Welcome back, Dear Readers from America, Australia, and China.
In today’s installment, you’ll meet Tommy, a reclusive computer whiz with some ideas that might help out our not-so-bright Arnold with his “little employee relations problem,” AKA Natalie’s new position.
If you’re new to FLEET FILES, I recommend you read yesterday’s post, as that’s where the story begins.
The document that would serve as Natalie’s contract had been sitting on Arnold’s desk for over a week. It wasn’t from the personnel department; it was Arnold’s feeble cut-and-paste job. While he might have been able to acquire a real employment contract through the proper channels had his job offer been limited to merely a change in title, he realized—long after he promised a pay increase—that he would have to draw up the papers himself. And with only an illegitimate solution on how he was going to pay her salary increase, he was in no rush to have the new arrangement begin. Arnold decided to wait for Natalie to come to him.
Chiding himself for how he got himself into his present situation, Arnold recalled the afternoon when he called Natalie into his office with his gut processing his standard breakfast: three eggs, 6 strips of bacon, and two pieces of white toast, cut on the diagonal after a proper buttering. His mother had dubbed it “a breakfast fit for an astronaut,” back when Arnold envisioned his grown-up job as being, quite literally, out of this world. The persistent reaction to his NASA dream from teachers and relatives—Arnold didn’t really have “friends,” per se—was skepticism, as Arnold did not like being outdoors, so his vocational desire to go to “space” came off as either grandiose or delusional.
At the window facing the parking lot, Arnold appeared to be taking in the splendor of the June blue sky and tender green grass. Those who knew of his astronaut aspirations might have concluded that, though earthbound, he imagined himself far away. He wasn’t enjoying the day or fantasizing, he was stalling.
Under his desk sat the box that had been taking up that space since the day after it was entrusted to him. Months ago. Arnold looked over his shoulder and locked his eyes on it. He thought, I’ve put this off long enough. It’s time.
Crossing the expanse of his far-too-large office and leaning over the threshold into the anteroom, he said to his secretary, “Betty, hold my calls for the next hour, please.” She looked up from her computer, gave him a puzzled look, but nodded nevertheless. Arnold closed his office door and as he walked back to his desk, he was keenly aware that his request was inane: people so rarely called.
Arnold dropped into his seat and looked down—past his thick and aching knees—to the box’s lid and saw the oily evidence of past chiefs’ hands. Nothing was written on the box. Nowhere was there any indication that the contents were private or privileged—or special in any way. The box looked utterly innocuous, inconsequential.
Straining to slide the box toward his feet, Arnold struggled to lift it onto his desk. Nothing shifted within the tightly-packed box, but his heart thumped hard in its compressed chamber. With his belly facing the box, he recalled the physical ease that the previous chief, Daniel Clayton, displayed in the handling of the box. He also remembered Daniel’s foreboding words the night he was called to Daniel’s condo.
“This is for you,” Daniel had said.
When Arnold had stood up from his seat at Daniel’s kitchen table to open it, Daniel waved his hand and said, “Not here, Arnold. On your own time.”
“I’d like to know what’s in there,” Arnold said, his voice an embarrassing half octave higher than normal.
“Files,” Daniel said. “Figure it out. I did. Chief O’Sullivan did. And you will, too.”
“I can’t even look?” Arnold asked.
“Not here,” Daniel said.
With that conclusory statement, Arnold was asked to leave. Pulling onto B Street, Arnold caught the glow of lights through the curtains in the back bedroom of his small house and knew Tommy was there. Before going inside to play hours upon hours of video games with his young friend, Arnold hoisted the box from where Daniel had placed it on the backseat and wrestled it into the trunk of his Crown Vic. The next day, Arnold arrived to work early. Though his admission into the building was recorded on the close circuit cameras, no one saw him bring in the box and stuff it under his huge desk.
And now, today was the day. No more procrastination.
Arnold lifted the lid. He saw unmarked manila file folders of different vintages: old and new next to each other. Arnold tipped the box on its back edge to make some room for his wide hand to extract the first file.
He spun himself in his chair so that his back was to the door. Briefly, he considered closing the blinds. He was told to be careful, to guard the information. Arnold, uninterested in hoisting himself from his seat, reasoned no one would scrape through the bushes to peer in through the windows. He had asked not to be disturbed. All reasonable precautions had been taken.
