Nil for Two
Duke Crocker closed his eyes in relief as he settled back on the deck of the Cape Rouge to relax in the late afternoon sun. It was beautifully warm for Maine, where even the height of summer could be misty and cool, and he was enjoying every minute of sunshine while he could.
He cracked open a beer and took a long draught; the condensed droplet dripping cold water on his grey wifebeater and soaking through the cloth.
He'd done a run that morning and, after all the tense negotiations and glaring hostility, he'd been paid well and had roared back into Haven somewhat wealthier and unburdened by illegal goods. It was, he considered, a perfect end to a pretty perfect day.
A shadow fell over him and he grunted in annoyance, opened his dark eyes and squinted at the interloper.
"Officer Agent Parker," he greeted the sensibly-dressed blonde woman standing over him. He took a gulp of beer and gestured an offer to open one for her.
She shook her head; her features moving into the unique blend of annoyed amusement he seemed to inspire in her. She was wearing her gun and had a determined look so he gathered she was on duty.
"Parker, it's a Saturday," he said. "You're not actually trying to shake me down on a Saturday."
"Since when do I 'shake you down'?" she asked him, reasonably. "I'm just here to ask you for a favour."
"How many ways can I tell you I don't do favours for cops?"
"You've never told me that," she said, a small smile flickering at the edge of her lips, "In fact, just last week…"
He shook his head, "Yeah well, voodoo pictures that can destroy the whole town get a special exception to Crocker's First Rule."
"I don't help cops. Even…"
"…cops that you like," Parker finished for him. "I remember."
She shot him a smile, "Little redundant at this stage, don't you think?"
Duke drained the last of his beer, stood up and walked over so he was the one towering over her.
"I might be persuaded to help," he said softly.
She pursed her lips; seemingly considering it for a moment.
"I'll get you another beer," she offered.
He contemplated outlining all the ways in which she'd misinterpreted him then caught a glimpse of her barely-concealed smirk and laughed instead.
"Deal. They're in the stateroom."
He sat back down and put his long cargo-pant covered legs on a chair in front of him.
"And you'd better knock the top off that, woman," he yelled after her as she disappeared into the boat.
She came back out clutching, he noticed with an amused smile, two beverages.
"Audrey Parker drinks on duty," he said, "will wonders never cease. No wait, let me guess. You're not really on duty. You're just investigating cases in your spare time because you've finally decided that not working really is a crime."
"Very funny. I'm just looking into something on my way home."
She handed him the beer, settled down on a crate and took a sip of her own.
"Ah ha," Duke said, "Well, I'll be going up to the Gull later. If you decided to show, I'd make you a martini. On the house."
"I'll keep it in mind," she said wryly.
"And now we get to the 'shake Duke down' part of the conversation," he said.
Audrey just grinned, turned and pointed to the boat moored to the north east of his.
"Jack Bilge's boat," he told her. "All-round crook. Small time but nothing is beneath him. Kind of an equal-opportunity bad guy."
"And troubled," she said. "I think."
"Are you sure?"
She shrugged, "Not entirely. That's why I'm here."
"I haven't seen anything," he told her. "I mean, not anything… ah… Haven-ish."
"Umph," she grunted, "I might just stick around for a few hours and see if anything weird happens. Can I…?"
"Ah, no," he said, "you may not. One criminal facilitating the stake out of another criminal? No way. Not done. You can watch him from the pier like a normal agent."
She smiled, "But what if a freak hail storm causes a fuse box to explode and I get propelled unconscious into the icy water?"
"Then I'll fish you out. Again. And maybe this time you'll thank me."
"Yes I will. Because this time you'll call an ambulance or take me to a hospital like a normal person."
"I don't know. I still think stripping you naked and having a bottle of wine while I wait for you to wake up makes more sense."
"You're lucky I didn't shoot you."
"I know," he said, genuinely. "Now go on. You have your information. Go… stake out or whatever you call it. Somewhere that's not here."
