Sheriff Roy was tired. Very tired. Two months straight of early mornings and late nights policing would do that to a man. The Sheriff’s Department was short a man due to someone rage quitting after a good-natured rib over a recent Alabama game, and Roy had taken the former deputy’s job duties and shifts until the position was filled.
All of that was behind him. At the moment, the only thing on the mind of Mud Lick’s top cop was the week of vacation he had coming up with Arlene.
Just the two of us for a solid week in Gatlinburg, Sheriff Roy thought with a smile. It’s not the same as our honeymoon, but it’s a nice getaway for an anniversary.
The Sheriff’s blissful rumination was interrupted by his second in command, Deputy Ernesto Miranda.
“You’re still here, boss? Figured you’d be gone by now.”
“I was just fixing to get out of here. You sure I’m good to go for the week?”
Miranda smiled. “Boss, you’ve deserved this holiday with Arlene for a while now. I’m sure we’ve got everything covered. This is, what, the first vacation you’ve taken since your honeymoon?”
“Policing doesn’t take breaks. Neither does crime.”
“But overworked Sheriffs do. Now get out of here!”
“Fine.” Sheriff Roy gathered his belongings and stood. “Just promise me if the shit hits the fan around here you’ll call my cell phone?”
“Okay boss,” Miranda grinned again. “But I’m sure we’ve got everything you’d want covered. Go enjoy your time with Arlene!”
Sheriff Roy’s phone rang two days into the vacation. He’d set up a custom ringer for Deputy Miranda’s cell phone so he could pay more attention to Arlene. When the two of them heard “Dixieland Delight” start playing, Arlene looked at her husband and said, “You might want to take that outside.”
The Sheriff stood up from his table at the nearly empty Guy Fieri’s Downtown Flavortown and said “Shouldn’t be long, hon.” He then pressed the green “Accept call” button.
“Sheriff, it’s Miranda. I’m really sorry to bother you but we’ve got some folks from the FAA here and they’re pretty pissed.”
The Sheriff swallowed. “As in the Federal Aviation Administration?”
“One and the same, Sheriff.”
“What do they want?”
“Funny you should ask. It involves the Cocke boys.”
“Well it was Stan Cocke’s birthday and his brother George wanted to prank him for a birthday gag. So George buys this massive balloon shaped like a penis and attaches a massive, very unflattering picture of Stan to it with a sign reading “Happy 40th birthday to Mud Lick’s Original Dickhead!” He set this thing over Garage 66 without Big Ed knowing anything about it. When Big Ed saw the balloon he called Stan and Stan didn’t take too kindly to it. He tried to shoot the balloon down with a rifle but you know he’s a bad shot. Some mother was driving by the garage and saw the balloon and the attempt at shooting it down and called the FAA over it because she thought it was some kind of drone.”
Sheriff Roy couldn’t believe his ears. “So it’s a big misunderstanding?”
“Apparently not, Sheriff. The FAA people say there’s a new set of regulations involving airborne balloons and George’s dick balloon violates almost every single one of them. They’re saying unless the balloon is brought down and disposed of properly, George is facing severe federal criminal penalties.”
“Then that’s settled. Ask the FAA people how the balloon is to be safely brought to earth. Then go over to Garage 66 and tell George unless he gets that balloon down by the end of the day the Cockefights are suspended in Mud Lick until further notice.”
Deputy Miranda was silent for a few seconds. “Just writing this down, Sheriff. Sorry to have bothered you on your vacation but I’ve never dealt with the FAA before.”
“Me neither, Deputy. You sure I don’t need to head back to Alabama?”
“No sir! Enjoy Gatlinburg! I’m sure nothing else will happen this bizarre.”
“Okay Ernesto. I’ll be getting back to my Fieri bacon cheeseburger and tiki bar cocktail then.”
“Hey, you’re at Flavortown? I hear that burger is Robert Irvine’s favorite! Tell Arlene I said hi! “
“Will do, Deputy. And thank you.”
He pushed the “end call” button and went back to dinner, confident his second-in-command could handle any further issues on his own.
The second phone call came less than twelve hours later.
Sheriff Roy woke in the middle of the night to his phone buzzing. It wasn’t Deputy Miranda. His Caller ID screen read “Amato-HR.” That would be Sara Amato, the current officer in charge of human resources at the Sheriff’s Department.
