Mueller peered out his frost-covered window to see a Quonset-hut- style building that said “DEADHORSE TERMINAL.” Beneath the lettering was a smaller “Prudhoe Bay, Alaska” sign. Large buses pulled up alongside the plane, and the passengers got ready to leave. After pulling on their heavy parkas and mitts, they made for the door. The pilot had already announced a temperature of minus forty-five Fahrenheit with a ten-mile-an-hour wind.
Mueller followed Franklin down the steep metal stairs that had been brought up to the plane door. Everyone walked carefully down the stairs—cold temperatures turn steel into ice, the slipperiest damn thing anyone could ever walk on.
As Mueller came to the bottom of the stairs, he could feel his chest tighten; his breathing became shallower from the frigid air. Cold grabbed his lungs and wouldn’t let go. It was like someone was sitting on his chest. He followed the rest of the men and women as they made their way to either the buses or the terminal.
Inside the terminal, he could breathe again. He inhaled warm air like it was a luxury. His lungs exhaled the cold, and he quickly took another breath to warm them up. He blinked a few times to let his eyes warm up and focus.
Walking towards Mueller with a grin was someone vaguely familiar, someone out of his past, from his days before multiple rehabs. He realized it was the grown-up Troy Mercury in an Arctic Oil Company Security parka.
When Mueller was sure he wasn’t seeing a ghost, he finally said, “Well, I’ll be damned. Of all the punk kids I busted back in Anchorage, look who grew up.” Mueller almost embraced him but grabbed his hand in a firm handshake instead.
Troy flashed a smile. “Hell yeah, Detective Mueller, I decided to straighten up and fly right after all those shit kicking’s you gave me in Anchorage.”
Franklin was standing beside Mueller looking faintly amused. “You gentlemen want to clue me in?”
Mueller looked over at Franklin, and with a blushing smile, he said, “Sorry Joanne, this is Troy Mercury. He was a street punk in Anchorage some fifteen years ago, and I busted his ass numerous times. Not sure about the shit kicking’s, but I did tell him just before he turned eighteen that the next time I busted him, he would do adult time. So what happened, Troy? You actually listened to me.”
Troy smiled over at Franklin. “Hey, the talk he gave me was just enough to scare the shit out of me, and I moved down to Seattle with my aunt, finished high school, and then took criminal justice in university.”
“Criminal justice—did you graduate?” Mueller blurted out in surprise.
“Hell yeah, graduated with honors at Washington State,” Troy replied. He guided Mueller and Franklin out of the sea of workers and over towards the baggage pickup area, which was a set of rollers that received luggage from a small door to the outside.
“And you never joined the force. Why is that?” Mueller asked. Muller grabbed his duffel and then helped Franklin with her large CSI bag.
“Attitude, Detective, they all said I had the aptitude but not the attitude. I couldn’t do enough ‘Yes, Sirs’ at the end of every sentence, so ten years ago I signed on up here. The pay is double what I’d get on the force, and I got a wife and kids I get to hang with every two weeks for a week. I kinda got to like this . . . know what I mean?” Troy smiled again at Mueller and Franklin, took one of the bags from Franklin, and ushered them towards the terminal exit.
Mueller placed his hand on Troy’s shoulder as they walked. “You know, that does sound about your style, but I’m glad you turned out all right.” Mueller really meant it, as too many didn’t make it off the streets.
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