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“Everything okay here?” said a cop inside.
Shadow’s first, automatic instinct was to say Yup, everything’s just fine and jimdandy thank you officer. But it was too late for that, and he started to say, “I think I’m freezing. I was walking into Lakeside to buy food and clothes, but I underestimated the length of the walk”—he was that far through the sentence in his head, when he realized that all that had came out was “F-f-freezing,” and a chattering noise, and he said, “So s-sorry. Cold. Sorry.”
The cop pulled open the back door of the car and said, “You get in there this moment and warm yourself up, okay?” Shadow climbed in gratefully, and he sat in the back and rubbed his hands together, trying not to worry about frostbitten toes. The cop got back in the driver’s seat. Shadow stared at him through the metal grille. Shadow tried not to think about the last time he’d been in the back of a police car, or to notice that there were no door handles in the back, and to concentrate instead on rubbing life back into his hands. His face hurt and his red fingers hurt, and now, in the warmth, his toes were starting to hurt once more. That was, Shadow figured, a good sign.
The cop put the car in drive and moved off. “You know, that was,” he said, not turning to look at Shadow, just talking a little louder, “if you’ll pardon me saying so, a real stupid thing to do. You didn’t hear any of the weather advisories? It’s minus thirty out there. God alone knows what the windchill is, minus sixty, minus seventy, although I figure when you’re down at minus thirty, windchill’s the least of your worries.”
“Thanks,” said Shadow. “Thanks for stopping. Very, very grateful.”
“Woman in Rhinelander went out this morning to fill her bird feeder in her robe and carpet slippers and she froze, literally froze, to the sidewalk. She’s in intensive care now. It was on the TV this morning. You’re new in town.” It was almost a question, but the man knew the answer already.
“I came in on the Greyhound last night. Figured today I’d buy myself some warm clothes, food, and a car. Wasn’t expecting this cold.”
“Yeah,” said the cop. “It took me by surprise as well. I was too busy worrying about global warming. I’m Chad Mulligan. I’m the chief of police here in Lakeside.”
The scent of a steaming mug of hot chocolate.