It was just another day in Banshee County, PA. As usual, he had gotten stuck behind two different school busses during the drive into town. One of these days he needed to get Job to cross-reference all the bus routes and plot a reasonable path between the Forge and the Cadi which avoided all of them, but he had yet to broach the subject due to how much offence the hacker was bound to take at being asked to perform such a menial task. He was maybe a few minutes late getting to work, but not enough that he expected Brock to bother giving him shit over it unless something else had already managed to raise the deputy's ire this morning, and judging by how calm everything seemed as he pushed his way through the front doors of the Cadi, that seemed unlikely.
Deputy Siobhan Kelly glanced towards him at the sound of the door opening, but she did not move from where she was casually leaning against the counter of the front desk and chatting with Alma, the woman who singlehandedly filled the roles of receptionist, dispatch, and occasionally spare brain for everyone else in the department. They were discussing something about Alma's daughter's ballet recital gone wrong if the half a sentence he overheard as he approached was anything to go by. At least he hoped it was. He wasn't sure he wanted to know what else would require the phrase, "--have to order brand new tutus for the lot of them, and I didn't know whether to laugh or cry," to be passed on in the tones usually reserved for telling war stories.
"Morning, Boss," Siobhan said.
"Morning yourself, Deputy," he replied with a nod and a smile. He reached out to give Alma her customary fist-bump, which she completed and then answered the desk phone all in a single, smooth movement when it chose that moment to ring. He hung around to listen instead of continuing on his way back towards his office, just in case it was something urgent.
"Banshee County Sheriff's Department speaking," she said. "How may I assist you?" She paused to listen to whoever was on the other end of the line and then said, "Why yes, as a matter of fact, he's right here next to me. Just one moment please." She passed the receiver across the counter to him while mouthing, "It's the high school." His adrenaline really should not have spiked the way that it did at those words, or at least so he tried to tell himself.
"Hello," he said a little tensely, because, even if he was not a real sheriff, he had been faking his way through the job long enough to know that he shouldn't answer the phone by demanding to know if Deva was alright and what the fuck could have gone wrong enough at the school to require calling the cops this early in the morning. And maybe some of that line of thinking was showing on his face, because Alma and Siobhan were both giving him slightly worried looks.
"Sheriff Hood?" asked a female voice. She sounded like she was probably middle-aged or older and more than a little officious, but more importantly she sounded bored, so this call probably did not involve children in mortal peril, or even in non-mortal peril. That was not the tone of voice a person used when calling the police about a situation which either directly or indirectly involved somebody who needed shooting as soon as possible. It would be fine.
"Yeah, that's me," he asked, less tense now but still wary.
"Good morning, Sheriff Hood, this is Marjory Baker, assistant principal of Banshee High School, and I was calling about this Friday's sophomore class trip."
"What about it?" Okay, so nothing had happened yet. Had somebody called in some kind of threat about it? What was it with this town?
"You are still going, is that correct?" Marjory Baker, assistant principal said. If she had left enough of a pause for him to answer, he most likely would have told her that of course he was not going, but instead she plowed right along, saying, "I know that you said you would shortly after you first arrived in our fair burgh, but it has only recently been brought to my attention that no one has contacted you for confirmation since that time." That certainly buried the last of his worry under a giant pile of bemusement.
"Just let me check my schedule, Ms. Baker," he said and then reached over the counter to jab the phone's 'hold' button. He looked back and forth between Alma and Siobhan, because, seriously, what the fuck? "The assistant principal of the high school says that I agreed to chaperone a fieldtrip. Is she trying to bullshit me in the hope that I'll just go along with it, or did somebody sign me up for this without telling me?"
"Well, it is traditional, but I'll take a look," Alma said. She proceeded to reach into her top desk drawer and pull out the oversized loose-leaf weekly planner which was secretly sometimes the only thing which kept the sheriff's department from descending into total internal chaos.
"Yeah," Siobhan said while Alma flipped through the planner. "I'm pretty sure it goes back at least fifteen years, if not longer. I don't know about the guys before him, but Sheriff Morgan always claimed it was a good opportunity for visible, positive community participation that allowed the town to associate him with something other than giving speeding tickets and arresting people on drunk and disorderly charges. Personally, I think he just liked getting into amusement parks for free."
