FLEET FILES (6)

Hello Dear Readers from Pakistan, France, India, USA, and other far-flung places. When last together, you learned that Charlie is trying therapy, Natalie is getting deeper into the files, and Arnold’s “little employee relations” problem has not been properly solved.

And so the story continues . . .

 

 

installment 6

 

 

#

With controlled panic, Arnold got into his car to go find Tommy.

For what felt like the first time in a long while, Arnold got a break: he found Tommy in the first place he looked. The Apple Mart had no other customers in the store so Arnold felt safe in approaching Tommy, where he stood, reading Computer Planet.

“Tommy.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Looking for you, obviously,” Arnold said. Tommy glanced around. No one was there except Geoffrey who was restocking the coolers on the opposite side of the store.

“So now that you’ve found me. What’s up?”

What’s up is you didn’t fix my little employee-relations problem.”

“What? It didn’t work?”

“Oh no, it worked. She got the raise all right.”

“Well then, sounds to me that it worked just fine.” Tommy slid the magazine back into the eye-level rack and began fingering through others.

Arnold could feel blood rushing to his face and heat radiating from his cheeks. “Tommy, she got five hundred bucks.”

“Right. You told me a grand a month. That’s what I put on payroll, and that’s what I put in the bank.”

“You didn’t do the math right,” Arnold said in a tone approaching a childish whine.

“What are you talking about? One thousand divided by two is five hundred. You’re the one with the lame math skills.”

“We don’t get paid twice a month. We get paid every two weeks,” Arnold explained, feeling hypocritical, for he himself had just been schooled on “the math.”

“This is the first I’m hearing about it.”

“If you held a regular job, then you’d know that’s how people get paid,” Arnold scolded.

“Fuck off. I’m getting my needs met. Who are you to come in here and rip me a new one?”

Tommy’s squint morphed into a sneer. Arnold’s gut reaction to what he considered Tommy’s offensive behavior was out of character: instead of burying his hurt feelings and later ameliorating them a mountain of fatty foods, Arnold had the urge to ball up his fist and punch Tommy in his disrespectful mouth. Arnold credited his desire to assault Tommy—perhaps the only friend he had, save Sweetie—as a possible sign to support the idea that he had found “the right time” to make a change in his physical self as clearly his emotional self was evolving.

“As I recall you noting,” Arnold began, “I’m the fucking chief of police, and this needs to be fixed. You and I both have a vested interest in this matter being cleared up. She was tired of waiting for the money to come through, and now she’s not happy that it came through wrong. Plus, have you ever heard the word, ‘reconciliation’?”

“Like: ‘the husband and wife got into a big fight and then they had a reconciliation.’ Yeah, I’ve heard the word.”

“How about in the accounting sense? Do you know how that word is used there?” Arnold could see that Tommy did not so he spouted, “I’m going to go ahead and tell you, in a real basic way: the amount of money coming in needs to match the amount of money going out. The people who are in charge of the money going in and going out have this nifty practice called ‘reconciliation’ where they make sure that those two numbers match. In fact, there are software programs that run these ‘reconciliation’ checks on a regular basis. It’s like balancing a checkbook. But I’m going to venture that you don’t have one of those.”

Easter Sundays in the Tucker home included his mother’s brother whose perennial topic on the holiday was all about his CPA firm being “overwrought” by IRS filings. Uncle Dean tried grooming Arnold into taking over the business. At first, Uncle Dean shared the basics and endorsed the practical uses of accounting in every day life. But Arnold neither cared nor related to this mini-education: once he realized that NASA wasn’t a viable option—he didn’t really like math or science—becoming a cop was his next dream job, and as for personal money management, his parents gave him money whenever he asked—so there was no need to be  financially accountable. Nevertheless, Arnold knew, from a trusted though overzealous and griping accountant, what reconciliation was.

Tommy turned to go. “Hey, dude, I’ve had enough.”

Arnold grabbed his right arm and said, “You are going to fix this, Tommy.” Arnold increased the pressure of his grip and waited for Tommy to acquiesce.

Shaking free, Tommy growled, “Fine. We’ll fix it. When?”

“Right now.”

“Ha. You’re joking, right?”

Arnold shook his head and said, “No, I’m not.”

“What? I’m going to waltz in there with my laptop and get to work. It’s the middle of the fucking day.”

“You’re going to get in my car. I’m going to take you home. You’re going to get dressed like you’re headed to church. You’re going to get back in my car with your laptop. Then we’re going to go by my house. I’m going to get a tool box. Then, you’re going to pretend to be my nephew who also happens to know how to fix computers. Then, you’ll fix it. And after you do that, I’ll take you home, or back here, or any other place your heart desires.” Arnold had such a lack of sophistication about the fixing of computers that he held an ardent belief that the contents of a tool box would be of any assistance.

“Why do I have to change clothes?” Tommy asked, looking down at his outfit.

“Because I’m the fucking chief of police and I say so. Get in the car.”

Driving up to Tommy’s house, Arnold saw a car in the driveway.

“Why isn’t she at work?” Tommy wondered out loud.

“I’m going to wait for you at the corner.”

Arnold drove past the modest colonial-style house and stopped at the intersection.

Tommy opened the door and said, with a laugh and over his left shoulder, “You want me to iron?”

“Hurry up.”

Arnold watched Tommy go, though not as quickly as he would have liked. He was concerned, if Tommy was gone for too long, Natalie might call Ellen. Even though the car was running so that air conditioning was on, Arnold was nearly soaked through his shirt with sweat. As much as he was trying to remain calm, as the minutes dragged by, Arnold’s anxiety was ticking up. How long does it take to get changed? he thought.

