Featured

Where is the Evidence

Captain Jamison, nicknamed ‘Grizzly’ because of his gruff manner, was an imposing man, both physically and metaphorically. He had to be. Growing up in Detroit was tough in the sixties, and for decades after the 1967 riots, anyone who wanted to be somebody had to fight for a place to thrive. He was one of the lucky ones. His father had owned a profitable business in Black Bottom. He was used to community support, and in all his time as a street cop, he never forgot that support. He returned it to his community then, and now to his officers, but still his mannerisms intimidated most of them. Not Maureen Thompson, she had fought her way to the top as well, and loved him as one loves a dear, favorite uncle who has led the way to success.

She knocked on his door before she opened it.

“Come in,” he growled.

He sat slumped over a stack of reports on his desk, disheveled and pale, as if he held the world upon his shoulders, and as such, it was a fight he couldn’t win.

“You okay, Cap?” she said.

He sat up and attempted to smile at her. “Fine. Just fine.”

He could say that, but she was under no obligation to believe him.

Jack stepped into the office after her. Jamison placed both hands on his desk as if by doing so he could gather strength from it. He sighed and said, “What do you two want?”

“We wanted to talk to you about the cases we are working on,” said Maureen.

“I’ve just finished your reports. What I want to know,” he glared at Jack, “is why I have a report from an officer who is supposed to be on medical leave.”

Maureen said, “My fault. I called him last night. Got a call while on scene at a murder.”

“This one.” He picked up a file. “Says here, there was a body dump at the river.”

“That’s where the evidence points. A Taiwanese boy, between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, maybe nineteen, stabbed and left there for us to find. While there, I received a second call about another boy. He didn’t make it home last night.”

Jack spoke. “Evan Fischer, nineteen. He’s been missing nearly twenty hours now.”

“I called Jack because I was working with rookies last night, Cap. Didn’t want to send them on a missing child case.”

“Why do I get the feeling you two think these cases are connected?”

Jack looked at Maureen. She took a deep breath when she caught his eye, and said, “Well, we have two witnesses down the hall that seem suspiciously connected to both of them. One is a cashier from the same Walgreens where Evan Fischer works. I pulled her in because she lied about picking up a prescription for Percocet for the boy. It’s a heavy painkiller. It suggests that Jack’s suspicion that he’s been in a fight is correct.”

“That weird second sight thing?”

“Yes,” said Jack.

“But no direct visual evidence.”

“None, Sir,” said Jack. He added, “The second witness is the manager for that same Walgreens.”

“What’s his story?” said Jamison, rubbing his jaw.

“He recognizes the tattoos on Maureen’s Taiwanese boy.”

“He told you that?” said Jamison.

“No, but it is very obvious he recognizes the tats.”

“So this manager knows both Evan Fischer, who you believe has injuries, and the dead Taiwanese boy, who also, according to these photos, was in quite a fight. And in your minds, without any evidence to corroborate this collaboration, these two cases are linked because….” Captain Jamison pursed his lips.

Jack stuttered, “J-j-just let us continue.”

Jamison waved him on.

“During my interview with Heathe, he confirmed a tip that Maureen got from him earlier in the day when she interviewed him at the store. Evan has a girlfriend named Bree. Coincidentally, a girl named Sobrina Morelli –.”

“Let me interrupt you. The Morelli gang?”

“Not confirmed, but possible. She quit Walgreens before Christmas, which is why Evan now has a full time position there. The manager says she was pregnant and looked beat up, but he wouldn’t confirm it. Says she might have fallen.”

“Which is it, beat up or injured falling?” said Jamison.

Maureen said, “We have yet to confirm, Sir.”

“Seems that a lot still needs to be confirmed. Well, Balmario’s team has been following the Morellis. His report says there was a possible retaliatory event last night that may have included one or two of their members. Did either of your witnesses bring that up?”

Maureen said, “No.”

“How long have they been in the hold?” said Jamison.

Jack said, “Almost two hours now.”

“Hold the cashier for obstruction.”

Maureen said, “Captain, I’d like to release her and put a tail on her. If Evan Fischer is really the one taking the Percocet, she may lead us back to him.”

“Done. We have three undercovers on the street. I will let them know.”

“Thank you.”

“I think we can put some pressure on Heathe, the other witness, Sir,” said Jack.

Jamison stared at Jack, waiting for him to continue.

“He frequently makes purchases to indulge in, in the back offices of Walgreens.” Jack made a semi-obscene pumping gesture with his hand.

Jamison scowled. “He told you this?”

Maureen said, “No, Emilia Rodriguez, the cashier, indicated as much.”

“That’s hearsay,” said Jamison.

Jack said, “Yes, but she says everyone knows. We can corroborate.”

Jamison looked at Jack, but pointed to Maureen. “She can corroborate. You can take advantage of your sick leave. You’re outta here.”

“Sir,” said Jack, squirming. “I’m just trying to help.”

“And I appreciate it, but I need you at your best. If you are seeing this with your mojo, I need your head clear, and your partner, bless his heart, is not in any shape to be helping you with this. Take care of him first.”

Maureen looked at Jack and shrugged her shoulders.

Jamison told her, “Let the cashier go, but put the fear of God into her. Hold Heathe. Let Vice work him. If they can prove his indiscretions, we can hold him; otherwise, we have to let him go. In the meantime maybe someone should find Sobrina Morelli.”

“Yes Captain. We’ll get right on it,” said Maureen.

“You’ll get right on it. He’s outta here.”

As Jack stood to leave, someone knocked on Captain Jamison’s door.

“What now,” he said. “Come in.”

An officer from Dispatch stepped into the office waving a piece of paper. “Just in, a BOLO from the FBI in Stockton, California, CARD division.” CARD was an acronym for Child Abduction Rapid Deployment. He handed it to Jamison.

“Wonderful,” Jamison said, sarcastically. “We have another missing boy. Have either of you seen this one?” He showed them the picture.

Jack fell into his chair. Maureen grabbed his forearm and took the flyer. “Yes, Captain. This is one of our own. Jonathan Tyler is Jack’s son.”

Captain looked at Jack with a laser-focused stare that pinned him to the chair. “Your plate is full. Get outta here.”

“Yessir,” said Jack who attempted to stand. It was clear he was in shock. Maureen held onto his arm as he shuffled toward the door.

“Get him out of here, and don’t let him come back,” said Jamison.

“Got it,” said Maureen as she hauled Jack out the door.

He leaned against the outer wall.

“You okay?” said Maureen.

He scrubbed his face and then grabbed his hair. “Gotta see Tomi,” he said.

“Go, Jack. Get out of here. We’ll find your boy, Jack. You know we will.”

She clapped him on the shoulder and left him glued to the wall where he stood, trying to regain some strength to move again.

She couldn’t imagine what Jack was feeling right now. All she could see was her own little one, waving goodbye this morning at the window. She would do everything in her power to save her little Michael from such a fate.

She had no doubt that Jack would do the same. 

Featured

Where is the Evidence

Captain Jamison, nicknamed ‘Grizzly’ because of his gruff manner, was an imposing man, both physically and metaphorically. He had to be. Growing up in Detroit was tough in the sixties, and for decades after the 1967 riots, anyone who wanted to be somebody had to fight for a place to thrive. He was one of the lucky ones. His father had owned a profitable business in Black Bottom. He was used to community support, and in all his time as a street cop, he never forgot that support. He returned it to his community then, and now to his officers, but still his mannerisms intimidated most of them. Not Maureen Thompson, she had fought her way to the top as well, and loved him as one loves a dear, favorite uncle who has led the way to success.

She knocked on his door before she opened it.

“Come in,” he growled.

He sat slumped over a stack of reports on his desk, disheveled and pale, as if he held the world upon his shoulders, and as such, it was a fight he couldn’t win.

