FLEET FILES (5)

installment 5

#

Although Natalie did the best she could to keep an eye on Arnold, it was something of a challenge as their desks were in opposite corners of the building. There was parking on both sides of the station which allowed the Arnold to stay on his side and the rank and file on theirs. Segregation was alive and well at Fleet PD.

Every time Natalie came and went from the station that week, she would approach from the west to see if Arnold’s beige Crown Vic was parked in his specially designated spot before she turned right into the east’s parking area. Natalie was biding her time, waiting for the lot to be empty of both Arnold’s and Betty’s cars. Lunch time wasn’t the best bet. Natalie couldn’t remember the last time Arnold left the station during his lunch hour. Regardless, Natalie made the effort to look because Betty always left at lunch. Betty would tell her co-workers that she was escaping, and then, she would advise that they, too, should get out of the station—“to keep yourself sane,” she’d say. Natalie noted that she had never seen Arnold eating at his desk, not even a muffin or bag of pretzels. On one hand, she wondered how he made it through the day with nothing in his stomach; on the other, she wondered when he made up for the weekly forty hours of abstinence.

Natalie wouldn’t have her chance to be unsupervised on the west side of the station until Friday afternoon: no Crown Vic and no Charger in the east lot. Natalie found it humorous that Betty owned a muscle car which she drove hard. Invariably, Betty would make a point to peel out of the FPD driveway at the end of every shift; the rubber left on the newly-paved road was all hers.

Quickly pulling into the east parking area, Natalie knew she had limited time. She sprinted into the station. Greeting Joe and Ronald in their shared office, she grabbed a file folder from her desk in which she would secret the next file she would be taking.

“I’ve got to get this to Arnold before the end of the day,” she said.

“I need to run a case by you, Natalie,” Ronald said.

“I’ll be right back. Two minutes.” Natalie hoped it would only take that long, or less.

She could feel her heart pumping, not as much from having rushed to get inside as much as in anticipation of taking another file. Natalie looked around cautiously as she entered Betty’s space between the empty lieutenant’s office and Arnold’s. No one had yet been selected to fill the second-in-charge position. Good for Natalie as it meant only two schedules needed to be considered in the procurement of the next file.

Natalie stepped into Arnold’s office and made her way behind his desk. Remembering the frustrating experience in finding Arnold’s business card when she was last intruding upon the box of files, she decided, this time, to simply take the first file.

Taking a seat on the floor in front of the box and leaving Arnold’s chair undisturbed, Natalie took off the lid off and placed it on the floor to the right of the box. She tipped the box back and pulled out the first file. She opened it briefly and saw the letters “GT” and the starting date of 1980: an old one. Andy Walsh had been chief at the time. She noticed he wrote in black fountain pen. His handwriting was juvenile compared to Daniel’s despite Walsh’s choice of an elegant writing instrument. She despised how charlatans would employ this tactic when they knew that they lacked anything of substance to contribute and instead relied on their panache.

Though inclined to read the new file in the privacy of the underside of Arnold’s desk, it was too risky. The file was too long: no one-pager here; she counted: nine, ten, eleven, twelve. The notation on the back flap translated GT to “Garrett Tidwell.” Natalie hadn’t a clue who he was. She’d have the weekend to find out.

She inserted the plain manila file into the blue one that she had carried in with her. She recapped the box and scanned for sounds. Hearing nothing, she stood, dusted off the back of her pants, and left Arnold’s office. As she was turning right to make her way back through the building to the east side, she heard the bolt click on the door coming in from the west parking lot. One of the west side’s workday inhabitants was back.

Natalie pivoted left into the lobby. She saw the dispatcher’s questioning look out of the corner of her eye as she stepped out the front door. After briefly considering whether she should concoct a story for the dispatcher, she settled on saying nothing for fear that her thin explanation would draw unwanted attention to her odd behavior. Natalie made her way around the outside of the building, past her locked car, and back in through the east side entry.

Joe lifted his eyes from his desk top and narrowed them at Natalie.

He said, “Welcome back” in a way that almost sounded like an inquiry.

Ronald looked up to her from his work, and Natalie saw the same questioning look from him.

“He wasn’t there. I went around to make sure my car was locked,” Natalie offered to explain away Ronald’s tacit inquiry.

“Was it?” Ronald asked.

“No. I’ll be right back.” Natalie pulled her keys from the large bag and dashed outside with the file still in her hand. After unlocking the driver’s side door with her key, she pulled the GT file from the blue case file and secreted it under the seat. She closed the car door and, as she opened the side door to the station, pressed the lock icon on the key fob. The men heard the squawk and looked up.

“All set,” she said.

Joe asked, “Don’t you think that locking your door in the parking lot of a police station is a bit much?”

“You can never be too careful here,” she said breezily. “So, Ronald, what’s up? I’m all ears.”

Natalie focused her attention on the reopened case and the steps Ronald had taken, thus far, to check out the old leads and come up with new ones.

