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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

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

A Moment of Peace

Maureen Thompson pulled into her driveway and set the brakes. She clung to the wheel of her dusty car, hanging on with the intensity of someone who knew how one senseless act could rip away all that she had. Where was the family of the young Taiwanese teen who lay in cold storage while they investigated his death? Were they in this country? Did they go to work every morning acutely aware of his absence? Did they come home every evening hoping to see him, to be devastated all over again with hopes unrealized? Were they in Taiwan looking deep into the eyes of each person they met, searching for recognition that they belonged to a boy those persons may have seen during their travels? Had he left of his own free will, or had someone stolen him? Either way, he left a family behind that was now broken.

Her porch light was on, small, but welcoming. Her tabby sat on the front step preening. It looked up as if to say, “Come on in.”  She imagined her two dogs curled in sleep upstairs upon a child’s bed. The house itself was dark, except for a dull, flicking light pulsing against the curtains in the front room. Larry, her husband, had been on the road for weeks. He was probably sleeping in a cramped position on the couch in an attempt to wait up for her.

Brutal, replayed memories of seeing the Taiwanese teen thrown away like trash at the river’s edge receded into the background as she deliberately let go of the day. She opened her car door and carefully closed it so it clicked shut.

The tabby waltzed down the steps and shimmied around her legs as she reached down to stroke its fur before she climbed the steps.

She quietly closed the solid front door behind her, and without making a sound, slipped her keys into the glazed ceramic bowl on the entry table. She glanced into the living room where a wall of photos told the story of her life, starting with black and white childhood photos of her and her husband, colorful photos of their marriage and family milestones, culminating with current photos of each of her children. One of Larry’s slippers peeked over an arm of the stuffed leather couch. Otherwise, there was no way to tell that anyone was watching the soundless infomercial that played across the wide screen TV that flickered over the fireplace.

Maureen hung her coat on the coat rack next to the table, and unbuckled her gun. This she placed in a locked safe in a cupboard under the staircase that led to the upstairs bedrooms. She slipped off her shoes and lined them up against the wall under the first step. It was one of her habits, in case there was an emergency call.

“Maureen?” Larry gruffled. She glanced his way. He was hanging onto the back of the couch, holding himself upright. He smiled. His wild unkempt mop flopped over one eye, and a scruffy shadow darkened his slack and sleep-dented cheeks. Anyone else would think he was someone who was still half asleep, but she saw fire sparkling in his eyes.

“It’s me, Baby. How long have you been out here?”

“Since the kids fell asleep. What time is it?”

“Late.” She sank into the couch next to him, pulled the scrunchie from her hair, and then vigorously scratched her scalp.

Larry smiled softly.

She grabbed his hand and leaned her head on the back cushion, grateful to be home.

“I’m glad you’re safe,” he said. “Tough night?”

She rolled her head to face him and smiled. “I’m sorry our reunion night was wrecked.”

“No worries. You know that.” He squeezed her hand reassuringly.

She did know that. Larry knew exactly what he’d signed up for when they married during her cadet training. Three kids later, he still waited for her patiently. “You have no idea how appreciated you are,” she said, as she leaned against him.

“Really? How appreciated am I?” He smiled roguishly.

“Very.” She turned her body toward him and pressed her breasts against his shoulder. Tentatively, she kissed the corner of his smile.

“I see how it is,” he purred. He ran his fingers through her thick long hair.

“Yeah?” She arched her neck. His touch was heaven.

He wrapped her in his arms.

She melted into his solid heat and kissed him again.

Gently, but with the determination of a man who knew exactly what he wanted, he pushed her onto the couch and crouched over her, careful that he didn’t pinch her under him or pull her hair in anyway.

“Kiss me already,” she said, as her body responded to his considerations.

His lips touched hers, primly at first, but when she arched up against him, he deepened their union. A fire flared as she felt her body swell in response. When he lowered himself against her, she had no recourse but to rut against him.

“That’s it,” he growled. “Bedroom. Now.” He jumped off her and ran up the stairs. Maureen shook her head, heart palpitating at the thought of getting her night with him. She jumped up and raced after him, unbuttoning her company shirt as she did so.

