"I'm just a soldier - RHIP (Rank hath its privileges)"

—Undersheriff H. Maxwell Ulrich

As a whole, law enforcement is one of the most demanding, mentally taxing, dangerous professions anybody could pursue as a career.

With much respect to fishermen, pilots, even loggers, very few professions pose the inherent risks of inserting oneself into harm's way of the human elements of dangers. When chaotic and horrific incidents unfold, causing most people to run away, officers run toward it.

Some officers tend to find their own methods to cope after experiencing the wide range of violence, abuse, and senseless criminal atrocities that impact citizens of every demographic, social and economic class, age, and beliefs every day. There's no vaccinations to take from these exposures, no antibiotics to ingest, or some magic wand to wave to make the images go away - no 'bibbity, bobbity, boo.'

Officers will find their own means to ride it out, be it positive, self-destructive, or somewhere in between. Each time an officer responds to a sensitive or horrific incident, it takes its toll out on them.

Any officer trying to 'cowboy or cowgirl up' claiming it's no big deal is either lying or has grown so desensitized that they've become apathetic.

No person, let alone a seasoned officer, can easily shake off seeing a baby die in a hot car or an innocent killed on their birthday because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time when a suspect slammed head-on into their car during a vehicle pursuit. No person, no self-conscious officer, has that much 'cowboy or cowgirl up' in them! Once you see it, it's hard to unsee it.

Make no mistake: fractions of an officer's psyche are torn away, layer by layer, like a mental artichoke at every call. These experiences will take its toll like a driver passing through a volatile toll booth onto a very unstable bridge - in order to keep it moving, you have to pay the cost. Whatever the circumstance, madness is going to collect its toll, please have exact change.

I know, but what if the driver has three or more passengers along for the ride in the carpool lane? The driver's actions can also affect those unworldly people by taking them on the trip they never anticipated.

Family and friends aren't always cognizant of any behavioral issues right away, because they're too close to the situation - emotions tend to cloud judgment - and can become oblivious to the subtle changes in attitude. So, they can either buckle up for safety or tell the officer there's no more free rides and it's time to let them out.

But, if there's a remedy they could use, like applying a salve to a deep wound, to scab over what they've experienced as just another day at the office, they'd do it, whether it's conducive or self-destructive.

Healthier alternatives would lend credence as to why officers tend to gravitate toward other like-minded officers and clique together, such as hunting pals, specialized and tactical unit members, beat partners, Academy buds, housemates, drinking buddies, 'Girl Power!', teammates, gamblers, adulterers and philanderers, cronies, good old boys, 'brothers from another mother'… you name the affiliation, they'll find each other.

Nobody can truly understand what officers experience every day, save for other officers. With much respect to loggers, fishermen, pilots - they can't hold a candle to the inherent human risks of danger faced by officers on a daily basis.

It's a profession dependent upon the cohesive trust and reliance of individuals to watch their six, so everybody can make it back home, to pay the toll.

Present day - The Gates of the Castle, 1100 Heritage Way.

Many Agency employees, past and present, have wondered why the administrative headquarters was dubbed the 'Castle'.

There've been many fallacies uttered that started off 'Well, the way I heard it…' or 'I got it straight from the horse's mouth…'. Some have even suggested because it's difficult to 'storm the Castle.' (Cop-speak: you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than being selected to work there.) Then-Sheriff Cottrell's version's the only one that matters.

When the Board of Supervisors granted the Agency a parcel lot with a to-die-for lakefront view for development, Sheriff Cottrell could already conceptualize the architectural statement he wanted to make.

He demanded it be awe-inspiring, while displaying the Agency's professionalism and transparency to all who entered. He wanted it to be palatial. He envisioned it to be a Castle in the sky - an unattainable dream that would stand head-and-shoulders above any other law enforcement departments. This eleven-story fortress was built to be that lasting testament. His is the rendition that should always be told.

