10.5 The Hell I Am

by Matt P.

“The hell I am,” Walter responded immediately, looking to Leah to see if it was a particularly odd joke. The rest of the room was deathly silent, as befit their circumstances. Antigone and Siobhan were looking at him with owlishly large eyes, and he had to shrug at them.

Leah walked over to him and held up her phone. It was opened to a picture, of a letter on what Walter recognized was Marshal Alexander’s desk. It was on the official stationary of the department, and someone had typed and printed a letter on it.

In the event of my death or incapacity, I hereby appoint Deputy Marshal Walter Richards as Acting Marshal of the Border until I return, he is confirmed as Marshal, or someone else is appointed per city law.

William Alexander, 29th Marshal.

The signature was the only part of the letter in pen, and it was in blue ink for good form. Walter stared at it dumbstruck. It wasn’t dated, but he recognized the signature as the Marshal’s handwriting.

“This can’t be actually legal,” Walter finally responded as his brain overcame its bafflement. “There has to be more to appointing an acting Marshal than the previous one writing a letter at who knows what time and saying it’s so.”

Leah shook her head, as she held the phone out to show the others in the room as they came up to see. “In the event of incapacity or resignation, the Marshal can declare an Acting Marshal for up to 30 days without anyone else’s involvement. In the event the incapacity lasts for more than 30 days or after 30 days in case of a resignation the City Council can vote to remove the Acting Marshal. But if they don’t do so within 7 days the appointment is confirmed.”

That caused Ashland to blink. “That’s a terrible way to run any part of a government, and I think you know it. But it makes at least a little bit of sense,” she offered, looking over to Walter. “You know your shit and your clued in to the things going on in town.”

“Chief Deputy Alvarez is probably going to be a little bit hot under the collar about it, I’d wager?” Taito put in. “Like you pointed out, you’re jumping the chain of command in a major way. Still, if it’s legal…”

Andre shook his head a little. “It’s more common than you think. Uncle Will wasn’t a Chief Deputy Marshal when he was named Marshal. It’s not uncommon for one of them to end up with the job but it’s not uncommon for it not to be one of them either.” He shrugged. “We do things strange down here, but it is what it is.” He looked at Walter directly. “You’re the Marshal of the Border until you’re relieved or confirmed.”

There was a long moment of quiet in the room, as everyone took that information in and processed it for themselves. Some other officers trickled in, apparently having heard word as people back at the department texted their colleagues with the news. Men and women drawn and wan from an evening’s wild rid. Everyone looked tired, and concerned. Which isn’t surprising, Walter thought. I haven’t been with the Department that long; I’m an unknown quantity in a time of crisis, and nearly everyone liked Alexander.

Walter shook his head to clear his head of the shock and confusion. Or terror, he thought to himself. “Alright. I don’t know what the hell that means in the long run, but if we’re not doing something then we’re getting behind. Patton always said the best quality in a leader is making decisions.” He looked to Leah. “Until we get settled, you’re basically going to be chief of staff and public affairs officer. Have Alvarez tell the press I’ll give a press conference in…” He looked down at the watch on his wrist. “Forty-five minutes, at the station.” He reached out and put a hand on her shoulder, nodding to her.

Leah’s eyes went wide, but then she nodded. “Got it. I’ll make the call,” she responded, standing up and moving for the door. She paused. “I won’t let you down, Marshal,” she offered, nervous but proud.

Walter turned to Andre next. “Until I get back you’re in charge of working with the wounded here. We’ve got injured cops who are going to be even more nervous. Take some officers you trust that people like, and go see them. Reassure them, console them, make sure they know we appreciate them. And get me a list of who is injured and how badly.” Andre nodded, standing, and Walter held up a hand. “You’re going to need to do some first contact with families, especially of our KIAs. It’s going to be terrible, but I need someone who can do it.” He reached his hand out, and Andre shook it.

“You got it. I’ll grab DeAngelo and Dunbar and we’ll get to work,” Andre agreed, before he pulled Walter in to a quick man hug. “You’ve got this, Marshal,” he said quietly before he pulled back and let go. With a little salute, he walked out the door and called out to the two officers he see.

Walter turned to the other officers in the room, taking them in one at a time. He made sure each one got at least a brief moment of eye contact that was obviously for them. “We’re in a rough spot right now, but we’ve been in rough spots before. We got through them before and we will get through them now. The city is safe, or as safe as it can be for the moment; and we’ll be out there to keep it safe again. Tell your family, tell your friends. Whatever else happens, the Border PD is still here and still protecting the city.”

He watched them draw a measure of confidence from his words, from the confidence he was throwing out at them as desperately as possible. He got a couple of grins, a couple of wry salutes, and a general feeling they had their heads back in the game as they walked out of the waiting room. The moment the last of them walked out, Walter saw Morgan standing in the corner—apparently having snuck in. Or cheated with what Walter would never admit was magic.

“I can see why your soldiers would be so loyal to you, Walter,” Morgan offered appreciatively. “You gave people a mission and a sense of normalcy. Something to believe in. Do you think you can pull it off?”

Walter let out a sound that was somewhere between a sigh and a laugh, and shrugged. Ryan Aquino came up and clapped him on the shoulder. “Walter was the best. The Army lost a hell of a lot when they used him up. What do you need from me, boss?” He asked. Walter glanced over to Morgan.

“Can I borrow your knight as a bodyguard? They took out one Marshal, I wouldn’t put it past them to try again,” Walter asked, and explained.

Morgan nodded. “He’s yours until either of us need to call him back, but we’ll try to be sure we give you enough warning,” she agreed. “Speaking of, they didn’t take out one Marshal. It took a significant amount of my significant skill—and a lot of sufficiently advanced technology,” she allowed with a little bow to Walter. “But Bill is going to pull through. He’s got a long recovery ahead of him, but screw them they don’t have him.”

That drew a round of applause from everyone in the room, and smiles all around. “Alright,” Walter said after a moment. “We’re all exhausted but I’ve got a lot of work left it turns out. If I let you drive as fast as you want, will you drive us back to the station?” Morgan let out a laugh and pulled out her keys, walking toward the door.

“Hey dad,” Siobhan said softly as they walked toward the door. “That was really cool.” She reached out and squeezed him in a hug.

“Acting Marshal probably comes with a pay raise too, right?” Antigone asked.

“Probably,” Walter agreed with a shrug. Antigone and Siobhan grinned at one another.

“Dibs on a new car!” They said in cheerful unison. Walter let out a startled laugh before they all started laughing, the load lightening slightly as they shared the moment of levity.