Harry Hogan Series


Harry Hogan - Slip-Sliding Away

Bertie Blackett scrambled across the floor and picked up her phone. "Hello?"

"Are you at home?"

"It's seven in the morning, Hogan. Where else would I be on a Saturday?"

"Good. I suggest you stay there for the rest of the day."

"What are you talking about?"

"Look out the window," he said.

Bertie ran to the kitchen window and looked outside. "Holy crow! I can't believe it!" She heard a chuckle at the other end of the line. "Yeah, I know it's January, but it was so nice when I went to bed last night. What happened?"

"Well, it ain't nice now," Harry said. "Every street in town is a sheet of ice. Vehicles have been sliding all over the place, keeping tow-trucks busy. Police are advising everyone to stay home."

"Believe me, I will. What about you?"

"I'm used to dealing with unexpected things, even weather related, and I put the chains on the truck this morning. I'm helping the boys check on the seniors, making sure they're all okay and telling them to call the station if they encounter any problems."

"That's nice."

"I just came from Miss Pinkerton's. Her lights were on so I called but she told me she's fine."

"She's one smart lady," Bertie said. "Always thinking ahead and prepared for emergencies."

Harry chuckled. "That she is. How about you? Is there anything you need?"

"Thanks, but I'm good." She laughed. "I have better timing than I thought because I actually picked up groceries yesterday. And I have power."

"Okay. Call me if you need anything."

"Will do... thanks. See you... whenever." She ended the call and stood gazing at the ice-coated trees outside. Freezing rain made everything look beautiful but it was the one thing she dreaded. She wouldn't drive in conditions like this unless it was a matter of life or death. Still, knowing that she couldn't go out, even if she wanted to, always gave her an uneasy feeling, like she was trapped. Thankfully, she still had power so she could keep herself occupied.

By mid-afternoon the temperature had risen a few degrees and the sun was shining. Ice was starting to lose its grip on overhead wires and trees and falling to the ground. Salt trucks had been out and some people were starting to move on slush-covered streets. Bertie had gone out long enough to scatter salt in her driveway. The ice was practically all gone now and, while she had no intention of going anywhere, it was nice to know that she could get out if she needed to.

About that time, Harry called again. "Are you going stir crazy yet?"

"Keeping busy, but a change of scenery would be nice. What's up?"

"The Sunset Seniors' Home seems to have misplaced Mr. Butt. Apparently he hasn't been seen since breakfast. Do you have creepers and are you interested?"

"Yes, to both, but why do I need creepers?"

"We're going to help search for him. I'm in your driveway so, get a move on."

Two minutes later Bertie opened the truck door. "Why did they wait so long to report him missing?" she asked as she climbed inside.

"Apparently he frequently skips lunch but he never misses the afternoon card games. So, when he didn't turn up, they went looking for him."

"But, I guess they didn't find him." She buckled her seatbelt.

Harry shook his head as he turned the truck out onto the street. "They only searched the inside and need help to search outside before it gets dark."

"Would he have gone outside in today's conditions?"

"Apparently he has a habit of sneaking outside the door for a cigarette when he thinks no one is watching. They think it's possible that he might have moved away from the door to avoid being seen, perhaps slipped and fell..."

"I get the picture," Bertie said. "I just hope he's okay."

It was starting to snow and Harry turned on the wipers. "I hope we find him before the wind picks up and turns this into a blizzard."

"According to the forecast, it could be a nasty night," she agreed. The rest of their conversation was focused on how best to organize the search.

Harry parked the truck as close to the entrance as possible and they hurried inside. A group of staff members and residents were waiting in the lobby, some dressed and ready to begin the search.

A tall, thin woman came towards them. "Mr. Hogan, Ms Blackett, I'm so grateful to see you both. I'm Mrs. Galway, the administrator." She handed them a photograph. "This is Mr. Butt."

"Glad to be here," Harry replied as he and Bertie looked at the photo. "I understand that breakfast was the last time anyone saw him."

The administrator nodded. "He sat with his friends as usual and left, saying he'd meet them later for cards."

"Where exactly have you searched?"

"Each resident searched their own suite while the rest of us searched the rest of the building: common rooms, closets and storage rooms... the cook even checked the walk-in freezer. He is not in the building, sir. I would stake my life on it."

Harry nodded and rubbed his chin. "And he sometimes sneaks outside to smoke."

"He thinks we don't know it, but we do," Mrs. Galway said with a smile. "The man is in his early eighties and has no serious health problems. His doctor says an occasional cigarette is not going to shorten his life at this stage."