If she’s calling at this hour, Sheriff Roy thought, I better take it.
Stepping quietly onto the hotel room balcony, taking great care to not disturb Arlene’s slumber, Sheriff Roy answered his phone.
“Sorry to bother you Sheriff,” Deputy Amato said, “but we’ve got a PR nightmare over here.”
“You ever hear of a group called ‘Black Guns Matter?’”
“Can’t say that I have.”
“Well apparently they’re a pro second amendment organization for people of color.”
“Sounds like fine, upstanding people then. Where’s the PR nightmare?”
“It’s Deputy Tyrone.”
Sheriff Roy was quiet. “Go on.”
“Well this Black Guns Matter organization sells T shirts, right? And apparently Deputy Tyrone got one because he thought it was funny? So Deputy Tyrone decides he’s going to wear it to a local high school football game he was working security for.”
“People have free speech rights, even at a football game, Deputy Amato.”
“Yeah well you might want to know Deputy Tyrone wore that shirt, blue jeans, a blazer and his badge to work “Security” for the football game. So in my view he was basically telling everyone in attendance not only was that approved attire for an officer on duty, his shirt was basically an approved message endorsed by the Sheriff’s office.”
“And this is my problem on vacation how?”
“Some reporter in attendance saw it and asked Deputy Tyrone why he was wearing a shirt that made fun of Black Lives Matter and he said on camera ‘Because it’s true.’”
“Goddammit,” Sheriff Roy sputtered.
“And there’s some woman named Roxane Gay emailing, asking if you have a comment about the Mud Lick Sheriff’s Department endorsing a message that’s a dog whistle for white supremacists.”
Sheriff Roy swore using a word we will not mention in this story because this is a family blawg.
“What do we do, Sheriff?”
“Let Deputy Miranda handle the comment from Ms. Gay. He’s the one of us who’s spent time doing news media. Take Tyrone off active duty. Tell anyone who asks he’s been suspended until further notice.
When Tyrone gets upset he’s riding his desk for this stunt, take two of the Marvel Comics coloring books out of the third desk drawer on the right in my office and offer them to him. If you can find one with pictures of the Punisher in it, he’ll prefer that over anything else. That’ll keep him occupied while he’s at work.”
“Will do, Sheriff. Sorry to bother, but when the national news media calls I got to thinking about your policies regarding the press and wanted to make sure this was handled correctly.”
“I appreciate that, Deputy Amato. Do I need to come back early to help handle the fallout from this?”
“Negative, Sheriff. We should be okay here. Enjoy the rest of your vacation.”
“Thank you, Deputy Amato. I will.”
Sheriff Roy pressed “end call” and went back inside. As he fell asleep again, the last waking thought on his mind was if he’d need to end his vacation with Arlene early.
Deputy Amato called again the next day at lunch. It wasn’t good.
“You hear of Article 480?” she asked the Sheriff.
“Some kind of local law that forbids the same day simulcasting of any Alabama game the day of except for approved sources, right?”
“Yessir. Apparently Deputy Rollins has a friend that’s planning on live-streaming the next game for Rollins on something called ‘Twitch’ and the Grassy Knoll Pub is holding a watch party for it.”
Sheriff Roy swore again with a word he rarely used. One not repeated here because, as I said earlier, this is a family blawg.
“Okay, well we can tell Custer his party’s in violation of local law and that’ll stop that. Is that all?”
“No sir, there’s another development in Deputy Tyrone’s T-Shirt scandal.”
“So after we put Deputy Wentzel on desk duty he took a photo of himself with two pistols wearing that “Black Guns Matter” shirt on Instagram.”
“There were no mentions in the post at all regarding the Sheriff’s Department or Deputy Wentzel’s status with the department.”
“And the problem is?”
“Deputy Miranda ‘liked’ the post.”
“I’m coming home tonight.”
And so Sheriff Roy’s first real vacation ended early. Arlene didn’t mind. She knew her husband was as married to his job as he was to her.
But they missed a reservation at Dolly’s Stampede. Arlene was really looking forward to that.
Sheriff Roy never let any of his people forget that when he finally made it back to the office.