Today’s entry is somewhat dialog heavy. That is the sort of thing that always needs polishing. Once I have the characters talking, I hate to stop to add descriptions and other things around the talking. I get too caught up in the conversation. For now though, I think it does the job it needs to do.

Marshall Cooper

Day ten – 18001/50000 words

Santa Creda only had one police station, although there was a small substation by the beach. The station was part of the larger government complex. The city hall, the courthouse, the fire station and the library all stood together on the same block. Catrin dropped him off in the front. “I’ll park the car and run over to the library,” she told him. “Text me when you’re done and I’ll pick you up.”

Marshall got out of the car and walked into the station. Marshall hadn’t been in a lot of police stations. Most of what he knew about them came from television. This station looked nothing like what he expected. To begin with, it seemed very calm. There was a receptionist up front. She looked to be in her mid-forties and dressed in a simple white blouse with a teal sweater over her shoulders. The reception area was built of light wood that angled softly inward. The area was long enough to handle two or three people behind the desk, but unless this was an unusually quiet time, it did not seem necessary. The receptionist asked him his name and then checked something on her computer. “You’re here to see the Sheriff?”

Marshall nodded. “At two.”

The woman typed something else into the computer.  “He’s going to come up. It will just be a moment.”

Marshal tried to get a glimpse at the computer screen, but the design made it difficult to get a decent look at the screen. “Are you on Lync?” He asked.

The woman looked up at him. “It’s a proprietary system. It’s in all the police cars too.”

Marshall nodded. The Sheriff came walking down the hall. He nodded at the woman, who pressed a button. Marshall heard a click as the little wooden half-door unlatched. The sheriff nodded to Marshall and Marshall walked through.

“Come on back, my office is down the hall.” As they walked, Marshall concentrated very hard on not limping. The pain in his ankle wasn’t sharp. It was more of a nagging tightness that may well have come as much from the tape the doctor had applied, as from the injury itself. The got back to the Sheriff’s office and Marshall started to sit down in the chair closest to his desk when the Sheriff said, “You don’t want that one. Take the other.” Marshall started to ask but thought better of it. He sat down in the further chair, which was more to the middle of the room.

The sheriff sat down behind the desk and picked up a small set of papers stapled together. “Marshall Cooper,” the sheriff said. “Graduate of the W. P. Carey School of Business with a degree in management. It says here you were a lead programmer at Prinep Software. You did application design and database administration.”

“Did you do a background check on me?” Marshall asked.

“No,” The sheriff said, “I looked up your resume on LinkedIn. I had a feeling the other night that you hadn’t spent a lot of time tending bar. I got curious so I Googled you.”

“Googled me?”

“Background checks cost money. Google is free. Your profile hasn’t been updated in a while, but I have the feeling you and the Prinep Software Corporation parted ways.”

“That is true,” Marshall said, “Although they have left the door open for my return once I am capable.”

“Capable?”

“I have a hard time staring at computer screens.” Marshall said, “I can go an hour or two, sometimes even three. That’s my limit. I can take medication that stops the headaches, but it doesn’t exactly turn me into a programming wizard.”

“Well,” the sheriff said, “That’s a complication.”

“Yes,” said Marshall, “It is a complication.”

The Sheriff got up and handed Marshall two sheets of paper stapled together. “You see,” he said, “I have a job opening. I was hoping you were my man.” Marshall looked at the sheet. It was an opening for a senior level database programmer. He reviewed the skill set, and it matched easily with him. In most ways, he exceeded the requirements. He had fifteen years of experience in the field, and the job only required seven.

“That sounds like a good job for someone,” he said, “If I were to go back though, which I am a long way from doing, I would be looking for a lead position.”

The Sheriff stroked his bushy beard. “There’s got to be something I can do about this. Believe it or not, this town is not a tech hotbed. We’ve been advertising for months and frankly, all we’ve gotten is a parade of losers.”

“And now me,” Marshall said. They sat there for a moment in and awkward silence, when there was a knock on the door.

“Come in Marcus.” The Sheriff called out. A burly black man came in. He was young, maybe in his late twenties, and he looked like the ideal size and shape for a cop. “Marshall, this is Terry Raphael our database guy.” Marshall got up and the two of them shook hands.

“Nice to meet you,” Terry said. “We could use some help around here. Someone who knows what he’s doing.”

The Sheriff added, “Marcus is keeping us afloat right now but he’s a little overwhelmed. He’s only been out of school a couple years, and things were kind of left in a mess. I was going to have him give talk to you about all the technical gobbledygook that I can’t really follow. I’m not quite sure how to proceed now.” He looked at Terry. “I kind of jumped the gun. Marshall has kind of taken a break from programming and he’s not so sure about getting back in the game.”