In fact, he had been so reasonable and so precautious that Arnold felt safe in spinning 180 degrees back to face the deep thin drawer in the center of this section of his work space. He rested the unexamined file across his wide lap. Though the drawer made no noise when he pulled it open—it never did—he did so ever so slowly, increasing his anticipation of the taste of what he had hidden all the way in the back and to the left. Arnold jammed his hand in and felt around for the slippery wrapper. He remembered the day he first felt the thin plastic instead of the traditional paper wrapper. Initially, he found the new packaging odd in that it didn’t make any sound when he tore off the end. Once he held an unwrapped bar to his ear and listened as he tore. He thought he could hear a faint sound. Over the years, he forgot about the silent aspect of the slick packaging and began to regard it in a somewhat fetishistic way. It was silky and smooth like an imagined inner thigh or conjured satin panties. When the tip of his middle finger found its mark, he felt his usual physical response: a momentary rush of priapic blood quickly overshadowed by a flood of saliva.
Arnold extracted the candy bar, pinched the short end, and tore the top edge off at a sharp angle. He leaned forward, trapping the file between his thighs and his gut, and slipped the tiny piece of wrapper into his back pocket. He spun back around shielding his indulgence with the high back of his enormous chair. Left elbow propped on the arm rest, the candy bar reminiscent of a scepter, Arnold opened the file with his right hand.
There were half a dozen slightly tattered pages held together by a paper clip. As he made his way through the treat, he read the first entry:
August 14, 1986: MC overheard at son’s football practice stating his intention to run for city council in the spring election. Need to find way to prepare.
December 23, 1986: Last night’s X-Mas party at Chez Pierre, MC drank five vodka tonics.
Arnold paged through to see whether “MC” was fully named. Page after page, “MC” was just that. On the inside of the folder, behind the narrative, Arnold found a white label with a name in all-capital block lettering: “Marcus Crossfield.”
As one of the longest-serving city councilmen, everyone in Fleet was familiar with Crossfield. Arnold’s knowledge of Crossfield was cursory though he had a clear memory of Crossfield shaking his hand the evening Arnold was brought before the city council for its endorsement of his promotion to sergeant in 1999.
May 14, 1987: MC elected. Need full background. Paper reports MC raised in Tilton. Set up sit-down with Tilton PD Chf.
June 28, 1987: Tilton Chf. reported history of preferential treatment of MC by Tilton PD due to family business. Crossfield Automotive in Stanfield. MC driven home by TPD on several occasions after “one too many” 1958-1961.
Arnold scanned the handwritten notes. All of the entries, save one, were by the same author with a preference for a fountain pen, black ink. The last entry was in blue ball point. Arnold recognized Daniel’s handwriting.
04 July 12: MC found sleeping in the driver’s seat at house party on Lighthouse Lane. Unable to be woken up. Placed into protective custody. Driven home after four hours @ FPD. (MC not placed in holding cell/Slept it off in conference room) No record made.
Arnold closed the file, rested it on his lap, and concluded nothing more than Crossfield having a history of struggles with alcohol. Arnold squeezed the last bit of candy from the edge of the wrapper into his mouth. He folded the wrapper twice over into a near perfect square which he secreted into his pants pocket alongside the first shred. He was considering a second candy bar to go along with the next file when he rotated around.
His heart skipped a beat and then cramped: Natalie was standing right inside the threshold of his office.
“Betty,” he screamed. “I told you I didn’t want to be disturbed.”
Her reply was calm and accurate, “You told me to hold your calls, Chief.”
Arnold stood. He jammed the file back into the box and fumbled for the lid. He popped it on. His adrenaline kicked in allowing his arms to find the strength to lift the box easily and, with his left foot he kicked it back under the desk. Trying to pretend everything was in order—Nothing to see here, Folks—he asked Natalie what she needed as he sat back down.
Arnold was grateful that Natalie did not comment on what she had just witnessed and then used the side of his right index finger to wipe the sweat from the space right above his thin upper lip. He could taste the caramel coating the inside of his mouth and could feel bits of peanuts caught up along his gum line. While he knew she had seen the box, he was sure—unless she had a superhuman olfactory sense—that she was too far away to smell the chocolate.
