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Karma

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Karma

 

The Grey Gull was not very busy when Parker and I arrived. She had sold me on the idea that we needed to do something to show solidarity with Duke after what happened to Evi, and okay, we were here. We said hello to Duke, who was hunched over the bar scribbling on some papers. He barely acknowledged our presence. I bristled, but Parker pulled me off toward a table in the corner.

She sighed."Nathan, he knows we're here, that makes a difference."

"He didn't even look at us, Parker."

She got that stubborn look on her face and directed me to the chair. I grumbled a bit more, but secretly I was glad for the excuse to do something. We ordered some snacks. I ordered a beer and Parker ordered some girly drink that I wouldn't have guessed she'd prefer.

The Gull was actually a pretty nice place. A big improvement over the Shaw's last attempt to run it. Of course, the food not rotting in front of our eyes was a bonus toward Duke's management.

We sat there for a couple of hours, until the crowd started to thin. Duke hadn't moved from his perch the whole time. I was about to tell Parker that I was calling it a night when Duke finally moved. He came to stand by our table, shuffling his weight side to side and fidgeting with his hands while we looked up at him, waiting.

"I'm sorry, Nathan." Duke pressed a folded stack of papers into my hand.

"What?" Duke didn't apologize. At least not without a hefty dose of sarcasm, but I didn't hear any in his voice tonight.

He stood up straight, arms held stiffly at his side, and eyes locked on a point over my left shoulder. "For everything on that list. I'm sorry I did those things to you. I was wrong, an ass, a jerk. When we were kids I made your life miserable. Obviously I can't take it back, and I'm not asking forgiveness or understanding, but I wanted you to know that I know what I did."

"That sounds rehearsed." Why had I let Parker convince me to come to the Grey Gull?

His stiff posture deflated, and he looked at me this time. "It's not like there's a Hallmark card that says, 'Sorry I bullied you when we were kids.' But I thought it might, you know, help if I admitted to it." Duke retreated to the far end of the bar with a shot glass and a bottle of whiskey and huddled.

I looked at the papers. He'd listed shitty things he'd done to me as a kid. I glared at his back. How the hell had he remembered all this? Even I had forgotten some of these.

Parker came around the table and leaned over my back to read; her chin pressed against my shoulder made a sharp focal point against the normal blankness of my body. It had a grounding effect that I didn't really want.

After reading over the entire list–and it took a while, because Duke had detailed his transgressions in a tiny script over several pages–I realized that he left off the thing that started it all. If he was going to go to all this trouble to make such a detailed list and apologize, why the hell would he leave that off? Was all of this just another jab, after all? He never stopped, did he?

Parker had shifted around and was leaning against my arm now. I jumped up, fast enough that I knocked her off-balance, and marched over to Duke. His bottle was nearly empty, and I wondered if it had taken me that long to read the list or if he was drinking that fast. I glanced around. Maybe it had taken me that long, because the three of us were alone.

I pushed the list across the bar to him, barely holding in check a vengeance-demanding anger the like of which I'd not felt since we were ten years old. "You left off the first time."

Parker came up behind me and stared at Duke, waiting for him to answer. Guilt, anger, and something else flashed across Duke's face, but he said nothing.

Parker touched my bare arm and that grounding effect hit me again, pulling me back from anger that I suddenly saw was out of proportion after all this time. I'm not that kid anymore. Dimly, I recalled that Duke's father was a bastard and Duke, as a kid, fit certain unpleasant profiles that cops look for when the parents are that kind of asshole.

"What happened, Nathan?" Parker's question pulled me even further toward my normal control.

She moved her hand and the veil of righteous anger fell over me again. "He broke his hand punching me," I growled. Duke still refused to make eye contact. Guilty bastard!

"Just like that? One punch and his hand was broken?" Parker sounded so calm and reasonable. Like this was no big deal. What was wrong with her?

Well, she wanted to know, I'd tell her. Duke sure wasn't opening his mouth. He never could fess up when something made him look bad. "No, I jumped on him after he punched me. I had been out for months recovering from the sledding accident and learning how to function with my Trouble. I'd only been back at school for two days." That moment had started years of bullying that still hurt, even if we were something approaching friends now. "Before that I thought Duke was my friend."

Duke had kept his head turned the whole time I was talking. He muttered, "Didn't break my hand punching you," as he added it to the list anyway.

It hit my nerves like it was every excuse he had ever used to weasel his way out of trouble, and, by God, did it piss me off. "Your arm was in a cast for weeks. I know you broke it."

“You stepped on it. I deserved it though.”

He was lying. I could see it in his face. I should have known this was just another trick. I resisted the urge to ask Parker to check my back for tacks. “Why me?” For years I fell asleep to that question. Cried into my pillow over those two little words when I thought the Chief wouldn't hear it. Hated Duke, but hated myself more for not being able to find the answer and change it.

Duke poured another shot of whiskey and drank it in one gulp. Then he stood up and leaned into my space; poked a finger at my chest. “Because you were an easy target. Because face it, I enjoyed talking people into doing what I wanted them to do. I still do.”

