Lay It On The Table

Jonathan Tyler stared at the stark hospital room. Dear ol’ Dad sat in the chair at the end of his bed. His snoring reminded him of a cat. But, what was foremost in his mind was the day his father left him, the day he walked away without ever looking back. Jon’s ever-present anger rose, and his stomach churned. Why was he sleeping there? Why the hell didn’t he just go home?

The anger made the machine next to him beep a warning.

Jack woke and slowly straightened his back until he was upright in the chair. “Hey,” he said. “How are you feeling?”

It was a dumb question. He hated the concern in his father’s eyes, so he avoided them as best he could.

“Well, you will have to speak to someone, because officers will be here soon to get a statement from you. They want to know what happened.” Jack scratched his head. “I want to know what happened.”

Jon was pissed. “I want to know why you left.” It was difficult forcing his voice through his swollen lips, but he was pleased his voice was gravelly and deep. It made him sound tough.

“Whoa. Is that what this adventure of yours was about? Why didn’t you just ask me? Why go through all this?”

“You think I planned this?”

“I don’t know, Jon. Did you?” His father stood and paced toward the door.

A nurse bustled in to check on Jon.

Jack said, “I’m going to get some coffee. Can he have hot chocolate?”

The nurse said, “Yes.”

Jon leaned against the pillows and let the nurse fuss over him. Shame, guilt, he didn’t know what to call it, but he was sorry he snapped.

“Are you okay?” said the nurse. “Should I keep him out of here?”

“No.” He smiled at her. “I’m fine.”

“Your job is to rest,” she told him, and then she left.

Jack returned with coffee and hot chocolate. He handed Jon a one of the bananas he had brought with him. “A peace offering,” he said. He set Jon’s cup of chocolate on the bedside table next to him.

“Sorry,” Jon said.

“I’m sorry,” said Jack. “You were too young to understand, and when I tried to explain, I guess it seemed cowardly to do it in a letter.”

“The letter was stolen with my money. I didn’t come here on purpose. It just happened.”

“I’m listening,” said Jack.

Jon sipped his chocolate.

Jack said, “What happened?”

“I have no idea where to start.”

Jack said, “Why did you get on that bus?”

“I needed to get away from school, so I ran. When I saw the bus station, I went there because I was afraid I would get caught if I stayed on the street. People were staring at me like they knew I had run away. I stepped up to the counter and asked for the first city I could think of. Detroit.” He laughed, but his laugh turned into a cough when he struggled with the extra spit forming in his mouth. He struggled a moment then said,  “I’d already been to Sacramento. I didn’t want to go again.”

Jack looked at his hands. Jon couldn’t tell what he was thinking. He didn’t know this man. He had never known how to talk to him.

Jack said quietly, “Do you always carry enough money to buy a ticket as far away as Detroit?”

Jon had saved for months. If he was honest, he had started saving the day after his parents brought him home from Sacramento, the second time he had run away. He wasn’t running from them. They had worked hard to make him happy. It wasn’t their fault his life sucked. He stared at Jack.

Jack’s gaze didn’t falter. “Carrying money like that implies you planned to run.”

“Fine,” he said, a little more belligerently than he should have. “I planned to run away sometime, just not that day. Geez, I’ve been prepared to run away for a long time, but I didn’t know I was coming to Detroit. That part is true.”

“Fair enough,” said Jack. “Why did you run that day?”

“I was tired of the bullshit.” He looked up to see if his father was shocked.

His father said, “What bullshit?”

Jon shut his eyes. How could he admit that he didn’t have the cojones to stand up for himself at school.

“I know about the bullying,” said his father. “Rick told me.”

“He had no business telling you that.” His brother was such a perfect prick.

“Why didn’t you tell your mother, or Phillip?”

“What was I going to say to them? Hey, I’m a screw up because kids at school are picking on me. What could they do anyway? There isn’t anything that could stop it.”

“They could have talked to the principal,” said Jack.

“He doesn’t give a shit. No one does. It’s dog eat dog there. Always has been, always will be. That’s what Rick said.”

Jack said, “Is that why you ran that day?”