“Has personnel gotten back to you yet, Arnold? It’s been ten days. I’d like to get started,” she said. Her arms were crossed in front of her. She stood with her left hip jutting out slightly.
“Yes, the contract is right here, been here for the past week. You could have come by any time.”
Arnold tapped his palm on the only paperwork on his desk. He flipped it over and slid it across to her. She sat to review the terms. Arnold did a fine job copying the format of a standard City of Fleet employee contract: the job of detective sergeant was detailed and the salary increase was there. He intentionally left the space for the start date blank.
“Should I put in today’s date for the start?” she asked.
Arnold was beginning to feel his breathing and heart rate returning to normal.
“I also want to make sure the job description includes my having my own case load. I want to do more than supervise the detectives. I thought I could use some of my own cases to show the detectives ‘best practices.’ It would be easier to do that by example rather than by dictate. Should I add that in?”
“Go right ahead.”
Natalie wrote in the additional term as she continued to speak, “Of all of the rotations I had before becoming sergeant, working in the detective unit was my favorite. The school resource officer gig was OK, and I liked working with the seniors, too. But hands down, the three years I worked cases as detective were my favorite.” Natalie held up the fake contract and asked, “Before I sign it, do you want to take a look?”
Not waiting for an answer, she handed the contract back to Arnold. He skimmed over her additions and nodded his approval.
“You don’t think that’s going to be too much for you?” he asked, perplexed over why someone would ever offer to do more work than expected.
“Not at all,” she said, and he believed her.
Arnold slid the four-page document back. She signed it and asked for a copy.
“Betty?” he called.
Betty appeared at the door. When he asked her to make Natalie a copy, Betty looked over his shoulder at his copier. Her eyebrows went up disdainfully.
“It’s out of paper,” he explained, and then feeling inferior to his own secretary, he changed his tone when he said, “When you come back, bring some more.”
Natalie reached back and over her head to hand the contract to Betty, saving her a step.
Arnold listened to the machine in the other room producing the requested copy and then heard Betty stapling. The slamming of the supply cabinet door preceded Betty’s reappearance. Unceremoniously, she handed Natalie her copy, placed the original on the desk, and dropped the plastic-wrapped ream of paper to the right of Arnold’s copier. Even after offloading those items, she still had something in her hand.
“What’s that?” Arnold asked, pointing to the papers she was holding.
“A copy of Detective Sergeant Martin’s contract for personnel.” Then to Natalie she said,
“Congratulations, Natalie. You sure deserve a promotion.”
Arnold lifted his hand and crooked a finger at her. “Give it here.”
“I’m headed to City Hall later on. I’ll drop it to Ellen,” Betty replied.
“And I am fully capable of getting it to Ellen myself.”
The left side of Betty’s upper lip rose as she handed over the papers. Pointing to the ream of copy paper, Betty said, “Do you need me to put that into your machine, Chief? Or are you fully capable of manage that yourself?”
“I got it, thanks.”
The tone with which Arnold spoke to Betty teemed with contempt and lacked any trace of thankfulness.
As she exited the room, Betty asked, in a saccharine tone, “Anything else, Chief?”
“Yeah, Betty, close the door, hold my calls, and do not permit anyone to disturb me.”
Betty pulled the door shut; it latched.
Natalie smiled cautiously and whispered, “You two aren’t close, are you?”
Arnold shook his head and rolled his eyes. Looking up to the clock mounted on the wall, Arnold concluded, “The detectives should be in by now. Let’s go give them the news.” he said.
“Great, I’d like that,” she replied, springing out of her seat and following too closely behind Arnold.
They made their way to the opposite corner of the building. The two plain-clothed detectives were sitting at their desks. Banter about last night’s baseball game was going back and forth. Both looked well rested, not a care in the world.
“Gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you to your new detective sergeant.”
Arnold’s formality was over the top. He ought to have realized that Natalie knew both men already. As a patrol sergeant, she’d supervised Joe Diaz for years, and Ronald Peterson and she shared the commonality of being married to prosecutors, a topic of many a lunch.
“Hi guys,” she said.
“What’s this ‘detective sergeant” thing?” Joe asked, standing and extending his hand. Natalie stepped forward, shook Joe’s hand, and then Ronald and she mirrored the exchange.