“You okay, Cap?” she said.

He sat up and attempted to smile at her. “Fine. Just fine.”

He could say that, but she was under no obligation to believe him.

Jack stepped into the office after her. Jamison placed both hands on his desk as if by doing so he could gather strength from it. He sighed and said, “What do you two want?”

“We wanted to talk to you about the cases we are working on,” said Maureen.

“I’ve just finished your reports. What I want to know,” he glared at Jack, “is why I have a report from an officer who is supposed to be on medical leave.”

Maureen said, “My fault. I called him last night. Got a call while on scene at a murder.”

“This one.” He picked up a file. “Says here, there was a body dump at the river.”

“That’s where the evidence points. A Taiwanese boy, between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, maybe nineteen, stabbed and left there for us to find. While there, I received a second call about another boy. He didn’t make it home last night.”

Jack spoke. “Evan Fischer, nineteen. He’s been missing nearly twenty hours now.”

“I called Jack because I was working with rookies last night, Cap. Didn’t want to send them on a missing child case.”

“Why do I get the feeling you two think these cases are connected?”

Jack looked at Maureen. She took a deep breath when she caught his eye, and said, “Well, we have two witnesses down the hall that seem suspiciously connected to both of them. One is a cashier from the same Walgreens where Evan Fischer works. I pulled her in because she lied about picking up a prescription for Percocet for the boy. It’s a heavy painkiller. It suggests that Jack’s suspicion that he’s been in a fight is correct.”

“That weird second sight thing?”

“Yes,” said Jack.

“But no direct visual evidence.”

“None, Sir,” said Jack. He added, “The second witness is the manager for that same Walgreens.”

“What’s his story?” said Jamison, rubbing his jaw.

“He recognizes the tattoos on Maureen’s Taiwanese boy.”

“He told you that?” said Jamison.

“No, but it is very obvious he recognizes the tats.”

“So this manager knows both Evan Fischer, who you believe has injuries, and the dead Taiwanese boy, who also, according to these photos, was in quite a fight. And in your minds, without any evidence to corroborate this collaboration, these two cases are linked because….” Captain Jamison pursed his lips.

Jack stuttered, “J-j-just let us continue.”

Jamison waved him on.

“During my interview with Heathe, he confirmed a tip that Maureen got from him earlier in the day when she interviewed him at the store. Evan has a girlfriend named Bree. Coincidentally, a girl named Sobrina Morelli –.”

“Let me interrupt you. The Morelli gang?”

“Not confirmed, but possible. She quit Walgreens before Christmas, which is why Evan now has a full time position there. The manager says she was pregnant and looked beat up, but he wouldn’t confirm it. Says she might have fallen.”

“Which is it, beat up or injured falling?” said Jamison.

Maureen said, “We have yet to confirm, Sir.”

“Seems that a lot still needs to be confirmed. Well, Balmario’s team has been following the Morellis. His report says there was a possible retaliatory event last night that may have included one or two of their members. Did either of your witnesses bring that up?”

Maureen said, “No.”

“How long have they been in the hold?” said Jamison.

Jack said, “Almost two hours now.”

“Hold the cashier for obstruction.”

Maureen said, “Captain, I’d like to release her and put a tail on her. If Evan Fischer is really the one taking the Percocet, she may lead us back to him.”

“Done. We have three undercovers on the street. I will let them know.”

“Thank you.”

“I think we can put some pressure on Heathe, the other witness, Sir,” said Jack.

Jamison stared at Jack, waiting for him to continue.

“He frequently makes purchases to indulge in, in the back offices of Walgreens.” Jack made a semi-obscene pumping gesture with his hand.

Jamison scowled. “He told you this?”

Maureen said, “No, Emilia Rodriguez, the cashier, indicated as much.”

“That’s hearsay,” said Jamison.

Jack said, “Yes, but she says everyone knows. We can corroborate.”

Jamison looked at Jack, but pointed to Maureen. “She can corroborate. You can take advantage of your sick leave. You’re outta here.”

“Sir,” said Jack, squirming. “I’m just trying to help.”

“And I appreciate it, but I need you at your best. If you are seeing this with your mojo, I need your head clear, and your partner, bless his heart, is not in any shape to be helping you with this. Take care of him first.”

Maureen looked at Jack and shrugged her shoulders.

Jamison told her, “Let the cashier go, but put the fear of God into her. Hold Heathe. Let Vice work him. If they can prove his indiscretions, we can hold him; otherwise, we have to let him go. In the meantime maybe someone should find Sobrina Morelli.”

“Yes Captain. We’ll get right on it,” said Maureen.

“You’ll get right on it. He’s outta here.”

As Jack stood to leave, someone knocked on Captain Jamison’s door.

“What now,” he said. “Come in.”

An officer from Dispatch stepped into the office waving a piece of paper. “Just in, a BOLO from the FBI in Stockton, California, CARD division.” CARD was an acronym for Child Abduction Rapid Deployment. He handed it to Jamison.

“Wonderful,” Jamison said, sarcastically. “We have another missing boy. Have either of you seen this one?” He showed them the picture.

Jack fell into his chair. Maureen grabbed his forearm and took the flyer. “Yes, Captain. This is one of our own. Jonathan Tyler is Jack’s son.”

Captain looked at Jack with a laser-focused stare that pinned him to the chair. “Your plate is full. Get outta here.”

“Yessir,” said Jack who attempted to stand. It was clear he was in shock. Maureen held onto his arm as he shuffled toward the door.

“Get him out of here, and don’t let him come back,” said Jamison.

“Got it,” said Maureen as she hauled Jack out the door.

He leaned against the outer wall.

“You okay?” said Maureen.

He scrubbed his face and then grabbed his hair. “Gotta see Tomi,” he said.

“Go, Jack. Get out of here. We’ll find your boy, Jack. You know we will.”

She clapped him on the shoulder and left him glued to the wall where he stood, trying to regain some strength to move again.

She couldn’t imagine what Jack was feeling right now. All she could see was her own little one, waving goodbye this morning at the window. She would do everything in her power to save her little Michael from such a fate.

She had no doubt that Jack would do the same. 

Featured

Circumstantial at Best

Chief Inspector Maureen Thompson and Senior Inspector Jackson Tyler had just finished gently grilling Emilia Rodriguez who they had pulled in for questioning about the disappearance of Evan Fischer, aged nineteen. His grandmother, Claudine had reported him as a missing child. Sra. Rodriguez had picked up a pain prescription written for him. Claiming that she was just an errand runner, she refused to say anymore.

Seemingly demoralized, she cowered in the first interrogation room.

Maureen said, “Maybe if she sits there long enough, she’ll be more cooperative.”

Jack had doubts as he watched her deflate in the chair.

The two of them entered the second observation booth to observe Rodney Heathe, the manager of Walgreens, where Evan worked. Maureen had sequestered him in the room next to Emilia Rodriguez who worked for him. Arms crossed and chin defiantly jutted forward, he leaned against the wall in the far corner of the interrogation cell and stared at the mirror, challenging those behind it.

“He obviously knows his way around,” said Jack.

“Or he watches too many cop shows,” said Maureen. “For someone who highly values an employee like Evan Fischer, it seems very strange he knows so little about him.”

“He’s very put together,” said Jack, noting the silver suit, cut to perfection, cobalt tie that matched his eyes, and polished nails on obviously manicured hands.

Maureen nodded in agreement. “Not this morning, though. When I interviewed him at the store, he was a wild bird. It looked like he threw on his clothes in a hurry, as if I caught him in the act. Know what I mean?”

“Hmm,” said Jack, wondering how Heathe spent his time in the back offices.