“Ronald, you’ve done everything you can. I can’t think of anything else to do on this one. Can you Joe?” Natalie had noticed Joe was listening to the debrief.

“No. I got nothing. Some cases won’t close. Should I get a purple file?” Joe asked.

Natalie had decided they would use purple files to designate those cases that had been reopened, investigated, and could not be solved. It would be the color to show the true death of a case.

“Sad to say, but yes. It is now officially purple,” she replied. “I’ll show it to Arnold at our next roll call.”

“Your what?” Joe asked.

“Roll call. I suggested to Arnold that he and I meet weekly to review the cases we’ve closed and to go over the active ones. We’re going to meet on Mondays at nine-thirty.”

“That’s one hell of a way to start the work week, Natalie,” Ronald said.

“It’s fine. I’ll live. You know, I hardly ever see him during the week anyhow,” she said.

“None of us do. Thankfully, Arnold pretty much keeps to himself. Not at all like Daniel who was constantly in our business. Micro-managing prick,” Joe said.

“No, no, Joe, please. Tell us how you really feel,” Ronald said.

“He was a jerk. You’ve said as much yourself,” Joe defended.

The two men looked at Natalie for her to add commentary. While she could have played along—thrown a barb in for camaraderie—she opted not to. Not only did the gossiping make her look petty but also she wondered whether either detective remember the sexual chemistry between her and Daniel which raised the temperature in whatever room they happened to be in together. She didn’t want to appear as a “woman scorned” because she wasn’t when it came to Daniel.

Playing it safe, she said, “Chief Clayton is gone. We’ve got a whole different type of leadership now.” Skillfully, she had shifted the focus from Daniel to Arnold.

“How long do you think he’ll last?” Joe had taken the bait.

“I’m guessing long enough to bump his retirement up: three years,” Ronald said. “That’s on the long end seeing as though he could keel at any moment.”

“I don’t know, guys. Arnold ordered five thousand business cards with raised lettering. It could take him a decade to pass those out,” Natalie said.

“Don’t fool yourself. He’s going to wallpaper his bedroom with those. A shrine to himself. Chief Arnie Douche,” Joe said.

Natalie said, “As your commanding officer, I order you to cease and desist from the pejorative language you are using to describe our chief of police.” She paused for effect and added with a serious tone, “And his first name is Arnold; no one calls his ‘Arnie” anymore.”

The men laughed at her performance.

“I’ve got a couple of leads to follow up on before the weekend. So, I’m cutting out now,” she said. It was 3:30. “If either of you have field work to do, go ahead. You can leave now. It’s almost the weekend.”

“And if we get out there in the field and find no one who we’re looking for?” Ronald asked.

“Then, I’ll expect you to spend the rest of your shift thinking about how you’re going to work your cases next week,” she answered.

The men nodded in appreciation for what was not said. Natalie gathered her belongings and wished them a nice weekend. Driving through Ledbury, between the station and home, Natalie noticed Charlie’s car parked in a small lot in the center of town. Later that evening, when she asked why he was there, his answer would be believed. A week later, when she would see his car in the very same place, she opted not to launch an inquiry. She decided that he would tell her the real reason when he was ready.

#

Charlie found Dr. Raymond Lawrence’s information at the DA’s employee assistance website. Apparently, Dr. Lawrence had something of a specialty working with lawyers. Even better, the doctor’s own website promoted his special sensitivity to working with public sector attorneys. Sitting in the waiting room, which also served three law offices—Charlie didn’t know any of them—Charlie wondered if there was a couch on the other side of Dr. Lawrence’s closed door. He imagined there wasn’t, but he’d never been to a therapist before. His only images of a therapy room were garnered from TV and movies, and most of the time there was a couch.

Dr. Lawrence stepped out and over to meet Charlie. Greetings and pleasantries completed, Charlie stood readying himself for disclosures. Dr. Lawrence led the way back to the room; outside the door, he reached down to turn on the white noise machine. Upon entering Dr. Lawrence’s office, Charlie began to grow concerned he wouldn’t be able to say what he needed to. Dr. Lawrence directed Charlie to the brown leather chair that faced the door. Must be a reason for that, Charlie thought. They sat without speaking for what felt to Charlie a full minute.

Charlie broke the silence, “I’ve not done this before; so, you’re going to have to take the lead. I only know what I’ve seen in movies. And seeing as though there’s no couch in here, I’m already thrown a bit.”

Dr. Lawrence smiled gently. “Alright, let’s start with some basic background information. How about you tell me a little bit about yourself?”

Charlie was comfortable with this. He was happy to share the details of his impressive curriculum vitae. Charlie ticked through his education and employment.

“Did you grow up around here?” Dr. Lawrence asked.

“Yes, and my relationship with my mother is healthy,” Charlie laughed weakly at his joke. Dr. Lawrence ignored it.

“Your dad? Siblings?”

“Dad’s alive and still married to Mom. I have two sisters. They’re both a bit older: 48 and 46. I was, what my parents called, a welcome surprise. I have three nieces and a nephew.”

