Detective Danny Acuff, (Book 6) is now live and available for purchase! I think the story came together pretty well, so if you’ve been digging the series, you’re in for a treat. (Click the link above or the cover at left to buy it now!)
If you haven’t even started the series, here’s where to start: Detective Danny Acuff, 1-3. And since I really want to hook you into this series, I’m going to paste below my signature an extended, seven-chapter preview of the book.
So start the story and see if you’re not intrigued enough to keep reading! : )
Keep the faith,
Stan R. Mitchell
Stan R. Mitchell, author and prior Marine, is best known for his Nick Woods Marine Sniper series, which has remained in the Top 100 on Amazon for more than three years. The series has also been picked up by Audible.com for a multi-book audio deal. Additional works include a Western thriller, detective series, and World War II story.
There’s no way I could have predicted the world of shit I was walking into when I sat down for a job interview as a police officer in the small town of Akin, Tennessee. Never would I have dreamed that such a move could nearly cost me my life – more than once, in fact.
No, this was supposed to be a city with low crime and minimal danger. And I was applying as a detective, not as a patrol officer. Thus, the danger of having to wrestle with drunk rowdies and respond to dangerous domestic disturbances wouldn’t play a factor.
Frankly, I fully expected that if I were hired, I’d be bored out of my mind, investigating who stole thirty dollars’ worth of quarters from the local laundromat.
None of what followed should have happened, but that’s how life works sometimes. Anyway, what was supposed to be an easy couple of years on the Akin police force while my wife and I patched up our marriage turned into quite a bit of something else. But I’m getting ahead of myself, and no one likes to have the ending of a story spoiled.
The story started blandly enough, with the dullest and lamest job interview I’ve ever had. Let’s start there.
“Daniel ‘Danny’ Acuff?” the old Akin Police Chief asked, raising his eyebrows in question as he glanced up from a file in front of him.
I took the look and his delay while he waited for a response to mean he was actually asking a question. Seemed odd he’d be asking me my name, but I rolled with it and replied, “Yes, sir. I go by Danny, mostly.”
You’d think he would have known I’m Danny since it was five o’clock, which was my appointment time. Furthermore, his secretary had walked me in and said, “Chief, here’s Danny.”
It was a strange first question, but maybe the man was diligent? Or maybe he was just trying to break the ice?
I wasn’t sure, but I’d figure him out soon enough. I’m a detective, after all, and we detectives usually figure out everyone eventually. For now, I’d initially filed him away as “old,” pegging his age at about 65. He had a full head of hair, which was grayish white and shiny under the fluorescent lights of his office.
The old police chief, moving very slowly, nodded at my confirmation that I was indeed “Daniel ‘Danny’ Acuff,” as he’d called me, and continued.
He paused, looked deep into my eyes, and smiled. It seemed a little odd, but I smiled back. His smile was as genuine, soft and real as about any I’d seen in some time. He struck me as more of a gentle grandfather or pleasant pastor than a small town police chief.
I reminded myself that I was no longer in Memphis. Police chiefs in Akin were probably less hardnosed than hard-hitting crime fighters in major cities.
The second thing I filed away about Police Chief Fred Bradbury was that he didn’t move in a hurry.
After he smiled, he slowly returned his eyes back to my file. His eyes strained a moment, then he reached for the glasses on top of his head. But they weren’t there, so he straightened his hair back into place and searched his desk. He moved some papers, struck out, then dug through another stack.
He found them, looked back up at me, and smiled.
“I’m always losing my glasses,” he informed me.
I nodded, unsure if any remark was necessary on my end.
To my left, a man shook his head in a negative sideward motion. He looked embarrassed and had introduced himself earlier as the mayor of. I thought it odd the mayor would be involved in the hiring of a mere detective, but this was my first interview at a small police department, so maybe it’s typical.
“Goodness, you’re big,” the chief said, recapturing my attention. He was reading from my file again. “It says here you’re six feet, three inches, and weigh 230?”
He looked up. He had seen me walk in and had even shaken my hand, but maybe he hadn’t noticed.
“Yes, sir,” I said, smiling. I gave him my best smile.
“You ever play any football?” he asked, laying the file down and now positively beaming at me.
“A little,” I said. “Played middle linebacker some.”
