A headstrong, confident, competent woman. That’s how the world saw Karen Vick, and that’s how Henry saw her as well, despite the demeanor that was betraying her current state of mind. He watched her out of the corner of his eye as he poured her a cup of coffee while she sat at his dining table, nervously biting the corner of her lip. She immediately sat up straighter the moment he walked towards her with both cups in hand.
“I have to say, I know things change over time and all, but recently moving back to California, this is one hell of a change to come back to. Can’t say I disagree with it, either.” He suggested, placing one of the cups in front of her.
Karen took her time stirring sugar and cream into her cup, thinking carefully about Henry’s words before she spoke. “So…you think the Department made a good decision, appointing me as Interim Chief?” She asked, the uncertainty so rarely revealed to others now present in her voice.
“Absolutely.” Henry nodded quickly. “You’ve been there longer than anyone else who was going for the job, and of those who have longer service records than you do, none of them had actually served with the SBPD. The Department appointing you Interim Chief is only half a good decision. Dropping the ‘interim’ part will be the other half.”
Karen felt her insides swell with gratitude at receiving such strong words of confidence from a trusted and respected former colleague. Even still, the doubt remained, and it was a doubt that had less to do with her own competence than with outside forces. “Well, I’m glad you’re so glad with this move. I’m hearing a lot of grumbling…to put it mildly…from others in that place. It’s full of some very strong male personalities, after all.” She struggled to find a somewhat professional way of speaking her concerns.
Henry scoffed. “Try finding any PD that isn’t full of strong male personalities, Karen.” He replied simply. “Yes, the SBPD has some particularly strong ones itself, though. I have to admit. I’m not surprised at the grumblings.” He looked to her, who only replied by making a face while she sipped her coffee.
“Listen, Karen.” He continued. “The Council knew this going into the whole search process. They know what the Department needs, and they knew exactly what they were looking for. They found it in you. From what I can see, they were looking for someone with extensive experience in police work, thorough knowledge of the area we serve….and most importantly, strong leadership capabilities. They needed someone who can lead all these strong male personalities effectively and efficiently. That didn’t necessarily mean they were looking for a male, obviously. Who knows, maybe even a male would have been a bad idea given the circumstances you just described.”
“One particular strong male personality.” She spoke thoughtfully, almost to herself.
Karen looked up, surprised she had spoken out loud. “Oh, well, many thought one person specifically would be a shoo-in for the job. He’s kind of young, but damn…he’s good. On top of that, he’s got the Chief’s recommendation. Hell, even I was kind of shocked they didn’t go with him considering some of the other options.”
“Carlton Lassiter, Detective. Word around the Department was Chief was grooming him for the job, and I believe it. He was only on patrol for 2 ½ years before making Detective thanks to some great busts. He’s got a hell of potential.”
“I know of him.” Henry pointed out. “Isn’t he also a hot head who goes through partners faster than anyone else in that place?”
Karen chuckled to herself, not wanting to give away any kind of response. Perhaps her status was beginning to hit her; the newly appointed responsibilities towards the staff under her – including him. She’d had several encounters with him over the past few years, and none of them had been especially pleasant. Not unpleasant either, but perhaps ‘coldly professional’ would be the best description.
“I take it news of you getting the job isn’t going over well?” Henry deduced following her lack of response.
She simply looked down at her cup again. “Um, well, you spent enough time there, Henry. What do you think?”
“I’m thinking I just hit on a sore spot.” Henry chuckled. “And especially sore around the likes of this one Detective, I take it.”
“Well…it’s complicated. And you’d be lying if you said you can’t understand their concerns.” Karen tried to defend. She was quiet for a few moments before speaking again, once again lacking her confidence. “Henry, do you really think I was a good choice? I can take it if you don’t think so. The last thing I need is for someone to just try making me feel better. I mean, yes, my leadership style as a Lieutenant was effective and efficient, but only for small groups at a time. Putting me up as Chief now…with such a different style as the outgoing Chief…that’s likely to really shake things up. Normally you only do that with a department that’s really needing it. As far as I can see, SBPD is doing pretty well as it is. Sure, some things can use a bit of work, but overall, things are good.”
