welcome author Frank Zafiro to the blog today with an excerpt from his new
book, Dirty Little Town. This is the seventh book in a really good series that
should be read in order.
In Frank Zafiro’s Dirty Little Town
(River City #7), times are tough for the police. They’re understaffed,
facing a collapsing budget and layoffs, an upset public, and a tyrant for a new
chief. Worse yet, a killer stalks the streets, targeting vulnerable women.
Katie MacLeod is assigned to stop him. Somehow, she must put aside the
distractions and focus on her job – to serve and to protect.
Monday, August 25, 2003
“You’re being detailed.”
Officer Katie MacLeod stared at Sergeant O’Sullivan from her driver’s seat. The
two of them were parked car-side on the fringe of the River City Arena parking
lot. A small cluster of cars near the Park and Ride were the only other
vehicles to be seen.
being re-assigned to the Investigative Division,” Sully told her. “You’ll be
assisting Detective Browning on his case.”
blinked. “He’s working the serial.”
thought they were putting together a task force for that.”
I guess. I don’t know.” Sully shifted in his seat and tugged at his
bullet-resistant vest. “Or maybe you’re the task force.”
funny.” She considered for a moment,
then another thought struck her. “Why me? I’m not a detective.”
the other thing,” Sully said. “You’re getting a provisional promotion.”
slew of emotions washed through Katie at once. Exhilaration at the promotion.
Guilt for leaving patrol when the division was so short-handed. And confusion
at the unfamiliar term.
won out. “I’ve been here for over twelve years and I’ve never heard of a
had I,” Sully told her. “I had to pull out the contract and look it up.”
What’s it mean?”
means a few things. For one, you’re promoted to the vacant detective position
but not necessarily reassigned.”
seen that before. Officers get promoted but don’t move right away. They get the
stripe and the pay bump but keep working patrol until the rookie that’s taking
their place gets through training. But—”
this is the opposite. You’re not staying in patrol. You’re being
detailed to Major Crimes. And…”
stared at him. “And what?”
you’re not getting the pay bump yet.”
shook her head. “You’re sure that’s in the contract? It sounds shady.”
there. I mean, technically we’ve been working without a contract for the last
year-and-a-half, but the terms of the expired contract continue during the
negotiation period for the following one.”
sounds like something you learned for the sergeant’s exam.”
probably was. Imagine that – something on a civil service exam actually being
useful in the real world. ‘Tis an odd t’ing, isn’t it?” Sully lapsed into his
signature faux Irish brogue.
spite of everything – the strange news, how tired she was, all the turmoil
going on around the police department – the rare appearance of the O’Sullivan
lilt made her smile a little. It reminded her of their days together on graveyard
patrol. She missed Sully since his transfer to Special Police Problems last
year. He seemed happier, though, so that was good. And it wasn’t like she never
saw him. With all of the staffing shortages, he’d worked day shift patrol three
times this month to fill in.
is,” Sully was saying, “it’s legal. They can do it.”
sure it all comes down to budget. Or contract negotiations, somehow.” He
shrugged. “It’s not all bad. The alternative is not to make the promotion at
all. Then the promotional list eventually expires and you’re back to square
one. This way, at least you’re locked into the position. It’s just a matter of
time until it gets finalized.”
squinted, thinking. “Do you think Captain Saylor had anything to do with this?”
The mayor hasn’t given command a whole lot of leash from what I heard, though.
Saylor and Reott are just steering the ship until we get a new chief.” He
stroked his chin. Katie could see the slightest bit of stubble there. “Though
that does sound like something he’d try to do, doesn’t it? Take care of his
people, I mean.”
sounded like it to her, too. But she wished the captain had thought to ask her
about it. Abandoning patrol in the middle of a staffing shortage didn’t sit
well with her.
no extra pay, no stripe and I get reassigned?” Katie shook her head. “I
don’t like it, Sully. Especially not when we’re so short out here. Even on day
shift, we’re getting hammered.”
punched up the calls waiting on her Mobile Data Terminal (MDT). “Eleven calls
holding right now.” She hit another key. “And no other units clear.”
me, I know. But apparently, Investigations is even skinnier. That whole
retirement protest stunt gutted them.”
nodded grimly. Less than a month ago, a large swath of RCPD officers at all
ranks retired en masse. The move was rumored to have been engineered by the
police union to put pressure on the city during contract negotiations. She
didn’t know how successful that ploy had been. The city was already hinting at
laying off cops to balance the budget. And she didn’t see how the retirement
protest helped them with a public that was already more than a little pissed
off at the department, either.
Part of that is my fault,
she thought, but pushed the idea aside. Now was not the time.
of the politics of it or its strength as a negotiating strategy, the immediate
result that she experienced first-hand from the retirements was an already
overtaxed patrol division suddenly thrust into a staffing crisis. Mandatory
overtime and vacation cancellations were only the beginning, as sergeants
scrambled to keep patrol shifts above the minimum staffing level. Concerns were
initially about maintaining the same level of service delivery but reality
quickly set in. The situation devolved into simply having enough cops on duty
to answer the highest priority calls and for those working to be safe.
