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Four Corners of Night

Four Corners of Night by Craig Holden
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In his critically acclaimed novels The River Sorrow and The Last Sanctuary, Craig Holden forged a powerful, poetic vision of the American heartland. Now the writer The New York Times calls "astonishing" returns to this haunting landscape in his newest work. At once a suspenseful search for the truth in a teenage girl's abduction and a multilayered rumination on family, love, and friendship, Four Corners of Night explores bold new terrain in literary suspense fiction.

It's 9:00 A.M. in an unnamed Midwestern city. Bank Arbaugh and Mack Steiner have just come off a typical night shift--patrolling the city, scaring off prostitutes, shaking up the usual suspects. Sitting in Denny's, waiting for bacon and eggs, they get a call over the radio: A teenage girl is missing. With a glance, the two cops--best friends since childhood, as close as brothers-- know their lives have shifted off balance, because seven years before, Bank's own daughter went missing and has not been found to this day.

Two parallel stories: two girls from opposite sides of town, seven years separating them. As evidence mounts, one case begins to illuminate the other, until finally, the inevitable conclusion is revealed. Craig Holden takes us on a harrowing journey into the night, and exposes not only the heart of a tattered American city, but also of two men whose lives are intertwined in loss, envy, and love.

Stunning, haunting, and unforgettable, Four Corners of Night is a book that makes us think about friendship, the stuff of heroism, and the meaning of truth. Holden stops at nothing to ask the question: To what lengths will we go to overlook what we don't want to see?
Random House Publishing Group; April 1999
384 pages; ISBN 9780440334026
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Title: Four Corners of Night
Author: Craig Holden
 
Excerpt
The call comes over on a Sunday morning. It comes while we sit in this old Denny's restaurant, now kind of weather beaten with a couple of broken, boarded-over windows, out toward the western part of the city, and wait for our Grand Slams.

"Buck ninety-nine," Bank says. "Who can afford not to eat this shit at that price?" He's said this over the years maybe fifty times in this restaurant with me.

The place has grown suddenly crowded with the church people. I remember that this is Palm Sunday for the Christians.

Neither Bank nor I say much anymore. We've been talking for nearly thirty years and have pretty well said what we have to say to each other. So we listen to the radio that Bank has carried in. Even here, off shift, after a long night of hammering, he can't let it go, cannot step out of the flow of garbage and pain. And when we hear an "All units" come over on channel four, we both sort of freeze and wait for it, although it is not our responsibility, because that's what we've been conditioned to do.

I do not know why this particular moment strikes me so vividly, the moment these words come over. I have no reason to think it is significant. But for some reason, a premonition perhaps, a detective's instinct--which is a thing worth trusting, I learned long ago--my brain chooses this tick out of the millions of the day to freeze. The way the sunlight slants through the wide window and strikes the table, warming my arms. The way smoke drifts over from the next booth, blue-white and languid, hanging in the sunlit air. The rubbery pink burn scars that mar Bank's throat and forehead and the sides of his face, and the fingerless gloves he still wears over his damaged hands. The angle of his head, the same look of concentration in his eyes I saw for the first time in 1967, three quarters of our lifetimes ago.

I cannot call it, in itself, a remarkable moment but I recognize it for what it is: a deceiver, a moment which tries to disguise itself as just another beat in the continuum when in fact it is something more than that. What, exactly, of course, I do not know.


The night before, from eleven to seven, we rode: the North End, directly above the downtown, what was once the old Polish and Hungarian towns but has become a cracked-out wasteland; Central-North, to the west, which is still working class, small bungalows and narrow two-stories built in the factory neighborhoods of the forties, still held together by nurses and guys who drive local trucks or work at the PO; and the East Side, which is a land unto itself.

I wasn't working, exactly, just riding along with Bank, which I try to do whenever I'm on call. I work days out of the Personal Crimes Section of the newly formed Investigative Services Division, but cruising with Bank keeps my toes in the muddy water of the late-night city, keeps me tapped into a side of its business that rolls up and goes away with the rising of the sun. Since the restructuring of our force, though, a year or so back, when the new Command did away with the old squad system, my on-call time has dropped dramatically, so that now I end up working only a night or two each month.

Old Bank, though, who at various times was my official partner, and who before that became my best friend the year we turned nine years old, has for years now worked a graveyard felony car alone except for those few nights I ride along with him.

