"Mm. I smell green in the air."
Corporal Mike Chase was rubbing his hands together in a way that could only be described as some manner of unholy glee. Most people would have found it disturbing, that a man his age would look like an errant, mischievous child.
Staff Sergeant Russell Severn didn't. He had given up on trying to wring decorum out of Mike long ago, and really, he'd miss the antics if they ever stopped. It didn't interfere with duty -- much -- and it kept things lively. "And what does green smell like?"
Mike grinned from under his mustache. "Like a lot of fun. Think about it: Brand new, freshly pressed and utterly corruptible? This is a dream come true."
"You'd think you'd never done this before."
"It's been awhile. I missed the New Mountie Smell."
Utterly despite himself, and knowing it was just going to encourage Mike, Severn covered his eyes with his hand and laughed. He didn't know why it was so damn funny. The sun wasn't even up yet, he was facing a long day of schedule wrangling ahead, and he was laughing.
"See? We're already having a good time." Mike sat on the edge of the desk, grinning, and picked up the file folder on it before Severn had a chance to smack his hand. He opened it and started reading, utterly ignoring the attempted glower he got. "Holy cow, Russ. He's not even twenty yet."
"I did read the file, Mike."
"What kind of name is 'Renfield' anyway? Sounds English."
"It is English. And it's the kind of name someone gives their kid if they want them teased."
Mike's eyebrows went up in confusion and he glanced up. Somehow, it failed to surprise Severn that he wasn't a classical literature fan. "Why?"
"Never read Dracula?"
Mike blinked. "Why would I? There's been a new movie out about him every year for decades."
"Don't worry about it," Severn said, rubbing his eyes and chuckling. "Yes, it's English."
"Are you trying to tell me he's a vampire?"
His new rookie wasn't a vampire, but he was ridiculously tall, which would have been more impressive if he wasn't quite so young. Tall, young and practically reeking of Depot, with the perfectly pressed uniform and the perfectly polished boots and the gunbelt that was so new that it creaked. That was the literal smell of green -- the dry-cleaner's in Regina, new leather, black boot polish.
Nipawin hadn't had a newly minted Mountie in Mike's time, and Mike had been here for four years now. The last time he'd acted as a field training officer was in North Vancouver, and he'd almost forgotten that sensation where it was like looking into a mirror through time and a recipe book for disaster, all at the same time.
It didn't help that Turnbull seemed more afraid of him than the typical rookie eager, which definitely made Mike wonder if things were worse than usual these days in Regina. He'd started to suspect something was up with that file, and this was its own confirmation.
"All right. We're working together for six months, so let's start simple: My consciousness is strongly dependent on caffeine, my cruiser is a precious object of veneration and I don't really care if you call me 'sir', so long as you listen to what I have to say and make every effort to learn from what I have to teach you."
"Yes, sir," Turnbull answered, at attention of all things, eyes locked on the wall past Mike and standing so straight that Mike was waiting for him to faint. As though he wasn't standing in a battered old detachment building in the early morning sun, surrounded by the scent of fresh-brewed coffee and the vague hint of tobacco from Sandburg's smoking habit that had lingered after Russ declared the building smoke-free.
Mike resisted the urge to groan, though good-naturedly. "At ease, Turnbull. This isn't drill."
Turnbull went from being at attention to parade-rest, which wasn't all that much better, but it was a start. "Ah... yes, sir. My apologies."
"No apologies, either." Mike gestured. "We're going to rotate through all three shifts, starting with day-turn--" No one liked having their schedules rearranged from usual, but what better way to get to know a place than by seeing it at all hours? They'd live with it. Mike could handle waking up in the morning. "--and we're going out today, so get your coffee or tea or whatever you prefer, I'll give you the tour, and we'll hit the road."
He could take a good guess what was going through Turnbull's head at the brief look of shock -- Already? -- but Mike figured that the quicker they got on the road, the quicker he could start really gauging their newest addition. But despite that surprise, Turnbull only said again, "Yes, sir."
"All right. We have about forty-seven hundred people here in Nipawin, and there are five of us now. And that population grows in the summer by about twenty-five percent from tourism and cottage-dwellers, which brings its own host of problems. In the winter, our major problems are usually drunks, drugs and accidents. In the summer, that's when you see a lot of the breaking and entering, vandalism and underage suspects. Given that it's May..."
