Author’s Note: Three chapters of BROKEN remain, including this one. Thank you so much for following this story. America’s presidential election cycle is upon us and I am wondering if anyone else feels like they are holding their breath, hoping to ride out the tidal wave no matter which way it turns? I wish my metaphorical cave was deeper. I plan to take a short hiatus after posting the end of this book. I need to focus on a graphic novel I am working on, while writing my next novel which I am currently calling The Shaman’s Mirror. I will start blogging again after we usher in 2021. If you want to finish BROKEN quickly instead of reading weekly, follow the link at the end of this chapter.
A court could argue that everything that happened to Jonathan Tyler was because of a choice he made, but Inspector Marcus Balmario had worked vice too long. He had seen too many unaware teens fall into webs designed to trap them. Hell, adults fell into them. “When did you meet Charlie Marchesi?” he asked.
Jonathan said, “The night I arrived in Detroit. He offered me a place to stay. I couldn’t afford it, but he said I could work the morning shift at his Bar and Grill to pay for expenses.” The boy squirmed, uncomfortable in the cold, metal chair across from Marcus at the table in one of the 12th’s interrogation rooms. His injuries were far from healed, but he had been released from the hospital, and the sooner they conducted this interview, the sooner a decision could be made about his future.
“And did you accept his offer?”
“So you stayed the night and worked for him the next day. How long did you work for Charlie?”
“I worked that morning, a full shift. He paid me, and it covered my bill, but people don’t make very much here.”
“Just the facts,” said Balmario.
Jon took a deep breath. “The pay for all that work wouldn’t cover the cost of the room for another night. He offered me a job on the night shift.”
“Did he know you were fifteen?”
“No. I led him to believe I was an adult.”
All heads turned toward him. Today’s team consisted of Senior Inspector Jackson Tyler as Jon’s parent in attendance, Chief Maureen Thompson, a defense attorney, and a counselor from Social Services. They knew that Charlie Marchesi, as he was known by this boy, did not believe for one moment that Jon was anything other than a fifteen year old runaway that stepped into his trap. But Marchesi was in Witness Protection, and therefore any crimes committed were FBI business.
“So, he hired you for a night shift. Doing what?”
“Well, I expected to do the same, wait tables, clean, help in the kitchen.”
“But that is not what you did?” said Balmario. What Jon did, he assumed, was probably illegal.
Jon was clearly thinking how to proceed with the story. He had to hand it to the kid. He was quick on his feet. He would either make a good cop or a good criminal. Jon surely suspected that Charlie knew he was a minor, but he had probably used every trick he could to lead everyone around him to the belief that he was an adult. It was an important distinction. Guilty sweat beaded across Jon’s upper lip.
Why feel guilt all of a sudden? What just changed? “Jon, just spit it out.”
“They probably knew I was fifteen. Shit. Rat knew that. He called me on it. I don’t know how to continue.” he said.
Of course. Jon knew he would implicate himself. Balmario said, “Let’s start with the shift you worked in the morning.”
“It was hard work.”
Balmario leaned forward. “We need to know exactly what you did at Marchesi’s Bar and Grill.”
“I worked the kitchen, slicing meat, making sandwiches, cleaning dishes. I set tables, took orders, served brunch. Then I swept so the next shift wouldn’t have to.”
“So you sliced meat.” It was an illegal job activity for someone Jon’s age. “Did you serve alcohol?”
“Not on that shift,” said Jon. “I did whatever I was told that day. The head cook, his name was Hawg, made sure I got breaks and had food to eat. Rat Snatcher took me under his wing.”
Balmario said, “Rat Snatcher, tell me about him.”
“Is he a suspect in one of your open cases?”
“It was weird. Dad?”
“Go on.” It was the first time Jack spoke up.
Jon said, “It was like he was sent there to watch over me. At the MMA meet that night, Charlie was serving food and drinks. Snatcher was a bouncer or something. Whenever Alles gave me trouble, Snatcher pulled me out of it.”
“Alles? Allessandro Santorini?” said Balmario.
“Yes. Rat sent me home that night because I spilled drinks on one of the patrons, and Alles was already on my case. He gave me a hundred dollars and told me to run back to the bar. I was supposed to wait for him there.”
“Who gave you a hundred dollars?”
“Rat Snatcher. He gave me ten more for food. He said the money was for Charlie. Then he told me to run back to the bar and made me follow the man whose suit I ruined with the drinks. I followed him out the door. He tried to pick me up for a ride, but I told him no and ran instead.”
“Let me ask you something,” said Balmario. “Did you know what the hundred was for?”
“I didn’t then, but I do now.” Jon paused.
“I followed the man so that everyone would think I had picked up some work.”
“What kind of work?”
Jon gazed at his father. Balmario could see the wheels turning. What was he leaving out of his story because his father was sitting next to him? Then, Jon’s resolve kicked in, and his eyes lit with fire behind them.
“Rat wanted everyone to think I was going to have sex with that man.” Then his eyes filled with tears. Shit.
