The Whistler - Chapter 24
By Karolyn Gray
Nathan stood on the dimly lit deck outside the Grey Gull leaning against the railing as he looked out over the water. Little waves lapped at the shore line and reflected the light of the moon in chaotic patterns he found quite soothing. He could hear people laughing and talking over the music, glasses and bottles and cutlery clinking and clacking against plates. He had started to feel claustrophobic and had excused himself to catch some air—and space—from the throng of well wishers.
It wasn't that he was ungrateful for the party and the sentiment behind it, but he didn't feel comfortable being lauded a hero for doing his job. The nightmares, while becoming more infrequent and less intense, were not helping him either.
Nathan turned to the black haired man in simple jeans and flannel shirt standing at the doorway with a hesitant look. He found himself smiling at the other man, pleased to see he looked better than he had the last time they met. "Hey, Keith. How's Kenny doing?"
Keith Hamilton shrugged, looking sheepish as he nodded down towards his left side. "Actually, why don't you ask him yourself?"
"Officer Wuornos!" Kenny burst onto the deck. Nathan barely had time to get low enough to catch the boy, who wrapped his arms around the cop with a laugh.
Nathan returned the hug and then stepped back, ruffling the boy's hair a bit. "Hey there, Kenny."
"We both just wanted to say thank you. I want to say thank you, Nate. I know I said some pretty nasty things back at the base camp," Keith said, looking abashed.
Nathan just shook his head. He and Keith had never seen eye to eye on many things, even when they were kids. If the man was willing to put aside whatever grudge he had against him, Nathan was more than willing to along with Keith's efforts to mend fences between them. "You were just worried about your son."
"Well, thanks anyway. I won't forget this, Nate. I mean it. I owe you my son's life." Keith glanced down at his son, who had been patiently waiting—by shuffling from foot to foot—while his dad and hero had talked. "I'll give you two a minute."
"Keith," Nathan paused for a moment, uncertain on how to say what he had to tell Keith. The man in the past had made it clear he disliked the Troubled. "You do know your son is…different?"
Keith scratched the side of his neck and looked down for a moment before he nodded to his son. "I know. He's like his grandfather." And with that Keith went back inside the Gull, leaving Nathan to wonder if Keith had the same affliction as his son. Nathan had enough experience with other Troubled folks to know some came to hate themselves and the other afflicted they encountered.
Kenny scuffing of his shoes on the deck drew Nathan's attention back to the boy, who was smiling up at him. Nathan went back to leaning against the rail. "So how have you been, Kenny? Glad to be back home and with your friends?"
Kenny nodded his enthusiastically. "Yeah. It's great. Mom and Dad won't let me play outside but I'm glad to be home."
"Good," Nathan said, relieved to hear the boy seemed to be adjusting so well to everything that happened.
"Mom's afraid, 'cause I can see things other people can't," Kenny admitted looking back through the entranceway back into the Gull. "I'm not supposed to tell people about it."
"She'll adjust. Just give her time. You're Dad will help," Nathan assured him, making a mental note to keep in touch with Kenny's parents until they adjusted to their son's affliction.
"Dad said Grandpa is coming from Florida to help take care of me," Kenny said with an agreeing nod.
"Well that's good. I bet you'll have lots of fun then," Nathan replied, suspecting Kenny's grandfather was probably afflicted or had dealt with the affliction before.
Kenny came up to the railing, trying to look out over the water. Nathan hoisted the boy up to sit on the barrier beside him, keeping a hand on him to prevent him from possibly falling over, while they both looked out into the night.
"Officer Wuornos, who was Mike?"
Nathan took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. This was one of the issues he was still having trouble wrapping his mind around, which was saying a lot considering the oddities common to his home town.
"He was an old…friend," Nathan admitted.
Nathan saw Kenny look at him out of the corner of his eye before looking down at the rippling water. "Mr. Mitchum killed him, like the rest," the boy said quietly.
Nathan simply nodded at the boy's sincere words. "Me too. But he's in a better place now. You helped do that."
"I did?" Kenny sounded surprised.
Nathan turned to look at him and nodded his head. Until he had said the words he hadn't really believed that Kenny had somehow brought peace to Mike and the others. He didn't think himself religious much, but somehow he did think Kenny had helped Mike pass on.
"Yep. Don't let anyone else tell you otherwise." Nathan said. He heard a soft sound behind them and glanced over to see Keith back was back at the entrance watching them. Nathan leaned in close to ensure only the boy would hear his whisper. "Remember, you're special, Kenny."
"Sorry to interrupt but we should get doing," Keith said from the door.
"Sure, Keith." Nathan nodded to the other man as he turned his back to the water. Catching Kenny's eyes the boy nodded solemnly at Nathan's unasked question. Satisfied, Nathan lifted Kenny off the railing and back onto the deck, giving him a small pat on the shoulder. "See ya around Kenny."
Kenny nodded and walked over to his dad. "Bye Officer Wuornos."
"I think it's okay if you call me Nate."
"Okay, bye Officer Nate!" Kenny called with a wave as they went back into the Gull. Nathan watched them wander through the crowd, speaking with Audrey and then Duke, both of whom apparently had been looking for him based on the Kenny helpfully pointing back to the open door.
Settling back into his view of the water, Nathan waited to see who would come to find him first: Audrey or Duke. He was actually surprised when the smuggler quietly placed a fresh beer bottle beside his hand and then assumed a similarly lounging position against the rail.
"I know who the kid in the sketch was," Duke said quietly before taking a swig from his own beer bottle.
"Michael Forrester," Nathan said. He knew were his sometimes nemesis was going and didn't really want to talk about it but he couldn't see how he could avoid it for much longer. Duke had a right to know.
