(Author’s Note: Use this link to find the e-book or paperback version to read the full story:

Chief Inspector Maureen Thompson suspected she needed to be his strength, but she wasn’t prepared for what she found: Jackson Tyler in skivvies, socks on his feet, socks on his hands. His beard was two or three days old, his hair unkempt. He huddled on the floor in front of his couch rocking back and forth.

“The garbage men, the garbage men said,” he mumbled. “They said, the garbage men said.”

“What did they say Jack?” she said as if crooning to a frightened child.

“The garbage men told him he was trash. He was in the trash. The garbage men said.” Jack looked up at her. In a very clear, authoritative voice, he stated, “They threw rocks at him. They thought he was a vagrant. We have to do something about that.”

Then he caved in on himself and began rocking again. “The garbage men, he was in the trash. He was in the trash.”

Maureen sat on the couch near him.

He shied away from her, but he quit mumbling. After a few seconds, he quit rocking.

It was obvious he had been drinking. She wondered how that worked with the medications she was sure he took. Even so, she didn’t see evidence of abandoned bottles or glasses. Did he clean as he drank?

Was he cognizant enough to understand that the team had found Jon? Was it safe for his brutalized son to see him like this? If Jon was as badly beaten as Benny Brown indicated, would seeing his son throw Jack over an emotional and psychic cliff he couldn’t climb up again?

“Did you find him? Did you find him? He was in the trash,” said Jack. “Did you find him in the trash?”

It was better to stick with simple truth and then try to get Jack back on his feet. She contemplated calling Tomio Dubanowski, but he was dealing with his own shit right now and did not need to worry about his partner.

Slowly and quietly she said, “Yes, Jack. We found him. He is safe now.”

Jack sat up. “I want to see him.”

“I want that too, but you can’t go like this. What can I do to help?”

Jack rubbed his face with his socked hands. “I don’t know.”

Her thumb hovered over the keys on her phone. What would Tomio do? He seemed like a tough love kind of guy. She said, “Get up, take a shower, clean up that scruffy beard. Put on professional looking clothes.”

Jack started rocking. “Get up, get up, get up.”

Maureen, mother instincts on full alert, realized Jack wasn’t capable of retaining a string of commands at the moment. “Get up, Jack.”

He got up.

“Shower and shave,” she said.

“Shower and shave, shower and shave.” He walked to the bathroom mumbling shower and shave over and over. Then he shut the door.

She heard the water turn on.

She stood and went to his closet. All his work clothes were on the floor where he’d heaped them and too wrinkled for a professional presentation. She found a pair of jeans hanging next to a nice gray Henley. She had never seen him in a Henley. He probably looked good in it. It was fatherly, softer and more approachable than what she had first had in mind.

She pulled his trashed bed together and left the clothes on top of it. She hoped he would see them when he stepped out from the bathroom. 

She partially closed the bedroom door to give him some privacy. Then she went to his kitchen. It was spotless. The refrigerator was stocked and orderly. The carton of milk smelled fresh and was empty by half. Damn, had he been eating?  

She found sliced turkey, lettuce, and a tomato which she sliced, and made a sandwich. If he could stomach it, the food might settle his anxiety.

Jack joined her, shaved and dressed. He had shoes on. He was shaking like a leaf, but he seemed calm. “Is he okay?” he asked.

“He is safe, Jack. Eat this sandwich, and then we will go see him.”

“What aren’t you telling me, Maureen?”

He sounded like the Jack she knew, but she had only worked through an OCD attack with him on one other occasion. He needed to stay calm if she was going to take him to a hospital to see his broken son. “I know he has some injuries, but they are caring for him, and he is able to move around on his own. That much I know.”

“He’s a strong kid,” he said. Then he gobbled the sandwich.

Jack strode into the hospital ahead of Maureen then stopped abruptly. He didn’t seem to recognize who was approaching as Balmario stepped up to greet him. When Balmario reached out to shake his hand, for a moment, she worried Jack was going to recoil. Instead, he took Balmario’s offered hand and shook it.

“We found your son. I need to speak with you.” Balmario could have been less terse, she thought.  

“Not now, Balmario. I need to see my son.”

Balmario hesitated before he said, “We need to talk first.”

Jack was a statue. His eyes were distant as if his focus was on a scene that only he could see.

Marcus was visibly unnerved and looked to her for direction.

She nodded and mouthed, “Not here.”

Marcus said, “There is a private waiting room upstairs. The X-ray lab is there, and he is in a treatment room on the same floor. Let’s go there.”

As they stepped into the elevator, Jack’s eyes watered. He said, “He was thrown in the trash.”

Maureen stepped close and grabbed his elbow.

Jack said, “I went there, you know. I went to that alley. I couldn’t find him. They threw him in the trash, like garbage.” One tear rolled down his face.

Balmario looked at Maureen. She shook her head.

The waiting room was quiet, and the lights were low. Maureen was grateful for the sudden peace that enveloped them. Marcus sat across from Jack, but she sat next to him in case she needed to ground him with a touch. She had seen Tomio do it often. It was one of the reasons everyone thought they were a couple. 

Marcus took a deep breath. “Jonathan hasn’t said a word since we arrested him.”

“You arrested him?” said Jack. “He’s a runaway, not a criminal.”

“Well, Jack. That is one of the things I need to talk to you about.”

