Friday, May 25, 2018
I hung up on Chief Hollister and looked at my wife.
Kelly looked at me from where she was sitting. “What was that all about?”
I gave her a smile. “I think I have a new job.”
“Oh? I thought you just retired.”
“So, you really want me lying around the living room for the rest of my life?”
“God forbid!” she replied. “Knowing you, you’d just end up dusty and moldy. Who were you talking to?”
“A fellow up in Bethel Hollow in Tennessee. Mike Crowley gave him my name. He’s a police chief and is looking for a consultant.”
“Huh. What’s he need a consultant for?”
That made me give her a perplexed look. “I don’t really know. I told him I wasn’t available for a couple of weeks.”
“You also gave him the wrong date for when we’d be back. You said the week of June 4th. We won’t be back until the end of the week. You should have said June 11th.”
I nodded. “I’ll call him back, but first, I’m going to call Mike Crowley, see what he told this guy.”
I called Mike Crowley and asked him about Terry Hollister. Mike and his wife Linda had sold their home and moved to Phoenix after his forced retirement. They had bought a home in a retirement community, but he had told me he was too young to actually retire. He was going to find something local and double dip, collecting his pension and a paycheck at the same time. He told me that he had indeed talked to Hollister earlier in the week and recommended me. Bethel Hollow was a small police department, only about sixty officers total, but was about to grow dramatically. Bethel Hollow was the largest of a string of small towns in southeastern Tennessee that were consolidating, much like Matucket and East Matucket had done forty years before. The local politicians had bought into the promise of some consultants about how much money was going to be saved by combining the four towns involved into a single municipality based on Bethel Hollow. Hollister had to combine their police departments into a single department.
“How’d you get involved in this, Mike?” I asked.
“I’ve known Terry for a while now. Good guy, real meat-and-potatoes kind of cop. He likes the basics without a lot of frills, know what I mean? You’d get along with him. Anyway, he’s a bit skeptical of some of the politicians and consultants who want to tell him how to run the combination. It’s going to basically double the size of the department he’s already running. I told him he needs a cop, a real cop, to tell him what to do.”
“Well, I need to call him back anyway. I gave him the wrong date on when I’d be available. Sounds interesting.”
“Talk soon, Grim.”
“Take care, Mike.”
I called Terry Hollister back and apologized for the mix-up in the date. I also told him that Mike Crowley had given me an idea about what he was interested in and I asked him to email me as much information as he could. That way I would have a chance to think about the problem and have some background when we met. He promised to send me what he could. If nothing else, this would give him the chance to think about the details of the project.
After I hung up, I went to the bedroom to find Kelly packing and told her what Mike had said. “Sounds interesting. I think you’d be good at that sort of thing. Now, pack your bags. We need to be out of here at what you call oh-dark-hundred.”
“True enough.” In the morning we had to fly to Miami for a ten-day cruise through the Caribbean. Packing was both simple and a royal pain in the tail. It was simple in that the weather was going to be warm, so we could leave the boots and parkas behind; most of the time we would be wearing shorts, tops, and running shoes. Still, several nights were listed as formal dining so I needed to pack a suit, sport coat, slacks, and dress shirts, along with some dress shoes. On the other hand, it was just Kelly and me, so underwear wasn’t going to be necessary. The plan was to take our two largest suitcases and our hanging bag. We both had carry-on bags with our computers and paperwork.
We were taking a Royal Caribbean ship on our cruise, Wanderer of the Seas, and it was sailing at 1600. You had to be at the port at least an hour ahead of time. Figure an hour from the airport to the port, no matter what they say otherwise. We were flying in from Atlanta, which was a two-hour flight. Add another two hours to get through security and board the plane in Atlanta, and another hour travel from Matucket to Hartsfield. Theoretically if we left the house at 0900 we should get there right on time, but life doesn’t work out that way. Our flight was leaving ATL at 0929, so we had to leave Matucket at 0630 or so. It would be a long day.
According to the itinerary, we were supposed to sail Saturday afternoon and cruise at sea all day Sunday. Monday morning, we were supposed to be at Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands. Tuesday we were back at sea all day. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were at a trio of tiny islands down near Venezuela, Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire. Then it was two full days of cruising, followed by docking in Miami on the following Monday. Supposedly the ship got to the dock very early and they shoveled you off as fast as possible. Hopefully you made it to the airport in time for your return flight. The plan was to go home and leave the kids with our parents until sometime Wednesday; that would give us a chance to unwind and unpack.
Travelling proved as much of a pain in the ass as we had expected. Hartsfield is never enjoyable and always crammed. Fortunately, we purchased our flight tickets through the cruise company, so we only had to mess with our luggage once. Most of the cruise paperwork was done online and through email. We even got our luggage tags that way. Once we checked our luggage at the airport it would automatically be forwarded to the ship. So, would we; there was a shuttle service going directly from the airport to the terminal. Once at the terminal, however, everything became a major pain in the tail.
I’ve seen on old movies and television shows how you used to be able to just drive up to the ship and get out, while smiling porters took your luggage and you just breezed up the gangplank. I don’t know when that was possible. Certainly not in this century! Nobody drives up to the ship. It’s more like an entire second check-in at the airport. Long lines, security checks, and a huge warehouse-like terminal. Armed guards were everywhere, along with very high chain-link fences and barbed wire. Nobody was getting close to a ship without being checked out. We got in line and snaked our way to the front. Eventually we handed over our preprinted documents and our passports and were allowed through. A photo was taken, a key card was printed, and we were pointed towards the boat.
If the terminal was as big as a warehouse, the boat made it seem miniscule! Wanderer of the Seas carried over 3,000 passengers and 1,000 crew and was as big as the largest battleship or aircraft carrier. Still, there were larger ships. When Kelly and I had been googling while arranging our vacation, we found ships twice that size. The largest had passenger berths for 5,500, or 6,500 at maximum capacity, and almost 2,500 crew. That was like floating around in a small city!
Unsurprisingly, the security screening checked my cane to make sure it wasn’t a deadly terrorist device. It wasn’t all that fancy, just your basic hickory cane in a dark stain. It wasn’t clear yet whether my leg would improve to the point I wouldn’t need it. So far it was something I only used at the end of the day, when my leg began to tire and stiffen up. Earlier in the day I just had a slight limp but as the day went on the limp would get worse. Even though it was only about three in the afternoon (or 1500 as I would tell Kelly, which would just get her to laughing at me) we had been up quite a while. I needed it as we got out of the warehouse. From there we had to traverse this huge back-and-forth walkway up to the entry port. I grimaced. The ship was at least a hundred feet tall from the dock to the top decks, maybe more, and we had to climb at least sixty feet up the walkway.
Nothing to do but slap a smile on my face and start hiking. I had my carry-on computer bag on my right shoulder and was using my cane with my left hand. I led the way with Kelly following. The way the walkway worked it seemed like every length of the walkway we would rise maybe ten feet, but it seemed to take forever. About a third of the way up we passed an older couple, older than my folks and younger than my grandparents. As we passed him I noticed he seemed to be wheezing a touch and having some problems, and his wife was looking worried. “Maybe we should go back down, honey. Maybe they can put us aboard another way,” she said.
I glanced at Kelly and then looked at the man. He was wearing pants, not shorts, and had a VFW ball cap on. “Sir, are you feeling alright? Can I help you?” I asked.
“I’ll be fine. I just need to catch my breath,” he answered.
I smiled and stood there with him. “Me, too.”
“I had a heart attack a couple of months ago. They put in a stent, but I still get tired.”
“My dad got two last year. He said the same thing.”
He looked down at my left leg and noticed the ACE bandages wrapping my knee and ankle. He grunted and nodded. “What’d you do?”
“Used to be a cop until a tree fell on me.” I looked down and noticed something odd about his right leg. “You?”
He smiled. “Sharp eyes. I was in the 101st. Vietnam, a place called Firebase Ripcord. I caught part of a mortar shell and lost it below the knee.”
I grinned at him. “I did two tours in Iraq. The One-Oh-Worst saved my bacon a couple of times.” He eyed me and I added, “Tenth Mountain Division.”
“HOO-AH! Ready to continue?”
“Ready. I’m Cal Walton, by the way. I was a corporal once.”
“The name’s Grim. Sergeant. Come on, Cal.” I moved around to his right side. “Take my arm. You lean on me and I’ll lean on you. We do this the Army way. We just keep putting one foot in front of the other.” I handed Kelly my cane and tucked Cal’s right arm through my left.
We walked up the walkway as other passengers squeezed around us. We talked about our time in the Army as we climbed and though we moved slowly, we kept moving. Once we got to the top we were able to go inside the ship. One final security check was made and then we were let onto the elevators.
“Thanks, Grim. What kind of name is that, anyway?”
“Short for Graham. My baby brother couldn’t figure it out when he was little, and the name stuck. It was nice meeting you, Cal.”
“Well, it was real nice meeting you. We run across each other on this barge, I owe you a drink or two.”
“Probably going to see each other at some point. I like bourbon.”
“Us old soldiers need to stick together, Cal.” We shook hands and his wife kissed my cheek, and then Kelly and I headed to our room on Deck Eight.
Kelly handed me back my cane and kissed my cheek, too. “You’re a good man, Grim.”
“But girls seem to prefer the bad boys, not the good ones.”
“Depends on what you’re good at.”