Each floor depicts the metaphoric heights of achievement for those worthy enough to work on these exclusive levels. Having a corner office, cubicle, or a smallish desk with just a phone is the aspiration for any Agency worker bee or drone. Any employee who scoffs at that notion has aimed their career trajectory quite low, and probably weren't worthy, anyway.

The Castle is the epicenter - ground zero, so to speak - where all decisions emanate. Anybody privileged to work here is like having an all-access pass to a world title fight, all the time: you don't need a program to tell the combatants apart, but you might get soiled by the blood and sweat spattering around. Just keep your dukes up so you don't, unwillingly, become a part of the action.

When sauntering through the smoked-glass doors into the foyer, it's almost like hearing harp strings and the tinkling of the ivories with each stride on the tile floor with a large rendition of the Agency's 175th anniversary badge embedded into it.

Prior to boarding the elevator, personnel can't help but pay homage to The Cornerstone - a living tribute of nameplates of those who honorably served the Agency.

Though only a select few ever work here, to have a nameplate added to this growing memorial, symbolized they'd forever be a notable fixture.


The elevator opened onto the 11th floor, and Commander Powell pranced out to begin his first day as a star. He glanced up at the framed portraits of the Sheriffs of the Past aligned on the wall above the large glass entry doors emblazoned with gold-inlaid lettering:  

The Office of the Sheriff, Brendan T Callaghan, Sheriff – Coroner – Region  II Coordinator.

As he started to walk toward his office, it was if someone or something, made a point to get his attention. In that moment, it was as if the Sheriffs of the Past bellowed, 'Hey! New guy!' He turned and stared back at them; he couldn't help himself.

He squinted at the very first sheriff, how his grainy portrait typified the mid-1800s: the old milkman-style hat; the antiquated, tin five-star badge; and the grizzled, weathered face of a pioneer man who, when he was 18, probably looked 30.

He gazed at the first sheriff to be killed in the line of duty by cattle rustlers only eight days after taking office.

He looked askance at the 12th sheriff, who was hailed as a hero during a shootout with bank robbers while signing loan documents with his wife, but also vilified for demoting supervisors and managers with frequency. The man had an extremely itchy trigger finger, both literally and figuratively.

He peered at the 17th, Brendan Callaghan, and how his digital portrait made him appear more regal than that of some of his predecessors.

'Hmm, the wonders of modern photography…' he thought.

He studied each photograph like he was at the MOMA, but noticed an oddity and wondered if he was the only one who spotted it or was it meant for his eyes only.

From the first sheriff to Sheriff Emeritus Cottrell, each one emoted expressions varying from fatigue, agitation, arrogance, 'I did the best I could,' and mission accomplished.

'Did they start off like that or change on the job?' he pondered.

Would Sheriff Callaghan's portrait distort and take on the characteristics of his era and regime? Did the Sheriffs of the Past start off like his at one time? He suppose some questions were better left unanswered.

He walked away, but spied back at their eyes stalked him with judgment and skepticism, yet had the twinkle of hope and reassurance.

'Those eyes - they don't just look at you; they look through you,' he smirked.

He hoofed down the corridor, passed the archival photos and news clippings of memorable incidents, such as, the torching of the old Greystone Jail's auditorium when the inmates rioted over the 'sudden' cancellation of the 'Thrilla in Manila' and the intense manhunt of an escaped inmate accused of the horrific, triple-homicide that stunned the growing city of Vasco. This high-profile incident led to the Agency's first contractual agreement to provide full-time police services for this tony town.

In order for Commander Powell to get to his new digs, he'd have to slip past the Sheriff's opened door.

"He would be in bright and early."

He poked his head inside and caught sight of him holding court with Commanders G and Sargent.

"Good morning!" Commander Powell yelped.

"Hey, how's it going?" the Sheriff uttered.

"Damn, are you always so chipper in the morning!?" Commander Sargent grunted. "Good Morning!"