When he glanced up from the dashboard clock, which had just gone through another sixty-second cycle, he saw a cruiser in his rearview mirror. It pulled in tight behind Arnold’s unmarked Crown Vic. In that flash of a moment, Arnold had an immediate appreciation for the stress he must have put Fleet citizens through when he worked patrol. Instinctively, he placed his hands on the wheel: ten and two. When Arnold saw the officer to his left in his peripheral vision, he looked up through the closed window. The officer motioned for him to put the window down. Arnold pressed the button and the window disappeared.

“Afternoon, Officer,” Arnold said.

“Afternoon,” he said.

Seeing the three chevrons and the graying temples, Arnold knew the man was a sergeant and probably had been for a while. He read the man’s name off the brass nameplate pinned to the left side of his chest.

“Sergeant Nielsen. My name is Arnold Tucker. I am the chief of police in Fleet.”

“Yeah. I know. We’ve met. May I ask what you’re doing here in Ledbury?”

“Of course, I’m picking up my nephew. He’s going to help me with a little computer thing at the station.”

“His name?”

“Thomas Whitworth.”

Sergeant Nielsen looked back down Tommy’s road and pointed. “He lives four doors down.”

Arnold scrambled to come up with anything to explain why he wasn’t waiting—like a good uncle—in the driveway. He pawed for the door handle. Nielsen stepped aside to let him out. The extra few seconds was what he needed to formulate a viable explanation: “Me and my sister aren’t close. You know, we drifted apart after my mom died. I don’t want to get her upset, so I told Tommy I’d wait for him here.”

“You’re Kathy’s brother?”

“Yes, I am.” Arnold saw Tommy step out of the house and bound down the stairs. When Tommy looked up and saw the cop, he froze. Arnold waved him over and called, “Let’s go Thomas.”

Tommy was wearing a pair of dark blue pants and a wrinkled polo shirt. He still had his black suede skateboarding sneakers on. His laptop and two cords were tucked under his right arm. Tommy came up to the passenger-side door and looked questioningly at Arnold.

“How you doing, Tommy?” Sergeant Nielsen asked.

“Can’t complain.”

“I didn’t realize you and Chief Tucker were related.”

Arnold held his breath and hoped Tommy would get it right.

“Yeah, he’s my uncle.”

“I’m surprised I didn’t know that,” the sergeant said.

“Well, he is, and he’s also no good with computers. I’m helping him out on something,” Tommy said. Turning to Arnold he said, “If you want to get this done, we’ve got to get going. I have to be back by four.”

Arnold was proud of Tommy. He performed admirably. Arnold looked at Sergeant Nielsen and thought, to himself, Ha! Take that! For good measure, Arnold added, “I sure don’t know how to fix what’s plaguing my computer, so we probably should go.”

Tommy opened his door to get in.

“Hey Chief, I hope Kathy and you can someday work things out.”

“Thanks, Sergeant.” Arnold said. When he got into the car, he motioned for Tommy to buckle his seat belt.

Tommy was shaking his head. He looked confused. The cruiser pulled past and took a left out of the neighborhood.

“What?” Arnold asked.

“Who’s Kathy?”

“Your mother.”

“Her name is Carol.”

Arnold clenched his right fist, punched the wheel, and squawked, “Shit!” Tommy began to form a word. Arnold spoke over his attempt, “Not now, Tommy.”

Tommy took a breath and held it in. Tommy’s hard exhale was, it seemed to Arnold, an unspoken critique that the two of them were not handling themselves as well as seasoned Heckler clansmen normally would under the stress of the moment.

It was in the “Heckler Clan,” so named after the import-banned, German-made sniper rifle, where Arnold “met” Thomas Whitworth, who didn’t hesitate to share that his distant relative, Joseph Whitworth, is credited as the “inventor” of the sniper rifle. Arnold never fact checked Tommy’s claim, preferring to feel as though he was in the presence of greatness whenever with Tommy, even where many generations separated the 19-year-old from the fabled inventor. In the last half decade of knowing Tommy, little could be seen as objectively “great” about him. Most would consider Tommy a loser for still living at home and scraping by both educationally and vocationally. To be fair, most had no idea about Tommy’s skills and ambitions, including Arnold.

A few weeks after Arnold was initiated into Heckler, he asked Tommy if they could take their conversation off-line. They did, and Arnold discovered that they lived in neighboring towns.  Buttressed by his good performance online, Arnold suggest that the two meet face-to-face. As it was on Arnold’s invitation, he knew he’d be picking up the dinner tab and made this fact known to Tommy as an incentive to see one another in person. When they finally met up about two months after Arnold joined Heckler, Tommy unabashedly ordered an appetizer, a bowl of clam chowder, and the most expensive dinner. When Tommy tried to order a Long Island iced tea, Arnold wouldn’t allow it. Maybe in a couple of years, he told him, when you’re of age, and imagined himself toasting Tommy’s 21st birthday not with the backdrop of a hip club, but at the very same table they sat at in that moment.

By the end of that first dinner, Arnold had a decent feeling about Tommy and a measure of self-congratulations for having neither said something odd nor having spilled something on the front of his shirt. A tiny piece of Arnold’s heart was cautiously preparing for a real, live-and-in-person friendship with this young man—30 years his junior. By all appearances, it was more of a parasitic relationship than a true friendship, but it worked for them both and had been sustained for the last five years. Arnold and Tommy: much-needed companionship in exchange for access to a top-of-the-line gaming system and regular dinners out.

