Nicole is the seventh, and last, person Nedley interviews for the open position in Pugatory’s PD. He’s tired and jittery, having drunk three cups of coffee in the last three hours. He just wants to go home, feed his chickens and watch reruns of the superbowl on his couch.
Every person he’d interviewed had been disappointing. The most promising candidate a man who had answered the questions well, but had inexplicably jumped every time Nedley made a sudden movement and twitched anxious glances at the overhead light which hummed faintly.
Nedley has lived his whole life in Purgatory, and he loves his town. But goddamn, it isn’t the place for twitchers. There are things far scarier than fluorescent lighting lurking in the outskirts of Purgatory.
He dismisses Nicole as soon as he sees the name. A city-girl. Emphasis on the girl. Every one of the PD’s current officers is male. The station smells constantly like a gym sock. But she graduated top of her class, is the only candidate able to use full sentences and even spelled ‘opportunity’ correctly.
His secretary shows Nicole in and their gazes lock and damn him if this girl hasn’t got cop written in the very marrow of her bones. He watches her eyes flick to the coffee stain on his shirt, to the ink stains on his hands, and then across his neatly just tidied paperwork. She turns her head, spots the three empty coffee cups in the bin. Her body shifts, shoulders relaxing, arms dropping to her sides; unwinding from professional-wanting-to-make-a-good-impression to causal-I’m-not-going-to-keep-you in the same time it takes him to stand from his desk.
“You’re hired,” he tells her.
On her first day Nicole writes him a neat report on a car accident she’d responded to. A minor collision between Mrs. Brown’s old busted Toyota and Mr. Beale’s flashy Mercedes. Beale had been speeding, doing 60 in a 40 zone, and had threatened Nicole with a complaint of misconduct as soon as she’d stepped out of her squad car.
He rereads the report four times and still doesn’t find any spelling mistakes.
Later he comes across Nicole stuffed into booth at Shorty’s with a confused looking Mrs. Brown, carefully helping the woman fill out an insurance claim form.
He wonders how soon he can deputise her.
Deputy Marshall Dolls storms in and takes over half of the station and Nedley is livid. He’s never met a man with so many layers of asshole.
Nicole catches him eavesdropping on a conversation between Dolls and the eldest Earp girl in the kitchenette one day. There is an awkward moment where neither of them can meet each other’s eye.
“I just want to know what he’s up to,” Nedley huffs at her eventually.
Nicole shrugs, “well, they’ve sure got some fire power packed up in that office.” He sends her a questioning glance and Nicole grins sheepishly. “I took in some mail for them. They’ve got at least half a dozen encoded top-clearance weapon cases in there. I traced the logo on the cases, and they come from a weapons factory in Georgia. I rang the company, they specialise in siege weapons.”
“You got all that from takin’ in some mail?” He asks.
The tips of Nicole’s ear flush red, “that and, well, there are a ton of files with the name Del Rey printed on them.”
Now that’s something he can work with. Del Rey is a name Nedley knows well.
“Take the evening off, Deputy Haught,” he tells her.
Nicole’s eyes go wide. “Deputy?”
“I ain’t done the paperwork so it’s not official or anything yet,” he says, “so don’t go runnin’ your mouth to the other boys. But yeah, I reckon so. You gots the knowing of a deputy.” Nicole looks like she might hug him for a second, but tampers her excitement down to a grin so wide Nedley has to resist the urge to count her teeth. “Now, get outta here,” he gruffs.
He waits until she’s out of the station before he lets out a low impressed whistle, and then goes and pulls everything with the name ‘Del Rey’ on it from the PD’s files from the last twenty years.
He gets a call a week after Nicole has been officially deputised. It’s the hospital. A bored sounding woman tells him that his newest officer has been taken into the ER due to minor smoke inhalation.
He finds out later that Nicole ran back into a burning building to save a cat and threatens her with suspension on the grounds of recklessness.
She keeps the damn cat and calls it Reckless.
