'Well, let me do some guessing,' said Nathan. 'You hopped on an eastbound freight at Portland and came along the Union-Pacific jumping train at Burley. And then you hit the trail - see the mountains, maybe pick up a little work. How 'm I doing?'
'Near enough,' said Mike, smiling but at the same time shifting in his seat.
'Look Mike, I know what you do. Know how you get your money.'
'Oh yeah? Want some?' from Mike, his manner instantly changed - now alert, defiant, feral. Now it was Nathan's turn to blush.
'No I don't want some. I'm a cop.'
'Jeez! An' all this time I thought you were Little Red Riding Hood. Get real man! I knew you were a cop the minute I saw you.'
'Well don't ask me do I want some. It disrespectful.'
'Come on! I got a discount rate for cops. D.A.'s and judges are the only ones who get me cheaper than cops.' He was getting cockier by the second, and Nathan began to think he'd taken the wrong tack.
'Shut up about all that and listen for a while.' Nathan; an edge to his voice, an edge which cut for Mike dropped his fork.
'If you like doing what you do, stay here 'til your belly's full and your shirt's dry and move on. But if you don't...'
'Like it?' said Mike, voiced raised. 'Man I do what I have to do. Don't work, don't eat.'
'If - you - don't; if you want to change your life then kid, you've landed on your feet.'
'On my bare feet is what!' Mike went back to eating and feigned indifference, but Nathan had seen that a thousand times in a thousand kids - he could tell he'd caught the boy's interest.
'Hettie's a real good lady. She don't know about your life and she won't have me tell her. And if she did it would make no difference.'
'So I've landed in with Idaho's Mother Theresa,' mumbled Mike to his plate.
'You've landed in with a chance that don't come along too often. Now tell me. What do you want? Heavy stuff, no chicken-shit ambitions. What you crying out for?' Nathan surprised himself, but there was something about this kid, something deep down that needed the strength of truthful words to drag out.
Mike stared at the grease on his empty plate. Hell, thought Nathan. I've gone too far. Now he's feeling sorry for himself, and no kid opens up when he's gotten into that frame of mind.
Nathan was wrong again. 'I tell you what I don't want,' said Mike suddenly fired up and eyes locked into Nathan's. 'I don't want to be made no-one's pet project. I don't want no-one getting off on how they saved a no good thieving hustler. I don't want to be loved by someone who'd love any down and dirty dog that strayed into the county. I want...'
But then the spirit failed and the words clogged, like the brain. He knew what he wanted - what he really wanted - but they were sacred longings that couldn't be spoken, naked words that couldn't countenance the world's staring eyes. Nathan saw all this, felt he knew the shape of the unspoken desires. Something in him reached out for this kid, and for once the right words seemed to fall from his lips.
'Let me guess. You want a little love, a little respect. You want someone to make you feel a little special, because you're Mike Waters, not because you're down and dirty. But if you want all that, just like the mangy mutt, you got to take a little grooming first. Hettie and Dan - they mighty decent groomers. What d'you say?'
Nathan had come here to warn this kid off. This town ain't big enough. There's the state line - cross it and don't come back. Now he was persuading him to stay.
'Well? What d'you say?'
Mike looked up and grinned - another instant change. 'What I say is "woof woof".' He laughed an instant before his face spasmed and his body tensed up. 'Oh shit!' he whispered to himself.
As he lowered Mike's twitching body to the floor, Nathan called out for Medicine Dove. Hettie assured him that Mike would be alright. She had some medication on order. For the second time he put Mike to bed, but now he was more than a John Doe.
Nathan was nearly home. He had a good feeling about the kid, like maybe he could really help do some good. He turned in to his drive. A dog barked welcome home and Hawk's sedan was parked across the way. Hawk's little sisters were playing in the yard - one-a-side soccer. Home at last. Another day, another dollar. He looked forward to telling Annette about his day. Maybe Johnny Hawk had already told her about Mike and he'd be able to...
As he opened the street door, he heard Annette screaming in anger. Then her screaming was all mixed up with Jay's yelling.
God, why did it always have to be like this? 'Why don't you two quit rowing?' bellowed Nathan. He might as well have whispered for all the effect it had. Jay stormed from the kitchen, still yelling, a cuss word or two in there with all the rest.
Then Jay was sprawled on the floor - all six foot of him. 'Don't you speak to your mother like that!'
Then Annette screamed 'Don't you push my boy!'
'How about "Welcome home" for once? How about "Welcome-the-hell-home"?' yelled Nathan, his good feelings of a moment ago all dashed.