“He was together by the time I went back there, more business, less breathless. Not quite this arrogant, but it was obvious he was capable of it.”

Jack raised an eyebrow. “Maybe he was exercising before you came the first time.”

“Yeah, right, exercising.” Maureen scoffed. “When I showed him this…,” she opened her phone and shared the picture of the tattoos on the shoulder of her river victim, “…I could swear he recognized them. But, he claims no. Claims he doesn’t know anyone who practices mixed-martial arts, that he isn’t from the neighborhood, just works there. He didn’t lie about that. However, this is an interesting coincidence. He lives in North Corktown.”

Jack’s spine stiffened. What was the deal with North Corktown? “The phantom caller,” he said.

Maureen nodded her head. “The one who hung up on you.”

Jack stared at Heathe, trying to read something, anything, but there was nothing to read except a haughty attitude by a man affronted by entrapment in a brick cell.

Jack said, “Let’s do this.”

Jack entered before Maureen and said, “Mr. Heathe, please take the seat.” He pointed to a chair on the opposite side of the table, away from the door.

As he sat across from Rodney Heathe, he placed his phone on the table between them. “This will be recorded.”

Heathe glared. “That’s fine, I guess.”

Maureen sat and added, “It’s protocol.”

“Fine,” he reiterated.

Jack said, “State your name for the record.” It was a by-the-book routine when interviewing suspects, not necessarily witnesses as they already knew their names. He didn’t know why he was asking such a formality of this man, but his instincts told him to do so, so he did.

Maureen quickly caught Jack’s eye and questioned him with an eyebrow.

He glanced back with a mental shrug.

Rodney Heathe looked at the two of them and said, “She has my name.”

Maureen said with the sternness of a mother scolding a child, “State your name, please.”

Mr. Heathe leaned over the recorder and said very deliberately, “Rod-ney Hea-thhhh-huh. What am I being charged with?”

Maureen said, “Mr. Heathe, we are not here to charge you with anything at this time. We are here to find out what you may have remembered since our talk earlier today.”

He shrugged. “I don’t know what you want me to say. Evan Fischer was…is…an employee of mine. He didn’t come in today.”

Jack said, “When was he supposed to arrive?”

“I told her already,” he nodded toward Maureen.

“Well, tell me again.”

“Don’t you people confer?”

Maureen stood up. “Inspector Tyler, would you like some coffee? How about you Mr. Heathe? Would you like some?”

Jack sat back into his chair and looked at her. “Sure,” he said, with a question in his voice. Then it dawned on him. Heathe wasn’t going to talk with a woman in the room. Heathe had to know she would be right outside, behind the mirror.

Maureen said politely, “Mr. Heathe? Coffee?”

The man was wily. It was clear he could tell something was up. “Is this like good cop, bad cop stuff?”

“No, sir,” she said. “That’s not real. We don’t play those games in real life.”

Like hell we don’t, thought Jack.

“Yes. Thank you. Coffee would be lovely,” Heathe replied. When she left the room, he visibly relaxed.

“So tell me the story from the start,” said Jack.

“You can get your information from that perky policewoman.”

“Perky,” said Jack. “First of all, she is Chief Inspector. You don’t want to mess around with her.” Challenging Heathe with a stare, Jack thought, “You are so lucky she left to get coffee. She could break you in half.”

Heathe stared back, but then something in his expression changed. “She said that Evan is missing. I guess that explains why he didn’t show up for work at nine.”

“Probably,” agreed Jack.

“She asked me a bunch of questions, and I answered them.”

“Like what?”

“Things like what kind of employee he is, is he part-time or full-time, does he have a girlfriend.”

“And what did you say?”

“I told her. He was one of my best employees, always on time, a good worker. He’s been working for me for two years, never missed a day. I just moved him up to full-time to take the place of another employee who left right before Christmas.”

“Oh? Who was that?” Jack sat forward and rested his arms on the table, knowing he was about to get some information that Heathe had not shared before.

“An employee named Sobrina. Sobrina Morelli.”

Morelli? Jack leaned back and scratched his head, gazing offhandedly at the mirror. He knew Maureen was on the other side slotting the name into her mental files. The Morelli brothers were part of a gang that roamed throughout the city. He wouldn’t be surprised if they were involved with mixed-martial arts and that avenue of the human trafficking business.

He said to Heathe, “So, Evan Fischer is part-time, and takes a full-time position after Sobrina Morelli leaves.”

“Yes.”

“Why did she leave?” said Jack.

“Something about a pregnancy, I think. She came in looking kind of beat up one day and informed me she was quitting?”

“What do you mean, beat-up?”

Heathe shrugged. “I don’t know. She had a bruise on the side of her face and one on her forearm. She could have fallen. I didn’t ask her.”

“But she quit the job, and you moved Evan into the slot.”

“I was able to give him more hours, yes. He said he needed them. He is a good employee. It was logical.”

Jack was quiet for a moment. Maureen knocked on the door and came in with two coffees. She nodded to Jack, held up her phone, and then slipped out again.

Jack slipped his phone off the table and set it on his thigh to turn it to silent mode. It was still recording. While Heathe sipped at his coffee, the screen flashed. Jack clicked on Maureen’s text, “Evan’s girlfriend is called ‘Bree.’”

‘Bree’ could be a nickname for Sobrina. Surely, Heathe put that together. Jack looked at Heathe. Maybe not. “Mr. Heathe, you said that Sobrina was beat up.”

“I said she looked like she was beat up. She could have fallen.”

“Or someone could have hit her. Did you say Evan had a girlfriend named Bree?”

“Something like that.”

“Have you ever seen Evan display a temper of any kind?”

“What?”

“Is Evan the kind of guy who could get rough with his girl?”

“How the hell should I know? And why would I care?”

“Well, Sobrina was one of your employees. Didn’t you care about her?”

“Her personal hours are just that, personal. I don’t ask questions. And what does that have to do with Evan?”

Jack’s screen flashed again.

The text from Maureen said, “MMA.”

“Mr. Heathe, is it possible Sobrina got her injuries in a fight, like say…mixed martial arts?”

“How many times do I have to say this? I don’t care, and I don’t ask about my employees’ affairs. I care if they are doing their jobs well. That happens? I don’t have a problem.”

“Okay. Fair enough.” The screen flashed again.

She had sent a picture.

Jack put the phone back on the table. “I have one more question for you right now.” He tapped his phone, and then showed Mr. Heathe the picture of the tattoos on the river victim’s arm. “Mr. Heathe, you said earlier you didn’t recognize these.”

Heathe looked and then arched away from the table. He turned his head toward the door.

“It seems you do recognize these tats, Mr. Heathe. I don’t want to hold you for obstruction, so tell me the truth. Where have you seen them?”

“I…I.” Mr. Heathe crossed his arms across his chest and bowed his head. “I don’t know anything about those tattoos.”

“Oh, come on. It’s obvious you recognize these. Where have you seen them?”

Heathe struggled to regain composure. Jack could tell he was working on a story. Jack prepared for a tale about tattoos, knowing that there was a good chance he wouldn’t hear the truth about these particular renderings.

“Spit it out, Heathe. All I am asking for is the truth.”

“I see tattoos all the time. I can’t say where. I see them everywhere. Doesn’t everybody? Maybe I saw these, maybe I saw others. I don’t pay attention.”

“Well, how about this. Have you seen this?” He scooted a small scrap of paper across the table with the words ‘go ask alles.’

Heathe said, “Why are you showing me this piece of garbage?”

“This was left on Chief Thompson’s window this morning. I want to know if you put it there.”

“Of course not.”

Recognition flashed in Heathe’s eyes. Jack didn’t know if it was the note itself or something on the note. Maybe he knew the name Alles. Maybe he recognized the handwriting.