It had been so long since the last time they were together that they both climaxed within minutes. She did not care. He lay next to her, the love of her life, and she was safe and had another day with him and with her children.

She felt the pull of sleep. However, she needed to wash away the case. One boy was dead, another missing. She couldn’t let go of the idea that somehow the two cases were related, though she had no reason to think it.

She carefully climbed out of their bed and stepped into the bathroom. She intended to turn on the water for a hot bath, but she heard a tiny voice behind her.

“Mom,” her six-year-old said.

She pulled her robe together and tied the sash around her waist. Then she turned, and gathered him in her arms. She walked back to his bedroom, whispering, “I missed you, lovey pumpkin. Did you have a nice day with Daddy?”

“Yes. Where were you?”

She laid him on his bed. “At work.” She pulled his blankets around him and lifted his stuffed owl off the floor.

He grabbed the toy and cuddled it. “Did you catch the bad guy, Mom?”

“Not yet, Honey, but I will. You go back to sleep. I will see you in the morning.”

He shut his eyes and snuggled under his blankets.

“Good boy, Michael,” she said. She kissed him on the forehead and ran her fingers through his hair. Of all her children, her youngest looked the most like his father. She gazed at him until his breathing deepened. Then she checked on her other two. They were both sleeping soundly with dogs at their feet.

Deciding that taking a bath upstairs would be too disruptive, she went back to her bedroom to gather a set of pajamas and her toiletries. She took them to the downstairs bathroom where her only choice was to shower. It would be fine. The hot water was what she really wanted, as hot as she could stand it in order to wash away the terror of investigating dead and missing teens. Her family deserved at least that much from her.

 

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Predator

 A boy slung his backpack over one shoulder and reached for his jacket. As he did, a beefy man shoved past him, knocking him face forward onto the bench. He stopped his fall, one hand on the back of the bench, the other on the seat.

“Sorry,” grunted the man.

The boy grabbed his jacket, draped it over his shoulder, and followed him to the front of the Greyhound.

“Better put that on,” the bus driver said to him. “Detroit gets pretty chilly this time of year.”

The man turned on the steps and said, “Better listen to him. Feels like a refrigerator out here.”

He stopped, set his backpack on the seat behind the driver, and put on his letter jacket, blazoned in green and gold, the colors of his high school. No one here would recognize them. He’d sat thirty-five butt-numbing hours to get away.

When he stepped out of the bus, the driver followed him. “Hey, kid. The phone is over there.” He nodded to a lit booth on the west wall of the small depot.

“Yeah, okay. Thanks,” he said, but he had no one to call and nowhere to go. He looked at the lights of Downtown Detroit reflected on the water. “How many miles?” he said.

The driver grimaced. “To the downtown area? About five. Best call someone to pick you up.”

“Uh…okay, thanks.”

The boy walked toward the booth as the driver climbed into a parked vehicle and drove away. As soon as his car was around a corner, the boy set his sights on the lights of Downtown Detroit. He blew on his chilled fingers. Five miles wasn’t that far. He was a fast walker. He blew on his fingers again and stuffed them into his armpits. Walking would warm him.

 

Charlie Marchesi reverently polished the counter in his bar. He’d long since removed every fingerprint and smudge left by the evening patrons, but he needed time to think. One of his studs had worked a rival’s territory today and a brutal beating was his payment. The kid was useless until his face healed. Charlie’s loss amounted to $5,500 with medical bills and lost revenue. He loved this bar with its rich ambiance of masculinity, but it would not cover the loss. What he needed was another experienced stud because the rest of the colts in his stable were too green to make that kind of money.

He tapped the warm wood and glanced around his man cave. It was time to lock up. He glanced at the back wall with pictures of his kids, wayfarers that had stumbled in looking for a way out of whatever they were running from. He flicked off the “Open” light in the big picture window that framed the corner across the street. The rain had stopped and the pavement glistened with diamonds.

