We took the stairs because there was no other working option. I did see an elevator door but whether it was down for mechanical reasons or management just wanted everyone to get some exercise I never found out. The second level followed the same pattern that I had seen in corporate America once upon a time except the security was far better. We walked down a hallway and made a right down another one. I knew we were almost there. We had switched from gleaming floor to carpet and the door at the end was very nice wood and flanked by the American flag and a red one with two stars in white. Well that answered that question.
We walked through the door into wood paneling, thicker carpet, and a empty waiting room. "To your left Gardener" Mr Lee told me. "We will be meeting in the conference room." Jesus this was a time warp. I felt like I was back in the world of when I had a job, the US economy was semi-functioning, and I had been sent to some VP's office to do tech support. The conference room was a dead ringer for everyone I had ever been in back then. Polished wood table. Swivel chairs on rollers, and a big LCD screen to display PowerPoint presentations or web conferences on.
A black male was sitting at the head of the table, a laptop was open and off to one side. He had a handful of manila folders in front of him. The one he was looking at when we came in he closed and then stood and offered me his hand. He said "Marshall Kelly" we shook hands and he said "I see you met Deputy Marshall Lee."
"Yes. He has been talking my head off." I told him and grinned. I liked seeing him shoot Lee a "WTF" look before focusing back on me. "Good. Good. Please have a seat."
I took one and Lee walked around the table so he could sit across from me. I had a feeling this was going to be interesting.
"I'm sure you are wondering what this is all about Mr. Gardener and I"
"Just call me Gardener...Chief"
"Excellent. You can call me Marshall. Now, as I was saying, I have a proposal for you." He paused and they both stared at me, yep, he switched to his piercing stare, these guys were so fucking predictable, and told me "We would like you to become a US Deputy Marshall."
"Why would I want to do that?" I was genuinely curious.
He reached into his sport coat pocket and laid it on the table, open so I could see inside, and pushed it towards me with a finger. It was a black leather folding wallet. Inside it was a Deputy US Marshall's credentials made out in my name and with my photo. His went back into his pocket and came back out with a silver star in a circle that he set beside it. "This is why. You want Zone credentials. Well, with these you can go anywhere in the United States. Not can you go anywhere but you will be treated with respect by local law enforcement and provided courtesies you would never get otherwise."
Deputy Lee answered this time. "You have prior law enforcement experience and you have a reputation for enforcing it rather impressively."
I wondered which manila folder was me and whose life stories the others contained. "So who do I have to kill?"
"Just the people you planned on killing anyways. This will make it legal and easier for you."
I had a feeling I knew who they meant. I wanted to hear them say it. Besides I might be wrong. "Who would that be?"
Once again it was Lee who answered "Sledge and his crew. We know they were there. We know the reason you wince when you breath is because you got a little to close to him. We know they raped that young lady. If you are who we believe you are then they are dead men walking."
"Yeah. So why do you want them dead. Don't give me any bull shit about the rape either."
They both looked at each other. I knew I was going to be lucky to get 40% of the real story.
"It's like this Gardener" the Marshall told me, "Certain people thought that using people like Sledge to help restore order would be" He paused and waved his hand in the air "Better than using regular troops or law enforcement. Especially in certain situations. The administration has since decided that was not a wise decision and would like to terminate that program. From now it will be done following established procedures and using trained personnel."
"I see." I did too. I would assist in tying up some loose ends and, if need be, I could be eliminated in turn if and when it became necessary. Nice actually.
"Sure. Why not." I told them and scooped the badge and credentials off the table. The Marshall put out his hand to stop me but he was too slow. He tried to make it look like it was a joke and told me "Not so fast Gardener. There's the matter of the oath..."
"Yes Gardener. The oath. You don't have a problem with swearing allegiance to the United States of America do you?"
"It depends. You want to tell me what I will be swearing too?"
Lee told me "It's pretty simple actually. It goes like this
"I, Gardener, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.'
I asked them "Who gets to define the 'all enemies, foreign, and domestic part?"
The Marshal told me "I know what you are worried about. It's your connection with Freya right?" He didn't wait for an answer which was good because he would have been waiting awhile. "Current policy is that followers of Freya are practicing a religion and not considered a terrorist organization. In fact current thinking is they maybe considered a stabilizing presence when they settle down." He added casually "Where is that going to be?"
I promptly answered "Nevada. Freya likes the desert."
Lee said "That's surprising. I would have thought it would some were colder."
I just stared at him.
"Oh yes. One more thing." The Marshal told me "Your friend Max. When you see him let him now he was made a 1st Lieutenant and recalled to active duty retroactive to the day before he separated from active duty."
I laughed. I couldn't help myself. I could wait to tell him. A 1st Lieutenant made it even better." When I got done laughing I put on my Mr. Serious face and said "I'm sure he'll be delighted." Then I started laughing again. When I got my act together Lee asked me somewhat irritably "You ready to take your oath?"
"When do I get my weapons back?"
"As soon as we finish your oath and do some paperwork."
"Where is the General?"
They both laughed with the Marshal telling me "He kindly consented to allow us to use his office space. I believe he is in the field." They both grinned that. My guess was the General was down the hall in a storeroom dicking his aide.
"Okay. Lets do it."
Authors note: The US Marshal Service has a lot of leeway to do this kind of thing.