Jon arched away from him and stared at the curtains. What was he supposed to say? He was a total loser, a wimp who practically shit his pants every time one of those jocks threatened him. This man used to be his sun and his moon. Now he sat here as his judge. He said, “They took my only copy of Tom Sawyer, the one Hank bought for me. They threw it in the toilet. They tried to flush it. I was pissed.”

They took it. How many were there?” said Jack.

Did it matter how many there were? If there was only one, did it make a difference in how Dear ol’ Dad would see him? He said, “Five.”


“Shit,” yelled Jon. “Does it matter? It was one guy and another outside the restroom. The point is I was sick of the bullshit.”

“Let me see if I understand this. A bully tried to flush a treasured book down the toilet; you ran from campus, ended up at the bus station, and on a whim, boarded a bus to Detroit. Does that sum it up?”

“Yes.” He glared at his father defiantly. It seemed so monumentally stupid the way his father said it. Why couldn’t everyone just leave him the fuck alone?

To be a snot, he said, “Why did you leave?”

Jack sighed. “I don’t know how much your mother has told you about me.”

“I know you’re fucking crazy.”

Jack laughed.

“Is that why you left?” said Jon. 

“I left because your mother convinced me that my crazy was hurting you and Rick. By staying, I was ruining your lives. Leaving was the hardest thing I have ever done.”

Jon blurted, “I never got to play basketball with you and Rick. You never even turned around. I yelled your name, and you never once turned to say goodbye.”

Jack sat quietly, gazing at him.

“Don’t even look at me.”

Jack said softly, “Maybe we can fix that now.”

Could they? Would the play of a simple basketball game erase all the hurt he’d felt his whole damn life?

“How could somebody as crazy as you work for the police? How in hell did you solve a case like the Vampire Killer?”

“That crazy helped me solve the case.” Jack looked mystified, like he hardly believed the words he was saying.

“That’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard,” said Jon.

“Did your brother tell you about that case?”

“I saw it in a newspaper after I got here.”

Pain scrunched up Jack’s face. “We lived in San Francisco when the crazy started. I didn’t know how to handle it back then. I am still learning.

“The serial killer, known as The Vampire, was my last case. Huh. It ended just a few days ago. Geez. Anyway, I was one of the lead investigators. It was rough. The officer who helped you yesterday, he lost his partner. Two others were injured, including my partner, Tomio.

“Sometimes, I step into a world that isn’t in front of me. It’s like a vision, but all of my senses are involved, as if I am there. It’s as if I am living the experience of someone else, in that case, the killer.

“Something happened to you. I saw those garbage men throw rocks. I was there when the baby was born.”

The world stopped for Jon. Maybe his heart did too. He hesitated before he said, “I felt disembodied, as if it wasn’t me experiencing that. But I was.” He took a deep breath. “You were there,” he said.

“I was. The police are going to need details and names. It’s one of our open cases. I could verify certain things, but the process isn’t exact. I am not the person whose experience I am sharing. I couldn’t read your mind.”

Jon wiped a tear. Then he wiped another. Dammit. His eyes were flooding. “What happened to the baby?”

“It’s safe in the morgue. It was born dead. You didn’t cause anything to happen to it.”

Jon felt the world slip out from under him as he struggled to breathe. His heart lurched. A sob escaped. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I put it down, and I couldn’t pick it back up.”

Jack moved to the bed and sat.

Why was he such a blubbering fool?

Jack said softly, “Hey, come here.” Then he pulled Jon forward and snuggled him against his chest.

Jon caved then. He sobbed so hard, he couldn’t catch a breath.

Jack crooned softly, “Just breathe, just breathe,’ while he petted his hair.

When Jon could talk again, he said, “I don’t know why she handed the baby to me. Why did she do that?”

“I suspect she knew it was illegal to dump human remains in dumpsters unless wrapped properly. She only had the little baby blanket to put it in. I suppose she had her hands full with the girl and wanted to hand off the responsibility of the baby to someone else. You were there.”

 “I didn’t leave it in a dumpster.”

“I know. Balmario and my chief found it in the alcove of a pharmacy.”

