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Even More Reckless

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Three weeks after Nedley turns 57, he has a heart attack, while giving a road safety talk to high schoolers.

Nicole Haught is with him, passing out beer googles to eager fourteen year olds. Her own pair of googles are perched on top of her head, making her short hair stick out every which way.

His chest feels tight. He presses a hand to his heart and bends over to try and breathe, deep and slow, through the pain. But all this does is make heat explode, sharp and high, at the centre of his chest, and he has to blink his eyes open to double check no one has stabbed him with a hot knife.

There is no knife, but there is Nicole’s face, drawn and worried. “Sir,” he hears her says, “I’ve got you.” And then she whips her head round to one of the teachers to order, in a tight voice, an ambulance.

The pain increases. Darkness clouds his vision and the last thing he sees is Nicole’s stricken face, white beneath her beer googles.

 

 ∞

He survives.

He sits in his hospital bed afterwards and wonders how. There had been so much pain.  His world had narrowed only to a bright hot searing in his chest.

The clever doctors fit him with a mechanic balloon which blows up one side of his heart. They tell him to eat better, exercise more. Nedley nods and hums in the right places, pretends to listen convincingly, and uses the peace and quiet to think about donuts, and coleslaw and ice cold beers.

He’s too old to be changing his ways.

After his operation, after Chrissy had come and fussed around him, Nicole Haught shuffles her way into the room. Her face is waxy and he can tell she’s been crying. Through his cubical window he can make out the slight shape of Waverly Earp, sat in a blue hospital chair, nose in a book.

“Sir,” she says.

He’s inordinately glad to see her. Had looked for the bright red hair behind Chrissy’s blonde one, when his daughter had come to visit him.

“Haught,” he says.

They look at each other for a second. Then Nicole sits down in the chair beside his bed and pulls out her own rather worn looking paper back. Nedley closes his eyes and let’s himself drift off, reassured by the occasional sound of Nicole turning the pages of her book and the faint smell of Waverly Earp’s perfume.

When he wakes up Nicole is gone, but the paperback is on his beside table. There’s a scribbled note on it.

Sir, it reads, in Nicole’s small slanted hand writing. Thought you might like to read this. The policing is unrealistic, but the villain is good.

She’d signed it Nicole and then crossed it out and put Haught.

Nedley reads the book. The police characters are, indeed, shocking. Nedley would have every single one of them up before the law enforcement board if they worked for him. But the villain, a serial killer, is witty and evil and completely human and that is somewhat of a luxury in Purgatory, so Nedley reads it with a kind of indulgent fascination.

It takes a month, but Nedley goes back to work.

His first clue that something is wrong, is the missing whiskey bottle he keeps on a shelf.

He unlocks the bottom draw on his desk with a cold dread. His candy stash is gone. So is his beef jerky. In their place are dried apricots and unsalted raw cashews.

He’s going to kill Haught.

On the two month anniversary of his heart attack, he wakes up to someone repeatedly ringing his doorbell at 8:30 on a Saturday morning.

Someone better have been murdered, he thinks, as he stomps down the stairs.

It isn’t murder, but it is one of his officers. Nicole Haught, wearing a suspicious amount of lycra, is standing on his doorstep, beaming. “Sir,” she says as he opens the door.

“Haught, do you have any idea what time it is?” he asks her.

“Yes sir, time for our weekly run,” Nicole replies. She is still smiling, the just risen sun behind her head making her hair glow.

“I’m happy to say, Office Haught,” Nedley says slowly, “that I have never been for a run in my life. And I have no intention of starting now.”

“You are going,” says another voice suddenly.

Chrissy steps out from behind Nicole, face set into stern lines. She has the determined glint in her eye that Nedley has known, and feared, since his daughter has been old enough to stamp her foot. “Nicole mentioned her idea to me, and I thought that you might need a little persuasion.” Chrissy holds up a newly delivered copy of Gardener’s World. She must have snatched it from the goddamn mail box this morning, “or I’ll personally burn your subscription. Every month. Every copy.” She flicks the magazine opening and flashes a page at him, “oh look,” she coos, “’Ten Ways Increase the Productivity of Your Chickens’”.

Beside her, Nicole shifts uncomfortably. “You know tampering with the mail is a federal crime, right?” she asks. 

Nedley gapes at them. Chrissy glances at his face and the determine lines of her expression soften into something that looks apologetic, “it’s for your own good, Daddy.”

He recalls Chrissy crying softly beside his hospital bed; recalls Nicole’s tired, red rimmed eyes. After a pause he says, tiredly, “I don’t have any running shoes.”

Nicole’s face lights up. It too bloody early for a smile that bright. “We clubbed together at the station sir,” she says, and hands him a bag he hadn’t noticed before. Nike is written on the side of it. Inside there are two garishly coloured sneakers nestled in orange paper.

He rubs a hand across his face. Sons, he thinks, why couldn’t he of had sons.

He makes certain that Chrissy leaves his magazine safely on the kitchen table before she leaves.

“How much further, Haught?” Nedley wheezes, what feels like hours later.

Nicole is jogging lightly beside him. “We’ve only covered a block, sir,” she offers.

He groans.

He bumps into Waverly Earp in the corner store on a Monday evening. He nods in acknowledgement and tries to shift his basket so she can’t see the frozen pizza, candy bars and ice cream.

She might report back to Nicole.

