The Chief
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.

"If I grasped correctly what I heard of that conversation, the Red Hawk Police Department desires you to take up its leadership."

"That was the city council, actually – or a member of it. But yeah, they want me." I snorted. "I quit bein' a cop for a reason – for several reasons, actually. I don't plan to go back, and especially I don't plan to move back to Oklahoma."

Cecelia nodded. "I comprehend your reasons – you have explained them to me over the years. But I am not quite so eager to summarily reject the proposal."

"Surely you don't mean I oughta do it."

"No, I have nothing that definite in my mind. I am simply ... unsure."

"You never hunt for words, C."

"I rarely have a failure of knowledge as to which word I want. But I am at something of a loss here; I am not entirely certain you should refuse, yet I instinctively react against you accepting the position. There is a formless feeling somewhere within me to the effect that it might not be an entirely inapt idea – and having formless feelings provokes me. I do not like it; I prefer my cogitations to be more coherent."

"Trust you to use a fancy word instead of just saying 'bad, '" I told her.

"And trust you, Darvin, to fasten on the least important aspect of my utterance." She got up from the sofa, her jerky movement unlike her usual grace, and stalked off down the hall.

I looked at the blustery, sunny day outside, staring through the big living room window at Inez Park across the street. "Well, I guess that didn't go extremely well."

No one and nothing answered, but I had the feeling that if the walls could talk, they'd agree with me.

Eventually I sat back down on the sofa, realizing that I could – through walls and doors – hear the shower running. Cecelia hates being sweaty when she can be clean, though she doesn't shy away from hard work or exercise. As long as she's actually doing something she doesn't mind, but once she's done she likes to clean up.

After a bit she came out of the bedroom and stood behind the sofa. "Are you hungry?" she asked.

I glanced at my watch, surprised to see that it was after 11. "I guess so," I said.

"Then I'll fix lunch," she said, and her voice wasn't cold anymore.

I stood up and turned to face her. "I'm sorry I bit your head off," I told her. "I'm just upset about those people calling me up and trying to get me to be a cop again."

"Not merely a police officer, Darvin, but the chief of police."

"Yeah, whatever," I said, and then realized that was the path to resuming the argument. "Chief or rookie, it would still be a cop's job. An' I don't want nothin' to do with that."

She smiled faintly. She was wearing a white t-shirt that billowed around her, for she's thin and she wears her tops two or three sizes too big. Below that there was a skirt that reached her ankles, black cloth with golden threads in it, and below that were her bare feet – narrow and ridged with veins, but to me the most beautiful feet in the world. "I can tell you're recovering from your anger," she said. "You are reverting to your customarily horrid English."

Now I smiled. "I know a couple or three big words myself," I said, "an' how to use 'em too. I just don't want to."

"This is true." She looked at me for a moment. "Sit at the counter while I work," she said, "and I shall give you my opinion of this summons."

"You mean you'll give me my opinion."

Now she smiled, and ships launched all around the world. "But of course – when I want your opinion, I give it to you."

"I taught you that one, you know," I said, but I walked over to the counter and sat on one of the chairs we've got there – they'd be bar stools, except they've got backs. Cecelia went into the kitchen, and pulled a loaf of sourdough bread out of her bread box.

I watched her as she got bacon out of the refrigerator, and set slices to frying in what we call the king skillet, because it's so big. While the bacon cooked, she pulled lettuce and a couple of tomatoes out of the refrigerator. She pulled leaves off the lettuce head, and tore them to size, and sliced up the tomatoes. I marveled at how she can do it – I could take the same tomato and the same knife, and mangle off hunks, but she takes slices off as easily as she breathes, working so fast I'm always sure she'll cut off a finger though she never even nicks herself.

With the lettuce and tomato slices on a plate, she turned to the bread. She cut thick slices, and I could smell the aroma. Of course any store-bought sourdough bread will smell good, but it doesn't taste like sourdough. Cecelia makes hers from scratch, using a starter she keeps on top of the refrigerator where it's warm, and it really is sour, the way the California miners made it back in 1849.

When the bacon slices were done, she slapped slices of bread down in the grease they left. It didn't take long for the bread to get crispy, and she handed me a plate with two slices on it – greasy and warm. I put bacon, lettuce, and tomato on, covered it all with the other slice, and bit in. I leaned over my plate so that the grease from the bread dripped there instead of on my shirt. On the other side of the counter Cecelia was doing likewise.

"Now that is good," I said when I'd chewed enough to be able to speak intelligibly.

"Didn't your Aunt Anna ever tell you not to talk with your mouth full?"

"Yeah, an' she did it herself. Everybody does it, or there'd never be any conversation at meals."

Cecelia grinned at me. "You are of course correct. Your evaluation of my cooking is also correct – I think, sometimes, that my skill in the kitchen is what moved you to marry me."

"Well, that, and you handing me a ring in the park."

"It is true that I proposed to you – but it is also true that had I refrained for a very few minutes, you would have proposed to me."

"Yep." I took another bite, and chewed it for a bit. "But you were gonna give me my opinion, and you ain't done it."

"Then I shall," she said.

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Story tagged with:
Romance / Crime / Detective /