The Thick Man- Epilogue

As I finish my little tale Agent Rodgers blows out a final string of smoke and drops the still smoldering bud of his umpteenth cigarette into the remains of his coffee. He sits back in his chair and regards me coolly for a long moment before finally shaking his head in wonder. “I have to say, Nick. That is one hell of a story you just told me.”
I nod but don’t respond.
“So it was the priest the whole time, eh?”
I nod again. “It took me a while to put it together, but in hindsight it fits perfectly. After twenty plus years of listening to horrible people confess really funky stuff and ask for absolution I guess he finally cracked. He didn’t think that it was fair that those types of people could do that much evil and still skate on through the pearly gates just because they said sorry; and he felt guilty because of his part in the process. I assume it was the Potosi inmates getting released because of Brennan’s shady deal that was the straw that broke the priests back, so he started his little jihad there. Of course they all recognized him, which is why there was no sign of a struggle. Who would have thought that this kind old priest they’d known from the prison would be there to kill them? After that pool of victims dried up he branched out and found a guy off of the sex offender registry.”
“And the cutting out the tongues thing?”
“He cut out his victim’s tongues to keep them from being able to ask for absolution at the last second before they died.”
“Jesus…” Rodgers lets out a little grunt. “That’s pretty cold. Makes sense, though, in a really twisted sort of way.”
“Well, he was a twisted sort of guy.”
“Very true.” He’s silent for a long moment, starring down at his makeshift coffee cup ash tray, and then he meets my eyes. “Well, like I said, it’s a hell of a story. If it’d been anyone else telling me that whopper they’d be bound in chains right now and headed towards our facility for a more thorough interrogation.”
I swallow past a lump in my throat as he holds my gaze for a few more heartbeats. Then he chuckles to himself and I let out the breath that I didn’t realize I’d been holding. “Hot damn, Taft, when you step in it you get in up to your eyeballs, don’t you?”
I nod dumbly. “So you believe me?”
He snickers and slaps my non-wounded knee. “Shit, with that much embarrassing, gory detail, of course I do. No one in their right mind would make up some of the stuff that you just lobbed at me. I have to admit it, though, it was damn hard to keep a straight face through some of it. ‘My wiggle is completely unintentional!’ Ha!”
He bursts into a deep belly laugh and I smile wanly. I’m glad that it looks like I’m off the hook, but everything is still too raw for me to really laugh about it yet. When he manages to compose himself again he wipes at tears in his eyes. “I’m telling you straight, man. You should write a book about that shit. It’d be a bestseller, I guarantee it.”
“I’ll think about it.”
He nods and then arches an eyebrow. “This isn’t really something I should be saying, but would you mind if I give you some advice?”
I sit up a little straighter in my chair. “Uh, sure?”
“Stop being such a moron.”
I blink. “I’m sorry, what?”
He jerks his head in the direction of the interrogation room next door. “With Detective Charleston. If what you’ve said is true, and I have no doubt in my mind that it is, then it’s glaringly obvious that she loves you just as much as you do her. Stop being such a pussy and bite the bullet.”
I snort. “I appreciate the advice but you’re way off base. It’s not like that. We’re like family.”
He returns the snort. “If so, then there’s some freaky Luke and Leia sexual tension going on. I’ve got two sisters and they don’t kiss me like that.”
There’s a knock at the door and Rodgers gets up to answer it. My brother Richard is standing behind it with a pained look on his face. Nora is next to him and I can hear Gram raising hell in the next room. Richard sighs and nods his head in my direction. “You about done with him? As you can hear, we’re having a bit of an issue out front and the sooner we get him out of here the sooner that issue will resolve itself.”
Rodgers looks back at me and grins lopsidedly. “Your grandma?” I nod and he starts to laugh. “Yeah man, he’s good to go.”
Rodgers walks over to me and offers me his hand as I pull myself out of the chair with a grunt of pain. “You did a hell of a thing, Nick. Sorry about being so rough with you earlier.”