A young man stepped into the halo of the street lamp, illuminated as if spotlights had just turned on over center stage. He was tall and stood with strength, even though Charlie could tell by the set of his shoulders that he was shirking from his current situation. His dark hair and arched eyebrows stood out against his pale skin. The scruff of his beard outlined a strong jaw. He looked the part of a young god unsure of where he was, or what he was about.

Had serendipity knocked on his door? “Come this way, mister,” he said. “I have time for one more.”  He flicked the light on again and draped the polishing chamois over his shoulder while walking closer to the window to get a better look at him. “Come on. It’s warm in here. Get out of the cold.”

As if he heard Charlie’s words, he turned and looked at the glowing sign in Charlie’s dark window. His eyes were wide-set, though from this distance Charlie couldn’t read them. He could only read the man’s body movements, and something about the way he adjusted the pack on his shoulders and the garish green and gold jacket said ‘mature teenager’.

Serendipity rose, a questing snake peering over tall grass. The youngster just needed to come in. That’s all. Charlie would wrap him with something beneficial to both of them. “Come on, it’s open. There isn’t anything else. I bet you just got off the bus, didn’t you.”

The young man resettled his pack upon his shoulders, flipped up the collar on his jacket and strolled across the street toward Marchesi’s Bar and Grill.

Charlie moved to the far end of the counter where it was dark, becoming a simple barkeep cleaning up for the evening. The bell over the door tinkled as the young man walked in. Bold as brass he sat at the counter. It was a move calculated to feign maturity and hide the fact that the boy couldn’t be older than fifteen or sixteen.

Charlie’s breath hitched. God, he was beautiful. He could hardly wait to hear the tale this one was going to spin. He approached. “How can I help you?”

 “Something hot,” said the young man, as if he owned the world.

Charlie nodded. He grabbed a white, ceramic mug from shelving under a simple drip coffee maker and filled it. The whole time he did so, he studied the youth.

Perhaps noticing his scrutiny, the boy frowned and hunched his shoulders, turning in on himself.  

“Cream?” said Charlie.

The boy glanced at him. “Sure.” Then, he remembered to say, “Thanks.”

Charlie was generous with the cream. “Kind of late for you to be out and about all alone.”

Guilt flashed across the boy’s beautiful features. “Got off the bus about twenty minutes ago.” His voice had dropped into a full bass rumble, probably because he was tired.

Charlie chuckled. He liked the brassy attitude of this one. “Where’re you from?” he said.

“Stockton. Stockton, California,” said the young man.

Never been,” said Charlie.

“You wouldn’t like it,” said the boy.

“What brings you to Detroit?”

It was just small talk, no need to rush this. If Charlie was reading this right, the boy had nowhere to go, or nowhere he wanted to go. A boy like this could easily end up on the street and be picked up by someone else. Charlie had never lost a gold mine sitting at his counter, and he wouldn’t tonight.

The boy took a deep breath and relaxed his shoulders.

Carefully keeping his voice warm and considerate, Charlie pressed. “You didn’t answer my question. Detroit’s not a place people come to for pleasure. You must have some business here?”

“Just like everybody else,” said the young man. He sipped the coffee, gazing toward the pictures behind the bar. A dip of sadness settled on his mouth for a second.

Charlie said, “Can I help you find someone?”

“No,” said the young man, a little too harshly. He squirmed in his seat. A lie then, there was someone here.

“So you do have a place to go tonight,” said Charlie.

“Not yet,” said the boy, shifting his defiant gaze toward him.

Not willing to give up, Charlie said, “It’s past midnight. It’ll be hard to find a place around here, and folks aren’t going to lease to a minor anyway.”

If looks could kill, the boy’s expression would have dropped him to the ground. Wow. Keeping this one engaged was imperative. Fresh meat like this would attract all kinds of predators.

The young man folded his arms on the counter and leaned into them. He turned to Charlie and said, “Why would you assume I am a minor?” 

Charlie sighed. How many times had he seen this now? He glanced at the pictures on the wall across from them, his stable of young, lost children that grew up under his tutelage, learned the ways of the street, and lived to tell about it. “Seen a lot of runaways come through here. I guess you look the part.”

