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?”


“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.


Still no answer.


“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.”


“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….

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