Alma snorted. "Maybe Sheriff Morgan did," she said, "but Sheriff Popejoy and Sheriff Jenkins both said it was a good way to get to know the kids they would soon be giving speeding tickets and arresting on drunk and disorderly charges. Anyway, Sheriff Hood, I found the entry." Alma tapped the relevant page with a well-manicured fingernail. "Looks like you did agree, so it's my bad for forgetting to mark the upcoming event in your schedule. There's nothing else officially on for Friday though, so you're free to go if you want."
"I still don't remember it," he said. He took a closer look at the entry's date and frowned. "Wait, wasn't that the day I was sworn in as sheriff? Did I agree before or after I got clubbed in the head with a pipe at Proctor's after-party?"
"When it comes to concussions and memory, it doesn't always matter," Alma said with a shrug.
"I was thinking more along the lines of impaired judgment."
"You could always say no," Siobhan said.
And that was a tempting idea, especially to the part of his brain that constantly worried about unfamiliar territory and crowds of people milling around enough to hide Rabbit or any of his flunkies, but it was getting less tempting the longer he thought about it. Even ignoring the fact that maintaining some ridiculous tradition would give Brock one less reason to get on his case, and also ignoring the fact that chaperoning a trip would be at least one day he wouldn't be expected to do patrols or paperwork or any of the other boring shit he was usually required to do in the course of faking his way through his job, he was pretty sure that Deva was a sophomore, so this could be a rare opportunity to spend some time, however public and impersonal, with his daughter without Ana being able to throw a fit about it. It almost sounded kind of nice, bordering on normal. And just like that, his decision was made.
"Nah, I'll do it," he said. "Why the hell not?" He raised the receiver to his ear once more and took the line off of hold. "You still there, Ms. Baker? Sorry that took so long, but I would be delighted to go."
"Then we look forward to having you, Sheriff Hood. Please be at the school no later than 8am on Friday, and I suggest you wear sunscreen. Good day."
"Yeah, same to you," he started to say, but Baker had already hung up. He handed the phone back to Alma.
"Congratulations, Boss," Siobhan said, "you're going to Hershey Park!" She held up a hand for a high-five.
He only had vague recollections of seeing ads for the place, but Siobhan's enthusiasm was encouraging. Alma's reaction, on the other hand, was less so.
"Hershey Park?" Alma scoffed. "Girl, Banshee High School hasn't been welcome at Hershey Park in years thanks to too many kids making obscene gestures at the cameras that take the souvenir photos on the rollercoasters, getting caught making out in corners, kicking those poor fools dressed up as giant candy bars, and other things like that. Your class may have been one of the last ones to go there. The Boss is going to Dutch Wonderland."
"Oh my god, seriously?" And now Siobhan's tone was one half of hilarity and half of horror. That did not bode well for him at all.
"What's Dutch Wonderland?" he asked, not entirely certain he wanted to hear the answer.
"It's down, outside of Lancaster," Alma started. "It's--"
"The worst!" Siobhan interrupted, laughing. "It's like the carob of amusement parks. Parents take their six-year-olds there and try to convince them that it's just as good as Disneyland because it has something shaped like a castle, but even six-year-olds know that the games are boring and the rides are lame."
Alma raised a disapproving eyebrow in Siobhan's general direction. "Someday you're going to have children of your own," she said, "and when you do, I doubt you'll be able to get through to their teen years without trying that ploy at least once. Do you have any idea how much it costs to get into Disneyland these days? Hell, do have any idea how much it costs to get to Disneyland these days? I do, and for that much, you could get season passes to Dutch Wonderland and Hershey Park for the whole family and still have money left over."
"That still doesn't make three busloads of horny teenagers any more likely to enjoy being treated like six-year-olds all day." When Siobhan put it that way, spending the day with Deva and her classmates suddenly didn't seem quite so appealing anymore.
"I suppose it's probably too late to call back and say I'm sending Brock in my place?" he said, already knowing the answer.
Alma's reply of, "I'm afraid so, Sheriff," came at the exact same instant as Siobhan's, "Oh god, Brock would hate you forever!"