“We’ll have to try to figure out what that is,” I remarked, giving her a lewd grin. Kelly gave me a hip bump and we started looking for signs to where our cabin was.
According to our map of the ship, cabin 8544 was on the left side of the boat halfway between the front and the back. The nautical types would say we were midship on the port side. Sailors are silly. We used our keycard to enter the cabin and tossed our carry-ons on the bed. In some ways it looked a bit spartan but that was only because they sell space on cruise ships by the square inch. We had a king-size bed, a couch, an armchair, and a built-in closet and dresser unit. What you were really paying for was the view. We had a patio door going out to a balcony, and that was something you only got on a few decks and on exterior rooms. The cheap rooms, the ones they advertised the prices to, they were down at the bottom of the boat, had no windows, and had bunk beds.
Kelly came up to me and wrapped her arms around me. “I think you deserve a nice reward for what you just did.”
“A really nice reward.”
I smiled down at my wife. Kelly was wearing a crisp white blouse, a long and thin cotton print skirt, and low sandals. That was all, too, since I had watched her put it on. Kelly rubbed herself against me like a bitch in heat. “Babe, as much as I would like to accommodate you, the odds are excellent that as soon as we start getting busy some bellboy is going to barge in here with our luggage!”
Kelly’s eyes popped open. She looked around and said, “It’s not here yet?”
I pulled away and looked around. “Doesn’t seem to be.” I went to the patio door and pulled open the drapes. There was a small patio beyond the door, so I opened it and walked outside, with Kelly behind me. We were on the water side of the ship; the right side of the boat was up against the dock.
Kelly reached around and groped me. “We can always just close the drapes. Nobody will see us.”
I laughed as there was a loud knock on the door and somebody yelled, “Luggage!”
I pulled away from Kelly’s grasp and went to the door. Opening it I found our baggage stacked outside. I pulled it inside and laughed at Kelly. “I think we need to wait a few minutes, babe. The next thing you know, we’re going to be getting busy and they’ll be having the lifeboat drill.” That was something that had been told to us several times. There would be a mandatory Coast Guard lifeboat drill almost immediately after everybody was on board, and they took it seriously. When the alarm sounded, you showed up at your lifeboat station with your life jacket - or else! If you didn’t show, they went looking for you, and they might just throw you off the boat.
Kelly still wanted to fool around but just as she started getting frisky a loudspeaker in the room lit off with an alarm and “LIFEBOAT DRILL! LIFEBOAT DRILL! REPORT TO YOUR LIFEBOAT STATION! REPORT TO YOUR LIFEBOAT STATION!”
I laughed some more and grabbed our lifejackets from the closet and handed her one of them. “You are just going to have to wait.”
Kelly let out a frustrated shriek and took her lifejacket and then followed me out the door. I was looking at my map and trying to figure out where to go and we ended up at the wrong station, though at least on the correct side of the boat. We fumbled around for a bit to find our station and then helped each other into our lifejackets. That lasted about fifteen minutes until some crew members finished checking us off their lists and the word came over the intercom that the drill was over, and we could return to our cabins. Kelly grabbed my hand and began dragging me along behind her.
I laughed as my wife dragged me back to our cabin. Once inside she began unbuttoning her blouse. “Well? What are you waiting for?” she asked.
I laughed some more. “What’s with you?”
“I’m horny, damnit! I’m thirty-two! I’m at my sexual peak! Grim, your sexual peak was back in high school!”
“Oh, you so don’t want to go there!”
Kelly pushed me back onto the bed and jumped on it with me. Two minutes later we were naked. An hour after that we were both breathing hard, after a couple of very spirited sessions.
I glanced at my watch and rolled upright. “Come on. We need to get up and get moving. Let’s clean up and get a drink before dinner.”
“I’ll wash your back if you wash mine.”
“Works for me.” I stood up and headed for the bathroom, stopping after I opened the door. “Uh, babe, small problem.”
“I don’t think we’re showering together.” The shower was about the size of a vertical coffin. It was not suitable for a group shower.
Kelly stuck her head around me and looked through the door. “I don’t think we can even fit in the bathroom together!”
“Sorry about that.”
“It was the thought that counts. You go in first. I’ll start unpacking.”
I nodded and went inside. The controls were a bit unusual; the fixtures seemed to be foreign, probably European. Still, hot was hot, cold was cold, and the towels were fluffy. Ten minutes later I stepped out of the bathroom and grabbed my shorts up off the floor. “Your turn.”
“I took the top drawer in the dresser and you get the bottom drawer. The middle can hold our swimsuits and whatnot.”
I leaned down and gave her a quick kiss as she moved past me. I also reached back and gave her a pinch on her left cheek, and I don’t mean the one on her face. She squealed and scampered away. I pulled my shorts on and finished unpacking. Kelly took longer to get ready, but I think it was because she had to dry her hair. She still wore it down well below her shoulders. I would have offered to help her comb it but that usually ended up with Kelly sexually assaulting me. Interesting thought, but we needed to get moving. I went out onto the balcony and discovered we were already out to sea. Miami was way behind us.
“What’s the dress code for today?” asked my wife.
I grabbed the Compass, the ship newspaper. “According to this, casual. From what I was reading, shorts and tops, that sort of thing.”
Kelly mumbled something and rooted through the dresser. She pulled out a denim miniskirt and a halter top. “Something like this?”
“Looks good to me. Tomorrow is supposed to be formal. We can wear our tuxedos and evening gowns then.”
Kelly grinned. “You look good in a tuxedo, but you’re just not a tuxedo kind of guy, Grim.”
“Probably not.” I think I’d only worn a tux a handful of times. A couple of proms, my wedding, Jack’s and Bobbie Joe’s weddings. I just wasn’t a real formal guy. When I got home I’d probably have to buy a few suits so I could look like a consultant. I pulled on a clean sport shirt and put on my ACE bandages.
Kelly came out of the bathroom after doing her makeup and slipped on her low sandals. “Ready?”
“Ready.” I slipped into a pair of deck shoes and grabbed my SeaPass card, which acted as my door key, identification, and credit card, and out we went. Then I went back in, to grab the ship map. “Hopefully we figure this boat out so I can lose the map.”
I followed my wife down the hallway until we got to a stairwell. Lots of gleaming brass and fake paneling, very clean. Very big! “Where do you want to go?” asked Kelly.
I looked at the map and smiled. “Up! Let’s go find a bar!”
She laughed and we got into the first elevator that was going up. We rode it to the top and found ourselves on the top deck. There seemed to be a lot of people out on the deck, a band could be heard playing calypso music, and there were tables and chairs and a swimming pool. There had to be a bar someplace nearby!
There was a bar at the end of the swimming pool, so we joined the throng and worked our way to the front. The special of the day was some kind of a rum punch, so I ordered two and handed over my SeaPass card. Everything was charged against the card. We grabbed our drinks and moved out to find a table and chairs. The breeze felt wonderful.
“Everything goes on the card?”
“Far as I can tell. Not quite sure where you’d hide it in some of your outfits,” I said, smiling.
“If I’m wearing an outfit like that, maybe you’d better plan on being nearby, so you can carry it.”
“Maybe so,” I laughed.
There was one thing about the cruise that I didn’t like. Everything was designed to nickel-and-dime you to death. The daily rate wasn’t too unreasonable, especially considering it included your meals. No, what they got you on was the incidentals. You want WiFi in your room? Figure on ten to fifteen bucks a day, per device. Want to drink something other than tap water? That’s another seventy bucks a day, and not all the drinks are complimentary even with the package. Even fountain drinks like Coke or Pepsi for kids required a package. Want to eat in one of the fancy restaurants and not the dining room? That’s another package, and don’t forget the day trips and sightseeing when you dock. Shore excursions cost an arm and leg. Even some of the onboard activities had charges. Some people we knew said you could double the cost of your cruise with all the extras. We had known it going in, but it can still be a shock when you hit the payment key on the computer.
We had another rum punch and then started walking. The pool, where we were near, was on Deck Eleven along with one of the restaurants, the gym, and a bunch of other stuff. It was open to the next deck up, Twelve, where there was another bar, another restaurant, and a running track. Up higher were a bunch of sports-related venues, like a rock-climbing wall and a wave machine, and higher still were more bars and restaurants. There were a lot of places on the ship to eat and drink. We never did finish exploring before dinner was called. We were dining on the late seating, which started at 2000, so we had to hustle. We actually ended up on the wrong floor; the main dining room spanned Decks Three, Four, and Five and our table was on Four, and we entered on Five. The place was enormous!
The room was packed with a variety of tables, some four-person, others six- and eight-person, and some even larger, for groups. We didn’t know what we would be at until we were guided towards a four-person table. We found two women already sitting at the table. One was old, about my grandparents’ age, and the other was our parent’s age. They looked up at us and smiled. “We were wondering if we were eating by ourselves,” said the younger woman.
“No, ma’am, we just got a bit lost,” I responded.
“Well, you can’t call both of us ma’am. I’m Celia Davenport and this is my mother Genevieve Dalton.”
“Call me Jenny,” said her mother.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you. Celia, Jenny, my name is Graham Reaper, and this is my wife, Kelly.” We all shook hands and said hello and then I pulled out Kelly’s chair.
“So, what brings you two to this little slice of Heaven?” asked Jenny. She reminded me of my grandparents, spry and sharp. “Vacation? Honeymoon?”
“Little bit of both,” answered Kelly. “We needed a break and it’s also our tenth anniversary, almost anyway. That’s June 21, but Grim and I needed to get away regardless!”