"You said you've searched the building... does that include the basement?"

"There'd be no earthly reason for him to go down there... and he'd have to use the service elevator in the back porch." The administrator shook her head. "I can't see it, but..." She looked at a man standing at the edge of the group. "Mr. Crowley, will you have the basement searched immediately, please?"

"It's pretty open down there, Ma'am, except for the utility rooms. Price and Jones covered the entire area on their regular hourly maintenance checks. But, we'll do it again if you want us to."

Harry shook his head. "I don't think it's necessary, Mr. Crowley. Okay, we'll divide into four groups, with an equal number of staff and residents in each group - or as close to equal as possible. Conditions are steadily getting worse out there, and we will soon lose daylight, so everyone stays with their group at all times. Understand?" All heads were nodding.

"Good. I will lead one group out from the back of the building. Ms Blackett will lead a group out from the front. Mr. Crowley and another maintenance worker..." he glanced at Crowley, who said "Price." Harry nodded and continued, "Crowley and Price will lead the other two groups out from the sides of the building. Walk slowly and carefully because patches of ice are now covered with snow. Continue calling out to Mr. Butt as you go. Only the leaders will use cell phones to pass on information. Any questions?"

Crowley raised his hand. "There are several sheds, gazebos and picnic spots at various points, about two to three feet into the trees. It might be wise to check those too."

"Good point, Mr. Crowley. Thank you. I assume there are clear paths to these areas."

"Yes, sir. Paths are fairly wide and generally kept clear of any obstacles. Staff and residents are all familiar with them."

"Good, but remember, no one is to search these areas alone. The entire group stays together at all tmes." All heads nodded once more. " Crowley and Price, phone numbers please." They each handed him a card.

"Each leader will take one of the searchlights in the porch on your way out. Okay, let's move out. Let's get Mr. Butt back inside as quickly as possible. Crowley's group first, then Price, and Blackett, and my group will go last."

It was a solemn group that zipped, buttoned and tied themselves securely against the cold and moved outside. A grey-haired lady with a walker approached Hogan as he entered Crowley's and Prices's numbers into his phone and waited for his turn to go. "Please find Henry, Mr. Hogan. I can't go with you but I won't stop praying until you all return safely - with Henry."

"You know him well?"

"Yes, sir. My brother's best friend since childhood. Like another brother to me. I was widowed young, no children and, since my brother died, Henry's always been there for me."

Harry mentally crossed his fingers and gave her what he hoped was an encouraging smile. "We will do our very best, Ma'am." He took a step forward, then looked back at her. "And your prayers certainly won't hurt."

As the groups searched their assigned areas, Harry called each leader every ten minutes to check on their progress. He knew the leaders could handle it, and probably the other staff members, but he was concerned about the residents. He thought it was risky for them to be out there but how could he stop them from going? They were concerned about a friend. At least, this way, they were in groups and that was all he could do to protect them.

It was getting dark and the snow was being whipped around pretty good. Harry didn't want to keep the residents out any longer. It was time to get them back inside, let the rest of them get a hot drink, and staff members only would resume the search. Then his phone rang. "Hogan," he answered.

"We have him," Bertie said. "In the garage where the bus is kept."

"I'll notify the others and meet you there." He made two quick calls, notifying the other two groups and instructing them to return to the residence, at the same time, telling Crowley to call the ambulance.. He gave his group the same instructions and headed for the garage at a fast pace.

When he reached the garage, Harry glanced behind him and realized the entire group had followed him. He grinned. These people really cared about each other. He opened the door. Bertie was standing in the open doorway of the bus, while the rest of her group stood around the bus. "Where is he?" Harry asked.

"In the bus," Bertie replied. "Not sure if his ankle is broken or badly sprained, and he's a bit cold, but otherwise okay."

"Thank God for small mercies." Harry stepped into the bus. "There's a lady back there who said she won't stop praying until we bring you back safely, Mr. Butt."

A shaky chuckle emitted from a blanket-covered form on the seat behind the driver's seat. "That's Carrie, bless her. She's always been like the kid sister I never had."

"Yeah, she told me," Harry said. "How are you doing?"

"Getting cold. Fair bit of pain in my ankle. But, I'm sure I'll be fine in a few days."

"First things first, we need to figure out the best way to get you out of here."

Suddenly, Crowley pushed his way through the crowd and thrust a thermos into Butt's hands. "Hot chocolate, Cook said it's just right for drinking." Then he turned to Harry. "Ambulance ran into trouble, currently undergoing emergency repairs, should be here in about an hour."