Arnold answered, “I decided the department needed some restructuring. We’ve got a backlog of active investigations and boxes and boxes of unsolved ones. Natalie is going to be in charge of reviewing closed cases and deciding which ones should be reopened and solved. She’ll be reporting directly to me.”
Natalie added, “I’m also going to have my own case load. I want us to work together. I’m not a do-as-I-say kind of supervisor. I think you both know that,” she said.
With nothing more to add, Arnold excused himself with a brusque “Get to work.”
Not quite out of earshot, Arnold heard Ronald ask, “He came to you with this idea?”
Arnold slowed down to hear Natalie’s response.
“No, he came to me with the idea that I become the new ‘Senior Detective Sergeant First Class.’ I pared it down.”
The men laughed. As Arnold started back up to his office, he was sure he heard one of the male voices say, “What a douche.” Arnold chose not the address the dig directly instead opting to soothe his hurt feelings by digging into his second candy bar of the morning.
“We got nothing from him,” Charlie said, crossing the threshold as Natalie extracted her head from inside the refrigerator.
“Nothing?” Natalie asked, feeling somewhat surprised based on Charlie’s optimism over breakfast.
“Nealy wouldn’t play ball. We’re going to trial. His lawyer, some second-career guy who used to work in high-tech, sat there in Judge Ashby’s lobby with such cockiness. In some ill-fitting suit and a poorly-knotted tie, this guy ticked off what he sees as flaws in the state’s case, finishing with the tired when-my-client-is-vindicated bullshit. I tried to be persuasive—even provided incentives for his client to name his co-conspirators—but this Attorney Robard brushed off the idea of a plea deal. He actually waved his hand dismissively at my suggestion. It was all I could do not to reach over and slap the sycophantic grin off his face.”
“Wow, Charlie. You’re pretty amped up over this. What’s the big deal? Take it to trial. You’re a trial lawyer.”
“You know how much I want to try this case? Zero. Juries don’t get all the technical terms. They get lost in the explanation of it. And that takes away from the crime, all that techno-babble. And you know that’s what his lawyer’s going to do: get them lost in the forest unable to see even one tree.”
“And you won’t be able to do anything to speed through it; the defendant has the right to put forward a defense,” she said.
“This trial is going to last forever,” Charlie said, applying pressure to his temples and massaging in small, concentrated circles.
“Doubt it,” Natalie said. “Judge Ashby runs an efficient courtroom.”
After a decade of marriage, Natalie knew how much Charlie disliked the feeling of being a mere a cog in the justice machine. The judge and jury would have their roles, Attorney Robard would have his as would Charlie. Taking a deep and cleansing inhale, Natalie thought it best to change the subject.
“Well, it’s official: I signed my new contract with today as my start date.”
“And the salary increase?”
“As far as I’m concerned? That, too, went into effect today. Even if there’s a delay in the paperwork, I’m going to insist it be retroactive.” Natalie reopened the fridge and began shifting items around. She leaned back out and added, “You know, Charlie, I think the job itself is going to be good. I’ll be working with Joe and Ronald. You remember meeting Ronald at the DA’s holiday party? He’s married to Amelia.”
“Yep. She’s climbing the ladder. Been there less than ten years and already being groomed for taking over someday.”
Natalie asked, “How do you know that?”
“Because she is. It’s obvious. No one climbs that fast unless it was preordained by the powers-that-be. We all saw it happening. Amelia did, too. And because she’s smart, she’s been careful not to step on too many toes or say anything too inflammatory. Amelia will be the DA someday. It’s good she likes me; I might be able to ride her coattails a bit.”
Natalie said, “That’d be good. You could get out of cybercrime and back into capital.”
Natalie heard her tone shift to optimistic as she made her prediction. She wanted him to be back in the capital until trying murders, rapes, the occasional armed home invasion.
On their honeymoon, the two of them fantasized about where they’d be, professionally speaking, on their tenth wedding anniversary: she would be chief of police, and he would be the supervising attorney of capital crimes. Nine years into their marital partnership, neither appeared on track to realize their predictions. Five years ago, Charlie had been the lead prosecutor in a case that made national headlines for its gruesome details. The press and the community quickly forgot about the deaths of Baby A and Baby B, but Charlie couldn’t. Their memories persisted to the degree that Charlie failed to function even adequately in the capital crime unit. Preemptively, he had asked for a transfer before his supervisor had the chance to let him go altogether.