Nedley knew Nicole was a cop through and through the moment he laid eyes on her, because he’s also got policing drilled into his very bones. Oh, people might think there goes cheery old Nedley, not capable of handling anything bigger than a six pack of donuts, but there’s a lot more to policing than running about, shooting guns and waving round a badge. Something Deputy Marshall Dolls isn’t aware of, for all his fancy equipment and high clearance. No, Dolls is an agent. All about decisions and fast action and being a good shot. Now, policing, well that comes down to watching and learning and knowing people better than they know themselves.
So he works out Nicole is soft on Waverly Earp pretty quick. His newest agent isn’t subtle. Her eyes go soft whenever the other girl’s name is so much as mentioned. Then again, Waverly Earp seems pretty sweet on Nicole too, so he figures they’re best left to it.
All the same, he corners Waverly at the front desk of the station one day. Tells her if he loses his best officer to a broken heart, then he’ll revoke her access to the Purgatory PD archives and personally see that she’s responsible for finding him a new deputy.
Waverly, to her credit, only looks surprised for a couple of moments, before she grins sweetly at him and says he hasn’t got to worry about that at all.
Nedley is the one to find Nicole, lying flat on her back, breathing shallowly and blinking slowly up at the stained ceiling tiles in the Black Badge division.
“I’m fine,” she says, “just getting my breath back.”
“Like hell,” he tells her and calls an ambulance. He never liked that Willa Earp.
Nicole spends the evening in hospital under observation and Nedley feeds her cat without needing to be asked.
He’s waiting for Chrissy to swing by his office one evening. She’s late. It’s unlike her. But then he catches the soft conversation of female voices outside his door and gets up to peer through his blinds into the central office.
Chrissy’s sat on a stool at the station desk, sniffing. Nicole’s next to her, looking sympathetic.
“I just don’t know why he dumped me,” he hears his daughter say faintly. Nedley didn’t even realise his daughter had been seeing someone.
“More fool him,” Nicole says. His officer fishes in a draw for a second and comes up holding a pack of tissues. Chrissy takes one gratefully.
“I don’t think I’m going to find anyone you know,” his daughter says.
Nicole frowns at her. “Purgatory doesn’t have a lot to offer in way of men,” she shrugs.
Chrissy looks at her curiously, “you’re dating Waverly, right?”
“Uh yeah,” Nicole replies, shifting slightly on her stool.
“What’s it like, dating girls?” Chrissy asks. She’s blushing but she holds Nicole’s gaze when the deputy looks at her.
Nicole huffs a laugh, “it’s not easier, if that’s what you mean. But it’s probably more rewarding.”
“Not just boners and pickup trucks?” Chrissy says, grinning.
Nicole flushes. “Look,” she says, “he sounds like a dick. You’re too smart for that.”
Chrissy balls her tissue up in one fist, “yeah,” she says, “I am.”
Nedley drifts back to his paperwork. When Chrissy lets herself into his office five minutes later, her eyes are still a bit puffy but she smiles happily at him. “Hey Daddy,” she says, leaning to kiss his cheek.
“Hey baby girl, ready to go get those milkshakes?”
He signs off on three extra days leave for Nicole without her knowing and pretends he knows nothing about it when his deputy, puzzled, comes to ask him about it. Paperwork mistake, he tells her, take it off anyway.
He develops a tentative truce with Dolls. And then the bastard decides he wants to co-opt Nicole into Black Badge.
“Find your own goddamn officers,” he tells him. Doll shrugs at him and disappears back into his stolen office.
Nedley relents as soon as he sees Nicole’s face.
Goddamn it, he’s going soft.
They do secret santa at the office every year. He opens a messily wrapped gift, expecting it to be cheap whisky or some of that horrible cheap shaving cream that Officer Webb gets him every year.
It’s a black coffee cup. It has an ‘R’ stamped on it.
He’d been very fond of Doll’s mug; had given it up reluctantly when the Marshall had come back to the station from whatever godforsaken trouble he’d got himself into.
