A bright orange Security Express van pulled into the parking lot of Manzanita, California Police Department’s central offices. As most of their drivers did, this one wore charcoal-colored shorts with orange stripes down the outside of each leg. The shorts weren’t as much a fashion statement as the preferred wardrobe option for drivers. As every brochure from the Chamber of Commerce pointed out, Manzanita was “blessed with 300 days of sunshine every year.”
Unlike most Security Express’s drivers, this one also left the second button on his company shirt open. After a quick check of his manifest, he pulled a single envelope from its designated spot in the rear of the van. He leaped down from the driver’s side door and jogged into the lobby.
“Delivery for Records,” he said to the civilian receptionist.
“Where do I sign,” she asked.
“Right here,” he answered and handed over a clipboard.
The receptionist lifted the top sheet where the signature line was highlighted. After a quick glance around the lobby, snatched the second sheet of paper from under the clip at the top of the clipboard.
She signed her name.
He offered his thanks as he accepted the clipboard from her. His fingers brushed against hers. She raised her eyebrows and winked. He smiled and winked back. Two love-struck young people had confirmed another romantic interlude.
As the driver jogged away from the reception desk, more female eyes than those of the receptionist followed the journey of his muscular legs. Two female employees even hustled into their office doorways to catch the show.
The lobby door closed behind the deliveryman. Hormones ebbed, and the female observers returned to their workstations. Five minutes after its arrival, the Sergeant in charge of the Records Division accepted the partly forged file from the receptionist.
Out of habit, the Sergeant flipped the packet face down on her desk and checked for how the person stuffing the envelope had used the metal tab. When she didn’t see the two prongs pressing into the outside of the flap, she smiled. Kindred spirit, she thought. I never saw the value in those, either. But, my-oh-my, you do have a transparent tape fetish. There must be three or four layers of LePage’s on this.
After slicing through the end of the envelope with the box cutter she kept in her desk for just such situations, she paused and hefted the envelope. After checking to be certain no one was watching, she sniffed the back of the envelope. Then, she made her prediction.
“Arizona.” She sniffed again. “Maybe, Colorado.”
It was a mind game she’d invented that she played with herself. Most of her job was routine. To relieve the tedium whenever she got an outside delivery, she predicted where it originated. If she was correct, she treated herself to a Hershey’s Kiss. When she was incorrect, which was most of the time, she prescribed herself a Kiss to improve her mood and raise her spirits.
It was a win-win situation.
With prediction complete, she flipped the envelope over so the sender’s information was visible.
“Darn! I wasn’t even close,” she muttered. Then she reached out and pulled the commiserating piece of candy from the jar on her desktop.
Funny, she thought. We get more newbies from California and Arizona than anywhere else. We don’t get many at all from east of Colorado. This makes two from the same city in the Midwest in she did some mental calculations. It can’t be more than three years, she decided.
She paperclipped a note to the envelope directing the document room clerk to file it in the appropriate location. She was about to drop it in the tray for interoffice delivery when she had another thought.
She grabbed a packet of Post-it notes and a Sharpie. She printed in bold letters, “Copy only when requested in writing!” on the sticky square and slapped it on the envelope just below her previous message.
Satisfied, she dropped the envelope in the tray.
* * *
Petula Jacobs’ father, an Army Sergeant, spent his last deployment in the military police in Wiesbaden, Germany. He and his buddies spent their leave exploring various European cities. On a trip to London, England, Sergeant Jacobs first heard a singer named Petula Clark in a popular club. He described her as having “less noise and more polish” than most singers of the time. That night in the club was the first of many trips to London to visit clubs where Petula sang.
The Sergeant returned to the United States in 1956. Nine months after his return to Northern California, a daughter was born. Of course, dozens of boy and girl names were considered. But, when it came time to decide, the baby’s father won her naming rights. She was named for his favorite singer, Petula Clark.
The name wasn’t a problem in early elementary school grades. But by fourth grade, although now a bit of celebrity due to the influx of British Invasion singers, she learned to endure being petted. Junior high added mild sexual overtones to the nicknames. Petting you a lot was the favored derivation of Petula among the adolescent males in her classes.
High school brought expanded vocabulary needling. Petulant and Petty joined the list of nicknames she hated. She considered legally changing her name. When she turned 18 and could have done that, she decided Petula had helped mold her into who she was. She vetoed her own name change idea.
An above average high school swimmer, she shifted her athletic interests to a sport on top of the water in college. She was the coxswain for the 8+ crew as a freshman and sophomore while she majored in seismology.