“You were the right choice, Karen.” Henry declared steadfastly once again. “Unless…is there a reason why you keep asking?”
She swallowed hard, wondering if maybe she’d said too much. This burden was weighing heavily on her mind, having initially been appeased with the idea that she wasn’t likely to be chosen for the job. If she wasn’t chosen, then this wouldn’t be such a big deal. She had, however, been chosen. And suddenly, this was a major issue, at least in her mind. “I’m pregnant, Henry.” She spoke quickly before thinking fully on whether or not she should even say anything. If she hadn’t said too much before, she might have now.
Predictably, Henry didn’t answer right away. In fact, he took longer than even the expected pause following a revealing of news like this. He tried to come up with something to say based on previous experience, but admittedly, he honestly had no experience ever serving under a pregnant Chief. This would surely be a new experience for everyone. A quick glance towards Karen reminded him he should consider saying something quickly before she interpreted his silence as bad news. Too late.
“I know…I know.” She said quickly, with a hint of regret in her voice. “We were thinking of waiting until later this year, maybe next year, but things really seemed to be stabilizing perfectly for us. It seemed like a good time. The idea of going for Chief was in my mind, but I was happy as Lieutenant for the time being, and Chief himself wasn’t planning on retiring for another couple years…it seemed like the perfect time for us to start a family. Then Chief retired unexpectedly, and…well…I guess several things happened unexpectedly.”
“Karen, are you saying you haven’t even formally accepted the position yet?” Henry asked, perplexed.
Karen shook her head vigorously. “No! Not at all! I definitely accepted it. It’s just…this is just all so new to me, not to mention unexpected. I didn’t plan on being Chief and a first time mom all at once. And holy hell, imagine the learning curve while dealing with a pregnancy.”
Henry chuckled. “Well, I’ve never been Chief, so I’ve got no advice there, but Karen, let me tell you for a fact that you are never ready for parenthood. No matter how perfect the circumstances are, bringing a kid into the mix is always going to shake things up big time. At least that part, just know you’re perfectly normal to wonder if it was a good time or not. Most people don’t begin doubting themselves until they put the baby in the car for the first time and realize they have to take it home and take care of it now.”
Karen finally allowed herself to smile in response. “Yes, Henry. I remember very well how often to expect the unexpected after watching your parenting adventures over the years. I was hoping your son was just…um…exceptional? I suppose?” she felt suddenly self-conscious discussing anything related to the troubles that Henry’s son had put him through, but thankfully, Henry only seemed to be amused by her reference.
“Yeah, well…let’s just say you never know exactly what you’re gonna get.” He replied, “And half the time, you won’t even have a good clue as to what to do about it. But hey, look at it this way – standing up to a tantruming child, or corralling a department full of rowdy officers – it’s all the same, isn’t it? Management as glorified babysitting, I believe they call it.”
Karen laughed harder this time, feeling especially confident of her choice to come talk to Henry. He always had a way of putting a new perspective on things. “Then again, at least the tantruming child at most only has a sticky dart gun as a weapon. A Department full of armed rowdy officers, on the other hand…”
“And there’s your first mistake as a parent.” Henry interrupted. “Don’t ever assume a child does not have the means to cause great harm to your property and/or possessions. Ever. No matter how well you think things are child proofed. Even if all they have available to them is a sticky dart gun, don’t think they can’t use it to…well…let’s not get into that.” He was glad to see he was making Karen laugh, but still felt like she needed someone to firmly help her establish herself in her new professional role.
“So, on top of me being picked, I’m also female, and I’m pregnant. Henry, you’d have to be completely naïve to think this won’t pose a problem for me being accepted to lead that place, especially when most of those officers already see Lassiter as Chief in Waiting.”
