There were days when Grogan pitied any man who, through accident of birth or lack of determination, failed to become Chief of Police. Who would not want the authority, the beautiful blue uniform, the shiny badge and pistol, not to mention the respect and admiration of one’s fellow townspeople?
There were also days, alas, when he would have gladly traded his job for a two-cent cigar and not even asked for a match.
Today was one of the latter kind.
This Saturday boasted the biggest game of the summer, with his town’s beloved team battling their long-time rivals, the much-despised Plainfield Panthers. Anyone with a sporting soul and a lick of sense was at the baseball grounds on the edge of town, reveling in the great American pastime.
But not Grogan. Not the dedicated and hard-working Chief of Police.
During the night some fool had scribbled a chalk drawing of the Mayor on the side wall of the Emporium, the largest and fanciest store in the metropolis. It was not, critics might agree, the most accurate nor artistic of portraits. More importantly, it was not flattering either.
The Mayor expected Grogan to lay hands on the culprit, even if he had to interrogate everyone tall enough to draw the hobo-style busted fedora shown jauntily perched on His Honor’s head.
It was worth noting that the Mayor was the owner of the Emporium and, not coincidentally, the wealthiest man in town.
Grogan had spent the morning interviewing everyone who might possibly have seen the culprit at work. Not surprisingly, few men and no women were willing to admit to wandering around Main Street in the wee hours. Mudville was not that sort of town.
By noon there were few people left for Grogan to talk to but he knew he had to appear to be searching for clues, which meant staying downtown, much as he would prefer to be out at the ball grounds. He sent Sanford and Vaughn, the only other full-time members of the force, to protect the public and keep peace at the game. Both of those stalwarts reacted as if they had won the strawberry pie at the county fair.
The only people whose windows might have allowed them to peer into the vacant lot were those staying in Mrs. Thayer’s house. She had rooms to let for visitors. But Mrs. Thayer informed him that all her current guests had come to town for the biggest game of the season and, naturally enough, they were out at the grounds now.
Grogan sighed as he made one more circle through the vacant lot next to the Emporium. What a waste of his valuable time. Was he supposed to be down on hands and knees, crawling through the lot for clues like the hero of some dime novel?
And where was the Mayor? At the baseball game, of course. Basking in the home team’s glory and enjoying the exhibition of athleticism. It was just—
Grogan looked up startled. He had been so tangled in his own misery that he hadn’t heard Officer Sanford approaching. That meant being well and truly distracted, because the thin young man was red-faced and gasping. Surely he had made quite a racket running up Main Street.
“Ah, Sanford. Very kind of you to come with the news. How did we do?”
The youngster was goggle-eyed. “What do you mean, sir?”
Grogan tried to be patient. “I assume the game is over.”
“Yes, sir. But—”
“Did we triumph?”
Sanford struggled with that big word for a moment. “No, sir. We lost. But that’s not important.”
“Not important?” Grogan was shocked at this heresy. “What could be more—”
“Chief, there’s been a murder!”
When was the last time some poor soul had been slain in Mudville? That’s what Grogan wondered as he ran toward the baseball grounds. (He had sent Sanford to the stables to harness horses to the police wagon, but that task would take longer than it would take him to go by foot.)
Mrs. Gunter had killed her husband with a frying pan, back when Grogan was a boy. People still reveled in the details of the tragedy as if it had happened yesterday. Mudville did not suffer the high crime rate of sinful metropolises such as Ashtabula or Goshen.