Turnbull looked like he was ready to break down and beg for a notebook so he could take notes, though he didn't. Instead, he sat in the passenger's seat of Mike's cruiser, hands knotted on his hat on his lap, looking out into the town with that same look every rookie got every single time Mike trained one: How can I possibly remember every street? They all look the same!
Yeah. He definitely missed this.
"...you'll see our calls shifting as the summer season really kicks in. Now, that's just for the town here; we cover seventeen zones of responsibility, so you're going to find yourself answering calls anywhere from White Fox, Love, down to Codette and everywhere in between. And if one of the guys calls off in Smeaton, you'll probably end up there, too." Mike wiggled his fingers against his steering wheel. "Any questions?"
"I--" Turnbull straightened up in the seat even more than he already was -- should have been impossible, but apparently wasn't -- with a little look of panic on his face. "I wouldn't... that is, I don't..."
"Know where to start?"
"No, sir," Turnbull said, turning red.
"Okay." Mike nodded. That wasn't any surprise, especially on the first day. "So, let's just go fishing and see what kind of trouble we can get into."
Turnbull shot a wide-eyed look over. "...fishing, sir?"
Mike made absolutely no effort to stop the slow, wicked smile from crossing his face as he turned onto Marathon and headed for one of his favorite hiding places. "Right. Fishing. With any luck, maybe we can snag a big one, though at this hour, it's more likely to be small fry."
The expression on Turnbull's face was priceless. He was too jumpy yet to tease about it, but Mike filed it away for future reference. And he finally did come up with a question, "May I... may I ask what... what you mean by fishing, sir?"
"Have you ever been fishing, Turnbull?"
"Yes, sir." Turnbull went to add something onto it, then stopped himself, still looking entirely concerned that they were going to neglect their duty in order to literally throw a hook into the river or one of the lakes.
"Did you like it?"
"Not... not especially, sir."
"Well, I promise, the fish we go after here are much more gratifying than trout."
Not shockingly, Turnbull blew it.
He did better than Mike expected, though. It was a speeder, clipping down Marathon, fifteen kilometers over the limit. Mike locked in the radar, pulled out on him and hit the lights, a practical ballet of hands between the steering wheel and the control panel.
The driver pulled over quickly, Mike pulled over offset, and looked over at his wide-eyed rookie. "You take point, once I run the plate."
Turnbull gaped back at him like he'd just said that in Russian.
Mike grinned back, then called it in. Came back registered to a woman; no record, no priors, a clean slate. Obviously, she wasn't the driver; the form sitting in the front seat was decidedly male.
"All right. There's the radar," Mike said, gesturing. "Go on."
"Sir... I'm not..."
"Shoo! I'll be right behind you."
Turned out to be a great first stop. Nice guy, sole occupant, middle-aged, admitted right off he was speeding because he was late for work. Polite, and non-jumpy; he seemed more sheepish at being caught than angry. There was a knit cross hanging off of the rearview, and he was downright sweet; Mike vaguely recognized him from one of the church congregations.
Turnbull made it through the first half of the initial approach, steady absent a quiver in his voice, and then froze up right about the time he had to ask for license and registration, quite clearly blanking out on procedure, which was when Mike -- because he knew that was coming -- slid right in to take over.
So, he did better than Mike expected; a lot of the rookies froze up before they even got the Do you understand why you were stopped? out of their mouths.
"Warning or ticket?" Mike asked, as they waited for the record check from CPIC to come back.
Turnbull still looked like a moose in the proverbial headlights, now clinging to Mike's clipboard, having forgotten to take his hat off when he got back in the cruiser. "I... I don't... that is, I'm uncertain as to the local municipal procedure, and I wouldn't..."
Mike shook his head. "There's no wrong answer, rook." The moniker earned a surprised blink, but Mike didn't comment on it. "Okay, what are your observations?"
There was a long moment where Turnbull chewed on his bottom lip, staring again at the vehicle ahead, where the gentleman was waiting patiently. "He was breaking the law, but the vehicle is well-maintained and there's no evidence of further infractions; also, there are few residences on this stretch of road, visibility and conditions are good, and while he should certainly slow down, the actual threat to safety is somewhat minimized by the previous..."
There was no wrong answer, but Mike was still entirely pleased with the one he got.
"Written warning, sir."