"Just living the dream, Maj!"

"Well, wake up! Welcome to the real world!"

"Um…, thanks," he replied, as he strolled to his office.

"Did you really have to make him, Brendan?" Commander G sneered, nudging the door shut with his foot. "You'd have been better off promoting Howard."

"Yeah, I promised Cottrell I'd promote him. But, he's more of a placement than a qualification."

"He's not in charge anymore; you are! You couldn't negotiate a compromise?" Commander Sargent replied.

"You know I don't welsh on my promises. Anyway, I had a few Jameson's in me on election night when he reminded me. I was stuck having to promote a man I can't stand, as he's on his way out the door; Cottrell's good!"

"Done in by your old friend Jameson's again!" Commander G chuckled. "The things you've done behind the devil's firewater! At least you stuck his ass in Detentions where he can't hurt anybody."

"He's harmless. I told McClellen he could pick his own boss; he chose Powell. He can handle him."

"Yeah…, because you think the world of that man!" Commander G chuckled. "I thought I was gonna lose it when you said that!"

"Well, he's a good dude. Once he's done his time, we need to consider him for the Round Table."

"He's okay, I guess," Commander Sargent replied. "What do you think we're gonna tell you, no?"

"You can try…, but then I'd have to tell you to wake up, welcome to the real world!" he exclaimed, as they laughed.

'Knock, knock…'

"Goddamn…, where are we, Grand Central Station?!" Commander G quipped.

"Oh," the Sheriff exclaimed, glancing at the clock. "I asked the Three Wise Men to stop by. I'll catch up to you guys later."

As they opened the door to leave, they came face to face with the Three Wise Men: modern-day variants of Praetorian guards sworn to protect the emperor… um… Sheriff, yet wield the executive authority that comes with their positions. Their brief standoff served as warning shots fired over the bough between the Old Guards and the New World Order.

"Morning, sirs," Commander G greeted.

The factions exchanged pleasantries and as the Commanders yielded the right-of-way so the Wise Men could enter, A/S Geathers closed the door behind them.

"Wow! Is that what it feels like on the other side?" Commander G asked.

"Yeah, you gonna apologize to Powell for doing it to him?"

"Not in this lifetime!"

"Thanks for coming in so early," the Sheriff said. "My schedule's tight today and I wanted to spitball an idea off you."

"Yuck!" A/S Geathers joked, as they laughed. "Just kidding. What's going on?"

"Well, I've been going over the crime stats for Contracts and the District for the last six months and the numbers aren't matching. Is it me or do they seem to be all over the place?"

"I'll speak on that," A/S Alexander replied. "I review all the stats and verify the totals before they get to you, because I know you're gonna have questions. The numbers occasionally fluctuate month to month, but you have to take into account the domino effect that impacts Patrol, like Motors working the 'Avoid the 21' campaign. The sergeants have to redirect personnel and resources for checkpoint support, which affects daily patrol which, in turn, affects the overall figures at the end of the month."

"I understand that, but, the numbers dip and spike in all the wrong places. Take traffic citations. In a month where you'd expect the totals to reflect a detail or operation was conducted, there weren't any. And yet, they spiked. Then it happened again two months later. There wasn't a single op I'm aware of and the totals are lower. You guys know the statistics matter to justify our appropriations, secure our grant monies, you know the drill."

"We're aware of that, Sheriff," A/S Geathers said, "but…"

"I appreciate that, Al, but, let Jericho clarify this since this is his division."

"I'm also aware of that. I've sent memos to the unit commanders to have their people review their stats closer before sending them up. The questions you're asking are the same as mine. Granted, they'll give me the old song and dance why they are what they are, but that does me no good when I know you'll ask questions. Short of standing over their shoulders, I'm leaving it in their hands to monitor - it's their ship and they're gonna steer it."