“Who is Alles? Does he know Evan?”

“How should I know,” Heathe said. He banged tightly closed fists on the table.

“You know what? I am going to take a break. You sit here and think about tattoos, truth, and the consequences of lying during an investigation. And remember, one of your best employees is missing, and we are trying to find him.”

Jack grabbed his phone, stood, and strode out the door.

He said to Maureen, “I see what you mean. He recognizes these tattoos. He seems more afraid than Emilia Rodriguez does. He recognized something about this as well.” He handed the little piece of paper to Maureen. “You have one more question for Rodriguez.”

“I do, huh? Okay.”

 

Maureen knocked on the door to alert Emilia Rodriguez she was stepping in. She sat down and said quietly, “You seem calmer.”

“Yes. I feel better, thank you.”

“I have one more question for you. I noticed that after you told Mr. Heathe I was there to speak to him, that you were quite nervous after that. What was he doing in his office?”

“Oh, you cannot ask me that. It is none of my business.”

“Was he indiscreet?” said Maureen, in a gossipy voice.

“It is none of my business what he pays for. None of my business.” She shook her head.

“Do you think other employees know about his back office purchases?”

Emilia Rodriguez nodded her head. “Yes. I think they do.”

Maureen glanced at the mirror and nodded. Jack understood.

He stepped back into the room with Mr. Heathe. “Rodney Heathe,” he said, “seems you are quite the player. What is it? Girls? Boys? Both? Did you see the tattoos on one of your visitors? Is Alles one of your playthings?”

“I have no idea what you talking about,” snapped Heathe.

“I am talking about getting a little action in the back office. Who do you pay? Do you pay Alles? Is he or she a private contractor, your pimp, or your madam?”

“That, that is…I am scandalized,” Heathe retorted.

“Me too,” said Jack. “Unfortunately for you, I am sure that with a little inquiry, I can find out exactly what you do during your break time, and who you contract with. Get comfortable. You’ll be sitting here for a while.”

With that, Jack left the room.

Featured

This is Personal

Jack Tyler hated it when people hung up on him. How many seconds did it take to be polite, to say, “I’m sorry. Wrong number?” As a police officer, he now felt obligated to follow up on the call in case someone was in an abusive situation. He glanced at Tom, who slept soundly, tucked safely into a hospital bed. The beep of the monitor was steady and reassuring.

He redialed. He let it ring five times before he gave up. He replayed the call in his head. The person on the other end gasped. Why? Because he answered as the police, and the caller was not expecting that? Or had the person gasped because they had been caught? Dammit. What other sounds had he heard? A car passed. Bells jangled. People laughed in the background. Then the line went dead. This was ridiculous. He traced the call. It originated in a phone booth in North Corktown, probably in front of a bistro, or a bar. Someone misdialed and became flustered when Jack answered as the police. He wished whoever it was a safe day.

He walked back to the chair by Tom’s bed and sat down.

Tom’s head rolled toward him.

He took Tom’s hand. “Hey, Tomi. Are you waking up?”

There was no response.

Jack said, “Come on, Tomi. It’s time to wake up.” He gently shook Tom’s hand. He stared at his partner. The nurses had told him to keep talking. It didn’t matter what he said. Hearing his voice would be enough to awaken his partner. “I have news from California. Hank called. Told me my youngest son, Jon, ran away. Again. Again, Tomi. More than once. Can you believe that? He’s been gone for…” 

…a bus ride from Stockton to Detroit would take about thirty-five, thirty-six hours. Geezus. Could it have been Jon on the phone?

He squeezed Tom’s hand and said, “Hey, Fly. I have to make a quick run out of here. When I get back I will fill you in on everything.” He ran the backs of his fingers across Tom’s cheek and watched Tom breathe for a moment. Then he grabbed his keys and ran. 

 

He parked across the street from an establishment called Marchesi’s Bar and Grill. The mysterious call had come from the phone booth in front. The place was quiet. There was a sign on the door that read, “Doors open at 4 pm.”

“Why would Jon call from here?” said Jack. 

He would use the booth at the Greyhound bus station, wouldn’t he? Maybe it was out of order. If Jon was the caller, why didn’t he say something when Jack answered? Jack muttered, “Because it wasn’t Jon, doofus.” 

Now that he’d thought it, he couldn’t get the notion out of his head. Jon was not a talker, especially on the phone. His son had never said more than a few words to him. If Jon had come this far, and if he had called, would he hang up the second he heard his father’s voice? It was possible. They didn’t know each other at all.  

Jack pulled back onto the street and drove a large loop that included the Greyhound  station. He didn’t expect to see Jon. Why would he? But it didn’t stop him from making a second loop. “Think, Jack. Which direction would he walk?”

He stopped at a light. “I would go downtown.”

Jack headed for the Avenue. A strong, young boy could have easily walked a mile or more by now. He scanned the storefronts looking for a brown-haired boy that looked like he did as a teenager: sullen expression, hair hanging over his eyes, tall and gangling.

Forty minutes later, he again pulled across from Marchesi Grubs and Suds and parked on the street. He did not have a current picture of Jon to show to anyone, so there was no reason to wander into the bar to question people. It wasn’t open until four, anyway.

He turned on his phone’s recorder. “Call Greyhound for a list of drivers on the route from Stockton. Call Meghan….” He rubbed his brows, soothing the angst that tightened there at the thought of having to speak to her. “Get a current picture from Stockton PD.” He shut his phone and leaned against the backrest.

Maybe Jon was inside a building when he passed the first time. Maybe he walked toward the river instead. Maybe he had a long-distance friend that picked him up. Jon could be anywhere. He could have gone to Sacramento again, or to Los Angeles this time. What if he went to San Francisco? San Francisco was where he was born. It seemed like a logical place to go. Why would he come all the way to Detroit without calling first?

Because, in Jack’s experience, sometimes kids ran away looking for an estranged parent. 

His phone buzzed. “Inspector Tyler, Detroit PD.” He hoped his phantom caller was on the line.

“Jack, it’s Maureen.”

His heart sank. 

“Dispatch out.” The line clicked between them.

“Jack? You there? There’s been a development. Can you come to the shop right now?”

“Yeah, I guess. I’m a few blocks away.”

“What’s going on?”

“Tell you when I see you.”

 

Maureen waited for Jack in the small booth behind the interrogation mirror, staring at the nervous woman sitting in the cell on the other side. Her clasped hands rested demurely on top of the cold metal table. Her body jiggled, probably because her feet were drumming the floor.

Due to a tip from one of the pharmacists at Walgreens, Maureen had pulled Emilia Rodriguez from her job as cashier. If the tipster was correct, Evan Fischer could be in a lot of trouble. Rodriguez’s boss, Rodney Heathe, had a shit fit, but honestly, she didn’t care. Maureen had pulled him off the job at the same time. He was fluffing his feathers in the box next to this one.

The door to the observation booth opened, and Jack stepped in.

“Jack, thanks for coming,” said Maureen. “How’s Tom?”

“Still out. I was in the neighborhood because I just found out my youngest son has run away. Can you believe that?”

“Oh Lordy, Jack.”

“This is the third time. No one notified me about the first or second times. Anyway, someone called while I was sitting with Tomi and then hung up. Never spoke a word. It was a long shot, but I had to check it out. I traced it to a booth in North Corktown.”

“Not far from the Greyhound station.”

“Exactly. Truthfully, I have no idea how Tom is doing right now, but I had to see if the call was from Jon. I have been driving around looking for him.”

“Geez, Jack. Should we put out a BOLO?”

“I don’t know that he’s here. He could be anywhere.”

Maureen fiddled with a torn slip of paper in her hand.

“What is that?” said Jack.

