The Officer and Son
Jim Archer at the table with a look and posture more suited to a statue. He sat at a circular wooden table with a few other people. A dim electric light illuminated their faces. To his right was Maria Garcia, the curly haired, pinch faced wife of his superior. Across the table was the man Jim primarily knew as Lt. Joe Garcia of the police force. Now, Jim observed him as he never had before, dressed in an informal polo shirt and jeans rather than the uniform Jim was used to seeing him in. Between Jim and Joe sat Frank Garcia. Jim estimated the black haired kid was somewhere between his and Phil's age, somewhere in his mid, perhaps late, twenties. He sat with his food in front of him, looking up with discomfort at Jim and his father. He looked into a bowl of soup, as looking into his reflection.
Joe cleared his throat. "Before we all dig in," he looked at his coworker. "I'd like to be thankful we're all here for dinner. Maria, Frank, this is Jim Archer, one of the best on the force."
"Um, thanks," Jim Archer nodded. "It's nice to meet both of you."
"Nice to meet you, too, Mister Archer," Maria extended her hand. Jim shook it firmly, closing his grip like a vice. Noticing he was crushing the woman's hand without realizing, he quickly released it.
"Sorry, Mrs. Garcia," he exhaled quickly. Jim cursed his subconscious tension.
"Oh, no problem," Maria shook her head and grinned. "Come, what do you want for dinner?"
"Whatever is the least trouble for you to cook, Mrs. Archer," Jim replied. "I don't really have any preference."
Jim stared at his empty plate and cup, flanked on either side by utensils. They were waiting to be filled with food, and Jim hoped it was something light. He saw Maria stand up, and walk towards the fridge and stove top.
"So, Jim," Joe asked. "How was your day today?"
"Alright," Jim replied, remembering a request from earlier during the day. "I should have forwarded some updated files for our archives."
"Yeah, those ones on those weird deaths," Joe added. "Why'd you dig up the campus police's files on those again? Didn't they say it was unknown causes? Like overdosing on some unknown drugs that got those four college kids?"
"At first," Jim replied. "But our files weren't updated from when some bloodwork samples got back from a second lab, for some reason. Campus police commissioned the second set of tests independently, and we didn't get a copy due to some clerical error."
"Yeah, but why dig up a weird case like that?" Joe replied. "I thought you were just going to be patrolling near campus more often with that lady cop."
"Well, personal interest of mine," Jim tried to force a grin. "Guess I just don't like a mystery staying a mystery on my watch. Especially at the school I went to."
Jim recalled skimming over the reports. Apparently, the four kids found dead in the old house died from some blend of speed, hallucinogens, and plenty of worse things. Their blood pressure was high enough to cause a stroke and heart problems. Jim figured aside from Will's band and his own group, none of the investigators would know why they really died. One more dark secret had been regurgitated from the town's bowels.
"Dad, do you have to always talk about police crap at the dinner table?!" Frank interrupted Jim's train of thought.
Jim saw Joe turn to his son, an initial look of anger vanishing to one of mirth. "Jim, mind staying away from work related stuff?" he asked. "After all, the reason I invited you over was so you relax from work."
"I apologize and thank you," Jim nodded his head respectfully, trying to come up with conversation topics. "So, how about them Eagles?"
Joe wrinkled his nose and mouth. "Jim, you don't need to feign interest in sports," the boss added. "You never were one for small talk, especially football."
"Well, if you read books on local history, martial arts, and weird stuff, I'd have a bit more to talk about," Jim shrugged.
"I didn't know this chickenshit town had much history," Frank muttered, before looking at his father and raising his voice. "Sorry for the language, Dad."
The elder Garcia's face tensed up, as though his wrath had been evoked, when Jim interjected. "It's a common misconception," Jim added, turning to face Garcia the Younger. "But this town's got plenty of interesting history."
"Oh, yeah?" the skeptic asked, leaning back in his chair as if to further spite his father. "Try me."
"You know that old train station?" Jim asked instinctively.
"You mean that shit pile they can't sell to anyone?" Frank muttered.
"Yes, that one," Jim continued. "Over a century ago, a train engineer got drunk and lost control, and caused an accident there that killed a lot of people."