“There’s a part?” said the boy. His voice raised three notches as he lifted the cooling cup of coffee to warm his hands.

Cold and scared, that’s what Charlie saw. He chuckled and said, “Name’s Charles. Most people call me Charlie. Charlie Marchesi. I have a room in the back. Forty dollars a night.”

“How much for the coffee?” said the boy.

So, he had no money either. Charlie admired the bravado. What did it take to leap into the world with nothing, hoping that it would take care of you? It took a keen mind and a quick wit. Most of these kids didn’t have it. They were scared and lonely, and he took them in and made something out of all that. This kid, though, was different. Charlie pushed a little more. “Coffee is on the house with the let of the room.”

The boy looked him right in the eye. “I don’t have the cash for the room. How much do I owe for this?” He lifted the cup and took another sip.

Tough guy, thought Charlie. He said, “Two-twenty five with a free refill.”

The boy pulled a ten and handed it to Marchesi.

Charlie hesitated. Was he going to let this one walk?

The boy insisted, slapping the ten onto the counter and pushing it toward him.

“Tell you what,” said Charlie. “Put down what you have for the room and you can work for the rest in the morning. It’s a rush here, and I can use someone to bus tables and wash dishes. Beats an alleyway somewhere. Especially this time of year.” He glanced outside.

The kid turned and stared out the window.

Why was he hesitating? Just take it. It’s cold outside, and I am offering a room.

The boy continued to stare.

It was about four miles to Downtown. If the kid walked briskly, he could probably make it in an hour, but there was no guarantee he’d find a warm place to sleep, and he’d run the risk of getting snatched by one of his competitors. Charlie could not have that. He said, “I am offering a room, and a way to pay for it.”

The boy looked down. “I’ll think about it.”

Charlie Marchesi tapped his pointer finger on the counter, twice. “Working the morning kitchen will get you breakfast on the house. For tomorrow, anyway.”

“Okay. Maybe I’ll take it.”

There was no maybe about it. Charlie had found his replacement. He slapped the counter and said, “Smart man.”

He grabbed the coffee and cream. A little refill should cinch the deal. The boy smiled as Charlie poured warm coffee into his mug. Yep, he’d found his replacement.

Featured

Chapter 1- It Never Ends

Lordy, she hated night calls. It damn near killed her to lose moments with Larry on a night when he was home. Her kids had gone to sleep easily, and they had a stretch to themselves after a long three weeks. The tingle in her limbs slowly and regrettably subsided as she sat behind the wheel of her road-stained Toyota Corolla, peering through the breath-fogged window at the group of four young officers, three men and one woman, who she sent to secure the crime scene at the river’s edge.

They had finished cordoning off the area and now huddled together, a miserable lump of humanity trying to stay warm in the cold of the night. At their feet lay cold death, hidden under a shroud with which they thankfully covered it. As her own warm breath created blossoms on her side window that unfolded then quickly faded with each inhale, they blew into their hands to warm them as they waited for her to set foot on scene.

Maureen Thompson had worked her way through the ranks to become Chief Inspector of Detroit’s 12th Precinct. She wasn’t normally on call at night, but the rest of her senior staff was reeling after the apprehension of a killer dubbed ‘The Vampire.’ Her own partner lay in the hospital, on her way to recovery. Senior Inspector Jackson Tyler sat by the bedside of his partner, Tomio Dubanowski, while he fought for his life. The entire company was mourning the death of one of their own. The killer was now behind bars for the rest of his life, but life out here droned on, and another victim, another criminal’s ruin, lay at the river’s edge. Sweet Jesus, it never ended.

She braced for the blast of cold that would hit her as she opened the door. It did not disappoint. The icy ground crunched beneath her feet as she descended the incline toward the river. Without a doubt, the water’s edge was the worst place to find a body. Thankfully, the blast of frigid air that hit her didn’t reek of dead fish this time of year. Her officers came to attention as she approached.

The body was on top of the rocky shore right at the edge of the water line. Feet poked out from under the shroud, and the river’s waves gently caressed them. It was a weird juxtaposition. The body was face down, unless she was looking at horrendously mangled legs. Markers had been placed next to shoe prints that didn’t belong to her officers, and her people had set down mats of cardboard next to the body as best they could on top of the rocks.