"Yeah, that's what I thought you'd say," he said and retreated to his office.
The rest of the morning was uneventful. He sat around, drank coffee, and pretended to do paperwork while doing his best to ignore the speculative glances sent in his direction as the other deputies were brought up to speed on the latest gossip regarding his future 'visible, positive community participation.' Then he went out on patrol with Emmett for a few hours. Fortunately, it turned out that Emmett had never been to Dutch Wonderland, to their conversations while they drove contained no references to what sort of mental tortures awaited anyone stupid enough to agree to chaperone a class trip to such a place. They wrote a few tickets, took a statement from a storeowner whose front window had been spray-painted with pictures of disembodied giant dicks on skateboards during the night, and gave directions to a lost family of Canadians who were trying to get back to the PA Turnpike. After that, it was back to the Cadi where he spent a while doing paperwork for real.
By lunchtime he was out on patrol again, solo this time, and decided to stop in at the Forge since he was already in the vicinity. He left his cruiser right out front, since he was not planning to stay long and with only three other cars it wasn't like parking spaces were at a premium at this hour anyway. He stepped through the heavy wooden door into the bar and let his eyes adjust to the perpetual gloom on the interior.
Thin yellow light filtered through the dirty front windows, and only the lights directly over the bar had been turned on. One of the Forge's semi-regulars, Bobby somebody-or-other, sat at the near end of the bar, picking at a half-finished basket of fries and nursing a tumbler of something that was probably scotch. The guy was harmless and therefore not his problem. A man and women in nice looking business clothes sat at one of the rear tables, almost as far from Bobby whoever as they could get. Everything about them screamed, 'accountant and secretary having an affair with each other,' but they weren't his problem either unless he got called in when one of their spouses found out and things turned ugly. If there were any other patrons around, they had taken their drinks and everything else with them when they went to the bathroom. He went to the bar and dropped onto the seat which looked like it would best let him keep both Bobby and the lovebirds in his peripheral vision at the same time.
"Hey, Sugar," he called to his friend, landlord, and occasional partner in crime who was seated at his usual perch behind the bar, "have you ever been to Dutch Wonderland?"
"Once or twice, back in the day," Sugar said, not doing more than raising an eyebrow, because this was not the strangest greeting of their several months' long acquaintance. Considering some of the trouble they had gotten up to together, it didn't even rank in the top five.
"What, really? Why?"
Sugar shrugged. "I spent some time in the nineties dating a lady who had a couple of kids. If I ever have to ride another log flume or sit in that stupid house that turns upside-down again, it'll be too soon, even if there's an offer of getting laid after. Do I even want to know why you're asking?"
"Apparently, it's traditional for the sheriff to help chaperone a high school field trip, and guess where they're going."
"Well, shit," Sugar laughed, "sounds like you signed yourself up for one of those special hells right there, my friend."
"Yeah, tell me about it," he said. He folded his arms atop the bar and slumped forward to rest his head against them. "Somebody shoot me now."
Sugar reached across the bar and gave him a sympathetic, if slightly mocking, pat on the shoulder and said, "Be careful what you wish for in this town. Given your track record around here, somebody might take you up on that request."
He raised his head and was about to make a reply when his radio interrupted, crackling to life with a burst of static. The couple in the corner both jumped at the noise. Yup, they were definitely having an affair.
"Sheriff Hood, this is dispatch. Do you copy?" came Alma's voice over the airwaves.
"This is Hood," he said into the handset.
"Sheriff, we have reports of an assault and possible attempted robbery in progress over at Stoltzfus's on Orchard Road, one suspect armed with a baseball bat," Alma said.
"I can be there in four minutes. Hood out." He pushed away from the bar. "Stoltzfus's on Orchard, that one's the diner, not the hardware store, right?" he asked Sugar. There were at least a dozen different places in town all belonging to the various Stoltzfus cousins, and he still couldn't keep them all straight.
"That's the one," Sugar confirmed.
"Great, I was due for some lunch anyway." He turned and headed for the door, car keys already in hand.
"Don't go getting yourself shot, Hood, or people will think you did it on purpose!" Sugar said to his retreating back.
