Senior Inspector Jackson Tyler reached for his trench coat. The floor beneath him lurched, as if he was on a bus as a driver locked the brakes. He then fell forward, as if someone jostled him trying to get off it. He caught himself, hands on the sill of his closet, and froze.
The vision coalesced. He was in a long dark corridor lined with benches and windows.
“God, I’m tired,” he said as he rubbed his eyes.
Again, he reached for his trench coat, but instead, grabbed a green and gold letter jacket, the kind a teenager wore.
“Not real. Not real.” He shut his eyes.
When he opened them, his hand was on his trench.
When he turned, he was on a bus.
“What the…is this a school bus? A Greyhound?” Jack shook his head. He didn’t have time for this. A child was missing. Yes, he needed distraction from worrying about Tomi, but not the distraction of a vision.
He put on his coat, grabbed his phone and keys, and stepped into the hall. A frizzle of anxiety clenched his muscles. “Not now, not now, not now,” he chanted as he locked his door.
With his mind partly on the job, partly at the hospital, and partly on the vision, he jogged down five stories of stairs to the foyer of his apartment building. Each step nudged his mind toward reality. A missing child always sent everyone’s heart into their throats, and Jack was no different. Time was paramount. Each minute that ticked by lessened the chance of recovery. He left the building at a run and kept his speed the first two blocks north. He slowed his pace to turn east and to jump two puddles. His heart rate was up, and he felt more grounded to the task in hand.
On the far corner in front of his destination, the light was low, emanating from one source – a yellow bug light over the door of the building. Sleepy residents leaned out of their darkened windows, yelling, “Shut up,” and, “Go home,” at a crowd of punks seemingly unbothered by misty, damp air, who jostled each other in mock martial arts posturing. He counted five males and three females. The youths’ movements were just uncoordinated enough to indicate that it was the end of a revel, not the start.
He stopped about forty yards from them to pull his credentials and check the security strap on the gun hidden under his jacket. Revelers were unpredictable, and it was unclear if he was seeing exhaustion, drunkenness, or a group high on something. Without backup, and with as much bravado as he could muster, he approached them. “Inspector Tyler, Detroit PD.”
One female looked up and ran. Alerted by her reaction, the rest followed like a flock of crows. A ninth person hiding in the shadows stepped into the yellow light. The man, puffed up like a threatening bear, clenched his fists and faced Jack. Jack was tall; this man was taller by at least two inches. His shoulders were broader by half.
“What the fuck do you want, pig?” he said. A momentary gleam flashed in his eyes that said, ‘I know you.’
It seemed like ages since Jack had walked the neighborhood, at least three since he’d played basketball in a nearby gym. Had they had a previous encounter? He zipped through his mental catalog of remembered faces, but could not find this man in it. Rattled, Jack replied with authority, “Excuse me. I need to talk to a lady in that building behind you.”
The kid swaggered closer to Jack. “You ain’t got no business with anyone here,” he growled.
“Look man,” said Jack, flashing his credentials with one hand, while holding his other up in a peace offering as he also closed the distance between them. “I didn’t make the call. There is a distraught mother in there worried about her kid. You wouldn’t know anything about that would you?”
“You see a kid, here?” he snarled.
Just one, thought Jack, close enough to see that the man was barely in his twenties, twenty-five at most. “Look, I have no problem with you; I just want to talk to the worried mom.”
The kid backed down a notch.
“We good?” said Jack.
“Phillip, you let that po-leese by, you hear?” said a woman from the second story.
“Ain’t Phillip no more. Folks ‘round here calls me Rat Snatcher,” he yelled at her.
“Rat Snatcher.” She belly laughed. “I don’t give no nevermind ‘bout that. You let that officer up here, you hear me, Phillip?”
The bear of a kid cut his sleeve and shoved his fist toward Jack. Then he turned and swaggered back into the shadows.
“Your mother too, buddy,” Jack muttered as he ran up the stairs to the door of the building. He could feel Rat Snatcher’s acute stare hot against his back, but did not turn to confirm it.
The distraught caller was waiting at the door for him, coincidentally the same woman who yelled at the bear named Phillip. She had been crying. Her soft, round body trembled, as would anyone’s who was missing a child.
Jack approached her. “Ma’am,” he said. “Senior Inspector Jackson Tyler, Detroit Police Department. I understand you called about a missing child?”
She nodded affirmatively.
“Claudine. Claudine Fischer. Folks around here call me Grandma Fischer.”