Natalie took a can of beans and a box of dirty rice mix out of the pantry. With as much casualness as she could muster, she said, “Hey, get this. When I went into Arnold’s office today, he was looking at something which he obviously didn’t want me to see.”
Natalie tipped her head at Charlie, smirked, and said, “No. I don’t think that’s his thing.”
“Enough, Charlie,” she said. She turned to lean against the counter and said, “No, he was looking at a file, and it came from a box I’ve never seen before. The department’s file boxes and evidence boxes have ‘FPD’ printed on the sides and lines to write the dates and the contents. This box had no writing on it and looked much more sturdy than what we use. And it looked sort of old fashioned.”
“An old-fashioned cardboard box?” he asked.
“Yeah, that’s how it looked to me—like it’s been around for a long time. It was sort of smudged and dirty on the lid. And the file that he was looking at wasn’t standard department-issue either. It was plain manila cardstock.”
“So, did you ask him what it was?”
“No, he squirrelled it away under his desk. As I said, he obviously didn’t want me to see it, having a chat about it wasn’t happening.”
“Well, senior detective sergeant first class, what do you think it is?”
“Apart from another observation for me to record in ‘Operation Ousting,’ you got me. I’m curious though.”
Natalie’s eyes look up and to the right. She was hatching a plan.
“Nat, do me a favor. Don’t end up risking too much of yourself in this pursuit of getting him fired. He’s your commanding officer, he’s your boss. He could beat you to the punch.”
“Who’s the smartest woman you know?” Natalie asked in an almost sexy tone.
“You are,” he said, stepping toward her.
“And who is the most simpleminded chief of police in the history of policing?”
“I’m going to go with,” Charlie drew out the last word for several seconds before saying,
“Five points to the fiercely handsome prosecutor,” she said, knowing how much Charlie loved when she was sweet on him.
Natalie ought to have been able to predict that her compliment would lead to something.
“How about a little Giovanni’s tonight. I’m in the mood for Chianti and some Alfredo.”
Natalie stepped toward him, contemplating the notion of eating at the restaurant where they had already banked many memories.
Coyly, she quipped, “It seems as good as anywhere.”
Charlie reached out and pulled Natalie close. She reached up and rested her wrists on Charlie’s shoulders. He was a full eight inches taller than her.
She reasoned, “All we’ve got here is rice and beans and leftover Indian from the other night. So, Giovanni’s is probably a good choice.” Natalie looked down her gray pinstriped suit and added, “I’m not going to change clothes.”
“Neither am I. We’ve been overdressed there before.”
Their first date had been at the family-owned restaurant where their conversation morphed quickly from shop talk to the more intimate details of life. Clearly a well-made match based on education and professions, they spent as much time together as their different schedules would allow with Charlie putting in sixty hours a week and Natalie working second shift. The two spoke, emailed, and texted incessantly in the early months of their courtship. Natalie fell in love quickly, though she could tell that she was playing catch.
It was on their third or fourth date that the two of them shared the inventories of former lovers. Natalie cut her number by half and left out names. She appreciated what she imagined was Charlie’s similar semi-confession and his respect for anonymity. Lawyers and police were, by trade, an incestuous bunch. Natalie didn’t want to put a name to a face of those cops and attorneys who filled the closet Charlie’s past; she imagined he didn’t either.
Never did a dinner at Giovanni’s fail to result in the two of them becoming quickly undressed—once right in the driveway—and falling into bed together. Their first date had set the expectation which they continued to meet every time they dined there. Tonight would be no exception: with Charlie’s suggestion and Natalie’s acceptance, foreplay had begun.
“Are you going to class today, Thomas?”
Tommy heard his mother calling from the bottom of the stairs. Her voice climbed up and, somehow—as if she had control of airwaves—took a turn to the right to bellow right outside his bedroom door.
For twenty-four years, Carol had been cooking, cleaning, and screaming at Tommy. And when she wasn’t yelling, her speaking voice was suffused with contempt and critique. To his ears, hers was one continuous outloading of frustration. Carol probably didn’t mean it to sound that way, but Tommy knew he should have been on his own years ago.