“The scene looks well secured,” she said. It never hurt to pat their backs.

“Yes, sir,” said one of the young men. Another stepped up behind him and laid a comforting hand upon his shoulder. No doubt, the first had upchucked after seeing a murder victim for the first time. What were they looking at here?

Her phone buzzed. “Chief Thompson.”

“Dispatch. Coroner ETA, about two minutes. Over.”

“Thank you. Out.” She stuck the phone back into her coat pocket. Then she squatted next to the body and gently lifted the shroud. The black hair, though short, was long enough to mat against the skull on the back of the head. She used a penlight to check for blood. It appeared to be mud and leaf matter.

“Was this body face-down when you found it?”

“Yes, sir,” said the young woman, who stared at the river when a fish splashed heavily back into it after jumping.

The skeletal build of the body, the short hair and heavy muscling indicated male, but until the coroner flipped him, she wouldn’t know for sure.

The coroner’s van pulled in behind Maureen’s Corolla. A short, older, and gray-haired woman slid out of the bus feet first, wearing muck boots under a business skirt, covered by her white lab coat. Maureen did not recognize her. However, the 12th had an on-call agreement with Precinct Nine. She was probably one of theirs.

The woman stumbled twice as she slid down the hill and fell on her bum. Maureen felt uneasy having to work with someone unfamiliar on a new scene, and watching the woman scramble to her feet did nothing to alleviate that. However, when the woman extended her hand, Maureen warmed to her gentle smile and compassionate eyes.

“Doctor Tamilin,” she said as they shook hands.

“Thanks for coming,” said Maureen. “I just got here myself. Nothing has been moved, the scene is secure.”

At first, the petite doctor seemed feeble and uncoordinated, but then she squatted with the ease of a twenty-something on the precarious rocks next to the body. Immediately all business, she began by temping the body, palpating an apparent knife wound to the back and surveying the brutal bruising on the ribs and over the exposed hips. “Do these look like kick marks to you?” she said.

Maureen squatted next to Dr. Tamilin. “Could be.”

One of the young officers chimed in, “Mixed martial arts.”

“Do you want to elaborate on that?” said Maureen, feeling her left eyebrow arch as she stared up at him.

“Yes, Sir. See that bruise on the forearm and the one behind the knee? Classic strike marks. The victim used a cross-body strike with the arm to push back his opponent, and he took a hit to the back of the knee when his opponent tried to knock him to the mat.”

“Do you fight?”

“Sometimes, Sir. When I can.”

She compartmentalized the information in case she needed it later.

“Am I allowed to direct your team?” Dr. Tamilin quietly asked Maureen.

“Of course.”

Dr. Tamilin seemed taller than she was when she stood and turned to the officers. “Let’s move this person away from the water’s edge. I’d like to roll him over on that tarp.” She pointed to the staging area that her second had set up behind them.

Two officers and her tech lifted the body. They laid it on the canvas and gently rolled it as they set it down. A young boy. He was lean, between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, maybe nineteen.

The rocks under the body were clean, except for disturbed river debris. It was obvious he’d been killed elsewhere and dumped. Maureen said, “Was he in the river?”

“No, Sir. That is how we found him.”

Tamilin said, “There is no gross evidence he was ever in the water. I will check his lungs, of course.”

Maureen nodded.

The coroner continued, “From the looks of the wounds, here and here…,” she pointed to marks on the boy’s ankles and forearms, “it looks like he put up a hell of a fight.” Then she lifted each of his arms, one at a time, and examined his wrists. “He was bound, not long enough to form abrasions, but these indentations indicate he was bound.” She checked his ankles. “Yep. Probably rope, but I can’t be sure until I get him under the light.”

“Oh, god. Poor thing,” whispered Maureen. Her keen eyes perused the story on the boy’s face, arms, legs, and bare torso. Angry bruises stained his hands across the knuckles and at the base of his palms. His knees sported fresh bruises, as did his ankles and arches. He had a bent nose and a blackened eye, swollen lips. She wondered if he was missing teeth. There were contact bruises across his ribs. “Looks like he’s been in a martial arts fight to me,” she agreed as she stood.