“Well, we’ll give you a pass on that one. Brad and I got married in December but took our twenty-fifth on an Alaskan cruise. Nobody goes to Alaska in December! We took our anniversary cruise in August the summer before,” said Celia.
Jenny looked at me oddly. “Your name is the Grim Reaper?” Kelly and I grinned at that, and she continued, “Your parents named you that intentionally?”
I laughed loudly. “Yes and no. I’m named after my grandfathers, Graham and Wendell. It’s kind of a family tradition. Anyway, when my baby brother was born he had a hearing problem. He was mostly deaf until he was three and they put some tubes in his ears. Then he could talk but he had a speech problem. He couldn’t figure out Graham, so he just called me Grim.”
“Can he talk alright now?” asked Celia.
“Good Lord! He’s a lawyer! All they do is talk!” laughed Kelly.
I laughed with the others. “The really funny part is that when he came home from the hospital and our mother told us they put tubes in his ears, I kept looking for the tubes. I was looking for something big, like an inner tube or macaroni to be sticking out of his head. It was really disappointing when I couldn’t find them.” That really got the others laughing.
We got to talking to Celia and Jenny. Jenny Dalton was a widow; her husband Chester having died a decade ago. She was still healthy, though, and her current goal was ‘to spend the inheritance before the kids could get it!’ Celia Davenport rolled her eyes at that. She was Jenny’s only daughter, and her husband hated to fly, so she went with her mother on all her adventures.
It sounded like a happy family. Jenny had two sons and a daughter, seven grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. “That’s quite the family reunion,” commented Kelly.
Celia nodded. “We try to get together once a year. It’s tough since everybody is up and down the East Coast, but we can usually plan ahead. If we get everybody, we total twenty-seven if you count all the husbands and wives, but we don’t always get it to work.”
“No, last year Bob and Charlotte, that’s my son Adam’s youngest, he’s my oldest boy, they had a baby the same weekend we had the family reunion. They live in Savannah and couldn’t travel,” explained Jenny.
“Well, good for them,” said Kelly. “They live in Savannah? We live in Matucket. It’s in western Georgia, the other side of Atlanta.”
We ended up talking about our families through the rest of dinner.
It seemed late when we finished dinner. There was a Welcome Aboard talk in the ship’s theater and after that we did a bit more exploring. There were all sorts of stuff on the boat, including a shopping center with incredibly overpriced stuff, a casino, and a bunch more bars, restaurants, and lounges. We walked around the deck and then went back to our cabin, where we discovered it had been made up, the bed turned down, and an odd animal formed out of some folded towels. Kelly decided she wanted to fool around some more but fell asleep before I got out of the bathroom. So much for romance.
Romance revived in the morning, which seemed an excellent way to wake up. After that we cleaned up and got dressed and then went to one of the innumerable restaurants on the boat. Breakfast was served in both the main dining room, which had menus and waiters, or the café, which was a buffet. We decided on the buffet; the dining room we could do another day.
“So, what’s the plan for today?” asked Kelly.
I smiled and shrugged. “Goof off, I suppose. It’s not like we’re going anywhere today. We spend the entire day sailing.”
She nodded. “True enough. Probably ought to walk around a bit after breakfast, work off some of this.” She pointed at our plates. “Oh, and I want to get our phones and computers hooked up. We need to set up the WiFi on them. I want to call home and check on the kids.”
I gave Kelly a horrified look. “Why in the world do you want to call them? We came here to get away from them, remember?”
She smiled and said, “Grim, you’re an awful father!”
“I’m not even sure they’ll have noticed we’ve left! They’re probably having more fun with our parents than we are!” I continued.
“Grim!” Kelly just kept laughing at me.
We settled on a walk around the deck and then back to the room to connect our gear to the WiFi system. Then Kelly said, “The weather is perfect. Time to go swimming!”
“Don’t you want to see me in my new swimsuits? I got several.”
“Any of them family-friendly?” I asked. There were a number of young children sailing with us. They belonged to parents not smart enough to leave them behind.
“Maybe.” She pulled open the dresser drawer and started searching. I rolled my eyes and headed for the bathroom.
When I came out, Kelly was pulling the straps up on a sheer black one-piece suit. I admired her from behind. Almost all of her back and sides were on display and the legs were cut quite high as well. Like she did before any of our trips, my wife had spent some time at a spa getting a spray-on tan. She is a classic Irish redhead, with fair skin and some freckles. The tan kept her from burning and got rid of any tan lines she might have. I whistled as she turned to face me. “Nice!”
Kelly smiled. “I thought you might like it.” She sat down and grabbed a pair of high-heeled sandals. “Grab the swim bag, please.”
I looked around and found something that looked like an oversized carry bag. She nodded and I passed it to her. Then I stripped off my shorts and pulled on my swim trunks. I stepped into some shoes and Kelly sorted through the swim bag to make sure we had some suntan lotion. Then she grabbed something that looked like a piece of black cloth that matched her suit and tied it around her waist like a sarong. If the swimsuit was made of the same stuff, it must be almost transparent! That sounded very interesting!
More than a few heads turned as Kelly sauntered her way to the pool. I whispered to her at one point, “Didn’t your mother teach you not to show off?”
She smiled and said, “I must have been out when she gave that lesson. I was probably up at the lake with my boyfriend. He liked it when I wore this kind of suit.”
“He probably liked taking it off you.”
Kelly giggled and stuck her tongue out at me, then led me towards the pool area. There were several pools, along with a couple of hot tubs and some wading pools for the kiddies. I grabbed a couple of towels along the way and spread them out on a pair of lounge chairs. Then it was time for some lotion and sun. After a bit we got into the pool and floated around for a bit. The suit became almost transparent when wet; certainly, Kelly’s jewelry was noticeable through it. We played grab-ass for a few minutes and then got out and dried off. I was sent to bring back some refreshing alcoholic beverages.
I looked around for the bar. It wasn’t even 1100 but the bar was packed. Well, I’m sure it was five o’clock somewhere. I ordered two of the day’s special and carried them back to my wife. She was surrounded by teenaged and college age guys trying to chat her up. She saw me coming and smiled, rolling her eyes, and said, “Sorry guys, but like I said before, I was just waiting for somebody to bring me a drink.”
“I offered to bring you one,” whined one of the younger ones. He didn’t look old enough to drink more than soft drinks.
“Sorry, darling. You snooze, you lose.” She smiled radiantly at me. “Thank you, honey. Gentlemen, my husband.”
I handed her a drink and looked at the others. “Nice meeting you guys but I think I can handle it from here.”
The others got the message and took off, though most of them kept watching her from a distance.
“Thank you, Grim. I swear, I warned them.”
“I’d say something, but you’d probably send me away for drinks again, and I’m not sure I trust your audience.”
Kelly laughed and sipped her drink, which was blue and frozen. “I’m not the only one here in an extreme suit, Grim.”
“Just check out over there.” She waggled a finger in the direction across the pool, but I couldn’t see who she was referring to.
“Care to be a bit more specific?” I asked.
“The short fellow over there.” I looked away from a group of pretty though conservatively dressed mothers with small children towards the man Kelly was pointing to. He was about five-foot-six, had to weigh at least three-hundred pounds, needed to get a lot more sun - and was wearing a Speedo! I blanched. Then she added, “I packed your Speedo, too, Grim.”
I gulped and looked away. “Oh? I hadn’t noticed hell freezing over.”
Kelly laughed. “You’d look better in it than he does.”
“Again, babe, ice skating in hell first.”
“Get me another drink.”
“And leave you to face the wolf pack on your own? Let’s both get drinks and some lunch at the same time.”
“You’re just no fun,” she laughed. Still, Kelly stood up and wrapped her sarong around her waist and handed me my shirt. We cleaned up our gear and headed to the Windjammer Café for the lunch buffet and another drink.
After lunch we headed back towards the pool area, but I noticed something and stopped. “Check up there,” I said.
“Up there.” She looked where I was pointing. It was a small deck towards the bow that overlooked the pool area, but it seemed to be isolated and behind a chain. Only couples were being allowed beyond the chain. “I think it’s a more adult section.”
“How adult?” she asked.
“Only one way to find out.” I led the way to the stairs that led up to the higher deck level.
We were greeted by a female attendant at the top of the stairs. “This is a private couples-only section for ladies wearing, shall we say, more extreme suits.”
I smiled. “Sounds about right.”
Kelly undid her sarong and the attendant smiled and nodded. “Your SeaPass cards?”
There was probably a minimum charge or something. I passed our cards over and we were allowed in. I looked around and found several young women in thongs. A bar attendant came over and asked if we wanted a drink and we ordered another round, passing her our cards.
Kelly commented to me afterwards, “I think this is the place to hide from the nitwits down below. You could wear your Speedo up here and not be bothered by all the women chasing you.”
I pointed up at the clouds. “Oh, look, pigs flying!” Kelly just laughed and we oiled up and settled in.
Mid-afternoon Kelly and I were getting a little sun-broiled, so we grabbed our stuff and headed back to our cabin for a nap. Well, eventually we took a nap. That swimsuit of hers was very, very interesting, and it looked even better when it was on the floor. We stirred awake around five or so. “What’s the plan?” I asked Kelly.
She snuggled up against me and answered, “I could go for some more of the same.”
I laughed. “And after that.”
“We’re on a honeymoon. Remember our first honeymoon? I don’t remember you asking me such silly questions then.”