"I appreciate that, but, I'm a believer that men may lie, women may lie, but, the numbers… they never lie. We need a more detailed method of tracking the stats, each and every month, not just for the budget or to get grant funding, but in case our reports ever get subpoenaed and we find ourselves defending our people with shot-gunned totals. That's why I want to go live with COMSTAT."

Ugh! That 800-lb gorilla: COMSTAT. In police administration-speak, it's defined as Command Status reporting. In cop-speak, it's lamented as 'The Career Obliterator.' In Shamrock Pub-speak, it's simply that pain-in-the-ass clusterfuck.

In a nutshell, it's the formalized crime-statistical, accountability process that's been used and derided by law enforcement organizations from the East Coast to the West.

The Sheriff's vision would entail Patrol and Contracts Divisions' end of month, crime statistics data being forwarded to the Crime Analysis Unit, where the numbers would get entered and a monthly report generated and disseminated to the Command staff for presentation.

To put it bluntly, a bunch of puffed-up statistics would get punched into a computer, a report's regurgitated, and staffers had to read it aloud in front of the class and pray for a passing grade (you still have your office for another month) rather than a failing one (start packing your shit).

The pressure to produce can be intense; careers launched or aborted during these hot-stove sessions. The process won't be easy; to be succinct, it can be downright cutthroat.

Ironically, the computer-geek acronym, GIGO, describes COMSTAT perfectly: Garbage In, Garbage Out.

The downside: if Command staffers aren't keeping up, they're falling behind, which could culminate in shakeups. The simple solution: get your houses in order, be on point to hold onto your divisions, prevent being thrown under a bus, and be wary of enemies of your enemies who are now friends.

COMSTAT can have as much volatility as a payload of C-4, with enough capacity to implode divisions from the inside out.

"Sheriff Cottrell took…" A/S Alexander began.

"Sheriff Emeritus Cottrell…" the Sheriff corrected.

"I mean… the Sheriff Emeritus took a look at it a while back and he didn't like it; his short answer, 'We ain't doing it.'"

"That was a different time, a different regime."

"Keep in mind, this has the ability to encourage what we're trying to discourage," the Undersheriff reminded, "cooking the books to keep off the hot seat."

"But, if we don't measure it; we can't manage it. You guys have to face me with answers, then I have to wait until you talk to your people to get them. With COMSTAT, I can go straight to the source."

"That's true," the Undersheriff agreed, "and if it's to be implemented, so let it be done. We can toss cons to your pros, but I can tell your mind's made up. So…, when do we go live?"

"You're very astute, H. I'm looking at one month from when I announce it at the staff meeting. Ms. Lara's already put the packet in your mailboxes; preview it before it gets distributed. I want you to be versed with how it will translate across the divisions, not just Patrol and Contracts. Got it?"

"Got it, boss," they replied.

"Thanks, guys. H, can you hang back?"

"No problem," he replied, as the A/Ss left the office.

"Why do I get the feeling we're preparing to lead the lambs to slaughter?"

A/S Alexander muttered.

"There's always gonna be unpopular decisions," A/S Geathers uttered. "We're not running a popularity contest; this ain't American Idol."

"No kidding, but it's hard to sell shit. See you, Al," he replied, as he made a call on the way to his office. "Laz? Hey, we need to meet up today, ASAP… No, it can't wait! I'm calling as the A/S, not your brother! What time's good for you? 12:30 works for me… I can't go into details over the phone, but it's big. Callaghan's at it again! Let's meet at the spot by the Marina. I'll buy, be on time for once… Yeah, see ya."

"Now that it's just you and me, give it to me straight, how do you really feel about it?" the Sheriff asked.

"Honestly…, I think somebody's being set up for failure, but, that's just me thinking out loud."

"That's not entirely true, but, I'm of the opinion some people have grown… let's say, too comfortable at their desks. But, we'll see who'll prove me wrong. I have faith in our people - they're more resilient than they know."

