J is for Jinked

(Author’s Note: Abridged excerpt from Blood On His Hands. I expect to have Blood published by October 2019. Watch for updates.)

low angle photography of traffic lights
Photo by Josh Hild on Pexels.com

The skanky kid, who hit on him at Michaelson’s Bar, was heavy on his mind as Jack Tyler stood in front of the closed establishment. At the time, he did not know he was fending off the advances of a murder suspect, but it explained a lot. Whether it was because Jack was thinking about that as he stood in front of the ‘Closed Until Further Notice’ sign, or it was just plain good luck, the kid materialized on the corner across the street, a block south of where he stood with his partner Tomio Dubanowski.

The kid wore a long, trench coat that looked like it belonged to a much bigger man. His back was turned but he had black hair the same length and cut of the kid he’d rebuffed at the bar. When he turned, his black hair shadowed half of his face but his tic was unmistakable. It was him. Had to be.

“Tom.” Jack grabbed his partner’s arm. “Corner to the left.”

“What?” said Tom, turning.

“Move casually, look to your left, toward the avenue like you’re upset the bar is closed and don’t know what to do.”

Tom turned as if he were looking for somewhere else to go.

The kid paced the corner. Every time a car went by, he looked into it as if he expected to know the person inside.

Tom said, “Who do you think he is waiting for?”

Jack said, “Who knows. We need to be cool about this.”

“Okay. Here’s a plan. Sling your arm around me and walk as if we’re lovers just out for a stroll. We’ll go over and say ‘Hi’.”

Jack hummed and slung his arm around Tom’s waist, kissed him on the cheek, and pulled him tightly against his side.

Tom turned his head and snuggled against Jack’s shoulder, picking up the charade. He said, in a loud whisper, “If it’s him, our take is we remember him from the bar. We can ask if he knows when it’s reopening.”

Jack replied, “Sounds good.”

Keeping in tune with each other to create consistency, they strolled, arm in arm, beyond Michaelson’s toward the main part of the district. They stopped every few steps to check their phones so they could snap pictures. Once or twice Jack stopped their stroll and stole a kiss. It gave them time to observe the kid’s odd behavior.

The kid moved closer to the avenue, farther from them. Was it an unconscious response as they walked toward him, or a coincidence? He moved further, another block beyond them, still on a corner, still across the street. Animated, he paced the walkway from one intersecting lane to the other, gesticulating as if talking to a companion. His head twitched to the right as if he was ditching buzzing flies or mosquitoes.

“That is the same tic,” said Jack.

“He twitched like that?” said Tom.

“I thought he was tweaking at the time.”

“Something is going on,” said Tom.

“Meth, mental illness…both.”

“Jack, if this kid is responsible for the robberies as well as O’Connell’s murder, it would explain why your,” he waved his hand up and down Jack’s torso, “weird visions escalated before having contact. He was in the neighborhood.” Tom quietly observed the strange kid across the street. “He definitely has some kind of bug in his head.”

“Yeah, we need to get to him, to help if nothing else.”

As they approached, the kid’s mutterings became audible. “Hurry, hurry, you motherfucker. I don’t have all day. Gotta take care of it, gotta take care, take care of it, now. It has to be now. Now, now, now. Hurry, hurry, you mother. Hurry you mother. Fuck her.” His head jerked to the right.

Jack faltered a step and felt Tom’s arm wrap tightly around his waist. He recognized, too keenly, the manic tenor of the chatter, too much like his own. He shuddered when he said, “I’m positive he is the same kid.”

“When has it ever been this easy to find and catch a suspect?” said Tom.

Were they about to arrest Kevin O’Connell’s killer?

Neither one of them wanted him to respond to their presence in any unpredictable ways, so, they waited for the light to cross the street, giving him plenty of time to see them. When the light turned, they stepped into the crosswalk. He stopped pacing to look at them.

Tom waved. “Hey,” he said cheerfully.

The kid’s eyes popped open.

“Hey, man,” said Tom. “You okay?”

Jack said quietly into his ear, “He’s gonna rabbit.”

Like a flash, the kid turned and sprinted up the street away from them.

“Shit,” said Tom as he ran for their vehicle.

Jack ran after the kid.

The kid was fast, but Jack knew he couldn’t sustain the speed; he didn’t look healthy enough. All he had to do was outlast him, and years of swimming had given him that kind of stamina. Unless the kid was tweaking, then it was anyone’s guess as to how long he could run at this speed.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw their unmarked truck flash its lights. Jack trusted that Tom had called for backup.

Tom gunned the engine and peeled past the kid, to drive him back toward Jack.

Instead, the kid ducked into a narrow alleyway. Tom slammed on the brakes, but Jack motioned him on and then sprinted into the alley to follow him. Three steps into the narrow space, he gagged and had to cover his nose, overcome by a wave of piss stench. As he jumped a tumble of cardboard boxes, he heard the tires of the truck squeal as Tom raced around the block to meet them on the other side.

It was clear that that kid was familiar with this alley. He tunneled through with amazing speed to the next block.

Tom rushed toward him, pushing him left toward Michaelson’s Bar. He was visibly tiring and stumbled twice. Jack caught up enough to catch a whiff of rotten fish before the kid jinked to the left, away from the street, and doubled back, squirreling past him. Jack lost his footing and slammed his shoulder against the side of the building. Before he could get his feet under him, the kid ducked back into the alley. “Damn little rodent,” said Jack as he sprinted after him.

At the end of the alley, Jack skidded to a stop. He had no idea which way to turn. Sirens screamed from three directions. Tom passed in front of him, having turned left as he pursued the kid around the block. Another squad pulled up next to Jack. He pointed toward Tom’s car. The squad raced on, and Jack ran after it. As a second squad passed him, he quit running and bent over his knees to catch his breath. It was never easy to catch a suspect, but one way or another, they had him. He straightened and ran.

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