“And you’re married,” Dr. Lawrence said, pointing to Charlie’s white-knuckled left hand.

“I am. Nine years. Our tenth is in the spring.”

“Kids?”

“No.”

Charlie heard his own voice shift with that answer. He waited, hoping for a question. None came. He said, “No, no children. No plans for children. No talk about children. Me and Nat; that’s our family.”

“What does Nat do?”

“She’s a cop: a sergeant in Fleet. She loves her job.”

“How’s your job?” Dr. Lawrence asked.

“It’s fine. Some days are better than fine. You know, like any job, it has its ups and downs.”

“Now?”

“Now what?”

“Up or down?” Dr. Lawrence asked.

“Down. I think it’s fair to say it’s down now.”

“Yeah, why?”

“Because I’m supervising a unit I don’t particularly like, prosecuting crimes I don’t particularly understand,” Charlie saw Dr. Lawrence was looking for more details, so he continued. “The Cyber Crime Unit prosecutes hackers, identity thieves, the occasional suspected cyber terrorist. When I was in law school, cybercrime wasn’t even a thing. When I imagined myself as a prosecutor, I saw a different picture.”

“Which was?”

“Something more interesting,” Charlie said, “like the sort of crimes that movies are based on.”

“You like movies?”

Charlie was fine with the shift in conversation. The last thing he wanted to expound upon was why he had asked to be transferred out of the Capital Crimes Unit, five years ago, after a short tenure and only one trial. Though Charlie’s prosecution of a woman accused of killing her two babies had made national news, maybe Dr. Lawrence didn’t pay attention to reports of people hurting each other. Perhaps after all he had to listen to during daylight hours Dr. Lawrence found his nightly escapes through the stories told on the silver screen.

“Yeah, I like movies,” Charlie answered. “Don’t you?”

Dr. Lawrence shook his head gently, which Charlie read as the therapist’s own self-criticism. After clearing his throat, Dr. Lawrence said, “I asked because it seems as if you have an idea about what coming here might look like from movies and what your work with the DA’s office might look like from movies.”

“So?”

“So sometimes people frame their expectations for their own lives from the stories they see in the movies.”

Charlie asked, “Example?”

“Let me ask you something. How much of your idea on family comes from movies?”

“I don’t know. Probably a lot,” Charlie said. “The word, family, makes me think of a couple with children. I call Nat my ‘family’ but, to me, quite honestly, the picture is incomplete. There’s not a lot I can do about it though. Nat is so focused on her work on the force that I’m not sure when we’re ever going to have children.” Charlie paused, took a deep breath, and added, “I don’t know if she even wants to.”

“Have you asked?”

“No.”

“Have you ever asked?”

“No. We never talked about it. I guess I figured it would just happen. She’s going to be 40 next year. I’m 41. Statistically, we’re not looking at good odds.” Charlie’s eyes began to well up. He looked up to the ceiling and tried not to blink.

Dr. Lawrence reached for the box of tissues. He placed it on the small round table between them.

“I don’t even know you, and here I am disclosing all this to you,” Charlie said.

“If you’d like to spend the first few sessions talking about idle and unimportant aspects of your life which cause you no stress, we can do that,” Dr. Lawrence offered. “But I’ve noticed that the majority of my clients are here because they are ready to talk. And, you, Charlie, seem ready.”

“She had an abortion. Six years ago.”

Dr. Lawrence nodded slightly but said nothing.

Charlie shook his head and said, “She made her choice.”

Charlie could feel the curl in his upper lip and hear his change in tone of voice.

Dr. Lawrence asked, “She made her choice?”

“Yes. She made her choice. I was not part of the discussion. I didn’t even know about it until it was over. In fact, she might not have ever told me if the bleeding hadn’t been so bad afterwards. I thought she had an injury or a tumor or something because the bleeding was so bad. When she told me it was a ‘normal side effect from the procedure,’ I knew what she had done.”

“What did you say to her?”

“Nothing really. Things weren’t great between us back then. We were both hyper-absorbed in making advancements at work. I think, unlike many other couples, Nat and I have a certain understanding when it comes to our careers. We agreed that we would each respect the other’s professional choices.” Charlie laughed through his nose and said, “It was almost incorporated into our vows. love, cherish, honor, and stay out of each other’s careers.”

“You regard her choice to end her pregnancy as a career move rather than a family decision?”

“Yeah, I do. I sort of have to, don’t I? If I see it as not being about her career, then it’s all about me. That’s a possibility I choose not to consider.” Charlie took a deep inhale; he exhaled slowly. “You know what’s ironic about it? With no kids to distract us, all we ever talk about at home is work. It’s like we each have our careers and then we each have a second job hearing about the other’s first job. Don’t get me wrong. Nat’s been a great help to me, my biggest supporter. I appreciate her for that. And I know that I’ve given her ideas she wouldn’t have gotten from her co-workers.”