"Let's see what the record check comes back as, then you can write it up." Mike gestured to his duty-bag. "Warnings are in the top of the citation book."
The thing about Depot was this: They took a group of (usually) very young men, stuck them together in a troop of thirty-two and then spent six months hammering it into their heads that they were one unit of solidarity. Haircuts, drill, uniforms, military-style training, constant reinforcement -- all of it was steeped in history and designed to turn a person into a Member of the RCMP, emphasis appropriately added.
Then they sent these young men, who they had just spent six months teaching to work as a cohesive unit, and scattered them all over Canada, very rarely alongside any troopmates.
And then, having taught them all how to be good little Mounties in a unit of thirty-two non-individuals, they expected them to learn their jobs on the road -- if they were lucky -- within six months with an FTO who could be excellent or could just not give a damn anymore, and then cut them loose on the public, often alone.
Mike wasn't a good little Mountie.
Of course, he had loved Depot when he was there. Reveled in the camaraderie. He thought the RCMP could do no wrong, back then; bought into the codes of silence, the 'us vs. them' mentality, the deep and abiding devotion to the traditions. He duly went out into the world with his perfectly pressed uniform and his perfectly polished boots, shoulders squared, ready to live up to the ideal that made the Mounties such a beloved police force.
Reality sunk in when he realized that he was so far removed from the public that he was charged to protect that he was arresting people who could have been talked down, and it came crashing down when what had been a fairly average-risk domestic call escalated into a table-lamp upside the head and the man who had thrown it ended up black-and-blue in a holding cell.
Mike wasn't the one who'd taken the lamp to the head.
He was the one who roughed the man up, automatically avenging his bleeding comrade. And he was the one who processed the paperwork while the man cried in a holding cell, terrified and in pain, because he was thinking he'd never get to see his kids again.
Mike never faced any disciplinary action over it, and even now, he wished he had.
Because that man hadn't been drunk, he hadn't been violent at the beginning of the encounter, he had been scared and desperate. Because his whole world was falling apart, because his wife was packing the kids in the car, because he was trying to stop her. He never hit her, just got in the way and begged, and then they were on scene, and he made the error of ignoring them in order to continue pleading, and it kept building then. No one knew how to deescalate. No one knew how to back down.
The thing about Depot was this: They trained thirty-two young men to know the ins and outs of law; to be a cohesive, loyal troop that looked snappy in their hard-earned red dress uniforms; to be a hard, sharp, smart group of law enforcers who would protect Canada from border to border.
But Depot never taught them one very important thing: There was far more to maintaining the right than simply enforcing the law.
Mike knew. He learned the hard way.
"All right, and what was taken?"
Maeve Jameson was fluttering her hands around, clearly more than agitated. "Smarties! Three boxes!"
When you eat your Smarties, do you eat the red ones last? Mike nodded, keeping his face appropriately solemn, and jotted that down in his pocket notebook. "All right. And you said that you didn't know his name?"
"No, but I'll bet he's one of those little hoodlums who spray-painted the water tower last year," she said, sniffing. She eyed Turnbull, who was very quietly standing behind Mike's shoulder like the beanpole he was, then looked back at Mike again. "I swear, Corporal, this town just keeps getting worse and worse. Have they finally decided to send more Mounties?"
Mike gestured back to Turnbull with his pen, not looking. "The cavalry's here, Maeve."
She looked a little doubtful, probably because of Turnbull's age, and Mike raised his eyebrows at her. Then she nodded, slowly, offering her hand out. "Maeve Jameson."
Turnbull had already been introduced, but he still awkwardly shook her hand. "A pleasure, ma'am."
"All right. We have a description; we'll see if we can't track down the suspect," Mike said, closing his notebook and offering Maeve a smile. "We'll let you know."
"Thank you," she said, her shoulders sagging like she just had a huge weight lifted off of it. "I just don't know what's happening to this town."
It wasn't that Mike hated the RCMP. He didn't; he wouldn't be a member if he didn't see the good of it. They were very well-trained in a lot of ways. They filled an important service, border to border. The sheer number of hurdles one had to get through just to be hired kept out idiots and those already inclined to criminal behavior. In fact -- and this was the part that made Mike often rub his forehead in frustration -- they often did try to screen for leadership, for those who could work on the fly, for those who could make judgment calls in situations where the nearest backup could be hundreds of kilometers away.
