The Chief - Cover

The Chief

Copyright© 2011 by Robert McKay

Chapter 1

This story takes place in January 2009-March 2010

It was a Thursday when the call came. It was cold and windy – standard Albuquerque winter weather – and I'd decided that as much as I like to walk, and as much as I don't like being cooped up, I wasn't that stir crazy, not yet anyway.

Cecelia had been out running, but since she'd go for a run in the middle of a blizzard, or a dust storm, or a hurricane, or any other highly unpleasant weather phenomenon, I didn't think twice about it. She runs for miles, and it takes miles to get her out of breath. She's got a runner's build, only even more muscular, for she lifts weights as well, and I believe she could place well in a marathon if she wanted to. But she runs for herself, not for competition.

I was sitting on the sofa in the living room, looking at rough drawings of how we wanted to remodel the house next door. We'd bought it just a few days before, and were going to move my PI office into it. With a new office building going up between the Sandia Mountains and the window I'd been looking out of since 1992, I was losing the only reason I'd been willing to pay the steep rent and put up with the inconvenient location. So we'd bought the house, which had been for sale for a while, and were going to turn the dining room and kitchen into office space, and use the rest of it for storage or whatever.

We'd roughed out how we wanted to do it – pulling out the dividing wall between the kitchen and dining room, and putting up walls to create two offices of equal size, and close in the remaining kitchen area – for we wanted to be able to do a little bit of cooking every once in a while, so we wouldn't have to run somewhere else every time we got hungry. We also wanted to close off access to the hallway, since the living room was going to become a waiting area and we didn't want people just roaming around everywhere.

We'd just about approved the plans, and were just about ready to give them to a contractor, who'd put them into proper blueprints, submit those for our approval, and then get to work. We knew who'd we'd use – back in August of 2007 Cecelia had used him to do a surprise remodel of our garage, turning it into a new study for me, since the bedroom I'd been using since we got married in 1995 had become just too small for my theological library.

I nodded over the plans, the overall view, and the detailed drawings of the offices, the kitchen, and the wall blocking the hall from the living room, and put them back together with the paperclip I'd pulled off. I set them on the coffee table and reached for my current book – John Lescroart's The First Law. But I didn't actually pick the book up, for the phone rang.

I snorted in irritation, for I didn't have the phone by me and had to get up and look at the caller ID. It was an Oklahoma number – I recognized the area code, for I'd lived there when I was younger – and I decided to find out who it was.

"Hello?" I said when I'd hit the Talk button.

"Mr. Carpenter, you don't know me, but I'm Roger Dunn, a member of the Red Hawk city council."

I raised my eyebrows at that – Red Hawk was where I'd lived in Oklahoma. "What can I do for you, Mr. Dunn?"

"I guess you're surprised at getting a call from me." His accent was definitely Okie – the paring away of accents that's affected cities even in the deep south hadn't reached places as small as Red Hawk. "What it is, Harry Thomas retired – as you know – and his replacement didn't last a year before having a heart attack. Since then we've had one chief who left after a few months to go to a bigger town, up in Kansas, and a series of interim chiefs."

"And what," I asked, "does the police chief situation in Red Hawk have to do with me? I don't mean to sound snippy, Mr. Dunn, but this is kind of beside anything I'm interested in." I vaguely recognized Cecelia coming in from the back door as I spoke – she must have gotten back from her run while I wasn't looking, and spent some time out in her shed lifting weights.

"Well, Mr. Carpenter, we want you to take the job."

I actually physically took the phone away from my ear and looked at it. I put it back to my ear and said, "Surely you jest."

"No, no, Mr. Carpenter. We really want you to take the job."

"If you're not kidding, then you're insane."

I heard Dunn take a breath. "Mr. Carpenter, I guess you don't know how desperate we are. We haven't had a chief of police for as much as a year at a time since 2006. The department's demoralized. We're looking at a quarter of our force about fed up and ready to quit. We've got drugs moving into town in a big way – big for us, anyway, and the department's not in a position to do anything with it. We need you."

"You need someone who knows how to be a police chief, Mr. Dunn."

Cecelia went and sat down on the sofa, but clearly wasn't relaxed. I've known her for a lot of years now, and I could tell she was tense. She was wearing a sweat suit with long sleeves, and her face still was shiny with sweat. There were dark circles under her arms, and a dark splotch on her chest where she'd sweated through the cloth even in the cold. She was giving me a steady look, her black eyes, tilted in their sockets, focused on me.

"Mr. Carpenter," came the voice, "we need someone, period. Maybe this isn't a compliment, but you're our last chance. If you don't take this job, we have no one left to turn to. We didn't even think of you till we begged Harry Thomas to come back, and he recommended you."

"Well, snot on a duck!" I said emphatically into the phone. It's not originally my phrase – I was borrowing it from Kim Il-chae, who can cuss like anyone else but uses such expressions when she's at her most frustrated. "Look, I gotta think about this before I can even tell you 'no' intelligently. I'll have to call you back."

"Okay, Mr. Carpenter. But I'll send you out some information and some paperwork, in case you change your mind."

"Yeah, whatever," I said, and I wasn't gracious about it. I hit the End button, tossed the phone onto the sofa – even as irritated as I was I knew better than to let it smash on the marble top of the coffee table – and sat down beside Cecelia.

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