“I don’t know. I found it on my windshield under a wiper. It was there when I left Walgreens the first time this morning. I thought I would show it to our guests to see if they recognize the handwriting.”

She handed the note to Jack. He turned it twice before settling it to read. “It’s really hard to read. It looks like it says, ‘Go ask…it looks like Alice or Allis.”

“Yes.”

“On your windshield?”

“Yes.”

“Someone put it there.”

“Had to. There was no other way for it to be stuck under the wiper like that. I could use a second on these interviews. You up for it?”

He said, “Yes.”

Maureen nodded to the mousy woman in the booth. “This one is a cashier at Walgreens. She apparently picked up a pain prescription for Evan Fischer yesterday evening.”

“Oh.” Jack nodded. “Then, it was Evan’s battered face I saw, asleep on a pillow.”

“Seems so. Anyway, when I spoke to her at Walgreens this morning, she denied knowing him, explained she was only part-time, and didn’t speak much to other employees. That may be true at work,” said Maureen, “but if my informant was correct, Emilia returned after her shift the day before, to purchase a full script of Percocet prescribed for Evan Fischer.”

“It seems you did not get the truth this morning.”

“Not from either one of them.”

Jack’s left eyebrow raised in question.

“Tell you about that after we interview this one.”  

Jack and Maureen entered the small interrogation room. Emilia Rodriguez shrank into her chair, more mousy and terrified than before.  

As they sat across from her, Jack said, “Senora Rodriguez, I have to notify you that we are recording this interview.” He set his phone on the table.

She nodded.

Maureen said, “Tell us what you know about Evan Fischer.”

“Is he in trouble?”

“Yes, I think he is, and I think you know that,” said Maureen. The mother tiger rumbled in her chest.

Rodriguez’s eyes jumped from side to side as if she was watching for cars before crossing a road.

Maureen said, “Just tell us what you know.”

“Nothing.” She shook her head back and forth. “Nothing.”

“Ma’am,” said Jack. “You lied to my colleague this morning. Why did you purchase a prescription for a boy you don’t know?”

Emilia Rodriguez was a clam, locked tight and uncommunicative.

Maureen slipped the scrap of paper with the cryptic writing across the table. “Is this yours?

Emilia shook her head, no.

Jack said, “Do you know what obstruction is?”

She said, “Yes, yes, I know.”

Maureen said, “Who is this? Did he or she ask for the prescription?”

Emilia curled over the table.

“Was the prescription for Evan?”

Emilia rocked into the table and away, again and again, counterpoint to the side-to-side jumping of her eyes.

Maureen reached across the table and laid a hand upon her arm. The poor woman stopped rocking, though her eyes continued to jump. Maureen said, “Was – the – prescription – for Evan?”

Emilia moaned, “I just run errands. That is it.”

Jack said, “If this is a forged prescription, we can charge you with accessory. You really need to talk to us.”

Maureen said, “Who? Whose prescription was it?”

Emilia Rodriguez sat tall and focused squarely into Maureen’s eyes. “I have nothing to say.”

Like a cat watching a mouse, Jack stared at Emilia Rodriguez.

Maureen very much wanted to know what was going on in that head of his. She said to Emilia Rodriguez, “You relax here a moment.” 

Emilia said, “Thank you,” and closed her eyes.

To Jack she said, “We need to speak to one another.”

The second they were outside the door, Jack said, “No. I am not seeing through her eyes.”

“Okay. I wasn’t going to ask that,” she said.

“Oh, well…I was trying to figure that out.”

Maureen had learned when last she worked with him that Jack often saw details of a crime while it was in progress. He saw it as if he were there, looking through the eyes of someone who was involved.

Jack mumbled, “I know. It’s a weird affliction.”

“Strength, Jack. It’s a weird strength. When are you going to realize that?”

He shrugged and stared at Emilia. “Poor woman. She is terrified.”

“The question is, by whom?”

“She’s resolute. Whomever she is protecting means a lot to her. She isn’t going to tell us anything,” said Jack.

Was it unwillingness to speak to a cop, or simple furtiveness? Maureen didn’t feel any waves of guilt off her. However, she said, “I don’t believe she was only an errand runner.”

“Agreed,” said Jack.

“I don’t get the impression that she acted out of mischief,” she added.

“So, what is your choice here?” said Jack.

“Well, I can arrest her for obstruction, but what is the point? She isn’t the one we want, obviously.”

“Obviously,” Jack said.

“I could put a tail on her. Maybe she will lead us to Evan.”

“Why don’t you let her sit here while we speak to the manager? We can decide after that,” said Jack.

Featured

Phone Call and a Newspaper

Sawyer sat upon an overturned five-gallon bucket in a corner of the kitchen near the door. Shaking uncontrollably, he wolfed down the mess of eggs, pancakes, and bacon that Marchesi’s cook, Hawg, had set aside for him. His stomach would hurt afterward, but the attitudes of the men around him precluded relaxed consumption. Hawg continued ranting about Rat’s late arrival, and Rat repeatedly told him to fuck off. In between spats, Rat winked at Sawyer.

Sawyer’s unease grew each time he did.

There was a newspaper under his feet. He bent to read while he ate in an attempt to distract himself from the aggressive bickering going on around him. A headline read – “Vampire of Detroit in Custody.”

 

Early Monday evening, Detroit’s 12th Precinct caught the serial killer known as the Vampire of Detroit. During a sting to catch him, Nathaniel Browne, a young man in his mid-twenties, was injured during the shootout, which ended his murder spree, but not before he took the lives of four good citizens of Detroit.

Two officers were injured, another killed in the altercation with a gun that belonged to a member of Browne’s family. Police declined to name the family member.

One of our finest, Officer M. Assari suffered fatal gunshot wounds during the capture. He is survived by his wife and two children. Two other officers were gravely injured, but our sources state that recovery is expected for the youngest, a rookie new to the unit. 

At the time of publication, the second officer, a junior detective in the unit, remains at risk and is in the ICU fighting for his life. This news team will keep you updated on his status.

 

12th Precinct? For some reason, he remembered that his father worked for the 12th precinct. Was his father involved with this? Two officers were injured, a rookie and a junior officer. Dad wasn’t a rookie. He wasn’t a junior either. Pushing the paper with his foot, he scooted the article behind him, out of sight.

Hawg interrupted his musings and grabbed the tray of mostly eaten food from him just as Marchesi stuck his head through the kitchen door and hollered, “Five minutes before nine, people.”

Sawyer looked at Hawg. Hawg said, “Construction crews come in during their first break to eat second breakfasts.” He shoved the tray at Sawyer’s chest and said, “Get this cleaned up and get out there. You’re bussing tables.”

Marchesi’s customers were jovial. It was an easy routine. Set a table; pour water and or coffee as customers sat. Give them twenty minutes, then clear, clean, and reset. Sawyer quickly learned that the ten dollars placed on the table for the meal did not include tips for him. Snatcher, acting as cashier, dropped the extra, after tax, into a jar for the ‘regulars.’

“You is a squatter,” Snatcher informed him.

The morning rush lasted until eleven, when a second wave came in wanting a late breakfast. An older couple came in about fifteen minutes after the hour and sat near the hallway. They chatted about the latest news, and about the Vampire Killer who had murdered the lovely woman and her daughter the next block over.

“That poor man, losing his wife and daughter,” said the woman.

The man reached for her hand and as he grabbed it, he said, “He’s locked up for good now, dear.” Sawyer presumed he was her husband. “I hope that fella who stopped him lives.”

Sawyer couldn’t help himself. “Are you talking about the junior cop?”

“My goodness,” said the woman, apparently unaware he’d been standing close enough to hear.

“I’m sorry,” said Sawyer. “Can I get you more coffee?”

The man said, “Yes, that would be fine.”