And now they want me to leave my platoon in the lurch?
I have a say?” she asked.
suppose you could turn down the promotion.”
hesitated. Maybe she should.
Sully said. “You’re not doing that.”
he repeated. “You’ve earned this promotion, MacLeod. And it’s not your
responsibility to clean up this mess. It’s up to the people that created it.”
that, exactly? The mayor?”
And the last chief. City council. The citizens of River City. The union.
Whoever. But not you.”
took a deep breath and drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. “This is not
how I imagined getting promoted to detective.”
were thinking there’d be a cake and punch ceremony?”
that’s for retirements. But… I didn’t think it’d be like this.”
hear you. But this comes down from on high. So saddle up, MacLeod. You report
to Lieutenant Crawford tomorrow morning at zero-seven. Congratulations.”
luck in the world of soft clothes,” Sully said. “Don’t get too fat for your
who’s talking. SPP is doing a number on you, chubs.”
grinned at her. “Ouch, lass,” he said, affecting the Irish brogue again. “Ye go
straight fer the heart, now, don’t ye?”
rolled her eyes. Some things never changed. She took some small comfort in
voice lowered slightly. “Seriously, though, watch yourself in Major Crimes. The
dix office is already an old boys’ club. And Major Crimes is the circle within
the circle. You’ll be the only woman.”
It’s 2003, Sully. And I’ve been here twelve years.”
gave her a knowing look. “Just saying. You haven’t been a rookie for a long time,
and now you’re going to be playing in a league that thinks it’s the highest one
that exists. There’s bound to be egos.”
stared at him. “Is this what they taught you at sergeant school? How to deliver
this, then?” Sully grinned slightly as he put his car in gear. “Enjoy your last
day on patrol,” he said. Then he goosed the accelerator and swept away.
watched his unmarked patrol car zip through the lot and pull out onto Boone
day,” she mused quietly. “Last day in paradise.”
she turned to the MDT. It was time to start carving into the calls that were
stacking up like cord wood.
What an effete snob.
Robert Saylor wasn’t impressed with Richard Sammael. The rail-thin man sat next
to the mayor with his legs crossed in an attempt to appear urbane but only
succeeded in coming across as arrogant. Despite the slight hunching of his
shoulders, the way he cocked his head back ever so slightly gave the appearance
that he was quite literally looking down his nose at them.
was the man’s eyes, however, that told Saylor everything he needed to know.
They brimmed with contrived sincerity, but he could see the cunning lurking
behind that false front. It didn’t help that Sammael’s resting expression was a
barely perceptible sneer.
I was saying,” the mayor continued. He’d been droning for the past several
minutes, meandering through what Saylor could have said in two pithy sentences.
for minding the store, boys.
meet the new boss.
the mayor was a politician. Any chance to talk meant a chance to talk a lot.
So, Saylor sat and feigned an acceptable level of attention, waiting to see if
either the mayor or Sammael himself had any bombs to drop in the midst of all
could feel Sammael’s eyes on him while the mayor spoke. More than that, he
sensed the judgment, the appraisal, that came with that stare. It rankled him.
Who was Sammael to judge him, or Reott, for that matter? The two of them had
put in more than twenty years of service at RCPD. Sammael wasn’t even in
uniform yet, opting instead for an expensive suit that Saylor highly doubted
came off the rack. He didn’t deserve to pass judgment.
realized his face had tightened while the mayor spoke. He forced himself to relax.
Deserve had nothing to do with it. Deserve was for poets and
historians. He was a cop. He had to deal with what was. It was that simple. It
is what it is, as the saying went.
it was, though, was a jumbled mess.
glanced over at Sammael. The new Chief of Police had turned to watch the mayor
blather. Saylor wondered if he’d only imagined the man’s stare a few moments
is what it is, he groused inwardly. What a trite,
useless phrase. Saylor wouldn’t call
himself an intellectual, but another sentiment came to mind that was far more
appropriate to the situation.
quickly the tide turns.
than eighteen months ago, he’d met with the chief of staff for the then-mayor.
Over lunch, the chief of staff laid out a simple plan to Saylor. The chief at
the time, a retired military officer who had just managed to make it to his
four-year anniversary in that position, had bungled his last crisis. The mayor
planned to fire him, insert Saylor as acting chief, and bring in an outsider to
set things aright. Their preferred candidate was a woman who was a deputy chief
knew that any chief was a roll of the dice, and doubly so an outside chief. He
had never heard of her before that day. But his subsequent research left him
realized he was staring at Sammael while these thoughts went through his head.