Why would someone knife him? Was it to put him out of his misery, or had he pissed off someone? If captured and bound, was he held captive before or after the fight? His face was so smashed it was hard to ascertain his nationality, but young Taiwanese boys were smuggled into the country to fight. The color and texture of his hair suggested a tie to that traffic line. Her stomach became queasy as she thought about it.

An officer said, “We broke up a few bouts this week. Two of them licensed, one not.”

“Well, we can count on this bout being unlicensed,” she said in a low voice.

“Sir?”

“Nothing, nothing.” She nodded at the officer and felt her phone buzz again. She walked away to answer. “Chief Thompson.”

“This is Dispatch. We just received a 9948. Family has requested an officer on scene. Over.”

Maureen looked around. They weren’t finished here, and she wasn’t going to desert her people. “Ten four. Send me the information. Over.”

“Will do. Out.” Dispatch hung up. Ten seconds later, she was staring at the call log and an address with a name. Jack’s neighborhood. She wondered if he was home. She dialed.

It rang twice before he answered in an exhausted voice. “Hey Maureen.”

“Did I wake you?”

“No. Just got in.”

Alarmed by his reply, she said, “How is Tom?”

“He’s in the ICU. Had another surgery. They couldn’t control his pain, so they did an ultrasound and found a pocket of blood. Evidently, there was a slow bleeder they didn’t catch the first time.”

“Dammit, Jack. I am so sorry to hear that. I can call someone else.”

“No. I need the distraction. How can I help?”

“Seriously, I can call someone else.”

“Seriously, I am fine. What can I do?”

“I’m at a crime scene on the river, an apparent martial arts fight gone bad. I have rookies working tonight and I don’t want to send them on a missing persons call. It’s in your neighborhood.”

“I gotcha.”

“I’m sending the address. Thank you so much, Jack. I will be praying for Tom. Out.” Maureen clicked off and re-texted the message from dispatch. She owed Jack big time. He and Tom were instrumental in catching the Vampire Killer. What was one more favor?

As she turned back to her team, a news van skidded into a crooked position behind the Coroner’s van. She did not want the press to get hold of this just yet. The illegal fighting clubs were hard enough to break up, their locations found only by chance. Giving them a head start with limited information about this victim was not on her to-do list. With a heavy heart, she trudged up the bank to intercept the cameras and reporters.

It was going to be a long night.

Featured

Broken – Prologue

(AUTHOR’S NOTE: I plan to post my new novel, BROKEN, chapter by chapter. This is the first installment. For those of you who follow this blog, this post first appeared as V is for Vagabond. Rewritten and edited, the gist of the story remains the same, Jonathan Tyler meets Sailboat Tim. Again for your perusal…enjoy.)

Prologue

Like Tom Sawyer chafing against the constraints of overprotective parenting and the idiocy of enforced school, Jonathan Tyler was running away again.

Six months ago, Rollo, his best and only true friend, reacted to Jonathan’s angst by offering his closet as a place to stay. It was a life raft. Jon jumped on, or rather in, never once considering the current of distress that would wash away the trusting love of his family. After four days of freedom, Rollo’s father caught him. Phillip had no problem soundly paddling his fourteen-year-old stepson. Then he grounded him, piling on a mountain of chores and a multitude of extracurricular activities as a deterrent for wayward thinking.

Jon was done with that, ready to throw in the towel and take a hike. He was fifteen, now, and old enough to make his own decisions.

He dumped his allowance onto his bedspread and counted it. A ticket to Sacramento would cost him the whole amount. It was stupid to go without extra money, but he could not stand another day trapped like a bird or toiling like a child laborer. Tomorrow he’d be on that bus.

He stuffed the money into the backpack hidden behind his clothes in the closet and leaped onto his bed, bouncing the mattress twice. He stared at the walls around him. It would be the last time he ever saw these things.