He smiled over at the mayor with the revelation. The mayor looked like he was about to explode in anger at such a slow-paced, unprofessional interview. The police chief missed the look, apparently, and asked, “How did someone your size not play in college?”
“I did,” I said.
“Goodness, you’re big enough to play pro. You get hurt?”
“No, sir. I was decent, but 9/11 happened. I dropped out and joined the military.”
“Is that right?” the chief said, shaking his head in disbelief. “How about that?”
He glanced back at the mayor, pointed at me, and said, “I told you this man was a good man. Would be a great addition to the department.”
The mayor appeared unconvinced and crossed his arms. I hated to admit it, but I agreed with the mayor on this one. So far Chief Bradbury had determined my name, my height, and my football acumen. Oh, and my foolish notion of duty, and from that, he’d already decided I was a good man. Seemed a little premature to me.
Chief Bradbury had somehow maintained an impressive innocence to have spent a lifetime in law enforcement.
He beamed, clearly in no rush to continue the interview. “How come you decided to join?”
“I felt the old call of duty after the towers went down. And my Dad served in Vietnam, so it made sense.”
He nodded. And would you believe he smiled harder? His belief of me confirmed, apparently.
He looked back down at the file again, his eyes straining to read something. He looked back up. “Marines, huh?”
“See much action?”
For a vet, this question rankles about as bad as the terrible question of, “Have you ever killed anyone?”
I knew that since he asked the question he’d never served, and despite absolutely hating being asked these kinds of questions about my service, I was really warming to him. He was so genuine and kind, and he plainly didn’t mean anything bad about the question.
“I missed most of it,” I said, drastically understating the truth and arguably telling the biggest lie of my life.
He nodded a disappointed nod. There went his chance to hire a war hero and hear some good war stories on coffee breaks. Nonetheless, he knocked the disappointment away quickly and smiled again.
“I’m really glad to hear that. That war has messed up a lot of people.”
The chief picked my file back up. Then he stopped, laid it down, and asked the mayor, “Would you like some coffee, mayor?”
“I’m fine,” the mayor snapped. He glanced at his watch. “And I’ve got an appointment coming up, so if we could — ”
“Yes, of course,” Chief Bradbury said, returning to the file.
I liked the mayor. His name was Tom Follett, according to my research prior to arriving in Akin. Like many mayors, he seemed to be in a hurry and always eager to make something happen.
Chief Bradbury was reading my file — SLOWLY — and though his leisurely pace would probably drive me crazy if he hired me, he was nonetheless quickly striking me as about the friendliest man I had met in some time.
The mayor probably tolerated him because he did not appear to be the confrontational type. Chief Bradbury wasn’t the kind of man who’d stand up to a mayor and city council, demanding more money for the police department’s budget.
If I had to guess, I’d say he was the kind of chief who was born and raised in Akin and had probably worked his way up from the bottom. He probably knew the town like the back of his hand and attended one of its prominent Baptist churches.
“Says here after you got out of the Marines, you went back to college, followed by several years at the Memphis Police Department. Is that right?”
He was driving me crazy with the obvious questions, but I smiled again and nodded.
“Any particular reason you picked there?” he asked.
“The Memphis PD had a bunch of openings,” I answered, “so I figured I had a good chance of landing a position.”
The truth was more complicated. The fact was I hadn’t wanted to return to my hometown, which was a small city where everyone knew everyone — a lot like Akin, unfortunately.
Even on the trips home for a few days leave from the Marines, or on homecomings following my deployments, I’d found that it’s true: you really can’t go home again. The questions from well-meaning family members are too much. The church you were raised in is too small. The girls you once pined for have married or moved on. Or are stuck working at Krystal’s and no longer as magical as you remembered.
I knew I couldn’t move back home to Oliver Springs, and so I’d looked for an excuse to get at least a few hours away. I wanted to pick a police department where I’d see plenty of action. You don’t do two tours in Afghanistan, then quietly retire to some boring, small-town police department. Memphis was six hours away, guaranteed me some action, and thus was the perfect fit.
It really had been until my marriage apparently fell apart without me knowing.
“You glad to be moving back home?” Chief Bradbury asked.
The police chief was smiling again. Man, how was life so simple for some people? The truth was I wasn’t glad to be moving close to home at all, but I broke out that great smile of mine again.
“Yes, sir. Been dreaming about it for years.”
