“Chief Hepler. Thanks for returning my call.” The mayor’s voice carried a hint of irritation, not urgency. Upset at being kept waiting, even five minutes?
“Mayor McKenna,” Gordon said, and waited for the mayor to fill the silence, still scanning the budget. Nothing out of line. Had the grant for the in-vehicle computers come through? Or been rejected? But why would the mayor find out before Gordon did? After a pause, which Gordon assumed was because the mayor expected him to question the reason for the call, the mayor spoke again.
“I need you in my office.”
No please, no explanation. With a weary sigh, Gordon shut down his computer. “On my way.”
But first, Gordon moved to the closet and changed into his uniform. Looking like the chief gave him a boost of confidence, which always helped when dealing with politics. And besides, since Gordon had no clue how long the meeting would last, he’d be ready for his favorite task of the day—crossing guard duty at the elementary school.
He grabbed his jacket and hopped into his still-warm SUV. As he drove the short distance to City Hall, he automatically ran through the possible reasons for the summons. He reminded himself that the current mayor was hardly the corrupt tyrant his predecessor had been, but the immediate reaction to being called in without warning sent tendrils of doubt swirling through Gordon’s gut. He served at the pleasure of the mayor, and an out-of-the-blue call before seven a.m. was hardly going to come about because the mayor wanted to give Gordon a medal, or even shower him with praise.
After the special election to find a new mayor when Martin Alexander had left, Hunter McKenna had tested the waters one toe at a time. Now that he was hip-deep in running Mapleton, when it came to the police department, he’d become more hands-on than Gordon liked. In their last two face-to-faces, the mayor had hinted, and not so subtly, that Gordon’s contract had been with the old mayor, and it had been a gesture of goodwill on the mayor’s part not to demand blanket resignations from everyone.
Toe the line or you’re out had come through loud and clear.
No, a summons couldn’t be good.
Bracing himself for whatever Mayor McKenna might want, Gordon parked on the street and took a deep breath, enjoying one more view of the fall colors before entering City Hall. He strode across the worn but polished wooden floor, smelling lemon and wax, his footfalls echoing in the empty lobby. Then, already preparing his expression with a smile, he climbed the curving staircase with its wrought-iron balustrade to the mayor’s office. After a brief moment to regroup in front of the frosted-glass paned door with its gilt lettering proclaiming it the Office of the Mayor, Gordon twisted the knob and entered.
The anteroom was empty. Apparently, the mayor hadn’t seen the need to involve his admin in this meeting. At least whatever the man had in store for Gordon, it was likely to be private. He tapped on the inner door.
“Come in.” Hunter McKenna’s deep bass carried across the space.
No asking who it was. Then again, at this hour nobody would be showing up unless they were expected. Gordon opened the door.
The mayor rose as Gordon entered, a campaign-worthy smile spreading beneath the man’s walrus-worthy moustache. He emerged from behind his desk and pumped Gordon’s hand. “Thank you so much for coming at such short notice.”
Only then did Gordon see the woman seated on the sofa to his right. He couldn’t help but assume the warm greeting was for her benefit, not his. She stood and crossed the room, extending her hand. “Marianna Spellman.”
Mari-ah-nah, she pronounced it. Big-city woman was Gordon’s first reaction. And not big as in Denver, but big as in New York, Los Angeles, or maybe Chicago. Gordon took in the fingernails with polished white tips—a French manicure, he recalled Angie saying. Smooth olive skin. Deep chestnut hair, streaked with strands of amber. Brown eyes outlined in black, shiny brown lids, and eyelashes that almost brushed the lenses of her rectangular black-rimmed glasses. A pert upturned nose that didn’t match the rest of the Mediterranean appearance. After-market, he surmised. Full red lips painted almost the shade of her short-skirted red suit. Knee-length shiny black boots—the high-heeled, pointy-toe kind, not the cowboy variety most people around Mapleton wore. A spicy perfume surrounded her—expensive, he guessed, although he wasn’t familiar with the scent.
“Gordon Hepler,” he said. And waited.
The mayor motioned her to her seat, and Gordon to a visitor’s chair across from the large cherry-wood desk. Mayor McKenna had refurnished the office when he’d taken over. Instead of a steely-eyed portrait of himself above his desk, a Rocky Mountain landscape provided a much less disconcerting view. The former Oriental carpet had been replaced with a beige area rug with blotches of shades of red that made Gordon think of spilled wine. He stepped across its plush surface and lowered himself into the comfortable leather chair. And waited once again.
Marianna Spellman didn’t seem to mind the silence, but the mayor was compelled to fill the vacuum. “I’m sure you’re wondering why we’re here this early.” Since the question was directed at Gordon, not Marianna Spellman, he assumed she was the reason he was here, but he gave a short dip of his chin in response.
“Miss Spellman is in Mapleton on business,” McKenna continued. “I’ll let her explain what she’s doing. I’ve assured her she’ll get your complete cooperation.” The mayor flashed his teeth again, smiling and nodding at Marianna as if to say, See. You have nothing to worry about. Chief Hepler’s going to take care of everything.
With that, Gordon’s worry meter redlined. Right now, he figured a discussion of the budget would be more to his liking.
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