Chief Grady’s heart thudded slow and heavy in his chest as he left the hospital. He hoped that Poole’s therapy would improve once he was far away from the horrors he’d witnessed and a town with so many memories haunting him. Perhaps, just knowing that vast miles separated him from the ocean would bring the ex-deputy peace. Grady regretted every eye-roll and frustrated sigh at Poole’s poor grammar, wishing he could once again hear the botched sentences and strain to read Doug’s scribbled handwriting. I hope the kid knows how much I’ve always cared about him, he thought as he crossed the parking lot. Guilt-ridden and sad, Grady drove to the bakery; intending to bring something back for Kline and Barker. His favorite, a little shop run by the Antonettis called “Let Them Eat Cake”, had been open a few days ago but was since boarded up tight. A quickly scrawled “Closed Permanently” sign was taped to the door. He tried a couple of other places but they had all closed too. His next stop, the grocery store, was open but yielded disturbing results. Inside, the place was a shambles. Aisles were cluttered with boxes waiting to be unpacked, while shelves had been picked-over and left bare. The bakery department was empty; no one had even bothered to turn on the lights. Concerned, Grady searched the store until he finally found the manager, Rodney Gates.
“Hey, Rod,” Grady called out.
The harried man held up his index finger signaling for Grady to wait a second then he pointed at the phone.
“C’mon, you can’t do this to me,” he barked into the receiver. “I can’t run the place by myself for crying out loud. I expected this from the teenagers but not you, Todd. I gave you a job when others wouldn’t! I didn’t hold it against you that you had a criminal record. I promoted you to assistant manager and this is the thanks I get? Don’t come looking for a good reference from me, pal.”
Frustrated, he hurled the cordless phone, usually reserved for use in the office, and watched it smash to pieces when it hit the floor.
“What can I do for you, Chief?” Rodney Gates said, acting as if nothing had happened.
“Is it just you here, Rod?”
“Yup, most of ‘em didn’t bother to give me any notice, let alone two weeks.” He groaned. “I don’t know what to do anymore. I’ve got a call in to corporate. I expect they’ll shut the place down. I just hope they can transfer me somewhere so I don’t have to start all over again, from the bottom. I’m too old for that nonsense.”
“I know what you mean. At the rate we’re going I figure it won’t be long ‘til I’m out of a job too. Listen, you don’t happen to have any baked goods that aren’t stale do you? I’d like to bring something in to the station, for the guys.”
“There might be some prepackaged stuff: Hostess, Little Debbie, something like that still left. They’d be in aisle six. If you find it, just go ahead and take it. My treat.”
“Thanks, Rod. I hope the corporate guys can help you out but I’ll sure miss you and Audrey.”
The only treats available in aisle six were dented boxes of chocolate cupcakes and low fat mini-muffins. Grady took them and left a wrinkled up ten-dollar-bill on the register before leaving. Rodney was on his cell phone, trying to find an employee to come in and help.
Back at the station, Kline and Barker were wading through mounds of paperwork while still trying to man the switchboard. Grady dropped the packages of snacks on the table and greeted his only remaining staff members.
“Hiya, Chief!” Kline chuckled. “So…I’ve got good news, bad news, and worse news. Which do you want first?”
“Wow, when you put it like that…hmm, let’s try some good news for a change.”
“Okay, the good news is, thanks to the discovery of a serial killer in Philadelphia; national newscasts are no longer interested in our beach.”
“Let me get this straight,” Grady scoffed. “A serial killer is good news?”
“Well, not for Philadelphia but we aren’t getting national attention anymore. So, between that and the new campaign by the Neighborhood News team to help prevent suicide, there haven’t been any new reservations for any of our hotels.”
“Hell, it’s a dark day when a serial killer means good news. Do I even want to hear the bad and worse news?”
“Probably not, but on one account, you don’t have any choice. You’ve got a visitor in your office, Mr. William Sterling the third, our acting mayor.” Barker interrupted, placing obvious emphasis on “the third”.
“I’d rather meet with the serial killer,” Grady groaned as he shuffled off to his office. “Hold my calls.”
Inside the chief of police’s office, William Sterling III sat with his feet up on the desk, reclined, as he gabbed on the phone. He pretended to be startled, ending his call abruptly and moving out of the chief’s seat.
“To what do I owe this pleasure, Bill?”
“Ah, well, I wish I could say this was a social call, Tom. The council has been meeting non-stop trying to cauterize the cash-flow hemorrhaging from our reserves. I can’t believe the mess Dale left us with. Thank you, by the way, for handling that particular mess.” Bill Sterling’s chuckle stuck in his throat once he caught sight of Chief Grady’s piercing glare. “You know what I mean, of course. I’m sorry. I haven’t had much sleep and I have a tendency to try to lighten a tense situation.”
“No need to apologize, Bill. I’m sure you weren’t intentionally mocking the suicide of our former mayor; that would make you a monster. But here’s a nickel’s worth of free advice, if you plan on becoming a career politician; you should probably learn how to curb that instinct. It won’t bode well with the voters if you mock their hardships.”
“Yes, thank you, Tom. Anyway, let’s dispense with the pleasantries and get to the point. We need to-“
“Let me guess, you want my resignation too.” Grady interrupted.
“No! Not at all! Chief Grady, you have the council’s utmost respect. We would never ask you to resign. Sadly, the problem is in retaining two deputies. Now that the hype has blown over and we don’t have droves of sad-sacks flooding the beach, we just can’t afford to pay two deputies in addition to your salary. You’ll need to let one go.”
“You’re kidding, right? Bill, we’re already down a deputy with Poole gone. We have no one operating the switchboard and now you want to cut another deputy?”
“I’m sorry, Tom, we have no choice. We’ve lost most of our residents. The businesses are closing up shop. What else can we do?”
Chief Grady had a suggestion of what the council could do, and where they could go, but self control prevailed and he withheld his flippant remark.