Charlie took a few minutes to describe, in great detail, several instances where the two had collaborated on their individual cases with each other. Charlie thought it was a good way to illustrate for Dr. Lawrence how well he and Natalie got along, how perfectly wonderfully matched they were.

“So, the two of you have a real openness in that regard?”

“In some ways, I suppose. I don’t tell her every little thing from my day, but I don’t have any secrets from her,” Charlie said.

“Does she have secrets from you?”

“Hard to know. It’s impossible to prove a negative.”

“Gut feeling?”

“I don’t have those. I use my observations to interpret my surroundings and based on those, I assess credibility and glean truth,” Charlie explained.

“You’re not the first existentialist attorney who’s found himself in that seat.”

“No, I imagine I’m not. I saw that you work with a lot of public sector lawyers. I imagine quite a few are prosecutors and public defenders.” Dr. Lawrence nodded. Charlie asked, “Is this what you hear from them? Does it sound similar?”

Charlie wanted safety in numbers; company for his misery.

“Does that matter to you?” Dr. Lawrence asked. “Would that in any change what you’re experiencing?”

Charlie sighed, knowing it didn’t change a thing. He pushed up his sleeve and looked at the watch Natalie gave him for their fifth wedding anniversary and said. “It looks like I’ll be coming back, huh?”

Dr. Lawrence turned to look at the clock on his desk and asked, “Would 5:00 on Fridays work for you. That time slot has opened up.”

“You mean a regular time for me? To be coming in weekly?”

“If that would work for you, then yes,” Dr. Lawrence replied.

Though Charlie was tempted to ask why the therapist had deemed him in need of weekly sessions, he declined, instead saying, “Sure, I’ll make it work.”

He pulled out his cell phone and tapped the calendar icon. It amused Charlie that the icon looked like an old-fashioned paper calendar. In that moment, he wondered why a Rolodex wasn’t used for the contacts icon. Trademark infringement, he concluded. Charlie blocked off the hour, reached for his wallet, and pulled out cash.

“You do have insurance, don’t you?” Dr. Lawrence said.

“I won’t be using it. I’d like to pay you, in cash, instead.”

Charlie did not explain his motivation for his choice though he was pretty sure Dr. Lawrence could figure it out. An out-of-pocket, cash payment would not show up on the health insurance, the health insurance that Natalie got for them through the city of Fleet.

#

Because Charlie usually did not get home before six, Natalie knew she’d have a solid two hours of privacy to study the GT file. Settling onto the couch with a tall glass of watermelon juice on ice, she began to read.

Garrett Tidwell’s file revealed Chief Andy Walsh’s a long-standing, and obvious, hatred of him. Natalie knew Walsh had been chief from 1977 to 1995. He held the FPD record of eighteen years. Garrett’s file began in 1980, which led Natalie to wonder whether the notion to keep the files began with Walsh. He certainly seemed motivated in his animosity toward Garrett to preserve—for the record and for all time—the many ways Garrett could be held accountable.

The list of citations and reprimands by Fleet PD of Garrett ranged from improperly securing both pins on the tailgate of Garrett’s 10-yard dump truck to driving under the speed limit in his tractor on a back road in Fleet. Natalie could almost see the assigned patrol officer pointing his radar gun at the green and yellow John Deere and activating the blue-light bar on the top of what would now be a vintage cruiser. An investigation on an injury sustained at the farm by a seasonal worker took up much of Garrett’s 1988.

As time went on, the file’s entries became less about Garrett and more about Walsh. In 1990, the entries recorded the professional relationship between Walsh and Parker Samuelson. Natalie pulled out her smartphone and put Samuelson’s name into the search engine to discover that Samuelson was a commercial property developer out of Tilton who had been the backer of the Fieldcrest Mall in Fleet in the early 90s.

February 18th, 1990: Called Samuelson. Arranged meeting.

March 4th, 1990: Met Samuelson. Discussed potential mutual benefits. Samuelson wants land for mall. GT’s land a possibility. Probably need to change out Zoning Board to get vote. Current membership anti-development. Two seats up for reelection in May. Find candidates. (KR and WS?)

March 28th, 1990: KR and WS vetted. Both submit papers on time. Names will appear on ballot.

May 12th, 1990: Both KR and WS won at the polls.

September 13th, 1990: Samuelson before Zoning Board to propose development. Highlights how neighboring communities have changed zoning bylaws. KR and WS endorse exploring zoning expansion.

September 15th, 1990: Dinner at Samuelsons’ house in Tilton. Samuelson promises to give FPD funds for purchase of three new cruisers and a little something for discretionary purposes. Samuelson asked for $ estimate.

November 8th, 1990: Zoning Board vote to endorse a change in zoning: all agriculturally-protected property will now be rezoned to “mixed commercial.” Agriculture will still be permitted. GT at ZB meeting. Final vote to change zoning will need simple majority at ballot box in spring election.

May 11th, 1991: Zoning bylaw passed.

May 13th, 1991: Called Samuelson. Arranged to meet.