"My job's not just to be your second and nod knowingly; I'm here to be your conscience, your inside voice. I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't get all the intel, but I'm with you. At the end of the day, I'm just a soldier - RHIP."


"It's military jargon: Rank hath its privileges."

"You're more than an inside voice to me. It's a luxury having you as my right arm, but, with your résumé, you should be running your own department."

"Negative, strike that… not yet, anyway. I like challenges. I'm a Neanderthal and it tends to rub folks the wrong way. As much as I love being a cop, I loved being a drill sergeant more. There's nothing better than grooming a green platoon to be ready at a moment's notice when their country needs them. They loved me so much, they abhorred me. You know what that meant to me? I did my job. But, again…, I like challenges. That's why I dragged my tail to college.

"A colonel recommended me for West Point, but that's Army. How would it look for a leatherneck going to the Grunt Factory? I went to Brown and got a chance to experience campus life, watching those young Thundercats walk around oblivious to what the real world had in store for them. I got my PhD, began teaching Be Anal, but I wanted more…"

"Be Anal?"

"Sorry…, jargon again; it means Behavioral Analysis. My wife gets on me all the time to talk more human. I think every boy played cops and robbers growing up, but I wanted to be one like my father and grandfather. I thought departments wouldn't take me seriously because of my age, but, that's what I get for thinking, huh?

"I put out some feelers, and before I knew it, I was inundated with conditional offers, and I mean serious offers, with rank. I respectfully turned them down."

"Why would you do that!? With your background, you could've had your choice of spots!"

"Negative! In order for my staff to respect my rank, I have to earn my keep; nobody hands me nothing I don't deserve! Anyway, I get this call one day and the gal on the other end tells me to hold. So, I'm holding, listening to that damn elevator music. I'm about to hang up, when a voice comes on, says he's Sheriff Cottrell. I thought it was bullpuckey, said a few choice words, and hung up."

"Now that's funny! You hung up on him!? I bet he called back with some choice words of his own, too!"

"Well, who would've expected him to call me? Yeah, he called back, and we ended up talking… for two hours. I told him I'd come to the Agency, but only as a boot, I didn't want nothing handed to me; no free rides. Next thing I knew, I'm in the Academy, sitting in a classroom with these Thundercats treating me like some helpless, old man.

"But, once it got underway, I outran them, outshot them, outworked them, and some of them couldn't stand me! This one Thundercat even called me out for a sparring session, I suppose thinking I'd be a cupcake. The class gathered around and watched me put on a boxing exhibition, and I liked it."

"Who is he?! I know he's still around!"

"Who said it was a he? Oh, affirm…, she's still around. I give her credit, though, she could hold her own with the best of 'em; she's got a great beard. One day, they started treating me a little different, calling me sir…I was insulted! The boots didn't even call me that in the Marines; they knew I worked for a living! "Apparently, somebody had the bright idea to Google me. So much for 'In God we trust; everybody else we run through NCIC,' huh? The jig was pretty much up by then, but I had a good run.

"They even picked me to give the graduation speech. I didn't want to do it, but I didn't mind. I wanted to stay in the jail for a while, but I got snatched up and sent to the Castle; that was nineteen years ago. I took some tests, got promoted a couple of times, and the rest, as they say… is history. That's my story and I'm sticking to it."

"Well, I appreciate you sticking around. You're like a fist with a doctorate, tougher than a $2 steak. Me? I'm just an Irish cop with a competition problem. We feed off each other well and create our own balance."

"That's a big negative… you're a lot more than that…"

He began firing off features inside his office that shaped his personality: the trophies, the FBI Academy yellow and blue bricks, the certificates, family and buddy photos, his family crest, and a worn-out shillelagh.

"…Among all of your effects, that lithograph's telling. I would say…"

"You're not gonna try to profile me, are you?"

"Trying allows for failure; I don't ever try."

"I'll save you the bother. Achilles was a war machine - the ultimate warrior. Look at that expression on his face in the midst of all the chaos around him. He's smirking; he actually looks like he's enjoying it! The conflict, the carnage.