"We can't keep Mr. Butt out here that long," Bertie said. "He's been here too long already."

Harry nodded. "We need to carry him inside... but we have to do it safely."

"We have a stretcher," Crowley offered.

Harry shook his head. "No good. It's too slippery out there to try carrying someone on a stretcher."

"I have an idea," Butt said, through chattering teeth. "Mr. Crowley, is that old wood sled still out in the garden shed?"

"Fetch it quickly," Harry said, as Crowley nodded. "And make sure there's a rope attached for pulling it."

As Crowley hurried off, Price was pushing his way forward with an armful of heavy quilts, which he passed up to Bertie. "Perfect." She smiled at him. "We'll put one under him on the sled and wrap it up around his legs. We'll wrap the other around his body."

Crowley returned then, bringing the sled into the garage with him. Bertie hurried out and fixed the quilt in place.

"Okay, the rest of you can return to the residence now," Harry said. "We'll soon have him back inside. Crowley and Price, you'll pull the sled, slowly and carefully. I'll come behind to support Mr. Butt in case the sled starts to slip." He turned around. "Bertie, help him get to the doorway of the bus. I'll take him from there."

A few minutes later they were making their way across the ground towards the main entrance. From what Bertie could see, it looked like everyone inside was crowded into the foyer. She quietly spoke to Harry and then walked ahead of the sled. When she entered the building, she told them they would have to move inside and make room.

Crowley and Price were standing by with the Staff Nurse and a stretcher and she let them remain in the foyer to meet the sled at the door. However, just as they reached the door, the ambulance pulled up. Two paramedics jumped out and took over from there. Within minutes Mr. Butt was on his way to the hospital where they kept him overnight.

The following afternoon, Harry and Bertie drove out to see Mr. Butt and find out exactly what had happened.

"A bad sprain," he told them. "But I have something for the pain, the ankle is wrapped, and I'll soon be good as new."

"Why were you out there in those conditions?" Harry asked.

"What they told you was right" Butt said. "I slipped out for a smoke about half an hour before lunch time. There was so high that I crept across to the garage for shelter. I knew the door was never locked. I was almost close enough to touch the door when I slipped and fell. Somehow, I got up on my knees, opened the door, and crawled inside. There was a shovel just inside the door and I used that to help me get up and hop along on one foot. I got into the bus so I'd have a comfortable place to sit and put my leg up. There was a blanket on the back of the driver's seat and I threw it over my legs. I pulled up the hood on my jacket, and settled back. I figured half an hour and I'd be able to crawl back to the residence."

"It didn't work that way, did it?" Harry prompted.

Butt shook his head. "Not quite. I guess I dozed off. When I woke, the ankle was swollen, stiff, and painful. I wasn't sure what to do for the best. I was about to give it a try when I heard voices outside and I shouted as loud as I could."

"Joe heard you first," Bertie said, "and we hurried as much as we could by sliding our feet across the ice."

"You were lucky this time," Harry said. "But I trust you'll be more careful in future."

"I don't think I'll have much choice," Butt replied. "I have a feeling Carrie's going to watch me like a hawk from now on."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Tell me something, Hogan," Bertie said as he was driving her home. "Were you christened as Harry? Or is Harry a nickname for Henry?"

"What?" Harry looked at her. "My name is not Henry."

"So, you were christened Harry?"

"No."

Bertie's eyes widened. "Then, your real name is... what?"

"Harrison... and keep it to yourself."

"Oooo," she said with a smile. "Like Harrison Ford... nice."

Harry frowned. "No, like my great-grandfather. And you are never... I repeat, never... to divulge that to anyone. Got it?"

"Down, boy... I'll keep your secret." She grinned. "Did you ever do any research into your family history?"

"Nah, my cousin is the one who's into all that. I know all I need to know." He grinned back at her as he stopped the truck in her driveway. "Now, can we get back to the present?"

"Sure. What's on your mind?"

"What's for supper? I don't know about you, but I'm starving."

"You expect me to feed you?" Bertie laughed. "Chicken casserole in the fridge. Just needs to be warmed up."

"Sounds good to me," he said, with the truck door already open. "Maybe a game of checkers after?"

Bertie shook her head as she unlocked the front door. "Nope, Scrabble," she said, knowing she had a chance of beating him at that game.

© Fay Herridge
Published in Story Quilt, January 2022

Harry Hogan Series

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