Jon sniffed and wiped his face with his good hand. He didn’t want to leave the shelter of Jack’s embrace, but he didn’t want to be a baby, either, so he sat up and looked at his father.

“When I first met her, I thought she was the most gorgeous girl I had ever seen. Watching her like that….” Jon hiccoughed. “There was so much blood. Blood smells. I didn’t know that. I don’t ever want to do that to a woman.”

“You know why she struggled like that, don’t you?”

No, he didn’t.

“When they are born, babies add hormones that help the mother give birth. This baby wasn’t alive, so it couldn’t add those hormones. When everything goes right, the process looks like a beautiful dance. Jon, you and your mother danced beautifully together. I have never seen anything so wondrous in my life. You were beautiful.” Jack patted his arm. “You remember that.” Then he smiled. “I suspect you have a few more stories about your time in Detroit.”

Jon nodded.

“Save the rest for now.”

A nurse walked in with two breakfast trays. “Are you gentlemen hungry?” he said.

Hungry didn’t even begin to describe the hole in his gut.

Phillip and Meghan Bordeaux arrived at ten-thirty. Meghan looked exhausted, and Phillip looked lost. Jack shook Phillip’s hand and said, “You look like hell.”

Phillip said, “I could say the same of you.”

Jack huffed. “Meghan,” he turned to his ex-wife. “Beautiful as always.”

“Liar. Where’s Jon?”

“He’s upstairs. We need to talk first.”

Phillip said, “Whatever you have to say can wait, Jack. We’ve been worried sick. We just want to get him home.”

“Well, that’s one of the things we need to talk about. Let’s go upstairs. There’s a quiet room where we can talk before you see Jon.”

When they were in the elevator, Meghan said, “I just don’t know why he would do this.”

Phillip added, “We give him everything.”

Jack said, “Maybe I can clear things up for you.” He ushered them to the darkened, quiet room and shut the door. “We’ll have some privacy here for a few minutes.”

“So, get on with it. I want to see Jon,” snapped Meghan. The woman he remembered so vividly suddenly made herself visible.

“First of all, someone gave him a good beating. We are investigating. He’ll be questioned today about it. It will most likely interrupt your visit. Be prepared for that. His injuries will heal, but they’re bad. You need to prepare for that also. Don’t expect to take him out of here. Detroit PD arrested Jon for truancy, shoplifting, and prostitution.”

“What?” shouted Phillip.

Meghan’s eyes threw darts when she looked at him. “Michigan has Safe Harbor laws. You know he can’t be prosecuted for prostitution, so why are you even bringing it up.”

“I’m well aware of the law, Meghan, but when he was arrested, he was an unidentified person because of the brutal beating. The charge will need to be resolved. Also, Jon is a three-time runaway, and the court needs proof that his mistreatment wasn’t a direct result of our actions.”

“That’s insane,” said Phillip.

Meghan deflated. “I was expecting that. It just hurts to hear it.”

As a lawyer, Meghan would know the ins and outs of the law. Children’s welfare wasn’t her specialty, but after Jon ran away the second time, Jack was sure she had done her research.

Jack clapped his hands onto his knees and stood up. “Now you know. He’s hurting. I only heard a small portion of his story, because he only started talking this morning. I hope you have plans to stay. It’s going to be a while to get through the process.”

“I want to see my son,” said Meghan, cool as ice.

Jack led them down the hall to his son’s room. Jon was dozing again, but when they walked in, his eyes popped open. Meghan flew to his side and burst into tears. Mother and son grabbed each other and sobbed together.

Phillip walked to the other side of the bed. When he was close, Jon let go of his mother and reached for him. Phillip gathered him into his arms.

Jack watched them for a moment, a family huddled together, something he didn’t have. Meghan had clearly created a new life for his sons. He knocked lightly on the door.

Jon looked up. “I’ll be back later, Kiddo.”

Jon nodded.

Jack walked away to the sound of them sobbing. For the space of two breaths, he was in San Francisco, walking toward the front gate. Behind him, his littlest was sobbing, “Dada. I want my dada.”

(Author’s Note: Click the following link to find the entire story on Amazon.)

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