Mayor Tribe, sweating from a recently ingested cocktail of uppers and downers, jolted at his desk when Louise’s breathy voice buzzed through the phone.
“Mayor Tribe, your three-o-clock is in Conference Room B,” his secretary said.
Tribe’s three-o-clock meeting was with suits. Lawyers. He wasn’t sure what the problem was, but Tribe hoped he could get the matter resolved in short order. Lenny’d always been able to talk his way out of problems with suits in the past. Plus he was a lawyer before getting elected as Mayor of Mud Lick. Surely he could talk to his own kind!
The Mayor smiled a little as he shuffled to Conference B. That was the site of his most recent “workplace indiscretion” with Louise. He wondered if she’d put them in that room for that very reason. I’m Mayor Lenny Tribe, and if anyone fucks anybody in this town it’s going to be me, he thought, raising himself to his most commanding presence possible before throwing Conference Room B’s doors open.
Inside were four men who were clearly lawyers by their dress and demeanor. A fifth man sat at the conference table, and that fifth man’s presence wiped every bit of confidence from Mayor Tribe.
It was Roy Templeton, Mud Lick’s Sheriff.
“Sheriff?” Mayor Tribe sputtered in disbelief. “What is this all about? Why are you here?”
“I’ll ask the questions, Mayor Tribe,” one suit responded. “Did you cut the budget of Mud Lick’s Sheriff’s Department by thirty percent because Sheriff Templeton is black man?”
“That’s absurd,” Mayor Tribe stammered. “There’s support all over the country for defunding police departments. Any cuts to the Sheriff’s Department are based on valuations of…”
“So you really decided to make a progressive Black Sheriff in rural Alabama’s life harder on a policy whim?” another suit asked.
“That’s laughable and completely false. You people and your cockamamie spin doctor questions.”
“Is my hearing going or did that fascist just call us ‘You People?’” another chimed in.
The stares from all the litigators felt like daggers ready to pierce Mayor Tribe’s soul. Sheriff Roy’s voice finally ended the tension after what felt like an eternity.
“Gentlemen, could Mayor Tribe and I have the room, please?”
All four lawyers snapped briefcases shut. One lawyer raised his fist to Sheriff Roy and said, “We’ll be outside if you need anything, my brother.” The two were left alone in under a minute.
Once the door shut, Mayor Tribe reddened. “What’s all this about? Why the fucking lawyers, Roy?”
“Sit your ass down, Tribe. I hate to break it to you but you’re in no position to order me around right now.” Sheriff Roy said.
Tribe begrudgingly complied.
“A couple of weeks ago when you came to my office talking your “defund police” nonsense, I thought you’d understand there would be consequences if you tried to pull anything funny. Next thing I know my operating budget’s down by a third. Since you went there, I made a few phone calls and told some people who might get outraged about such things a white Mayor cut the funding of a Black Sheriff in rural Alabama.”
“Now those gentlemen out there are from the NAACP, the ACLU, the SPLC, and the Human Rights Watch. Those were the first four grievance agencies ready to pick up and come to town over a white Mayor pulling funding from a Black police chief. Francine tells me we can probably get another two down here by the week’s end.”
“Get to the point, Sheriff.” Mayor Tribe spat, rage barely contained.
“Either give my Department the money it’s due or by the end of this week you’ll be famous in a way you never expected. Every local and national news outlet will want to know why the white Mayor of a rural town in Alabama made a Black Sheriff’s job harder by hobbling his already meager budget.”
“You wouldn’t dare risk the wrath of the Town Elders by drawing that much attention to Mud Lick,” Mayor Tribe countered.
“My Daddy said something about men like you once,” Sheriff Roy replied. “Politicians are the laziest con men around because they take a mark’s money and aren’t even concerned with making them happy to do it.” It’s one reason I’ll still be Sheriff even after you’re out of this office.”
“We’re done here. You’ve got your fucking money. Make the suits disappear.”
Deputy Ernesto Miranda waited for Sheriff Roy in the car outside.
“How’d it go, Sheriff?”
“We’ll get our money back in the morning. Tribe caved, just like I figured.”
The two men drove in silence for a few minutes.
“You know, Sheriff,” Deputy Miranda said after some time, “I don’t think I’ve heard you bring up your race once since I started working for you.”
“Was there a need, Deputy?” Sheriff Roy asked.
“Not really, I just didn’t think you would’ve ever done what you did in the last couple of days.”
“Care to be specific, Deputy?”
“You know,” Deputy Miranda nervously blurted. “Play the race card.”
Sheriff Roy stared off into the distance thoughtfully. “My Daddy told me growing up I had one chance in life to play the race card and maintain my integrity. I suppose for all that crotchety son of a bitch did, making that lesson stick in my head was one of his better moments.”
“You don’t speak of your father much either, Sheriff.”
“There’s a reason for that, too.”
The Mud Lick Sheriff’s Department received the missing funds, and no mention was made again of Mayor Tribe’s election-year “stunt.”