“Complaints, complaints, complaints!” I rolled towards her and allowed her to have her wicked way with me, but that was it for the afternoon. Afterwards I rolled out of bed and took a shower. Kelly cleaned up after me and we decided to dress for dinner.
“Tonight’s a formal night, right?” she asked, coming out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around herself.
“That’s what it says.” I waved the Compass at her. “Uh…formal dress for dinner…suits and ties, tuxedos, cocktail dresses or evening gowns,” I read.
“So, flip-flops and tank-tops aren’t going to cut it,” she commented.
“I think that is the general drift.”
“Well, it’s early for dinner. We can always go to one of the lounges for a drink. Might as well get dressed, Grim. It will take you longer than me,” she said with a laugh.
I groaned but nodded in agreement. I pulled the suit I had packed out of the closet along with a dress shirt. As expected, Kelly was dressed long before I was. That was because she pulled on a long halter-topped dress - and nothing else! Most of her back was exposed, along with a fair bit of cleavage, and her legs up to mid-thigh were exposed through a pair of long slits. I was still buttoning my shirt when she asked, “What’s taking you so long?”
I gave her a dry look and grabbed my pants. She sat down and slipped into a pair of ankle-strapped heels. It took me a few minutes before I was finished and ready to go. I grabbed our SeaPass cards and said, “I am guessing that outfit is missing pockets?”
“No pockets, but I have a purse.” She took her card back and sorted a few items from one purse into a smaller formal shoulder bag. Why women needed so many bags and purses was beyond me, but I also knew it was counterproductive to ask. She tossed her card into it and said, “Ready.”
“Looking good, babe. It’s too bad I couldn’t bring my gun. Now I’ll have to just beat up all the guys who will be chasing you.”
“Come on, Dirty Harry, let’s go.”
There were several bars and lounges around the ship, but dressed up, it seemed the place to go was the one all the way at the top of the boat, the Viking Crown Lounge. That was a big round bar with floor to ceiling windows that wrapped around a big central structure at the rear of the ship. It was one of the more formal lounges on the ship and had great visibility. We were probably almost two hundred feet above the water. We took a seat and a waiter came rushing over. I was tired of rum punches, so I ordered a Maker’s Mark neat, and a whiskey sour back, while Kelly ordered a rum and Coke.
“Have I told you yet just how spectacular you look?” I asked.
Kelly blushed and leaned over to give me a quick kiss. “Thank you. You clean up pretty nice, too.”
“I think it’s back to Brooks Brothers for me, babe. If I’m going to be a consultant, I’m going to have to go out and buy some consultant clothes.”
“Did you ever get anything from that police chief in Tennessee?”
“Not yet, but it’s Sunday. He’s probably taking the day off.”
She nodded at that. We chatted as we waited for our drinks to be served. It seemed we weren’t the only ones dressing up for a night out. The lounge was filling up and the seats at the bar were all taken. Another couple came over towards us and the man asked, “Would you mind if we sat down?”
We were at a small table with four armchairs around it. Kelly and I were side-by-side, but the other two chairs were available. I waved them towards the chairs. “Of course not. Please have a seat.”
“Thank you.” He was a trim man about my age dressed much like me, in a light charcoal suit. She on the other hand was a short and bubbly blonde, busty and cute like a high school cheerleader now grown up, wearing a silver minidress with matching heels. She was also wearing a rock on her left hand the size of the Hope Diamond. “Nice to meet you. I’m Clyde and this is my wife, Clarice.”
I reached out and shook his hand. “I’m Graham and this is Kelly.” We all shook hands and said hello. “You must be on the late shift as well.”
“The late shift…I like that. Yes, we’re on the second seating. You, too?”
“Yes.” I looked out; you could see almost the length of the ship. “This is some kind of boat.”
“I have to agree with you. I think I could fit our whole town inside it.” As he said that he grinned at his wife, who laughed and nodded.
“What town is that, Clyde?” asked Kelly.
“We live in Winchester, Kentucky. We’re a bit east of Lexington.” He smiled and admitted, “Okay, maybe we’re bigger than the ship.”
“Not by much, honey,” said Clarice. “Where are you folks from?”
“We’re from Matucket, Georgia. It’s about an hour west of Atlanta.”
Clyde’s eyes opened wide at that. “Matucket? Georgia?”
“Matucket County? In between Carroll County and Haralson County?”
I returned the odd look. “Yes, Matucket County. Why? You know Matucket?”
“I grew up in Matucket, at least as a teenager. I went to Matucket High.”
I reached over and shook his hand and smiled. “Us, too, class of ’03 for me. ’04 for Kelly.”
“’03? That was my class. You were at Matucket High? Not East Matucket,” he asked.
“Bite your tongue! I was a mighty Pioneer, not a lowly Warrior.” Kelly laughed at that.
Clyde wasn’t laughing. “What’s your name again, your full name?”
“Graham Reaper, but I go by Grim. My wife was known as Kelly O’Connor then,” I replied.
He stared at me. “Holy shit! You’re the Grim Reaper! I’m Clyde Wilcox.” I must have been looking blank, because he added, “Fatso Wilcox?”
My mouth dropped and my eyes popped open. “Clyde? You’re shitting me!” It was fifteen years ago, but I couldn’t reconcile the man sitting across from me with the pudgy kid I had put through a high school version of fat camp. “No way! Clyde?”
I stared at this blast from my past, trying to match the slim but fit guy across from me with the pudgy kid I had worked with to lose weight fifteen years before. I shook my head trying to make sense of it. “Clyde, this can’t be you! The last time I saw you we were getting on the bus to the enlistment center, and you were worried about getting sent to fat camp. What happened?” Clyde was about five-nine and to my eyes looked maybe 170 pounds, at least sixty pounds less than he had been in high school. I looked over at Kelly. “Do you remember Clyde?”
“A bit, but I remember him as a lot bigger. What happened to you, Clyde? You look great!”
“It was you guys on the team, you made us all lose weight.” He looked over at Clarice and said, “You’ve never seen pictures of me from high school, but it wasn’t a pretty sight. I was way bigger then.”
She gave him a smile. “Like how big?”
“Like 240 pounds big.”
Clarice stared. “Two-forty? For real?”
“So, what happened?” She looked over at Kelly and me. “You saw him like that?”
“I don’t want to sound mean, but his high school nickname was Fatso,” I answered. Kelly just nodded.
She turned back to her husband and he said, “Back in high school I decided to go into the Army after graduation, only the Army is real picky about weight and fitness.”
I explained, “If you don’t get down to a certain weight, they make you go to Army fat camp and make you exercise and diet 24/7.”
Clyde continued, “Our recruiter was running Saturday workouts, but it just wasn’t working. Grim was going into the Army, too, and he was like the big man on campus and captain of the football team. I was not the kind of guy who hung out with him, but we met that way, so I asked him to help me lose the weight.” Clarice looked at me and I nodded. “He was rough, too. He had me attend the team workouts and then started making me eat better. He even would take my lunches and throw out all the fun stuff.” That made the three Matucket grads laugh. “I lost twenty pounds that fall, and another twenty by graduation.”
“You must have lost more since then,” I said.
“Yeah. I scraped through enlistment but my DI, my drill sergeant kept pushing me to lose weight. I got into the habit, changed my diet, kept working out. I still do.” Clyde looked over at me. “Hey, what happened to Tony Vancuso? After you went back to work senior year, he took over the fat camp squad. He was joining up, too.”
With that question, the joy at our meeting went out of the room. I sighed and answered, “He never made it home. He went into the Marines and was deployed to Afghanistan. Six months later his Humvee got hit by an IED, a big one, bad. He lost an arm and a leg, and his brains got scrambled, a TBI, a bad one. They shipped him home to Walter Reed, but he just kept getting worse. He died a few months later. I heard about it when I got home through some vets groups I’m with.”
“Oh, shit. He have any family?”
“None worth knowing. They didn’t even ask for his body. He was buried at Arlington.”
With that we started talking about the whereabouts of some of our classmates, which took us until dinner. I told him how I got on the cops and that Kelly was at Matucket State. The only people we both really knew were the guys on the football team. The Vander brothers were still in Matucket, owning and running Foster’s Bar-B-Q. Both Brax Hughes and Speed Demon Wayans had gone Division 1 and then into the NFL. Brax had been drafted by the Chargers and was now in New England; he still came back home every once in a while to see family and we often got together. Speed Demon spent his entire career with the Bills and never moved back, though he did buy the aunt he grew up with a nice home. I told him that Jack the Ripper had retired, which he had heard about. Russ Thibodeaux, our quarterback, had gone Division 1 also, with Penn State, but had never gone beyond being a backup and hadn’t been drafted. Quite a few guys had gone off to college and had never moved back. Some others were still in town but unless I had given them a ticket or they had ever gotten involved with the cops, I just didn’t know what they were up to.
Clyde explained what he had been doing, as well. “So, what did you do for your MOS?” I asked.
“Twelve-Bravo, combat engineering. You were Eleven-Bravo, right?”
“So, I went Twelve-Bravo and learned how to run heavy equipment, you know, bulldozers and backhoes and front loaders and such. I ended up in Uzbekistan, of all places, building support bases, but then somebody got his ass shot off in Afghanistan and I ended up there for a tour.”