The woman reached for him. “Yes, dear, I am worried about the officer. So brave.”

Her husband patted her arm as she looked at Sawyer with sympathy in her eyes.

 

By the end of what most would call the lunch rush, Marchesi locked the door behind the last patron. To Sawyer he said, “Good job. My customers seemed relaxed around you. Get this place swept, mopped, and set up for tonight and your shift is over. Meet me out back when you’re done.”

Sawyer, who looked forward to getting his money, said, “Okay.”

He made short work of readying the space for the evening crowd. As he carried a tray of condiments into the kitchen, Hawg was setting up a sandwich assembly of some sort. “Boss is out back,” he said.

Sawyer took off the apron but hesitated as he realized he did not know where to put it.

“Laundry gets picked up outside,” said Hawg.

The heavy back door was propped open with a rubber door stop. Sawyer slowly shut it, careful that the stopper stayed put. The can marked ‘laundry’ was open below the stairs. He dropped the apron over the banister on top of dirty towels and greasy rags. Marchesi, surrounded by a group of men, stood beyond the dumpsters, smoking a cigar. The heavy scent wasn’t apparent until Sawyer stepped off the stairs into the paved alley. It reminded him of his grandpa, Hank.

“Hey,” said Marchesi. “Here’s the man of the hour.” He waved at Sawyer, as he ambled toward the group of men. .

The tattooed man who woke him, sneered at him again. “Topino. Good to see you awake.”

Having asked Hawg during a quick break what it meant, Sawyer took offense. He was not a ‘little mouse.’

The tattooed man clapped him on the shoulder. “It’s all in fun, bambino. All in fun.”

Marchesi handed him a fiver and a ten, fifteen dollars total.

Yes, he needed to pay for the room, but by his calculations, only ten dollars. Surely he earned more pay than this. He said, “What’s this for?”

Marchesi grinned. “I paid you even. Thirty-two dollars minus the ten you owe me for the room, plus the $2.50 for coffee last night, and the cost of one of the sandwiches being set up as we speak. Breakfast was free as promised.”

“I worked seven and a half hours,” said Sawyer, holding the two bills in his open palm.

The men standing around Marchesi started laughing.

A broad-shouldered, black man said, “This ain’t California, Boy. Ain’t no where here you going make fifteen dolla’ an hour.”

“How much did I make an hour?” said Sawyer.

“Four twenty-five,” said Marchesi. “The going rate. You aren’t a regular, so I paid you under the table. That way you get the whole thing.” He winked.

Was Marchesi expecting joyful gratitude? Sawyer had slaved in that kitchen.

Marchesi smiled and clapped him on the shoulder. “Hey, look on the bright side. Your bill is paid.”

Yes it was. But after a full shift of hard work, he had half of what he started with. It was better than having nothing left, he guessed. He folded the bills and stuffed them into his front pocket.

Marchesi said, “Got a job here, if you want it. Evening shift starts in a while. It’ll help you pay for another night.”

Another night? What a racket. However, where else did he have to go? The chance of meeting another Sailboat Tim was about as probable as finding a four leaf clover in a field of lilies. He’d have to work two shifts a day to stay afloat. Is this how it was supposed to work? How did anybody make it in this world?

He could call his father, but with all his being, he didn’t want to do that. There had to be a better solution. He didn’t have to eat more than once a day. He could forget the sandwich. That would save money. Not much probably, maybe seven dollars. Who was he kidding? He was starving again.

Sawyer was 2,300 plus miles from home with no money and this man was offering him a job. Why was he so hesitant? He handed Marchesi the five dollar bill. “Can I get change for this? I need a few quarters.”

“Gonna call his mamma,” said Tattoo Face.

“Fuck off,” blurted Sawyer.

Tattoo Face rounded on him, grabbed the neck of his tee shirt, and jerked him close. “Don’t get sassy with me, Mouse. I’ll slap yo’ ears.”

“Easy now,” said Charlie. He pulled the tattooed man off Sawyer. “Sure, baby, you can have some change,” he said, patting Sawyer’s cheek.

“Ooh. Charlie’s got hisself a new chick,” said one of the men.

“I’ll slap your ears,” Charlie growled.

“Sorry, boss,” said the man.

Sawyer followed Charlie to the register where he exchanged the bill and handed him the change.

“Phone booth is out front,” he said. “Here’s the phone book.” He plopped it onto the counter.

Sawyer took the book with him to the phone booth. He found the number for the 12th Precinct, dialed, and asked for his father. He twiddled with the cord as he waited to connect.

The phone rang twice before someone answered in a deep, bass voice. “Inspector Tyler. How may I help you?”

Sawyer held his breath. Because he had answered, he knew his father was not the officer fighting for his life in a hospital bed. He was probably sitting in his car somewhere doing whatever a detective does. Did he dare say hello? If he did, Jack Tyler would call his mother. She would send Phillip. Phillip would yank his ass back to Stockton. His life would be over.

“Hello? This is Senior Inspector Jackson Tyler, Detroit PD? Hello?”

Sawyer hung up.

As he walked away from the booth, he heard the phone ring. He didn’t care. He was going to work the dinner shift and be happy about his good fortune. As he stepped back into the bar, Charlie Marchesi smiled at him.

 

Featured

What Does the Wild Bird Know

A light drizzle had left a hazy screen on her car’s windows. Maureen Thompson flipped on the windshield wipers and watched them clear, swish, swish…swish, swish. Her home, inviting and cozy, sheltered by a dripping overhang of branches, glittered against the dark veil that draped the early morning hour. Was the title of Chief Inspector worth the pain of leaving her family on the other side of that door?

A little face appeared under the curtain of the front window of her home. Her youngest, Michael, waved at her. She blew him a kiss. He blew one back. Then she put the car in reverse and pulled away from her cozy nest.

She punched in the number for Dispatch. As she turned the first corner, her Bluetooth buzzed in her ear.

“Dispatch.”

“Yes. This is Chief Thompson. Can you locate and push me through to Jackson Tyler? He might be using his private phone.”

Her earpiece was silent as she left her neighborhood and turned toward the freeway. Then it buzzed. “Thompson.”

“Any news?” Jack’s voice was a whisper.

“You must be sitting with Tom. How is he?”

“In and out. I think he’s trying to wake up. What’s going on?” She heard him get up and walk across a tiled floor.

“Balmario reported that one of his informants told him about a turf ‘disturbance.’ I say that with a grain of salt. It was a border dispute turned fight club. A kid had his face smashed in. Aggrieved parties took revenge. Word on the street is that the avenger was a boss, and the euthanized party was Taiwanese.”

“Your river vic’?” Jack said.

“I don’t know yet.”

“You think Evan Fischer was involved?” said Jack

Maureen sighed. “You mentioned that his father was named Conti.”

“Who is in witness protection.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard the rumors,” said Maureen. “I’m just covering all the bases, following a hunch.”

“Geez.”

“I am going to Walgreens to interview Evan’s colleagues and to pass around some pictures. I know you want to sit with Tom. I just wanted to keep you in the loop.”

“Yeah, thanks. I was planning to go to Walgreens later today. Do you want me to accompany you now?”

“Not at this time. I want you to tell your partner when he wakes up that we are all praying for him.”

“I will. Thank you.”

 

Walgreens was pervasively quiet, but not in a peaceful way. Drab monotone made the place feel haunted, like she’d stepped into a German Expressionist film. Ghostly floor personnel stocked shelves floating quietly from aisle to aisle in isolated silence. The cashier, a lone sentinel at the front of the store, stood like a mannequin staring listlessly into space. The only bright spot of color was a group of three young women, possibly teens, whispering and giggling over a make-up display. When they saw her looking at them, they quickly fled the store without buying anything. Probably truant, she thought, and possibly shoplifting.