The study of earthquakes brought with it a new set of innuendo-inspired jokes, I bet you can rock my world and I felt the earth move being the most common. Thanks to her Petula-trained psyche, she fended off all suitors she wanted nothing to do with.
Late spring of her sophomore year brought the biggest change to her life plan. An intruder raped her roommate while Petula was studying in the library. Incensed by the act and determined to help other rape victims, she dropped out of college and entered the regional police academy.
Three years as a beat cop provided enough proactive intervention. She passed the administrative assistant skills test the first time she took it. Now, she was a middle-grade officer on the Manzanita Police Department. Her duty assignment was Confidential Assistant to Chief of Police, Dwight Rogers.
And, confidentially, she was Rogers’ mistress.
This morning, Petula awoke to an empty bed. It was far from the first time, and, as much as she hated this feeling, she hoped it would not be the last. Some times together were better than no times together, even though fraternization within the MPD hierarchy—particularly the kind between two people, in secret, in the dark—was a dismissible offense.
She didn’t know that she loved Buck Rogers, as those in the media called the Chief. She looked forward to their trysts. But, deep down, she didn’t think she could live with his aura of pompous arrogance day after day. Besides, he has a wife in St. Louis.
She stretched, threw the covers back, and headed toward the master bath. When she flipped on the light, she found a note taped to her mirror. Call Andy from my private line. Message: Pressure’s on my hire. It’s time for you to make your move.
Petula sighed. In spite of the Police Chief’s interest in her physical abilities, the mornings after his visits were far from amorous. It took almost an hour for her to remove or disguise evidence of the man’s presence in her apartment.
This affair is too one-sided, she decided as she tossed a dirty pair of Rogers’ argyle socks into her clothes hamper. I hate what’s become a morning after a night with Dwight routine.
Satisfied with her clean-up, she climbed into her sports car and made the short commute to Manzanita’s Central Police Complex. She parked her car in her labeled space and closed the convertible top. After a brief primping glance in the rear view mirror, she slid out of the driver’s seat. She closed and locked the car door before smoothing her uniform skirt over both hips.
Last night was an end of the old. From now on, I’m taking over control of my relationship with the Chief. With that thought in mind, she marched across the parking lot. Once inside the building, she made her way to Rogers’ office suite, exuding confidence with every step.
The suite was a two-room design with a comfortable waiting area and reception desk in the first room. This was Petula’s domain. Among the accouterments was a hotel room refrigerator—with water and sodas—and a coffee maker. On days when appointment volume was high, she also supplied pastries from the local bakery as a courtesy to the Chief’s visitors.
The inner sanctum, as the Chief’s private office was known to all, was large. Besides an oversized desk, there was a credenza, a bookcase, and a conference table—all made of cherry wood. Non-wooden pieces included two secure filing cabinets with a five-digit combinations and an oversized paper shredder built into the back of the credenza. The decor was manly with a police and military theme.
Once inside her office, she made coffee and checked her message machine. After annotating each message, she listed them by time and topic on a cover sheet. She placed the list of messages in the tray mounted to the wall outside his door. No one ever entered the Chief’s office when he was not inside. Not even the cleaning crew had a key.
On her way back to her desk, Petula locked the hallway door. What she was about to do was for her eyes and ears only.
She pulled the note from Rogers from her purse and read the message twice. Satisfied that she had all the information correctly added to her memory, she shredded the note. Then she made the call.
“Mr. Anderson, please.”
“I’m sorry, he’s on a long-distance call. Would you like to leave a message?”
“I have instructions only to leave messages on Mr. Anderson’s private machine.”
“Not a problem. I’ll connect you.”
There was a click, a brief period of silence, another click, and then the greeting began.
“This is William Anderson. I do regret missing your call. Please leave a detailed message. If you have a specific time you’d like me to return this call, include it in your message. I will do my best to accommodate your wishes. Thank you for calling Anderson Pharmaceuticals.”
Well versed on the protocol involved in these calls, Petula repeated her boss’s message verbatim and hung up. Her surreptitious task completed, she yanked the pages from the previous two weeks from her desk calendar.
She turned around and fed the calendar pages into the paper shredder she had beside her file cabinet. I’m not sure why this seems like a prudent move, but it can’t hurt anything.
Her task completed, she unlocked the office door and returned to her desk. Once again she smoothed her uniform skirt over her hips before sitting down at her desk.
She was ready to face the day.