Home > Complicated(3)

Author: Kristen Ashley

He declined the call, opened the door, stepped inside, stopped and took in his department.

His office was at the back, a big window to the room.

Dispatch was to the right, behind bulletproof glass that was put in before he got there for reasons unknown, since practically everybody in that county had a gun, but the zombie apocalypse would have to hit before anyone would use it in a police station. The only things more sacred for Nebraskans were churches, cemeteries and Tom Osborne Field at Memorial Stadium.

Most likely it had been because they had a surplus in the budget.

One woman working in that room. Reva. She did weekday shifts.

In front of him, a long, tall, old, nicked, battered wood counter that still gleamed with care and age.

Reception. No one working that. Any deputy who saw someone walk in would take it.

Beyond reception, past a freaking swinging half door, just like in the TV shows, four desks. Two by two, side by side and stacked.

Behind the wall to the right, past dispatch, their one interrogation room, their one observation room, the locker room, the secure vault, which was the munitions room, and their processing area where they did fingerprinting and took mug shots.

The two cells they had were at the back, opposite his office, mostly open to the room. Open, of course, not including the bars.

Not surprisingly, the one deputy at her desk looked like she had nothing to do.

This was because there was nothing to do.

That county lived in a throwback bubble that made Hix wonder why all the girls weren’t wearing petticoats under their poodle skirts, bobby socks and saddle shoes, and all the boys didn’t have pomade in their hair and their jeans turned up at the hems.

In that county, people left their keys in their cars and their house doors unlocked.

In that county, most businesses closed on Sunday because that was when you went to church and then went home for family time, Sunday dinner, and if it was the season, football.

It was a county of Cleavers.

It was eerie.

Hix had felt that way about Hope’s hometown since the minute he’d stepped foot in it twenty years ago to meet her mother and father.

He hadn’t wanted to move there from Indianapolis, but she’d wanted to raise their kids there (and also wanted her mother close so she could foist the kids off on her when she wanted to do something else). So once they started having them, she’d started in on him. And in pure Hope style, she hadn’t let up.

On that, Hix had held out.

It took nine years.

Then, before Shaw could get too entrenched in school and the friends he’d make, and Hix had seen the way things were going in public schools in the city and he didn’t like it much, he’d given in.

That was seven years ago.

His boy was seventeen now. Corinne, his second child, his first girl, fifteen, sixteen in January. Mamie, his baby, thirteen.

Hope had been thrilled with the move.

Hix and his kids had been bored out of their minds. No Children’s Museum. No Colts. No 500. No Monument Circle lit up for Christmas. No Eagle Creek Park. No special occasion dinners at St. Elmo Steak House. No weekend trips up to the Dunes or rental cottages on Lake Shafer, or family treks up to Chicago to catch a Cubs game and then hork down the best pizza known to man.

Just a whole lot of Nebraska filled with farmland sprinkled with farmhouses, or ranchland with ranch houses and the occasional town that wouldn’t ever get uppity enough to consider declaring itself a city.

That place was where city cops went after a bad case that twisted their shit in a way they couldn’t face even the possibility of another one.

Or where metro cops went to lose their minds.

Of tedium.

There were a few drunks who did stupid shit because they were drunk. There were some kids who did stupid shit because they were kids. There were whisperings of domestic violence or child abuse that not a soul would report because “that doesn’t happen here,” but if it got out of hand, the concerned parties went to their pastor, not their sheriff.

There was pot.

That was it.

The last death that was suspect ended up being a suicide, and that was twenty-three years ago.

And the only criminal element there was a man who had a crew who operated a meth lab that Hix couldn’t find any legal reason to raid. Not to mention the former sheriff had had a good-ol’-boy arrangement with him that he could make his shit in their county, but he couldn’t sell it in their county.

An arrangement that criminal held true to, to that day.

Reason one why Hix couldn’t find a legal excuse to raid his lab.

And when that sheriff retired two years into Hix and Hope moving back, and Hope didn’t let up on pushing him to run, he’d run for sheriff unopposed, thus won.

He’d been opposed the last election. A deputy from the next county over moved in and tried to move in on Hix.

Hix had taken ninety-eight percent of the vote.

This was because McCook County didn’t like change. The last sheriff had held his post for thirty-three years. He’d endorsed Hix his first election, when he didn’t need to, and his second one, when he only kind of did.

And Hix might have been born and raised a Hoosier, but Hope was Cornhusker to the bone, even if she’d finished fucking up her degree (thus not graduating) at Purdue (her third and last hope).

Nebraskans just played it that way if your momma pushed you out on their soil, but definitely if both your parents, and all their parents, hit Lincoln for their higher education.

And Hope’s kin had, and so had she, the first try.

But when Hix was grown enough to quit wanting to be a superhero, then a fighter pilot, after which he thought he’d settle for an astronaut, he got serious.

This was precisely at that time when he was eleven years old, sitting in that parking lot in the car with his mom, and that gaunt, jittery man had knocked on the window.

She’d gone all funny, telling him to lock his door, locking her own just in time as the guy went for the handle, and she got them away with the man shouting after them.

He’d never forget how pale her face was or how tight she held on to the steering wheel as she drove them home, saying repeatedly it was all right. She’d only fallen apart behind her bedroom door with his dad after his dad got home, and she did it not knowing Hix sat outside, listening.

After that, all Hix had ever wanted to do was be a cop.

It wasn’t about making a difference. It wasn’t about righting wrongs.

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