Henry sighed and nodded. “Yeah. I know. But Karen, I’ve known you long enough to know for a fact that you have it in you to be a great Chief and win over their allegiance.” He continued. “You might not make the most noise around the Department, you might not have the most or the most impressive busts around, but you have a strong and firm consistency. You do a damn good job of police work all on your own, and most importantly, you know how to bring out the best in those who serve under you. When people look upon a strong organization, what they see are the people who make up that organization, not the leader.” He glanced to his friend to see she still had a bit of a doubt in her eye, so he decided to close with just one question. “Karen, in the end, when you wonder if it should have been you or Lassiter to get the job, ask yourself this – can he bring out more strengths in you than you can bring out in him?”
Karen hadn’t expected Henry to ask such a thing, but as soon as he did, she knew exactly what he meant. She had no idea how he had managed to put such a clear perspective on things, and suddenly found herself hoping that this was a skill she would be able to master someday. Finally, she found herself able to smile an honest smile, believing that perhaps this was a job she could do, after all. “Ok, Henry. You win.” She conceded.
“Don’t I always?” He laughed
“I guess you always did.” She conceded again. “But don’t expect I’ll keep things exactly the same as they’ve been. I loved Chief, but I have a few ideas myself.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything less.” Henry encouraged her. “You’ve never been afraid to try something completely new and unexpected. Keep doing that. It’ll serve you well.”
Karen smiled and nodded as she rose from her seat. “Thanks, Henry. This was exactly what I needed today.”
Henry gave her a quick hug just before she stepped out the door. “Anytime. The place is in good hands as long as you give yourself a chance.”
“I’ll remember that.” Karen waved and had just turned to walk towards her car when she heard Henry’s voice again.
Karen was too overcome by emotion at having been addressed by her new title for the first time to respond verbally, so she just smiled back and got into her car, feeling a new sense of confidence in her ability to lead her staff through this unexpected transition.
“Damn new age politics is all it is.” Lassiter exclaimed to the group of officers around him and anyone else within earshot. “You know how things are nowadays. I was next in line for that office. Everyone knew it except for those making the decision I guess.” He noticed a few shrugs and raised eyebrows, so he figured now was as good a time to make his point as any. Not that he hadn’t already been ranting about this for a good fifteen minutes, not counting the ready made rants for anyone who had the bad luck of asking him personally. “The Council is just trying to make a ‘female friendly’ statement is all.” He emphasized. “That’s the only reason she’s Interim Chief and not hired on permanently. This gives them the easy out for when things don’t work out and they realize there’s already a set order for things around this place. Publicly, yeah, they’re saying it’s just because Chief had to retire so unexpectedly, but the real reason is because they don’t expect her to last. I’ve even heard rumors she’s pregnant. I mean, come on! She’s just here to keep the seat warm for the time being. Frankly, I feel sorry for her. She had a great thing going as Lieutenant.”
“Better watch yourself, Lassiter.” Another Detective warned. “She might come in here with an eye to see what needs to be cleaned out, if you know what I mean.”
Lassiter scoffed. “Hey, it’s the Captain’s job to go down with the ship. Unfortunately, I’m still just a Detective with a damned impressive service record. If she wants to clean house, let her. I’m sure I can find an even better job somewhere else if that’s the route she wants to go. Besides, she’d have to have a reason, wouldn’t she. I dare any of you to think of anything that would warrant anything at all against me.”
“All I ask is that cases get solved and jobs get done, Detective.” They all heard the female voice approaching from the bullpen. Everyone seemed to scatter at the sight of their new Chief’s arrival, except for Lassiter, who was apparently caught hopelessly red handed. She made a quick eye contact with him as she walked past everyone and into her new office, which was still littered with unpacked boxes. Lassiter, with a sinking feeling, interpreted her glance to mean she expected him to follow her inside. As he did, however, he realized that perhaps this was the perfect opportunity to establish his own position while still giving the appearance of being supportive of her.
“Hey, I’m just saying that this is a very difficult transition for anyone to find themselves in, and it’s going to affect the Department more strongly than some people might think. No one saw this coming, in their defense.” he offered, and watched as she calmly took a seat at her desk. She didn’t appear fazed at all by him or his words. Perhaps she hadn’t heard him, after all!