And that’s how the interview went. Nothing but simple questions, which a ten-year-old could have easily answered. The whole time, Mayor Tom Follett stewed until he finally glanced at his watch a fourth time and abruptly left.
Chief Bradbury smiled after he had left and said, “Don’t worry about him. He just doesn’t like when we bring outsiders in. Says they don’t stick around long, and don’t know our ways around here.”
“I’m from Oliver Springs, chief. I know your ways.”
Oliver Springs was a similar, small-sized town just ten minutes away from Akin.
Chief Bradbury nodded, closed the folder, and said, “That’s what I told him. Tell you what, let’s dispense with the interview. I can see you’re a fine man, and you’re exactly what I’ve been looking for.”
I was stunned. Even slightly suspicious, but grateful. I really wanted the job, after all. Assuming we were done, I stood and extended a hand.
“Thank you, chief. I won’t let you down.”
“I know you won’t, son. You’re exactly what I’ve been looking for.”
I foolishly left the office that day without giving that final sentence a second thought.
I drove home with my stomach feeling unsettled. On the one hand, I was thankful I had been hired. On the other, I knew my wife Ali was going to blow a gasket when she found out about the job. Our marriage was on the rocks, and this move by me wasn’t going to help things.
I pulled into our driveway and felt almost ashamed as I drove up to our garage. Our three hundred-thousand-dollar home was an embarrassment. It was the perfect example of our marriage. I wanted a home in the hundred thousand range. She wanted something much higher. We agreed to two hundred thousand max, and she begged, pleaded, and argued until we ended up at three hundred thousand.
In our marriage, I had little influence. Partly it was because Ali had swept me off my feet too hard. I was the sentimental veteran, who felt lucky to be alive. And I had been beyond ecstatic to have a woman like Ali falling for me.
And partly I had little influence because Ali was an incredible attorney. She won most arguments in the courtroom, and certainly at home.
I parked my massive, four-wheel drive truck in one of the bays of the three-car garage, which we clearly didn’t need since we only had two cars. I trudged into the house, worrying already about the fight that would happen when she arrived home. I glanced at my watch and saw it was 6:19. At least she’d be home soon.
I collapsed into the massive leather couch, which was too soft to be comfortable, and flipped on ESPN. The couch was as atrocious as the house, and I hated everything about it, but Ali and the interior designer wanted ornate. They argued that this monstrosity made a great first impression and I let Ali win that argument, too.
I waited impatiently, checking my watch and wondering when she’d arrive. By 7:35, I was nearly at wits end. I wanted to text her, but she hated when I texted her to ask when she was coming home. And I could sympathize with that since I was a workaholic myself.
Before leaving today, she’d explained that she would text if she had to work later than six or seven. So much for that. I flipped the TV off and stood to make myself some dinner. As I walked to the kitchen, though, I heard the motor in the garage groan as it rolled up the door.
I pivoted toward the door, opened it, and watched her pull her 2015 BMW into her spot. The car was yet another thing we couldn’t afford though I had little say in that either. She noticed me standing in the door and briefly smiled. She was on her cell phone, on which she mostly lived, when she wasn’t at work.
She was always looking for that extra time she could be working, whether it was conversing with a client while she was driving or dragging her iPad into bed to answer emails. Everything was about billable hours for her.
Ali put the BMW in park, opened her door, and said into her phone, “Jenny, I’m sorry to be short with you, but I’m telling you we need to take this to trial. Give it some consideration. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
She hung up, pulled her tote bag out, and shut the door.
“Hey, hon,” she said as she glanced down at her phone, checking for emails and missed texts that might have arrived in the ten minutes it had taken her to drive home.
“Damn it,” she said, reading something. “I told them that wouldn’t work,” she muttered to herself before clicking on another email.
I watched her walk toward the door, and even in her hecticness, even with her barely acknowledging me, even with the fight I knew was about to happen, and even with our marriage growing colder, I couldn’t help but remark at how beautiful she was.
She was a short, early thirties blonde, dressed in a killer business suit. She was thin and drop-dead attractive, with long blonde hair. Even now, she would easily fit the category of shoulder candy for about any man around. She was out of my league by a country mile, even seven years after marrying her.
As she passed by, I kissed her on the cheek. And as she walked up the stairs to our kitchen, I noticed her strong, toned legs, and her best asset, which the pants outlined nicely. Without question, her body had barely changed since the moment I’d met her, thanks to no kids, healthy eating, and a work pace that would put most ants to shame.
