Problems in the Ponderosas Ch. 04byHansTrimble©
WARLORDS AND OTHER NOBLEMEN
On Monday morning Val and I each got a note that was folded double and stapled that way, which was unusual. Mine asked me to stop in the captain's office before going home that night. Val turned to me with hers in her hand and raised her eyebrows. I nodded. Then I laughed out loud at how easy and natural our non-verbal communication seemed. Closeness and sincere love seemed to overcome all difficulties. I put an arm around Val's shoulders and added a little squeeze as we headed to the briefing room for the early morning work call.
I didn't see Val when I got in from the shift. She came in after I was already in the crowd for the end-of-shift meeting, and we stood on opposite sides of the room. So after everybody started to filter out and head for home, I caught up with her out by the mailboxes and we went to the boss's office together. The door was open and we could see Bobby on the phone. She waved us in and we got comfortable while we waited for her to finish the phone call. She had the softest chairs in the whole place, and I was thinking that when I get to be captain I'll need to get some just like them. Val shot me an elbow to bring me back to the real world as Bobby hung up the phone and turned back around to face us. She looked up and looked over our heads and said to somebody, "Come on in and close the door." I looked around to see Harry Peters, and slid my chair over to make more room for him.
Bobby said, "Harry has some things to tell us, so we'll let him get into it."
Harry chuckled, and said, "I'm fine, thanks for asking, and how are you?" We all laughed, and then he went on, "The Personal Protection Squad, as if is officially designated, has been given the nickname Semi Secret Service. Has a nice ring to it, SSS. The mayor picked Terry Gardner to head it up, because Terry was instrumental in assembling the details of how it would be set up, and also because the mayor trusts Terry, probably more than all the rest of his staff.
"Once I got to that point, I left Terry alone for a few days and did some in-depth checking on the mayor, figuring that they must share some values and beliefs. I was able to get some help from people I've known forever, and I can tell you that he seems to be on the up and up. He's a dedicated family man, and he's fired people in the past for screwing around on their wives.
"Usually a good way to get an instant snapshot of a politician is to look at his kids, so I did that, and I'd be delighted to have them as my own. Wife keeps the family together despite the demands on the mayor's time, and there are no handsome tennis instructors or empty whiskey bottles around her. The mayor seems really dedicated to getting sensible advance planning going, looking ahead ten years, to see that the city develops in a rational manner and doesn't back itself into a corner. Aside from his family and the city, his interest is re-election, just like every other politician. From what I can see, he looks a lot better for the city than any of the likely contenders for his throne.
"Terry's last job before coming here was in Oklahoma City, so I checned with a couple of friends there. They had no bad things to say about him, and thought he had potential. That didn't tell me much, so I asked some insiders here about two special studies he did for the mayor, and their consensus is that he acquires facts quickly, connects the dots well, and has no apparent ambitions except to do a good job for the mayor.
"Now for the cruncher. Ever since Terry was assigned to head up the SSS, he's been going to the gym and getting himself in shape. He figures that the police men and women who make up the squad will be in tip top shape, and he doesn't want to be a fat, out of shape blob who will be an insult to his troops. He intends to go through both phases of training with the rest of you. The mayor tried to talk him out of that, but he said that he has to have a realistic idea of what people can really do, when and if the chips are down.
Bobby shook her head. Val looked up and said, "Just one, Harry. Now that you've done all this digging, what do you think of the whole SSS project? Is this going to be a good thing or is it just going to fizzle out?"
"Well, of course I'm not an expert on this sort of duty, but I've given it a lot of thought and I think it's going to be a good thing for the city. There are a few things to watch out for, though. First, it could be real good while Terry's here running it, and then turn to crap when he leaves to become a city manager somewhere else. Second, the present mayor is pushing it, and will probably make it a jewel in his crown when he runs for re-election. That could be the kiss of death when he gets defeated or retires, and his successor will try to let it turn to crap because it doesn't have his name on it. And third, Terry is going to be the hero of the month for a while, which can invite jealousy among his fellow staffers, and they might find ways to cut him off at the knees. Or for that matter, he might get torpedoed by people in the police department who feel left out of the picture. So jealousy is jealousy, and it can come from anywhere, or from several directions at once. All in all, I'd rather see it run out of some other place than the mayor's office."
