Nathan stuck a finger down his keds to scratch an itchy heel. Wouldn't reach, so he stamped his foot down on the floor of the pick-up a couple of times to relieve the irritation. His regulation black leather shoes were locked away with the rest of his uniform and his point four-four engine-block buster. He felt more human in T-shirt and chinos' even if regulations did make him pack a snub-nose thirty-eight. He didn't like carrying a piece off duty, but then again, he didn't like having to tote the badge either.
Nathan had been a cop for fourteen years, but he still felt guilty if a black and white came up behind him, automatically easing off the gas and checking his speedo. To him, off duty was off duty - leave it all behind until it's time once again to drag on the badged shirt. Nathan Seven Elks didn't much like being a cop.
But work was over for another day: he was homeward bound, and for a change he was bringing home a good feeling. He liked it when he could help someone out - those 'little-old-Granny's-cat-up-a-tree' jobs which many of his colleagues denigrated. Most of the time Nathan had to force himself to paddle upstream to do his job. His job was one you couldn't do being Mr Nice Guy all the time, so on those rare occasions when he could, the sun shone for him.
It was shining now. Nathan had been worried about Medicine Dove. He'd left that kid in her house and her all alone and the house so far out and all, so he'd decided to call in on the way home. If Dan's truck was in the yard, why he'd just pass on by, and no harm done.
No truck, so Nathan filled it's usual place with his pick-up - next to the pump house. Hettie was in the back room ironing a pair of black jeans. The kid, swamped in Dan's robe, was in the kitchen tucking in to ham and eggs. Hettie called out introductions omitting Nathan's occupation.
'Hi Michael. How you doing?' said Nathan, helping himself to a coffee from the stovetop.
'What up Chief! I'm fine thanks. An' the name's "Mike".'
Nathan nodded slowly as he watched the young man shoveling in victuals like they were his last. 'It so happens I am a chief. But the name's "Nathan".' Firm, but unmenacing.
Mike stopped mid-mouthful. 'Yeah, right. Nathan. I'm sorry.' Mike blushed deeply and went back to his eating. His manner, his way of talking - it was like a junky after a speed trip - bunged up and sniffy, like someone recovering from a severe bout of flu. Nathan was surprised; knowing what he did for a living, he figured there couldn't be a blush left in him. The blush is what did it; Nathan had visited the Wilbur's place to read this kid the riot act, but the blush made him seem vulnerable. Nathan was a man with a stubborn streak; no amount of pleading or reasoning would have achieved as much as that one blush.
Nathan always had a soft spot for the vulnerable. Once while patrolling he'd come by a coyote cub near dried out in the desert and close to death. He'd taken it home - much to Jay's delight and mother's horror - and father and son had enjoyed bringing it back to health. Jay was just a little boy then and he cried when the time came to let it go and Annette had too, despite her constant cussing of the beast.
The blush receded to a faint pink. He was a good-looking kid in a scruffy kind of way. Short - about five-eight - with blond hair that had a way of flopping over his dark eyes, and thick wide brows across a similarly wide forehead. From high cheekbones his face narrowed to a small, boyish but stubble-strewn chin. If it were not for the narrow, slightly turned up nose, Nathan thought, this kid would have a face which spoke of Indian blood somewhere in the family.
'How d'you come to be in the desert, miles out from town?' asked Nathan. Mike shrugged.
'Where you headed? You got folks hereabouts?'
'I got a brother. He lives in a trailer north of Pocatello.'
'So you come to pay a visit with your brother?'
'No way man! He hates my friggin' guts. Freaks out whenever I show up.'
'Nice brother, huh? Nathan watched as Mike wiped his plate with a biscuit. He coughed, dry and throaty, then sniffed. Nathan had seen plenty of coke-heads sniffing like that.