June 8th, 1991: Selected new cruisers through state vendor. Ford expects delivery in late 1991 of 1992 models.

September 12th, 1991: Samuelson back before ZB with proposal for Fieldcrest Mall. Samuelson’s attorney found title and property line problems with GT’s land.

January 9th, 1992: GT before ZB to provide documentation of rightful ownership of 50-acre lot deeded to him and his brother (LT) by their father. Looks legitimate. Cost to GT = Attorney present. 

January 16th, 1992: Went by LT’s house in Ledbury. LT shoveling. Stopped and spoke. Bad blood between him and GT. LT got bulk of acreage. GT got farm/farmhouse/some acreage. Current agreement: LT leases land to GT to farm on. LT open to the idea of selling his acreage. LT’s quote: “Fuck Garrett, the favorite son. Let him live next to a strip mall.”

January 17th, 1992: Called Samuelson. Suggested he contact LT.

March 1st, 1992: LT’s sale of 46 acres to Samuelson done.

March 12th, 1992: Samuelson before Zoning Board with definitive plans. Notice to abutters required.

March 20th, 1992: Received call from Samuelson. GT filed injunction to development. Claim: Breach of Contract on Lease for 1992, 1993 growing seasons.

March 23rd, 1992: Dinner out with Judge Brookings, discussed GT’s injunction.

April 3rd, 1992: Request for Injunction denied by Judge Brookings.

May 1st, 1992: Groundbreaking at future site of Fieldcrest Mall. City Council members and Zoning Board members present.

September 1st, 1993: Ribbon-cutting for opening of Mall. Happiest day of my life.

September 1st, 1994: Mall at 40% rental. Newspaper called the mostly-empty mall “an eyesore.” GT got what he deserved.

Less than six months later, Walsh retired. It appeared his job was done. A land grab or, at the very least, a land manipulation would be his private swan song.

Natalie realized that she needed more information. She searched the internet. Like Arnold, she came across various newspaper articles about Garrett’s family farm, Garrett was quoted as saying that he wished he could fight the legal battle but that he eventually was forced to abandon hope in the face of rising legal bills. Natalie knew there had to be more to the story. But would Garrett talk to her and would he say anything that she could add to the growing list of allegations to prove Arnold’s ineptitude?

#

Natalie slept naked: not only in the humid, stifling summers, but year round. She liked the way her skin felt against her sheets. Charlie was a pajama man until Natalie and her 1,000-thread count sheets. Initially, unconvinced it made any difference in the quality of sleep, Charlie would dress after sex into what Natalie called his “grandpa costume.”

One weekend, when Charlie was staying over at Natalie’s house, she hid his pajamas, forcing him to sleep nude. Natalie’s endorsement about how terrific his sleep would be resulted in them both staying awake late. She was full of adrenaline; him, anxiety. When Natalie woke, a bit before sunrise the next morning, she propped herself up on her right elbow and watched Charlie’s gentle breathing. She hadn’t been sure about him until that moment. She wasn’t smitten with the fact that Charlie was more serious than anyone she’d ever been with. Her roster of exes contained men who had made her laugh, funny guys, the life of the party. But in that moment with the sun beginning to fill the room, she thought about how she made him laugh and how blissful he looked when he did.

Everything shifted for Natalie with Charlie. Her perspective and expectations were suspended. Her need to be constantly entertained had faded; she wanted more than snappy one-liners and skillfully executed anecdotes. The men before Charlie were as predictable as they were consistently humorous. They were entertaining alright, but they had grown to be something of a bore. Charlie was no laugh riot, but he was unpredictable. This characteristic of his forced Natalie to abandon her expectations. She found that it was unreasonable for her to have any with someone who kept surprising her. So instead of feeling let down for not meeting her expectations, Natalie, instead, let go of anticipating anything except the unfolding of their lives together.

The morning after reading the GT file, Natalie woke to Charlie’s snores. As much as she wanted to touch his face and run her palm over his chest, she knew that would wake her light sleeper of a husband. She slipped out of bed quietly and headed to the kitchen.

Charlie had set up the coffee the night before. While he said he did so for her benefit, it was mutual. The coffee grinder made a loud and startling noise which would wake him on those rare occasions he forgot to set up the coffee and Natalie ended up making it the following morning. One time, in an effort to be thoughtful, she took the grinder to the basement to muffle the sound. It woke him anyhow.

Natalie loved Charlie; but she loved coffee, too. He told her that when the sound of the blades breaking the shells of the roasted beans made its way to his sleeping ears, he was thankful coffee was not a person, for he knew if she had to have one or the other, she likely would have chosen differently. Our strange love triangle, he had said, “Me, you, and dark brew.”

Natalie was rereading Garrett’s file when Charlie came into the living room.

“Morning, Nat.”

She closed the file quickly.

“You’re up early,” she said.

“I couldn’t sleep,” he said. “What are you working on?”

“Nothing really, a little side project for work.”