Marshall shrugged. “Well I’m here,” Marshall said, “Might as well show me what you’re up against.”

The sheriff, Terry, and Marshall left the office and got on an elevator that took them to the sixth floor. There was a bank of cubicles up there, and Terry led them to his. It was a small cubical, but very neatly kept. The Sheriff brought over a couple of chairs and the three of them sat around. “Our story begins about ten years ago,” Terry said, “When the department bought ShieldTrack. Somebody came in and did a nice sales job and promised about a hundred features the program didn’t actually have. The ShieldTrack people promptly went out of business and the department was stuck with the software, so they decided to bring in some programmers and customize it. They’ve been customizing it ever since. I’m sure it’s barely recognizable to the people who created the original. I came in two years ago. They had three other programmers at the time. The lead programmer was also the manager, Albert. He quit to move to Denver. Two weeks after Albert left, Quincy, the second most senior guy, had a heart attack and died. They found him at his desk. It was very sad.”

“We had another guy, Gilbert, but the less said about him the better. If you ever do come to work for us, I’ll tell you that story.”

Terry proceeded to show Marshall the data models and take him through the basics of the program they had built. Like most independent projects, there were a lot if inconsistencies in table names and a lot of it was very poorly documented. Terry explained a couple of problems they were having getting two different databases to interface properly, and Marshall offered some suggestions. Terry nodded, “Yeah, that would probably work,” he said.

The Sheriff did a game job of following the conversation. He offered a little extra background about how they’d gotten to where they were. Before Marshall realized it, they had been sitting there for over an hour. The sheriff looked at his watch and said, “Well, I think we’ve taken up enough of your day. Why don’t you come back with me to my office? Terry, I’ll let you get back to work.”

Marshall and the Sheriff walked back to the elevator. While they were waiting for it to arrive the Sheriff said, “I can understand about the headaches. Just listening to the two of you made me want to take an aspirin. You seemed to be enjoying yourself though.”

Marshall nodded. “Terry seems like a good guy. He just needs some experience.”

“He done a good job,” the Sheriff said, “But that kid is here seventy hours a week. He’s burning out and I don’t have to tell you where we’ll be if we lose him.”

“I can’t put in seventy hours a week,” Marshall said. “I’m not sure if I could put in ten.”

“In front of a monitor,” The sheriff said. “You’re ok otherwise?”

“Not entirely,” Marshall said. “I get headaches no matter what. Staring at screens just closes the gaps.”

The sheriff sighed. They rode down the elevator and he started walking him towards the front of the building again. “I got to tell you. When I first started doing this job, if anybody told me a database was going to be my biggest problem, I wouldn’t have even known to tell them they were crazy, since I had no idea what a database was. That’s where I’m at though. I’m more worried about that thing going down than I am about being reelected. At least if I lost, it would be somebody else’s problem.”

Marshall shook his hand back in the lobby. “I wish I could help.”

“I think you can help,” The sheriff said, “Do you know much about ants?”

“Ants?” Marshall said, “Not particularly.”

“Well there’s this theory that an ant colony is a supererogation. In other words, while the ants themselves are individual organisms, the colony itself is an organism. They call it a superorganism. The colony has its own life.”

“I think I read about that in a magazine once.” Marshall said.

“Well after a lifetime of working to protect this town, I’ve come to think of it in much the same way. This town is a living thing, and it does what it takes to survive and prosper.”

“That’s an interesting philosophy,” Marshall said.

“Feel free to disregard it if you like,” the Sheriff said. He spread his hands out in a gesture of inclusiveness, “But I can tell you that the moment I saw you, I started to think about why this town brought you here and I have a pretty good idea that one way or another, you’re going to end up helping to keep it safe.”

“Thank you Sheriff Weatherly,” Marshall said, He wasn’t quite sure what he was thanking him for, but he could think of no better way to end the conversation.

“You can call me Dwight,” the sheriff said. “I’m going to keep thinking on this. An answer will come to me.”

Marshall walked out the door. He was getting ready to text Catrin when she pulled up to the curb. As he got into the car she said, “You sure were in there a long time,” she said, getting the car rolling. “He wasn’t trying to warn you off of me was he?”

“You never came up,” Marshall said.

Catrin drove for another minute without talking. Finally she said, “I think I feel a little insulted. What did you talk about?”

Marshall thought on it for a moment, and then said, “Did you know this town is a superorganism?”

 

 

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