Chapter 5 – Touched by the Goddesses

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The memorial service was only a couple of days later. The TSDF didn’t even bother to release Colin’s remains so he could be buried or cremated. Their excuse: it was a matter of national security. It bothered Link. It felt like they were hiding something, which was always a point of contention between the two young men. But more than that, he felt like he never really got a chance to say his goodbyes. He wasn’t alone in the sentiment.

A procession was formed and paraded down Faron’s main street. The entire precinct attended in dress uniform. Above them hovered a very flattering bust of the deceased, his hologram visible for miles around. He wasn’t terribly renowned, not a household name, but when one of Faron’s own passed in service to the force or the kingdom, they were treated to a hero’s funeral.

Everyone turned out. It was a sea of black jackets and dresses. Salutes were given by retired servicemen and women. A very moving speech was given by the chief. Link was asked up on stage to be presented with Colin’s medal of valor. He was the closest thing to an actual brother Colin had. When asked if he would say a few words, the Detective hesitated, but he felt compelled to say something, anything. He approached the stand and looked out across the ocean of faces looking back at him. He couldn’t think of anything. All that was in his head were his regrets. It ate away at him. It didn’t help that Link didn’t care for public speaking. Barnes gave him a soft nudge, sympathetic to the young man’s plight.

“You don’t have to say anything.” the older man whispered.

Link had an out, a way off that terrifying platform and away from everyone that could see him. He could just run and never look back. His left hand ached, making him clench it into a tight fist. That alone made him think it might be a good idea to decline. But that didn’t sit right with him. It rang so very wrong in his ears and mind he suddenly found himself with something to say. He shook his head to the chief and looked back out across the crowd.

“Colin was my brother. We were raised in an orphanage together. Sure we weren’t related. Sure either of us could have been adopted, taken home with our new parents, and easily forget the other. But we didn’t. I remember when I was six, and he was ten, we made a vow. We vowed we would be brothers in arms until the day we died. That we would defend the innocent.” he said.

The Detective paused, fighting back a choke. If he could just get through his moment in the limelight, he could go off stage and breakdown in private.

He only needed strength enough to finish strong, the courage to see it through, and the wisdom to find the right words. That resonated with him and he was able to continue.

“It’s funny… two little kids making a vow like that. Most kids would just let it fade away, like a toy we don’t want to play with anymore. Colin didn’t. He took it seriously. And I followed his example. He lived and breathed that vow. We looked out for the other boys in the orphanage. Whenever someone tried to bully them, he and I stood in their way. From day one, he was a hero. He died fulfilling that vow. To his last breath he held up his end of the bargain. I knew he would. I’ve always had doubts about myself, but Colin never doubted me. Not for an instant. I just hope I can make him proud.” Link said, his cheeks slowly turning wet as he struggled to hold back his tears.

Barnes leaned in to let that be an end of it, seeing how it was absolutely eviscerating the Detective.

“That was real good Link. You don’t have to say anymore.” the chief whispered, once again offering him an exit.

The young man stopped him, politely gesturing for him to step back for just a moment longer.

“I miss my brother. I never got a chance to say goodbye, to apologize to him for all the crap I gave him. But I can do something. I can keep up my end of the bargain. I can try to live up to what he aspired to be. He was touched by the goddesses, and he enriched my life. He enriched all our lives.” Link said, finally unable to say anything more without collapsing then and there.

A soft wave of applause rose out of the crowd, deep and heartfelt, building to a fairly impressive ovation. He didn’t think he had really reached that many people with his unpolished rhetoric. He wasn’t a speech writer and always shied away from situations where he had to present like this. And yet, it had somehow transformed into the right thing to say.

Barnes rest a hand on his shoulder and thanked him again, finding his brief speech touching. With that, Link was escorted off stage. Thankfully, reporters and journalists and other members of the press didn’t bother him, not at the memorial service. They would probably be delving into his childhood by rummaging through his personnel file and other public records. They’d paint him as the surviving brother of a hero, trying desperately to live up to his name, always in his shadow. He hated the press. They always twisted things.

