Undersheriff Garrity had been working for twenty-five straight hours. He had reached the point of sleep deprivation where his mind began morphing things out of the shadows that darted across the highway in front of his SUV. He slapped his face back into consciousness.
The past two days had been without precedent. He received a call from an agent of the Department of Homeland Security who informed him that the agency would soon be coordinating (i.e. taking over) the county sheriff’s department. Garrity would have a new boss and this new command structure would be in place for an indefinite period of time. The agent explained to him that the federal takeover was being done for the sake of national security.
A black Yukon appeared at the station soon after the call and two young, well-groomed, sunglasses-wearing agents in blue suits set up shop in Garrity’s office—at his desk, no less. They rudely brushed Garrity off, and at one point condescendingly asked him to go get them coffee. Garrity stormed out of his office. He deeply resented them.
An appeal to the sheriff was no use as his boss had a new federal master, too. “You gotta do something. Get rid of these assholes,” Garrity pleaded.
“What’s wrong with you, Bob? Where’s your sense of duty? Your patriotism?” asked the sheriff.
Garrity pondered quitting right then and there. It wasn’t like they were paying him for his extra hours anyway. He was being issued scrip, as the county was insolvent. The new, fancy paper was worth even less than the old federal reserve notes, when and where it was accepted at all.
Garrity escaped into his cruiser and out onto patrol. He didn’t answer the sheriff’s or the fed’s calls or bother to pick up their coffee. There was plenty of work for him to do maintaining community visibility and enforcing the nationwide midnight-to-dawn curfew, which essential government workers and portions of New York City, Boston and D.C. were exempted from.
It was two a.m. when Garrity reached the point where he could no longer stay awake. He had been working through a list of gun owners supplied from the background check databases, confiscating their rifles, pistols, and shotguns. No one seriously resisted, to his surprise, although some complained and threw that god damned piece of paper (aka The Constitution) in his face. Garrity just smiled at them, allowed them to vent for a moment, then conspicuously slid his hand down toward the taser clipped to his belt. This motion pacified all resistance.
Garrity was not surprised to find that neither Joe Joe nor any of his MS13 gangbanger buddies, nor any other known felons or persons-of-interest appeared on his gun registry. Felons couldn’t legally own a gun, but everyone knew that they still had them. Garrity got a chuckle about that. A lot of good it does to confiscate guns when the only people who give them up are the law-abiding citizens.
He turned on the hair metal music channel on his taxpayer-funded, recently-bailed-out, satellite radio. The ballad “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” filled his cab. It was so familiar a song to Garrity that he thought it a chore to even listen to it. But when he felt himself starting to doze off, he rolled down the window, stepped on the gas, took a swig from his flask, and burst into verse.
“Though it’s been a while now
I can still feel so much pain.
Like a knife that cuts you
The wound heals
But the scar, that scar remains.”
Garrity took another swig and immersed himself in self-pity.
“Every rose has its—oh, fuck this!”
He switched the radio off and tuned in the frozen night air as it swooshed through the window. He looked down at the speedometer. He was doing eighty which was double the speed limit on the winding canyon road. No worries, he thought. There wasn’t a soul out save for him. His SUV bobbed and pitched as the road rippled and snaked down Ed’s Hill. He slowed to make his turn, then floored it again as he straightened out on a dirt road. The wheels kicked up a swarm of stones and pebbles. Two more turns and he pulled into his garage.
Garrity got out and opened the back hatch. He stared excitedly at the neatly stacked cache of confiscated guns, contemplating adding one of them—an early 1900s double barrel shotgun—to his permanent, personal collection. It’ll look really sweet over my fireplace, he thought. When or if it was ever supposed to be returned to its owner was anybody’s guess. If it ever was, Garrity could merely deny any knowledge of it. The owner would go to the county clerk and file some grievance in triplicate, which would be ignored until the owner finally gave up in frustration. Citizens usually gave up on those sorts of things after about 90 days. The vintage gun was as good as his if his conscience would permit him to keep it.
Garrity heard his two German shepherds barking away inside. He opened the door into the house and patted their heads. “So sorry, my sweeties.” He made his way to the kitchen where he offered them some cheese. He watched them wolf it down in one gulp. “You dogs just can’t savor anything, can you?”
Daisy and Himmelstoss were Garrity’s family. He loved them as much as anything in the world. Daisy, an anachronistic name for a German shepherd, was the alpha female. She was always the first to bark and the first to greet. Himmelstoss, a male, was named after a WWI German war hero from some pussified, anti-war book he never bothered to read in high school literature class. Himmelstoss was a bit clunky for a dog’s name so he shortened it to “Stossi” which also sounded like a reference to East German secret police making it even keener in his mind. Daisy and Stossi had outside access through a doggy door so Garrity’s long shifts did not result in accidents.
