AS THE CREDITS HAD ROLLED on Dorothy and her friends, the Captain had put on his uniform, gun, and vest for his part-time job as a cop and said goodnight to his family. “I’ll see you all tomorrow afternoon when I get done at the prison. I have the next few days off, and we’ll do something as a family.” LeAnn rolled her eyes. Maura squeezed LeAnn’s hand. By some magic, his wife was still able to talk his eldest into family outings.
The Captain put in only a few hours a week as a road officer in the small village of Campbell, about fifteen miles west of his home. The second job allowed Maura to work on her art and be a stay-at-home Mom, and he enjoyed the work, though the short nights of sleep made getting up in the morning to go to the joint a bit of a challenge.
Maura was worth it. She was the most beautiful woman the Captain had ever known, with long dark hair and the exotic look of a Gypsy; her dad’s parents were first-generation Americans from Romania. After twenty-five years of marriage and two kids, she was as slim and trims as the day they’d met — and every bit as smart, comforting, and inspiring. As an artist, Maura had recently started making a name for herself.
That night, as usual, the house was dark and quiet when he returned from Campbell at midnight. In her sleep, Maura turned to snuggle him. And then the alarm rang.
At 4:45, the Captain rose to shower, shave and dress. He put on his Corrections uniform, always cleaned and pressed, and as he buckled the black basket-weave leather duty belt, he automatically checked his equipment, running his hands around the belt. He knew by feel where everything belonged: handcuffs, maglight, glove pouch, key rings, radio case and badge were all in place. Over the left pocket flap of his white uniform shirt, his gold name-tag might as well have been blank. Nobody ever called him anything but Captain, or sometimes simply “Cap” Two ink pens jutted from the pocket, their chrome barrels glinting. In the bathroom mirror, he adjusted his shirt collar so that the shiny-gold double bars stood at the right angle. Captains wore two; lieutenants, the second- in-command among line officers, wore one, also on white shirts. The officers who ranked under them wore blue shirts with their rank on their sleeves: a Department of Corrections patch on the left shoulder and an American flag on the right.
The Captain put on the dreaded bifocals. He couldn’t help seeing them as a sign of weakness and age, though Maura called them distinguished. He was thankful, in any case, that he could see well enough without them. Unlike most people his age, it was mostly his long-distance vision that was going. He could still read in decent light without glasses.
He cocked his head and got a satisfying “pop” from his neck. He looked pretty good: six-foot four inches tall, and weighing- in at two hundred and seventy-five. He had Hazel eyes, and his “dishwater-blond hair” was graying and thinning a bit. He attributed the hair loss to one of two things: either he was simply getting old, or, number two; he had scraped away his hair from smacking his head getting in and out of cars dozens of times a day. In his youth, his hair had hung to his shoulders. He often joked that it was the only thing about him that was thinning. But he’d never been skinny. The extra weight he carried had always been there, and he had learned to accept it, as he was learning to accept the inevitable changes of time.
He clipped the ridiculous black necktie to his collar, a reminder of the arbitrary power of Security Director William Thorson. No sooner had Thorson promoted and transferred in to NWSP — the North Wood State Prison — than he’d dictated the new rule that all captains and lieutenants would wear neck ties with their winter uniforms. North Wood was the only prison in the state with such a dress code. The gold tie clip that his wife had given him for their thirtieth anniversary helped mitigate his irritation with the tie, but as he gazed at his reflection, his fingers fumbling to attach clip to tie, he thought, ”another bunch of bullshit from a petty dictator.”
He put the lid down on the toilet, propped up one foot, and leaned down to pull on his boots. He had found a pair of black hiking boots that fit like slippers — the most comfortable thing he wore. He dressed in the bathroom to avoid waking Maura, and it was his boots that used to make the most noise. He inevitably dropped one if he sat on the bed to pull them on, and if he tried to put them on standing up, he hopped around like a deranged gorilla. This way, using the toilet as footstool, allowed for a calm precision, right down through tying the laces.
He made his way by habit through the darkened house, grabbing from the entry-hall closet on his way out a dark-blue, waist-length uniform coat. Like his shirt, the coat was adorned on each epaulet with Captain’s bars. He pulled the fur collar tight around his throat and went out into the cold, crisp autumn morning.
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