Duke gave a small laugh at her retreating back, finished his second beer and then started on the one she'd barely sipped.
He closed his eyes again, forced breath into his lungs, and performed a brief meditation ritual he'd perfected during those moments he pretended to be a Buddhist.
He opened his dark eyes, took a gulp of beer and unwillingly felt his gaze shift – just slightly - to the FBI agent still standing on the dock.
"Workaholic," he muttered as he stumbled to the stateroom for another beer.
He stepped back onto the deck, noticing that the sun had almost set, and settled back down in his chair to enjoy his beer. He paused momentarily, fumbled in his back pocket for his phone and somewhat drunkenly dialled the Gull. The problem, he told himself, was the hot afternoon. That was the reason the beer had gone to his head.
"How's everything going?" he asked Nora when she finally answered the phone.
He got her report, made a few suggestions for the dinner menu and then told her he wouldn't make it in that evening. As he hung up the call, he noticed Parker move out of a shadow on the dock and toward Bilge's boat.
Stealthy, he thought, somewhat impressed.
As she moved into a small puddle of light, he didn't even have time to call out as the boom from the nearby sail boat broke free from its restraint, swung across the dock and smacked her across the back of the head and into the water.
Duke leapt up onto the dock, threw himself into the murky, dirty depths and pulled her, unconscious and bleeding onto the splintered wood of the pier.
"Audrey," he said, one hand taking her pulse as the other one took her by the chin and shook her head gently. "Audrey, come on."
He felt the faint pulse under his fingertips and breathed a sigh of relief.
"Jesus," he cursed then cursed himself for the Christian curse. Childhood habits died hard.
He picked her up, carried her to his boat and put her down on the floor of the stateroom. Without thinking, he stripped off her wet clothes, towelled her down and dressed her in one of his shirts.
"In my defense," he murmured to himself, "that water was cold and you could have gotten hypothermia. And before you tell me I should have taken you to a hospital, I'm over the limit so how can I drive?"
He grabbed a small torch, opened one of her eyes and shone the pint point of light at her pupil.
"See, no concussion," he continued, hoping he was right. "You're fine."
He picked her up, carried her into his bedroom, tucked her in, stumbled out to the stateroom and then considered that he was once again waiting for a naked unconscious FBI agent to wake up.
Maybe just one glass of wine.
Nathan Wuornos parked his truck in front of the Haven police department, picked up his large black coffee and cursed as he realised he had a small cup-shaped burn on the inside of his palm.
"Damn," he said, as he grabbed a handkerchief and used it to wrap around the cup, "where's Audrey when you need her?"
He grabbed his phone and dialled her number; giving the world a concerned look when she didn't pick up. Again. He'd been calling since she'd gone off to investigate who knows what the night before and she hadn't picked up once. Now she was more than an hour late to work.
"Should I be worried?" he asked Stan when he got into the station.
Stan just shrugged and Nathan wondered why he'd bothered asking.
"What's the matter with you?" the Chief called as he walked past his office, "You look like a bear with a headache."
"Nothing," he said shortly as he put his coffee on his desk, "Audrey's just late, that's all. It's not like her."
"It's Sunday," the Chief told him wearily, "neither of you should be working anyway."
"Oh yeah? Then why are you here?"
"I'm the Chief. It's my job. Now stop worrying. Audrey probably just slept in."
Nathan said nothing; just shot his father a sceptical look and pulled out a file he and his partner had been working on.
He heard a bang as the front door slammed shut and watched in astonishment as Audrey walked in wearing a pair of wet trousers and a very large striped shirt.
"Parker," he ventured, "why are you an hour late to work… and wearing Duke Crocker's clothes?"
"Don't ask," she said as she threw her things on her desk. "I'm serious. Do. Not. Ask. And if Duke comes in, keep him away from me. Because if I see him, I will kill him."
Nathan opened his mouth for a second but thought it wise to close it again.
He settled down to his paperwork, eventually catching her eye to shoot her an amused look. She scowled and he pretended to be chastened as they both settled down to the job at hand.