“So what is your assessment?” asked Al Clark.
At the moment, Clark sat at the small conference table in the Governor’s office, next to a window overlooking downtown Charleston. Valerie sat at his right hand. Only a few days had passed since their release from the federal lockup, and she was still unusually quiet. Her lack of responsiveness made Clark nervous: somehow he felt that if said or did the wrong thing, she’d fall apart.
Asa Vance Hatfield sat across from Clark. Formidable in frame, the former soldier and cop had risen through the ranks of the State Police, and had been acting Secretary of the Department of Military and Law Enforcement since the end of the war. Which led to this meeting: Clark was convinced Hatfield was the wrong man in the wrong job. While there was no evidence to indicate Hatfield was doing anything to inflame conflict, there was an equal lack of evidence to indicate he was doing anything to bring it to a stop.
Hatfield shrugged in response to Clark’s question. “Governor, it’s not so much a question of what is wrong, as it is, what is right? We’re out of money. Right now I’m at less than one-third of our pre-war strength in the state patrol, and those that stayed are at half-pay. The Department has about three weeks reserve, and then we’ll have to let most of those troopers go: I’ve already laid off virtually all of the administrative staff. On top of that, the Feds have taken the entire state National Guard prisoner, so we have no capacity to respond to disasters, and frankly I don’t think we’ll get any help if we ask.”
Clark frowned. “Why is that?”
“I wouldn’t care to speculate on that, Governor. What I know is, it’s been three months and we don’t even have power through half the state. Charleston is a war zone, Governor. In 2016 we had 37 murders in this city. It’s April now, and so far this year there have been more than 250. We’ve got gangs moving in because there’s no cops on the street. Businesses closed, lights are out half the time, and there’s no jobs. Street crime, theft, burglary, it’s all through the roof. Bottom line, Governor, is we need help, and we need cash, and so far I’ve seen nothing from the feds.”
“I see,” Clark said. He leaned against the table, tenting his hands in front of his face. Hatfield was angry, but he had good reason to be. The question, of course, was could he be effective in his job?
“Have you talked to General Murphy about it?”
Hatfield scoffed. “No offense, General. I realize Ms. Murphy here is his niece, but Tommy Murphy could care less. He ain’t half the man his brother was. Yeah, I talked to him, way back in January, and at every damn cabinet meeting since. I need help, not more talk. And I don’t trust a man who took his own brother prisoner and saw him executed.”
Valerie flinched at the blunt words. Clearly the man had no diplomatic instincts. That did it. Tom was right about replacing Hatfield: he needed someone who could go to Washington and persuade Congress to part with some cash. A lot of it. And the person best qualified to do that was sitting right next to him.
“I understand, Mr. Hatfield. Well, we’re going to be making some changes which I hope will get you some help. I’m shortly going to be making my appointment for the permanent Secretary’s position. The candidate I’ve got in mind right now has a lot of experience in Congress, and ought to be able to get Washington to send some money our way.”
Valerie tensed up next to him. Hopefully she’d wait until Hatfield left before she blew her lid.
Hatfield’s face turned bright red. The man was clearly not very good at hiding his feelings.
“With all due respect, Governor, I can’t think of anyone more qualified to run this department right now than me.”
“On the operational level that’s true, and I expect you’ll continue to run the day to day affairs. But we need someone with some political savvy, and Washington experience. You’ve just outlined the problem yourself, Mr. Hatfield. West Virginia is bankrupt, and without some emergency funding we can’t get cops back out on the street. You stay focused on that. Thank you for stopping by.”
Clark stood. He didn’t have time to get drawn into a debate with Hatfield.
Hatfield stood stiffly, his hands bunched into fists, held stiffly at his side. His face was still red, and one eyebrow twitched slightly. Despite his obvious difficulty controlling his rage, when he spoke it was relatively calm.
“Well, Governor, I hope you are right about all this. Lord knows we need some help.”
They shook hands all around, and Hatfield left.
Valerie immediately turned toward him.
“Al, you aren’t suggesting what I think you are.”
Clark leaned against his desk. “Of course I am. I’ve never met a better organized or more motivated person than you. I intend to announce this afternoon than I’m nominating you for the job.”
Valerie shook her head. “Al, I’m not ready for this. I have zero executive experience. I’ve been your chief of staff, and that’s it. Don’t you understand? Besides—I’m still—look, I’m still pretty messed up over the last few months. I don’t want this job.”
Clark tried to soften his tone. “Valerie, I understand. It’s been a traumatic time. You’ll be better off with something to sink your teeth into. I can’t think of anyone who would better for this than you. I need you.”
He knew she would respond that to that, if nothing else.
He shoulders slumped, and she whispered, “All right. I’ll do it. I don’t want it, I don’t think I can do it; but if you insist, I’ll take the damn job.”
“Thank you, Valerie.”