While Arnold always welcomed in Tommy’s presence on B Street, he was smart enough to make some rules about it. If borrowing his mother’s car, Tommy was only welcome to come by after the neighborhood had gone to sleep because Arnold did not want to have to explain to his nosy neighbors whose car was in the driveway. If coming on his own power, that is, riding his longboard, Tommy could arrive anytime. If Arnold was home when Tommy arrived, the two would engage in a few minutes of idle chat before taking their places at the foot of Arnold’s bed to gear up as Hecklers.

Late one night and still early into their odd relationship, Tommy came over on his longboard late one night and stayed up gaming until the small hours of the morning. He asked if he could crash on the couch. While Arnold was overjoyed that Tommy felt so “at home” that he would make the request, Arnold was guarded in his response, reiterating his expectation that Tommy not be seen by the neighbors when leaving the next morning. Thereafter, sleeping over became the norm both for convenience and for practicality. Tommy was usually too stoned from the pot he had smoked alone in Arnold’s basement to skateboard the three and a half miles back to his parents’ house in Ledbury.

About a year after their first dinner out together, Arnold was promoted to lieutenant. Tommy, unbeknownst to Arnold, out his own self-interest and ongoing disappointment in the subgrade marijuana he would buy, asked Arnold what he did at the station now that he was second in charge. Arnold was animated in his description of his day-to-day duties. When Arnold disclosed having access to the evidence room, Tommy made, what Arnold didn’t hear, a scripted proposal. Having seen enough cop shows, Tommy reasoned out loud that once the drug evidence comes back from the lab, it was safe to take a little out. Never again would it be weighed: no one would be able to see the difference of an ounce here or there. After suffering a great deal of pressure to accept the proposal reasonable and a not-so-tacit threat to end their friendship, Arnold capitulated and would occasionally sneak into the Fleet Police Department’s evidence room to pocket some higher quality marijuana for his friend.

When Tommy would get high in Arnold’s basement, he did so leaning up against the cool cement wall that faced the fenced in backyard. The thick blue smoke would slip out the slightly opened, narrow window. Arnold never partook. In fact, he didn’t even want to be around the smoke for fear that a random drug test would come back positive. Instead Arnold would pace back and forth in the kitchen waiting for Tommy to hurry up and finish breaking the law in the most ironic of places: a police officer’s home. Once intoxicated, Tommy would stagger back upstairs and the pair would play well into the night.

Only once did Arnold regret bringing Tommy a sample of the intoxicating plant: after smoking a particularly good variety of weed and playing an unusually lengthy session online, Arnold arrived home to find Tommy had consumed all of the available snacks from Arnold’s well-stocked pantry. When Arnold found the eight crumpled bags at Tommy’s feet, he made a mental note not to bring home any more of that specific type of confiscated pot. Though when Arnold observed Tommy arch back to reach into his back pocket and pull out his red bandanna with which he wiped his forehead and then the corners of his mouth, Arnold swelled with affection. He relished how Tommy looked in that moment: happy—yes, from the pot, but also from virtual violence.

As they drove in silence from Ledbury into Fleet, they passed by Fleet’s small central city square which was covered in sandwich boards. All but one announced in bright and flashy colors upcoming Fleet activities: the annual triathlon, the library book sale, kids’ movie night at the beach, and free electronics recycling. The one exception was a simple black-and-white reminder to all taxpayers that August 1st was the “Q1” deadline for property tax payments. None of these signs were a concern to Arnold. He wasn’t a triathlete; he didn’t read; he didn’t have children; he gave his old computers to Tommy; and as for property tax, he didn’t own any real estate in Fleet. Every time Arnold drove by the three-foot-high, A-frame announcements he felt like he was missing out, like life was happening to everyone but him.

Before he could get too bogged down in his despondency over his aloneness, he was pulling into his reserved space. Thinking I’m the fucking chief of police helped him recalibrate and focus on what needed to get accomplished.

The next time Arnold spoke was when he introduced Tommy to Betty.

“Pleased to meet you, Thomas. I didn’t know Arnold had a nephew.” Looking at Arnold, she added, “I thought you were an only child.”

Arnold pointed Tommy toward his office and sidestepped, “He’s here to fix something on my computer.”

“No tool box?” she asked.

Arnold had completely forgotten to go by his house and get his. Moreover, he didn’t hear the sarcasm in her voice.

Tommy said, “No, ma’am. Everything I need to fix his computer with, I’ve got here in mine.”

Tommy patted his laptop twice. Arnold saw the cords sticking out of Tommy front pocket. Arnold cocked his head toward his office, and Tommy moved his feet in that direction.

“Maternal or paternal?” Betty asked.

Arnold felt a tightness beginning to collect between his shoulder blades, a physical reaction to the seemingly interminable inquisition.

“What’s that, Betty?”

“Is Thomas your sister’s son or your brother’s son?”

“Sister’s,” he said, if only to be consistent with the lie he had told the sergeant who had found him several doors down from Tommy’s house. “We’re on a tight schedule, Betty.”

“Don’t let me slow you down,” Betty said. As Arnold was closing his door, she offered, “Should I hold your calls?”

Arnold swung the door open enough to stick his head out. “Yes, hold my calls.” He saw Betty’s face begin to crack into a wide smile as he closed the door all the way.

It took less than ten minutes for Tommy to tether the two computers, plug in the accurate numbers, and create a separate check for the retroactive money. Arnold compared the numbers to those Natalie had provided. They matched. Tommy unplugged the cords and folded down the screen.

Tommy said, “I don’t want to do this again. I don’t like coming here.”

“Hey, hey, you’re not done.”

“Pretty sure I am.”

“No, you need to get back in there and figure out the schedule for reconciliation on the Fleet city accounts. We need to know if we’ve already been exposed on this.”

“Um, I’m not sure if . . .”