Maureen Thompson wasn’t here for that.

The clerk at the front counter was in her late fifties, early sixties. Her dark skin looked sallow against the green Walgreens’ tunic. Her garish pink lipstick did nothing to counteract her pallor. Her gray hair was mid-length and heavy, and teased into a weird puff on the top of her head before it cascaded down her back. It was a young style for a woman of her age. Brown overtones suggested that she periodically dyed it. Rounded shoulders created a mousy effect that negated her restoration efforts. As Maureen approached, she fussed with the hem of her tunic. Then she smiled with a grin that was as faked as her hive of partially restored hair. “Welcome to Walgreens,” she said with a slight accent.

Maureen held up her credentials. “I’d like to speak to the manager.”

A startled look creased the cashier’s brow. She left the counter and hurried down the nearest aisle where she slipped into an ‘Employees Only’ door. A minute later, she came back through it. “He’s on the telephone.” Her eyes shifted from side to side as if to assess traffic before she crossed a road. “He comes soon.” Then she hustled back to her place at the front counter. Not once did she smile again, even in a fake manner.

After three minutes, the manager joined Maureen. “I am in the middle of a crisis,” he stated before introducing himself as Rodney Heathe. His disheveled appearance was that of someone who had hastily thrown on clothes to greet her at the door.

Maureen held up her credentials. “I appreciate you are busy, but can I trouble you for a few moments? I am inquiring about one of your employees, Evan Fischer.”

“Of course,” he said. He fiddled with his cobalt tie, making it more crooked than it was a moment ago. Was he always nervous, or was he just reacting to her presence? “Evan Fischer, ideal employee until this morning.”

“This morning,” she said, as she wrote it down. “And you expected him at what time?”

“I expected him at nine. He’s worked here for two years and has never been a second late. He’s one of my best employees.”

“Full-time or part-time?” she said.

“Full-time since last Christmas,” said Heathe. “May I ask what this is about? Is he in trouble with the law?”

“No, Sir,” said Maureen. “Evan did not go home last night, and his grandmother is worried about him. As of now, we are considering him a missing person. Any information you can give us could help find him. Sometimes information that doesn’t seem relevant is very relevant.”

“Of course, of course.” Mr. Heathe wrung his hands, clearly worried. “He has a girlfriend,” he said.

“Do you know her name?”

“Brianna, Brenda, something like that,” said Heathe.

“Something like that,” said Maureen.  “Which is it? Brianna? Brenda?”

“He refers to her as Bree.”

Maureen said, “Is this Evan?” She showed Mr. Heathe the screenshot that Jack took of the picture in Claudine Fischer’s house.

“Yes, that’s him. That’s Evan.”

“Have you ever heard him talk about mixed martial arts?”

“No,” said Heathe.

“Do you know any kids around here who mix it up?” said Maureen.

“I wouldn’t know about that. I don’t live in this part of town.”

“I have another picture I’d like to show you. It isn’t pretty, but maybe you would recognize this person.” She showed him a picture of her river victim.

Heathe grimaced. “Is he dead?”

“Yes he is. I know it’s disturbing, but have you ever seen this boy?”

“I don’t want Evan to be in trouble.”

“Why would you think Evan is in trouble?”

With a brusque wave, Heathe turned away and said, “No, I have never seen this man. I don’t know where Evan is, and I am a person short today.”

Something about Mr. Heathe was a sharp rock in Maureen’s shoe. “Sir, I have one more picture. This one is easier, I promise.” She showed him a picture of the tattoos on the victim’s neck and shoulders.

Heathe recoiled.

“Please, Sir. If you recognize these tats, it may help us find Evan.”

“No.” He shook his head. “I do not recognize any of these pictures except Evan’s. I have business to attend to.” His arms were crossed, and his jaw was set. It was obvious the interview was over.

Maureen closed her picture app. What was he hiding? She said, “Okay, Mr. Heathe, I am going to give you my card. Call if Evan shows up, or if you hear or see anything. May I have permission to speak to your employees?”

“I’ll let my people know.” He flapped away, a battered and caged bird set free.

Even though Heathe claimed he did not recognize the dead boy, when she showed him the tats she could swear there was recognition. What was she dealing with here?

Maureen didn’t learn much interviewing the other employees on duty. Following her instincts, she decided to approach Mr. Heathe one more time. Maybe his memory was a little clearer after thinking about her questions.

She walked to the pharmacy counter, which was closest to the “Employee’s Only” door.

“Did you need something from the pharmacy?” asked the pretty woman on duty.

“No, I wondered if you could let Mr. Heathe know that I’d like to speak with him one more time.”

“Of course. Excuse me.” She exited a door to her left that ultimately led to the hallway behind the “Employee’s Only” door. When she returned it was through that door. “I’m sorry. Mr. Heathe has apparently slipped out. He had some personal business to attend.”

“I see,” said Maureen, nodding. “Well, he has my card. Ask him to contact me when he returns?”

“I will.”

“Thank you.”

As Maureen left the store, she thought, “Personal business. Yeah, right.” Disheveled clothes, nervous affect, Heathe was definitely on her follow-up list. She couldn’t drop the notion that he was hiding something, but if her suspicion was correct, she couldn’t factor that any of Heathe’s omissions related to the case in front of her. As she approached her car, she noticed a small piece of torn paper stuck under the wiper on the passenger’s side. Someone had scrawled some letters into it using an empty pen. She held it up to try to make out what it said. It could be a name.

As she unlocked her door, she searched for people hanging around the lot. The three cars parked at the far end, were empty, probably employee cars. There was no one on either side of the street gawking, lurking or even walking. She held the tiny slip of paper. Was it happenstance, or had someone added another piece to her puzzle? The lab would figure it out.

Featured

Balancing Act

(Author’s Note: This is late. I am sorry. When I read the first version before posting, like I always do, I just didn’t like it. So, yesterday I rewrote it in between meetings with students. Then, I got up this morning, and rewrote again. Enough. This version works. I am happy.)

Senior Inspector Jackson Tyler sat on his couch sipping black coffee after sleeping solidly for eleven minutes short of two hours. It was not enough but he could not turn off his mind, and he wanted to be by his partner’s bedside when he awakened.

Tomio Dubanowski was recovering from a second surgery to repair bleeding vessels undetected during the first time doctors mended his savagely attacked body. He had been unconscious when Jack left him and took the call from Maureen Thompson, Chief Inspector for the 12th precinct. She was at the river investigating a murder and needed him to check out a missing child case. He now thought it possible that their two cases were connected.

Evan Fischer, the son of a mob boss turned state’s witness, had not come home to his grandmother, who was his only guardian. Admittedly, at nineteen, he could be sleeping it off somewhere, but Jack’s instincts screamed that was not the situation.  One, Evan was an avid reader of mixed martial arts magazines. Two, Jack had crashed a street party of mixed martial artists in front of Evan’s building when he arrived to investigate the call. Three, Maureen’s river victim had died from a knife wound, probably sustained during a mixed martial arts fight. To top off the night, while he and Maureen were in the morgue, a vision attacked him. He saw Evan’s face on a pillow, battered and bruised as if he had been fighting. It was more than possible; it was probable that their cases were connected.

Jack glanced at the clock on his microwave. The hospital opened its doors in twenty minutes. He wanted to call the precinct to ask if anyone had heard of a character named Rat Snatcher. He had been with the others in front of Evan’s building, and was the only reveler that did not run away when Jack approached them.

He could call the precinct from his perch next to Tom’s bed. Right now, he needed to get moving.