“On Saturday?” he asked.

“Yeah, why not?”

“No reason other than it being the weekend. Tell me about it?” he asked.

“It’s not all that interesting,” she deflected. “What about you? What’s going on for you?”

“Elaine and I are trying to get some background on Nealy. She spoke to his parents this week and they were able to give her some names of childhood friends. I’m not sure where that’s going to lead, but for now, that’s all we’ve got.”

She had asked relative to his Saturday, not his workload. But having heard his answer, she was more curious about his case than she was interested in clarifying her question.

“Has she spoken to his friends?” she asked.

“Not yet. She’s done background checks. They’ve all come up clean so we’re not able to bring any of them in on any outstanding warrants. We’d need some other guise to pull them in. Without finding some connection, Nealy is going to end up going it alone, which would blow our whole theory of the case. I know he wasn’t working alone but my suspicions aren’t enough to get a guilty.”

“You’ve got time.”

“Will it be enough though?” Charlie asked not looking for an answer.

Here it was the weekend and, clearly, she could tell his head was at the office. Admittedly, hers was, too.

“Would you be upset if I took some time this morning to look into something?” she asked. She asked because it was, after all, the weekend.

“You really don’t want to learn how to golf, do you?”

“I do. But I’ve gone nearly four decades without golfing, and I feel like my life is pretty complete. What’s another week?”

“It’s seven more days of a life lived without the benefit and knowledge of the world’s most frustrating and, hence, rewarding sport.”

“As I said before, Charlie, I think calling it a ‘sport’ is silly. It’s little more than small groups of fat guys in double-knit shirts driving around in little carts, chasing after an elusive ball,” she said.

“Are you calling me fat?” he said smiling.

“No. You’re gorgeous.” He was.

“That compliment buys you another week,” he said. “I’ll reschedule.”

“Thanks, Love.”

After Natalie got the permission she was counting on, she stood to get ready to go meet Garrett Tidwell. She was halfway down the hall when Charlie called to her.

“You know, Nat, I’ve been thinking a lot about how our weeks turn into months and how those months turn into years. I think we should begin to consider some changes.”

Natalie knew he was talking, peripherally, about a baby.

“I’m going to go out for a run,” she said.

There was a long pause from him. Natalie waited to see if he insisted on having that talk now. Instead, and to her relief, he said, “Really? Since when are you a runner?”

“Fair enough, my dear. I’ll rephrase. I’m going out for a slow jog.”

That sounds more accurate,” he said.

Natalie was turning into her bedroom when she paused in the hall. She wanted to go back and get the GT file. What if Charlie looked? She wasn’t ready to talk about that either. She hurried back to the living room and sat on the couch. She’d wait for him to leave.

She said, “You know, I’m going to hold off. It’s still early, and I hate wearing that silly reflector vest. Drawing attention to my slowness is not something I enjoy.” She pulled a magazine from the coffee table: Golf Digest.

“So, you’ll read about it but not play?”

“I’ll play, I’ll play. Off my back, Tiger. I’m reading it to get some tips so that next Saturday I can dazzle you.”

“You know you dazzle me already,” he said, turning to retrieve the newspaper from the front walkway.

The two read, side by side, for an uncomfortable 20 minutes. Natalie was, in essence, forced to read an article on improving the putting game she didn’t yet have to not draw attention to the GT file.

Finally, Charlie got up and started breakfast for himself, triggering Natalie to slide the GT file into her large bag, which was positioned next to the front door. She got quickly dressed and filled her travel cup with hot coffee. On the way out, she told Charlie she’d be back in a couple of hours. Before he could ask, she told him that her slow jog could wait until later.

Garrett’s farm was bucolic and active. Different varieties of cows milled in the paddock and gathered around the hay ring. The driveway was a collection of run-down vehicles and scattered farm equipment. Natalie’s approach from the south included a square view of the Fieldcrest Mall. Its long cement façade and dirty plate glass windows were more than unattractive. The signs in the empty storefronts urged potential renters to “Call Now” for more information but did nothing to explain why they should or what the rush was.

Garrett was leaning into the engine compartment of a late model pick-up truck when Natalie pulled into the driveway. A small, barking dog announced her arrival. While it was likely that everyone was already awake, Garrett leaned out to hush the animal.

Natalie guessed Garrett to be in his late seventies though he looked considerably younger. All that fresh air, she thought.

“Good morning,” she greeted, putting on her softest smile.

“Morning.” His tone was not quite unfriendly, but close.

“My name is Natalie Martin. Are you Garrett Tidwell?”

“I am.”

“I’m here hoping you will take a few minutes to speak to me.” She knew it would take a while but didn’t think he’d say “yes” if she said so.

“About?” he asked as he leaned back over the manifold.

“Andy Walsh.”

Garrett stood and met Natalie’s eyes.

“Who are you?”

“Natalie Martin.”

“Yeah, that much I got. What does Natalie Martin have to do with Andy Walsh?” he asked.