“Ms. Fischer,” Jack said, “can we step inside and talk about it?”
She opened her door, and moved to the side to allow him entrance. As Jack entered, she said, “My grandson, Evan. He didn’t come home tonight after work.”
“Sit. Tell me about it.”
When she shuffled toward her easy chair, it was obvious she had bad hips. Jack reached out to help her. Then he sat on a love seat across from her.
She had furnished the living room humbly, but it was tidy. Softly colored crocheted throws hung on the backs of both small couches, and she had draped another over the worn, gray easy chair in which she sat. The table and shelf surfaces looked dusted. There were a few books, which for some reason surprised him, and an open Bible on an oval occasional table near the chair, which didn’t.
To his right, the kitchen dishes had been cleared and washed, and the food put away, except for one covered microwave tray on the clean counter. “You saved dinner for him?”
“Just like I have every night for the past two years.”
Jack made a note of that. “Where does Evan work?”
“He works at Walgreens.”
“The one in this neighborhood?”
“Yes. I called them because he didn’t answer his go-phone. They said he’d left work at the usual time.”
“So, we know he was at work. What are his usual hours?”
“It varies. Tonight he was off by six.”
“Are his hours the same for tomorrow?”
She pulled a piece of paper from the Bible that lay open next to her elbow. “Same.”
“Can I have that a moment?”
She gave Jack the slip of paper.
He used his phone to snap a photo of Evan’s schedule and then handed the paper back to her.
“What is your grandson’s last name?”
“Just like yours.”
“Yessir, my daughter’s kid. She’s a drug addict, out there on the streets somewhere. Evan has been in my custody for his whole life.”
“Where is Evan’s father?”
“Ain’t got no father. That scumbag dragged my daughter to the devil and left her with a bun in the oven. I pray that Evan never finds him.”
“I understand, but I still need a name.” In his experience, sometimes kids went missing trying to find an estranged parent.
“Conti,” she spat.
A sliver of disquiet pricked him. The only ‘Conti’ he knew was a street boss that was no longer part of the Mafia scene. Rumor was he was in witness protection. Most cops thought he was probably at the bottom of the river. He wondered if the boy’s father was one and the same. Conti was a man best left alone. He fervently hoped Evan wasn’t looking for him.
“Does he have a girlfriend, any friends he hangs with, friends he could have gone somewhere with?”
“Well, I suppose he does, but he always comes home.”
“Like clockwork,” he said.
When she nodded, her lip trembled slightly.
Jack placed a comforting hand on her arm. “He’s how old?”
“He’ll be twenty next month.”
Jack’s phone buzzed. “Tyler,” he answered.
“Jack, it’s Maureen. I’m sending you a photo.”
He held the phone in his hand as he continued his inquiry. “Ms. Fischer, do you have any photos of your grandson?”
Ms. Fischer pointed to a collection of photos on the counter between the kitchen and living room next to an old-style dial-up telephone. He walked over to the collection. Claudine directed him to the latest photo, which he captured on his cell. His phone buzzed again, a photo from Maureen’s investigation.
Jack enlarged it as best he could. To him, the mangled face didn’t read ‘nineteen-year-old boy,’ but it was hard to tell from the image on his phone. The hair was dark, as was Evan’s, but the texture looked different. The victim’s hair was straight and each strand seemed thick, somewhat like Tomi’s hair, except it was matted close to his head. Evan’s hair curled, less so as he aged in subsequent pictures; nevertheless, a hint of softness was evident. He felt a tiny sliver of hope that Maureen’s victim wasn’t his boy.
“Is everything all right?” Claudine Fischer asked with a hint of fear behind her words.
“Yes. My partner is on another case and sent me some information.”
“Oh, I hope everything is all right,” she said, wringing her hands.
Jack smiled. “Can I see Evan’s room?”
“Of course. It is at the end of the hallway, past the bathroom.”
Small nightlights near the floor lit the hallway and the opened rooms off it. Evan’s room was closed. Jack quietly opened the door and flicked on the light.
His heart fell to the floor.
To the left of the door, amid the typical teenage chaos, was a collection of mixed martial arts magazines.
Was there a link to his and Maureen’s cases after all?
Numbed and heartsick, he snapped pictures. It would take a long time to sift through the flotsam in this room. It was best that he get started. The first thing he stepped on was a red and white school jacket. Not the colors in his vision, but when he picked it up, it looked similar. Perhaps this kid was on a bus.
One could only hope.