Out of Season Online - Steven F. Havill


My polished-mahogany desktop was almost the way I’d left it earlier that Friday afternoon—unmarred except for the computer terminal and its ancillary junk: the old leather-edged desk blotter, one black felt-tip pen, and an empty wooden in-and-out letter tray.

In an effort to call my attention to them, a sheaf of papers had been dropped into the middle of all that organization. I wasn’t in the mood for paperwork, but as I sagged back into the comforting curves of my swivel chair, I recognized Sheriff Martin Holman’s precise penmanship on a Post-it note spotted to the front of the first sheet.

I dug my glasses out of my pocket, slipped them on and saw that the papers were a Posadas County Sheriff’s Department job application.

“I think you should talk with her,” the sheriff’s note said.

“Talk with whom?” I muttered aloud and scanned the first page of the application. “Well, for heaven’s sake.”

I leaned back in my leather chair and started reading at the top. So engrossed was I that the telephone buzzed half a dozen times before my hand drifted over to pick it up.

“Gastner,” I said, still reading.

“Sir, this is Linda Real calling.”

I let the application fall in my lap. “An unexpected surprise, too,” I said. “How are you doing?”

“Fine. Sir, Sheriff Holman said you might be in the office this afternoon, and he said he’d pass my application along to you.”

“I am, and he did,” I said, and leaned forward, spreading the application out on the blotter. I rested on my elbows, frowning. “In fact, I was just going through it when you called.” As I said that, I turned the page to read the section that included medical history and the attached physician’s report. “I didn’t know that you were back in town.”

She chuckled. “I think my mother got tired of me hanging around,” she said. “Anyway, I got kinda burned out in the big city. It’s not very user-friendly.”

“I can imagine.”

“Do you think I could come in and talk with you? I know it’s a Friday afternoon and all, but…”

“I think that would be a good idea, Linda,” I said. I didn’t bother to add that Fridays didn’t hold much attraction for me one way or another. The clean desk was not the result of an end-of-the-week wrap-up with an exciting weekend vacation looming. All that tidy organization was just a momentary lapse, a giving-in to a brief episode of spring cleaning. In a week’s time, I wouldn’t be able to see the wooden surface. “Where are you now?”

“I’m at Estelle’s.”

“Ah,” I said, sensing a conspiracy. Estelle Reyes-Guzman, the department’s chief of detectives, had another week or so before she and her physician husband, Francis, left Posadas for the wilds of Rochester, Minnesota. “Have her bring you over, if you’re both free.” I glanced at the wall clock. “Better yet, let’s meet for dinner.” Only a limited number of opportunities remained for Estelle to feast on New Mexican green chili before she had to face raw fish, or sauerkraut, or whatever else the Minnesotans called food.

There was a pause. “Did you have a chance to read Dr. Guzman’s report?”

“No. I see it, though. By the time we meet, I’ll have the whole thing memorized.” I kept my tone light.

“I’d really like to have the opportunity to respond to some of the things he said in that,” Linda Real said.

I leaned back and stared at the ceiling. “Well, then, how about it? Dinner?” Somehow, talking between mouthfuls of food seemed more gentle than me sitting on one side of a big old desk with her on the other side, hands folded in her lap, looking wee and small.

“Yes, sir.”

“Then I’ll meet you at the Don Juan at about six. If Estelle can come, that’s fine. Francis too, if he can make it. We’ll see what we can do.”

She thanked me and hung up, and I slipped the phone back in its cradle. Breaking bad news to a stranger was far easier than letting down someone whose life I had once held in my hands. I leafed through the application to the blue medical attachment, a requirement if a positive answer was given for line 17: Do you possess any physical limitation(s) that might compromise your performance in the position for which you are applying?

Dr. Francis Guzman, the official on-call physician for our department, had been his usual plainspoken self, but I could imagine him trying to word the statement so that it told the unvarnished truth and at the