Omaha, Nebraska, 2008
"So what'd you do to get called into the Principal's Office?" Deputy Sparks asked, a wide grin on his face.
"Not sure," Johnny answered, twirling a pen between his fingers. "You?"
"Citizen complaint, probably. Department's cracking down. They just keep making it harder and harder to do our jobs, you know?"
Johnny nodded and put his pen back in his pocket.
"Agreed, man. You stop a gangbanger from caving your skull in, and you're violating his civil rights," he said, sighing.
"Can't even tase 'em anymore. You hear about that drug dealer up in Chicago who sued for getting tased?" Sparks asked.
Johnny shook his head.
"He fucking won. City had to pay him a quarter mil."
"That's tragic, man. And I'm sure he used that to weasel out of his charges, didn't he?" Johnny said.
"Oh, of course. Nothing the officers found was admissible -- you know, 'cause they used 'excessive force,'" Sparks said with a groan.
"Deputy Jonathan Teal," an aide called, popping his head into the waiting area. "You're up, homeboy."
"Nice talking," Sparks said.
"You, too, man. Take it easy," Johnny said, shaking Sparks' hand as he stood. He followed the aide into the large, wood-paneled office. He'd been working for the Department for two years, but this was the first time he'd been summoned to meet with the actual Sheriff.
The office was smaller than he expected -- maybe eight feet square, with room enough for a large desk and a few chairs, but not much else. One of the chairs was occupied by a powerfully built Deputy in his 40s -- the other was empty. The Sheriff, of course, sat at his desk. He looked up from the file on his desk as Johnny walked in, then back down, flipping through a few pages.
It was quiet for a long moment. Johnny stood with his feet a shoulder-length apart, hands behind his back, and waited.
"Deputy Teal," Sheriff Johanssen finally said. "Thank you for appearing on time. This here is Senior Deputy Nathaniel Moore -- he heads up the day shift over at Criminal Investigations. You two met?"
"No, sir. Good to meet you, sir," Johnny said, offering his hand. Nathaniel shook it -- his grip was strong, but measured.
"Deputy Moore's the reason you're here, Deputy Teal. Understand we've had some civilian complaint problems, haven't we?" Johanssen said.
"A few, sir," Johnny answered.
"More'n a few, Deputy. Seven in two years -- that's one shy of the record. One suspension, too."
"The complaint was withdrawn, sir. The suspension lifted," Johnny said.
"Yeah, I see that here in your file, Deputy," Johanssen said. "Something tells me the less I ask about how the citizen got convinced to drop his complaint, the happier I'll be."
Johnny said nothing. He'd actually been expecting this situation for some time now -- the conversation with the big boss leading to "we're going to let you go." What he couldn't figure out was why there was a guy from Criminal Investigations in the room. Were they planning to charge him and fire him?
"You know, Deputy, I was a cop for 15 years before the good people of this County elected me to serve as Sheriff," Johanssen told him. "Y'know how many times in 15 years I fired my weapon, line of?"
Johnny didn't guess.
"Once. You've been with the Department two years. Wanna guess how many times you've fired your weapon?"
Johnny knew the answer, but again said nothing. Johanssen held up a stack of papers. It wasn't a thin stack.
"Official incident reports. One of these gets filed every time an officer discharges a weapon in the line of duty. Every one of these -- there're 42 of 'em, by the way -- has your name on it. That's more than any other Deputy on the force. So what is it?"
"Sir?" Johnny asked.
"You shoot first and ask questions later, or is it that trouble just seems to find you, Deputy?" Moore said. It was the first time he'd spoken since Johnny entered the room. Johnny had been ready to say something sarcastic, but he stopped himself. Nathaniel's voice made him think better if it -- quiet, but firm, with a definite note of "don't fuck with me, I'm in charge" in it.
"I do not fire unless I'm fired upon, or have solid reason to believe I'm about to be fired upon, sir," Johnny said instead.
"I see that. But you're not in Iraq anymore, Deputy. We don't want this kinda behavior to become associated with the Department, do we?" Johanssen said.
And here comes the firing part, Johnny thought.
"Normally, our next step here would be a disciplinary hearing," Johanssen told him. "One that'd almost certainly lead to termination. Normally."
Johnny studied the Sheriff's face -- he looked like he was about to grin.
"Deputy Moore, though, seems convinced he can find some use for you. I do have to admit, your clearance rates and arrests are stellar. They're the only reason I was even willing to hear him out when he asked that you be transferred over to him in Criminal Investigations."
Johnny tried not to let his surprise show on his face. He was sure he was walking into this meeting to be yelled at and eventually fired. Now it seemed like he was being -- transferred? To a better job?
"You're transferring me to Criminal Investigations, sir?" Johnny asked. It sounded even less likely when he said it out loud.
"Transferring and promoting you," Johanssen sighed. "I owed Deputy Moore a favor. He seems to think installing you as his right hand will rehabilitate you -- make you a worthwhile member of the department. I'm skeptical. But fuck it," Johanssen said, rising from his chair and sticking out his hand. "It gets you out of my hair. Congratulations, Deputy Teal."
* * *
"Shift starts at eight on Monday. I'd appreciate it if you're in the office a few minutes early," Nathaniel told Johnny.
