Winter’s Quarterly: Ault Park

Winter's Quarterly - Jan 2015The second story in this season’s Winter’s Quarterly stems from a novel called Under the Bridge that never made it past the outline stages. Part of the story concerned Mike Dufford, a Cincinnati police officer who is injured off-duty in a stupid hit-and-run. The events of the book take place while Dufford is on disability recovering from a torn ACL. He lives in a suburb called Mt. Washington, which is, in the real world, part of the city of Cincinnati. I lived in Mt. Washington for ten years, always liked the place, and thought it never really seemed like part of the city. I even had a conversation with Alicia Reece, once the vice mayor. Even she said it was exasperating having to remind city employees and even her fellow elected officials that Mt. Washington was part of Cincinnati.

But I like the idea of it being this isolated small town on the East Side, a bedroom community not all that different from where I live now. And so the wheels began to turn.

Dufford owes his existence to a lady named Jane Chelius, a well-respected agent whose son Mark had taken me on as a client. Jane and Mark could not shop any Kepler stories because, like an idiot, I signed with a small press before Jane had Northcoast Shakedown to read. So I came up with Dufford and tried to do a new story set in the city where I’d lived, at the time, for 13 years. The story didn’t work. I did Road Rules instead. Shopped that with another agent. Went back to Dufford. Still couldn’t get it to work. Wrote Holland Bay. Quit writing. Rewrote Holland Bay. Started writing SF as “Dick.” Dufford still wanted to tell his story.

Over the years, I’d written about other Mt. Washington denizens: The alcoholic and oddly named police chief Tom Jefferson, the corrupt Sgt. Ed McNeely, and even grafted my sexy young lawyer Anne Ripley into the growing mythology around this alternate universe where Mt. Washington is its own town. So finally, I settled on Dufford’s injury and the internal politics that ultimately would push him off the force. And it had a basis in reality.

A few years ago, a Cincinnati assistant chief got into trouble for damaging his city-issued car and improperly reporting it. Newsworthy, but not controversial. Usually, if a senior official makes that kind of mistake, the force just quietly eases them out of their job with a little dignity, keeping the Thin Blue Line intact. Unfortunately, the next guy in line for the job was the commander of Internal Investigations. Can you say “conflict of interest”? Plus there was a racial component to it. The chief in question was the city’s only black senior official.

So I reversed it. I set it up so that the political calculus would leave the Internal Investigations as potentially the only black senior officer. The assistant chief in question? Tragic and in need of a little dignity as his personal life unravels. The II chief? Likeable, shrewd, definitely someone you’d want in charge, but his ethics slipping a bit in the face of his clear ambition.

The real situation sorted itself out with the city hiring an outside replacement under a new law allowing external recruiting. This one? Well, it exists primarily to put Dufford on a collision course with the politics that tangle any police department.

And Under the Bridge? May still happen. We’ll see.