"My secret passion's always been Greek Mythology, but I was enamored with him. I read how his mother, Thetis, dipped his body into the Styx to make him impervious to harm, but missed one of his heels; as much as she tried to shield him, he was still vulnerable. It's an attribute we cops have, remaining strong despite our vulnerabilities.

"We all put on a brave face, trying to be unaffected by our experiences. But, in the end, we're still vulnerable to the risks that are beyond our control.

"But, I'm a fighter with a warrior's spirit, always have been - it's a gift and a curse. If someone brings a bat to a fistfight, I'm bringing a gun. If someone brings a gun, I'm bringing an army. That's the mindset I bring to this job, to this Agency: we will never lose. Never! How'd I do?"

"Not bad…," he replied, "all I was going to say was that it would look better on that wall instead, to give your office more symmetry."

"Wait… that's it?!? And you just let me keep on talking, didn't you?"

"Ha, ha…I don't like interrupting people when they're talking; it's rude! My professor taught me the best profiles come from letting people get comfortable enough to just expound, but, I'm more into tells. I instructed my students to observe subtleties when people told the truth and when they lied.

"For example, I picked up on how your eyes widened when you spoke about Achilles, how you sat up quick when I told you I kicked a woman's butt. Behavioral analysis is more than eyes looking up to the right or left, it's all-encompassing. The body says a lot, you just have to pay attention."

"What did my body say about COMSTAT?"

"Someone's being set up for failure."

"Not bad… and please, call me Brendan, we're by ourselves and by the way, I've always wondered…, what does the H stand for?"

"You mean you don't know yet? I thought you were an old, Irish cop! Oh…, before I forget, Jericho put a bug in my ear about one of your handpicks in the Program… um, Henderson. He's having difficulties with report writing, driving to calls, you know, the standard BS, but he's been throwing your name around, telling the FTO sergeant he won't DOR, because he'll just call you to block it."

"Damn, it never fails! Give a mouse a cookie, it'll want a glass of milk. Let Jericho know we talked and that he's on his own, I can't help him anymore - he's making me look bad."


'Knock, knock…'

"Good morning, bosses!" Ms. Lara smiled. "The courier just dropped this off for you, Sheriff."

"Thank you. You mean, you didn't take a peek to see what it is?"

"Sheriff…, it's marked 'URGENT,' I can wait until you see it first."

"That's never stopped you before," he quipped, as he opened the envelope.

"Ha, ha…how are you, Ms. Lara?"

"Most wonderful, sir. How's your fam…"

"Well, I'll be…guess what I'm holding?!"

"What?" the Undersheriff replied.

"The Unions filed a complaint! They're claiming the promotional exam was rigged! Can you believe that!? Ms. Lara, can you make copies for the Undersheriff and I? Send a copy of this… to County Counsel for review. Undersheriff, contact the A/Ss, we've got another fire to put out!"


"But can they at least try to get along?"

— Commander Derek Powell

Commander Powell stood transfixed outside of his office, admiring the gold nameplate on his office door: Derek Powell, Commander.

Among the Agency's Command hierarchy, Commander Powell has lived a very charmed career.

Some 19 years ago, a raw, wide-eyed D Powell didn't know what his career forecast looked like. Was it sunny or overcast? He's the type of guy who can't handle not being liked - you know the type.

That bootlicker who sits higher in the chair than anybody else, nodding his head incessantly like that little dog figurine on the back dash of your granddaddy's '72 Oldsmo-Buick.

Perhaps, you could call him a bobble-head or, at least, a member of the

Bobble-Head Federation.

There's nobody who doesn't treasure one flopping its noggin aimlessly, but on office desks or a little boy's nightstand, not in boardrooms. But, alas, he's always been a 'He's a nice guy, but…' guy - sunny, but partially cloudy. Good thing he picked his friends well.