And then they spent six months drilling all of them to fit a mold.
Some of the reason it was so slow to change, Mike was sure, was because of popular culture. The token image of the red-clad Mountie (who could track a criminal into the bush, who was virginal and pristine and perfect, who was an expert at horse-riding, knot-tying and who was never wrong) had been around almost as long as the force itself had been. Novels and stories and culture. They were iconic. They were held to that standard, and that meant that every person who went through Depot had better be able to live up to it.
The token image of the red-clad Mountie was iconic. The actual image of the gray duty uniform, long hours, high-stress situations and the potential cost of lives was the reality on the ground.
Mike didn't hate the RCMP. He'd trained too many young officers to hate it. Had worked alongside a number of good men and women. Had gotten to save lives, to help people. In fact, outside of his marriage, he was pretty sure it was his life's meaning: To help people. To be something good in the world.
He didn't need the red uniform to do that.
He didn't need to be an icon, either.
He just hoped that the force would come to that realization before it was too broken to survive.
Mike always reserved judgment on his rooks until he got to really see them in action. There was only so much a file folder could tell you; it was only a piece of a puzzle, not the whole thing. In all his time, he had never seen a rookie who could make it through their first stop perfectly -- in fact, if he had, he would have been wary. They usually froze up, or blanked on what to do, or fumbled over their words, because there was a big difference between practicing these things with instructors and troopmates and actually doing them in reality, where the other side of the equation was the unknown.
He usually preferred a week or two, a variety of calls, before he started deciding how to handle their training.
Mike reserved judgment, but he had to admit, Turnbull was... something else.
"Are you sure that's what you want?" he asked, pointedly eying the salad.
Turnbull was blushed red and not making eye contact, pushing the lifeless lettuce around on the plate. "I... it seemed... that is, after considering all of the... the menu items, it seemed the safest option, sir."
Mike might have been more insulted -- hey, he loved this restaurant, it was his favorite lunch-break hangout -- if not for the boggling. Safest option?
His expression must have spoken to his incredulity, because Turnbull somehow managed to turn even more red, and for being ridiculously tall, he was very good at making himself look as unobtrusive as possible. "I don't... don't often... you see, I don't often make it a habit to... to go to restaurants, as I..." His voice trailed off and he visibly stifled a wince.
"As you...?" Mike picked up his burger, holding it carefully and waiting patiently.
"...don't often know the quality of the food beforehand; that is to say, I don't doubt that this is quite a fine establishment," Turnbull continued, in a rush, fast enough that Mike was waiting for him to bite his tongue, "however, I cannot simply ask to inspect the kitchen for cleanliness, and therefore, salad seemed the most potentially harmless choice on the menu. Sir."
Mike blinked, firmly keeping his eyebrows in their neutral setting. Took a bite of his burger. Chewed. Thought. Swallowed. Spoke. "Looks a little withered."
"Yes, sir." The rookie was burning red, and went to set his fork down. He ended up knocking down the glass of water instead, and then went wide-eyed, snatching for napkins in an attempt to stem the flow and aiming for a color closer to purple.
Mike offered his napkin over. "Rather have lunch in the car?"
Turnbull looked up, warily, like that was a trick question and very gingerly took the napkin.
"I don't mind," Mike said, with a shrug. "Let me get a box, and we can stop by the grocery store so you can pick something up."
There were good FTOs and bad FTOs; good Mounties and bad Mounties; good commanding officers and bad ones. The public often saw an anonymous red wall -- rotations through detachments were the norm, so getting to know individual officers was difficult (and somewhat frowned upon anyway; loyalty first to the force, despite all platitudes otherwise) -- but Mike was behind the wall, and he could see it all. The good and the bad; the courage and the cowardice.
You could tell what kind of training a Mountie had, when you knew what you were looking at; Mike had encountered a wide variety, as individual as the nation they represented. Because no matter how hard Depot drilled them to be a loyal, crack unit of law enforcers, human beings were human beings in the end. He had seen some broken, he had seen some redeemed. Up until he was sent to Nipawin, he had his fingertips on the pulse of the force and did his best to steady the beat, one new Mountie at a time.
Depot spent six months making them fit the mold. Mike spent six months breaking it.
