A few days later, the whole Hereford experience seemed like a bad dream. Danielle, Tag, Monroe and Smoot all had been bailed out and were awaiting trial. I was flying back to Stanford in less than a week and would be able to put the whole thing behind me. Until that summer when I was going to have to sit through hours of depositions with lawyers for all four of the defendants.
That Wednesday night, however, I chose not to think about the future and to revel in the moment instead. My mother had put together a little party for me as a kind of congratulations and a thank-you for catching the wily Hereford drug lord. The entire Morrison force, along with the mayor of Morrison and a few other people I didn’t recognize, were convoked to the station in semi-formal attire to down sparkling cider and eat hors d’oeuvres in my honor. I was beaming the whole night, feeling as if all my hard work was validated.
Even if I had chased the wrong people for two weeks and then basically stumbled upon the arrest after fortuitously spotting David out in the quad. I was sure that was how it happened all the time!
I was standing near the back wall, gabbing with Quincy and some of my mother’s colleagues, when Mom stood up near the front desk and called everyone to attention. I felt my face flush hot. This was going to be embarrassing.
“Thank you, everyone, for coming tonight to recognize the success of my daughter, Kim Stratford, on her first investigation!”
At this everyone applauded and turned around to smile at me. I raised my hand and grinned at the acclaim, feeling like an imbecile. But a happy one.
“You know I’m not the verbose type, but I’m very proud of my daughter and I just wanted to tell all of you that,” my mother continued. I felt tears spring to my eyes. It was one of the more perfect moments of my life.
“Kim, I have a little something for you if you want to come up here,” she said, waving me over.
There was more applause as I pushed myself away from the wall, surprised, and wove my way through the maze of people. I had no idea what was going on. Had she gotten me some kind of cheesy plastic medal or something?
I stepped up next to her and the cheering waned. All eyes were on me as I stood there awkwardly, waiting and wondering what was going to happen next.
“Kim, in honor of the great success of your first ever case as a deputy detective—an investigation that led to four arrests,” she said, pausing for everyone to take this in, “I’d like to present you with this commendation, signed not only by myself and the mayor but also by the governor himself.”
Tad reached forward and handed my mother a framed certificate. My hands were shaking as she handed it to me, but somehow I maintained my equanimity. I read the commendation to myself as I grasped the frame with sweaty palms.
This commendation is presented to Ms. Kimberly Ann Stratford in recognition of excellence in the line of duty.
A reporter from the local newspaper snapped a few pictures of me and my mom, and of me shaking hands with the mayor. As the flash popped, blinding me, I could have sworn I saw a familiar figure hovering near the door. I blinked rapidly after the photographer was done and, finally, the person came into focus. It was Jon.
I was about to run over to him and show him the certificate, but my mother grabbed my arm.
“Kim, they want you to say a few words,” she told me.
I glanced from the spectators to Jon, longing just to run over to him, grab him and get the heck out of there, but I couldn’t turn down my moment in the spotlight. I stood up there in front of everyone, smiled and said, “Thanks everyone! Good night!”
Then I ran.
The crowd behind me laughed, and Jon was shaking his head in amusement when I reached him. He was wearing a shirt and tie under his leather jacket.
“Hey! See what I got!?” I said, holding up the frame.
“I’m impressed,” he said. “Not by your award, but by your eloquence up there.”
“I thought you of all people would appreciate a short oration,” I said with a smile.
“If it means we can get out of here, then I definitely do.”
I grabbed his hand and checked over my shoulder to make sure my mother wasn’t watching. She was otherwise occupied, chatting with the mayor and his wife—two people who had originally refused to endorse her for chief, but who now seemed completely enchanted by her.
Funny how quickly things changed.
“Now’s our chance,” I said to Jon. “Let’s go.”