“I did two tours in Iraq.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t know how messed up Iraq is, but Afghanistan is the most fucked-up place on Earth! When the platoon sergeant asked me to re-up, I told him the only way I’d do it was if they promised me in writing that I’d never leave the States again! They made me an instructor at Lost-In-The-Woods for a couple of years, and then I went to Stewart for another couple. That’s when I had enough. I got out and went to work at Winchester Heavy Equipment.”
“That where you still at?” I was trying to figure it out, but if Clyde did two hitches, he probably didn’t get out until 2011 or 2012.
He gave me a big grin. “Oh yeah! I worked there for a few years in sales and training, and then made a deal with the owner to buy it from him. Now the bank and I own it. I also made a side deal with the receptionist.” Clarice punched him in the arm. I smiled and Kelly told me to behave.
“Do you have any children?” asked Clarice.
“A girl and a boy,” answered Kelly. “She’s seven and he just turned four. You?”
“None yet, but we’re trying,” answered Clarice.
Clyde grinned. “That’s sort of the purpose of this cruise.” Clarice blushed and punched him in the arm again. Kelly and I just laughed. “Hey, what’s with the haircut?” he asked.
I blinked at that, but it hit me, he hadn’t seen me since high school. Back then I’d had a full head of blond hair. Now I shaved my head. “Oh, that. Well, my second tour we were so far out in the sticks that water was a real luxury. A lot of us started shaving our heads or getting buzzcuts, just for hygiene purposes.”
“Once I got home it was kind of a habit. I thought about letting it grow again, but when I got on the force one of my training officers told me to keep it shaved. He said it made me look meaner.” I smiled at Kelly. “That was Hank who told me that.”
“Hank Jenkins?” I nodded and she turned to Clyde and Clarice. “Hank’s a sweetheart but he looks like a concentration camp guard. Very scary. I can believe that.” That got a few laughs.
Dinner called at that point, so Clyde and I promised to find each other sometime before the end of the cruise and have a few more drinks. Then it was down to Deck Four. At least now we knew where our table was. When we got there Celia and Jenny were already seated. “You clean up pretty good, Grim,” said Jenny. “You, too, Kelly. That’s quite a dress!”
Both women were wearing fancy dresses suitable for grandmothers and great-grandmothers. Suddenly I could feel Kelly tense up. Her dress was a lot more revealing. “Uh, maybe this isn’t quite appropriate?”
Surprisingly, the two women laughed at that. Celia said, “Honey, if I had your figure, I’d wear that dress, and if Brad - he’s my husband - if Brad didn’t like it, I’d just go out and find a couple of young fellows who would!” Jenny cackled in laughter at that.
Dinner was very nice. Celia and Jenny were much more traveled than Kelly and me. This wasn’t their first Caribbean cruise, so they passed along some stories and wisdom from earlier trips. After dinner, Kelly and I wandered out onto the deck, but that didn’t last long. It was quite gusty out in the open and Kelly’s dress almost blew up over her head! Everybody nearby learned that she had left her undies back in the cabin. I laughed and she scampered inside. I followed to find her blushing bright red. Then it was off to one of the lounges for a couple of drinks and some dancing.
At that point Kelly wanted to head back to our cabin; I think that her brief exposure had her primed for fooling around. Well, that seemed like a perfectly acceptable end of the day to me. We went back and let ourselves in. I hit the bathroom first, and then switched places with Kelly. I tossed my suit coat and tie on an armchair and kicked off my shoes, then made a couple of drinks from a bottle of whiskey we had smuggled aboard. I carried them out onto the balcony and sat down on one of the chairs out there.
Kelly spent more time in the bathroom than could be explained by her using the facilities, so I figured she was getting ready for something other than sleep. I was right, too, when she came out of the bathroom wearing nothing but her heels, jewelry, and a powerful perfume. She came out onto the balcony with me and settled into my lap, took a sip of her drink, and then put her lips to mine and tried to inhale me. I held her against me and returned the favor. I had the feeling that she planned to test out the naughty ideas her friend had told her about, the things that happened on balconies on cruise ships.
Or not. As she snuggled against me and rubbed her naked body against me we heard a man loudly say, “YOU FILTHY SLUTTY WHORE!”
Kelly’s eyes opened wide and she looked around, but neither of us could see anybody.
A woman’s voice said, “You like slutty whores?”
“I LIKE SLUTTY WHORE CUNTS!”
Kelly stared at me. The voices seemed to be coming from our left and I looked past her. There was a light on over the next balcony to the aft of us. She looked to the left and then back to me. “Are they…?” she whispered.
I whispered back, “I think so!”
The couple next door continued talking to each other in terms that would have Kelly and I getting divorced, no matter how much fun we had on the trip to divorce court. Then it was only his voice, cursing and swearing even louder, along with loud and wet SLURPING sounds.
Kelly gasped quietly. “Oh my God, I think they’re…”
I grinned. “Why don’t you stick your head around the corner and check it out?” I whispered back.
“OH, YOU WHORE, YOU CUNT! DON’T STOP, DON’T STOP! TAKE IT! TAKE IT! OH GOD! TAKE IT!”
“I am guessing that’s what they call a happy ending,” I told Kelly.
“Maybe if you were that loud I’d know if we were doing it right,” she giggled.
“If I was that loud, everybody on Matucket Lake would know if we were doing it right,” I replied.
Kelly giggled and started kissing me again, but then Round Two started. “SUCK MY ASS! SUCK MY ASS!” That was being called out by the woman, and she began giving extremely explicit and graphic instructions as to what he was supposed to be doing. Kelly rolled her eyes and we began listening again.
“OH GOD, IT’S SO TIGHT, SO HOT, SO TIGHT!” he said.
She said, “IT’S SO BIG BACK THERE! FUCK ME! FUCK ME! FUCK ME!”
Kelly sat upright when she heard the words ‘back there’ and I just tried to keep my laughter down so they couldn’t hear us. It didn’t matter. Moments after their equally loud and exuberant conclusion, we both began hearing, “MORE! MORE!” and loud applause. It seemed to be coming from further down the boat, maybe the cabin beyond our neighbors.
“ENCORE! ENCORE!” sounded from above the neighbors.
Laughing, I began clapping and yelled out, “ENCORE! BRAVO! ENCORE!”
Kelly laughed and started clapping, too. “MORE! MORE!”
There was some shrieking and scrambling next door and then we heard the sound of a patio door sliding closed. The laughing audience quieted. Then Kelly climbed off my lap and dragged me back inside. Laughing, she got on the bed and said, “Close the door! Forget about fooling around outside! We are not going to have our own audience!”
I grabbed our drinks and closed the door and then just started laughing. “I take it your friend didn’t mention anything about being involved in a live show.”
“Oh my God, I am going to have to tell her about this!”
I set the drinks down on the dresser and got on the bed with her. “Now, just try not to make so much noise. We don’t need anybody pounding on the walls or door.”
“Why don’t you see if you can make me get noisy!” She stretched out and licked her lips.
Nothing like a challenge!
We weren’t going to be in Grand Cayman all that long. We would dock about the time anybody was getting up, so if you wanted to get the utmost out of your day you had to get up at dawn. The ship sailed at 1600, so nobody was checking out the nightlife in the Caymans. There were a few shore excursions available, but not many. In addition, the ship didn’t dock at the port but simply dropped anchor in the harbor; tenders, transport boats, would ferry you back and forth to a dock.
The big benefit to taking a shore excursion was that if you arranged it through the cruise line, they were responsible if something happened. If the tour bus broke down they had to send another out to rescue you, and they wouldn’t leave without you, or at least without arranging for you to catch up. If you went to the dock and simply hired a local taxi to drive you around and got a flat tire, you were shit out of luck. Getting back was your problem, not the cruise line’s. Ooops!
None of the available excursions in Grand Cayman really interested us so we simply reserved two spots on the day trip to Seven Mile Beach. Shuttle buses went back and forth to the port. We had breakfast in the café and then changed into swimsuits and coverups. Seven Mile Beach was beautiful, but heavily developed. That meant there were a lot of tourist traps and shops around, so after swimming and sunning, we ate in town and did a little souvenir shopping. It sounds corny, but we planned to pick up a pair of shot glasses in every port. We also wanted to find some t-shirts and stuff for the kids. It was a fun day, but short. By mid-afternoon we were just two among thousands of people hustling back to the port. It added pressure to a trip that was supposed to be all about lowering pressure.
When you were docked, some of the ship’s activities closed down. The casino, for one thing, shut down. On some islands gambling is prohibited, and other islands had casinos, so the ship casino was a competitor. In addition, some of the restaurants and bars shut down when the ship is in port; why run a restaurant when all the customers are ashore?
In any case, dinner that night was in the main dining room, but it was just Kelly and me. Celia and Jenny didn’t show, but that didn’t mean anything sinister. There were several other restaurants on the ship, including some special restaurants that charged extra and needed reservations. We were curious about that, and Kelly suggested we try one on one of the nights we were cruising all day. It was a casual dining night, so we didn’t need to get fancy. We never ran across Clyde or his wife, so after dinner we went to the show, hit one of the lounges, and went to bed. We had a folded towel in the form of an elephant on our bed. Very cute.
Tuesday was another full day at sea, so we laid around in bed laughing about the performance we had heard the other night. Eventually we got up and dressed, heading off to the main dining room for breakfast. Very nice, very fancy. You don’t sit at your regular table, since they only operated one floor of the dining room. Instead you were seated with other guests at some of the larger tables. Unlike the buffet in the Windjammer Café, meals in the dining room were plated; you had menus and waiters.
