The Thick Man- Chapter Ten

For the second time in twenty four hours I had a medic shining a pen light in my eyes with a worried expression on their face while a room full of cops looked on. It was getting to be a bad habit. Matt Kevin took in the scene and whistled. “Wow, they really did a number on this place. Sorry Taft. You recognize either of them?”
Nora and I both shook our heads in the negative and she responded, “No, they were wearing masks, but they were sporting Gravedigga colors.”
I rolled a shoulder. “Which means it might have been them. Anyone can buy a bandanna and stick it on their heads, even two of our MIA ex-cons from Potosi that you’ve all been trying to track down.”
Ron Gonzalez grunted in agreement. “True. I didn’t think of that. Still, what really worries me is that those two jokers, whoever they were, knew exactly where to find you. Both of you.”
I leveled a finger at him and clicked my tongue. “Exactly. Hell, even I didn’t know that Nora was going to be here tonight.” I looked over to her. “Who did you tell?”
She absently stroked at the purple bruise that was forming across her cheek where she’d been hit. “Just Matt and Ron here. I called them while I was getting the ice for your head.”
Matt frowned. “Well I sure as hell didn’t put a hit out on you, and Ron has been with me this whole time dealing with the fallout at the department over Mikey-C.”
I rubbed at my knee, not that it did much to quell the throbbing pain as a result of all the activity. “Well, assuming that you and Speedy aren’t trying to kill us…”
“Thanks pendejo.” Ron gave me the finger, but he had a grin on his face.
I smirked in return. “De nada. So assuming that, it sounds like we have secret admirers. One of the guys tonight mentioned having been shown my picture.”
Nora nodded. “Yeah, they knew me on sight too. I don’t think that Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dipshit were here just to kill us, otherwise they just would have come in blasting. I’m ashamed to say that they had me dead to rights. My gun was out of reach on the coffee table and I couldn’t get to it in time when they burst through the door like the ghetto Kool-Aid man.”
Matt picked up her train of thought. “Could be the same son of a bitch that clocked Taft and killed Mikey-C. He sent in his pet gang-bangers to follow up.”
Ron scratched at the stubble on his chin. “Could be, but why? If they wanted to kill Nick they could have done it at the station. And why just target him and Nora? We’re all working the same case. Why hasn’t anyone come for us?”
“Who says they won’t?” Everyone turned their attention to me, their expressions grim. I shrugged. “You and the Lieutenant have been at the P.D. surrounded by cops this whole time. Nora and I were easier targets. Besides that, another thing we have to consider is that Nora and I were the last people to talk to Mikey-C alive. In fact, I’m willing to bet that they came after us tonight in order to find out what he might have told us before they could shut him up.”
Nora agreed. “We did have him for few hours and there’s no way for them to have known for sure what he might have said.”
“Regardless of why they did it,” I continued, “It’s obvious that what the Potosi chaplain told me was more than him just blowing some things that he heard in confession out of proportion. We’ve stumbled onto some kind of shady deal, probably involving drugs, definitely involving at least some of the folks at the prison, and now they’re trying to contain the fallout.”
Matt nodded. “Makes sense.” He pointed at me and then at Nora beside me. “It also means that you two aren’t safe here or at Nora’s place. I think that we need to stick you in protective custody.”
Nora jumped up from the couch and snarled, “Oh fuck that! We’re all at risk, and there’s no way in hell that I’m letting you pull me from this case and stick me in some tower like a damned damsel in distress.”
Matt held up his hands in mock-surrender. “Nora, relax. That’s not what I meant. It’s obvious that Nick isn’t safe here and I seriously doubt that your place will be either. I think that until this whole thing is done with we should make use of one of the department’s safe houses and be extra careful.” His expression grew hard and he let a little gravel edge into his voice. “That said, I shouldn’t have to justify myself to you. I’m the officer in charge of this investigation, not you, and as the very junior officer you’ll do whatever I damn well say whether you like it or not. Are we clear, detective?”
Nora’s expression of righteous indignation melted under the heat of the stare that Matt leveled at her and I could see the muscles of her jaw bunch as she swallowed her pride and replied, “Yes sir. I’m sorry.”
