by Nino E, Green
Officer Harvey Lalonde felt awful. The thirty-two-year old, seven-year veteran of the Ontonagon Village Police Department suffered from major symptoms of the influenza that started sweeping across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in late November. It was now the middle of March, Saint Patrick’s Day, and the usual, late winter blizzards and below zero cold spells would soon be fading into a damp and chilling spring, but the snow drifts probably would not be entirely gone until the middle of May. Harvey, who had neglected to get a flu shot, thought he would be spared. Instead, he was in feverish misery.
Harvey lived alone in a small, two-bedroom bungalow that he shared with his wife, Joyce, before she left him for a local school teacher. The marriage lasted slightly more than five years, with Harvey working rotating shifts in a patrol car and Joyce working days as a nurse aide in a convalescent home. They rarely were able to spend time together, and when they did they usually quarreled, mostly about money. It seemed there was never enough. And, they quarreled about children. She wanted to have them; he was never ready.
But that was a year ago and now Harvey no longer missed her, or at least not much. These days, they only ran into one another at the supermarket or at Mac’s Bar, a popular, local watering hole. They rarely spoke to one another beyond exchanging frosty hellos. The schoolteacher taught biology and Harvey recently heard that Joyce was pregnant. Practice what you preach. Too bad she didn’t run off with a taxidermist.
Harvey’s body ached, his head throbbed, his mouth was dry, and his lips felt parched. He was alternately chilled and feverish, and when he tried to eat a soft boiled egg, his stomach recoiled, and he had to stifle a spasm of nausea. He went to his medicine cabinet only to find that he was out of aspirin, and it hadn’t occurred to him that he might someday have a need for Kaopectate or Pepto Bismol. It was Saturday night and he was due to report for an eleven to seven, graveyard shift in less than an hour. No way, he thought as he picked up the phone in his bedroom and dialed the police dispatcher. Harvey was much too sick to work.
“Hello, Laurie? It’s me, Harvey LaLonde. I can’t come in tonight. I’m down with the flu, big time. The Chief will have to get someone to cover my shift. I’m taking sick leave. I’m off the schedule tomorrow and Monday. I hope that I can shake this thing by Tuesday. That’s when I’m back on days.”
He hung up the phone and went to the kitchen where he opened a cabinet looking for his fifth of brandy. Gone. He remembered that he finished it off a couple of days ago and had not replenished it. He went back to the living room and sat in his easy chair for several minutes, thinking. Then he got up, went to the closet in the front hallway and put on his winter coat, wrapped a scarf around his neck and went out the front door. He crossed the walk to his driveway and his 1974 Ford Pinto. He craved something soothing, perhaps a shot of peach brandy or peppermint Schnapps. Mac’s Bar was only a couple of blocks away.
While Harvey made his way through a bone-chilling mist to Mac’s Bar in Ontonagon, fifty-three-year-old Jerry Lampi, clocked out at the Baraga Correctional Facility near the village of L’Anse, at the end of his three to eleven afternoon shift. It was a foggy night and Lampi cautiously drove his ’78 Ford Bronco slower than usual. His wife would be sleeping, but he was wide awake and decided to stop in to see what, if anything, was going on at the American Legion Hall on North Front Street a mile before he would reach his home north of L’Anse.
The hall’s parking lot was full of cars and pickup trucks, but it wasn’t the usual, late night, Saint Patrick’s Day gathering he was hoping for. A wedding reception that began earlier in the evening was still in progress, and the lights of the hall were faintly visible through the bank of fog that was rolling in from the West, over the softening ice on the southern end of Keweenaw Bay. A tan, 1980 Oldsmobile Cutlass, decked out in crepe banners and balloons, sat at the edge of the parking lot.
Jerry drove past the hall, through the wet curtain that enveloped his automobile as his windshield wipers worked to keep the moisture from obscuring his vision. He hadn’t gone more than several yards beyond the point where the light from the Legion Hall faded into darkness when he both felt and heard a dull, sickening thump beneath his Bronco. At the same time, he felt the steering wheel twist in his hands, enough to make him tighten his grip as he pressed his right foot against the brake pedal and came to an abrupt stop several feet beyond whatever it was that had jarred and startled him.
