tagNon-EroticProblems in the Ponderosas Ch. 03

Problems in the Ponderosas Ch. 03


Val and I had been thinking of each other as our one and only for so long that in our minds we were already husband and wife. Our coworkers saw us that way too, and yet we were legally single. That might seem like a trivial detail, but there's a lot of truth in the saying that the devil's in the details. Whenever we decided to get officially married, with a license and all that, we'd have to be split up because the department had a rule against married couples working under the same commander. Neither one of us wanted that, and neither did Captain Winston, so it was a good time for a long engagement.

The patrol officers we worked with were all old enough that they were like parental figures to us. In the beginning we'd wondered if they'd regard us as wise young kids and resent the attention we got from the press, but it turned out exactly the opposite. They'd taken us on as a joint project, to perfect, polish, and protect, with the expectation that if they poured enough of their wisdom into us we might get onto a fast track for promotion.

We weren't the only members of the precinct who thought highly of Captain Winston. The whole precinct had become a cohesive unit under her leadership, and we occasionally joked that we weren't just a precinct, we were more like a family. We were quick to help each other, we watched each other's backs, and in general enjoyed spending time together. When one of the guys did something extra special and got an attaboy for it, everybody would crowd around and add their personal congratulations. With that kind of family atmosphere at work, we were generally a cheerful bunch, and our attitude showed in the quality of our work.

One Saturday afternoon a bunch of us were sitting in our back yard, enjoying a stretch of perfect June weather that was just made for lawn chairs and cold beer. The guys had brought their wives along, and two of the couples had little grandchildren in tow. It was nice to hear the kids' voices exclaiming over the wonders of a kiddy pool as they splashed water generously over the lawn and the adjacent sandbox. My partner, Aaron Brewster, had been giving me some pointers during the past week on the fine art of foot patrol, or being a beat cop, as it used to be called. He was in a reflective mood, and was talking about the change in the precinct since Captain Mueller had been pushed aside and Captain Winston had taken his place. "It's a good place to work again," he said, "and it's a pleasure to be part of a precinct we can take personal pride in again."

Sid Schwartz chimed in, "That's what we ought to tell people, that we work in the Proud Precinct."

Somebody agreed, and pretty soon everybody was turning the words over and saying how much they liked that. We got up as a group and went over to the kiddy pool to tell the ladies that their husbands were part of the Proud Precinct. One of the ladies asked, "Why don't you get some T shirts made with that on them?" Sarah Kelly, who had been a commercial artist before becoming a wife and mother, went in the house with Val to get paper and pencil, and came out pretty soon with a sketch of a T shirt with the police department logo and a big numeral 5 superimposed on it for the front, and across the back our new motto, The Proud Precinct.

The PBA picnic was coming up on the Fourth of July weekend, and somebody said what a great idea it would be to have us all, and our wives, too, wearing those T shirts at the picnic. Tom Kelly suggested that we run the idea past Captain Winston before we jumped into it with both feet, and there was general agreement, but everybody was looking for somebody else to tackle her on it. Val said nothing and went back into the house. She came back out inside of five minutes, and said, "She's on her way here now."

The looks of astonishment were almost comical, on the faces of guys who had worked for more Muellers than Winstons in their careers, and somebody said, "You're kidding, right?"

"Not for a minute. I gave her the ten cent summary and asked her if she'd like to see the sketch, here in our back yard on our own time, so she could stomp it out if she doesn't like it and nobody would know but us conspirators. She said she'd be here in a, wait a second, I hear a car now, I bet that's her." Val went to the gate and looked out as tires crunched into the driveway and a car door slammed. "Come on in this way, Captain. Ken, see if you can find a cold beer for the boss."

Bobby came in and greeted all the guys by name, and was introduced to their wives. She was dressed the same as everybody else, in shorts, a light shirt, and a baseball cap with her blond pony tail sticking out the back. She went over and squatted down and made a fuss over the little kids, who seemed to take to her immediately. Then she came back over to the patio and asked, "Now what's this wild scheme you're trying to involve me in?"