Arnold didn’t want to hear it. He demanded, “Open up your laptop and get ‘sure,’ Tommy, because you’re not leaving until you can tell me this little glitch is not going to trip us up.”

Tommy cracked the laptop open and booted it up. Arnold watched Tommy’s fingers flying over the laptop keyboard and then over to his desktop keyboard. It reminded Arnold of those vaudevillians who played two pianos at once.

After several otherwise silent minutes, Tommy announced, “You’re good.” He reached up, folded the screen down, and pulled out the USB cords.

“What does that mean? I’m ‘good’?”

“First of the month.”

“Is?”

“Is when the reconciliation program runs on the city’s accounts. The last run was July 1st; the next run is August 1st. Seeing as though it’s the 24th of July, you’re good.”

Arnold nodded. He had been considering asking for a quick lesson on how this all worked in order to both to spare Tommy the need to come back once a month and to mitigate the risk of Tommy being seen coming to the station.

“I was thinking you should show me how you do this,” Arnold offered. “Not the reconciliation check, but the other things.”

“Why?”

“So I know. You yourself just said you don’t like coming here. If you showed me how to get into the system directly from my computer, then you wouldn’t have to be here.”

Arnold watched as Tommy mulled over the idea. He was surprised to hear Tommy’s response.

“No. I’m good. And come to think of it, now that I’m your nephew, you could have monthly computer issues.”

Arnold nodded at the serendipity of the opportunity, but recalling the other aspect of their arrangement, said, “I can’t get you anything now. It’s the middle of the day.”

“Not my problem,” Tommy said. “I’m going to need some supply to meet the demand.”

“Let’s go,” Arnold said. “I’ll have to get it later.”

Arnold tried to hurry Tommy through Betty’s space. He wasn’t quite quick enough.

She called, “Chief, you didn’t get any calls.”

He shot her a look and headed down the hall thankful the crisis had been averted.

#

Brian Nealy had always been popular. His recent incarceration hadn’t changed that. His fellow pre-trial inmates liked him and his stories. Most of them said they couldn’t begin to understand what Nealy had done wrong to land himself in the Hampshire County Jail. Drug sales they understood; A & B made sense; larceny they could get behind. But wrapping their minds around how Nealy’s use of a computer to take money was “a crime,” they couldn’t comprehend. They saw it more as finders-keepers. If someone was going to leave money lying around, someone else was going to pick it up. That someone had been Nealy.

In making the suggestion to his lawyer that they use the finders-keepers defense, Nealy argued that the men with whom he shared temporary space were, in fact, the type of people who get stuck on juries—adding that these men understood and liked the explanation. Nealy endorsed the idea by saying one inmate said it had a Robin Hood feel to it. Tacitly, Nealy questioned Inmate #34702’s literary prowess, as Nealy was charged with stealing from the retirement accounts of middle-class workers and giving all of it to himself. As for a group of “merry men,” Nealy wasn’t naming names. He still needed their help, if only in the execution of his newest plan: a plan Nealy knew that none of his criminal cohort would have had the creativity to imagine, though their tech skills would come in handy.

Nealy picked a criminal defense attorney from a short list of lawyers, all of whom had made a mid-career switch from computer software engineering to the law as a preemptive precaution. Nealy needed someone who understood how computers worked. He didn’t have the time or the patience to provide an education. After a tough interview, Nealy decided to hire Allen Robard, Esq. over the other three attorneys he had interviewed because Robard was the only lawyer who did not discuss what not to say upon a possible, future arrest. Being reminded to “remain silent” after getting the Miranda warning insulted Nealy’s intelligence. Robard had said nothing but “If you need me, I’ll be there for you.” So Nealy provided his future criminal defense attorney—were he ever to be charged “down the road” with a crime—a significantly larger-than-requested retainer and memorized Robard’s cell phone.

Four months had passed between their first meeting and Nealy’s call to Robard from Stanfield PD on the night of Nealy’s arrest. And Robard was there for Nealy: on the night of his arrest, at the arraignment, at every pre-trial hearing, and every Thursday smelling like burned coffee and stale cigarettes. Although Robard was allowed to come to the jail at any time for a client visit, he came on Thursday evenings, after his AA meeting. Allen Robard was not reluctant to speak about his 12 years of sobriety, and Nealy liked his lawyer’s self-effacing willingness to be honest about his addiction.

Nealy was being held on one million dollars cash bail. Although he had that much cash in an undiscovered account, Robard guaranteed that were he to apply these funds to his bail, they would be eventually traced and confiscated. The prosecutor would question their source, the judge would freeze them, an investigation would follow. The money trail would be used as evidence in the prosecutor’s case. And ultimately, the million would be returned to the victims by way of a non-appealable order to pay restitution.

Robard’s concise and compelling argument was convincing to Nealy. Not willing to risk the funds being seized, Nealy said he’d wait it out. Jail wasn’t all bad. He wasn’t picky about the food; the book selection was entertaining enough. He didn’t care much about the battle over the one TV in the common room of his cell block; he stayed out of those debates. Plus, Nealy was the most-visited pre-trial inmate. Between family and friends, his visit times were nearly always full. When he would instruct one visitor to have another one come in, there was full compliance: the requested person would show up the next time without fail.

Nealy’s mother was told to call Tommy. When his old childhood friend appeared, Nealy was ready.

Lifting the telephone receiver on opposite sides of the glass, their conversation began once Tommy finished wiping clean the receiver with his red bandanna. Nealy’s first words were his assurance that their conversation was not being recorded, because, as he explained, that would be illegal. Nealy prefaced the conversation that they needed to dispense with idle chat because Nealy was on a tight schedule: he had an “associate” visiting in 15 minutes.

