Bernie Ruff was Splinterbit born and bred, and proud of it, too, which is the main reason he had lived here most of his life and worked for the Splinterbit Police Department. Oh, Bernie had served his time in the Army, four years in all, though without actually seeing any action. Nevertheless, he had gotten a lot of good training and did see a lot of the world in the process, places like Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Germany, France, England and even Greenland, which he didn’t particularly care for because of the climatic extremities there.
Anyway, after four years of services, and at the ripe-young age of 22, Bernie returned to Splinterbit, earned an Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice and immediately went to work for the Splinterbit Police Department. He was like a caged tiger just waiting to be released, but he was also a bit like Barney Fife and Splinterbit was just a bit like Mayberry … not that anyone treated Bernie like Barney; they knew better. Bernard Ruff spent his last two years in service with the U.S. Army’s 10th Special Forces Group, so … he was not someone to be trifled with, with the exception of his wife, Spikey, whom he married a little less than one year on the force.
Hell, Spivey was on the force, too; that’s where he met and fell in love with her. She was the dispatcher, but of course being married meant they couldn’t both stay on with the same law enforcement agency. Thankfully, the Verdure County Sheriff’s Department was somewhat unique in that it had its main office in Grand Oak, but also maintained two mini-offices in other parts of the county: one just outside the Splinterbit town limits, fairly close to the college, and the other in Green Twig. Grand Oak covered about half the county, Splinterbit about 30% and Green Twig the remaining 20%. Splinterbit just happened to have an opening for dispatcher, so Spivey took it … with a decent raise, too!
Well, being married calmed Bernie down somewhat, but only a little; after all, Spivey was a bit of a wildcat, too, which is why he loved her so much (and why she loved him!). Anyway, she came to the ole boy with credentials of her own. Spivey had been the maverick of her Girl Scout troop, always rough and ready for adventure, but she saw it through to the end, and even graduated high school with honors. She went on to earn her own Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice and certification as a paralegal … “just for the hell of it,” she said. Anyway, while doing all that – girl scouting, middle and high school, college – she also earned her black belt in t’ai chi ch’uan, and certification as a Range Safety Officer through the National Association of Firearms and Firearms Safety (NAFFS).
You might say life for the newly married couple started out with a real bang, and in a sense it really did. They enjoyed spending time at the firing range, camping, hunting, trapping and fishing. Bernie and Spivey were made for each other, and nobody doubted that for a minute. Moreover, they could read each other like an open book; it spooked most folks at first, but eventually family and friends got used to it. And what was there to read, anyway? Not that they were at all shallow; they were just who and what they were, no hiding anything really. They didn’t have anything to hide, because they were just those kind of folks, much like most residents of Splinterbit, really. However, there was a downside to that, too, because Splinterbit really was a bit like Mayberry, while Bernie and Spivey craved some action.
It wasn’t too terribly long, though, before drugs started rolling in more and more. Oh, the stuff had been around for decades, but Verdure County became a throughway for trade and, as officials soon discovered, Splinterbit became a convenient drop-off/pick-up point. This is when things really got interesting. All in all, Ruff, by this time a lieutenant, took three bullets in bust-ups, one landing him in the hospital for nearly a week. It earned him some medals, too … “trinkets” as he called them. Also, ultimately, his consistency, level-headedness, courage and brains got him promoted to captain. None too few thought he should have been made chief, but politics got in the way, and so Ruff had to be satisfied with second-in-command. Besides, there was an awful lot he could, and did, do from that position that might have been problematic had he been chief.
Funny changes started taking place during this period, too, almost like a throwback to the sixties and early-seventies, and in some ways to an even earlier time. Men and women, boys and girls, of every age, ethnicity and income-level it seemed became embroiled in overly intense arguments about politics, social issues, and religion. Sometimes these disagreements devolved into fisticuffs right out in broad daylight. One particular incident stood out in Ruff’s memory and specifically one encounter during that incident. The time was approximately 2 p.m. on an otherwise peaceful Wednesday when reports of multiple brawls in the city park came in; Ruff and plenty of officers were immediately dispatched with back-up help being called in from the Sheriff’s Department. When Captain Ruff arrived, he witnessed more that “multiple brawls;” it would have been more aptly described as gang warfare, except those involved were regular residents of Splinterbit!
Ruff thought momentarily that they either must all be legitimately sick or, perhaps worse, possessed. He cleared his mind quickly, though, rounded his officers to strategic positions at the parameter of the park, and then began moving in to divide and conquer, so to speak … or, maybe, to divide and subside, which was naturally their main objective. About half way in, Ruff took a really good one right across the jaw from a rather tall and stout young man, with closely cropped hair, who was wearing glasses, sullied white shirt, half-ripped tie and black slacks. Lo and behold, it was none other than Fen Sloughheart, son of the Reverend Bog Sloughheart, pastor of the Ebenezer Independent Fundamentalist Bible Church! A preacher’s son had just slugged him, and that made him mad as hell, so he did something he shouldn’t have done. Ruff swung back good and hard, knocking Fen to the ground and, in fact, knocking him out cold. It took a few phone calls, administrative acrobatics, apologies, and favors to get his ass out of that boiling pot … but Ruff never regretted it one minute. Better still, Spivey was proud of him and gave Ruff her own special reward that very night … better than any of the damn trinkets handed out by City Hall!
Nothing happened to Fen Sloughheart for his involvement in the melee, which seemed to center around several issues including homosexuality, abortion and the right to life, the place of Christianity in the community and nation at large, as well as sharply divergent views on fundamentalism. In total, approximately 45 people were involved; shocking for the small town of Splinterbit, but unfortunately it would not be the last.
That number was never quite reached again, but fights broke out, nevertheless, until an agreement of sorts was reached by City Hall, the Verdure County Ministerial Association, the Verdure County Consortium of Fundamentalist Churches (which died off a few years later), and various respected community leaders. Meeting together in City Hall, all parties managed to agree to the complete neutrality of the city park and other areas of public gatherings. They tentatively agreed to keep all conversations about serious subjects to a minimum and at a low-key volume when in public gathering places. In addition, churches and groups that vehemently disagreed with each other agreed to stay off the other’s property or properties, and otherwise not to in any manner infringe upon those properties. Finally, where issues were concerned, local media outlets agreed to strive to give equal time and coverage to all viewpoints involved whatever the issue. Interestingly enough, this is how Fen Sloughheart managed to remain in the newspapers, local radio and television.
More surprisingly, perhaps, was that this agreement – simple, straightforward and some said naively idealistic – was the concoction of Captain Ruff … and it worked! Therefore, after several years of dedicated service, and having brought peace to the community, Bernard Ruff was highly respected and considered something of a hero. Not that status concerned him so much, but the incident in the park and what followed put him on an investigative track that only ended with the demise and death of Fen Sloughheart, his assailant … maybe. Ruff was older now and physically slower, but he was still sharp as a tack and loved the rough work of law enforcement. It still excited him just like it still excited Spivey. Best of all, though, they still excited each other and still had it in them to be ferocious felines when they wanted to be!