Frank whistled to himself. "Damn," he glared around. "That's screwed up!"
"There was also those four deaths at the college a few years back," Jim muttered.
After seeing the embarrassed look on Joe's face, Jim turned his attention back to the Senior. "Anything that doesn't involve death, Jim?"
"Well, there was the forest, where those women were-" Jim decided, with what little social graces he knew, to shut his mouth. He saw Joe brush his forehead in relief.
"So, how's this?" came Maria Garcia's voice as she set down a plate and bowl in front of Jim.
Jim saw a bowl of rice, with some chicken on the plate. He requested a glass of skim milk, and the cup was filled. "Thanks, Mrs. Garcia," Jim nodded his head.
"You're welcome," Maria replied as she brought out dinner for herself, her son, and her husband. A quick glance showed all of them were given a similar meal to Jim. Jim reached for the utensils when a cell phone's ring interrupted the awkward silence. Jim turned his head towards the source, and saw Frank holding his cellphone to his ear.
"Hey Kim," he said. "Something up with Molly?"
Joe Garcia leaned towards Jim. "That's his girlfriend and mother of his kid," he whispered. "Would you mind if he has to leave?"
"Not at all," Jim replied, digging into his rice.
"Thanks," his superior nodded. "It's a...delicate subject around here."
Jim nodded, and continued eating. He saw Maria and Joe similarly eating their chicken and rice, and saw Frank vanish into an adjacent room to continue his conversation. His dinner sat unattended, steam still rising above the plate of freshly cooked rice. As Jim continued eating, he turned inwards. Joe's son was younger than him, but already had a kid. Jim exhaled after swallowing, relaxing he had no blood close relatives other than his brothers to care for.
"Excuse me for a minute," Maria Garcia stood up, pushed her chair back in, and went into a nearby bathroom. Garcia the Elder leveled his gaze at Jim Archer.
"So, Jim," Joe asked after inhaling his plate of rice. "You have any friends?"
"My brothers," he replied. "Probably Henderson."
"I mean outside the department or your family," Joe asked. "Any friends from college or high school?"
"High school, no, but college, yeah," Jim nodded. "Most of them moved away, though. Don't get to see them or hear from them very often."
"For a while, Jim," Joe grinned. "I was honestly worried about you. Too much time on the beat. Too much time to yourself."
"Thanks, I guess, sir," Jim replied, his chest instantly tightening up. "Was my performance sub-par?"
"Jim, what did I tell you about that formal crap?" Joe turned his head. "We're out of uniform. This is supposed to be unofficial. You ever relax?"
"I perform meditation when I'm not on duty or with people I care for," Jim replied.
"You know, Jim," Garcia Senior replied. "In the time I've known you, you behaved in ways that other cops I've seen can only dream of. You're always professional, but kind of impersonal. I mean, you go through partners pretty fast, and seemed to prefer the shitty beats and patrols. Seemed too good to be true."
"Well, I think at any time, I can be caught on camera or recorded, in or out of uniform," Jim answered. "With every kid having a cell phone and every place having security cameras nowadays, I'd always thought it was a good idea to act as though I'm always being recorded."
"If only every cop had that philosophy," Garcia replied. "Anyone acting like a jerk in uniform would shape up fast, or be forced to turn over their badges. Hell, Jim, I've seen a few real jerks in uniform while I've worked this town."
"I actually heard of a few cities making their police forces wear head-mounted cameras that record all their actions and words while in uniform," Jim answered. "Cameras keep getting cheaper, so it's only a matter of time before we're all probably doing it."
"Interesting idea," Garcia nodded. "But for a while, I was saying, I was a bit worried. Almost suspicious of something."
"Yes?" Jim asked. "I've already told you about my parents, and how I'd love to find something solid to nail them with."
"This isn't about them at all, Jim. It's about you," Garcia smirked a bit. "Don't worry, it's nothing bad. Call it some concern."
"About what?" Jim asked. He was becoming less comfortable with this conversation.
"I was worried, Jim," Joe Garcia bowed his head. "That you had depression. Or at least some kind of stress-induced disorder from all those crazy hours and awful shifts."