Instead, he would routinely overhear her complain to his father, his sister, anyone who would listen, that all Tommy “ever does is goof around on that computer,” the implication being that he was making nothing of his life. Tommy’s programming classes were far beyond their grasp of his parents’ understanding. Knowing they wouldn’t be able to even begin to comprehend what he was learning and experimenting with, he simply explained he was doing “computer stuff.” What Tommy’s parents failed to realize was that Tommy was doing something with his education.
Just that morning, Tommy was sitting at his desk putting the finishing touches on a string of code that would enable him to modify the first-person shooter game he loved. He didn’t consider it hacking, instead choosing to refer to his intervention as “game enhancement.” Undetectable by the other members of his gaming “clan,” Tommy would be able to reach new levels of performance and be seen as the best clansman. He hoped that his rapid skills acquisition would be credited to practice as Tommy didn’t want to be regarded as the cheat that he was. By way of personality, Tommy only worked when he had to, preferring avoidance, excuse, or trickery.
“I don’t have to go in today,” he called back over his left shoulder to the shut door. “I’m submitting my final online.”
“What? I can’t hear you,” she called back.
Tommy flipped the hair that fell in front of his face back with a jerk of his neck, opened his bedroom door, and repeated himself.
“Then what?” she asked. “Then what do you plan to do for the rest of the day?”
“I don’t know. Stuff.”
Tommy heard her disdainful sigh. Frustration he could handle, annoyance he could tolerate. It was his parents’ contempt, in particular his mother’s, that pained him—not that he would ever admit it. His long-practiced defense was to distance himself and when forced to participate, exhibit pure apathy. He knew he had long ago achieved success, even if this purported “success” meant a caustic disintegration of the bond to his family.
After a long pause, she said, “I’m going to work. I’ll see you later. Try to do something productive today. You know, maybe mow the lawn for your father.”
“All right,” he said. “Bye.”
Tommy wished he could be out of their home. He knew that the day would come when he would be able to use his acquired skills to make his mark. Other computer programmers bragged about how they had used their “skills” to their advantage. For years, whenever Tommy came up with a good idea, it seemed that someone else got it market before he could. Nevertheless, Tommy was stubborn. He believed he had learned enough about how to make computers do what he wanted and that his knowledge was about to ripen into a golden apple of reward.
Entering without knocking, his laptop tucked under his right arm, Tommy found Arnold in the dimly-lit living room splayed out on the couch leaning back. His eyes were closed. Arnold’s aged, skinny cat was curled up tightly, snuggled up against Arnold’s corpulent thigh.
“Hey, it’s me,” Tommy said.
Arnold stirred and then partially woke. He said, “It’s better when I know you’re coming. I don’t have anything for you tonight.”
Tommy watched Arnold push himself up with his elbows to sit somewhat erect. He blinked his eyes open. The bony feline stood, arched its back, and extended each limb in turn.
“Whatever, man. I have something for you,” Tommy said, hoisting up his laptop even though Arnold wasn’t able to see it.
“It’s late. What is it?”
“Let me show you,” Tommy offered.
Tommy walked down the short hallway into Arnold’s bedroom. He heard Arnold shuffling behind him. Tommy plugged various cords from his laptop into Arnold’s PC and then fired up both computers. He handed Arnold a headset and donned one himself. The program booted up. Within a minute, they were immersed into the world of sniper hunts. Tommy began the demonstration: shot after shot was a kill; a clear departure from the usual.
“How’d you do that?” Arnold asked wide-eyed as he peeled off his headset.
“Code. I patched over some code onto the server.” Tommy wanted Arnold to think it was easy, but it had taken Tommy all summer to figure out how to get in.
“Let me try.”
Arnold put his headphones back on, took the controller from Tommy, and found that he, too, was now an expert marksman. Tommy watched Arnold’s eyes widen. A grin broke across his doughy, tired face. Arnold took shot after shot; made kill after kill. Smiling, Arnold removed the headset and said, “This is great.”
Tommy smirked at the compliment, and said, in a leading tone, “There are more applications for a program like this.”
Arnold looked at him with visible intrigue and said, “Are there?”
“Yep.” Tommy could hear his own haughtiness.
