The Sumerset Motel is the preeminent lodging establishment in the entirety of Calumet County. One would typically describe it as “cozy” and “somewhat dated”, but the lodge pole motif and rustic accents fit the persona of the valley well. Each room and the lobby is adorned with lacquered pine, flannel curtains, and silhouettes of wildlife embedded in the wainscoting. The rooms are clean and adequate, even if the mattresses are a bit lumpy.
The DEA expeditionary force leased the entire motel and every room in it. Half of the parking spaces were occupied by immaculate black Chevy Tahoes. Even the meeting hall was commandeered to serve as a command center. The agents that were boarded there did not mind the accommodations; they had stayed in worse before. The scenery of the valley more than made up for any deficit in refinement.
Sheriff Ellison pulled into the lot, his cruiser a lonely white knight amongst the black cavalry that surrounded it. He checked in at the lobby and was directed to a seat in the meeting hall, in a temporary cubical partition that extended to form a patchwork of offices. Forty-five minutes of waiting passed before Special Agent Vincent Acevedo appeared and took a seat behind his desk. Acevedo was a humorless fellow, fit but short, with dull black eyes and a military-style haircut. He shuffled through some notes in a manila folder before finally acknowledging the sheriff’s presence.
“So what can I do for you, Sheriff?” Acevedo asked, without looking up from his papers.
“I’m here about what happened last night.”
The agent let out a deep, irritated sigh. “I imagine you want to review what’s going into the incident report.”
Ellison nodded. “I came by late last night, but they said you were unavailable.”
“We have a full schedule right now, but we should have a draft of the report for you tomorrow afternoon.”
“That’s terrific, but I don’t think publishing a report will suffice. There’s a great deal of damage control that needs to be done.”
“Well Sheriff, this is your county. I think you’d be the best choice to handle the local politics.”
Ellison cleared his throat and leaned forward in his chair. “Well, this is…a complex situation.”
“So hold a presser,” the agent said dismissively. “Let everyone know we deeply regret what happened.”
“I wasn’t even present at the scene, and that was a requirement we agreed on before you even came up here,” retorted Ellison. “People will want to know what happened. There needs to be an investigation.”
“Do what you need to do,” Acevedo replied.
“Someone needs to be held accountable for this.”
The agent looked up from his papers, making direct eye contact with Ellison for the first time.
“What do you want from me, Sheriff?”
“A woman is dead.” Ellison studied Acevedo’s dull-eyed, deadpan expression as he spoke. “Her husband’s in the hospital.”
“I’m well aware of that.”
“Why did you change the day of the raid?”
“The timing worked out better for us.”
“Why wasn’t it communicated to me?”
Acevedo’s eyes fell back into his papers. “It was a last-minute thing,” he mumbled.
“If you want to call it that.”
“Whose oversight?” asked Ellison.
Acevedo’s eyes stopped scanning his pages and froze in place. His face began to smolder, and his jaws flexed as he ground his teeth. “It was just an oversight,” he snapped.
“There are consequences related to this oversight.”
Acevedo looked up again, his face shifting into a snarl for a fraction of a second. “Would it really have made a difference, Sheriff…if you were there? You weren’t going into that trailer. Only my men were going into harm’s way. You were going to be back in your cruiser, probably catching up on your emails when it went down.”
“I would have made sure your men raided the correct address.”
“Oh, so this is about assigning blame,” growled Acevedo. “Is that what this is? Throwing me and my agents under the bus? My men are putting their lives on the line for your little county here.”
“It wouldn’t have happened had you followed protocol,” Ellison explained.
“What? Raiding the wrong trailer?”
“Yes. That and shooting two innocent people.”
“That’s a different matter, Sheriff. My agent saw a gun. He reacted as he was trained.”
“But it wasn’t a gun. It was a remote control.”
“It makes no difference. The officer perceived a threat to his safety. Agent safety is our highest priority.”
“But you were at the wrong house.”
“We’re just going in circles here. Now, if you don’t mind, I have a lot of work to do.”
“We need to get to the bottom of this, Vincent.”
“Sheriff, we do dozens of raids every year,” Acevedo stated. “Accidents happen. It’s tragic. We do our best to avoid it. We all feel bad about it. I know it’s probably difficult for you to comprehend, but try to have some empathy for the agent involved. Kevin Sniggs is a high-potential agent. We don’t want to sidetrack him over this. He’s doing good work. This wasn’t his fault. Think about what he’s dealing with.”
“I’m concerned about the man who just lost his wife.”
“Did you come down here just to kick me in the balls?” Acevedo shoved the manila folder into his desk. “If that’s the case, we can wrap this meeting up right now.”
“I don’t get the sense that you’re going to concede anything. Nor do I think you will fully cooperate with the investigation.”
“I’ll get you whatever you ask for,” snapped Acevedo. “Video. Notes. The after action report. You want a deposition? You got it. Whatever you ask for. Put a list together for my admin. Now, if you don’t mind…”
“I’m going to need you to suspend operations until we can sort this out.”
“Can’t do that,” the agent stated bluntly. “We’re deep into our program, on the verge of blowing an entire meth racket wide open. Besides, we have our orders.”
“I am the sheriff,” Ellison declared. “I make the calls here. I think if you communicated that to the Arlington boys, they’d understand.”
“Arlington’s got nothing to do with it, Sheriff. This is DOJ’s show. Your little county has been red-listed by the Attorney General himself.”
“Then we’ll just need to convince him to de-prioritize this county for a little while, until the investigation is complete and we come to an agreement on how things will be handled going forward.”
“No,” said Acevedo. “That’s not possible. This is the middle of a surge. My boys are implementing the President’s personal plan for victory in the War on Drugs. Missions like this are what’s going to win this war. You can’t stop a surge just because of a little collateral damage. Accidents happen. It’s the fog of war. C’mon, Sheriff, where’s that country boy common sense of yours?”
“You can surge somewhere else for six months. Let the community here get over this.”
“This is a waste of my time,” Acevedo sighed. “There’s nothing more to discuss. I suggest you go drive out to City Hall, call the Gazette, and give a speech about how you regret what happened. Remind the folks around here that mishaps are going to happen during any war. Explain to them the concept of collateral damage. I think they can grasp it. I know the people in this county want to win this war, too. They’ll accept it as part of the price of victory.”
“How should I explain your men going to the wrong house?”
“You’ll figure something out.”
“Should I tell them you broke protocol?” asked Ellison.
“Sure, you could tell them that,” answered Acevedo. “You go ahead and tell them that you didn’t show up and that’s why that woman’s dead. But this is a joint operation. The first thing folks will think about is why did the DEA not keep you in the loop? All they’ll end up seeing is their disrespected sheriff. You’ll look weak. They’ll compare your department to my highly-trained professional agents, and you’ll end up looking like a bumpkin just getting in our way, trying to cover your ass.”
“You’re right.” Ellison stood up. “We’re getting nowhere. I do want it on record that you’re not authorized to conduct any more operations in my county until further notice.”
Acevedo chuckled. “I don’t need your authorization. Like I said, this is a DOJ operation. It’s federal. And your governor will authorize it if necessary.”
“I’m the sheriff of this county.”
“Sure, but your cooperation is mandatory.” Acevedo declared. “We call all the shots.”
Ellison put his hat on and started to walk out. As he stepped through the doorway, he turned back one final time before leaving the cubical.
“This is my county, Vincent…” he began, but was quickly shot down by Acevedo.
“Tell it to the AG,” snapped the agent. “Hell, go tell it to your governor. Your cooperation is irrelevant to him too, now that he’s bucking for a cabinet position.”
Ellison shook his head, turned and left.