It was her looks and body that had stupidly captured my heart and overruled the screaming warning sirens going off in my head in those first months together. My gut knew even then that this was a match made in hell. One I should have run from as quickly as I could.
I hadn’t though. I had captured the woman every man at our college wanted, and pride wouldn’t allow me to let her go. I had known then that Ali had no peers. No woman in a six hundred mile radius had the ambition or looks. I foolishly had ignored the danger signals that were in plain view. Greed and desire for a rose too perfect for any man to clip free brought me much pain and grief, and damn little happiness.
As she walked through the door into the kitchen, she placed her tote on the island and kicked off her shoes. I noticed it was the Givenchy tote today. I hadn’t even known what Givenchy was until a few years ago, but it turns out it’s a designer brand that sells leather bags for $2,400.
Yes, $2,400. Believe me, you learn about a brand when it carries a price tag like that and yanks it from your account on a far too regular basis.
We had fought about the bag — or tote, as she always reminded me — for days, but she’d won that fight same as she’d won every other fight.
Her face was still buried in her phone, reading another email.
“Honey,” I said, trying softly to interrupt her.
“We need to talk.”
“We’re going to have to make it fast,” she replied, laying the phone on the counter. She walked to the fridge, withdrew a store-bought salad, and placed it on the island. Did I mention she moved from the island to the fridge and back to the island at about the pace of a cheetah? She usually ingested her food within about ten minutes — all while standing at the island — and then darted back to the office for a few more hours; or up to her study to review files for half the night.
She had already ripped the plastic top off the salad, spread dressing, and placed a large bite in her mouth before I could get my words pulled together.
“Honey,” she said, exasperated, “spit it out. I’ve got to get back to the office. We’ve got a court case that’s gone off the rails, and I’ve got to review the changes on that contract that came back today. They need them tomorrow, so I’m looking at a minimum of four more hours work tonight. What did you need to talk about?”
She stabbed another massive heap of salad with her fork and raised her eyebrows. Only when she ate alone did she ever appear so unprofessional.
I felt sick in the pit of my stomach and I knew this was going to get ugly. But on the bright side, it couldn’t take more than ten minutes, because her work always took precedence.
Yeah, this was going to be bad.
I braced myself.
“Ali, I interviewed today with the Akin Police Department.”
Alison stopped chewing. “You did what?” she asked, infuriated.
“I interviewed with the Akin Police Department,” I repeated.
“That’s the most stupid thing you’ve ever done. If they offer you the job, you have to turn it down.”
I breathed deeply and tried to calm myself. This was how every argument went. Alison told me what I should do, and I almost always allowed her to get her way. It was my fault things had become this way. I should have stood up for myself more in the past.
“Ali, even if I go back to law school, the semester doesn’t start until August. That’s nine months away. It would be stupid not to work until then.”
“Your work is studying for the LSAT, dealing with the application process, and getting ready for the nightmare of the next three years of law school.”
This was going precisely as I had expected. And feared.
“What’s the salary?” she asked, relentless as always. “Thirty-five thousand a year?”
“Thirty-six,” I responded lamely. “But we need the money.”
“We wouldn’t need the money if you’d already gone to law school and were earning two hundred thousand a year.”
I know she nearly added “like me,” so I had to give her props for holding back despite her anger.
“Not everything in the world is about money,” I answered.
She closed her half-eaten salad box and slung it in the trash. Typically, she always finished her salad.
“You’re not going to law school, are you?” she asked, her hands on her hips. Her eyes boring into me.
“I said I would think about it, but you know it’s never been my first option.”
“Danny, you’re smart enough and have the drive to easily finish it.”
“It’s not about whether I can or not, it’s about whether I want to,” I said.
“To not do so is underachieving,” she said. “I’m just disappointed you wouldn’t strive to reach your full potential.”
“I haven’t said I’m not going,” I replied, trying to calm myself. “I may end up miserable in this job. There will be almost no crime, and I’ll probably be raring to go to law school by the time fall arrives next year.”
Even as I said these words, I knew they weren’t true. I had done one semester of law school and hated every minute of it. Every second, honestly. But I had stuck it out (because that’s what Marines do) until my father received a late-discovered, fatal cancer diagnosis. I dropped out of law school to take care of him.