Little wonder they'd sent him to Nipawin. He was just surprised they sent him a rookie to train again, after his last one decided to whistleblow on his detachment for bullying natives up north.
Near as he could figure, they'd sent Turnbull expecting failure.
It wasn't too hard to see why, if you were reading the notes. His scores were uneven at best, and barely-enough-to-pass in some places. He couldn't seem to do anything right in Depot; his academics were higher, but they still weren't anything like exceptional. The clipped, efficient notes from instructors read like a novel of flaws, vague and careful language jotted down in a seemingly casual manner to convey problems without actually defining them.
There was so much bull between the lines that Mike could smell it. He made it through half a page of those notes before he set the file down and didn't pick it up again. He'd wade through the crap later; for now, he just wanted to see for himself.
Mike reserved judgment on his rooks until he got to see them in action, but you could tell what kind of training a Mountie had, when you knew what you were looking at.
Now, it was just a matter of figuring out if this one was going to end up broken or redeemed from the very training that should have kept him from facing either.
"I understand that, but I don't understand why you felt it necessary to run."
The kid they'd caught was only two years younger than Turnbull, and clearly having some trouble reconciling the uniform with the tone, the age and the general demeanor Turnbull projected.
"Hey, you know how it goes," the kid said, shifting his weight, looking just about anywhere else.
"No," Turnbull answered, with something that Mike would define as wry, somewhat gentle amusement. "I don't. You were quite clearly in the wrong; all running accomplished was delaying the inevitable."
The kid had taken the Smarties because he wanted them, didn't have any money, and thought he wouldn't get caught. Then, when they happened by and stopped (because he matched the description to a tee) and rolled down the window to question him, he'd bolted. After a split-second where Turnbull looked to Mike for permission ( it was granted), he bailed out of the cruiser and gave chase, and he was fast. Clever, too; he went around the other side of the house the kid was running around and came out in front of him, hands out, snapping off a, "Stop that, this instant," that was both funny and shockingly effective.
The kid had been so baffled by that tone -- teacherish, Mike would say -- that he stopped dead in his tracks and instantly went from hardcore Smartie thief on the run to... well, teenage kid.
The thing that made Mike raise his eyebrows in admiration wasn't the catch, though. It was the entirely confident and measured way that Turnbull handled the situation after he had the kid back by the cruiser.
Of course, the first thing he did after he had the kid back was look at Mike like he was expecting to be dressed down. Mike held his hands up and said, "All yours."
Then he looked wary for a long moment, like he was trying to come to a decision he still wasn't sure he was allowed to make. But finally, he turned his full attention back to the kid, and started talking. Soft-toned, serious, head bent and listening carefully to the answers. And after a suitable amount of teenage defiance, the kid started shifting and looking abashed.
"I didn't want caught," the kid mumbled, awkwardly shrugging.
"I can't imagine you did," Turnbull answered, still in that patiently wry tone. "Though, really, were they quite worth it?"
Turnbull flashed another look at Mike, questioning again. "Sir? How should this--"
Mike shook his head. "You decide, Constable."
There was a long moment where Turnbull again looked wary, but then he nodded, a short bob of his head and looked back at the kid. "We're going to take you back."
"Oh, man," the kid said, eyes going wide. "Can't I just get some money from my Mom and pay for them? I won't do it again, I promise."
"No." Turnbull shook his head, and opened the back door of the cruiser, tone firm. "Please remember to buckle up. Thank you."
There was far more to maintaining the right than simply enforcing the law. It was, at its heart, a fine line to walk between knowing when to take a hard line and when to flex. When to give the ticket, when to give the warning. When to make an arrest, and when not to. There were any number of judgment calls that a police officer had to make in the course of a single shift, and sometimes, those could mean anything from whether to cite for littering to whether to draw a gun and fire.
It wasn't something Mike could easily explain: That in the course of a day, he was responsible for the safety and peace of thousands of people, and that he regularly had to make decisions that could change the course of an individual's entire life, for the rest of their lives, sometimes without even having their name.
There was no real description for what it felt like to go out there with the weight of the public trust settled firmly on his shoulders.
A lot of them broke under that weight. 'Weapon malfunctions' were not unheard of. Fudged reports, sometimes even outright corruption, existed. Discrimination, burn-out, mental meltdowns... all of those were things that were never, ever spoke of in the RCMP, but they were there. Just like every other police force in the world.
