town, the pose would have drawn a few skeptical glances, that’s for sure.
In the car, the CB chirped and each man’s head snapped to face the console, then a yawning voice requested a medic for an 89-year-old female at Evergreen House. Cardiac arrest. Paramedics might as well grab coffee on the way, for all the good they’ll do, Mitchell thought.
“Look, I’m sorry I offended your friend Jesus, I know you two are pen pals or whatever. What did his last letter say?”
“If you need to piss, piss,” Ferguson said, not looking away from the window. “Leave me out of it.”
“What, like I was asking you to come along and hold it for me?” Mitchell slowed the cruiser and parked it with two wheels in the wet grass on the shoulder of the narrow highway. “You are in to some weird stuff, man,” Mitchell said as he swung open the driver’s side door, “but I like you, so I’ll let it slide.”
He slammed the door and walked around the front of the car, unbuckling his belt as he went. A few feet from the nose of the cruiser he dropped his head back as he let out a torrent of urine in to the ditch along the highway. This was a twelve-hour-stakeout piss, he thought. A real two-liter-bottle-of-Sprite stream.
Strictly speaking, as a law enforcement officer Mitchell wasn’t supposed to be standing along a highway at noon with his Johnson out. But as every officer knew - even Ferguson - when you get out there in the mountains twenty miles from the nearest water closet, you do what you have to do.
They had been on the road all night, snaking through old logging roads and gravel bypasses, Ferguson shining their high-beam past trees and into the undergrowth. Looking for a snatch of cloth. A flash of movement. A tangle of hair.
It was another missing child. A 5-year-old girl abducted from her mom’s car in the Pick-n-Save parking lot. The mom had just needed to run in for some towels, she had said in the station, and when she came back, her little girl was gone.
Who makes an emergency trip for towels? Mitchell had thought. But he kept his mouth shut. Now, noon of the following day, it was creeping on toward 24-hours missing. Mitchell tried not to remember what the statistics said about someone missing for more than 24 hours. He tried not to think of the other children. The ones they still hadn’t found.
As Mitchell shook himself off and refastened his slacks, something caught his eye through the thick blades of grass at the bottom of the ditch a few yards down. It was a glint of white and red, along with a knot of brown. Mitchell walked a few steps along the edge of the ditch and peered down.
A doll floated in the brown pool at the bottom of the ditch. It had stiff, chubby limbs and a tangled nest of auburn hair above her content, smiling face, made disconcerting by the absence of one eye. Only a small hole was left where the eye had been, freezing the doll’s face in an eery wink. The remains of what used to be a tiny red-checkered dress still hung around the plastic body, wide tears revealing the pink plastic flesh beneath.
“Hey Ferguson,” Mitchell called as he turned back to the police cruiser. His face had hardened; his brow had furrowed and his mouth cut a tight line across his face. “I think I found something of yours.”