Everybody spoke at once, and Sarah laid the sketches of the front and back on the picnic table. "Ooh, I love it! Sarah, how about doing this on pale blue shirts, with the art work all in Navy blue, maybe with a swipe of white as a background for the words? Or do you think it needs a touch of bright color somewhere?"

"How about some red on the 5 in front, across the police logo?"

"Terrific! Does anybody have any connection to a T shirt place that can make them up?"

Tom said, "I took care of getting the shirts for our Little League teams last year. I can make some calls and see what I can come up with."

"Okay, get this firmed up as fast as you can, and say Wednesday let's have order forms for all the guys and their wives, too. Tell them we want premium quality shirts, not cheapies. Don't put any prices on the order forms. I'll take care of the expense from the Health and Welfare fund, or if that's running low I'll pay it all out of my own pocket. Oh, see if they can do some extra long ones for nightgowns, too. At the picnic I'm going to give the chief a shirt. I doubt that he'll wear it, but I'm sure he'll take it home with him."

Aaron lifted his beer can up in the air. "I propose a toast, to the Proud Precinct!"

"The Proud Precinct," everybody repeated, and we took a swig, everybody smiling. Smiling how? Why, Proudly, of course!

"Now I want you all to tell your friends all over the department that this was your idea, not mine. Then that will go out across the whole city. I don't want any of the other commanders starting the rumor that this is something I invented to toot my own horn. Look, seriously, I'm glad you're proud of our precinct, but you're only about half as proud as I am of all of you, and the way you've pulled this outfit together. We've got everything going for us: experienced cops, a strong work ethic, real teamwork across the board, and even our own youth movement. We can set an example for the whole department. This is how great it can be to produce excellent results by working as a team."

Somebody said, in a small voice, "Should we give a shirt to Captain Mueller?"

"That'd be the day!" exclaimed Bobby. "That man nearly destroyed this precinct to the point where it never could have recovered. But maybe I do owe him something, because he was so bad that he makes me look good." She drained her beer. "Hey, I've gotta run, but thanks for all this. Now I can't wait for the picnic!" She tossed her empty can ten feet into the trash barrel, just like a three pointer, and with a wave to everybody, she was gone.


A memo from the Captain was in everybody's mailbox one Monday morning. It was short and to the point. A team of elite officers was being assembled to provide personal protection for VIP's. Special training would be provided for the officers who volunteered for this duty. At the work call Sergeant Johnson made sure we all had seen the memo, and mentioned that he would be collecting names of volunteers during the week, and there would be a meeting on Thursday at the end of the shift to answer questions.

This was an exceptional memo in that we had no inkling about it in advance. Val took me by the sleeve as the work call meeting broke up, and we both nodded to each other. I asked Sergeant Johnson to put our names down. He made a show of flapping some papers back on this clipboard, and looking closely at a sheet that probably was blank. "Oh, yes, your names are already on the list. Now how could that have happened?"

The personal protection detail was at the top of everybody's discussion agenda that day. I couldn't tell from the conversation which guys were likely to volunteer and which ones wanted nothing to do with it. Probably they still wanted to think about it, and talk it over with their families.

Thursday afternoon's meeting held a surprise for me, although it shouldn't have been. Sergeant Johnson started to say something, and got choked up. He stopped and took a sip from his water bottle. Then he started again, and it was still hard for him. "I've talked with everybody in the precinct, and I have several categories. First, we have some guys who have wives or other dependents with serious illnesses. They asked to be left out of this duty unless we really need them to fill out the roster. This group included our oldest officers. The next group said that they'd be glad to volunteer, but they considered that they were seriously out of shape. In order to be effective at this sort of duty they thought they'd have to get into better shape first, so maybe they ought to be added later, after they'd lost some weight and done some strength training. Again, many of these guys are our older men, but even though we'd normally not ask them to pull this duty, their attitude is that if we need them, they'll make personal sacrifices to do what's needed. Now we get to men who question whether they'd be good at this sort of duty, but did not hesitate to volunteer. And finally, we have some of our finest younger men, and a very fine young woman, who volunteered without reservation.