I wasn't looking down, so I couldn't tell if he was actually touching me or not, and it made me even madder. I knocked Duke’s arm away, but something was slowing me down, telling me that this wasn't right. It tugged my fists back down against my sides, even though I should want to kill Duke for confirming my worst childhood fears.

Duke looked pointedly at my hands not reaching for his throat, and gave an exasperated snort. He threw a punch at my gut that doubled me over from the momentum of it. I heard my breath whistling. I was seeing spots, but felt no pain to slow down my reaction.

I came back up, tackling him to the ground, wanting nothing more than to hurt him, because he could feel it. I had my hands tangled in his shirt slamming him against the floor when, suddenly, Parker was there with hands on my cheek and the back of my neck. I felt that. It pulled me back. Though I was still mad, the veil was gone, and I let her turn my head to face her.

It had to be a first, but Duke hadn't struggled at all since we went down. I shoved him over onto his stomach, handcuffed him and hauled him up. Somewhere in that process Parker had lost skin contact with me, but the familiarity in the motions of arresting Duke muffled the returning anger.

Duke shook his head and said, "Now, see? This is a problem, because I really planned on getting my ass kicked tonight, then crawling off alone. You arresting me is just all kinds of messing with those plans."

I took a good look at him. Blood was trailing down his chin where I had split his lip. He was swaying on his feet, and his words had a distinct slur on them. Something in his eyes was just...off. Desperation? Despair? Grief? Whatever had gotten into him tonight, doubt entered my mind that it really had much to do with me after all. Maybe more to do with Evi and being drunk. I decided it was him wanting to goad someone, anyone, into giving him the beating he thought he deserved for not saving her, and I was still the easiest target.

Damn him for using me again, and damn myself for not realizing it sooner. The realization sent my anger levels spiraling up again, and the desire to pummel him into the floor hit me hard. Duke was in cuffs, subdued, and the training of all my adult years was pressing in on me with the fundamental rule that you never abuse a subdued, cuffed suspect. Something snapped in my chest, emotionally speaking, and the fight drained out of me.

"I'm not going to hit you." And just like that, I was thirty-five again, in control, the anger of my ten-year-old self lost to the years.

Duke started to speak a few times, but finally, his shoulders slumped and his chin fell to his chest. "Fine. I'll go quietly. I deserve to be locked up after everything I've done."

I shook my head, but put him in the Bronco. He'd surely sleep whatever this was off and be back to his normal obnoxious self by morning. Though maybe somebody should keep an eye on how much the guy was drinking. I looked at the nearly empty bottle. That just wasn't healthy.

 

* * *

 

I removed the cuffs and Duke stepped into the cell meekly. He had been bizarrely silent and compliant throughout the entire ride and walk into the station. I slid the door shut and walked out to Officer Stamos' desk. He was in charge of the lock-up tonight. "I want fifteen minute checks on Crocker until the end of the shift. He's a potential danger to himself."

Stamos looked a little surprised, and he was probably silently cursing me assigning him extra work, but he entered the requirement into the computer. "Yes, sir. I have it on my log for the night, now."

I nodded, and continued to my office. I was unsettled, and a dread that this was a Trouble was building in the back of my mind.

Parker leaned against her desk waiting for me. "So have you ever known him to be such a maudlin drunk?" she asked before I had even made it through the door.

I joined her in leaning on her desk. "No, and I've never seen him give up on a fight so easy or admit he was wrong like that." I pulled the list Duke had handed me from my pocket. "Hell, looking at this, I don't even remember half this stuff."

We stared at the list for a couple of minutes, before I said, "Maybe this really is just a reaction to Evi dying." Please tell me this isn't a Trouble, Audrey.

"Well, this is Duke. He does sort of march to his own beat, but this seems weird even for him."

I pointed to the list. "He was trying to goad me into hurting him. That… Is something I never thought I would see Duke do. At least not without trying to hurt me back."

"I don't think we'll get much sense out of him until he's sober. It's late. What do you say we call it a night, Wuornos?"

I was still unsettled, but nodded. She waved as she left the office. I sat staring at the list a little longer, before shoving it in my pocket. On my way out, I stopped by Stamos' desk.

"He's not been causing any problem, Chief."

"Good. Just keep checking until he dries out and calms down."

Stamos looked less than pleased about that, but said, "Yes, sir."

I drove home and collapsed on the couch. I thought I'd be asleep nearly instantly. It was late, and I had to be tired, even if I didn't feel most signals. I didn't fall asleep though. I lay there thinking about that list. I wasn't mad, at least not like I had been earlier, but I couldn't get the things Duke had done off my mind. I started wondering what it would be like to do some of those things to him.

It wasn't like I had never wondered before. I spent a lot of my nights in Middle School plotting how to get long, slow revenge on him. I wanted to hurt him, sure, but I wanted to make it last. It would be a nice bonus if everyone laughed, but it would be enough just to know that everyone had seen Duke hurt and humiliated the way I had been.

I sat up. There was too much to do. I could sleep later. I turned the lamp on and pulled the list out of my pocket. I needed to find just the right punishment. Duke was finally going to get what he deserved and it was going to be awesome.