Ali continued on, and I held off jumping back in. I knew I was in no way mentally prepared for the rigors of law school at that time. So, I picked up a badge after my dad’s death, planning to re-enter school once I had my head fully back in the game of life.
But a curious thing happened. I enjoyed police work more than I expected, same as I had loved parts of serving in the Marine Corps. Thus, I stayed on as a patrol officer in the Memphis Police Department.
The income and insurance benefits were welcome while we dove further and further into debt for Ali’s legal education. She believed — and so did I — that I would soon follow in her footsteps. Her parents had certainly believed I would go back.
Both assumed the two of us would one day take over managing her father’s firm after we had gained a good decade of experience at a couple of prominent law firms.
But, my plans changed for good when I was promoted to detective after just three years on the force. I had found my dream job, and I loved how each day was different. How each case assigned to me was a puzzle to be solved. I threw myself into it while Ali worked the maddening hours a new attorney works following graduation. In hindsight, I believe she missed seeing how much I loved the job, due to the fact she was buried with work and under loads of pressure.
She saw the hours I worked as pure requirements of the job. As mere duty.
In truth, the job was a second love.
Excuses constantly popped up that allowed me to delay going back to law school. Once, it was a serial killer, who took nine months to track down. Another, it was a low LSAT score because I lacked the time to study.
There was always something, and in no time at all, seven years passed. I had become one of the most-promising detectives in the Memphis Police Department, and Ali had become one of the best attorneys in her field.
That’s when the world decided to shake up our little world. Almost overnight, her father’s health began to decline and everyone suddenly noticed I had somehow not made it back to law school. Come to think of it, that’s when the problems in our marriage really began.
“I’m so disappointed in you, Danny,” Ali said, reaching for her tote. “I have to go back to work.”
I felt completely defeated. The argument had gone much as I had expected. Now, with the news of the job and this nasty spat, there would be still more distance between us, as if there hadn’t already been too much.
As she headed for the door, I wasn’t sure what to say. My marriage was falling apart before my eyes, and I seemed powerless to stop it.
Akin Police Chief Fred Bradbury proved true to his word and hired me as promised. I started working just days after my ugly fight with Alison.
Neither of us had given an inch on our positions. Alison felt I shouldn’t have taken the job and that I’d have trouble quitting, assuming I even decided to go back to law school. I maintained we needed the money in the interim, and that I’d given in on buying the $300,000 home we couldn’t afford. Therefore, she should be okay with me working to help pay down some of the debt.
Neither of us were going to win this fight. It was an ugly stalemate, and too much was on the line for either of us to relent. Not to mention, too much blood had been drawn.
Come to think of it, maybe fights between spouses are a lot like the years of trench warfare from World War I. Both sides bleed, no new ground is covered, and each side just digs in deeper and deeper.
On the bright side, at least work started well.
On my first day, Chief Bradbury personally provided a tour of the department. It was housed in a small part of city hall. I was surprised to see the entire department was just a few rooms with two large offices — one for the chief and one for the captain of the police force.
The small size of the police station was drastically different from the Memphis Police Department. In Memphis, we had nine precincts and 2,400 officers. Here in the town of Akin, there were only nine officers (counting me).
All of this was going to take some getting used to.
The first few days on the job were slow, getting to know officers, learning the department’s procedures, and studying open cases that hadn’t been solved yet. At each and every turn, I learned the town of Akin moved at a different pace than most of the world, and certainly far slower than Memphis.
I suspected (and feared) the job would be just as slow as the town, and made a promise to myself to work hard (energetically!) to prevent this from occurring.
I also learned I would primarily be working with two other detectives. Together, we handled all of the department’s investigations. The other six officers predominantly handled traffic control and 911 calls.
The two detectives I’d be working with welcomed me warmly, but couldn’t have been more different.
One was a good ol’ boy named Irwin Barker. I’d guess he was in his early forties and he didn’t appear to miss many meals. He smiled a lot and told me early on that he had a wife and two kids.
The other detective was an African-American woman who I guessed to be in her later forties. Maybe early fifties. A man certainly doesn’t ask a lady her age.
Her name was Colette Foster. She had this no-nonsense look about her, as well as a confidence that I admired. My first impressions were that Colette was the real detective, and Irwin had been promoted from patrol and beyond his expertise.
Of course, first impressions could be wrong, but I’d learned to make pretty good first impressions as a detective. And I usually leaned on them. Thankfully, they were usually right.