“Such as fixing your little employee-relations problem at work. You know, the money thing.”
“It depends on a couple of things. First, you’ll have to get the OCs. Twenty should cover your needs and mine if they’re 40’s. If 20’s are the best you can do, then you’ll have to get 50 of them. Like I said the other night, it’ll be easier for me to move 40’s. The fewer pills you pull from the evidence room, the better for you.”
Arnold nodded. Tommy guessed that Arnold had spent time ruminating over how to fix his situation and had yet to come up with anything better. Tommy’s suggestion, made over ribs at the Roadhouse, came after Arnold’s confession of an offered a raise with no ready way to fund it.
Arnold said, “All right, let’s presume I can get what you need, and you can sell it— ”
“Oh, I can sell it,” Tommy interrupted.
“Presuming that goes without complication, then what? I imagine it involves this,” Arnold said, waving at Tommy’s laptop and the cords tethering the two computers.
“Then I’m going to need access to Fleet’s internal server. You must have a way in as chief. You must have gotten some extra privileges when you became head of the police department.”
“Oh yeah, it was quite an expansion of perks. I got fresh paint in my office. And for the first time ever, the cost of my business cards was covered. I splurged on the embossed ones. I figured I wasn’t paying for them, so why not?”
“Hey, if you don’t want my help, I can go. I’ve got better things to do.”
Despite his assertion, Tommy didn’t have other things to do, better or otherwise. His offer of help was as inwardly selfish as it seemed outwardly kind: Tommy wanted both a personal supply of Oxycontin and for the chief to feel indebted to him. Now that Tommy would be assuming some personal risk by pushing the sought-after prescription drug, it seemed only fair to him that this be acknowledged with a more than their present unspoken agreement wherein Arnold underwrote the costs of eating at restaurants or procured for Tommy the occasional dime bag of confiscated pot.
Arnold’s response to the threat sounded measured: “Hold on now, you’re right. I do have more responsibilities and with that, more access.”
“To staff payroll?”
“How do you mean?”
“Do you put in the information about who gets paid what?”
“Yeah,” Arnold answered, “for my staff. Then I send it to the finance person.”
“Do you have access to the city server from here?”
“No, only at the station.”
“All right, let’s go,” Tommy said. He stepped over to the tethered setup and began detaching the cords.
Arnold glanced at his watch, the metal expansion band stretched to the max around his wrist, “Now?”
“I can’t be going into the station during daytime work hours. Seems like now is an ideal time.”
“I don’t want you to be seen there,” Arnold said.
“You and me both,” Tommy agreed. “Do you have a better plan?” Tommy knew that he wouldn’t. After a beat of silence, Tommy added, “And while we’re there, you’re going to grab me something from the evidence locker. Not pot.”
“I’ll see what’s there,” Arnold said. He reached over the end of the bed and grabbed his department branded windbreaker off of the back of a chair.
The parking lot at Fleet PD was empty when Arnold pulled in. He shut off the headlights before pulling slowly into his usual spot. Arnold looked at Tommy. “Pull your hood up. There are cameras.”
Tommy was about to suggest a retreat, but his desire to both get high and see whether his computer program worked overrode his interest in leaving. Sliding his hood up and over, he obscured the top half of his face.
“Let’s go, Chief.”
Arnold held his ID up to the keyless entry pad at the side door. As they entered, Tommy walked behind Arnold whose size overshadowed most of Tommy’s thin frame. Their footfalls were nearly silent on the low-pile carpeting in the administrative wing of the station. Arnold flipped on his office light as he stepped into the room. Tommy switched it off as he entered.
“Seriously, dude. Can we try not to bring attention to ourselves?”
Tommy put together the same setup in Arnold’s office as he had in Arnold’s bedroom: USB cords connected his laptop to Arnold’s work station. Before he got started, Tommy wiped down Arnold’s smudged computer screen with the red bandanna he pulled from his pocket.
“Go ahead. Do what you need to do to get me in, as you,” Tommy instructed.
Arnold leaned down, typed in his user name, “ATucker.CityofFleet,” and his password, “Ruth111397,” and wondered briefly what his mother might think of what he was doing.
“Are user names standard across all departments?” Tommy asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Were you given your user name? Does it look like everyone else’s?” Tommy was sitting in Arnold’s chair, his fingers typing quickly on the keyboard.