Sixty miles to the West, Ontonagon Police Chief Harold Mattson was in a foul mood as he sat in a patrol car, waiting for the engine to begin generating some heat. The night wasn’t extremely cold, but the dampness was chilling and penetrating. His wife urged him to wear a heavier jacket, but he opted for the warmth of his vehicle’s heater. Why does it have to take so damn long, he wondered as he sat shivering?
Chief Mattson was unable to find a last minute replacement for Harvey LaLonde, who called in sick. The other members of Mattson’s small department either weren’t home, according to whoever it was that answered the telephone, or there was no answer. It was just like LaLonde to be sick on a Saint Patrick’s Day Saturday night, and a miserable one at that. Mattson was beginning to think that returning to his home town might have been a mistake.
Mattson left Ontonagon as a teenager, one week after he graduated from high school. He spent eight years as a member of the Military Police Corps of the United States Army before becoming a street cop in Chicago, where he worked his way up to the rank of Lieutenant. But he yearned to be top dog in his own department, and he settled for the job of Chief of Police in his home town.
Not quite fifty-seven years old, Chief Mattson was a strict law and order cop, unlike Lalonde and the other hometown boys working under his command. They were part of a buddy system that routinely ignored many of the less serious transgressions of Ontonagon’s citizenry. His officers broke up bar fights without making arrests and gave drunk drivers a ride home instead of locking them up. They were admired and appreciated by the local townsfolk who, at the same time, disliked and distrusted the Chief. Mattson didn’t care. He did everything by the book. Being a cop wasn’t a popularity contest.
The Chief was filling in for Harvey Lalonde because he could not bring himself to let a shift go unmanned, even though there was not much happening on this cold and foggy, late Saturday night in Ontonagon after most Saint Patrick’s Day celebrants went home. Syl’s Cafe closed an hour ago and River Street was deserted except for the few cars parked in front of Mac’s Bar, including one that was depressingly familiar. The beat up, 1974 Ford Pinto with the dented, passenger-side door belonged to Officer Harvey LaLonde. There was no doubt in Chief Mattson’s mind about that.
At the American Legion Hall in L’Anse, the wedding celebration of Darlene O’Grady, nee White, was the premier event of the young bride’s life until the moment that her new husband, Sean O’Grady, whose surname she had just acquired, passed out from a combination of grief for the loss of his bachelorhood and an excess of champagne. The several snorts of Jameson that he downed before the ceremony also had helped to pave the way to his untimely nap.
Darlene, mortified, fled from the hall into the foggy night, dragging her wedding gown with her. She was still wearing it, lying face down on the cold, damp pavement of North Front Street, when Jerry Lampi drove his car across her prone body. Darlene was pronounced dead at the scene, and an autopsy performed the following morning revealed multiple fractures, severe organ damage and internal bleeding. Her blood tested negative for the presence of alcohol, although several of the wedding guests later claimed that they had seen Darlene sipping champagne earlier in the evening.
Several weeks after the Saint Patrick’s Day fog lifted, longer days were stirring hopes of an early spring, and Ernie Hunter had some new clients. Harvey Lalonde from Ontonagon wanted his job back and his union hired Ernie to get it for him. Stanley and Luella White from L’Anse wanted compensation for the death of their daughter and they wanted Ernie to sue for it. Ernie accepted both cases, even though each had an uncertain likelihood for a favorable outcome. Lalonde was caught drinking in a tavern on a night when he took paid sick leave from his job. Darlene was run over by an automobile while lying in a traffic lane of a fog- shrouded street during a moonless night in March. Ernie was not heartened by the odds, but he was unable to resist the challenge or, as it were, the challenges.
In Risking Justice, Ernie Hunter, a/k/a Ernie the Attorney, discovers that his skill as a lawyer isn’t always good enough to win the day. Sometimes it takes a lucky break. Whether a case involves a serious enterprise or plain tomfoolery, Ernie knows that his client believes that the cause is just. He also knows that the quest for justice can be a fools errand. Ernie’s story is about the real world cases that a lawyer grapples with on a daily basis and the unexpected vents that can turn an open and shut case into a gamble. As Ernie rolls the dice, he can only hope that his client’s lucky numbers will be in play.