Unfortunately, this was one time where they would probably be completely right. Link did feel like he was always in Colin’s shadow, but he never resented it. Colin was the better of the two of them, he thought. He deserved to be here, alive, ready to marry Lilly. The whole situation was twisted up inside Link’s chest, feeling so painfully wrong. He had to leave. He needed to be away from everyone.

The Regent–Link had learned his name was Aaron–was backstage, waiting quietly and politely. Lilly and her father were there as well. The regent simply stood aside as the young lady embraced the Detective.

“That was beautiful,” she said, then forced a chuckle as she tried to lighten the mood, “Colin would have hit you for embarrassing him like that.”

Link laughed quietly, sniffling just a bit. She was absolutely right. He would have been glaring murderously at him for being so ‘mushy’ about the whole affair.

“Yeah… he really would have. My last chance to get back at him,” he said, then fell silent for a moment, trying to compose himself but finding it quite difficult, “Hey… um… if it’s okay with you, I think I’d like to have a little time alone. I’ll see you tonight at the wake, okay?”

Lilly nodded and gave his cheek a kiss, squeezing him again.

“Don’t be late this time. I don’t think I could handle it.” she said.

Another forced joke. She released him and slipped away, her father shaking his hand before the two disappeared out into the crowd beyond the partition.

“You have my deepest condolences, Detective,” said the Regent, “I’d prefer to not trouble you at present but if you could inform me when might be a good time to discuss something with you.”

Aaron’s voice was steady and smooth just as it had been the day the news was broken. Something about that bothered Link, almost as though it was evidence that the nobleman was cold and unfeeling. Surely that wasn’t the case, but Link didn’t want to give anyone highborn the benefit of the doubt today.

“Please, Regent… I really want to be alone. Can we discuss this some other time?” the Detective asked, though he wasn’t really asking.

“I understand you’re upset and I won’t take up too much of your time,” the Regent said in a gentler voice, “There are a few remaining affairs left to be put in order which we can indeed discuss at a more appropriate time. On behalf of the entire Tri-State Defense Force, I wish to offer you our deepest condolences. He was one of the finest we’ve ever had the privilege to serve with.”

The sincerity provided was quietly baffling. Why on earth would a Regent of the Crown bother to fuss over a single soldier? An orphan no less? Maybe because both Colin and Link were wards of the state, the prospect of joining the service carried with it a deeper significance to them. It could all just be some PR stunt so that the nobles would play better in the public’s eye. Link didn’t want to think about it. He mustered what civility he could towards the polished politician and offered a farewell.

“Thanks… that means a lot. If you’ll excuse me.” the Detective said just before trying to push past the Regent.

He could have spoken with a more measured degree of diplomacy but his pain had eaten away at his manners. Luckily, it had not caused an incident. The Regent nodded and let the young man take his leave. That alone was slightly odd. Usually the highborn were always looking for some reason to take offense. This Aaron fellow conducted himself differently. It was a precious, small favor that did much to prevent the pain of the moment from flaring any harder than it did.

There wasn’t much for Link to do after the ceremony. Barnes wasn’t letting him anywhere near the station, and even told the garage to hold the cruiser to keep him from doing anything foolish. He was on mandatory leave and it drove him mad. To be alone with his thoughts in a time like this; he simply could not stand it. Out away from the crowd, he began to wander the streets, disappearing into the back alleys to hide from the hordes of sympathizers. He didn’t want their pity or their kind words. He just wanted to be alone.

Thin columns of steam rose from the grates underfoot as he let himself get lost. He had given up control of his feet, letting them take him wherever they might. With his cell locater disabled, no one would be able to track him by conventional means. Especially when he was purposefully avoiding areas with security cameras.

When he finally emerged onto the main streets again, he peered about, finding passers-by delightfully ignorant of the tragedy that had befallen his brother. He didn’t bear them any ill will. They were just going about their lives. He preferred that no one looked at him with those eyes, ‘feeling his pain’ as so many claimed to. It all felt so phony. He needed to interact with something or someone who was real. Not Lilly or her father. They were already suffering just as much as he was. He would see them at the wake. Hopefully by then, Link would have reassembled himself into something strong enough to support them. Before he knew it, he was back where it all began.