Afterwards we changed into our swimsuits and headed towards the pool area. Kelly decided to wear a mesh bikini that hid nothing. We took advantage of the privacy of the Sun Deck again. Kelly liked the attention she got when wearing her revealing suits, but she didn’t like the much too personal attention of some of the younger men and teenaged boys, nor some of the snide comments from pissy women. This was our first mom-and-dad-only vacation that we hadn’t taken at a couples-only resort. We had taken several vacations to some of the Sandals resorts. They weren’t X-rated types of places like the Hedonism or Temptations resorts, but you didn’t have children or teens around.
After lunch we headed back inside, and I found a lengthy email on my computer from Terry Hollister. He was still interested in talking to me and asked me to call when we got home. I packed my computer up and headed down to Guest Services to find where I could print it out, along with the attachments. I ended up in the Business Center on Deck Two, where an enthusiastic helper promptly took my SeaPass card and charged me per page that I printed. Afterwards I went back to the cabin, where Kelly was snoring. I sat down and started reading.
The problem facing Terry Hollister was fascinating, and not at all what I had expected. Bethel Hollow was the largest city and county seat of Bethel County. Recently the voters in Bethel County had voted to adopt a new county charter and in conjunction with that to consolidate the several municipalities in the county under the Bethel Hollow municipal government. Demographic changes in the county were depopulating the smaller towns and enlarging Bethel Hollow to an extent that the smaller towns were just becoming uneconomical to administer. Aside from Bethel Hollow, which had a police force of about sixty officers, there was also East Bethel, with about two-thirds that number, Jonestown, which was very small and only had a half-dozen part-time constables who patrolled the local central school, and Lithium Springs, which didn’t even have a police force but instead relied on a state trooper barracks in the next county over. In a way it sounded a lot like what had occurred in Matucket County back in the 1970s.
This was all supposed to be part of a push for efficiency and cost savings, though Hollister didn’t seem to think much of that. It wasn’t just the police force that was consolidating, either. The school system was consolidating, too, with plans for a whole new set of schools to replace the old schools, most of which dated back to World War II. How that was going to save money wasn’t clear. I remembered what had been spent building the new Matucket County High School. Building codes had changed dramatically since the old schools had been built, along with state requirements for new schools. Matucket County High had cost almost $50 million to build. Bethel County was in for a rude awakening.
The school consolidation also tied into the police consolidation. The Lithium Springs school would eventually be closed, with students going to updated and enlarged schools in Jonestown. Six part-timers would be inadequate to police that end of the county. Meanwhile, promises had been made to all the existing police officers that they would still have jobs, at the same pay and seniority as before. In other words, nobody was to get fired, everything would go on as before, nothing would change, and they were going to save millions of dollars. It was a massive clusterfuck in the making.
Terry tried to put a good shine on things but wasn’t doing a great job of it. As the Chief of Police of Bethel Hollow, the largest police force and the police force of the county seat, he was to head the new and improved police force. This wasn’t supposed to officially happen until January 1, 2019, but he needed to provide a plan for how he was going to do it before then. He had been given a budget for ‘studies’ and also said that the county was doing its own studies. It wasn’t hard to read between the lines. A bunch of Ivy League consultants had sold a bill of goods to the county commission. Exactly how everything was supposed to work wasn’t specified. All hope was not lost, though. The same consultants would be more than happy to stay on the payroll for however long it took them to finish the consolidation. If it took years of monthly billings, they would make the sacrifice.
Could it be done? Sure! It had been done in Matucket County so it could be done elsewhere. How, I wasn’t sure, but I knew it could be done. Whether it could be done and save money at the same time was an entirely different question. It was an interesting question.
I was still contemplating the question when Kelly woke up and looked around. She rolled onto her back and ordered me to satisfy her carnal cravings, and no excuses would be tolerated. That kept me busy until about four, after which we both cleaned up and dressed for the evening. It was another formal night, so I switched to slacks and sport coat. We had one more formal night before the end of the cruise, but it was Saturday night, our first cruise day on the way back to Miami. Depending on the condition of my suit, I could send it to the cleaners on the ship. That would cost roughly what the suit cost to begin with. Oh, well. That really wasn’t a problem, though. Kelly had brought along some very interesting dresses, so nobody was going to be looking at me anyway.
“So, what’s the job?” Kelly asked.
“The one in Tennessee?” She nodded and I answered, “It’s a lot like I told you before. I just got more information. Hollister has to build a new police force from three different forces. I’ll need to meet with him when we get back, so figure I’ll drive up there sometime next week or the week after. Not sure how long it will take, but I imagine I can come home after that first meeting and then travel as necessary.”
“We’ll figure it out. I’m not worried about that. Between your mom and mine we’ll take care of Riley and Seamus.”
“That assumes they haven’t sold them by the time we get home. Dad promised me a cut if they got a good enough price.”
Kelly snorted out a laugh. “Don’t get my hopes up!”
Dinner that evening was in one of the specialty restaurants, not in the main dining room. I had made reservations earlier in the day at something called Chops Grille, which did steaks. There was also an Italian restaurant and a Japanese sushi place, but I could get Italian anywhere back home, and raw fish wasn’t something that interested me at all. Kelly picked a halter-top minidress made out of something sheer and shimmery; I made the appropriate approving comments.
Over dinner Kelly asked me what I had in mind for Bethel Hollow. “Not really sure yet. I’m not even sure how to go about figuring it out.”
“Take it like a math problem,” she replied.
I made a face at her. “You’re not helping me, Professor.” Great, a math problem, my least favorite type of problem!
“No, I’m serious. In math, if you don’t know how to solve a problem, you break it down into smaller problems. Then you start solving the small problems. Sooner or later you will figure out how to solve the big problems.”
“So, break it down. Maybe one problem is meshing the police forces. Maybe another is doing something with the buildings. Or the police cars. Or other stuff. Maybe you find there are some problems you won’t be able to help with at all.”
I gave my wife a wry smile. “Like politics. No way am I going to know anything about whatever the local politics are going to be in that little corner of Tennessee. I can barely figure out Georgia politics!”
“At least it’s not Georgia. Tennessee might be more rational,” she commented. I snorted a laugh and she said, “You won’t figure it out from reading an email, but you can figure out the questions to ask. Start breaking down the problem into little problems and then start coming up with questions about the little problems.”
“Now, that I can do.”
“And do it another time. Right now, we’re having dinner, and I am dressed in something that you should be finding a lot more interesting than a police uniform.”
I smiled. “It is a nice dress. Maybe later I should give you a nice massage and rub some body lotion on you, all over, maybe, so your skin is extra soft and smooth, so the fabric doesn’t irritate it.”
Kelly was purring as she answered, “That sounds wonderful.”
“And then we can plan our performance for out on the balcony later. I believe it’s our turn tonight to provide the entertainment.”
Kelly began laughing so hard that people at the nearby tables turned to stare. That just made her laugh even harder. It didn’t get any better when I whispered some X-rated suggestions. After dinner we skipped out on the show and had a couple of drinks in one of the bars. Then it was time for that lotion massage.
The next three days were spent on Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire. The three islands were located just off the coast of Venezuela, so close, in fact, that Aruba was only fifteen miles from Venezuela. The islands themselves were only a little farther apart. From Aruba it was seventy miles to Curacao, and just another fifty to Bonaire. You could go from one to another with a decent speedboat. Speaking as a former police officer, I suspected smuggling was a major business.
The three islands are all part of the ridiculously titled Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Dutch had originally colonized them, though they were now independent. It was sort of like all the British islands that were now part of the Commonwealth of Nations. Something like that, anyway. They’re also a hell of a lot closer to the equator than Georgia, and it was the middle of summer; it was hotter than hell. On the plus side, we had long days in port, and we were docked at each port; we didn’t have to take barge tenders from the ship to port. Aruba was a long day, for instance. Wanderer didn’t sail until 2200, so we could plan a full day and then a dinner in town. The same was true in Curacao and Bonaire.
We took a tour through a national park on Aruba, which was a bit odd, since the island is officially a desert island. All three islands are desert islands, in fact. They average only about a foot-and-a-half of rain a year, and most of that is in the rainy season of late fall to early winter. That was compared to back home, where we averaged three times that much and it was year-round. Still, they are all quite nice and civilized. In Curacao we toured a colonial fort and the local distillery. In Bonaire we spent some more time on the beach. One thing we didn’t do was snorkeling or scuba diving, since neither of us knew anything about either. Diving was supposed to be a major attraction throughout the Caribbean, but it wasn’t a big thing in West Georgia. Lake Matucket wasn’t crystal clear, but sort of muddy and mucky at times; if we went diving we’d probably find a ’57 Buick at the bottom. I fished off our pontoon boat; I didn’t dive.
We didn’t get together with Clyde again until Saturday afternoon, as we sailed back towards Miami. It would take two days sailing to get back. Saturday night was our last formal night. Sunday was our last night on board and was supposed to be very casual.
In any case, we found Clyde and Clarice shortly after lunch and invited them for a drink in the Schooner Bar on Deck Four. That was sort of an open area on the right side of the ship; people wandered through all the time from bow to aft and vice versa. We were sitting there talking about the old days in Matucket and what we had been doing since then. In particular I was able to tell some of the crazy stories about my time on the police force.
“The craziest thing that happened was back when I was a rookie. You remember how the Matucket and East Matucket football rivalry was so big,” I said.
