Five hours later Nathan dug with blistered hands for his gun, badge and pick-up keys. Weary to the bone he threw the cammo-net from the pick-up and dragging himself into the driver's seat he twisted the key in the ignition. He must have left the radio on for it blared into life as the key clicked to the first position. Eden someone-or-other was singing 'Boys Cry.' 'The hell they do,' whispered Nathan to himself. He punched the off button, switched on another set by its side and called a breaker on the emergency channel. In just a little while he'd meet with the county sheriff or a ranger; then he could get home to his wife and telephone Jay. Right now, he needed them more than anything.
The towel roll spilled from the dispenser and snaked dangerously close to the urinal. A faucet dripped and the light bulb was too dim for the room it should have filled with warming light. In other words, business as usual at the station house.
'Snap out of it, Sarge! You've seen dead people before,' said Lee Cornell. 'Hey, will you get this for me?'
Nathan pulled at the Velcro strap and pressed it into place.
'Thanks. Can't stand a loose vest,' said Lee pulling his uniform shirt over the kevlar body armor. 'I don't understand why this is getting to you so much.'
'I knew him. He was just a kid.'
'He was a drifter. He died a drifter's death. Anyway, you didn't know him that well.'
'Enough to go on the sheet for the formal I.D. That's good enough I reckon. But Lee, it isn't so much that he's dead. It's the way of it. To think that some slime-ball is out there lining up another kid to... to Hell knows what. You know they didn't kill him easy. He was tormented. And it wasn't just one off-the-wall psycho with a buck knife. There were at least two of them.' Nathan punched the side of his locker.
Lee cast a sidelong glance at Nathan's locker. 'That's a rare old dent you've just left on the Chief's property. How's your hand?'
Nathan didn't answer, but shrugged it off before setting his gun right on his belt. 'And on top of it all,' he mumbled, 'I've got to break the news to the Wilburs.'
The room was comfortably cool and the only sound was the gentle hum of the air conditioning unit. Dan had closed the blinds on hearing the news, so colors lost their edge. A few shafts of sunlight fell on a vase of cut flowers making the simple wooden table appear as a spot-lit stage where the flowers were playing the lead role. The soft furnishings, armchairs and couch took on the role of silent and rapt audience. Hettie and Dan settled on the couch and offered Nathan the master's armchair, then they fell into a contemplative silence, as was their way.
Neither Hettie nor Dan took much coffee, but the pot was always ready for visitors. This time though, they sat with Nathan, each cradling a steaming mug. Dan sniffed as a tear splashed into his. 'Hell of a time to get a fly in your eye,' he whispered. Hettie placed a comforting hand on his knee. This time, silence was not enough and after a few minutes Hettie was moved to speak. 'We none of us get out of here alive.'
Nathan looked up at her face and for the first time noticed how old she was getting. She went on. 'So this is how I'm going to deal with it. You can die in a car crash, or a house fire. A disease can carry you off. Or you can be murdered. Murder... murder is just another way of passing on.'
'Cop out!' thought Nathan. When he needed a solid answer, all he got was a cop out. But then, as he thought about it, he saw the sense in Hettie's statement. Not so long ago, violent and untimely death had been the norm. More than that, some of his ancestors would have prayed to the Great Spirit for a glorious death on the battlefield.
Nathan returned in silence to communion with the elderly couple and reflected deeper on Hettie's words. He had just centred down when the door opened.
'Oh! I... erm. Sorry. I didn't know anyone was...'
'It's all right Mike,' said Hettie. 'Come right on in.'
Mike stepped into the darkened room. 'Hi, officer,' he said, feeling uneasy about calling the cop by his name despite the given leave. 'Is everything okay?'
'Yeah. Generally,' said Nathan.
Then Dan spoke, his voice a little tremulous. 'It's just that we've had some real sorry news about little Stevie. He lodged with us a while back, and now...'
Mike knew by the way Dan's words trailed off and by sorrow in his eyes that whoever little Stevie had been, he was no more. A lump came to Mike's throat and he was seized by the desire to comfort the old man; put an arm over his big shoulders, tell him everything would be okay. People did that kind of thing in the movies; in real life you just stood there feeling stupid and helpless, so Mike followed the lessons of real life. But then, Hettie got up and followed the lessons of the movies. It was Mike though, not Dan, who received the benefit of a consoling hug. She sobbed silently, burying her head into his shoulder, and then Mike realised he was supposed to be giving and not receiving comfort. He closed his arms about Hettie as he too felt a stinging behind the eyes.