Link stood at the bottom of a short staircase leading up into the orphanage where he grew up. It was in about as good repair as he remembered. The brick had long since been replaced with the polymer-ceramic plating that seemed so popular lately, stamped to mimic the old brick pattern. He climbed up the stairs and pressed his thumb to the pad signaling his presence. He heard the chime inside along with a familiar voice as someone approached to let him in.

“Hang on! Hang on! I’m coming! Boys get out of the way! We don’t have anyone scheduled to come by today! Go play your video games or something!” called out that voice Link knew so well; it would have made him smile were the circumstances better.

The door slid open, revealing an elderly man, his hair white but still just as bushy and wild as ever. A pair of thick glasses–thicker than the officer remember–rest on a fine aquiline nose. A moustache concealed his mouth. That was new. His garb was just as Link remembered; that same red vest over a grey knit shirt, dark brown trousers, and a pair of shoes meant for comfort and mobility. He wasn’t going to be uncomfortable, but he still had to chase the kids down from time to time. He paused as he peered out the door at the man looking in on him. Link simply smiled a half-hearted smile, unable to really think of anything meaningful to say.

“Hey Mr. Parsons.” the Detective said.

“L-Link! It’s been ages! Well what on earth are you waiting for!? Come in! Come in!” the caretaker cried in surprise.

He quickly stepped to one side and ushered the Detective in, tapping the panel to slide the door shut behind him. The younger man gazed around, finding the orphanage to be almost exactly as he remembered it. A sigh escaped him as the caretaker gave him a firm pat on the back.

It lacked the strength Link remembered Mr. Parsons was known for. He wasn’t known for being a powerful man, but he could certainly knock the wind out of a person with that gesture. Old age had of course taken its toll.

“Would you just have a look at you!? I knew you were a police officer but I didn’t think that uniform would fit so well! It suits you! How’ve you been my boy?” the old fellow said in a manner that was far too jolly for the Detective’s mood.

“Mr. Parsons… Can we… Can we not do this?” Link asked as he tried to conceal the pain in his words.

He was already getting antsy. The kindly old fellow nodded, his voice dropping to a lower volume as he turned, guiding the young man towards his office.

“Of course… of course… I had a feeling I might see you at some point. What with what’s happened.” the caretaker said.

They made their way back to the very room where Link and Colin had been scolded time and again back in their youth. True to the rest of the building, it had not changed one bit. The door was closed and the glass frosted to provide privacy.

“It’s really good seeing you again Mr. Parsons.” Link said.

“No, you don’t get to call me that anymore. You call me Gant. Have a seat, get comfortable.” the older man said.

The Detective did as he was told as a small kettle was switched on, filling with water and immediately beginning to brew a strong elixir. That was something new as well. Usually Mr. Parsons didn’t keep such gadgets in his office for fear he might spill on something. Clearly his need for the power of the steeped bean had become a necessity for him.

“Feels weird calling you ‘Gant’. I’d really prefer to stick with Mr. Parsons.” Link said.

“Well get used to it,” Gant said, “So, I have a pretty good idea what brought you by, but I’d like to hear it from you. What’s on your mind, son?”

It took only moments for the coffee to finish and two cups were poured, one withheld for the caretaker and one given graciously to his guest. Link hunched forward over his steaming mug, peering into the dark brown liquid. He honestly couldn’t think of why he had come to the orphanage. Perhaps it was a need to be in familiar surroundings, or maybe he would catch some hint, some remnant of Colin in these creaking halls.

“I guess… what’s been bugging me the most is… how they won’t release his remains. They keep telling us some garbage about health and safety but I know there’s more going on. It makes me wonder what actually happened. They won’t even explain anything about the mission he was on or how he died.” Link explained.