I owed my Dad for that. After serving in the Marines in Vietnam, he came home to become a cop. He worked his way up the ranks and became a detective, a job he held for more than twenty years.
By the time I was old enough to remember anything, he was already a detective. When you’re raised by a detective, it has a huge influence on you. You’re taught to notice things, and to remember them. My Dad would ask me how many people were in the McDonald’s after we left, or what the middle-aged, white woman in the line to our left had been wearing.
Not to be outdone, I tried to turn the game on him. I’d see a car with a missing hubcap and ask him if he had caught its license plate number, or ask him what color pen the server at the restaurant used to take our order.
My Dad was a great detective, and he always said my upbringing would make me an even better detective. I certainly hoped so because there was no job I enjoyed more. Just don’t tell Alison that. We’re kind of having problems, in case you haven’t noticed.
My first big case in my new, little town happened just a couple weeks after I was hired. A local cornerstone of the community — Harrison’s Drug Store — was robbed.
Around here, in the quaint town of Akin, this was serious stuff, according to Irwin. Colette rolled her eyes. Personally, I secretly hoped it didn’t get back to Memphis that my first “big” case was a pharmacy robbery. So much for solving murders and grand conspiracies.
Nonetheless, since it was the biggest case currently happening in Akin, myself, Irwin, and Colette all worked it. We arrived at Harrison’s Drug Store at about 8:12 a.m., just minutes after Mr. Harrison had arrived that morning to discover the break in.
Mr. Harrison looked distraught, his head down and his hands gripping his hair in anguish.
“They took so much,” he said, as we entered the eighty-year-old business.
“I’m really sorry about this,” Irwin said. “We’re going to find who did this.”
Irwin had told Colette and me as we drove over that he knew Bill Harrison well, so he’d prefer if we allowed him to take the lead on the questions. I had no problem with that since I was the new guy, and since I was still learning both the town and how the department operated.
Colette had said nothing regarding Irwin’s request, and I wasn’t sure if that meant anything or not. Given that I was riding in the back of the four-door Ford sedan at the time, I couldn’t see her face to determine more.
Irwin continued his interview by asking some basic questions of Bill Harrison, but I stepped away from them to walk the store. The back counter’s door, which kept customers away from the drugs, had been knocked in. I glanced in it and indeed, most of the drugs were gone. I heard Bill, Irwin, and Colette heading my way.
“Look how many of my drugs, they took, Irwin,” said Mr. Harrison as they stepped past me. “I’m sure it’s more than a hundred thousand dollars’ worth stolen.”
He showed them around and then pointed to a corner where a safe was open.
“And they took more than seventy thousand dollars cash out of my safe.”
That piqued my interest and I started paying closer attention.
“I’ve still got to tally everything,” Bill continued, “but we’re talking nearly two hundred thousand in losses.”
That immediately screamed “bullshit” in my mind, and since Irwin was merely nodding in agreement while taking some notes, I decided I’d ask a question or two myself.
“Mr. Harrison,” I said, “why was there seventy thousand dollars in the safe? That sure seems like a lot to keep on hand.”
“Oh,” he said, clearly caught off guard. “Well, I only take my deposits in once a week.”
“You don’t take them every night?” I asked. “Most businesses make deposits each day.”
“Just too much trouble,” he said, trying to laugh it off. But he looked uncomfortable with the line of questioning. I started to follow it up, but Irwin gave me a sharp look, which told me he didn’t want any more tough questions directed to Mr. Harrison.
Colette caught the harsh stare from Irwin, and I wondered what she thought of it, as well.
I stepped away and scanned the store. Without question, it might not be a big case by Memphis standards, but every sense that my Dad had ingrained in me screamed that there was a lot more going on with this case than Irwin wanted to believe.
Irwin continued his half-assed questioning of Bill Harrison, finishing a mere twenty minutes later. I’ve witnessed traffic accident investigations take longer back in Memphis.
Before leaving, he at least took some photos, but I was not impressed with my detective partner, Mr. Irwin Barker. I wasn’t sure if he knew what the hell he was doing, or if he just took any good ol’ boy, who’d been born and raised in Akin, at his word.
I didn’t like either answer. I was still trying to get a read on Colette, who hadn’t said a word during the questioning. I sensed there were many thoughts running through her head. She struck me as perceptive and smart. Possibly even brilliant, but short-tempered, blunt, and certainly not enthralled to be working at the Akin Police Department.
