Fording the River

Ted slid his water bottle into his cruiser’s cup holder and checked his mirrors. He grinned as a Ford zoomed up behind him.

As soon as the Ford saw the silver POLICE scrawled across the side of Ted’s black cruiser, they slowed from ten miles over the speed limit to five.

Ted considered flipping on his lights, but it was midafternoon, just after the lunch rush and right before school let out. The streets were slick from the melting snow, but they were in good condition.

Ted sped up, fifty-two in a forty-five zone. He was the only cop in this area, so why not?

Ford followed suit, trailing a few feet behind Ted in the right lane.

The light turned red, and they both came to a gradual stop. Ted looked at Ford.

He was a middle-aged man, clean shaven with buzzed salt and pepper hair, but his jaw was square and strong and his brow was free from excessive wrinkles. Ford glanced at Ted and apologized with a half wave and a dip of his chin.

Ted smiled and waved back, then jerked his head at the light and revved his cruiser’s engine. It purred like a panther.

Ford frowned then revved his truck. It roared like a black bear.

Ted chuckled nervously. If anyone found out he dared a citizen to a street race, he would be fired. He’d been on the force for two years, and only within the last few months did they allow him his own cruiser and patrols.

He read Ford’s lips ask, “You sure?”

The look in Ford’s eyes reminded Ted of his father the day he graduated high school and applied to the force. “You sure you can handle it?” His father had asked.

Ted’s resolve hardened like it had back then. He’d show Ford like he’d shown his father. He was up to any challenge.

He smirked and revved his engine louder. “Bring it on, old man.”

He wasn’t sure whether Ford understood, but the frown disappeared and Ford mouthed, “You’re on.” Then he gunned it.

Ted had missed the light turning, and his distraction cost him. His tires squealed as he floored it, the engine protesting against such rough handling. Adrenaline coursed through his veins as the odometer climbed rapidly. Ford had a good head start, but the cruiser was built for high speed chases. Ted caught up quickly, and in no time he was ahead.

Fifty-five. Sixty. Sixty-five. Seventy.

The next light was just beyond the curvy strip next to the flight school. Ted slowed out of habit and Ford took advantage of Ted’s instinct to speed past him. Ted laughed but it morphed into a gasp as the sheen of unmelted ice blinded him. He slammed on the brakes. The cruiser fishtailed, but he regained control.

His sigh of relief never made it past his lips as a cacophony of metal grating across metal rang through his skull. He slowed to a stop as his mouth fell open.

Ford had hit the ice going seventy, swerved completely around, then slammed into the curb. The truck flipped as it struck the fence to the air field, and now lay upside down, a smoldering husk of twisted metal in the snow.

Ted jumped the curb and parked next to the fence. As he got out, he radioed for an ambulance.

He jogged to the overturned cab, the hood belching out thick, black smoke. Ted knelt carefully on the glass strewn ground. “Sir? Can you hear me?”

Ford’s head was turned at an awkward angle, blood coursing up his forehead and into his hair, but at Ted’s question, his eyes flickered open. “Loud and-” Ford coughed. “Clear.”

“Alright, I’m going to pull you out of there. It’s gonna hurt.”

“Ready when you are.”

Ted sliced the seat belt, and Ford slipped into Ted’s arms. He dragged him a safe distance from the smoking truck then checked for injuries.

Broken ribs, concussion with laceration, definitely internal bruising and bleeding. Yet Ford hadn’t screamed once. Ted chalked it up to shock.

“You radioed in?” Ford asked.

Ted blinked in surprise. “Yes. An ambulance will be here soon.” But as Ford’s eyes glazed over, Ted realized that soon might not be soon enough and remorse surged up from his chest. “I’m sorry.” This wouldn’t have happened if he’d just been a good cop!

“No, it… Was my fault, too. You’re a good cop, son. Protecting the people. But not uptight like some I’ve known.”

Ted tried to get a handle on the sobs strangling themselves in his throat. He’d seen plenty of crime scenes. Why now? But Ted already knew why. Ford’s grizzled face looked like his father’s as he lay dying of cancer, smiling, telling him it’d be okay even though nothing would ever be the same again.

“The truth will get you fired, won’t it?” Ford’s breathing rattled in his chest.

Ted made to shake his head, but all he managed was a tight grimace.

“Thought so,” Ford rasped. “Let’s say I was speeding, hit the ice wrong. We’ll blame it on the three cups of coffee I had before driving. Sound good?”

Ted nodded mechanically, helpless.

“Got any water?” Ford croaked.

“In my car.”

“Mind getting it?” Ford wheezed. Ted didn’t want to leave, but Ford’s, “Please,” drove him to run for the water bottle. When he returned, Ford no longer needed the water.

Ted clicked on his radio. “Time of death… 1:47 pm…”

***
The following day, Ted’s boss called him into his office.

“I want you to know that you did the right thing, Officer Hurling.”

“What do you mean, sir?” Ted asked dully.

“That man who died in the car accident you were on scene for? Government assassin just released from prison.”

Shock coursed down Ted’s spine.

“Good riddance,” his boss snorted. “That’s one less criminal in the world.”

“Yes, sir.” Ted nodded then slipped out of the office so his boss didn’t see his tears.

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