Unnamed police drama. Chapter two.

This is chapter two. To read chapter one, click here.

It has been years since Ed Jakes felt this tired. He sat nursing his cup of coffee – his third that morning – while his stomach digested the oatmeal the diner had provided.

He thought back to the previous evening. The town meeting went the way he wanted it to but not without controversy. A meeting which officially ended at 8pm with the Mayor's declaration did not stop the questions, the accusations and the fear of an endless line of Gerrold county residents who saw him as a cross between a character from the Turner Diaries who was bent on getting the United Nations to invade America, and Virgil Tibbs, the mild mannered homicide detective played by actor Sidney Poitier.

Of course he was neither, and was at pains to let every individual he spoke to that he was just trying to make things better for everyone. Jakes' career was boosted by his capacity to negotiate and compromise, rather than to dominate and control. A spell as a hostage negotiator ten years previously had given his superiors ample reason to promote him to assistant director.

But, successful though he was in almost single-handedly winning over two-thirds of the vote, he knew that the challenge had only just begun. Like a President elected to power on the basis of change, he knew that results, not his effective rhetoric, would determine what happened next.

“'Scuse me?” a voice said to his left. Jakes looked up and saw a grizzled man who looked far older than he really was. Like a badge of honour, this man wore his ill-fitted clothes with a pride Jakes rarely saw. The man was a “cracker”, a West Virginian mountain man whose family had been part of the county for generations. He was what some people called a “hillbilly”.

“I just like t'say, I thought you spoke real good last night” the man said, “I never thought man o' your skin colour would be able to settle us down like you did.”

“Thank you very much” Jakes replied, feeling grateful for the man's words.

“I can't speak for all the Crackers you understand, but me and mine, we're right behind you.”

“Again, thank you.” Jakes said. The man smiled and walked away.

Ordinarily he would've used this sort of opening to find out the man's name so that could speak to him in the future. A little red book he carried in his jacket pocket was full of names and contact details of people he had spoken to the night before. This morning, however, he was just too weary.

Crackers. That was one of the first things he had learned when he came here – that the “hillbillies” in Gerrold county actually called themselves by that word. Like many, he assumed that, because it was a racist term in many places in Appalachia, that its usage would insult and divide. It didn't. They were proud to be called Crackers and not the least bit offended by its usage.

Gerrold County was, in Jakes' opinion, one of the strangest rural counties he had ever encountered. Oh it was similar to many in that there was a mixture of poverty and wealth, a mixture of different sub-cultures that were invisible at first glance – yes Gerrold County was not dissimilar at all. Nevertheless, there was a feeling, a “vibe” that Jakes had felt for the past few months of investigation and which came to a head during the meeting.

There were around 500 people packed into the town hall. Even with so many people he could notice distinct groups. The crackers, for example, seemed to be seated in three different sections of the hall. What was this about? One group looked especially angry at the goings on while the other two groups seemed quite interested. A small contingent of black Crackers was also present, and they seemed to be on good terms with one group of white crackers but not the other two. The townsfolk were typical middle America somehow transported into Appalachia – small business owners; professionals like lawyers and doctors and teachers. But even they seemed divided, though he could not see where. The strangest group were the Intech people. These people were mainly biomedical engineers and researchers and had taken the 20 mile trip to Gerrold itself, out of their protective gated community. They knew little of the people in the hall and hardly spoke to townsfolk, or even one another. Amongst them Jakes spotted a number of Intech security personnel. Mean, well built and dangerous looking, they seemed more concerned with the Intech employees than they did with anyone else.

Of course, all the Intech people voted against him, but that wasn't enough to make a difference.

Jakes blinked his eyes hard. He finished off his coffee and decided that he wasn't going to get any more awake than he was going to get. He had collapsed into bed at 3am, fell asleep 90 minutes later, and then woke with a blinding headache at 6.00am.

He looked at his watch. It was 7.21am. The headache was still there, though dulled somewhat by a combination of Tylenol and caffeine.

Then the door of the diner opened. In walked the man he was waiting for. The man spied Jakes immediately and smiled a greeting. He wore blue jeans, a check shirt and a fashionable light leather jacket. He didn't need the moustache to look Hispanic.

“Hey! Can I have an autograph?” yelled a man at a table on the other side of the diner. Customers looked around and saw who it was at the door. Some – those who had been at the meeting – laughed out loud. The man at the door laughed with them as he sat down opposite Jakes.

“You know I figure that that joke gets pretty old” Jakes said.

