(Note: This is an excerpt from a Mike Ironwood novel I’ve “finished” and am now rewriting. For the sake of context, Daniel is Mike’s half-brother who is also half Nez Perce. ~jrs)
When we got out of bed Bucket came and sniffed us both with interest and appreciation. Even my human nose could smell us so I figured that his dog nose was in overdrive. Finally, he snorted. Willy and I both laughed. Snorting is also his way of asking to be let out. I obliged him. The street lights were just starting to come on.
I built a fire while Willy made coffee.
“How long have you been a private cop?” she asked.
I considered before answering.
“About twelve years,” I finally said as I watched the flames lick through the kindling. “I was a state bull for a few years. When that just flat didn’t work, I decided to give the private thing a shot. I had some romantic notions about it that were dispelled pretty quickly.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Like being able to set my own schedule and not having to pay attention to the business side of it. I have always disliked taking orders, especially from people who don’t know how. If I’m going to take an order from a moron, I want it to be me. And I never really understood cash flow until I got into this.”
I paused again. Willy came out of the kitchen with two mugs and put them on the low table in front of the long leather couch. She took the end of the couch closest to the fire and tucked her long legs under her. She was wearing one of my t-shirts that fit her like a nightgown. Every time I looked at her another little bit of me wandered off, mumbling.
“When I started, I swore to myself that I would never be the guy in the tree taking graphic photos of infidelities. I have worked a couple divorces, one at the behest of a lawyer friend and once because the woman involved was trying to leave her husband who had disappeared. I figured out that she’d had him killed and handed everything I’d found to my friend Tom Hannarty on the Portland Police Bureau. I did a lot of that work for free, but it was okay.”
“More windmills?” Willy sipped her coffee and smiled.
“I guess,” I said. “I seem to be inexorably compelled to do what I think is the right thing to do. It may not be right to somebody else, but if it is to me, it goes to the top of my list.”
“Are you telling me that you’re a hopeless idealist?”
I grinned at her. “Reckon so,” I said.
“I can live with that,” she said.
That had a nice ring to it, in a very scary sort of way. I put more wood on the fire.
Willy sat up and regarded me seriously.
“I’m not going to ask you how many people you have killed because that’s really none of anybody’s business and I’m not sure you even know. What I want to know is how you deal with it.”
I looked at her intently and she didn’t look away. She was every inch a ranch girl and sat leaning forward. Her lips, swollen a little from our kissing, were slightly parted. Her hands gripped her knees. Her hair, now only in mild disarray, was smoothed back from her forehead.
There was no glamour in her. She was as straight-ahead a human being as there had been since we came down from the trees. A deep part of me registered a bond there, not as a lover, or a couple, or anything having to do with romance. She was a boon companion, something more, quite likely, but certainly nothing less. She was a rock with connections to the center of the earth.
“It seems glib,” I began, “to call that part of it an occupational hazard, but it’s true nonetheless.”
Here I paused, considering. I turned and looked at the fire.
“I don’t know, Willy, I’m not really sure I deal with it at all. My time in the Special Forces was intense and I’ve tried to let as much of that go as I can. Dreams come sometimes and I don’t react well, but I understand that those memories are a part of me. I can ignore them most of the time. When I can’t ignore them I have Daniel, who has many of the same dreams. But my life since then has been spent as what I call a protector. I take that very seriously. If I had a better relationship with authority I’d probably still be a cop, or maybe even still in the military.”
I nodded to where my beret was hanging on the wall behind the big desk.
“I don’t wear that hat any more, but I’m proud of the service I gave, even if the big picture was horribly misguided and cruel. It’s always the regular people who suffer the most in a war. Soldiers have a job and it keeps them on some kind of a track, however tenuous. The general population doesn’t have squat in a war zone. They’re just in the way and they die, often simply at the whim of fate.”
Satisfied with the fire, I moved to the couch and picked up my coffee. It was dark and good. Willy turned slightly toward me and waited.
I was treading water in an uncharted sea.
“I think,” I went on, “that there is a Warrior class in the human family. And, like the rest of the family, there are Good Guys and Bad Guys. Daniel and I are part of the Good Guys, at least by our own reckoning. We are both very good at violence, at staying calm when others panic. Would the world be a better place without us? I don’t know. I suppose it’s a question worth asking, but for me, it is what it is. I am a warrior and I accept what that means. I am grateful for the awareness of it, just as I am grateful for the breath I draw. I don’t think I can articulate it any better than that. Did I answer your question?”
She sat back sipping her coffee, the t-shirt riding up her thighs a little. Her eyes were not smiling, but they were open. Her face was composed.
“Not in a Freudian way,” here she smiled at herself, “but I’m glad it is a grey area for you. Character counts,” she continued and smiled at me, “and you are one.”
“I hope,” she said, “that we have this conversation many times. I am interested to see how it turns out.”
I leaned over and kissed her on the ear, then leaned back. “I like you,” I said.
“I know you do. And I am utterly infatuated with you, which is very interesting. My intuition tells me that’s okay, but my brain is very leery. That’s the interesting part, I guess. I’m not going to ask any questions. I’m just going to let whatever happens, happen.”
“Great plan,” I said. “I think I’ll tag along.”
She slid over to my end of the couch and snuggled into the crook of my arm.
“Mind if I stay here tonight?”
“You are such a comedienne.”
“My stuff is still in my truck and I’m not really dressed to go get it.”
“I’m really not either.”
“But you’re a man.”
She moved my sweatshirt.
“Would you put clothes on if I went and got your stuff?”
“Well then, it can stay right where it is. Shall we move back to the bedroom?”
“What’s wrong with right here?” she said in a thick voice.
“I like the way you think,” I said.
Between the fire and us, the leather on that couch got really warm.