“Yeah, I didn’t get to pick it myself. I suppose it’s got a formula to it. It’s my first initial, last name, period, City of Fleet, all one word.”
Tommy didn’t bother correcting Arnold’s use of the word “period” instead of “dot.” He could almost hear Arnold saying: That website is three W’s and then a period and then ‘old’ and then ‘fat’ and then ‘and’ and then ‘stupid’ and then another period and then C-O-M. Oh, and you shouldn’t put a space between the words because that doesn’t work on the wide web world. You know there are rules about that kind of stuff. Tommy laughed to himself and then asked, “Were you given a password?”
“I was told to come up with a ten-digit password which mixed capital and lowercase letters and at least one number or a symbol.”
Tommy nodded and said, “Ten-digit passwords are easy enough to guess. Most people use a date and a name of someone important to them.”
The lines of code which were quickly scrolling on Tommy’s laptop were mirrored on Arnold’s computer monitor.
“It’s doing its thing. Relax.” Tommy sat back, rested his arms, and interlaced his fingers over his middle. When the movement stopped, Tommy announced, “I’m in.”
“Into the server. I’m going to need access to the banking information. Who handles that?”
“Ellen Steinberg, I mean Ellen Coppola, she recently got married.”
“Good. Let’s see if she’s as stupid as most people are when it comes to passwords. When did she get married?”
“I don’t know. I wasn’t invited.”
“What month? Do you remember?” Tommy asked, looking up at Arnold.
“May, I think.”
Tommy glanced at the Fraternal Order of Police calendar pinned to Arnold’s wall. “Well, there are only so many Saturdays in May.” He reached up, took down the calendar, and flipped back to May. “The Satuday’s were the 3rd, the 10th, the 17th, the 24th, and the 31st. We’ll try all five. Who’d she marry?”
“Some guy named Michael.”
“That’s too long. But if she calls him Mike.” Tommy began entering different combinations of “Mike” and the five six-digit dates. Arnold was clearly getting increasingly more nervous, shifting his weight from foot to foot. Tommy could almost feel Arnold’s heavy breathing on his neck. He was about to tell Arnold to back off when something different happened on the screen.
“Ha. She’s as dumb as I thought. ‘Mike052414.’” Under his breath he added, “People are such fucking morons.”
“You got in? As her?”
“Yep, in like Flynn.”
“Now what?” Arnold asked.
“Now, I look to see if there is any sort of additional security that protects her access. You know, additional hoops that she’s got to jump through to interface with the bank.” His hand clutched around the wireless mouse, he rolled the cursor over the screen to click through tabs. “Unreal.”
“Nothing,” Tommy said. “There are no hoops. Look.”
Arnold leaned in. The display was an interactive online banking screen where “deposit” and “withdrawal” were available options.
“That’s great. So, problem solved,” Arnold said.
“Ah no, not quite, but almost. I’m going to need to open a bank account that can interface with this one. That’s no big deal now that I’ve got the account information and a portal to get in.” Tommy pulled a pen out of the FPD coffee cup and scribbled down the details of the city’s bank account. “Hey, how about you get me a little something from the evidence room while I finish up here.”
While Arnold looked reticent to leave Tommy unsupervised, it was futile for Arnold to presume his presence meaningful in any way. Tommy knew Arnold hadn’t a clue what was going on.
With Arnold gone, Tommy clicked out of the First Federal banking interface and covered his tracks on the Fleet server. He poked around a bit to check for firewalls and heightened security. Tommy was curious to see if Fleet kept an internal record of user history on its system. No surprise: no records were kept.
Arnold returned with a sneaky smile. “Ready?”
“Yeah, what is it?” Tommy asked.
“I got 40’s. Thirty of them, just back from the lab.”
“How many were in the haul?”
“That 10% won’t be missed,” Tommy endorsed.
“Not here, they won’t.”
Arnold waited until they were safely away from the station to hand Tommy the small zip bag and ask: “How long do you think it’ll take to move these?”
“Not long,” Tommy said, opening the bag and pulling out a pill.
He popped it into his mouth and rolled it around to dissolve the time-released coating, then he crushed the OC between his back teeth. In fewer than ten minutes, Tommy was gone.