Joe looked at the nearby hallway. "I know it might seem crazy," he cocked his head back. "But I went through it, a few years ago. Stress of the job, being told I was a grandfather, and other stuff all hit the fan at once." The police officer looked wistfully at a picture of Maria on the wall. "It's thanks to Maria that I stayed sane. I got help. Got back on my feet."
Jim was left speechless for a second. "Thank you for your concern, sir."
Joe nodded. "Thanks, Jim. If you ever start feeling under the weather, I'm here to talk with," he continued. "Plenty of cops feel depressed and don't realize they've got it. It's a damn disease, man. If only more people could take it as well as you can."
"I've heard meditation's helpful for helping deal with that sort of thing," Jim replied. "And I find it helps me. I can reflect on a goal, ways towards that goal, and approach it with a clear mind."
"Maybe I'll try some of that yoga stuff sometime," Joe mused. "Maria swears by that. What kind of goals you meditate on, Jim?"
"Making this town safer," Jim replied. "I mean, there's plenty of nasty shit in local history. But I want people to be able to walk around this town, and not have to worry about that nasty crap."
"That's good, Jim," Joe nodded his head. "Over the last few weeks, you've been a lot more animated. And when I've walked in some places around town, I just feel a bit better than I normally do."
"Glad to hear that," Jim grinned inwardly. "But this job never ends."
"It doesn't Jim," Joe replied. "But I got something to ask you."
Jim nodded. "Yes?"
"Ever considered something greater?" Garcia inquired. "Like State Police? Or the Bureau?"
"I'm content helping protect where I grew up," Jim replied. "But I'll hear you out."
"I've got a cousin in the Bureau, and they need people like you," Joe continued. "I know you want to live here and all, but they've got branches all over the state. Hell, there's a branch office pretty close to here. And guess what? They're going to be hiring soon. They're looking into local departments."
"If you can give me more information, I'll be grateful," Jim nodded. "I don't like the idea of leaving where I grew up, and all my friends here, though."
"You probably won't have to leave, Jim," Joe explained. "But I'll forward you the emails, and let you be the judge. If you need a letter or a source, I'll be glad to vouch for you."
"Say," Jim thought for a moment. "Do you or your cousin know anyone who handles financial crimes? Laundering, tax evasion, stuff like that."
"Yeah, my cousin does," Joe nodded. "I'll forward some contact info for you. Why do you ask, if you don't mind me asking?"
"Oh, just thinking an audit may be a nice Christmas gift for the folks," he grinned.
"Well, if you want to hunt for clues," Joe smirked. "I can help you transfer to detective."
"Thanks for the opportunities, but I'm currently more interested in the job I just got promoted for," Jim nodded his head. "And thanks for everything, Joe."
"You're welcome, Jim," Joe nodded. "Just hope you enjoyed dinner."
Jim looked down at the few scraps left on his dishes. He finished the last few drops of milk. "Thank you for having me over for dinner," he nodded. "Perhaps we can meet somewhere a bit less formal off the clock some other time?"
"Now that's the spirit, Jim," Joe grinned. "Show me there's more to you than RoboCop."
Shortly afterwards, Jim thanked both of his hosts for dinner, and headed home. As he left, he saw Frank still on the cell phone with his girlfriend. Wordlessly, he left the house, and then headed back to his car. Jim headed home with a full stomach, and the unshakeable feeling the effects of the parademic were being counteracted, at least to one person he respected. As Jim drove home, he drove by the old train station. Tomorrow, he'd try to squeeze in one more Niche before their parents got home.
When Jim Archer entered his front door, he saw the lights were off in his house. As he was about ready to fall asleep, he marched up to his room with a zombie-like gait. On his bed, however, he saw something strange. There was a package addressed to him from Phil. Jim Archer opened it, looked inside, and saw a plastic replica of an MP5 with an organic tip.
"Cute," he muttered to himself. "Maybe I should let Phil try the real thing."
He set the airsoft gun aside, determined to think about it later. Jim Archer went to sleep with a grin on his face and lack of tension on his mind, something he had not done as long as he could remember.