The three of us walked out of Harrison’s Drug Store back toward our undercover police cruiser. I stopped, looking up and down the main street of Akin. Partly, it’s because I’m always making sure I’m not walking into trouble. That’s a Marine thing that gets beaten into you. But today, I was looking up and down the street because I don’t know the town of Akin well, so my eyes and ears were still picking up the new sights and sounds.
Oddly, a CVS store sat just a block and a half away. It was shiny and clean-looking. I turned and took in Harrison’s Drug Store for a moment. Frankly, the two couldn’t have looked more different. Harrison’s had a chipped sign, faded paint on the exterior, and appeared from the outside as if it were about two weeks away from going out of business.
I filed this away in my mind and wondered how long the CVS had been there. It looked less than a year or two old. I also wondered how badly the national, chain-store pharmacy had hurt Harrison’s.
“Will you come on?” Irwin snapped.
He and Colette were standing by the blue police sedan, looking back at me.
Irwin was clearly still mad about my earlier inappropriate question.
“Sorry, guys,” I mumbled, hurrying across the parking lot.
When I sat down in the back seat, Irwin turned his big body around (somehow) and fixed his eyes on mine.
“What the hell was that back there?” he asked.
I shrugged. “Just asking what I thought was a good question.”
“This isn’t Memphis, Danny,” he replied. “Not everybody is some low-life thug looking for an angle.”
“And not every crook in Memphis is black,” I replied.
“That’s not what I meant,” he said.
“Sure it’s what you meant,” I answered. “Just own it.”
“Enough guys,” Colette snapped. “Let it go, Irwin. Danny is still learning things around here.”
“Well, he doesn’t need to learn them from you,” Irwin scolded.
“Is that because she’s black?” I asked, deciding I was already tired of being Mr. Nice Guy. If Irwin was this incompetent, or prejudiced, we weren’t going to last long anyway.
Irwin’s eyes stared daggers into mine through the rear-view mirror.
“No,” he said. “It’s because Colette is hardly in the department’s good graces.”
He sighed as he put the car in reverse. Colette looked back and smiled at me.
“Welcome to Akin, Danny. You have so much to learn.”
“I am enchanted already,” I said, making my voice as Southern as possible and smiling back at her.
Well, so much for staying on everyone’s good side. But I knew Irwin would start to hate me regardless of what I did. Could be that I worked so hard to stay in shape. Maybe it was that I usually outworked those around me. In Irwin’s case, I felt confident I’d soon look like a rock star, as far as hours worked, and probably cases solved, too, given his lame line of questioning earlier. Oh, well. There’s always law school, I reminded myself.
We returned to the office where I sat at my desk to pull together some notes about the robbery. I hadn’t been there twenty minutes when Captain Mike Carter called me into his office. I had seen my “good buddy” Irwin enter his office earlier, and figured Irwin might complain about me. That certainly appeared to be the case now.
Captain Mike Carter was one of those unpleasant surprises you learn about far too late when you take a new job. You know, one of those details that they never seem to share with you during the interview process?
Despite Police Chief Fred Bradbury being the nicest guy on the planet, I’d already picked up clues that Captain Carter really ran things. Chief Bradbury was the face of the department, but he was close to retirement, and I was constantly warned that I better fill this or that report out correctly (and in a timely manner) because Captain Carter would fly off the handle if I didn’t.
I had only met him once when Chief Bradbury gave me my tour, but it had been a chilling reception, and I had steered clear of him ever since. Mostly, Carter stayed in his office and called in staff to chew them out for various offenses. As such, staying clear of the reclusive captain him hadn’t been difficult.
I stepped up to the door, knocked respectfully three times, and waited.
“Come in,” he barked.
I opened the door, walked in, and took a seat.
“Captain,” I said, nodding.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Danny, questioning Mr. Harrison like that?”
I had no idea how I was supposed to answer that, so I meekly said, “I’m sorry, Captain. I thought I was doing my job, but Irwin has already informed me that I crossed the line.”
Carter leaned back in his chair, placed his leg over his knee, and crossed his arms. He placed one fist on his chin and glared at me. Was he seriously sizing me up? Or perhaps I’d somehow shot an unarmed kid without knowing it?
