Before the tragic event that made him seek refuge in a remote corner of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Alex McKnight was a Detroit police officer. It’s a warm summer night, and Alex is out riding the night shift with his partner Franklin. There’s no shortage of trouble to be found on the dark streets of Motown. But on this particular night, Franklin has his own agenda.
From Edgar Award-Winning Author Steve Hamilton, Beneath the Book Tower is the first ever short story featuring Alex McKnight, showing a different side of the man readers have come to love.
An exclusive short story Beneath the Book Tower by Steve Hamilton featuring Alex McKnight.
Beneath the Book Tower
An Alex McKnight Short Story
We were driving down Woodward, just past midnight. It was the third watch. The night shift. Franklin and me in the car. This is going back, you understand. I mean way back. I was still a cop, I was still married, Franklin’s second daughter hadn’t even been born yet. I was what, seven years into the job that summer, Franklin maybe five. So twelve years seniority between the two of us and yet we were still pulling nights. On account of the hiring freeze, the city running out of money like it did at least once a decade. No more new cops, no more new vehicles, no more new anything for anybody.
God, it was hot that night.
“Now, wait a minute,” Franklin said to me. “Are you telling me this place is in Michigan? And it’s called Paradise?”
“It’s a real place, yes.”
“How come I never heard of it before?”
“It’s way the hell up there,” I said. “On Lake Superior.”
“What, you mean in the UP?”
“That’s what I’m telling you. All the way up there.”
“What’s up there? Just little cabins by the water?”
“A few of those, yeah. A lot of trees.”
It was a hot, hot summer night and cars were cruising up and down the street, all around us. Everybody noticed us. Everybody maintaining their cool but keeping one eye on us at all times, taking note of our location and direction of travel, the way you keep your eye on a bumblebee in the corner of the room.
“What do you do for fun up there?”
“I’m not sure,” I said. “I never had any fun up there myself. I just helped my old man build his first log house.”
“Is he still up there?”
“He’s working on number six now. His masterpiece, he calls it.”
“Sounds impressive,” Franklin said. “Maybe I’ll get to see it some day. Never even been over that bridge, believe it or not.”
“You’ve lived in this state your whole life,” I said, “and you’ve never once been over the Mackinac Bridge?”
“I’m not sure they even let black people up there, am I right? Don’t they stop them and direct them back to Detroit?”
This is the kind of thing Franklin would say. Making a joke out of it but at the same time you could tell there was a grain of hard truth inside. He was born in this city, grew up here, played high school football at Cass Tech. If he hadn’t been given oversized physical gifts, there’s no telling where he would have ended up. Maybe on these same streets we were rolling down tonight. But the game was his ticket. He went to the University of Michigan on a full scholarship, played three years on the offensive line until he got hurt. Missed out on his red-shirt senior year but kept his promise to his mother and graduated. Then he went to the academy and became a Detroit cop. He was still hovering somewhere around his playing weight of 260 pounds and he never looked comfortable wedged in behind that steering wheel. But tonight it was my turn to drive, anyway, so he sat in the passenger’s seat and watched the night go by through his window.
Copyright © 2011 by Steve Hamilton
Steve Hamilton grew up in Michigan and attended the University of Michigan, where he was awarded the prestigious Avery Hopwood Prize. He lives in Cottekill, New York, with his wife, Julia, and their two children.