Garrity scooped out some dog food for them, but they were uninterested. “Oh, you guys just want the good stuff, eh?” He tossed them each another cube of cheese. He grabbed himself a beer from the fridge and made his way to the family room with his loyal dogs following behind. He fell into his leather sofa and flipped on the television. The big media talking heads materialized, giving calm reassurances to the masses.
“Hello, Bobby,” came a velvety voice from the shadowy corner of the room.
Garrity spit out a gulp of Bud Light. His eyes swung to the side where he finally saw her. She came back. I knew she would, he thought. “What are you doing here?” he asked her, feigning indifference. “And why didn’t my dogs rip you to pieces? Bad dogs!”
“There, there Daisy. Good boy, Stossi,” she replied, stroking their heads when they came to her and sat at her feet. “They remember me, Bobby. Aren’t you happy to see me?”
“What makes you think I want you here?” he said, trying to sound like he didn’t care that she came back. “You should have called first.”
“I wanted to surprise you. Tell me you’re happy to see me.” She got up and slithered over to him as the dogs watched from the floor with wagging tails. She took up the spot next to him on the sofa. “Bobby.” She always purred his name when she wanted something. That simple trick always managed to knife in under his plates of emotional armor. He was defenseless to it. “It’s been a long time, Bobby. I missed you.” She slid her arm over his shoulders.
Garrity kept up the phony resistance the best he could. “What do you want, Mae? How’d you get here? Don’t you have important government things to do these days? Isn’t there some banker you should be having dinner with tonight?”
“Oh Bobby, don’t be crude,” she said. “I came here to see you.”
“You think I believe that? That you came out here just to see me? What do you take me for, Mae? Just tell me what you want.”
“It’s crazy out there, Bobby,” Mae continued, shifting from seduction to supplication. “I had nowhere to go. They wouldn’t fly me back to D.C. and they wouldn’t pay for my hotel. They wanted us to stay in some dungeon at Denver International. I couldn’t stay there. That place is awful. I kept thinking of you, how close you are. You’re the only one I could turn to. Won’t you help me?”
Garrity pretended to look irritated, but inside he was elated to see his ex-wife. She had left him two years before when she got her Treasury Department gig. Lured by world travel, prestige, a fat salary, and the chance to hobnob with the most powerful men in the world, she ditched her provincial, redneck, cop husband. He was not a suitable escort in the spheres of geopolitical power.
Bobby tried to hold his illusion of resistance together.
“Do you have any money?” he asked.
“Huh? Oh no, nothing but scrip and this government debit card.”
“You can’t buy anything with those. We go shop to shop making sure the stores take them but as soon as word gets out that a store’s taking scrip, their shelves get cleaned out.”
“So how do people get by?”
“They eat a lot of egg noodles and cheese and wait in lines, I guess. Some barter. People survive, that’s what they do. I get to eat at the department and commandeer gas. I even get dog food rations cuz I got Daisy and Stossi rated as police dogs.”
Mae started caressing Garrity’s forearm. “Bobby…”
“What?” he asked, refusing to make eye contact with her.
“Let me stay with you a little while. I feel safe with you.”
“I don’t know. I don’t think I can provide you the royal lifestyle you’re accustomed too.”
“Don’t be cruel, Bobby. I could go stay in that dungeon if it were necessary, but I’d rather be here with you. I know how tough things were between us. But when I was all alone, my perspective changed. I realized I was wrong. I know that now. Just give me a chance. I need you, Bobby.”
She massaged his shoulder and the gears in Garrity’s brain started to turn. She had him and he knew that she knew it. He knew that she could just reappear at any moment in his life and that would be enough. She was irresistible to him. I’m weak, he thought.
For him, it was as if his prayers had been answered—answered with a curse. He was already plotting in his mind how to extract repayment from her and to what level of depravity he might be able to extract it. Mae never had any intimate boundaries.
When their marriage was dissolving, Garrity rationalized that it was probably the toll of stress that paved the way for their separation. But this was a spectacular stroke of good fortune and perhaps a final opportunity to redeem himself and recapture the woman who was the only obsession in his life. He wished he had been working out and eating healthier. He was disgusted with his appearance. But the gears kept turning in his mind.
“We gotta get out of here,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know, away from here. Out of the country for a while. Some place warm. Mexico. Costa Rica. At least until things settle down.”
“How much money do we need for that?”
“How will we get it, Bobby?” she asked, wrapping her other arm around him, squeezing his chest and pressing her breasts against him. He surrendered, totally dropping the façade of resistance with the sensation of her firm curves and her warm, smooth skin beneath her clothes. She placed her right leg over his lap. He caught himself breathing a little loud. The gears in his brain seized.
“I have an idea.”
“I knew you would, Bobby,” she answered as she pulled back. She got herself up and sauntered into the kitchen. “That’s why I loved you.”