The Detective was oddly calm. He had been angry about the matter earlier, but all the rage and fury had drained out of him. At this point, he was too tired to force himself back into a foul mood on the point. Gant nodded, sipping his coffee quietly.

“Are you sure you’re more upset about them not telling you how he died? Or that they just won’t deliver his remains so we can have a proper funeral?” he asked.

As always, the older man was able to cut straight to the heart of the matter. Link looked away, not feeling much like drinking his coffee. That provided Gant with the answer to his question, even without a single word being spoken.

After the silence had gone on for long enough, the older man spoke again.

“Did you two ever talk? You know… afterwards?” he asked.

“Of course we talked,” Link answered, “Just not about anything important. Just small talk.”

It was starting to show now, what was really bothering him.

“So… you two never settled it?” Gant asked.

“There wasn’t really anything to settle. He wanted to go on to the TSDF, I wanted to stay here. I had my idea of how we should do things and he had his. That’s all there is to it. We weren’t going to agree on everything. We both knew that.” Link said.

Gant set his mug down, carefully crafting and directing the conversation. He knew all too well what the problem was at this point. He just had to get Link to admit it.

“You never really forgave him for leaving. Did you?” the caretaker asked.

The Detective blinked, taken aback by the old man’s sudden leap to such a conclusion. It was closer to the truth than he was comfortable with.

“Forgave him!? For leaving!?” Link cried, then lowered his voice realizing he had let it escape his control for a moment, “Why would I need to do that? It was his decision, not mine. He was free to do as he pleased.”

“I mean… you never forgave him for leaving you behind.” Gant said.

Ice ran through Link’s veins. The swelling of anger inside him startled him. Why did this aggravate him so? They were both adults, they didn’t have to stay side by side the whole time. They weren’t joined at the hip. But for a time, they had been. They had been together for almost their entire lives. And just six months after they separated, one of them wound up dead.

“He didn’t leave me behind. I chose to stay behind.” Link clarified.

His voice was even and calm; the anger from just a moment earlier suddenly melting away.

“So what really has you bothered is… you think he’d still be alive now if you’d gone with him.” Gant said.

There it was. It was finally out in the air. It was like an open wound that had been festering, needing to be cleaned and the bandage to be changed. It stung far more than the Detective wanted it to.

“Of course he’d-!” Link cried, then stopped himself, having shouted the admission.

He sighed and averted his gaze once more. Gant watched him carefully, not saying anything. He had made the point he wanted, like landing a perfectly placed strike with a sword. He was finally admitting not just to Gant but to himself.

Eventually, the silence grew to be too much and Link continued, this time in a more even temper.

“Of course he’d be alive. We always looked out for one another. He needed me and I wasn’t there. He died because I wasn’t there to protect him.” the young man said, feeling like he was spitting out poison.

Finally, his mug reached his lips and he sampled the dark brew. Saying it aloud seemed to bring about a desire to remain silent and drinking or eating was the quickest way to shut himself up.

“You can’t blame yourself, Link. You can’t be at one person’s side all their lives.” Gant said gently.

Link refused to answer to that. The guilt was simply too much to bear. He could feel it gnawing away at him in the pit of his stomach. Or maybe it was the heat from the coffee. As soon as he felt a gentle churn, he knew that the nausea was from his grief, not the drink.

Gant sighed seeing his young friend in such agony. It was a terrible truth the Detective needed to understand, and there wasn’t any pleasant way to get past it, only just to face it and push through.

“Until you forgive yourself, this isn’t going to go away. Colin wouldn’t want you to blame yourself for this. He would want you to keep up your end of the bargain.” the old man said.

The vow. Link remembered the words with brilliant clarity. They rang in his ears almost constantly anytime he put on his uniform and walked his patrol. Now though, there was a far more specific aspect he had to consider.

“Yeah… I know. And I will. For his sake.” the Detective said.

The weight that had been holding him down seemed to lighten, but not by much. If only he could have had a chance to say goodbye properly he might not feel so dreadful.

“How’s the hand?” the caretaker asked.