He held gazes with her for a second more, just to make sure that the point had been made, and then his features softened and he placed a hand on her shoulder. “We’re all on edge, and given the day that we just had we all have reason to be, you and Nick most of all.”
When she nodded in agreement he turned his attention to Gonzalez. “Ron, I’m going to call my wife and have her take the kids and visit her parents in Colorado just to be on the safe side. I suggest that you do the same. You can bunk at my place until we get this all sorted out. It’s closer to the department and backup if we need it.”
Ron grunted and pulled out his phone. “Yeah, Gracie is going to just looove that.”
Matt sighed and massaged the bridge of his nose. He looked about how I felt. “Tell me about it. First, I’m going to call in some favors and see if I can find someplace secure where Nora and Nick can crash for the duration, since we know for a fact that they’re targets now.” He looked over at Nora and added with a warm smile, “preferably without the Chief hearing a word about Nora’s involvement in any of this, at least for as long as we can manage. After all, I can’t have one of my best officer’s stuck up in a tower somewhere when I need her working.”
Nora looked relieved and offered Matt a tight smile in return and then he turned his attention back to me. “Nick, you better go grab some clothes and whatever else you’ll need for an extended stay elsewhere. We’ll stop by Nora’s place on the way out so that she can do the same.”
I agreed and Nora volunteered to help me pack while Matt and Ron made their phone calls. When we got down to my room Nora made me sit down in my chair. “Nick, you look like you’re about to collapse. Jesus, with all you’ve been through today I’m surprised you’re even conscious.”
She must have seen the look on my face because she walked over and sat down on the couch to my right. She gripped my non-injured knee with her hand and gave it a squeeze. “Oh, don’t be so sensitive. I didn’t mean it like that. Anyone would be running on empty by now. Hell, I just want to curl up and pass out somewhere and I’m not the one with the concussion.” She grinned wickedly. “Between the concussion, the gun fight, and kicking the shit out of Dreskill you’ve had a full day.”
I couldn’t help but smile. “Told you I’d take care of him eventually. I was just biding my time.”
She barked out a laugh. “And what in God’s name possessed you to try to fake out two armed gunmen with a fucking pellet gun?”
We both started to laugh, and after the day we’d had it felt good to have some kind of release. In between gasps for breath she squeaked, “I’m surgical with this bitch!” and then we laughed even harder.
“Hey, I wasn’t lying! I’ll bet I drew blood when I shot that guy in the head.”
That sent her into fits of laughter that almost put her on the floor. Her head was buried in her hands on my knee, her body half off of the couch, and I could feel the dampness from tears as it soaked through the black jogging pants I was wearing. When she finally sobered enough to speak again she swiped at tear tracks as she looked up at me. “I can’t believe that we actually got through that. You were great tonight, Nick. You really saved my ass. No joke.”
I snorted. “Further proof that God favors the stupid.”
“And the ballsy.”
“There’s a difference?”
Our eyes met and I was suddenly very aware of her presence on my lap. Apparently she was too because she quickly stood up and finished wiping at her face. “I guess I should get packing, huh? Where’s a bag I can use?”
“Nora, you don’t have to-“
The look she gave me stopped me cold and I pointed at the walk-in closet next to my bathroom. “There should be a duffle bag on the top shelf. All my clothes are in there too.”
She nodded and set off on her task while I sat there awkwardly and watched. I had no idea what to make of that kiss, or that weird awkward moment with her just a few minutes before. All I knew was that it scared me. It scared me more than when I’d had bullets flying past my head. For years I’d wanted nothing more than to show Nora how I felt and for her to return that affection. That kiss had been amazing for me, but it was also something that happened in the heat of the moment, and I didn’t want to read too much into it. It was terrifying to think that I could ruin the relationship I had with her if I pushed for something more and she really didn’t feel the same way. I didn’t think that I could live with that.
So I sat there and watched while the woman that I loved more than anything on the planet packed a bag for an extended stay alone together, and I’ve never felt worse in my life.