“Could we go inside and sit and talk?” As soon as the words left her mouth, she wished she had said something different. She sounded pretentious.

He looked her over. She was smartly dressed and she knew her face revealed that she was clearly in need of something.

“Are you with the press?”

“No, I’m with no one.”

“All right. Come on in,” he said.

Garrett pulled the rag from his right front pocket and began wiping the grease off of his hands. He then entered the large white farm house first, slipped off his rubber boots, and pointed to the kitchen table.

“Should I take my shoes off, too?” she asked.

“Only if they have manure on them.”

Natalie laughed a little, though she sensed it wasn’t a joke. She sat at the chair closest to the door.

“Coffee?” he offered.

“Yes, please. Black.” Natalie knew an offer of coffee would buy her a bit of time; she figured Garrett knew this, too. Even before starting, she was doing better than she’d hoped.

Garrett set the mug down and started, “Walsh, huh? How’d you come to ask me about him? I thought I was done with him.”

“I’m a graduate student studying public policy and regional planning.” Natalie wasn’t sure where that came from, but it came easily so she’d go with it. She continued, “My dissertation concerns the recent changes in zoning laws which affect long-standing interests in land.”

“I wouldn’t call 1991 recent.”

“True, but in relative terms, land ownership tends to pass from generation to generation. So, 20-some-odd years is—in planning terms—‘recent.’ In doing my research, I came across some newspaper articles about your response to Fleet’s change in its zoning laws. I looked into who the developer was and discovered that Parker Samuelson gave a significant donation to the Fleet Police Department right around the same time: when Walsh was chief.”

“And you put two and two together and thought I might know something about Walsh?”

“Do you?” she asked.

“I know a lot about him. I’ve known him since we were boys. We finished high school together.”

“Wow. That’s a long time.” Natalie hoped he didn’t take that as an insult about his age.

“Sure is. Class of ‘51.”

Natalie ran the numbers. Garrett was 79.

“What was he like back then?” she asked.

Garrett chuckled and said, “A jackass. Still is, so far as I can tell.”

“What made him a jackass?” she asked.

“Marlene,” he said.

“Who is she?”

“My wife. My wife of 60 years. We celebrated our diamond wedding anniversary in June. I only know it was the diamond year because she made the point.”

“Did you give her a diamond?” Natalie asked, struck by the romantic notion of two people together for six decades.

“No,” he said flatly, then continued, “Walsh was the captain of the football team and the class president. Charming. Cocky. A bully. He thought he could have his pick of the girls. And with the exception of Marlene, he did. But she saw through him. She knew before I did that he was a jackass. So, when he came knocking, she wasn’t answering. She liked me.” Garrett smiled with self-assurance.

“That, I presume, didn’t sit so well with Walsh.”

“You’d think he could move on. Reasonable people move on. He didn’t,” Garrett said. He pushed his baseball cap up is forehead and ran his fingers through his thin gray hair. He pulled the brim back to horizontal and said, “We would only occasionally run into each other in the beginning. When we did, he didn’t pass on the chance to say something. But I ignored it. The real problems began when he became chief. All of a sudden, every move I made was under his microscope. Marlene offered to go to him, but I said not to. Anyone holding a 30-year-long grudge wasn’t going to listen to a polite request to stop. And he didn’t.”

Natalie took a sip of the coffee. It was barely warm and nearly tasteless. Had she known, she would have asked for sugar. Tepid brown sweet water was better than tepid brown bitter water.

“What happened?”

“Well, you’re here. So, you know about the farm.”

“I only know what I could get from the papers. I’m guessing there’s more.”

“Believe me, I fully understand that Samuelson was in it for the money. That’s his job. But Walsh, he was in it for revenge. People who were paying attention knew that the two zoning board members who were elected right before the change to the zoning were his cronies. Problem is, in small towns, most people don’t pay attention. It’s always who you know, and he knew people. I’ve got to give them credit: The way they promoted the change in the bylaw was crafty. They made it sound like the farmers were getting a great deal, explaining that the zoning expanded the possible uses of their land. They promised it was a farmer-friendly, that it would be good for the farmers. Tell you what, Natalie Martin, there’s nothing good about waking up in the morning and seeing that.” Garrett pointed out the window. Only a half dozen cars were in the expansive parking lot. “I used to plant corn there. Now with only 30 arable acres, it’s been stealing from Peter to pay Paul. Hand to mouth. My brother didn’t care. He was happy to sell to Samuelson, and Samuelson was happy to build. Neither of them has to look at that.”

“Mr. Tidwell, I’m very sorry this happened,” Natalie said.

Garrett laughed. “Happened? It’s still happening. Though I’m not sure for how much longer.” And then, under his breath, he said, “All over a girl.”

There was nothing more to say other than thanks for the nearly untouched coffee. There was nothing more to do other than replace the file. This case was closed. There was no more damage to do or wrongs to right.

#

At 2:00 every Thursday, Betty made the rounds. When she arrived in the detectives’ open office, only Joe and Natalie were there. Natalie had rearranged her day for this.