Carter held back whatever was bothering him and scowled at me. While I had no idea why he hated me so much, I can say that I could have seen this confrontation coming.
Carter was of average height and less-than-average build. He was probably 5’8” and was the kind of guy who hasn’t been in a gym since he was in high school. He was paunchy and I’d guess him to be in his mid-forties, sporting a shaved head and brown goatee that I think he believed made him look tough.
He reminded me more of a Boy Scout who just had a lot of badges on his uniform. A classic bureaucrat that you better steer clear of.
Colette had walked over to my desk when she saw Irwin enter Captain Carter’s office and had given me a quick info dump. She correctly predicted that Irwin would dime me out and had warned me that Carter was a dangerous bully. An aggressive one at that, since he had been essentially adopted into the influential Snyder family, which effectively ran the town of Akin.
“They’re a powerful family that has run Akin for a hundred and fifty years,” she warned. “And Captain Carter is the kind of cop we all hate. The boy who got his lunch money taken in high school and becomes a cop simply for the power trip.”
I nodded. I knew the type.
“The worst part,” she continued, “is he’s been particularly cowardly, and that eats at him. So he overcompensates by constantly acting tough and yelling every chance he gets. With your military background, I can assure you he’ll hate you. Not to mention you’re an outsider. Just be careful if he calls you into his office.”
As I sat in Captain Carter’s office, holding his stare, I could feel that hate. The mind games had begun, and Captain Carter held all the cards. If he managed to force me out of the Akin Police Department or fire me, then there’d be no getting out of applying for law school.
Not good, Danny. Not good at all.
The “great” Captain Carter finally stopped staring and leaned forward.
“Just who the hell do you think you are, Danny? You come in here with your big-city, Memphis reputation, and in a mere few weeks, you step on the toes of the senior detective you’ve been assigned to.”
I wondered briefly how Irwin was somehow considered the senior detective when Colette must have had ten or more years’ experience on him.
“And on top of that,” he said, “you antagonize and embarrass one of Akin’s leading citizens.”
Carter slammed his hand on the desk, and it exploded loudly. I didn’t flinch. (Though maybe I should have. Just give the guy what he wants, a part of my brain warned.)
The man was a showman. A bully, just as Colette had forewarned, and by my actions back at the pharmacy, I’d given him the first piece of ammo he could use against me.
“My God, Bill Harrison is one of the best men in Akin,” he snapped. “He was president of the Rotary Club. He’s a deacon at First Baptist Church.”
Carter jumped to his feet and shook his hands with rage. “For Christ’s sake, he sponsors little league teams and the town’s high school football team. Even puts a float in the annual Christmas parade each year.”
He slapped the desk with both hands and leaned forward. “As if that’s not enough, he even contributes to our very own department. Buys our softball T-shirts each and every year.”
I wondered if buying T-shirts for our department equated to a get-out-of-jail-free pass around here. Meanwhile, Carter sat back down. He seemed more winded than he should.
“Now listen, Danny. I was opposed to hiring you from the beginning. Chief Bradbury likes to bring in an outsider from time-to-time, but it never works out. Do you hear me, Danny? It never works out.”
I nodded since I wasn’t sure what else I should do.
“Listen to me, Danny. If you’re smart, you’ll leave this job and find one elsewhere. You do that, and I’ll write you a good recommendation. But if you try to stick around, and bring your big-city tactics to this peaceful little town, I’ll do everything in my power to make sure you never work as an officer anywhere else in the state. Maybe even the country. You hear me, Danny?” he scowled.
Mike Carter, the bully, had just made the ultimate bully move. He had promised something he couldn’t do. I knew there was no way he could destroy my police career as I had many connections with officers back in Memphis, with whom I had a nearly decades-long reputation. Not to mention, I had worked with and gotten to know numerous state troopers and members of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Or, TBI, as they’re known in Tennessee.
Carter could huff and puff all he wanted, but he was a small-town cop with a big-time ego. I now saw that clearer than ever. Perhaps he realized he’d misjudged me as he finally ended his rant.
“Now get out of here and apologize to Irwin,” he said.
I left his office, but I didn’t do so in a hurry. Carter could jump in a creek as far as I was concerned. And Irwin would be waiting a long, long time before he ever received an apology from me.
Want to keep reading? You can read the first three installments for only $4.99 at this link: Detective Danny Acuff, 1-3