“Even though my lawyer is going to argue it would be impossible for me to have worked alone, I’m not ratting you out. With no leads on co-conspirators, the prosecutor is stuck, and my lawyer will show that the state’s investigation was incomplete. My maximum exposure is five to seven but with no record, that’ll drop to three to five. Of course, this presumes the jury can even understand what I’m being charged with, which we seriously doubt, and they come back with a guilty. In the exceedingly rare likelihood that happens, I’m going to need your help,” Nealy said.

As children, Tommy and Nealy shared the Forest Glen neighborhood in Ledbury. Nealy’s family was six doors down and across the street from Tommy’s. Their paths didn’t cross frequently in their adolescence though they had been childhood pals. When Tommy noticed the symbol for his favorite First-Person Shooter game on the bumper of Nealy’s car, he approached Nealy. They caught up quickly and discovered they were both Hecklers.

During their reintroduction, Nealy got the sense Tommy had a solid understanding of programing and systems manipulation. This led Nealy to ask for a “business meeting” with Tommy. It was not unlike Nealy’s interview of Robard: tough questions to assess Tommy’s understanding of how computers worked and whether Nealy could benefit from inviting him in. Tommy, fresh from a semester of advanced programming, passed Nealy’s test and was invited to warkit with him. Tommy was promised 20%. Sitting there, tempered glass between them, Tommy had yet to see any remuneration.

Tommy said, “My help? The way I see it, you have yet to follow through with our prior agreement.”

“Do you see where I’m sitting?” Nealy asked, waving his hand in a large circle above his head.

“What I see is a breach of our agreement. We pulled three mil and I have yet to see my 600 G’s.”

“I don’t have it. The Feds froze the accounts,” Nealy said.

“Not my problem,” Tommy parried.

Nealy reiterated that he did not have the money but the tone of Nealy’s voice indicated otherwise. Tommy called him on it, “I don’t believe you. You’ve got something. I’ve got nothing.”

Nealy’s face was reddening. “You got yourself an education. You wouldn’t have that without me.”

“True. I learned a thing or two from you. In fact, I’m working on a little project of my own right now. Some of your ‘teachings’ have come in handy. But here’s the difference, I’m working on my own on this one. I’m not worried about having to skim any benefits off the top because I’m taking all the risks. No one to answer to but myself. You, however, needed my help, and in exchange for that, you promised payment,” Tommy explained.

“I don’t have it,” Nealy said, even less convincingly than the first time.

“You can keep saying that, and I’ll keep calling bullshit.”

“Tell you what I do have: your name,” Nealy said.

“You just said you’re not ratting me out.”

“Plans can change.”

Nealy needed Tommy and this posturing was not laying any sort of a good foundation for the two of them to work in their shared best interests. Tommy was well aware of the fact that desperate people did desperate things. The last thing he needed was for Nealy to get desperate enough to implicate him in the gutting of those retirement accounts.

Tommy said, “Let’s say you get those three to five. What then? What would you need me for?”

Nealy’s face relaxed. He said, “I’d need you to make a couple of date changes.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning my wrap date will be stored away on some computer. And as we know, all computers have holes.”

“When’s trial?”

“It’s set to start late October.”

Tommy said, “The timing works for me on that. I should be wrapping up my little project right about then.”

Tommy glanced at the clock on the wall behind him. There was still a little time before Nealy’s nameless “associate” was due to arrive. Tommy decided to be the one to call an end to the visit. He said, “I’ve got to go. I’ll come visit again.” He stood, hung up the phone, and wrapped once on the glass, an abrupt sign that made Tommy wonder whether Nealy knew that their solidarity was little more than a thin tread tethering them together.

#

It was Friday and this day marked two weeks since the GT file went home with Natalie. She was itching to get her fingers on another to see whether Arnold had contributed his commentary to the files. Natalie had to admit that, if nothing else, the files were holding her attention on something other than her having twice spotted Charlie’s car in Ledbury center outside of a building full of attorneys: once last Friday and before that, the previous Friday. She felt a heightened level of anxiety in anticipating what she might see on her way through Ledbury this afternoon.

Natalie and Charlie had wills; they were not purchasing land; they were not incorporating a business; neither had recently suffered a personal injury. Why else speak to a member of the bar? Natalie could only initially conclude one thing: divorce. Perhaps it’s only a transitory thought of his—a phase, she thought. Their relationship wasn’t that bad; surely not as bad as it was six years ago when the practicality and attractiveness of divorce occupied many hours of Natalie’s thinking. It simply could not be that bad, she tried to reassure herself.

Focusing on work and the files helped Natalie stay semi-sane. She was playing the waiting game at home with Charlie and at work with Arnold. Arnold was staying after 5:00 more and more often. This boggled Natalie’s mind because she hadn’t a clue what would take up so much of his time. She told herself, on this Friday, that she would only to wait until 5:30. If he was still there, she’d go home empty handed and without more ammunition to store in the “Operation Ousting” arsenal.

5:28, 5:29, 5:30.

Natalie walked over to the east side, the administrative side. Betty was long gone, presumably in a cloud of laid-down rubber, extra eager to “escape” for the weekend. Arnold’s office lights were off, which meant little with the bright afternoon sun coming in from his south-facing windows. Natalie tiptoed up and saw the back of his chair facing his computer station and Arnold’s fleshy elbows spilling over the armrests.

Well not today, she thought.

Natalie grabbed her bag and headed for her car. She was impatiently waiting to turn left out of the east driveway. The traffic had gotten increasingly worse over her 14 years on the force. She half-seriously considered getting a slap-on magnetic blue light to help her in situations like this. She opted not to, based on the cultural stereotype of fat, stupid cops using the light and, more often than not, fumbling as they attempted to place it on the roof.