"The guy has a baseball bat," he called back, not bothering to turn around. "I'm not going to get shot."
Any reply that may have come from Sugar was cut off by the closing door. He peeled out of the parking lot, and had the cruiser's lights and siren going before he had even crossed the train tracks. He got to Stoltzfus's in three minutes flat.
And, no, for the record, he did not get himself shot. Nor, for that matter, did he let himself get hit with a baseball bat. He did, however, get tackled into and through the plate-glass of the diner's locally famous pie case. It was not his fault, and there was security footage to prove it. If he had intended to orchestrate something like this, he would have chosen to go through a window instead, because he suspected getting triple berry crumble cleaned out of his wounds was going to hurt like a son of a bitch. Fortunately, an ambulance was already on its way to deal with the battered cashier, called in by Alma right after she had finished talking to him, so once he had the asshole subdued and in cuffs he did not need to stand around bleeding for very long before help arrived. And yes, getting triple berry crumble cleaned out of his wounds hurt just as much as the thought it would. It wasn't too big of a deal though. After all, he had had worse in the past and fully expected to have worse again in the future.
The local paper ended up getting a picture of him sitting on the ambulance's back bumper, slumped forward and head down (and face fully obscured, the best kind of photo as far as he was concerned) while a paramedic cut away his shirt around the jagged shards of glass sticking out of his shoulder. They ran it on the front page, which is what he happened to be looking at the next morning while he sat at the bar in the Forge with his arm in a sling, attempting to eat bacon and eggs one-handed, when his phone rang. Recognizing the school's number as the incoming caller, he set down his fork and picked up the phone from its resting place near his plate. He swallowed his mouthful of egg and thumbed the green icon to accept the call.
"Lucas Hood," he said.
"Good morning, Sheriff Hood, this is Marjory Baker, assistant principal of Banshee High School," said a familiar voice on the other end of the line.
"Yeah, I remember you," he said. "I was going to call the school right after I finished breakfast. As you've probably heard by now, I'm on medical leave for the next few days, so I can't chaperone that class trip. And I was so looking forward to it, too. Sorry." That blatant lie tacked on at the end earned him a silent raised eyebrow of disapproval from Sugar, who was behind the bar, ostensibly cleaning and straightening the contents of the shelves in preparation for the day's business but mostly just hovering like a worried mother hen.
"Actually, Sheriff, I was calling to let you know that we were going to need to reschedule the trip."
"Reschedule!? What, all because of me? I'm flattered, but that shouldn't be necessary. I can send one of my deputies in my place." And now Sugar was very silently laughing at him. Given the circumstances, maybe he deserved it.
"Oh no, this was actually unrelated to your unfortunate circumstances," said Assistant Principal Baker. "Yesterday afternoon, we received a call from Dutch Wonderland. It seems that they had been reviewing their files and discovered a sustained pattern of, well, let's just call it behavioral issues associated with our visits."
"I see," he said as neutrally as possible.
"Indeed," she continued. "They refunded our ticket purchases and requested that Banshee High School does not plan any future trips to their establishment."
"That's too bad." He wished he could get his bad arm into a position that would let him drum his fingers on the bar while he waited for her to get to the point and tell him what new torture they had planned for him, but just shifting a little bit pulled at the stitches in his shoulder and suggested it would be a bad idea.
"Yes, quite," Baker said. "Fortunately, we were able to make arrangements with the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire for the fourth week in September. You should be fit for duty by then, Sheriff, shouldn't you?"
"Uh, yes, I should," he said, because he fully expected to be back on the job in less than a week, and that wasn't the sort of thing he could hide in a small town.
"Wonderful. I'll call to make final arrangements in a few days. Good luck on your recovery and have a good day, Sheriff Hood." And with that she hung up.
He set down the phone and picked up his fork again but didn't start eating again. "Hey, Sugar," he said, "have you ever been to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire?"
With no reason to try to stay quiet this time, Sugar howled with laughter. It was some minutes before the man got himself under control enough to say, still chuckling, "On the plus side, Hood, unlike Dutch Wonderland, at least the Ren Faire serves alcohol. Good thing, too, because I suspect you're going to need it."
(and possibly the beginning of something worse, but that is a story for another time)