The big table in Gardenia State’s police HQ was ringed with a border of brass and deepest, darkest blue, a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the hastily convened gathering. It hovered most especially over the still-empty seat at the head of the table.
“What’s all this about? Why are we here?” asked the Assistant Commissioner for Making Excuses. He wondered aloud if the emergency meeting might have something to do with the latest wave of push-in burglaries which had seen many residents of Batman, the state capital, take to sleeping with cricket bats and carving knives by their beds.
“Nah, not that,” said the Assistant Commissioner for Lowering Speed Limits and Upping Fine Revenues. “It won’t have anything to do with African crime gangs. We’ve handballed that one to the community-outreach social workers.”
An eruption of gentle, knowing chuckles filled the room. They all grasped how things worked in Gardenia: pull over a stolen car loaded with dusky teens, nab the miscreants who bolt more slowly than their associates — and then find yourself accused of racism by some taxpayer-funded legal aid centre. The argument would be that, as the officers could not have known the car was stolen, a loathing of black skin must be the only reason they had flicked on the lights and siren.
Not a good career move, not at all — not when each of the un-charged car thieves would walk away after all had been said and done with politicians’ apologies and a five-figure settlement.
The Assistant Commissioner for Craven Blindness was looking a little anxious. Could Commissioner Fatfoot have ordered the meeting in order to dress her down? She didn’t think it likely, but had to admit it was a possibility.
Union thugs were in the habit of blockading building sites and other commercial enterprises – blatantly illegal acts, to be sure – but her officers were smart enough to know they should take no action. With a government of Trades Hall hacks presiding over Gardenia from the parliament on Autumn Street, your career-minded copper knew by virtue of professional instinct to ignore a business owner’s pleas for help to get his trucks coming and going without impediment.
Still, circumstances could be mis-read, the nuances of affiliation and sympathies overlooked. What if, unknowingly, she had allowed a union out of favour with the government’s ruling clique to disrupt commerce? One had to be so very, very careful in Gardenia when grasping the distinction between those to whom the law applies and others deemed immune to sanction.
Other episodes of similar lawlessness, of which there were many, no problem! When a conservative columnist’s book launch had to be cancelled because masked and black-clad anarchists threatened to storm the venue, well let them have their fun. They were nice middle-class kids, probably, and if smashing a few windows helped them work out their father issues, so be it. No one on Autumn Street liked the columnist anyway.
Still her anxiety did not fully abate until Commissioner Fatfoot had waddled through the door and seated himself at the table’s head. The hiss of air being driven from the upholstery beneath his considerable bulk hid her sigh of relief.
“Those bastards at the Department of Righteous Prosecutions aren’t playing ball,” he said. “This is the second time we’ve sent them our brief against the Reverend Rock-Spider, and this is the second time they’ve sent it back with the comment that we can charge him if we want, but they won’t touch it with an eight-foot pole.”
The Assistant Commissioner for Attending Multicultural Food Festivals hadn’t been paying attention but now looked up in sudden alarm. An eight-foot pole? That suggested intolerance for extraordinarily tall people, but then he remembered ethnic Poles and how they are mostly Catholics and therefore fair game. Had Commissioner Fatfoot mentioned lanky Somalis, that would have been worth noting. Sooner or later Gardenia would need a new Chief Commissioner and a little dirt on who present had laughed at that ethno-intolerant gag might make a handy weapon in the intramural lobbying and whisperings that would determine his replacement.
“I don’t know what more they want,” Commissioner Fatfoot sneered. “I mean, the ABC has already proven the case beyond the shadow of a doubt – and there’s that new book by the TV reporter girl that makes it an iron-tight case.”
“Absolutely!” interjected the Assistant Commissioner for Obstructing the Press. “That ABC girl has done yeo-person work sifting the testimonies of all the ex-drug addicts, convicted stalkers, no-hopers and career crims who know there are generous financial settlements in the offing if the Reverend Rock-Spider goes down.
“A wonderful job she has done to quote only the most upstanding of those low-lifes.”
Heads nodded hither and yon as Commissioner Fatfoot continued.
“It was put to me in private that launching a prosecution, such is the credibility of the witnesses, that it would be somewhat like swallow diving into the shallow end of a toddler’s wading pool: spectacular to watch but not a happy result.
“This demonstrates how out of touch are those legal types at Righteous Prosecutions. I mean, the jury pool would be so tainted by pre-trial publicity he could never get a … what’s the term? … yeah, that’s right, ‘a fair trial’. I mean, conviction guaranteed!
“So we have a grim choice: we charge him because Righteous Prosecutions won’t, or we just let the whole thing drop.”
Silence descended on the conclave before the Assistant Commissioner for Transgender Squat Toilets cleared her throat and spoke in that warm and accepting basso profundo.
“Why don’t we resolve to do nothing in public while keeping those leaks coming.”
Commissioner Fatfoot made a great effort to appear serious, but those who knew him recognised all the familiar signs of a man attempting to suppress a guffaw. It was the wobbling jowls that gave the game away.
“We don’t leak,” he insisted, “never have, never will.”
“No, of course not,” the table responded as one. “Gardenia Police never, ever leak.”
Outside the conference room, two secretaries caught the sound of riotous mirth, despite the closed door, and shared a smile.
“They must be planning the Christmas Party,” the first one said.
“There’ll be no shortage of clowns,” said her colleague.
Tati Sofaris watches television for Quadrant Online, especially the news shows, and all too seldom writes about them