While I drove us to Jacksonville, Detective Bradley made his call, and apparently got voicemail. He left a message.
“Mind if I move this seat back?” he said.
He did so and stretched out his long legs, although there still wasn’t quite enough leg room for him in my compact. He gave me a small smile. “I guess I don’t know you well enough to make jokes about clown cars, huh?”
“No, you don’t.” But I found myself smiling back.
I contemplated the car issue. It was very unusual for a department to not assign PD-owned vehicles to their detectives and high-ranking members, such as the police chief. I’d asked about it at my interview, and had gotten some mumbo-jumbo about cost savings from the mayor.
“So, why were you asking about the rookies?” Bradley interrupted my reverie.
I answered his question with one of my own. “Did Chief Brown have a secretary or aide?”
“More or less. We used to have a clerk who handled the phones, kept things organized in the office. She retired when he did.”
Then what happened to that line item in the budget?
“Do you know anything about the rookies? Do any of them have clerical backgrounds?”
Bradley was silent. I glanced his way. His expression was neutral.
He cleared his throat. “The female one does.”
“Do you know her?”
“Do you think she’d be interested in being my temporary assistant?”
“I don’t know.”
There was something about his tone... “What’s your best guess?”
“I think she’d resent being asked.”
“Because she’d assume I was asking because she’s the only female.”
He nodded again.
“How long has she been on the job?”
“Would you be willing to talk to her, feel her out? If I call her in, she may assume she’s obligated to say yes, even if she hates the idea.”
A beat of silence. “I guess.”
I glanced his way again. Still the neutral expression, staring straight ahead.
“Tell her there will be tedious stuff, like phone calls, but she’ll learn more about the department in a few months than would normally take years.”
He turned toward me and raised one eyebrow. “Years? We’re not that big of a department.”
“Okay, a few months versus a lot of months.”
“I’ll ask her,” Bradley said.
It was an unorthodox approach, to say the least, but with the staffing and budget constraints I had, I needed to get creative.
“How do you know her, by the way? Just from the department?”
“No, I knew her before she went to the academy.”
I looked his way, my eyebrows in the air now.
His face softened. “She’s my kid sister.”
The rookie, hat tucked under her arm, stood stiffly at attention in front of my desk—slightly shorter than average but sturdily built, dark hair in a tight bun low on her neck. She saluted. “Officer Barnes, reporting as ordered.”
“Requested,” I said, leaning my chair back to look up at her more comfortably. “At ease, Officer.”
She relaxed slightly.
“I assume Detective Bradley explained what I have in mind.”
“There will be no hard feelings, no repercussions, if you don’t want the assignment. Understood?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Her voice still sounded like a raw recruit answering a drill sergeant.
“I’m thinking six months.” I was considering having a rookie rotate into the position periodically. It would be a good way to assess their potential, as well as solve my lack-of-an-assistant problem. Again, unorthodox, but you do what you gotta do.
“There’ll be some tedious stuff involved. Answering phones, opening my snail mail and such, but I want you with me whenever I’m out in the field. You’ll learn the department along with me.”
“When we’re at a crime scene or discussing a case with another officer, I want you paying close attention. I’ll want your take on things afterwards. Any questions?”
Was that a glint of anger in her brown eyes?
“Are you thinking that I’m asking you because you are the only female rookie?”
A slight hesitation. “No, ma’am.”
“Okay, that is not allowed.”
She blinked. “What, ma’am?”
“Lying to me. I always want to hear what you truly think, even if I won’t like it.”
She blinked again. “Yes, ma’am.”
“I asked Detective Bradley if any of the rookies had admin experience. You were the only one who did.”
“With all due respect, ma’am, that is because I’m female. Men don’t usually take clerical jobs, except maybe in a mail room.”
“So why did you take a clerical job?”
“To pay the bills while I got my training. If you’re female, warm and breathing, you can usually get a file clerk or receptionist gig, without any experience.”
I nodded. Not much had changed in that respect since I was a young woman.
She cleared her throat. “I’ve handled the phones, typed correspondence, filed, set up meetings, fetched coffee.” Her lip curled slightly.
I gestured toward my personal coffee maker at the end of the credenza behind my desk. “I keep my own stash of coffee, and you’re welcome to share it.”
I blew out air. “You’re giving me a crick in my neck, Officer. Please, sit down.”
She hesitated again, stared at the visitor’s chair like she thought it might bite.
She sat, perched on the edge, wiggling some and rearranging the accouterments on her duty belt that had caught on the metal arms of the chair. She placed her hat on her knees, looking no more comfortable than she had when standing.
“So?” I said.
Two blinks this time. “Ma’am?”
“Do you want the assignment?”
She opened her mouth.
My phone rang. I held up an index finger. “Hold that thought.” I grabbed up the receiver. “Anderson.”
“Chief, this is Jenny. Jan said you wanted to know about any missing-person calls.”
I visualized pregnant Jenny, sitting sideways in front of the dispatch terminal. “Yes.”
“We got one, just now. I passed it on to the sarge.”
Movement in my peripheral vision. Barnes had taken out her notepad and pencil.
Jenny said the name and my heart stuttered in my chest.
I repeated it out loud for Barnes’s benefit, but I didn’t need it written down to remember it.
I knew who it was.