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.”
“On your windshield?”
“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.
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.