"Let me make this clear: in one group or another, my list has every name in this precinct. That T shirt slogan really fits here. This is the Proud Precinct, and I'm proud to be in it with you."

Sergeant Johnson paused to take another drink of water, and Tom Kelly took the opportunity to ask, "What happens now, Sarge?"

"Captain Winston will review the list and select the people she wants to talk with, in groups and in some cases, as individuals. Those conversations will take place next week. Our roster will be completed by Friday next week." He shook his head. "In all my years in this business, I never saw a bunch of cops like you guys. Thank you all for your interest and cooperation."


The final roster from our precinct for personal protection numbered eight. The ideal was to go into special training at the Police Academy with that number, and later select some number from that group for additional training by the Secret Service.

Val and I were on the list, and we had no doubt that we would make the final cut and go on for the Secret Service training. But the more we chewed it over, the more we felt there were too many open questions about this program, and we stayed behind after the day shift left, so we could have a word with Bobby. We walked over to her office, and found that nobody else was around. While we were wondering whether to knock on her door or call her on the phone, the door opened and there she was, apparently ready to call it a day.

I asked her if she had any free time that evening, because we'd like to talk with her for a half hour. "Would you like to come in and we can talk right now?"

"No, I had in mind something less formal, somewhere else. Could you stop by our house?"

"Well, I've got to eat. How about if we meet at a restaurant and talk over dinner? I'll even treat."

"Sounds too good to refuse. Where, and what time?"

"Seven thirty, at the Colonial House on Maple Street. Okay?"


We were right on time, and Bobby was already there. We were all dressed casually, jeans and short sleeved shirts, and certainly didn't look like representatives of a police department, which was just fine with us.

She greeted us and said she'd already ordered appetizers for us to munch on for a while, before we had to get serious about our entrees. "What's on your minds?"

"The personal protection detail. We don't understand the need for it, and so far it's too mysterious for us to understand anything about it. The training concept is clear enough, but the purpose of it is obscure."

"Well, the idea is to have our own bodyguard force, independent of any organization outside the city."

"Why? Who needs all this guarding, and what have they been doing up until now?"

"If we need a security detail to protect someone or something, we've been able to get help from the state. That's going away. The state has said that we'll have to protect our own interests."

"Is it in the interests of the state government for every city and county to have its own little elite force of security guards?"

"It is, if the state hasn't the money to pay for taking the job off our hands, as they have in the past."

"And where are we going to get that money?"

"By using existing officers, the city expects to cover it out of existing budgets."

"But if we take officers off the streets, what happens to the streets?"

"The thought is that these personal protection details wouldn't happen very often or last very long."

"Then to do that level of thinking, someone must have a good idea of who's going to be guarded, and when, and how long, and why."

"Yes, so it would seem."

"Is this same recruitment of volunteer members of the security detail going on in every one of the other precincts?"

"I've been told that it is."

"How many people are they trying to get together to do this job?"

"I don't know. There are eight precincts, plus the detective bureau, plus other smaller groups. If we look only at the precincts and the bureau, and if they are raising the same size force that we are, there will be 72 people being trained by the Police Academy, and probably 36 of them will go on to be trained by the Secret Service."

"So the working force is 36 heads. Normally, a third are held in reserve, so 24 heads will be guarding unknown persons for unknown durations at unknown frequency. These things usually go on around the clock, so we'd be talking an average of eight people per shift. That's a pretty big force. After all, if the President comes to town, he brings his own bodyguards with him. Are you comfortable with this?"

"Oh, now you're getting down to what I feel, not what I know or can estimate. That's different."

"And what about the question?"