Gant’s sense of timing was impeccable. No point in staying on a topic too long after they’d reached what was most certainly the conclusion of it, at least at the moment. Link looked down to his gloved left palm, giving his fingers a squeeze to form a fist.

“Same as always. Hasn’t changed in years.” he said.

“So, hasn’t happened again since high school, huh?” Gant asked.

The young man shook his head, set his mug down, and began massaging his left hand with his right. The ache from back at the lectern was still present, but that was nothing compared to how bad he knew it could get. History taught him to be grateful for the dull ache rather than something far worse.

“Nope, hasn’t given me any trouble I can’t deal with. And I’d prefer it to stay that way.” Link said.

He was grateful for the shift of focus, even if it was about something that wasn’t terribly pleasant.

“You seen a doctor about it?” the older fellow asked.

“Never saw a need to. It’s working just fine, no complaints other than aching from time to time. I figured it would be like this. You know how a joint like a knee or an elbow will keep aching after an injury? I ice it from time to time and it’s just fine. No episodes. Everything is as it should be.” Link explained.

Gant nodded and collected his mug to take another sip, reclining in his chair. Again he shifted the conversation.

“How’s Lilly holding up?” he asked.

Lilly. Link could only imagine. He had been so wrapped up in his own suffering he had only begun in that moment to truly consider what sort of hell she was going through.

“As well as can be expected when your fiancé is killed on some covert mission of national security. He was supposed to come back in two weeks. Month of leave so he could get married,” the Detective said, “I should probably go check on her.”

“That’d be a good idea. Tell her I said hello. And tell her to not be a stranger. You two should come ’round more often. The kids love it when you guys visit.” Gant said, putting on the same warm, kind smile the young man had seen him wear as far back as his memory could reach.

Link nodded as he sipped his coffee again, drinking it faster–perhaps a little too fast for his pallet’s preference–to empty the mug. The sting of a mild burn bit numbly at the back of his throat. Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. But it would have felt rude to leave his mug holding anything. Nothing went to waste in Mr. Parson’s house.

“I’ll let her know. Will you be at the wake tonight?” Link asked.

Gant shook his head, sighing quietly.

“No, I’m afraid not. Lisa is out sick so I’m the only one here with the boys. But… you’ll be there for both of us, won’t you?” he asked.

Link nodded slowly as he stood, his heart tightening again as he began to picture what the evening would be like. The urge to run was building again, but he could always overcome that. And if he still felt like running after he got home, his building had a small gym with a treadmill. He could run and run until his legs fell off.

“Of course. I’ll light a candle for you and Lisa.” the Detective said.

“I think that would be wonderful. Thank you, Link. Take care of yourself.” Gant said.

The two regarded one another for a moment. So much had changed since the days when Link was a little boy. What had not changed was the deep, powerful respect they had for one another. It was just as strong as ever. The Detective gave his farewells and slipped back out onto the sidewalk before the boys could mob him. They hadn’t been told yet, and he didn’t have the heart to do it himself. Mr. Parsons would find the best time and manner to break it to them.

Eventually, after a long, leisurely walk, the Detective made his way back to where the memorial had taken place. The crowd had long sense dispersed, most people going back to their daily lives, some preparing for the wake, some taking down the stands that had been used for the presentation he had spoken at. The wake would be a more private function, at least in the sense that half the town wouldn’t be there. That eased Link’s nerves. He went straight to the station where it was being held, permitted entry only for that one reason. He wouldn’t be allowed to go to his desk.

There, the Detective was joined by other officers that had worked closely with them. There would never be another partner like Colin. They were two of a kind. They had developed a foolproof method for dealing with ‘Tingle’ that worked so well, it had been written down in the precinct’s manual. He wouldn’t ever get to execute it with Colin ever again. The fallen officer’s empty desk had been decorated just for the occasion. A flattering framed portrait of him sat atop the blank console. It reminded Link of how much Colin looked the part of a hero.