He glanced down at his watch before turning his gaze back to the mayor, who, to
no one’s surprise, was still talking.
saying tickled the back of his mind.
plans and God laughs.
of the then-mayor’s plans hinged on the belief that re-election was a foregone
conclusion. Fire the chief, get re-elected, hire a new chief from Houston to
heal the department. Instead, all that mayor managed to accomplish was the
first step before either the tide turned or God laughed.
did his part, stepping in to steward the department through the brief
interregnum that was supposed to last less than ninety days. Instead, the
mayor’s upstart opponent capitalized on the growing dissatisfaction within the
community toward the police, highlighted those failed crises, and pounded the
drum so hard that the mayor actually lost the election.
man who accomplished that feat finally stopped talking now to give Saylor and
Reott a contrived, meaningful look. “I want to thank both of you for
shepherding this department through the last fifteen months or so. I know I
kept an active hand in things, but I was always confident in your ability to
handle the day-to-day operations.”
almost laughed at that. The mayor had been a micro-manager from day one. He
mistakenly thought he knew how to run a police department because he’d run a
business, failing to see where the two did not overlap. Saylor had been tempted
to flat out ask him if he’d been elected to mayor or chief of police but knew
that would have done nothing but strip himself of any influence he might have
with the man. When the mayor announced his long search for a new chief was
narrowing, Saylor had been relieved. That was, until the mayor’s choice was
mayor turned to Sammael. “You can rely on these two captains, Chief. They’re
lip twitched upward. “I’m certain.”
right,” the mayor said, “I’ve probably talked enough. Let’s get down to brass
tacks.” He motioned toward Sammael. “Chief Sammael’s appointment is effective
as of this morning. I’ll let him tell you what he expects from each of you, and
mayor leaned back and folded his hands in front of his chest, looking pointedly
at Sammael. The admiration on his face was plain.
you, Mr. Mayor.” Sammael spoke in velvety tones. He fixed his eyes on Saylor
and Reott and affected a stern expression. “Captains, let’s be clear about a
few things, right from the get. There are two kinds of chiefs in the policing
world. There are healing chiefs, brought in to mend a department that’s been
through hell. And there are wrecking ball chiefs, brought in to a disaster
department to smash apart and then rebuild it.”
lip twitched upward again.
no mistake. I am the latter.”
noticed the reaction. “You don’t like that characterization, Captain Saylor?”
RCPD is a good department with good people.”
you sure that’s why? Or is there another reason? Maybe something to do with
your inability to turn things around during your time as acting chief?”
narrowed his eyes. “I was only acting for a few weeks. After the election, the
mayor changed that. He took a more active role. Mike and I carried out the
yet, here we are, with a broken police department.”
not broken,” Saylor growled.
arched an eyebrow. “No? That’s not how it appears to the outside world.” He
uncrossed his legs and re-crossed them with the other leg on top. “Let me tell
you what the outside world sees. They see a police department full of cops who
won’t sign a fair contract, who want more money despite doing a poor job over
the past several years. They see a police department that shot two kids not
very long ago, one completely on accident and one that could have been stopped
through other means. They see a department that is failing to meet a
community’s basic expectations for police service. Do you want me to go on?
Because that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
completely unfair.” Saylor looked at Captain Michael Reott, who sat next to
him, for support. Reott stared straight ahead, remaining silent.
ever said life was fair?” Sammael shook his head in disappointment. “What
matters is results. Outcomes. And here in River City, those have been pretty
poor over the past several years. Longer, if you want the truth.”
knew he should cut bait. He’d spoken up with the last chief frequently and it
resulted in a long, hard ride. Sammael seemed even worse. But he couldn’t
remain silent. To him, leadership meant speaking up. When people didn’t speak,
greater problems evolved than his own uncomfortable daily existence on mahogany
for meeting community expectations,” he said, “we are grossly understaffed at
the moment. We’re struggling to respond to emergency calls during peak hours.
Officers are being drafted on their days off to meet minimum staffing
requirements for safety. We need to hire more police officers, but the budget—”
swap cause and effect, Captain,” Sammael interrupted briskly. “The budget is
what it is because of the poor job this department has done. Nobody wants to
continue to pay for substandard service. And the staffing shortage is a direct
result of that little retirement temper tantrum that the union orchestrated as
a bargaining ploy.”
chief wasn’t wrong but Saylor wanted to point out that the mayor was still
considering layoffs, too. He bit his tongue and didn’t reply.
is one thing that this police department has done well over the past several
years, however,” Sammael continued. “You’ve become very adept at making
excuses. Every time something happens, every time you fail somehow, there’s
always an excuse to trot out. Well, guess what, Captain? The public doesn’t
care about your puny, pathetic excuses. The public cares about results. And so
that is what I care about.”
leaned forward, his teeth bared slightly in a hard sneer.
time is over, gentlemen. The men and women of this department will perform in
their assigned roles or suffer the consequences. No more free passes. No more
excuses.” He leveled a finger at them but his eyes were on Saylor. “Starting
looked over at the mayor. “You can’t possibly agree with all of this, do you?”
mayor only studied him in response.
look to mommy for safety, Captain.” Sammael’s sneer melted into a thin,
humorless smile. “Daddy’s here now.”
Frank Zafiro ©2021
Frank Zafiro writes gritty crime
fiction from both sides of the badge. He was a police officer from 1993 to
2013, retiring as a captain. He’s the author of over thirty crime novels. Frank
hosts the podcast Wrong Place, Write
Crime. He’s an avid hockey fan and a tortured guitarist.