"He disappeared about the same time you did," Duke noted flatly.
Nathan sighed. "I know."
"He died at that cabin didn't he?" Duke asked.
Nathan momentarily considered lying but rejected the idea as he took a sip from the bottle. Mike had been Duke's friend and Duke was now his friend—well, friend was bit of a stretch for their current détente but it would do. He owed Duke as much of an explanation as he could give him. He set his drink down, and leaned heavily on the railing.
"I think so. I remember being there with him, the night Mr.—the Whistler let me go," he told the other man softly. He knew that one of the remains discovered at the Mitchum property and identified had been those of Michael Forrester. "He was one of the first remains identified."
"Audrey said you thought you were talking to someone named Mike?"
Nathan glanced over to find Duke watching him with a curious expression. Nathan found himself unable to hold the other man's dark eyes for long before looking back over the moonlit water.
"It was Mike," he finally said.
Duke let out a breath, air almost whistling through his teeth as he considered the cop's words. Nathan half expected some remark—what kind he wasn't sure—but instead Duke sounded strangely somber. "Okay, Haven has some pretty weird crap going down but—that? Ghosts? Whatever the hell he was supposed to be."
"I had lost a lot of blood," Nathan offered as a way of explanation. He half bought the explanation himself most of the time.
"So a hallucination?"
Nathan wasn't sure what to think of what happened out in the woods. He knew Kenny was Troubled, somehow able to see spirits of the dead, and he was certain he was saw Mike and the other apparitions in the woods. But were they ghosts or just his imagination? Given Audrey telling him she thought she had sensed…something… he wasn't sure.
Nathan shrugged at the smuggler's question. "Sure. Why not? My subconscious bringing back a kid I hated and tormented me, who likely died because of me." Nathan didn't mean to let the last part out, the self loathing he still held over the idea that he might have left Mike alone to die a gruesome death at the hands of the Mitchums.
"That sick bastard killed Mike. Not you," Duke said vehemently.
An uncomfortable silence fell between them, making the air seem thick and heavy. Nathan couldn't think of anything more to add to what he'd already said that would explain himself better or make what had happened any easier to comprehend. He could tell by Duke's uneasy shuffling beside him, the man was either at a loss for words or had questions he wasn't sure how to ask. So instead they looked out over the water in silence.
Nathan allowed a small smile to come to his face as he detected the all too familiar sound of his partner's boots striking the deck to catch his attention. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Duke glance at him, mouth opening to ask what Nathan was smiling about. The expression brought an even broader smile to his face.
"Hey Audrey," Nathan called over his shoulder.
His partner slid in between the two men, resting her arms on the railing as she looked between them with a questioning glance. Duke just shrugged and tilted his head towards Nathan, who in turn gave her an uncharacteristically soft nudge with his elbow in a rare show of initiating contact. Audrey just chuckled softly at her partner and shook her head, releasing a sigh of tension she hadn't even realized was there.
Audrey leaned against the rail, mimicking the two men, and rested her head in her palm. She gave Nathan a small smile as she fiddled with his beer bottle. "So, how're you doing?" Audrey asked.
Both Audrey and Duke immediately noticed Nathan freeze at her question. It almost seemed like the world went still with him with a sudden cessation of the gentle breeze and a lull in the noise from the Gull's patrons. A second later he exhaled slowly, and the surreal moment was gone.
Nathan gave her a twitch of a smile and long look before he rubbed his lower lip self-consciously. He could lie and she would call him on it. Even Duke could see that as he watched the pair with a speculative look in his dark eyes.
"Gettin' there," Nathan finally replied. He reached for his beer and took a long pull from the bottle.
Audrey simply nodded her acceptance and turned her attention back to the moonlighting glinting of the waves.
"So that's it?" Duke looked incredulous as two pairs of blue eyes turned to his bewildered voice. He was momentarily silenced at the near identical raised eyebrows—one brown, one blond, both clearly quizzical—and matching inquisitive expressions. For a sliver of a moment, he envied their…partnership…friendship…connection…whatever it was that had developed between them. Filing away the bond between them in his mind for later reflection he continued on with his original thought.
"So you ask him how he's doing, and you reply okay. And that's it? Everything's cool?" Duke asked, gesturing between the two cops several times as he spoke.
"Yes." They stared at him unblinking as they replied in unison. It was enough to make him decide they had definitely spent too much time together.
Duke let out a amused chuckle at their answer. Shrugging to himself he just grinned and decided to go along with it. A sly, knowing smile flitted across his face. "Well, okay then."
"Going to head on out," Nathan announced. "Get some sleep."
"I've got you covered here." Audrey gestured her head over her shoulder and back towards the door leading into the crowded bar.
With a quick thanks, Nathan left Audrey and Duke on the deck, using the outer walk to reach the parking lot and avoid anyone looking for him. He appreciated the intentions of those at the party, but he was tired of dealing with people for the night.
After he slid into his Bronco and shut the driver's side door, he let out a sigh of relief. He was relieved to be in silence, reveling in its stillness. Putting the key in the ignition, the old pirate decal on the glove box caught his attention in the dim light. The white skull and crossbones seem to glow from out the shadow. A shiver ran down his spine at the sight of it. Unable to help himself he flipped the glove box cover down and sat back, breath suddenly sharp and erratic. He could hear his heart pounding in his ears at the sudden rush of the near panic attack.
For a moment, just the briefest of moments, he swore he heard the Whistler's Song in his head.
He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths to calm himself, remembering Lucassi's techniques to deal with his lingering anxiety.
It would take time.
A/N: I had originally planned to end it here for a potential sequel but then realized I had no ideas for a sequel anyway.