I thought about the mixed message we'd just received, and thought it could go either way, and we'd better stick with it and wait to see what developed. But Bobby had been unusually quiet, and Val picked up on that. "What about you, Captain? Are you ready to share your opinion with us?"
"Val, you now know as much about it as I do. I'm eager to see it succeed for the good of the city, but I also have to watch out for my people who will be involved. So my biggest fear has been that we would pick our best and brightest and push them into an effort that's destined to fail. If that were to happen, it would have a terrible effect on their attitudes, their careers, and ultimately the whole police force, because they, well you two for example, are the people who are looked at as leaders by your peers. The best news I've heard is that Terry is going through the training with you guys. He'll be sweating it out with everybody else, which is a good move for a leader. So, based on what little I know, I'll give the SSS my support. You know I'll still have your backs, same as always, and I'm not going to lose interest in this as long as my people are involved. What about you, Harry?"
"Same here. You know I'll keep my ear to the ground, and if I find out anything of importance, I'll let you know.
I waited and no other comments seemed ready to roll off anybody's lips, so I looked around and asked, "Would it be all right if I bring up a matter that doesn't relate directly to the SSS?"
Bobby laughed. "Ken, you just can't stop being Ken, can you? Go ahead."
"Remember that my earliest contact with this department was with Captain Mueller. Then I met you, Harry, and saw another side of the police business. And then I met Hank and Bruce, and that same day I met you, Captain. As I learned more about how the department ran, I saw that there are some very good, very smart, very dedicated people in it who keep it going, no matter what. This meeting is an example of what I mean. It's almost like a management team operating below the surface. Am I getting a wrong impression or is that how it really is?"
Harry took a deep breath. "Kid, you're only how old? Twenty something? And Val, look at you, almost choking to death to try not to laugh, and you're even younger, aren't you? Now I'm going to tell you something, and then Bobby may want to comment on it, too. First off, you've got us pegged. Bobby and I are sort of foot soldiers in an invisible, informal group of friends who try to keep law and order maintained in this town, and keep the police department a real force for good around here. We're not the only ones, of course.
"One important lesson about organizations is that they cannot operate just from the top down. The people at the top have to make the decisions that set the direction for the department. But the push, to make it move and keep moving in that direction, has to come from the bottom up.
"What you didn't ask, but probably want to know, is how do you two fit into this, and how do you get to be on this team of invisible prime movers? The answer is simple. You already are. Both of you. Walk into any precinct in the city and somebody will greet you by name. You wouldn't be in this position without the endorsement of people like Bobby and me and others, and we pick and choose our friends very carefully. So the best answer I can give you is welcome aboard."
Bobby smiled at us. "You two, and others like you, make it a pleasure to come to work here every day.
"Oh, Harry, should you mention the FBI thing?"
"Yeah, glad you reminded me. Val, the guy you crippled up that night in the saloon had to go to the hospital. When he came out he was sent straight home with a very critical writeup in his personnel file for his poor judgment. The FBI agent in charge of the Hatfield and McCoy investigation was appalled by the guy's lack of professionalism, and amazed at how well you handled him. Between that and what you said, Ken, about cooperating in the investigation, the chances are the FBI will give you two a once over lightly and let it go at that."
Bobby, still smiling, suppressed a giggle and said, "Well, that wraps it up. Harry, thanks for your help. Let's call it a day."