J Alexander and D Powell formed a fast allegiance while in the Academy and finished 1-2, respectively.

Their friendship, born in law enforcement, became a forever bond that's lasted longer than some marriages, a bond which also stirred up raw emotions from those on the outside, looking in - envy, fear, even loathing.

He's heard all the ribbing like he wouldn't have made it this far, this fast, without a little help from his friend strapping a rocket to his back. He's also heard the grumblings that he only nearly aced the captains' test because J Alexander slid him the answers.

D Powell, never one to make waves, made light of it, at his own expense: 'He didn't give me the answers; he gave me the questions.'

But, as a fast-tracked commander overcompensating for his lack of tenure and experience, with a friend in high places, he makes a better, next-door neighbor. The type you'd trust with your house keys to feed your dog, turn the porch light on and off, and stack your mail on the dining room table while you're on vacation. He's a nice guy, but…

As a moment of satisfaction washed over his face, Commander Sargent's parting shot, 'Wake up! Welcome to the real world!' snapped him back to reality. He unlocked the door and pushed it opened, with anticipation, as if he were about to view the contents inside Fort Knox, and not Al Capone's vault.

He flicked on the light switch to focus in on what he'd inherited and illuminated a workstation with a piled-high inbox, stacks of overstuffed boxes, and stacks of unanswered pink message slips - stacks, stacks, and more stacks.

Amidst all of the clutter was the lone sign of life - a humongous ficus that had carved out a niche in a shadowy corner. A potted tree so tall, its tip was mere inches away from the ceiling. A tree allowed to grow so wild, so free, the branches and trunk were thickened and hardened from dehydration.

"Hey, Sports Fan! Welcome to the Big Leagues!"

"Thanks, Pete. And, thanks…!"

"Oh, don't mind this stuff. Facilities couldn't get to it last week. The office'll be much lighter once they clear some of it out."

"Well, that's good to know. Anything in your inbox going with you?"

"You mean your inbox? Nope, it's all yours. Sorry, I came down with

'Short-Timers' Disease. If you find anything I left, just box it up and I'll pick it up later."

"What about Jack's beanstalk? You taking it with you?"

"You mean, Murphy?"

"You gave it a name?!"

"Yup! You know, kinda like Murphy's Law? Whatever bad that can happen…? It's like a mascot. It's been here longer than most commanders. The only way it gonna leave is if it dies, and believe me…, I've tried! I've tried not watering it, treating it like it's not there - nothing's worked! The damn thing just thrives on neglect!"

"Okay… you got any pass-on info? I haven't kept up much about what's going on in D & R."

"There's not much to 'em. They pretty much run themselves."

"You mean kinda like Murphy."

"Hmph… funny. They're fine, but you need to stay on Howard and tell him to scale back on his away time from North County, Callaghan's starting to ask questions again."

"Who's his XO since Fitzpatrick transferred out?"

"Dunlop. He's okay; at least he knows admin. Anyway, that place…"

"I know… it runs itself. I'll call him. What about East County?"

"The Money Maker's solid and there's some talent in there ready for the streets. I've got my eye on a couple of deputies for some Contracts slots. It's a tighter ship than North County, but I'm not sure if it's a leadership issue, supervising issue, or what. But, just between me, you, and Murphy…, something's fucked up over there that needs fixing and fast! That was on my to-do list, before I got the word I was gone.''

"Just don't start taking my good people away. I'll get with Jingle Belle. Does he still carry that butt-load of keys on his hip?"

"Ha, ha…you know it! You can hear him coming a mile away, 'Jingle, jingle, jingle!' Funny how he can remember what they're all for - not one key's unaccounted for."

"That tells me he knows his jail. Sounds like Howard could learn a thing or two from him."

"Don't let him hear you say that and oh…, there is one thing: they can't stand each other."

"Really?! They do a pretty good job of hiding it."