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Nicole press a smile into the sleeve of her coat.
Nicole’s birthday is the day after New Year’s. He buys a flame red collar and little tag. He gets the key-cutters in town to engrave Nicole’s address and ‘Reckless’ on it, in neat cursive.
The 21st February is always hard. It has been seven years, but he still misses his wife every day.
He does what he normally does. Takes the day off, drives to the cemetery, and then drives to a bar an hour’s drive from purgatory.
He drinks until he can barely stand.
At closing time, he drags himself out of the bar. He’s too drunk to drive. There’s a blanket in the back of the car; it’s good enough. It is part of the routine now: drink, sleep, and wake up bleary eyed with a crick in his neck so painful he can barely turn his head for days.
But, as he stumbles out into the cold night, Nicole Haught is leaning against his car.
She nods at him, “Sir.”
“What are you doing here, Haught?” He asks her. He doesn’t know whether be angry or not.
She doesn’t answer, just take his keys, unlocks his car and holds open the passenger door for him.
He climbs in. “Who told you?” He mumbles, fighting sleep. The car is warm and he’s tired; he feels hollow.
“Chrissy,” Nicole says.
“Bloody women,” Nedley mutters, “ganging up on an old man.”
Nicole hands him over to Chrissy at his front door and he falls asleep in bed with his boots still on. He wakes up with a cracking headache, but he can turn his head the next day without wincing.
Neither he nor Nicole mention it. Not until exactly a year later, when Nedley stumbles out of the same bar, an hour from purgatory, and finds Nicole Haught leaning against his car, waiting for him.
There is a crackling static report over the receiver in his squad car. Some crazy man with a knife had stabbed a woman on the street and taken off.
“Officer Haught in pursuit,” a stilted voice reports over his radio.
Chrissy is sat next to him. She watches his hands tighten round his steering wheel. “She’ll be okay,” his daughter says.
“Yeah, yeah,” he mutters, “bloody hot head, she is.”
He catches Chrissy smiling at him, “she adores you too, you know,” she says.
Nicole asks him to give her away at her wedding, standing sheepishly in his office door.
He blinks at her. “What?” he asks.
“I understand if you don’t want to,” Nicole murmurs. Her shoulders have dropped; she starts backing out of his office.
“No, Haught, I’d be honoured,” he says. And he would. He stares at the girl in front of him, “but don’t you have someone, a dad, a brother, or someone you would rather…?”
Nicole is still flushed but she fixes him with a level, calm look. “No sir. No brother sir, and my daddy, well he wasn’t that keen on me liking girls, sir.” Nicole’s gaze becomes thoughtful, “my mamma won’t make it all the way down the aisle. She’s waiting on a hip replacement.”
Nedley gets up from his desk and fishes in his bottom desk draw for his good whiskey. He pours two glasses. “I presume Waverly Earp is the lucky girl?”
He hands his deputy a glass.
“Yes, sir,” Nicole clinks her glass against his and downs it in one. She beams at him.
“Well then,” he says, “nothing would make me happier.” He drains his own glass, “now get back to work officer.”
Nicole grins and turns on her heel to leave.
“Oh, and Haught?” Nedley says, just as she is about to close the door, “your daddy is a fool.”
Nicole takes his arm at the top of the aisle. She is wearing a white dress with a green trim. Waverly is at the other end, wearing a suit.
“Ready, Haught?” he asks, just for something to say. There’s a heat behind his eyes and goddamn it he is not going to cry.
“Born ready, sir,” Nicole says and squeezes him arm.
He watches his deputy get married, standing next to a woman who looks awful familiar, with red hair and big brown eyes. She has a walking stick, but her grin is youthful and mischievous as she passes his a tissue.
“It’s nice to finally meet you Sheriff Nedley,” she murmurs, “thank you for looking after my girl.”
He wipes his eyes surreptitiously.
And damn it to hell, he’s gone soft.