I accept his hand and give it a shake. “No problem, man. You’re just doing your job.”
He leans in a little closer. “Think about what I said.”
I nod and head for the door. As I exit the room Nora drapes her arm around my shoulder and I can’t help but wonder if maybe Rodgers is right. I haven’t really had time to process exactly what’s going on between us, what with the crazed ninja priest and the F.B.I. interrogation. I’d finally told her how I felt, albeit in the middle of a stressful life or death situation, and she’d responded with a Star Wars quote, which only made me love her more; but she could have just as easily took it as love between two very close friends. We were about to die, after all.
Anyway, we haven’t had a chance to address our relationship and I’m the kind of guy that wants to be real clear about where I stand. Then again, she did kiss me afterwards, so maybe Rodgers is right and I’m being a moron. Right? God I wish that I wasn’t so clueless when it comes to boy/girl stuff. I feel like I’m thirteen again.
Richard leads the way towards the front office where I can hear Gram hurling threats at Nora’s dad if she doesn’t see “her baby” in the next five minutes. I stop and tense when Phil Dreskill approaches us. The last time I saw Phil he was bleeding from his mouth and threatening to do all sorts of creative things to my person the next time he saw me. Nora takes her arm from my shoulder and sets herself, ready to spring to my defense and kick Phil’s ass is he tries something. We’re both momentarily dumbstruck when Phil actually offers me his hand.
I look down at it as though it’s a snake that might bite me. After a moment, when I don’t take it, he drops it back to his side. “Taft, look, we all heard about what you and Charleston went through the last few days and… Shit, man, Matt and Ron were two of our own. You two bagged the corrupt pricks that were responsible and made sure that they got justice. I just wanted to say I respect the hell out of you for it and I’m sorry for all the shit that I’ve caused for you over the years. Sincerely, man, I hope that you can forgive me.”
I can tell that he’s serious and after a moment I reach out a hand. He takes it and we shake. That little awkward moment of male bonding done, he abruptly turns and stalks away. Nora leans over and whispers into my ear, “Well damn, now I’ve seen everything.”
“I told you before, I was just biding my time.”
We both chuckle and resume our trek to rescue her dad from my grandma. Once I’ve been smothered in hugs and kisses and Gram is assured that I’m not shot or missing any limbs, she proceeds to smack me upside the head and berate me for not calling and letting her know that I got her house shot to pieces. Nora sheepishly offers her the Derringer from her pocket and thanks her for letting us borrow it.
After a moment Gram smiles sweetly at her. “Keep it, dear. You used it to help save my grandson. Consider it a souvenir.”
Gram insists that we both go back to the hospital to get ourselves checked out and refuses to listen to our protests. As Nora and I stand out in front and wait for Richard and Gram to bring the car around I ask, “How’d it go with you?”
She shrugs. “They’re actually giving me a medal and offered me a promotion. They want me to take over Matt’s position as a lieutenant.”
I grin at her. “Really? That’s great, Nora! Congratulations! You certainly deserve it.”
She shakes her head. “I turned them down. In fact, I just resigned.”
I feel my jaw drop. “What?! Why?”
She looks me in the eyes and smiles. “Because this whole experience has made me realize two very important things: One, as long as I’m a cop in this city I’ll never get out from under my father’s overprotective shadow.”
I nod. “And the second?”
She reaches down and takes my hand. “That’d I’d rather be with you every day, getting into trouble and helping people, than doing anything else.”
“So you want to be my business partner?”
She laughs and as sappy as this’ll sound, it’s like music to my ears. “Taft, you dope. Sometimes you can be the dumbest smart person I know.”
“Yeah, I’ve been hearing that a lot lately.”
Then she pulls me close and kisses me. It’s not a quick peck on the cheek or the type of adrenaline fueled lip lock like we’ve done a couple of times these last few days. It’s soft, and it’s warm, and it’s everything that I always dreamed that it would be; and for that one glorious moment all is right with the world.