Jack stood. “I want to see my son.”

Maureen put a hand on his arm and said, “Jack, sit down, and let’s get the report first.”

It was the right thing to say. Jack sat, focused on Balmario, and said, “Get on with it.”

“Okay. We picked your son up at Walgreens for shoplifting.” Marcus took another deep breath. “But also for prostitution.”

Jack stood again. “Safe Harbor laws,” he barked.

“Yeah, we hope so,” said Marcus, alarmed at the reaction. “But we need all the facts first.”

Jack rubbed his face with his hands. Then he sat.

Marcus continued. “Someone beat the crap out of him. It isn’t pretty. The arresting officers did not recognize him. You won’t recognize him, Jack, but his fingerprints matched the ones we have on file. That boy is your son.”

“How bad?” said Jack.

“It’s bad. He’s broken,” said Marcus. “Social Services has called for a psych to evaluate his emotional state. You also need to know that Social Services won’t return him to his family until everyone is evaluated. That probably includes you. Is Tomio staying with you? It may include him.”

Jack looked at the ceiling.

Balmario said, “It’s a lot to process.”

Maureen said, “He’s alive, Jack.”

Jack sniffed and nodded. “I gotta get it together. I’m going to wash my face. I need to call Meghan, my ex-wife. I’ll be right back.” He strode to the door. When he got there, he turned and said, “Thank you Marcus. Thank you for watching out for my boy. Where’s the nearest restroom?”

Balmario nodded. “Across the hall,” he said.

Jack sat in a chair at the foot of the bed, watching Jon sleep. His nose had been set, his ribs taped. He wore a brace on his left wrist, another on his shoulder. He wore compression stockings. The doctor had told him that two vertebrae were cracked, but they would heal with rest. Internal organs were bruised. Jon’s body was a battleground, but Jack recognized him. He would have recognized his son without the warning. His dark eyelashes feathered against his cheek, and he had curled his arm, fisted his hand, and rested his chin against it, just as he had always done from the very beginning of his life. One foot stuck out from under the warming blankets. That was just like Jon.

When Jon was little, Jack woke him up with a little shake of his bare toes. He always said, “Hey, sunshine. Time to get up.” Jon’s eyes would pop open a second before he scrambled from under the covers and into Jack’s arms. They’d laugh together, and Jack would blow raspberries against his neck. He couldn’t imagine Jon doing that now, but he reached for the foot and gently tucked it back under the blankets. The touch forced memories of missed dinners and late nights after a long day of battling the streets of San Francisco, of sneaking in to watch his sons sleep.

Twice, a nurse came in and checked Jon’s IV. They were pumping him full of antibiotics and electrolytes. Jon had not moved once since Jack entered his room. He took comfort in the steady quiet rhythm of his breathing. 

He hadn’t been able to reach his ex-wife the first time he called. Meghan had answered the second time. She and Phillip had booked a flight to Detroit as soon as she heard his first message. They would arrive mid-morning. There was no need to leave Jon to pick them up. Phillip had reassured Jack that they would rent a car. Jack didn’t have the heart to tell them about Social Services. It was Jon’s third time running away from their home. The court would not allow him to live with them while he served time. If the court didn’t place him with Jack or a safe house in Detroit, his son was looking at an extended stay in a detention facility.

He lowered his elbows to his knees and cradled his head. How had Jon’s life turned into this nightmare?

His phone buzzed. Tomio.

Two days ago, Tomio’s medical team had moved him to a convalescent unit in the annex across the parking lot. Until the move, Jack had spent as much time as possible with him. 

Tomi’s text read, “How’s Jon?”

Jack texted, “Same.”

“How are you?” The real  question was, ‘How crazy are you?’

“Pulling it together.”

Tom quickly texted back, “You’ve got this.”

Jack wanted to write, “Love you,” but instead he wrote, “Quit worrying.”

Tom texted, “Bye.”

Jack stood and quietly stepped out of Jon’s room to call Tomio’s sister.

“Kimi, it’s Jack Tyler.”

“Jack, Tomio called me. I am relieved to hear that Jon is safe. I’m driving in with the kids. They are looking forward to seeing their uncle.”

“Good. I haven’t seen him for a couple of days and was feeling guilty.”

“Take care of your son, Jack.”

“I will. Thanks, Kimi.”

He stepped back into the room. Jon’s eyes were open. “Hey, kiddo,” said Jack.

Jon turned his face toward the window, avoiding Jack’s gaze.

“I’m not going to grill you, although I have a ton of questions. I’m just glad you’re safe now.” Jack pulled the chair a little closer to the head of the bed and sat.

Jon looked at him but didn’t say anything.

“Someone worked you over pretty bad,” said Jack, surveying the multiple colored injuries on Jon’s face.

Jon squeezed his eyes shut and turned his head. He lifted his uninjured hand to the railing and curled his fingers around it.

Jack gently laid his hand over them.

Immediately, Jon uncurled his fingers and pulled his hand out from under his father’s touch. Then he turned his face away again and stared at the curtains.

“That’s okay,” said Jack. “That’s okay.” He stood and lifted the chair to the foot of the bed. For now, he could give his son space. However, he planned to stay and informed the nursing staff that he would be spending the night with his son. Then he settled in the chair and dozed while Jon slept. 

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