MT. JEFFERSON, VIRGINIA 1959
Lt. Buddy Briggs was lying in bed next to his wife. On the nightstand, the clock radio Amanda had given him for Christmas two years ago said it was 5:16 a.m. It kept pretty good time for a dime-store special. In exactly fourteen minutes the alarm would go off under the guise of a radio show, and Crazy Charlie’s Coffee Pot would fill the room with a weather report, baseball scores, Khrushchev, and Connie Francis. Should he wait for the alarm and hope for a few more minutes of sleep, or just get up and get it over with?
“Are you awake?”
“I am now,” Amanda said with a sleepy smile in her voice.
“Sorry. But I was just lying here thinking about Shirley Ann and the baby. Are you going to call her this morning or wait to hear from her?”
“If we don’t hear something by eight, I’ll call her. But don’t worry now. She’s in good hands.”
“I know that. But those pains she was having last night … If the baby comes soon, how early would it be?” “The baby is due July twentieth. And today is what?”
“I know that, silly.” She kicked him playfully under the sheets. “Wednesday, June seventeenth.”
“So that would mean it’s four more weeks and a few days to full term. She’ll be okay. They’ll be okay.”
“I still find it hard to believe that our sixteen-year-old daughter …”
“Seventeen!” she corrected him.
“Okay, seventeen-year-old daughter is about to be somebody’s mother.”
“And you, old man, are about to be somebody’s grandpa.”
“Don’t be so smug because you know that makes you …”
“Yeah, what does that make me?”
“That makes you the prettiest grandmother I’ve woken up next to … in weeks.”
“Okay, big boy, I can kick harder than that last one.”
“What? I said you were the prettiest—”
The ring of the phone stopped him in midsentence. Nothing is louder or more unsettling than a screaming telephone after bedtime or before breakfast. But as a police officer with the Mt. Jefferson force, he had learned to be a little less alarmed each time it rang. It was rarely good news, but it was almost always business. However, this morning—Shirley Ann weighed heavily on his mind—it could be personal. He reached for the receiver and picked it up in the middle of the second ring.
The pause after the initial hello was so long that Amanda sat up in bed, wide awake, so she could see the expression on his face. There was none. He was listening intently. It scared her that he wasn’t writing anything on the pad that always lay on the nightstand next to a pencil ready for middle-of-the-night note taking. Names and addresses were hurriedly scratched down before he would leap out of bed and jump into clothes that he invariably put out the night before for just such emergencies.
Amanda put her hand on his arm and quietly said, “What is it?” but he only shook his head slightly and kept listening. He finally said, “I’ll be right there” and then placed the phone back in its cradle.
He looked at her and said, “Harlan has been shot.”
“Oh, no! Harlan? What happened?”
“Intruder. At his house. Just a few minutes ago. He’s on his way to the hospital.” But Buddy Briggs still wasn’t moving. He lay back down and exhaled as if a bad day was just ending instead of beginning. Harlan Stone was one of the closest friends he had in the world.
“Should I go with you to be with Darcy and the boys? They’re all okay, aren’t they?” Amanda asked.
“Yeah. They’re okay.”
“How bad is it, Buddy? And I dread asking you that because I don’t want to hear it.
“He’s alive. But how bad? I’m not sure. Nobody is yet. That’s where I’ll go first. To the hospital. Then I’ll let you know.”
“I’ll go with you.”
“No. You stay here in case Shirley Ann calls. You may wind up at the hospital anyway if the baby comes early.”
He closed his eyes, and she rubbed his arm.
“Before I go, I need to call Cal,” Buddy said more to himself than to Amanda.
But before he could reach for the phone, a sudden loud voice startled them. “This is Crazy Charlie and it’s raging hot and the ole coffee pot is steaming and screaming and you lazy heads better get out of bed cause it’s five thirty-one and that lucky ole sun …”
Buddy slammed his fist hard on the Off button and dressed quickly in silence.
Amanda was at the counter pouring herself a cup of coffee when he walked past her and stopped at the kitchen phone on the wall. She knew, without looking, the number he was dialing. She could faintly hear Cal answer at the Methodist parsonage and then Buddy say, “Harlan has been shot. I’m on my way to the hospital. Meet me there.”