“You wouldn't believe how old it got in New York.” he said “People would make jokes about it every week in the precinct”

Jakes smiled. The Hispanic man sitting opposite him was a former NYPD police captain and one of the most competent police officers he had ever met. He was a bona fide hero, retired gloriously from the force through injury, and then moved to Quantico, Virginia, to work with FBI special agent training.

That, of course, was not the reason for the joke. The reason was that this man's name was Keith Hernandez.

When Hernandez arrived at Quantico to teach he made it very clear to everyone that yes, he likes baseball, but he rooted for the Yankees because that's what the NYPD did. He also assured people that he never watched Seinfeld, but he knew everything about that episode from what people had told him over the years. After that things were easy, except when he got into conversations with any woman named Elaine.

Unfortunately, he wasn't able to tell anyone last night, which resulted in a whole evening of people making up jokes he had heard too many times and being introduced to a number of Elaines who smiled and laughed. He would smile tightly and tried to steer the conversation back to something meaningful.

“I can see you're exhausted” said Hernandez, “I managed to fall asleep around 2am. You?”


At that point the waitress appeared. Hernandez ordered his breakfast and the woman walked away.

“Well, people really took to you, that's for sure” Jakes said.

Hernandez sighed and then laughed. “Well, from what I could see, they really took to you. I don't envy you man!”

“It wasn't anything that I hadn't heard before, but it was certainly more intense”

“You happy with the outcome?” Hernandez asked.

Jakes nodded “Yeah. Yes of course.”

There was a pause.

“....but?” asked Hernandez

“Well, it's obvious that everything is going according to plan which means...”

“More work for you...” Hernandez finished.

“Hmmm. What about you. What do you think?”

“Well, it looks like a nice place to work in for a while” Hernandez said meaningfully.

“So is that a yes?”

“Won't look good on my resume though. NYPD: 20 years. Rank: Captain. Medically retired. Lecturing at Quantico. Current employment: Sheriff of nowhere county, Western West Virginia. So. Yeah. It's a yes.”

“What about your health?”

“I'll manage. There are some Sheriffs out there who are more unhealthy than me.”

“That's true, but not many have had Mesothelioma”

Hernandez grimaced and paused. “Well, you're right. But. At least it got cured in time huh?”

Another person walked over to the table. This time it was a middle aged woman. She knelt down on one knee and placed her hand on the former NYPD officer's shoulder. She was on the verge of crying.

“Mr Hernandez, I'd just like to say thank you for all that you've done for our country.” she choked.

“Well. As I said last night, I wish I could've done more.”

“My cousin was... I was speaking to her on the phone before... before...”

The woman stopped suddenly. Her eyes were wet and red. Hernandez grabbed her hand firmly and looked at her directly.

“It's okay... I know.” he said.

“Thank you” she whispered. “I'm so glad you're here”.

The woman walked back to her table, wiping her nose and eyes.

“Does that happen often?” Jakes asked quietly.

Hernandez looked embarrassed. “Not very often. Only when I meet a family member of someone who died who knew that I was there. You know I never really liked the 'hero' label...”

“But you are a hero...”

“I just don't like the label. Besides. As I said, I didn't do much.”

Jakes sat back and exhaled. He looked around. Some of the customers in the diner were at the meeting last night. He knew that some were lifting their heads and looking at them, wondering what they had been discussing, wondering what the woman had said to Hernandez, wondering what the Cracker had said to him.

He turned back to Hernandez.

“You know as well as I that these people need a hero at a time like this.” he said quietly.

Hernandez nodded. “That's why I'm in.”

Sorry for the delay. I was lacking inspiration! I originally wanted a scene depicting the town hall meeting but worked out that I could pretty much tell everything that happened through this scene with Jakes and Hernandez.

Keith Hernandez does not look like Keith Hernandez. He looks like Thomas Rosales Jr.

As for Hernandez's history, I've given plenty of hints here as to why he is considered a "hero".

Regarding the use of the term "cracker". From what I can gather, the term is similar to the Australian expression "Wog". "Wogs" were essentially Italian and Greek immigrants to Australia in the 50s and 60s. They were called "wogs" as a racist epithet but as time went by and the culture changed, the term "wog" lost its power and many 2nd generation Italians and Greeks didn't mind the term as it had become more "friendly". I realise that to some rural people who live in the Appalachians, such a term might be offensive but others might not. Read the Wikipedia article.

Quantico, Virginia, is where the FBI academy is. Everyone who saw Silence of the Lambs or The X-Files knows this.

1 comment:

BLBeamer said...

I've never heard the term "cracker" used as anything but disparagingly here in the US, usually preceeded by the words "poor, dumb".

Neil - Your brother may have some insight into its use since he lives a lot closer to "Crackerland" than I do.