“Oh, God, that was like a total death match. I remember one year when you took out half the frigging East Matucket offensive team on one play,” Clyde responded.
“Ah, the good old days!” Kelly and the others laughed. “Here’s the best part. A few years later, I’m on the cops and a call comes over the radio, be on the lookout for a flock of stolen goats.”
“Goats?” asked Clarice.
“Yeah, goats! We have goat rustlers in Matucket. Then I get a call to investigate wild animals over at East Matucket High. I get over there and learn that the high school has been overrun by a flock of goats! It’s the day of the big game and somebody over at Matucket High managed to grab about a dozen goats and turn them loose inside East Matucket. They’re everywhere! Halls, classes, the gym, the library, everywhere! The cops got called in to round them up. There’s goat poop and goat pee everywhere, they’re eating kids’ homework, they even started getting nasty in the school library. It was a nightmare!”
The others were laughing hard enough to cry as I described the scene. The day had been a madhouse, and I went on to tell them how I had deputized some teenaged girls to hunt down wild goats through the corridors of education in West Georgia. Or what passed for the corridors of education.
Clarice laughed and asked, “Did they ever arrest the kid who stole the goats?”
“No. The detective assigned to the case kept laughing when he tried to interview the goats!” Everybody laughed until they cried.
At that point another familiar face showed up, going from the front of the ship to the back. It was Cal Walton going through with his wife. I stood up and waved him over. “Cal, how you doing?”
He looked at me and recognition came to him. “Hey there, Sarge! How you doing?”
“I’m doing good, Cal, just fine. How are you doing? Feeling better?”
“Just fine, young fellow, just fine. I think it was the climb up that walkway that had me hurting. Took my breath away, anyway. Maybe when we get back it won’t be so bad going downhill.”
“Cal, come on over. I found another old soldier from back home.”
He glanced at his wife and she smiled and nodded. He turned back and nodded. “I owe you a drink, too.”
“You buy the next round, then.”
“Deal!” He brought over his wife and introduced her as Donna. I introduced the rest of us. A waiter came over and Cal pulled out his SeaPass card and bought a round of drinks. “So, how do you fellows know each other?”
Clyde and I explained how we had been classmates back in high school and how we had both gone into the army afterwards. It was completely unforeseen that we would be on a cruise together. He shrugged and smiled. “It’s not as odd as you might think. Our oldest boy and his wife did a cruise for their honeymoon. They went the entire week goofing off, then on the last day, as they were getting off the ship, they were standing next to another couple on one of the stairs. They started talking and discovered he and the woman had gone to high school together. They went the entire week on a ship and never even ran across each other. Coincidences happen.”
“Cal, you were in the 101st?” asked Clyde. “You had to be a jumper, right?”
“We all were, but after my first five jumps I never jumped again. Over in Nam we rode everywhere in Hueys or Chinooks. You?”
“God, no. I rode Blackhawks on occasion, but it was the Chinooks that had the lift to carry our heavy equipment. I wasn’t crazy enough to jump out of aircraft.”
Cal looked over at me. “No, I wasn’t crazy either, but my grandfather was. He was Special Forces back at the start of Nam, did two tours over there. They had to be parachute qualified, right?” I said.
“Very much so. The rules and regs on being Special Ops have changed over the years, but it always included being a jumper. He probably started out in the Eighty-Second before going to Special Forces.”
Donna said, “We need to be going if we’re going to change for dinner, Cal.” They must have been on the first seating.
He nodded. “The boss has spoken. Grim, Clyde, ladies, gotta go.”
Clyde and I both stood. “It was nice meeting you, Cal. If you’re ever in Winchester and need some heavy equipment, look us up.”
Cal laughed. “Sure thing. I’ll keep you in mind for all my bulldozer needs.” They shook hands and he turned to me. “It was nice seeing you again, Grim. If you’re ever in Chicago, look me up.”
“You bet. Us old soldiers need to stick together.”
Sunday was spent swimming and sunning but at the end of the day we had to pack. You had to pack and leave your luggage outside your room in the passageway late Sunday night. You needed to leave your Monday travel clothes in your cabin. Then, Monday morning you would clean up, change into your travel clothes, and pack everything left into a travel bag. We had brought along one of my gym bags to carry our dirty clothes and toilet kits. The one thing we had done before leaving home was to do what we had been doing for years, putting yarn pom-poms on our luggage. We used our high school colors, purple and gray, and it made it vastly easier when trying to find luggage on a moving belt in an airport. We even put pom-poms on the travel bag and computer bags that we were carrying.
Monday morning, we docked even before we climbed out of bed. After that, it was all business. We cleaned up and put on our travel clothes, then finished packing the travel bag. We headed to the Windjammer for our last buffet breakfast, and then it was back to the room to grab our bags. We ended up in the theater waiting to be called for debarkation. That was done by a complicated color and number system, so that you got off the boat as quick as possible in as orderly a manner as could be arranged. Leaving the ship was the reverse of loading, but faster. We had to fill out a Customs form, but our luggage was being inspected independent of us. They had scanners and drug sniffing dogs at the debarkation area. You were dumped into the front end of the giant warehouse area where luggage was located in alphabetically arranged boxes painted on the floor. We headed to ‘R’ and quickly found the purple and gray pom-poms. We dragged it off to the front of the warehouse and waited until a shuttle bus to the airport came around.
After that it was hurry-up-and-wait, like any other airport. We added our dirty luggage bag to the checked baggage and then waited three hours for our flight home. Two hours later we were in Atlanta. An hour-and-a-half later we pulled back into our driveway.
It was good to be home!
Wednesday, June 6, 2018
We slept late Tuesday morning and then unpacked and sorted our laundry. Then Kelly left, to take the dry cleaning out and pick up some groceries. She got home just a few minutes before my parents returned with our offspring. Kelly’s folks had taken the kids for most of the previous week, but at the end of the week mine had taken them down to Pensacola. Grandpa and Grandma owned a vacation home down there and allowed family to use it. It was a small two-bedroom bungalow a few miles from the beach, so it hadn’t cost them an arm and a leg back when they bought it. Now it was worth quite a bit more.
It was a five-hour drive from Pensacola back to Matucket, six if you counted potty breaks, lunch, and walking Boxie. You could hear them arriving long before the thundering herd barged through the door. “Mommy! Mommy! You’re back! You’re back!” cried both Riley and Seamus.
I looked at my wife. “What am I, chopped liver?” I grabbed my daughter and picked her up and turned her upside down.
“Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” Riley squealed until I turned her right-side up and put her down. Seamus saw me coming for him and scampered down the hall. I played with Boxie next, but once he settled down, he jumped onto the couch and went to sleep.
“How was the cruise?” asked Dad.
“It was good. Fun. You ought to take one someday. You and Mom can work on that second heart attack.”
“Grim!” protested Mom, as Dad laughed.
Kelly laughed, too. “Grim, I don’t think they’re up for the evening show.”
“Ye Gods, no! They’d never survive!” I agreed.
“What evening show?” asked my mother.
I grinned and looked around. The kids were off in their bedrooms, so I turned back to my parents. “I don’t want to get too graphic, since I know about your sensibilities.” Dad snorted and rolled his eyes. “One night we were sitting out on the balcony and the next-door neighbors decided to get frisky, and they got very frisky. Very!”
Mom and Dad looked over at Kelly, who was nodding and blushing. “Really?” asked Mom.
Kelly answered, “Really! And they were loud about it, too, very descriptive. When they were finished, everybody in the cabins around them began applauding.”
“Good Lord!” She looked at Dad, who was grinning. “Forget it!” He just tried to look innocent, though he didn’t quite pull it off.
I called Terry Hollister the end of the week to set up an appointment for the following Tuesday. I had spent quite a bit of time writing down ideas and questions during the cruise, at least when Kelly wasn’t using me for carnal release. (Okay, so I wasn’t exactly complaining about that. I figured I could rest when we got home, and we had the kids around to distract her.) We talked a bit more and then I typed up my questions.
Tuesday my appointment was for early afternoon, so I left the house early in the morning. It was a bit over a three-hour drive from Matucket to Bethel Hollow, so I’d have a chance to grab some lunch when I got there. I packed a bag with some clothing, since I was probably going to need to stay the night. I also brought with me a contract. I called Mike Crowley after we got home and quizzed him about consulting and how the contracts worked. He told me not to be hesitant about charging a high price, and that the people I was working for needed to pay expenses. He gave me a few ideas about that, and I jotted them down. My basic fee was going to be ten grand, ten kay, $10,000. For that I would give them a formal report with my suggestions and recommendations specified in detail.
The plan was that I would visit for a day or two and then go home, to start working on my initial draft. I would probably need to return once or twice, and then I would submit a final proposal. With something involving what was essentially a new department, I would probably be required to report to the local politicians. After that, we’d have to see. It was entirely possible that I would be asked back to help implement the changes required. If so, that would necessitate a new contract. It was also possible they might not even read the report. It might just be a legal requirement that they get a second opinion when they had already decided something else. In that case just smile, cash the check, and move on.
Terry Hollister turned out to be a nice guy. He was in his late forties, a little soft around the center, and with a full head of salt-and-pepper hair. We spent some time getting to know each other and then got down to brass tacks. For one thing, this was to be a real report. While the municipal consultants had their own police consultants on tap, the county commission wasn’t buying their schtick, not completely anyway. They had started getting some independent costs on the school consolidation and construction costs, and they had learned that the consultants were low-balling everything by a wide margin. He didn’t bat an eye at my contract, which made me think I hadn’t charged enough. Then again, maybe it was a good idea not to overcharge on my first contract; that might interfere with obtaining a second contract.