Balmario said, “Let me recap this. You worked two shifts for Marchesi that day. One at the Bar and Grill, the other at an MMA meet where Marchesi’s Bar and Grill provided food and drink. Part of the expectations were that you make yourself available for sex. Did you know that when you agreed to the second shift?”
“What do you mean?”
“Did you know that sexual favors might be expected of you?”
“No, but Rat was weird about it.”
“He was weird about it?”
“Yes. He told me to keep my head down, and to avoid talking to the patrons.”
Balmario nodded. Maybe Rat Snatcher was trying to keep this kid safe. “What else did you do? Did you serve food? Drink?”
“I was serving drinks.”
“Was alcohol being offered?”
“Did you serve it?”
“Yes.” Jon wiped tears from his eyes.
“You spilled drinks on a man and then were expected to follow him and offer sexual services.”
“Yes, no. No. I was supposed to pretend to offer them.”
“If you had to pretend, I am assuming that if you left the meet for any other reason, you would have been in trouble?”
“I guess.” Jon shrugged.
“Were you bullied by these people?”
“I don’t know.”
Jack rolled his eyes, sat back into his chair, and crossed his arms.
If Balmario could throw darts with his eyes, he’d do it now. “Let me put it this way. Was your life in danger?”
“I don’t know.” Jon shrugged. “I didn’t want to be put into a cage.”
“It’s a thing I saw.”
“I want to know more about these cages,” said Marcus Balmario.
“I saw men in cages, fighters. I was told not to look at them. I know Rat didn’t want to get thrown into one. He said if I was thrown into a cage, people would gladly pay to see me fight and die. Then, he told me to leave. I was supposed to run back to Marchesi’s, and to wait for him there. He gave me the money so I could pretend I had a reason to get out of there.”
Dammit. Balmario and the Vice team had been trying to break into one of these illegal MMA meets for months. They never met in the same place twice. He and his team were still unclear about the method of invitation to one of these things. If Rat Snatcher was part of the staff, the FBI had an in. Jon could have put their entire operation into jeopardy. He was sure that is why the Bureau pulled Snatcher, Evan Fischer, and Marchesi out from under their jurisdiction so quickly.
There was still the matter of under aged children working illegally. “Were there other children at the meet serving drinks and soliciting sex?”
“There were others. I don’t know if they were children.” Jon shuddered and he gasped as tears flooded his face
His father grabbed his hand. “Hey, hey.”
Balmario waited for it to pass.
Jon took his hand from his father’s and wiped his face on his sleeve. He took a couple of deep breaths. “There was another boy at the MMA meet. His name was Lincoln.” Jon hiccoughed. “Lincoln knew how to do the business. He flirted with the patrons. He told me I could make more money that way. He was surprised that Marchesi let me work the fight so quickly. Most of the others had to do grunt work first. That’s what Lincoln said.”
“Okay,” said Balmario.
Jack said, “But Rat didn’t want you participating in the secondary business of sex trafficking.”
“I figured that out the next day.”
Balmario said, “You stayed a second night at Marchesi’s?”
“Yes, uhm, no. My things did. I left my bag there, my letter jacket, but I was out all night. It took me a long time to run back to the bar from the warehouse. I was supposed to wait for Rat, but the boy upstairs called me up for a favor.”
Jon was shaking again. Balmario wondered how far he could push him before he broke down completely. Social Services was getting antsy, but the attorney was calm and attentive. Jack was a rock, and Maureen was madly making notes of her own. He said, “Let me recap this favor, because you have already told this story.”
Jon sniffed and nodded.
“Evan Fischer, purported son of Charlie Marchesi, aka Calogero Conti, had a liaison with Sobrina Morelli. She was pregnant and had asked for help with midwife fees. You were asked to run the money to the midwife. There you witnessed a birth. The baby was dead, at which point you took it, and ran away from the scene.”
Jon gasped. “She handed me the baby and told me to run. Someone was trying to break down her door.”
“You left the baby on the street.”
“In an alcove of a pharmacy. I left it somewhere safe, and it was dead.” Jon was clearly getting worked up.
Clearly hitting a touchy point, Balmario backed up. “This was during the meet, after the meet, on another day?”
“I ran from the meet, and Evan asked me as soon as I arrived back at Charlie’s. I ran to the midwife, and then I ran back towards the Bar and Grill. I got lost, I stopped. I put the baby down. I couldn’t pick it back up. It was dead. It was dead.”
Jon dissolved. Great, wracking sobs choked him. Balmario let the recorder run for ten more seconds, capturing his agony, and then clicked it off. “We’re going to take a ten minute break. Does he drink chocolate? I’m going to get him some.”
Maureen and Jack hovered over Jon as Balmario stepped out the door. Teen interviews were always messy, but this one was heartbreaking, not just because the boy was one of their own, but because in the short time he was in Detroit, his life view had been completely shattered. How was he still holding up his head? Poor kid had lived through enough traumas to be considered at risk for severe PTSD. He would spend a lifetime knitting broken pieces together.