“Here you go, Natalie,” Betty said.

Natalie folded the three perforated ends back and forth several times and tore off the tabs to open her pay stub.

“Unreal,” she said, dropping the paystub onto the surface of her uncluttered desk.

“I say that every time I see mine, too,” Betty said, more to Joe than to Natalie.

Natalie pulled a small calculator out of her middle desk drawer. She punched in some numbers and, without reflection pulled out her “Operation Ousting” notebook to record her calculations. When she looked up from the page, Betty and Joe were both staring at her. Natalie stood, stuffed the small notebook into her back pocket, and snatched her paystub off the top of her desk.

“Is Arnold in?” Natalie asked Betty.

“Unless he tiptoed away,” she said with a snicker. “He was there 10 minutes ago.”

Natalie shoved her chair neatly under her desk and said to Joe, “I’ll be right back. We’ll go over that case.”

Arnold was staring into space when Natalie stepped through the threshold.

“Arnold,” she said calmly. No response. Natalie briefly considered whether he had had a stroke and for a moment feel a wave of gratitude that her internal investigation was over and she would soon be promoted to chief. Of course, after the requisite mourning period was over, she thought. Stepping closer and speaking louder, she pulled him back from whatever mental field trip he’d been on. He looked at her over his left shoulder and then turned his chair to face her.

It took only a few seconds for him to read her face which she knew had shifted from hopeful to enraged, both over the discrepancy in her pay and the continued existence of Arnold. When he failed to say anything, she spoke.

“Arnold,” she snapped.

“Yes?”

“It’s Thursday.”

“I know.”

“Betty just came through with the checks.”

“And?”

“And it’s not right.”

“What’s not right?”

“The check, my check. My raise. This is the third pay stub I’ve gotten since you promised me a raise.”

“It’s not in there?”

“No, it is. But it’s not right.”

“May I see?” Arnold asked, reaching out his hand.

Natalie passed it over. He looked at it and shrugged his shoulders.

“I guess I’m not following you, Natalie.”

“Arnold, you said my salary would increase $12,000.00 a year, right?”

“Yes. That’s what I offered you.”

“The difference in that,” she said, pointing to the check he had pinched between two fingers, “is five hundred dollars.”

“Right, you get paid twice a month,” he said.

“Arnold, we get paid every other week. There are twenty-six pay checks a year, not two pay checks per month.”

Arnold sighed and said, “Natalie, what’s the problem?”

“I should see an additional gross of $461.54 every other week—twenty-six times a year. Not $500.00 twenty-four times,” she said.

“So, you’re complaining about an extra forty bucks?” he said.

“No. I’m telling you it’s not right,” she said. “Plus, where’s the retro?”

“How much should it be?” he asked.

“$560.44. But since I was just overpaid $38.46, the retro should be adjusted to $521.98.”

She wasn’t reading these numbers to him: she’d memorized them and, little did Arnold know, she had memorialized them for potential future fodder to prove his utter lack of capacity as a manager.

“Would you do me a favor and write those all down for me?” Arnold asked gently.

“No, I’m done with this. You don’t need to be the middle man of this. I’m going to go to Ellen, and she can fix it.”

“No, I’m going to address the matter,” he said with command.

Charlie’s warning flashed through her mind: He’s your commanding officer. He’s your boss, Nat. In that moment of rage, she didn’t care. She decided to challenge him.

Natalie asked, “Why? Why should I let you do something that it seems you cannot do right?”

Then Arnold stood up and pointed his finger at her, and Natalie immediately regretted being so bold. Arnold held up her paystub, folded it in half, and stuffed it in his pocket.

“I’m going to City Hall now for a meeting. I’ll address the matter afterwards with Ellen.”

Natalie opted to dial down her anger. She gently offered, “This has gotten tiresome, Arnold. It really needs to be fixed.”

“I just said I’ll do it. Just write down those numbers.”

Natalie pulled one of Arnold’s business cards from its holder. “Pen?”

He reached behind him and handed her a blue ballpoint with “Fleet PD” on the barrel. She could sense he was peeved over her ruining one of his new embossed business cards. She didn’t care.

As she handed the card to him, she said, “This is the last time I intend to discuss this. All right?”

“It will be,” he said. “You can quote me on that.”

Natalie said nothing but thought, If you only knew what lengths I am taking to quote you, you might not be so encouraging of it, Chief Incompetent.

#

 

7 thoughts on “FLEET FILES (5)

    1. FLEET FILES is a book. I decided to share it in serial form so that people can have something to distract themselves from the pandemic.

      I’m glad you’re reading.

      Please feel free to share with your friends.

      Like

      1. I hope that this will happen someday. The effort it takes to find and secure a literary agent is far harder than writing novels, in my opinion. I am nearly done with my 8th novel and have ideas for more.

        I appreciate your endorsement and hope that you (and anyone you might recommend the story to) enjoy FLEET FILES.

        Like

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