Afterwards we got in a cruiser and drove over to East Bethel to meet his counterpart. Chief of Police Andrew Stickle was not as accommodating as Hollister, probably because no matter what happened, he was not going to be the guy in charge. That got into the politics of the situation. Bethel Hollow was half again larger than East Bethel, and the police forces were in a similar situation. Fortunately for Terry Hollister, Bethel Hollow was the county seat and he was well known to the commission. It had already been decided that he was going to be the chief of the new Bethel County Police Department. Stickle was going to be kept around as the new deputy chief, the number two in the new department. How that was going to work wasn’t clear; Stickle obviously wanted the top spot.
That took us most of the afternoon, after which we drove to Jonestown and looked over what passed for a police station, a converted one-bedroom house trailer out back of the Jonestown Central School. The bedroom had been converted to a holding cell of sorts, though in most cases if they had a prisoner they simply called the state troopers to take him or her away. According to Hollister, the Tennessee staties were looking for a better Bethel County PD to take over the load they had been carrying in the eastern part of the county.
At the hotel that night, I called Kelly and the kids, then cranked up my laptop and started working on some of the questions I had. I was already starting to figure out a vision for how to sort out Bethel County. I just needed some more details in the morning. Depending on the answers I got, I could see myself checking out and heading home in the late afternoon Wednesday. I needed a lot more information, though.
The biggest items I needed were detailed budgets for the two main departments and detailed TOEs for the departments, Tables of Organization and Equipment. While I wasn’t any sort of budget guru, I wasn’t an idiot either. I had been involved in the budgeting of the MPD Tactical Response Team and knew how a TOE could affect the budget. I started cranking up the Excel spreadsheets.
How fast I would be able to generate my recommendations would depend on how fast I could get the budgets and organization/equipment lists. One thing I was sure of was that nobody was going to be saving any money. Even without the hard numbers I couldn’t see any way that they would be able to keep everybody currently employed on a combined force at the same pay rates and still cut enough other costs to be able to save money.
Wednesday morning, I returned to the BHPD. Hollister was able to provide me their budget, which I both copied and scanned into a pdf file. A TOE proved more difficult, simply because it was in bits and pieces. They were able to open up their accounting package and we printed out their capital acquisition accounts and depreciation schedules. That would at least give me a start on capital budgeting. Payroll accounting was even more helpful, since individual paycheck and benefits costs were listed. Suddenly I wished I had an accountant handy. Oh, well.
After that, we drove over to East Bethel. Chief Stickle wasn’t as accommodating, stating he didn’t really have the time to do these things, and the numbers involved were confidential and couldn’t be divulged to outsiders. Like me. I had already signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement with the BHPD, but that didn’t count for the EBPD. I kept my mouth shut and stepped out of the room while Hollister started calling the county commission. About an hour later I began to get some of the information needed. I didn’t get it all, but he promised to email it to me as soon as he got it. That would have to do. I drove back to Matucket, arriving home about half an hour after the kids went to bed.
Kelly was waiting up for me. She was wearing a long bathrobe and came up to me, wrapping herself around me and giving me a kiss. “It’s good to have you home,” she told me.
“I’d be home earlier if I knew the kind of welcome I’d be getting,” I replied.
Kelly laughed. “You’re home early all the time! You’re unemployed, remember?”
“I’m not unemployed. I’m self-employed. There’s a difference.”
“Po-tay-to, po-taht-o,” she laughed. I smacked her on the butt. “Have you eaten yet?” she asked.
“I stopped for dinner south of Chattanooga. I could do with a drink, but I’m good otherwise.”
“Well, go sit down and I’ll see about that drink.”
I nodded at that and gave her a quick kiss, then dropped my briefcase and headed towards our bedroom. I used the bathroom and tossed my suit coat and tie onto the dry-cleaning pile. I kicked off my shoes and wandered back out to the living room. I got there to find Kelly making two drinks. I also discovered she had lost her robe and had been wearing an almost transparent nightgown under it.
I smiled and said, “Not sure I get a vote on this, but I approve of your outfit.” I sat down in an armchair and patted my lap.
She smiled back and came around the kitchen island carrying our drinks. Handing me one, she maneuvered around to sit on my lap. “I thought you might like it.”
“Oh, I thoroughly approve. I’m just a little surprised.” I glanced towards the hallway to highlight my concern.
“They’re dead to the world. I checked just before you got here. Besides, unless you were to get fresh and behave inappropriately, we’ll be safe. You’re not thinking anything inappropriate, are you?”
“I mean you’re not thinking about…” With that she began whispering some extremely inappropriate things, and despite my protests that I wasn’t thinking about that, she would immediately ask about other inappropriate thoughts. After we finished our drink, Kelly got off my lap and we headed down the hall to our bedroom, where we continued the discussion in a more secluded setting.
I spent the next day doing laundry and cleaning the house, and also did some work on my laptop for budget projections for my client. I was able to fill in a lot of blanks, but my numbers for East Bethel were still questionable, so I color coded them until I got the real numbers. Those I didn’t get until late Friday night, and Terry Hollister commented that it was like pulling teeth. I spent the weekend filling in the blanks. I never did fill in all the blanks.
I called Mike one more time before I started finishing my recommendations. He didn’t disagree with my results, but simply said I should couch everything in ‘suggestions’ and ‘recommendations’. I shouldn’t tell the county commission they were fucked in the head. I should suggest that their budget ideas were overly optimistic and recommend an alternative financial plan.
I called Terry a few more times over the next two weeks. Part of my recommendations included cost cutting suggestions related to equipment. To do that, I needed more info on the East Bethel equipment, which I simply wasn’t getting. Stickle was stonewalling me, though he was very polite about it. Reports were coming, answers were promised, information couldn’t be found. Blah, blah, blah. Ultimately I just ignored him and put disclaimers on everything involving the EBPD.
At the end of June, I called Terry and gave him a rough overview of my conclusions and suggestions. Some of it was straightforward. Going forward the standards of the Bethel Hollow force would become the standards for the Bethel County force. That meant the majority of the police officers would be in a system they already were familiar with. Even that wouldn’t be automatic and easy. The Patrol Guide is the written doctrine for the Patrol division of a police force. Three different Patrol Guides needed to be consolidated into a new single guide, and all the officers would need to be retrained. Considering the relative sizes of the forces, the new guide would probably be based on the BHPD’s, but training would be needed by everybody, ten to twenty hours’ worth per officer. The training would have to be combined, as well, so that BHPD and EBPD officers trained together. The odds were that many of the officers knew each other, but when a Bethel Hollow officer called for a supervisor and a former East Bethel sergeant showed up, they needed to work together and not get territorial.
Payroll needed to be consolidated. East Bethel patrol officers at the lowest level didn’t get paid as much as Bethel Hollow officers, though at the sergeant level they got paid more. Lower level officers would be brought up to the new standards; sergeants would be left alone. Did that mean that Bethel Hollow sergeants needed to be paid more, so that you didn’t have two classes of sergeants? More questions to ask.
Equipment would need to be standardized. Bethel Hollow used two types of vehicles, the Dodge Charger Pursuit for cruisers and unmarked cars, and the Ford Expedition with a special police package for cruisers and special purposes. East Bethel also used the Expedition, but they used Ford Taurus Police Interceptors instead of the Dodge. As cruisers came to the end of their service lives, the Fords would be replaced with Dodges. I missed the good old days when everybody used Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptors. They were big, fast, and spacious, and over half the police in America used them. Unfortunately, the only other people who used Crown Vics were cab companies, and the Crown Vic was an old school, old technology product. Ford dumped it in 2011, though most forces kept them running another three or four years. None of the various replacements were quite as good, so a lot of forces began transitioning to SUVs. They were larger and could carry a lot more gear than a cruiser; Ford made a nice SUV package that was very popular with police forces.
One big question was going to be in facilities. Both Bethel Hollow and East Bethel had Public Safety Buildings with offices, holding cells, evidence and storage areas, and everything else police forces needed. However, Bethel Hollow’s wasn’t big enough to handle everybody in both forces, so what do you do? The municipal consultants were promising vast savings from consolidating functions, but they simply promised percentages without specifics. Terry told me that the specifics would be provided as soon as Bethel County signed another contract. Anyway, Bethel County had several choices, most of them lousy. They could continue going forward with two separate buildings and two separate forces, which was not what was desired. They could try cramming everybody into Bethel Hollow (unpleasant) after moving all storage and evidence areas into the East Bethel structure (difficult to secure and retrieval becomes very difficult.) Or they could retire both facilities and build an entire new building large enough for the new force, the most expensive solution. This was going to have to be dumped on the county commission.
Who did the PSAP, the Public Service Answering Point? When somebody called 911, who answered? How did the calls get sorted out? What systems were the two forces using? Would they need to be modernized and consolidated? That related to the facilities, as well. If they planned a single department building, the calls would go there. Or were they going to continue with two buildings, and Dispatch would need to sort out who got the calls? Or was it conceivable that more offices were contemplated? And what about the Fire Department and Emergency Services? They weren’t in my purview as a police consultant, but they sure had an impact. Time for Terry to talk to the county people.