Most of the posters on his walls depicted mixed martial arts. On the top of his bookshelf were two trophies. One was for Most-Improved Fighter; the other was a first place team trophy from a state tournament. There were multiple pictures of him sparring in various events, his favorite taken when he and Phillip were sparring in the gym Phillip had assembled in the garage. He sighed. It didn’t matter.

Mind made up, he went to bed.

The next evening, he stood on the corner across from the bus station in Sacramento. The view before him was nothing like he envisioned: a vast parking lot behind him, industrial office buildings on the next block, and a few shops across the street, all closed for the night. On the next corner was a restaurant.

He was homeless now, and free. He could stay by the river, but there was a chilled breeze wafting off it. He could stay in the bus station. He took a step to cross the avenue to do just that, but stopped. That would definitely scream run-away to anyone keeping eyes on a stray kid. He stared at the lit depot, watching people come and go.

He was penniless, dumped into an urban wilderness…maybe, he hadn’t thought this through long enough. Shrugging off regret, he walked west until he came across a police station. He turned abruptly and walked away.

Night fell swiftly and with it the temperature. He put his head down and paced, two blocks, three blocks, four…he lost count. It felt like he’d walked an eternity, but ahead of him, a light signaled hope. A neon sign lit his way to a small apartment complex, like a green affirmation that he would be okay. A three-foot chain link fence surrounded the little group of buildings. Most were curtained and dark, but a soft night light shined in the larger building, which was, no doubt, the main lobby. He tried the doors.

Locked. Why did he expect anything else?

He explored until he found a sheltered wall between the lighted office building and a laundry facility. Hunkering between the two, he spent the first night fitfully shivering in the cold.

As the sun rose and before traffic picked up, he hopped back over the fence and walked south, toward Capital Mall. Along the way, he passed several restaurants before it dawned on him to check the back alleys for garbage bins. He might get lucky and find some fresh pickings.

A small pub across the street was open. People entered and left with regularity. It seemed a likely place to scrounge for leftovers. Furtively aware of his surroundings, he raced across the damp pavement and crept around the building to the alley behind it. Was it illegal to steal garbage? He’d heard it was, but he didn’t know if that law applied here. However, he sure didn’t want someone turning him in because he looked young and truant. To his delight, he found that the pub threw away their leftover food in a separate bin from the trash.

Beyond the street behind the pub, across an expanse of public parking, there was a small park. Had he found his stomping grounds? Maybe. The park would be the perfect place to stake out a bench or, at the very least, the base of a tree.

The back door latch jiggled.

He grabbed a couple of rolls and ran. Heart pounding, he raced across the parking area and sprinted into the park. There he feigned calm, hoping he looked as if he was taking a morning stroll to school.

He spent the morning daydreaming and following the arc of the sun to stay in its warmth. His bones and muscles softened and it felt good to sit and observe, with no responsibility, and no worries. He watched a couple, dressed as if they were homeless, raid the pub’s food dump. After observing that they came back a second time for the lunch hour, he surmised that perhaps the establishment put out food on purpose.

Testing his theory, he crept to the bin and found half of a roast beef sandwich and some carrot sticks. He laughed. This was a better lunch than any he got at school. When he got back to the park, he crept under some bushes.

The pub closed at midnight. There was a final dumping of leftovers in the bin. He ran to get his share, as other homeless people were bound to take advantage of it. He skidded to a stop when a hunched, older man, with very long, very gray hair and beard, wearing multiple layers of soiled clothes, stepped in front of him. He wore athletic socks over his hands and carried a walking stick. With the end of it, he hit the pavement in front of Jon’s toes.

Jon yelped and backed up.

The man glared at him.

“No, of course, you first,” said Jon, bowing slightly.

The man didn’t smile, nor did he stop glaring, but he nodded and reached into the bin. He pulled out a loaf of bread, some browned apple slices, and a couple of thick pieces of ham. He shoved these at Jon, who took them. Then he reached into the bin again and pulled out a half bottle of white wine.

