It was a regular, boring day. No calls from the League, no emergencies to run and stop, and Kyle had just finished picking up some groceries.
He was crossing the street, thinking about the painting he was working on at home, trying to figure out how to finish off the background, when he saw him. And everything froze.
Tall, but with an expanding beer belly, an arrogant frown stretched across the forgettable face, wearing a black suit that didn't quite fit him, hair turning grey, eyes constantly irritated.
Kyle remembered him. Kyle hated him.
His parents had died when the artist was a baby, and he had no memories of them. What he did have memories of was being passed from place to place, home to home, person to person. No one wanted the kid who couldn't sit still and asked too many questions.
He was thirteen, sullen and angry, had given up on anyone wanting to keep him, when he'd ended up with Hank.
Hank Williams was a retired cop, and a good man. His wife had been dead five years, but he had welcomed the ungrateful teen into his home with a smile. Kind and stern, Hank was everything Kyle hadn't known he'd been looking for in a parent.
Hank had been the first person to see Kyle doodling on the edge of his homework and praised the sketch. He had gone out and bought the boy a pad of paper specifically for drawing, told him it was a talent he should master, that it could open doors. And Kyle had slowly started to trust the man, had begun to feel at home in the cozy house and the bedroom Hank said used to belong to his son.
Then the son came home. Ryan had lost his job, had stolen money from the company. He said the charges would never stick, and had wheedled that his father would pay for a good lawyer, if it did come to trial. Hank was smart, but where his son was concerned, he had a blind spot the size of the ocean. And soon, the bills for the legal counsel were coming in, and Ryan had "borrowed" his father's bank account, and Hank was being buried under the debts that his son was incurring.
He had been weary and sad when he pulled Kyle aside one evening and said that he wasn't sure he could keep taking care of the boy. Everything was crazy, and Hank was thinking he might have to go back to work.
Kyle tried to protest, said he wouldn't mind, but the man had already made his decision. He said it was for the best.
A year later, Hank Williams showed up in the local obituaries – dead of a heart attack at 57. He had been working shifts at a local car dealership and a supermarket for nine months, without a vacation. Survived by his son, Ryan, who "greatly mourned the loss". The loss that had netted him his father's life insurance, which the man cashed in, before leaving the state. He hadn't even shown up at Hank's funeral.
Kyle had, though. He took two buses to get there, and he was in jeans and a dark shirt, the best clothes he had, and he brought a picture of the man he remembered, smiling at life, placing it in the coffin the local police force had paid for. Hank's neighbors and the members of the church congregation he had attended bought the plot. And the county commissioner covered the cost of the headstone. Ryan hadn't paid for one damn thing.
But now, here they were, crossing each other in the street like strangers. The man probably didn't even remember the kid that had been staying with Hank.
He knew he should ignore it and walk on, that he was stronger than his anger.
But Hank was the closest thing Kyle had ever had to family, and this was the person who killed him. Not on purpose, maybe, but he had been the cause of Hank's death.
Carefully putting down the bags of food, Kyle tapped the passing man on the shoulder, waited until he had turned, a sneer firmly in place on that weak face, and slugged him as hard as he could.
Even calling Wally to come bail him out couldn't make Kyle regret that punch.