Station personnel stared in amazement as Sergeant Homer “the Frog” Arbogast strode past the front desk, thorough the open bay, and down the hall to his office. No one said a word, but eyes questioned each other and more than one set of shoulders lifted and dropped in expressive shrugs.
It couldn’t be the day itself, which happened to be April 15, the centuries old deadline for paying taxes. No one liked that. It couldn’t be the weather, which was ignoring the spring calendar to alternate between snow and sleet driven by a twenty mile an hour wind. Yet there it was, an event as unexpected as a flying pig, a smooth commute in EC, or an honest Jovian.
The Frog was whistling.
Homer didn’t even notice the impact he’d made. Last night they’d done it; he’d actually nailed Nails. Rather, she’d nailed him. Climbed his leg in the kitchen of his own one bedroom apartment. He should have offered to cook dinner sooner! The famous Arbogast family recipe for pot roast followed by homemade cherry pie. Mm-mmm! Finger lickin’ good, and he wasn’t thinking about the food. Food for the Soul, maybe. Soul food. That’s what this girl was, Soul food.
He’d pretended to scold her for being a bad girl after he found out just how much more she knew about sex than he did. Not that she’d been at all impressed by his mock ferocity. Claimed to be impressed with something else, though. That must mean their trust level had escalated to at least belt level for sure.
“Oh, baby, light my fire,” he murmered under his breath.
“Agh!” The big man jumped, blushing furiously and banging his knees on the underside of his desk while trying to get to his feet. He promptly gave that project up as a bad idea and plopped back down in his chair.
“Jeez, Sarge, are you all right?” Caroline, the mail girl, had just arrived with the morning’s Dragon Wagon full of bad news. His paperwork for the day, or a good part of it.
“Ah, yeah, sure, Carrie. I’m fine. How’re you this fine blustery morning?”
“Mean and nasty as always. PMS, had to throw out another good for nothing boyfriend, and my Mom was up all night hacking and spitting so’s I didn’t get a lick of sleep. Other’n that, everything’s over the rainbow. Here’s your slop.”
“Yeah, about average.” She handed him a plastic basket filled to overflowing with a hodgepodge of envelopes, letters, miscellaneous forms, wanted posters, and the odd missing person report. He was hard at work before she got the mail cart moving toward the next desk. With all the technological advances in the past two centuries, why, he wondered, were police departments the world over still inundated with hard copy?
He knew part of the answer but suspected there was more. Going back to papyrus scrolls and hieroglyphics chiseled in stone, humanity had a long love affair with the written word. Homer felt a touch of that himself. He didn’t talk about it, but his office files were neat and well organized primarily because writing with pen and ink and even a word processor was for him a sensual experience.
Soul of a poet, Soul of an artist. Most likely the same thing.
Going through routine stuff on automatic, his agile mind had plenty of room in which to roam pleasurably over the developing relationship with the most stunning female he’d ever met. Adding to her physical attributes, she’d also continued to give him “truth in installments” as promised. Several weeks back, she’d handed him a small book titled Surviving Retirement. Claimed it was a copy, that the original had been given to her by her mysterious A.S.P. contact, John, at their second meeting.
John still hadn’t contacted her since the Guild raid on his former safe house, but the book was nonetheless a gold mine of information. A lot of it was in code, or rather it used Seeder terms that would be known only to an insider. Still, there was much in plain English.
Being a law enforcement kinda guy, his favorite line in the entire volume was one of the answers given in the chapter on Going Black.
Question: What is the best way to stay out of sight after being profiled on America’s Most Wanted?
Answer: Just shoot yourself.
America’s Most Wanted was the only TV show still in production that dated clear back to the twentieth century, surviving a number of cancellations over the years, popping up again and again. These days, the program dominated ten Law Enforcement Channels, 24/7.
Back in the beginning, or so the history buffs would have you believe, it had been only a one hour show, one day a week. Hard to swallow, but….
His full attention suddenly snapped back to the paperwork in front of him. Following a missing person report about an Alzheimer’s patient who had wandered away from her nursing home, a clip of departmental memos surfaced, some of those ubiquitous communications that usually didn’t mean much but kept the pinheads at the top believing they were actually earning their salaries.
This one memo in particular, though…. He read it through several times, thinking. What in Jumping Jupiter is going on here?
From the desk of Chief Courson, it began. Department Personnel are hereby directed to refer any and all complaints against the Guild to this desk.
Coverup. No other way to read it. Had to be. Calvin was not the kind of guy to take on extra work for the fun of it. In fact, he was usually quite efficient at delegating responsibility to capable underlings. In addition to his ability to brownnose those who could help his career, that instinct for picking the right subordinates had propelled the smooth bugger to the top.
Once, back in their mutual days in blue, he’d even shown Homer a copy of The History of our Presidents, Their Strengths and Weaknesses.
“My favorite comparison,” Calvin had stated, serious as a ten percent jump in unemployment, “has nothing to do with the founding fathers or Mt. Rushmore or even with Korten Vig, Hero of the Anti-Jovian Offensive in the late 2070’s. No, the best lesson of all is Ronald Reagan, the first teflon President, even before Slick Willie Clinton and The Amateur, Barack Hussein Obama. When you compare Reagan with the man he ousted, Jimmy Carter, the results are astounding.