But Waverly peers into the basket anyway and grins conspiratorially at him. “I won’t tell,” she says, “Nicole tries to make me eat kale.

Nedley has no idea what kale is, but from the way Waverly shudders theatrically he gets the distinct impression that it is green. And probably venomous.

Webb knocks on his office door one night. It’s late, they’ve got a case to solve. Everyone’s pulling over time. “Haught brought coffee round from Shorty’s sir,” he says. “In the break room.”

Nedley’s been staring at the same sentence for ten minutes. Caffeine, he thinks, caffeine.

His officers are milling round the station’s break room, chatting tiredly, turning over facts and swapping theories. He picks up his coffee and leans next to Nicole and Webb, both discussing motive.

“The wife,” says Webb, “she’ll inherit.”

Nedley supresses the urge to roll his eyes. Webb is a… thorough officer sure enough, but not so good when it comes to thinking outside the box.

Nicole takes a sip of her coffee across from him, and makes a face. She swallows and says, through a grimace, “why bother? She earned more than him anyway. And half the house is legally in her name. All she’ll inherit is a bigger mortgage and funeral costs.”

Nedley sips his coffee. And then gags. “What the hell,” he says, “is that?”

Whatever it is, it tastes like grass.

“It’s green tea, sir,” Haught says, looking nervous. “Chrissy said you’re not meant to be drinking too much caffeine.”

Nedley gives her a long look. Nicole holds his gaze.

“Do you know,” he says slowly, “how hard it is for me to function without coffee?”

“I think I have some idea, sir,” Haught says. She pops the lid off her own cup, flashes him its contents. Green, grassy smelling.

Nedley’s anger fades to bewilderment, “you drink this stuff voluntarily?”

She drops his gaze, looks at her boots. “Solidarity sir, it’s meant to be a great motivator.”

Affection roars in his chest, and he presses it down by taking a sniff of the green liquid. “Solidarity can kiss my ass,” he gruffs.

He drops his cup into the trash on his way over to Shorty’s. Candy, chips, pizza, fine, he thinks, take them. But those ruddy doctors aren’t taking coffee from me too.

Waverly is behind the bar.

“Coffee,” he says. He thinks for a second. “Two,” he amends.

Waverly grins at him and waves away his money. “On the house,” she says, winking.

He drops the second coffee onto Haught’s desk as he meaningfully takes her green tea from her hands.

He tips it down the sink with relish.

The physiotherapy doctor is a woman called Dr. Rutherfield.

She’s got iron straight, iron grey hair, pulled back into a bun so tight it makes Nedley wince in sympathy.

His stomach unexpectedly flips when her stethoscope presses against his chest.

She has a copy of Gardener’s World on her desk. Just visible, beneath an open medical text book.

She catches him staring at it and nods decisively at him, “good year for starchy tubers,” she says.

“Yeah,” he says, breathlessly, “but the damp is murder for my chickens.”

Nicole’s waiting for him outside the physiotherapy office. Chrissy had to work late.

“Ask her out,” she says, grinning.

“Like hell,” he huffs. His wife’s been dead eight years. As a younger man, he’d sometimes wondered how on earth he’d ever been so lucky to get a girl like Anne. And now, well, he’s overweight, over dedicated to his job, and over the concept of dating entirely. He’s very happy with his chickens.

Nedley walks a few paces before he realises Nicole is not beside him. She’s back at the nurses’ station, hat in her hands, looking like the bloody embodiment of chivalry.

“Dr. Rutherfield?” she says sincerely, “Sherriff Nedley would be honoured if you would join him one evenin’ for dinner.”

 “Would he now?” Dr. Rutherfield asks, eyes flicking to him standing, flabbergasted, down the corridor. “Well, he can pick me up at eight.”

He is still not cleared to drive for another three weeks so Haught turns up at his door to act as chauffer.

Chrissy is still fussing over his tie. He feels like a fourteen year old girl going to her first high school dance.

“What do you think?” His daughter asks, as Nicole steps through the front door.

“You scrub up very well, sir” she says.

Nedley glances at himself in the mirror. He’d picked his favourite tie, blue with a pattern of little beets on it. The suit he’s wearing smells faintly of moth balls and hasn’t been worn for ten years. It’s uncomfortably tight around his middle.

“You look very handsome, Daddy,” Chrissy says, sincerely, running a final finishing hand over a crease in his sleeve.

“Let’s go,” he says.

To his surprise, Chrissy climbs into Nicole’s car too.

When his daughter catches his questioning glance in the rear view mirror, she grins and says, “We’re going to have cocktails while you wine and dine your woman.”

Nicole makes a face at her steering wheel. He knows the closest his deputy gets to a cocktail is non-American beer.

They pick Dr. Rutherfield up. If she’s shocked by being picked up by a man’s daughter and his deputy, she doesn’t show it, just climbs gamely into the car. She wearing a pair of crème linen trousers and a turtleneck jumper, and Nedley catches a glimpse of ankle and feels an embarrassing rush of arousal.

The girls drop them off outside Purgatory’s only restaurant, an Italian place run by a man who has never been outside Mountain View country. But there’s always free bread with the meal and by Nedley’s book that is both fancy and economical.

Dr. Rutherfield, whose first name turns out to be Ingrid, says, as they watch Nicole’s car perform a perfect three point turn, “your daughters seem like lovely girls.”

It doesn’t cross Nedley’s mind to correct her. “Yes,” he says, “my girls are wonderful.”