THE WARLORD SPEAKS
I got a message to report to Terry Gardner's office, so Aaron dropped me off at city hall. I found the office and was ushered in by a secretary. Mr. Gardner offered me a chair and came right to the point. "I'm glad to meet you. You'll be one of the youngest members of the Personal Protection Squad, and I've heard good things about you. You are one of the few members of our police department to have ever killed a person in the line of duty, and I think that could be very valuable experience in this line of work. I keep hearing about situations in which the right thing would have been to pull the trigger, but the agent or officer hesitated because he'd never done that before. So I think of you as an important member of the squad.
"But there's another thing that has come to my attention that I wanted to ask you about. It seems that my background has been investigated since it was announced that I would be heading up the squad, and I heard your name connected to the rumor. Do you know anything about that?"
"I may, sir. Naturally I don't know exactly what investigation you may have heard about, but I can tell you what I do know. When this Personal Protection Squad was first announced, the response in our precinct was unbelievable. Even our oldest officers, volunteered to participate if they were needed. Naturally, I volunteered. In fact my name was at the top of the list. We all supposed that this would be a police department function, and that it would be headed up by a high ranking officer. There was speculation that a command position would be created to run this squad and the SWAT team. Then when we heard that it would be commanded by someone outside the department, it caused a considerable amount of confusion. Everybody knows that you've been handling some difficult jobs for the mayor, but aside from that you're unknown to the rank and file police officers, so many people started to ask questions about your background and qualifications, and I was one of the people asking the questions.
"The department rumor mill operates quite fast and we usually get good answers. That happens for two reasons. Policemen dread surprises. Put yourself in their shoes and you can see why. But when questions are buzzing around the department, I believe that some of our high ranking people try to inject some correct answers into the mill, so that we'll stop worrying and get on with our business. Of course that's just my belief.
"What we heard back is that you were highly thought of in DC and in Oklahoma City, and that made people feel better. Then we also heard that you are going to go through the same training as the rest of us, and have even started to work out to get in shape for it. That was the icing on the cake. I realize that those answers were unofficial, but after seeing the effect that they had on the officers in my precinct, I can only say that I hope they're true.
"Does that answer your question, sir?"
"It seems to, and it makes a lot more sense than I expected. Now there's another issue I wanted to check on. It has come to my attention that you are being investigated by the FBI in connection with what they are calling the Hatfield and McCoy case. Why is the FBI considering you a suspect?"
"Sir, do you know anything about that case?"
"No. This has just come to my notice and I had not heard a thing about it before."
"I'll give you a quick summary. A valuable piece of government property was stolen and buried in the woods by the thieves. Later it was dug up. I was involved in finding it. This was before I was a policeman, and my fiancee and I were just helping the police. When it was dug up, it lay on the ground, guarded day and night, until the federal DOE people could take it. In all that time, it was in plain view of many people, but none of them were federal agents. Later, in a government lab, it was discovered that the object in their hands was not what they thought it was, and they've concocted various theories, I believe seven of them, to explain how their property might have been switched for something else. Of these, the least probable is that the switch happened in the woods after the thing was dug up. But because the federal agents always have to check minutely everybody who is not a federal agent, there are dozens of people here, and I'm one of them, who are subject to investigation. I dispute the use of the word suspect, as applied to any of us. I don't think I am really suspected of anything, and I've offered my full cooperation to the agents in their inquiry.
"If you want more information, I suggest that you contact Detective Harry Peters."
"Will the FBI investigation prevent you from being trained by the Secret Service?"
"I really don't know, sir. Nobody I've talked with has much of an understanding of how, or even whether, government agencies interact. If you'd like to have the FBI expedite their investigation of me or any of the others on your roster, it seems reasonable that they might do it to help you out. I'd sure like to get it over with."
"I'm told that Captain Mueller thought at one time that you might be involved in criminal behavior. Do you wish to comment on that?"
"Sir, that's one of the best things that anybody can ever say about me. Captain Mueller is an absolute fool. He tried to play detective and he can't even spell the word. The feeble steps he took to investigate the incident were an absolute fiasco. Sir, given your privileged position, my record with the police department is an open book to you, and I invite you to read every word in it. My contact with Captain Mueller was before I was a member of the department and if he had stayed in his position commanding the fifth precinct, I never would have applied. If he were standing here right now, I'd repeat exactly what I just said, every word, right to his face.