Arnold pulled his Crown Vic up parallel to Natalie but half a football-field’s length away. With only eastbound traffic to contend with, he was more quickly on his way turning right out of the lot. He lifted a broad paw to her as he passed. Natalie waved back and felt her heartrate tick up.

Natalie put her car in reverse, parked, and tore back inside. She lifted a case file off her desk, to use as a prop if necessary, and strode to Arnold’s office. Locked.

Approaching the second-shift dispatcher, she asked if he would unlock the door so that she could leave a sensitive file on Arnold’s desk. She explained that he needed see it first thing Monday.

“Could I give you the key? I’d rather not leave my desk,” he said, looking reluctant to leave his chair. Natalie did not know the dispatcher had recently been put on probation for leaving his work station for an extended period of time. Of course, in “dispatcher time,” anything over half a minute was considered “extended.”

“Sure. No problem. I’m happy to do it myself. I wasn’t giving an order; I was asking,” she said.

“Here you go.”

He handed her the station keys—all of them. They were on a large silver loop. There must have been four dozen of them.

“Any idea which one it is?” she asked.

“Nope. Sorry, I don’t,” he replied. The 911 phone began to ring and he reached for it.

“Well, my weekend can’t start until I deliver this file,” Natalie said before he picked up the receiver.

Of the dozens of keys on the ring, Natalie knew exactly which style of opened the chief’s office door. Years ago and midway through her short relationship with Daniel, she had observed—after lifting the heavy ring of keys off his nightstand—that Daniel had a lot of keys for one police chief. Languishing in bed together, he went through them, one by one, and explained what each unlocked. She recalled that his office key looked like half of a pie which had been cut into six pieces. She was able to remember this as Daniel had been verbally playful with Natalie with that very key: something about how he was a fan of pie.

There were only four half-pie keys on the ring. Natalie was able to open the door with the second one. Once fully inside Arnold’s office, she ducked under the desk and pulled a file: “OM.” Sliding it into the prop file, Natalie stepped to relock Arnold’s door after having confirmed that his office looked undisturbed. Then, Natalie she opened the ring, removed the key, and dropped it into her suit coat pocket.

“Here you go,” she said, handing the ring to the dispatcher, “I gave up.” She held up the file to show she still had it.

“I don’t blame you. That’s a lot of keys.”

“Too many for a Friday afternoon,” she asserted. “Looks like I’ll have to be here first thing on Monday to get in before the chief. Have a good weekend.”

“Thanks, Detective Sergeant Martin.”

“You’re welcome . . .”

“Tyler.”

“You’re welcome, Tyler.”

#

Natalie awoke early on Saturday to read the OM file. The notes began when Olympia Marchand stepped into the public sphere and, thereby, into the sphere of being potentially influential. The black felt-tip pen, coupled with the date, indicated Chief Paul O’Sullivan was the first scribe.

March 15th, 2008: OM submits papers to run for Fleet School Committee. Hx: OM resident of Fleet since 1996, m. to Russell 1993, daughter Alissa b. 1988, daughter Lily b. 2002. Lily has significant birth defects. School district and OM battled over educating Lily in Fleet. See multiple newspaper articles from Fleet and regional papers. State supreme court decision directed Fleet to provide education or pay for Lily’s education outside of district. OM’s election platform rests on “Education for all.”

May 10th, 2008: OM wins election. Need to research additional Hx.

June 14th, 2008: Checked with contact at Dept. of Children and Families Services: Marchands had an open case open from 2000 to 2003. Reasons for opening: Alissa’s skipping school and promiscuous/risky behavior. School was initial reporter to DCF. Case closed when Alissa’s attendance and grades were up to par. Alissa went from C/D student to A/B student. DCF termed case “closed successfully.” Only non-professional collateral contact in DCF file: Maternal grandfather, Aaron Baudin.

June 15th, 2008: Hx on Aaron Baudin: Resides alone in Stanfield. Widowed in 2004. Aaron’s Wife/OM’s mother: Claudia. Need to visit.

July 20th, 2008: Visit to Aaron. Sick, late stage cancer? Allowed into large home. Unclean, possibly unfit for human habitation. Sat at kitchen table. Roaches. Lung cancer? COPD? Aaron using oxygen.

Asked Aaron about OM. Offered explanation that PD does a quick background on all newly elected Fleet officials. No reluctance to talk.

Since 2002, AB has had no contact with OM or her family. OM et al. showed up at funeral in 2004. That was the last time he saw them.

Hates what he and Claudia did. Should have not allowed OM and Alissa to live with them for those four months in 2002. OM “should have taken responsibility for what happened.” Happy that Alissa’s life is back on track; sad for Lily. “She didn’t deserve the life she is stuck with.”

When probed for details, AB began a coughing fit and asked that I leave him to “suffer alone.”

Need to find out more about “those four months in 2002.”

Natalie noticed the black felt tip yielded to blue ballpoint: Daniel.

04 February 09: Review of file by new chief. OM’s current influence on School Committee’s decisions becoming greater. Question re: this entry: OM “should have taken responsibility for what happened.” Did OM have an affair which resulted in pregnancy?

20 February 09: Hospital record search on birth. None found in the four area hospitals, including two in Stanfield.

21 February 09: Public records search. Lily’s birth certificate (filed in Stanfield) listed “home birth.” No attending doctor or midwife. Certification of birth signed by Claudia Baudin. Parents listed as OM and RM. Alissa Marchand on birth cert. as witness. Why would a 14 y.o. want to watch her mother give birth?