Bank has some seniority. He has a rep. He has plenty of admiration on the force and in the city at large, and everyone knows he could walk the sergeant's exam. Bank is also, to a fair degree, famous in our city and even beyond. He's been the subject of local and regional television and newspaper profiles, a slick magazine article or two, and has even appeared on a couple of those nationally syndicated cop shows. The press loves him, and the public does too. More than once he has been asked to make an appearance at a school or some ceremony. And he does it, wearing a turtleneck to cover the worst of his scarred neck. But always, then, it's back out into the night. He won't give it up. He's a maverick. That's just the word. A cowboy riding around crack town all night, stirring up the dogies whenever he can, saying hey to all his dealer snitches, his buddies, ruffling the crack whores with his bright twelve-volt spotlight plugged into the car's cigarette lighter. Them holding their hands up over their eyes and c
lucking like hens in their house--"Mm. Ah. Wha'choo want?" "Who izzat?" Cluck, cluck, cluck.

"Girl," Bank always says, and it was no different on this night, "it's the po-lice."

"Shit. Bank? That you? Shit. S'Bank."

"Cold out here tonight, girl," he said. "Only a couple more days." Meaning they'd be getting their government checks after the first of the month, which would buy their dope for maybe two weeks, so they could take a break from selling it. The second half of the month was their busy time.

"Mm-hm," the one said, a tall, ugly big-thighed girl in a dirty fake-fur jacket and tights. "Boyfriend gone snatch it up anyway. Don't matter."

"You need yourself a new boyfriend."

"Shit," she said. "No shit on that, Mister Po-lice."

Bank said, "Don't even let me catch you doing nothing ee-legal out here. You got it?"

"Us? We jus' takin' the night air," she said, and they all cackled.

"I'll be back by in an hour," said Bank, meaning if they were still here he might consider them to be loitering, if not soliciting as well.

"Hey, Bank," the whore said. "You know what?"

"What?"

"You my hero."

The girls broke up into laughter, and Bank laughed, and I laughed, and he killed the bright light and we drove on.

The streets at night are covered by squad cars, uniformed patrolmen. In addition, the city requires there to be a detective present at the scene of any felony arrest. Our city is not terribly large--something like four hundred thousand, double that for the metro area--so these late nights are left to a handful of felony-car dicks who handle anything that comes up, except homicides and cases requiring long-term investigations: arsons, complex robberies, that sort of thing. An on-call day-shift detective is dragged out for these. But otherwise, f-cars manage the nights. This is their job, just to be there.

Most other f-car men I know wait for the phone, riding their desks except when they can't help it, when the phone rings and they have to jump out to a scene. Then it's back in to the Public Safety Building, process the collar, call a squad for a transport, snag some coffee, and start picking away at that stack of paperwork. Until the phone rings again.

But Bank, he stays out, prowling, working the city, watching the buys and the bars and the whores. He carries four different radios with him, to monitor all the bands of the city, and he responds to every call he can, often arriving on scenes before the first squad cars. And when there are no calls, he goes out and finds one:

A kid, say, black, white, Hispanic, walking down the street at 1:00 A.M., hands in pockets. Bank will shine him with the big light, hit him in the face and blind him. If the kid stops, closes his eyes, and cocks his head off to one side, pulls his hands out of the pockets, he's okay. Bank lowers the light and rides on. If he bolts, though, Bank is off after him, out of the car and hauling ass through the ghetto, chasing a boy who an observer might think probably did nothing but got scared.

But it's never that way. They've always done something or got something or know something that allows Bank to bring them downtown and process them. Carrying a crack pipe or a rock, a BB gun, or a real one for that matter, some cash they can't explain. Even if it's only that they're wearing red or green shoelaces, which are gang signs, he'll run them in for violating the city's curfew. And the thing about Bank is, half the time he finds a way to drum up a felony charge where any other cop would see a misdemeanor, or even nothing. Take the BB-gun example. Bank might view that as "possession of tools to commit a felony." He'll figure the kid was out perping robberies with what looks, in the dark, like a real gun. So he'll make the bust, do the paperwork, and go to court to see it through. Often as not these cases get thrown out either by the prosecuting attorneys or the judges, but Bank keeps right on running them in, making everybody work harder than they want to.

Bank's willing to do more paperwork than any other cop I've ever met, and in the end, I suppose, that is one of the secrets of his success. He suffers endless bullshit and red tape to make his version of the system work the way it's supposed to.

The radios crackled and spoke in cop talk, two in the backseat, one on the dash, and one, tuned to Band 4, for the North End and the East Side, the hot one, stuck between Bank's legs, so he could get to it in an instant, without any fumbling in the dark.