In a whispery voice, he said, “Sometimes they leave it, sometimes they don’t.” Underneath the breathiness was a lilt. “Remember to be thankful.” He winked at Jon. “Now, where are you staying? Let’s go there to eat.” He grabbed the loaf of bread out of Jon’s hands.

A little panicky, Jon said, “Uh, sure. Over there in the park. I made a nest under some bushes.”

“Sounds like a picnic to me,” said the man.

Jon led the man to his shelter of sorts.

They sat down. The man took the rest of the food. He gave a sizable portion of the bread to Jon and evenly split the rest.

Jon said, “Are you sure?”

“I have all I need,” said the man, in his gravelly voice.

They ate in silence. Jon furtively watched the man as he ate. Old and thoughtful, he seemed happy while Jon struggled with his decision to leave a warm home and loving family. What kind of person did that? Could he live like this man?

“Why did you run?” said the man, as if he could read Jon’s mind.

“Who says I’m running?”

“What are you, fourteen, fifteen? You’re runnin’ from somethin’.”

“Maybe I am running toward something.”

The man laughed, a deep belly roar that shook his whole body. “Yeah. Well, I hope you find it. My name’s Tim. Folks call me Sailboat Tim.”

“That’s an odd name.”

“And yours is better?”

“I didn’t say that. It’s Jon, spelled J-O-N.”

“For Jonathan, like the Bible, gift of God. And so it is more important.”

“I-I-I only meant that I was curious about why they added the Sailboat to Tim,” said Jon.

“Guess folks likes to tease. I’ve always wanted a sailboat, talked about it a lot in the early days of this.” He swept his arm wide as if gathering the expanse of the park in his sweep.

Jon asked, “How long have you been doing this?”

“Long enough to know this isn’t a good place to stay the night. Vigilantes come through and run people out of the park. We’re a safety hazard to the good folks that live in those houses and apartment buildings right over there.” He pointed to a beautifully landscaped two-story building with multiple terraces. Then he pointed to a block of well-appointed office buildings. “We might break in. One never knows about vagrant folks.”

“You’re just being facetious now, right?” said Jon.

“No.” Tim grimaced. “Come on. Finish eating. I know where we can sleep safely.”

They huddled together on the porch of an empty Victorian in the Oak Park region. Tim shared the only blanket he carried with him, a ratty, flea-filled wool of tatters and holes. He told Jon heartbreaking stories. Some gang banger knifed a crippled army vet while he slept under a tree in the park. The cops didn’t even investigate. A crazy old coot froze to death just a winter ago on the steps of the library downtown. Word was, he shouldn’t have been sleeping there. Tim, himself, had ended up in jail twice for raiding the garbage behind a Safeway for scraps of food. Who knew it was illegal to take food from a garbage bin behind a Safeway? Sailboat Tim had fond memories of the food he ate while he stayed in jail, though. And, he appreciated the warm cells, with sturdy cots and thick blankets. At least while he was in the slammer, he didn’t have to worry about getting knifed or “froze to death.”

Jon smiled.

Tim’s toothless grin was kind, and his eyes were gentle.

Before dawn, a clatter of footsteps on the porch of the house awakened them.

A helmeted policeman with a bat, grabbed him by the arm. Another grabbed Tim. Together, the policemen hauled them down the steps and hoisted them into the back of a waiting van where several other homeless people cowered on the benches. A young girl at the end was silently sobbing; the rest sat stoically, eyes averted, awaiting the trip to jail.

Jon whispered to Tim. “What now?”

“Now we sit in a cage until a lawyer secures our freedom. It will be okay. The food is great, the cots are firm, and the blankets are clean and warm. Oh, and the commode is clean. That’s a big plus. They gives us coffee if we want it.”

Jon must have looked horrified because Tim bumped his shoulder and said, “It’ll be okay. You’re the lucky one. They will call your parents. Then, you can go home where it’s safe and warm.”

Jon curled up on himself after that and hid his face.

As Tim said, the police sent Jon home. Jail would have been preferable to his parents’ house of strict rules, and scheduled time. Jon had acquired a yen for freedom that no amount of discomfort could alter. Third time’s a charm, he’d always heard.

It was time to plan his next adventure.