Monday mornings were special for Sheriff Roy Templeton. That was his time to work on the past week’s New York Times crossword puzzles. For all the problems that paper had, the crosswords never disappointed. It was something reliable in a chaotic world.
Pressing a button on his desk phone, Sheriff Roy asked, “Francine, what’s six letters and a term for ‘stab in the back?’”
“Crossword’s going to have to wait, Sheriff,” came Francine’s reply. “Mayor Tribe wants a word with you.” “Tell him I’m out on patrol and I’ll call him when I’m back.”
“Can’t do that, Sheriff. He’s outside your office.”
Sheriff Roy slowly looked up from his desk. Sure enough, standing outside his office door was Leonard “Light Finger” Tribe, Mud Lick’s mayor.
Mayor Tribe rode into office as a diversity candidate promoting a “better tomorrow.” He claimed Cherokee ancestry despite looking more at home in a Dublin pub than anywhere else. As far as the “Better Tomorrow” campaign slogan, Sheriff Roy wasn’t really sure what any of that meant. Mud Lick was still Mud Lick, and as far as the Sheriff was concerned nothing really changed during Tribe’s term of office.
The “Light Finger” moniker was something Tribe claimed he got from a Cherokee naming ritual. As far as Sheriff Roy knew, Tribe came by that name from his alleged participation in an insurance fraud scam.
“Mayor, come in and sit a spell,” the Sheriff muttered grumpily. He wasn’t fond of Mayor Tribe’s unannounced visits. Nothing good ever came of them.
“Sheriff,” Mayor Tribe said with a toothy grin, “always a pleasure.” He sat, adjusting his tie.
“What’s on your mind today, Mayor?”
“As you might be aware, it’s an election year,” Tribe began.
“Hadn’t paid much attention to it. I’m not really the political sort.”
“Well my campaign’s been testing some new policy ideas and one that seems to really resonate with young voters is “defunding police.”
Sheriff Roy dropped his pen in disbelief. He stared at Mayor Tribe. Hard.
“You want to strip my department of its funding?” he asked incredulously.
“No, no, nothing like that,” Mayor Tribe said nervously. “It’s a shorter way of saying that we need to make cuts to…”
“Save your doublespeak for the campaign trail, Mayor.” Sheriff Roy interjected. “Around here words mean things. ‘Defund’ means ‘taking funds away.’ So what exactly are you proposing?”
“Well, we’re looking at across the board budget restrictions in many departments, specifically the Sheriff’s Department. The idea is to take that funding and use it to send professionals like social workers and mental health advocates in to handle non-violent issues your force would normally take calls on.”
“Okay, Mayor, I’lll call your wager,” Sheriff Roy grinned. He leaned back in his office chair, clasping his hands behind his head. “Tell me which social worker you plan to send in when the Cocke boys get restless and start thumping patrons during the fights?”
“Well, I did say “non-violent,” Tribe nervously replied.
“And you got someone in mind working in mental health who’d take care of Deputy Tyrone the way this Department does?”
“You have a point,” the Mayor stammered, sweat dripping from his brow.
The Sheriff leaned in, his expression suddenly more serious. “You ever read a fella named G.K. Chesterton, Mayor Tribe?”
“I think I saw a TED Talk of his?”
“You really ought to read more and watch less YouTube, Mayor,” Sheriff Roy countered. “Point is our department does its job damned well because we’ve developed relationships in the community that mean something to the people of Mud Lick. The men and women under my command get the job done because they know in addition to upholding the law they’re to ‘Serve and Protect.’ It’s not just painted on cruisers. It’s how things are done around here.”
Tribe was silent.
“People talk a big game when they spout slogans like ‘Defund Police’ without having a damn clue what that means,” Sheriff Roy continued. “And giving the money to mental health professionals and social workers? Mayor, I’ve dealt with social workers. None of them were social and I damn sure don’t know what they do that’s ‘work.’”
“Now mental health professionals are great and all, but not a damn one of them could handle Deputy Tyrone Wentzel, much less make him feel like he’s got a purpose. We do that here.”
Mayor Tribe’s ashen face looked suitably chastened in the Sheriff’s eyes, so he softened his tone.
“Look, Mayor, I know you came in here meaning well. Most people, the way I figure it, are basically good and occasionally run into a bad spot now and then. Good people have good intentions most of the time, and most times they mean well when they come up with ways to improve things.”
“That’s all we want to do!” exclaimed Mayor Tribe. “We’re trying to figure out ways to make the system better!”
“You’re forgetting something, Mayor Tribe,” Sheriff Roy intoned sternly. “The alternative to what you see as bad isn’t necessarily good. It can always be worse. See yourself out, Mayor.”
“Thank you for your time, Sheriff,” Mayor Tribe said stoically as he rose. “Oh and Sheriff?”
“‘Betray’ is the answer to your crossword clue.”
Sheriff Roy spent the rest of his day in an unusually grumpy mood.