"Am I comfortable with it? No, not totally."

"All right. Who's pushing this? Or should I ask who's pulling the strings?"

Bobby obviously didn't want to answer, or didn't want to think about the answer, or didn't want to admit that she didn't know the answer. Instead, she said, "Stop with the questions for a few minutes and let's order our dinners. Everything on the menu is good, and I hope you're as hungry for food as you are for inside information. I'm ordering the surf and turf."

I scanned the menu briefly and announced, "I'll have the same thing you're having. Why pass up advice from an expert?"

Val settled on a seafood sampler. Then we got back to the matter of the personal protection detail. Val looked across at Bobby's face, which looked tired. "Look, Bobby," she said, "you know that we trust you with our lives, but we don't really know much about the rest of the department brass, or the city government either. At the academy we heard all sorts of horror stories from our classmates about things that local politicians did that were anywhere from self-serving to immoral to downright criminal. We believe in you strongly enough so that if you said, 'Trust me,' we'd do whatever you told us to. But we haven't any reason to think of city hall people that way, so we're a little nervous about this whole deal. We became police officers because of you. The other members of our precinct feel the same way that we do about following you, but they don't have a lot of love for a department that dropped Captain Mueller into their laps for years to make their lives miserable."

I put in one more remark to help explain our level of discomfort. "In Afghanistan I saw a whole lot of little elite squads put together by what we'd call small town politicians here. There they were more like two-bit warlords. We actually didn't know who could be trusted, because instead of a homogeneous group loyalty to a central command, there were guys walking around all over, armed to the teeth, ready to kill at any moment to follow some bozo's hidden agenda. So we want to know what's going on, and we're pretty nervous about being in the dark."

"All right, I see what you're nervous about. Let's enjoy a good meal and I'll try to explain what I know. I think, note the verb, that you're unduly alarmed. I don't have all the answers, but I have some ideas about how we can find out more.

"First of all, this started out because the state is cutting back the budget of the state police, as I mentioned in the beginning. The suggestion that local departments set up their own personal protection teams came from the state police, and I was well enough informed to have total confidence in the people who suggested it. We used the state police six times last year and five times the year before, for personal protection details. There's nothing wrong with having the state provide the specially trained people for those occasions, and there's nothing wrong with doing it with specially trained people in our own department, either. In a way, this could be a good thing at a time when budgets are being slashed all over. Taking on another responsibility can be a good argument against cutting our department's funds. So anyway, that was the beginning of it.

"The next step was that the mayor's office looked into the matter. What you may not realize is that the mayor has a bunch of staff assistants who do whatever he tells them to do. Two are lawyers, and at least one is an accountant. A couple are just errand boys. Two are public relations people, writing news releases for the press and generally making the mayor look good enough to get re-elected when his term is up. He assigned two of those people, one lawyer and one errand boy, to investigate the ways that personal protection details could be handled with the state bowing out of the job. One approach was to hire private security people whenever bodyguards are going to be needed. Two problems there: they'd need to have pretty good advance warning, and those people are expensive. A third problem that they didn't talk about outside their own turf is that private security people can't be controlled. You sign their contract, with all their own clauses in it, and then they take total control of everything until the threat is past. The mayor and his assistants don't hand over their power willingly. If they weren't control freaks they wouldn't be in politics in the first place.

"So the only other possibility worth considering was to do the job with our own cops. Now here's where I'm not sure that I feel real good about this. When it was discussed with the chief, he said okay but he'll promote or hire an assistant chief to handle this whole bodyguard unit, and instead the mayor said no, that he'd turn that responsibility over to one of his assistants. He picked Terry Gardner for the job. Terry is a lawyer. He worked for a while in the White House, and he dealt with the personal protection people in the Secret Service, so he's not totally green at this, but that doesn't make him a security expert, either. So there you have the picture. To put it in terms of your wartime experience, our warlord is Terry Gardner, and we suppose that his loyalty is to the mayor."

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