12

Chief Randolph came in shortly thereafter, looking tired but not unsatisfied. “I think we’ve lost some of the younger recruits for good—Dodson, Rawcliffe, and the Richardson boy are all gone—but most of the others stuck. And I’ve got some new ones. Joe Boxer… Stubby Norman… Aubrey Towle… his brother owns the bookstore, you know…”

Big Jim listened to this recitation patiently enough, if with only half an ear. When Randolph finally ran down, Big Jim slid the VADER envelope across the polished conference table to him. “That’s what poor old Andrea was waving around. Have a look.”

Randolph hesitated, then bent back the clasps and slid out the contents. “There’s nothing here but blank paper.”

“Right you are, right as rain. When you assemble your force tomorrow—seven o’clock sharp, at the PD, because you can believe your Uncle Jim when he says the ants are going to start trekking out of the hill mighty early—you might make sure they know the poor woman was just as deluded as the anarchist who shot President McKinley.”

“Isn’t that a mountain?” Randolph asked.

Big Jim spared a moment to wonder which dumbtree Mrs. Randolph’s little boy had fallen out of. Then he pressed ahead. He wouldn’t get a good eight hours’ sleep tonight, but with the blessing he might manage five. And he needed it. His poor old heart needed it.

“Use all the police cars. Two officers to a car. Make sure everyone has Mace and Tasers. But anyone who discharges a firearm in sight of reporters and cameras and the cotton-picking outside world… I’ll have that man’s guts for garters.”

“Yessir.”

“Have them drive along the shoulders of 119, flanking the crowd. No sirens, but lights flashing.”

“Like in a parade,” Randolph said.

“Yes, Pete, like in a parade. Leave the highway itself for the people. Tell those in cars to leave them and walk. Use your loudspeakers. I want them good and tired when they get out there. Tired people tend to be well-behaved people.”

“You don’t think we should spare a few troops to hunt for the escaped prisoners?” He saw Big Jim’s eyes flash and raised one hand. “Just asking, just asking.”

“Well, and you deserve an answer. You’re the Chief, after all. Isn’t he, Carter?”

“Yup,” Carter said.

“The answer is no, Chief Randolph, because… listen closely now… they can’t escape. There’s a Dome around Chester’s Mill and they absotivelyposilutely… cannot escape. Now do you follow that line of reasoning?” He observed the color rising in Randolph’s cheeks and said, “Be careful how you answer, now. I would, anyway.”

“I follow it.”

“Then follow this, as well: with Dale Barbara on the loose, not to mention his co-conspirator Everett, the people will look even more fervently to their public servants for protection. And hard-pressed though we may be, we’ll rise to the occasion, won’t we?”

Randolph finally got it. He might not know that there was a president as well as a mountain named McKinley, but he did seem to grasp that a Barbie in the bush was in many ways more useful to them than a Barbie in the hand.

“Yes,” he said. “We will. Damn straight. What about the press conference? If you’re not going to do it, do you want to appoint—”

“No, I do not. I will be right here at my post, where I belong, monitoring developments. As for the press, they can darn well conference with the thousand or so people that are going to be grubbed up out there on the south side of town like gawkers at a construction site. And good luck to them translating the babble they’ll get.”

“Some folks may say things that aren’t exactly flattering to us,” Randolph said.

Big Jim flashed a wintery smile. “That’s why God gave us the big shoulders, pal. Besides, what’s that meddling cotton-picker Cox going to do? March in here and turn us out of office?”

Randolph gave a dutiful chuckle, started for the door, then thought of something else. “There are going to be a lot of people out there, and for a long time. The military’s put up Porta-Potties on their side. Should we do something like that on ours? I think we’ve got a few in the supply building. For road crews, mostly. Maybe Al Timmons could—”

Big Jim gave him a look that suggested he thought the new Chief of Police had gone mad. “If it had been left up to me, our folks would be safe in their homes tomorrow instead of streaming out of town like the Israelites out of Egypt.” He paused for emphasis. “If some of them get caught short, let them poop in the goshdarn woods.”

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