"This goes way back to when they were sergeants. The way I heard it, Belle's always been this great runner, goes back to his Academy days. He just doesn't get tired, it's like he's part-machine or something. When people were eating lunch or hanging out after work, he was running. Then, Howard got wind of how Belle could run all day, but he was supposedly a good distance runner in high school, set some state records. You know, those people have thick legs that helps them run…"

"Anyway…what happened?"

"Well… Howard got tired of people fucking with him that Belle could kick his ass, it ate at him, that and his 'little-man' complex. It's so easy to push his buttons. Well, you know how he pops off in front of anybody with that cornpone voice of his… I swear if the times hadn't changed, he'd be out in the fields picking my cotton!

"Word got back to Belle, and before he got all holier than thou, he saw red. Howard called him out for a race in a dining hall full of deputies, but not just any old race - this was a race about race, you know…, let's see who's better, Black or White?"

"No shit! Boy, I wish I was around to see that!"

"Man, it was epic! Everyone who could get down to watch was there; we should've charged admission! If YouTube was around back then, it would've went viral, like the kids say. Not only did Belle kick his ass, but when Howard finally crossed the finish line, Belle taunted him and said, 'You'll always be second to me in everything you do!' They've been feuding ever since."

"Damn! But, can they at least try to get along?"

"There's always a chance, but I don't think they'll be hugging it out anytime soon. There's no love lost between them. Let me give you a piece of advice - if you're thinking of playing mediator, don't. A lieutenant tried that once and all it got him was transferred. Their wounds have scabbed over; just don't start picking at 'em!"

"I'll watch how it plays out. Anyway, I'll let you know if I find anything else of yours."

"Anything else? What did you find?"

"Oh… I mean… if I find anything."

"Oh…, okay. Good luck to you. Uh-oh, gotta run!  If you have a question, give me a ring! See ya!"


He looked around trying to decide how to set up his shop. He started lugging boxes to a corner to open up the office. He placed a family portrait on a bookcase shelf for a homey feel. He grabbed a rag and started dusting. When it was all said and done, he merely shifted the clutter from one side of the office to the other.

He then turned his attention toward Murphy. He craned his neck, as he sized it up from the top of its green leaves, through the cracked, brown trunk, down to the rock-hard topsoil.

He began pouring some water onto it and took a step back and waited for some proof of life, but his hopes were dashed, as the water pooled on top of the barren soil, unaffected.

In medical terms, Murphy was on life-support, brain-dead; in short, who's its next-of-kin?

"Well, Murphy, it's just you and me," he said, talking to it like he was performing a bedside vigil. "The first thing that's gonna change is you're no longer an 'it', you're a 'he'. You've outlasted commanders, so I think you've earned that right!

"The things you must've heard and the stories you could tell, I could only imagine. I'm sorry you had to deal with Harwell; he's just an old-school, racist jerk. There's people like him in the world, but I'm not one of them. You have to grow thick skin… or bark, in your case. We're in this together, so let's start off fresh. Okay, buddy?"

As he spoke like he was Tom Hanks talking to that volleyball, he was startled when one of Murphy's branches suddenly shuddered, ever so slightly, but enough for some dried leaves to fall precariously onto the carpet.

Then, he gazed, in amazement, as some of the dry topsoil was now moist after absorbing the pooled water. He looked around the office and found a dusty vase that probably hadn't seen a bouquet in years. He headed toward the water cooler and filled it to the brim.

"We're going to get along fine, Murphy," he bellowed, as he poured water onto the soil.

Once he finished hydrating Murphy, he surveyed the office landscape to find a more suitable spot to relocate him. He saw an ideal spot that wouldn't disturb the natural flow of the office, yet provide Murphy with the attention he'd been sorely lacking.

He rolled up his sleeves, hunkered down, and began pushing and dragging him to his new home, leaving a trail of dead leaves and dirt in its wake.

He wiped his brow and panted, "Yup…, we're gonna get along… just fine."