07 July 09: Closer review of State supreme court’s decision in 2008. Lily’s genetic disorder attributed to “advanced maternal age.”

Internet research into genetic disorders relative to advance maternal age. Medical website noted that many of the birth defects are also attributable to consanguinity. Question paternity of Lily.

25 July 09: Called my contact at DCF. Verbal request for unredacted case file.

Ran criminal background on OM and RM. OM clean; RM charged in 2001 with possession of child pornography. Photographs and videos found in home; nothing on computer. Case nolle prosecui due to challenge by defense atty. of bad warrant. Sgt. Tucker affiant on warrant. Det. Joe Diaz, lead on investigation.

Evidence File 01-SC-2571. (Note: Old filing done by crime. SC = sex crime; New filing system done by color. Red file = violent crime.)

14 August 09: Received and reviewed DCF case file. Comprehensive assessment indicates, in case worker notes, a suspicion of RM being sexual abuse perp. Alissa reluctant to disclose more than “he makes me feel weird/uncomfortable.” OM asked by DCF about Alissa/RM relationship. OM reported, “She overreacts to his teasing.”

25 August 09: Pulled Evidence File 01-SC-2571. Photos of Caucasian girls, approximate age 10-15. Early pubescence.

14 May 11: Fleet City Election. Overheard at polls re: OM (up for reelection) “Things aren’t right in that house.”

Based on the foregoing: RM = Lily’s father, Alissa = Lily’s mother.

Natalie had concluded this was where the file was heading before reading the last line. As the last entry was in 2011, it predated Arnold’s possession of the box by close to three years. The OM file wasn’t going to help in Natalie’s pursuit of Arnold, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t do something with the information collected there.

If Daniel’s deductions were accurate, then it was safe to assume things were definitely not right in the Marchand home. Rape of a child, fraud of a vital statistics record, and—in Natalie’s opinion the worst part—the forced birth of a baby who would live out her life under the umbrella of a lie and never know her true parentage.

But hold on a second there, Senior Detective Sergeant First Class. That conclusion of yours relies on the idea that Fleet PD will forever keep quiet about what is contained in this file. And before you get too ahead of yourself, what if everything you just read is a collection of lies constructed to tear down a politically-influential woman? Just because this file reads like a police report doesn’t mean it contains “facts.” For that matter, even if it were a police report, conjecture and speculation on “facts” find their way into those all the time.

Natalie decided that the best way to get to the bottom of the matter was to bring the file to Olympia Marchand and give her the same benefit of the doubt that she had given Pastor Cushing. As Charlie was golfing at four, Natalie would go be able to the Marchands’ then.

There was only one car in the drive at the Marchand residence. Natalie hoped it was Olympia’s. It was clear that the residents of Brookfield Estates took their landscaping seriously: annuals and perennials surrounded the meticulously manicured lawns. Even with the summer water usage restrictions, there were no patches of brown to be seen. Natalie wondered if the Marchands regarded their perfect flora as a sign of a healthy home.

Natalie pressed the doorbell. She could hear the elegant peeling of chimes ring through the house. Someone, who Natalie guessed to be Alissa, answered the door.

“Yes, may I help you?” she asked.

Alissa was dressed in black leggings and an oversized t-shirt. Her long brown hair was piled up on top of her head. A pair of headphones ringed her long thin neck.

“I hope so. My name is Natalie Martin. I would like to speak to your mother. Is she home?”

“Nope. At St. Michael’s for 4:00 mass.”

“You’re Alissa?”

“Yeah,” she replied with feigned annoyance. “How do you my mother?”

“I don’t. I work with the Fleet Police Department.”

“Oh? Are you here to arrest her?” Alissa asked in a coy tone.

Natalie laughed. “No. Why? Has she broken the law?”

“Recently? Probably not.”

“That’s good,” Natalie said. “Let me ask you this. Is she at church alone?”

“No. Russ and Lily are with her. They go every Saturday.”

“But you stay home?”

“I don’t live here,” she said, “so the rules of my childhood don’t apply anymore. Plus, I hate all that Hail Mary shit.”

“Fair enough.”

“They still go every Sunday, though. Whatever. If it makes them feel better.”

Natalie looked past Alissa. She could see the front hall walls covered in family photos. “I’ve got to get going. There’s really no need to let your mom know I stopped by. I’ll catch up with her at some point.”

“Whatever.”

Natalie nodded a polite but conclusory goodbye and turned back toward her car. On her way over the fieldstones with the neatly-trimmed grass edging, Natalie considered Alissa’s affect in light of what she had read in the OM file. Although Natalie had inwardly hoped the OM file was not only hyperbolic but also untrue, Alissa’s presentation didn’t do much to help Natalie conclude it was teeming with inaccuracies.

Parked with a view of the backdoor of Saint Michael’s, Natalie slumped down a bit in her seat. Although she knew she was looking for a woman of “advanced maternal age,” she wasn’t sure exactly what Olympia Marchand looked like even though she’d seen a couple of grainy newspaper photos from years ago. Natalie figured she’d be the only woman leaving the coffee hour with a man and a disabled child.

At 5:05, the Marchands came out. Olympia was holding Lily’s hand and Russ followed behind. Natalie knew that a typical 12-year-old kid wouldn’t want to be seen holding hands with a parent; Lily wasn’t a typical 12-year-old. Her gait was labored and her eyes, downcast, surveyed the ground at each slow step she took. A small, but patient, crowd formed behind them as they made their way out of the church and into the parking lot down a hedge-lined walkway.