Our Saturday night filled with small-time busts--robberies, assaults, dope buys, one aggravated burglary stopped in progress on a dispatch call that we beat the squads to (a kid carrying a TV set from a building in the Lloyd DuShane Homes, a huge East Side housing project), and so on. It didn't faze Bank at all that five of our perps were fifteen years old. Fifteen seems to be the high age of crime. Though I came up through the old Juvenile Squad, I still stop and wonder about this sometimes but Bank just presses on.

Bank likes it when I work a night with him. I not only ride along while he cruises, but then help him pull up the jackets, type the reports and requests for juvenile transfers and so forth, even run the collars around to the Juvie Hall or County, wherever they're headed. So, although he was officially off shift at seven, it was only after nine that we finally landed in the Denny's and ordered our food.

And so the call comes: "Available units, respond to the report of a child missing at 230 King's Court." Dispatch is Carla this morning. Her voice sounds cool and uninflected. Bank raises his ruined eyebrows at me as we listen to the patrols talking it over on the air, to the first descriptions of the scene. I wait to see his reaction.

"Three oh six. What d'you got goin'?"

Dispatch: "Three oh six, a woman says her daughter disappeared. Twelve-year-old daughter."

A young missing almost-teenager on a Sunday morning is surely either a runaway or, more likely, the result of a long Saturday-night party. The girls especially, when they show up at home, finally, with suck marks on the neck and dirty, rumpled clothing, they tell a good story about how they were abducted and violated all night long. Happens every weekend.

Bank and I are kind of smirking at each other when the radio pops again: "Three twenty to three oh six, we're here, ah, at the scene. She's pretty hysterical, the mother. This girl's out riding a bike a few minutes ago, they, ah, find the bike, no girl. Reports of, ah . . . might be that a car drove by shortly beforehand with two black males in the front seat. Followed the girl around a corner."

So this is something different. I watch Bank, again waiting for his reaction.

Dispatch: "Three two oh, code seven three. Investigative Services has been notified." This means very high priority. The only thing higher is a code seven one, officer in need of assistance, or a seven one red, an officer down.

"Three oh six responding, code seven three."

The airwaves fill with the chatter as more squads and the first detectives arrive at the scene, as it becomes apparent that this is maybe the real thing, a kid missing from a possible drive-by grab, a relatively rare crime, a potentially huge situation. And one that dredges up for us both, but especially for Bank, echoes of the soundless pleas of another child gone missing, echoes of the worst moments either of us has ever known.

And yet Bank has this look on his face, of a kind of horrified rapture. He has already lifted the radio, in preparation of our leaving.

"We're there, buddy," he says.

But I am no longer on call; Bank's off duty. We have no business at this scene. And more than that, to be honest, I feel some trepidation: at facing this situation again, at feeling that utter helplessness, the lack of any control, any ability to affect the outcome. Of standing in the river of some mother's grief and feeling my own worthlessness.

The Grand Slams have just arrived: two eggs over, toast, bacon, pancakes, and coffee. I feel starved and exhausted after the long night. I imagine, I long for, that rich sensation of crawling into my cool morning bed, narcotized with heavy food, to wake only after noon into the glare and disorientation of high daylight. There is no way we can scarf all this down. But Bank looks like he'll die on me right here if we don't respond.

I shake my head.

He nods.

"Mack," he says, in the same voice he has used to cajole me for twenty-nine years.

I had actually wondered if he'd feel up to it, if he could face it. Up to it? No force, least of all me, can keep him from that scene.

He leaves me no choice in the end except to surrender. But then, that has always been the way.

In hindsight, in history, perhaps I will come to understand the place of this moment, its meaning, what makes it remarkable, why I have frozen it in this way, so that it will remain preserved in my mind, where it can perpetually happen. Or perhaps not. In any case, I cannot foresee what is coming, but I sense something in its nascence, and it frightens me.

A missing girl. She is an essential part of our story, of Bank's and mine, the heart of it, really. And now here is another who has cried out to us in some way that Bank hears more clearly than I.

We all, I suppose, reenact our lives over and over again, each moment an echo, a mimicking of some other. And the sums of these moments, the hours and months, are echoes as well, of patterns we set before we could ever have understood such things.

I roll my bacon up in the pancakes, lay the toast on top, wrap it all in a napkin, and take a good swig of the coffee, which burns my mouth. Bank does the same. We'll live longer without the eggs, anyway. Bank points a finger at the waitress, meaning we'll catch up to her later and pay the bill, and we're gone, out into the sunlight of a new holy day.
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ISBNs
0440334020
9780385316255
9780440334026