Copyright© 2011 by Robert McKay
Cecelia got through her probation just fine. She made arrests, wrote tickets – citations as cops call 'em, helped find a runaway puppy, broke up an argument at Red Hawk's sole bar, patrolled the streets, stopped in at businesses and learned to eat "on the arm" or get a new pair of jeans at a police discount without blushing, and in general learned how to be a police officer in a very small town. I read all the reports – from her training officers, from the Sergeants of the Watch, from the watch commanders, and from the Chief of Patrol.
On the last day of July, her last day of probation, the Chief of Patrol came into my office to drop off his final report. I glanced at it, noting that it seemed to be as favorable as the previous ones had been, and noting that he'd checked the box for Recommend Full Duty. I put it on my desk, which had more paperwork on it than I go through in a year as a private investigator. "Talk to me, Dave," I said.
He leaned back in the "war surplus" chair on the other side of the desk, his collar brass and badge winking in the fluorescent light. "She'll make a hand, Chief," he said. "She's as good a cop after three months OJT and nothing else, as I've ever seen."
"Better than I was, I think," I told him. "I wish we could run new officers through an academy, though."
"We solve that problem with so many lateral hires." He meant hiring officers who'd gotten training and experience with another department. "Although it's getting harder and harder to get good cops for what we can pay."
I nodded. Red Hawk had managed, over the years, to attract officers from some major cities – I'd gotten training from ex-LAPD and ex-NYPD officers way back when. But a small town in a small county, a town moreover that was slowly drying up and would eventually blow away, couldn't keep that up forever – especially not without breaking the budget to pay the kind of money such officers wanted. "Yeah, we're pretty much stuck. They ain't no way this town can afford to start its own academy, nor yet to send new hires to OKC." I flatly refuse, as I always had when I lived here before, to speak of Oklahoma City as the City. There is more than one city in the state.
"In that case, I'll take her." Dave pointed to the report on my desk. "I wish you weren't leaving after the year's up. She could be chief some day."
"I believe it. I've found so few things she can't do superbly that I could almost wonder if she ain't a second incarnation." I pulled my pen out of my pocket, and drew the report toward me. I put my scrawled signature in the proper place. "She's all yours, Dave."
"Thanks, Chief. I'll assign her a unit, and find holes for her in the schedule. There's no way to give her a steady watch, not yet, but hopefully I can do it in the next month or so. Tommy's wife is due to have her baby, and you know he's been talking about going back to Ohio with her for that. And I think Max may finally be getting ready to retire – for the first time in all the years I've known him, he's talking about being tired."
"Whatever works," I said. "You run patrol the way you see fit. I'll let you do it, unless you prove you can't, in which case I'll fire you and get someone else. But if there's no reason to fire you, there's no reason for me to try to run the division either."
He nodded. "That's all I ask, Chief – let me alone to do my job."
"Well, I bet if I asked you for a report on what you need, it would be about 97 pages – I know, 'cause my own report to the city council weighs as much as an engine block, an' it's all a wish list."
He smiled at that, and went out to do his job. I put the signed report on Cecelia in my Out basket, and got to work on other stuff.
It was just over a week later, late in the day watch, when the scanner spoke words that I perked up and listened to.
"Unit 24, Dispatch." That was Cecelia's unit – now that she was off probation and patrolling solo, she had the same call sign every day.
"Go, Dispatch." And that was Cecelia's voice – deeper than most women's, and clear as a bell even over the air.
"See the man, in the woods behind 224 Apache, report of a bad odor."
"10-4, rolling. Is there any indication of what sort of 'bad odor' the person is reporting?"
That was that, and I went back to work. I wasn't paying attention to the time, but it must have been 10 or 15 minutes later when Cecelia's voice, sounding very different – strangled, almost – came over the air again.
"Dispatch, Unit 24."
"This call is for a dead body. Respond..." There was a gagging sound that quickly cut off – she must have released the button on the microphone. She came right back on. "Respond an ambulance and medical examiner to this location – also units for scene control, and an investigator."
I snatched up my portable radio from the desk. "Dispatch, Unit 1. I'll roll on the call."
"10-4," came the dispatcher's voice. As I was pulling my gun out of the lower right desk drawer and clipping it to my belt – I was wearing civilian clothes that day – I heard her calling the investigator. She'd have to call for an ambulance and medical investigator by phone, since Red Hawk couldn't afford either one and got service from elsewhere.
I snatched my hat, slapped it on my head, and charged for the back door. In the cruiser I drove fast. The call didn't justify responding code 3 – lights and siren going – but for once I used the police department livery as a way to blow through the speed limit. Cecelia was one of my officers, doing her job – which involved, if necessary, dealing with dead bodies. But she was also my wife, and she'd sounded horrible over the radio. I was going to get there in a hurry.
I did, too. Another officer, a thin black guy whose name was something like Turnbull, was at the side of the road, and he directed me down a gravel driveway. I followed it back, and saw tracks across an unfenced pasture toward the woods. Down by the edge of the trees I could see Cecelia's cruiser, and a battered red pickup truck – judging from the shape of the cab, it would be from the 1950s. I followed the tracks, and parked next to Cecelia's unit.