"Incidentally, if you do have the time to read through personnel folders, you ought to take a look at Captain Mueller's."
"Well! You've certainly stated your position on that subject very clearly. I think that's all that I needed to know. Is there anything else, before you leave?"
"Only this, sir. I volunteered for the personal protection duty. I'm not going to withdraw my name from the list of volunteers because I'm still willing to participate. Apparently it's your show. It you decide you don't want me on your squad, please write a request to my captain and she'll take care of it."
THERE'S ALWAYS SOMETHING HAPPENING
The next day after my conversation with Terry I was out on patrol with my partner, Aaron Brewster. We shared the driving duty, and it was my turn at the wheel when we got an urgent call on the radio. I turned on all the flashing lights and selected the high warble on the siren. Then I pulled a U turn in the middle of a busy block and laid down smoking rubber as we headed for trouble. The call was for a bank robbery with three gunshot victims, one thought to be dead and the other two seriously wounded. As we got closer to the scene we could hear sirens coming from every direction, but by a quirk of fate we got there first. Two other cruisers pulled up before we were even out of the car, and an ambulance came next.
Two people were lying on the sidewalk in front of the bank, and the ambulance driver backed up to the curb near to them, taking up the space between two parked cars, and stopped with the rear bumper of the ambulance roughly even with the curb. I had one foot on the pavement and the other in the patrol car, sizing up the situation while I was grabbing for the shotgun that rides vertically between the driver and his partner. Aaron was looking around, too, and he yelled, "Duck, kid!" just before the driver of the car blocked in by the ambulance started shooting. Aaron got down by the right front fender and drew his pistol. I felt the shotgun pull free of its mounting clip just as I got down to a crouch, and I pulled it around to my shoulder as I was scanning the backstop: that is, the area beyond the shooter. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the ambulance driver go down, with blood splattering from some wound. I focused on the shooter, who was standing by the open driver's door, with his left side facing toward me. As he got off two more shots at the ambulance, I let him have a load of buckshot in his left side, somewhere between his waist and shoulder. It hit him squarely and he flew back into the driver's seat while his gun bounced off his open door and skittered across the pavement. The semiautomatic shotgun went back into battery with another round in the chamber, and I felt the little lurch that it always gives as the bolt slams home on the fresh round. As fast as it was ready, I was ready, aiming at a second robber who was standing on the sidewalk on the far side of the getaway car, holding a pistol as he pivoted to face me. A fraction of of a second before I was in his sights, I got off a shot that sent buckshot skimming across the car roof and right into his face. He disappeared from my view, but I saw his pistol fly up in the air, spinning as it went, clearly beyond his control. Behind me and slightly to my right, I heard Aaron's pistol fire three shots, pause, and then three more. That told me that we were in real trouble, because Aaron learned his trade when cops carried revolvers with only six shots, and they were taught to fire two and evaluate. When I turned slightly I could see what it was all about. Another bank robber was crouching near the rear of the getaway car, trying to shoot at us over the trunk. Every time he lifted his head enough to see what he was aiming at, Aaron sent a few shots his way and he ducked down again without shooting. While Aaron kept him occupied, I made a dash for the small space between the front of the car and the ambulance, and squeezed through to aim the shotgun at the suspect who was dodging Aaron's bullets. "Drop the gun!" I yelled, with the shotgun already at my shoulder. The gunman spun toward me, and I was watching his pistol swinging toward my head as I fired. The buckshot took him down, and stray pellets took out the front tire of a car parked at the curb just beyond him, with a loud "Poof!"
Then suddenly, all was quiet. I could hear the ambulance driver moaning behind me, as his partner tended his wound. Then, as my hearing started to recover from the temporary effects of the shotgun blasts, I heard the scraping and thudding of feet on blacktop as four police officers came surging up to where the action had been.