"Copy that, sir."
The two of them were walking down the hall away from Johanssen's office, headed for the elevator.
"Uniform most days. We work Monday through Saturday, mostly 10-hour days, though there's flexibility built in there by necessity. Clear, Deputy?"
"Good. It's Friday now, so you've got the weekend. Enjoy it -- it'll be your last for a while."
"Understood, sir. A question?"
The elevator arrived, and Nathaniel smirked as the doors opened.
"Let me guess. Why you?"
"That's what I was going to ask, sir."
"Well, it wasn't because you scored high on the entry exam. You haven't even taken it yet," Nathaniel said. "Your record is what drew me. The bosses don't want to admit it, but it's getting brutal out there. I need someone who can react -- and react instantly. That's you."
"Surely you have other guys --" Johnny started. Nathaniel cut him off with a shake of his head.
"I haven't had this unit long -- a month. Sure you heard about the two deputies that got their patrol units all shot up out north."
"That was on my watch. One deputy took two to the chest -- the other, one to the leg. Neither fired his weapon. By the time backup showed up, suspects were gone."
"They didn't know how to react. They were locals -- raised to believe that this city's still as safe as it was in 1959. It's not. It's changing."
"Understood and agreed, sir."
"You've been in combat. You react quickly and with force," Nathaniel said. "Bosses don't want this image out there, but the scum-fucks that want to shoot at us need to know they're gonna face some shit if they do."
Johnny had to actively force down a smile. He decided instantly that he liked his new boss.
"Now, you've been a cop for a while now."
"Eight years, sir. Almost nine," Johnny confirmed.
"So you have judgment. I want you to use it. Let me be clear about this, Deputy. I am not giving you license to go weapons-hot at the slightest provocation -- that would be irresponsible," Nathaniel said, grinning widely. The doors opened, revealing the Criminal Investigations office.
"Roger that, sir."
"What I do want is for you to continue as you have. As the big man said, your arrests and clearance stats are outstanding -- best in the department. Even the bosses can't ignore those numbers. You bring those stats into my office, keep the energy level ramped up and the criminals running scared, and we'll get along just fine."
"Yes, sir. Think we will, sir," Johnny said, still forcing down a smile.
"That's your desk over there, Deputy," Nathaniel said, pointing.
* * *
Omaha, Nebraska, 2010
"That the report on this morning's. . . incident?" Nathaniel asked as Johnny set the file folder down.
"What we know of it, yes, sir," Johnny said. "Plus a report from OPD -- they found a charred body at the Stockyards a couple hours ago. With all the shit that went down with us last night, they wanna put that one on us, too."
"Any ID on the body?"
"None yet," Johnny said. "We've got a request out on DNA, but I think we just have to live with a John Doe on our board 'til we hear something back."
"How's Eric?" "Stable. He looks like shit, but he's ready to jump out on the Russians whenever you are. Sent a car to pick him up at the hospital."
Nathaniel nodded and checked his watch.
"Shit. Only 8:30. This day's gonna require a lot of coffee. Buy you a cup?" Nathaniel asked.
"Don't have to ask me twice," Johnny said, grinning and following Nathaniel out of the office to the small coffee area near Johnny's desk.
"You get any sleep?" Nathaniel asked, pouring steaming coffee into a Burke High School mug that was sitting next to the coffeemaker.
"Nah. Tried to catch a nap, but I'm too keyed up. You?"
"Fifteen minutes on the couch. Keyed up, same as you, I guess," Nathaniel said. "Listen, Johnny -- I want to talk to you about something, and it's gonna start off sounding bad, but stay with me, OK?"
"OK. When I pulled you outta Patrol two years ago, my expectations were pretty damn low. I honestly didn't think you'd make it another year. Not as a cop in this department, anyway."
Johnny felt his teeth clench involuntarily -- this did, indeed, sound bad.
"Copy that, sir."
"I know you think I was entrusting you with more responsibility when I put you on babysitting duty for Eric. That wasn't entirely true. I put you on him because you're a scary-looking motherfucker -- I wanted him to get the message that he wasn't gonna get away with anything. I was also getting heat from upstairs to get you off the street -- Eric gave you something to do."
Sounds very bad, Johnny thought. Like, firing bad.
"But you've really shown me something lately, Deputy. This thing -- the Russians, the ex-military guys, all that. You've shown me that they were dead wrong about you upstairs. I was wrong about you. You're about the best damned lawman I've come across. The other shit -- the disciplinary stuff, the dead-end errands -- were because I didn't trust you enough. I see that now," Nathaniel said. "I see that we weren't challenging you enough. That ends right now. You've turned out to be a hell of an investigator, Deputy Teal."
Johnny swallowed hard -- he felt emotion rising in his throat. Pride? Relief? Fuck that, he thought, pushing it down.
"You know Hansen?"
"Night-shift commander. Yes, sir."
"He's retiring, end of next year. I'm recommending you to take over for him."
"Thank you, sir." "Don't know if it'll fly upstairs -- we know your fan club doesn't have many members up there. But I promise you, Johnny," Nathaniel smiled. "I'm going to scream to high heaven until they see you as I do -- as a natural, 100% law enforcement officer."