Olympia and Russ worked together to get Lily into the backseat. It took some careful orchestration to get her safely secured into the backseat. Lily’s chin was resting on her chest, as if she hadn’t the strength to hold it up or the interest to look out the window. Now was not the time to approach Olympia; Natalie would have to wait. With a key to Arnold’s office, Natalie had stolen herself a little leeway.

On Monday morning, Natalie drove by the Marchands’. Two cars were there. Natalie parked as far as she could from the house but still with a view of the driveway. At a quarter to nine, Russ left, dressed in business attire. Natalie’s search on the internet revealed Russ to be the senior bank manager at the Fleet branch of Hampshire Savings and Loan. He made the money; so much of it, Natalie deduced, that Olympia didn’t need to work. All the better, seeing the demands Lily put on her.

Natalie drove up the driveway. On her way to the front door, she noticed the flowers along the pathway were closed. Not yet warm enough for them to show their faces, Natalie thought and then wondered if showing her face—knowing what little she did and what was contained in the file—was her best move. Before she could reconsider whether to ring the doorbell, the door was open.

Olympia.

“Oh, hi. Good morning. My name is—”

“Natalie Martin,” Olympia said. “Alissa told me you came by while we were at mass on Saturday.”

“She did? I told her not to bother. I’m sorry if she was worried,” Natalie explained.

“Oh, she wasn’t worried. She was gloating when she told me about your visit.” Olympia shook her head scornfully at an absent Alissa and asked, “So Officer Martin, how can I help you?”

Natalie could see that, without some softening, she wasn’t getting over the threshold. She wasn’t about to pull the file out on the front steps. She said, “I know you don’t know me, and you’re right: I am a police officer, but I’m not here in my official capacity. However, I would like a few moments of your time to discuss a certain matter.” Olympia made a sour face, but before she could refuse Natalie entry, Natalie added, “You don’t have to talk to me. But I can say that if I were in your shoes, I’d want to hear me out.” Natalie glanced down. Olympia was wearing haute couture heels. “I’m not much of a Jimmy Choo kind of gal, but colloquially speaking.”

Olympia must have appreciated that Natalie knew the designer. It was enough to get her in the door. “Coffee?” Olympia offered.

            Yes, I would like a 20-minute coffee, Natalie thought as she nodded and smiled, stepping into the home.

Olympia directed Natalie to the living room, which could have been called “the white room.” Every piece of furniture, every surface, everywhere you looked: white. Natalie was pleased she hadn’t worn her standard white blouse. She might have disappeared into the couch.

Olympia came in with coffee on a silver tray. She placed it on the white marble coffee table. As she sat, she smoothed the backs of her freshly-pressed capris.

“Cream?” she asked, holding up the ornate tiny pitcher, perhaps more for show than for hospitality.

“No, thank you. Black.”

Olympia gestured for Natalie to take the one cup from the tray. When she did, Natalie asked, “None for you?”

Olympia waved her hand at the idle chat and directed, “All right. Go ahead. Tell me why you’re here.”

Natalie thought she heard an air of resignation in the well-dressed woman’s tone, though it may have been exasperation, as if she had much better things to do with her Monday morning.

“I’m going to start by telling you that I’m not here to blackmail you,” Natalie said.

“Well that’s good news, I suppose. Why would you ever say that?”

“Because the last person I spoke to thought my motive was blackmail. And it’s not. So, if you were going to jump to that conclusion, please don’t. That’s not why I’m here.”

“Well, with that clear, Ms. Martin, why are you here?”

“Because of this.” Natalie pulled the OM file from her oversized bag. She handed the file to Olympia.

It took Olympia seven long minutes to read the file. Natalie did not sip on her coffee believing that doing so would make her appear a bit too casual while Olympia read the file. Natalie guessed Olympia to be a faster reader despite savoring every word. When Olympia looked up, she appeared relieved.

Natalie asked, “Are you all right?”

“Yes. I’m fine.”

“Mrs. Marchand . . .”

“I think we can dispense with that formality considering what you’ve read about my private life. You ought to just call me Olympia.”

Natalie waited a beat before saying, “Olympia, it matters little to me whether this is true or false.” Natalie saw Olympia start to speak, but Natalie held up her hand and continued. “The fact is, this file exists and, to me, that doesn’t seem fair.”

“Where did you get it?” Olympia asked.

“At the station.” As soon as the words left her mouth, Natalie regretted admitting to the origin.

“Where?”

“At Fleet PD.”

“Why would the police have this?”

“I’m not yet sure about that. I can tell you that it’s not part of the central system. It’s not a public record; it’s more like a private file,” Natalie explained.

“I’m not sure what you mean,” Olympia said.

“Suffice it to say, I think you became a ‘person of interest’ once you decided to run for public office. The dates seem to indicate that you came onto FPD’s radar after announcing your decision to run for a seat on the school committee”

“So, I’m a target? To them? For what?”

“I don’t know the answer to those questions. But this file has been kept for six years, and I don’t see it going away—at least not until you get out of public office.”

“I was reelected in May.”

“I know. So, who knows who would like to get their hands on this in the next three years.”

“No one,” she said, “because you’re leaving it.”

“Yes, but only temporarily. Not to keep.” Natalie described what Olympia needed to do to replicate the file: make it look the same, practice, practice a lot. Natalie gave her a black felt tip pen, a blue ballpoint one, and 24 hours. She added, “See you at 9:00 tomorrow. I’ll show myself out.”

On the way to the front door, Natalie glanced into kitchen where she saw Lily. She was sitting on the floor looking down at Cheerios scattered in a semicircle around her. Although Natalie had the momentary urge to help her clean up, Lily looked content, rocking back and forth to the rhythm of her sing-song counting.

 

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