“I recognize that a change in leadership this big is going to come with some difficulties, Detective, and I’m glad that there are others in leadership positions, such as yourself, who are aware of this, as well.” She replied. Lassiter watched for any hint of emotion on her part, but was left with nothing to grab on to. It was a common feeling in his experience, to be given nothing to go on by a woman, then be held responsible for the consequences. To think that she of all people was now causing such familiar and painful feelings to well up within him was nothing short of infuriating. Instead of unleashing on her as he would have loved to do, he chose instead to remain quiet and wait for her to speak again. Thankfully, her next words came quickly.
“So, since this is something that seems to be on your mind, I’m very interested to hear any thoughts you might have, Detective.” She continued. “You’re a respected member of this Department, and as such I put a lot of weight on what you have to say.”
Lassiter’s chest swelled with pride to hear that she seemed to see his point of view. It gave him confidence to speak up and say what was on his mind. “Well,” He began, still unable to address her by her new title. “I just wanted to let you know that you have my understanding of how difficult this has got to be.” He stated. Predictably, her face softened, and he was thrilled to see her demeanor change to that of someone who was dropping her guard. He had her right where he wanted her.
“That’s…that’s great to hear, Detective. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” He replied, now determined to finish saying everything he had meant to say. “And because it’s so difficult, I realize that this isn’t a job for everyone. But you know, you won’t ever know when you can’t do something unless you give it a try. That’s what I respect about you – that you’ve given this a try. It says a lot about you.” He shifted slightly in his seat at the sight of her expression once again changing. He couldn’t get a good read on it, exactly, except that there was something about it that wasn’t making him feel quite as confident as before. Still, he was determined to continue. If anything, this might actually be a chance for him to ingratiate himself to her as a colleague for when things broke down around her. It would at the very least give him the boost he needed to move up the ladder.
“What I’m saying,” he said after a quick breath. “Is that I’m here for you. I know this place as well as you do, and I’ll do whatever it takes to make it easier for you when…if…things get to be too much. Just know that asking for help isn’t a bad mark against you. It’s what makes us all stronger, and you’ll earn more respect for it in the end. This is all a learning process, after all, right?” He watched her stand and reach for a nearby box, which she then lifted onto her desk and began rummaging through it. Curious. Lassiter could only sit and watch while she seemed to be looking for something as she dug through the box’s contents. The entire office was somewhat taken-apart from the previous Chief’s leaving and the new Chief moving in, but he could tell that even this quickly, work was already starting to pile up on his new superior’s desk. The stack of papers on one corner with a big sticky note on it bearing the words: “COMPLETED APPLICATIONS – DETECTIVE” were evidence enough. The stack commanded his curiosity even more when he noticed the one at the top of the pile had its own sticky note attached to it: “Out of state: Florida.” Interesting. He didn’t know there was an active, open Detective position, and much less one open to external applicants.
After what felt like an eternity, her eyes brightened and she smiled while pulling out an object. “Here it is!” She exclaimed. “I thought I left it right on top, but you know how it goes whenever packing and boxes are involved.” Lassiter finally got a good look at what she was holding when she placed it prominently at the edge of her desk. Her new name plate. A streak of sunlight shone off its corner as she carefully centered it just to her liking. It had her name engraved in large letters, complete with her new title: CHIEF KAREN VICK. When she finished, she sat back and smiled, then looked back up at Lassiter, the smile never fading from her lips. “Thanks for the good talk, Detective. You’re dismissed.” Lassiter walked out of his new superior’s office feeling dazed and more confused than ever. He wasn’t exactly sure of what had just happened, but he could tell it was something big. She definitely meant to send him a message. She wasn’t pleased about what he had to say, that’s for damn sure. He knew that smile anywhere. His wife used to show it to him during their arguments, when she was determined to keep her emotions in check, while also making it clear to him that she had something up her sleeve…that she had options and was willing to use them. As it turned out, she did, in the form of a separation that would likely end in divorce. If there was any doubt before, it was gone now. Carlton knew he had been given absolutely no room to set even one toe out of line. The battle lines had been drawn, apparently, the dare had been made during his less than wise rant to his co-workers for her to find cause to get rid of him. That little smile she just gave him was her way of letting him know the challenge was accepted.