A lot of them, though, did something extraordinary: They walked the line, maintained the right. Made a difference. Saved lives. Helped people. They were the ones who balanced that tightrope under the weight of thousands of lives, and in the end, they were the ones who kept the RCMP alive. The heart behind the red wall.
Mike was still reserving judgment, but he had a good feeling about this one.
The kid -- Jared Niles -- ended up coming under the carefully Christian wrath of Maeve Jameson, which involved a Bible verse and some well-aimed shame that seemed to slide off. Apparently, he had been to church in his time; he was fairly immune to the Christian guilt-trip. Not so much to whatever it was Turnbull spoke quietly to him, though. Mike didn't hear it, but the kid shifted again and turned a little red, and then apologized to her.
They'd ended up calling his mother, as well, and she came in looking downright scandalized. Mike handled those negotiations -- his rook was starting to look a little frayed -- and in the end, Jared was going to volunteer to do some lawn work at Maeve's church, which just happened to be the same church of the gentleman they'd pulled over earlier. The Smarties that were still intact were returned, the box that had been opened was paid for, and no arrests were necessary.
It was getting close to the end of the shift when they got back into the cruiser, and Turnbull again forgot to take off his hat until Mike gestured to it.
His hands were shaking a little when he did it, and Mike figured that meant it was about time to head back to the detachment building and do the paperwork. It wasn't any real surprise to Mike that his rookie was a little shaky -- it had been a lot of new in a very short period of time.
"What did you tell him?" he asked, pulling out of the parking space. "Before he apologized, I mean."
"Ah... I simply... that is, he only..."
Mike waited patiently while Turnbull collected his thoughts, gesturing once and looking sheepish.
"...I told him that it was the right thing to do, and that I knew that he could." Turnbull was clinging to his hat again, looking anywhere else, red-faced.
Mike didn't even try to hide his smile.
"Well, he didn't bite my neck," Mike said, kicked back across from Severn's desk, sipping on a cup of coffee after the day shift was over. "I don't know why you were telling me he was a vampire. I almost decided to go and get garlic bulbs to hang around my neck, and all for nothing."
Severn sighed out through his nose, trying and failing to chew down a grin. He decided to hide it in memos from Regina detailing new provincial laws he'd have to brief the detachment and its satellite office on, though he wasn't paying a lot of attention to them. "I know what I'm getting you for Christmas."
"I won't read it, so you can just have my cruiser detailed instead," Mike answered. He leaned forward, elbows on the desk. "Aren't you gonna ask?"
"Ask what?" Severn looked up, expression carefully blank.
"How it went! I haven't acted as an FTO in four years, don't you think you should be making sure I'm not teaching him how to run a black market or beat up transients?"
"Oh, is that why they transferred you out of North Vancouver?" Severn asked, though he knew full well that wasn't it. "All right, Mike. All right. Tell me how it went."
"He beat up three transients with such grace, I'd say he was a natural," Mike said, straight-faced, nodding with solemn gravity. Then, apparently happy that he got his digs in, he gestured with a vaguely sad little smile. "Really? I wonder what kind of sadists they have down in Regina these days."
Severn's eyebrows went up. It wasn't that he wasn't somewhat used to Mike's criticisms about the force. It was that he still got uneasy about them, even after all of this time. Regardless, he set the memo down.
"Well, you saw it. He acts like we're going to rip his head off and use it as a curling stone," Mike said, rubbing at his forehead. "But I'll tell you, Russ, he did really well with the public. Even-handed. Not that gung-ho thing you get half the time, where they're raring to wrestle people to the ground, but not too timid, either, accounting for the green. At least, not with them. He was scared to death of me, though."
"Hm," Severn answered, frowning a little at the confirmation of his own observations made at the beginning and end of the shift. He took a sip of his tea, then asked, "Any plans yet?"
"Not yet. It's only the first day. But if I were to give an opinion on him on his first day?" Mike looked off, thoughtfully. "Independent thinker. Quirky. Good-natured. Good potential."
"That's a good start," Severn said, a smile crossing his face. "I suppose we'll see what we're going to do with it as time goes on."
Mike pulled his attention back to the desk and grinned wickedly. "C'mon, Russ, you know what we're going to do. Brand new, freshly pressed and utterly corruptible? We're going to break a mold."