At least fifty people were there; all milling about, drinking, eating, sharing stories and tears. It really was a tribute to how many lives Colin had touched. Something about that eased Link’s mind. At the same time, it made him modestly uncomfortable. He made a mental note to have explicit instructions in his will that there be no large gathering to ‘celebrate his life’ or mourn his death. It just didn’t feel like his style. He didn’t like there to be a fuss about him. Not for the good. Not for the bad. Colin had been of a similar mind, which meant he would probably have objected to all of this, given the chance.

Ever the polite practitioner of social norms, Link collected a plastic cup of the somewhat unsavory punch and a napkin of cookies before going around the room, making his appearance to the appropriate people. Some he visited just to put in a little face time because it was polite and they had the decency to show their respects. Some he spent a bit longer with because he genuinely was pleased to see them. Quietly, he wished Mr. Parsons could have come and been part of the whole ritual if only to keep him company. He would be able to read when the Detective was uncomfortable and quickly shift the subject away.

That was a skill Link so desperately wished to cultivate. He wasn’t a social butterfly. Nor did he want to be. But diplomacy and grace were two social abilities he would have been quite interested to learn. Instead, he simply felt like beating most chatterboxes over the head with a riot baton. It was a simpler answer, if the wrong one.

“Link, you finally made it.” Lilly said as she wrapped her arms around his chest.

It left the young man puzzled as to how to return the kindness while his hands were full. Thankfully, the young lady had seen the handicap he was working with and didn’t expect him to reciprocate. If asked, she would have just said she didn’t want punch spilled on her.

“Yeah, I wanted to go see Mr. Parsons. He won’t be able to make it tonight. He’s the only one there.” the detective said.

The girl frowned as she pulled away, relieving Link of his slightly awkward situation once she was satisfied with her display of affection. She frowned upon learning of the absence of the kind old man who should be present.

“Oh, that’s terrible. He deserves to be here as much as anyone. Is there anything we can do for him?” Lilly asked.

“I told him we’d light a candle for him.” Link said.

Before he could do anything about his drink and snacks, Lilly turned to help facilitate the young man making good on his promise.

“Well let’s just go take care of that right now.” she said.

“Wait!” Link hissed, trying to figure out how to manage his consumables situation.

Lilly turned back to tilt her head, puzzled softly by his request to stop. She realized almost immediately and relented in her insistence for just a moment. Given a chance to do so, Link simply dropped everything off on a nearby table, not expecting to pick it back up again. He reached out and tugged the young lady back to him gently before whispering an embarrassing confession in her ear.

“Don’t you dare leave me alone with all these people. I don’t shmooze well.” the Detective hissed.

The rest of the service passed without much incident. With Lilly in close proximity running interference, Link was able to survive without too many awkward silences or unpleasantly tragic stories. She balanced him out rather well. If only he could just borrow her wisdom during gatherings like this. He wished he could borrow a couple of other attributes she was displaying marvelously. She was keeping in the finest tradition of the kingdom, keeping all three in balance. It amazed the young man. That was why Colin had wanted to marry her, after all.

The night began to wear on and the crowd thinned out. At long last, Lilly decided she’d had enough. She made a small show of asking Link to escort her home, giving him the out he had been needing. It was a job he was all too grateful to be selected for. The trip home was fairly quiet. The streets were still active but mostly with cars carrying people home or those who worked the night shift. The sidewalks were devoid of most pedestrians, leaving the pair to set whatever pace they desired.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with the rest of my life. He was going to be such a big part of it. Now what am I supposed to do?” Lilly asked.

She had shed more than a few tears already today, most of which Link had not been present to see. Now she could be more vulnerable than she was comfortable with showing the general public. It offered the Detective the chance to provide what comfort he could offer her.

“I don’t know. I’m drawing a blank myself. I mean sure, I’ve got the precinct, but where do I go from here? We always did things together.” Link said.

“Guess you hafta find your own path now?” Lilly offered the answer rather casually.

She said it without thinking of the deeper significance. It struck Link with its simplicity and honesty. For a moment he remained quietly thoughtful. The sting of loss was still overwhelming his good sense but not completely. Her clarity of thought had given him a chance for a new perspective.

