Lina made her way down the narrow hallway leading to the complaint room, weaving in and out of the current of first-shift employees making their exodus for the day. At the top of the ramp, she bumped into Marley and Inga, both excited to see her; but when the three stopped to chat, they clogged the flow of employees in the passage. Exasperated, Inga grabbed Lina and Marley’s arms and pulled them into the kitchen alcove to clear the hallway.
“Did Dee talk to you and Faye about Cheeks yet?” asked an eager Marley.
“Yes, but there’s one problem,” replied Lina. “I’m not of legal drinking age yet. You have to be nineteen to get into Cheeks.”
“That’s no problem,” said Inga, “You can borrow my sister’s ID. She won’t mind.”
Lina laughed. “My dad would kill me if he found out. Can you imagine the headlines, ‘Sheriff’s daughter busted for using a fake ID’?”
“Oh, right. Well, like I suggested from the start, there’s always Olive Garden,” said Inga.
Lina made her choice of venues clear: “I’ll be nineteen in January—that’s just a few weeks off. Can Cheeks wait until then?”
“Fine by me,” said Marley. “We can make it a birthday celebration.”
“I, for one, can definitely wait,” said Inga, “I’m only going along with this because of you guys. Like I said, I’d much prefer a basket of breadsticks to a bar full of bare buns.
“Hot cross buns,” teased Marley, evoking laughs from the other two.
“Okay, then. January it is!” said Lina, bursting with excitement.
“Woohoo!” cried Marley as she high-fived Lina. “Let Faye and Dee know when you see them.”
Lina checked her watch. “Crap! I need to get plugged in! Okay, I’ll let them know…” she said then rushed off down the ramp.
Marley called out after her, “Lina, wait ’til you see your new sergeant. He’s something else!”
Lina stopped dead in her tracks. “New sergeant?” she asked, eyes wide with surprise and the hint of a smile forming on her lips, the first smile she’d cracked since Baylor had rudely entered into her life.
“Yeah,” said Inga. “Sergeant Babineaux. Guy’s got a pierced ear, for god’s sake. Since when did that become regulation?”
“Pierced ear?” asked Lina, incredulous. She now could not contain her smile—not because of the idea of a cop with a pierced ear, but because it meant Sergeant Baylor was gone. “What happened to Baylor?”
“Rumor has it he was transferred. A ‘GOD’ transfer,” said Marley. “He sure didn’t last very long.”
The smile on Lina’s face grew even bigger, spanning ear to ear. She suddenly felt a thousand times lighter, as if the weight of the world had just been lifted from her shoulders. She practically floated down the ramp as she made her way to the phone room. A full week had passed since she’d voiced her complaint to the lieutenant, and the ensuing days of facing Baylor had made her working hours pure hell. But her hell was now over. Baylor was gone!
Faye and Dee greeted Lina’s arrival with huge grins, their eyes darting back and forth between Lina and the new sergeant.
“Looks like your little talk with the lieutenant paid off,” said Faye, her voice exuding a tone of vicarious victory. Lina could only smile back as she slipped on her headset and punched into her phone.
Dee enjoyed seeing Lina smile again. “Have you heard from Baylor lately? Is he still calling you at home?”
“No, thank god,” said Lina. “Haven’t heard a peep from him.”
“I’ll bet the lieutenant had something to do with that,” said Faye. “Do you know if he got written up, or time off without pay?”
Lina’s smile widened even further at the thought. “I don’t know. All I know is that he’s out of my life. Jack has hit the road and he ain’t comin’ back.”
“Hit the road, Jack!” sang Faye, channeling Ray Charles and issuing an irresistible invitation for Lina and Dee to join her in a raucous round of Charles’ famous song:
Hit the road, Jack, and don’t you come back no more, no more, no more, no more. Hit the road, Jack, and don’t you come back no more!
The trio broke into laughter immediately afterward, only to be met by an over-the-top, tenor response from behind:
“What you say?”
The women turned to see the new sergeant, Brigham Babineaux, snapping his fingers and belting out his own rendition of the song, in the whitest version imaginable.
“Oh woman, oh woman, don’t treat me so mean. You’re the meanest old woman that I’ve ever seen. I guess if you said so, I’d have to pack my things and go—”
The women responded, in chorus, as expected, “That’s right!”
Setting aside his musical chops, Babineaux flashed a toothy smile studded with a single gold cap on an incisor. “So, who’s Jack, and what did he do to get the boot?”
“Our last sergeant,” blurted Faye, earning a “Shhh!” from Lina.
“He’s no one,” said Lina, hoping to nip his curiosity in the bud.
Babineaux’s eyebrows shot up. “I see. Sounds like a juicy story just waiting to be told. Who’s going to fill me in?”
“No one!” snapped Lina.
The sergeant looked to Faye and Dee, both of whom silently looked back and shook their heads.
Playing the villain, Babineaux rubbed his hands together, then twisted the end of an imaginary handlebar mustache: “Ve haf vays of making you talk!” His campy performance received the laughs he’d aimed for, breaking up the three women, all of whom were wondering where this handsome, bad-boy clown had come from.
Babineaux, a compact, thirty-something man with a perpetual twinkle of mischief in his eyes, possessed a comic charm and rebellious nature that made him far more attractive than he was. And there was nothing regulation about him. Along with the gold-capped tooth, his long hair and sideburns daringly exceeded the Ops Orders specified length; and, of course, the diamond stud in his left ear all but screamed fuck the Department! Compared to Baylor—hell, compared to any of their previous sergeants—Babineaux was a breath of fresh air for the women in Crime Stop. If this first impression was any sign, Babineaux promised an entertaining-style of supervision that would transform the swing shift into an eight-hour-long party.
Unfortunately, the feel-good atmosphere Babineaux’s amicable charm offered was soon shattered by a string of profanities blasting out from across the room:
“Fuck you, you mother-fucking goddamn piece of shit, fucking fuckhead!”
The entire complaint room fell deathly silent, all awaiting the new sergeant’s response to Agnes’ vulgar outburst.
Mouth gaping wide and eyes popping, Babineaux could only stare as Agnes threw her headset down and stomped out of the complaint room. After a prolonged moment, he slowly turned to the three women, his Hit the Road backup singers, and asked:
“Who—or rather, what—was that?”