“Both of these men–Carter and Reagan, not Clinton–definitely not Clinton–were considered to be solid married guys of impeccable character and sterling morals. Carter was such a good man he even went on–after having been President of the United States, mind you, President!–to build houses for poor people.
“Reagan, on the other hand, while not stupid, was not really a mental giant, either. After he left office, he didn’t do charity work. Instead, he went home to his California ranch, long before that section of the state was bombed back into the ocean, where he quietly suffered from Alzheimer’s until his death. Yet today Reagan is well remembered, even revered, while hardly any schoolkid except a College Bowl whizbanger can even name Carter. So, what was the key difference between the two?”
History had never been Homer’s strength in school, so he hadn’t replied. Not that his silence mattered; nobody could shut Cocky Calvin up when he got going in pontificating mode, anyway.
“Delegation! Carter was mentally brilliant, but he couldn’t trust other people to do their jobs as well as he could. Any of their jobs. Plus, like Clinton and Obama (who came later), he suffered from liberal Bleeding Heart Disease. So he tried to supervise everything and thus accomplished nothing. After his first four years, the voters chucked him out on his peanut farming, obsessive compulsive head.
“Reagan, now, he delegated. Picked competent people for his inner circle, let them do their jobs while he napped every afternoon. Reelected easy as pie, now remembered as one of our greatest Presidents. Delegation!”
Courson’s rant had bored Homer stiff at the time, but he did remember what the man had said, or at least the gist of it. Taking Ronald Reagan as his role model, Calvin C. Courson trusted his people to do their jobs and do them right. If you messed up, he’d come down on you like the I.R.S. coming down on a Tea Party member, but otherwise he expected you to do your job, and he’d leave you do it.
So, why the Guild? It didn’t make sense. No one had filed a complaint against the Guild in conscious memory, not in this Sector of the City, anyway.
The un-funny aspect of this was that his time with Nails Hendrix, not to mention the contents of that Surviving Retirement book, had turned him into a believer. The Guild was a force for evil. To have that evil force bringing Police Sector Chiefs out in the open on their side, that was spoo-ooky. They no doubt owned a few Senators, but who among the Rich and Rotten didn’t? Judges, sure; that would take care of any spurious lawsuits, and he knew from hard experience that a whole lot of judges out there were on the take.
Another thought on the subject intruded, causing Homer to reach for the bottle of antacid tabets in his top left desk drawer. If the buck now had to go all the way to the Chief’s desk before stopping, it had to mean Courson didn’t trust the troops. That might be a good thing; it could indicate that at least some of the troops, the line officers, were still clean. More likely, it meant the Powers That Be considered Guild business too sensitive for mere cops to handle.
Which meant the little tin gods were playing. When the tinnies played, mere mortals got flayed. The Frog knew himself to be merely mortal and then some, but he really preferred to keep his skin intact.
He got up from his desk just long enough to pour a second cup of coffee–thanking the Creator that his acid stomach actually seemed to appreciate the stuff–and tried valiantly to clear his thinking. Arbogast thinking wasn’t always known for speed, but it did possess clarity. Most of the time. Let’s see…how many cases or even memos had he seen pertaining to the Guild in the past ten years in this Precinct?
Homer looked up. A civilian in an impeccably tailored brown suit stood in his office doorway. The man looked ill at ease, turning an expensive Curlew hat in his hands. Yellow warning lights came on in the big cop’s mind; his left foot shifted to hover above the shield button. Front door security should have detected anything as obvious as a pistol in a hat, but you never knew. It paid to be careful.
“What can I do for you, sir?” he inquired pleasantly. Courtesy paid as much as being careful, at least most of the time. “Please, do come in. Have a seat.”
“Ah. Yes. Thank you.”
The man was big, beefy, florid of face. He coughed and looked embarrassed when he did. Closing in on sixty years of age, something like that, and not in the best of health. Confused? Maybe literally trying to find himself, the subject of a missing person report who truly had no idea where home might be? No…the guy was worn, but he still had his faculties…
“Yes. Thank you. Two cream if you would, no sugar.”
“Done deal.” The Frog’s own cup had hit bottom again, so he poured for two from the pot he’d moved to his desk. He let his visitor pick up his own cup when it was ready, though. It gave him a chance to study the man, plus he was able to keep his foot poised over the shield button. The fellow was not emanating anything that felt remotely like threat, but he was a big guy, almost as big as Homer himself.
Mr.Curlew Hat took a long pull of hot java and shuddered visibly.
“Not quite used to station brew?” Arbogast grinned. Coffee brewed at the PD was definitely an acquired taste.
“Not quite.” The civilian’s hat had been removed almost as an afterthought, but his Mama had obviously taught him manners somewhere along the way. He looked sheepish enough that Homer did finally move his foot away from the button, still grinning in sympathy.
“May I state my business, Sergeant?” The man really did have manners.
“I…I want to file a missing persons report. I mean, a missing person report. There’s only one.”
“Oh. Well, not to be discourteous, Mr.—?”
“Johnson, Sergeant. My name is Harlan Johnson.” He hesitated, clearly expecting Homer to recognize the name. A celebrity? Politician? A missing person report was small potatoes, hardly the sort of thing any cop cared a flatulation in the station about unless the missing individual was famous or a helpless child or your own mother. But there was something here, something more than the scum on the surface of the pond.
The whistling Frog was suddenly intrigued.