 

He stood in the doorway of Tomio Dubanowski’s darkened hospital room.  Heavily sedated, he looked so small and quiet, aspects so unlike Jack’s perception him. Each exhale was followed by a deep inhale. Out, in…out, in…out, in. Thankfully, he breathed without help. Jack let this peaceful moment superimpose the nightmare of their arrival at the hospital. That night, Tom, broken, gray, and lifeless lay crumpled on a gurney. Jack, helpless and lost, stood on the sidelines as medics wheeled Tom toward the mysteries of surgery that ultimately saved his life.

The steady rise and fall of his partner’s chest lulled his own breathing rhythm until it matched Tom’s. The attached monitors beeped quietly calculating blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen saturation – tracking life, Tom’s life. Slowly, Jack’s heart beat in tandem with it. Tom was safe: safe from crazed serial killers,  safe from his job…from their job, safe from the world.

Tom’s fingers fluttered and he mumbled. It sounded like he said, “Jack.”

Jack moved the large padded chair from the corner by the door and set it as close to Tom’s bed as he could.

“Tomi,” he said, whispering. He yearned to touch him. Would the nurses kick him out for disrupting his sleep? He couldn’t take that chance. So, he sat and watched, hands in his lap, fingers laced together, and whispered again, “Tomi. Are you here?”

Tom didn’t answer.

The hospital was quiet this early in the morning. Most visitors came during their lunch hours or right after work. He would be the only visitor on the floor until then. The peacefulness of it was welcome. The noise from the monitor faded from his awareness, and Jack’s eyes slowly closed.

Beep, beep, beep.

Jack jerked awake.

Tom had not awakened, but the monitor indicated that something was off. Terrified, Jack grabbed Tom’s hand. Tom shifted his head a fraction of an inch toward him and his eyes cracked open. He struggled for a second. His fingers flexed within Jack’s grasp. Then his eyes closed, his body relaxed, and the monitor resumed its regular rhythm.

But, Jack’s heart did not calm down. His eyes flicked from Tom to the monitor, and back to Tom. Whatever the monitor had responded to was over. Tom’s vitals returned to their steady rhythms.

He set Tom’s hand onto the bed and smoothed his fingers into a relaxed position. He couldn’t stand the thought of letting go, so he kept his hand on the bed and scooted it toward Tom’s wrist until he could feel the warmth of Tom’s skin against his fingertips. He sat and watched. Out, in…out, in…out, in.

Mesmerized by the symphony of breath and machine, Jack fell back to sleep.

Until his phone buzzed.

Jack jumped up.

He grabbed it as quickly as he could, but Tom’s machine went crazy for a second before it calmed again.

He strode to the door.

It was Hank, his father. His father had been Hank to him since Jack’s divorce. Too many harsh accusations and disappointments flew between them to consider their relationship that of a father and son.

“Hank,” he whispered.

“Why are you whispering? Are you all right?” said his father, also whispering.

Hank didn’t know about Tom. Jack didn’t want to tell him, so he stepped out of the room to speak to his father without having to whisper. “I’m fine. Are you all right?”

“I’m fine. Your son isn’t.”

Jack’s heart felt like it stopped. He couldn’t breathe.

“Jack? Jack, you there?”

“Hank?”

“Jack. It’s Jon.”

“Oh, God, oh God, oh, God.”

“He’s run away again.”

“What?” Jack jogged down the hall toward the elevators. “Again?”

“This is the third time.”

“I-I didn’t even know there was a first time!”

Hank didn’t answer.

“Hank?”

Still no answer.

“Dad?”

“When was the last time you talked to either of your boys?”

It had been too long. Rick, his eldest, usually initiated calls once every few months. Jon never did.

Hank said, “You should probably call Meghan. She and Phillip are worried sick. This is the third day he has been gone. There are posters all up and down the state.”

“What? No. Kids don’t usually go that far.”

“Yet, there you are in Detroit.”

It was Jack’s turn to be quiet.

Hank said, “He went to Sacramento the last time. Lived on the street for a day and a half. He was hauled into jail with a bunch of other homeless people.”

“Good God.” Truancy officers were probably hounding the household, looking into every nook and cranny of Meghan’s and Phillip’s lives. He was surprised no one had called him.

A thought rolled through his mind, “third time’s a charm,” not surprisingly, supplied to him in his father’s voice.  Hank used it often during Jack’s childhood. Probably still did. He was sure both his boys heard it as a nudge in their minds as well.

Hank said, “Call Meghan.”

“Yeah, yeah. I will. Thanks for the heads up, Hank.”

“I liked Dad better.”

“Yeah, well…thanks. Talk soon.” Jack hung up.

He had not talked to Meghan since last year when he called to see if his cards had arrived. His sons never acknowledged them, and he sent money every holiday, and every birthday. He always called to make sure the cards weren’t stolen from the mailbox in front of their house.

He dreaded talking to Meghan. The phone rang four times and flipped to the message app. “Meghan. It’s Jack. Three times?”

His youngest son had run away three times. Why? What the hell was going on that he felt the need to run away? He knew without a doubt that Phillip, in the unenviable position of being a stepparent, was good to his sons. Meghan could be a witch, but she loved her boys.

The machine hung up on him.

He dialed again, waiting for the app to pick up. If anyone was guilty of not showering those boys with love, he was. He did what he could, but it was a fact, they were estranged.

“It’s me again. Call as soon as you get this.” He clicked off.

He flipped through his numbers and dialed Rick.

Rick answered in a voice gravelly with sleep. “Dad?”

“Sorry to wake you.”

“No, no. It’s okay. You heard about Jon.”

“Rick. What is going on there?”

Rick told Jack about Jon’s stay in his best friend’s closet and his adventure in Sacramento. His brother had just wanted unstructured time to himself. Mom and Phillip were great, but they believed that idle time was bad for kids.

“So, let me get this straight,” said Jack. “He ran away because he wanted to read books?”

“Yeah, and just be, I guess. It didn’t even seem to bother him that he was thrown in jail. Dad, you have to know – he’s bullied at school. Real bad. That’s why he joined the fight club. He’s kind of dreamy and…well…he’s soft, Dad. Let’s put it that way.”

“Sensitive,” said Jack. “He’s sensitive, Rick. It takes some balls to leave a cushy situation to be homeless, even for a short while.”

“I guess,” said Rick. “Anyway. If he doesn’t turn up in a day or so, the FBI will initiate a national BOLO.”

If they hadn’t already initiated one. Why wasn’t the FBI crawling through his life and business? Had Meghan not told them that he was the biological father?

“Dad, I’m really worried he’ll become a statistic. Dad?”

“I’m listening, Rick.”

“Maybe you should come out here.”

“Rick. Tom’s in the hospital.”

“What?”

“He was injured during our last case. He’s still in intensive care.”

“It’s a shit storm, Dad.”

That was an understatement. “Yeah, it is. I left a message for your mother. If you hear from her, let her know I called.”

“I will, but I’m sure she’ll call back if you left her a message.”

“Call me anytime. You hear me? About this or anything.”

“I’m fine Dad, but I’ll let you know when we find Jon.”

Jack said, “I love you,” but Rick had already hung up.

Jack was torn. He yearned to sit next to Tom, to watch him breathe, to give him strength. He also wanted to run through the busy streets of Detroit, Michigan screaming Jon’s name. What was the statistical chance that his son would run this far? He clamped his fist to the center of his chest, and pushed hard to keep his heart from ripping into pieces. What about his case? How was he supposed to keep his head in the game?

Until his ex-wife called, Jack could do nothing for Jon. There was no indication that he was in Detroit. Until Walgreens opened or some cop spotted the missing boy Evan Fischer on the streets, Jack could do nothing to help him. Again, he was on the sidelines, helpless.

Tom mumbled softly. Tom needed him now.

Jack returned to the chair and sat next to him. Here. He could stay right here, and give his partner strength. Out, in…out, in…out in….