“Guess that makes two of us. Why not dedicate your recording to him?” Link asked.

It was Lilly’s turn to be stunned into silence. She had not even thought about the recording since that night. Once the news had been broken, she was inconsolable. Nothing else mattered. The rest of the world simply fell away as her heart broke. It was still broken, but it would mend. She couldn’t see it yet, but it would.

“I think that would be a great idea.” the young lady said.

She stepped in closer and rest her head against Link’s shoulder, finding comfort in his presence. To her, it was like having a big brother. To Link, the sentiment was close, though he had let a ‘what if’ run through his mind on more than one occasion. Nothing ever came of it. She and Colin had been a far better match, and to try and steal her was terribly dishonorable. A knight of the yard would never do such a thing.

The two walked on in silence through the night. Something about not having to talk, to share stories or memories, helped in a way they had not expected. They both knew how close the other had been to Colin. There was no need to speak. So they simply walked. The wake, the memorial, the whole experience was behind them and all they had to worry about was the sidewalk in front of them and the path home. Any other unpleasantness that might arise was so far away at the moment it couldn’t hurt them. Eventually, the road split ahead of them, a side street connecting up with the main in a ‘T’ intersection. Lilly sighed as she recognized the area.

“Well, I guess this is where we part ways.” she said.

“I don’t mind going the rest of the way.” Link replied.

The young lady waved a hand to dismiss his chivalry.

“It’s fine. Home’s just a few buildings down. I can make it there on my own. You’ve got a longer walk ahead of you. I don’t want to keep you any longer than necessary. Not after they took away the cruiser.” Lilly said.

It was one of those arguments he wasn’t going to win. Link sighed and nodded, giving the young lady a firm hug, his chin just above her left shoulder as he lowered his voice.

“If you need anything, absolutely anything, day or night, give me a call. I’m not that far away.” he said gently.

Lilly returned the embrace, fighting off another wave of tears. Everything seemed to bring up the sting of loss. Nothing was spared. Not even the simplest of gestures or acts of kindness. It felt like they were stuck in a nightmare they couldn’t wake up from. It just didn’t seem real.

“I will. Take care of yourself. I don’t wanna hafta come down there and kick you out of bed and force you to shower and shave.” the lady said in an attempt to add levity as was her way.

Link forced a chuckle and nodded, releasing her after a moment.

“I will. Goodnight Lilly.” he said.

“Goodnight Link.” she replied.

Reluctantly, the two parted ways, the young lady turning down the side street while Link remained on the corner for a moment. He watched as she faded into the dark of the night, only able to make out a vague outline of her before he turned to continue on his way. His pace was quite slow. He didn’t want to go home. Not yet. He felt the need to wander. He crossed the side street and continued on, only a dozen or so paces past the intersection before he found himself clumsily bumping into another person out for an evening stroll.

“Sorry.” the Detective said as he turned about from the impact.

His apology clearly wasn’t accepted. He received something of a rude stare in spite of his contrition. It was some punk in a black hoodie. Manners must have been left off of his school curriculum. Link frowned and turned back around, trying not to let the stranger’s sour mood drag him even further down. It was difficult. He found himself unable to shake this sense of negativity he picked up from the rude fellow. His stomach began to tighten. His left hand started to ache again and he grimaced, trying to carry on. Maybe going home was the best course of action. He suddenly wasn’t feeling terribly good. And then it hit him.

He was rubbing his hand. His left hand. It wasn’t just an ache. It stung.

The Detective froze in his tracks, lifting the hand to examine it closely with wide eyes. His fingers trembled as he tried to massage the pain away. Then it clicked. The punk he bumped into. That’s when it started hurting. It wasn’t because he had hit something he was carrying and injured himself. This was different. Link turned around and peered off into the darkness, finding the black hoodie gone from sight. His head swiveled about trying to locate its owner, the knot in his stomach tightening further.

A scream split the relative silence and the Detective was off, charging back the direction he had come.

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